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The lovers surrender no.., p.19
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       The Lover's Surrender (No Exceptions), p.19

           J. C. Reed
 
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  “Holy shit. A yacht exploded,” Sylvie uttered in shock.

  The fire flared brighter, and yet I couldn’t move. I couldn’t talk or do anything. The fire was so bright I was sure it could be seen for miles.

  “Oh, my god,” I whispered as realization dawned on me.

  Jett had something to do with it.

  As if sensing my thoughts, Jett turned. I thought I saw surprise and disbelief washing over his face, though I couldn’t be sure that he had glimpsed me in the darkness.

  Had he seen me?

  But there was no time to talk because the taxi pulled up next to us.

  The driver opened the passenger door and called out, “Hey, missus. Pack it up. Let’s go.”

  Whatever was going on, he obviously didn’t want to get involved. No one would be paying him for answering the police’s questions all night.

  I nodded my head but didn’t budge from the spot. The taillights of Kenny’s car glimmered to life and then sped off.

  I turned to Sylvie and found her staring at me, confusion reflecting in her face.

  “Hey!” the driver called out, his voice carrying enough annoyance to make me flinch.

  Sylvie straightened and helped me up. We slumped onto the backseat, and the driver took off without so much as a glance back. As we drove back to the fashion show, I couldn’t help but wonder whose yacht had caught fire and why the heck it happened while Kenny and Jett had been camped out not far away.

  And most importantly, what had Jett done?

  Brian’s words echoed through my mind:

  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.

  The news about the explosion was splashed all over the newspapers and CNN the next day and the days after. It wasn’t so much the yacht that made the headlines but the media’s fascination with two men.

  Sitting at the kitchen table, I went over each and every article. The headlines read:

  SUSPECTED HUMAN TRAFFICKING GANG LEADER JONATHAN MAYFIELD FLEES PRISON

  MYSTERIOUS GUNFIRE RESULTS IN DEATH OF FIVE MEN

  JONATHAN MAYFIELD DEAD AFTER SPECTACULAR ESCAPE FROM PRISON

  PREVIOUSLY UNDISCOVERED BODIES FOUND, ONE OF THEM HUMAN TRAFFICKING GANG LEADER JONATHAN MAYFIELD

  DRUG RING RESPONSIBLE FOR DEATH OF REAL ESTATE MOGUL JONATHAN MAYFIED

  “Are you still reading this?” Warm lips brushed my earlobe.

  A week had passed, but we still hadn’t talked about that day.

  After Sylvie and I had returned to the charity event, we tried our best to remain unaffected, pretending to be clueless, and it worked. As the best friend she was, I didn’t even have to ask her to keep quiet. She understood. When Jett returned to the show a few minutes after me, he acted like nothing had happened. We had dinner, then joined the engagement party he had planned for us.

  Everything was fine.

  A perfect façade.

  Everyone had believed us.

  But today was different.

  I still had to know. The excuses I had made for not asking were torturing me.

  I turned around, facing him. He leaned against the table, a coffee cup in his hand as he watched me. “Jett, I saw you that day.”

  His eyes remained pinned on me, but he said nothing.

  “If you’re involved, you don’t have to tell me. But just answer this: did you help Nate escape?”

  It was the only reasonable explanation I could draw from the newspaper articles. The past few days I hadn’t dared to ask him, but I could no longer keep quiet because I was sure that my assumption was right.

  “Brooke…” Jett let out an exaggerated sigh and put his cup down.

  “Did you get him that boat?” I persisted.

  Jett continued to stare at me, his beautiful face dark and mysterious.

  “Baby, you worry too much.” His arms wrapped around my waist, drawing me close to him. “My biggest fear isn’t you leaving me, like your father did your mother, but losing you due to circumstances out of my control. Since the day of your kidnapping, I promised myself that I’d keep you safe, no matter what. Whether you want it or not, I’ll always care for you and protect you. That Nate’s dead is unfortunate, but I won’t shed a tear for a man who killed hundreds. A man who wanted you dead.”

  “You still haven’t answered my question. You visited him in prison, didn’t you? ” He sighed again. I eyed him curiously. “You helped him escape? Come on, Jett. Tell me. I know you knew the boat would explode. Like I said, I saw you that day.”

  He brushed a strand of hair out of my face.

  “I will only say this.” Jett’s smile disappeared. “He was stupid to trust the wrong people.”

  His eyes glimmered, and something flashed across his face.

  Pride.

  “You mean…”

  “Yes.” He nodded. “He trusted someone to get him out.”

  Now I understood.

  Jett had lied to Nate.

  All his visits to prison had been a means to build the trust, to get the plan moving. He didn’t have to tell me.

  “I had been planning this for a long time. Brian told me not to do it, but I couldn’t, Brooke.” He shrugged. “Nate would never have stopped. Because of him, your friend’s dead. Who would have been next? You? I couldn’t take the risk.”

  He was right.

  My thoughts racing, I sat down, unable to wrap my mind around the fact that Jett had carefully hid everything from me. “But…how did you do it?”

  He smiled, his thumb stroking my cheek. “Well, let’s just say don’t ever underestimate your people. If you’re not careful enough, they might start working for someone else. In Nate’s case it was Danny. Like I said before, everyone has a price.”

  My heart skipped a beat.

  “Danny? You found him?”

  “Yes. It wasn’t even hard. All we had to do was track down Nate’s suppliers and dealers, then track their calls and locations for a few days. Danny was the only one to come near you and Gina. Turned out he had been watching you for weeks.”

  The words lingered in the air, their magnitude weighing down on me.

  My eyes widened. “You’re saying…” I trailed off, unable to speak out the obvious.

  “Yes.” Jett nodded again. “He killed your friend and followed Nate’s orders to frame me. We have enough proof from his phone conversations. Everything points to him.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I guess he couldn’t stay away from you.”

  “Oh, my God.” I leaned back, frowning.

  “Danny’s dead,” Jett said softly.

  I looked up and found his expression serious. “But there was no mention of him.”

  “In there?” Jett grabbed a paper. My eyes followed his finger, as it hovered over the words ‘undiscovered bodies found.’ “He got what he deserved. It was long overdue. The police are going to charge Danny’s cousin, Barrow, with Gina’s murder. The weapon and photos were found at his place.”

  “I still don’t understand.” I shook my head. “I told you about Gina the day of the explosion; how did you know that fast that it was Danny?”

  “I didn’t,” Jett said. “It was luck. We only found out during the police investigation. It’s a good thing he’s dead.”

  Moisture gathered in my eyes. I lifted my hand to wipe away my unshed tears, but Jett beat me to it. His thumb stroked my cheek gently, the soothing motion touching my heart.

  “I’m not sad.” My voice was hoarse, croaky.

  “I know.”

  “It’s just…” Another tear trickled down my cheek. At least I wasn’t sobbing. “I can’t believe you found him. I can’t believe you found the guy who killed my sister. Ten years. That’s how long I waited for justice. And now I can’t believe it’s over.”

  Jett kneeled before me, his hand touching mine. “Only the bad part, Brooke. The g
ood part, which is us, will never be over.”

  Fifteen months later

  There are so many kinds of loves, but only one kind—true love—can change a person and raise that person to a meaningful existence. Love is a beautiful thing. Sacred. It’s the only feeling that can grow if you pay it enough attention and care for it. It’s also the only thing that can give you more meaning than all material belongings.

  I was sitting in the backseat with my eyes blindfolded, my leg brushing against Jett’s at every turn, as the black limousine took us to a place God only knew.

  Jett had made a big secret out of our destination so, naturally, the suspense was killing me.

  “We have one hour before we need to get back to Treasure. Can you guess what my surprise is?” Jett said, his deep voice with the slightest hint of a Southern accent caressing my senses, and helped me out of the limousine.

  “No.” I smiled. “But I wish I could. You know how much I hate surprises.”

  He let out a pleased laugh. “But this one, I think, you’ll love.”

  “You think? What happened to your usual, ‘It will blow your mind’?”

  “Well, this is different.” He touched the small of my back to guide me forward. I could feel the wind on my skin. The air tasted salty. The cries of seagulls intermingled with the sound of waves crashing against a shore.

  I had no idea where we were, but I liked it a lot.

  Jett always made the best surprises. His inventiveness never failed to amaze me.

  Finally, he removed the blindfold. I blinked once, twice, then took in the shore before me. The sun was shining and the sky was streaked with red and orange.

  No surprise there.

  Jett beamed at me. “Now turn around.” He touched my shoulder and motioned for me to follow his command. I did as he said. My smile vanished. My whole being froze.

  I recognized the setting and its private beach immediately. We were standing in the backyard of a place we once visited. It been a long time ago, but even back then I knew I’d never forget it.

  Countless rose petals were scattered across the trail in the sand, forming a path illuminated by candles lit to either side. They were leading to a sandcastle. I walked toward it, my heart beating frantically as I tried to process what was happening. As I reached it, I spied a key with a note attached to it. The note read:

  HOME.

  A small arrow pointed ahead. At Jett’s silent encouragement, I followed it until I glimpsed the front door.

  “Jett.” My voice reflected my excitement. “You can’t be serious.”

  “Very serious here.” His fingers intertwined with mine, and he spun me around. “The moment I realized you liked this house, I knew it would be perfect for us, so I had to get it. It wasn’t easy. The previous owner had changed her mind about selling it, so it took me months to convince her to sell it to us.” He pulled me forward gently but with enough persuasion to make me follow. “Come on. Treasure’s waiting for us.”

  I was so shocked, I couldn’t reply. Thankfully, my legs began to move, following Jett up the trail.

  With shaky fingers I unlocked the door.

  “Mama.” Treasure’s voice echoed through the hall as she dashed for me, the smiling nanny behind her forgotten. I scooped her up and kissed her, burying my nose in her hair to inhale her scent.

  She had grown so quickly.

  With her black hair and beautiful face, she was in every way a carbon copy of Jett.

  “Dada.” She stretched her hand out to Jett, and I let him take her, instantly catching the glint of adoration in his eyes as we returned outside into the balmy breeze.

  With the warm sunlight on my face, I closed my eyes to the sound of little Treasure giggling as her dad held her up in the air and spun her in circles—the sound of the two even more calming and beautiful than the realization that we were a family in our family home.

  We were free to be happy.

  Right before returning to NYC, we had spent a few months in Bellagio. It had become something like a second home to us. We were finally free to live the life we’d always envisioned without a threat hanging over our heads.

  The news of Nate’s yacht blowing up had broken less than twelve hours after the explosion. Officially, no one knew what exactly happened that fateful night a year and a half ago, but I knew for a fact that Kenny and Jett had been involved. Jett seemed more carefree, as though all his worries had lifted off his shoulders.

  Had he singlehandedly orchestrated Nate and Danny’s death?

  Based on his words, probably. But we never talked about it again since the ‘talk.’ And to be honest, I didn’t want to know every detail.

  Jett had or hadn’t done what he had deemed necessary to protect his family, and that was it. He got rid of my demons. I owed him my life and my happiness.

  For a long time, I had wondered what to do with the estate I had inherited from Alessandro Lucazzone. After Treasure was born, Jett came up with the idea of turning it into a charity. A home for abused women—an idea which appealed to me on a very deep level. It was the solution I had been searching for, and so he assigned one of his best account managers the task of transforming the Lucazzone estate, which had been a place of abuse for far too many years, into a safe haven for those who needed to learn how to feel safe again.

  At some point, Jett’s dad had woken up from his coma. Jett had yet to forgive him, but Treasure’s birth had mellowed him down a bit. An improvement in their relationship didn’t seem so far-fetched after all. Besides, I was working hard to make it happen.

  As for Jett and I, we had tied the knot twice: the first time in a private little ceremony in Las Vegas, and the second time in a big and beautiful ceremony in Italy only a few months ago, after which we had taken a much-deserved vacation.

  Jett’s urgency to work on baby number two couldn’t wait.

  Apparently, he wanted an entire football team.

  He joined me in a few steps, and together we watched Treasure playing in the sand, her nanny nearby.

  “Lots of fond memories here.” Jett smiled, his gaze hazing as he thought back to a very naughty day we had spent in the house. At that time, I had thought Jett had broken in.

  Turned out he was an amazing actor.

  “The best,” I said.

  I turned my head to him because I couldn’t believe my luck. This insanely gorgeous man…I knew I would love him forever.

  I thought back to the first day I met him two and a half years ago. The way I had snatched my umbrella from his grip and sped off, because he had seemed intense and arrogant. I knew now that I hadn’t meant to run away from him. I had been running from myself in fear of unleashing something inside of me that could destroy me. If he hadn’t come after me and hired me for a position in his company without my knowing, we might never have ended up together.

  “You got one thing wrong,” I said when he joined me. “It was your inflated ego that made me want you in the first place, not your stubbornness.”

  He raised a brow. “Not the fact that you thought I was hot?”

  I shook my head in a weak attempt to stop his ego from growing to immense proportions.

  Yes, I had thought he was hot.

  Yes, I wanted to jump into bed with him.

  But his confidence could convince even a bear to give up his prey.

  “I couldn’t stand you because I knew I could easily be yours. It was all too easy to run and lie to myself that I wanted you but didn’t need you. However, the truth was, I wanted you because I needed you in some way. I just didn’t want to be that woman who got weak, only to be used and discarded.”

  “You’re not that woman, because I’m not that kind of guy.” He took my hands in his. “I like you needing me, Brooke. It makes me feel wanted. It makes me want to see you happy. I wish you’d ask for more so I could give you all that I have.”

  “I’m already demanding,” I said.

  Jett shook his head. “No. Not to me, you’re not. You shou
ld be more demanding. I love it when you ask for more, especially when I’m inside of you. I love it when you scream.”

  Heat rushed to my face. “I don’t scream.”

  “The times you do it fuels my imagination.” He glanced at me softly, his green eyes shimmering with happiness. “Since you’re married to me and all, I can ask for anything,” Jett continued. “So this is what I want. I’m asking for your promise.”

  “What promise?”

  “That you’ll stay with me forever.”

  I shook my head. “I thought you forgot about it.”

  He let out a laugh. “Fat chance. I’ve already married you, haven’t I? Now it’s only fair that you return the favor.”

  “You play dirty.”

  “That’s one of the things you love about me.” He grinned. “You should be grateful for the fact that I’m asking. I could force you—” he raised his eyebrows “—but I won’t, because I’m a gentleman.”

  I snorted. “You’re no gentleman.”

  “I’m not?” He pressed his hand against his chest. “Now I’m hurt.”

  I laughed at his exaggerated expression. “You’re more manipulative than an insurance sales guy. Sweet-talking is worse than forcing. With forcing, you sort of see it coming. With manipulation, you’re being played.”

  “Are you trying to tell me my charm’s working on you?” The seriousness in his eyes made me conclude that beneath our playful façade, he was still waiting for my promise. He had made his, and it was my turn.

  “Okay,” I said slowly. “I promise I won’t leave you. I’ll stay as long as you love me.”

  “Which means for a long time. Maybe even forever—depending on how much sex I get tonight.”

  “Right.” I bit my lip, trying hard not to laugh. In the end, it didn’t work and I let out a snort. “Just to be clear, your charm’s the only thing working its magic on me. You could never ever force me.” I leaned my back against him and let him wrap his arms around me. Snuggled against his warm chest, I relaxed.

  “You sure? ’Cause I could swear my charm’s not the only thing that worked today. I could remind you of—”

 
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