Queen of Hearts, страница 1
Queen of Hearts
The Jayne Series
Queen of Hearts
The Jayne Series, Volume 2
Published by Jami Denise, 2014.
Table of Contents
Queen of Hearts (The Jayne Series, #2)
FROM MY HEART
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Queen of Hearts
The Jayne Series #2
By Jami Denise
Copyright © May 2014 by Jami Denise
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person, living or dead, or any events or occurrences, is purely coincidental. The characters and story lines are created from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
CONTENT WARNING: This story contains scenes of an explicit, erotic, or violent nature and is intended for adults. 18+ Story includes graphic language, violence, and sexual situations.
Cover design by Mayhem Cover Creations
To my Son—be brave, be crazy, be amazing.
For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil. Proverbs 5:3
I stared at the textured ceiling, my focus on the black decay of mold developing in the far corner. Early morning was the only time there was any peace and quiet for me to think.
The bright yellow sign above my window buzzed and crackled, glowing into the room like toxic energy. It was loud, both in color and sound. Sadly, it reminded me of home. Those neon bulbs kept me grounded and reminded me of everything I’d ever known. No matter where I went, there was truly no real escape.
All I’d ever wanted was a real home, but home hadn’t existed for me for so long I wasn’t even sure what that meant. I was an orphan in life—alone.
The thought gutted me.
As it turned out, starting over was harder than I thought it would be. I’d learned quickly that I’d made a lot of mistakes. Leaving Las Vegas was a gut reaction. I hadn’t taken into consideration that money wasn’t easy to come by when you were legit.
Hitting roadblock after roadblock after being on the road for months, I was worn down and without options. I was ready to throw in the towel and give up.
My gaze shifted toward the door. The urge to lunge toward it and throw myself back into the world was strong. Running was a way of life, something so ingrained in my blood that it was part of me.
Jackson stirred next to me, pushing his nose deeper into my neck. Running my fingers along the strong planes of his back, I felt tears emerge. Another morning ritual.
My thoughts drifted back to Flynn. I missed him, but the pain in my heart was still so fresh. It bit at me like a new wound, even months later. I would never forget the look on his face the day everything fell apart, the day both of our hearts broke beyond repair.
I’d had a lot of time to think about that day. Looking back, there was no doubt that he cared for me, as screwed up as things were. Something drew us together—there was this thing between us that was beyond description. Emotions were intense and raw, and I don’t think either of us realized it would go that far. I certainly didn’t. The last thing I expected was to fall for him, especially that fast. The wall my heart had hammered into place had split and severed. It allowed him to sneak in and turn my world upside down. It had been pretense. A game. I’d been bested at my own sport.
But I had, and there was no turning back. It happened, and it changed me more than losing my family. The emptiness was still there—a gaping sore, oozing and weeping, begging for some sort of relief.
“Where are you?”
Tilting my head, I looked down at Jackson and sighed. His voice was rough with sleep, and I smiled as I looked into his sweet, weary eyes.
“I’m here. Just thinking.”
Once again, the guilt pierced me. I was the worst kind of woman, leading a sweet man toward a world of hurt.
“You got that look, Janie. You’re off again.”
That simple nickname tore at me more than it should have. Every time he said it, a little piece of me reached out for someone that wasn’t there.
I leaned up, flicking my tongue at his pouty lips, and smiled when I felt his morning wood against my leg. Distraction. It was a skill I’d honed from a very early age, and I was as good at it as I was at deception.
“I was waiting for you to wake up, sugar.”
He flipped me over, and I giggled.
In another lifetime, Jackson would’ve been all I wanted—or needed. He was the whole package—good looks, charm, kindness, and he made me laugh. In a lot of ways, he reminded me of Vince, and that was the biggest problem.
The fire wasn’t there.
As wonderful as he was, as amazing as I felt when we were together, there wasn’t that spark at all. I was attracted to him, liked him, but there was something missing. My heart had only blazed for one man, and I’d lost him.
“How about we stay in bed this way all day,” he said.
That twinkle he got in his eyes when he smiled melted me.
I slapped at his chest, laughing. “As nice as that sounds, I have to get to work.”
He nipped at my lips, working his way down my chin and latching onto my neck. I wriggled underneath him, letting go of every thought in my head and allowing the gentle movement of his lips to calm me. As his hand snaked down between us, teasing the skin of my stomach, I let out a breathy moan.
“I’m sure your boss won’t mind.”
I laughed. “Of course he wouldn’t mind,” I retorted. “He’s got me pinned to a mattress.”
The three-sixty my life had taken boggled my mind. For the first time, I didn’t have to look over my shoulder. I didn’t have to be afraid, and I certainly didn’t have to deal with the judgments of others. Sure, it was scary being in a new place, alone, but it was amazingly liberating. I was a new woman, and finally, I liked who I saw when I looked in the mirror.
I worked behind the counter at Jack’s Diner, sporting jeans and a logo T-shirt. Stilettos and silk panties were a thing of the past, and I didn’t miss them a bit. Well, maybe a little, but it was a lot more fun being comfortable. The day to day of just being was easy.
There was a viable shift in my attitude and behavior. I learned how to appreciate everything—the things I had, and the things I didn’t. I’d spent so much of my life scamming my way toward wealth that after living in such a normal setting, all of that seemed bizarre. Everyone around me was happy with what they had. They had hopes and dreams like everyone else, but they
Jackson helped with that.
He was a distraction I hadn’t expected. As I travelled from town to town, I avoided men as much as possible. I’d always been under the thumb of one man or another, and I was determined to recreate my destiny, whatever that was supposed to be. Involving another man wasn’t on the agenda. I never wanted to go back to that place. I’d relied on men too much, and I’d never given myself the chance to become something different.
The easy route was no longer on my map.
Jack was different, though. He made things a little more interesting and tolerable. Getting up early had never been my thing, and I wasn’t doing a good job of assimilating. Thankfully, I had something to look forward to at the end of the day. Jack’s smile—that grin that said I was the greatest treasure he’d ever found—well, that took the sting out of six-thirty-in-the-morning wake-up calls.
It didn’t hurt waking up to a little piece of Jack before breakfast, either.
He wasn’t like any man I’d ever known, paid or otherwise. He was so down to earth; no put-ons or make-believe existed in his world. What you saw was what you got, and what I saw when I looked at him the first time, I liked. A lot.
Pulling into that small diner in Oklahoma had been the beginning of putting myself back together again. My wick had been getting shorter by the day, and that day, my candle finally burned out.
I’d been driving for days, been through six states, slept very little, and cried until I couldn’t see the road in front of me. Exhausted and hopeless, I almost turned around and went back, regardless of the consequences.
Eventually I drove toward a place I hadn’t been in sixteen years. Not knowing where else to go, I figured it was time to put my feet in the soil where it all began—the town where my mother and father grew up.
Crossing the state line into Oklahoma gave me a sense of peace I hadn’t had in years—probably since the day we left. The memory was so clear. I remembered exactly how it felt staring out the window of that old, dilapidated sedan and watched the familiar backdrop of my childhood disappear behind us.
My chest tightened thinking about that day and my dad. He had the biggest dreams. No one understood his ambitions, most likely because they were so far-fetched. He wanted to be someone important, a guy people stared at when he walked into a room. He craved the spotlight and skyscrapers, big tops and lights. He wanted to be a winner.
As I got closer to the tiny, quiet town, my nerves were on fire. It was hard to picture my dad in that place. It didn’t seem to me that his vibrant personality could even fit into a place that small.
I drove around for a while, not really knowing where to go. I had no idea where their house had been—there were no relatives to contact, and I didn’t have many memories. Everything was unfamiliar to me. Sadness took over, and I hightailed it in the other direction.
I tried to imagine what their life had been like there. Our life. Realizing I had very little memory of it hit me like a ball of fire. I cried hard, relentless tears thinking about my mom. I wished more than ever that she was still alive.
Reminiscing about my childhood had never been one of my favorite pastimes. It was painful, but not in a bad way. Worse than that, the memories were good, and my heart would ache for days when I’d allow them to crawl inside.
My mom was amazing. How she ended up with a man like my dad remained a mystery. Some days, I’d sit around and wonder what it was about him that made her want to live the life he led.
Even though I didn’t remember much about her—at least not a lot of details—I remembered that she was beautiful and kind, and above all, loving. There had never been a doubt in my little head about how much she loved me. I was her entire world, and I felt it every single minute of every single day.
Looking out the rearview mirror at the dust my tires kicked up, I realized it didn’t matter. She had her own reasons for loving him, and finally, I managed to understand. There weren’t choices when it came to love. Love just happened.
I ended up driving for another hour or so until the little beater Honda I’d traded my car for finally took a shit. I walked up the highway a few miles, ending up at the diner. The moment Jackson looked up at me, I knew he would change me forever.
And he had.
We talked for hours that day. By the time the sun set, my car had been towed to a local garage, and I had a job, a place to stay, and a new friend.
More than a friend.
He ran the diner with his brother. He’d inherited the place after his grandfather died, and when he talked about it, the pride was clear. I admired him for it. It was nothing fancy, but it warmed my heart how much he cared about the business and the customers. It was cleansing to be around someone that worked so hard for what they had. Honest to goodness work.
Working side by side with him every day was fun. Easy. He’d given me a chance and trusted me. I didn’t want to let go of that feeling, so I’d thrown myself into my work. I had never in my life considered working in a restaurant, and certainly never thought I’d end up working in a greasy spoon in Oklahoma.
I enjoyed it.
I attributed that to Jack as well. He was so kind, so genuinely happy. It was infectious, and his drive seeped into my bones like honey. I’d always been an ambitious person, and as tawdry as my occupation had been, I’d always strived to be the best. And I was.
My first day at the diner, when Jackson handed me that little red T-shirt and the white apron to match, it was game on. Janie was a waitress, and she was going to be the best.
“Do you mind locking up the diner tonight?”
I peeled my eyes away from the television and smiled over at Jackson. I watched carefully as he hiked his jeans over his thighs and admired the view of his ass in his boxers.
“No problem. Should I go over now?”
Shaking his head, he pulled his shirt on and then leaned over to kiss me on the top of the head. “Nah. They’ll be fine for now. Dinner is almost over, and it’ll take them about an hour to clean up. Head over around eleven.”
I nodded and watched as he pulled a single key off his key ring and tossed it on the tiny tabletop near the window.
“I’ll see you around midnight.”
I gave him a wiggle of my fingers and eyeballed the silver key. Trust. He trusted me, someone that was pretty much a perfect stranger, with everything he had. It gutted me. He deserved better than some emotionally battered old hooker. He deserved someone that could love him and give him what he really needed—commitment. I couldn’t. Wouldn’t.
Trust. It was something so foreign and indistinguishable to me. I was pretty sure no one had ever trusted me, and with good reason. I was a chiseler and a shyster. I was the worst kind of woman, and I’d swept into the poor guy’s life like a serpent at a feast.
I was disgusted.
But that trust... I trusted him, too. Completely. I knew down deep in my soul that Jackson would never betray me. He’d never lie, and he’d never deliberately hurt me. He was different. I’d never had cause to trust someone so totally without caution. Not even Flynn. Even as I told him I loved him, I had that nagging sensation in the back of my heart that I should run... flee... get the fuck out.
And boy, was I right on the ball.
So, yeah. It scared me.
There was nothing shady about Jackson. He didn’t have a damn bad bone in his body. He was pure and true and looked at me like I was a diamond he’d combed the planet to find.
I was a monster.
“Pretty heads are thinking too hard.”
My body shook as I looked up to find him standing in the doorway, a small, sad smile on his face.
I blinked, giving my head a little shake, and crawled off the bed to walk over to him. It scared me how well he knew me sometimes.
It was something I’d never get used to.
“Are you sure you have to go?”
“Honey, you should come with me. I told you it was no big deal. You can come—be my lucky charm.”
Déjà vu kicked me in the forehead. Emptiness filled my gut like rotten meat, heavy and disgusting. I’d been a lucky charm... it was just too close to home.
“I’ll pass, Jack. Go on. Do your thing with the boys.”
He looked at me for a long while trying to decipher where the trepidation was coming from, but I wasn’t willing to disclose that piece of insanity.
Finally, he exhaled slowly and shook his head. “Suit yourself.”
“Don’t be mad, okay? I’m in a pretty bad mood, anyway. I won’t be any fun, and you said this was a boy’s thing. You’re better off going without me. You’ll have fun.”
His jaw ticked as he ground his teeth and turned to walk out without another word. I stood, grabbing his arm before he left the room.
“You’re acting strange, girl.”
He was right. I was losing my shit. The sort of setup we had was strange to me. I hadn’t had a real boyfriend since I was a kid, and I haven’t even dared to pretend what I had with Flynn constituted a relationship. I didn’t know the rules. I was playing a bum hand. Everything was fucking Greek.
I was an idiot.
Reaching up, I ran my hand over his cheek and placed my lips against his. “I’ll miss you, but I’m fine. I’m just tired, I guess.”
He didn’t look convinced, but nodded. “You sure? I’ll stay, baby. Just say the word.”
I pushed back and sat on the lumpy mattress, running my hand over the scratchy bedspread. “I’ll be here when you’re done—if you want to stop by, that is. I’m gonna stay here and watch an old movie and drink this bottle of fancy wine.”
I pointed at the four-dollar bottle of Pinot I’d picked up at the convenience store. It was rancid, but I wasn’t exactly rolling in dough, so I had to adapt. Momentarily, I licked my lips, remembering bottles of wine I’d consumed in the past. Wine so expensive I could pay my motel rent for a month.