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The lovers surrender no.., p.12
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       The Lover's Surrender (No Exceptions), p.12

           J. C. Reed
 
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  “Will you forgive me?” His question caught me off guard. His expressionless mask was gone, and in its place, I found something else.

  Something I couldn’t pinpoint.

  Here he was, half-naked, the emotions in his expression exposed, his haunted eyes and perfect features too beautiful for his own good.

  I narrowed my eyes, knowing he was done with our previous topic of conversation.

  Fuck, I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. But the sudden mood swing sure had me worried.

  “What is there to forgive, Jett?” I asked nonchalantly.

  “The last few days.” He smiled gently. “Some plans didn’t go as I imagined.”

  I let out the breath I didn’t know I was holding as I realized Jett was back on memory lane.

  “Well, welcome to the club.” I laughed. “Nothing ever goes the way I want. It’s like a cold or something, except I can’t ever seem to get rid of it. Maybe you caught it from me.”

  He shook his head slowly. “It’s not just that. I wanted to call you, to see you, but I thought you needed your space, so I gave it to you.”

  “Space?” I scoffed and flicked my hand. “I got plenty of space the last few weeks, when you told me you had to work. I don’t think there was ever a time when I needed you more than I did in the past few days.”

  “So did I.” With one step, he closed the distance between us until I could feel his breath on my lips. His voice dropped to a whisper as his hand cupped my face. “I still do, Brooke. I just wish…” he trailed off, leaving the rest unspoken.

  “What?”

  “I wish I hadn’t lied.”

  I shrugged. “You didn’t really lie, though, did you? You had your reasons, and like I said, I chose to believe you. And if you want to burn everything, I’m with you.” I let the words linger in the air until a thought occurred to me. “Is that the third thing you’re sorry for?”

  “No.” He laughed, and then he fell silent again. “No, it isn’t. I’m afraid there’s one lie I left out, and that’s the one I’m really sorry about. It has nothing to do with Gina.”

  My smile died on my lips.

  He hadn’t said that something was bothering him, but I knew something was going on because he had that mysterious air about him and he was getting all deep on me.

  Something’s bothering him, and now he’s getting weird about it, Stewart.

  If I didn’t get him to tell me straight away, he’d shut down soon, the way he always did. My heart lurched at the sudden realization.

  “What is it?” I asked.

  He wet his lips carefully, a nervous glint flickering in his eyes. “My jacket. There’s something in my pocket you need to see. I don’t think you’ll like it.”

  His tone had me so worried my heart gave another jolt.

  “Jett?” I prompted.

  “I’m sorry. You have to look for yourself.”

  What now?

  My pulsed spiked as I turned on my heels. With quick strides, I reached the garage in no time. I didn’t even look to see if Jett was following behind. I had to know what could be so important that Jett would lie and fret about it.

  The jacket was still where Jett had left it—on Kenny’s car.

  Oh. My. God.

  How much more could I handle?

  “What did you do?” I asked as my fingers slipped into the pocket, afraid of what it might be.

  It was hard. And kind of small.

  When I pulled it out, I gasped.

  It was a black velvet box.

  And that could only mean one thing.

  “I’m sorry.” Those words were the first and last he whispered before the world as I knew it changed.

  One of the things I never understood was love. That four-letter word that spelled trouble. Could it be that love really existed? That it was so potent, leaving a trail of confusion in its wake by attracting nothing but simple words and actions? Or was it the mind’s ability to create something so beautiful and scary that it felt real if we chose to believe in it? Whatever it was, I still had a hard time trusting it, especially when it came down to the sinfully sexy Jett Mayfield.

  The man, who had the one and only ability to control my heart and mess with my soul.

  The man who had conquered my body and tamed my heart.

  Jett had taught me all there was to know about love, but he’d also made me learn how to curse it when it mattered.

  Like now, when I was stuck in between a place where I wanted to believe what I hoped to be true and curse the confusion that had filled my heart.

  “Jett.” My voice sounded awfully choked as I stared at the box in my hand. “What’s this? If this is a prank, I swear I’ll kill you.”

  “It isn’t.” He stepped behind me, his hot breath tickling my neck. “This is pretty serious, and I wouldn’t blame you if you ran away again. ”

  I turned around, not trusting his words, not trusting his smile, not trusting anything he did or said. His words registered with me, and yet, for some reason, I didn’t understand them.

  I, Brooke Stewart, didn’t understand the situation.

  For all I knew, Jett might as well have been speaking a foreign language.

  It was that damn box that rendered my brain all mushy.

  “Why would I run away?” I asked, cringing inwardly.

  I sounded so stupid I could have slapped myself, but honestly, he made no sense.

  If only my heart weren’t beating faster than a humming bird as I looked up at him.

  His handsome face turned to me, his green eyes piercing my heart, and there was this strange knot in my throat that wouldn’t go away.

  He grinned. “You’d be surprised with a strong, independent woman like you.”

  I stared at the box in my hand again. It was light and yet heavy.

  Could it be earrings to match my necklace?

  I mean, there was no point in getting my hopes up, only to see them dashed again.

  “Brooke,” he started, “I’m sorry that it couldn’t be more special. There are no roses, no candles, no music. Nothing to set the scene, but trust me, I had it all planned back at the hotel, and then you ran away. But now is as good a time as any to ask you…” he trailed off, pausing.

  “Ask me what?” I shook my head as I stared at the box, completely flummoxed.

  Whether I wanted to wear new stud earrings that evening?

  That he had found a good luck charm and didn’t know how to return it to its rightful owner? Or whether I minded that he had started collecting cross bugs?

  My mind raced through different scenarios, each one more absurd than the last—except for one, and that one couldn’t be true.

  But if it was?

  No way.

  I mean, we girls dream. We hope and pine. And that’s just part of being stupid and in love. Like the part of believing in unicorns, even though no one’s ever seen one, at least not in real life. A marriage proposal was pretty much the same. A fairy tale. Something you wished for.

  At least, it seemed like a fairy tale to me, because I, Brooke Stewart, was not getting engaged anytime soon.

  “What question, Jett?” I asked, slightly out of breath.

  “I think you know, because I’ve made my feelings about you pretty clear.” With a smile, he took the box out of my hand, his fingers lingering ever so shortly on mine. “Don’t look at me like that.” Jett smiled. “I’m not pranking you, so you can stop shaking your head.”

  Did I shake my head?

  Oh my God, I had.

  And then he kneeled.

  Oh. My. God.

  So did that mean…?

  It couldn’t be.

  And yet, it seemed so very true.

  I had hoped for it but never thought it’d happen any time soon.

  Jett had been pretty adamant that he’d never marry before he’d dated someone for at least five years, and last time I checked, five years hadn’t passed yet. I stared at him in shock, at the box in his ha
nd, at his lost expression, and fought the need to figure out if this was what I thought it was.

  “Baby,” Jett whispered. “I can be a real jerk when I want something. I can be a real jerk when I fight to keep what belongs to me. Fuck, I can be greedy when I need you, and there’s no denying, no reason, no doubt that I need you by my side. Which is why I have one wish. That you stay with me. Forever. Not just today, but until the end of time.”

  He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Suddenly, he seemed to grow more nervous. Not nervous, like a student taking a final exam, but more like nervous as in afraid to fail. And he was strangely emotional. I could hear the shaking in his voice.

  Pausing, his hand held mine, and he continued to stare at me, his eyes shimmering with what I assumed were tears.

  My heart skipped a beat.

  He meant it.

  “Brooke,” he started again, drawing my attention back to his face. “There’s a reason why I told you that I was sorry, and there’s a reason why I hope that I get a chance to make it up to you for the rest of my life. It’s because I can no longer wait to ask you that one question. The one question I hope will change your life. The one I hope won’t make you run away.” He took a sharp breath. I remained quiet, waiting for him to continue. “You once asked me why I love you, even though you never had to ask. I already told you that you’re the only woman who’s seen the real me and accepted me for who I am. You’re the only woman I want by my side for the rest of my life. The only woman I can imagine myself with. So…will you give me the honor and the joy of being your husband?”

  With tears in his eyes, he opened the box.

  My heart slammed against my chest so hard I feared I might faint on the spot. Lost for words, I stared at him, then at the box.

  Inside it was a beautiful diamond ring.

  And not just any ring.

  Ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod.

  It was an engagement ring.

  He was really going for it.

  Jett Mayfield was proposing to me.

  I held my breath.

  My soul rejoiced, my heart slammed in my chest, and my knees grew weak.

  Too many words began to swim inside my brain, and yet my mind was too mushy to grasp any of them.

  My vision grew blurry. My fingers brushed over my eyes to check for any invisible tears. Even though I couldn’t feel the moisture on my cheeks, it was there.

  My tears seemed to pour out of me like a river.

  And then he smiled—that beautiful smile I had grown to adore. That beautiful smile that made my heart jump every time he so much as looked at me. For a few seconds, I could feel his emotions, as if our hearts beat as one.

  “Yes.” I nodded and wrapped my arms around him, my fingers clasping at the back of his nape. “Yes, oh my God. Yes.”

  He breathed out, relieved. “That’s good.” He grinned as he gathered me in his arms and spun me around. “I thought I’d have to kidnap you and hold you hostage until you said ‘yes’.”

  While I was sure that Jett wouldn’t be opposed to giving me some much-needed privacy, I couldn’t tell him how much I needed him to get out so I could engage in some girl chat.

  It had taken some convincing for Jett to order more Chinese, but the moment the door closed and I got rid of my new fiancé—God, how much I loved that new word—I phoned my best friend Sylvie.

  “You won’t believe what just happened,” I started as I stared at my new ring, barely able to conceal the excitement that came with being proposed to.

  Sylvie had to know, or else I would be breaking our ancient girl’s promise to convey the news of being engaged, or else—

  Which was why I was now standing in front of the mirror, my heart beating fast at the prospect of telling her.

  “Whoa, slow down,” Sylvie said, unimpressed by my barely contained excitement. “Does it involve Jett?”

  My lips twitched. “Yes. How did you know?”

  “Oh, my God. You did not bash his car with a baseball bat, did you?”

  “No. Nothing of the sort.” I let out a snort. That was exactly the thing Sylvie would want me to do.

  “What is it then?” she asked, the confusion obvious in her voice. “And why the hell are you shouting? Did you kill him or something?”

  “I’m in the bathroom, and Jett’s picking up lunch. Last time I checked, he was very much alive.”

  “But if you’re with him, then…Oh shit! You did not!” She sounded shocked. “You did not have sex with him again! Please don’t tell me you did.”

  I groaned. “I did, but before you say anything…”

  “That’s it. You have to get help,” she cut me off. I shook my head. As usual, Sylvie was bossy when it came to Jett, not in the least because she wasn’t his biggest fan. “I’m serious. This…this obsession with this guy, it has to stop. I gotta tell you, it’s pure madness. And I’m putting it nicely, what with being your friend and all.”

  I groaned again. “Please listen to me.”

  “No, I’m not listening to any more of your lame excuses. It’s not healthy for you. The first thing you need to do is accept that he’s bad, bad news, hot or not.”

  “No, just listen. He proposed.” The words slipped out before I could stop myself. Forgotten was the small fact that Sylvie wasn’t up to date. And she most certainly didn’t know how much I had wanted Jett to propose.

  Silence, then hesitantly, as if she wasn’t sure she had heard right, “He did what?”

  “Jett and I are engaged.” I grinned like an idiot, even though she couldn’t see me.

  The line went quiet. A minute passed. Then another. The silence grew so heavy I was sure Sylvie had hung up.

  “Sylvie? Are you still there?” I asked.

  “Yes, I am,” she whispered, strangely choked. “I’m just waiting to hear some clapping. You’d tell me if I was being pranked on TV, wouldn’t you? Because right now, that’s exactly what I think is happening and it’s not funny. It’s not funny at all.”

  “Jett and I are back on,” I said.

  “Like ‘back on’ back on?” Sylvie’s voice was stiff, her tone oozing disbelief. I couldn’t blame her. She had no idea at all what was happening. In her mind, Jett had cheated on me. Then, in the span of thirty-six hours, Gina was found dead, a letter was left for me, a nightly visit scared the shit out of me, and yes, Jett and I had reunited. And then he proposed.

  I had no doubt that explaining everything on the phone would be too much for someone like her. Knowing Sylvie and her tendency to overanalyze and comment on each situation as if she were Oprah, it would take hours to get her to understand.

  Hours I didn’t have.

  Grabbing a stool from the corner of the bathroom, I sat down. “We want to take our relationship to the next level, you know, start a family.”

  “But…” As expected, the dreaded words came. “He cheated, Brooke. How could you possibly take him back?”

  “Sylvie, I got it all wrong. Tiffany was just jealous.” I cringed as I realized how I came across. Defensive. Overprotective. “Jett was planning to propose the whole time and she knew it. That’s why she tried to make a pass at him in the hope he wasn’t serious about us.”

  “That’s what he told you, huh? That son of a bitch. Of course, he wouldn’t let you go without putting up a fight. Of course, he’s working on his next lie.” A snort echoed down the line before her rant continued, “Honey, you can’t believe a word he says. He’s trying to get into your panties again. He wasn’t the one who dumped you, meaning the loser couldn’t take a punch to his ego, so he’s spun his story around to suit a purpose. Don’t fall for his shit. I bet he didn’t even get you a ring.”

  I sighed, then sighed again.

  This was going to be so hard.

  Leaning forward, I took a few breaths and slowly counted to three—just as I had learned in therapy after my sister died. This time it didn’t help ease the tension inside me.

  “I know this is a lot to ta
ke in,” I said slowly. “It came as a surprise to me, too. Really. But, Sylvie, listen to me.” I paused for effect before continuing, more convincingly, “He didn’t cheat. He really proposed, and yes, I do believe him. And what the hell! Of course he got me a ring, which, by the way, is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.” I stared at my hand again. It sparkled so much it could light up a room.

  Holy pearls!

  The ring was stunning, which could only mean that it must have cost him a fortune.

  “Is it even real?” Sylvie asked, doubtful, cutting through my thoughts.

  “Wow. I can’t even believe you said that.” I grimaced, my tone sounding hurt. “Of course it’s real. Did you forget the fact that Jett’s a billionaire?”

  “Exactly. He’s a billionaire.”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked indignantly.

  “For starters, he might have experience in proposing. I don’t even have to tell you how many women he’s fucked.”

  Disappointed, I let my shoulders drop at the lack of excitement in Sylvie’s voice. Why couldn’t she be happy for us? I knew my engagement made no sense to her, but just this once, I wanted her to pretend.

  Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes.

  “Look. I know you mean well, but my future is with him,” I said firmly. “If you both can’t get along, then I’m not sure you should come to the wedding. This is about my happiness, Sylvie. I don’t get to make a choice, because I love him, and he loves me, and I can’t change that, even if that means you won’t be invited to be there on our big day.”

  “You’re not joking,” Sylvie said matter-of-factly.

  “No, I’m not,” I whispered.

  “So you would choose him over me,” she said, hurt. “All the years of friendship, and now you wouldn’t invite me to your wedding. Now let me remind you: When he breaks your little heart, I’m the one who’ll still be there for you, but if you don’t want me at your wedding, then by all means, I’ll respect your wishes.”

  Kill me!

  My pulse started to pound against my temples. I so didn’t want to fight. Whenever Sylvie and I had an argument, it could take days to resolve it.

 
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