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The lovers surrender no.., p.17
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       The Lover's Surrender (No Exceptions), p.17

           J. C. Reed
 
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  “Brooke, my needs don’t define me.” He stared at me, his expression softened. “Needs don’t make me. It’s want. And what I want is you. I never had such a feeling before.”

  “And once I grow old and ugly? Once this pregnancy changes my body? Or once things get boring, because you know they will. It happens in every relationship,” I asked, both hoping for and fearing the truth.

  “Especially then. I very much look forward to those times, because I know we’ll be going through them together.” His hand rested on my arm. The gentle touch of his fingertips tracing contours on my skin sent shivers through me. “Every scar tells a story. Every change is proof of something that you’ve overcome. It’s evidence of our past together.” He cupped my face, his eyes locking on me. “You’re perfect, Brooke. You will never be ugly because I fell in love with your soul.”

  “What about problems? Because you know they’ll surface eventually.”

  He shook his head. “Problems don’t matter. What matters to me is that you’re by my side, experiencing them with me, while we stay together.”

  I smiled. I wanted to believe him, and for once, I was ready to do just that. “I think I’d like that.”

  “|And I want you to live with me, Brooke. I know you already moved some stuff over to my place, but I mean, move in with me permanently so we can raise our child together. Is that something you’d want, too, now that we’re engaged?”

  I stared at him, my heart skipping several beats.

  Was this seriously happening?

  We had spent weeks choosing a name, schools, education, but we had never discussed what would happen to us after our child’s birth. That had worried me because I had no idea which direction our relationship would be taking. A slow smile spread across my face as the knots in my stomach began to dissipate, replaced by a feeling of happiness.

  “I would love to,” I whispered. “But your apartment—”

  “Is not ideal for a child, I know,” he cut me off. “Give me a few days and I’ll think of something.” He smiled gently, picking a strand of my hair and twisting it between his fingers. “It’s no longer just about us, Brooke. It’s all about you, and me, and our baby. We’ll soon be a family.”

  That sounded like heaven.

  I smiled and brushed my fingertips over his face, tracing the contours of his chin.

  “You’re really beautiful, Brooke. I mean it,” he whispered, leaning into me. His warm breath caressed my earlobe, and for a moment, I closed my eyes to savor the sensation. When his arm slid around my waist, I almost feared the charity event would take place without us. “You look exactly like the kind of woman I want to marry.”

  “You don’t look so bad, either,” I whispered, rising on my toes to nibble on his neck.

  Now that was a big, fat lie.

  Jett looked absolutely breathtaking. Stunningly gorgeous.

  The dark suit he was wearing brought out the mysterious glint in his eyes. Even though I was used to seeing him dressed for the occasion by now, something about him was different tonight.

  He seemed so—

  Dark.

  Confident.

  Broody, even.

  He was probably in one of those moods that turned his eyes a darker shade of green and gave him a haunted look.

  The kind of mood that always made my panties wet.

  Clasping my hands behind his neck, I placed a soft kiss on his lips. His answer was instant.

  Burning ardor.

  His mouth briefly met mine, then moved on to my neck, his tongue trailing down to my exposed shoulder.

  “I thought we needed to go,” I whispered and instantly cursed myself for not being able to keep my mouth shut.

  “Damn.” He pulled away with a pained expression on his handsome face. “If we weren’t already late, I would fuck you right here and now.”

  “Now that’s a fine promise.” My lips curled up at his words. “There’s always later.”

  “I’ll count on it,” he said and slapped my ass, sending me out of the bathroom laughing.

  To call the New York City charity fashion show crowded was an understatement. I had no idea the place was going to be so huge and magnificent with so many beautiful people huddled together. Cameras blitzed everywhere, the flashes bright and blinding.

  The thick red rug muffled the sound of my high heels as we ascended a flight of stairs to the entrance, past the ushers and what looked like hundreds of journalists that had been camping out for days.

  As the cameras began to flash, Jett’s arm went possessively around my waist, and I tensed, unsure where to look.

  This was not the kind of life I grew up with. I knew for a fact that I’d never belong, no matter what I did and how much I tried.

  Our mid-class little white house that had seen better days had been a far cry from the marble floors, designer dresses, and million-dollar diamonds around me.

  “Mr. Mayfield. Jett!” someone yelled, and others followed suit.

  “Who is she?”

  “Are you dating?”

  “Are you excited to watch the live fashion show?”

  Someone shouted, “Look, she has a ring. Jett, are you engaged? When’s the wedding?”

  The crowd went berserk, the questions culminating in a crescendo—about me, about us.

  Jett stopped, and his grip around my waist tightened as he turned, forcing me to face the hailstorm of flashing cameras. He didn’t seem affected, or the least bit nervous. It seemed in every way as if he had done it dozens of times before, which he probably had, given that he was rich and, until recently, NYC’s most eligible bachelor.

  My heart stopped as he pulled me forward—toward the crowd of journalists.

  “Jett, is this your new girlfriend?” A guy stretched out a microphone. As Jett cleared his voice all of a sudden everyone became quiet.

  “Actually, we’ve been dating for some time,” he said in a clear and loud voice that carried no shaking, no signs that he was nervous. He squeezed his arm around my waist possessively. “May I introduce you my fiancée, Brooke Stewart?”

  “When did you propose?” someone shouted from the back of the crowd.

  “November 25th.” He smiled proudly.

  “Today?” they asked in unison.

  “That’s correct.” He flashed another gorgeous smile. “I couldn’t wait any longer to take this stunning woman off the market.” His words trigged out laughs in the crowed. To my bewilderment, Jett turned to me. “The truth is, it was love at first sight, and we’re expecting our first child.”

  I put on the slightest hint of a smile and waited out the storm. More questions came, alternated with congratulations, and more questions, but Jett answered them all.

  After what seemed like an eternity, Jett moved us along, and we continued our way to the lobby.

  “See, it wasn’t that bad, was it?” he whispered in my ear.

  I nodded, feeling high from all the adrenaline. “I can’t believe you told them. Now we’ll be in the papers.”

  He laughed out loud as he turned to regard me. “That was the plan. You know, I cannot let you stay in the shadows forever. Or how else could I explain it if we’re married by next week?”

  My heart stopped. My whole body felt faint.

  “You want to get married next week?” I asked in disbelief.

  “Actually I want to get married this weekend. Just a small wedding, before we plan our big one. What do you think?” His words were casual, as if he were talking about the menu in a restaurant.

  “Jett…I don’t know what to say.”

  “What about, I love you?”

  “You know I love you.”

  “Then marry me this weekend.” He touched my cheek gently, heedless of the crowd that had begun to spill in around us. “Brooke, I don’t want to wait any longer. I don’t want to have the stress of planning a wedding while fearing you could change your mind and leave me at the altar.”

  I shook my head. “I would never do t
hat.”

  “Yeah,” Jett said, unconvinced. “So what do you say?”

  “You know I would never say no.”

  ***

  It was slowly becoming packed as we weaved through the crowd.

  Wherever I looked, more people arrived in stunning designer wear that probably cost a fortune. I even recognized some of those faces, adding names and movies.

  There was the major with his wife and children, and then there were A-list celebrities. And then there was Grayson.

  That’s right.

  Grayson.

  I stopped, suddenly extremely surprised to see someone I knew.

  He was standing to my right, sipping champagne as he talked with what looked like the tallest blond woman I had ever seen.

  “Brooke?” Jett prompted, his voice jolting me out of my thoughts. Realizing that it might not be such a good idea to let Jett see me stare at another guy, I turned away, hiding my face with my hand, but it was too late.

  Grayson’s head turned to me, and our eyes connected across the short distance. As recognition dawned on him, his lips curled at the corners. He leaned forward, whispering something to the blonde, and before I knew it, he was heading for us.

  Alone.

  Damn.

  “Oh, my God,” I gasped.

  It was too late to back out. But I had to try. If only I knew how?

  Jett’s hand on the small of my back became firm as he guided me further into the crowd, toward Grayson, and for a split second, I pondered whether to just to turn around and dash for the exit, or let the inevitable take place and risk igniting Jett’s extremely jealous nature.

  When my gaze fell on the bar on the west side, an idea occurred to me.

  “Jett!” I tugged at his sleeve to get his attention, the words gushing out of me in a nervous frenzy. “Can you get me a drink?” I smiled weakly as he looked at me. “I’m feeling awfully thirsty. In fact, if I don’t get something to drink right now, I think I might black out.”

  Which wasn’t even a lie. I couldn’t deal with another discussion, or worse yet, another fight, and particularly not with one that was unjustified.

  His face crumpled with worry. “Are you okay?”

  I nodded unconvincingly. Behind Jett’s shoulders, I watched Grayson forcing his way through the gathering crowds, stopping here and there to exchange a few words, but his gaze remained focused on us. If I didn’t get rid of Jett right now, I’d have to introduce Grayson to him.

  Think, Stewart. Think.

  The modeling job had been a temporary thing to earn some money. But now, with the possibility of Jett being a murder suspect and me being officially engaged to one of the richest men in the world, I knew I couldn’t return to it. Besides, I couldn’t go back to the one place where I met Gina. I wanted to move on, rather than risk being officially branded as an erotic model, and risk harming Jett’s reputation along the way.

  “I’m fine. It’s nerves.” I smiled weakly. Jett’s frown deepened.

  Did he have to be so uncanny in his ability to sense my emotional undercurrents?

  “Relax,” I said, infusing more confidence into my tone than I actually felt. “I’ve barely had any water today, and the one cup of coffee has made me a bit dizzy. I’m just a little bit dehydrated, so stop worrying all the time.”

  “I’ll be back in a second.” He pointed a finger to the marble floor beneath us. “You don’t move from this spot. Okay?”

  I scoffed and fought the urge to roll my eyes. “As if I’d go anywhere without you.”

  “I’m serious, Brooke.”

  “So am I.” I motioned with my hand. “Come on.”

  Jett had barely turned his back on me, disappearing through the crowd, when Grayson reached me. A smile was still plastered on his face as he stepped in front of me, ignoring the crowd of people around us.

  Dressed in a dark blue tailored suit with a matching gray tie, he looked more business like than I had ever seen him. Suddenly, my stomach filled with ice.

  I didn’t know the guy. I couldn’t trust anyone. Because it was too late to dash after Jett, I had to be careful around him.

  Mustering the brightest and most confident smile I had, I waved at him. “Hi.”

  “Look who’s here!” Grayson smiled again and leaned forward. For a moment, I thought he might be about to grab me in a bear hug or kiss my cheek. But he did neither of those.

  I laughed nervously. “What can I say? It’s a small world.”

  “I’m surprised to see you here.”

  “So am I.” I shrugged, inwardly scolding myself for fostering the conversation. Grayson’s gaze followed mine as I searched the crowd for Jett and spied him at the bar, towering over everyone else.

  “I didn’t realize you knew him,” Grayson said, somewhat surprised.

  “Who?” In my uncomfortable state, I didn’t realize that he must have seen Jett and me together. My brows furrowed.

  “Jett Mayfield.” Grayson regarded me for a long moment, his smile vanishing. “I need to be frank, Jenna. I’m not happy about you dating my client.”

  My stomach flipped and my mind skidded to a halt as I eyed him, wondering if I had heard right.

  “Client?” I asked carefully.

  “Yes, client.” He cocked his head, a disappointed scowl on his face. “Mr. Mayfield met up with me yesterday to discuss your work. He wants you to be exclusive to him, so he bought all your shots. An unusual request, I have to say, but then again, some of my clients like to think a girl belongs only to them. I call it something like a fixation.”

  My jaw dropped.

  Jett had bought my pictures?

  How the hell did he even know about them when I had only mentioned the job that morning?

  Grayson probably misinterpreted my stunned silence because he continued, unfazed. “You could have so much going for you, Jenna. A client with a fixation on a pregnant woman’s body is a rare gem. For your sake, I advise you keep a professional distance. That is, if you want more work and better pay. Otherwise, he’ll lose interest before you know it, which would be bad for your future career.”

  For a few seconds, I just stood there, rooted to the spot, as his words sunk in.

  Jett bought all of my pictures.

  Not just one or two. But all, past and future.

  “Actually, I don’t think there’s a need for that,” I found myself saying. “I’ve decided to quit.”

  I raised my chin and took a deep breath. Grayson stared at me.

  “Mr. Mayfield is a very influential man,” Grayson started. “Some of my models decide to go that route, taking on an offer that sounds like it would solve all their problems. He’ll take care of you as long as—”

  At my warning scowl, he trailed off, leaving the rest unspoken.

  “He didn’t pay me to quit, if that’s what you’re implying,” I said dryly. “And for your information, Mr. Mayfield is my fiancé. I’m quitting for a different reason.”

  “Oh, I see.” His gaze brushed over my strategically placed hand and the diamond ring sparkling in the lights. I could almost see the penny dropping. A short frown crossed his face, and his eyes narrowed, but it disappeared quickly. When he spoke again, his voice was soft, and concern was etched on his face.

  “So, why? If you don’t mind me asking.”

  Shrugging uncomfortably, I racked my mind for all the excuses I had come up with, but my mind remained surprisingly blank. There were too many to go into detail.

  “I’m sorry,” I said, deciding not to go into specifics.

  “Don’t apologize.” He nodded knowingly, as though he might have expected it from me. “Gina’s death was a blow to us all. I understand that, given the circumstances, you have changed your mind about working for me.

  He thought I quit because of Gina.

  That was only partially true, but I could live with that. I most certainly couldn’t live with the implication that I might need a man to take care of me.

  “Yeah.” I
crossed my arms over my chest, suppressing a shiver, and regarded him coolly. “I only knew her for a short time, but…I liked her. She was a good person.”

  For a brief second, melancholy flashed across his face. “She was,” he said. “Well, take all the time you need. If you ever change your mind, I want you to know that you’ll always be welcome to join my team again. No hard feelings.”

  I stared at him, my unease replaced by gratitude. “Thank you. I appreciate it.”

  Grayson smiled and then scanned the crowd. The blond woman waved at him, drawing his attention. If I wanted answers, I had to act now. He turned back to me, opening his mouth.

  “Did they find out who did it?” I asked before he could excuse himself.

  “Not yet,” he said. “I’m still waiting for the detective to answer my calls. I guess it’s still early in the investigation.”

  I frowned, suddenly interested. “Why’s that?”

  “He never finished questioning everyone. After you left, he made a call and had to leave. Call of duty, or so he said. I’m still waiting on an update.”

  My heart pounded harder.

  Grayson wasn’t involved. He didn’t know more than I did. His confusion made it pretty clear.

  Whoever the detective was, he might have followed me, which would explain the rap at the door in the middle of the night and the letter.

  “Are you okay, Jenna?” Grayson asked.

  “Yeah.” I smiled at him. “It was good to see you, Grayson.”

  He stretched out his hand, and I took it to shake it. “Goodbye, Jenna. It was good to see you, too.”

  And then he left, his words echoing in my mind long after he was gone.

  “Hi, baby.” Jett’s lips, soft and hot, brushed my skin as he returned from the bar. “Sorry it took so long.”

  I turned to him, mustering up a grin. “I thought you got lost.”

  “Well, I got lost,” he whispered against my skin. “But not here. Somewhere in a place that’s dark and much more soft.”

  I slapped his upper arm playfully, marveling at the firmness of his triceps. Holy shit, was it my imagination, but did his muscles feel larger and harder?

 
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