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The lovers promise, p.8
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       The Lover's Promise, p.8

           J. C. Reed
 
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  My stomach lurched as apprehension crept up my spine.

  Opening the laptop again, I logged into all my bank accounts, and then called each bank one by one. By the time I had talked with them all, I was so angry I slammed the phone down, barely able to suppress the urge to scream.

  Each one had confirmed the same: my debts had been settled; all of the payments stated “advance” and no, the money couldn’t be transferred back.

  Damn Jett!

  Not only had he paid each of my loans in full, he also made sure the credit report showed all accounts as settled. One advisor had even disclosed that Mayfield Realties requested a raise in my credit score and the bank was now looking into the possibility. But the worst part of it all was that Jett had transferred more money than I owed, totaling to ten thousand frigging dollars.

  Ten thousand dollars.

  I stared at the number, furious beyond belief.

  What the fuck!

  I didn’t want his money. If I had known his intentions, I would never have accepted it. How dare he pay off the money I owed without even asking me? The detective said Jett had immunity, implying that he had bought protection. Did that mean Jett paid for other services, too?

  No one gifted anyone so much money, because nothing in life was ever free.

  Maybe the real question you should ask is not why Jett paid off your debts, but rather what he wants in return?

  I had no idea, but I knew this: money couldn’t buy my approval or an alibi. It sure as hell didn’t buy my forgiveness—if that was what he wanted.

  No, he had to earn it all back. There was no doubt about that. And with all that had happened, he had a big explanation to give.

  I checked my watch. Twelve frigging hours. I couldn’t wait that long. I felt as though I no longer had a choice whether I wanted to go or not.

  I had to see Jett now, if only to talk with him and make him clear that I had no intention of accepting his money. I had to find out what was going on. Jett was the only person who not only held all the answers; he was also the only one who could put things straight. The last thing I wanted was to owe him in any way.

  Ten thousand dollars.

  I shook my head. I’d be damned if I’d keep it.

  The drive to Jett’s luxurious Manhattan apartment was longer than ever before. If I hurried, I might catch him before work.

  Greeting the concierge in the foyer, I kept my head low as I stepped into the shiny modern elevator to ride up to Jett’s penthouse. I winced when I caught my reflection in the huge floor-to-ceiling mirror. My face resembled a map of pain—bewilderment, shock, anger, and fear—all emotions not even make-up could conceal. It was hard to believe the changes that happened in the past three days. Since when had life become so complicated, and what had I done wrong to deserve it?

  My hands shaking slightly, I reapplied my lipstick, tapping some of it on my pale cheeks because I wouldn’t give Jett the satisfaction of seeing how much pain his absence and secrets had caused me. If I wanted to make it clear that I was strong enough to stand on my own two feet and didn’t need his money, I had to be convincing. Even if that meant looking like nothing—no answer, no reply, no reaction, not even a single glance from him—could faze me.

  Stopping in front of his penthouse, I searched for the keys Jett had given me, and found them hidden inside a secret pocket in my handbag. The smooth metal felt too intimate, too personal, reminding me of the way his hand had touched my body countless times. Another tingling flush of apprehension crept up my back at the thought of seeing him, and my heart fluttered in my chest. There was no reason to be as nervous as on the day I started working for him. I had seen his beautiful face so many times, surely I was immune against his charm by now.

  Don’t kid yourself, Stewart.

  Walking in, I braced myself, my heart thumping in my throat so hard I had to swallow several times in fear of choking on my own breath. But as I scanned the large empty hall, the world around me became still. All the words inside my mind—everything I had planned to tell him—died. I drew in a sharp breath and clasped my hand in front of my mouth. Shock crawled up my neck as I fought to make sense of the scene before my eyes, my mind entangled in a desperate attempt to process the picture.

  What the fuck!

  Jett’s usually immaculate apartment with its two stories, huge gray railings, shiny marble floors and expensive furniture—the image of perfection and organization—was unrecognizable. Bright lights streamed through the large floor-to- ceiling windows, lighting up the high ceiling. I had always loved the way the large windows emphasized the grandness of Jett’s apartment, but now I hated the way they seemed to magnify the unexpected mess. Rows and rows of Jett’s expensive clothes were strewn across the rug and hard floors. Drawers were opened, some of them even pulled out, discarded on the floor and the contents scattered—as if a hurricane had played havoc with them, sucking everything into its vortex and spitting it out in complete chaos.

  If I wasn’t holding the keys in my hand and recognized half the things scattered across the floor, broken and discarded, I would have doubted that I had the right apartment. I would have thought the place had been ransacked, but from the look of it, nothing was missing.

  Slowly, I slammed the door with my leg as my eyes remained glued to the disaster before me. “Jett?” I called out, cringing at how thin and weak my voice sounded. My heart pounded in my chest as I stepped gingerly over folders, toiletries, bed sheets, and yet more papers, bypassing the large sectional corner couch that was pulled toward the middle of the floor, its many pillows cut open and the stuffing pulled out. My heels barely made a sound as I made my way through the rooms, but Jett was nowhere to be found.

  I frowned. I had no idea what had happened or where Jett was. But judging from the condition his apartment was in, it looked like someone had had an angry fit. With Jett’s striving for perfection, it was hard to believe he’d smash in the place just because things weren’t going well between us.

  My heart lurched as I stepped on glass. Smashed on the floor in front of the mantelpiece, almost hidden beneath an old newspaper, was a broken framed picture of Jett and me. It was a gift I had given him when I moved in. Now a huge glass fragment ran right between us, cutting us in two.

  I picked it up, my fingers brushing gently over Jett’s face. I had told myself to stay strong, but seeing him, even if only in a picture, my heart sputtered.

  As short as our separation was, it felt like an eternity. It felt as if many terrible years had passed. Hour after hour, I had kept sinking into some deep dark hole, thinking I would die from sheer heartbreak. Sylvie had been worried that I might try to kill myself, but how could I explain to her that there was no need for it. The heartbreak was slowly killing me from the inside, and Jett’s absence was almost as painful as was the knowledge that he was in trouble and there was nothing I could do.

  Sure, I was angry with him, but I still cared for him.

  My fingers clutched at the frame so tightly, I feared I might cut myself on the glass as hundreds of thoughts raced through my mind. Putting the frame back on the mantelpiece, I considered what could have happened when my gaze fell on the business reports on the floor, some of the pages torn and crumpled. I briefly scanned them and recognized some client details and properties.

  I drew in a shaky breath as realization slowly dawned on me.

  The detective had stated Jett was taken in for questioning. What if the police broke in to search through his belongings in an attempt to find more incriminating evidence?

  It all made sense.

  If they found traces of Gina’s DNA on Jett’s tires, the next step would be to come looking for undeniable, concrete evidence that linked Jett not only to the crime scene but also to the victims. They had the federal right to search his place though sure had left a mess behind. I turned around, taking in the room through different eyes now, wondering if they found something and, if so, what?

  I imagined the police breaking
in, careless feet stomping on Jett’s expensive suits, cutting through his pillows with no respect for his belongings or hard work. If Jett was proven innocent, would he get compensation for everything they had destroyed?

  If he was innocent, Stewart. Not when—if—and that made a big difference!

  My eyes fell on the open door to his office, and I remembered the Internet test I had done.

  Does he have a secret place or private room, maybe a drawer he doesn’t want you to touch?

  The only room that could be considered off-limits was his huge office. It was the only place I had never been in alone, because it was his and I had always respected his privacy. I reckoned that if there was a proof, any evidence at all, that tied Jett to the victims, the police would have found it already. Still, what’s to say that nothing was left for me to discover? Even with all his secrets and his dangerous past, Jett had always insisted that I knew him best, that I knew the real him. What if there was something in there for me that could answer at least some of my other questions? If there was anything, anything at all that could help me understand him, it could make all the difference whether to believe in him, or not. If only he chose to explain, but that wasn’t an option so I slung my handbag over my shoulder and crossed the hall.

  Entering Jett’s office, ignoring the torn books and folders cluttering the floor. I figured doing what I was about to do would compromise his privacy, but then with so many things destroyed, he’d never know I had been snooping around.

  Now was my one and only opportunity to get answers—answers I needed but he hadn’t been willing to give.

  My pulse sped up as I began to open one drawer after another, unsure of what I’d find or even what I was looking for.

  Most of the drawers were empty, their contents already scattered across the floor. I skimmed through loose papers, but there was nothing out of the ordinary about his business reports. Nothing that would indicate he might be working for Nate or why he might be interested in deleting the legal firm’s email.

  My fingers ran over the smooth surface of his heavy mahogany desk. Back in Italy, we had found a journal hidden under a desk. What were the odds that Jett might have a similar hiding spot?

  Sweat accumulated on the nape of my neck as I tried to push it aside. It barely budged from the spot. I lifted, stifling a groan, but only managed to lift it an inch or two.

  Shoot.

  I never expected the damn thing to be so heavy. Jett had made it look so easy when he simply turned it over. Exhausted, I gave it another push, when my phone rang in my handbag, drawing my attention away from the task at hand. I fished it out and peered at the familiar caller ID.

  “Hey, I’m at work.” Sylvie’s chirpy voice echoed down the line. “I’m just calling to make sure you’re okay.”

  A mixture of relief and worry flooded through me.

  She sounded well and safe.

  “I thought we had an arrangement,” I said as I sank into Jett’s comfortable leather chair. “I’ve been worried sick about you, you know. I called you like ten times.”

  “You did? I thought I had sent a text.” She laughed nervously. “You know, sometimes you just can’t rely on technology.”

  It was a lie. And a big, fat one. I could almost taste her guilt. Something had happened and she was trying to wriggle her way out of telling me.

  “Where have you been?” I asked warily.

  Sylvie hesitated before letting out a sigh. “I had a date, but you knew that already.” I could almost hear her edginess through the line, which raised my suspicion.

  “So…how was it?” I asked.

  “How was what?”

  “Your night?” I raised my eyebrows even though she couldn’t see it.

  “It was okay, I guess. Nothing special.” Her voice lowered to a whisper. “Can I get you anything after work?”

  “Is it just me or are you trying to change the topic?”

  “I’m not changing the topic.” She laughed out loud—the sound filled with yet more guilt.

  “You are.” I took a deep breath. “Oh, my God, Sylvie. What is it that you’re not telling me?”

  “All right. I kinda was with someone.” The words came out low and fast. For someone as sexually liberal as Sylvie, her behavior made no sense.

  I frowned. “Kinda?”

  “Just with…you know…Kenny. I spent the night with him.”

  What the hell!

  I stared at the space around me, stunned. Kenny wasn’t just one of Jett’s best friends, he was also just as hard to read.

  And probably just as much of a jerk.

  “I thought you said something about a blind date?” I said, silently praying that I hadn’t heard her right.

  “I did.” Sylvie’s voice betrayed an edge of defensiveness. “But he didn’t turn up. The loser kept me waiting for forty minutes. Can you imagine? Then Kenny called, and one thing led to another. We basically hooked up.” She let out a quiet whistling sound, followed by a giggle. “As it turned out, the only reason why he didn’t call before was that he broke his wrist and was in a lot of pain.”

  I shook my head in disbelief. Maybe Sylvie’s heart wasn’t as clever as I thought it was. Maybe deep down she was as fixed on Kenny as I was on Jett.

  As Sylvie recounted her night with Kenny, my attention began to wander off. It was only after she mentioned staying at the old warehouse that it dawned on me why she had been trying to avoid the subject.

  “He’s there, isn’t he?” I asked quietly, disrupting Sylvie’s excited chatter, and a long pause ensued.

  “Who?” Sylvie’s asked, taking her time.

  “Cut the crap. You know who I’m talking about. Kenny, obviously.”

  “I don’t see him right now.” Her voice betrayed that she was trying to lie her way out of my interrogation. Maybe she didn’t see him that instant, but she sure knew where he was. He was probably using the bathroom or something. “Are you okay, Brooke? You sound a little stressed.”

  “Yeah, I am.” I bit my lip, wondering whether to call her up on her attempt to change the subject.

  “Brooke.” She let out a drawn-out sigh. “I hope you harbor no plans of running back to him. If a guy cheats on you, you need to slam the door in his face once and for all, not open it again to invite him back in, which means no questions, no looking back, and certainly no longer showing any sort of interest in him. You have to stay hard even when pretending is harder.”

  I grimaced. If Sylvie knew I was snooping around Jett’s apartment, she’d be barking mad. But I had to tell her about Gina and the detective’s investigation.

  “Listen, there’s something I need to tell you,” I said. “About what happened at work.”

  I opened my mouth, ready to explain when a blinking light drew my attention to the printer on Jett’s desk. There was something about that light, symbolizing caution or a warning that required immediate attention—like a big flashing yellow traffic signal.

  Jett must have used the printer not too long ago.

  That was the only thought that came to mind. Sylvie’s chattering instantly forgotten, I neared the machine and opened the paper drawer. My eyes scanned the top sheet. As I read the words, a first wave of shock hit me hard.

  Tiny drops fell from the sky

  I sucked in my breath. The paper in my hand was unfinished but, without a doubt, the first line of the poem. The realization cut through me like a fire whip, and waves of confusion, then anger, then more confusion washed over me.

  “Brooke? Are you even listening to what I’m saying?” Sylvie’s voice drew my attention back to her. “What do you want to tell me?”

  “Look. Can we talk later?” My tone sounded as weak and shaky as I was feeling.

  “No, don’t you dare hang up on me.”

  “Later,” I added absent-mindedly and hung up, my gaze still fixed on the paper. My phone started to ring again, but I ignored it as my mind began to put two and two together.

  Jett had sent
the letter. It had been him in the staircase. He had pounded on my door and scared the hell out of me. There was no doubt about that now.

  “What the fuck?” I whispered slowly in disbelief. “What. The. Fuck.”

  I didn’t know what to think or feel anymore. I didn’t even know what scared me more—that I had been wrong in my expectations of a relationship with Jett or right in my initial assumptions. I should have listened to Sylvie when claimed that I had been blind in love, not seeing Jett for who he truly was. All this time, I had believed to know him. The real him. But I had been wrong. The paper I held in my hands showed me what he was capable of; what he was willing to do.

  You don’t know him at all, Stewart.

  The insight kicked me right in the gut. For all I knew now, he was a Southern devil with a southern charm and the cunning ability to seduce my mind while blinding my soul. Admitting it even to myself was pure humiliation and a disgrace nonetheless.

  “Son of a bitch.” I laughed darkly. “You got me.”

  The next time I’d see him, I’d kick him where it hurt the most. If he so much as smiled, I would slap his stupid grin right off his pretty face.

  As shock turned into anger, I crumpled the paper into a ball.

  Jackass.

  What if I had called the police and showed them the letter in the belief it might somehow be connected to Gina’s murder? How long would it have taken them to find it in Jett’s apartment and add it as yet another piece of evidence?

  Talk about Jett knowing how to attract trouble.

  After living with him for weeks, all those allegations could lead back to me and make me a possible suspect.

  A suspect.

  I drew a sharp breath and let it out slowly.

  Holy cow. Had I really been so stupid? If the police found my clothes, my toothbrush, anything that belonged to me and carried my DNA—sooner or later I’d end up having accessory written on my résumé. Worse yet, I had borrowed Sylvie’s clothes and make up. If they thought I was involved in Jett’s affairs, nothing would stop them from pulling Sylvie’s name through the mud.

 
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