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Authors: Bethany Bloom

A Lover's Secret

BOOK: A Lover's Secret
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A Lover’s Secret

By Bethany
Bloom

 

Text
Copyright © 2014 Bethany Bloom

[email protected]

All
Rights Reserved.

 

No
part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without
written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief
quotations in a review.

 

This
novel is a work of fiction. The names, characters, incidents, places, and
events portrayed are either the products of the author’s imagination or are
used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead,
or actual events or localities is purely coincidental.

 

“This
is how I would die

Into
the love I have for you:

As
pieces of cloud

Dissolve
in sunlight.”

—Rumi

 

One

Jake

Jake Lassiter felt a racing deep inside, and his chest
lifted with more freedom and power than he’d felt in months. He was going to
make it. He was actually going to make it out of here. Alone. His hands
trembled as he flung open the door. And then… there she stood.

Damn.

Elizabeth’s face was hard and unflinching. Waves of
buttermilk blonde tumbled around her face as she pushed at his chest.

“Seriously? Now? You’re leaving?” Her eyes blazed as she
jerked her hand toward the suitcase. “You were just going to sneak out of
here?”

How could someone so breathtaking be so exasperating? Elizabeth
thought everything was under her control, but it wasn’t. Lucky for her she was
so adorable when she was angry. Her wide, smooth lips were so hypnotic that
Jake sometimes forgot to listen to what she was saying, even when she was
yelling.

“With all the progress we’ve made…you’re willing to throw it
all away?” she demanded. “All the risks you’ve taken?”

His reply was even, unhurried. “I’ve got to go, Elizabeth. I
just do.”

“It could put you in a lot of danger.”

He smirked at her, and she let out an embittered sigh. Then
he tilted his head and jerked it to the right, a silent demand for her to move
aside.

“Well, Miranda isn’t going to like it.” She folded her arms.

“So don’t tell her.”

“How is she
not
going to know? And what if someone
finds out? Everyone knows you now. Everyone recognizes you.”

“I’ll be back in seventy-two hours. That’s all the time I
need. And I’m not going to tell
anyone
. Trust me.” He squared his
shoulders at her.

“Seventy-two hours, Jake. If you’re not back here in seventy-two
hours, I’m coming to get you.”

He shrugged. “Now,” he said, his eyes flashing. “Kindly move
out of my way.”

Elizabeth stepped aside and twisted her hands together. “Just…
tell me why you’re doing this. You hardly even know this guy. Why—all of a
sudden—are his bachelor party and his wedding so damn important? So important
that you’re willing to risk…everything?”

He shook his head and kept moving. It wasn’t the groom who
was so important. It was the groom’s sister. It was Jess. And this would be his
only opportunity. This was it.

***

Jess

Jess’s skin prickled. Her legs wobbled, and her ankle turned
a little in her four-inch heels. The last place she wanted to be was a
bachelorette party. The very last place.

It had always been rather an effort for Jess to make small
talk. To laugh with perfumed, worldly women, who she feared could see straight
through her. At some point in her life, Jess had learned to screw on a
particular face for unnerving situations. To choose a particular voice for the
moment. But she didn’t have a point of reference for events like this one, and
it had been too long now. It had been nearly eight years since high school—since
she’d seen any of these women—and she couldn’t remember which voice she’d used
with them. She couldn’t recall which face she had put on.

She wished it helped that her sister, Monica, was entering
the party alongside her, but it didn’t.

“I know what you’re all freaked out about, you know,” Monica
said.

Jess swallowed. She doubted that very much.

“You’re worried that everyone here wants to see you go
down.”

“Why would you say that?” Jess blinked and scanned the
crowd. “Do
you
think they do?”

“Well, wouldn’t you?”

“No, actually. I don’t believe I would.”

“Sure you would. If someone just like you got straight A’s
and got into med school and had her whole future laid out, all perfect, you
would want to see her fall, smack down. Crash and burn. You’d want to see her
bleed. Right from the face. It’s human nature.”

Jess shuddered, deep in the center of her chest, and she
felt an empty space all around her.
Bleed from the face?

“People
love
that you failed out, Jess. Trust me.
Everyone will be nicer to you now than they ever were in high school. You’ll
have a whole new identity.”

“People were plenty nice to me, and I didn’t fail—”

“And if you’re not going to make yourself known, I’ll help.
It’s better like this…quick, like whisking off a Band-Aid.” Monica squeezed
Jess’s arm and spun her to face the crowd. “Look who’s back everyone!”

A few of the women whirled to see. Their dewy faces
brightened and blinked, and then, all at once, chains of bright, cheery words
tumbled toward her.

“Jess Madigan! How can you look no different?” one woman
cooed. “Just like the day we graduated?”

“I know, right?” another said.“She’s still so cute. Like a
little doll. Like I could pick her up and put her right in my pocket—”

“And those great big eyes.”

Jess blinked twice, fast, and everyone laughed. “Oh, and she
still knows how to use them.” Two of the women turned to one another and
fluttered their eyelashes.

“And don’t worry about that trouble in med school, Jess.
You’re in good company now.”

“Yeah, none of
us
know what we want to do with our
lives either.” A roar of laughter and a clink of glasses.

Jess pressed her lips together. She tilted her head and
tried to look amused, but they had all turned their attention to something
else. Something bride-to-be Kelly was saying.

Jess went on standing on the outskirts, looking, in, where
she was accustomed to standing. In a few days, her twin brother would marry one
of these women. A girl who had enjoyed a far better social position than Jess
had in high school. Then, as now, these women were always cordial and kind but
also had an odd way of making Jess feel as though her zipper was down or her
breasts were shaped wrong.

“See?” Monica said. “That wasn’t so bad.”

Jess nodded and looked at the floor.

“Now, I know you think you need me to be around you all
night,” Monica went on, “And I know you are terrified, like you tend to be,
but, for heaven’s sake, just start mingling. You know all these ladies just as
well as I do.”

Monica was right. It hadn’t been as humiliating as she’d
imagined. These women seemed to have no trouble going right back to ignoring
her. Good. She
had
been dreading this since she left campus last week.
She had been dreading the soft, tender moans and pitying sighs.

In a community like this, news of someone’s failure traveled
fast, and she had failed
hard.
After four years of pre-med, followed by
three years and eight months of medical school, she had taken off her scrubs
for the last time. She had determined that she would never be a doctor. Not
ever. The very idea of it squeezed the air from her lungs. It made her heart
palpitate and her insides twist.

And now that she had left it all behind, there was only this
hollow feeling, every breath rattling in and out through the husk of her body,
which walked about and smiled from pure muscle memory, while the person she
truly was had been lost.

Jess knew a certain amount of pity was inevitable, and it
nearly inhibited her from coming home at all. But, then, there were the facts:
As of today, she owed two hundred and sixty seven thousand dollars in student
loans and had no job. Plus, in a few days, her brother would be marrying that
giggly blonde. The one wearing the hot pink bedazzled tank top and the
penis-festooned tiara. The one Jess hardly knew at all because she had been too
busy. She had been away.

She was struck suddenly by the realization that, if she had
stayed here, if she had not gone to college or med school at all, if she had
not worked her ass off for nearly eight years, she might actually fit in
somewhere. She would have a job and no debt and at least some degree of
sophistication. She would have some kind of a life. She would have options and
free time and maybe even something to giggle about… Her throat closed.

“You know, Monica,” Jess managed to say. “I think I might go
home.”

“Oh, no you don’t.” Her sister’s hand felt cold as it
clinched Jess’s elbow. “You’ve got to be at least the tiniest bit social. As
the new sisters-in-law, we should probably be throwing this party, so the least
we can do is make our rounds.”

“The truth is, I’m not feeling well.”

“Bullshit.”

“Okay…I just really want to leave.” She swallowed. “I don’t
want to be here. I can’t be here any longer.”

“Well you can’t leave. The strippers haven’t even shown up
yet.”

“Oh.” Jess’s chest clamped shut. “There are going to be
strippers? Like, male strippers?”

“Yes, there are going to be, like, male strippers.” Monica
laughed and then let out an animalistic growl.

“Well…” Jess whispered, suddenly embarrassed. She had never seen
a male stripper before, and the thought of it made her feel quivery and awkward
inside. “When are they supposed to be here?” she asked, hoping to determine
when she should go hide out in the bathroom.

“I think, like, an hour ago.”

“Well, what happened to them?”
Maybe they wouldn’t arrive
at all.

“I don’t know, Jess. They’re strippers. I don’t think they
operate on a very strict timetable.”

“Oh.”

Monica snorted. “Jess, only you would be worried that the
strippers are late.” She flicked her eyes toward the ceiling. Monica’s face had
become more round in the past couple of years, along with her shoulders and her
belly, but her shiny black hair still curled in tousled loops around her head.
Her lips still glistened with cherry red, the exact shade she had worn since
middle school, and when she drank too much, it still ended up on her teeth.

“Punctuality isn’t
everything
, you know.” Monica
laughed. “but when you get married, I’ll remember. I’ll make sure your
strippers aren’t late.”

Jess pressed her lips flat.

“Alright.” Monica sighed. “I get it. No strippers for Jess.
No biggie, since you’ll probably never find a man anyway.”

Jess looked at the floor. Her legs started to tremble, as
though her knees had grown tired of holding her up.

Monica continued. “That might mean giving up control over certain
things: your bedtime. All your precious quiet time.” She snorted. “When was the
last time you had a date, anyway, Jess? Have you ever even been with a guy?”

Jess tried to laugh in response, but it came out sounding
hollow, as she knew it would. Monica had been cruel to her since she’d left
town eight years ago. Jess hoped their relationship might improve now that
she’d returned. Maybe she just needed a little while longer, or maybe it was
Monica who wanted to see her bleed. From the face. Jess shuddered and then
said, quietly, “Don’t rub it in, Mon. I haven’t had a lot of time.”

“Well, you
are
all about efficiency.” Monica raised
her voice now, addressing the group. “Jess is all freaked out because the
strippers are late!”

Several of the women laughed. “I guess you are just going to
need to get out your whip then, little Miss Jess Madigan,” someone said,
followed by another roar of amusement.

Jess felt a shiver of vulnerability and then a silence, a
loneliness that rushed through her chest, even as she stood there with her weak
and wobbly smile. What in the world would she do with a whip?

***

Jake

The plane rocked and squeaked. There was a time when the
turbulence over the Rockies would have made him clench his teeth and squeeze at
the armrests. But now, each pitch and lurch of the aircraft made him feel more
alive. He stared down at the tiny mountain peaks, still blanketed in white, and
he imagined reaching out his hands and crushing them. Reducing them to rubble.
Up here, he could defeat anything.

Jake felt a rising inside, and he took Jess’s photo out of
his breast pocket. He smoothed at the edges with his thumb and allowed himself
to remember. Just after the “Hallway Incident,” he had cut her senior photo
from the yearbook and laminated it with clear packing tape. He kept it with
him, always, as a reminder. A reminder of what never to do again.

Now he cradled the photo in his palm. Jess Madigan. Her eyes
Persian blue, pretty and innocent and glittering like sapphires. Her smile,
tentative but kind. Those lips, full and moist, and her glorious, tousled black
hair. The hottest yearbook photo ever. He imagined sliding his hand behind her
neck, feeling the luscious thick and silky strands between his fingers.

He wondered, then, if she’d ever discovered how beautiful
she was. In high school, she didn’t have a clue. He smiled at the memory. It
was just one of the things that made her so irresistible. Her complete
ignorance to her own beauty and power.

A lump rose in his throat. Before he saw the inside of
another plane, he was actually going to see her. And, he had decided, he was
going to make her his own. She was the one challenge left in his life. The one
thing he hadn’t prevailed over. Except of course, for that other matter, but he
vowed not to think about that. Not for another—he glanced at his watch—seventy
hours.

The captain’s voice crackled over the intercom, announcing
their arrival time, and Jake smiled. He would be just in time for Andrew’s
bachelor party, and he and Margot had everything pre-arranged so, even if the
car journey took longer than expected, things would still go as planned.

He felt a little guilty for taking things over from Stan,
the best man, but Stan sure hadn’t seemed to mind. Not that any red-blooded
American man could possibly mind what Jake had planned for them tonight. He
laughed.
Stan the Best Man. He had a new plan.
This night really was
going to be poetry. It was these little jolts of humor, and of pleasure, that
kept him going. Lost amid the anguish, the bitterness, the despair of life, if
you couldn’t somehow locate the laughter, if you couldn’t find the fun, then
life had won.

BOOK: A Lover's Secret
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