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The Lover's Promise (No Exceptions #3)

By:J.C. Reed

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 past seven years, 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