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The lovers surrender no.., p.8
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       The Lover's Surrender (No Exceptions), p.8

           J. C. Reed
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  As I sat there, it occurred to me that Jett would be back soon. He couldn’t see me like this, so I got up, sprayed water on my face, and then reapplied my makeup and regarded myself in the mirror.

  My skin was unnaturally pale, but it wasn’t too bad. I looked good enough on the outside.

  I chuckled darkly at the word.

  Outside… It sounded like I had two faces. Like there were two sides of me.

  A true one that had been hidden far too long, and the one that kept pretending everything was fine when that couldn’t be further from the truth. That part of me felt heavy now.

  I wished a time would come when I could stop pretending.

  When I moved back into the examination room, Jett hadn’t returned yet. At least the nausea had passed. But the fear in my bones persisted as I became aware of three facts:

  First, Gina’s body hadn’t even been dropped off at the club when the detective, or whoever he was, interrogated me.

  Second, there was every possibility that the same men who once drugged and abducted me had tried to kidnap me again.

  And third, the poem hadn’t been a message. It had been a threat.

  Someone had every intention of framing Jett for a murder he didn’t commit. Someone had orchestrated a great plan, probably plotting it for a long time. Someone might still be after me.

  And all this time, I had worried that Jett might be the bad guy when it was someone else.

  I swallowed hard, not for the first time wondering if I would ever be safe.

  When Jett finally opened the door, at least fifteen minutes had passed. I was sitting on the examination chair, my feet dangling in the air, my body tense, and my pulse still racing. Forcing a smile to my lips, I cocked my head and looked up at him.

  “You didn’t have to go through all the trouble to make a reservation, you know,” I said nonchalantly. “We could have opted for a quick drive-in.”

  “Right. What kind of man do you take me for?”

  He passed me a cup of coffee. I pretended to take a sip, but all I could focus on was the need to control the rising sense of nausea inside my stomach. Wrapping my cold hands around the steaming cup, I watched him lean against the wall and close his eyes. He stood there for a few long moments, alone with his thoughts. I gave him the privacy because I sensed that he needed it.

  When he opened his eyes again, his smile was gone and a flicker of knowledge appeared in them. “You heard us, didn’t you?”

  It didn’t even sound like a question.

  I shook my head. “Heard what?”

  “It’s okay, Brooke. No need to pretend. I knew all along that you would be listening.”

  His eyes pierced mine, and my breath caught in my throat as my smile died on my lips. There was so much intensity in them my heart skipped a beat. I swallowed the lump in my throat, but all it did was amplify the tension coursing through me. As if sensing my distresses, he nodded knowingly. “So…tell me, how much did you hear?”

  Deciding there was no point in lying, I shrugged and carefully placed the coffee cup on the table, afraid the shaking of my limbs might cause me to spill the black liquid.

  “Almost everything,” I whispered. Unsure if he’d be angry, I added, “I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, really, but you guys weren’t exactly quiet.”

  “I wasn’t trying to be.” He narrowed his eyes, waiting for me to drop off the hundreds of questions I usually had.

  When nothing came, he stepped closer and his fingers curled around my wrists. With a soft pull, he helped me down from the chair and sheltered me in a tight embrace, until I could feel his breath on my face. Sexy, masculine, his green eyes ever so magnetizing. My insides clenched at the anticipation of him kissing me.

  “Brooke.” He let out a slow breath. “I don’t want to keep any more secrets from you. Not again. Not after I almost lost you. This is serious. We have to be honest with each other.”

  Oh, God.

  Those were the words I had been waiting to hear, and for a split second, I imagined a life together without lies, without any more secrets, and a real chance to heal our wounds.

  I looked up at him, ready to comment, when I stopped still. His eyes were wide and worried, the usual color of emeralds now foggy and dark. His lips were drawn in a tight line—not at all how I imagined he would be when he spoke those words. I sensed then that more was coming. A scolding, possibly, or maybe…

  “Jesus, Brooke.” His voice came low, insinuating anger—like a sleeping volcano waiting to erupt. “Do you realize that it could have been you?”

  I stared at his beautiful face, now contorted with fear and anger, wondering if we would have another fight so soon after our lovemaking. Did I even have that much energy left? I doubted it.

  “Nothing happened. You were there and picked me up,” I whispered.

  Jett shook his head, grimacing. “I’m not talking about the night you were at that damn club. I’m talking about the guy who left the letter and almost broke into your apartment.”

  A new shudder ran down my spine.

  “Yeah, that was scary.” I forced a shrug, banishing the memory of hiding, the strong feeling of being trapped in a room with no way to get help, and feeling guilty when I shouldn’t have felt that way. “But nothing happened. I’m still here. It’s not even a big deal.”

  He stared at me. “How can you say it’s not a big deal? He could have hurt you and our baby.”

  “But he didn’t.” Even to me my reassurance sounded pathetic. Unbelievable.

  “No, but he could have, and that’s all that matters,” he growled. “Brooke, you heard Sam. He said the girl was abducted and tortured. You said that you felt watched. What’s to say it wasn’t him, the same person who killed Gina? And what’s to say he didn’t try to get you?”

  He was right. The danger had been there all along.

  I swallowed, again and again, but the lump in my throat didn’t loosen.

  The memory of my own abduction brought new and old fears to greater heights.

  “You don’t have to assume the worst just because you see a few connections,” I said more to myself than to him. His brows shot up at my words. “It might have been a joke or…the letter was dropped off at the wrong door.” I winced at how unconvinced I sounded.

  He shot me a long look.

  “Is that what you really believe?” he asked, brows knitted.

  I sighed. “No.”

  “Then what do you think happened? Please enlighten me, because any other explanation than what I’ve offered you doesn’t make sense.”

  Crossing my arms over my chest, more to stop the shivering than to ward off the cold, I shook my head. Not because I didn’t believe he was right, but because I might have been pretty close to the truth before. The mention of tears in the poem, the dots Gina had drawn on her face, were all signs that Jett was right.

  Someone was after me.

  Jett had mentioned a game before.

  “I don’t know,” I admitted, feeling desperation washing over me again. “It might just be a game like you said, but I’m not sure what game.”

  Exhaling, I brushed the hem of my shirt then jumped up. I grabbed my bag and fished out my phone.

  “What are you doing?” Jett asked slowly, watching me scroll through my contact list.

  “I have to call Thalia,” I explained, not bothering to look up. “We didn’t really get a chance to talk when we heard the news, but there’s a chance her drink was spiked, too.”

  Jett’s fingers enclosed mine, the action stopping me.

  I looked up, confused, my glance sweeping from his hand to meet his gaze. “What?”

  “I don’t want you to contact her,” he said calmly. “Or anyone else, for that matter.”

  I shook my head in confusion and pulled my phone out of his reach. “Why not?”

  “Let’s just say it’s not a good idea.”

  I drew a long breath and let it out slowly. “Jett, Gina was the one who brought us the
drinks. Thalia could tell us if she saw someone with her. She could describe him. She was the last one to see Gina alive.” I paused to let my words sink in. When he remained quiet, I said, “If we know what he looks like, we might be able to find out who he is. Thalia could even tell us if the fake detective left after I went home or if anything else suspicious happened.”

  “No.” His voice was hard. Determined. “No. You’re not contacting anyone. Sam promised to call as soon as the autopsy report comes in. It will show us if there were any drugs in Gina’s body. Until we know for sure what’s going on, you can’t trust anyone, Brooke. Do you understand?” He stared at me, his gaze impenetrable, unyielding, yet at the same time pleading. “It’s too dangerous.”


  “No, Brooke,” Jett cut me off. “If the guy isn’t a real detective and he showed you pictures of her body, I have every reason to believe the pictures were provided by the killer, or the guy’s the killer.”

  My jaw dropped in shock, my words failing me. During the interrogation, the detective and I had been sitting close together in the small room. I was hard to grasp the fact that I might have been staring at a killer that whole time. The entire conversation, not just with him but also with Jett, had my head spinning, and for once, I wished I had something stronger than coffee.

  A full minute passed.

  Then another.

  When I found my voice again, I was surprised at how calm my words came.

  “You think that guy, who interviewed me, is the killer?” I asked.

  “I wouldn’t rule it out.” Jett glanced out the window. “And if he isn’t, I’m sure he knows who the killer is.”

  He turned back to me, and, as if sensing the burning question on my tongue, continued, “It takes at least two people to execute a plan and one person to act as a diversion. So, I’m guessing he and someone else are working with the real killer. The question is who? The fact that Gina brought the drinks could mean she was involved somehow, which is why you can’t contact her friends.”

  I stared at his resolute expression, realizing that Jett was serious. My stomach sunk.

  “I can’t imagine that Gina was involved,” I said. “It’s not possible.”

  “Why not?”

  “Simply because”—I shrugged—“it would mean that Thalia’s involved, too.”

  “Well, do you think she might be?”

  “Hell, no.” I grimaced, mad that he would even suggest something like that. “Her pain looked real, Jett. Just because Gina brought the drinks doesn’t mean she was involved.”

  “Someone spiked them,” Jett reminded me.

  “But that someone wasn’t Gina.” My voice rose slightly. “I doubt she wanted to be killed.”

  His eyebrows shot up. “She still got into the car with a guy and let him drive her some place,” Jett said softly. “If she was gay, why would she do that unless she knew him?”

  He had a good point.

  Gina might have known him. They might have been friends.


  “Maybe she didn’t know what she was doing, Jett,” I could hear myself defending her. “Like I didn’t know what I was doing when you picked me up that night. She might have been so drugged out of her mind that she just went along, unaware of the danger she was in.”

  He cocked one eyebrow. “You went home with me because you were attracted to me.”

  Of course, his ego had to make its entrance at some point.

  My cheeks blushed. “Yes. That’s true, but still.”

  “We have to be careful, Brooke. Unless we find real evidence, I won’t rule out that your friend’s involved, and neither should you. For all we know, they all might be.”

  “They?” I asked breathlessly. “Who’s they?”

  “Grayson. Thalia. All your new friends,” Jett said, oblivious to the storm wreaking havoc inside me. “The fact that you scored the job so fast is kind of unusual, Brooke. How often do you find someone getting a job without needing references, especially with you being pregnant? Thalia basically threw it at you while you ordered coffee.”

  I stared at him when it hit me.

  Jett was thinking I was lured in.

  By Thalia.

  The idea was so crazy I shook my head vehemently. Thalia had been good to me. Her concerns for me looked real. Even though I hadn’t known her for a long time, I was sure she wasn’t involved. I couldn’t say the same about Jett’s brother. The knowledge that Jett didn’t even seem to consider other options angered me.

  Not once had he mentioned his brother’s name, even though I was sure Nate and his people were involved somehow.

  “What about Nate?” I asked, regarding him coldly.

  It was a simple question, and yet the very mention of his brother’s name was enough to change Jett’s determined expression to something I had never seen in his face.



  Pure hatred.

  And then in a split second it was gone—as if it had been a figment of my imagination.

  Jett shrugged and buried his hands in his pockets. “What about him?”

  “It could be him,” I pointed out, unable to keep the angry undertones in my voice in check. “In fact, he’s the first one I thought of. Not Thalia, nor Gina, nor my new friends, as you so kindly suggested. If someone’s playing a game, then that someone might as well be your brother, not people I just met.”

  “Nate wasn’t out at that time.”

  “That might be true, but I still wouldn’t rule him out, and neither should you,” I repeated his words.

  Every muscle in his face tensed. “Do I need to remind you that he’s under surveillance? He couldn’t sneak out, even if he tried to.”

  “What about an insider, someone passing on messages, or trying to help him?” I continued, not ready to drop the topic. “All he had to do was call in a favor from one of his many connections.”

  Jett shook his head slowly, his expression getting stonier by the second. “No, it isn’t him. Can’t be. My brother’s not my only enemy, Brooke. If you looked into my past, you’d know that. A lot of people want to harm me.”

  “Especially those led by your brother,” I said dryly, relentless.

  “Used to be led, Brooke. Used to. There’s a difference.” His brusque response stopped me, but only to let me catch my breath.

  “Jett,“ I started again, my patience waning. “While everybody was busy looking for the remaining members, Nate had every opportunity to use a distraction to get what he wants, and yes, I believe that includes framing you.”

  Why was it so hard for Jett to see that the man he called his brother might be the one who was trying to destroy him? Seconds passed as I glowered at him, unable to stop the frustration gripping me, as Jett remained silent. The whole situation was ridiculous. To protect his brother, he was going too far. It was as though he was in a state of denial.

  Oh, my God.

  Jett was in a state of denial. It was my responsibility as his girlfriend to break down the walls that kept him trapped in blindness.

  “Is it just me, or are you trying to protect your brother?” I said casually. “Because it sure feels like it.”

  “My broth—” He grimaced, his handsome face distorting at once, as if he couldn’t even say the word. He exhaled sharply, hands balled into fists as he turned his face back to me, cursing. “Fuck, you think I’m protecting this fuck? I would never do that. I just think…” He ran a hand through his hair, leaving his sentence unfinished.

  “Think what?”

  He stayed silent. I clasped my hands, waiting patiently for him to explain his perspective so I could understand him. He wet his lips, leaving moisture on them. His posture was rigid, his jaw clenched as he turned his whole body to me, his eyes finally looking up. “I don’t think my brother would be stupid enough to do this so soon after his arrest. Not when his trial is still pending, and he knows he’d get life. It’d be too easy and obvious to link him to

  I stared at him, unsure if I should laugh or be mad at his absurd explanation.

  Nate was already facing life behind bars. I doubted he cared much about that little detail.

  When I noticed Jett was serious, I shook my head.

  “Jett,” I started slowly, fighting with myself not to lose my temper. “Maybe he doesn’t care about a few more years in prison or being caught. Maybe easy and obvious is the answer. I know you don’t want to hear this, and I know you guys grew up together and everything, but please... please don’t tell me you don’t think Nate is involved. It sure looks like it.”

  “He lost, Brooke.” Jett smiled, but his smile didn’t reach his eyes. “He has nothing to gain by doing this.”

  I shook my head again. “See, this is where you’re wrong. He has a lot to gain.”

  “How so?” He frowned. “His account is locked. He’s lost his business, and he’s betraying the other members by snitching on them. Even if the club continued to grow, and I’m saying ‘if’, Nate would be replaced as the leader. As things stand now, they’d turn against him if they found out he ratted them out.”

  I nodded, taking in his reaction. “That might be true. However, you forgot a few things.” When Jett frowned, I continued, “He loves to kill, but more than that, and you said so yourself, he loves to win. Maybe Nate doesn’t care that he’s being stupid or reckless. Maybe he just wants to destroy your life because he can’t bear for you to have it all. All his life you were his competition. That’s what you told me, right?” I looked up and found Jett’s stance rigid, listening, his face an expressionless mask. “I know it’s hard to believe that, but sometimes the most complicated question has the simplest answer. By framing you, he would stop you from acquiring success, from having it all, even if that means destroying your life. …” I trailed off and stepped back, sort of expecting Jett to be angry, but he wasn’t.

  I expected him to deny my statements, but he just stood there, looking out the hospital window, his gaze distant, lost in a past he had come to terms with.

  “You said I’m forgetting a few things?” he prompted at last, before turning to me. “You only mentioned one.”

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