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The Lover's Promise (No Exceptions #3)

By:J.C. Reed

otion, 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?"

Fuck!

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?"

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