Crush

By: Nicole Williams

ONE


Up, down. Round and around. Rinse and repeat. That was our pattern. That was our world.

With a guy like Jude Ryder at my side, the lows in life were lower and the highs were higher. This was our reality, our story . . . our love story. We fought; we made up. We messed up; we apologized. We lived; we learned. Jude and I had made a lot of mistakes in the history of our relationship, but one thing we always seemed to get right? Our all-consuming love for each other.

This was my life.

And you know what?

Life was pretty damn good.

Even despite the fact that I had no clue where I was.

“What are you up to?” I whispered back to Jude, continuing to let him lead me into the black hole.

“Something you’ll love,” he replied, squeezing my shoulders as he steered me along. My heels began to echo around me.

So we were in a tunnel, but what tunnel was totally beyond me, because Jude had made me close my eyes the moment I’d answered the door this evening. Other than driving around in his ancient rumble-wagon of a truck for the better part of a Friday date night, I’d lost my bearings in every way a girl could ever lose them.

Given the fact that Jude Ryder was my fiancé, my bearings had been a tad off-kilter for the past few years, but they were especially off the grid tonight.

Did this tunnel have an end? The longer we continued down it, the louder my footsteps echoed around us.

“Is whatever you’re up to illegal?” I asked, not sure I really wanted to know.

“Is that a trick question?” he said, sounding amused.

“Is that a trick answer?”

He didn’t respond immediately. Instead, I felt his mouth warm the skin at the base of my neck. One full breath out, and one full breath in, slow and deep and suffocating, before his lips grazed the heated patch of skin.

I tried not to react like his touch was hardwired to drive every bit of me crazy, but even after years together, Jude could still unravel me with one touch. My skin was pricking to life with tiny goose bumps that trailed down to my lower back when his mouth pulled away.

“There will most certainly be high points tonight that could be classified as illegal in every one of the Bible Belt states,” he said, his voice low with desire. Not quite as rough as it got when he needed me right then and there; it was still restrained enough that I knew he wasn’t going to throw me up against the nearest wall and start fisting up my skirt before we got a step farther. “Does that answer your question?”

“No,” I said, trying to sound controlled. Trying to sound like he hadn’t made my stomach clench with desire from one kiss. “It doesn’t answer my question. So let’s try this again . . .” I cleared my throat, reminding myself I was trying to sound unaffected. “In whatever never-ending hallway you’re leading me down, toward whatever location you’re aiming to wind up at, could either one of these trespasses be considered illegal if we were to be tried in court?”

He didn’t make a noise, but I knew he was trying to contain a chuckle. One of those low, rumbling ones that vibrated through my body when he was pressed up against me. “Since you put it that way . . .” he started, stopping me suddenly. His hands left my shoulders and tapped my eyelids. “Yes. It could be. However,” he said, “they’d have to catch us first. Open your eyes, babe.”

I blinked my eyes a few times to make sure what I was seeing was real.

After another half dozen blinks, I could be reasonably certain that what my eyes were taking in was, in fact, real.

We were inside the Carrier Dome, just at the mouth of one of the tunnels. However, this was the dome like I’d never seen it in the past three years of attending almost every home game. At the center of the field, right at the fifty, a blanket was spread out, and what looked like a picnic basket rested in one corner. A smattering of white candles in clear jars were dotted around the blanket. It was still, silent, and peaceful.

Not the first three words you’d usually use to describe a college football arena.

And this wasn’t the place a girl expected her fiancé would take her on a big surprise date he’d wanted her to get dressed up for.

I grinned.

Not what I’d expected, but exactly what I wanted.

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