The Lover's Secret, p.8J. C. Reed
“Can you not send John?” I asked, referring to his new assistant, a guy who had worked in the field for years. “Surely he can take care of this. You don’t have to do everything yourself, you know.” I smiled, even though it wasn’t a joke. Jett had the tendency to want to take care of every detail, no matter how trivial.
“I’m afraid not.”
I raised my brows. “Why not?”
“He’s getting married.” Jett smirked. “Which is foolish of him, if you ask me, because it’s going to ruin his career. In my opinion, no one should get married, not until they’ve been dating for at least five years. It takes that long to get to know somebody. I have no idea why he’s doing it. It’s, simply put, a stupid move.”
Got the point, loud and clear.
My heart gave an almighty thud as I stared at him.
No marriage, then.
I didn’t know what was worse: that my hopes of getting married anytime soon were completely unrealistic or that I had thought that Jett was different from the rest of the male population.
Apparently not so much.
“Oh.” I bit my lip hard as I considered my options. The weekend was ruined anyway, so I figured I might as well get back to work myself. “Do you want me to come along and help you? We could be done in no time.”
He shook his head slowly and looked up. “That’s not necessary, baby. Besides, this has all been paid for. You may as well stay here. I’d rather you enjoy yourself and check out whenever you’re ready. Stay another day. You’ve worked too much lately and need to rest.”
And by that he meant our unborn child needed to rest. For some reason, I couldn’t stop more disappointment washing over me. It wasn’t at all what I had hoped to hear. Spending a day in a luxury hotel and making use of all its amenities sounded delightful, but it wasn’t the same without Jett or without being engaged. This day was supposed to be ours. Our time. Not mine alone, coupled with a strong feeling that I was single.
“How long will you be gone?” I couldn’t help but ask.
“I don’t know.” Jett retrieved his phone from his jacket and began texting furiously. His face didn’t change as he checked his messages.
I expected to be relieved, but the relief never came. Everything had started out so well, and now we were back to square one—the usual lack of conversation whenever Jett was in work mode. I could have that with the hotel personnel, or with any other person out there.
I pointed at the tray with food. “So I guess you’re not having breakfast with me before you go.”
“Brooke…” Sensing my irritation, Jett inched closer and cupped my face. “I know it’s not ideal, and trust me when I tell you I feel like a jerk. But this is important.” He lifted my chin until his green gaze met mine. “I promise I’ll make up for lost time when I get back.”
Knowing that any arguing would be pointless, I simply nodded.
“Great,” I said, trying to keep my voice strong. “Don’t worry about me. I’m sure I can find lots of ways to keep myself busy around here.” I had no idea what came over me to make me sound so bitchy. Maybe it was the fact that life kept him so busy, and I missed that kind of independence and freedom—the feeling of being needed and wanted. Of being able to dive right into my work without being held back by a relationship or the promise of not letting anything get in the way of a romantic weekend.
“Thanks,” Jett said and left, seemingly distracted. I sighed and turned around to look out the high bay windows, admiring the stunning view. It was only then that I glimpsed my phone on the piano.
It must have been sitting on the lacquered surface all along, even though I couldn’t remember leaving it there. I grabbed it and slumped onto the sofa to check my calls. Still nothing from the legal firm, which was understandable. Companies as large as Wighton & Harley needed time to reply. I’d just have to be patient until they got back to me.
Meanwhile, I began to flick through my text messages. The last one was from Sylvie. I became awfully aware that I had been neglecting my best friend ever since I had begun dating Jett. We never had daily coffee meetings or afternoon shopping excursions anymore. The thought that I had put Sylvie on the back burner for Jett made me feel guilty. Sure, relationships required a constant input of work and attention, but so did friendships. At the moment, Sylvie was about the only person, who knew how to turn a gray, cloudy day into bright sunshine.
Sitting up, I began to text, ready to make up for lost time.
It was a done deal. After a few text messages, I managed to persuade my best friend to take a break from work and meet me at a bistro near Central Park: my suggestion, my plan.
When Jett left after a hurried and awkward breakfast, I took a quick shower and returned to the forgotten suitcases in the hall, the ones we hadn’t yet had a chance to unpack. As I tried to open mine, I realized it was locked, and the key was nowhere to be found in my handbag.
Had I absent-mindedly left it at home? Lost it on the way here? I stared at my suitcase in shock as realization slowly dawned on me: my clothes were in there. Without them, I had little choice but to go either naked or dressed like a stripper.
Think, Stewart. Wear yesterday’s clothes and walk around in a tight dress in the middle of a day?
It wasn’t just the strange looks I was worried about, but Sylvie’s huge dose of sarcasm and several rounds of ridiculous interrogations.
I was in no mood to have to explain Jett’s kinky attempts at keeping the spark alive in our relationship. And especially not, when Sylvie was as curious as a cat.
I checked the time. If I hurried, I could make it to Jett’s apartment and back on time before my coffee date with Sylvie…sort of. I figured I might just be a tiny bit late. An hour at the most. Or I could just keep the meeting brief and pretend I didn’t want to take off my coat. Or that I dressed like this every day now.
Why the heck do you even need to explain, Stewart?
Sylvie wasn’t one to judge. If anything, she would probably applaud me for embracing what she would call my “inner sexy lioness.”
With a nervous smile, I shrugged back into my tight dress and coat. A last glance in the huge mirror of the elevator and one more brief attempt to arrange the soft, brown ringlets of my dark hair into a half-decent twist, and I walked out.
Either it was the half-empty lobby or the fact that my initial excitement had somewhat dampened a bit, but something felt different. Unsure what it was, my glance swept over the creamy marble floors and the water fountain in the middle of the hall, and came to rest on the man standing in the exact same spot as before, a newspaper still clasped in his hand.
I swallowed past the lump in my throat.
Just as before, his hair was combed to one side in a sleek, flawless style, as if he felt a need to convey an appearance of perfection. He was dressed in a business suit that had seen better days. On closer inspection, I noticed it was actually the same business suit he’d been wearing earlier—blue with stripes, a loose-hanging cut, as if it was a couple of sizes too big for him. He was alone this time, and there was no sight of the woman who had accompanied him on the previous occasion.
Forcing my legs to take measured steps forward, I hurried to the door, my heart beating hard for no particular reason.
My reaction made no sense because I didn’t know this man. And yet the mere sight of him—that particular memory of the way he had looked at me the day and night before in the elevator—was enough to send a chill down my spine.
But it didn’t matter. As I passed him by, he remained engrossed in the article he was reading and didn’t look up. He didn’t even react when an elderly woman entered, obnoxiously dressed in furs, carrying a mini-schnauzer in her large bag. Even when the yappy little dog let out an ear-piercing bark, the man did not flinch.
I, on the other hand, jumped, suddenly aware of the squeaky canine and the way the noise seemed to carry, lingering in the air.
Ignoring my own advice, I peered around me in a panic. People turned their heads to glare in the woman’s direction. Everyone seemed on alert, disturbed by the sound, and several seemed annoyed that the woman could not control her pet—everyone but the mysterious guy with the newspaper. He was the only one who wasn’t unnerved by it.
I stared at him and frowned.
He didn’t seem the least bit perturbed by the woman or her dog. He just continued reading, entirely unaffected or perhaps unaware. His unnatural focus irked me and raised my suspicion.
My pulse spiked, and my heart began to slam just a bit harder against my rib cage.
Calm down. It’s just an irrational reaction in a harmless situation.
My therapist had once declared that I had the unnerving tendency to feel things that weren’t there, things that didn’t even exist. “That’s just your anxiety talking,” he had said, “and those irrational fears will create doubt.” It was one of the reasons why I couldn’t trust people. Still, the knowledge didn’t stop the unease wreaking havoc inside me.
Wrapping the coat tighter around my waist, I dashed out the door and headed for the small bistro at the end of the street, ignoring the curious glances cast my way. No one seemed to be running, and the fact that I was probably made me look like a fugitive on the run in this part of New York City.
It was barely eleven a.m., and although the autumn air had filled with a chilly wind, the snow had stopped falling sometime during the night. Judging from the dark November clouds and the way the weather changed constantly, it looked like the snow was going to be replaced by rain.
I stepped into the small bistro. The warm air inside was more than welcome. In the far east corner of the open space, I spotted Sylvie. She had already taken her preferred spot, next to an oversized potted plant and the window overlooking the busy street. Her head was bowed over her smartphone, her fingers sliding over the touch screen while she texted. I had no idea how she did it, but her appearance was more flawless than ever. Even on the worst of her days, she looked as if she was about to enter a beauty contest. With her tan complexion, blonde hair, and blue eyes that resembled the deep Southern sky on a summer day, she would have won the first place.
She looked like an angel in disguise, sent from heaven above. I had no doubt that if anyone tried to cause me any harm Sylvie would jump right into the action and take a bullet for me. As long as there was no robbery or a creepy neighbor involved, she was in every way fearless, and no one would want to mess with her. The knowledge that I knew my best friend so well brought new tears to my eyes.
You’re being emotional, Stewart.
Damn right, my hormones were raging again, slowly turning me into either a rampant psycho or a crying heap, whose waterworks might just start flowing at the mere sight of a baby seal. I couldn’t wait for the pregnancy to be over and done with, if only to let me regain some of my emotional balance.
As I headed for Sylvie, her eyes caught mine, but her smile quickly turned into a look of suspicion. I couldn’t stop the tiny tremble from running down my spine. She had been my best friend for a long time. As such, she knew everything about me, including the ugly past I was still trying to forget. The way she seemed to look right through me, I felt vulnerable and exposed. I figured if Sylvie were an android, her eyes would be like X-rays, able to penetrate the deepest layers of tissue and discover all the things better left buried forever.
I shrugged out of my coat and draped it over a chair, then sat down.
“Nice, Brooke.” Sylvie nodded appreciatively as she pointed at my dress.
No point in lying.
“It was Jett’s idea,” I said. “I borrowed it from your wardrobe.”
“He has a good taste. I’ll give him that.” Grinning, she hugged me and kissed me on both cheeks. “How was your night at the TRIO?”
And the inquisition was beginning…now.
I watched her lean forward. “And don’t leave out any details. I want to hear it all.”
Did I have to? I shook my head. At times, I wished she didn’t know so much about my life. It was a futile wish, an energy wasted, because Sylvie was as intense as a hurricane and had the iron will of a bulldog, mixed with the sixth sense of a hawk. Intuition came naturally to her. For all I knew, she might be psychic. Having no choice, I began carefully, “It was beautiful. Jett was very attentive, as usual.”
Sylvie smirked and waved at me, a gesture intended to dig a little deeper.
Absent-mindedly, I scanned the small bistro as I prepared my words. Apart from the two of us and an elderly couple sitting close to the entrance, there were no other patrons. I watched the way the old man’s hand rested naturally on the old lady’s as they talked in an animated fashion, as if they still had a lot to talk about, even after so many years. They were having a good time, just like Jett and I had before the disruption and before he revealed his views on marriage. Above Sylvie’s head, a huge heart painting hung on the wall. It seemed that no matter where I looked, I was reminded of love and Jett, and of the hours that were stolen from us. The day had started as ours, and I wished it had stayed that way.
“Whoa. You look weird. Did something happen?” Sylvie’s excited voice drew my attention back to her. “Did he propose? You know, whatever happened, I should be the first to know, because I’m your best friend, right?” she said with a wink. “I’ll be seriously pissed if I find out that you’ve been keeping secrets from me.”
Her words stung. It wasn’t so much that Sylvie would think I’d actually break our girls’ code and keep a secret, but the fact that what I had been hoping for didn’t happen. When Jett had declared that he’d booked a weekend for us, I’d convinced myself it would be capped off with a ring on my finger—or at least a request to put one there. He’d been talking about a future together, and I was sure he was ready to make a big commitment. When Jett didn’t propose, I realized, quite painfully, that it had been nothing but wishful thinking on my part.
“Why would he propose, Sylvie?” I snapped, a little harsher than I intended. “Just because a man books a hotel doesn’t mean he’s ready to pop the question.”
I knew I sounded defensive, but for the life of me, I couldn’t keep the bitterness from tainting my voice. “Jett’s rich and successful. Of course he’s not planning to tie the knot anytime soon. At least not in this early stage in our relationship.”
“Sorry,” Sylvie said softly. “I was just asking.”
I was such a hypocrite for trying to make her feel bad when the very same thought had kept me glued to Jett’s every word and watching his every move. For days, I’d been waiting, expecting, hoping. Reminding myself of how much I had changed.
Less than a year earlier, I had been the one who didn’t believe in commitment, and marriage had certainly not featured anywhere in my life plans. Now, for the first time, with Jett by my side, I wanted more. His generosity and big words when it came to our relationship weren’t enough to prove to me that what we had was real. I had to have him near me, with me forever—written in black and white—and not just as the father of our unborn child.
“It’s okay,” I mumbled, avoiding my bestie’s probing gaze.
“I’m really sorry.” Sylvie spread her hands, palms up. If my tone had offended her, she did her best not to show it. “All I’m trying to say is that I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had asked. I mean, you guys seem to be getting pretty serious. Plus, you’re pregnant, and you’re already living together, so…” She left the rest unspoken, hanging heavily in the air.
I stared at her, unsure of what she was getting at.
Why did she make it sound as if Jett’s proposal was long overdue?
We were serious, weren’t we?
There had been the odd weekend when Jett insisted we spent time in expensive hotels, always together. Even though we hadn’t been told the baby’s gender yet, there had been talks about names, h
So, why did it feel like something was missing?
As I pondered, I clasped my hands together, breaking out in a sweat.
And then it hit me like lightning.
We had made plenty of short-term plans but, thinking back, I realized there had been no conversations about our future as a family, about the three of us: Jett and I and the baby. No plans as to where we would be living after the child was born. Just big words about our undying love and his support, but there had never been any specific talks of a nursery or what would happen after I gave birth.
Nil. Nada. Zip.
Jett’s two-level penthouse apartment was spacious, but with its architectural design, including an open staircase, dangerous railings, and floor-to-ceiling windows, it was too unsafe and in no way the right place to raise a child.
Dismay washed over me at the thought that I had absolutely no clue what the future held in store for Jett and me. Of course, my best friend would ask if he had proposed. She had every reason to be concerned. I might be blind in love, but Sylvie was as objective as a bystander, which was why I figured I should be listening to her.
“I’m sorry.” I released a deep, shaky breath that I didn’t even know I’d been holding. “I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
“Don’t worry about it.” She waved her hand dismissively, completely unfazed. “It happens to the best of us.”
“Let’s order,” I said in a cheery tone that was quite contrary to the turmoil swirling within me. I waved a barista over and asked for two cappuccinos, and then turned my attention back to Sylvie.
She was still staring at me, her blue eyes betraying her concern. “What’s going on?” she asked quietly.
I pressed my lips into a tight line. Finally, I leaned back, unsure of how much I could reveal without tugging at my heartstrings.
“I don’t blame you for asking. I asked myself, too,” I admitted slowly. “The fireplace and the champagne, along with the fact that he booked the most expensive suite—a penthouse—made me think he was going to propose. He had this beautiful dessert sent up, and rose petals strewn all over the floor…well, it would have been the perfect moment. It really was.” I trailed off, reminiscing about our time together, unable to suppress the sadness and disappointment nagging at the back of my mind.
The Lover's Secret by J. C. Reed / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes