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The Lover's Promise (No Exceptions #3)

By:J.C. Reed

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.

BROOKE

New York City, Present Day

Calm down.

Calm the fuck down.

There was nothing to fear, because I had done nothing wrong. It had been Gina's idea to visit the club, not mine. All I had to do was answer the detective's questions and then I was free to leave.

Countless thoughts raced through my head but only one registered: Gina was dead. Killed. Who would have done it? And for a handbag? Even as I asked myself those questions, I knew a mugging wasn't the answer. While people stole handbags, they didn't necessarily cut the victim's throat in the process, which was why the detective was here-to unravel the mystery and get to the bottom of things. Like me, he probably suspected foul play and while I hoped

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