January 22, 2015

The Lover's Promise: Read Chapter One now!

THE LOVER'S PROMISE coming....  January 26th, 2015
*Full Length Novel*



New York City, 3 days earlier.

The past was the past, and the future would be nothing but whatever I made of it. My future was her, our lives interlinked with our hopes and our dreams, and long-forgotten plans. Strange to think that only a few months ago I never thought my life or I would change. I never thought that an encounter with a future employee would result in me actually wanting to take the next step and marry her.

Sitting in the bar, my heart sped up at the thought of what still lay ahead of me. The initial plans had been set in motion. Now it was time to execute them. I was going to do whatever it’d take to distract her, and then in exactly four hours and twenty-five minutes I’d propose to her, after which I’d whisk her away in a private plane for a quick surprise wedding in Las Vegas, leaving my friends to finish the rest of my arrangements and carry out my revenge.

It was supposed to be a simple plan, one I had organized for a long time. Now if only she would say “yes” and play along.

Granted, a marriage proposal came a bit soon in our relationship, maybe too soon, but I had no option—not if my plan was going to work. Soon, he’d find out I’d betrayed him, and he’d try to hurt her to get back at me. The thought of losing her to someone else, of my enemies finding her, made me crazy with rage. For her, to save her from the ones who wanted to hurt her and were after her, I would kill.

Marrying was the least of my problems, not least because I knew deep down that I was ready. Call me foolish, call me desperate. Fuck, call me vengeful, but in my heart I knew what I was doing was the right thing—for her, for us. And while I did not want to control her, I had every intention of doing whatever it might take to make her mine by law. And if by any chance, she wouldn’t accept my proposal, or if she needed more time because I was moving too fast for her, then I’d bend her to my will until she realized we belonged together.

“So, this is your big night, huh?” Tiffany’s voice penetrated the dark haze covering my mind, drawing my attention back to her. Looking up at one of my oldest friends, I frowned and swallowed down a snarky remark. I hated disruptions, and in particular the kind that took me by surprise when I was immersed in my thoughts. But Tiffany had always had my back, and right now, I couldn’t afford to piss her off—not when she was helping me out with my somewhat illegal scheme.
“You could say that.” My gaze met her sharp, blue eyes. “Did you get it?”

Tiffany nodded her head. “Custom-made, specifically designed for her.” She put a black gift bag on the table and pushed it toward me. “Just as you asked.”

My heart fluttered as I pulled a little velvet box out of the bag, my fingers hovering over the soft fabric. For a short moment fear choked me and dark thoughts gathered at the back of my mind.

This better not be a mistake. It better be perfect. Of course there was a chance that I might be ruining everything, but as decisions went, I hardly ever backed down on them, so I pushed my dark thoughts away and opened the black case.

Relief streamed in waves through me when my eyes caught the ring.
It was a delicate assemblage of gemstones with a two-carat diamond in the middle. Sparkling and gleaming in the soft light of the club, much like Brooke’s eyes, which were the reason I had fallen in love with her, it was more beautiful than I had ever envisioned.

The tiny engraving read:
With no exceptions, my love for you doesn't need reciprocation to exist.
Jett x

The setting felt delicate and my decision final. I turned it around a few times, wondering how a piece of metal could feel both delicate and grave at the same time. Now my plans felt more real than ever. Brooke would like it, no doubt about that, but would she say “yes?” As if sensing my doubts, Tiffany cleared her throat, her soft voice drawing my attention back to the conversation at hand.

“She’ll love it, Jett. I know it,” she whispered, her eyes on the ring.

I suppressed a smile. “Brooke’s like no other woman I’ve ever met. For all I know, she might just throw it at my head when she finds out what I’m really up to.”

She let out a laugh. “You’re right, I don’t know her. But I know she’d be crazy not to like it, especially after you went all the trouble to get it perfect.” She pointed at the ring. My gaze moved from her to our laser-inscribed names. They looked alien like they didn’t belong to us, and for a moment it all seemed like a strange dream, the past few months eerily surreal. Was that what love was all about? Experiencing a string of events that would all slip away and mold into bittersweet memories?

Forcing my eyes away from the ring, I put it back it into the box and dropped the box back into the gift bag. “Thanks for doing it at such a short notice, Ti. I knew I could count on you to get it done within twenty-four hours.”

She flicked her hand. “Don’t mention it. Being friends with the owner of the shop has its perks.” She smiled softly and leaned forward. “Whatever you need, just call me and it’s a done deal.” For a short moment, silence ensued between us during which she stirred her coffee with a teaspoon. “So, when does it start?”

“Tonight at dinner. Everything’s finished.” I returned her smile in a weak moment of excitement rushing through me.

“Have you told her about Nate yet?”

My smile died like a blown-out candle. “About my brother being let out of prison today?” I raised my eyebrows and snorted. “You’re kidding, right?”

“What about you visiting with him the past few weeks? Another secret you’ll be taking to the grave?”

“Now’s not the time.” I shook my head, more at myself than at Tiffany. Would there ever be a right moment?

“Seriously?” She stared at me for a few seconds, her face suddenly devoid of any emotion, and then her lips parted slowly, as though she wanted to say something but couldn’t bring herself to. I set my jaw. Of course she didn’t understand; I didn’t expect she would. “You should tell her, dude,” Tiffany finally said. “Trust me, if she knew you kept secret like that, you’d be in big trouble. This whole scheme of yours will blow right in your face if you don’t tell her.”

 “No, Ti. Not happening,” I said with as much conviction as I could. “Brooke can’t know about it.”

“All right,” she whispered under her breath and took a sip of her coffee. Running her hand through her black hair, she leaned back, regarding me with curiosity. “You sure this is what you want, Jett?” 

She inclined her head toward the black gift bag, a strange smile playing on her lips. I knew she was referring to the marriage part because she had tried to broach the subject a few times—without much success.

“I’m sure. I’ve been waiting for this day for a while now and to be honest, I wouldn’t know a better time.”

“Because she doesn’t suspect.” It was more a statement than a question.

“Yes,” I said slowly, ignoring the way her eyes seemed to pierce through me, as if there was something she knew and I didn’t.

Watching her, I was reminded once more that there was something different about her. Not the hair she wore dyed black now, nor the weight she had lost; her entire demeanor had changed. Ever since I had returned to the gang, she seemed different, almost unrecognizable. The past years had been hard on her; her alcohol addiction had turned her into a shell of her former radiant self; her once carefree attitude replaced with weariness and aloofness.

“Do you remember last year?” The question came suddenly, taking me by surprise.

I frowned at her, unsure where she was heading.
Last year? I hadn’t known Brooke back then. As much as my first impulse demanded that I ask what the fuck she was talking about, I didn’t. I sensed she was treading onto personal terrain that had nothing to do with my brother, Nate, nor with Brooke and my decision to marry her.
It was only when Tiffany leaned forward, cocking her head to the side with a soft smile on her lips, that it dawned on me.

“You and me?” she prompted. “Don’t even tell me you never miss it, Jett.”

I stared at her, then cringed inwardly. Tiffany was talking about our past. Not any past, but ours. The one before Brooke and lots of other women. Faces I couldn’t remember, let alone put a name to them. A part of me wanted to stop Tiffany’s words from flowing, but it was too late.

 “I know you better than anyone out there, Jett,” she whispered and touched my arm gently. “Look at me and tell me in all honesty. Can you really say to my face that you don’t miss it?”

It was a question I had dreaded for years. A question that still made me feel uncomfortable to the point of wanting to leave and never look back. A question I thought she’d never dare ask because, surely, deep inside she knew the truth. I hadn’t expected it now, hours before I’d get down on one knee in front of another woman and ask her to build with me the kind of family I never had. Tiffany and I hadn’t talked about the past in a long time, and that was just the way I liked it. Everything before Brooke wasn’t worth mentioning or remembering. In retrospect, I realized I should never have asked Tiffany to meet with me. It had been a stupid move. But Tiffany and I had been friends so long, that I thought she had moved on a long time ago.

Catching the way she was looking at me with a glimmer of hope in her eyes, a look I had seen so many times after meaningless dates, something else dawned on me. Tiffany might be one of my oldest friends and dating Brian, but as a woman she was like each and every one of my past lovers: weak. She wasn’t over our breakup. Fuck, she might even be in love with me, and there wasn’t shit I could do about it.

“All the things we did? All the fun we had?” she prompted when I remained silent.

“It’s over, Ti. You know that,” I said as softly as I could, ignoring the touch of her fingertips on my arm.

She shook her head, and the smile on her lips widened.“You said the exact same thing last time, but you forget that I know you, Jett. The real you.” She moved closer to me, until I could smell the scent of her perfume, sweet and dark—just like she was. “You aren’t the kind of man who’s happy with just one woman in his life. You admitted that when you left me after two years. You said success and winning mean everything to you, that you always want more.”

The lump in my throat thickened. I swallowed hard, almost choking on it.
She was right, of course. Those were my exact words. I used to be the kind of man who was never happy with just one woman. Fuck, I was the motherfucking asshole who shied away from any sort of commitment that went beyond settling a time for a next date that would end in bed. But worse than that, I left her with no apology, no explanation, and I never broke it off—not officially anyway—because there was nothing to be broken off in the first place.
The truth was we, Tiffany and I, had never been exclusive. I had always assumed she understood what that meant. After all, we had agreed to date whomever who wanted. And we had. Or maybe, to be more precisely, my dick had. One woman a night. Not one single second chance. Not a single second date. I had so many I lost count. There was no doubt ours had been an open relationship, a friendship with benefits. Tiffany had seen many of those women come and go.

“Last year was a mistake. It was my birthday, and I was drunk,” I muttered under my breath.
Actually, Tiffany had gotten me drunk. The way I remembered it, she stayed at my place, reaching for bottle after bottle, insisting that I drank for the both of us.

“What about the other times?” she whispered. “The times before that? Were those a mistake, too?”
I had no answer, and she nodded as if that confirmed her suspicion. “I miss the times when we were young,” Tiffany continued, her voice gaining in confidence and more emotion than I cared for. “We were so in love. We had that amazing chemistry. I know we haven’t talked about this in a long time, but…” She paused and brushed her fingers to remove the moisture trailing down her cheek. “Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had kept the baby; if things might have taken a different turn.”

I clenched my fist under the table. Brooke and I were expecting our first child. Of course it would remind Tiffany of her own child. Her pain was etched in her eyes, but as much as I wanted to say something to take it all away, I couldn’t find the right words. I had never been good in dealing with women’s emotions.

Fuck, I didn’t think I was ever any good in dealing with any of my exes. Even my buddies joked that the way I usually dumped them would scar them for life and spoil their trust in the male population forever.

“Ti.” I took a deep breath, ready to say anything to stop her from talking, but the words didn’t come out. Even looking at her, feeling the guilt, was hard. I took another deep breath, but the words remained lodged in my throat.

What was I supposed to say to someone who had encountered her fair share of suffering? Someone who had confided in me like I had done so many times in her? Someone who thought I reciprocated her feelings when that couldn’t be further from the truth?

“Our room is ready for us. It’s the same we used last time.” She was standing in front of me now, and the traces of pain in her eyes were replaced by something else, something I feared even more than her reminiscing about the past. It was the look of renewed hope, the kind of look that past lovers have in their eyes when they show up at one’s doorstep, hoping for more to the point of being desperate.

“There’s always a new beginning, Jett,” she continued in a more hopeful tone, oblivious to my thoughts, absorbed in her own world. “You wanted to see me, and that’s all that matters. Deep down, I knew we were never over. That you’d come back to me someday.”

Her fingers wrapped behind my neck, forcing me to look up, her sinfully red lips coming so close I was instantly reminded of the countless times she had taken me between them, offering me the kind of pleasure that made me forget the shitty world around me. Passion—all raw and gritty and fulfilling—but without the feelings Brooke had stirred inside me. Tiffany leaned forward, whispering in my ear, “I know you think you have to marry her, but really, there are other options, Jett.”

I pressed my lips into a tight line.
There was no doubt that Tiffany had seen our sexual relationship as special, but to admit the truth, which was that I never really cared for her more than as a friend would be too hard a blow. I couldn’t hurt her more than I had already, but I had to. If only it were easy. If only she and Brian weren’t two of my best friends, and the only family I’d ever known It would have been so much easier if she were a mere acquaintance, a random stranger I could walk away from.
Seeing her feelings reflected in her blue eyes, I had no idea how to start. I inhaled a sharp breath and let it out slowly as I made up my mind. Things—no matter how painful—had to be said.

Her kiss came suddenly, catching me off-guard. Her tongue slid into my mouth, eager and hungry. For a second, I was too stunned to act, overwhelmed by memories of old times intermingled with the distant ringing bell and a faint awareness that Tiffany was in a relationship with the one guy whose trust I couldn’t betray.
Something stirred inside me, but it wasn’t pleasure. It was pity.
Pity that I didn’t feel the same for her as she did for me.
Pity that I didn’t want her anymore.
Pity that whatever had happened in the past was long over, that I had moved on from my old me. We had both evolved—in different directions at different speeds.

I grabbed her shoulder and pushed her away more roughly than I intended. “Ti.” I breathed out, struggling for words. “What the fuck!”
I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, as if the motion could remove the marks of her lipstick and the taste of her lips. As if I could undo my mistakes. It did nothing to lessen the feeling of disgust at her behavior. “What the fuck were you thinking?”

She shrugged. “I thought you wanted to. That’s why I booked the room.”

“Are you drunk right now? Because if you aren’t, I swear I’ve no idea what’s gotten into your fucking head.” I regarded her intently, unsure whether to laugh or shake some sense into her.

“What’s wrong with you? I’ve been sober for the last year, and I’m very proud of it.”

I shook my head. “No, Ti. What’s wrong with you? You’re in a fucking relationship and so am I.”

“If it’s about Brian, I can explain,” Tiffany said softly. “I never thought you’d return to the gang. I never thought I might still feel the same way about you. When you told me you needed me, I knew it was your way of saying that you needed to see me the way you used to in the past.”

I stared at her. This was even worse than I had imagined. The whole situation was awkward and I didn’t do awkward. On the one hand, I could understand her confusion. People don’t remain friends for no reason. They always fall back into benefits territory, which I had done too many times in the past before I met Brooke. Like last year, when in a desperate mood for sex, she just happened to be available and we hooked up. Time after time. On the other hand, Tiffany always changed when she started drinking. She became unpredictable, difficult to communicate with.

“We shouldn’t talk for a while,” I said weakly. “Meeting you here was a mistake.”
“What are you saying? That this is the wrong place?” She slowly scanned left and right, as if Brian might be lurking around the corner. I snorted inwardly because I doubted he’d just be standing around, watching, if he caught his girlfriend cheating.

“It’s not about Brian.” I swallowed. “I like you, Ti. I really do, but…”
There was a long pause.
“But what?” she prompted.
“You’re like a sister to me.”
“A sister?” She stared at me. “No one fucks his sister, Jett.”

“You know that’s not what I meant.” I sighed and ran my hand through my hair. “That will never happen again.” My voice betrayed my anger. “What happened between us is over. Do you understand? Nothing will ever happen again.”

Now it was her turn to look at me, confused and vengeful. I could see her mind trying to glue my words together in order to make sense of them while her heart was slowly breaking.

“It’s her, isn’t it?” The tone was accusing. “She’s younger, and she’s pregnant. It’s her you want at the moment, but no woman ever lasts with you. They never did in the past and they won’t in the future.”

“This is different.” I turned away. “You knew she’s the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with. Those were my exact words when I ordered the ring.”

“And yet I thought it was all part of some grand plan of yours.” She laughed and brushed her hair out of her eyes. “You can’t blame me because you tend to have quite a few of those.”

Fuck, Tiffany had always been good at ignoring the obvious.
“It is, but not the way you might imagine.” I wet my lips, unsure whether to elaborate. As much as I trusted Tiffany, I didn’t trust her that much. “I’m doing it for real, because I want to be with her, not because I’m being forced nor because she’s pregnant. If her circumstances didn’t demand that I marry her, I’d still be thinking about it. I don’t expect you to understand, Ti.” I stared her down, my gaze hard. Maybe I hadn’t been clear enough. Maybe I needed to be a jerk for her to finally get the hint and move on. “I’m a changed man. What we had was not the same as what I have now with Brooke. So don’t tell me who I am. You don’t know me anymore. You don’t know fuck about me, Ti.” As soon as the words came out, hard and accusing, I regretted them. Being a jerk was one thing; being an asshole another.

“I’m sorry.” My hands reached out, but it was too late. She flinched as she looked at me as if I had just hit her with a fire lash.

“For what? For telling me the truth? Or for not feeling the same way I do?” She smiled bitterly. “It’s not your fault that the truth sucks, Jett.”

“I still had no right to be so rude.”

“You had every right.” She looked away, past my shoulders, and took a deep breath. “You might be an asshole for hurting me when you left and then again the day you returned, but it’s not your fault for feeling the way you do. I mean…” She sighed. “I knew someday casual sex would no longer be enough for you; I knew you’d find someone who’d make you want to commit. I just hoped I’d never get to see it. I just hoped…”
I hoped it would be me.
The unspoken words lingered in the air.

“Anyway, I’m better off now.” Signaling that she was ready to leave, she gathered her coat and bag, barely looking at me. “I’m sorry I won’t be at your engagement party, Jett. I have so much stuff to do at work, but I’ll make sure to send you a gift.”

“Don’t do that, Ti.”

She held up her hand, stopping me in mid-sentence. “No, it’s okay, I want to. I should never have booked that room, anyway. Brian has been good to me; way better than you ever have.” Even though her smile indicated that it was all a joke, I didn’t miss the sting in her tone. “He didn’t deserve all that shit, you know?” She looked up at me. “Please do pass on my best regards to Brooke and tell her…tell her I’m sorry for everything.”

I nodded, watching her get up and slide into her coat.

“Will you be okay?” I asked. Opposite from us, a neon light flickered across the bar area, illuminating countless bottles of alcohol, making them even harder to miss—or resist.
She rolled her eyes and a soft smile lit up her face.

“Look, Jett, I’m fine. And I’m clean. If you think I’m back to my old days of guzzling down booze, you’re wrong. So very wrong.” She laughed. “I have absolutely no desire for a single drop. The fact that you see me walking into a bar to meet you over a glass of water should be proof enough that I’m long over my addiction.” At my skeptical expression her smile widened. “Really, you’re making such a fuss. It’s like you don’t know me at all.”

The lie sounded plausible enough—if only I could believe it. If only I hadn’t caught the way Tiffany looked at the guy holding his drink. If only she hadn’t been so quick to kiss me and act the way she only did when she was drunk. If she cracked, there would never be enough alcohol to sate her addiction and it’d all be my fault.

“Ti…” I began, gathering my words.

“Goodbye, Jett.” She flashed me another smile and snatched the bag out of my hand, then leaned forward to plant a kiss on my cheek. “Be good to Brooke. I know you’ll make a great husband…and dad.” Her eyes lingered on me for a few moments. And then she walked off without waiting for my reply.

**End of Chapter One** Did you like the teaser? If yes, please let me know on Facebook or comment below.

The Lover's Promise will be available on January 26th, 2015 worldwide as print and ebook
on Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo.

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