Tommy woke the next morning to the blinding glare and warm feel of morning sunlight coming across his skin from the open blinds in his bedroom. With a groan, his body jerked to the side and yanked the blanket up over his head in one swift motion. He tried to go back to sleep but his body was tense with anticipation of the alarm that was surely about to go off. His groggy mind languidly brought him back to reality and eventually found himself tiredly looking up at the ceiling, regretting staying up so late the night before. He silently cursed himself for his inability to say no to those blue eyes.
Once they perfected the melody of her song and made an agreement to work on it further the following day, she seemed hesitant to leave. Even though he was beyond ready to go to bed, she only had to ask once for a movie and takeout. He dared not allow himself to make guesses as to why she wanted to stay, or why he didn't really want her to leave. They relaxed on his couch, talking and joking until the movie was over and the leftovers got cold. As she was leaving, she mentioned she didn't want to go home and refused to elaborate when he asked why.
Such a mystery, that girl.
Tommy took in a deep breath and released it in a gust, trying to think about something – anything – other than Jude. Jude. He thought, and with a panicked glance to his clock, he realized he never set the alarm and it was late - much too late - in the morning. "Jude! Dammit!" He barked into the empty room and began throwing himself together in a frenzied hurry. No time for proper hair maintenance, he blindly combed it back with his fingers with one hand while the other yanked a random button-up shirt from the top of the dresser.
He met the staircase with undone jeans and his shirt hanging open over the tank top he slept in, his eyes drawn to his cell phone, cringing at Georgia's death threats and responding to a message from Jude. He stumbled clumsily to the bottom floor, narrowly avoiding devastating fall and was rushing toward the door adjoining the house to the garage when a voice stopped him.
"Never text and stairs." Jude said from the couch, his guitar on her lap, and an amused smirk on her lips "It's the leading killer of over-sleepers."
Tommy spun toward her and his already panicked pulse doubled with a jolt. "Jude?! What the hell?" He yelled, startled
Jude held up a finger and read the message he just sent her with a disapproving shake of her head "Stuck in traffic? Really?" She flipped her phone shut "Not very original, Quincy. I would expect more finesse from you, honestly."
Tommy's arms fell to his sides, his breath still ragged "Did I miss the whole shoot?"
"No, there was a delay with the publisher. It got postponed until noon." She redirected her gaze to the pencil in her hand, writing on the creased paper from last night "Lucky for you. Georgia was about to kill you – something about knowing your producer-ing responsibilities. She asked me to hunt you down."
He relaxed a little with relief and turned for the kitchen, a needed cup of coffee in mind. "How did you get in here?"
Jude shrugged, distracted "Cleaning lady let me in…with the way I'm dressed, she probably thought I was invited." She grimaced down at her outfit and set the guitar aside to stand
Only half-listening, Tommy set the coffee to brew and dug in his cupboard for a mug "Why? What are you" He turned and his newly regulated pulse accelerated once again "-wearing?" The word left his mouth dryly, almost inaudible, as his eyes unintentionally took her in from head to toe. Her hair had been curled and dyed back to the vibrant red he was used to. Her body was clothed in some sexy spin of a school girl's outfit, complete with a tiny pleated skirt topped with a studded belt. The tight navy-blue blazer was buttoned once under her breasts, and the rest hung open to reveal the delicate curve of her torso. His eyes followed the curve into her waist where it billowed out slightly over her hips and he had to look away to war off images of his fingers also tracing that line. "What are you wearing?" He asked again, incredulous this time
"I don't know!" Jude exasperated and threw her hands up "This is what the stylist gave me. I told EJ I didn't like it but she told me I was being a 'wardrobe diva' and to behave." She grumbled and crossed her arms over her exposed stomach
Tommy frowned at her guiltily. If he had been there on time, he could've at least tried to talk EJ into getting Jude something more comfortable. "I'll talk to her."
"Stupid Solid magazine. Stupid Sadie and her stupid paint." Jude ranted and took a seat on one of the stools lining the bar "Solid only wants me on the cover because they feel sorry for me."
"No, they want you on the cover because you're big in the media right now." Tommy disagreed lightly "It's just the way it works. Media attention equals magazine sales."
Jude scowled down at the counter top "Fine. But it's a music magazine. Shouldn't the attention be on my music and not my navel?"
Tommy smirked a little "It will be. Don't worry." He filled a mug with coffee and offered it to Jude, but she declined with a shake of her head "No coffee? I'm shocked."
Jude smiled very slightly and stood, pulling on the hem of her skirt as she did so "I should get back to the shoot. Meet you there?"
Tommy nodded "Sure."
Jude grabbed her bag and smiled at him teasingly over her shoulder "Careful. I hear traffic is terrible."
Tommy's eyes narrowed, but he couldn't help his returning smile "Bye."
Despite only being a half hour behind, by the time Tommy walked into the shoot, Jude was already positioned in front of the camera and the photographer, Rick, was a few dozen frames in. After a lengthy phone call with EJ and an overuse of the word "tacky" on his part, he had managed to talk her into getting Jude a better outfit. The tied up button up and half-blazer were replaced with a plain white button up blouse that was half buttoned and had the sleeves rolled up to the elbow. She looked comfortable enough, and posed for the camera with her signature confidence.
"Ah that's beautiful, Jude." The photographer exclaimed as he moved to snap another shot and Jude aimed a charming smile in his direction. She moved and he followed without complaint, fully enthralled.
Tommy found his way to the concession table and leaned up against it with a pastry in hand. Being no stranger to hanging out at photo shoots, he casually split his time between watching the shoot and returning messages. Jude sat poised on the bottom step of the school bus they brought in for the rock and roll high school theme, her legs carefully crossed and her posture straight at first, but her eyes caught on someone behind the photographer and her demeanor instantly became less reserved.
"How about this?" Jude asked as she undid a button and spread out the collar to reveal a strap of her black bra. With his eager approval, she set her lips seductively and leaned forward with her arms draped, crossed, over her legs.
"Sexy girl." Rick commented under his breath and happily captured her every move, each one more suggestive than the last
Still watching the man on the far side of the sectioned off shoot space, Jude rubbed her lips together to hide her discomfort, asking "Do you think we have the shot?" In a voice of faux confidence
Rick scoffed at the question and momentarily lowered the camera, "We got the shot ages ago. Now we're just having fun." He said with a wink
Jude breathed out a shaky smile and met eyes with the man for the first time. He kept steady at first, studying her, then turned away with a dismissive shake of his head that both depleted her confidence and made her angry. "Well, in that case…" She plastered a smile on her lips turned to the side on the step, propping the heels of her boots up on the door handle, successfully accentuating the length of her legs and the shortness of her skirt.
Seeing this, Tommy's eyebrows gathered over his eyes. This wasn't like Jude at all. He caught her cast a glance behind the photographer and followed her eyes to the man she was staring at before. The man lifted his oversized sunglasses to peek in her direction and Tommy instantly recognized Shay, Darius Mills' nephew. Before he had time to question what her interest could be in him, and why she felt the need to show off, Darius himself made an appearance, calling Rick over with a single demanding bark.
Jude returned her feet to the floor and exchanged a look with Tommy, questioning the sudden tension. Rick broke away from a hushed argument with Darius and set his camera aside. "Shoot's over – publisher's orders."
Jude shrugged "That's fine. We got the shot."
Rick frowned and switched out the memory card in his camera "Cover's going to someone else. Sorry, doll."
"What?" Jude demanded, her eyes finding Shay's once more, angry this time "Why?"
EJ stomped over to Rick with a flamed glare and a bite to her tone "Since when does the publisher dictate content?"
Rick looked between the two with a scoff "Since his signature is printed at the bottom of my checks." He retorted "Got a problem? Hash it up with him yourself." He set up his camera on a tripod and shrugged at EJ's glare and turned for the wardrobe trailer "Tell your girl to get those clothes back to wardrobe. We'll need it."
EJ fixed her glare on Tommy and blocked his stride toward Jude, "No, no. You should be going that way." She stabbed a manicured finger toward Darius, her tone hushed
"Check the job title, EJ. I'm a producer, not damage control."
EJ blocked his path once again and earned an aggravated sigh in response "Darius-freakin-Mills came down here himself to cancel the shoot. This is clearly about you, not Jude."
"Well does Jude know that?" He countered, all but shoving EJ out of his way in a haste, rushing to stop Jude from walking over to Darius and directing her back toward a wardrobe trailer. "No, no, no. You let us deal with Darius."
"Are you crazy?" EJ hissed "You can't just walk up to him like that!" Jude shoved Tommy's grip off her arms with an annoyed complaint that was cut off by EJ's rant "No! Hush! Do you know who that is?"
"Oh, so you want to be blackballed in this industry, then?" EJ held up her hand, disallowing any objection and growled a firm "Stay. Away" before pulling out her cell phone "I'm going to fix this. Get her out of here." She parted with a glare and Jude rolled her eyes
"She's a pain, but she's right about this one." Tommy said "You don't want get on his bad side."
"I know that. I us-"
Keeping his back to Darius, Tommy looped his arm around Jude's neck and began leading her the rest of the way to wardrobe, desperately trying to look casual and not like Jude was throwing a diva fit "Let EJ handle it."
Annoyed, Jude pushed his arm away and slipped from his hold "You're not listening to me!"
"You wanna keep your voice down!" Tommy whispered harshly
Jude crossed her arms tight over her chest with a scowl and a stubborn set to her jaw that Tommy was all too familiar with. Before he could do anything to stop it, she called over to Darius – loud - getting the attention of his entire team, Shay included. They appraised Jude nervously as Darius removed his shades and met eyes with the source of the interruption. Tommy broke into panic and was preparing to apologize on her behalf, only to gape in disbelief when he smiled and waved her over.
Jude paused to smile at Tommy arrogantly before sauntering away with a victorious sway in her hips. "It's your funeral." He muttered, but his face fell completely when Darius greeted her with a hug. Watching them interact was like watching a fish walk on land. How on earth would Jude know Darius Mills? They interacted like they were old friends – good friends. She said something, gesturing to the school bus, and Darius laughed. All the years they've known each other, and Tommy's only seen him laugh once – maybe twice – and Jude's with him all of ten seconds and she's got him in hysterics. Darius hung his arm on her shoulders and pulled her in for a sideways hug as he introduced her to his assistant. Her smile was wide and charming, and her mannerisms were relaxed and playful. She didn't seem the least bit out of place with one of the most powerful faces of the industry.
Tommy stood to the side, unsure of himself, awkwardly standing near the wardrobe trailer fixed on the confusing scene before him. Shay made his way to Jude and she greeted him curtly, her face trading all charm for an annoyed pinch to her eyebrows. Shay leaned in to whisper something in her ear and she tensed against Darius' side. Noticing this, Darius waved him away and offered Jude a quick goodbye, parting with a call of, "I'll be in touch with Georgia in the morning."
"Thanks, D." Jude smiled and headed back toward Tommy, her face as boastful and triumphant as ever. She offered him only a simple shrug of her shoulders as she passed him and jogged up the steps of the trailer.
Tommy followed on her heels without a single hesitation, right into the cramped wardrobe space, "Ohhh no. You're not getting out of this one without an explanation."
Jude took off her shoes and dug in her bag for her clothes, a wisp of amusement lifting the corners of her lips "Maybe try listening to me next time?"
"How would I have known that you're friends with Darius Mills of all people?"
"Because I would've told you – that's where the listening comes in."
With a bundle of clothes in hand, Jude went behind the changing screen and Tommy hoped his glare could reach her. "No shit, Sherlock." He muttered "But how? A racing connection or something?"
"Or something." Jude said and withheld a giggle at his responding sigh of frustration. "Remember when I told you that you probably met my ex?"
Tommy froze for a second "Wha-…Darius is your-"
"Ew! Not Darius, stupid. Shay." Jude grimaced and shoved her arms into her T-shirt "I dated Shay a few years back."
"Oh." He mumbled, equal parts shocked and wondering how the two ever crossed paths "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I told you you probably met him. You didn't seem interested."
"Well excuse me for not immediately assuming you meant the nephew of the king of hip hop."
Jude came out dressed much more comfortably in relaxed jeans and a T-shirt, a pair of converse on her feet. Tommy smiled softly at the sight while trying incredibly hard not to; she was effortlessly beautiful regardless what was on her body. She caught his smile and shyly dropped her gaze to the floor. "Why did he pull you from the cover?" Tommy asked
Jude shrugged "He wants me to have a feature instead. Once he heard the idea for the cover he pulled the plug for something a tad more respectable than a cheesy school girl routine."
Tommy's eyebrows pulled tightly over his eyes, confused and concerned "Why would he do that for you? What's his angle?"
"No, angle, Tommy. He's just being nice."
He gave a single, disbelieving laugh ""Darius" and "nice" are not two words that go together."
Now it was Jude's turn to be confused. She tilted her head and crossed her arms "Sure they do. Darius has always been really good to me. He believes in my talent."
Tommy scoffed "Believes in milking talent dry, if that's what you mean."
Jude cocked and eyebrow "You two have history, huh?" He avoided the question with a dismissive shake of his head. "Bad history." She added and hung her bag on one shoulder "I'm assuming you're the one Darius always complained about back then."
"He complained about me?" Tommy demanded "After all he-" He cut himself short, the glare in his eyes no longer directed at Jude. "I'll talk to him myself." He concluded
"Definitely the one he complained about." Jude smirked a little and lead the way out the door. She'd only made it a few steps before noticing Shay leaned up against the trailer. He took off his sunglasses when he saw her and offered a leering smile that made her wish Darius was nearby. "Jude." He greeted and glanced once at Tommy "How you been, girl? It's been a while."
"Not by accident, either." Jude said, purposefully keeping her eyes straight ahead with semi confident stride
Shay matched her pace and caught a grip around her wrist "C'mon, don't be so cold, Jude. I want to talk."
Jude yanked her arm away "I don't." She said firmly and warned him with her eyes not to put his hands on her again. Noticing her demeanor, Tommy assured Shay wouldn't try anything by stepping between them and guiding Jude forward with a hand on her back. Shay grit his teeth and put replaced the shades over his eyes "Don't tease if you don't want my attention, baby." He called after her
Jude rolled her eyes and flipped him off over her shoulder.
"Speaking of bad history..." Tommy hedged, hoping to be spared from needing to ask the questions flooding his mind only to sigh with disappointment when Jude wordlessly left his side to head for her car alone. "Such a mystery."