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The lovers surrender no.., p.13
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       The Lover's Surrender (No Exceptions), p.13

           J. C. Reed
 
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  I hoped today wasn’t one of those days.

  Fuck, I hoped it wasn’t the day our friendship ended.

  On reflex, my chest tightened as fear washed over me. Losing Sylvie would be too hard a blow. She was like the glue that held me together when times were tough.

  “Sylvie,” I started, my voice shaky. “You’re my best friend, my other sister. I never said that I’d choose him over you. Of course, I want you to be there on what will be my most important day. But I can’t be in the middle of this. I just can’t. Right now, I need you to be there for me and not make things extremely hard by jumping to wrong conclusions and fighting against Jett. There’s so much more going on that you don’t know about.”

  “I’m looking out for you, sister.” Her voice sounded frosty. “As your friend, it’s my responsibility to warn you that he keeps twisting his way into your head with all his lies. What did you expect? That I would close my eyes and lie to your face that he’s great when he thinks it’s okay to do whatever he pleases behind your back?”

  “No…yes, maybe. I don’t know.” My head was spinning. “He lied to protect me.”

  There was a short silence. Eventually, Sylvie’s voice bounced back, the anger in her tone more palpable than before. “I don’t understand. Protect you from what? And what’s going on that I don’t know about?”

  The lump in my throat suddenly increased in size. I closed my eyes for a moment. This was the moment. It was now or never.

  “Nate was granted a furlough,” I said, trying to sound casual, even though a minuscule part of me shrank at that name.

  “Whoa! Stop here! Why would they do that?” She sounded so taken aback, I thought she might pass out from shock. “That’s crazy. He’s a killer who should be locked up behind bars, not walking around, getting a break.”

  “He isn’t exactly walking around,” I explained. “They put him under surveillance so that he could record a few conversations with his ex-associates in return for having his sentence reduced.”

  “What for?”

  “They need more evidence,” I muttered.

  “That’s so fucked up. As if they didn’t get enough already. Besides, how can they trust a liar?” Her laugh sounded fake and stopped as abruptly as it started. In the background, I could hear a chair scraping across the hardwood floor. Then Sylvie sighed.

  For a second, I imagined her, her hand clutching her phone, everything else forgotten. My previous words were still ringing in my ears. Sure, what I had said was harsh, but I had spoken the truth.

  “Hold on. I need a drink to digest this. All of it.” The line went quiet for a while. That was exactly what I had expected Sylvie to say after hearing the news. Leaning my head against the wall, I imagined Sylvie rummaging in our small kitchen for a bottle of anything, until I realized that she wasn’t and couldn’t be at the apartment.

  “You have a bottle in your office?” I asked incredulously when she was back on.

  She let out a forced laugh. “Are you kidding me? How else would I survive in this poorly paid job? But seriously, everyone has a secret stash somewhere.” In the background, I could hear a bottle unscrewing and liquid pouring into a glass.

  “I hate fighting with you,” Sylvie said and took a sip.

  “I don’t want to fight either,” I admitted, strangely emotional.

  It was true.

  “Good. I mean, it would be stupid to risk our friendship over some—” she stopped abruptly.

  I frowned.

  Over some guy? Over something else?

  The silence grew worse. For some reason, I could sense that Sylvie was fighting with herself.

  “You said Nate would be getting a reduced sentence,” she started. “How many years are we talking about?”

  “I don’t know,” I said honestly. “I hope not too many, but Nate’s looking at life anyway, so it won’t really make a difference. That’s what Jett said.”

  “That’s what he said, huh?” Her voice sounded stiff, but at least she had calmed down. I could only guess it was the alcohol now flowing through her system.

  A good old glass of wine had probably saved me from the lion’s jaw.

  “Yeah.”

  Tense silence ensued.

  Stretching out my legs, I waited for her reply—for anything that would break the awkward moment. When nothing came, I closed my eyes. With each passing second, I was getting closer to the moment of truth.

  “Just say it,” I whispered, feeling every muscle in my body tense.

  “Look, if you want to get married, I’ll support you. Fuck, I’ll tolerate Jett, but don’t expect me to love him or anything. You can’t expect me to understand why he couldn’t tell you about Nate. It’s not like it’s not a big deal, because it is, and we all know that. But it’s not exactly like he couldn’t tell you. And please correct me if I’m wrong.”

  Clutching my phone to my ear, I stared at the wall. I could imagine Sylvie, her fake reading glasses on her nose, a drink in her hand, as she waited for my response, her face scrunched up, thinking she had it all figured out. It was now up to me to be honest about everything.

  Set things straight.

  My heart stuttered, but she had to know.

  “My doctor told him not to,” I whispered at last. “Jett didn’t tell me things because of my condition.”

  “What…wait, what condition?” Sylvie said. “Oh, my God. You’re scaring me right now. What condition? Are you sick or something?”

  “No, I’m not sick. It’s just that…” I trailed off, considering how to explain.

  “Don’t even think about lying. If you don’t tell me, I’ll phone Jett and ask him myself.”

  I brushed a hand over my womb.

  “Well, according to the doctors, I have a severe and rare form of preeclampsia, which is often associated with first-time pregnancies,” I explained, trying to sound casual. “It could put my life in danger and all that, but I think they’re all exaggerating a bit. It had Jett worried, though, which is why he kept things from me. To be honest, I feel fine. I’m happy. I’m engaged. So there’s no need to overreact,” I added before Sylvie felt the need to jump into a taxi and start cocooning me until the day my daughter was born.

  “I’m such a bitch,” Sylvie said slowly. “I assumed the worst.”

  “You weren’t the only one,” I retorted as I thought back to my confrontation with Jett. I wanted to say more, but her sudden spluttering, then choking and coughing, stopped me short.

  “Are you all right?” I asked, worried when her cough worsened.

  “Sorry. My drink went down the wrong pipe.” She cleared her throat. When she spoke again, her tone was oddly tearful. “Look, I didn’t mean what I said before. You know, about Jett. I had no idea he was trying to protect you.”

  I shrugged and squeezed nonchalance into my voice—enough to fool her. “It’s all right.”

  “No, I’m really sorry.” She sounded so emotional my heart gave a jolt. “I shouldn’t have acted the way I did. It was harsh and uncalled for. Not only toward Jett, but toward you as well. I’d never…like ever… have forgiven myself if I wasn’t there for your big day.”

  “Sylvie, you didn’t know about my condition or about his plan to propose,” I whispered, feeling touched. I felt like hugging her. The fact that I couldn’t brought tears to my eyes. “Seriously, don’t worry about it. It’s fine.”

  “That’s right, I didn’t know. But I should have shut my stupid mouth, which I never do.” She let out a strangled laugh.

  I sighed. “That’s not you, Sylvie. And honestly, if things were different, I’d rather you told the truth than let me live in denial.”

  She hesitated. “Even if the truth hurts?”

  “Even better,” I said, meaning it.

  “So, does that mean you’ll forgive me?”

  “Yes, even though there’s nothing to forgive.” I nodded, even though she couldn’t see me. “Seriously, no hard feelings. It’s water under the bridge
.”

  “Thank God.” Her voice sounded so hopeful my chest rose in joy. “Oh wait. Does that mean I’m invited to the wedding?”

  “Like I’d ever walk down the aisle without you. Who would be my maid of honor?”

  She let out a joyful scream, and it sounded sincere.

  “Holy shit. I can’t believe you’re getting married.” Her voice rose into a crescendo of disbelief, and then turned serious again. “No, that was wrong. I did see that coming. I sort of gave up on him after your break-up. You know, I secretly wanted things to work out with you and Jett. You were, and you still are, this perfect couple. And then, bam, you told me you saw him with Tiffany, and I was thinking of my own experiences. I didn’t want you to go through hell. I have so many times, and it’s not fun.”

  “I know. I’d have done the same for you.” I smiled, touched by her words. “And by that, I mean I’d have tried to verbally slap some sense into you, too.”

  “We need to celebrate, of course. Like big time,” Sylvie said. “Where are you? I’m going to pick you up, and then we’ll chat some more. We need to start planning the wedding. It’s going to be a full-time job.”

  I could already feel the bossy vibe wafting from her. Sylvie was going to take control, and there was no stopping her.

  “I’m at the gang’s headquarters, but you can’t visit me now.”

  “Why not?” Her sudden excitement dropped to disappointment, only to be replaced with a hint of amusement. “Are you and Jett busy?”

  With busy, she meant if we were in bed, having sex.

  “Yeah, something like that.” I smirked as I thought of all the other problems and obstacles that still needed to be dealt with before we could truly enjoy each other.

  “Speaking of Jett, what kind of ring did he get you?”

  I lifted my hand to admire the sparkling diamond. “You’re the expert. You’ll have to see for yourself. I’ll just say it’s beautiful.”

  I didn’t know what made me do it, but I slid the ring off my finger. It was then that I noticed the engraving.

  Holy pearls!

  “He even engraved it,” I muttered in awe. “It says, With no exceptions, my love for you doesn’t need reciprocation to exist.”

  “I so want to get married, too,” Sylvie said. “I’m happy for you, Brooke. I really am. This is a dream come true. I know how much you always wanted to get married.”

  Which was so not the truth.

  It had always been Sylvie’s secret dream—the one she always adamantly denied.

  And it became mine the moment I got pregnant and realized I wanted a family with Jett.

  “Do you remember my vow? The one I took years ago? I promised I’d be your maid of honor, no matter how far we lived from each other.”

  “Yeah, as a matter of fact I do.” I smiled at the memory, unable to stop the moisture in my eyes as I became nostalgic. “You even went as far as denying another bride’s request, because you wanted to be mine first.”

  “Yeah, I did. That is one of my favorite memories,” Sylvie whispered, and more silence ensued. Eventually, her voice came low and somewhat weary. “Brooke?”

  “Hmm.”

  “Can you promise that once you get married you won’t get all boring and lose touch like so many people do?”

  My throat tightened. I could definitely understand her fear.

  “I promise we’ll be in each other’s lives forever,” I whispered.

  “No matter what?”

  “Yeah, no matter what.”

  “Thank you,” she whispered, the relief in her voice carrying down the line. “And now, come on, make me jealous. Describe the ring. And I want every little detail.”

  “Words don’t do it justice. I’m going to send you pictures later.”

  We talked some more, then I finished the call.

  With my back against the bathroom tiles, I turned around and caught a glimpse of Jett standing in the doorway. His shirt was unbuttoned, and he was holding two bags of Chinese food. In the soft light of the bathroom, I saw him for who he was:

  My fiancé.

  My soon to be husband.

  He wasn’t just handsome. With his black hair and eyes the color of sin, he was in every way beautiful.

  “How did it go?” he asked.

  “She’s confused, but I think, deep down, she’s happy for us.”

  “I can definitely understand the confusion.” He placed a soft kiss on the tip of my nose. “And I’m happy that I got the girl of my dreams, and she so happens to be the mother of my unborn child.” He sat the bags down on the counter, and his arms encircled my waist.

  I leaned against him, eager and starved for his soothing embrace.

  “I love the engraving,” I whispered, glancing at my ring again.

  “Yeah, I did that for insurance purposes in case you lost it or something. Or if you ever forget my name.” He grinned.

  “As if you’d ever let me forget you, or your name.” I rolled my eyes playfully. “Knowing you, you’ll probably have me screaming it at the top of my lungs for the rest of my life, just to be sure.”

  “So, when are you girls meeting up to plan our wedding?” Jett asked.

  “I don’t know. Maybe tomorrow.”

  I stared at him, suddenly feeling anxious. I wanted to see Sylvie, but there were other, more pressing issues on my mind. Interweaving my fingers with his, I looked up. “I want to burn Gina’s belongings.”

  He nodded. “Sure. Let’s eat first. I’m going to arrange for us to burn them once it gets dark.”

  I shook my head. “No, I want to do it now.”

  “Now?”

  I pressed my lips into a tight smile. “The sooner we get rid of them, the sooner I’ll feel better.”

  We weren’t just getting rid of stuff that could compromise Jett; I was also getting rid of the feeling that I could lose him.

  Moments lost forever.

  “Okay, baby. Let’s pick up her stuff,” Jett said.

  When Jett opened the door and we stepped out into the backyard, confusion crossed his face.

  “What?” I asked.

  “Where’s your car?” he asked, scanning the area around us.

  “I have no idea.” I turned and pointed to the spot where I had parked it. “It was right here.”

  Jett walked around me and stopped in the empty space where I had pointed, as if my car would miraculously appear between the other parked cars. A giggle escaped my lips. For some reason, the whole situation seemed too funny.

  The last thing I needed was for my car to be gone, but I didn’t suspect foul play.

  “I don’t think my car would transform into asphalt.” I laughed. “It’s not that kind of car.”

  “You find this funny, Brooke?”

  His lips twitched and then spread into a full-blown smile. In the midst of the situation, in the ridiculousness of it all, with him being a possible murder suspect and me a target, hysteria bubbled up. I had no idea what anyone watching might think of us, but I had no doubt we looked like we were high.

  “Maybe you forgot it back at my place and took a taxi instead.” He titled his head, studying me.

  “Yeah, right. As if I’d take a taxi in this neighborhood.” A thought struck me when my laughter subsided. “We should ask Brian. Usually, he’s guilty as hell.” I shrugged because my suggestion made little sense.

  “Why would we—” Jett’s words were cut off by the sound of a door being thrown open. We turned in time to see Brian stepping out of his car.

  “Oh boy,” I whispered. “Not again. We should hide in case he decides to interrogate us.” I giggled again.

  Nothing could pierce my happy bubble.

  “Interrogate?” Jett asked. “What are you talking about?”

  “He grilled me for at least an hour before letting me see you.”

  I eyed the big guy nervously. Brian’s usual military clothing was gone. Instead, he was wearing a blue mechanic jumpsuit that made him look b
igger than he already was. As he stopped in front of us, I noticed how dirty and greasy his hands were. A smile lit up his rugged features. He seemed to be in a good mood, but then Brian was never moody. Crazy, yes, but never moody.

  “Hey!” Brian said.

  “Hey,” Jett answered.

  “How’s it going?” Brian’s gaze swept from me to Jett.

  “Where’s Brooke’s car?” Jett demanded without further ado.

  “In the workshop.” Just in case we didn’t know where it was, Brian pointed his thumb over his shoulder, a lazy grin covering his wide mouth.

  “Why would you move it?” Jett’s brows shot up as he stepped in front of Brian, which only made Brian laugh.

  “Relax, mate. You should have seen the condition it was in. A few more days and it would have taken its last breath on earth. It’s a good thing I’m here to take care of an oldie.”

  Jett looked at him warily, then stormed past him.

  “What?” Brian shot me a questioning look, and I shook my head, signaling that I couldn’t help him figure Jett out.

  We followed Jett through the back door into the generous area Brian called the workshop, which was just another garage adorned with all sorts of mechanical tools and tires and other stuff I couldn’t identify even if I wanted.

  The moment I stepped through the door, I stopped in mid-stride.

  My car was there—or what used to be my car. Someone had taken the liberty of tearing it apart. It was barely more than a skeleton of scrap and metal, just like the other two cars to either side.

  My jaw dropped. The wheel was gone. And so were the tires and the seats, but what shocked me the most was the fact that the hood was open and a few things were missing.

  “What did you do to my car?” I asked, mortified.

  “I gave you a new alternator.” Brian smiled proudly. “Your old one was close to dying. Told you already.”

  Jett ignored him as he rounded the car and opened the trunk. From where I was standing, I saw that the two black bags were gone.

  Jett slammed the trunk closed, then turned around to face Brian. “Where are they?” His voice dropped dangerously low, but his face remained expressionless.

  “They?” Brian asked, his voice not even hiding the amusement. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

 
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