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The lovers game, p.14
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       The Lover's Game, p.14

           J. C. Reed
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  “That’s my point exactly. I’ve never heard about him dating anyone,” Beth said. “I always see him hanging around with guys, and I say that makes him gay.”

  Thalia rolled her eyes. “You have no clue what you’re talking about.”

  “Fill us in then,” Beth challenged. “You’re into women, so maybe you should have a little chat with him. You know him better than anybody here. Maybe you can help him find his way out of the closet.”

  I stared at Beth in disbelief. Not that it mattered, but Thalia and Grayson were gay?

  “Shut up,” Thalia snapped. “Just because I’ve known him longer than anyone else here doesn’t mean we discuss personal stuff.” With an annoyed sigh, she turned her head to me. “Don’t mind her,” she whispered. “She’s still upset that Grayson ignored her advances when she asked him out. In her book that can only mean he’s playing for the other league.”

  “That’s so last year,” Beth muttered.

  I stared at my employer, realizing I knew neither him nor Thalia particularly well. The day before, he had seemed quiet and reserved. Now, while he still looked impassive, there was a certain nervousness about him. He and his guest were so engrossed in whatever they were talking about that the entire room seemed to have dissolved into thin air around them. Whatever his sexual orientation was, he struck me as a strange man. I remembered the way our hands had touched. Maybe it had been a means to get my attention, but it certainly hadn’t felt gay to me.

  But who knew?

  I wasn’t an expert on the topic just because I had a few gay friends.

  “Maybe this guy had the guts to tell Grayson that his mandrake is ugly, and now they’re arguing about art,” I suggested by ways of trying to inject a little humor into the situation and change the subject.

  “Yeah.” Beth laughed. “That would land him in the lions’ den real quick. Grayson loves that ghastly thing.”

  We fell silent again, and the seconds seemed to stretch on forever. At some point, Beth let out another frustrated sigh and eventually began to stretch. “I need a smoke. If Grayson asks, tell him I had to pee.”

  The moment she was gone, I turned to Thalia and shot her a smile.

  “You’re not going to avoid me now, are you?” she asked.

  “What?” I stared at her, unsure where she was heading. “Why would I do that?”

  She shrugged, as though it didn’t matter, but the fleeting look in her eyes spoke volumes. “Tell me you’re not one of those people who’ll judge me or change your opinion of me just because I’m...different. A girl who used to work here had a huge problem with it.”

  I caught a strange expression on her face. It was a mixture of probing and hesitation, as if she was challenging me, testing me even. I realized there was more to the story, but I decided it best not to press the issue.

  I laughed. “I’m surprised, that’s all, and that’s understandable, considering that we hit a straight bar yesterday, and you kept talking about the perfect guy.”

  “Most people assume that about me, like many other things. The moment they find out the truth, their whole attitude changes, and I become someone else in their eyes. Take my parents, for example.” Thalia grimaced, and her eyes darkened with something. It wasn’t anger, more like disappointment or frustration. She looked so fragile I felt sorry for her. In some way, I knew what it meant to be judged and compartmentalized.

  “You don’t have to worry about me.” I shrugged and left the rest unspoken. Whatever she was or wasn’t, it made no difference to the fact that I saw her as a friend. “So it’s true that you’re into women?” I forced myself to speak the obvious, so we could move past the awkwardness of the situation.

  “Yeah, but only when I have sex.” Narrowing her eyes, she tilted her head to one side. “We should hook up, you know—just you and me. I know a really nice bar,” she whispered. My cheeks began to burn at the insinuation.

  Thalia leaned back and smiled. “I’m joking, Jenna.” She let out another infectious laugh. “You should have seen your face just now. Priceless.”

  “I’m sorry,” I mumbled. “You almost got me.”

  “Contrary to popular belief, we don’t hit on every woman we meet,” she explained. ”I’ve been in a relationship with the same person for years, and we’re still going strong.”

  “You’re lucky then.” I couldn’t hide the bitter tone in my voice as I thought of Jett. “At times, I’ve wished to be gay, because it looks so easy. You don’t seem to have all the heartbreak that comes with relationships.”

  She grimaced again. “Trust me, there’s as much of that going on as in every other relationship. In life there might be rules. In love there are no exceptions to those rules. No one is spared from heartbreak. We all suffer it at some point or another. You simply can’t control who you love and in particular, you can’t control what kind of person they are.”

  “That’s so true.” I nodded in agreement, then cocked my head in curiosity. “How do you know I’m straight? I could be...anything,” I asked intrigued that she could tell without really knowing me. After just one glance, she seemed to have me figured out. Was I that open a book?

  “I’ll be honest with you,” she started. ”When I saw you with your blonde friend, I wasn’t sure. But by the time I picked you up from the park and Grayson wanted to talk about your work contract and his second thoughts, I suspected. I knew for sure at the club, when you started talking about your ex.”

  What second thoughts?

  “What do you mean? What did Grayson say?” My glance swept over him anxiously. He was still talking with the man. Even though he wasn’t looking at us, for some reason I felt as though his attention was shifting.

  “Only that he could hire you for five weeks, until you’re starting to show,” Thalia said.

  My head snapped back in her direction, and my jaw dropped. “Grayson knows?”

  Thalia must have caught the shock in my voice, because she burst out in laughter.

  “Of course he knows you’re pregnant.” She nodded mysteriously. “He’s been working with women for years—not just models, but real women. Men like him are very perceptive.”

  I wondered what she meant by that but didn’t ask.

  “No worries. I won’t tell anyone or put you in an awkward position. As I said, I’m good at keeping secrets.” She winked at me. “Like...I didn’t tell Gina you were ordering soft drinks the entire night.”

  “I didn’t think it was that obvious.” I joined in her laughter. Now was the perfect time to ask about the drinks Gina bought. Just as I opened my mouth, Thalia shushed me.

  “Look out. He’s coming over.”

  Shortly after Grayson joined our little group, the show ended, and people began to flood out the door. Judging from their facial expressions, some weren’t pleased, if not outraged, and the way Grayson was acting, it almost looked like he might have actually kicked them out. I faintly remembered Thalia telling me that we were being paid for the night, so I’d been certain that the gallery event would take longer than two hours. It made no sense that Grayson had shooed his clients out so early. Something was wrong. I could feel it. I just couldn’t pinpoint what it was.

  Eventually, Grayson locked up and waved us over to the sitting area. We gathered around him in a semicircle. It was so quiet I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear a needle hit the floor if it dropped.

  “I closed the event early with good reason,” Grayson said, his gaze sweeping over the inquiring faces around him. “There has been an accident, and with a heavy heart...” He paused, and for a second, I thought I heard a soft tremor in his voice. “—I deeply regret to inform you that Gina died earlier this morning.”

  Shock and murmur traveled through the crowd. My jaw dropped, and I clasped my hand over my mouth in disbelief. To my right, someone whimpered and began to sob.

  “Oh, my God,” Thalia whispered.

  “What happened?” Beth asked.

  Grayson linked his fingers t
ogether behind his back. His lips were drawn in a tight line, and his shoulders slumped; I almost feared his next words. “She was found on a street, stabbed, with her throat cut open,” he said quietly. “The police have declared it murder.”

  The image of Gina lying on the street sent goosebumps up my spine.

  “They think she was mugged for her handbag, because it wasn’t at the crime scene when they found her at five a.m.”

  “Where was she found?” I didn’t know why I asked the question when it didn’t really matter. Everyone’s head snapped in my direction. It took me every ounce of my willpower not to react when Grayson communicated the name of the street we had visited the day before. “She was attacked in a back alley, behind the La Rue bar. A bouncer found her body hidden behind a dumpster.”

  Another wave of shock echoed through the room, and the chatter began: gossip, I assumed. As usual, everyone had their own theory about the tragedy. As for me, my head began to spin.

  “I can’t believe she’s dead,” Thalia whispered to me. We were standing behind everyone else, with our backs to the wall. “Who would kill her and leave her lying around like trash? She was the nicest person I’ve ever known.”

  “I can’t believe it either.”

  “And to think, we used to date before I met my current girlfriend.” She shook her head in disbelief, and a tear ran down her cheek.

  I turned to face her. “I’m sorry. I had no idea.”

  “No one did.” Thalia shrugged and wiped a hand over her tear-stained face. I hugged her, because I couldn’t stand seeing her in pain. It was always sad when someone died. As short as my meeting with Gina had been, and in spite of the questionable drinks, I had still liked her as a person.

  Her death was such a tragedy, and it had come out of the blue. It felt surreal to know we had seen her less than twenty-four hours ago; my memories of the redhead were still fresh in my mind.

  “She must have gone back to the La Rue bar,” Thalia whispered.

  My attention snapped in her direction. “What do you mean? Why would she do that?”

  “After you hooked up with that guy, Gina and I had one more drink together. I got a headache and called it a day, but she decided to stay, so I left, figuring she’d be all right,” she said, barely able hide her remorse. “I should have stayed. Maybe this wouldn’t have happened. Maybe she’d still be alive.”

  Or maybe they’d both be dead.

  “Did she meet anyone else?” I asked, keeping my true thoughts to myself.

  But Thalia didn’t hear me anymore; she simply walked away mumbling, “I have to tell him.”

  I followed her and stopped a step behind, listening to her conversation with Grayson.

  “Jenna, Gina and I visited the La Rue bar yesterday,” she said. Silence fell over the room as everyone turned to look at her. “We had a few drinks together before we moved on to the HUSH HUSH club. That was the last place we saw her.”

  Grayson’s face remained an impenetrable mask. “Just the three of you?” he asked, and Thalia nodded.

  His forehead creased into a frown as his gaze swept over the shocked faces around him, then settled on Thalia’s again. Finally, he turned. Following his line of vision, I realized the guy he had been talking to before hadn’t left with the rest of the guests. He was standing in the background, near the wall, hidden in the shadows, observing us all along.

  I frowned.

  “I’d like to introduce you to Detective Barrow,” Grayson said grimly. “He’s leading the investigation.”

  As the man stepped forward, my heart spluttered in my chest and skipped a beat.

  Oh, my God.

  Oh. My. God.

  It was in that instant that I recognized him as the guy from the hotel. The guy with the newspaper. The guy who had glanced at me. My breath remained trapped in my throat, and my knees began to shake, threatening to buckle beneath me.

  What was he doing here?

  “I’m afraid I’ll have to keep you girls a little longer,” I heard Grayson say. “Detective Barrow will want to ask each of you a few questions, but no worries. In spite of the disruption in our work schedule, you’ll still be paid your usual fee for the night. Feel free to leave after the detective’s done with you. Any questions?”

  I shook my head, but not because I didn’t have any questions.

  My heart pounded in my chest, and my blood rushed hard as I stared at the man from the hotel, my mind circling around one single thought.

  What are the odds?

  ***End of Episode 2***

  Jett and Brooke’s story continues in the powerfully sensual next part in the No Exceptions series,

  The Lover’s


  Coming October, 2014

  Never miss a release. Use the chance to request Jett’s POV or get a sneak peek, teasers, or win amazing prizes, such as an e-reader of your choice, gift cards, and ARCs by signing up to my newsletter.

  As a subscriber, you’ll also receive an email reminder on release day:

  The Lover’s Promise (No Exceptions Book 3) sneak peek

  Chapter 1

  Calm down.

  Calm the fuck down.

  There was nothing to fear, because I had done nothing wrong. It had been Gina’s idea to visit the club, not mine. All I had to do was answer the detective’s questions and then I was free to leave.

  Countless thoughts raced through my head but only one registered: Gina was dead. Killed. Who would have done it? And for a handbag? Even as I asked myself those questions, I knew a mugging wasn’t the answer. While people stole handbags, they didn’t necessarily cut the victim’s throat in the process, which was why the detective was here—to unravel the mystery and get to the bottom of things. Like me, he probably suspected foul play and while I hoped he’d find the killer, I also hoped that, just because Thalia and I happed to be the last people who saw Gina alive, we wouldn’t end up as persons of interest.

  “Jenna?” Grayson’s voice drew me back to reality. “You’re the first. The detective would like to ask you a few questions now.”

  Oh, shit.

  The icy knot in my stomach intensified, growing as big as an iceberg under the water’s surface. Why did I have to go first when I didn’t want to? He’d only pour all his energy into grilling me, and I had no answers, no clues, nothing to help out in any way.

  Basically, I was doomed to look like I was guilty.

  “Great. I’ll be happy to help,” I said weakly and shot Grayson a confident smile, avoiding the detective’s intense stare. To be honest, I had no idea if he remembered our brief encounters at the hotel, but I could feel his gaze burning a hole in my head. When I finally dared look up, I realized his eyes not only rested on me, but there was also a flicker of recognition clearly written on his face. I froze in horror.

  This is what happens when you stare at a guy you don’t know, Stewart. You come across as a complete creep.

  Back then, I had probably looked like a guilty mess to him. I swallowed down the lump in my throat, and tried to behave as innocently as possible.

  “Detective, you’re welcome to use my office,” Grayson said, oblivious to my frayed nerves.

  “Thank you. It won’t take long,” the man said while his stare remained glued to me.

  Please, don’t leave me alone with him.

  I felt like a lamb scheduled to be slaughtered. My skin began to itch from the strain of trying to act casual. I had done nothing wrong, and yet his intense glance made me feely guilty. Talk about unfair. Talk about the crappiest day of my life. The crappiest of all crappy days.

  The detective turned on his heels and motioned me to follow him, and so I did, unsure what would happen next. To the daunting sound of impending doom, we walked into Grayson’s office. I was like that woman in white, ready to be sacrificed to King Kong and could almost hear the proverbial drums beating in the background. I felt completely para
lyzed with fear. With my heart pounding hard against my chest, I took a seat and waited for the detective to do the same.

  He didn’t sit down, which was probably a ruse to infuse respect into a suspect. He wasn’t even that tall, so under normal circumstances he wouldn’t have intimidated me. But there was nothing normal about today.

  I peered around me, considering getting out of Grayson’s office by faking fainting. I had always wanted to do that, and figured that was the perfect moment, if only to avoid the probing questions and mistrust that would follow. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then closed my eyes for a moment, envisioning the scene. Just too bad I wasn’t cut out for acting. In my head, I promised myself that I’d sign up for some much-needed acting classes. That is, if I ever made it out of here and saved up enough money.

  The detective turned the knob and closed the door behind him.

  Now, we were alone.

  Just he and I—behind a closed door.

  Dum. Dum Dum.

  No, make that doom. Doom—as the imaginary drums continued to pound in my head.

  My whole body began to shake slightly as he slid into Grayson’s seat and pulled out a notepad from his pocket. The whole situation felt surreal, like I was starring in a horror movie. I almost expected him to retrieve a string of rope and tie up my wrists to the chair, maybe even switch on a neon lamp, or hang me upside down to torture me into giving him the answers he wanted.

  Only, I had no answers.

  Let the witch hunt begin.

  Sighing, I crossed my arms over my chest, ready to face whatever the detective would throw at me.

  He glanced around the room and his eyes came to rest on the model pictures on the wall. Grayson’s glory. The gems he’d shaped into diamonds—as he liked to proclaim. Every one of his models was up there; everyone but me. It wasn’t that much of a surprise, given that I was new and had yet to book a job. A short silence ensued, during which Detective Barrow assessed me, his right hand stroking his neck in a strange manner. I twitched uncomfortably in my chair and crossed my legs, waiting, assessing him back.

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