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The lovers game, p.10
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       The Lover's Game, p.10

           J. C. Reed
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  The silence was deafening, but his answer never came. Instead, he continued to regard me, his gaze betraying his hurt and worry. If I could peer into his soul so easily, then I figured he might at least see the turmoil inside me, and all the things that had crushed my heart, so I turned away, because the magnitude of my love for him had to remain a well-kept secret, or else he could use it against me. Manipulate me. Tell me what I wanted to hear, even if it wasn’t true.

  “It’s over,” I whispered, more to myself than to him. “You can’t have me anymore. You can’t sleep with me anymore. In fact, I’d rather you just left and never contacted me again.”

  He let out an annoyed sigh and pushed his fingers through his dark hair just as I had done the previous night when he had pinned me to the floor. “The last time I checked, we were still together.”

  “Then I am ending things right now.” Another sharp pang of pain hit my chest. I turned my gaze to the shaggy rug beneath my feet so I wouldn’t have to see his expression. “Can you please leave now?”

  As if sensing that I needed space, he walked back to the open window and leaned against the wall, facing me. “I’m not leaving until you tell me what’s going on.” His voice was calm, but the dangerous undertones didn’t escape my attention.

  I looked up at him. His face was as hard as stone, and his eyes shimmered with something I couldn’t pinpoint. “You know damn right what’s going on.”

  “I actually don’t.” He pulled his eyebrows together again and let out an annoyed sigh. “Why don’t you enlighten me, Brooke?” His hard smile belied his anger.

  My pulse began to race, but it wasn’t from the physical attraction that was still palpable in the air. Jett was playing games again, and this time it was the clueless card, but I could see through his pretense—more so because I had seen it coming. The thought that he thought he could lie right to my face infuriated me.

  “Damn right, you do,” I said through gritted teeth, suppressing the wish to throw something else at him. “I don’t trust you as far as I can spit.”

  He inched closer and grabbed my hand. I drew back before he could pull me to him and before his hard body could envelope me, soothing me the way only Jett knew how.

  “Brooke.” Another annoyed sigh. “Can you please, for one moment, sit down and explain to me what’s going on? The last time you broke things off, you didn’t have a freaking choice, but this time? Forgive me for asking, but I’m confused.” His voice was hard, his expression detached. I had never seen his stunning green eyes devoid of warmth, and it scared me. His attitude suggested that I was the enemy, as if I was the one causing him pain.

  “What is there to explain?” I started. “I know.”

  “What do you know?” He sounded so sincere I laughed bitterly. He wasn’t just a good liar; he was an excellent one, who could have probably fooled any lie detector.

  I shook my head as I stared him down. “I know everything, Jett.”

  “What do you mean?” He sighed. “What exactly do you think you know?”

  Now he was turning downright patronizing.

  “Fine. If this is the way you want to play.” I smiled bitterly. With the sheet still wrapped around me, I sat across from him and ran a hand through my hair. My eyes settled on him in what I hoped was an icy expression. A few seconds passed. I took a deep breath and released it slowly, then continued, a little calmer, “Did you really think I’d still want to date you after I found out you fucked Tiffany?”

  He stared at me, shell-shocked, as though I had just dropped a bomb. I had expected to feel better after the confrontation, but I didn’t. Instead, all the hurt of being cheated on, of being betrayed, returned full force, multiplied by a million.

  “I didn’t fuck her,” Jett said at last, and paused, choosing his words carefully as he wiped his brow. “Not recently anyway. I mean, it happened a long time ago.”

  “How long ago?” I asked calmly, but the tremble in my voice betrayed my hurt.

  “Last year.” His gaze connected with mine, his eyes begging me to understand. “It was before I met you.”

  He didn’t even deny they had been lovers, and a year wasn’t as long ago as he made it out to be. Judging from their intimate communication, they still were close. A sudden pang of jealousy pierced my heart.

  “Are you still in love with her?”

  “What?” He let out an awkward laugh, then stopped, frowning at my hurt reaction. “Is that what this is about? About Ti?” He stared at me in disbelief. “Trust me, Brooke, nothing is going on between us. As I said, it happened a long time ago.”

  I snorted as I thought back to the incident at the bar: her lips on his, her tongue in his mouth, the insinuation that she had booked a hotel room for them, the fact that he had wanted to see her, and that she had been pregnant by him.

  “How do I know you’re telling the truth? How can I trust you?” I whispered and stared at him, unable to comprehend that he was lying to my face. My eyes began to sting again. “You saw her behind my back.”

  “What are you...” His eyes widened as realization kicked in.

  “Did you really think I wouldn’t find out?” My voice broke.

  A short moment passed. For the first time, I noticed that Jett couldn’t look at me. He remained silent again, and in some twisted way, that was worse than a whole chorus of lies. A stray tear ran down my cheek. I wiped at it angrily before he could see it.

  “So you won’t even deny that you kissed her?” I exclaimed, ignoring the sharp stab ripping through my chest.

  “I didn’t,” he whispered.

  “Liar.” I took a sharp breath and let it out slowly. “Don’t you understand, Jett? I was there, right in the same room with you, behind the ice sculpture, watching you both, listening to every word. There’s no point in lying. Whatever you have to say, I know the truth.”

  He wavered as his green gaze pierced me, urging me to open up and trust him.

  “I didn’t kiss her, Brooke,” he said, his tone soft, begging me to understand. “If you were there, then you know that I didn’t start it, nor did I want her advances.”

  I wanted to believe his lies. It would have been easy to sink into his arms and give in to his false assurances, but I was past that. The truth, as shattering as it was, was easier to deal with at that point. I didn’t want to be broken anymore. I needed things out in the open so I could finally heal.

  “Sure didn’t look like it.” I laughed bitterly again, but my heart was hurting so much I feared I might just pass out.

  “It was all her doing,” he said.

  Oh, he was good. Too good. I had to give him that. Now he blamed it on Tiffany. “I don’t believe you. You’re a cheater and a liar.”

  “Say that again.” His tone finally betrayed his anger and irritation. He was slowly losing his composure and patience with me.

  “What difference does it make if she started it, or you?” I asked, ignoring the menacing tone in his voice. “You kissed her back and that’s all that matters to me.”

  “Everything, Brooke. Everything,” he said angrily. “I pushed her away, and do you know why?” He glowered at me. “Because I don’t love her. I love you. Don’t you understand? I love you, Brooke—you and no one else. If you had stayed longer, you would have seen it. You would have heard what I said to her.” He moistened his lips, and his tone softened, but his eyes continued to betray his true feelings. “Trust me. It came as a surprise to me that she still cares for me after all this time, but I can’t change that. Only she can.”

  “And that’s supposed to make me feel better?” I asked.

  “I don’t know, but it’s the truth, and like I said, I can’t change it.” His hand reached out for me in a silent urge to let him come close to me again. I stared at it, then blatantly ignored the gesture.

  “I don’t believe you.”

  His eyes narrowed, the waves of anger wafting from him almost palpable in the air. I had never seen him that angry before, and it sc
ared me.

  He was a dangerous man, just like the rest of his family.

  My heart pounded hard in my chest as he inched closer to me, jaw clenched, a vein throbbing in his temple. Towering over me, he was so strong it would have been easy for him to crush me. I flinched as his fingers touched my cheek and trailed down my face to lift my chin. To my surprise, his touch was gentle, almost intimate.

  “I would never cheat on you,” he said. “The thought never even entered my mind.” His voice came hard and full of unspoken accusation. “But you?” He pointed a finger at me. “You have no excuse for what you tried to do. You could have called and talked with me before you went off to get drunk and sleep with the next guy.” He spat out the words, his eyes ablaze with an anger I had never seen before. “Have you forgotten that we’re expecting a baby?” The words were as poisonous as venom, slicing through the frail shell of trust we had built around us.

  I opened my mouth to speak, then closed it again, struck speechless by the daggers in his eyes.

  “I know that. Trust me, I’m reminded every hour of every day,” I whispered bitterly, “and while I know I want this child, I’m not sure I want you as the father. With all your lies and going behind my back, how can I ever trust you again? How can I ever know if you’re telling me the truth?”

  “Because I do, Brooke,” he said through gritted teeth. “It’s as simple as that.”

  For a brief moment, I felt guilty, and then I pushed his hand away. How dare he accuse me while trying to turn himself into a victim when Tiffany wasn’t even the only problem? And why was he so angry with me for wanting to move on when he should have been aiming his anger at his ex for kissing him, at his anything but me?

  Come on, what was worse: finding out the one person you trusted was cheating, lying, bonding with a killer, or the possibility of me thinking I was sleeping with a stranger, when it was in fact Jett all along? The question was a no-brainer. He had no right to be angry with me. In fact, he should have seen it coming.

  “You’re full of shit, Jett.” I took a menacing step forward but kept enough distance to jump back in case he decided to put so much as a finger on me. “It’s my right to go out and have fun. You betrayed my trust, and I can sleep with whomever I want. You swore you’d never lie to me.”

  He cut me off. “And I haven’t broken that trust.”

  “Oh, you did,” I hissed, narrowing my eyes. “You broke that trust the moment you met with your brother behind my back and kept secrets. Secrets I had every right to know. Why couldn’t you just tell me that he’s free? That you missed him so much you had to visit him?”

  His eyes widened in surprise, and then he blinked, composing himself.

  “How do you know—” He stopped midsentence. Wrinkles creased his forehead as he blew a ragged breath. “There’s a reasonable explanation for it.” He wiped a hand over his face, hesitating, and then his shoulders slumped in defeat. “Look, I get that you’re pissed at me, but it’s just...complicated. You need to trust me.”

  I crossed my arms over my chest and regarded him coolly. “Tell me, Jett.”

  He pressed his lips into a tight line, and my heart sank in my chest. Whatever the explanation was, I knew instantly that he wasn’t going to share it with me.

  “I can’t,” he said quietly, his expression softening a little. “I have my reasons. You need to trust me.”

  “What reasons would that be?”

  He clamped his mouth shut.

  “Okay.” I smiled bitterly. “Tell me just one thing, Jett. Just one. That’s all I’m asking for. Did you or did you not log into my account and delete one email related to the estate?”

  He shook his head. “I don’t think you...”

  “Just answer the question.” I stared him down, cutting him off. “Did you or did you not?”

  “I did.” Sighing, he raised his arms in surrender. “But I have a good reason. You...”

  My brows shot up as another pang of anger washed over me. “What the hell! Are you controlling me?”

  “No, that’s not it.”

  “What other reason would that be?”

  “I can’t tell you, Brooke. You have to trust me.”

  “I don’t have to do anything.” The thought that after everything we had been through he was still keeping secrets from me hurt. My vision blurred with unshed tears of disappointment. “Get out!” I crossed the room in a few steps, then turned around, unable to hide my disgust for him. “The only reason you won’t tell me is because you can’t come up with a lie that quickly. Don’t even pretend otherwise.” I opened the door and waited for him to leave.

  He shot me a confused look but made no move to leave. Instead, he crossed his arms over his chest and regarded me coolly. “Why would I do that, Brooke?”

  There were so many possible reasons I could have thrown at him, but I decided to keep it short and simple.

  “I don’t know. Maybe because you sided with your brother, and you both want to kill me to get my estate?” The words escaped my lips before I could stop them. It was too late to back off now. “That’s the other reason why I wanted to sleep with someone else, so I could move on from you.”

  He drew in a sharp breath as an array of emotions crossed his beautiful features. Shock. Disbelief. Anger. And then a cold hardness, as though his heart had just turned to ice.

  “You thought I wanted to kill you?” he asked slowly, his voice so forceful that I recoiled. “Brooke, are you even listening to yourself?”

  I jutted my chin out, standing my ground.

  Silence filled the room. Seconds passed. I had never seen Jett so angry. From the way his hands had balled into fists, he looked like he was about to punch a wall. Then again, I had never been so angry myself. What answer could I give him, anyway? That, yes, I had thought he wanted to kill me? That I couldn’t trust him and it was over? I tensed when he moved past me. I expected him to touch me again, to utter thousands of excuses. Instead, he grabbed his clothes and turned to leave. Without another word, he walked out, slamming the door behind him, the thud reverberating from the walls. I jumped in shock but still didn’t move, doing nothing to stop him. It was only when I heard a car door slam outside the window and tires screeching that I knew he was gone.

  Out of my life.

  Out of my baby’s future.

  Loud sobs escaped my throat. I sank to the floor and buried my face in my hands. I should have been filled with pure anger, yet buried beneath all those negative feelings for him, there was guilt—for hurting him, for choosing that day to break up, for even giving up on love. My heart was hurting in so many places, and while I hated him, I hated myself more.

  The nausea in my stomach intensified by a hundredfold.

  Why couldn’t I feel anger inside me? Why was I fighting an array of emotions—stupid, stronger feelings that urged me to run after him, to explain the situation, to tell him that he was still the only one for me, that I wanted him more than anything else—even when I resisted in my mind?

  I wanted to tell him that, in spite of his cheating, I couldn’t stop loving him, and I had no idea why. The last thing I remembered was the awful sickness as I dashed to the bathroom to empty the remnants of my stomach.

  Love is an unpredictable thing. It never listens to you. It doesn’t follow your commands. It is like a stubborn cat, eager to chase the next running mouse and to catch it for a trophy. I felt like that mouse, with a sense of ominous, impending doom hanging over my head and no knowledge of which direction to take. I was running in fear, hoping that one day I’d bump into the door that would lead me to freedom, and Jett wouldn’t be waiting on the other side, ready to capture me, ready to make me fall for his wicked charm again. With his sexy smile and his green eyes, he had enslaved my body like no other man. I had no wish, no desire, and certainly no need to fall blindly into the next trap, and Jett Mayfield certainly was one.

  Our entire relationship had been so intense that I knew it couldn’t be hea
lthy for my soul. The moment he had kissed me, I had instantly wanted him, as though my body was programmed to react to him, just as my mind couldn’t stop thinking about sex when he wasn’t around.

  I felt as if I was lost in a dark mausoleum, and he was like the phantom of the opera, shrouded in darkness, with the power to sing to me in my sleep and appear in my dreams. He only had to speak my name in that sexy Southern accent of his, and I would turn to butter in his hands.

  I laughed darkly at the comparison of Jett with the phantom; the irony wasn’t lost on me. I just hoped I wouldn’t end in a straightjacket. After all, my love and desire for him not only turned me blind; it also rendered me insane.

  Sitting in bed with my arms wrapped around me, I had absolutely no clue what was going on. Shouldn’t he feel some guilt for kissing Tiffany? And why was he so angry anyway? My mind fought to come up with an explanation as to what had gone wrong. Jett hadn’t seemed to feel particularly guilty about the fact that I had seen them. Instead, he had been furious. Call it wishful thinking, but I had imagined he’d feel repentant, sorry for all the things he had done, maybe even try to conjure up a bunch of convincing lies. I wouldn’t even have been surprised if he had fled the moment a conflict arose, because aren’t men supposed to be enemies of difficult chitchats, accusations, and drawn-out drama?

  Any sort of reaction would have pleased me more than Jett demanding an explanation and then leaving angry, as if he wasn’t to blame and I was the one with the loose screw.

  I snorted.

  It wasn’t at all the Jett I knew—calm and direct. The man who had built one of the most prestigious real estate businesses in the world from scratch. The man who had hardly broken a sweat when racing through the winding roads of Italy’s mountains, with pursuers hot on our tail. Yet, the mere thought that I believed I slept with someone other than him—even though, in my mind, it had been just a dream—had hurt and enraged him more than anything. That would have been reasonable if it weren’t for the fact that he had met Tiffany behind my back. I could only guess it had been his guilt speaking.

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