Home > Promise to Keep (Vow to Protect Duet #2)

Promise to Keep (Vow to Protect Duet #2)
Author: J.L. Beck

 

1

 

 

VALENTINA

 

 

It was always too good to be true.

He was too good to be true.

Hadn’t life taught me that lesson over and over again, blow after blow? To be happy means a much harder fall to the bottom. And while I’m not dead yet, I’m buried in the pain of the only choice I’m left with.

But pain is an old friend. I can handle it.

I just don’t know if I can handle losing him.

It doesn’t matter, not really, when the only thing I need to think about right now is getting out of here before Adrian comes back and sees the truth stamped across my face. He reads me like a book, so there’s no way I’ll be able to keep this from him—not something this important. And there’s no way he won’t be able to punish me for it, even if it kills him too.

I race back to our bedroom, my bare feet slapping on the polished floors. Everything in our bedroom looks the same, yet now it feels different, like it’s holding its breath until I’m gone.

I stop for a moment, breathing deeply, skimming my fingers over my still flat belly. It hits me. This is the same hand I used to give my father that gun. The gun that killed Adrian’s mother. The realization makes me jerk my fingers away, coming full circle.

I have to run.

It only takes me a few moments to gather a few pieces of clothing, some jewelry I might be able to sell, and my phone. Nothing else. I’m careful only to take the things he gave me. I don’t need any more sins staining my conscience. I don’t need to give him another reason to hate me.

I grab a coat because I don’t know how long I’ll be outside once I’m gone and slip my feet into some practical flats Adrian would scowl at if he saw me wearing them. Not because he particularly cares about my footwear, but because he enjoys seeing me dressed up, dressed up by him.

This time, I’m silent as I tiptoe back into the hall toward the foyer. It’s one quick jaunt down the stairwell, and no one will even realize I’m gone until it’s too late. Kai and the crew have all been distracted since the attack, and now with the council breathing down Adrian’s neck, of course they aren’t watching me closely.

No one expects me to leave.

But it’s the only thing I can do to save Adrian and our baby.

I make it to the emergency staircase, and my hand is on the knob before an age-marked hand clamps over my wrist in a vise grip. Rearing back, I jerk my hand loose, intent to run, only to find Cook standing there wearing her usual scowl on her face.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

I swallow the truth and scramble for a believable lie. “Just going out for some air. I wanted to take a walk and thought I should go while it’s still daylight.”

When she narrows her eyes, the usual steely glint turning sharper, I know she doesn’t believe a single word I just said. “Nice try, girl, but you’re going to have to do better than that if you want to convince the guards at the bottom of the stairs.”

Crap. I rarely go outside without Kai or Adrian with me. Those guards must peel off when they aren’t needed. “How many are there?” I venture, studying her face for any clues.

She wraps her hands around her wide hips and jerks her chin at me. “Two, but all you need to do to get past them is act like the high and mighty pampered princess they expect you to be. Own the fact that you can walk out of here at any moment, and they won’t question it. You might be tied up here like a princess in a castle, but to them, you’re still the princess, which is a hell of a lot higher than their rank. Own it when you get to the bottom, and they won’t question your ability to go freely.”

I grab the handle again and pause. “Why are you helping me? You don’t even like me.”

Her apron shifts, pulling tight across her ample frame as she shrugs. “I don’t like or dislike you. But I also don’t believe in holding someone hostage if they want to leave.”

I open my mouth to tell her I don’t want to leave, but then I clamp it shut again and simply nod.

This time, she gently grips my hand over the door handle and turns it for me. “Get going now. You don’t want to be out when it’s dark.”

The urge to hug her swamps me, but I tamp it down since she won’t appreciate the gesture anyway.

I make it one flight of stairs before she calls after me. “Don’t forget to get rid of that tracker in your arm. It’s the first thing they will use to find you.”

My hand slaps across the tiny scar on my forearm of its own accord, and I consider what I have to do as I run down the stairs.

I slip on the last one, almost tumbling to the cold concrete. I'm so lost in thought but manage to grab the metal railing at the last second.

“Own it,” I whisper to myself, throwing my shoulders back. Then I ramp my chin up and hike my bag higher on my shoulder. I’d seen my mother do this move a million times, even when I knew she wasn’t feeling anywhere near as strong as she looked.

I carefully opened the door leading to the lobby and strode out like I owned the place and everyone in it.

Someone says my name. “Mrs. Doubeck?”

My heart breaks all over again hearing it this way.

I spin and level the burly guard with a glare as if he interrupted my day. “Yes?”

“Um...are you? Do you need…?”

“What?’ I snap, putting so much bite in my tone I shock myself.

“A car? Do you need a car?” he finishes, his shoulders slumping.

I shake my head and focus on absolutely not smiling to take some of that kicked-puppy look out of his eyes. “Thank you, but I’ll manage. If anyone asks, I’ll be back soon.”

It takes another few seconds to clear the building, and I force myself to maintain a steady gait and not run. In a few more seconds, I realize I probably just signed that young guard’s death warrant. Adrian will be hunting for me the second he returns from the council meeting, and he’ll kill every one of his staff to figure out who made contact with me as I left.

I continue walking and then dig out the coat I’d brought when the chill in the air and my jangling nerves finally get to me. Right now, I only have some cash and a few pieces of jewelry. I need to make a plan and then get as far away from the city as I’m able without anyone seeing me. Easier said than done, I know.

I don’t know how far I walk. Time seems to drag on when you’re looking over your shoulder at every turn. All I know is that it’s got to be at least a couple of hours later when I come across a seedy motel that looks like the perfect place to hide.

The girl at the front desk hands me a key in exchange for cash without even glancing up from her TV. The room looks clean enough. There aren’t any bed bugs on the mattress, and the bathroom smells of bleach and lemon cleansers. It could be much worse, I tell myself.

I drop my bag on a worn burgundy chair and sit on the edge of the bed. The frame squeals as it takes my weight but then goes silent, leaving me to my thoughts.

First things first, I need to destroy the tracking chip Adrian put in my arm. If I leave it in, this will all have been for nothing. I stare at the tiny scar and remember how I got it. A shiver rolls through me, but I get up and head into the bathroom to see if I can find something to take care of it. There’s a plastic-wrapped personal kit in one of the drawers as if someone left it behind and the cleaning staff just left it. Inside is a razor, a small first-aid kit, shampoo, soap, lotion, and if I keep digging through it, hopefully the courage to actually do this.

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