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The lovers promise, p.3
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       The Lover's Promise, p.3

           J. C. Reed
 
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  From the folder he retrieved a third picture and slid it across the table. “Have a look. This was taken on the same day, two hours before the first victim was killed. Someone sent it to us, and while we don’t have concrete evidence yet, it still connects our suspect to the first victim.”

  I swallowed hard, unable to breathe. What was he saying? What did he mean by “suspect” and “connects to the victim”?

  Blood began to rush in my ears as I regarded the photograph on the table. Compared to the previous ones, it looked like a professional shot—large in size and with excellent pixilation—the kind a private detective would make. I wrought my hands together, ignoring the pang of pain as my nails pierced the thin barrier of my skin, and forced myself to take in all the details. Jett was wearing his usual expensive suit and carrying two cups of what I assumed was coffee. A young woman was standing next to him and, judging from her slightly open mouth and the fact that she was turned to him, it looked as though she was talking to him. I had no idea who she was, but there were other people around them and from the ambience I recognized one of the coffee shops not far from our office building. There was no time stamp on the photo; nothing to give away what was going on, except that Jett had been buying coffee for two. He didn’t seem particularly engrossed in whatever the woman was saying, but the way her body was turned to him—a little too close—while she looked up straight at him made me wonder why he seemed so lost in thought, almost as if he was considering what to say in reply to her.

  “So, do you recognize him?” the detective asked, disrupting my trail of thought. “He’s our primary suspect.”

  As slowly as I could, I forced myself to shake my head. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t talk. I was too shocked. Too afraid that any word I might utter would betray the truth. Too afraid that the truth would shatter me. Too afraid of everything—and in particular of not knowing what the hell was going on.

  “Who did you say this was again?” I asked in a hushed tone, faking innocence as best as I could, but beneath the layers of nonchalance, my voice was shaking. I prayed silently that if the detective sensed it, he’d assume it was because I was afraid of the killer. Just to be sure, I added nervously, “I can’t believe she’s dead.”

  “The victim’s name is Sarah Smith. The man in the picture is Jett Mayfield.”

  Upon hearing Jett’s name, I bit my tongue hard to suppress a sharp intake of air.

  The detective regarded me for a moment before he continued, “We’ve been watching him for some time, ever since we received this picture. Earlier today we found his car abandoned two miles from the club. The tires had traces of Gina’s DNA on them, which links him to the murder scene.”

  I didn’t know much about evidence, but even to me that sounded incriminating enough. Alarm bells began to ring somewhere in my head.

  Jett wasn’t a killer. I opened my mouth and closed it an instant later because I couldn’t tell the detective the truth. I couldn’t reveal that I knew Jett, that we had once dated, that he was the father of my unborn child.

  I knew Jett. Maybe not as well as I once thought, but good enough to be convinced that he wasn’t a killer. His brother was.

  But the truth was I didn’t know for sure.

  Jett had never been an open book. He liked to keep secrets. He had sides to him I didn’t know about; sides I was afraid to learn of. He had accompanied me home, but I couldn’t say for sure he had stayed with me throughout the entire night.

  “You said you found traces on the car,” I began warily. “But I thought Gina was stabbed in the street.” I kept my voice deliberately low, so he wouldn’t hear the turmoil in my tone. As I stared at Jett’s face in utter dismay, my heart continued to hammer in my chest. For a few moments, I was afraid to look up out of fear the detective would see right through me.

  “She was. Someone ran her over with a car after her throat was cut open. This is all we know for now until we get the autopsy report next week,” the detective said.

  I felt sick to the core, I feared I might just vomit. My legs were shaking so bad, I knew if I if I weren’t sitting down, my legs would have given way under me.

  “I’m sorry about your friend,” the detective said, misinterpreting my silence. “We’re doing the best we can to find out what happened.”

  “Did you arrest this man?” I asked quietly. Every fiber of my being screamed.

  “No. We had to let him go.” The detective sounded pissed off. “Unless we have undeniable, concrete proof we have to treat him as not guilty. People with money always get preferential treatment.” He grimaced and spat out the word “money” as though it was pure evil, then handed me his card. “If you see him or remember anything, no matter how trivial, call me. We need all the evidence we can get. It’s in everyone’s best interest to keep the city safe from people like him.”

  I nodded. He smiled gently, and as I stood, I forced myself to return his smile. On shaky feet, I gathered all the courage I could muster and left Grayson’s office, heading straight for the bathroom.

  As I splashed my face with cold water, the numbness resulting from shock began to wear off and complete realization kicked in.

  The police thought Jett was a killer.

  And I had just lied to them. I didn’t even know why I didn’t just reveal that I knew him. Why was I protecting him? Maybe because I couldn’t believe Jett was a killer.

  But what if he was?

  What if he was…the thought was too horrible, too depressing, too shocking to continue. It broke my heart to think that the man I loved could be capable of killing innocents, so I decided to push it to the back of my mind instead of dealing with the consequent implications.

  My mind reeled as I said goodbye to Grayson, then called a taxi and gave the driver Sylvie’s address. Snuggled in the backseat, I rested my head against the window, the coldness intensifying the icy shudders that had been circling through my body ever since I saw Jett’s face on the snapshot inside the detective’s folder.

  I felt physically sick. From all the possible things in life, this was what I had expected the least. It had to be a mistake—a stupid, silly mistake—because Jett was a lot of things, but most certainly not a killer. But what if I was blindly in love and not seeing him for who he truly was?

  As much as I had hoped the detective had confused him with his brother, I knew it was impossible. Even though Nate was not his biological brother, the two of them looked alike. But Nate had only recently been released from jail, and the first murder victim had been killed two weeks before.

  I closed my eyes, swallowing the bitter taste of the nausea rising inside me, and tried to ignore the severe warning bells ringing in my head as I thought back to the detective’s words.

  I will contact you once I have more questions. With your help, I’ll get him.

  It all would have sounded harmless—if it just weren’t for his hard glare and the way his smile tightened, freezing his features in place. Back in there, when he had uttered those words, I had been sure he recognized me from the hotel, and yet he didn’t mention seeing me before.

  I knew I shouldn’t have lied to him. Sooner or later he’d find out that Jett and I had been together. All he needed was to dig deeper into the night at the club to discover that we had been sitting together, talking, flirting with each other. He might not have seen me and Jett together at the hotel, but he only had to ask the hotel’s staff to figure out Jett and I had spent the night together. Worse yet, he only had to check Grayson’s files to find out that I had given him my deceased sister’s name and address—wrong details. If he unraveled my lies, what would happen next? Would that make me an accessory to murder, even though I was drugged at the club, and hence unable to recognize Jett? Who would believe me?

  So many questions, among them: what had Jett been doing at the club, anyway? And how come the detective had a picture of him talking with the first victim? Why had he been meeting with her in the first place?

  The last questio
n sent my brain into a freezing ball.

  Breathe in. Breathe out.

  My mantra didn’t help. The mere thought that Jett was a murderer was crazy but I couldn’t banish the images of Gina’s dead face from my head and the thought that she must have been scared lying there, alone and hurt on the street. Sylvie’s home drug test kit showed my drink was spiked. What were the odds that Gina’s drink had been spiked too, rendering her unable to defend herself from her attacker when he stabbed her?

  Breathe out. Breathe out.

  But I couldn’t. The air remained stuck inside my lungs, threatening to burst. It was painful. A balloon of negativity. Like all the other things I had kept bottled up inside: things I knew but wished I had never found out. Secrets I wanted to share but would never be able to. Rare emotions that twisted inside me like worms that couldn’t be controlled.

  Breathe out Breathe out.

  My nails bore into my delicate skin. Forcing the air out at last, I counted to three, then took another slow breath.

  If the police had a picture of Jett with the first victim along with solid evidence, at some point he was probably called in for questioning, which meant he had kept yet another secret from me.

  Maybe he didn’t tell you because he is guilty.

  I swallowed, not liking the new truth. There were too many lies now. How I wished that, for once, everyone could just tell the truth. The world would have been a better place if we couldn’t lie to other people’s face. I smirked. Maybe, but to be honest, I didn’t care. Even if I had the answers to my questions and Jett could only tell the truth, there was no doubt that our fundamental problems would remain.

  “Are you okay, miss?” the taxi driver asked when the car stopped in front of Sylvie’s apartment building. He was an exotic-looking guy in his fifties with a friendly face, and hands so big he probably engaged in heavy lifting on his weekends.

  “Yeah,” I said quietly, averting my eyes.

  I had been a great day—except my friend had been killed and my boyfriend…no, make it ex…was the main suspect. With my sister dead, make that two people I had been friends with that had suffered a horrific fate.

  I handed the driver his fee, muttering, “Keep the change.” Grabbing my bag, I exited the vehicle, hurried my pace, eager to get home. I needed to talk to Jett as soon as I could.

  It was dark now, the streets dark and abandoned, but compared to the things happening in my mind, the solitude felt almost blissful. As I ascended the stairs, my skin began to prickle. I turned my head a few times, but there was no one. And yet I couldn’t shake off the feeling that someone was watching me. My stomach lurched in fear at the thought of Jett’s brother lurking around, waiting for me behind the shadows. I looked over my shoulder once more, scanning the street in dread, then cursed quietly.

  It was stupid paranoia caused by fear and the knowledge that someone had stalked Gina before killing her, and the fact that Nate was a free man again. But the knowledge didn’t stop my heartbeat from spiking as I rummaged for the keys in my handbag and I quickly let myself in, all the while hoping Sylvie was home. The last thing I wanted was to be alone.

  “Sylvie?” I threw my jacket over the back of a chair, kicked off my shoes, and then peeked into each room in search of her. The apartment was quiet, and judging from her missing handbag and her made bed, she was still with her blind date.

  Disappointed, I sighed. In that instant, I glimpsed the pink cover of a book lying on the table. I grabbed the yellow sticker note attached to it, my glance sweeping over Sylvie’s hurried handwriting.

  I know you always made fun of it, but all that worrying and stress is not good for your baby, so you might as well give affirmations a try. After all, nightmares are only as real as you allow them to be. If you stay positive, everything will work out.

  I snorted.

  Yeah, right.

  As always, she was worried about me. Only this time I worried about myself, too. If only everything could be that simple. If only affirmations worked. With a sigh I threw the book back onto the table and headed for the kitchen to grab a bottle of wine Sylvie kept for special occasions aka emergencies, but decided on soda instead.

  There was no point in getting drunk. Not when I needed to keep a clear head and make sense of what was happening. After the incident at the club, the last thing I needed was to lose control over my body again or worse yet, harm my baby.

  Good thing Jett was at the club and drove me home before something bad could happen.

  I stopped in my thought and drew a sharp breath.

  Not when he’s guilty. Not when he’s told you so many lies.

  I swallowed. The thought that Jett was a killer was horrible but so was the knowledge that my child would grow up without a father. While I was sure I had the confidence to lie to the detective to protect Jett, I wasn’t sure I had the strength to hear the truth. It would be so easy to hear lies, but come the truth, I knew it would shatter me and leave me in pieces, worse off than before. And I wasn’t sure I could go through more heartbreak. Knowing that it would be so easy to pretend to myself that he still cared for me, I wasn’t even sure I was ready to even hear his voice. The lies he would tell might be bad, but the lies I might tell myself would be even worse.

  My stomach churned once more, as the detective’s grave words kept circling in my mind over and over again, like a swarm of flies over a corpse. I closed my eyes in a weak fight against the nausea washing over me again. Anytime now, my head might just explode. And if it wasn’t going to be my head, then it would be my heart. In all my life I had never known so little, and feared so much. I retrieved my phone from my handbag and checked my call log. No message from the legal firm. No text from Jett, no phone call, nothing to indicate that he missed me or he felt any remorse or guilt.

  What did you expect? That he might just read your mind and call you even though you pretend you don’t want to hear his voice?

  I groaned at the thought, hating that a part of my body was so weak for him—the same part that kept hoping he was a good person and that he loved me. Buying for time, I scrolled through my contact list. It was a useless action. The weak love fool I was, I knew his number by heart, and I hated it. I sank down on the couch, dread filling me at the thought of calling him. But I had to. Even if he lied, I had to ask Jett. I had to hear it from him. That much he owed me—if only I wasn’t so afraid of hearing his beautiful voice. My heart slammed against my chest as my fingers pressed the buttons.

  He finally picked up at the third ring.

  “What now?” His voice was cold and detached, not even hiding his irritation.

  I took a deep breath.

  “Jett, we need to talk. You’re in trou—”

  “Tomorrow at dinner,” he cut me off. “If you plan on staying with Sylvie, I’ll pick you up from Brooklyn. Anything else?”

  I froze, taken aback by his frosty tone, when the meaning of his words slowly sank in.

  “How do you know where I am?” I asked slowly.

  “It’s not that much of a surprise you’re staying with Sylvie.” His voice dripped with sarcasm. “Obviously, your best friend hates my guts and tells you to stay away from me, so she’s the perfect person with whom to bitch about me. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it was her idea to fuck the next guy with whom she hooked you up today.”

  I frowned, confused.

  “It wasn’t her idea.” I couldn’t help the irritation slipping into my voice, matching his. “And you didn’t answer my first question. How did you know where I am?”

  The line stayed silent, but I wasn’t ready to give up. If I wanted to win with Jett, I had to be persistent.

  “Jett?”

  “Same way I know where you were earlier today,” he replied, his voice cold as ice, mocking me as if I should have known all along. “I have your phone traced, Brooke.”

  Holy shit.

  I opened my mouth, then closed it again. If Jett knew where I was earlier that day, he also knew where I w
orked. I stared at the wall, my heart beating faster as a memory flooded my mind. Back at the hotel I couldn’t find my phone. Was that the moment he had something installed in it so he could trace my whereabouts?

  Surely he couldn’t be serious, could he?

  “You had what?”

  “Your phone traced,” he said slowly. “Really, Brooke, you get involved in trouble a lot, so I had no other option but to make sure I know where you are.”

  “Are you controlling me?”

  “If that’s what you want to call it, be my guest.” He sighed, annoyed, and after a pause asked, “So, who is it?”

  “Who is what?”

  “The guy you met today.”

  “That’s none of your business.”

  I balled my hands into fists and took a deep breath. The thought that Jett knew where I was, where I was going, with whom I was dealing, was insane. Crazy. I couldn’t tell him everything, not when I didn’t know if he had sided with his sick brother.

  “I want you to stop tracing my phone, Jett.” The words were not accusing. They came surprisingly silent quiet and calm—contrary to the way I was feeling.

  “Maybe.”

  “Not maybe.” I frowned and infused as much fervor into my voice as I could muster. “I’m serious. Stop tracing my phone. Like, right now.”

  “Give me one good reason why I should.”

  Thick and fast, anger poured inside me, until the dam of fury broke. “I’m so fucking pissed off at you, Jett. You have no right to do that. Do you hear me? You have no right to do that.”

  “You’re pissed off at me all the time. Nothing new about that.” I sensed an irritated sigh somewhere on the other end of the line. For some reason, I knew he was being sarcastic and as usual not taking me seriously.

 
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