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The lovers surrender no.., p.2
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       The Lover's Surrender (No Exceptions), p.2

           J. C. Reed
 
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  But now I was dealing with a new set of problems, which included Brooke’s ridiculous belief that I was having an affair.

  Okay, she hadn’t said those exact words, but accusing me of being a cheater and a liar came close enough. However, she couldn’t be further from the truth.

  She’d drawn her incorrect conclusion after seeing me with Tiffany, one of my best friends, who also happened to be a distant ex in my long list of lovers. It was the beginning of my experience with Brooke turning sour, the lashing out at each other, and there was nothing I could do except explain…and I would be damned if I’d reveal my intentions.

  If only my plan hadn’t gone wrong in the first place.

  If only I hadn’t asked Tiffany to bring the engagement ring to the hotel where Brooke and I were staying.

  If only I had known my ex still had feelings for me, had known she would kiss me in her drunken state while Brooke was watching.

  No idea what she was doing at the bar, or how she found us, but she caught us in a compromising situation and consequently drew her own conclusions.

  It didn’t matter now. All that mattered was that Brooke was hurting, and, as such, was trying to get back at me. She hadn’t said it in those exact words, but there had been no denying it either.

  I knew for sure she planned on seeing someone today.

  I could hear it in the tone of her voice that carried over the telephone line, the undercurrents slightly shaking with anger and with something else.

  Was it revenge?

  Was it fear of being found out?

  And if it wasn’t for her tone betraying her, then definitely the way she said, “It’s none of your business what I do. I can do whatever I want,” with so much anger, it spoke of hatred.

  Good thing I had installed a tracker in her phone, which is how I discovered that she had met with a guy behind my back.

  Without it, I would never have known where she was spending the night, or with whom. I would never have found out his address or the fact that he was the owner of Grayson Photography.

  Good thing, too, that she was now back at her place. If she hadn’t been, I would have stormed into his place and kicked him across the room. Picked her up, dragged her back to my apartment—where she belonged—and locked her up until she came to her senses, in case I didn’t find a way to tame that wild heart of hers.

  But I would do none of those things.

  Not now.

  Not tomorrow.

  At least, not yet.

  I wasn’t yet ready to show her how jealous and possessive I was, how the thought of losing her to someone else was killing me slowly from the inside out, while changing me into the kind of person I wasn’t.

  Someday I would make her mine—legally in black and white.

  It was a solemn promise I had made to myself. No matter the cost.

  Money didn’t matter; it was to own her, to make her irrevocably mine.

  She had captured my heart, and I wasn’t going to lose her.

  There were days when I didn’t recognize myself—like having the urge to protect her from the smallest things just because she was pregnant. Or like the constant impulse to check my cell phone in the hope she’d call. I had to hear her voice to assure myself that it had been me she had been thinking of when she tried to spend the night with a stranger she picked up at a bar—even though that stranger had been me all along.

  I recognized it in my need to know she was okay, hoping I could do more than pay off her loans, while ending her doubts about me once and for all.

  Then there were the days I could barely fight off the urge to find the ones who hurt her and torture them as they had tried to torture her. To exact revenge and erase the scars for good. It was a part of me that I tried hard to change, a part I kept hidden from Brooke. A part I knew I couldn’t control.

  It would only be a matter of time until the unpreventable happened. I hoped Brooke wouldn’t be there to witness it.

  It was almost midnight when faint footsteps echoed down the hall. I only raised my head when a loud rap echoed from the door.

  “Come in,” I muttered.

  The door opened, and Kenny’s head popped in. “I came as soon as I could.” He stepped in and closed the door behind him.

  His hair was dripping wet. No surprise. It had been either raining or snowing outside for days. November had a tendency to be unpredictable—like my life.

  Then again, nothing ever stayed the same in New York. Except for Kenny and his recurrent outbursts of frustration when things weren’t the way he expected them to be. His current motive of frustration was his broken wrist and consequent inability to do all the things he usually pursued. He couldn’t wait to get rid of the cast he was wearing and resume his somewhat illegal activities as a hacker.

  “Man, what a long day. It’s been crazy,” he said as he carefully shrugged off his jacket, wincing throughout the entire process, and walked over to me. Dark circles dominated his face, overpowering the sky blue color of his eyes. He didn’t have to tell me that he was exhausted. The way he slumped down on the couch and sighed loudly told an entire story.

  I nodded. “Couldn’t agree more.”

  The moment I brushed off Tiffany’s advances, she had disappeared. Less than eight hours ago, Kenny and I had driven to the hotel to look for her and found her comatose on the floor, the countless small bottles around her reminding me of a macabre shrine.

  I had no doubt that had we found her a few hours later, she would have been dead.

  Her relapse had been nagging at the back of my mind, but compared to my recent confrontation with Brooke and her feelings of betrayal, it was nothing.

  Thinking of Tiffany always made me feel guilty.

  In the three hours since leaving the hospital, her near death experience hadn’t entered my mind. All I could think about was Brooke, and the guy she might or might not be seeing, and what she might do next.

  I had changed so much I barely recognized myself.

  My friends used to matter to me more than any woman. I had called them my home, my family. Now Brooke consumed my life. As if she was part of my breath. She had become my home, my world. Soon she would be my family.

  The only family I ever had.

  “How is she?” I asked quietly, more out of need to say something than true interest.

  Tiffany was a friend, but she was also a grown-up. I had saved her life. Now it was her choice whether she wanted to turn that life around.

  Kenny shrugged. “As good as the circumstances allow.” He gave me a quick glance. “They’re keeping her locked up for a few days. You know, for observation and all.”

  I nodded grimly.

  I had no positive words left to say about Tiffany. Although she was my friend, I hadn’t yet fully forgiven her for the trouble she had caused me.

  “Don’t beat yourself up,” Kenny continued, misinterpreting my silence. “You heard her. She said she was fine.”

  “Last time, she said the same thing before she crashed,” I remarked dryly.

  “Doesn’t mean you’re to blame for her relapse.”

  “I know that, but…” I sighed. “I regret seeing her. It was a mistake to meet with her, raising her hopes like that, then brushing her off. I should have cleared that up with Brian, demanded that he accompany her when she brought the engagement ring, rather than agree to seeing her at the same hotel where Brooke and I were spending the weekend.”

  Brian was Tiffany’s boyfriend. We’d had an argument earlier when we brought Tiffany to the hospital, right after I told him about the kissing incident and Tiffany’s confession that she still loved me. I could see the anger etched in his face. The reproach. The blame. But now I was glad he knew.

  The truth was: Tiffany had been the only one who could get me a customized diamond ring in less than twenty-four hours without Brooke finding out. To my luck, Brian had chosen to believe me. To my misfortune, he didn’t let it go easily.

  I couldn’t blame him.
<
br />   While I didn’t return her affection, Tiffany still felt inclined to love two men. I couldn’t imagine the pain Brian was going through. Fuck, I couldn’t even imagine why he held on to her. I could only assume that his Irish blood made him loyal to her, like I was to Brooke.

  If Brooke loved two men, I had no idea how I’d react. I only knew that I sure as hell would do more than just get into an argument with the guy.

  My friends used to call me fearless.

  Now my lack of fear had transcended into a lack of tolerance if anyone were to take away what was mine.

  “Forget Brian. He’ll get over it, dude,” Kenny said, breaking through my train of thoughts. “Just as Ti will get over you. It’s a matter of time. She already admitted she made a mistake. Something good will come out of this. You’ll see.”

  My brows furrowed.

  “Good?” I stared him down. “Are you kidding me? She almost died. Brian blames me. And if it weren’t for Tiffany, Brooke and I would be engaged by now, and she’d be in my bed, keeping me warm, if you know what I mean. How can any of this be good?”

  Kenny shrugged. “Don’t know. But at least you had the guts to tell him.”

  “I had no choice, really. He would have found out eventually. He runs the gang.”

  And a huge chunk of NYC, seeing that he had so many connections.

  My mood plummeted. “I don’t care about his fucking anger. I’ve experienced it countless times, and it doesn’t scare me. It’s his unpredictability that bothers me. I wouldn’t want his people coming after Brooke,” I explained.

  Sighing, I raked my hand through my hair as annoyance poured through me fast and furious. When Kenny remained silent, his way to tell me that he agreed with me, I continued, “Frankly, I don’t care about Ti right now. I’m more worried about what my girlfriend is up to, and how she got the information about Nate. I don’t know what to do. She thinks I’m siding with my brother. Can you believe that?”

  I didn’t even know why I was revealing my worries to Kenny—thoughts so intimate that I didn’t expect my friend to understand.

  “Did you at least explain?” Kenny asked quietly, watching me. His voice had dropped to a whisper.

  “What?”

  “About Tiffany, and your brother.”

  “No.” I grimaced. “Not quite.”

  He straightened and turned to face me. “Definite ‘not quite?’”

  “I kept it short.”

  Kenny leaned back, regarding me for a few seconds.

  I pressed my lips into a tight line, my heart beating faster as I remembered the morning Brooke confronted me.

  “Short?” Kenny’s voice was low, but I could still hear the accusation. “How could you keep your explanation about Nate being out of prison short? This is the guy who wanted to kill her.”

  I gripped the edge of the table and watched my knuckles turn white from the pressure. “You think that this comes easy to me?” I whispered, the words choking me. “Fuck, bro, do you even know how much I hate him?”

  The words were sharp and the tone angry.

  “Every time I think of Nate, my blood turns to ice,” I continued, leaving Kenny no chance to interrupt me. “I don’t know how to move forward without this hate consuming me. I don’t even know how to sleep at night because my head keeps spinning and thinking of ways to get to him without anyone knowing.”

  I released my grip on the table and looked up to catch Kenny’s expression, while fighting the urge to grab something and destroy it with my bare hands.

  Kenny’s face remained surprisingly blank.

  I moistened my lips, eager to fill the silence with words. “I’ve never felt so much desire to hurt anyone, not even when I was living on the streets and hated my father’s guts for it. But now with Nate out and Brooke anxious, my wish has reached a new peak. I want to kill him—protection witness or not.”

  I even had the perfect revenge plan. Now, if only I could get Brooke out of NYC.

  If only Brooke wasn’t so stubborn and unreasonable.

  If only we hadn’t fought, and my mind could focus on him instead of her.

  My hands wiped across my face, as if the motion could get rid of the bitter mark in my soul.

  “I get you,” Kenny said.

  I shook my head slowly. “I don’t think you do, because you have no idea what Brooke went through. Or what Nate said to me. It was hard enough to see him there, with that smug smile of his, listening to what he wants to do to her, while keeping up the façade,” I said through gritted teeth. “You think he’s forgotten? Well, I’ve got news for you. He told me he dreams of raping Brooke every day. That he is working on having her killed. He described his morbid plans every single time that I visited him, and every time the details became more vivid.”

  “Why didn’t you tell me?” Kenny asked quietly.

  Hesitating, I raked my fingers through my hair. “Why? Because there was no point. It wouldn’t have made me feel any better.” I looked up at him and caught the dangerous glint in Kenny’s eyes. Just like me, he stood by his friends and helped in any way he could, even if that help entailed breaking the law. “Of course, I know he’s trying to scare me,” I added before Kenny decided to do something stupid. “But if he was speaking the truth, trust me, I’m going to kill him first, before he even catches a glimpse of her.”

  “Killing him won’t make you feel better. I don’t have to tell you that,” Kenny remarked, his tone betraying that he was lying. He was worried about what I might do to my brother. And rightly so.

  “Maybe.” I stared him down. “But I owe it to Brooke. To my father, who’s still in a coma. I owe it to myself for allowing Nate to fool me the way he did. You can’t stop me. Not when he’s killed so many people and when I know he’ll probably do it again.”

  Kenny leaned forward, his lips curling into a smile. “Stopping you was never my plan. But I’ll gladly join you. You tell me when and where, and I’ll be there way before you, getting rid of him once and for all.”

  “No, I’m doing it.” I looked at him hard. “It’s my job.”

  Every day I kept telling myself that I’d get my chance for revenge. I wouldn’t let someone else rob me of the chance once the opportunity presented itself.

  “Then know I’ll have your back.” His expression was serious.

  For the first time, I felt hopeful.

  A mutual understanding passed between us. Of course, Kenny would never let me down. He never did.

  “So…how are things between Brooke and you?” he asked carefully.

  I stood, taking my time with a reply as I headed for the liquor cabinet. Grabbing two glasses and a bottle, I walked back and poured us some bourbon. I handed Kenny his glass, then dropped on the sofa opposite from him. Ignoring his questioning look, I chinked my glass against his before I took a large gulp. It was only when the alcohol began to course through my veins that I could feel myself relaxing a little.

  “I told Brooke it’s complicated,” I said eventually. “That’s all she needs to know right now.”

  “Did she believe you?” Kenny’s tone betrayed his doubt.

  “No.” I shook my head slowly. “Of course not. She believes I want to kill her to get the fucking Lucazzone estate. Seems like we haven’t moved an inch in terms of building trust.” I grimaced and drained the glass, then refilled it.

  “There’s still enough time to tell her, you know. I’m sure she’ll understand why you need to get away.”

  I grimaced again. “Why’s everyone pushing me? First Tiffany, then Brian, and now you. You realize Brooke’s pregnant?”

  “She’s a lot stronger than you give her credit for, bro,” Kenny said. “If she knew what was going on, she’d play along.”

  I stared at him. He obviously knew nothing about Brooke if he believed she’d just let me do my thing without getting involved. “And stress her more, or worse, get her involved while risking her life as well as the life of our baby? Sorry, not happening,” I said g
ravely. “Given her condition, I can’t take the risk. Her doctor has been very clear. I don’t expect you to understand, but Brooke’s condition makes her more susceptible to suffering a miscarriage than other pregnant women. It’s not worth it.” I didn’t need to specify what Brooke’s “condition” was. Kenny knew she had been drugged and kicked in the abdomen while pregnant. We still didn’t know if the baby had been harmed.

  “Right,” Kenny said. “So you’d rather have her think you cheated on her?” The disbelief in his tone didn’t go unnoticed.

  “If that’s the way to keep her out of this, then by all means, yes. She’s free to believe whatever she wants, even though I didn’t cheat, and I told her that countless times. It’s her choice whether she wants to believe me or not. It’s not like I can force her to trust me with something that she doesn’t want to accept.”

  I paused, leaving the rest unspoken. Thunder echoed somewhere in the background as the sound of rain splattering against the window increased in volume. The image of Brooke all alone popped into my mind, and the fact that we were supposed to be on a plane to Las Vegas, where the danger around us would have been forgotten. At least for a while.

  “So, how do you think you’ll get her away now?” Kenny asked quietly, sensing the direction of my thoughts.

  “Don’t you worry. I’ll think of something. I’m seeing her tomorrow.” I looked at him in silence while taking another swig of the liquid that seemed to burn all the way down my throat. “All that matters is that I take her away from NYC and keep her distracted.”

  “And if she doesn’t want to come or doesn’t agree to see you?”

  I hesitated. The thought of Brooke not wanting to see me had entered my mind before, but I had pushed it to the back of my mind just as quickly. Every time I imagined her slamming the door in my face, or thought of not touching and kissing her, a dull ache formed in my heart. But then I remembered her words, her willingness to give up on us so easily, and the anger returned.

  “No idea,” I said grimly. “If she doesn’t want to see me, I’ll stay away until she’s given birth, then I’ll try to explain. Maybe once her hormones have settled, she’ll see more sense.”

 
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