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The lovers promise, p.6
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       The Lover's Promise, p.6

           J. C. Reed
 
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  “She called me a murderer and a cheater. How’s that for starters?”

  Kenny blinked. “Whoa. Why would she say that?”

  I shook my head slowly as I leaned back, taking a deep breath. “No fucking clue. I wish I could read what goes through a pregnant woman’s head, but the ability would probably be useless on Brooke.”

  “You sure you don’t know?”

  “Are you implying that I’m lying?” I asked, ready to punch him in the face even though he was right. Or maybe because he was right. “Of course I fucking know, Kenny. She thinks I’m helping Nate. As for the cheating part, well—” I shrugged “—Ti kissed me and Brooke saw all of it.”

  The short silence lasted for all of two seconds.

  “Brian’s girl?” Kenny asked in disbelief, almost falling off the sofa.

  “No, Tiffany from the weather show,” I growled. “Yes, Ti. Who else?”

  “Get out!” Kenny burst out in laughter, but the unnerving sound died in his throat when he saw my serious expression. “No, shit. You’re serious!”

  “I’ve never been more serious in my life.” I turned my attention back to the bottle in my hand, realizing it was empty. With a sigh, I pushed it across the table, away from me, and leaned back, running a hand through my hair, desperation washing over me again.

  “Did you—”

  I pulled a face. “Fuck no.” I stared at him, disgusted that he’d even consider I’d ever fuck my ex. “I would never do that to Brooke.”

  Kenny got up, his back turned to me as he grabbed two bottles of beer and passed me one. I took it out of his outstretched hand, but didn’t open it. We sat in silence for a few moments, holding the drinks in our hands.

  “Does he know?” Kenny sounded worried, and rightly so. Brian was as protective of his woman as I was of Brooke. He had been with Tiffany before she had been with me. Ti was the woman he once wanted to marry.

  I set my jaw and shook my head grimly. “No, but I’ll tell him.” I met his gaze. He looked at me like I had just told him I had a rat for dinner. Eventually his frown deepened.

  “I’m not sure that’s a good idea, bro.”

  “It probably isn’t, but I’d never keep this kind of secret from him,” I said. “Trust me, I like it as much as you do, but he needs to know that nothing’s going on between me and Tiffany. If I don’t tell him and he finds out…”

  “All hell breaks loose. I know,” Kenny cut in.

  There was an unwritten rule in the gang: never fucking mess with Brian. Short-tempered as he was, he loved to fight at every opportunity. Some said he was bipolar, others said it was his Irish blood that made him hot-tempered. Whatever the reason for his regular outbursts, people knew better than to challenge him.

  “When did you see her?” Kenny asked, jerking me out of my thoughts.

  “A few hours before the proposal,” I said. “I can’t blame Brooke that she’s angry. She saw Tiffany kissing me and probably thought it was the other way around.”

  “And it wasn’t?” Kenny asked incredulously. Given my reputation, I wasn’t surprised.

  “I swear I had no idea that she’s still into me. If I had known, I would never have asked her to bring the ring to the hotel.” I moistened my lips, ignoring the throbbing sensation in my temples. “No idea what the fuck’s going on with Ti. I thought she was happy being back with Brian.”

  Kenny shrugged. “It doesn’t really surprise me. She is an alcoholic.”

  “Recovering alcoholic—” I corrected “—who hasn’t touched a drop in seven years.”

  Kenny stared at me. Something crossed his features.

  “What?” I asked, raising my brows.

  “You don’t know?” he asked and his expression darkened.

  “Know what?”

  Kenny’s hesitation whether to tell me shimmered in his blue eyes. He had never liked Tiffany. The two of them were at each other’s throat most of the time, but he wasn’t the gossipy type.

  “She crashed five times during the last seven years, not including the one crash she had earlier this year,” he finally said.

  I stared at him, taking in his words. Finally, I sucked in my breath. “Shit. I had no idea.”

  “It’s not your fault.”

  “I wish I had known.” I looked at him, suddenly feeling faint. “We met at the bar, you know? She chose the place because she was fine with it. She claimed she hadn’t touched a drop in years, and I believed her.”

  “Obviously, she lied,” Kenny said. “She’s the most unstable person anyone can ever meet.”

  I turned my gaze to peer out of the window, lost in thoughts. Tiffany was still in love with me. When I returned, she might have harbored the hope that we’d end up together. If my rejection hurt and alcohol was served somewhere nearby, there was a huge chance that she’d let her demons out.

  “Fuck.” I turned back to Kenny. “Fuck! She booked a hotel room, and I told her that I didn’t care for her. I said some horrible shit, and now she might be shacked up alone, drinking herself into a stupor.”

  “Not necessarily.” Kenny didn’t sound convinced.

  “Have you seen her around?”

  “No,” Kenny admitted hesitantly.

  “When did you say was her last relapse?”

  “Sometime in April, I guess. We found her passed out in the basement, next to a pile of pills and booze.” Kenny shrugged as he racked his mind.

  “That’s around the time she gave up her son for adoption,” I whispered.

  “Yeah, possibly.” He stared at me as the meaning of my words hit home. “It was definitely before you returned. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s probably nothing to do with you.”

  “Does Brian know about the relapse?”

  “Yeah. Everyone does.”

  “Except me,” I whispered.

  “You were gone too long, man. Much has happened in those four years.”

  I nodded silently. He was right. In the fours years I had been out of touch with most of my old friends, I had built a career in real estate, made a name for myself and turned in a huge fortune.

  And then came Brooke.

  “What about her treatments?” I asked, pushing her name to the back of my mind.

  Kenny raised his eyebrows, and snorted. “Over the past years, she’s tried anything, including weekly AA meetings, and she still crashed.” He paused, considering his words. “She ran through a designer rehab clinic that cost Brian hundreds of bucks an hour, and she still crashed. Every time she wanted to get better, she did. She worked hard, and stayed sober for a while. She would keep away from the old neighborhood, the usual bars she frequented, she’d help other alcoholics, and it always seemed like she was doing better. And then bam… after a few months, maybe a year, the first crack would emerge somewhere, and the slide would begin again, only each time it was worse than the last.” He sighed. “Brian thinks there’s a cure for alcoholism, that she’ll wake up cured one day, but I swear it’s getting worse.”

  “It doesn’t’ matter now.” I jumped up and grabbed my keys from the table.

  “Where are you going?” Kenny said, pushing his laptop aside.

  “The Trio hotel. We need to find her.”

  “What if she’s not there and you’re wasting your time?”

  “Then she’s not there and we’ll look elsewhere,” I said. “What choice do I have? If something happens to her, I’ll be held responsible.” I looked at him. “Brian would try to kill me. That wouldn’t worry me because I could easily beat the living shit out of him. However, the last thing I’d want is for him to go after the ones who are close to me, and that would be Brooke.”

  BROOKE

  Present Day

  I woke up, gasping for air, my eyes scanning my surroundings in distress. My heart hammered so hard that I feared anytime now I might have a heart attack. I scanned my hands and then the floor. All was clean. No sign of a knife. No sign of any sort of struggle. No sign of Jett. A glance at the clock showed m
e it was shortly before 4 a.m. The sky outside the window was still dark.

  It was a dream.

  Except the dream had felt horribly real. Another shudder ran through my body as I remembered the pain written on Jett’s beautiful face, the shock in his voice, the red, vivid blood on his skin, and the stone cold feeling of the knife in my hand. But most of all, I remembered the heavy sadness I felt as I saw him lying on the floor in pain, and the realization that nothing could be done to save him.

  A stray tear trickled down my cheek. I wiped it away angrily. My limbs shook as I hugged myself for support, conjuring up memories of affirmations I had read earlier.

  Breathe in. Breathe out. My baby is safe. I’m safe. Nothing had happened.

  It was official. Jett was not only haunting my dreams; the fears he had ignited in me were now playing sick games in my mind. I thought I hated him. But did I hate him enough to want to kill him subconsciously?

  I couldn’t even claim that it had been self-defense or an accident. One minute he had been speaking to me, the next he was bleeding, pointing to the knife in my hand—as if I was capable of murdering him. The mere thought of me being a killer was insane, as was the idea that I might have somehow given him a key. I had never offered Jett one, and he had never asked for it.

  The signs had to be metaphorical.

  In my dreams, I might be the monster, seeking revenge on Jett by stabbing him for the way he had pierced my heart when he hooked up with Tiffany. However, I knew I would never go that far in real life. Sylvie once said that dreams were messages of the subconscious mind. Waking up from my dream made me realize how much I wanted to see him and how much I longed for his touch. Even though my mind refused to give in, my broken heart longed to forgive him, to ascertain he was okay. I knew then that I truly loved him. Loved him enough that, even though he had broken my heart, I’d never want to do the same to him.

  Reality will catch up soon enough.

  My body began to tremble again as it remembered his mysterious words in my dream. I had no idea what they meant and I was sick of pondering over a dream. Time to get a prescription for sleeping pills that would help me fall into a dreamless state because I had more pressing issues to think about. Like the fact that a killer was still out there. Or that I had no clue who killed Gina, and I sure had no idea what the future would bring now that Jett and I were separated, and he was a suspect in a murder case.

  Wrapping my bathrobe tighter around my body to help stave off the cold, I decided to make myself another cup of tea. There was no point in going back to bed. I was tired but I doubted I could close my eyes and ignore the vivid images inside my head. With my laptop tucked under my arm, I headed for the tiny kitchen. It was eerily silent as I brewed the tea and slumped down on a seat. Scanning through my emails while sipping my tea, I grew more impatient by the minute. Where the heck was Sylvie? I needed her. She was the only person who always knew how to make me feel better. She always knew the right thing to say. She could help me clear my mind about Gina and Jett. For once I wanted to forget the dreadful events and banish the memory of her dead face. Blind date or not, Sylvie never stayed away that long, at least not without texting me to say that she was okay. That had been part of our arrangement when we moved in together. After repeated fruitless attempts to reach her and sending her three texts, urging her to get in touch with me, I threw the phone on the kitchen counter, frustrated.

  Maybe her battery was dead and she was on her way home.

  Maybe she lost her phone and was filing a missing item report that instant, which was why she was so late.

  They were all reasonable explanations—all unfortunate accidents that could happen to anyone, anytime. Now, if only I could believe them.

  Watching the clock above the door while I chewed on my thumb—an old habit I had acquired during college—I counted the seconds.

  At fifty-five I stopped.

  Time just passed too slowly for my nerves. At that rate I was going I’d end up driving myself crazy. Sighing, I grabbed the empty tea mug to return it to the sink and wash the dirty dishes of last night’s dinner when I thought I heard a noise. I froze in my tracks, my ears straining to listen for more sounds. Something shuffled loudly, followed by a jiggle, this time so clear the blood froze in my veins.

  My gaze swept across the room, toward the hall.

  The sounds were coming from the front door.

  My heart hammered hard as my imagination began to run wild. Two days ago, I would have gladly assumed it was Sylvie. This time, though, I wasn’t going to make such a mistake. If it had been Sylvie, I would have heard her key ring, the loudest noisemaker I had always made fun of. My breathing came hard and fast as I waited for the usual clanking.

  It never came.

  Seconds passed but nothing happened, yet I was sure someone had fiddled with the door handle. Alarm bells began to ring in my ear, and my heart lurched in my chest at the thought of a possible break-in. I stood slowly, my fingers clasping around a pair of scissors. If someone entered by force, I’d use the sharp end to poke their eye out before running back to grab a knife, and then call the police. After what happened to Gina and with Nate being out of prison, I couldn’t be careful enough.

  Slowly and as quietly as possible, I crossed the dark hall and tiptoed to the door, then stopped in front of it. Too bad we didn’t have a spyhole. However, through the slit below the door, I could see that the corridor lights were switched on. Someone was out there, but nothing moved. Was it possible that a drunken neighbor got the wrong apartment?

  I eyed the door, daring myself to go and duck on the floor to look through the slit, and maybe find out what shoes they were wearing. You could tell a lot from the shoes people were wearing. I knew for a fact that our landlord always wore dirty, yellow sneakers, which were as cheap as the guy. If Nate were outside, I’d probably spy soft, expensive leather. Inching closer, I steadied myself, ready to press my ear against the door to listen, when the space below the door darkened.

  My breath caught in my throat.

  Someone was there—right that very instant. There was no doubt about that now. And that someone was clearly not Sylvie. Nor a neighbor. I was sure of that because no neighbor I knew had that kind of heavy breathing bordering on creepy.

  Only inches separated me from the person outside and if I could hear him, I wondered, could he hear me, too? Suddenly our door felt too thin, too delicate—too weak to offer any kind of protection. Holding my breath, I turned my head to the kitchen, contemplating how long it would take me to grab my phone and call the police to alarm them of a possible intruder, when suddenly there was another sound. A sound so scary that it made my blood freeze. It was the one of a key being pushed into a lock.

  Holy shit!

  Holy. Shit.

  I stared at the door, ready to faint out of sheer fear. The jiggling sound wasn’t someone picking a lock. It wasn’t a mix-up. Someone had the intention to enter using a key!

  Oh God!

  Just like Jett had in my dream, except I had never given him one.

  Time was running out. I had to stop them from entering before it was too late. My eyes fell on the dresser. It was so small I doubted it would cover the entire door, but it had to do. With a sudden fervor I had never felt before and not caring if they heard me, I grabbed a hold of the wooden panels and, as hard as I could, I pushed it across the floor. My bag fell at my feet, the contents scattering in all directions. I stepped on a makeup brush as I pressed my back against the dresser. It was now the only barrier, my safety wall.

  My whole body trembled and my legs threatened to give way beneath me. Every muscle in my body tensed, readying me to throw myself against the door if need be.

  As I stood there, straining to listen, legs apart, back tense, rivulets of sweat began to trickle down my back. Seconds passed and nothing happened. I eyed the slit below my feet, watching the shadow’s movement, too scared to dash for the kitchen and call the police, too afraid to turn my back on
the door in case whoever was out there kicked it in. Taking shallow breaths, I waited for the dreadful turn of the key, the push of the handle that would swing the door open.

  It never came.

  In my mind, I could imagine them listening for any sounds—just like I was. I just hoped it wasn’t the people I had once escaped. I survived before; would I survive a second time? I wasn’t so such luck would be on my side this time. As much as I wanted to scream and call for help, I knew there would be no point. I lived in a neighborhood where people barricaded themselves inside, each of them minding their own business to ensure nothing bad happened to them. I was on my own.

  I wished I had grabbed something sharper, something bigger, something more solid than the pair of scissors I was holding in my hand, which wasn’t much of a weapon. Maybe I could defend myself, but probably not without the baby getting hurt. Every part of my body screamed to get away and hide, but I doubted that hiding in our tiny matchbox apartment with all that clutter would give me much of a chance. Where could I possibly hide? Under the sink? In Sylvie’s cramped closet? Nothing was large enough to hide a pregnant woman. And even if I came up with a good hiding place, my legs wouldn’t follow my brain’s command.

  In the midst of the situation, I thought of Jett.

  If Jett had been here, he could have protected me.

  Unless he’s a killer and siding with his crazy brother, set out to kill you.

  A hard knock echoed through the room, disrupting the silence and my trail of thoughts. The four consecutive knocks came with such a force that the door vibrated in its hinges. I pressed my hand against my mouth to stifle the whimpering at the back of my throat. Sylvie would never knock like a maniac, like she was about to kick in the door with something heavy. A tool, maybe. I could only hope it wasn’t a gun and whoever was out there was about to shoot through the door. I didn’t like that thought. I didn’t like that someone was standing outside, banging on our door in the middle of the night, and it might just give in any second.

  Please dear Lord, keep me safe.

 
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