Read Cut Online

Authors: Emily Duvall

Cut (8 page)

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The words from his mouth sounded like the work of a talented editor. Practiced and prepared with a response to whatever she said. Carl tried to give her a hug and she wouldn't let him. He left her standing on the garden balcony with the stiff wind for a companion.

Jessie stood there and tried to absorb Carl's words. All the planning they both had done for the wedding, and he was having serious doubts? Serious enough to take a job somewhere else without talking to her first? She couldn't think straight about any of it. She gave him enough time to leave the hospital before she returned to the ICU. She didn't want to see him again.

The next hour she glided on empty. She really couldn't go to see Melanie now. Not with the surprise of the hour weighing on Jessie's mind. Until she could face her sister, there wasn't any point for Jessie to stick around. Her options alternated between waiting and waiting some more.

“Hey,” her mother said, rejoining her in the waiting area. She sat down next to Jessie. “I'm headed to the hotel. Let's get out of here for a little bit.”

“Yes,” Jessie agreed quickly. This place sucked the life out of her.

Jessie's mother drove the eight blocks to the Crowne Hotel. Right away Jessie recognized the sophistication and historic glamour of their accommodations. Inside, marble floors gleaned in front of them. The lobby area boasted blue-and-yellow couches with large pillows. Bouquets of white flowers peeked up from large vases on dark-wooded tables. A group of well-dressed businessmen hung around the entrance to a swanky restaurant attached to the hotel.

This wasn't the kind of place they normally stayed. The moderate salary her mother made as a teacher afforded nice things, but not extravagance. Still, her mother checked-in at the front desk and didn't bat an eye.

Jessie waited until they were on the elevator and said to her mother, “Can you afford this place?”

“I already told you, we'll handle the bill later. For now Luke is taking care of us,” Leslie said. “This is the easiest and best place for us to stay. The alternative is staying further away. Here we're in walking distance of the hospital, so we won't have the expense of having to rent a car. We need to be close to Melanie. Please do not bring up the cost again or Luke helping with the accommodations.”

“We don't need separate rooms,” Jessie added.

“Yes, we do. I'll be making phone calls. We'll need to take shifts seeing Melanie and we'll need our rest in between. Besides, I'm just across the hall if you need anything.” Leslie shifted her bag from one hand to the other. She sighed and looked at Jessie. “I haven't even asked about your bachelorette party.”

“I don't want to talk about it.”

Leslie looked taken aback. “I know it got cut short, but didn't you enjoy yourself?”

“Until Brent Harrison walked into my life.” Jessie corrected herself at the sight of her mother's curious glance. She quickly clarified, “Brent brought me the news about Melanie.”

“I see.” Leslie walked out of the elevator without further comment. They walked down the blue-carpeted hall together and found their rooms.

“I might try to take a nap,” Jessie said.

“You should. You look tired.” Leslie stopped in front of Jessie's door. “I'm sorry Carl couldn't stay longer.”

“I'm not.”

Incredulity filled Leslie's eyes. “What?”

“I don't want to get into it now. I need to lay down and then get some food.”

“Let's have a change of plans. We'll go back down to the restaurant and get a bite to eat. You can tell me about Carl and then we'll both rest.”

Food turned out to be a quick lunch. Jessie didn't have a chance to tell her mom about Carl and postponing the wedding. Or about Singapore. Her mother's time was taken up with messages and phone calls from friends and family. Neither of them finished their meal. Together they returned to their floor and retreated to their individual rooms.

Jessie stepped inside her hotel room and took a long breath. The interior of the room matched the detail of the hotel lobby right down to the gold trimmed chairs. She lugged her bag to the bed and missed slinging it onto the luggage stand. Her suitcase tumbled on the floor and landed with a
at her feet. “Great,” she mumbled and set the bag upright. She proceeded to unzip and put away some of her clothes in the dresser drawers. The musty suitcase scent on her clothes drove her crazy.

The last of her clothes was put away and she reached down to grab her makeup bag. That's when she found a dark pink box tied with a silver bow. “What the…” she said, picking up the gift. It must be from one of her friends from the bachelorette party. She tore open the paper. The wrapping fell to the floor and brushed the tops of her shoes.

A gray velvet box sat in the palm of her hand. “Oh. My. God,” she said, opening the lid. A fat green gemstone met her gaze. Not a plain dull green either. The color of a blazing green forest captured in a stone.

In general, she didn't pay attention to gemstones, at least not after the last time they'd come to be in her possession. She examined this one with a close eye. She held it to the light. An emerald perhaps? The color responded to the sun, like two lost souls looking for the other. The shade of green darkened and lightened based on her movement. The shape of a square with slightly rounded edges, like a pillow. Such brilliance and depth sat in the palm of her hand.

A piece of paper tucked inside the lid caught her eye. Immediately she took it out and read. The words on the note caused her mouth to go dry. The handwriting she'd known her whole life. Jessie stared at the elegant, feminine print of her sister. A tear slid out of the corner of her eye. “Melanie,” she said, running her hand over the blue ink. To brush the words with her fingers felt like she'd reached out and held her sister's hand. Jessie's lips moved as she read the message.

You are the only person I trust

Find Elizabeth

You'll know what to do

Chapter 6

“Who the hell is Elizabeth?” Jessie wondered out loud, dumbstruck. She read the note over again and again and tried to make sense of it.
You are the only person I trust.
Jessie looked to the small square paper, and by association, her thoughts migrated to Melanie. “But you don't trust me at all,” she mused.

Jessie returned the gemstone to the box and closed the lid.

The name Elizabeth meant nothing to her. To be sure, Jessie spent a few minutes in childhood lane. She mentally reviewed the neighborhood kids and their siblings, cousins, acquaintances, and friends. She came up with nothing. Nobody in her past or her present was named Elizabeth.

Perhaps the name belonged to someone in Melanie's life, which meant Luke would be the person to ask. That possibility made her hesitate. She didn't want to talk to him at all, let alone ask a personal question about Melanie.

The more she thought about the note and the gemstone, the more frustrated she grew. “Why didn't she give this to Luke?” she asked the pair of wingback chairs facing her. She continued to look at them as if they might come to life and answer her question. “Anyone?”

She moved her foot. The wrapping paper on the floor snagged on something. The box. She could start there. It hadn't been in her bag when she packed. All of her friends had met up at Clara's house and they'd driven together. The “gift” had ended up in Jessie's bag courtesy of someone else. She was meant to open the box and read the note.

Jessie picked up her phone and dialed Clara's number. The call landed straight in voicemail territory. No message necessary. Instead, she cut off the call. She typed a message for Clara to call her back immediately.

“Come on, call me back,” she pleaded to the phone.

The phone didn't ring. Clara didn't call.

Jessie waited.

Still no ring.

She tossed her phone on the bed. The only plausible scenario included one where Melanie physically stopped by the Ritz. That didn't make sense though. Jessie hadn't invited her to the bachelorette weekend, so the chances of Melanie showing up in such a big city on the same day at the same place were remote in the extreme. So she must've found out the specifics of the party from someone else.

Jessie got to her feet. Melanie might have actually been at the Ritz. They could have been at the hotel on the same day. They might have missed each other by mere minutes or a few hours. Would they have spoken if they had run into each other? Would Jessie have known what to say or how to react?

She needed to do something. She looked at the gemstone again and her curiosity caught fire. She wanted to know what she had in her hand. Jessie tucked the note in the box. She put the gemstone in her front pocket. She would go get some answers.

A local jeweler might be able to help her, except she didn't know where to look for one. This wasn't her town. She needed someone who knew about gemstones…a person close by…someone like…Brent.

Yes, Brent.

She almost laughed at the irony. The mistake of leaving her engagement ring at his house now gave her the perfect opening. She would go to him, but she would keep the gemstone a secret—for now.

Somehow, Melanie had found a way to get to her. She chose Jessie over her own husband and his brother, both experts in the gemstone industry. Even if Jessie had lost Melanie's trust over the past two years, she would follow this lead. It felt like a start.

She got her butt down to the lobby and out to the curb. “I need a cab,” she told the valet. He raised his finger and a yellow car appeared from behind a line of parked cars.

“Right over here, Miss,” the valet said, opening the cab door for her.

“Twenty-seven twenty-eight Rosemond Street,” she told the driver as she got in.

The cab driver raised an eyebrow and thrust the parking lever into drive. “Okay.”

The cityscape flew by as the car picked up speed. The iconic Victorian houses faded into a section of town with rundown storefronts. Newspapers filled the windows of some of the establishments. Litter spotted the sidewalks. Front yards weren't kept up and gates around the properties looked ready to fall over. They passed a homeless shelter, a loan store, and pawn shops. They drove by benches, some of which were occupied by people sleeping. The further the driver drove them away from the hospital, the more apparent it became that she was going to a forgotten section of the city.

More than once on the way to his house she felt like asking the driver to turn around and go back to the hotel. Brent was the last person she wanted to see and he was the one person she shouldn't go to for help. She didn't trust him. But really, maybe she didn't trust herself around him or how she still thought about their kiss even now. The thought of seeing him sparked butterflies in her stomach and she knew she shouldn't be feeling those. Or maybe she
feel these things. She no longer had to control the guilt of kissing another man. Carl had given her a way out. In some weird way she felt her mistake and his lie evened out their wrongs. Their wedding was on hold. He'd given her a choice.

Singapore plus Carl equals wedding and a future.

No Singapore plus no Carl equals what?

Once Carl made up his mind, he stuck to the plan. Whether she fit into this particular plan, she wasn't sure. If he could make such a life-changing decision without consulting her, then what else would he do for the sake of his career? What else would he do during their marriage? Jessie couldn't live with either of those questions.

She put Carl out of her mind completely. The trip to Brent's was her imminent future. The sole purpose of the trip was to get Brent to talk to her about gemstones; an information-seeking venture and personal research.

The closer she got to Brent's house, the more nervous she became. It was like a rat gnawing at a wire in her gut. She only hoped he didn't see through her.

The cab pulled up to a curb.

Here we go.

Jessie paid the fare, and the driver wished her well before speeding away. She stared up at Brent's house. This morning she'd been too rushed to get to the hospital to look back and really notice his home. A humble home painted in brown with old windows. The sort of house built from another time. The forties maybe.

Brent ran a successful company with his brother and he'd worked for D & F Diamonds, or so he'd said. Maybe he didn't get a good cut from the family business, or, maybe he lied about the other company. Either way, the house made it clear that Brent didn't appear as fiscally responsible as his brother.

She walked up the wide concrete steps to the front porch. A swing hung askew from the ceiling. She put her fist to the door and knocked.


She knocked again.

Still nothing.

“I should have called,” she said, feeling stupid for not asking the driver to run the meter. She tried one more time and gave up.

The door swung open.

She turned around and saw Brent standing there.

“You're a long way from the hospital,” he said, frowning.

The sight of Brent undid her. He stood in the doorway with his arms crossed over his chest. The muscles in his arms were defined enough to be powerful, but not overdone. The right set of arms on a man she found sexy. She looked away from them, only to be distracted by his face. The slight stubble rode up his jaw and she automatically thought about how rough it would feel on her soft skin. His critical gaze didn't falter. He was waiting for her to speak.

She didn't shy away. “You're home,” she said.


“I came to get my engagement ring.”

He stepped back and made room for her to pass. “Go ahead.”

She breezed by him. “Thank you.”

Brent shut the door. “Close the door when you leave. I'm in the kitchen, working.”

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