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The lovers secret, p.2
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       The Lover's Secret, p.2

           J. C. Reed
 
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  One of the most interesting things in life was the certainty that nothing would ever remain dull for too long; sooner or later, the unpredictable happened. The trick was standing aside long enough, watching how a set of things and people came together in random patterns that weren’t really so random at all, and witnessing how that collision resulted in a burst of new experiences for everyone involved. Good or bad, those experiences brought failure or winning a new meaning.

  Just like the green-eyed guy who would be my date for the night.

  At least that was what I thought when I headed for the bathroom to reapply my makeup and regain some of my composure. With one last glance in the mirror, I took a deep breath and walked out.

  Now that I had his attention, it was time to move to Plan B.

  The lobby had filled with evening guests. Turning a corner, I almost bumped into a man who was standing near a big palm tree planted in a massive fiberglass flowerpot.

  “Sorry,” I muttered and turned away when he looked up from his newspaper and, as our eyes met, a sudden shudder ran down my spine.

  He was dressed in a striped business suit. His dark brown hair was parted perfectly, combed neatly to one side. While his somewhat old-fashioned hairstyle and affordable looking clothes weren’t the reason for my ignited attention, I couldn’t stop the sudden alarm ringing inside my head because of the way he regarded me. Most people barely paid me a fleeting look; some guys checked me out. But this man’s glance was different. It was a little too sharp, too hard. It was almost as if…

  No, don’t go there, Stewart.

  I stifled my paranoia. Too many bad things had happened. It was time to let go because it was over. So what if a man had looked at me in a weird way? That didn’t mean he was a bad guy. No one would ever come after me again. Now, if I could only just believe it…

  As if sensing my unease, he returned his attention to his newspaper and continued to read whatever he’d been reading before. An instant later, a woman joined him, and relief washed over me. Probably his wife, I figured from the way she kissed him on the cheek, and together they walked to the reception desk, their arms linked, their chatter indistinguishable.

  Stupid paranoia.

  It had happened before, and it just kept happening. For the umpteenth time, I pondered whether or not I should pay my therapist another visit. The trouble was, I hadn’t seen him for eight years, and I still felt guilty over the way I had so abruptly broken off our sessions when I decided I was strong enough to deal with the issues of my past myself. He had insisted I wasn’t ready, but I had brushed off his concerns, claiming he didn’t know me as well as he thought he did. Yet, on a subconscious level, I knew even then that he was right. But I wanted to feel normal, and if I visited a shrink again, it would be like admitting to myself that I was corrupted. Branded. Damaged beyond repair.

  Since I couldn’t bring myself to visit him again, the best thing I could do for the time being was remember his advice: “Try to focus on the things that feel real, things you can grasp.” The hotel seemed like a good start. Taking three deep breaths, I forced my mind to let go of my mistrust of the people around me and instead focused on my surroundings.

  Passing through another hall, I marveled at the exquisiteness and luxury of the place. The TRIO wasn’t just one of the most expensive hotels in New York City. Rising over Manhattan’s premier shopping and business districts, it was a popular see-and-be-seen place for the rich and famous. From the huge indoor water fountains and the magnificent crystal chandeliers hanging from backlit onyx ceilings to the stunning displays of each hall I passed, I realized calling it an image of perfection was no overstatement.

  The place was pure Zen. It made me wonder how life was for the VIPs of the world, for those who weren’t too shy to spend thousands of dollars a night in such luxury accommodations, just to wake up each morning to the knock of someone bringing a three-course breakfast or to spend half their day at the spa that occupied an entire floor.

  It wasn’t the life I had been born into, nor was it the life I needed to be happy. But I could certainly see the appeal and why it might be alluring, even for a day.

  Or even a night with him.

  Excitement washed over me as I stepped off the elevator, onto the fifty-first floor and stopped in front of Room 512. Soft music carried over from inside—perhaps a TV set or radio. I swiped the keycard, unsure if I did it the right way, but it didn’t work. I took a deep breath and knocked softly.

  Nothing stirred.

  I knocked again, this time a little louder.

  Finally, the music was switched off, and the door was thrown open.

  A guy stepped out.

  I frowned. Just like my prospective date for the night, this man was in his early thirties and dressed in an expensive business suit. The only problem was: I had no idea who he was.

  “You’re early,” he said, opening the door wider to let me in.

  My gaze traveled past him to scan his room. I took in the open notebook on the table and the loose sheets of paper spread haphazardly around a glass of what looked like scotch or whiskey.

  “I’m not paying extra just because you’re early,” he mumbled, and a whiff of alcohol hit my nostrils.

  What the heck?

  I took a step back as realization kicked in. “Sorry. Wrong door. I, uh…” My words failed me. It wasn’t at all how I had imagined my first one-night stand would go down. How could I explain to this man that I wasn’t at his service, in a situation so mortifying I could barely talk? I thought it over for a second, then decided being short and prompt was the way to go. “Sorry again…and have a nice evening,” I muttered and turned my back to him when he blocked my path.

  “Wrong door? That’s about the lamest excuse I’ve ever heard. You know that?” He sounded affected, maybe even annoyed, but a mask of friendliness remained on his face. “You chat me up online, only to leave me hanging. Why would anyone pay in advance for a stripper?” He paused for effect.

  I just shook my head, signaling that I had no idea.

  “Correct me, but I thought we had something. You wanted to meet with me here, so here I am.”

  I groaned inwardly; he was taking my rejection personally. I couldn’t avoid the low chuckle escaping my lips.

  Me, a stripper?

  The very idea of me being a stripper was hilarious. In a way, it was a compliment; while I had the curves, I lacked the long legs. Besides, I could barely swing a few dance moves.

  “I understand your confusion, but it’s clearly a mistake,” I explained.

  His eyes lingered on me, pondering, and I caught another whiff of alcohol. “Is this some kind of game you’re playing, part of the act or something?” he finally said, taking another step forward. “You know what? Forget what I said earlier. I’ll pay for the extra time. Now just move your hot ass inside and give me what you promised the other night.” His hand went around my waist, close enough to touch my ass, as he pointed behind him.

  He has to be kidding.

  For a moment, surprise kept me glued to the spot, until I realized that my amusement could easily be mistaken for flirting, particularly in his alcohol-induced hazy state of mind. But it was too late to tell him that. His hands grabbed my ass in what seemed to be some sort of bizarre encouragement to join him. I pushed him away a little harder than intended. Hurt crossed his face, and for a moment, I actually felt sorry for him. He hadn’t been rude, and he was clearly confused.

  “Listen, I’m not who you think I am.” I held up my guest card. “See? I’m not playing games. I really did just knock on the wrong door. Now, if you’ll excuse me and keep your hands off me—”

  “What’s going on?” a deep voice resounded behind me, cutting me off.

  I turned to peer at my actual date heading for us—in a hurry. A breath of relief escaped me…until I caught his expression.

  Oh shit!

  He was furious.

  And by furious I meant he was close to turning into a r
aging bull.

  There was no need to ask him how much he had seen; the throbbing vein in his temple said it all. His face was an angry mask as he headed straight for the poor man. I stepped in front of my date, but before I even got the chance to explain, he shoved the man back against the wall with no questions, no explanations—just like that.

  I stared, still glued to my spot, rendered speechless.

  “What the fuck, dude?” The man stepped toward him, raising his hands in the process.

  For a moment, I was afraid they might start throwing punches; I was entirely opposed to any form of violence whatsoever, but there would be little I could do to stop it if it ensued. If I didn’t know any better, I would go as far as saying that stopping a fight between two testosterone driven men would be as hard as breaking up a fight between two pit bulls.

  “Don’t you fucking touch her again.” My date poked his finger into the guy’s chest, as if the venom in his voice had not carried enough threat.

  Standing next to my date, the man looked small. He looked up into my date’s angry face, and then his glance moved back to me, as if it was all my fault. “She’s my goddamn stripper,” the guy said. As laughable as it almost was, in the midst of the palpable tension, he was still adamant that I had to be there for him. “I paid for her, man. It’s her job to please me.”

  “Are you fucking joking?” my date barked. He roughly grabbed the man by the collar and shoved him back against the wall. “Does my pregnant girlfriend look like a stripper to you?”

  The guy’s hesitant gaze brushed me from head to toe, lingering on my tummy.

  My date’s forearm muscles tensed a moment before he yanked at the man’s collar hard—so hard he forced his gaze away from me.

  I wanted to point out that being three months pregnant was nothing. I was hardly showing. If anything, I looked slightly bloated, as though I was struggling with constipation. Instead, I said, “It’s clearly a misunderstanding, Jett. Let it go.” I tried to pull my date away, but he didn’t budge. Rather, his grip on the man’s collar tightened so hard I was sure the fabric would tear any moment. I sighed. Ever since we had found out about the pregnancy, Jett had been more overprotective than ever.

  “You apologize to her before I decide to smash in your face,” he growled.

  “It’s not necessary,” I whispered, but they both seemed to ignore me.

  A moment passed, during which the man’s alcohol-induced haze seemed to lift a little, and his eyes cleared. Finally, he held up his hand. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize,” he said, then apologized some more.

  I didn’t hear the rest of what he said, because my date grabbed my hand and forced me down the hall, toward the elevators. I shot a glance over my shoulder at the man as he walked back inside his hotel room and slammed the door shut.

  After the elevator carried us one floor up, I followed him down the hall to his room. The silence was unnerving. I looked at the door number and realized my mistake: I had confused the numbers 521 with 512.

  Jett pulled out his keycard and swiped it. The door was hardly closed when he turned to me in the narrow hall, his eyes ablaze with fury.

  “What the hell were you doing there, Brooke?” he asked. His height was both menacing and arousing, his hard body taking up all available space.

  What was that? Did I detect a hint of jealousy?

  I regarded his face, the way he was working his jaw, his posture rigid and tense, and then I shrugged. “I just…got lost.”

  “You could have called me. The fucker was about to drag you into his room and do God knows what.”

  I knew it was true, and there was no need to comment. Still, we were supposed to play a game, pretend we were two strangers meeting each other, so Jett could later pretend I had my first one-night stand with him, and now the game was ruined.

  “Nothing happened.” I shrugged again, signaling that it didn’t matter. “Just let it go.”

  He rubbed a hand over his face in frustration, but after a few moments of silence, his shoulders finally relaxed.

  I looked at the man I had come to know well over the last few months. Jett had never been one to show much emotion, but now that I was carrying his child, everything had changed. “Will you always react like this?” I asked, frowning, so I wouldn’t laugh out. I had to ask, because Jett had never struck me as someone with anger management issues; then again, I knew firsthand that people seldom wore their psychological problems on their sleeves.

  “Only when I spy a damsel in distress, and especially when said damsel is mine.” His lips twitched for a second, and he inched closer, wrapping his arm around my shoulders. “I’m sorry for erupting like that. Are you okay?”

  I shrugged again. “Of course I’m okay. I was doing fine. There was no need to threaten and scare the guy over a simple misunderstanding,” I said. “The poor man will probably be scarred for life now, and I’m sure he won’t be booking services on the net anytime soon.”

  His features hardened; clearly, he didn’t appreciate my weak attempt to infuse some humor into the tense situation. “Serves him right for believing you’re a stripper.”

  “Can you blame him?” I pointed to my dress that was shorter and thinner than anything I had ever worn before. “Look at this getup.”

  “Look, baby, even if you tried, you still wouldn’t look like a stripper. You’re sexy as hell, but you don’t look cheap. Any guy who would even suggest otherwise deserves an ass-kicking.” He shrugged out of his jacket.

  I said nothing, but couldn’t help but stare at his broad shoulders, admiring the way his muscles seemed to strain his shirt.

  “The guy’s an asshole with no respect for women. Someone should have taught him a lesson a long time ago.”

  “Hmm.” I dropped my handbag on the counter, then walked over to him. My hands traced his strong chin and the tiny spot he had missed while shaving.

  He smiled, as if the dark fury had simply vanished at my touch.

  I loved the way I was able to influence my boyfriend’s mood like that, and my heart skipped a beat at the thought. I still couldn’t believe I could call this sexy man my boyfriend, and I couldn’t believe I had such an effect on him. Pleased, I leaned back against the wall and posed seductively. “But that’s not why we’re here, right?”

  He got the hint straight away. “You’re damn right about that.” Ever so slowly, he inched closer, with a devilish glint playing in his eyes and a wicked smile on his lips, intimidating but stirring the deepest pleasure. “You think you have what it takes, Miss Stewart?” he asked, instantly getting back into character. He pinned me against the wall with his arms and moved his mouth dangerously close to mine. With an appreciative growl, he leaned into me and whispered, tracing my ear with his hot breath, “You’ve come to the right place now, and that’s all that matters.”

  Absolutely.

  I smiled. As always, Jett Mayfield was sexy without even trying.

  His mouth descended hungrily upon mine, and I shivered with unbridled pleasure as our tongues merged in a first, heated kiss. I trembled even more when his skillful fingers slowly made their way under my dress, dancing across my flesh, ready to still the aching pain within my core.

  “Wait! Aren’t we going a little too fast?” I asked, prying my lips from Jett’s. My heart slammed hard against my rib cage, and my voice sounded hoarse. We were spread out on the floor in the middle of the hall, with him on top of me, our legs intermingled. His broad chest obscured the view of the remaining room, but I wanted to see it. A one-night stand would be great¸ and I knew I could pull it off, but I needed a little warm-up—maybe some chatting or getting to know each other.

  Not too much, just enough to make me feel less…cheap?

  I groaned inwardly as soon as the thought wafted into my mind. It was the voice of reason, and of course it was saying exactly what I did not want to hear. Jett was my boyfriend and all, but my first attempt at a one-night stand, even a pretend one, had to be done right.
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br />   “I thought you wanted this,” he said matter-of-factly.

  I nodded. “Yeah, but…well, I thought you’d give me the tour first.”

  “The tour?”

  “I’d like to look around the amusement park a little before I hop on the rides,” I said with a wink.

  Our eyes connected, and a flicker of playfulness appeared in his gaze. “A tour of this room is the least I’ll give you.” A slow smile spread across his perfect lips.

  I raised my brows impatiently.

  He sighed, then stood and reached down to help me up. “Fine. Then let me show you around first…and then I’ll take you.”

  Holy cow.

  He knew how to woo a woman. No need to beat around the bush.

  I squealed as he slapped my backside playfully, and followed him. As we breezed through the door, I stopped to stare. Ever so slowly, my mouth dropped open.

  Calling it a hotel room would have been a major understatement. Jett’s accommodations looked much more like a presidential suite, with at least four luxurious bedrooms and adjoining bathrooms. The living room was decorated in gold and cashew hues. It was furnished with a marble fireplace, a huge plasma TV, three large couches, and various cabinets and side tables. A black piano adorned the far east corner, right next to the floor-to-ceiling windows that offered a majestic, panoramic view of the city, which would invite any overnight guest to stare for hours.

  I would have gawked a little longer if it weren’t for my date insisting we move on to the library and a spa room. Opposite the spa room was the master bathroom. Everything—from the walls to the ceiling to the sinks and even the huge bathtub—was made of polished marble that glistened and sparkled under the bright lights.

  “Wow.” I let my gaze brush the expensive furniture and décor before settling on Jett’s majestic body. He fit right in, like a king in his castle.

  “And there’s the master bedroom.” He pointed to the closed door at the end of the hall, and I assumed he’d saved it for last with a good reason. He cocked an eyebrow and flashed me a grin, in case I missed the insinuation dripping from his voice. “I’d say this is the main attraction.”

 
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