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Beautiful distraction, p.41
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       Beautiful Distraction, p.41

           J. C. Reed
 

  “I know that.” I knew Danny had targeted and abused her to pay for his habit. My therapists had told me that over and over again.

  His gaze bore into my soul, searching for the answer I didn’t want to give. How could he understand when all he knew about my past were a few empty words that barely managed to express a fragment of the pain I had to go through?

  “Why?” Jett persisted. “Please, help me understand. I need to know whether there’s—” He hesitated, keeping to himself what he had been about to say.

  I took a deep breath, feeling my resolve waning. I had told him about my sister, which was my biggest secret. Why not share my feelings with him as well?

  “Why do you even want to know? Why can’t you just leave it the way it is?” I whispered.

  He shook his head, hesitating. I held my breath as I regarded his dense lashes casting dark shadows beneath his eyes. He was so beautiful it broke my heart, and we weren’t even done yet. What would happen once he tired of me? Would I survive the pain? I had let down my guard and now I was in too deep. I should have run—the way I always did, and yet I had made no move to leave, neither physically nor emotionally. And now I was facing an array of emotions I had never felt for anyone before. Fear, desire, hope, and yet more fear. Emotions I couldn’t deal with. Emotions that would suffocate me the moment our arrangement ended.

  “This isn’t working, Brooke. Don’t get me wrong, the sex is amazing. But it’s turning into something else, and I need to know where I’m standing. I need to know whether we’ll ever be together.”

  My heart skipped a beat. It tended to do that a lot ever since he entered my life. What exactly was ‘more’? A relationship? Or a different contract? “You want more?” I whispered, daring not to hope.

  “Yes, Brooke. I do. I want to see where this is heading.” His voice was deep and low. Sultry.

  I peered into his eyes to see if he was joking, but his expression remained serious. Half of me wanted to jump right into his arms and never let him go, the way you see in movies. And the other half, as strange as it sounded, wished she could wipe out each and every memory that included him. Because I wanted him too much and I couldn’t handle it. Because I had never felt this way before, and it scared the hell out of me. If I gave it a try and it didn’t work out, my heart would shatter and my world would crumble. If he lost interest and broke up with me, it would kill me.

  “But...we signed a contract.” I almost choked on the words. There were a hundred reasons why this wasn’t a good idea, one being that we barely knew each other. You don’t jump headfirst into a relationship when you met the person two weeks ago and haven’t really dated. And then there was that one issue that made any reasoning turn into dust.

  I was falling in love with him.

  “You said you had done contracts before, and that this is the way you like it,” I continued, hoping he would reveal more about his past and his feelings for me. Anything to justify the decision I had already made.

  Jett shook his head slowly. “I never said I had done this before.”

  “But you had a contract drawn up by your lawyers.”

  He nodded slowly, his gaze darkening. “It was their idea after an ex-girlfriend tried to screw me over with some sordid sex stories that never happened.” Hesitating, he ran his fingers through his dense hair, reminding me that I had done the same thing just a few hours ago. “You’re different. I know you’re not sleeping with me because of my money.”

  “How do you know that?”

  He placed my hand onto his chest. Beneath his skin, his heart thumped fast and in unison with mine. “Because I feel it,” Jett said softly. “I always have. I wanted you right from the beginning, but you pushed me away, so I had to convince you. Otherwise you would never have given me a chance.”

  I smiled at the memories of the last two weeks. So much had happened. Never in my life did I imagine the arrogant guy I met at a bar would interest me on more than a sexual level. Someone I might fall for.

  “I want us but at the same time I’m scared because—” I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, gathering the courage to share with him my biggest fear.

  “It’s okay, baby.” His fingers brushed my cheek gently, settling right beneath my chin, where my pulse pumped hard and fast, matching the erratic speed of my changing emotions.

  My eyes met his warm gaze in which I found the courage I needed. “My parents were so deeply in love. They adored the ground beneath the other’s feet. When my father killed himself, my mother’s soul died with him.” I laughed to mask the choking sensation in my throat. “She turned into someone else, someone I didn’t recognize. I lost her the moment he died, and no matter what I tried, she never recovered. I don’t do relationships because I don’t want to love and lose myself.”

  “What happened to your family was a tragedy, but many people have loving relationships. You can’t rob yourself of that experience just because you’re scared of loss before you’ve even given it a try.”

  I could see his conviction in his eyes, hear it in his tone, and feel it in his gentle touch on my body. He believed the happily-ever-after story, and I couldn’t blame him for it, when he’d never experienced the ugliness of having one’s family torn apart, or seeing one’s sister falling for the wrong man only to end up dead.

  “You think I haven’t seen my fair share of shit happening?” Jett said.

  Clamping my mouth shut, I remained silent. No point in arguing with him. Of course he had. I never doubted that. It just wasn’t the same thing.

  Jett sat up and put a few inches between us, staring me down. Angry waves wafted from him, and I knew a revelation was imminent. “You know why I like to use my mother’s name? Because it’s one of the few things she gave me before she left us behind. You lost your dad, whereas I never really had a mother because she couldn’t stay sober. She blamed her addictions on my father’s work schedule and his unwillingness to lay off the secretaries, strippers, and every female who’d open her legs for him. In the end she finally had the guts to divorce him. She took half of his fortune and left me and my brother behind. I ended up doing some pretty bad shit, of which I’m not proud.”

  “I’m sorry, Jett. I didn’t know,” I whispered and reached to touch his shoulder. My fingers lingered on the Tribal tattoo I never asked about. Even in the bright light, it looked gloomy and mysterious. Frightening and dark. I wanted to know everything about his past and him as a person. And in that instant I understood that he had insisted learning about my past and previous relationships because he probably felt the same need to know.

  “Tell me more,” I whispered. “Please.”

  Jett’s jaw set, and his eyes turned into layers of ice. “She barely made the effort to write a card or call. As a kid, I thought it was my fault for not being good enough. It took me a while to understand my mother wasn’t just an alcoholic, she was a drug user. She loved us, but she loved her drugs more. She chose to be like that, which in some way is worse than tragedy. I tried to help her. We all did, but she pushed us away. I learned to live with it and made it my prerogative to turn into a different person. A person capable of love and trust and intimacy.” His hands cupped my face, his gaze boring into me, shaking my core. We had similar experienes in life. Maybe we weren’t so different after all. If my sister didn’t die, she might have gone on the same destructive path, like his mother. “Tragedy may hit all of us in one way or another, but fate’s not our enemy, Brooke. We are. By locking yourself away from the world, you choose your own mistakes and destroy any chance of ever finding happiness. You cannot control life, but you can choose who you are and what you make of it.”

  I could feel the truth in his words, and it spoke to me on an innermost level. Tears pricked the corner of my eyes, but I didn’t hide them.

  “I’m sorry for my outburst,” Jett said softly. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

  He kissed my forehead. His eyes were no longer clouded, as though he could leave the past
behind by just looking at me. He wanted to be with me. And I wanted to be with him. But was it too soon to let love happen?

  “Why do you want me?” I asked, suppressing the trembling of my voice. “I’m strange, definitely not perfect, and fucked up. Actually, a lot of the latter.”

  “Perfect is boring and overrated.” He smiled that lopsided grin of his that made my lower abdomen twist and curl with delicious desire. “I’m looking for sexy, fun, kind, and honest. And you tick all the right boxes, Brooke.” Compliments weren’t my thing, but for some inexplicable reason Jett’s words made me return the smile. “And then there’s the fact that we’re kindred spirits. You’re fucked up and I’m fucked up too, and that makes great dinner conversation.” He winked, as though he didn’t really mean that, but his expression remained serious.

  Maybe he was right and we both were far from perfect, even though he seemed pretty perfect to me. What mattered was that he had all the qualities I wanted in a man. “I like honesty, and you’re honest.”

  “Then let’s always be honest with one another,” Jett whispered. “I was disappointed so often in my life, I vowed to never trust anyone again…until you came along. You weren’t available emotionally. You weren’t talking relationships and building castles in the air. That’s sexy as hell. Men don’t like the emotional and the needy.”

  “I can be needy at times,” I whispered.

  “I don’t mind that, Brooke. Whatever happens, we’ll figure it out.” His eyes shimmered with anxious hope, as though he feared I might push him away.

  Us.

  I liked the sound of that.

  “Give me a chance to prove that I’m good for you,” Jett said.

  My fingertips brushed his chin and settled on his chest where I could feel his heart drumming to a frenzied beat, almost matching mine. This was it, the moment I decided to change my life around. Another first and, I hoped, one of many more to come.

  “I’d love to give us a try,” I said.

  His glorious lips curled into the most stunning smile I had ever seen, melting my heart. “I thought nothing would change your mind.”

  “What can I say, you’re a master of persuasion. In fact, you’re a guy with many talents.” Smiling, I pulled him on top of me and wrapped my legs around his waist, ready to demand that he put one of those talents to good use.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

  It was early afternoon when I finally managed to drag myself out of Jett’s steamy bed to text Sylvie I’d be back home in an hour, in case she had forgotten. Because my car was still parked at the airport, costing me a fortune, Jett offered to drive me. Since I wasn’t keen on Jett’s speeding through New York’s streets, I declined in favor of the subway, which didn’t bode well with him. In the end we decided to call a company car that would drive me home. I left my car keys with him because he insisted on getting someone to pick it up for me, and I even let him carry my luggage downstairs from his apartment while his driver was waiting.

  “You’ll text?” Shivering in the damp chill of a rainy afternoon, I bit my lip nervously. Playing the clingy girlfriend wasn’t like me, and yet I couldn’t help it. This was different. We were different.

  Jett touched my nose with the tip of his finger, his eyes shining with wry amusement. “Will it freak you out if I do so while you’re still in the car?”

  A warm, fuzzy explosion settled deep in my chest. “I’d love that.” He placed a gentle yet lingering kiss on my lips, and then held the door open for me.

  After spending two weeks together, it felt surreal to drive away from him. Jett was where I belonged. To my surprise, the sudden realization didn’t weigh me down; it made my heart beat faster, and soft flutters like those of hundreds of butterfly wings gathered somewhere in the pit of my stomach.

  It was the first time I’d ever ridden in a limo, and Jett’s driver made the journey even more memorable by pointing to a tiny refrigerator with snacks and champagne, which I politely declined. I wasn’t there to eat; I wanted to enjoy the view. And there was plenty to see.

  Sitting in the back seat of the plush limousine, I stared out the tinted windows at buzzing New York. The city was coming to life, and in some way I felt I was too. We had defined the relationship, and today was our first day as a couple. I was dating a hot, successful guy who was very much into me. For the first time in my life, I felt I wasn’t as plain as I always thought. We had decided to keep our relationship a secret for a few more days, until I settled into my job. We didn’t want people thinking I got the job because I was sleeping with the boss. Theoretically I was, but it hadn’t been my intention to sleep my way up the career ladder. I had sex with Jett because I was attracted to him. Jett hired me because he wanted me. It was lust at first sight.

  We had cancelled our contract after our midday romp, and I was finally free to reveal our status to Sylvie. In fact, Jett insisted on it, not telling me why. In my logic, it was a sign he wanted to enter my circle of friends and be introduced as my boyfriend. And I couldn’t wait for the whole world to know we were together.

  I arrived at our apartment shortly after three p.m. and opened the door with apprehension, unsure what to expect. My best friend could be one of two things: so elated to see me that she’d forget I sort of hid the truth from her, or pissed because I kept a secret for two weeks. As I opened the door, I certainly didn’t expect to see the whole neighborhood gathered in our living room, shouting ‘Surprise’ at the top of their lungs. How the hell did Sylvie manage to gather the whole clique, including people I didn’t even know, in such a short time? She must have planned it for days. And that’s when it dawned on me that Sylvie could be a third thing: in party mode.

  “Thanks, guys.” I put my suitcase down near the door and let a few of my friends envelop me in tight hugs, welcoming their congratulations on the new job. My gaze wandered across the room, sweeping over smiling, already intoxicated faces, and red drinking cups that littered our small living room. My attention fell on Sylvie who was squeezing her way toward me, her emotions clearly visible in her pouting lips and narrowed eyes.

  She was mad but also curious. Our phone conversation hadn’t been forgotten. Knowing her focus on being liked by everybody, I knew she wouldn’t go for drama with so many people around. But there’d be plenty of hissed reproaches and venomous looks.

  Taking a deep breath, I smiled.

  I could deal with that. A crouching tigress was better than a pouncing one.

  “Hey, you,” I said, grabbing her in a tight hug. “I missed you like crazy.”

  “Stewart, you’re so screwed.” Her blue eyes twinkled, but her pout remained in place.

  I made a point of unbuttoning my jacket in slow motion as I regarded her from under my lashes, teasing her with a wicked smile. “From that I gather you don’t want to hear the dirty?”

  “You’re killing me.”

  Laughing at her exaggerated eye roll, I grabbed a cup and took a sip of what tasted like Sylvie decided to empty an entire mini bar in there, and pulled her into a relatively quiet corner.

  “Your plane landed yesterday. Where the heck have you been?” Her eyes spat fire. “Do you realize I had to keep this party up all night and day? You owe me a fortune for the booze.”

  “I slept with him and now we’re together,” I blurted out, unable to contain the excitement in my voice.

  For some reason I expected her to ask who I was talking about, but Sylvie just inclined her head and kept silent for a few moments, the glint in her eyes not quite mirroring the excitement I felt.

  “At least he called,” was all she said.

  “What?” I said slowly, shaking my head in confusion. “At least who called?” What was she talking about?

  Waving her hand, she exhaled a long breath. “I told him I’d come after him with a pitchfork if he didn’t.”

  “Who?” I crossed my arms over my chest, my gaze scanning her cryptic expression. I really had no idea what she was talking about.

  “Who d
o you I think?” She rolled her eyes. “Jett, of course.”

  “You know his name?” Why did she know his name?

  “Of course I do.”

  “How?” It was a stupid question. Her raised eyebrow said it all. They had exchanged numbers on that fateful night before I woke up with him in my bed. Or maybe during their morning talk while I was taking a shower and preparing myself for work. Later, she had offered to tell me his name, but I thought she was bluffing. I didn’t like it. Not one bit. All heat drained from my cheeks as something else dawned on me.

  “You stayed in touch?” My voice sounded like a bird’s croak, all low and hoarse. The first wave of shock hit me hard. It wasn’t because my best friend had his number. I wasn’t that jealous and insecure. I just didn’t like people talking about me behind my back.

  “Did you talk while we were in Italy?” I asked, moistening my suddenly dry lips.

  Her lips pressed into a thin line. So they did, and she knew something. Maybe everything.

  As though sensing my annoyance, Sylvie opened her mouth to speak, and then closed it, only to open it a moment later. “Brooke, guys like him don’t do relationships. I don’t mind you dating him, but don’t get too involved emotionally.”

  “You don’t even know him,” I hissed.

  “Fair enough, I don’t know him that well but—” She trailed off. As though she couldn’t look at me, she buried her gaze in her cup, which gave me enough time to take in her demure dress reaching just below her knees, and the sweetheart neckline that barely revealed any skin. Maybe the fling with Ryan touched her more than I thought, and she couldn’t share my enthusiasm because she had lost faith in all men. If I were lied to, sacked, and disappointed, maybe I’d also start thinking men don’t do relationships. But I didn’t experience her heartbreak, and Jett was nothing like Ryan.

  I knew Sylvie meant me no harm; her emotional scars just hadn’t healed yet. I wrapped my arm around her and rubbed her back gently. “Oh, sweetie. Thanks for being such a good friend.”

 
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