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The lovers surrender no.., p.9
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       The Lover's Surrender (No Exceptions), p.9

           J. C. Reed
 
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  Towering over me, he looked dangerously handsome. If it weren’t for the pain written on his face, I would have kissed him, begged him to take me home so we could celebrate our news instead of obsessing over Nate. Suddenly I wasn’t sure if I wanted Jett to hear any more of what I had to say.

  I contemplated my next words. Taking my time with a reply, I walked to the window and stopped next to Jett, my gaze fixed on him. His posture was rigid, his jaw still clenched. Anger wafted from him in thick, long waves, but I could feel that his anger wasn’t addressed at me. I concluded then that Jett needed the truth spoken aloud as much as I did. Maybe Jett needed to hear me say the words, to have his own fears and doubts mirrored so he could finally acknowledge and come to accept them.

  “What most serial killers want: a legacy,” I answered. “Or in Nate’s case, a big headline.”

  His forehead wrinkled, and he opened his mouth to comment.

  “No, please listen to me.” I held up a hand, silencing him. “Everything Nate’s done so far has been for his reputation. Even if he’s no longer the leader, like most serial killers, he’s immensely proud of his achievements. The headlines, every dead body found—they are trophies. A gain worth far more to him than money or his people. Even if everything’s over and destroyed, every member of the club exposed, he’ll want everybody to remember him as the leader of that club, and yes, that might just mean having his name splashed across the newspaper. But I don’t think that’s why he’s doing it, Jett.” I took a deep, calming breath. “I believe he wants you to become a suspect so that the police start to question the evidence you submitted against him, and possibly consider that you might be involved, too. The following investigation would give him more time, maybe even swing the jury in his favor. Even if you’re eventually found as innocent, and it was all a waste of time, it would still mean the news would have traveled worldwide. Your reputation would be shattered. The trial might drag on for months, and if you’re not released on bail, you might miss the birth of our daughter.” I stared at him, the pain inside me all-consuming. Of course, those were assumptions, but Nate wasn’t just anybody. Nate was a schemer. He knew how to plan, implement, and consequently destroy. “If someone’s playing us, then it would be Nate, not my new friends, Jett.”

  The air felt cantankerous. I almost wanted to open my mouth again, when Jett stirred, turning his back to me as he spoke.

  “Are you finished?”

  His harsh words took me by surprise.

  I stepped back, suddenly angry. “You don’t believe me?”

  Shock crawled up my neck as I watched Jett grab my bag. “No, that’s not it. I do believe you. That’s the thing. I believe what you say is true.” With that, he turned away from me and walked to the door, expecting me to follow after him, which I did.

  The drive back to the gang’s headquarters seemed overly long and tiresome, filled with awkward silence and tense vibes that were so unusual in our relationship. Leaning my head against the cold glass, I watched the dark clouds hovering over the skyscrapers.

  Soon, very soon, it would be raining again.

  Was Jett right in his assumption that my new friends rather than Nate might be involved? It all seemed impossible, almost unbelievable, but how could I know the truth in a world where craziness couldn’t be restrained?

  The soft pounding in my head increased as I remembered the two bags in my car, and the knowledge that the police had been near Jett’s apartment. In spite of Jett’s warning, I could barely suppress the urge to call Thalia and finally get answers to the questions burning inside my head.

  “What are you thinking about?” Jett’s voice jolted me back to reality, his tone sharp, as though sensing my turmoil.

  I shrugged, glancing at the busy streets. “Nothing.”

  “You sure?”

  I turned to eye him for a moment. The hard mask he had been wearing since the hospital was still in place. His stance was rigid; his eyes were focused on the road ahead, his grip around the wheel tight, as though he needed to gain control over something—anything. Shivering, I wrapped my arms around myself as I realized that the topic of conversation was dangerously close to returning to his brother. Jett would want to continue our conversation at some point, whether I wanted it or not. Seeing that Jett was already disgruntled, I doubted talking about such a sore point would help ease the tension—and particularly not since Jett seemed convinced that Nate held no power behind bars.

  “Yeah.” I folded my hands in my lap, fidgeting in my seat. “Nothing at all.”

  “All right.” He let out a loud sigh as his foot hit the accelerator. We sped ahead, overtaking two cars. Ignoring his bad mood, I turned my attention back to the clouds.

  This was going to be so difficult.

  At least your baby’s safe, Stewart. Or is it?

  The uncertainty made me shiver again.

  I closed my eyes for a moment. It had been a long night and three hard days. A few months ago, back when Jett and I started dating, his fast driving had bothered me. Now I was used to it, even bordering on feeling safe. Maybe it was Jett, his authority and personality, but even when he was angry, I felt protected and sheltered. There was something peculiar about the man next to me, as if the control he exerted over the wheel could be applied to all aspects of my life. Or maybe it was just the hope that the faster we went, the more easily we could escape whoever was trying to destroy us.

  Escape whatever had been slowing me down.

  Either way, I didn’t mind his driving.

  I just wanted to erase the bad memories, the bad vibes, all the things that haunted us.

  Driving fast, if only to get away from it all, and never look back, felt good.

  It was only when Jett slowed down that I forced my eyes open and glanced out the window. I instantly recognized the houses, the familiar street sign, and the bakery.

  Whoa!

  My body jerked into an upright position the moment Jett pulled up in front of my apartment.

  “What are you doing here?” I asked.

  He had claimed it was too dangerous to contact anyone, so I’d assumed we couldn’t be seen either.

  His answer came fast, unyielding. “I want to see the letter.”

  I stared at him as he pulled the key from the ignition. “That’s not a good idea, Jett.” Even as I spoke the words, I knew Jett wouldn’t listen to a word I said once he had made up his mind. He never did. He never would.

  He leaned over and seized my bag from my lap. In one quick motion, he pulled out the keys to my apartment.

  I knew then that the only option was to plea.

  Before he could open the door, my fingers clasped around his hand, forcing him to listen. “Wait…please.”

  “What?” He turned around, mild annoyance written on his face as he eyed my grip around his arm, then moved up to meet my gaze.

  “We don’t need it, Jett.”

  He shrugged. “Maybe. But I won’t take risks, not in this instance. So, where is it?”

  I stared at him until awareness descended on me. He was going to let me wait.

  In the car.

  All alone while he did the hard work.

  Playing the protector, as usual.

  I frowned. “Won’t you even ask me to come with you?”

  “You know that’s out of the question.”

  I let go of his hand and crossed my arms over my chest. “No, waiting here in the car for you is out of the question. You can’t leave me behind.”

  He hesitated for a long moment. When he spoke again, his tone had softened. “Brooke, you were kidnapped on this very street. It’s too dangerous. I need you to stay in the car. I promise I’ll be back in five. Just tell me where it is.”

  I shook my head, even though I knew he was right.

  Being away from Jett would be hard, even if only for five minutes. But what motivated me to hold my ground was the thought that whoever had left the letter could be up there—waiting to possibly hurt Jett. Losing Je
tt would be unbearable. I doubted he’d understand if I shared my thoughts with him. Before he could utter another word, I opened the door and ushered out of the car, quickly covering the distance to the entrance, when I realized he had my keys.

  Shoot.

  Now I was in trouble.

  The car door slammed shut.

  “Seriously?” Jett’s deep voice—now a shade darker—bellowed behind me. I didn’t turn around as he joined me in four steps, the sound of his shoes thudding against the wet pavement.

  When I turned around, I bumped into Jett’s hard chest. I suppressed a laugh.

  His peeved expression was almost funny; only, Jett most certainly wasn’t seeing the humor.

  In my hysteria, I stifled another giggle.

  “Did you really think you could outrun me?” he asked, annoyed.

  “Jett.” Letting out a sigh, I tilted my head back to face him, my smile dying on my lips. “We’re in the same boat, in the same mess. You either let me go with you or I’ll go alone, but you don’t get to tell me what I may or may not do. It’s my life. You can’t stop me from coming with you.”

  His eyebrows rose ever so slightly at my reply. “It is still my responsibility to protect you, whether you want it or not.”

  I rolled my eyes. “If you don’t take me with you, I won’t tell you where the letter is. And let me tell you, it’s stashed away in a hidden and secure place. You’ll never find it.”

  It was a little lie, but he didn’t need to know that.

  The letter was right out in the open, on the table. Anyone would have found it. But my threat did the trick.

  Slowly, Jett’s resolution crumbled.

  “Besides, those are my keys.” I held out my hand and jutted my chin out. “Please.”

  He sucked in air between his teeth. Eventually, he placed the keys back into my hand. “Fine, but you stay behind me. If somebody’s there, you run.”

  Stay behind him? That I could do.

  But run?

  Yeah, right. I could easily outrun any pursuer, what with my pregnant belly and all.

  “You’re absolutely ridiculous,” I muttered as I opened the door.

  “Can’t be careful enough,” Jett said, misinterpreting me.

  He grabbed my hand and pulled me behind him before he glanced over his shoulder, scanning the now busy streets.

  The moment we entered the apartment, I felt something was amiss. Maybe it was the air, or the way everything looked so abandoned. My body tensed, and my heart slammed into my chest. Nothing stirred, and yet it wasn’t quiet. The soft hum of the street below could be heard all the way up here.

  I cocked my head, continuing to listen for any strange sounds, while Jett checked each room.

  When he returned to the hall, his expression seemed more resolute than before.

  “Everything’s clear,” he said. “Where’s the letter?”

  “In the kitchen. I’ll show you.” With one last glance at the door, I pushed the dark thoughts to the back of my mind and headed for the adjacent room, Jett following closely behind me. I had barely entered when I stopped short. Slowly, I took a step back, bumping into Jett. I drew a sharp breath to ease the sudden burning in my lungs.

  What. The. Hell?

  On the table, beckoning to us, was a letter.

  Except the envelope wasn’t white.

  It was bright red, cheerful and promising like a Valentine’s Day card.

  “It’s a good hiding place, I gotta tell you,” Jett said. Under any other circumstances, I would have rolled my eyes and slapped his arm, but not today. “It would have taken me days to find it.” He stepped forward and reached out to take it before I planted myself in front of him.

  “Don’t touch it.”

  He turned to me, frowning. “Why? What’s wrong?”

  A thin layer of sweat settled across my back. “This isn’t it.”

  Jett’s gaze jumped from me to the table, and then back to me, his frown deepening when he caught my expression. “This isn’t the letter you told me about?”

  “No.” I shook my head in disbelief. “I don’t think so. Someone was here and replaced it. Maybe I need to see an optometrist, but I’m pretty sure I left a white envelope right here. This one’s red, so…”

  Before I could finish my thought, Jett sidestepped me and ripped it open, not even bothering to touch it carefully. When he drew out a single sheet of paper—red again—I ran my tongue over my suddenly dry lips.

  The last letter had been so creepy. What would the new one say?

  I stared at him as he read it, my pulse pounding, uncertainty creeping up on me.

  Creasing my forehead, I eyed him nervously.

  His shoulders tensed, his grip tightened, as he scanned the text.

  “What does it say?” I asked impatiently when he made no move to share his thoughts with me.

  Jett ignored me.

  I stepped closer and craned my neck to catch a glimpse, but Jett tore the paper out of my line of sight.

  “Son of a bitch,” he muttered and pushed the sheet back inside the envelope.

  “What?” I asked wearily. “What does it say?”

  “Nothing worth reading.”

  My heart began to pound against my chest at his cryptic statement. Jett was trying to hide the torment clearly flashing across his face. Usually, he was a good actor, but this time he seemed to fail miserably. When something affected him, it could only mean the news was bad.

  “I know that’s not true,” I whispered. “Let me see it.”

  “It doesn’t matter,” he replied. Ignoring him, I tried to snatch the letter out of his hand, and failed. My hands began to shake, and my legs trembled. Deep down I knew that Jett was trying to protect me again.

  Was I ready to read it?

  No.

  I’d never be.

  But I had no choice.

  If I didn’t look, I would never know, and Jett would never tell me what it said because Jett was too overprotective for his own good. Either that, or he was still having a hard time trusting and sharing his thoughts. I really hoped it was the first, because the last thing I needed was having another surprise just because Jett couldn’t open up to me.

  “Let me read it. “ I held up my hand, motioning for him to hand it over.

  “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

  I frowned, waiting, my hand still outstretched. With a sigh, Jett handed me the paper.

  I took a seat in a nearby chair, hesitating. When I finally mustered up enough courage, I opened the letter and skimmed the text.

  When I see her, I wonder does she still think of me?

  Last time, she walked away and I waited for her.

  Oh boy, this time there is no stopping.

  One bird caged, one free,

  But all good things are three.

  Fly, birdy, fly.

  Tomorrow’s soon here.

  With your brooken wings under the starry sky

  I kiss you good night

  For tomorrow is soon here and I’ll be there

  I read it again and again, while anger, fear, and confusion washed over me in thick cascades.

  The poem wasn’t just a message.

  It was a threat.

  In my head, it had become a sick melody that seemed oddly familiar, warning me to run.

  I felt like a bird, like when Nate had held me a prisoner. Like Gina must have felt when she was captured. She had died, and there was no doubt that I might be next—or why else would someone spell the word “broken” with two oo’s, just like my name? Whoever wrote the poem had done it on purpose. I was sure of that.

  I swallowed to get rid of the lump rising in my throat, not for the first time wondering if I would ever feel safe again.

  I turned to regard Jett.

  He was awfully silent, his gaze avoiding me.

  “He used the same words,” I said, then went on to recall the night with Jett’s brother. “Nate promised that he’d be waiting for
me.”

  Jett’s hand encircled mine, and ever so softly, he pulled the letter out of my tight grip.

  “It doesn’t matter, Brooke,” he whispered, crumpling it into a tight ball. “He can’t hurt you. I would never let anyone, anything, come between us. Do you hear me? I won’t let anybody hurt you. Before they get to you, they’ll have to make it past me.”

  “I know, but what about you?” My gaze met his beautiful green eyes now shadowed with worry. “Your brother hates you. I know he does. He told me you would shoot me and then kill yourself.”

  “That’s ridiculous.”

  “Not when it was his plan to make it look that way.” I pointed to the crumpled paper on the floor. “This is personal, Jett. Things could get a lot worse, and I can’t protect you.”

  “Nothing will happen. I’m strong enough to defend myself,” he said. “Come on, baby. You know I would kick his ass. And I have good aim. If he so much as takes a wrong step, he’s dead.”

  I smiled at Jett’s bad attempt at infusing humor into the situation, but inside I didn’t feel like laughing.

  Nate had gone to great lengths to fool his brother. What were the chances he would try again?

  Everything spoke for it.

  “That’s not what I meant.” I shook my head, eyes wide, as I struggled for words. “Someone has every intention of framing you for a crime you didn’t commit, Jett. Someone orchestrated a good plan, probably plotting for a long time.” I pointed at the paper again. “This letter is not a coincidence. It’s all part of that plan. Your brother’s trying to separate us, take you away from me. I know he wants that, because he tried it once, and he’ll do it again.”

  “I won’t let anybody, not even my brother, separate us.” Jett seemed unfazed by my words. The fact that he wasn’t taking my concerns seriously angered me.

  I shook my head again, the desperation in my voice leaving a bitter taste on my lips. “You don’t understand. Maybe you won’t have a choice.”

  His eyes narrowed to slits, and his posture stiffened even more—the only sign that he wasn’t as confident as he tried to appear. When he spoke again, anger had crept into his tone. “Over my dead body, Brooke. I told you.”

 
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