Authors: Emily Duvall
“Never mind,” Brent muttered. “You!” he said, and jogged over.
She looked up and slid the phone down her face. “You followed us,” she said through clenched teeth.
“Where's the bachelorette?”
“Like I'd tell you. Leave her alone or I'll call the police.”
“I need to see her.”
“You're dreaming. Go away creep.”
The front desk agent angled her body over the counter. “Can I help you?” she said in a loud voice.
Brent ignored the front desk agent. He looked at Jessica's friend. “What's your name?”
“Do you have any idea who I am?”
She blinked her wide blue eyes. “I don't care who you are.”
“I am Brent Harrison.
as in Melanie's brother-in-law.”
An âO' formed on Clara's lips. “Then you knowâ”
“I just got the call from Melanie's husband. Take me to Jessica.”
Clara narrowed her eyes. “That's just gross. You knew her identity and you still kissed her.”
Brent dismissed the comment. “Where is she?”
“In room five-twenty-seven, on the fifth floor. I have to make some phone calls on her behalf. Someone will let you in the room.”
Without another word, Brent moved over to the elevator and punched the button repeatedly. The wait seemed to last forever. The doors eventually opened, and he rode the elevator up to Jessie's floor. He moved down the hall, scanning the numbers on the doors with urgency. Brent made a promise to himself to get her to Melanie in the quickest manner possible. Daniel waited on standby outside. All he needed was to get her to come with him. A twinge of doubt ran through him. That might not be an easy task, given their evening so far.
Sets of lounge chairs adorned the far end of the hall, accompanied by tables with lamps and magazines. Thick perfume hung in the air outside her door. Brent stopped in front and knocked. A combination of footsteps and muffled voices sounded from the inside. Someone unlocked the door.
“Yes?” said the young woman he recognized from this evening. Concern clouded her pretty face. “What are you doing here? Aren't you the guyâ”
“Yes, I'm that guy,” he interrupted. “Where's Jessica?”
She straightened her stance. “How did you find this room?”
“It doesn't matter. I need to see her.”
“Not going to happen.”
“Yes, it is. I'm taking Jessica to the hospital to be with her sister. I'm not going to hurt her; I'm not here to cause trouble. I just found out Melanie's in the hospital and I need you to trust me. Let me talk to her.”
“You know Melanie? I'm confused.”
“Yes, I know her. I'm Luke's brother. What's your name?”
“Louise, let me talk to Jessie. I can get her to the hospital.”
She looked shocked at the realization of his identity, but let him in the room. “Come with me.”
The other women in the room gawked at him as he walked past them. Louise pointed to the closed door. “She's in there.”
Brent didn't knock. He turned the knob and entered.
“Wait,” Louise said, too late.
Jessica spun around. Her gaze met Brent's; her eyes went big. “Who let you in?” she said.
“I'll take it from here,” Brent said, and got in front of Louise. He closed the door.
If you don't get out of my room
I am calling the police
” Jessie said and started towards the door. “Louise! Call the police.”
Brent stepped in front of Jessie. “You don't recognize me.”
“You're the jerk from the bar who followed me to my hotel room. Louise!” she shouted again.
Louise knocked hard on the door. “Let me in.”
“Stop,” Brent ordered in a harsh tone.
Louise stopped knocking and Jessie closed her mouth.
“Listen to me. You asked me if we've met before. We haven't. But we've been in the same room together. The courtroom.”
Jessie squinted her eyes. “The what?”
“I told you my first name, but not my last. I'm Brent Harrison,” he said, and silenced Jessica at the mention of his name.
“Jessie?” Louise cried. “Are you okay?”
Jessie walked over to Brent with sloppy steps. She put her hand on the wall for support. “Move.”
He got out of her way. He also realized something about her. The staggered walk and the loopy facial expressions.
“I'm okay,” she said to the door.
“You're not,” he said, watching her trip and fall over nothing. “How many drinks have you had?”
She hiccupped and looked on the verge of laughing. Then she wasn't. Anger settled in on her soft features. “Harrison,” she said like a challenge.
The room filled with uncomfortable silence. Jessie stared at him. She took in his face and his body with serious concentration and let his identity sink in.
“I'm Luke's brother,” he said as recognition dawned in her eyes.
“You're the older brother,” she repeated as if solving a great mystery.
“I am.” He stepped towards her. “Let me get you some water.”
She swatted him away and whispered, “That was you? You knew me before you kissed me.”
“There's no one else in the room, you don't have to whisper.”
“You're such a douche bag.”
“True, but we'll discuss my shortcomings another time. We need to talk about your sister.”
Sadness stole the anger in her eyes. “Melanie.”
“I want you to come with me. I'll take you to the hospital.”
“Clara will take me.”
“I have a car outside, and besides, she's probably been drinking.”
“I can't go with you. We kissed.” Her hand smacked her forehead. “I kissed you.”
“It'll be our secret.” Brent reached for her hand at the exact moment Clara barged in and ran to Jessie.
“Jess, is he bothering you?” Clara said.
Jessie giggled. She pushed off the wall and made it to the bed. She used her hands for support on the nightstand but missed and stumbled into the lamp, knocking it over along with a purse and a glass of water. Clara helped her up and Jessie started talking low and fast in her friend's ear. They both burst out laughing and Jessie slipped off the edge of the bed and onto the floor.
She gave Brent an eyeful of her thighs and black panties. Brent walked over to her and set her upright, on the bed. “Let's go.”
“Let me get her bag; she might want to change later,” Clara offered and grabbed a few of the clothes strewn across the room. She put them in a small green suitcase and zipped up the sides. “Be careful with her,” she said to Brent and passed the bag to him.
He nodded and took the bag. Brent grabbed Jessica's arm. “We need to go.”
“Call me the second you know how Melanie's doing,” Clara said to Brent, although Jessie would be the one making the phone calls.
To his annoyance, Jessie exchanged hugs with every single one of her friends. They needed to get to the hospital, not take their sweet time. The procession to the door took longer than Brent anticipated and he ushered her out before another friend got in the way. “After you,” he said, and got her to the hallway.
Together they reached the elevator. They rode down together. The moment they reached the lobby, Brent took the lead to the hotel entrance.
“I'm the SUV,” he said, nodding to the car not far from the entrance.
He opened the door for Jessie and closed it behind her. Brent got into the front seat. “This is Daniel,” he said.
“Daniel,” she purred. “Such a serious name.” She laughed to herself and fell back into her seat. “Are you his personal driver?” she said.
Daniel responded with a stone-cold frown. “Who are you?” he said, unimpressed.
“There's no need for introductions,” Brent said. “I'll let Luke know we're on the way.”
An upbeat ringtone sliced through the air. The call came and went. A moment later the same sound filled the car.
Brent finished typing his message. He turned around. “Are you going to answer that?”
“Yes,” she clipped. She brought the phone close to her face, then far away, like she was trying to zoom in. “Carl!” she shouted. “No. Yes. Okay. My mother's already on her way. Tomorrow? Sure.” She flashed a haughty look at Brent. “I love you so much. Bye.”
“Your fiancÃ©, the doctor?” Brent said, amused.
She scooted up a little and tapped Brent on the shoulder. “You kissed me at the barâ¦”
Brent caught sight of Daniel's curious glance.
“I'd keep that to yourself if I were you,” Brent answered with finality to Jessica.
She leaned back in her seat and said nothing more.
The outline of the streets changed from businesses lit with neon signs to rows of unlit houses. Daniel drove up the gradually steepening incline until they reached the top of the hill. The view of the city lights spanned out in a blurry maze below them.
“Where are my nieces?” Jessica said suddenly.
“You know about Melanie's daughters?” Brent said, surprised.
“My sister might hate me, but I'm well aware I have two nieces.” Bitterness rang through her voice. She looked ahead at the windshield and said in the most sober voice he'd heard so far, “Melanie named her daughters Lydia and Annabelle.”
He'd been about to say something nice.
Except she added, “Those are the names I wanted for my own daughters someday. Typical Melanie. She ups and takes whatever she wants from me, even if she has to step on me to get it.”
He restrained from rolling his eyes.
“So. There's the twins Lydia and Annabelle and their half-sister Vivian. She's Luke's daughter by another woman.”
“Sounds like you are up-to-date on your sister.”
She snorted. “I don't care about my sister's life. Or her family.”
“I don't care what you think about me either. I am sure she's badmouthed me to no end. She always did take the moral high ground.” She rambled on for a minute, picking out Melanie's flaws and Brent tuned her out until she said, “I want to see my nieces.”
It gave him immense pleasure to say, “You can't.”
“You're going to stop me?”
“For one thing, they're asleep. For another, my Aunt Stevie is watching them. She lives in one of the wings at Melanie's home.”
She laughed like a snob. “Are you kidding? My God, your brother lives the life. I bet he gets all his money from blood diamonds. I bet people die every day so you and your family can bring back gemstones and mark up the prices. Yes, Brent Harrison, I know all about your brother's business.”
“You know nothing.” Brent gritted his teeth.
What a piece of work.
He wanted to wipe that smirk off her face. “I see why your sister doesn't talk to you.”
Jessica folded her arms over her chest and huffed.
“Can't you go any faster?” Brent said to Daniel. A light on his phone popped up and Brent punched in his password. The message on his screen was from Luke. It consisted of one word.
Every time Jessie thought of Melanie, her blood pressure shot up. This idiot Brent didn't help the situation either. He couldn't possibly understand anything about why she and Melanie didn't speak. What did he know? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Swirls of frustration rose up in her chest. The mixed drinks and the shots added to her misery. A not-so-good warm feeling brewed in her stomach and she fought back small burps that were getting bigger.
In between the traffic lights, snippets of Melanie flashed before her eyes. Fragmented images of their last fight. Jessie hiccupped. Those tourmalines in Melanie's hand. So what if she had hidden the rare gemstones for seven years? At the time she meant to help their brother. She tried to protect her sister, but Melanie didn't see it that way. She just left. She walked out without asking Jessie to explain her side of the story. It shouldn't hurt this much, but there it was, simmering beneath the surface. She shouldn't let her sister get to her now. Jessie closed her eyes. Everything moved. Her head spun. Someone snapped a finger and she came back around. That feeling in her stomach was back.
Ugh. Please don't vomit.
Jessie thought about the wedding invitation and fumed all over again. Her sister sucker punched her in the gut with that one. Melanie had declined the invitation. The last olive branch Jessie had extended and Melanie had thrown back in her face. She would have gladly finished putting up the stone wall between them, except Melanie was suddenly in the hospital.
But if her sister diedâ¦oh God. Jessie wrapped her arms around her middle. The thought felt like someone hit her in the head with a lead weight. The alcohol amplified every worse-case scenario and personal regret Jessie would feel if this didn't turn out right. She tried not to think that way. It would all be fine and they would go on ignoring each other.
Daniel slowed the car. The big red letters of the Emergency Room sign blurred. Brent got out. Jessie lurched forward and her seat belt restrained her.
“You have to unbuckle the belt first,” Daniel said.
“I know that,” she said, and unbuckled the seat belt. Casually, she stepped out of the car as if she could keep it together.
Brent waited at the curb. He was so tall and lean. Her gaze went right to the foreboding expression on his face. She giggled at the sight of him.
They walked into the ER together, or rather, Brent upheld her. Jessie overcompensated by standing erect and drawing back her shoulders too far.
The uniformed guard spoke with Brent. They got visitor passes and access to continue. Jessie prepared herself best as she could, but some walks down a long hallway you couldn't prepare yourself forâeven with the strong armor of alcohol to numb the senses.