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“I know I should probably let you wake up and give you a minute, but I’m dying here, Luce. I’ve been dying since I got your call.” His voice got tight again. “What’s the matter? What happened?”

For one of the few times in my life, he looked scared. Scared of the questions and scared of the answers.

“First things first.” Holly appeared behind Jude holding a cup of orange juice and a handful of crackers. “You haven’t eaten anything for hours, Lucy. Eat this. Drink this. Or else.” She winked as she waited for me to sit up.

I twisted around so I could face Jude and took the OJ and crackers. “Thanks, Holly.” Again, there was so much I owed her for, but two words of gratitude were all I had right now.

Jude waited for me to take a sip and get down half a saltine cracker, but I could tell the waiting game was killing him. How could I break what happened to me this afternoon to him gently? If there was a way to ease the blow that the man Jude had been so certain had a thing for me had just plastered his lips to mine, I wasn’t finding one.

Segue . . . ease him into it with a segue.

“Anton kissed me.”

Segues, apparently, in my book, sucked.

The worry lines of Jude’s face deepened, until each wrinkle was its own canyon. “When?” His voice was so rough it scared me.

“Right before I called you.” I took another sip of my juice and waited.

“Where?” His jaw was locked and his shoulders were tensing.

“At the office.”

And now the veins in his neck were popping against his skin. We’d hit rage liftoff.

“Where is he now?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “And I don’t care.”

“Well, I care, and I’m about to find out.” He pulled his phone from his pocket and started searching through his contact list. I knew who he’d call first on this Anton manhunt.

“No,” I said, wanting to grab the phone out of his hands and toss it out the window. But then he’d just go find mine. “You’re not going to go find him so you can teach him a lesson and kick his ass.”

“That’s exactly what I’m going to do,” he said instantly, stopping when he got to the I’s in his phone.

“No, you’re not,” I said firmly, setting my juice and crackers down. My attention and hands were needed elsewhere. “I don’t need you, or anyone else, to prove to some other guy that I belong to you.”

“He kissed you, Luce,” Jude said, his eyes immediately narrowing. “It appears you do need me to do just that.”

I gently traced the scar I’d memorized years ago. “It doesn’t matter how many guys want to, try to, or actually succeed before they feel the slap of my hand on their cheek,” I said, forcing him to look me in the eyes. “Because the only one of them I want to kiss is you. And that’s what matters.”

To prove it, I lowered my face until our mouths were just a hair apart. Our lips hadn’t touched and already electricity was bouncing between us. When my lips did cover his, that electricity became something else entirely. Our lips played together, smoothing and sucking, until my breath started hitching in my lungs. Jude’s hand held my face carefully, but there was an undercurrent of strength in that touch.

I ended our kiss by running my tongue along the seam of his lips before pressing a featherlight kiss to the corner of his mouth.

“That’s who I want to kiss, and how I want him to kiss me, until the day I can’t kiss anymore,” I said, staring into his eyes. The darkness in them was gone. “So don’t feel like you need to kick Anton into next week to defend my honor. I can defend my own honor. Just stay here. With me,” I said, patting the couch. “Kissing me would be an added bonus.”

He sat beside me and grabbed my hand. “You know it might kill me not to give that little jerk-off a piece of my boot, right?”

I nodded. In fact, I was surprised he was still here, relatively calm, and talking in his normal Jude voice again. That kiss must have worked a miracle, because the Jude I’d known would have already tracked the guy down and broken his nose.

“But I want you happy. Nothing’s more important to me than that,” he said, sighing. “So I’ll resist every instinct and not hang him over the edge of the Empire State Building.” Another sigh, this one longer. “Happy now?”

“You have no idea,” I said, running my fingers through my hair. It was a mess, tear- and snot-coated, topped off by hours of twisting it into a pillow.

“I’ve got a quick solution to that,” Jude said, patting my leg as he stood up. “I’ll hunt down one of those ponytail-holder thingies you leave all over the place.”

“Bathroom’s a good starting point,” I called after him. I smiled. Jude had gone from hard-core Hulk to my ponytail-holder-thingy hunter in under a minute. Plus, he was here. I didn’t care why or what events had led up to his chartering a plane and flying across the country. Because he was here.

“Impressive,” Holly muttered to me from the kitchen, sipping a cup of tea. “I thought I was going to be sweeping up glass for weeks from that special shade of pissed he turned.”

Before I had a chance to reply, I heard a drawer slam before Jude came stomping out of the bathroom. “Goddammit, Hol,” he said, clutching something in his fist. “Did you go and get yourself knocked up again?”

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