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Authors: Marianne Evans

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Snowflake Kisses (10 page)

BOOK: Snowflake Kisses
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A nearby patron of the training/workout facility released the handles of a weight machine, sending a metallic clang vibrating through the warm, dank air. Vanessa stopped exercising just long enough to jam a fist against her hip and cast a sardonic glance toward her bestfriend and sister-in-law.

“Oh, you're absolutely right, Lexie. The man adores me. Especially when he got to the part where he stormed out of the conference room and said, ever so eloquently, ‘I leave for America in a few days anyhow.'”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning everything that's come to be with regard to his emotions and the drama with Tamara will be neatly resolved. How happy for him. Meanwhile, I'll be back here in merry old England wishing I could erase the memory of ever even meeting him. My life would certainly be simpler that way.”

“Wow.” Now Alexa ignored the punching bag as well.

She stared at Vanessa who simply waited.

“I'm left to wonder if my long-held fantasy is finally coming true.”

“Which naughty one is that, and shall I spill the beans to Peter?”

“Oh, your brother knows all about this particular desire of my heart.”

“Which is?”

“To watch my chic and feisty, never-misses-a-beat BFF finally meet her match and fall as hard into love as I did. This is quite enjoyable to witness, I must say.”

“Oh, stop going on.”

“So, you're disturbed about facing the fact that you love him?”

“There's nothing for me to
face
once he walks away. That's the point, Lexie. He's the one running; I'm not. Further, he's made it quite clear his life is separate from mine.”

Alexa's smile spread. “My goodness. I've been so wrapped up in motherhood that I missed all the signs of you going under, Vannie. Apologies for that. Jackson's really got you in a muddle, doesn't he? Oh, wait. Let me rephrase so it's not a question. Jackson's got you in a muddle. Period. By the way, I love it. He's wonderful, and well worth the fight.”

“You're
really
starting to irritate me.”

Unable to tolerate being put in her place, Vanessa turned, ready to sweep away from the exercise space and head to the changing room so she could put a proper close to this wretched day.

“If you let him go, Vannie, you're the one who's an idiot.”

That closing arrow to the conversation struck Vanessa straight between the eyes.

 

****

 

Are you going to let evil win?

The question haunted Jackson, following him like a shadow. Ensconced at his hotel that night, he strode through the glassed entryway of the workout facility, dropping a fresh towel over the padded seat of a nearby bench. He didn't so much jog against the rubber belt of the treadmill as pound his way through a brutal workout meant to burn off as much anger and confusion as possible.

Vanessa wasn't in the wrong. Part of him knew that as clearly as another part of him knew he wasn't in the wrong for being stunned and hurt by her acceptance of Tamara McKenna. How could he reconcile the two? Vanessa's generosity of spirit warmed him and tangled him in equal measure.

Clear thinking was required; a number of Vanessa's comments had settled deep in his chest and squeezed tight with ropes of truth he couldn't deny. Perhaps if he ran long enough he might outrun that fact.

Or not.

He ached to rest in mental and physical peace, but couldn't find its pathway, even after a half-hour session in the workout room.

Vanessa's ferocity of conviction pumped something unbidden into his bloodstream: the notion of relegating Tamara to the past and embracing love anew. He wanted to explore the facets of a complex, tantalizing, even if logistically challenging relationship with Vanessa. Gregarious, sassy and beautiful Vanessa was as formidable as she was compelling.

Yet, still, his nerves jumped.

This moment felt like no other—as though his heart executed its lasting and most powerful dance toward the woman destined to be his.

All the same, confidence wavered. Could he—should he—try to make this relationship work?

His heart and spirit rang with an instant
yes
. His head, however, remained resolute and shuttered—just as Vanessa had observed…

Jackson used a few finger taps to increase the incline of the treadmill. Like everyone else, Tamara lived in a world of shadows and light—good and bad struggling for dominion. All the same, God pushed at the woman's heart and chased her with as much love and fervor as anyone else in His kingdom. Wrongs and all. Despite Vanessa's protests to the contrary, he
did
trust her judgment. He
did
realize she understood his pain and attitudes. Most important, he knew she wasn't the type of person to be swayed by phony behavior. All the same, that knowledge didn't answer the most important question of all.

Where to from here?

Clearly the answer needed to come from him. That meant he had a number of important decisions to make. Could he thoroughly forgive—from the heart—and cut away the past so he could embrace love anew? Raw and battered, could he risk proposing a loving future to Vanessa, whose existence was so firmly entrenched in the UK? Would she even want to consider such a challenging set of circumstances?

Questions pulled, leaving him in a state of mental overload. He collapsed into bed, doused the light, and tucked beneath a stack of blankets. That's when a heart-shaped face, flowing dark hair, a seductive smile and deep green eyes formed into the enticing swirl of Vanessa's image, an image that followed him into turbulent sleep.

 

****

 

A soft, tentative rap sounded against the doorframe of Jackson's office at Harrods. His back to the entrance, his attention hyper-focused on the final beta test set to launch for the IT network, he took a moment before turning away from the pair of monitors before him.

“Yes?” The polite, courteous greeting nearly died on his lips when he discovered his visitor was Tamara.

Seeming to sense his unease, she lifted her hands in surrender and crossed the threshold. “I'm only here to say goodbye.” She expelled a breath. “A final goodbye. I'm on my way to Heathrow in just a few minutes.”

“Safe flight to you.”

The words were succinct, cautious, but he thought of Vanessa's kindness to the woman and carefully schooled any sense of bitterness and anger from his tone. His wish was authentic.

“Thank you.” She entered just far enough to take a seat in the chair across from his desk. “I'm so sorry, Jackson. For everything.”

He held his breath—and waited.

“I'm going back to Los Angeles, and I'm going to sort out the mess of my life.”

“And then?” He leaned forward on the arms of his chair, studying Tamara. Well put together as always, comfortable but stylish travel clothes and upswept hair perfectly in place, she presented a cultured and elegant image. Yet her eyes raged with storms.

“And then I'm going to see if I can somehow make sense of my marriage. I'm going to try to move past the harsh and brazen way I behaved toward you and attempt a fresh start all around.” She straightened, met his gaze squarely. “I…I really am sorry for what I did.”

It amazed Jackson the way a simple set of heartfelt words could inspire a rush of forgiveness…and hope.

“I hurt you, and at the start that's precisely what I intended. I wanted to hurt you, or make you mine. That was wrong. You deserved better. I deceived you.”

Posture taut, Jackson longed to fidget with the nearby pen, or drum his fingertips against the cool, shiny wood of his desk. Instead, he forced himself to stillness so he could listen. Absorb. “I appreciate you saying so. Emotions got the best of us, Tamara.”

“True.” She folded her hands in her lap, studied them for a moment. “I don't intend to make trouble for you, or Colby Intellilink. I endorsed your firm to John Kensington the night of the party.”

“Thank you for that.”

Though the words were quiet, they rang with sincerity. She looked at him, gave a brief nod. “I did it for me as much as you. I met someone afterward who helped me realize I can make better choices. Live a better life.”

“And a good life is what you deserve.”

Visibly forthright, resolved, she stood and smoothed the line of her shirt, slinging her purse strap against her shoulder. “It's time for me to find home, and live my life in a way that will bring me happiness rather than twist my heart.”

Only then did Jackson lift from his seat and round the desk. He took hold of her arms, pecked her cheek. “Stand strong, Tamara. If you do, you're going to be just fine.”

Her chin wobbled. “I hope so, Jax. Say a little prayer for me?”

He smiled into her eyes. “Count on it.”

 

 

 

 

10

 

Peter and Vanessa's apartment was imbued by the earthy aroma of evergreen spice from boughs outlining the doorframes of the lounge and kitchen. Fat green candles flickered and glowed atop a fireplace mantle of dark wood. Their scent added a subtle layer of cinnamon and apple to the air. That appealing blend soothed Jackson and welcomed him to Christmas as he folded comfortably into a leather easy chair as Vanessa entered the lounge.

Less than forty-eight hours from departure, Peter had invited him to join the family for a last private dinner. The gesture was wonderful, but here and now, Jackson longed for just one thing: to make amends with Vanessa and thereby treat his heart with the honor and respect it deserved.

Finished with a sumptuous dinner of roast turkey and stuffing, Peter and Alexa tended to Christopher in the upstairs nursery, leaving Jackson alone with Vanessa, who settled a tray stocked with dessert plates, forks, and napkins on the nearby coffee table. Smartly outfitted in a black skirt, a green cashmere sweater and spiky heels, the most adorable accent to her wardrobe was the red apron she wore, complete with a Christmas tree and white trimming along the bottom edge meant to look like snow drifts.

“Once Peter and Lexie have CC settled we'll slice into the chocolate Yule log. Lexie made it from scratch. It's going to be heavenly.”

All evening long she had been kind and polite, the picture of class and perfection as a hostess. Now, before their privacy was interrupted, Jackson needed to build a bridge that he hoped—and prayed—would span the subtle bands of tension that rippled between them.

When she lowered onto the ottoman in front of Jackson's chair, he took hold of her hands, drawing her to face him. For a tender, meaningful moment, he held her emerald gaze with his. A rush of contentment washed through him, cleansing away pain—doubts—fears.

With her, he wanted one thing alone—a chance for forever.

“Vannie, I owe you an apology.” The opening held her attention in full. “I wasn't fair to you at all. I rushed into an emotional reaction and a tremendous error in judgment. I was wrong to lash out at you when you didn't deserve it.”

Her brows furrowed, but she regarded him steadily. “Your reaction was understandable. I simply wanted you to comprehend my point of view about Tamara.”

“And at the time, that's something I couldn't do.” He held her hands, brushed his thumbs gently against her fingertips. “I give you tremendous credit. It took me a while to understand what you were doing, and to see that it was the right way to handle the situation. You behaved far more like a Christian than I did.”

“But I was equally harsh with you. She ripped your heart out. You were deeply invested. Me? I could take her or leave her. You had your emotions trampled, and I wasn't as sensitive to that fact as I should have been. I didn't make it clear that I understand your pain. The last thing I wanted to do was befriend her. Anyone who's hurt you has hurt me, too.”

Jackson received those words with gratitude, and a quickened pulse. She still cared, then. Deeply.

“When she and I met, I could have sworn I saw straight through her. I had to go on faith that treating her with compassion was the right thing to do. She was miserable.”

“And your instincts were absolutely correct.” For a moment he gathered his thoughts, forming the words to explain himself. “Let me tell you what happened this afternoon.”

Jackson detailed his farewell meeting with Tamara. In the distance, Alexa and Peter could be heard cooing and laughing with baby Christopher while bath water poured and CC's gurgles occasionally punctuated the air.

“In the end,” Jackson concluded, “I found I'm the one who needed to mature.”

“We're
all
works in progress. It took me a long time to realize I needed to look at the world through different eyes. Embracing Christianity didn't come easy, just ask Peter and Lexie. In a number of ways, God pulled me into his fold kicking and screaming. Much of my faith is still brand new, maybe that's why I forced myself to see God at work in Tamara rather than simply write her off.”

“I think you're right; and new to the faith or not, you're an angel.”

“I don't know about that. Believe me, I'm still growing. I still get taken by complete surprise. After all, look at you and me and the way our lives have come together. It's a perfect example of God in control—in control of protecting me, and in control of showing me a wonderful man.”

“Thanks for that, but you've seen me in the role of a hero when I've behaved in a manner that's anything but.”

“You'll always be my hero, Jackson. Always.”

The tender declaration drifted between them, prompting him forward. He slipped his fingertips against her warm neck, beneath the silky fall of her hair. He drew her in, eyes closing as the subtle spice of ginger and jasmine filled his world. He fell into a kiss that spun through his spirit and danced through his blood. Vanessa wrapped her arms around his neck, holding tight as pleasured sighs mixed together.

BOOK: Snowflake Kisses
5.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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