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The lovers surrender no.., p.16
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       The Lover's Surrender (No Exceptions), p.16

           J. C. Reed
 
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  Jett wasn’t just a billionaire; he was one of the youngest and most successful businessmen in the world. So it was only natural that he’d be invited and the media would want to take pictures.

  “Is this really a good idea?” I asked. “What if the cops are looking for you? The place is probably crawling with security and bodyguards and people who know you.”

  “If anyone dares to say one wrong word, I’ll call my lawyers.” His tone was nonchalant, as though gossip didn’t bother him, as if he was used to false accusations and people talking. “If anyone asks, we both ditched the club on Sunday to spend the night together at your place.”

  Which was kind of true, but—

  “You know we can’t prove that,” I said flatly.

  “No, you can’t, but I can.” His lips cracked into a smile. I looked up at him, confused.

  “What do you mean?”

  He started pressing buttons on his phone, then let out something that resembled, “Yeah, that’s it.”

  I craned my neck to get a better look, but there was no need for it because Jett turned the screen for me to see.

  I stared at it, unable to comprehend the meaning of the picture.

  “I took it the night Gina died,” he explained. “There’s a timestamp and everything. This should answer any questions.”

  With trembling fingers, I took the phone from his hand, my eyes fixed on the picture of me, sleeping half-naked.

  My hair was spread around me like a halo, and my abdomen was exposed. Even though the image was small, I could see that wasn’t anyone’s belly.

  It was the body of a woman who looked very pregnant.

  For a few seconds, I was lost for words.

  “Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked, unable to place my emotions. First, there was confusion, then relief, and now I couldn’t wait to seek answers to the array of questions inside my head.

  “No idea.” He grinned. “Maybe because we fought and you would’ve asked me to delete them.”

  “I most certainly would have done that.” I stared at the picture again, shaking my head. “I probably would’ve had a point. Look at this, I’m huge. And…” I frowned as I stared at what might be a stretch mark, but you couldn’t see those so clearly in a picture, could you?

  I had no time to find out because Jett pulled the phone away.

  “You’re beautiful,” he said with that sparkle in his eyes that made me adore him even more.

  Tears began to trickle down my cheeks. But this time, they were not caused by fear. I was genuinely touched—not by Jett’s words, but his actions.

  Jett inched closer and brushed his fingers over my cheeks, the motion gentle and soothing.

  “Now you know why I never believed there’d be a trial,” he whispered. “Like I said, whoever’s trying to frame me has no proof that would ever stand in court. I’m not saying this picture would solve everything, because let’s face it, people love headlines. They love scandals. They love making money by dragging other people’s names through the dirt. But this”—he held up his phone—“is all the proof I need that I wasn’t anywhere near her. You have nothing to worry about, Brooke.”

  “I’m so happy,” I said, relieved. “I can’t even believe I’m saying this after finding out that Nate’s gone, but it’s true. How come you didn’t tell me this before?”

  He shrugged nonchalantly. “That night, I didn’t know about Gina. When you told me, I explained that I didn’t kill her.”

  “But you could have shown me, and I would have believed you.” I eyed him carefully, eager to catch his expression. “Don’t tell me it slipped your mind, because I know that’s not the case. Nothing ever slips your mind.”

  “Brooke.” He paused and sighed. I looked up from the picture to take in his thoughtful expression. “Would it really have made a difference?”

  My heart gave an enormous thud. The silence in the room became ominous.

  “What do you mean?” I asked.

  “Our relationship needs to be built on trust.” His voice sounded serious, almost reproachful. For some reason, I felt scolded. “All I’m saying is that I don’t feel like I have to prove anything to anyone. Either you believe me or you do not. I wanted to see if you could.”

  “Right.” I exhaled slowly as I tried to process his words. “So, it was all a test?”

  “No.” He shook his head. “I’d never go as far as testing you. I’d rather call it a leap of faith in our relationship. In our love. That one last step before marriage.”

  “I don’t understand.” I shook my head, suddenly feeling hurt. “Why wouldn’t I believe you?”

  “I needed to see if you’d stand by me,” he said, and I stiffened. “Most people would falter and run when they think their partner might have committed murder. Not you, Brooke. I knew you would stand by me. I wanted to see how it’d turn out.”

  “To see if I’d crack.”

  “Yes,” he said quietly. “I never gave a fuck about the trial. Without any physical proof, they never had a case in the first place. But the last step in everyone’s relationship before marriage is proving that real trust exists. That it’s there for the future. All I wanted was to make sure that you trusted me and loved me for who I am.”

  “I don’t know what to say.”

  “Nothing. There is no need to say anything because in simplicity lies wholeness.” He grinned. “Anyway, I took a snapshot every week when you were asleep. And may I say you sleep soundly.”

  Soundly?

  I opened my mouth to comment when he started flipping picture over picture.

  Holy cow.

  Most of them had indeed been taken while I was asleep or in the shower.

  My jaw dropped.

  “I’m at a loss for words,” I said, stunned. “I had no idea you could be this sneaky.”

  He laughed out loud, and something flickered in his gaze.

  Was that pride?

  Holy shit.

  He was proud of himself!

  “Really, you left me with no choice, Brooke. Remember the night you told me you hated the idea of becoming big. Well, it was the night I decided I looked forward to seeing your body grow, change, and so the decision to document that change was born. I wanted something like a digital scrapbook. A keepsake.” He pointed at his phone. “All those pictures are here to help us remember our first pregnancy. Once the journey’s over and Treasure’s born, I’ll print them all. I can’t wait to out us as a couple tonight and introduce the whole world to my new fiancée.”

  My breath hitched in my throat as I watched him walk to the door. “You want to—”

  He stopped at the door and turned around. “Yes, make it all public, official, in case you didn’t get the hint.”

  “But…” I paused, lost for words. “The charity fashion show is huge. There are journalists and cameras. The whole world will know.”

  He nodded slowly. “That’s right.”

  “And we would be in the papers.” I gulped hard as I realized I had no idea what to wear.

  “Exactly, which is why…” He glanced at his watch, his expression turning all business like again. “You better hurry. You only have fifteen minutes until the driver picks us up.”

  “Fifteen minutes? Are you kidding me?” I groaned. As usual, Jett was completely clueless. No woman could get ready in fifteen minutes. It was literally impossible. Besides, he forgot one tiny fact. “I have nothing to wear.”

  “So you think.” He grinned. “If I were you, I’d look in the closet, where there’s a box waiting for you.” He nodded his head toward the closet. And then he headed out, leaving me with a whole set of thoughts and questions I had no time to consider because I had to get ready.

  Damn.

  I had no idea where to start.

  Never tell a woman she only has fifteen minutes to get ready because there’s no way she can do it. Not even when a sexy rock star is standing in front of the door. And the knowledge that she’s about to attend one of the
biggest fashion events in New York City won’t exactly help.

  First, there was the hair. A whole lot of hair that I couldn’t ever get straight and glossy—not without spending at least two hours staring at my reflection while fighting with strand after strand and lots of straightening serum.

  Second, oh my God.

  I held up the piece of fabric.

  Did Jett have to go for what could only be described as the most extravagant cocktail dress? The dress, a mixture of green with shimmery blue, was stunning, no doubt about that. Black lace was draped over the silky material, sheathing my body.

  But, fuck, it was so tight that I feared the delicate fabric would rip if I so much as took a few steps, let alone ascended a flight of stairs or, God forbid, bent forward. It didn’t help at all that the split on the left side rode up my thigh, or that the sparkling accents around my waist made me feel like a peacock among swans.

  Too daring.

  Too bold.

  With a sigh, I slipped my feet into my high heels—a shimmering dark green to match the dress—and turned around to regard myself in the mirror.

  Another knock rapped at the door.

  “Brooke.” Jett’s voice echoed through the bathroom, disrupting my thoughts. “We need to get going, babe.”

  “Just a minute.”

  “You already said that five minutes ago,” he said, his tone carrying a hint of amusement.

  “Just another minute, Jett.” Frustrated, I ran my hand through my hair, but the curls bounced back with more fervor. I let my hand sink in desperation and stood back to inspect myself in the mirror, shaking my head.

  Whatever I did, I’d never look perfect—for the cameras. The prospect of being photographed with Jett made me nervous, more so now that I was his fiancée.

  I uncapped my lipstick and blotted more color onto my lips.

  Jett knocked again, and before I could stop him, the door was thrown open.

  “I’m not going to wait any—” He broke off mid-sentence. I turned around, more out of exasperation than irritation.

  “I said one minute, Jett. I’m really not finished.” My gaze caught his stare, and my body heated up instantly. “What?” My fingers raked through my hair. His stare—hungry and intense—made me feel self-conscious.

  “Wow.” He let out a surprised breath. “You look beautiful.”

  I smiled shyly. “Thank you.”

  He took a lazy step forward and curled a strand of my hair around his finger. I felt the need to wrap it all in a low side bun, but his proximity stopped me.

  Even though we had been dating for a while, I still had trouble breathing whenever he was around. There was something about him—about his dominating height, his stance, his scent—that made me want to run away and undress him, all at the same time.

  His finger lifted my chin to meet his gaze.

  “I need to ask you something. How did you know it wasn’t me?” He paused, his expression darkening. “Every other person would have doubted me. It’s something I have been wondering about lately.”

  His question took me by surprise. I leaned back, taken aback.

  How could I possibly explain to him what felt right to me?

  “Call it a gut feeling.”

  “How so?

  I brushed my hair behind my ears, considering my words. “After I found out you had paid off my debts, I drove to your apartment. It was a complete mess. At first, I assumed the police had been there, but then I discovered another woman’s clothes and I assumed you spent time with her—” I trailed off as I glanced at him.

  “You assumed I had someone over.”

  The telltale heat of a blush covered my face. There was no point in denying that part. “At first. Yes.”

  “Why did you take her things?” Another question caught me off guard.

  “I don’t know.” My voice broke. Why had I indeed? “Once I realized they were Gina’s, I didn’t want you to get into trouble, I guess. If the cops found the stuff at your place, it would have been impounded as evidence.”

  Jett shook his head in amazement. “I can’t believe you took such a risk, Brooke. What were you going to do with it?”

  “Honestly, I have no idea.” I shrugged because, really, I had no idea. It hadn’t been the best of plans. “I guess you rub off on me.”

  “Would you still have done it if you had known I was going to Chicago?” Jett asked quietly.

  I raised my brows. “Of all the questions you could ask me, this is the one that bothers you the most?”

  “I’m just surprised, that’s all. Would you have done it?”

  “Yes. I guess.” I bit my lip, thinking. “It felt right.”

  “Why?” He looked at me intently. “Assuming I was cheating on you, did you really think I deserved to be saved?”

  “But that’s the thing, you weren’t cheating.”

  “True, but what if that had been the case?”

  I frowned. “Would I? Did I? Had I? What’s the point of all the questioning? You didn’t.” I laughed nervously, afraid that my earlier fears would creep back up on me.

  They didn’t.

  “Okay,” he continued, stubborn as a mule as usual. “Let’s assume I had been. Would you still have done it?”

  I cleared my throat to get rid of the lump. Finally, I let out an exasperated sigh and dropped my arms in mock annoyance. “Yes, I believe so.”

  “But why, Brooke? Help me understand.”

  “Maybe, because deep down, I knew you were a good man, Jett. Or maybe I wanted you to be good. In the end, that’s all that matters. But my strong trust in you isn’t why I handled the situation the way I did. I did it because I love you. I wanted you to be safe, regardless of whether we were together or not. Call it unconditional love.”

  He smiled, and then he cupped my face in his big hands, holding me the way only he could. “I’m glad we’re on the same page, Brooke, because I would have done the same thing for you, even if you broke my heart.” He paused. When he spoke again, his voice was gentle, infused with something I couldn’t pinpoint. “We have this intensive chemistry. Don’t you think we can call it destiny?”

  I stared at him. “You believe in destiny?”

  “No.” He shook his head. “I believe meeting you was fate. I believe that relationships don’t stop working. I believe people just give up. I believe that we still have a lot going for us. While we’ll always have our differences, I’ll never give up on this relationship, and neither are you, Brooke, because after everything we’ve been through, I believe you’re the one woman for me. ”

  “Does that mean you’ll stay in New York?”

  He returned my smile. “Did you really think you could get rid of me that easily?”

  “I don’t know. Can I?”

  His lips twitched.

  “You can try and see how it works out.”

  “Okay.” Without a pause, I turned on my heels and ran.

  But he was faster.

  He caught up in no time and wrapped his arms around me, spinning me around.

  I squealed.

  Planting a kiss on my cheek, he whispered, “No chance. Next time you try to outwit me, make sure to run faster.”

  “Not when I look like a whale. Maybe I’ll try again when I’m in a car.”

  “I’d find you wherever you are,” Jett said. “I’m like one of the best racers in the world. Not to mention very good at finding people.”

  Yeah, he had made that part pretty obvious on various occasions.

  I shook my head. “You know, following someone is kind of creepy.”

  “I’m fully aware of that.” His mouth curved into a wicked smile. “But in my defense, I’ll say that I’m only doing it because I’m insanely infatuated with you. You don’t know the lengths to which I would go to have you by my side.”

  “Really?”

  “Yeah, really.” He placed a soft kiss on my skin.

  “How far?” I asked, a bit out of breath.

&nb
sp; “What?”

  “How far would you go?” I challenged him.

  He put me down, but his hands stayed on my hips.

  “I’d die for you, Brooke. That’s how much I love you. I’d kill for you, and I’d make sure you have everything that makes you happy, even if that means staying away from you, watching you move on, living your life without me. All beginnings are hard, but you know what, endings are harder. Knowing it’s over and being apart from you would be a sure way to make me kill myself. But I would have done it if you wanted me out of our life.”

  My heart beat faster. “Don’t say that.”

  “But it’s true.” His finger brushed my lips. “I want to be honest, Brooke. Before I met you, I didn’t believe in love and in the whole love and romance declaration thing. Heck, I used to make fun of the whole Romeo and Juliet stuff, because for me love was a myth.” He laughed, as though the idea was still alien to him. “I always thought people deluded themselves. The more they loved me, the more I felt caged in and wanted to run away from them.” He shrugged. “What’s worse, for a long time women were coming and going. They were only there to get my wants fulfilled. They obeyed me, followed me. Did everything I wanted, but I still wasn’t happy, nor did I care enough about them to keep them close.”

  He brushed my hair out of my face, regarding me intently. When I didn’t reply, he continued.

  “I know it sounds bad. I admit I was an asshole for using them without having the intention of keeping them.” His eyes locked with mine, searching for something I couldn’t give. Maybe forgiveness. Maybe understanding. “But I’m not the same man anymore, Brooke. The player in me is gone. For what it’s worth, meeting you changed me. You made me a better a man. I would never leave you. No matter how bad things might be between us, I’ll always be there for you.” He frowned when he saw my expression. “You don’t believe me?”

  “A few days ago when I called, I thought you didn’t care about me,” I admitted. “I was sure you had moved on.”

  “You think I could ever move on so easily?” he asked, surprised.

  “I’m not gonna lie. I think you can. You’re a man with needs,” I replied. “Needs that don’t care whether your girlfriend’s pregnant. Needs that could turn ugly if you don’t get what you want.”

 
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