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The lovers surrender no.., p.14
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       The Lover's Surrender (No Exceptions), p.14

           J. C. Reed
 
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  “Don’t try to bullshit me.” Jett placed himself in front of Brian, his expression hard as stone. “I’ll ask you one more time and you better answer. Where. Are. They?”

  Grinning, Brian buried his hands in his pockets. “I’m kidding. I kinda figured she wanted to keep her junk, so I stashed the bags in the blue freezer in the basement.”

  “In the freezer?” Jett stared at him. “What the fuck!”

  Brian shrugged. “I had no idea if she was coming back soon.” He glanced at me, the corners of his lips twitching. “Or at all. For all I knew, she might have fled to Mexico, rented a room or something.”

  “Why would she be heading—” Jett stopped abruptly, eyeing us both. “Am I missing something?”

  I gazed from Brian to Jett. “Remember when I told you about him grilling me? Well, I kind of told him.”

  “Told him what?” Jett asked through gritted teeth.

  Brian wrapped one arm around my shoulders. “She told me that she was hiding first-rate evidence in a murder case. How’s that for starters?” He turned to me. “Right, Brooke?”

  Jett’s head snapped in my direction. “You told him that? What the fuck, Brooke!”

  “I meant to tell you.” I shrugged as I tried to shake Brian’s heavy arm off my shoulders.

  “Why didn’t you tell me?” Jett asked, his anger palpable, his stunning green gaze two burning dots.

  “Easy, mate.” Brian held up a hand. “I asked nicely, and she replied.”

  A snort escaped my lips. “Yeah, right. You practically forced it out of me. So not nice.”

  “I think it was a fair deal for entering,” Brian said. “There’s nothing like a little piece of information to make me happy. I gotta tell you, I didn’t expect you’d have the guts to hide it in your car.” He seemed genuinely impressed.

  I shot him a timid smile. “I had no choice, really.”

  Ignoring our banter, Jett took my hand possessively and pulled me toward him.

  “Did she tell you why?” he asked.

  “Because you guys are in trouble?” Brian suggested casually, as if it wasn’t a big deal. As if he hadn’t expected anything else from us.

  Jett opened his mouth to say something, but the ringtone of his phone interrupted him.

  “Stay here,” Jett said, frowning. “I have to take this.”

  With that, he left us, slamming the door shut behind him.

  Brian and I were alone, his people gone. I peered at him, expecting heavy and uneasy silence.

  It never came.

  “What?” Brian asked, returning my puzzled look.

  I shook my head. “When you asked me why I was here, I didn’t think you’d believe me.”

  “Where I come from, there’s a saying. People who stand at your door when it’s raining always tell you the truth, so I reckoned you needed help.”

  I cocked my head. “It wasn’t raining.”

  “No, it wasn’t.” He smirked. “You got me. Where I come from, there’s no such saying. I made it all up. Thought it was clever and all.”

  I eyed him, curious. “So, how did you figure out it wasn’t a lie?”

  “Your eyes betrayed you.” He winked, and I forced a scowl onto my face. “All right, that was another lie.”

  “Right.” I nodded. This could take a while because Brian didn’t seem keen on getting to the point anytime soon.

  “You really want to know? Jett’s been in a bad mood since your arrival. I reckoned something was wrong and he was in trouble. So when you told me you had first-rate evidence, I thought you knew something he didn’t tell me about and took the liberty to open your trunk and put the bags away, just in case, you know, the cops were coming.”

  “You had no key,” I pointed out.

  “So?” He shrugged casually. “You think this was the first time I opened a car without one?”

  I shook my head, which was rewarded with a chuckle.

  “You’re fucking unbelievable,” I whispered.

  “I know.”

  “I can’t believe you took the bags and put them in a frigging freezer,” I said, dumbfounded. “Who does that?”

  “Trust me. Nobody would look in there.” His eyes glimmered with excitement. Knowing Brian, he probably thought his actions were pretty cool.

  “It’s a good hiding place,” I agreed.

  His lips twitched before he turned his back to me. “I would have moved everything eventually.”

  My stomach dropped as I watched him walk over to a shelf and pick up a couple of wrenches and pliers, then return to my car to continue whatever he had been working on.

  “Did you look inside?” I asked after a pause.

  My question made Brian look up.

  “Inside the bags?” Brian shook his head, and his smile disappeared. “No! And I’m not going to ask what’s in them.”

  Narrowing my eyes, I leaned back, unable to hide the doubt in my voice. “So you really didn’t look?”

  “Nope.” He sounded so honest I believed him. If there was ever a doubt, it dissolved quickly the moment I caught his quizzical stare.

  “Aren’t you curious?” I asked.

  “I am. But you’ll tell me before it’s too late anyway, right?” He gave me a long stare that sent a chill up my spine.

  “I want you to know that you’re part of our family now, Brooke,” he said firmly. “If you’re in trouble, you’ll get me involved. I know a good place if you need to bury something large.”

  I stared at him as realization kicked in.

  Oh, my God.

  “You think I killed someone.” I laughed out loud. “I’m crazy, but not so crazy I’d kill someone, Brian.” He stared at me, head cocked to the side, as if not sure whether to believe me or not. So I added, “I’m not in that kind of trouble.”

  “I wasn’t talking about you.”

  My eyes widened as it dawned on me.

  ”You think Jett killed someone?”

  He shrugged. “Well, knowing Jett, it doesn’t take long for him to jump the gun. When he’s hell-bent on doing something, he really gets it in his head, even if it’s a bad idea. It wouldn’t really be that much of a surprise.”

  I frowned.

  Heart racing, I turned to him. “What are you talking about?”

  For a short moment, silence ensued.

  Brian eyed me carefully. I tried to read his expression without much success. And then it dawned on me why he wouldn’t just spill the beans, which he usually did.

  He had no idea how much he could reveal, so he kept quiet.

  I rolled my eyes. “Look, Jett told me about my condition, so there’s no need for you to protect me from the truth, or whatever.” I took a step forward, and my fingers curled around his lower arm. “Please, Brian, if Jett’s about to do something stupid, you have to tell me.”

  His blue eyes pierced mine—the look in them betraying his stony expression.

  My heart sputtered in my chest.

  “Did Jett say anything about killing someone?” I asked, my tone imploring. As unbelievable as the idea seemed, Jett was unpredictable—and so very protective of me and our unborn child.

  “Jett’s one of my closest friends, and he really cares about you,” Brian said, choosing his words carefully. “He’s a good guy, but he’s extremely revengeful. So when he says he’ll deal with a situation, I usually choose to believe he’ll do just that. He’s been saying that for weeks, Brooke.”

  “Nate,” I whispered. “You think Jett would kill Nate?”

  Brian nodded, and for once, I would have welcomed silence more than the raging thoughts inside my head.

  All this time I thought Jett had moved past his anger. All this time I thought Jett had come to peace with the fact that his family wasn’t perfect. That his brother was a killer. Worse yet, only a few hours ago, I’d had even jumped to the conclusion that Jett was defending his brother.

  That wasn’t the case at all. Jett was still fighting his demons.

 
“What did Jett tell you?” I asked.

  “Sorry.” Brian smiled apologetically, as though he had already revealed too much, and moved past me.

  So he didn’t want to tell me. That, or Jett had asked him not to. Did I even really need it spelled out when I already knew that Jett would hurt anyone who’d dare come after me? Jett was unforgiving and overprotective. He had made that clear on various occasions. I didn’t know how far he’d go, but I had no doubt that he was keen to protect what was his at all costs.

  Leaning against my car, I watched Brian grab a pair of gloves and a screwdriver, then start busying himself, his face grimacing in concentration. Only then did I notice the dark shadows under his eyes, which in turn made me think of our conversation that morning.

  I didn’t know what came over me, but I touched his arm again to get his attention. He looked at my fingers as though they were some irritating bugs, his blue eyes probing mine.

  “I heard about Tiffany being in the hospital,” I started, prying my fingers away from him. “I’m sorry. I hope she’ll get well soon.”

  “She’s doing okay, given the circumstances.”

  Hesitating, I glanced at the door to make sure no one was listening before turning back to him.

  “Brian, can I ask you something?”

  “That depends.” He barely looked up as he unscrewed another thingy for which I had no name with so much fervor I almost feared he might break something.

  “It’s not about Jett,” I added, watching his shoulders relaxing. “Please don’t take it the wrong way, but how can you be with someone like her?” I asked in silence. “You know, fearing that she’d cheat. Wondering who she might throw herself at the next time. You seem like a good person, so I don’t understand how you can put up with it.”

  I had been hard on Jett. Most people would have been because it was only human nature in order to emotionally protect oneself. Brian didn’t seem to be the most forgiving person in the world. How could he excuse her behavior so easily?

  The question had plagued me for some time.

  I had to know, if only to understand him. I had to know how someone could love a person who hurt them over and over again.

  “I guess for the same reason she returns to me time after time,” he said after some pause.

  I frowned. “And why is that? Because in her cheating heart, she still loves you after all—and that’s all that counts?”

  A chuckle escaped his lips. “Honesty and sarcasm. I like that,” he said and turned to regard me. “But you couldn’t be farther from the truth.”

  My brows knitted together in confusion. “How so?”

  Hesitating, he pulled off his gloves again. He propped a leg against the wall, then slowly retrieved a pack of chewing gum from his pocket and offered me one. I declined.

  “It’s a long story,” he explained as I watched him open the foil wrapper and shove the chewing gum into his mouth. “To cut it short, the only reason we got back together the first time was that we both hoped at some point we could make it work as a family. It’s an Irish thing and has nothing to do with love. I’m the only link to her son, so we try to work it out based on some bullshit belief.” He looked up shortly, pride shimmering in his eyes. “He’s twelve years old and lives in Ireland with my family.”

  “Her son?” I asked, suddenly aware of the lump in my throat as I remembered Tiffany’s words. “Why would he live with your family? Unless he’s your…” My words trailed off as his expression changed to surprise.

  “Whoa!” He held out his hand, and the skin around his eyes crinkled in amusement. “Did you think it was Jett’s kid?”

  Heat scorched my cheeks, the spreading blush across my chin giving me away. It was too late to lie.

  He had caught me, and I only had two options. Admit that I had been jealous or deny everything, which would make me look weak.

  “He isn’t?”

  “No, Brooke,” he said with a curious glance at me. “Tiffany wanted to give our son up for adoption when she was sixteen, because we had no money, no support, not even a safe place to stay. My family took him in, and now they’re raising him as their own. That was the hardest decision I ever made.”

  I stared at him, lost for words.

  All this time, I had assumed that Tiffany went through with an abortion or had a miscarriage. It never crossed my mind that she and Brian went back longer than she and Jett, that she had to give her child away; and how difficult it must have been for her as a mother. Not having the means to care for her child and being forced to give him away was horrible.

  I couldn’t imagine living without my child, and she wasn’t born yet.

  In the gloomy silence, his eyes probed mine as he paused for a second, probably considering his words. Eventually, something changed in his gaze, and I knew he was about to share his story with me—a story so private I could feel my heart shattering with each word he spoke.

  “She hasn’t seen him since the day he was born. He has no idea that I’m his father,” Brian said.

  For the first time, I thought I caught something in his voice.

  Pain.

  Suffering.

  Longing.

  “Giving up her child destroyed our relationship. I don’t think she’ll ever get over the guilt of not having seen him grow up.” He shook his head slowly, his hazy gaze reminiscent of the past. “Nowadays, when I look at her, I know she wants to see him, but she can’t bring herself to do it, because she’s a mess. She doesn’t want him to see her like this.”

  “She could get help,” I said.

  Maybe I could help.

  I wanted to utter the words, but I bit my lip instead, holding them back because it made no sense to tell Brian. I needed to tell her. Maybe she needed a friend who understood the way she felt as a mother.

  “She’s tried so many times, you have no idea. You need to forgive her,” he said, his eyes not leaving mine. “I know she has no excuse for trying to get it on with Jett, but she’s an alcoholic and hasn’t been herself for a long time. Giving up her son changed her. It changed our relationship, and it changed her love for me. Even though it was her who came up with the idea of giving our son away, I was the one who pushed her to go through with it. She never forgave me.” He sighed, and for a moment, I thought I glimpsed moisture in his eyes. “Anyway, like I said, it’s a long story.”

  “Brian, I had no idea. About your son. About Tiffany. Jett didn’t say anything,” I whispered.

  “I should hope so. It’s most certainly not his place.” He shrugged again. “Not many people know about this part of my past, and Jett didn’t tell you because I asked him not to a long time ago. Anyway, there’s not much point in bringing something up that you can’t change, right?” He glanced back at me and smiled gently. “It’s not a story I’m proud of. I don’t know what’s in those bags and what you’re hiding for him, but I can see why he loves you, even if he hadn’t told me the night before.”

  He loves me.

  Jett had confessed his love to me in spite of our fight and disagreements. In spite of the fact that he didn’t even know whether our relationship would make it.

  My heart fluttered.

  All those emotions I had for him came back like a big wall crushing me. It took me every ounce of willpower not to say that I loved Jett, too. My heart gave little jumps as I thought of him. After all the jealousy that I thought would consume me at the mere mentioning of Tiffany’s name, I found myself smiling with joy.

  Joy—that Tiffany wasn’t the bad person I imagined her to be.

  Joy—that there most certainly was a reason why she kissed Jett.

  And, most importantly, joy that Jett never stopped loving me during our ugly fight. It was proof to me that Jett would stand by me no matter what.

  “And congratulations.” He smiled and motioned at my ring. “We’re having a secret engagement party tomorrow, which I’m not supposed to tell you about, but you have this uncanny ability to pull secrets out of people
.”

  I laughed and glanced at my beautiful ring. “Thank you for telling me,” I whispered, not referring to the party.

  When I looked up, Brian had already turned away, his footsteps thudding as he crossed the garage. For some reason, I felt as though I had glimpsed a new side of him. A side that didn’t scare me.

  Maybe someday Brian and I would become friends. Or maybe we already were.

  The flames sent sparks high up into the sky. We stood there, watching the fire in the back yard of the gang’s quarters. Jett’s arms were around me, pulling me close, cuddling me against his hard chest, his lips nestled at the back of my neck. Brian and four of his people were standing behind us. None of them asked any questions before they threw the black bags into the bonfire, the wild flames savaging the contents.

  The fire flared and died.

  Eventually, people began to leave, until Jett and I were alone.

  As I watched the dark ashes, tears rose to my eyes.

  Those had been Gina’s things—a woman I had known for only two days, but for some reason I had liked her.

  She didn’t deserve what happened to her.

  Of course, there was still a distinct possibility that I had been wrong, and the bags belonged to someone else, but that didn’t matter much.

  Life ended in the blink of an eye.

  I knew next to nothing about Gina, but she had left sadness behind.

  She had left emptiness in the hearts of those who loved her.

  “You okay?” Jett whispered behind me.

  “I am. Just a little sad about her, that’s all,” I whispered back, my glance fixed on the dying fire. “Did you hear from Sam?”

  “Not yet.” He paused a little, and I sensed a change in topic. “My assistant called to confirm our attendance at the charity fashion show.”

  I turned around, and my eyes found him. “When will it start?”

  Jett glanced at his cell phone, then back at me. “We should head back inside now. Particularly if you want to take the time to check out my former room before we leave.”

  “I know where your room…” My words trailed off as I got the hint. “Oh. But we’ve already done it twice today.”

 
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