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Authors: Emily Duvall

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BOOK: Cut
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“I'm ready,” he said, heading out of the kitchen.

The sooner she got out of this house and away from him, the better. The indifference he treated her with gave her a reason to hope that Brent wouldn't bring up the subject of their kiss. Or anything else about last night. She didn't want to relive that again.

Jessie grabbed her bag and followed Brent outside. Her eyes glazed over the neighborhood. The old, bars-on-window style houses. The grass in Brent's yard hadn't been cut in some time, which didn't matter because none of the yards on the houses next to his were mowed either. She made her way down the steps and over to the black SUV parked curbside in front of his house.

Vaguely she remembered a driver. “There was another guy last night.”

“His name is Daniel Scott.”

“Where is he?”

“Probably sleeping.”

Relieved not to have to face another witness to her drunken behavior, she got in the car. Brent got in the driver's seat. Aside from his face, she noticed the muscles in his arms flex under his black t-shirt. She required a sweater and he got away with exposed arms. Since they sat so close together, she allowed herself to have a second, longer look at him. His dark eyes intrigued her. So did the rutted line of his lips pulled down in a frown. She tried to ignore how good he looked. It hadn't been the alcohol or her imagination. He gave her a sideways glance before she could look elsewhere.

“Find anything of interest?” he said.

“Nope.”

“Then let's get you to the hospital.”

Brent didn't seem in the mood to make small talk, which she appreciated. She didn't need to know anything else about him or vice versa. The business of checking messages saved her. Between voicemail and text messages she found her mother would arrive within the hour. Clara needed to talk to her immediately. The last of the messages she waited to read. They were from Carl and he wrote her three times. Mentally she felt her body slide down the seat at the sight of his name on her phone.

She called Clara back first. They spoke for a couple of minutes. Clara made sure she was safe. All of the women from the bachelorette party headed home now. They were in their cars and driving back from San Francisco to Fresno today. They would be on stand-by for Jessie, and Clara would drive up later in the week if Jessie asked for help. For the time being, they needed to get back to their jobs, and Jessie couldn't think of any reason for them to stick around.

She looked at her phone again. Carl's name stared back at her. The courage to face him disappeared. She responded to his texts. He was on a flight to get to her. She would face him soon enough. Everything she needed to say could wait until she saw him in person. Jessie put her phone away.

“Do you know anything about the attack?” Jessie said to Brent.

“She went to the Palace of Fine Arts sometime after ten p.m. and someone attacked her.”

“What do the police say?”

“There's a detective working on the investigation. Luke didn't have a lot of information. We'll see what he has to say this morning.”

It didn't make sense to ask him anything else. Brent knew as much as she did. She thought he might have been able to be more helpful. She stopped asking questions about the attack and went a more personal route. “So what's your story? If I remember correctly you're the brother that's out there looking for gemstones.”

“I retired from gemstone hunting about a year ago. I spent some time in South Africa this past year doing contract work for a company called D & F Diamonds and now I'm back.”

“Wait, go back. Did you say D & F Diamonds? As in
the
D & F. I see their commercials everywhere. They're huge.”

“That's the one, and yes, they are huge. They control the diamond market.”

“Now you work for your brother?”

“I do not work for my brother. My brothers and I work together. We own a company called Trace Elements and we all have equal shares. We're getting out of the gemstone hunting and selling and are moving into new territory in the retail side of the business. We're opening a high-end jewelry store next spring.”

“All that and you still can't afford two chairs at your kitchen table.”

“A comment like that reminds me of your sister. She's observant.”

Jessie's throat tightened. “Do you know her well?”

“I do.”

Jealousy sliced through her. To think Brent and Melanie were friends. The idea ate away at her. She didn't know anything about her sister's life anymore. Jessie knew she'd have to see Luke today, which worsened her mood. “Did I say anything to Luke last night?”

“Depends. What do you think you said?”

“I'm not sure I want to know.”

“You gave him some dirty looks and spilled coffee all over yourself. Besides, I wouldn't be concerned with what you said to my brother.”

“No? Why not?”

“You admitted your true feelings for me.”

She swore she turned bright pink. The comment she vaguely remembered, but still she said, “You're making this up to embarrass me.”

“You told me you loved me.”

“I don't love you.”

This time he grinned at her. “Your kiss told me otherwise.”

She sank further into her seat.

He remembered.

“You took advantage of me.”

“I won't apologize for that either.”

Chapter 4

No way was he going to apologize. He wasn't sorry about kissing her. Or about bringing her back to his place. The way he remembered her from last night, stunning with her breasts packed tight against her strapless dress, and her long legs exposed. The warm honey brown hair had framed the side of her face with a messy braid. Last night she'd spoken with an edge to her voice, but her face and eyes were soft, and had betrayed her words. He wanted her. And that was a problem.

This morning she sat next to him in the passenger seat with disdain on her face. At this very moment she tried to put together the sequence of events from the night before and anything else she might have said or done. He enjoyed watching her start to remember the details. He'd let her simmer for a few minutes. She deserved it.

The road curved in front of him and Brent refocused. The morning traffic backed up Broadway Street and he decided to take a lesser known route. The side streets worked well until everyone else got the same idea to use them. He couldn't think with all the congestion and the series of quick green lights and longer red ones. He veered right and got off the busy intersection.

The move paid off. The hospital wasn't much further. Brent thought of Melanie and tried to contain the frustration building in his chest. Something or someone led her away from her house late at night. According to Luke, she'd sent no messages and hadn't attempted to contact him about where she was going or why. The timing had happened on the same night he'd planned to show up at his brother's house and get the diamonds. Coincidence? He couldn't decide. What did it all mean? Either way, now he had a bigger problem on his mind.

These diamonds held special value, both to Brent and in the diamond world. The once-in-a-lifetime kind. They'd been given to him, but they were not his to keep. They belonged to an old family heirloom known as the Abbott Tiara. The very tiara he'd been looking at on his computer when Jessie walked in this morning. The events of last night had kept Brent away from his brother's house, and further away from the diamonds. He needed to go there soon. This morning. The urgency couldn't be overstated. The muscles in his arms tensed and accentuated the point. Only when he possessed the diamonds, could he take a deep breath. A surge of energy charged through him. He stepped hard on the pedal. The engine roared beneath the hood.

Jessie's hand grabbed the console. “Slow down,” she said.

He increased the pressure on the pedal.

The driveway to the hospital entrance appeared and Brent swung the car in on the right side. He drove them through to the visitor parking lot and found a spot. The engine hadn't been turned off and Jessica unclicked her seat belt and pushed open the door. Without saying a word she ran away from the car.

The wintry air blew in from her open door. He turned off the engine. There wasn't much he knew about Jessica Cahill except she lied to her sister for several years. She let Melanie think their brother Mark was innocent of the attempted murder on Luke's life. She also made matters worse by harboring a rare lot of Paraiba Tourmalines that Mark had stolen from Luke. She held onto those stones for years before Melanie forced her to hand them over and the truth came out. To lie is one thing. To keep it going for close to a decade took craft. Based on his brief interactions with her, he could see why Melanie didn't speak to her. She was beautiful, yes. But she was messed-up. He'd been with women like her before, and it never turned out well for him. He almost laughed because in a weird way, she reminded Brent of himself.

He closed his door and the one Jessica had left open, and headed to the hospital entrance. The main floor of the hospital looked different than the night before. People streamed in and out of the entrance. A line at the coffee bar extended several feet. Security guards hovered around the columns and the information desk. Brent took the stairs to the ICU. At forty years old, he worked out regularly and kept his body healthy. He preferred to be on his feet moving than standing still.

The area directly in front of the ICU opened up to an airy, sunny hallway with green potted plants and leather couches. A life-size bronze statue of a doctor with a stethoscope stood along the wall. The sign above it read, “The M.C. Marian Intensive Care Unit.” To the left of the statue, a set of double doors opened. Two hospital staff in blue scrubs exited. The scene was less grim this morning. People didn't talk in hushed voices. Someone laughed. The smell of caffeine filled the area. Signs of life existed.

Brent waited for the hospital staff to pass before he entered. He approached the nurses' station and said, “I'm here to see Melanie Cahill.”

The nurse looked up from her computer and asked, “Are you an immediate family member?”

“I'm her brother-in-law. Where's her room?”

“Number one-twenty-three by the waiting area. Down the hall on the left. Sign-in, please.”

He signed in on the same sheet from the night before.

The walk to Melanie's room took a few short seconds. The eerie procession of bleakness surrounded him. Another hallway turned into another one. A maze of closed doors, hospital equipment, folded wheelchairs, and spare beds lined the walls. Sounds of gentle beeps carried on around him. Hushed whispers by the hospital staff took place in front of patient rooms.

He found the waiting room first. He also spotted Jessica seated on one of the couches and checking her phone with a somber face.

He walked right up to her and said, “Why aren't you in with your sister?”

She looked up and tucked her phone in her hand. “That's none of your concern.”

“Don't you want to see her?”

“Yes.”

“So…do you want to go first?”

“You can go.”

“I don't want to take your time.”

“Just go!” she seethed and got to her feet.

Brent grabbed her elbow and swung her back around.

Her gaze lowered to his hand. “Let go.”

This woman made no sense. He dropped her arm. “Whatever,” he said, and went to find his brother and Melanie.

Melanie's room wasn't a private room in the traditional sense. Anyone who walked by could see in. She laid there on the bed with tubes attached to her nose. An IV machine dripped liquid into the vein on her arm. Luke sat at her side, his face as white as the bedsheets. One step forward and the doors slid open for Brent, announcing his presence.

“They're keeping her alive,” Luke said, not looking up at Brent. “The machines are helping her breathe. She's in there somewhere behind all those cuts and bruises.”

The machines next to her bed sounded consistent and cold. Another IV had been inserted into the back of Melanie's hand and taped over. The machine connected to the tube coming out of her hand housed a couple of different drip bags. The technology he could handle. The sight of Melanie's face, he couldn't. A massive bruise stretched from her forehead and discolored her left eye. A bandage covered a section of her head and her hairline looked matted and yellowed. Stitches ran up her jaw. A puffy, red welt made up her lips. She didn't look like Melanie. She looked like…death.

“The doctor says I should talk to her.” Luke rubbed his hands down his temples. “He said she can recognize my voice. Do you think that's true?”

Brent remained at the foot of her bed and tried to keep his emotions under control. He wanted to know who'd done this to her. He wanted to make them pay. He glanced at his brother. “I don't think it hurts to try.”

Luke got up out of his chair. His hands planted on his hips and he stared at her and let out a long sigh. “How did this happen?”

Brent said nothing.

“Who would do this to her?”

“We'll find out.”

“The police haven't told me much.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

Luke looked at Brent. “Yes.”

“Shoot.”

“You can handle work for me.”

“Of course.”

Luke closed his eyes and massaged his temples. “I have to tell you, before you go to the house and check the vault.”

“What is it?”

“The seven diamonds you sold recently.”

The very same ones I intend to get back.
“Yes?”

“They're gone.”

Shock ripped through Brent. “What the fuck do you mean they're gone?”

“I went down to the vault this morning to fill an order and I found the safe open and the diamonds weren't there.”

“How can they not be there? I was supposed to ship them soon. What else is missing?”

BOOK: Cut
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