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The lovers surrender no.., p.5
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       The Lover's Surrender (No Exceptions), p.5

           J. C. Reed
 
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  I wrapped the blanked tighter around me, as if it could protect me from the memories of my past. Memories that had haunted me for such a long time that, at some point, I had been sure they would stay with me forever.

  They had defined me.

  My body began to shake uncontrollably. Jett’s hand stroked my hand gently, his tenderness calming me.

  “You sure she was dead?” he asked.

  “Gina?”

  “Yes.”

  His question took me by surprise, but really, it wasn’t that unexpected.

  My gaze met his green eyes. A few weeks ago, his father had faked his own death, only to be found alive—until Nate shot him and sent him into a coma from which he hadn’t awakened. His father’s unpredictable condition haunted and anguished Jett, and I couldn’t blame him. Robert Mayfield was a potential witness. His statement could expose all the members of Nate’s club—if only he woke up.

  “She was dead, Jett,” I whispered, unable to stop the sarcasm creeping into my voice. “Dead as in dead. Is that what you want to hear? Gina’s eyes were half-open. There was a big gash wound on her neck. It looked pretty real to me. I don’t think you can fake that.” I choked on the words. “I don’t know why anyone would kill her.”

  “It’s okay,” he whispered. “If you want to, we can stop talking about it.”

  “No, it’s all right. I want to tell you. Need to tell you. Too much time has passed, too many secrets. I want things to be out in the open and for us to be honest with each other. I don’t want to ever get back to that place where we don’t talk.”

  His embrace tightened as his hand brushed my face.

  “I don’t want that either.” His beautiful green eyes carried that gentleness I loved about Jett. It was deep. Real. “Us not talking created barriers. I want you to know I never wanted that.”

  I propped up on my elbow and turned my body to face him fully. “Are you saying you’re sorry?”

  His smile was gone, replaced with anguish. “I’m saying I went too far. Yes, I made some stupid mistakes, and not being here when things happened was one of them. If I could change it all, I would in an instant.”

  Tears stung my eyes.

  His words were all I had wanted to hear in the past few days.

  “I wish I could change it all, too,” I mumbled too low for him to hear. A part of me didn’t want to break our moment. But if we didn’t get this over and done with, Jett would never know the kind of situation he was in.

  I closed my eyes, carefully phrasing my words in my head.

  “The other two pictures he showed me were of you, Jett,” I started. “One was from the night club where you picked me up. And the second one was taken in a coffee shop two weeks ago and showed you talking with a girl. Her name was Sarah Smith. She was murdered.”

  I let her name linger in the air. I didn’t even know why I had added the last piece of information. Maybe out of hope that the name would trigger something in his mind, but it didn’t.

  Jett remained awfully quiet. But I knew he was processing the information from the way his jaw muscles seemed to work, rhythmically clenching and unclenching.

  “Jett?” I prompted, touching his arm. “Do you know someone by that name?”

  He shook his head slowly, showing that he was listening.

  “Sarah Smith.” He frowned. “Should I know her from somewhere?” It sounded like a question addressed to himself rather than to me.

  I cocked my head, assessing him in thought.

  “The picture was taken in a coffee shop two weeks ago,” I repeated in case he missed it. “You were talking to her. I don’t know what you were talking about, but surely you remember. I mean, it wasn’t that long ago. Maybe if you think real hard, it’ll come to you.”

  “What did she look like?”

  I shrugged. “Blond bob, very young. Her age wasn’t clear from the picture. I’d say eighteen, twenty tops. She was wearing a black cuff bracelet around her wrist and her clothes were dark: fishnet stockings, short black skirt.”

  He shook his head again, and then his eyes grew hazy as recognition dawned on him. His hand rubbed at his unshaved skin.

  My breath hitched in my throat.

  “You remember her,” I whispered slowly.

  It wasn’t a question.

  It was a fact.

  “You said dark? Like a goth?” Absentmindedly, he picked a curl of my hair and wrapped it around his finger, hesitating. His jaw was clenched, his lips tight. “There was this girl with black cuffs and rhinestones, yes. I remember waiting for my order when she approached me.”

  My heart skipped a beat and blood rushed to my ears. I held my breath as I stared at his face, waiting for him to continue.

  It was her.

  Jett had met her.

  I knew it.

  “I don’t remember her face, how she looked or anything like that, so I’m not sure I’d recognize her again if she wore different clothes,” Jett continued, his voice growing quiet. “But I remember thinking that she was too young.”

  “How so?”

  “She said she was a musician trying to make it big. She told me she was sixteen and sleeping on the couch at her friend’s place. She asked me if I wanted to buy a copy of her music because she had no money.” He looked at me with a strange glint in his eyes, as though he was trying to convey a certain meaning that he wanted me to understand. “I gave her some cash and told her to go back home to her parents. That they were probably worried about her.”

  I continued to stare at him, unsure of what to think.

  “She was a runaway?” I asked at last.

  He nodded. “She gave me a copy. I think I still have it back at the office.” He remained silent for a moment. “But I didn’t know her, Brooke,” Jett whispered. “Not personally. Just as I didn’t know your friend Gina. You have to believe me.”

  He looked so sincere. It felt good to believe him.

  I found his hand, and we intertwined our fingers again. “I believe you.” I looked at him, smiling, and found myself whispering the same words he spoke earlier. “I believe you, without a single doubt.”

  For a few minutes, we stared at each other, the silence soothing, and then his expression changed to serious again.

  “Brooke, if I remember correctly, I met that girl more than two months ago, maybe at the beginning of September. It definitely wasn’t two weeks ago, like the detective claimed.”

  “Two months?” My eyes widened. “You’re saying the detective—or whoever he is—lied about that, too?”

  He nodded. “Like with the car.”

  My heart thumped in my chest so hard I was sure it would jump out from fear. Not from Jett, but from what the situation meant. I didn’t know what to think or say. All I knew was that the man had pictures of Jett, and that two girls were dead.

  “Did you give him your real name, Brooke?” Jett asked.

  “No, I didn’t.” I wet my lips in thought as new memories invaded my mind. “I couldn’t. When I started the job, I gave them my sister’s name and our old address, where we used to live. It seemed reasonable at that time, and at some point I regretted it, but now I’m glad I kept my true identity to myself.”

  Another cold shudder ran through me. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “What’s so strange is that Gina had two dots painted on her. I thought it might be connected to the poem. You know, the one I told you about.”

  “Can I see it?”

  “I left it at the apartment,” I whispered. “I thought there was no need to bring it with me.”

  “Because you thought it was from me.”

  I didn’t reply, didn’t even dare look at him, but I sensed that Jett didn’t need my confession.

  It was the truth—one I couldn’t admit.

  Wrapping the blanket around me, I got up. Jett followed instantly. His hand clasped around my shoulder, forcing me to turn around, his eyes searching mine.

  “I would never break into your apartmen
t at night, and most certainly not to leave a letter, Brooke. Why didn’t you call me?” His voice was soft, gentle, pretty much the opposite of when he was angry.

  “I couldn’t.”

  “Why not?” He grabbed my hand and gently pulled me to him. “I thought I’d made myself clear enough. I’ll always be here for you.”

  “I know you said it, but…” I paused, hesitating as I prepared my words carefully. “I didn’t believe it. You were keeping too many secrets. And—” I shrugged, as though it didn’t matter, when, in fact, his secrecy had made all the difference.

  “And what?” His hand touched my chin, raising it so our eyes connected again, the gentleness of his gesture making my heart pound harder. “What, Brooke?”

  I drew a long breath and held it for a moment before letting it out. “When we were on the phone last night, I heard her voice.”

  I couldn’t even say her name. Seeing Jett with Tiffany had broken me to such an extent that even speaking her name, or thinking about her, was like taking a stake and piercing it through my heart.

  “Is that what you think happened?” He stared at me, his gaze hard. “That Tiffany stayed over at my place?”

  “What else was I to assume? It was late. She had booked a hotel. You met her behind my back. Of course I thought you were with her and that I was interrupting.” I couldn’t help the bitterness seeping into my voice.

  “Brooke.” His fingers brushed over my cheekbones, gently forcing me to look into his eyes. “I don’t care about anyone but you. I’m not with Tiffany. I don’t fuck her. We’re friends. Okay? There’s nothing going on. And there never will be. What happened between her and me is long over. And she knows it.”

  “Why should I believe you?” There was no accusation in my voice. Just pure calmness. All the anger was gone, leaving behind acceptance. If he was dating Tiffany, I had simply no other choice but to accept it. I had gone through all the usual stages of grief—breaking up with Jett had been like losing him—and finally made my peace with it.

  “Because nothing happened,” Jett said, his tone firm and quiet. “I visited her in the hospital. That’s why. If you don’t believe me, ask Brian where I was. He was standing right next to us when I answered your call in her room.”

  I stared at him, his words echoing in my head.

  “Why is she in the hospital?” I asked quietly.

  I wasn’t curious.

  Far from it.

  But Brian’s words haunted me. He had said nothing about Tiffany being hurt. Was that another plan of hers to get Jett’s attention?

  “She had a relapse,” Jett explained. “We found her comatose on the hotel floor.”

  “We?”

  “Kenny and I.”

  My gaze dropped to the floor. I tried to fight it, but guilt consumed me.

  All this time, I had drawn the wrong conclusion. While Tiffany was in the hospital, I had wished her bad things because I was under the impression she was the root of our problems. I wasn’t supposed to feel pity for her. I wasn’t supposed to worry, because she didn’t deserve it. But now I felt all those things. It made no sense.

  “Is she okay?” I asked.

  “She will be.”

  “I’m sorry,” I whispered.

  “She brought it on herself.”

  As he stepped closer, he touched the small of my back. With his free hand, he softly cupped my chin.

  “Before you get the next wrong idea about me, let me make one thing clear. I don’t really have secrets, Brooke. Okay? I didn’t kill Gina. I didn’t meet with Tiffany to fuck her.” He looked at me, daring me to challenge him. “I don’t lie, and I did none of the things you accused me of. And this is the truth. The one thing I regret is that I wasn’t with you the whole time and that I withheld information I maybe should have shared with you.”

  I opened my mouth to interrupt him, when he pressed a finger against my lips, signaling me to let him finish. “I should have shared the information that I know I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Or that I love you. Or that if there’s something that could risk your life or the safety of our child, I would never take that risk.”

  His words lingered in the air as he continued to gaze at me, his electrifying green eyes warming my heart and penetrating my soul.

  Something passed between us.

  Love.

  Chemistry.

  A spark so strong I could almost feel it in the air.

  Those three things I thought I had lost.

  “Look, Brooke,” he continued. “Everything I do, I do for you. For the both of us. All my life I was taught to fight and conquer, never to show weakness, but it was you who taught me to love and surrender, who put in me the fear that I could lose you, who made me treasure what we have. Not Tiffany. Not my past. You.”

  He pointed his finger at me. “You made me fall in love for the first time and helped me realize that I want to keep our relationship at all costs. That I would protect you…and our baby. Sacrifice everything to keep you by my side.”

  His words made me listen up. There was the slightest hint of fear in his voice. And something else.

  I frowned.

  What was he afraid of?

  Why was his voice shaking?

  Why had Jett felt the need to withhold information from me?

  As I scanned his expression, something dawned on me.

  “You were keeping things from me to protect me, weren’t you? That’s why you couldn’t tell me.”

  “Brooke.” He took a deep breath. I watched him close his eyes. It was only when he kept them closed, drawing another long breath, that I grasped something was wrong. That he’d possibly withheld more information than I initially thought.

  “There are reasons why I couldn’t tell you about Nate,” Jett said eventually. “It concerns your pregnancy.”

  My heart lurched in my chest.

  “My pregnancy?” I asked. “What are you talking about?”

  He opened his eyes, fear reflecting in his impossibly green gaze.

  I shrank back from it. My arms went around my belly, as if they could protect me from whatever he was about to tell me.

  “What’s so terrible that you can’t tell me?”

  He sighed again, taking his time to reply. When he finally stirred, the room was quiet.

  Too quiet.

  “Please, sit.” He motioned his hand toward the sofa.

  “Just say it.” I crossed my arms over my chest, not moving from the spot.

  Gazing at him, my whole body tensed. “If you don’t say it, I swear I’m going to walk out and never come back. I’ve had enough of your reticence at the most unfortunate moments. I can’t take it anymore.”

  Jett’s shoulders dropped. He looked so miserable, I instantly regretted my words—only they were the truth.

  I needed him to open up to me. Preferably before the baby was born, because I knew there would be much more to deal with and talk about in the future.

  “I thought I could keep it from you, but it’s not possible. Kenny, Brian, they’re all right. You have to know it.” He stared at me pleadingly.

  Pleadingly—for the life of me, I couldn’t imagine why.

  What was so terrible he couldn’t tell me?

  “Jett?” I touched his arm. “Tell me. I promise, whatever it is, I won’t be mad. I’ll understand.”

  He sighed again, avoiding my scrutiny. When he finally looked at me again, his eyes meeting mine, I knew I had won.

  “When we found you, rescued you from your captors, you were in a bad condition. Sam ran some tests. That was when he discovered you had a condition.”

  I was too shocked to process the meaning of his words.

  Sam was Dr. Barn, my obstetrician.

  “He said that you mustn’t under any circumstances face any more stress. That it could endanger your and our baby’s life. When he explained that your condition was linked with life-threatening complications, I made the decision, to keep you out of everything
and anything.”

  I stared at him, taking in his words. “Are you saying I’m sick?”

  He shook his head. “Not sick. No.”

  My ears were ringing, my breath came in short rasps.

  “What’s my condition?” I asked.

  It felt like a disease. Something really bad or even disgusting.

  Something that would definitely eat away at my peace of mind.

  What was so bad that he couldn’t tell me?

  “It’s a severe form of PE.” He looked at me in concern, and my eyes widened.

  “Preeclampsia?” I stared at him in shock. I had heard of the condition, but I never thought it would affect me. “But I’m only a few weeks pregnant, not twenty. I’m not overweight. I don’t suffer from diabetes. How is that even possible? Maybe Sam’s wrong.”

  “You have a rare form that affects your red blood cells and kidneys,” Jett said slowly, letting the words sink in. “So now you know why I didn’t tell you about Nate. I didn’t want to upset you and risk raising your blood pressure. I know it was a mistake, but I had no choice. There was, simply put, no other option but to keep some things to myself. I thought it made perfect sense.”

  My throat constricted.

  “Oh God. My baby is…” I choked on my voice.

  “Fine.” He pressed my face against his chest, the gesture surprisingly soothing. “The baby’s fine. Don’t worry about that.”

  “Why would you keep something so grave from me?” I hid my face against his chest, unable to stop the fear washing over me, his words lingering at the edge of my perception, but not quite reaching my mind.

  “To protect you,” he whispered. “That’s why I followed you and had your phone tracked. I couldn’t risk something happening to you. I thought by staying away and telling you nothing, I could keep you calm and safe, but it didn’t work. You drew false conclusions and distanced yourself from me. You went out and got drunk.”

  A drink that was spiked.

  He didn’t know that part yet.

  It was too much.

  Tears started to run down my face, and, at the worst of times, I felt nauseous. My head was spinning. My heart was racing. My fingers started to tremble.

  I pushed him away as I stepped aside.

  Damn my hormones!

 
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