Elliot woke up just after dawn with a bad taste in his mouth—probably from the food and drink the night before at the hospital fundraiser, if not from the company. He didn’t want to think about McCain’s subtle threats, about Claire shooting him daggers every time she saw him, or everybody else who had reason to hate him and no reason to hide it. And he most certainly didn’t want to think about the fact that Jude wouldn’t even come home with him. He touched the cold sheet on her side of the bed. She hadn’t been angry at him, but she had been distant.
Elliot didn’t blame her. Their special date had been to a fundraiser full of strangers. Because everybody disliked him, they ignored her, and he supposed his own sour mood didn’t make things easier for her. The date was supposed to kick off a week of vacation time. His first vacation in almost eight years. He lifted his head to look at the three dozen roses he had splurged on. The flowers, plus the champagne in the fridge, were supposed to have been a surprise for Jude.
A surprise she never saw because she refused to come home with him.
He sighed and rolled out of bed. Too little, too late, Buddy. Now it’s just a matter of time.
Her clothes were still in his closet. Her toothbrush, her make-up, her shoes, and her underwear were spread through his bedroom and bathroom. He had her favorite beer in his fridge. The bed didn’t feel right without her in it. Elliot tried to imagine watching her systematically move through his apartment, putting all her belongings in a box, and then walking out the door. He could see it very vividly—that was how all his relationships ended—but his stomach churned. He didn’t want this one to end.
Elliot padded into the bathroom, avoiding the growing patch of sunlight on the bedroom floor. Just the thought of light made his head throb. The bathroom was refreshingly cool and dark. He splashed water in his face, but it didn’t make him feel better. There was only one thing that would make him feel better, and she had refused to come home with him.
“Is this what I want from life?” Elliot asked his reflection. “The woman I love will barely talk to me, I’m on the very cusp of committing career suicide, and I’m talking to myself like a crazy person. Was this the plan?”
No. It was not the plan. It was far from the fucking plan. The world was closing in around him.
Elliot stepped into the shower, turning the water as hot as it would go. He stood under the spray until he scalded away the remnants of the night before. As he scrubbed himself down, a plan gradually occurred to him. He had a week off, he had a motorcycle, and maybe if he got away—maybe if he took her away—he could fix things before his whole life derailed.
It didn’t take much time to pack two bags, one for himself and one full of the clothes Jude had left there. As soon as they were ready, he turned on his computer and began searching for a destination. After some consideration, he decided they would definitely drive up the coast, but Jude could pick where they’d stop.
Satisfied with his decision, he secured the two bags to his bike and drove the short distance to Jude’s house. The summer morning was crisp, bright, and yellow. It was hard to remain in a bad mood when the day had such a glorious start. The dark thoughts that had haunted him were almost entirely banished. He wouldn’t dwell on them. The day was beautiful, he was on his way to see the woman he loved, and he was about to embark on his first vacation in years.
Elliot cut his engine outside Jude’s house and let himself in the front door. The key was warm in his hand, and a small, almost painful reminder that Jude still had her reservations about them, about their relationship. She had eventually handed over the spare key, but at the time, it had been a major concession.
“It’s for emergencies, Jude. And you’ve already got mine.”
“I don’t know what the big deal is. If there’s an emergency, you can break down the door or something.”
“No, you break down doors in emergencies. I prefer the more civilized route of unlocking it.”
“We’re always over at your place anyway. It’s nicer there. Mine is a dump. So what difference does a key make?”
Elliot sighed. “What do you think I’m going to do, Jude? Break into your house in the middle of the night?”
“No, because then I’d probably shoot you.”
“Well then, there you go.”
Two weeks later, Jude handed over the spare key without comment or explanation.
He could tell she was still asleep as soon as he stepped through the door; the house was never this quiet when she was awake. She always had the television on, and music playing, and she was often on the phone. It seemed liked somebody always needed her for something—this didn’t bother Elliot as much as it could have. He usually had his ear glued to the phone as well.
Silently, he slipped into Jude’s bedroom, careful not to disturb her. His ability to move around the room without waking her came after months of practice, and he still hadn’t quite mastered the technique. But this morning, she didn’t stir as he approached the bed. The sheets and blankets surrounded her in wild disarray, and her tousled hair was like a dark halo around her face. He knew if he slid into the bed beside her she would wrap her legs around his and pull him closer, naturally seeking out his warmth. Elliot could withstand the impulse to stretch out beside her, but he couldn’t resist the urge to kiss her full, alluring lips.
Her breath was rhythmic and warm, but within moments after their mouths made contact, hers was moving softly beneath his, her lashes lifting as if in slow motion. “Hey, you,” she murmured. In spite of the lack of illumination, her eyes were their usual crystal blue, pale and penetrating even when she was half-asleep. “What’s going on?”
“Good morning,” Elliot greeted cheerfully. Just the thought of spending some uninterrupted time with Jude was enough to make his spirits high. She looked all flushed and soft from sleep, and he kissed her again, delicately tracing her pliant lips with his tongue.
The sound she made was part moan, part sigh. “What a way to wake up… But you still haven’t told me what’s going on.”
As hard as it was to pull away from her, Elliot straightened. “We are going out,” he answered. “Out of the house, out of town, out.”
Her finely shaped mouth curved into a sleepy smile as she rolled onto her side. “Someone woke up on the perky side of the bed this morning. I take it no last minute emergencies have screwed up your vacation this time.”
“No, no emergencies. I don’t have my pager.” He looked at her soft smile and considered crawling into bed with her for a moment. It was still early yet. Thoughts of what he’d do once he had her warm body next to his made his cock stir, but the impulse to get her away from LA was stronger. “I just want to take you somewhere where I don’t have to worry about all this … shit. Just the two of us. Until I feel like my head is on straight again.”
Jude dropped back onto her pillow, the blanket slipping away from her bare breasts. She must have passed out as soon as she got home from the fundraiser, Elliot realized. The dress she’d worn was left, discarded and dismissed, in a heap on the floor.
“You forget I’m not a hotshot doctor with a ton of paid vacation at my fingertips?” she commented. Her voice took on a careful quality, like she was weighing her words before saying them aloud. It was the same tone she’d adopted the night before, right before he’d dropped her off, and it was the same one Elliot was determined to banish for good with this time away.
In his enthusiasm, however, he had forgotten she didn’t have the same flexibility he did in this. But it wouldn’t do any good to say as much. “Didn’t you say you could take a few days off with me this week?”
“Yeah. But the captain only gave me three days. Well. Two and a half. I gotta report back for the graveyard shift on Monday night.” She wrinkled her nose in distaste. “He’s making me patrol with the new rookie. I swear to god, if we get another call that makes the kid wet his pants again, I’m quitting this time.”
“I’ll have you back by Monday night,” Elliot promised immediately. It was hardly ideal, but it was better than being sent off on his own. “A few nights away is better than nothing, right?”
“Even one night away would be heaven about now.” Jude lifted a hand to trace along the waistband of his jeans. Though it was only a single fingertip and his shirt prevented him from feeling the heat of her skin against his, the gentle touch made his nerves jump in anticipation. “And what getaway did you come up with for us in this oh so brilliant plan of yours?”
He smiled and caressed the back of her hand. “I thought we could take a ride up the coast. Maybe we could stop in San Francisco. Or Napa. Or really, anywhere between here and there that you like.”
Mention of a ride made her perk up. “You brought the bike?”
“Can you think of a better way to drive up the coast?” Elliot asked. “Besides, I had to do something to sweeten the deal.”
Her fingers curled beneath the denim, and her smile took on a definite wickedness as she used her hold to haul herself to her knees. “Have I mentioned how much I love the way you sweeten your deals?” Jude murmured. Looping her free arm around his neck, she rubbed her breasts against his chest, her nipples hardening into tight points at just the slight contact. “Let’s go somewhere quiet. Somewhere I don’t have to be a cop, and you don’t have to be a doctor, and neither of us has to worry about getting interrupted if we don’t want to be.”
His pulse quickened as she pressed against him. Again, he had to overcome the urge to join her in the bed. Time was short, and he didn’t want to waste a second of it. “So as far away from civilization as humanly possible,” Elliot teased. “I think that’s reasonable. Or at least a few hundred miles away from Los Angeles.” He ghosted his lips over hers. “You go and get showered and dressed.” Running his fingers over her shoulders, he added, “Or else I fear we won’t get out of here at all today.”
She surprised him by tugging him back to her mouth, kissing him with more energy than she’d had upon waking. “Pack my stuff while I’m in there. And make sure you include some actual clothes. Riding your bike naked only sounds like fun.” With a mischievous grin, Jude bounded from the bed and disappeared down the hall, the bathroom door slamming shut behind her mere seconds later.
* * * *
Jude blasted the shower as hot as she could stand, the water blistering and ready to pound away the residual effects of the champagne. She had drunk too much at Elliot’s work ‘do’. She had deliberately drunk too much. It was the only way to keep her attention away from how Claire Abbott kept glaring at her.
The night was supposed to be about getting some well-deserved time together. Jude had been excited about the opportunity to buy a new dress, and to dance, and to let go of the stress from her job for a few hours. Ogling Elliot in a tux was supposed to be an added bonus. They hadn’t had nearly enough time together in the past few weeks, and the thought of starting off his vacation with a big, fancy date was appealing, to say the least.
Instead, their special night out had turned into an excruciating exercise, feeling like the odd man out while she listened to people with far more education and money than her talk about the most mindless drivel. It was hard enough being aware of the differences between her and Elliot, but at least she’d finally learned how to control her insecurities about his worldly education and his professional esteem.
All the way until she overheard those women in the bathroom talking about Claire and Elliot.
“I don’t know who Claire thinks she’s fooling.”
“Do they think people aren’t going to notice?”
“Obviously. Claire really should’ve brought a date if she didn’t want there to be talk.”
“Did you see Elliot’s?”
“The brunette? Arm candy. Her dress is pretty, though.”
“I heard she was a cop.”
Laughter. “Oh, Claire’s going to love that.”
Jude fled before they launched into details, but by the time she’d returned to the party and Elliot’s side, it all made sense. Why Claire was giving her the evil eye. Why Elliot was doing everything in his power to keep her away from Claire. Of course he would be attracted to Claire. She was everything Jude wasn’t—polished, sophisticated, beautiful. His equal in every way. By the time they finally left the party, all Jude wanted was to curl into her own bed and forget the night ever happened.
Elliot’s early morning arrival and subsequent announcement threw her for a loop, though. When it was just the two of them, everything made more sense. Her stupid inadequacies didn’t scream at her, and they could just have fun together, enjoy each other’s company. The idea of getting away sounded too good to be true, but she wasn’t going to throw it away. This was a chance to remember why they were together in the first place. If it didn’t last, so be it. It wasn’t like Jude’s relationships had ever lasted. But it was foolish to ignore spending time with Elliot when, in so many ways, he was the best thing that had ever happened to her.
When she stepped out of the shower, Jude found clothes waiting for her, delicate underwear, jeans, and a long-sleeved top folded neatly on top of the toilet. She smiled as she fingered the lacy bra. Leave it to Elliot. He was a natural caretaker, but somehow never made it look obtrusive. She’d always loved that about him. It was just a shame it wasn’t going to last.
Her hair was still damp when she returned to the bedroom. Grabbing her blow dryer, she opened the closet door to use the mirror mounted on the other side, only to hesitate when she saw what hung on the rail. In her absence, Elliot had picked up the blue velvet dress she’d worn to his fundraiser and put it away. Her mouth went dry when she remembered the look in his eye when he’d first seen her in it, and without thinking, she reached out to finger the soft fabric.
“Hey,” Elliot said, wrapping his arms around her waist and burying his face in her neck. “Bike’s all packed up.”
The dress slid from her hand as Jude instinctively leaned back against his hard chest. It was easy to banish her demons when he held her. “We hitting the road right away, or do I get to have some breakfast first?”
“I was thinking of stopping at Ruth’s, just out of town,” Elliot said, his hand sneaking over her stomach. “Then we’ll head north.”
“North is pretty non-specific, especially for you.” Twisting in his arms, Jude set her dryer aside before playing with the buttons on his shirt. The press of his semi-erect cock into her stomach gave her ideas of stripping him then and there and having their vacation on her bed, but she dismissed them almost immediately. There were too many possibilities for interruption here. “So … San Francisco, Napa, or wherever. You really don’t have a preference?”
“My only preference is that you’re with me,” Elliot said. Clearly, she wasn’t the only one with the bed in mind, if his greedy mouth and hands were anything to go by. “Other than that? No. It’ll be an adventure.”
The last thing she was going to do was squelch any sense of spontaneity Elliot might have grown. “Napa, it is, then,” she announced. Playfully batting his hands away, she ducked beneath his arm to grab her brush and scurry beyond touching distance. “And if you keep that up, we’re going to lose a whole day of our vacation just getting there because we’ll never make it out of this room.”
Elliot obediently perched on the edge of the bed. “I definitely don’t want to lose a whole day.” He watched her pull the brush through her hair with almost rapt attention. “Oh, I went through your bottom drawer and grabbed a few things.”
It was impossible not to smile. “Of course, you did. Did you remember to grab extra batteries, too, so that the vibe doesn’t die halfway through this time?”
“Of course. I grabbed the spare key for the cuffs, too. You know, just in case.”
Memories of what it had been like cuffed to his bed all night, her thighs sticky with his come and her juices, while Elliot ransacked her house looking for her spare set of keys sent a heated flush over Jude’s skin. Setting the brush aside, she crossed to the bed and straddled his lap. His hazel eyes were bright with excitement, the laugh lines already crinkling at the corners, and his wide smile made her stomach flutter.
“Gotta love a man who knows how to come prepared,” she murmured.
“Well, I’m a quick study. You know me, it only takes one disaster before I learn my lesson,” Elliot said. His hand snuck up to cup her breast. “Look at you. I come over here to be good, and you bring temptation to me.”
She bent and ran the tip of her tongue along his strong jaw. “I know. I’m terrible.”
Elliot tilted his head back, exposing the column of his throat to her mouth. “Yes, you are. But I’m not above bribing you with pancakes to get us back on track.”
Jude nipped at the sinewy muscle, soothing it over with her lips afterward. “Will you make sure Ruth warms the syrup this time?”
“I will go into the kitchen and see to it personally,” he promised. “But only if you do that again.”
“What, this?” This time, she chose a spot closer to his shoulder, biting with a little more pressure before licking the sting away. When his cock twitched against her pussy, she chuckled. “You’re so easy,” she teased.
He rolled his head back and sighed. “I know. Too easy.” Elliot gripped her hips and lifted her off his lap. “But I’m also going to be the strong one here.” Scrambling off the bed to put space between them again, he added, “I’m serious.”
He looked like such a little kid, all faux earnestness and good intentions, that Jude laughed. She loved it when they were like this. She could almost believe that none of the other shit mattered. Almost.
“Well, it’s good one of us is going to be strong,” she said, going along with his game. She turned her back on him and went over to the closet, bending over to rummage around until she found her boots. “Because all I can think about is finding some bed and breakfast in Napa with extra-large tubs.”
“I think that can be arranged. I won’t rest until we find just the right room to make you happy,” he vowed.
His tone made Jude hesitate. This wasn’t playing anymore. She knew perfectly well that he meant exactly what he said. What she wasn’t so sure about was what had prompted it for him. Was he feeling guilty about whatever was going on with Claire? Was this some elaborate set-up to fool her into thinking everything between them was good?
She took a deep breath and returned to pulling on her boots. No more thoughts about Claire. This weekend was about her and Elliot. The memories of it just might have to last her a very long time.
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