By seven a.m. I had caffeine buzzing through my veins.
It’d started with Mr. Guidi’s triple espresso. But we’d left so early that we made it to the bus departure point with an hour to kill. We’d gone into a nearby diner to wait and I’d ordered a large coffee. It’d tasted as thin as water so I ordered a second.
I was wound as tight as a spring. And it was also almost time to get onto a freakin’ bus full of strangers who lived and breathed sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. Okay, maybe I was being a bit clichéd. Still, they were all guys and the only women who ever got onboard were groupies, and they weren’t there just to enjoy a glass of iced tea.
Not that I was a prude, or anything. I mean, I got knocked-up at seventeen.
“So you’ll email me the paperwork as soon as you get it. Promise me,” I asked.
“Cass, chill out. Curtis is launching the adoption process this week. These things take time.” He leaned across the table and his hand covered mine. “We’ve talked about this.”
I nodded. My foot kept tapping against the side of my chair. “I’m not like you, Mr. Ivy League. Paperwork makes me nervous and takes me ages to get through. I have to think about every single word I write. I don’t want to say anything that’ll mess up our application.”
“Think about it like writing a song.” When I tilted my head sideways, he added, “Seriously! Just don’t worry, please. I’ll review everything before I send it to Curtis. So in the end there’ll be several pairs of eyes to ensure we look like the most respectable, mature and stable adoptive parents ever.”
I chuckled. “Good luck with that. Erasing six years of screwing up is gonna take some clever spin.”
Josh waved his hands and shrugged. “What can I say? I’m getting into politics after all.” His cocky expression shifted to a serious one. “It’s not a lie. We’re the best parents for Lucas?”
He said that, not so much as a question, but as if he was willing it to be true. “We are,” I told him because I knew so. I didn’t want us to part with heavy thoughts so I changed the topic. “I thought politics was all about big ideas and big dreams anyway. And this Senator Estevez you’re working for, he’s supposed to be new blood.”
“I’d like to think so.”
“So why do you look so gloomy each time we talk about your new job?”
Josh leaned against the back of his chair, his gaze lost somewhere through the window among the scene outside.
“I’d have made more money in lobbying.”
My heart froze. I couldn’t keep the words in and they burst out of my mouth. “You mean you could make more money if you were getting married to Eleanor and worked for her daddy.”
He looked dazed. “Where the hell did that come from?”
Coffee always made me snappy and I was overdosing on it right now. “Sorry… I didn’t mean to accuse you of anything. I guess… I still don’t feel totally secure. Lenor is pretty much the dream girl.”
“For the record, Cassie, I could have worked in lobbying for someone other than Bruce Carrington. I chose to join Estevez’s staff because I admire the man and I believe in him and what he can do for the country. Now is it the best paid job on the Hill? Nope. Far from it.”
“It’s still good money and, as far as I can remember, you’ve always wanted to change the world.”
“Sure, but I have a family to look after now.”
It was my turn to lean forward and lace my fingers through his. “You’ll look after us just fine, Champ. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.” He didn’t say anything so I pushed my point. “You’ll make us proud, Joshua MacBride. I know you will.”
The tension in his body told me he wasn’t convinced. “It’s time to go,” he said.
I didn’t want to leave him. It was like being a kid on my way to summer camp, leaving my parents for the first time. Josh was my family and I couldn’t be without him ever again.
He paid for our coffees and escorted me outside. He had my duffel bag on one shoulder and carried my guitar case in that hand. His free hand was on the small of my back. He force-marched me to the corner where the bus would be waiting. It sat in front of the hotel where the rest of the band members had spent the night.
“What’s up, Cass?”
I didn’t answer.
Josh leveled himself so that he could stare at me in the eyes. “You know you’re going to be late now.”
I nodded. A tight nod like I’d seen Lucas make when he was sulking. Josh cocked his eyebrow but didn’t say anything.
“I don’t want to go.”
“Are you scared to be in that bus full of testosterone-fueled guys? Because, to be honest, I’m a little scared one of those cool guys will sweep you off your feet and make you forget all about your stuck-up, nerdy husband.”
Josh having self-esteem issues? That’s new.
“It’ll never happen, Champ. You’re the only one I want to sweep me off my feet. Even when you’re old and wrinkly.”
He whistled. “So I better stay fit in my senior years.”
“You bet. But that’s not why I don’t want to go.” He gave me another cock of his eyebrow that made my toes curl inside my boots. “I don’t want to be away from you again.” The wave of emotions crashed over me harder than I expected. A waterfall of tears wasn’t the good-bye gift I wanted to give Josh. “Now that I have you back, I never want to let you go.”
The humor left his face and his expression turned serious. “Listen to me, Cass. Listen to me carefully.” His forehead came to rest against mine. “We are never letting go of each other. Never. That shit is never happening again.”
I fought the lump in my throat. “Then why am I getting onto that bus when I could follow you to D.C?”
“Because you shouldn’t have to sacrifice who you are to love me.”
“I can’t be a mother and a wife if I’m touring around the country and sleeping on a bus.”
He lowered his gaze and I knew I’d scored a point. “Let’s deal with that when the moment comes. Right now there’s nothing we can do about Lucas except filling in the paperwork and spending time with him when we’re given the opportunity. That’s why I want you to get on that bus and climb on a different stage every night and give it everything you’ve got.”
I swallowed hard. “I’ll try to make you proud.”
“I already am.”
And that goddamned tear tracked down my cheek. His lips came closer to stop it and make it his.
“Let’s go.” He grabbed the bag he’d let fall on the sidewalk and my guitar, and pulled me by the hand.
“Cassie.” Shawn was waving at me from the front of the bus. “What the fuck are you doing? I’ve been calling your cell for the last thirty minutes. We need to get on the road like an hour ago.”
I’d switched off my cell.
“Sorry,” I mumbled and walked briskly to Shawn. He was already halfway into the bus. Goosebumps broke over my bare arms under the cold rushing from the air-conditioner.
“I thought you’d bailed on me,” Shawn drawled, pausing on the steps to welcome me.
“Sorry,” I repeated lamely, but my new colleague was now focused on Josh.
He extended his hand toward Shawn. “Josh MacBride. I’m Cassie’s husband.”
Shawn did a double-take. “So that’s true… I thought Cassie was making that up to keep me away.”
“That’s the truth, nothing but the truth.” Josh smiled at Shawn but his voice sounded to me like several hundred degrees below zero.
“Okay,” Shawn answered. He took the duffel and the guitar from Josh. “Say your goodbyes and we’ll be off.” He disappeared inside.
I climbed one step, which brought my eyes almost to Josh’s level. “So this is it.” Oh God, no crying, no crying, no crying. I pursed my lips and locked my jaw.
“Make the most of it, Cass.” His mouth caressed mine. It wasn’t enough but any more and I would come undone. “With some luck we’ll see each other in D.C. in three weeks and then next month here again to see Lucas.”
I started to turn around and climb the stairs. The strength of his grip on my wrist startled me. In a flash, his palms cupped my cheeks.
“I won’t let you get away, Cass. Not again. I made the mistake twice. I believed the worst of you. I didn’t fight for you.”
“It’s okay, Champ. It’s the past—”
“It’ll never be okay. You are worth fighting for. You are worth dying for. And you are certainly worth living for. I’ll go after anything or anyone standing between us like a fucking Rottweiler.”
He kissed me and it felt like he was stamping me with his love. My legs threatened to give way. He stood back and I climbed one step backwards. The automatic door shut in front of me.
I lifted my hand and waved at Josh. I must have looked like the poor kid who’d lost her mom in the mall. I heard whistles coming from the cabin of the bus but I didn’t give a damn.
My lips shaped the words I hadn’t said to Josh for so long. I didn’t want to say them out loud. Not because of the guys making fun of me, but because there were only mine and I didn’t want to share them with anybody but Josh.