Brazen (Brazen 1) - Page 24

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Her brother reached out to shake his hand. “I’m Cody Quinn, Jasmine’s brother.”

“Where the hell have you been for the last six years?” Zane snarled. “Hell, longer than that. Where were you when she was eking an existence out on the streets, depending on survival from a man determined to sell her body to the first willing customer?”

Cody’s face went ashen.

Seth held up a hand. “Not now, Zane. We need to hear what he has to say before we let him talk to Jasmine.”

Zane pressed his lips together and looked away.

“Let’s go into the living room,” Seth suggested. “I very much want to hear what Cody has to say.”

Cody stood with his back to the two brothers, staring out the window a half hour later, after Seth had related how he and Zane had met Jasmine. “I never knew what had happened to her,” he said.

“When I learned of Mom’s death, I arranged leave and got back as fast as I could. They told me she was in a foster home. I went and talked to my CO and arranged for even more time away. I wanted to try and make a home for her. When I got back, though, she’d run away. I searched for her, did what I could. When I’d exhausted all my resources, I went back to work, but I continued looking. Over the years, it became easier to believe that I’d never see her again and the searches tapered off.”

He turned back around to stare at Seth and Zane. “Until I got your phone call a few days ago, I wasn’t sure if she was alive or dead.”

Seth could see the sincerity in Cody’s eyes. “I’ll be honest. I’m not sure Jasmine will agree to see you.”

Cody nodded. “I can understand. She probably feels as though I deserted her when she needed me most. But I’d like the chance to explain, at least to talk to her.”

“I’ll see what I can do. I can’t make any promises.”

Chapter Twenty-Nine

When Seth stepped into her room, he saw Jasmine standing in the window, staring out. He moved closer, and he could see the slight tremble of her body.

He slid his hands over her shoulders and down her arms.

“I’m sorry, Jasmine,” he said simply. “I shouldn’t have sprung this on you. I intended to tell you tonight.”

She turned slowly, her eyes haunted, hurt reflected in her emerald gaze. “Why is he here?” she asked in a small voice. “Why now?”

Seth sighed and pulled her into his arms. “I think you should talk to him, honey. Hear what he has to say. He’s very anxious to see you.”

“You want me to go,” she said dully.

He tightened his grip around her. The idea of her leaving panicked him. But it would be her choice. It wasn’t his to make.

He pulled her away and tipped her chin up until she looked him in the eye. “I want what is best for you. I always have.”

“You’re what’s best for me,” she whispered. “You and Zane. And Carmen. We’re family.”

She slid away from him before he could respond. “Is he…is he still here?”

“He’s downstairs waiting for you,” he replied.

She nodded. “I suppose I should go down.”

She looked toward the door and hesitated.

“Zane and I will be there, Jasmine. You won’t be alone.”

She nodded again and turned wordlessly to walk out. Seth followed her, concerned by the defeated slump of her shoulders. She was quiet on the way down the stairs, and when they reached the living room, she paused as if afraid to go in.

Zane looked up at the same time Cody did. Worry was reflected in both their gazes. Seth put his hand comfortingly on Jasmine’s back.

Jasmine stood there, staring at her brother, her brother, with a mixture of elation, sadness and fear.

Memories of her childhood ran through her mind. Her as a little girl, Cody smiling down at her. Cody and her mother arguing as she got older. That last terrible night when Cody had left and sworn never to return.

He’d left her.

Cody stood and walked cautiously toward her. He stopped a few feet in front of her and slowly raised his arms, holding them out to her.

Swallowing back her fear, she walked into his embrace.

He hugged her tightly, stroking her hair. “My God, Jasmine, I can’t believe it’s you.”

She didn’t respond. She closed her eyes and absorbed his hug. After several minutes in which he merely held her, he gently pulled away.

“There’s a lot I want to say to you, Jasmine. A lot we need to catch up on.”

She nodded.

Seth cleared his throat. “Carmen should be back soon. Will you stay for dinner, Cody?”

“If Jasmine wants me to,” he replied.

“I’d like that,” she said softly.

“Why don’t we get comfortable?” Zane suggested, making it clear he had no intention of leaving Jasmine alone with Cody.

Cody led her over to the couch, and she sank onto the cushions, grateful because she wasn’t so sure her legs would support her anymore.

She licked her lips nervously and focused her gaze on her brother. He was big, muscled. His years in the military had obviously honed his body. He still wore his hair short, and she wondered if he was still enlisted.

The silence was awkward and so she said something, anything to alleviate the strain. “Tell me about you?”

The question seemed ludicrous. He was her brother, and yet, here they sat, two strangers.

He reached for her hand, but she stiffened, and he pulled away. She balled her fingers into fists and kept them in her lap. She wondered if he was insulted by her rebuff, but she couldn’t bring herself to care.

“I’m married. I have a young son. He just turned one.” His expression softened as he spoke of his family. Hurt welled in her throat. His family that didn’t include her.

“Are you still in the military?” she croaked.

He shook his head. “Not for three years. I own my own construction company now.”

“Where?”

“Just north of Baton Rouge.”

“Not far from home then,” she said faintly.

“No,” he replied. “I never wanted to leave that area in case…in case you came back.”

She turned her chin up and stared at him. “Why didn’t you come back?”

Sadness and regret crowded his green eyes, eyes that were so much like hers. “I did, but it was too late. You’d already gone. I never should have cut myself off the way I did. I couldn’t see past my anger with Mom. I never expected her to die. I assumed you’d be happy with her and her new husband.”

“She never married him,” she bit out.

He reached for her hand again and this time she didn’t pull away. “Jasmine, I let you down. I’ll never forgive myself for that. But you could have come to me, too.”

Shock held her immobile. He was right, but he hadn’t made her feel as though that was an option. Ever. “I didn’t think you’d want me,” she said simply. “You never called or wrote. It was as if you forgot all about me and Mama.”

Cody looked away. When he looked back, regret shone in his eyes. “I’m sorry, Jasmine. Sorrier than I can ever say.”

His hand tightened around hers. “My wife and I would like you to come stay with us. You’d have a home with us as long as you like.”

Her eyes widened in shock. “But—” She broke off. Her protest died. Seth and Zane no longer wanted her here. They were the reason Cody was here. “I’ll think about it,” she finally said.

She spent the rest of the afternoon in light, careful conversation with Cody. He told her about his wife and their one-year-old baby. His business was successful, and his wife was a registered nurse who worked in a local hospital.

It was hard not to warm to him. He seemed sincere and cautious about overwhelming her too soon. Several times he seemed to want to hug her, but he backed away, giving her space. She invited him to stay the night since he hadn’t stopped in town to get a hotel.

Dinner was quiet, and Carmen spent much of the time either chattering endlessly or looking like she’d burst into tears at a moment’s provocation.

Jasmine picked at her food and finally buckled under the strain of the day’s events.

“I’m going up to bed,” she said quietly.

The men watched her as she stood and pushed her plate aside. Cody gave her a reassuring smile, and she attempted one in return. She avoided Zane’s and Seth’s gazes as she walked out of the kitchen.

Instead of going to her bedroom, she eased into Seth’s room. She undressed and pulled on one of his old T-shirts, something that had brought her comfort in the past.

She crawled underneath the covers and curled her legs into her chest. Sleep would be difficult, though she felt exhausted and emotionally drained. She settled in to wait for Seth, her heart heavy and sad, afraid of what he would say.

Chapter Thirty

Seth walked into his bedroom, though he knew he wouldn’t sleep. Too much was going on his mind, and it was too late to stop the chain of events he’d started from unfolding.

He froze when he saw Jasmine curled up in his bed. His bed lamp was on, and he could see that she’d fallen into a troubled sleep. He stepped closer, surprised to find her here. In the past, she’d always gone to Zane for comfort, a fact that made him jealous though he never admitted as much. Until recently.

Her face was crinkled, her brows drawn together in tension. Her bottom lip was drawn between her teeth, and he could see red blotches on her cheeks from crying.

With an odd catch in his chest, he sat down on the edge of the bed and reached out to stroke her cheek. She stirred and opened her eyes to stare at him.

“Do you think you could ever love me?” she asked in an aching voice.

As complicated as it made things, he knew he couldn’t lie to her. It would be easier, easier for all of them, if he just said no, that he didn’t love her.

“I do love you, Jasmine. Maybe I always have.”

“Then why don’t you want me?” she whispered.

“I want you, Jasmine. That’s the problem. I want all of you, and I can never have that. I can’t…I can’t accept having just a part.”

Jasmine felt her heart crack and crumble around her. The quiet resolve in Seth’s voice told her that he’d made up his mind.

“I’m sorry, Seth. I’m sorry to have caused trouble between you and Zane. That was never my intention. I left here a year ago because I couldn’t resolve my feelings for both of you. While I was in Paris, someone opened my eyes to the possibility of a relationship that involved both of you. I took an exception and tried to make it the rule, and for that I’m sorry. I couldn’t see beyond my own needs and desires. I had hoped…I had hoped that maybe you could both love me the same way I love the both of you.”

She pushed herself into a sitting position and then eased off the bed, her heart breaking with every single movement. When she was standing, she turned back around to where Seth still sat on the bed, his eyes haunted.

She leaned down and brushed her lips across his, closing her eyes as she savored this last moment with him. “I love you. I will always love you.”

She straightened back up and took in a steadying breath. “I’ll leave with Cody in the morning. Maybe you’re right. Maybe I don’t belong here anymore. Maybe I never did.”

Turning around was almost the hardest thing she ever did. Walking out of his room, out of his life, nearly killed her.

Chapter Thirty-One

Jasmine didn’t sleep. She stayed up to pack, and the rest of the time she spent worrying over her imminent departure. The idea of leaving Sweetwater scared her. It had been her haven, her sanctuary, for six years. Even when she’d lived in Paris, she’d known that this was home, that she would always be safe here.

Now she was poised to leave. This time for good. She would embrace a new family, strangers to her. The idea nearly sent her into full-fledged panic.

She waited until six-thirty, and then she went down the hall to knock on Cody’s door. When she heard his call to come in, she opened the door and hesitantly eased inside.

He’d obviously just come from the bathroom. His hair was wet from a recent shower, and he was wiping his face as if he’d just shaved.

“Jasmine, hello. You’re up early.”

He looked surprised but happy by her intrusion.

She approached him nervously but still maintained her distance. He sat down on his bed and patted the space beside him. She stared for a moment then sat down.

“If your offer still stands, I’d like to leave with you,” she said.

“Of course it’s still open,” he said gently. “Jasmine, I meant every word. Tara is very anxious to meet you. And I’d love the opportunity to spend time with you. Catch up on the last six years and hopefully make up for the time we lost.”

“I’d want to leave today. This morning,” she blurted out.

He blinked in surprise. “We can leave whenever you like, but are you sure?”

She nodded. “I’m sure.”

“Okay. I only need a few minutes to get my stuff together. We can leave just as soon as you want.”

Her chest squeezed with pain at the idea of leaving, and yet she knew she didn’t have a choice. She couldn’t stay.

“I’ll meet you downstairs then. I need to bring my things down, and I want to say goodbye to Zane and Carmen.”

“And not to Seth?” he asked gently.

She swallowed painfully. “I’ve already said my goodbyes to Seth.”

“Leave your things in your room. I’ll bring them down for you,” he offered. “You go and have your time with Carmen and Zane.”


Tags: Maya Banks Brazen Erotic
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