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The lovers promise, p.9
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       The Lover's Promise, p.9

           J. C. Reed
 
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  “Crap,” I muttered.

  I couldn’t risk pushing my best friend into Jett’s dirty dealings just because I was in love with him. The thought that we’d end up in even more trouble scared me so much that I picked up a big black garbage bag with one simple plan: gather all my and Sylvie’s belongings, and then get the hell out of there—before someone returned to search the place again for anything they might have left behind.

  Better leave no proof at all.

  Maybe Jett was into living dangerously, risking his life, breaking the law, but I wasn’t. I wouldn’t be so stupid to incriminate myself even though I had done nothing wrong.

  Hell, I was surprised Jett hadn’t thought that far when he left the letter on my doormat. After his stupid move or prank or whatever he thought he was doing that night, I wasn’t ready to go down in flames with him. Being pregnant, I had to be the responsible one, putting my unborn child first before I forced the truth out of him.

  Heading to the bathroom, I made a mental list of all the things I had left behind. Anything that could link me to Jett had to disappear. Opening the mirror cabinet, my fingers stretched out to pull out my belongings—only to stop in midair.

  “What the hell!”

  I grabbed a silver-capped lipstick and frowned. This wasn’t mine. Nor was the mascara, or the golden tub of moisturizer, or the black hair clips.

  Confusion crossed my face as my eyes scanned the impressive amount of make-up, creams, and lotions left behind. They were all a woman’s things. Just not mine. Ripples of apprehension crept up my back. If they weren’t mine, who did they belong to?

  This can’t be happening.

  The thought of another woman moving in so soon after our separation was too horrible to contemplate. So frightening I walked out of the bathroom, heading straight for Jett’s dressing room in search for concrete proof, all the while ignoring the sickness in my stomach.

  I stopped in front of the large walk-in closet, hesitating. My clothes were in there, or at least they had been the last time I checked.

  Blindly in love or not, I needed that last grain of proof to disentangle myself from the love of my life—no matter how painful a process that might be. I needed to see if Jett was capable of such cruelty—breaking my heart and ripping it out at the same time as making me regret that I once trusted him and allowing myself to fall in love with him. My mother always warned me about sexy men that cheat and manipulate, but never about the guy who could make you feel high with nothing but a single glance. She never warned me that jealousy could be so gut-wrenchingly painful and unbearable, that the feeling of being cheated on could be so sickeningly devastating it would wreak havoc within anyone’s soul.

  It didn’t matter. I had to know. With an anxious flick of my wrist, I opened the door and took a step back.

  I should have seen it coming. And yet a stifled scream escaped my throat. Raw. Primitive. Somewhere deep inside me something broke, the weight of the meaning of it all, of what I had hoped I’d never witness splitting my being in two.

  Arrange neatly were the clothes of another woman. Another lover—the lover after me.

  Or maybe it was someone before you.

  I turned my face away in pain, hiding in the comfort of the solitude around me as tears started to trickle down my cheeks. I prayed inwardly that my eyes hadn’t seen what I knew was the truth, that my heart wouldn’t have to accept the ugly truth, and yet, as I looked again, there was no doubt: Jett had gotten rid of all my things, and filled the empty space with another woman’s belongings. He had replaced me as if I was replaceable.

  Fucking asshole.

  All his words of love—full of promises and plans of a future together—had been nothing but lies. He had always claimed I was the only one and yet I was no exception in his long list of games and women he dated. All the feelings I thought he felt for me were false. I had fooled myself. My legs were shaking, my body urging me to sink to the floor and allow myself to grieve, but crying wasn’t an option. Not now. Not when I was pregnant and needed to consider the well-being of my child.

  Pregnant with his child.

  I smiled bitterly, wiping the tears from my face. The reality of what lay ahead of me was too terrible to comprehend, and yet faking a smile was much easier than letting the pain engulf me completely.

  As grief turned to anger, I ripped the clothes from the hangers, wondering who they belonged to. Was she younger than me? More attractive? It was probably someone he fucked when I was too busy making his company money; when I was stupid enough to believe him. He had claimed to work overtime many nights and I never once considered the possibility that he might be cheating on me when all those long evenings and nights had been perfect opportunities to see whoever he wanted to see.

  Was it possible he had been cheating with Tiffany longer than I thought? The thought that Jett had been too much of a coward to tell me that it was over and so he waited for me to end things in order to have a new start with a past flame was much worse than him fucking her behind my back. It would mean that their friendship had elevated to a whole new level.

  The entire situation was like a frigging train wreck. I had to look even though I didn’t want to. I began to touch each dress, each one prettier than the other, in search for more clues about her. Just like back in the bathroom, I didn’t find a lot. Then again, the stuff that occupied Jett’s closet now was maybe half of what I had brought with me when I moved in. Then again, maybe she didn’t have enough time to shift her entire wardrobe, considering that Jett and I had only been separated for one day.

  One day!

  God, I hated him. I hated him so much. Heat rushed up my back as my throat closed up again. Never again would I fall in love with someone, and surely with someone as good-looking as Jett.

  The worst part of hating someone you love so much is that any form of self-inflicted pain will only fuel the anger and the hope to move on, even if that meant I had to find out who it was to get closure.

  I looked through the closet, skimming through dress after dress. Not a single sweater. Not a single—I stopped in my movement when my hands touched a pink polka dot fabric, and I drew a sharp breath.

  There was something oddly familiar about the fabric and the way the white specks were arranged in such an old fashioned way. My mind recollected having seen it before. Someone had worn something similar recently, and that someone wasn’t Tiffany.

  I pulled the dress out, my fingers stroking the delicate heart-shaped bust line adorned with fine lace. Maybe I had seen it in a catalogue—except, because of my financial worries, I hadn’t bought a fashion magazine in forever. Maybe I had skimmed through one in the obstetrician’s waiting room. But, for some reason, I knew I was fooling myself.

  My heart began to drum in my ears as memories started to flood my mind.

  I closed my eyes and listed to my pounding heartbeat for a few moments, but it didn’t shed light on my suddenly racing thoughts and the grain of suspicion slowly settling in the pit of my stomach. A nerve started to twitch just beneath my left eye like some irritating fly. Suddenly everything around me evaporated as realization hit me.

  Gina had a dress like this.

  The memories came hard and fast. It had been my first day at my new modeling gig. All models wore polka-dresses while posing around fake birch trees. They all looked so pretty and the colors were rich and mesmerizing. I remembered all of it because I had admired the style.

  Thalia had worn a yellow dress, but the pink one?

  I touched the soft fabric, trying to prevent the next pang of pain hitting my head, and swallowed the lump in my throat. But it was too late. The thought entered before I could stop it.

  Gina wore it on the fateful day she died, before changing into jeans and persuading me to have a drink with her at a famous club.

  I held the dress away from me and shook my head slowly.

  No, it had to be all a mistake, of course. The result of a very active imagination. Surely, it couldn’t
be Gina’s dress.

  That would be mad.

  Crazy.

  Insane.

  Because it would imply that Gina had moved in with Jett and died within hours of it. And there was no way that was possible.

  Never.

  It just couldn’t be her stuff.

  While my intuition said there was more to the mystery than met the eye, my mind began to conjure up unrealistic scenarios. Unfortunately, whichever way I tried to see it, I was stuck with a dilemma where things seemed to be more complicated than in a spy novel.

  Think, Brooke. Think. Any rational explanation is better than nothing.

  Tiffany was one thing, but Gina another.

  Given that Thalia had said she had history with Gina, I doubted Jett—no matter how good-looking he was—could get Gina into his bed…unless she swung both ways. But what if—for some crazy, ultra-mad, super-insane reason—it really was hers?

  Answers were supposed to be simple and not far-fetched. Like love was supposed to be easy and kind. Unless I found some real tangible proof that it was really hers, I had to abandon the possibility that it belonged to Gina and just assume Jett had let another woman with a penchant for burlesque dresses move in, even though our separation wasn’t long ago.

  I turned my head to the bathroom, considering what to do.

  If another woman moved in with Jett, she would have taken a shower, left a trail. She would have left something behind. Such as what, Stewart?

  The hairbrush.

  Why didn’t it cross my mind to check it earlier?

  With so many things from me gone, I wouldn’t be surprised if the brush wasn’t mine, either.

  All I needed was to hold a few stray strands of hair against the glaring lights of the bathroom, and I would have my answers. Given his sex-god looks and uncanny ability to make a woman scream his name, there had been countless female employees, all of them vying for his attention, some even going as far as flirting in my presence. The blonde could be any other woman’s delighting Jett for the night. If they were black, I could safely assume they were Tiffany’s.

  With a new rush of fear my feet came alive. Within seconds I reached the bathroom. My fingers curled around the green brush, holding it up. But there was no need. The hair strands shimmered bright red, the color of chili pepper—a hue so strong it stood in direct contrast to the cream granite tiles in the background.

  “I don’t understand,” I whispered slowly, feeling like I was going to lose my mind. “How is this possible?”

  I didn’t know any other woman with such a bright hair color. Not in my circle of friends, nor at work, and I doubted Jett either. Unless Gina had risen from the dead and came to haunt him, finding her hair in Jett’s bathroom felt surreal.

  Maybe Jett’s hired a prostitute. Ever thought of that?

  A prostitute with hair as red as fire. And a love for burlesque dresses. Sure, it was a possibility I couldn’t discard, but still…what were the odds?

  Suddenly anxious to leave, I turned around, ready to walk out. It was in that moment that my eyes noticed a tiny, shiny bundle on the floor. It was almost hidden behind the door, out of view from the hall, but in the glaring lights of the bathroom it reflected the light beautifully.

  My heart skipped a beat as it dawned on me what it was. Then it began to beat rapidly. It was a woman’s necklace. There was no mistaking it for anything else. It was the same silver butterfly necklace Gina had worn during our night out, its wings ringed with small green stones. First the dress, then the hair, now the necklace.

  With my heart hammering in my chest, threatening to jump out of my rib cage, I bent down to pick up the silver pendant. My fingers shook so hard I had to force them to be still as I turned it around, peering at it from all sides. The first thing I noticed was that dark brown rust covered half of the polished metal. The second thought was that the same brown stain diminished the luster of the green stones. Only rust didn’t look like this, which could only mean…it was caked blood.

  The realization that the necklace was covered in Gina’s blood hit me like a freight train. Feeling another wave of dizziness washing over me, I closed my eyes as a shaky breath escaped my lips. “Oh, my God.”

  I dropped the necklace in shock, then retreated several steps, clasping my hand over my neck, hoping it would stop me from choking on the sheer magnitude of what my find could mean.

  Jett can’t be a killer. He can’t be.

  His face, his smile, his hands, the way he had touched me…based on all those things I couldn’t believe he would do something so horrible—stabbing Gina, snatching the necklace, and then running her over. He was a cheater but not sick. Besides, he had no real motive, or at least I couldn’t imagine one.

  My thoughts trailed back to our worst fight to date. I could still hear all the anger and despair in his voice that morning when I confronted him about the secrets he had kept.

  Look, I get that you’re pissed at me, but it’s just…complicated. You need to trust me.

  What if Jett was so deep in shit he couldn’t tell me? What if there was something I was not seeing?

  I looked at the brush again, then at the necklace.

  The poem, Gina’s belongings being everywhere—something just didn’t add up.

  Something was wrong. So very wrong.

  If only I could pinpoint what it was.

  “I don’t understand,” I whispered for the second time, trying to connect the dots. Hundreds of thoughts raced through my mind, each one more confusing than the other. A shiver ran down my spine as I left the bathroom and returned to the living room, taking in the mess with renewed interest.

  If the chance—even so small— existed that Jett was in trouble, maybe even killed Gina, would he really have all this stuff everywhere?

  Surely no killer would be so stupid as to leave a victim’s things lying around in his home. Especially not a man as successful and renowned as Jett. Not when he already knew he was a primary suspect.

  Something else bothered me.

  If the police had searched Jett’s place, wouldn’t they have gathered all of Gina’s belongings for a concrete DNA analysis. The fact that the necklace stained with blood was left behind could only mean they had never been here in the first place. Either that or they had turned a blind eye to glaring evidence.

  Which of the two options was the truth?

  I had no idea but I was sure of this: the pulled out strand of hair was Gina’s. The clothes and necklace were hers as well.

  None of Jett’s stuff seemed to be missing, only my things.

  No person, and surely not the dead, could move into anyone’s apartment between the time Jett spent the night with me and the time of Gina’s death. Even if the letter was his and I still didn’t know what Jett’s intentions were, I couldn’t believe he would be so negligent and scatter evidence around for the world to find.

  I reckoned what I was about to do could get me into more trouble, but I felt that I had no choice. I needed to rescue him, for if it wasn’t the police who searched the place, who did?

  Before I could change my mind, I dashed to the bathroom and threw the necklace in a bin bag, followed by everything else I could find that linked Jett to Gina. This was an emergency.

  This was what my gut feeling was telling me to do and I followed it through to protect not just Jett but the baby inside me.

  I just hoped it wouldn’t come back to bite me in the ass.

  Getting all of Gina’s belongings into one huge bin bag seemed to take me forever, but at 9:05 a.m. I was finished. Throwing the heavy bag in the trunk of my old Volvo, I was grateful I had decided to drive rather than take a taxi. It was an old thing, whose annual repairs cost me more than using public transport. But as graduation gifts went, I loved it to bits. There was nothing more exhilarating than feeling free to drive anytime anywhere, no matter how long it took me to get through the nightmare traffic in NYC.

  Today, however, my gratitude reached a new peak because, the
next thing I knew, I’d be transporting a dead body and a shovel in the trunk.

  Seriously? Was I already considering burying a body for Jett—just because I was so happy he hadn’t moved in with another woman in the meantime?

  I cringed inwardly.

  What was wrong with me?

  Suddenly hiding a dead girl’s belongings in the back of my car didn’t feel so justified anymore. It felt illegal, and a hell of a lot of trouble.

  Angrily, I slammed the trunk, then slumped into the driver’s seat and turned the heater on, hoping it would help me stop the unease bubbling up inside me.

  Just do this and then you’ll see how that goes, Stewart. Once you have answers, you’ll come up with a next step.

  It was too late to back off anyway. My fingerprints were all over Gina’s stuff and I didn’t have the energy or time to carry it all back inside.

  I jammed the car into first gear and was about to pull out of the parking lot when my gaze glimpsed the police car parked at the corner and the two uniformed guys exiting the car.

  Holy shit.

  I stared at them, my body instantly hitting panic mode. Every part of me screamed to drive away, but my hands were frozen in place and my legs wouldn’t listen to my brain’s command. My heart began to hammer in my chest as I watched them walk over to Jett’s building, their strides determined and full of purpose.

  Please don’t go in. Please.

  My intuition told me they had come for Jett, possibly with the intent to search his place again, except I would have expected a special unit rather than mere uniformed officers, which led me to the assumption that they might have come to arrest him.

  I held my breath as they entered the building and through the huge glass panels I watched them chat with the concierge, and even though I couldn’t make out their expressions I was convinced that they were hard and determined, even grave. A minute passed. Then another, and the next thing I knew they disappeared from my sight. The concierge held up a blue book that I remembered was the visitor log and began to scribble.

 
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