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The lovers promise, p.10
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       The Lover's Promise, p.10

           J. C. Reed
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  I swallowed hard and floored the accelerator. The car instantly stumbled forward, the engine sputtering in protest. Whatever their business was, I decided to get the hell away as fast as possible before someone spied me and I was forced to answer questions I didn’t have the answers to, or worse yet, taken in, just because I happened to have Gina’s stuff in the back of my car.

  I laughed darkly.

  It was no longer just a girl’s stuff. They were a murder victim’s belongings—vital evidence that might be presented in court—and they now had my fingerprints all over the place.

  And, oh wait, my one and only alibi just so happened to be the primary suspect.

  Great. Just great.

  I didn’t know what was worse. That I was helping a suspect with no real proof that he was innocent. Or that Jett had transferred a lump sum of money one day after Gina’s death, and everything could lead back to me, not least because I was helping him by hiding evidence.

  I cleared my throat to get rid of the sudden dry sensation inside it, wondering why the heck I hadn’t thought of bringing a bottle of water with me.

  Oh God.

  People would draw the conclusion that he was paying me off. Talk about a mess.

  What if I was wrong in my assumptions that Jett was not involved?

  The realization hit me hard that I could lose everything by protecting him.

  I stifled the sudden need to hit the first church on the way to my destination and confess that instant because it felt like it was the right thing to do. My hands itched to call Sylvie to ask for help, but that wasn’t a possibility either. Not when she’d most certainly ask the one question to which I had no answer. A question I couldn’t even ask myself.

  So, why are you helping him?

  I was doing it—for well…


  Jett being in deep shit was worrisome, but more worrisome was the fact that I loved him. But the worst—the worst of all facts—was my stupid attempt to protect him in spite of having no proof of his innocence. It was like knowing that disaster would unfold and doing it anyway, like wanting him to be good when he wasn’t. Hoping to end up back together, when his intentions could be deadly. Loving him in spite of all the pain he had caused me, even when it killed me slowly. Maybe I was no exception in his hunt for love and sex, but Jett Mayfield was, simply put, the love of my life. As much as I denied it—as much as I wished it weren’t true—I was protecting him for all the stupid reasons of love, willing to harm myself by messing with an ongoing investigation.

  And that’s how I knew how madly I loved him.

  Clutching at the wheel for support, I ignored the need to bang my head against it in the hope it would shake some sense into me. Everything I did for Jett was based on instinct, on suppositions—nothing concrete, really. Just wishy-washy stuff, where my heart was leading the way, and my mind was adamant in the belief that Jett wasn’t like his brother. But did I really know him? Someone had still spiked my drink and I couldn’t just overlook the fact that the small time frame between 2 a.m., the time I fell asleep, and 5 a.m., the time Gina died, would have given him ample time to leave and commit a crime.

  I groaned again. All those possibilities—those endless, ever changing theories—were insane. Until I didn’t talk with Jett, my mind would continue spinning in a circle while my feelings would continue to be clouded by fear, making me to conclusions.

  Slowly, I made a decision. Jett wasn’t home, which could mean he might be anywhere. But for some inexplicable reason I knew he wasn’t working late or hitting some bar.

  I had to see him now, and give him a chance to explain. And I knew exactly the place where I might find him.

  If Jett thought he could pay me for any particular reason, he was wrong. Maybe he had the money to buy himself immunity, but I harbored no wish of being like a prostitute, always at his service. There was no way that money would buy my silence, my love, or my help.

  Just this once, I would help him out of love, giving him the benefit of the doubt because I honestly believed that he was innocent. But if I found out that he had sided with his psycho brother, I wouldn’t hesitate a second to bring the evidence to the police and free myself from all ties to him.

  Throughout the drive to Jett’s gang, I kept wondering why someone would take such great care to remove all of my things—all but one picture frame—and replace them with Gina’s belongings. The image of the necklace covered in blood kept circling in my mind, rendering me almost unable to concentrate on the traffic, until I pulled into one of the parking lots and killed the engine, ignoring the guy who patrolled the entrance.

  Even though I had lived with Jett’s gang for a few weeks and they had accepted me, I still had to get used to the whole “gang thing” idea. Originating from New York, it was hard for me to envision that one of the most successful and most renowned men in the world had such a shady past. Were it not for his tattoos, the scars, and brazen attitude, I would never have believed that Jett might be friends with people harboring the inclination to break the law.

  Long before I stepped out of the car, I could feel the cold stare from the high-tech security cameras at the top of the fence recording my every move. As I passed one of them, fighting hard not to feel threatened by the usual blinking dot, I made sure to peer into one, then waved in the hope whoever sat behind the screens would recognize me rather than mistake me for a possible intruder and gun me down.

  Walking along the rundown buildings that were arranged in a “U” shape with parking spaces on either side, I couldn’t help but notice how little had changed since my last visit. There was comfort in knowing that even when the world descended into darkness and chaos, here everything would stay the same: the old battered cars parked outside gave a deceptive impression of the grandness of the place. Hidden behind the bulletproof metal doors, they stored brand new sports vehicles. The gray walls looked like they were in desperate need of renovation, yet the rooms were equipped with the world’s most innovative technology and amenities. The windows seemed dark and gloomy, as though no one had stepped foot inside in a long time, but I knew that at least forty people lived here at any given time.

  Forty people on Jett’s side.

  Forty people with weapons.

  I hadn’t yet forgotten how much their rough, tattooed appearance had freaked me out the first time I arrived. Now my fear was surpassed by other worries. Would I finally uncover the truth about Jett and what was going on? My dread didn’t so much emanate from finally getting answers, but stemmed from what that truth might be and, subsequently, what it would mean for us.

  Taking a deep breath, I waited for the camera to change position and for someone to walk out. When nothing stirred, I walked along the concrete path until I reached the fourth building and stopped in front of the main door. Just before I could knock, the door was thrown open and out stepped Brian.

  Gang leader.

  Tiffany’s boyfriend.

  Jett’s mentor and one of his oldest friends.

  I swallowed the lump in my throat as he stopped inches from me. My heart lurched as it dawned on me that he must have seen me through the security camera and probably had plenty of time to make up his mind as to what to do with me.

  So much for my surprise moment and forcing Jett out of his hiding hole—if he was even here.

  With pale, freckled skin, light blue eyes, and short, blond hair that shimmered red in the winter’s sun, he looked like a nice guy until you reached the part where you discovered that his body was all muscles—the result of excessive training—and his neck and shoulders as well as his arms were covered in tribal tattoos that probably had a deeper meaning but looked creepy as hell.

  If his scars and the dangerous glint in his eyes weren’t enough of a warning that he liked to fight—both physically and verbally—his fierce demeanor spoke volumes.

  In the short time I had known him, I had discovered that Brian didn’t only enjoy being in control; he was downright addicted to pro
voking and confronting people. He was the most competitive and argumentative person I had ever met. I always thought Jett liked to take risks, but Brian took the extreme to a new level, which was why his people both respected and feared him. Imagine car races through the city. Hacking into computers. Tracking people. Underground fighting. Brian showed no fear. Losing just made him want to play harder. I would even go as far as to say that he lived on adrenaline—just like Jett once had.

  “Brooke.” Brian greeted me with an amused grin on his face.

  “Brian.” I nodded, keeping my voice calm and steady. “Is Jett here?”

  “It depends. Why do you want to see him?”

  “I need to talk to him.”

  “You sure it’s just talking?” he asked and cocked his brows, his voice full of insinuation. Instantly, a hot blush warmed my cheeks as I remembered the day Brian walked in on us when we were naked in the community shower room. The memory of Jett’s strong arms pinning me to the wall, his erection lodged deep inside of me, as the water poured down on us had me all flushed.

  I jutted my chin out, feeling defensive. “Just talking and nothing else.”

  “Ah. Now that’s interesting. I don’t recall Jett mentioning you were coming over.” Brian inclined his head toward me, his gaze scanning me up and down. “So remind me what do you want to talk to Jett about?”

  I shrugged. “Nothing in particular.”

  “Nothing at all?” He raised his eyebrows.

  “Nothing I can think of.”

  “You sure?”

  “Yeah, of course I’m sure.” I glared at him. “Now can we get this over and done with?”

  I already knew it was going to be a long argument, which he so clearly enjoyed. Behind him, I glimpsed people gathering on the stairs, watching the scene that was about to unfold. Brian’s best friends. They were always around him. If I hadn’t known them better, I would have gone so far as to say that they were his guards. Cheerleaders. Fans. Group bullies. Probably bored to death with what little had happened during the day and they were seeking that extra kick, which happened to be me—the highlight of the day. Yay!

  Whatever. If he could play that game, so could I.

  “I don’t believe you,” he said, amused.

  “Of course you don’t,” I muttered.

  His grin widened as he shrugged. “You have to give me a valid reason why you want to see my man.”

  “Like I told you, there’s no particular reason why I want to talk to him. Do I look like I need a reason to see him?” I pointed at my inflated tummy.

  “As a matter of fact, you do,” he said with the same annoying smile as before. He squeezed his thumbs into his pockets and waited, watching me.

  I stared at him down, unsure how to proceed.

  Brian was as stubborn as a bulldog, but I wasn’t ready to give in yet. He had played the same game so often, I knew that the only way to win was to either give in or spill the secrets, and I couldn’t do the latter.

  “Cut the bullshit. Even if I had one, it’s none of your business, Brian.” My voice was sharp and to the point, which was only rewarded with a more annoying grin. “Besides, it’s in his best interest. Now let me see Jett.”

  “I see. His interest,” he mocked me. I watched him cross his arms over his muscular chest and lean against the door, his imposing figure blocking the entire door. “Now let me remind you, Brooke. This is my place. Jett is my man. You’re trespassing on my property. I don’t let anyone in, not even when he wants it, without a solid reason. So, let me rephrase, are you sure there is nothing I should know that’s going on under my roof?”

  I narrowed my eyes, suddenly feeling anxious.

  From the way he so often repeated the question, I couldn’t help but wonder as to what he was referring. Did he know somehow about Jett’s problems and wanted to test me how much I knew? Was he just being curious, sick of having spent the day on the couch with no action? Or was it genuine concern for his friend? All I knew about Brian was that he was Irish and that he liked to fight. If I didn’t want to piss him off, I had to tread carefully.

  “I don’t know what you mean,” I said cautiously.

  “You know exactly what I mean.” His smile was gone. My heart hammered in my chest as Brian stepped forward and I inched back. His stance was casual, but the threat was palpable in the air.

  Oh, shoot.

  “So?” he prompted.

  Something about the way he was standing and looking at me, told me he knew something. The question was what did he know?

  Heck, he could as well be referring to Tiffany. The image of Jett’s lips on Brian’s girlfriend’s lips made me cringe. I groaned inwardly. If Brian didn’t stop his inquisition any time soon, this might just take a whole day. I considered telling him to fuck off, when he took another menacing step forward.

  “I don’t know.” I wet my lips slowly. “I’m not here to get you guys into trouble, Brian. I’m here to talk with Jett and see how he’s doing. Nothing more. Nothing less.”

  At least one eighth was the truth.

  “Nice one,” Brian said. “Just answer the question.”

  “Oh please. As if I would keep secrets from you.”

  “Answer the fucking question, Brooke.”

  I stared at him. It was the first time he had said my name so forcefully, like a command. I regarded him warily. He was so close he could have touched me if he reached out, and my heart fluttered with nervousness. I wasn’t afraid of Brian. I had once been, but that stopped after I realized he was a man of loyalty who would never let his friends down. Okay, he was a bit of an actor who played hard and liked to test people’s boundaries—just like he was testing me now—but that didn’t make him a bad person.

  I couldn’t help but think about Tiffany kissing Jett and how hurtful it would be if he ever found out. I looked down, avoiding his probing gaze, the images inside my head both raw and shameful. No guy, not even a macho like Brian, deserved to be cheated on, especially since Brian had contributed to Jett saving my life. Without his gang’s help, Jett would never have found me when I was kidnapped.

  “How long have we known each other?” Brian asked quietly.

  The question took me by surprise.

  “Obviously, not so long that I’d know what you want.”

  “The first time you arrived, do you remember what I said to you?”

  “That I have to stick to the rules?” I suggested, shrugging.

  “That’s right. You have to stick to my rules, which means you have to run everything past me. That’s how things here work. You report to me.” He stared at me, leaving the silence open to interpretation.

  Seconds stretched into minutes during which I could slowly feel myself giving in. The way Brian was standing, waiting, looking at me, I knew he wouldn’t cave in until he got an answer.

  God, he was a stubborn ox.

  I rolled my eyes inwardly. If I didn’t owe Brian, I would so have kicked him where it hurt the most.

  “Oh, please.” I waved my hands. “If you have you to know, I’m hiding first rate evidence in a murder case in my truck. My drink was spiked and I have no clue what I did between two and four a.m. Fuck, for all I know I might have killed someone or be an accomplice to murder. Then my best friend keeps thinking I’m suicidal. And oh, did I mention that I think I’m quite hormonal and emotional? Trust me, you don’t want to deal with a pregnant woman. I’m this close to having a mental breakdown.” I held out my thumb and index finger in front of him. “This close to checking myself into a psycho ward to avoid killing Jett because he’s a jerk. Seriously, even if I had secrets, trust me, Brian, you wouldn’t want me to start boring you with them. I’m lucky enough if I manage to get Jett’s attention when he’s not busy with his work.”

  Brian stared at me in silence before breaking out in a loud, guffawing laughter, and then slapped my shoulder. “I was just kidding. Of course I don’t want to hear about your pregnancy plans with Jett. You’re free to come and see hi
m whenever you want to.” Wiping his eyes with the back of his hand, he turned to address his friends. “As if I don’t have enough women crapping in my ear with their bullshit. Five bucks says she’ll buy my joke again.”

  Someone high-fived him. I turned away, disgusted.

  Men and their stupid jokes.

  Typical. Did they ever grow up?

  I shook my head as I watched Brian signaling his friends. Within seconds his friends, guards or whatever they were, were gone.

  “In you come.” Brian opened the door wide and motioned me in.

  As I walked past him, I noticed how quiet it had become. The smile on Brian’s lips had died and a shudder ran down my spine. The realization kicked in that there was a small possibility that the signal he gave to his friends had meant he wanted to be alone with me.

  That was the last thing I wanted.

  “So, where’s Jett?” I asked casually. In my mind, I fought the urge to leave. By no means, I was scared of Brian.

  Not at all.

  Except maybe a little bit, based on the fact that he was unpredictable, bipolar, and generally a scary guy.

  He pointed his chin to the chairs. “Downstairs.”

  “Thanks.” I turned, ready to go, when his hand touched my shoulder.

  “Brooke. I need to talk to you.” As soon as the door closed behind us, bathing us in darkness except for the weak light of a naked bulb, Brian’s gaze focused on me.

  Why did it feel like I was in big trouble? With a nervous sigh, I closed another button on my coat, hoping that the extra layer of wool would make my skin thicker to anything he had to say.

  “I was hoping you came to tell me about Jett,” Brian started, regarding me intently. “Did it never occur to you that I’d find out my girlfriend kissed your boyfriend?”

  I looked up surprised, but then composed myself as quickly.

  “Ex,” I corrected quietly. “And no, I don’t believe in trashing her name. What’s the purpose when the damage is already done?”

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