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Authors: Marianne Evans

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Snowflake Kisses (6 page)

BOOK: Snowflake Kisses
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At length, he had no choice but to stand and more formally acknowledge her presence. When she stepped forward, Jackson took two deliberate steps back. “Tamara, what on earth are you doing in London? Why are you here unannounced and most assuredly uninvited?”

“I would think the answer to that question is obvious. I know you read my e-mail. I was notified when you opened it.”

Feeling stalked, Jackson folded his arms across his chest and arched a brow, waiting in silence. She moved close once again. When her hands made contact with his chest, when she tried to slide her arms around his neck, Jackson took prompt hold of her wrists and quelled the gesture.

“I wanted to surprise you.” Relentless, she delivered a plaintive look he ignored. She clenched her hands at her sides. “I meant what I said in my note. I'm determined to do what I can to”—she cleared her throat and looked around briefly, seemingly to assure privacy—“to repair the damage I caused. I take responsibility, Jax. Let that be enough. I know I wronged you, but I know how you feel about me. I want to go back to—”

“Tamara, as far as I'm concerned, what you want is irrelevant. The issue of our relationship, pardon me, the issue of what used to be our relationship, has been resolved. Definitively and conclusively. If you've traveled all the way here in an effort to re-state your case, then I'm sorry to say you've wasted your time.”

Strength of conviction and purpose flooded his veins. The emotions that rode through him now were precisely what he needed—and craved. Perhaps this moment of resolution would help him turn the corner on self-doubt for good. The woman held absolutely no appeal to him now. At this moment, the only emotion he experienced in her company was anger and an overwhelming urge to be done with her permanently.

For the first time, her lips tightened into a disapproving line. Her eyes flashed. “We'll see about that.”

Jackson shrugged off the implied threat.

“I wanted to see you, of course, but my visit has a business purpose as well, Jackson.”

She used his full name. That fact touched him with uncertainty, but he refused to flinch. A foreshadowing of evil hit his system like an injection. “What are you talking about?”

“My company was approached by Kensi-Corp, the staffing conglomerate based in New York.” Her lips quirked. “I believe you're familiar with them. You're bidding for their business correct?”

Jackson refused to respond. He stared into her eyes, tension building like an electrical storm through his body. A lunch appointment with Peter this afternoon, to review upcoming bids and projects for North American operations, would indeed include a lengthy discussion of winning Kensi-Corp's business.

“I know their president.” Tamara sat in the chair across from his desk, looking at him with a decidedly satisfied set to her features and a posture of confidence. “John Kensington knows Colby Intellilink created our IT network. He asked me for a recommendation.”

In that instant, Jackson experienced the sensation of a prime, high-profile project, along with a couple million dollars' worth of revenue, sliding through his fingertips like so much sand.

Tamara's eyes narrowed ever so slightly, her lips quirking. “As I said in the note, darling, I've kept tabs.”

“And you've just made it abundantly clear I need to figure out what to do about that development. If you think this is going to win me back into your life, you grossly underestimate matters.”

“Relationship or not, the ball's in your court, as they say.” She lifted smoothly. “Think things over. We can be wonderful, if you just let it happen. Cheers.”

His frosty body language kept further physical encroachment at bay—thank goodness for small mercies—but Jackson watched her retreating back and his stomach rolled into a set of nasty left-to-right pitches.

What was he supposed to do next?

 

 

 

 

6

 

“And she expected that kind of devious machination to win you over to her side? Is the woman certifiable? What an epic fail. Is she insane or is that a newly acquired trait?”

Peter's thundering decree filled the space of his office, causing Jackson to brace in the chair he occupied across from Peter's desk.

“I'm not the least concerned by her mental stability, or lack thereof.” Jackson scowled, fought an urge to snarl. “I'm far more bothered by what her threat means to our company, its reputation and potential business. I feel like something's damaged here. Something I failed to recognize, or—”

“Away with that logic, and let the devil take it!”

Peter launched from his leather chair, framed from behind by a curving stretch of Knightsbridge lined by ancient brick buildings that were lovingly maintained and appealed to Jackson's aesthetics. He'd always loved classic architecture steeped in history, and London fairly burst with it. Too bad recent developments threw stains across that pleasure.

Peter paced the carpet. “If John Kensington allows her recommendations to have that much sway over his business decisions, then we don't want it. North American operations can survive quite well without the portfolio he's offering.”

That level of backing felt wonderful, certainly, but Jackson was embarrassed by the necessity of revealing such a painful set of personal circumstances to a man he respected as much as Peter Colby. Circumstances that he didn't feel painted him in the most favorable light.

They had just concluded a late working lunch at the nearby conference table. The earthy spice of Chinese food still flavored the air, wafting from open containers. Next to a smattering of leftovers stood humming computers and open project folders they had scrutinized during the course of their meal. Of particular interest, and leading to their present conversation, was the topic of upcoming bids and strategy for securing further business in the States.

“There are a number of high-level executives from companies in America who are eager to do business with Colby. Several of them will attend our company Christmas party next week. As you know, that's another reason why I wanted you to visit the UK right now. Between you, me, and my father, I'm confident we'll garner enough opportunity to make this Kensi-Corp drama a non-issue.”

Again Jackson was appreciative of the support, but he still wondered. Why didn't he feel altogether comforted?

“Don't let this detract. In light of Tamara's behavior, I'd like nothing better than to rescind her invite.”

“I'm grateful for your loyalty, but let's be pragmatic,” Jackson said. “There's no polite way to avoid her invitation to the Christmas event. She's a client who gave us a sizeable project which we completed successfully.”

“Oh, leave her to me, my friend.” They reconvened at the conference table workspace. Peter's smile struck Jackson as shark-like—relishing. “I'll see to it she has a wonderful time. By the same token, I'll make certain she ends up nowhere near you.” As fast as it dawned, his intensity vanished. “Vanessa's helping to oversee the party. Did I mention?”

Jackson cleared his throat and shuffled papers into unnecessary tidiness. Peter's laughter rumbled. “Merritt, you'd make a horrible poker player.” All at once, he leaned forward, piercing Jackson with a look. “Does she know anything about this?”

“She doesn't know about Tamara's arrival in London. I haven't had a chance to tell her yet. My responsibility was to you first and foremost but I'll fill her in tonight. I don't want her to be blindsided by any kind of ugliness, corporate or otherwise.”

Peter's display of fierce protectiveness softened. No question his love for his sibling ran strong and deep. “You're admirable, Jackson. Join us for dinner tonight at the apartment. Lexie's wanted to extend some hospitality, and Vannie will be there, of course. The two of you can slip away at some point, grab a walk, and sort matters.” Focused on his monitor, Peter reengaged his computer and began to tap keys. “You don't deserve a mess like this. Let God take matters where they're meant to be. On my end, you have nothing to be concerned about. All anyone asks is that you continue to run our company overseas with success…and heart.”

Jackson dove into work as well, liking the pointed manner in which Peter concluded the topic.

 

****

 

Vanessa had never been one for fairytales. She inhabited a world of practical push and press, effort, results—and success. She had encountered too much materialism and cultural greed to ever be wide-eyed and innocent about the world. Nonetheless, a transformation of spirit, brought about by the love affair she had witnessed between her brother and sister-in-law, had turned her spirit fully toward Christ. He was her stronghold now, the armor she wore in a daily battle against the showmanship of glamour and an over-the-top quest for material gain.

Be that as it may, a heart focused on God didn't place her in a bubble. Self-centered orchestrations could still tweak Vanessa's volatile temper as well as a yen for retaliation.

Like now, for example.

The after-dinner walk she presently shared with Jackson should have been about savoring the sparkling beauty of London. The old city stretched before them in all its nighttime glory, its iconic buildings and modern skyscrapers shaped by beads of light that formed outlines of shadow and illumination along the glittery waters of the Thames.

Hand in hand with Jackson, her clutch going tight against his fingertips, Vanessa reacted to his news of the purpose behind Tamara's arrival in London. “So this ex-client of Colby Intellilink is squeezing you professionally in order to stake a personal claim? Poorly played, all in all.”

“You have a penchant for understatement.”

“You must tell Peter.”

“Already done.” Car horns bleated. Across the water, a horn bellowed mournfully, the sound coming from a small freighter that skimmed past. She squeezed his arm as they ambled along an arched bridge that spanned the river. “With due respect, he had to come first.”

“And that's as it should be.” All the same, his revelation made sense. Vanessa had sensed Jackson's tension throughout the day as their paths crossed and uncrossed at Harrods. “Still, I'm livid. What's up with this woman? Why won't she simply take your ‘no' and be done with it?”

“Conquest. This has nothing whatever to do with love, Vannie. That much I know despite all her protests to the contrary. This is about her wounded ego. She is a woman spurned who wants her own way at any cost.”

“Well, added twist to the knife, this right gobby cow is set to ruin an absolutely fabulous, fantasy-like Christmas celebration I've pulled together for Father and Peter.”

Laughing at her feisty display, Jackson snugged an arm around Vanessa's waist drawing her tight to his side. “I'll ask you to interpret that very British insult at a later point. About the party, Peter already plans to keep her occupied.”

“And I have plans to do just the same…for you.”

“Really? Do tell.”

She turned in his arms, loving the smoky timber of his voice. “I'd be glad to. As you know, the Colby Christmas extravaganza is going to take place at the London Eye. As you also know, me being me, I have every intention of making sure it's perfect in every way.” She eased into a delicious flood of anticipation, sinking against his warmth with a happy sigh. This man was truly ace in every way imaginable. “The food will be divine; we get to take a ride that overlooks the entire city, and best of all? There's snow in the forecast. I also mean to stay quite close to a certain CEO of North American operations and make sure he has a wonderful time.”

“Your mission is already accomplished. In spite of all the crazy drama, you've made this trip amazing.”

Quiet and intent, he leaned against the brick retaining wall and traced the line of her jaw. She made an approving sound, and he stroked back waves of hair that danced against her cheeks. Vanessa leaned into his touch, taking in a slow, reverent caress that chased away any sense of physical chill from her body.
Kiss me
, she yearned in the seductive silence, losing herself in the unfathomable darkness of his eyes.
Please, please kiss me…

“We should head back before the others start wondering about us.” Jackson's voice was rough and low, stirring.

“If we must.” Regret fell against her in soft layers. Unwilling for the moment to end, she lifted to tiptoe and pressed her cheek to his, breathing deep of appealing woodsy spice.

A curving, up-hill walk returned them to Pimlico and a gracious stand of residential buildings Vanessa had fallen in love with years ago on her search with Peter to find an amazing spot to call their own. Strange thing was, even upon Peter's marriage to Alexa, the shared living space worked ideally because Peter and Alexa returned to London frequently, dividing their time between Los Angeles and England. Street lamps bathed the sidewalk with patches of soft light; a rapidly quieting night stilled Vanessa's nerves and restored a calmer attitude.

Inside the apartment, the air was laced by cinnamon and orange. An added layer of fresh-baked pastries called Vanessa to the kitchen, where she found Alexa fussing over a nightcap of strawberry scones. Vanessa's mouth already watered—her sister-in-law's culinary skills rivaled those of any expert in Paris.

“I'll pour the tea,” Vanessa offered. “Smells all delicious and citrusy.”

“Thanks, and you'd be right on the mark. The water's already heated. We just need the tray and service.”

“Perfect.” Vanessa launched into action, but delight at having her best friend back in Britain was too great to contain. She interrupted snack preparations just long enough to yank the petite blonde into an enthused hug complete with a happy exclamation. “Lexie, I never, ever want you to leave.”

“You're so sweet, and you're glowing just like the holiday we're about to celebrate.” Full of tease, Alexa shot Vanessa a knowing glance. “Bet I know who to blame for that particular development. You're getting on quite well with Jackson. I must say, you remain a diplomatic credit to the UK; you're impeccably hospitable to us Yanks.”

BOOK: Snowflake Kisses
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