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The lovers secret, p.12
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       The Lover's Secret, p.12

           J. C. Reed
 
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  The letter…Nate’s release…Jett’s secrecy.

  Nothing made much sense.

  Unless, of course…

  Another cold shudder ran down my spine. I tried to stop the dark thought before it could invade my mind, but it was too late. My breath came ragged and heavy. The assumption made me sick to the core, and I grasped the edge of the table for support.

  Nate wanted the Italian estate I had inherited, just as Jett had wanted it when he hired me. While the two brothers had different, if not opposite, motives, with Nate greedily wanting it for himself, Jett had just sought to preserve the company reputation and ward off the scandal. Of course that was all before he got to know me better, and fell in love with me, after which he proclaimed he had no interest in it anymore. I once chose to believe him and gave him another chance, trusting that he was on my side.

  But what if I had gotten it all wrong from the beginning. What if…Oh God!

  My fingernails clenched the table, scratching into the finish of the wood as my mind conjured up another option with bigger implications—something that would be awful beyond my wildest dreams.

  I shook my head. The thought was horrible and yet it sounded too plausible to be immediately discarded.

  What if Jett was still after the estate?

  Maybe…when the first plan didn’t work out, he decided to play a new card, a cleverly concealed ruse: gain my trust while pretending that his brother and father were the ones not to be trusted, all the while supporting them, being on their side, fighting for the bad guys, seeing that he and his family had the same goal. After all, some say blood runs thicker than water.

  If that was true, I wasn’t safe anywhere and with no one. I bent forward, rubbing my hands over my knotted stomach.

  No, it couldn’t be true. The mere thought was crazy, utterly insane.

  I had it all wrong.

  I smiled bitterly as waves of nausea rolled through me. If I didn’t put things in check, get them into perspective, I would morph into a compulsive madwoman, unable to decide whom to trust and whom not. Taking deep breaths, I recalled all good reasons why my fears were unfounded:

  First, Jett had saved my life on more than one occasion. Were it not for him, I would have been dead. If he wanted me gone, he could have used one of those opportunities to get rid of me.

  Second, years after leaving the gang, Jett had sought out his former friends to help me.

  Third, there was also the fact that he loved me. He had told me so on numerous occasions. I knew words didn’t always mean much, but when he had said it, I had felt it deep within my heart. Maybe my feelings had betrayed me, but for some reason, I just knew he had spoken the truth. And then there was also that small, unrelated matter: Nate had shot his father. I’d seen it with my own eyes. Surely if it was all a plan, there would be no need to endanger a family member’s life.

  Unless the person was a psycho.

  And Nate was a psycho all the way.

  For a long time, I just sat there, the seconds stretching into minutes while I fought to clear the mist inside my head. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that there had to be a different reason why Jett had not been upfront with me about Nate. I could feel it. I was so close I could almost grasp it—if only I could think clearly and figure out the one piece of information I knew was missing in order to solve the puzzle.

  Under normal circumstances, I could have dealt with anything and anyone. But today I needed a drink, if only to calm down my nerves and get rid of my excruciating headache. I decided it was safe enough. Just one glass of wine, and then I’d return to the suite and wait for Jett to have the talk.

  Clutching the envelope to my chest, I headed for the hotel club, thankful for the fact that it was in walking distance. By the time I arrived, the club was dimly lit and half-full of patrons. I headed straight toward the bar and sat down on a bar stool near a group that looked to be part of a bachelorette party. Clad in my slutty dress and high heels, I blended in perfectly.

  I waited impatiently for the bartender, my finger tapping in the same rhythm as my racing pulse. It was in that moment that I heard a familiar voice saying, “Brooke can’t know about it.”

  I froze instantly, my eyes scanning left and right, though I struggled not to crane my neck or spin around. At first, I thought it was just my imagination, a figment of my creative and anxious mind, but then my eyes fell on him.

  My heart skipped several beats.

  Standing close to the bar, almost obscured by a huge abstract ice sculpture, was Jett. Even in the semidarkness, with the beautiful glass chandeliers hanging so low they almost touched the tables, he stood out with his broad shoulders and dark hair I’d recognize anywhere, anytime.

  Holy mother of pearls.

  What was he doing here? The reasonable thing would have been to get out before he saw me. Only, I wasn’t exactly the reasonable kind.

  The bartender approached me to take my order. I pressed my index finger against my lips, shushing him, then cautiously craned my neck to get a better view.

  Jett was sitting at a table near the bar. Opposite him was a woman, her back turned to me, so I couldn’t see her face. But from the way she leaned forward, gesticulating animatedly, I knew they were having an interesting conversation.

  She seemed to be the only person he was talking to.

  My heart lurched in my chest.

  The picture before me was like poison, killing me softly as it coursed through my body. Self-preservation kicked in, urging me to get away. And yet I found myself inching closer to the monstrous ice statue, thankful for the privacy it provided. It was the only way to catch more than fragments of their conversation; the only way to find out who she was and why Jett was leaning too close to her, hanging on to her every word.

  “You sure this is what you want, Jett?” Her voice was young, maybe twenty-five. It was also deep and sultry. Intimate, I realized. They were calling each other by their first names, clearly knowing each other. I dared to crane my neck just a little bit more, but all I could see was long, black, glossy hair and toned arms.

  “I’m sure.” His voice carried the same determination and stubbornness I had grown to accept from him. “I’ve been waiting for this for a while now, and to be honest, I don’t know a better time.”

  The woman nodded, as though she knew what he was talking about and couldn’t have agreed more. “Because she doesn’t know?”

  “Yes,” Jett said slowly.

  My pulse raced harder.

  Know what? Waiting for what? They were talking about me and thought I didn’t know it. I frowned. After everything I had discovered throughout the course of the day, I didn’t like this one bit, especially the part involving me not knowing. I regarded the woman intently in a desperate attempt to figure out who she was. Dressed in an elegant, golden cocktail dress, she didn’t look like one of Jett’s uptight business associates. They were talking quite openly about me, so I figured she had to be some sort of acquaintance.

  So, a friend. Or maybe…

  I swallowed hard, not allowing the disturbing thought to enter my mind.

  Had he met her by accident, bumped into her on the way back from his business meeting, and she so happened to know about our relationship?

  Maybe she was a friend from college or a client he had met on the job, and now they were discussing the best way to market her property. The explanations sounded plausible enough.

  Silence ensued between them, and for a moment, I wondered if I should show myself; pretend as though I had just entered and spotted them. But then, all of a sudden, she shifted in her seat and ran a hand through her long, black hair, spreading it around her like a beautiful velvet curtain.

  “Do you remember last year?” Her voice dropped so low I could barely discern the words. “You and me?”

  She and him?

  What the fuck was that supposed to mean?

  My blood began to boil as a pang of jealousy hit me with full force.

  T
his was no mere acquaintance. It didn’t exactly take a genius to figure that one out.

  “Don’t tell me you never miss it, Jett,” she continued.

  My pulse raced faster as I watched Jett’s reaction. Regarding her with an unreadable expression, he was his usual composed self. Seconds passed by. I bit my lip hard, wishing he’d say something—anything that would give away his true thoughts.

  A shrill yelp, followed by female laughter, echoed from my right, startling me. The bachelorette party was slowly coming into full swing. I wished they would just shut up, but my unspoken plea came too late. The woman turned her head in reaction to the drunken squeals, and for a split second, I thought my heart would burst.

  I knew that woman.

  Oh my God.

  I knew her.

  “Oh shit,” I murmured under my breath. My hand pressed against my mouth as shock registered in my brain.

  It was Tiffany, the girlfriend of one of Jett’s friends.

  What the hell was Jett doing with her here?

  After Nate’s attack on me, Jett and I moved to live with Jett’s former friends in an effort to ascertain there was always someone around to keep an eye on me, and keep me safe. Brian, being Jett’s oldest friend, had made sure everyone accepted me; his girlfriend, Tiffany, however, was the one who seemed to have a problem coming to terms with it. She had been extremely hostile not only to me, but to Jett as well, which was why I had always tried to avoid her. Her hostility had seemed strange to me, but I had assumed it was because of Jett’s past fallout with Brian. Now I knew my explanation had been implausible, if not a ridiculous assumption. Seeing them together made so much more sense. She had been jealous back then, because she was dating Jett and probably thought she had a claim on him.

  A strange sense of foreboding crept over me at the way the two were sitting—too close for normal friends, too close for anything—talking about their past. A past I knew nothing of and probably shouldn’t have been eavesdropping on. A past I would have been better off not knowing, if only to stop the images beginning to flood my mind.

  I watched the way she looked at him, the way I always looked at Jett—full of admiration and something else.

  Lust. Longing. Desire.

  Love.

  Had I been so blind that I failed to see Tiffany wanted Jett, too?

  The realization kicked me hard and fast that whatever they once had, it wasn’t over. She definitely wasn’t over him. And maybe he wasn’t over her either.

  Vaguely, I remembered the text message Jett had received that morning. It had been signed with “TI.”

  TI standing for Tiffany. A tiny pang, like a shock to my heart, shot through me as I realized that it had been Jett who asked her to meet with him. Not the other way around, which made all the difference. Why would he do so if he was dating me?

  Unless…

  “I know you better than anyone out there, Jett,” she said after a long pause. “Look at me and tell me in all honesty. Can you really say to my face that you don’t miss it? All the things we did? All the fun we had?”

  My throat tightened when her fingers began to trail up his arm confidently, as though they had done so countless times before, as if her hands belonged on his body. It was a gesture intended to coax an answer from him. Manipulative but intimate nonetheless. I’d be a fool not to think that after what I had heard and seen already.

  Like being strapped in a tower chair high up in the air, my body was rooted to the spot, unable to move. I was forced to look on, watching the scene unfolding, unable to do anything except for waiting in fear.

  Waiting for what?

  For his answer? For his reaction? To see my heart breaking of knowing too much? I had always been interested in discovering more about his past, but now I wasn’t so sure if my curiosity hadn’t been more a curse than a blessing.

  “It’s over, Ti. You know that,” he said with less determination than you’d expect from such strong words. Even to my ears, his tone sounded weak.

  Judging from Tiffany’s half-smile, she didn’t believe him either. She leaned forward again, and let out a short laugh.

  “You said the exact same thing last time, but you forget that I know you, Jett. The real you.” She inched closer to him, her voice sexy and low as her fingers traced up his arm again. “You aren’t the kind of man who is happy with just one woman in his life. You admitted that when you left me after two years. You said success and winning mean everything to you, that you always want more.”

  I held my breath, my nails cutting through the frail barrier of my skin. It bothered me that Jett didn’t brush her off, that he simply remained quiet instead of setting her straight. It bothered me that he’d let her touch him like that, as if he enjoyed it. But what bothered me the most was the fact that he had met with one of his exes behind my back.

  Actually, bothered was an understatement.

  Inside, I was burning with uncontrollable, gut-wrenching rage, hating the fact that Tiffany had three things I desperately wanted: a history with Jett, knowledge about his past, and obviously enough trust that he could talk with her so openly about me.

  She must have felt she was being watched, because she turned, and her eyes scanned the room. For a fraction of a second, I thought our eyes connected. Her eyes narrowed in surprise, and ever so slowly, a faint smile spread across her lips, as though she was happy to discover she had an audience. It was then that I knew for sure she had seen me.

  What a bitch.

  She knew I was dating Jett. She knew we were expecting a baby, and yet she still met with him behind my back.

  I wished I could scream, shout, or walk over there and confront Jett—do anything rather than just stare at them—but strangely, I felt devoid of life, as if the knowledge that even if I interrupted their little meeting, it wouldn’t have stopped Jett from wanting to see her in the future, nor would it have meant that whatever they had was over.

  Maybe I was meant to see them. Maybe, just maybe, it was all some misunderstanding that could be easily cleared up.

  My ears kept ringing loudly as I watched Jett reach for his glass to take a sip, his actions slow and hesitant, reminiscent of the past. I knew I should leave before it was too late, but for some reason, my legs wouldn’t obey my brain’s command. With each second and word, with each glance they cast at one another, the pain in my heart intensified. My brain, now dripping with forbidden knowledge, swirled the bitter thoughts around, pumping more poison through my veins.

  “I miss the times when we were young,” Tiffany said quietly. “We were in love, and we had that amazing chemistry. I know we haven’t talked about this in a long time, but…” She paused as she regarded him. Her fingers brushed her eyes gingerly, as though to wipe away unshed tears “But sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had kept the baby; if things might have taken a different turn.”

  Oh, my God.

  A baby? His baby?

  She had been pregnant by Jett.

  The realization hit me like a train: whatever they had in their past must have been special—like what I had thought I had with Jett. Or maybe even more special, considering that she had been dating him for longer, and that was probably the reason why she hated me. She likely felt I’d taken him away from her, that I was the other woman, an intruder in their relationship.

  A rebound.

  Staring at her, I tried to swallow the thick knot in my throat. It tasted as bitter as her words and equally piercing.

  Jett had never told me about the baby or his relationship with Tiffany, nor had he revealed that he was seeing her behind my back. He had betrayed my trust once before, and now he was doing it again. I buried my fingernails in the soft skin of my forearm, eager to inflict physical pain in the hopes that it might drown out the shock of his betrayal, and block the images of them together—a nightmarish vision I never saw coming.

  Judging from Jett’s hard features, he seemed completely taken aback by her words. I never knew what jealousy
meant until I experienced the heart-shattering, soul-wrenching pain of seeing Jett with another woman and not being able to do anything about it. And not only was she another woman, she was also his ex, someone he’d almost had a baby with.

  “Our room is ready for us. It’s the same we used last time,” she whispered and rested her hand at the nape of his neck. And then she smiled…not at me, but at him…as if he was the only person in the room. It was a special kind of smile: soft, tender, almost fearful.

  “There’s always a new beginning, Jett,” she whispered. “You wanted to see me, and that’s all that matters. Deep down, I knew we were never over. That you’d come back to me someday.”

  As I watched her lean into him again, my throat constricted from the urge to scream, but no sound came out. The ice-cold feeling in the pit of my stomach turned into a raging storm as her hands pulled him nearer: so close, too close.

  Finally, their lips locked in a kiss.

  I was so shocked I couldn’t breathe. A jolt of pain pierced my heart—thick and sharp as a blade, right in the middle of my chest, as though I had just been stabbed, and the knife was being pulled out slowly, ripping through tissue, creating a wound so big that nothing could ever stop the bleeding.

  I pressed my hands over my mouth, unable to stop the tears from running down my face like little rivulets, and eventually, my disbelief turned into bitter grief.

  I had to get away—now, as quickly as possible, before my fragile soul shattered. My legs began to move of their own accord as I ran out the door, past the drinkers and diners who looked up in surprise. I ran right out of the hotel, trying to get far away from the one person I’d fallen in love with, the one person who had destroyed every inch of my faith in love and relationships.

  My head spun with the images of Jett kissing another woman, a woman who hated me because she wanted him.

  I had to get away, because I couldn’t bear to see him anymore, without feeling the stabbing pain whenever I thought of his lips on hers, gentle, just the way he kissed me so often; without wishing to get shot that instant, if only to stop the pain, my love for him, and the images I knew would haunt me for the rest of my life.

 
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