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The lovers promise, p.11
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       The Lover's Promise, p.11

           J. C. Reed
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  Brian let out a small laugh. This time I knew it was fake from the way his smile barely reached his eyes. It was the kind of smile that rendered people untrustworthy, especially when it came with a dangerous glint.

  He shook his head. “It’s strange that you say ‘ex.’ Jett never mentioned a separation.”

  “He didn’t?” My voice came all croaky and hoarse while my heart fluttered in my chest while, at the same, I cursed myself for being so stupid. Taking a deep, steadying breath, I decided to be frank about my thoughts.

  “How do you know about Ti and Jett, if you don’t mind me asking?” I began.

  “He told me,” Brian said matter-of-factly, as if that explained everything.

  “He did?” My eyes widened in disbelief.

  “Yeah,” he replied, his eyes never leaving me. His shoulders hunching and his expression hardening were all indications that Tiffany’s actions didn’t go down as well with him as he pretended.

  “It’s not your fault,” I said softly, touching his arm. “Some people are better left behind. Jett should get his ass kicked for doing something like that to you.”

  Brian’s hard gaze met mine again. “You know it isn’t his fault, right?”

  “What?” I let go of his arm.

  “Jett told me everything.” He paused, considering his words. “How Tiffany came on to him and that you had a fight. There’s no point in keeping secrets, is there?”

  I took one step back, suddenly seeing him in a different light. “And you believed him? That it was Tiffany, who started it all?”

  “I have no reason to doubt him.” Brian gave me a look as if I was the one with the problems. “If you had a lick of sense, you’d do the same.”

  “I see.” I looked down, unsure what to say. It was hard to believe that Brian could be so casual when my streak of jealousy had broken me and turned me into an insecure bitch. Maybe I had it all wrong. Maybe Brian really wanted people to punch the truth into his face. Maybe it was his way of dealing with life—rough, without any beautification or sugarcoating.

  As I watched Brian walk to the large indoor gate that led downstairs to the training halls, my pulse started to race. Not out of fear, but with anger. Anger that he could deal with Tiffany so easily, and I couldn’t be the same way with Jett. Anger that I was so weak.

  “I’m sorry,” I said, watching him when his back was turned to me. “You have to forgive my asking, but you weren’t there. How can you be so sure it wasn’t him who kissed her? For all we know they could still meet each other behind your back.”

  And mine.

  My voice didn’t betray the bitterness of thousands of needles poking into my heart at the memory of Tiffany’s voice on the phone. She had been there with him. Who knew what they had been doing the day before, when Jett cut me off? Behind my eyes, I could feel the dreadful swelling of gathering tears. Even knowing about their past felt painful, and knowing that she still was close to Jett, might be kissing him that instant, sleeping with him. Had a child with him.

  “That’s an easy one.” Brian avoided my probing gaze as he typed in the code. A brief, low sound echoed as the red light changed to green, and the gate opened. With a blank expression, Brian turned to me, motioning me to enter. “Jett said you’ve been here before. So I’m thinking I can rely on you as a point of reference, right?”

  Was he just asking me if Jett was telling the truth? I stared at him, unsure, faced with the fact that I kept hearing double-meanings. “Are you asking me?”


  “That part is true, yes,” I said slowly, blinking away the tears. “I saw them kissing before I left. And yes, she might have started it. But still, it doesn’t change the fact that they met behind our backs, Brian. What’s to say they weren’t having an affair for weeks or months and we were clueless?”

  What was to say they weren’t still?

  My voice sounded so stricken, he eyed me in silence for a few moments.

  “Were you in a relationship with Jett when they kissed?” Brian asked eventually.

  “What’s that got to do with it?” I asked, frowning.

  “Everything,” he replied. “I know Tiff. And I know Jett. And the only thing you need to know is that Jett isn’t a cheater.” He took a few steps toward me, his blue eyes looking at me in thought. In the narrow hall, his tall figure seemed to swallow up the entire space. “Jett has made some mistakes but I don’t think he ever cheated on anyone, Brooke. He’s as faithful and loyal as anyone can be. It’s part of the reason why I let him return to my gang. I knew I could trust his word.” He raised his eyebrows as if to convey the importance of his words. “Let’s face it. Trust is much harder to find than the next girlfriend. And Jett has always been a loyal dog. Tiffany on the other side—” he paused and something dark and menacing crossed his features “—she always does what she wants when she’s drunk. If she hadn’t been honest about her problems, I would have kicked her out of here a long time ago.”

  I cringed at her name.



  The thought that she was still living here drove me mad. Her being under the same roof as Jett made my blood boil. I hated her so much. Without her, I would have never ended things with Jett. In spite of any problems, I would have worked things out with him. Or at least I would have tried.

  “So you knew all along.” The question was meant to be a statement and yet my tone came out accusatory. All the hurt started to seep through, and there was nothing I could do about that.

  “Yeah, I did. I know all about her feelings for Jett.”

  I stared at him in disbelief. “If you already knew, why did you ask me then? Is this some sort of sick joke to you?”

  “Obviously to see if you’re lying. I’m not stupid, you know.” He caught my hard glance and returned it. “Maybe she believes she’s in love with him, but it doesn’t change the fact that he was always just a rebound and she’s an alcoholic. And Jett knows—better than anyone—that he can’t take her seriously.”

  “What are you saying?” I asked, confused by the direction our conversation was taking.

  “The kiss. What you assume is cheating. Drinking clouds her feelings, it changes her character.” He sighed, his gaze wandering to his black military shoes. “It’s happened before. A lot of times, and not just with Jett. It was just a matter of time until it happened again. So yes, you could say that I saw it coming. But then she’s an alcoholic.”

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

  “I don’t expect you to do anything.” He looked up. “But I hope you don’t let it jeopardize your relationship with Jett just because she made a mistake.”

  “I’m not jeopardizing…” I trailed off.

  I did, or at least had done.

  I had blamed him. Fully, without a single doubt.

  “Just saying.” He cocked his eyebrow, and then he moved past me, calling over his shoulder, “You’ll find him downstairs. If you can get him to stop his madness that he calls training, so that I can finally get a couple hours of sleep, tell him that’d be grand.”

  I frowned, wondering what he meant by that, but didn’t care to ask.

  “You’re welcome to stay as long as you want,” Brian continued. “We have plenty of rooms available in building five.”

  I snorted. “You mean, if things don’t work out with Jett.”

  He chuckled. “It was only a suggestion. Doesn’t mean Jett will let you stay in any of them”

  “You mean here with him?”

  Brian shook his head slowly, an amused glint playing in his eyes. “No, over there. In building five.”

  I stared at him. Building five, or more precisely warehouse five, housed five others. All of them male. All of them single. I slowly got his drift.

  “There’s no need for that,” I said.

  “Good.” He was gone before I could utter another word, leaving me in the darkness of the hall.

  All my life I had watched people fall in love. The thing was, I had never expected to fall so hard myself—that plunging into complete darkness, with nothing but a trusting heart that meant I had to stop breathing to allow for someone’s breath to become mine. Ever since Jett’s lips had touched mine, I felt as though I was branded. I felt like a part of me had died, rising from the ashes, only to become a part of him. Maybe love was a pink witch, on the outside a pretty face bewitching us, blinding us, and on the inside—behind its mask—rearing its ugly head, trapping us with its charming spell, forcing us into a state of obsession and lust-fueled madness where obsession became my reality.

  As I stepped down the stairs and opened the last door to the large training halls, a large subterranean maze complete with a boxing ring and training equipment, my eyes fell on the lonely figure, and my heart died and cheered at the same time. That instant, all the questions I had wanted to ask vanished.

  This was real.

  This was really happening.

  Seeing Jett after all the drama and confusing dream felt surreal. Like losing a favorite possession and being reunited with it years later, then having to gawk at it from afar, unable to grasp it in your hands.

  Except Jett wasn’t standing that far away.

  He was close—too close, like the sky touching the clouds, the sound of him punching the bag the only noise echoing through the hall. It was strange how one minute you thought everything mattered, and then with one single glance, everything became nothing, except for that one guy, who could make you fall in love with him over and over again, day after day, in just a heartbeat.

  An unwanted smile spread across my lips.

  Despite everything—the drama, the secrets, the danger, and most of all the possibility he might be a killer—his perfect body still excited me. Too bad his character wasn’t perfect, and I was a romantic with a weak spot for tattooed Southern guys. Jett looked angry, but more so he looked so damn sexy, I couldn’t help but run the tip of my tongue over my lips. If it weren’t for our much-needed conversation, I would have chosen to stand there the entire day, watching him and daydream about all the naughty things I’d do with him.

  Get a grip! He’s a bad boy.

  A bad boy with a talent for creating pleasure.

  It was hard to resist a bad boy who might be good for my body but not for my heart.

  In the darkness of the room, I stood and watched his lean, half-naked body, each muscle straining as he hit the huge black punching bag hard, over and over again. A layer of sweat covered his back and forehead. His bulging biceps strained as he punched the bag, his muscles flexing beneath the tan skin. I was about to admire his strong thighs when I noticed his shins were all blue and bruised. I wondered how long he had been training. All morning? All night? No wonder Brian asked me to stop “his madness.”

  “Jett?” I said quietly, stopping at a safe distance. His face a mask of concentration and focus, he looked so engrossed in what he was doing I doubted he had heard me. The way he kept slamming his hurt leg into the punching bag faster and harder I was sure that either one—leg or the bag—would break soon.

  “Jett!” I shouted to get his attention.

  He stopped and whirled around. Confusion crossed his face, and then the swinging bag hit him and he stumbled backward, but only so slightly.

  “Brooke?” he asked, his hands stopping the bag from swinging again, his eyes never leaving mine. The surprise was written on his face as his gaze scanned over me as if he could not believe it was me standing in front of him.

  “What are you doing?” I asked shocked, glancing at the blue specks covering his leg and the blood-soaked bandages that covered his knuckles. “You’re completely bruised and bleeding.”

  My stomach fluttered as I watched him come closer. He was so tall. So strong. His face both beautiful and haunting, with glinting green eyes, and hair so dark, he would be my downfall. Blood had begun to seep through the bandages covering his knuckles, and his shins shimmered bluish beneath his skin.

  He caught my glance on his hand.

  “It’s supposed to look this way,” he replied to my unspoken question.

  “Not like this.”

  He shook his head grimly. “That’s nothing. I’m used to worse.”

  Silence ensued. I knew I had to talk, fill the void of communication, but suddenly my prepared speech was gone.

  It had been so much easier in my imagination, in my dreams, in my plans. I would have asked him questions, he would give me answers, and then I would move on. Or not, but it was as simple as that.

  However, standing in front of him, with him watching me, I grew nervous. I didn’t know where to start, what to do or say. He wasn’t supposed to look mortally wounded. He wasn’t supposed to look so sexy and delicious half-naked, making me forget all the things I needed to get off my chest. Fuck, he wasn’t allowed to be so sinfully irresistible, making my body want to touch him when I should be mad at him.

  Before I could stop myself, my fingers stroked over his bruised knuckles, and a soft shiver ran through me. “We need to get it looked at before it gets infected, you know?” I murmured, avoiding his eyes. “If you tell me where the first aid kit is, I’ll get this disinfected in no time.”

  “Why are you here, Brooke?” His voice was low and flat but carried an unmistakable hint of anger.

  I swallowed hard.

  When Brian asked me what I was doing here, I thought it was out of curiosity. I knew he’d try to test me. This felt different. Unlike with Brian, I felt like I had everything to lose with Jett. I felt like I was stepping over boundaries—onto territory where I felt vulnerable. Exposed, with my insides open for everyone to see. For some reason, him not wanting to see me hurt me more than I thought it would. He was angry with me—I got that—but so was I with him for even asking this question.

  “What do you think I am doing here?” I asked, but the words didn’t sound as accusing as I’d intended. “You paid off my loans. I don’t need your fucking money, Jett. I don’t need handouts. I’m perfectly capable of paying off the money I own on my own.”

  It was a lie.

  One he would know if he had indeed checked my balance.

  Towering over me, his gaze lingered on me too long. His jaw was tight—the way it often was when he was trying to control himself. I knew then that he wasn’t happy to see me. That he really had no idea why I was here, and that the silence between us felt awkward.

  “Forget it. It was a bad idea to come here, seeing that you didn’t even want to see me. Just do me the favor and take the money back. I don’t want it, and I don’t want to have anything to do with it.” Turning my back to him, I was ready to walk out the room when his hand grabbed my elbow, stopping me in my movement.

  I swallowed hard, marveling at the strong feel of his grip.

  “I know you would have paid them off eventually. There was never a doubt about it,” he murmured so low I wasn’t sure I heard him. “It’s not a handout, though, Brooke. It’s what I owe you.”

  I turned back to him, taking in his posture. The expression on his face had softened; the hard grip on my elbow was gone. My whole body began to tense because of the way he kept looking at me—his eyes warm and yet his mouth hard, his half-naked body urging me to touch him, his breath asking me to kiss him, and yet I knew that wasn’t an option.

  I would never allow it.

  Not now. Not ever, Stewart.

  “I don’t understand,” I muttered.

  “Consider it an advance payment rather than money borrowed,” Jett said coolly.

  “For what?”

  “I made you partner at Mayfield Realties,” he said, his eyes glimmering with something I couldn’t quite pinpoint.

  I almost tripped in my high heels. The realization of what he had just said kicked in and ever so slowly my mouth dropped open.

  He made me partner in his business?

  Holy cow!

  Why the heck would he do that?

“What?” I stared at him in shock.

  Hundreds of thoughts raced through my mind, flying so fast I wasn’t able to catch my breath. I shook my head in confusion. Did I miss something? Did I misinterpret his tone of anger from before?

  “I don’t understand,” I said in disbelief. “Why would you make me partner?”

  “What do you mean ‘why?’” The skin around his stunning eyes crinkled ever so softly, but other than that his face remained a mask of nonchalance. “Why does there always have to be a why with you? Isn’t it enough that I’m confident in your skills and that you have good references?”

  That happens when you sleep with the boss, Stewart.

  “References?” I raised my eyebrows. “Yours, I assume?”

  “That’s right.” Now, was that another hint of amusement I detected?

  I shook my head, letting out a slow breath. “Jett, I can’t lead a whole company. Not even half of it. That’s just crazy,” I said, shaking my head again. “I’m sure it’s some people’s dream to make it partner. You’ll probably find plenty of them on the board, people more suited to this position. Steve, for example. He’s been waiting for a promotion for years. Or you could choose Colt.”

  “Steve’s a two-sided snake and you know that. And Colt is way too old. He wants to retire.” He smiled that lopsided smile of his that always managed to send my pulse racing. “You, in turn, are young. Straightforward. Honest. Perfect as my partner.”

  His partner. My breath hitched in my throat.

  Holy mother of double meanings!

  I stared at him, not quite trusting his words when one minute we were having a fight, and the next he had promoted me. Something just didn’t add up.

  There had to be some motive—some ulterior motive I wasn’t seeing.

  I narrowed my eyes as I let my gaze sweep over his perfect features. “Why would you make me partner, Jett?” I asked, not hiding my mistrust.

  “You earned it, Brooke.” He inched closer until he stood mere inches away. He was so close I could smell his manly scent that screamed of power, tenacity and sexiness—of the intoxicating kind—and I realized it must be his scent that made it so hard to think clearly. The knowledge he was a fighter of the hard kind. A sex god, who just had to remove his shirt to make my panties wet. Or maybe it was the feel of his hands going around my waist, pulling me slowly to him until I could feel nothing but the heat emanating from his body.

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