I Want You Back

Book 1 of the Want You Series

New York Times bestselling author Lorelei James kicks-off her Want You Series with a Lund family cousin hot enough to melt the ice and mend a broken heart.

Former NHL star Jaxson Lund has returned to the Twin Cities, but he’s at loose ends, unsure if he belongs at Lund Industries, or where he stands with Lucy, his ex-girlfriend and mother of his daughter, Mimi. Despite the signs she’d like to leave him in the penalty box, the attraction burning between them reinforces his determination to prove that he deserves a second chance…

Lucy Quade is in a good place with a steady job, a nice apartment, and a well-adjusted daughter, which is why she’s hesitant when Jax insists on co-parenting. It’s not that Lucy doesn’t trust Jax…she’s just unconvinced he can handle multiple responsibilities when he’s been singularly focused on playing hockey. But when issues arise with Mimi, Lucy’s shocked at how levelheaded and paternal he acts, giving her a glimpse of the Jax she used to know, the sexy, sweet man she fell for years ago.

Once Lucy lets her guard down, Jax goes all in to show her how good they are together, but will their past remain too large an obstacle to ever overcome?

Excerpt »

JAX

I shifted Mimi off my back to punch in the alarm code for my apartment.

She scooted inside with a happy, “Yay, my princess room,” and disappeared into the bedroom I’d let her decorate however she wanted, which meant an explosion of pink and purple, sequins, lace, satin ruffles and a canopied bed fit for . . . well, a princess.

Since my return to Minneapolis six months ago, I’d been temporarily living in Snow Village, the two-building apartment complex for professional athletes who specialized in “winter” sports that my cousin Jensen Lund owned. It fulfilled my security requirements, and the complex had plenty of kids for Mimi to play with when she stayed with me.

So far her visits had mostly been on the weekends, since Lucy preferred getting Mimi to and from school. I’d tried not to be bitter about the fact she didn’t even trust me to get our kid to school on time, but I had no right to bitch about it. I’d had limited access to my daughter for most of her life—with good reason due to my past bad behavior—so I needed to prove I intended to be a full-time father even if I only had Mimi part time.

During the years I played hockey, I only saw Mimi sporadically during the season and hockey has a long damn season. Training starts the end of August, and the regular season ends for most of us in April, unless we make it to the playoffs, and then the season can extend into June. I traveled more than I was home, and even when I was in my team’s home base of Chicago, I had grueling practices, home games and responsibilities to the club and fans that made a single-parent schedule nearly impossible.

But the shitty truth I’d had to face the past three years was I hadn’t cared. I’d cared about one thing: hockey. Family time interfered with that. So even during our longer breaks, I didn’t head to Minneapolis and demand to spend time with my daughter. Instead, I stayed in Chicago, basking in the glory of being a professional athlete in a city that revered athletes above all else. Even now my stomach roils when I think about blowing off my child to get blown by some nameless puck bunny. Nameless mostly because I was too drunk to remember any of it.

I’d lost plenty of sleep over that since I’d sobered up and now steered clear of alcohol.

But I was trying to move forward . . . and I had to do that at the pace Lucy allowed. For the past eight years she’d basically raised Mimi with no emotional support from me. And I’d been so bitter and nasty about the fact she was the only person in my life who called me on every bullshit lie that exited my mouth, that I’d pulled a total dick move and fought her in court for every single penny of financial support she asked for. Some nights I still woke up in a cold sweat when it sank in what low levels I’d sunk to when it came to getting back at Lucy. Mimi—Mimi’s well-being—had gotten caught in the cross fire of my pettiness. If my brother, Nolan, and our parents hadn’t intervened . . .

“Daddy?”

I shoved the guilt aside and looked into my daughter’s sweet face. Mimi looked nothing like me or her mother. She had brown eyes, not dark like Lucy’s but more the color of whiskey. Her dark blond hair had streaks of red—no clue where that came from, since my hair was nearly black and Lucy’s was a rich chestnut brown. Mimi had freckles spattered across her nose and cheeks. I claimed that she inherited Lucy’s stubborn chin; Lucy claimed that immovable set to Mimi’s jaw came one hundred percent from me. Her button nose could’ve come from me. But since my beak had been broken more times than I could count, I don’t even remember what my nose used to look like. I just knew when I was lucky enough to have that cute little face in front of me, smiling up at me, I felt grateful beyond measure to have been given a second chance. I tugged on her left pigtail. “What’s up, squirt?”

“What are we gonna do tonight?”

“I thought I’d leave the choice up to you.”

Her eyes narrowed—that look was one hundred percent skeptical Lucy. “You didn’t make any plans?”

“Not for tonight. I’ve got a surprise for tomorrow night, so what would you like to do?”

“I wanna go ice skating.”

That threw me. Naturally she’d pick the one thing guaranteed to send her mother into panic mode. So I hedged. “Wouldn’t you rather go to Trampoline World? Or Chuck E. Cheese’s? Or . . .” Anything else?

She shook her head. “You’re like the best skater ever. You can show me how to get better.”

Her buttering me up aside, I knew of no place that offered open ice skating on a Friday night.

That’s because you haven’t looked.

“Is there an ice skating rink in particular that you want to go to?”

She blinked at me.

Right. She was a kid. I was the adult. This was my job. “Look. I’ll see what I can find. But no promises. It’s kind of late to try and make this work tonight.”

“Can’t you call Axl? I bet he knows lots of places to skate.”

Doubtful. He played for the Minnesota Wild, and they had a dedicated practice facility. If he showed up at a rink for open skate, he’d likely get mobbed. “He’s on the road.”

“Maybe you could ask Irina? Since she’s a world champion figure skater she probably knows all of the good places,” she suggested.

“When were you talking to Irina? She lives on the third floor of the next building over.”

“When me ’n Calder were playing. I dared him to go up to the third floor. He wouldn’t do it, so I did,” she said proudly, “and Irina gave us Russian tea cookies for being brave spies.”

“Do Rowan and Jensen know that you and Calder were running all over the building?”

“We weren’t running ‘all over the building,’ Daddy. We went up to the third floor one time.”

“But you were up there long enough to have conversation and cookies with Irina,” I pointed out. “The only reason I let you go over to Calder’s unsupervised last weekend is because I know Rowan and Jensen have strict rules and they expect Calder to follow them. Whose idea was it to break the rules?”

Mimi stared at me, and I could see her struggling to tell me the truth. “It was my idea.”

“Milora Michelle Lund. We talked about this. Just because I’m not physically standing beside you doesn’t mean the rules change.”

Her eyes widened at my usage of her full name.

“I’m happy you didn’t lie when I asked you about it, but you broke a rule. And there are consequences with me, just like there are with your mother, when that happens.”

“Don’t spank me.” She took a few steps back.

Christ, just what I needed; my kid to be afraid of me. I crouched down so we were face-to-face. “Have I ever used spanking as a punishment?”

She shook her head.

“I’m not about to start now. The consequences I’m talking about? You lost your chance to go ice skating. And tomorrow you will apologize to Rowan and Jensen for convincing Calder to break the rules with you. Understand?”

She nodded and burst into tears. She said, “I’m sorry!” and launched herself at me.

Hard as it was, I forced myself to let her cry it out. I’d promised Lucy I wouldn’t be that drive-by fun dad who left all the shitty parts of parenting to her, especially since she’d done most of it by herself anyway.

The rest of our night was mellow. We ate dinner and watched a movie, and she fell asleep halfway through it.

Barely ten minutes had passed after I’d tucked her in when I heard a soft knock on the door.

I peered through the peephole to see my cousin Jensen standing on the other side.

I’d texted him that we needed to talk after Mimi’s confession, but I hadn’t expected to see Jens tonight.

“Hey, cuz. I didn’t mean to interrupt your night.”

“You didn’t. Ro and I just got back from a Vikings corporate event and I’m a little wired anyway.”

I gave him a sharp look. “Is everything all right?”

“Yeah.” He sat on the edge of the couch. “What’s up?”

I told him about Mimi and Calder’s spy excursion last week. Adding my own guilt for giving Mimi free rein for an hour so I could work out in the fitness center.

Jens waved aside my guilt. “She’s eight and in a secure apartment complex with you at the other end of the building. It wasn’t like you warned her to stay put while you flitted off to do your thing downtown. And Calder confessed their little adventure to us within two hours, since the guilt was eating him alive.”

“Wait. You knew about Mimi being the ringleader and didn’t tell me?”

He jammed a hand through his hair. “Rowan and I discussed it, but we decided to give Mimi a chance to come clean to you on her own. We dealt with disciplining our kid. Not our business how you discipline yours.”

“This aspect is new to me. But that’s part of the parenting gig, isn’t it?”

“Yep. And it doesn’t get any easier,” Jens admitted. “It gives me a whole new appreciation for my parents finding balance with four kids so neither of them was consistently the bad guy.”

“My folks were the same way. Mom never used that ‘wait until your father gets home’ line to pass the buck. If Nolan or I did something that warranted discipline, she meted it out herself.” My mother still did that. She pushed her way into my life when I hit rock bottom, dragging my dad and my brother right beside her. I’ll never forget the grief on their faces that they couldn’t fix me or shoulder some of my burdens. Even after the truth came out about my alcohol abuse, none of them treated me with contempt. They freely, lovingly gave me compassion I know I didn’t deserve.

Their unquestioning support humbled me. And I wanted to be the type of father that Mimi looked up to. The man in her life she could always count on.

“What else is on your mind, Jax?” Jensen asked.

“Parental protocol. Do I tell Lucy that Mimi broke the rules when she was with me? Because that might bring me more trouble.”

“Like?”

“Like why didn’t I know that Mimi was running around in another building? What was I doing that I couldn’t properly watch our child? Why hadn’t I known she’d broken a rule until a week after it happened? I don’t want to hand her a damn excuse to justify me spending less time with her. What sucks is that she has precedents for that type of reaction.”

I fought the roar of frustration building inside me, a roar I used to drown in whiskey and women. Now I forced myself to utilize the redirection exercises my counselor suggested. Breathe in, clench my fists, breath out, release them.

After three rounds of that, I felt the frustration ebb. I opened my eyes to see Jensen studying me warily. My cheeks flushed with embarrassment. Goddammit. The last thing I wanted was for my youngest male cousin to see me struggle. To see me as weak.

But you are weak. Admitting that is the first step toward finding real strength.

I exhaled again. “Sorry.”

“Dude. Don’t apologize. I’m just happy to see that you have coping mechanisms that work for you.”

“Thanks. Some days are easier than others.”

Jens leaned forward. “You have people to talk to? Or is assuming that you do just another place where we’ve all failed you?”

“I see a counselor once a week. He heads up the group therapy sessions at Hazelden. After I completed the program he referred me to a colleague in Chicago. After I moved back here, he took me on as a private client. I’m lucky to have him.”

“I’m really freakin’ relieved to hear that.” Jensen paused. “I know you’re tight with Nolan, but if you ever need someone else to talk to, someone who understands the public demands of being a pro athlete, who feels the need to numb the constant aches and pains associated with using your body as a battering ram, call me. I’m not some punk-ass kid anymore.”

I locked my gaze to his. “I know that. I appreciate the offer, so don’t be shocked when I take you up on it.”

“Good.” Jens stood. “Now, come here, bro, and hug it out.”

“Jesus. You sound like Martin.”

“Wrong. Martin calls me brosky.”

I laughed. We did the backslapping man hug thing. Then I followed Jensen to the door.

He faced me. “As far as the Mimi situation . . . you gotta tell Lucy what Mimi did and how you dealt with it. That said . . . Snow Village is secure. Emphasize that. Emphasize that you gave Mimi consequences for her behavior. She’ll see your honesty as a step forward. Better to be up front now, than for Mimi to spill the details in a few months, which will cause Lucy to wonder what else you’d kept from her.”

“You’re right. Maybe I’ll find my balls and tell her about my upcoming move at the same time.”

Jensen’s jaw dropped. “Jax. Buddy. You still haven’t told her?”

I shook my head. “The space isn’t ready. They’re finishing the trim work and final installation of the private elevator this week. Move-in date is still up in the air.”

“Who all knows about this move?” Jensen asked, shooting a glance down the hallway toward Mimi’s bedroom.

“You. Since you’re my landlord.”

“That’s it?”

“I didn’t bother to talk to your brother about taking on the remodel since he’s focused on historical renovation.”

“Your brother doesn’t know either?”

“Nolan would try to talk me out of it.”

Jensen clapped me on the shoulder. “Good luck telling her, because you’ll need it.” He grinned. “Speaking of getting lucky, got to get home to my wife so we can end our date night with a bang.”

After he left, I locked up, grabbed a sparkling water from the fridge and plopped into the recliner. I found it weird that married couples had “date” nights. Wasn’t that the whole point of getting married? So you didn’t have to come up with dating type stuff? Christ. I sucked at dating.

With the TV off and silence filling the space, I nestled my head into the cushion and closed my eyes. My mind wasn’t calm. It zigged and zagged until it settled on a direction I hadn’t wanted to go. To my very first conflict with Lucy and our first date, which, ironically enough, still was the best date I’d ever had . . .

 

***

 

On the drive to Pizza Lucé, I didn’t let that little blue Corolla out of my sight to the point I was tailgating. Lucy already thought I was annoying; proving I was an asshole driver wouldn’t come as a surprise to her. But no way was I letting her ditch me; I’d never been so drawn to a woman.

It’d been a long time since I’d met a woman who hadn’t immediately known who I was. Not my ego talking, but the truth. Anytime I ventured out in Chicago, either alone, with my teammates or with a woman, I got recognized. After living out of the Twin Cities for several years, whenever I came home, the odds of anyone recognizing me either as Jaxson “Stonewall” Lund, Chicago Blackhawks hockey player and rival to the Minnesota Wild, or just as Jax Lund, one of the heirs to the billionaire Lund family fortune, were still pretty high.

The Lund family name was synonymous with power, money and prestige in the community. Plus, I’d been the high school hockey standout as well as part of the college hockey team that brought the Frozen Four championship to the University of Minnesota. So it’d been refreshing that Lucy had treated me like any other guy who annoyed the piss out of her with rude, entitled behavior. Add in the fact she was hot—man, I could worship those legs of hers for days—and unapologetically prickly . . . I wanted to see if she had that attitude in bed.

I parked quickly enough I was able to do the gentlemanly thing and help her out of her car.

She said nothing, just arched a brow at me. But she didn’t remove my hand from the small of her back as I ushered her inside the restaurant.

The scents of yeast and basil, oregano and tomatoes greeted us. The male host said, “Two for the restaurant side or the bar side?”

Lucy answered, “Bar side, please. A booth by the windows if you’ve got one.”

The host offered her a dazzling smile. “Whatever the lady wishes.”

The smarmy asshole hadn’t even looked at me.

Once we were seated, she held out her hand.

“What?”

“Your cell. Hand it over.”

I leaned across the table and kissed her palm. “I left it in the car.”

“Umm. Well. Okay.”

That little peck on the palm flustered her.

Good.

The host cleared his throat.

I glanced up. I’d forgotten the little shit was still there.

He handed Lucy a menu, then me. “Wine list is on the back.”

She smiled at him. “Sorry. Beer girl.”

“A woman after my own heart. The beer on tap is listed on the second to the last page. And might I suggest you try the Spring Splendor from a microbrewery in Wisconsin? It’s a full-bodied IPA with hints of apple blossom, green wheatgrass and honey. It’s the quintessential beer for spring.”

Fucking hipster.

“While my beautiful date is debating what her heart desires”—besides me went unsaid—“have the bartender pour me whatever seasonal Schell you’ve got on tap. Sixteen ounce.”

The dude bristled.

Lucy said, “I’ll have the same.”

As soon as the guy left, she leaned in. “This date ain’t starting out so hot, ace.”

“Why? Because I was brusque to the server who was salivating all over my date?”

She blinked at me. “Salivating? Really?”

“Slathering on the flattery too.”

She snorted and busied herself scouring the menu.

“Salivating and slathering is my job, hot stuff. Not his.”

Without missing a beat or looking up from her menu, she said, “Hit me with some flattery.”

“I can’t decide if I’ll wrap my fingers in your silky hair the first time I kiss you or if I’ll curl my hand around the back of your neck as I taste my fill of those full lips of yours. I may not kiss you tonight, but by our third date you will know how perfectly wicked it’ll feel to have my mouth all over you.”

Lucy slowly lowered the menu. Her pupils had nearly disappeared in her dark brown eyes. “Are you a good kisser, Jaxson? Or do you just talk a good game?”

“Anytime you want to find out, baby, all you gotta do is ask.”

She smirked . . . and damn if it didn’t straddle the line between evil and challenging. “Fair warning that this verbal foreplay is all you’ll get from me tonight: I don’t fuck on the first date.”

“So I can’t call you loose.” I smirked. “But then again, Luce, I guess I can.”

She started laughing. The sound of it had me joining in. We were still snickering when the waiter—not the brown-nosing host boy—delivered our beer.

I raised my mug to hers for a toast.

But she beat me to the punch. “To loose women and annoying men.”

“Skål.”

After that first sip, I said, “What kind of pizza are we ordering?”

“Pepperoni and green olive.”

I shook my head. “Sausage and black olive. With hot peppers.”

She shook her head right back at me. “With green peppers and green onions.”

“Nope. With purple onions and mushrooms. Chicago deep-dish pan style.”

“Wrong. Thin crust.”

The waiter returned. “Are you ready to order?”

I kept my eyes on hers. “We’ll take a large hand-tossed crust, loaded with all toppings except anchovies.”

“Extra cheese?” he asked.

We said, “No,” simultaneously.

“The man can compromise,” she muttered before taking another swig of beer.

I just smiled. “So, Lucy Q, are you a native Minnesotan or a transplant?”

“Native. Born and raised in the Twin Cities. How about you?”

“Same.” If I told her I didn’t live here now this would be our first and last date. “And your family?”

“My mom lives here. She and my father divorced when I was ten. My sister lives here too.”

“Older sister? Younger?”

“Older by two years. What about your family?”

“Most of my family lives here. I have one brother. Younger by two years. I have a lot of cousins. We spent so much time together growing up that they’re almost like my siblings.”

“Sounds fun.” She made a ring on her cocktail napkin with the bottom of her beer mug. “Ever been married?”

“Nope. Never came close.”

“Me neither.” She gave me a curious look. “What do you do for a living?”

“Guess.”

“How did I know you were gonna say that.” She continued her perusal of me. “You’re a finance guy. Probably a stockbroker, given the annoying conversation about salary that I overheard.”

“Nope. Not even close.”

“Is Jaxson your first name or your last name?”

I said, “First,” and nothing else.

“What’s the big deal about you not telling me your last name or what you do for a living?”

I slumped back in the booth with a sigh. “Me telling you will change things. And I like you and how this is going, so I’m not ready to wreck it.”

Her eyes searched mine. “I’ll let you hedge. For now.”

“Sounds like you’ve already made up your mind there will be a second date, despite your erroneous statement that this date wasn’t going well. What do you do for a living?”

“Guess.”

I had that coming. “You’re a baker.”

“What about me caused you to make that claim?”

“Because you smell amazing. Like lemon cupcakes coated with sweet buttercream frosting.”

“That’s my body lotion,” she retorted. “Try again. You have two more guesses about my occupation.”

“You’re a . . . nurse.”

“Sort of. But that’s not what pays my bills.”

“How can one ‘sort of’ be a nurse?”

“One guess left.”

“What do I get if I guess correctly?”

“Nothing, because you won’t figure it out.”

I took a swig of beer. “She has a high bullshit meter. She likes to argue. She has a haughty demeanor. She dresses well—feminine yet professional. I’d say a high-powered attorney, but if that were the case you’d be driving a Mercedes, not a Corolla. So my final answer is . . . you’re an advocate in a social services department.”

She made a deep-throated “you missed” buzzer noise and I burst out laughing. Not what I’d expected from her. At all.

“In a show of faith because I’m proud of the fact I graduated from college, I’ll tell you that I’m a graphic designer. Which means I can’t draw for shit, but I’m creative and excel at organizing computer images into functional graphics.”

“Do you like your job?”

“I love it. It’s nearly impossible to find a stable, full-time job now in our industry. Too many graphics people are stuck with freelancing jobs because companies prefer to hire out for specific campaigns, rather than having an in-house graphics department.”

“What do you do for fun?”

Lucy cocked her head, sending that glorious hair cascading onto the table. “What’s with the twenty questions? I thought you intended to prove that you aren’t annoying. Being grilled by a guy who’s embarrassed to confess how he makes a living or refuses to divulge his last name skirts the line from you being annoying into you being an arrogant ass.”

“Point taken.” I smiled and brushed her hair over her shoulder. “I was going for mysterious.”

“You failed, buddy.”

I laughed. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d laughed so much. Especially at my own expense. “Ask me three things about myself.”

“Do you have a closer relationship to your mom or your dad?”

Great question—and one I’d never been asked. “My mom.”

“When was the last time you cried?”

Jesus. She could be a professional interrogator. “Two months ago.”

“What made you cry?”

My subconscious said, I got the fuck beat out of me during the final game of the season and I was pissed off that we lost, but my mouth said, “I had a physical injury.”

“What’s your—”

“Huh-uh, Lucy Q. That was three questions. Anything you ask me from here on out? You have to answer too.”

“Fine. What’s your favorite song?”

“Today it’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl.’ What’s yours?”

She shot back, “ ‘King of Wishful Thinking,’ ” without missing a beat.

I laughed. God. This woman. I was already half-crazy about her. “Seriously, Luce. What do you do for fun when you’re not working as a graphic designer?”

Lucy drummed her fingers on the table. “I pick up sexy, nosy, secretive men in car washes.”

“Now I’m crushed that I’m not the first to fall for your prickly charms.”

“Ah. But you are.” Her smiled faded. “I’ll admit . . . it’s been a while since I’ve done anything fun, Jaxson.”

I swallowed my flip response. “You’re beautiful and you could go to any club or bar in the metro area and never have to pay for a drink. You wouldn’t lack for dance partners. And you wouldn’t have to go home alone unless you chose to. As a lifelong resident of the Twin Cities I’m guessing you’ve got tons of friends. You’re honestly telling me that you aren’t out and about at least some of the time taking advantage of being hot, sexy and single?”

“Will it put me in a different light if I admit if I’m not working or taking care of my mom I don’t know what to do with myself?”

My eyes narrowed. “Taking care of your mom?”

“She was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was in college. Thankfully she had good health insurance and we were able to get her into Mayo. She went through two rounds of chemo, so my sister Lindsey and I moved back in with her. I deferred a semester of school, and Lindsey and I took turns taking her to appointments, because it’s a bit of a drive to Rochester.”

“That explains your ‘sort of a nurse’ response,” I murmured.

“After the cancer went into remission, I refocused on school. Then I graduated and focused on my job. Pretty boring, huh?”

I snagged her restless hand. “Pretty fucking amazing, actually, that you’d put your life in a holding pattern to be there for your mom.”

“She’d do it for me. And I wouldn’t have been able to concentrate on school anyway, since I was so worried I’d lose her.”

“Doesn’t make it—or you—any less amazing, Lucy Q.” I kissed the back of her hand. “I want to take you out and do every fun thing you’ve ever wanted to experience but couldn’t because you were singularly focused on doing things for other people.” I rubbed my lips across her knuckles and watched the pulse in her throat quicken.

“Why me?”

“It’s not a line when I say I’ve never felt this kind of pull. I want to learn everything about you. Your likes, your dislikes. What makes you laugh. If you throw things when you’re angry. If your skin tastes salty sweet. If I can make you melt on my tongue.”

“Jaxson.”

“Lucy.”

“Even without understanding why you’re determined to keep things from me, I know we’re horribly mismatched, you and I.”

“You can’t know that after spending only an hour with me.”

“Exactly. And you can’t be that into me after just an hour either,” she volleyed back.

Dammit. I kept my temper in check, but that allowed sarcasm to escape. “You’re wrong. And your generalization is annoying.”

“Poor man. The fact I’m always right is annoying to those who are usually wrong.”

I laughed. “You don’t fool me, hot stuff. I figured out a couple of key things about you in the past hour.”

“Like what?”

“You get off on being argumentative.” I watched as she struggled—and lost—against the urge to argue with me.

“I’m only argumentative when the situation warrants it,” she retorted.

“You’re stubborn.”

“So? It’s better to be a mule doing the kicking rather than be the one getting kicked around.”

“You like me.”

That caught her off guard. “I sort of like you.”

“Then put that stubbornness aside and let me prove that we’re not mismatched.”

The food arrived.

I didn’t push her to talk.

But I caught her sneaking thoughtful, slightly confused glances at me as I wolfed down all but three slices of our pizza.

After we’d finished our beers and I’d fought her on being allowed to pay the full bill and not going halvsies—whatever the fuck that was—with her, she cut right to the chase.

“You get one shot at proving you know me after only two hours in my company, Jaxson. Meet me back here tomorrow night at six p.m.” She slid out of the booth and challenged, “If you don’t show up . . .”

Then I’d have proved her “mismatched” theory.

The fuck that was gonna happen.

“Oh, I’ll be here, Lucy Q. Count on it.”

***

My phone buzzed in my pocket, pulling me out of the memory.

I ended the timer that reminded me to take my medication before bed.

As I brushed my teeth, my mind was still in the past. Specifically how easy it’d been to be with Lucy from the start. I’d never had that type of relationship with any other woman, and it killed me—killed me—that I’d screwed it up so completely with her.

It was a long damn time before I fell asleep.

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