The Hating Game Page 90

I raise my hands into his hair, and press him to me as he presses soft kisses like stamps down my neck. Each pushes me deeper in love. When he smoothes his hand down my torso I wince.

“Let Doctor Josh take a look,” he says, pulling off my sweater and T-shirt in one motion.

He smoothes a steady hand down my throat, over my bra, between my breasts, to my belly. The light in here is brightly diffused, and he can see every vein and pastel paintball bruise as he looks down at me, eyelashes fanned so perfectly I feel the next tear coming.

I love him so much I can’t hold it in much longer. I’m vibrating from it. I’m showering sparks. He makes it even harder to hold on when he speaks, fingers stroking my marred skin.

“I’m sorry you’ve been bruised so often because of me. I should have protected you from myself. I’ve been set to a default for a long time. Sort of like, I attack before I can be attacked. You’ve been on the receiving end, days, weeks, months, and you’ve handled it like no one else ever could have.” I try to speak but he shakes his head and continues.

“Every day, every minute, I’ve only ever been sitting there, looking at you. What I’ve done to you has been the worst mistake of my life.”

“It’s okay,” I manage to say. “It’s okay.”

“It’s not. I don’t know how you’ve coped with me. And I’m sorry.” He drops his mouth to the bruise on my ribs.

“I forgive you. You forget, I’ve been a complete bitch to you.”

“But you never would have been, if I’d just smiled back.”

“I wish you had.” My voice breaks traitorously. I may as well have said, I wish you loved me. I hold my breath. With his crazy-intelligent brain, I know he’s joining the dots seconds behind me. I struggle up the bed, but he crawls easily over me, and lays my head on his pillow.

“It made no difference. I loved you the moment I saw you.”

I’m falling backward, through his bed. He loops an arm around my waist. I jerk like he’s caught me.

“You love . . . What? Me?”

“Lucinda Elizabeth Hutton. One and the same.”

“Me.”

“Lucy, heiress of the Sky Diamond Strawberries dynasty.”

“Me.”

“Could you show some ID so I can be certain?” His eyes are lit and the smile I love best of all is glowing on his face.

“But I love you.” I can hear how incredulous I sound.

He laughs. “I know.”

“How do you always know everything?” I kick my feet against the mattress.

“I only figured it out a few minutes ago. Your heart has been breaking.”

“I can’t hide anything from you. It’s the worst.” I try to put my face into the pillow.

“You don’t need to hide anything from me.” He takes my chin in his fingers and kisses me.

“You’re scary. You’ll hurt me.”

“I guess I’m a bit scary. But I will never hurt you again. Anyone who ever does will find out about scary.”

“You hate me.”

“I never have. Not for a second. I have always loved you.”

“Prove it. There’s no way you can.” I am satisfied that I’ve thrown out the unwinnable challenge. He rolls onto his side and rests his cheek on his bicep. My heart is pounding.

“What’s my favorite color?”

“Easy. Blue.”

“What kind of blue?”

“Bedroom blue!” I point at the wall. “The walls. Your shirt. My dress. Pale Tiffany blue.”

He tugs me to sit, then goes to the end of the bed. He opens his wardrobe door, and I see all of the shirts hanging in color sequence.

“Josh, you dork.” I start to laugh and point, but he grabs my ankles and drags me to the end of the bed. There’s a full-length mirror, and I see myself, at long last sitting on the bed in his robin’s-egg bedroom. His walls are the blue of my eyes. I’ve been a bit slow.

“But that’s the prettiest blue in the world!”

“I know. Good lord, Lucinda. I thought I’d be busted the moment you saw this room.”

He sits on the bed behind me, one knee up, and I fall back into the perfect cradle of his body.

“How somebody can’t recognize their own eyes, I’ll never know.”

“Seems I didn’t recognize a few things. Hey, Josh.”

“Yes, Shortcake.”

“You love me.” I see him smile in our reflection at the confusion and wonder in my tone.

“Since the moment I saw you. Since the moment you smiled at me, I felt like I was falling backward off a cliff. The feeling has never stopped. I’ve been trying to drag you down with me. In the worst, most ill-conceived and socially retarded way possible.”

“We’ve been so awful to each other.” I feel his cringe, and his hands begin to stroke me. “I mean, how can we even begin to start again?”

“Time for a new game. The Starting Over Game.”

I smile. Eyes bright, dazzling, full of hope and certainty this merger will be the most exciting, passionate, challenging thing ever to happen to me. “Nice to meet you. I’m Lucy Hutton.”

“Joshua Templeman. Please, call me Josh.” I see the blinding flash of his smile in return, and now I’m properly crying. Tears running down my neck.

“Josh.”

“Sounds like heaven coming out of your mouth.”

“Josh, please. We’ve been colleagues for one minute, you’re rather flirtatious. Let me hang my coat.”

He unclips my bra. “Allow me.”

“Thank you.” We are playing the Staring Game in the mirror, and his eyes begin to darken. He fills his hands with my white skin.

“I grew up on a strawberry farm. It’s named after me.”

“I love strawberries. I’m so lovesick, I eat them constantly. Can I nickname you Shortcake? It’ll be a dead giveaway that I love you.”

“You love me! We’ve only met a minute ago.”

“I do. I’m sorry, but I work fast. I hope it’s not too forward of me to say, but your eyes are incredible, Lucy. I die when you blink.”

“You’re smooth. What do you know. I love you too. So much. Every time your dark blue eyes hit me, I feel like I get a mild electric shock.”

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