Conquer Your Love(Surrender Your Love 02)

By: J.C. Reed

Chapter 7





THE WAITER LED me through an almost empty restaurant, then up a broad staircase. Soft voices and the noise of cutlery carried over from what I assumed was the kitchen area somewhere below us, but apart from that nothing really stirred. I peered around me, wondering why a restaurant in a famous tourist area would be so unusually quiet at this time of day.

“Where are we going?” I asked the waiter. He continued to walk, ignoring my question, which led me to believe he either didn’t understand me, or he was following specific instructions not to answer any questions. I clamped my mouth shut, both confused and fascinated. Surprises weren’t my thing, however I had to admit this one was more than interesting.

We passed through a closed off dining room on the second floor which—by the look of it—was probably reserved for special events and wedding parties. To our left, chairs were stacked on top of the tables. To my right, the whole wall was made of glass, allowing a clear view of the blue sky and the mountain backdrop. Soft Italian music played in the background—not loud enough to be intrusive, but loud enough to give a romantic flair. The waiter slid the terrace doors open and guided me out onto a panoramic patio decorated with flowers. In the middle, near the white stone balustrade, were a table and two chairs, the white brocade tablecloth shimmering unnaturally bright in the sunlight and building a beautiful contrast to the crystal vase holding pink roses. A bottle of champagne was perched between ice cubes in a silver bucket next to two champagne flutes. I swallowed hard to get rid of the sudden dryness in my throat.

Holy shit.

Did Jett pay to have the restaurant closed off to everyone but us? And I thought by agreeing to just having lunch with him I could avoid exactly this kind of shocker. From the way the roses were arranged, to the fine tablecloth and sparkling glass and cutlery, I could tell someone had mulled over every detail. It would have been the perfect spot for a marriage proposal.

A proposal, Stewart? Really?

I snorted at the mad and absolutely irrational direction my thoughts were taking. Obviously I was still the hopeless romantic, and yet I didn’t quite want to be in love. Not to mention the fact that I barely knew anything about Jett and his life, while I had already told him everything about me and my life. The good, the bad, and the horrible.

“Like it?” Jett whispered behind me.

As usual, my abdomen twisted and knotted at the sound of his voice, and my heart began to beat faster like a helpless butterfly in a glass cage. I spun around and smiled at Jett, barely able to keep my eyes off him. He was dressed in a V-neck shirt and tight jeans that barely managed to hide the perfect sculpting of his hard muscles. The sunlight caught in his eyes, reminding me of dark-green gemstones.

Oh.

God.

Oh god. He was stunning.

No. He was sinfully perfect, from his dark hair to the way his mouth twitched at the corners whenever he was about to smile.

Tiny butterflies came to life in the pit of my stomach. I wanted to hate him so much, to be done with him once and for all, because in some way he was like a drug—the more I tasted him, the more I became addicted. But the way he smiled at me, and the way he cocked his head to the side, expecting my reaction upon seeing him, reminded me that I was human. Weak. Prone to making mistakes. And I could only hope I wasn’t about to make yet another one. Because in the end—no matter how much I liked him or he liked me—he was still Jett Mayfield. The man who played dirty. The man who played me.

My knees weakened and my mouth turned dry as he moved toward me—so confident in his stride—until he was close enough to touch me. I inhaled the earthy scent of his aftershave and let it slowly engulf my mind.

A sexy smile played on his lips. His green eyes looked alluring in the sunlight. The beginning of a stubble shadowed his tan skin, making me want to run my fingers over it. I turned away from him and toward the clear blue lake because it was easier than looking at him. There was still so much pain inside stemming from his actions and the realization that if he hadn’t lied, if he hadn’t tried to trick me, we might still be together. There might still be an us.

“Brooke.” His voice was deep and strained. Guarded. Ignoring my disturbing attraction to him, I leaned over the balustrade as far as I could and took a deep breath as I tried to control the turmoil inside me. I might not be able to shake it all off, but I wasn’t going to show him just how big a soft spot I still had for him either.

“I’m glad you could come. I thought this would be the ideal place to meet and talk.” He touched the small of my back, oblivious to the storm raging inside me, reminding me how gentle he was. How amazing we once were together.

“I didn’t expect this.” I turned to face him and our gazes interlocked, making my knees go weak.

“You said you wanted a public place. I believe the exact words were ‘outside, where anyone can see us.” He leaned against the railing and shot me an amused look that brought with it the most gorgeous dimples. Dimples that made you wish you would drown in them.

I crossed my arms over my chest, as if the action could put some distance between us.

“Yeah, but I meant having other people around, Jett. Lots of people. Think fast-food chain.” Being seen wasn’t much of a put-off to him. He had made that pretty clear on the lakeshore.

“What’s wrong with the people present?” He nodded at the waiter, amused.

I heaved a sigh in mock exasperation. Whatever I said, my arguments were lost. I had given in to his request to talk and was ready to listen. But I could already tell coming here was a mistake. The place was too beautiful; too perfect. Away from the distractions of a club or the people employed in his office, any ounce of determination to fight the stupid attraction between us dissipated into thin air.

“You wanted to see me, so let’s get to the point,” I said. “What did you want to talk about?”

“Let’s have lunch first.” His tone left no room for discussion. “We’ll talk later.”

“Fine.” Hungry as I was I didn’t argue with that, even though I doubted I’d be able to swallow more than a few bites in his presence. Jett guided me to my chair and held it for me. I slid into the seat, whispering a thank you. He sat down opposite from me and then we were gazing at each other again, soaking in each other’s presence over the small table—the way we had ever since our fateful meeting in a club, which wasn’t quite as accidental as I initially thought.

“What can I get you to drink?” the waiter asked, startling me.

“Champagne,” Jett said.

“For me water, please.”

Jett raised a puzzled brow, but didn’t comment.

“Why champagne?” I asked him as soon as the waiter had left to get our order. ”Are you trying to get me drunk?”

“We both know I don’t take advantage of a drunken woman, even though I’ve got to admit it’s nice to hear all the little things that come out of your sexy mouth. You know, the things I don’t get to hear when you’re sober.”

The telltale heat of a blush rushed to my face. Jett had seen me drunk at least twice. Every time he made sure I got home safely, and every time I told him, in my drunken state, how much I wanted him. It seemed like my subconscious was programmed to reveal the truth regarding how I felt about him—whether I wanted it, or not.

“I have sworn off alcohol.” I watched him take a thin bread stick and break it into two, then hand me one while he kept the other half. “Thanks,” I mumbled, nibbling on one end. “It makes me say stupid things I don’t mean.”

He snorted as he took a bite. “I doubt that.”

For some reason, his statement annoyed me. Probably, because he was right. Yet, it brought up an issue that had me occupied for longer than I cared to admit.

“Why did you lie to me, Jett?”

He hesitated, avoiding my gaze. A moment later the waiter appeared with a trolley carrying our drinks and various dishes. He set the drinks in front of us and wished us “Buon appetite,” and then he was gone again.

“I didn’t know what you wanted, so I ordered everything on the menu,” Jett said, not answering my question. I tried to ignore the various delicacies on the trolley, which was hard because everything—including Jett—looked so delicious. My stomach rumbled, reminding me I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.

I watched him pile a little of everything onto a plate before handing it to me. I took it from him but didn’t touch the food.

He noticed me watching him and sighed. I began to tap my foot impatiently, asking the obvious question with a mere raise of my eyebrows.

“I know you want answers but can we eat first?” He pointed at my plate. I eyed the food as I contemplated whether to give in to his plea, or remain stubborn in my decision to get this over and done with.

“Please. I’ll explain later,” Jett said slowly, his electrifying eyes piercing a hole into my soul.

There was something in his voice: hope that we wouldn’t end up fighting. Hope to avoid the inevitable—the countless questions demanding honest answers. Whatever those answers were, I had a nagging feeling I’d need a strong stomach to deal with them, so I grabbed my fork and popped a cube of white cheese into my mouth, chewing slowly. It tasted delicious, of fresh milk and herbs. I took another one, followed by what looked like a meatball tasting of peppers and olives.

I looked up when he lifted his fork and helped himself—from the same plate. The gesture was so intimate it made my heart skip a beat.

Too intimate.

It wasn’t what two strangers did.

“You’re damn sexy when you eat,” Jett whispered. “I’m glad you’re not one of those anorexic girls on a diet.”

I almost choked on my bite but continued to eat as if we were having a business conversation. “I don’t believe in diets.”

He smiled. “It’s not just your attitude I like. I love the way you get lost in every new sensation. You show the same passion when you’re under me.”

Good gracious.

Red flags began to flash somewhere in the back of my mind. He was beginning to flirt with me, piling on the sexy compliments, which—given Jett and our history—wasn’t a good sign.

Before I could stop him, he leaned forward and brushed his thumb over my lips and then sucked the tip of it into his mouth. I took a sharp breath and forced myself to let it out slowly.

In his absence, I had prepared all those kickass comebacks that would kick his ego to the curb. In my head I knew what I wanted to say and how to infuse just the right amount of sarcasm into it. Sitting in front of him, an arrogant, self-assured smile reflected in his eyes, my wit sort of dried up, and I found myself staring like an idiot, fighting for words while my brain remained surprisingly blank and my insides turned all mushy.

Dammit, I couldn’t think of anything to say. Worse yet, I could barely breathe because of the delicious pull between my legs. My panties were beginning to melt just from watching him do normal stuff, reminding me of all the pleasure he and his fingers had once bestowed upon me. The awareness came to me that I could sleep with him anytime. Pull him to me, yank his shirt open, run my fingers down his chest to the happy trail I had once been more than eager to explore.

His sexy smile widened. As if he knew what I was thinking.

Damn him and his gorgeous body!

Damn him and his flirting!

Thankfully, our waiter arrived to ask whether we needed anything else. For a moment I seriously considered asking the waiter to stay during the rest of our lunch. Figuring that might be a little too awkward, I resisted the urge and watched the waiter leave again.

I was a grown woman, for crying out loud. I didn’t need to hide behind anyone’s back because I couldn’t deal with a hot guy. Or maybe I could.

Play it cool and play it cold, Stewart!

“Jett, I want you to forget what happened between us,” I started, my tone infused with as much frostiness as I could muster. “It’s over. We can’t go back to how things used to be.”

Jett’s eyebrows shot up. “It’s never over. Not until every fight has been lost. And for you, I’d fight.”

“There’s nothing to fight for. You’re not getting the estate.”

“I already told you it’s not about the estate, Brooke. This is about us. About your safety.” His voice came low and dark. Like a menacing warning that he wasn’t going to give up.

“I don’t need your protection. He’s just an old man. What can he do to me?”

Hesitating, Jett put down his fork and crossed his arms over his broad chest. “It’s not that simple.”

“Then explain. I want to understand.”

He took a sip of my drink before putting the glass down slowly, leaving his untouched. Hiding my annoyance at the intimate gesture, I wondered whether he was trying to make a point by helping himself, like wanting to say that what belonged to me belonged to him. Seriously, could he turn more caveman-like on me? My blood began to boil in my veins. It started to boil harder when he touched my hand. His fingers began to trace circles on the back of my hand, slowly but with just the right amount of pressure—the way he used to do when we were still together.

How the heck can you explain to a guy that it’s over when you’re having a hard time convincing yourself? Why is telling others what they have to do always simpler than applying your own advice in practice?

“Tell me what’s going on. I want to understand,” I said, pulling my hand away from him. “That’s the only reason I’m here. Why do you think I’m in danger?”

I leaned back in my chair, regarding him coolly. The more I thought about this, the more his assumptions seemed ludicrous. Scary, yes, because Jett was persuasive. But still absurd.

“Like I said, Alessandro’s just an old man. What do you think he could possibly do to me from a hospital bed where he’s dying, Jett?”

He frowned and a shadow crossed his features. I honestly thought he was going to start talking…until he lifted his fork again and began to eat, taking all the time in the world.

I groaned.

Damn!

He did it again—ignoring me. Letting me wait on purpose just because he felt like being in control.

Assessing. Testing.

Testing what?

I felt like leaning over that table and shaking some sense into him. Maybe even strangle him while I was at it, because his reasoning, or lack thereof, made no sense to me, and I was slowly losing my patience at his reticence.

“It’s not just Lucazzone I’m talking about. It’s the elite club he belonged to,” he said slowly. “My father, Robert, was involved many years ago.”

“What club?” I eyed him carefully, sensing the sudden change in the air.

Jett sighed and ran a hand through his tousled dark hair. His gloomy expression reflected the countless emotions fighting to gain control inside. In the end his shoulders slumped like he’d made a decision he didn’t want to make, but his dark expression didn’t change.

“I’ll tell you everything I know, okay?” Jett said. “But I want you to just listen and listen carefully. Whatever I say today doesn’t leave this table. You cannot tell anyone.”

The sharp edge in his tone instantly raised my alertness. He grabbed my hand and gave it a hard squeeze until I nodded, silently giving him my word.

“A few years back, Alessandro Lucazzone was involved in my father’s business. It was for a brief time and he was never officially listed as a shareholder, so I couldn’t figure out why my father would let him make the decisions he made—decisions that cost us millions. I stumbled upon it when I checked our financial reports dating back to my time at college. A few weeks ago, Robert finally came clean and admitted something that could harm the company.”

Jett paused and his eyes narrowed, the angry line between his eyebrows saying more than a thousand words. His grip on my hand tightened, hurting me just a little, but I didn’t pull back. “They were both involved in this sort of elite club. You know, drugs and kinky sex practices, and lots of people to be paid off to keep quiet. My father and quite a few people—many of them rich and famous—were addicted to that stuff and paid whoever hosted the events millions. In my father’s case, he paid it out of the company’s accounts. When I joined the business the company was on the verge of liquidation, in which case we would have lost everything. I’ve pulled in enough business to keep us afloat for a while. But one wrong decision and it’s all over the media, and we’ll end up losing major deals and our good reputation. If anyone finds out, the company’s done. You were right about everything.”

“I don’t understand. Right about what?” I had a hard time following him and the sudden change in tone didn’t exactly help. His gaze settled on me, imploring me to understand. His hand squeezed mine again, silently asking me to relate, to feel his emotions, or maybe to believe him.

“Robert thought by buying the Lucazzone estate he could save the company. I first agreed it was a good idea because the land is valued at much more than we initially offered and tourists flood in every year. I thought, why not try to sell it as the next St. Tropez or Kitzbuhel?” He began to massage his temples.

“But you increased your offer. It was a huge gamble. You could have lost a lot of money,” I whispered, my head still spinning around the words ‘sex practices’ and ‘elite club.’ It sounded like a bad Hollywood movie.

“I was against paying more because, like you, I know when the risk’s too high but he wanted it and in the end it’s still his company. After meeting you, that wasn’t what worried me. I was afraid that once the people involved learned of your inheritance, they’d come after you to make sure you wouldn’t find out their secret and talk.”

His hands cupped my face, forcing me to look at him. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

I nodded, but not because I understood. He was nervous. I could feel tension wafting from him in strong waves. The glint in his eyes scared the hell out of me.

“You said ‘club,’” I began slowly. “Are we talking about a few kinky preferences like a bit of BDMS or—”

He shook his head gravely and let go of my face but didn’t break eye contact.

“All I know is that they’ve been fanatic about keeping their identities protected, which leads me to assume there was more to it than that.”

“Wow.” I bit my lip hard, barely feeling the pain. “Where did the meetings take place?”

A grimace crossed his face and a silent look passed between us. He didn’t have to tell me that it was the Lucazzone estate.

“According to my father, many powerful people were involved,” Jett said. “He made it clear that many of them would stop at nothing to keep their preferences hidden from the public.”

“But why would they think I’d know anything about them?”

“Because you’re the heiress. You’re expected to inherit Lucazzone’s secrets and no one knows the specifics. They’re probably scared. I know I’d be.” His expression remained earnest, but the sudden caginess in his voice didn’t escape me.

“You were never involved?” I tried to instill nonchalance into my voice, like his past didn’t matter. After all, we didn’t know each other back then, so it wasn’t really my concern. But it mattered. I didn’t want him to be some pervert.

Shooting me a dirty look, he took a deep breath and let it out slowly. The way his fingers began to tap on the table told me he was having a hard time keeping his annoyance under control.

I raised my chin a notch and regarded him stubbornly. “Were you—”

Jett cut me off. “I heard you the first time and I’m fucking pissed you’d ever think that of me.”

“I didn’t. I—” My throat constricted at the angry glint in his eyes.

“What the fuck, Brooke? I thought you knew me.” His voice came so low I had a hard time understanding him, which was worse than yelling. It made me feel bad—disappointed in myself—even though I had no reason to be.

“I don’t know you because we’ve barely scratched the surface of your life,” I said warily. My heart was beating a million miles an hour. “I’m sorry. It was just an innocent question. Anyone would ask the same thing, given the circumstances.”

“Given the circumstances.” His jaw set. He pulled his hand away and leaned back in his chair, putting as much distance between us as our sitting arrangement allowed.

He was angry and I couldn’t blame him.

“I didn’t mean to be accusatory,” I said. “It was just a question, Jett.”

He laughed slowly, still avoiding my gaze. I scanned his beautiful face. His scowl didn’t distract from his beauty; it just made him look different, and I realized I really didn’t know much about him.

“I wish I knew you better,” I said softly. “The real you—not the mask you’re putting on to hide what’s inside.”

His cloud of anger lifted just a little bit. “I’d love another date.”

I laughed at his impudence. “This isn’t a date.”

“Whatever you call it, I’d love another one of those.” He cocked his head, giving me the kind of smile I had been waiting for all day.

No, Stewart. Don’t you dare!

“I’m not asking you.” The corners of lips curled upward. “If you say ‘no’ then you leave me no choice than to do the next stupid thing, like kidnapping you because I want to earn your trust. I want to make things right again. What do you say?”

My heart skipped a beat and I had no idea whether it was because Jett’s strong grip on me sent naughty thoughts through my head. Or because his threat both scared and fascinated me.

“You don’t mean it.”

“Try me.” No smile. No blinking. Just pure, raw determination to get his way.

I swallowed down the big lump in my throat. This was supposed to be a formal meeting. Nothing too intense. Yet here I was, tempted to give him another chance, knowing I might be heading down a self-destructive path.

“Your whole story sounds kind of far-fetched, Jett. You don’t have any real proof. Everything’s based on assumptions. Give me one good reason why I should believe you.”

“Because it’s the truth.” He didn’t hesitate; didn’t even blink. “I was never involved, Brooke. That’s not the kind of person I am, and I hope one day you’ll know that deep in your heart.”

Maybe, but that time hadn’t come yet. Jett was a convincing person who might or might not tell the truth. I needed proof before I was ready to trust him again.

I checked the time on my cellphone and brushed my hands over my skirt the way I always did when I was about to leave.

“I have to go. It’s getting late and Sylvie’s expecting me in ten minutes.” It wasn’t a lie. Without waiting for his reply, I grabbed my bag and stood, wondering why I wasn’t as pleased with our meeting as I initially thought I would be.

Maybe because he hasn’t given you any real answers.

True. In fact I ended up with more questions than before, and I didn’t like it one bit.

“You’re amazing, you know that?” Jett walked around the table and stopped in front of me, his height intimidating me, as usual. My eyes lingered on his lips. So close. So delicious. I held my breath as he brushed a stray strand of hair out of my face. His touch sent a shiver through me, making me all too aware of just how close we were standing. My heartbeat started to drum in my ears. I had experienced this feeling before—at the office back in New York the day I broke up with him, thinking I had lost him forever. Right before he told me that he loved me.

His lips moved just a little bit closer to mine, hovering inches away. Not too close but enough to make me aware of his manly scent and the sudden tension in the air. Aware that even though he had explained his reasons, it was still over.

“You really are amazing, Brooke,” he repeated.

“Why are you telling me this?” I almost choked on my words.

“Because I should have told you before, when you would’ve still believed me. And I should have told you as often as I could so you’d never forget.”

Damn him and his ability to say the right things at the right time. I didn’t want to fall for him any deeper than I had already. He was gaining the upper hand again, turning the table on me.

“Jett please, just stop.” I blinked back the telltale moisture gathering in the corners of my eyes.

“Why?”

Because you broke my heart once, and there’s no guarantee you won’t do it again.

“I don’t believe you, Jett. Everything you said—I just can’t believe you anymore. Not until you give me proof.” It was the truth. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t trust him. “I should never have come here. Sylvie was right when she warned me about you.”

“Not everyone’s hell bent on screwing you over, Brooke. Some people genuinely care about you.” I turned away but he grabbed my shoulders, forcing me to face him. “If you want to know the truth, don’t ask a friend who’ll tell you only what you want to hear. Check the facts and you’ll see that, yes, I made a mistake, but I’m telling you the truth when I say I only tried to protect you.”

I yanked my hand away from him. Awkward silence ensued. I knew I had hit a soft spot. I could see it in his face, in his eyes, the way he moistened his lips, pondering his next move. Eventually, he let out a frustrated groan.

“I lied to you one time when I didn’t know you. Before we decided to have a relationship. I know I did many things wrong, but I never stopped caring about you.”

A liar is known to tell many lies but the one who speaks the truth will always stick to the same story. It was a universal knowledge I had embraced many years ago. In this case, however, the truth scared me. What if he cared about me but not enough to avoid hurting me again?

“I need to go, Jett.” I checked the time on my cellphone again, silently praying he’d let me go. I was no match for him if he didn’t. He stepped back but his gaze never left me.

I made my way across the terrace and down the stairs, minding my steps as Jett followed behind. I reached the waiting taxi in a few long strides. His strong grip on my upper arm told me our conversation wasn’t over and, as usual, he was about to fight for the last word.

“Brooke. We never had a real date.” His eyes were two glowing pits of smoldering heat. I had never seen so much determination in anyone. Then again, I had probably never seen the real Jett. “In spite of everything that happened and what I explained to you today, would you go on a date with me? I’m not asking you to trust me. I know that takes time. I’m asking you to give me a chance to earn that trust and make things right again.”

My heart hammered in my chest. The attraction was still here, coursing back and forth between us like an intangible current. “I would. Just prove your claims are true.”

“They are. Even if you don’t understand things now, sooner or later you’ll find out I never meant to hurt you.”

“I still need evidence,” I said coolly, holding on to my determination for dear life.

“And then you’ll give me a chance to redeem myself?”

“Yes.” It sounded fair enough. With proof I could understand his motives. “I really have to go now. Sylvie’s waiting for me.”

His smile returned with full force and brought with it the most gorgeous dimples. I held my breath as his mouth came closer. But instead of kissing me, he whispered in my ear, “I’m still thinking of you. Even though everything’s messed up, I still want you by my side. I still want to be with you, within you, inside you, hearing you panting my name.”

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