"What the hell happened between you and Tom?" Trish nudged Judy as they headed to first period. "He's acting weird."
"I told you he had a death in the family and had to go back East," Judy repeated the story she and Captain Fuller created during Hanson's absence from the case. A twinge of guilt twisted her stomach, but she pushed it aside. Amy's death was a horrible accident. While the loss of life saddened Judy, she refused to take responsibility for what happened. At least, that's what she reminded herself every day.
"Nope, it's more to it than that."
"I don't know what you mean." Another lie. It was so easy for them roll off her tongue. Maybe too easy.
"It was how he was looking at you," the teenager persisted. "I don't know if I've ever had a guy look at me like that. Are you having sex with him?"
Judy stopped dead in her tracks. Students brushed past her and the tardy bell rang. None of that sounded louder than the rapid beating of her heart. "Why would you say something like that? Trish, you're seeing things. I don't know what his deal is, but I don't think it has anything to do with me."
"I don't know about that." Trish glanced away. "Teach is giving us the evil eye. We'd better get in there before he threatens to call my dad. They're golfing buddies."
Judy followed Trish to the back of the room where they sat with another group of girls. While the teacher reviewed the week’s list of vocabulary words, Judy’s mind wandered. French was one of her favorite classes to take while undercover. She had four years of it in college and was fluent. She rarely had to pay attention and often used the extra time to think about the case. But this time, her thoughts drifted to her partner.
Trish was right. Things between Judy and Tom had taken a strange turn since Amy’s death. Remembering the earlier screaming match in the Jump Street parking lot sent a chill down her spine. After they were all inside, Ioki wanted answers, but she blew her usual partner off. Within seconds, Fuller called Tom into his office. Judy sat on pins and needles while she waited for his return. Then, common sense got the better of her and she rushed off to school. They hadn't spoken sense. Only the glare in his eyes served as a warning. This difference of opinion was far from over.
Fourth period and lunch arrived far too quickly for Judy's peace of mind. The possibility of a gambling ring preying on kids weighed too heavy for her to blow off the assignment. Personal differences aside, she had to cross the cafeteria and pretend that all was well between her and Tom.
He pulled out the chair closest to him and patted it. With a sexy jut of his chin, he invited her to sit. "Hey, Jude. What's up?"
"Not much," she said, plastering a smile on her face. The look in his eyes was totally unreadable. She felt like a helpless creature captured in the apex of a tornado. She had no idea where she'd land once the storm ended. "What's for lunch?"
"Owen ordered pizza from Domino's," Trish said. "He and Cliff just left to get it."
"They ditched?" Judy placed her books on the table between her and Tom. "How will they get back on campus? The principal has a tight lockdown during lunch. They'll never make it."
"Oh, ye of little faith," Trish said. "They didn't ditched. They had the pizzas delivered. They're meeting the guy behind the cafeteria. By the way, your share is five bucks."
"No, it isn't." Tom said. "I took care of it. We're covered with Owen."
"We?" Trish clucked her tongue as she grinned. "I like the sound of that."
"Sound of what?" Judy asked.
Tom wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. "You don't have to play hard to get in front of Trish. Everybody knows we're a couple."
His hand stroked her arm in a slow, lazy circle. She swallowed down the sigh of contentment that lodged in her throat. Her body was always so quick to betray her whenever he was around. She edged away, but her ploy didn't work. He moved closer and dropped his hand to her waist. His fingers toyed with the waistband of her jeans with unmistakable familiarity. In retaliation, she elbowed his ribs. Hard.
He inhaled a rush of air, but he didn't move away from her.
"What do you mean by everybody?" she asked.
"What do you think?" His brows rose as if he was teasing. The underlying tone in his voice was unmistakable.
Dear God, if he told Fuller—
"You can't mean--?" She swallowed hard as she remembered to remain calm in front of their interested audience. "I mean if my Dad found out...he's not too keen on me getting serious about anyone right now."
"I'm sure he'll like me once he gets to know me. It's not like I'd let anything happen to his precious little girl." He kissed her cheek and then moved in quickly to claim her mouth.
The taste of him was like ambrosia, sweet and indescribably delicious. Forgetting the rest of the world was easy within the circle of his arms. Catcalls and whistles brought them back to reality. Heat flooded her cheeks as she tugged free of him and scooted her chair closer to Trish.
"Wow," the other girl murmured. "Now, that was hot. You're lucky you didn't get busted for PDA, but I think it would have been worth the cost of detention."
Judy shook her head and was all set to let Tom have it when the boys returned with their pizzas. Other students looked at them in awe. No other students had ever been brave enough to have pizza delivered to school. The looks on their faces brought the importance of the case back to the forefront of Judy's mind. Teenagers were so impressionable. Some didn't understand the physical hazards and addictive risks of gambling. She and Tom needed to make their assignment a priority and deal with their personal issues later.
- - -
Tom couldn't stop thinking about the kiss. So much time had passed since the last time he held Judy in his arms and surrendered to the powerful draw of a man strongly attracted to a beautiful woman. He'd ached for her for so long. Before Amy died, his attraction to Judy was always in the back of his mind, nagging at him to take action. Then, Amy's death sent him into a deep, dark chasm of guilt. If he had been honest with Amy from the beginning—
The shrink and the Captain told him that her death wasn't his fault. Maybe everything that happened was a coincidence. Maybe not. Regardless, he knew in his heart that three point three seconds made a huge difference between life and death for her. Once those seconds passed, it was too late.
He knew that he couldn't turn back the clock. No matter how many times he replayed the moment, it was gone. But he could do something about his present. So many nights, he woke up in a cold sweat having dreamt about Judy and standing over her lifeless body while her blood pooled around her. His throat became raw from his dream-induced screams and shouts. His neighbors were about ready to have him evicted. He couldn't go on like that. Somehow, he'd have to make Judy understand that he wasn't being an overprotective jerk. His concerns were valid. He wouldn't let a damn thing happen to her.
After school, they headed to Jump Street to check in with Fuller. Owen's stepfather and mom were going away for the weekend so he and his older brother were planning a huge party. Tom and Judy were invited and a poker game was a major part of the festivities.
Fuller agreed to a wad of extra cash for both him and Judy. The Captain also put in an order for extra surveillance. That meant wires and recording equipment. Tom cringed at the possibility of being discovered, but he kept his mouth shut. The meeting with Fuller eventually ended and Tom followed Judy to their desks.
"If you're trying to apologize," she said, "I don't want to hear it."
"Good because I wasn't going to."
Her mouth tightened. The slight movement made him want to kiss the tension away. He averted his gaze for a second to collect his bearings.
"Listen, Tom, we can't lose sight of what's important," she said.
He nodded. "I agree."
"I'm not talking about the case." He stepped past her to sit on the corner of her desk. "We need to talk. Just you and me. Alone."
"That's probably not a good idea right now."
"Then, when will it be?" When she didn't answer, he added, "I can't sleep. I think about you all the time. I remember how everything felt so right but just happened at the wrong time. The time is now, Judy. You can't deny it."
"This is the worst time for you to rush into something. You're still raw from what happened to Amy. You need to give yourself time to heal."
"Yeah," he said as he stood, "but I can't heal without you. I need you. It's too bad you're too stubborn to admit you need me, too."