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The lovers surrender no.., p.3
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       The Lover's Surrender (No Exceptions), p.3

           J. C. Reed
 
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  Kenny shook his head. “That could take months.”

  I shrugged. Did I have a choice?

  “Well, maybe this will help.” He tossed a brown package at me. I caught it before it hit my stomach. I had noticed it before, when he had joined me, but I had paid it no attention…until now.

  I frowned. “What is it?”

  “Courtesy of Brian.”

  “Brian?” I looked up from the bundle in my hands, surprised. Remembering my earlier argument with Brian, I pulled a face. Gifts from Brian were never a good thing.

  “I don’t want it,” I said and pushed it back to Kenny. When he didn’t grab it, I leaned over to press it back at him, if need be, but Kenny held up a hand.

  “He insisted.” He cocked his head toward the box. “Come on. Open it.”

  I eyed him dubiously. “Do you know what’s inside?”

  “No, but I might have some idea.”

  It felt light and was perhaps the size of a book. The brown paper was cheap and torn at the edges, as though Brian had used it before. As much as I strained my head to guess what lay hidden underneath, I had no idea. Reluctantly, I started tearing off the wrapping, taking my time.

  “Is this some kind of joke?” I picked up the small gun, my frown intensifying. It was barely bigger than my hand and almost as light as a feather. “Because this sure looks like something a woman would use.”

  Kenny grinned. “Brian said it’s for Brooke.”

  I met his expression with another frown. “What for? So she can shoot me?”

  Kenny let out a snort. “I doubt the bullet could pierce through your chest, dude. You should see how tiny it is. Like a pea.” He laughed, which only managed to increase my irritation.

  “I’m not worried about my chest,” I mumbled. “Knowing Brooke, she’d probably aim for my head if she got her hand on this thing. And since she’s never learned to aim, she’d probably end up blowing off my toes—or worse.” I didn’t need to specify what part of my body I was referring to. “Really, Brian could do a better job giving her a club.” I placed the gun back inside the package and handed the box to Kenny.

  He shook his head. “Keep it. It’s hers. Brian wants you to give it to her, and that’s exactly what you’ll do…unless you want to piss him off even more than you already have.”

  My suspicions instantly rose. “Why would he persist? I thought he was mad about Tiffany.”

  Kenny shrugged. “Maybe he isn’t as mad as you thought he’d be.”

  “He was when I left the hospital.” I narrowed my eyes. “What happened?”

  “He gave you a gun before,” Kenny said.

  “That was years ago. Before he found out his girlfriend kissed me.”

  “He didn’t find out. You told him. That’s different, isn’t it?”

  It was my time to shrug. “It’s all the same to me. I highly doubt just telling him the truth has turned him grateful.” I paused for a moment, pondering what could have caused the gang leader to suddenly warm up to Brooke. I couldn’t think of anything.

  “He’s grateful. That’s the real reason?” I prompted.

  “He said he owes you.”

  “Owes me for what?” I met Kenny’s eyes, noticing his sudden change in mood. His eyes were lit up, and there was a smile on his lips. It had been three hours since I left the hospital.

  Something must have happened in the meantime.

  I couldn’t imagine what it was, what could have changed Brian’s stubborn frame of my mind and his annoyance with me.

  “You’re keeping something from me,” I said matter-of-factly. “Spill it.”

  He nodded as if he had been waiting for this reaction all along.

  “Tiffany’s pregnant,” Kenny said at last. ”They found out about an hour ago.”

  For a long moment, I stared at him as the words slowly began to sink in.

  Eventually, I leaned back, unsure how to react to the news.

  “I thought she couldn’t conceive,” I said slowly.

  “That’s what they thought, too.” Kenny leaned forward, his voice dropping to a whisper. “But she got pregnant, damaged tubes and all. They call it a miracle. If we hadn’t found her, she would have died. So Brian feels like he owes you.”

  I stared at him.

  A child had been Tiffany’s dream ever since she lost her first.

  It was the source of her problems, the constant battle with depression and alcoholism. Brian always said that if she had another child, it would give her a new purpose, a chance to redeem herself, and the strength to stay sober and recover from her addiction.

  “That’s….” I trailed off, looking for words. When they failed me, I gave up. “Why didn’t you tell me when you arrived?”

  “I’m telling you now,” Kenny said matter-of-factly. “Besides, the look on your face is too priceless to be missed.”

  I looked at Brian’s package, which had remained untouched in front of me. Kenny picked up on it and continued, “When he heard the good news, he asked me about Nate, then told me to get the package. He wanted to give it to Brooke a long time ago, but he never had the opportunity. Now, with you two separated and Nate out of prison, he wants you to go after her, sort things out. You know, spend time with her.”

  “Go after her? Isn’t he quite the romantic?” I smiled sarcastically. “Forget roses. I’m sure she’ll swoon over a gun. I’m sure she’ll want to make up in no time, shooting at the stars and all.”

  Kenny laughed, his eyes meeting mine. There was a glint in them that I couldn’t pinpoint. “Look, he knows that Brooke wants to learn how to shoot. He thinks that with you being good at that sort of stuff, you should teach her, spend some time with her. It would make her feel safe from Nate, and she would have some form of protection. Don’t you think she should carry a gun now that she is part of the gang?”

  I stared at him as alarm bells began to ring in my mind.

  Part of the gang?

  When the fuck did that happen?

  The last thing I needed was for Brooke to carry a weapon—any weapon—and get into even more trouble than we already were.

  I shook my head vehemently. “Not happening.”

  “I know you like the whole damsel in distress crap, but Brooke needs to be able to defend herself. Brian’s words. Not mine,” Kenny said. “You can’t protect her from everything at all times, dude. However, teaching her to shoot a weapon could bring you just a little bit closer to it. If you don’t teach her, then someone else will. If you don’t want to, she’ll find someone else who’ll help teach her to defend herself. Someone who’ll get the importance of it. The question is who?”

  I stayed silent.

  He was right, of course.

  While I wanted Brooke to be able to defend herself if she ever found herself in danger again, I also wanted it to be me who protected her and defended her with my life, if need be. That I couldn’t now sent a piercing stab through my heart.

  “She saw someone today,” I said, still staring at Brian’s gift.

  On impulse, I lifted my phone and checked the screen reluctantly. The app I had installed showed that Brooke hadn’t yet left her apartment.

  Or at least her phone was still there.

  My stomach churned at the thought that she might have outwitted me by leaving her phone at home while going out.

  She had done that before.

  What if Brooke had discarded it on purpose, knowing I had the tracker installed, and was now getting back at me doing God only knew what? Or worse yet, roaming the streets in spite of the danger she was in, like she had done two days ago.

  “I called you because I need a favor. I need you to check this address and find out whatever you can about the person who owns GR Photography.” I fished a small piece of paper out of my pocket and handed it to Kenny.

  The silence lasted for all of two seconds.

  “So you need me to hack into his system.” There was no surprise in Kenny’s voice. No judgment. His expression
barely changed, as if he had been suspecting that I might need him for something like this that all along.

  “Yeah. Can you do that?” I asked.

  “Easy.”

  “Good.” I eyed the paper again. “All I’ve found out so far is that his name’s Grayson Robert. He owns the building, and from his profile on the web, he seems to work as a photographer, but I’m not sure he’s the one Brooke’s seeing. His name’s linked with far too many people.”

  “So, you want me to check up on him…” Kenny repeated, glancing at his watch. “At 12.30?” When I looked up, there was a grin on his face.

  “Is that going to be a problem?” I grimaced. In the past, Kenny had made fun of my obsession with Brooke at every opportunity. I thought he had grown out of his irritating habit.

  Fat chance.

  By admitting that it was indeed urgent, I would also admit that I couldn’t live without Brooke, which was kind of the truth. But did I want Kenny to know that?

  “Just do it,” I mumbled. “And be discreet about it.”

  “Well, then let’s go.” Kenny reached the door in a few long strides, waiting for me to follow. “The sooner you know what your Juliet is up to, the sooner Romeo will get to rest.”

  I groaned, irritated at his Shakespeare reference.

  Trust Kenny to miss the definition of ‘discreet.’

  JETT

  Kenny’s room was decorated in black, which included the walls, the cupboard, and the curtains. Even the bedspread was a soft shade of licorice. Kenny claimed that the color black helped him focus, pushing aside any form of distraction, which was fundamental in his line of work as a professional hacker. The only vivid splashes were the flickering screens of about fifty computers set up all around his desk on adjustable black shelves and a dangling light bulb in the middle of the ceiling.

  The moment Kenny slumped down in his chair, he propped his legs on the desk, and his good hand glided to a keyboard, his long fingers poised over the keys. And then his furious typing began.

  Five minutes passed.

  Then ten.

  I leaned back on the bed, waiting patiently, even though patience wasn’t exactly one of my virtues. In this instance, however, I was glad to let him do the work and wallow in my gloomy thoughts instead.

  Eventually, the computer in front of him wired up, and the screen filled with numbers and letters that moved so fast, I didn’t even try focusing on them.

  I jumped up from the bed and leaned over his shoulder, suddenly nervous, suppressing the urge to pace the room.

  What the heck could one find about a person through a computer?

  I had listened to Kenny’s recounts of his many illegal activities so many times that I had no doubt if there was dirt buried in a yard, Kenny would stumble upon a virtual picture of it.

  Kenny always joked that no secret was safe from him. And I believed him. He always knew what he had to do, extracting the most coveted secrets as if they were his own.

  That was how we found out that my father had been blackmailed and that he had transferred a large lump of money to save his reputation. If he could find out my father’s secrets so easily, what could possibly stop Kenny from discovering something that might just change my life…and not for the better?

  What if Brooke had been seeing that Grayson guy for longer than I thought?

  What if he was some ex she had failed to mention?

  Did I want to know?

  I swallowed the thick lump in my throat, and my expression hardened, my resolve strengthening.

  “I’m in,” Kenny whispered, drawing my attention back to him.

  My vision focused on the screen. I expected to see images, videos…anything but a black screen with countless strings of symbols, numbers, and letters.

  “Yeah? You might want to translate that,” I muttered. Admitting that I had no idea what the heck that was pissed me off.

  Kenny chuckled, aware of my incompetence around computers.

  “What you see is an indirect access to his main computer’s hardware. Logs, passwords, photos, emails, hidden folders…you name it, I have access to all of those now. I can basically monitor his every movement, if you want. Give me the word, and I’ll even activate his computer’s webcam.” Kenny’s eyes were gleaming as he shot me a sideways glance, and the enthusiasm in his voice was unmistakable. This was his realm, and he made no secret of it. “I’ve developed a new program that allows me to track every single letter he types on his computer and even record anything he speaks while he’s in the same room. It’s still in its beta stage, but it should work, seeing that his firewall is down.”

  At my silence, he turned to face me, and his brows shot up questioningly.

  Thinking he was waiting for some sort of acknowledgment, as usual, I nodded. “That sounds great.”

  Kenny continued to look at me, his finger hovering over the keyboard, and I realized it wasn’t praise he was waiting for.

  “What the hell are you waiting for?” I asked.

  “This is very personal business, man. You could pay her a visit and ask her if she saw someone today,” Kenny said softly. “There would be no need to sneak around and invade her privacy.”

  He said it as if he hadn’t done it countless times before.

  As if he weren’t a hacker—paid to meddle in people’s personal affairs.

  Talk about hypocrisy.

  “Come on.” I laughed and raked a hand through my hair. “Are you lecturing me about privacy now? Really?”

  “I’m just saying you might not like what you find out and that it could jeopardize your relationship. Once we’re in, it’ll be like an addiction and there will be no way back. You can’t ‘undiscover.’ You can’t retrace your steps and say you didn’t know about it. Eventually, it will spill out in a most unfortunate moment and she’ll find out you snooped around.”

  “So?” I frowned. “I don’t have a choice but to find out what she’s up to and what kind of person she might be seeing. We’re talking about my child and my girlfriend here. It’s my responsibility to know who she’s dealing with and what kind of person he is.”

  “You don’t know that,” Kenny said, shaking his head slowly.

  “What?”

  “That she’s seeing someone.”

  “Well, I do, but that’s not even the point.” I let out a deep breath, the lump in my throat constricting.

  “How do you know?”

  “I talked to her. Besides, I took your advice and had her phone traced. Or how else do you I think I got Grayson’s details or found her at the club?” I pressed my lips into a tight line. “Believe it or not, she seems to be enjoying her life. Even if I wanted to confront her, I don’t think I’m welcome right now. Can’t say that I’m too happy about what we’re about to do, but I need to know that the people around her don’t mean to hurt her. Now if you could just dive in there, that’d be great.”

  My tone was decisive, leaving no room for discussion.

  Kenny caught on to it and shrugged. “Hey, I’m just trying to make sure you won’t have one too many regrets.” He turned his back to me, his gaze returning to the screen. “Let’s check out his correspondence, documents, and so on. Watch this.”

  With one click, the screen changed to blue. A few seconds passed in silence, which only managed to increase my nervousness. Eventually, the blue screen changed to a desktop cover. I stared at it in surprise, my words failing me.

  It was some sort of plant with human-like roots, its thick body resembling a face.

  Kenny let out a laugh. “That shit is sick,” he said, pointing his thumb to the picture.

  I raised my eyebrows and watched his amusement disappear from his face.

  “You like it?” He pointed at Grayson’s desktop again.

  “It’s interesting.” As much as I hated the fact that the guy might be trying to date Brooke, I couldn’t degrade myself by lying about the fact that I found his strange taste in design at least interesting.

 
Kenny leaned forward with renewed interest.

  “It’s a mandrake,” I remarked.

  “A mandrake?”

  “I’m sure you’ve heard of it.” The question was: was Brooke seeing some sort of hippie, a lover of plants, or a very strange individual?

  “You think he’s seeing her?” I asked, putting my thoughts and fears into words.

  “No idea,” Kenny said, oblivious to my distress. “But we could go through his most recent documents, see his past activities, and then we’d know their relationship status.”

  I grimaced again.

  Their relationship status.

  The way Kenny said it sounded as though it was a real possibility.

  Brooke wasn’t like that. At least that was what my gut feeling told me. And yet, did I really know her? The mere thought of Brooke dating this plant guy was crazy. Immediately, a nerve started to throb above my left eye, and my hand instinctively went up to my neck to ease the pressure building inside me. My hands balled into fists.

  Kenny turned his head to me, and his grin disappeared as he noticed my grim expression. “I didn’t mean…” He sighed, pausing. “Shit, man. All I’m saying is that if he saw Brooke today, he might have mentioned her in an email, in some correspondence. They might be friends, or something like that, or maybe he’s just—”

  I crossed my arms over my chest, cutting him off. “How about you shut up and see what you can find out?”

  “All right, man.” Kenny’s tone was strained with something. It was certainly not worry or guilt. With annoyance, I realized that his lips were twitching, as though he was trying hard to hide his amusement. “Give me a second.”

  “You sure it’s his computer? It doesn’t look professional,” I asked to change the subject. “The guy’s supposed to be a photographer.”

  “Yeah, check out his logo, dude,” Kenny said, pointing to the blue banner below the huge cover. Right in the middle of the screen, almost undistinguishable and hidden by a plant, was:

  GR Photography

  It was his.

  For a few minutes, Kenny’s typing was the only sound in the room. My heart began to thump a bit harder as I noticed the countless files cluttering his main folders.

 
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