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Authors: Marianne Evans

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Snowflake Kisses (3 page)

BOOK: Snowflake Kisses
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For the next hour, business matters happily consumed him. Bleary eyes and a rapidly fogging mind didn't dissuade him from extinguishing a handful of minor company fires back in the States. He forced himself to stay awake for as long as possible; he needed to adjust to a horrendous time difference between California and Great Britain.

When he checked his personal e-mail account, Jackson's world lurched.

Subject Line:
Patterns of Insanity

From:
Tamara McKenna

His gut clenched as some form of a masochistic tendency rose to the surface. Jackson clicked the message open and flexed his jaw.

Jax ~

Jackson now hated the nickname, bracing as he plowed ahead into her message.

It's taken me nearly two months to find a way to form thoughts, and feelings, into words. It's taken me nearly two months to come to terms with the fact that I lied to a man who will never believe what I'm about to say. But I need to say this to you anyway. You hold my heart, and you always will. You might never understand the way I betrayed my marriage vows by entering into a relationship with you, Jax, but we met, and a world of magic filled me. I wanted nothing more than to be with you forever. Knowing your spiritual drive and your commitment to Christ, I sank deeper and deeper into a lie of my own creation, allowing you to believe I was single because the idea of losing you ripped me apart. Now, I endure a worst case scenario. I'm trapped in a marriage I abhor, recognizing the loss of a man I love, admire and respect, and I'm consumed by the fear that I might never be able to win you back.

I'm writing to you now because I understand you're in London on business for an extended period. (I've maintained what connections I can so I can still feel near to you). I hope you're running because you need time enough to think—time enough to confront the fact that the emotions between us run deep and strong. Meanwhile, I won't run. Not anymore. I'm going to move ahead into what I want most in my life. You. I'm divorcing Todd. It's something I should have done ages ago. Had I known a man like you would come into my life, I never would have married him in the first place. I'm not even sure I ever loved him. I was terrified of telling you the truth, so I deceived you. I need to live with that, and atone for it. But you need to clearly understand my intent wasn't to inflict pain. I wanted only to preserve the relationship we created.

Ask yourself something—and I hope you give me the answer to the following question. Are you traveling to London, in part, as a means of escape? Are you confused about what would happen if we met privately, face-to-face? Are you afraid you might surrender all over again to the love we shared? If so, I completely understand your hesitance in confronting that truth. I would expect nothing less, given what I've done. But if that's the case, please don't turn your back. Not yet. Not before giving me another chance. If you'll let me, I promise to love you past all your fears. I believe, given a chance, I can make you re-acknowledge the beauty of what we created. The love you inspire has transformed my world. I want you back. Please believe that. Please know that. Please give me another chance.

For now and for always ~ I'm yours.

Tam

Head spinning, Jackson slouched deeper into the chair. He ran his fingertips against his lips as he maneuvered through the e-mail once more. The words were deceptively alluring and eloquent. But the message prompted him toward a startling discovery.

Boiling rage.

He frowned. Tamara spoke blithely of her world being transformed. Really? After lying? After betraying sacred vows and turning her back resolutely on what should have been a lifelong commitment? She could leave her marriage without even a trace of regret? She professed love, but Christian principles held Jackson's spirit firmly in place. Tamara knew nothing about love at its deepest core. Still, he had fallen for her in blind trust—and been played for an unwitting fool.

Rereading her note was akin to ingesting even more of her poison.

Hold fast to what comes from My hand. Find Me in the love you seek.

Two small sentences of the Spirit were all it took to seal his heart—and firm his resolve. Jackson promptly exited e-mail and kicked his feet off the ottoman. After depressing the
POWER
button on his laptop, he clicked the device closed, stood, and extended into a long, satisfying stretch.

God knew. God understood. Sure, some of the people he came in contact with considered him old fashioned and conservative in his outlooks. So be it. Working at Colby Intellilink was a tremendous blessing, for this company was founded and run by believers who possessed the utmost respect for the Christian principles Jackson had embraced since childhood. He wanted what was good, and true. He would never settle. Rather, he would commit his life to a relationship…to a miraculous three-cord strand of man, woman, and God…that reached so deep into his heart it would be impossible to destroy.

Given perfect hindsight, Jackson realized that even on her best day, Tamara came nowhere close to fulfilling that dream.

Still, the pierce-point of her betrayal stung. He recognized the symptoms of loneliness. Nearing the end of his twenties, as he watched the bulk of his friends marry and welcome babies, Jackson remained a bachelor, focused on work objectives. In part, he knew that pattern needed to change. But he also realized there was comfort to be found in following an established routine and the professional call of his life.

Tamara had shredded his heart. Was it any wonder he craved stability? For the duration of the Harrods IT upgrade and his visit to CI Headquarters in London he intended to laser focus and resist any thoughts of women and romance. For now, he needed nothing but work, which filled him with a sense of accomplishment and the assurance that he was making good use of God-given gifts.

Alone.

Jackson released a low growl, paced to the entryway of his suite. All over again, he saw Vanessa in a twofold revelation: the panicked, helpless victim of a botched armed robbery, then the strong and gorgeous woman who had quickly come to fascinate him.

Hadn't Tamara done much the same?

Confusion roiled and his head throbbed due to a lack of sleep. It was definitely past time to turn in. He wheeled his suitcase into the bedroom where a king-sized bed looked like heaven itself. Unzipping the luggage, he tucked clothes into dresser drawers and hung suits and shirts in the closet. He studiously ignored the television armoire, leaving the doors closed to avoid a temptation to scan news networks and sports highlights from the States.

If only thoughts of Vanessa Colby could be as easily exiled.

Following a quick wash up, Jackson tumbled into bed and extinguished the table lamp, welcoming the wave of sleep that overcame him almost instantly. His last waking thought, however, was an affirmation of sorts, a resolution to stay centered and refuse delivery on the abundant charms of one Vanessa Colby.

No matter how beautiful and authentic she might be.

 

****

 

“I'm curious.”

“You're obsessed. There's a big difference.”

Vanessa tromped up the stairs leading to the expansive apartment in Pimlico which she shared on a part-time basis with her brother and his wife, Alexa. She huffed in an exasperated way that had nothing to do with the exertion of navigating the steep and narrow cement steps. “I'm intrigued. He's dashing. I freely admit to being fascinated, which is why I ask, yet again, how can such a powerhouse of a man be so commanding one second and so reserved and shut-off the next? He was positively tongue-tied at the end of our exchange. I can't help but wonder why he—”

“Alexa! Save me!” Peter's thundering plea echoed through the entryway. “Promptly, if you don't mind!”

Vanessa giggled at his long-suffering tone, delighted to have her brother and his family home in London once again.

Light footfalls and the occasional, comforting squeak of wood came to Vanessa's ears. Next, she detected a baby's gurgles and soft coos. This was the first trip home for Peter and his bride since their now four-month-old baby Christopher had been born.

“Lexie!” Vanessa charged for her friend, a petite, captivating blonde who held her son close, rubbing his back. A white cloth diaper was draped over her shoulder. “Christopher Colby, you're gorgeous!” With no sense of preamble, Vanessa slipped the baby from Alexa's arms and snuggled him close. “Although, I understand you're being a naughty boy, keeping your mother awake 'til all hours.”

Vanessa nuzzled Christopher's plump cheek, savoring the scent of his skin. Alexa, meanwhile, gave Vanessa a teasing wink and blew a soft fringe of hair from her eyes. “How typical. The mother's forgotten amidst the joy of babyhood.”

Alexa pressed her hands to her back and arched into a stretch. Vanessa snickered and leaned around Christopher to deliver an affectionate peck to both of Alexa's cheeks. “I've missed you like mad, and you know it, Lexie.”

“I know it.” Alexa giggled and gave Vanessa's arm a tender squeeze. “Poor CC. He thinks he's hungry, and he's squawking for a bottle, but it's not time for a feeding yet. I swear he doesn't know what time zone he's in anymore.”

Vanessa gazed adoringly at her nephew. “The poor little jetsetter.”

Peter laughed and pulled Alexa into a tight embrace. “Hello, Lexie-love.”

At once, the tiny lines around Alexa's eyes and mouth disappeared, vanishing into the tapestry of Peter's love. Vanessa thought of Jackson, and prickles of longing sparked against her senses. Had gratitude for chivalry morphed out of all proportion?

Evidently the answer to that question was yes, because over dinner Vanessa continued to press Peter, receiving a long-suffering groan from her brother and a speculative look from her sister-in-law.

“Peter, you work with him. He's in charge of corporate affairs in America. I can't believe for even the tiniest moment that you haven't properly vetted him. Out with it. What's his story?”

Vanessa Colby had never been labeled a wallflower, and she wasn't about to assume that moniker today, fainting spell or not.

“All right, brat. If only to shut you up, I'll reveal the following. He's utterly brilliant when it comes to information technology and solving complex computer alignment and interfacing issues. He's also ace at managing business affairs in America. However, when it comes to women he's guarded. He even admits to it, which is why I feel I can share.”


Admits
it even. Interesting, don't you think? What makes him that way?”

Peter stared at her pointedly; Vanessa ignored the reaction.

“Has he been hurt? If so, how? I mean, what else could be the case?”

Peter resumed their meal of roast, vegetables, and potatoes. “I couldn't say.”

His response came so fast and smooth Vanessa doubted he was being completely forthright. Plus, he now ate like a man who hadn't seen food in ages. So, naturally, she continued to push. “That's ridiculous. What happened? Tell me about him. Please?”

Peter shrugged off the strident inquiry, right down to the sweet, gently spoken endnote. After earning yet another startled glance from Alexa, Vanessa knew she'd have to answer her friend's curiosity at some point soon. For now, though, she only wanted to discover more about Jackson Merritt.

“You know what, Vannie? From this point on, I'm assuming my rights and privileges as his employer. In deference to corporate confidentiality regarding staff members, I'm going mum.”

Vanessa's jaw dropped, and she scowled peevishly at her sibling. Alexa, meanwhile, did a poor job of masking a laugh behind her hand. Peter leaned forward against the table, lifting his wine glass in a mock salute that left Vanessa to seethe with frustration and pent-up desires. He drew in a sip, shooting her an arched brow look.

“Further information must be gleaned by you.” Peter's tone thoroughly concluded the matter. “If you want to know more, then by all means, feel free to ask him.”

 

 

 

 

3

 

The following morning, Jackson entered the security hub of Harrods. The IT upgrade would initiate here, with an intricate diagram of preliminary wiring and interface connections designed to safeguard the store, its merchandise and employees. Next would come beta testing and refinement. After that, he would assume responsibility for the installation of a corporate-wide inventory and sales database driven by direct floor operations and revenue garnered via the company website.

Instantly at home and in his element, Jackson spent the first hours of his day interviewing staff members and building a set of detailed notes. Engrossed by the process, he soon fired up the design program on his computer and sketched preliminary ideas inspired by what he learned.

Just after lunch, he took a seat behind the surveillance console and focused on the screens laid out before him, intending to format how the new link ups and security features would come to life once new equipment was installed.

That's when he caught sight of Vanessa gliding through the front entrance of the store. Work related objectives faded to the background. Jackson temporarily surrendered the momentum of the project and poured his attention into tracking her progress via camera feeds as she trotted through the food hall and moved toward the elevators.

He inched forward, brows pulled. An ill-kempt young woman stepped toward Vanessa and touched her arm. Vanessa stopped and turned in question, causing Jackson to lift from his chair, ready at once to intervene on her behalf all over again if necessary.

Eyes narrowed, he continued to watch and wait, held in place by something in Vanessa's body language and facial expression. She seemed to listen attentively as the woman spoke. His concerns decreased beat by beat as Vanessa nodded, examined a few food items her newfound companion handed over.

BOOK: Snowflake Kisses
7.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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