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Authors: Marianne Evans

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Snowflake Kisses (9 page)

BOOK: Snowflake Kisses
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“No worries. I'm glad I was in the right place at the right time.”

They placed food orders—sandwiches, creamy potato soup. Tamara studied her for a moment before continuing. “Sometimes, intense feelings lead to mistakes, and a point of desperation.”

Vanessa watched and waited rather than try to fill in the blanks.
Listen
, came the advice of a still, small Spirit prompt.
Don't respond. Listen.

“I'm in the midst of a marriage that's falling apart, due mostly to my own stupidity and misguided decisions. I'm confused about that, and as my relationship with my husband crumbled, I found myself drawn to a man who came into my life and made me feel so beautiful, so worthwhile and desirable.” She sipped from her tea. “You happened to meet me at a point when I was having a meltdown about everything in my life and where it's led me.”

Tamara didn't mention Jackson by name, of course. There was no need. Vanessa didn't mention her connection, or knowledge of the situation. Again, there was no need. With increasing clarity she realized this meeting was about a confused, troubled woman who was searching—who longed to reach out to a person who had stumbled into her path and somehow clicked into the ragged spaces of a jigsaw puzzle.

“Perhaps it's led you here, to a person who might be able to offer a simple listen and a touch of care.”

Their food arrived and Tamara gave her a tentative smile. “It's strange, but that's what I sensed when you interrupted my crying jag.”

Here the turf went uneven—tricky—but Vanessa was undeterred. “May I ask what prompted you to feel so sad?”

They divided a hot pork roast sandwich with kale and apple and sage chutney. Steaming and fragrant servings of root vegetable soup with lentils flavored the air, as did the nearby pot of spicy, earth-toned Assam team. The atmosphere soothed, even if the tenor of their conversation didn't.

“I…” Tamara released a long breath and fingered her sandwich. Nibbled at a corner. Vanessa respected the diversion and the woman's need to form a response. “He was one of the attendees at the function last night.”

Inwardly Vanessa braced. Not wanting to divulge that she knew Tamara's story—which would be cruel to Tamara and a betrayal of Jackson—and not wanting to lie by pretending she
didn't
know “he” was at the function, Vanessa stalled.
Please, Lord; help me out here,
she prayed
.

In the end, the advice the Spirit had spoken earlier resurfaced to give her guidance.
Don't respond. Listen.

Tamara's shoulders sagged. “I won't get specific. I refuse to be what I was a few days ago. I can't be destructive, to him or to me, or I'll end up even more miserable.”

Oh, heavens. The woman was genuinely remorseful. Seeking amends. Vanessa leaned against the edge of the round table they shared, reaching across the distance between them to rest a hand against Tamara's arm.

“I was wretched to him.” Beads of moisture built at the corners of Tamara's eyes. “I threatened him, thinking I could manipulate him into loving me while I willingly gave up on a man, and a relationship, I committed to years ago. What does that make me?”

“Under the right circumstances? Forgiven. Redeemed. Have you and your husband considered counseling?”

Tamara's chest heaved. “To be honest? I'm almost afraid of what we might find out.”

Cushioned by a rueful smile, the words tugged at Vanessa's heart. “Or you might just take yourselves by surprise.”

Dispelling further luncheon memories with a firm shake of her head, Vanessa returned to the present moment. The dazzling glitter of a perfectly positioned, perfectly displayed showcase of Waterford crystal drew the attention of her client.

Drifting to a linen clad table appointed with sterling silver, crystal and china, Jenna Cleveland lifted a china plate of soft, translucent blue. “The octagonal shape is so modern. I love it.”

Vanessa focused. “I'm drawn to the color as well. The color is warm and elegant. Pair this setting with the cut crystal you already chose and your dinner table is going to be spectacular.”

She finished the shopping consult, all the while wondering. How should she approach Jackson? What should she say or do? After all, Tamara McKenna needed an outlet, a means of hope, just as much as he did, but at some point she needed to tell them both about her mutual connection. Otherwise, the guilt—justified or not—would tear her to shreds.

 

****

 

Jackson wasted no time reporting to The Penthouse once Vanessa informed him of her break period.

“I need to ask you a question.” In deference to discretion, he led her to a small, private conference room and closed the door.

Her brows knit. “Which is?”

Jackson pushed away from the door and rounded on her. “Why on earth did I see you eating lunch with Tamara this afternoon?”

The barest hint of silence beat past as her eyes narrowed. “Tread carefully.”

“Tread carefully? You know what she's done to me and yet you—”

“And yet I what, Jackson? I did
nothing
. I had lunch with her. Our paths crossed, quite literally by accident, following the company Christmas party. May I ask, in turn, why you've seen fit to spy on me?”

“Spy on you? Vanessa, whether you like it or not, whether I like it or not, I'm the temporary eye-in-the-sky around here, or would you have preferred this particular meeting be kept secret?”

Her jaw dropped. “I have no secrets from you, Jackson. Furthermore, I have nothing else to say on this matter. What Tamara and I discussed is between the two of us, although I had every intention of telling you I had lunch with her once we were finished with work for the day.”

“I'm not appeased in the least. After the way she's affected my life, you see fit to associate with her? Why?”

“How has she affected your life, Jackson?” Surprisingly, Vanessa spoke gently, in a quiet voice. “At the end of it all, how has she influenced you? She pulled a bad stunt, yes. You called her out on it and stepped away. Smart move, and well done. However, she hasn't affected your job, she didn't change anyone's feelings toward you. In fact, we've rallied around you with support. Where's your bitterness and heat coming from? What did she
truly
do?”

Jackson ground his teeth, flopping into a chair positioned at a glass-topped table. The glimmering surface revealed his troubled reflection.

Vanessa took the seat across and leaned forward intently. “She betrayed you—shame on her—and you walked away. The man I've grown to care for so deeply is the kind of person who would let go and move past.”

“Vanessa, I simply don't understand how you could…could…”

“How I could what? The way I see it, I've been given two choices. I could sneer and rant and rave and slam a woman whom, until this week, I had never met, or I could realize the greater truth that her decisions have created her own losses. I found her after the party sobbing over the mistakes she had made. In the face of that, I reached out. Our conversation today led to a very unexpected but welcome discussion about redemption, especially since she has no intention of muddying the waters for you or my family's company. She never once even mentioned you by name, and I'm confident enough in my feelings for you to let go of acrimony. I want to take the higher road because she's honestly sorry.”

“Still, she was wrong!” He thundered the words, itching to bang a fist against the table. Careful control kept him in line but the muscles across his shoulders formed into tight coils of tension.

“She was wrong, and she knows it. Meanwhile, I've attempted to behave like I feel a Christian should. I'm sorry if you don't see it that way, but I won't change my mind. She's a displaced soul.”

“I know that first hand.”

“She's made mistakes.”

“I repeat…know that first hand.”

Vanessa shot him a glare when that sentence dangled between them. “And I repeat, the one she's hurt the most is herself.”

“She hurt me, too.”

That straightforward admission stirred a swell of pain in Vanessa's eyes. “But you possess a clear conscience and can walk away from her into something much better. Meanwhile, she's realized she needs to grow up. If she turns to me, posing no threat, why shouldn't I help her? Why shouldn't she be given a chance?”

“What if she's not sincere?”

“I'm not daft, nor am I easily swayed. I can recognize authentic intentions.”

“I used to have that kind of confidence in my judgment and intuitions as well. I hope you don't get taken down the way I did. If you ever do, maybe you'll understand why I tend to be guarded.”

Sharp words lanced the air, settling into a heated silence.

“That's blunt.”

“And honest.” He launched to his feet and promptly began to pace. “I want to trust myself enough to build a new relationship. I feel so much for you, Vannie, and yet—”

How could he polish the statement? He wasn't ready to make a full-on declaration of love, even to a woman as captivating as Vanessa Colby. He remained too vulnerable—and, yes, afraid.

“Jackson, stop trying to safeguard your heart by pulling away and hiding behind doubt. Doing so is completely beneath the man I have come to admire so much.”

His blood pushed and thickened with heat. He squeezed his hands into fists, briefly regarding his whitened knuckles.

“You're shuttered, and there's no need to be. You're the man who stepped straight into a nightmare, on nothing more than instinct and heart, and saved me from horrors the likes of which I don't even want to consider. You're noble and strong, but gentle enough to charm a baby and steal my jaded heart. Don't let me down. Realize what you have in front of you and let go of the rest.”

Jackson's gaze latched to hers. Evidently, Vanessa did have a knack for disseminating human character and motive. If only he could say the same.

“She can't hurt me, Jackson. She can't hurt you, either, unless you allow her to. I've opted to reach out, to help her, and offer her something beyond an added level of anger and bitterness that will only cause her and you additional pain.”

Relentless, she lifted her chin and continued. “You have every right to be angry about her betrayal, but you don't have the right to let it linger and influence what can come next in your life. Happiness. Love.”

That word dangled and tempted, swirling through his head and spirit like a balm. She looked into his eyes, and he wondered if she could see the nuance of longing that washed over him.

“You're better off on the path God's given you,” she concluded quietly.

Jackson sighed, squeezing the bridge of his nose while he released a stuttered breath. “You're just as much of a rescue story as I am, Vannie. You see me as your hero. Meanwhile, you're attempting to be a hero to Tamara. You're upholding her just like your homeless friend, Cordellia. You're working at reformation.”

“I am. Is that an issue? Isn't that what we're supposed to do? Isn't that what's right? It brings me peace. It might do the same for you if you let it.”

The entire interlude left Jackson off kilter. He never expected this twist, and hadn't looked at Tamara's behavior from the perspectives Vanessa presented. Furthermore, he had no idea how to handle these new developments.

“Like everyone else, Tamara has layers of good and layers of bad. I want to help her by being a friend.”

A
friend
? That tore it.

Jackson turned his back and strode to the door, hand resting on the knob he had just turned. He looked over his shoulder. “You know what? I leave in just a few days to return to the States. I have to say it'll be a relief to leave turmoil behind and return to business and life as usual. Do what's necessary, but forgive me. I'm not ready to be quite as open-minded and gracious as you.”

 

 

 

 

9

 

Self-defense training had become a bi-weekly staple of Vanessa's life since the attempted robbery. Alexa joined her, and the end of today's class brought particular joy because she got to release pent up tension by pounding the tar out of a battle-scarred leather punching bag.

Heavy silver chains swung and groaned as she continued her attack. Stationed next to her as they finished out their latest session, Alexa mirrored Vanessa's moves as Vanessa shared details about her battle with Jackson.

“So, you see,” Vanessa concluded between rapid-fire shots that whooshed against the bag, “Jackson is an idiot!”

“He's no such thing and you know it.”

Alexa's punctuating chuckle made it clear she relished Vanessa's quandary. An answering growl stirred deep in Vanessa's chest, and she increased the hard, rhythmic pummel of padded fists against her target. Beads of sweat trickled down her cheek and curved against her jaw.

“Lexie, would you at least do me the courtesy of a venting session?”

Blonde ponytail bouncing, grunts sounding as she worked at her own bag station, Alexa nodded. “By all means. Vent away.”

“He ranted and raved at me for extending the hand of forgiveness to Tamara, who seems genuinely remorseful about what she's done. Then, he completely pushed away from me and stormed out of the conference room in a fit of pique. Seriously. Men!”

“Your behavior is commendable.”

Vanessa slowed her punch strikes because she could have sworn she heard a “but” dangling somewhere close to the end of that sentence.

“But I understand where he's coming from,” Alexa continued. “His heart was ripped out, and that makes it difficult to embrace anything new—like you—especially since this wound is relatively new.”

“Me? Come on.”

“Vannie, don't pretend you don't realize he's crazy about you.”

BOOK: Snowflake Kisses
10.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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