Surrender To Me (Book One)

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Chapter 10: Broadened Horizons

A few days later I’m standing at the bathroom sink when Jackson slips up behind me and wraps his arms around my middle. He kisses the side of my neck and then my cheek.

I giggle and ask him, “Hey, we just got finished with that, didn’t we?”

“Yes, we did,” Jackson admits as he wraps his arms tighter and lifts me off the floor.

“There’s always time for more…”

“Not now, there’s not,” I correct him. “You’ve got to get to work and I’m heading downtown to take care of some ministry errands.”

I watch him in the mirror as he cocks his head in surprise. “So, you’re coming into the city?” he asks.

“Yep,” I say as I look down to locate my mascara. “I should be there all morning. I have an entire list of things I need to tend to.” I lean forward away from Jackson’s body and pick up my wayward beauty item.

I return my gaze to the bathroom mirror when Jackson asks, “Would you like to come have lunch with me, say around 12: 30?”

“Really?” I ask as I pause with my mascara brush poised between my forefinger and thumb.

“Yes, really.” Jackson seems surprised that I’m surprised.

“That would be awesome!” I say as a huge smile lights up my face. “Where do you want to meet?”

Jackson thinks for just a moment and tells me, “Just come to the office and I’ll surprise you, how’s that?”

“Okay,” I agree excitedly. “It’s a date!”

He flashes one of his killer smiles my way and gives me a quick hug before setting me on my feet.

“Have a great morning, sweetheart. I’ll see you in a little while.” He plants a seriously interested kiss on my lips and departs the room, leaving me giddy and smiling in his wake.

At lunch time, I find I’m running a few minutes late as I enter Dawes’ headquarters. The building is sixty stories tall, certainly not the tallest in Chicago, but sufficiently large enough to house the needs of Dawes’ interests. It’s only 12:25pm., but it takes several minutes to reach Jackson’s office from the entrance. The lobby is bustling with employees, visitors and security staff.

Evidently, Rico, the head of security, has been notified of my visit by Jackson. When I arrive at the door, Rico comes to my elbow and says, “This way, Mrs. Dawes.”

Rico escorts me to the elevator and takes me all the way to the top floor where Jackson’s office is located.

When Jackson purchased the building, he took the time, and spent the money, to renovate the entire structure. Jackson isn’t big on bling, but he does want his surroundings professional and representing him well.

The building is indeed a mirror reflection of the man himself. Clean, tight lines dictate the architectural style. Brightly lit, contemporarily furnished, and impeccably professional are words which really describe the environment. Everything in the building is set for purpose and efficiency. There’s a fluid union of form, function and aesthetics without wasted effort of any sort. The entire structure is graceful and efficient just like Jackson.

Jackson gave me a tour of the building when we first started dating, but to be honest, I was a little star struck and don’t remember much about which floors house what aspects of the company.

I do remember that Jackson’s floor houses the directors’ offices for every department contained within the corporation. The offices aren’t huge or lavish, but they do provide adequate space and amenities so that the directors’ responsibilities can be conducted with the utmost efficiency and professionalism. Jackson has a hands-on management style. If success is any barometer, he’s incredibly good at it. Jackson is simply one of those people who excel at everything they touch. I can’t imagine what that must be like.

Every department from accounting to R&D, janitorial, security, plus all of the others I can’t possibly recall, is represented here. Jackson likes his employees at his beck and call so he’s structured his company accordingly. I remember thinking at the time of my tour it seemed like an unorthodox way to arrange things, but Dawes runs like an incredibly sophisticated, well-maintained piece of machinery, so who am I to criticize?

When I get to Jackson’s suite, I stop to greet Sarah, his administrative assistant. She’s twenty years older than me, seventy-five pounds heavier, and her IQ is twenty points higher than mine. She’s Jackson’s right-hand and in a pinch could run the entire company in his absence.

Sarah seems genuinely pleased to see me. “Hello, there, Mrs. Dawes. How are you?” she says as she comes forward to shake my hand.

“I’m well, thank you, Sarah. And yourself?”

“I’ve no complaints. Mr. Dawes is expecting you. I’ll let you know when your lunch arrives.”

“Thank you so much,” I reply and start for Jackson’s office. I enter Jackson’s domain, but find him absent. Almost instantly, the door to his powder room opens and Jackson emerges all smiles and athletic grace. He carries a towel in his hands as a remnant of his hand washing efforts.

“There’s my Ellie!” he remarks as he makes a beeline for me. He picks me up, kisses me ardently, and gives me a Jackson sized hug. He smells so good!

“Wow! You don’t leave a girl wanting for much, do you?” I exclaim breathlessly.

“That’s my plan,” he admits, grinning at me.

“Well, it’s working,” I concede, grinning back at him.

As Jackson stands me back on my feet, I notice a small dining table has been added to his office décor since my last visit. “According to Sarah, we’re dining in?”

“If that’s okay with you?” he questions.

“Sure. This way I have you all to myself. It seems when we go out some well-meaning person winds up commandeering our meal time.”

“Now that you mention it, that does happen a lot, doesn’t it?” he agrees.

“This is much more priv…” I begin, but I’m reminded that the entire front wall of Jackson’s office is comprised of large glass panels.

Jackson comes to me and takes my elbow. “Yes, Ellie, you were saying?”

“Well, I started to say how much more private this is, but then I realized it’s a fishbowl. It’s kind of the opposite of private.”

“I can fix that,” Jackson states simply. He walks to the coffee table that sits in front of his ridiculously large sofa and retrieves a remote control of some sort. He points it at the top of his office door and the most amazing thing happens. Across the entire length of the glass wall the crystal-clear glass turns into blackout glass. I can no longer see out and no one can see in.

I walk over to the glass wall and ask with my expression if I can touch it. Jackson gives me the go-ahead.

The texture and color of the glass are completely different. The entire glass wall now resembles fine grade, black sandpaper.

“Jackson! That is soooo cool!” I marvel. Mallory must be contagious!

“I know! Right?” Jackson’s face lights up as he agrees with me. “The boys in R&D have been working on it. They have perfected this model and are now working on a one-way version. Next, we’ll go for a bullet proof prototype. Ellie, this is going to be big. We can market it residentially, commercially and militarily.”

“Jackson this is absolutely remarkable! There’s so much you can do with this. How does it work?”

“This remote signals the sensor at the top of the door to send an electrical current through the glass. When the current hits the glass it modifies its molecular structure. Wa-la! blackout glass,” Jackson says with all the pride and excitement about his company’s new development shining in his eyes.

“Does it change back?” I ask, still incredulous.

Jackson points the remote at the sensor and instantly the glass returns to its original state. I reach out to touch it and find it smooth as silk and clear as crystal. I still can’t believe my eyes. I walk over to Jackson and hug his large gorgeous frame.

“I’m so happy, honey. This is truly incredible. Can I try?”

“Absolutely,” Jackson says grinning as he hands me the remote. Back and forth goes the glass. “This is waaaay toooo cool!”

Jackson’s phone buzzes and interrupts our little celebration.

“Yes, Sarah?” Jackson asks.

“Your lunch has arrived, Mr. Dawes,” comes Sarah’s authoritative, competent reply.

Jackson tells her, “Come on in, Sarah. We’re starving in here.”

Instantly, Sarah enters with a serving cart and arranges our lunch on the table. Desserts and iced tea are included.

“Thank you, Sarah,” Jackson says while giving her his best professional smile.

“Enjoy,” Sarah encourages. “If you need anything please let me know,” she offers as she turns to leave the large office.

As soon as Sarah exits the room Jackson instantly returns the glass to blackout phase.

“Come here, Ellie,” Jackson requests as he motions me over to the table. He pulls my chair out and seats me for lunch.

“I ordered your favorite for you,” Jackson wants me to know.

“Rib eye steak and roasted asparagus?”

“You got it.”

“Turtle cheesecake?”

“Like there’s any other?” Jackson says as he gives me his most devilish grin, shrugs his shoulders and flags his hand palm up.

“Thank you, Jackson, for all of this. I’m so happy to be here with you. I love that you shared your new idea with me. It’s so much fun to see what you’re up to here at the office.”

We begin to eat. The food is so good and I’m having such a nice time.

Before long, though and somewhat shyly, Jackson brings up the subject of my life before we met. “Would you mind telling me a little more about your life with Thomas?”

“Sure,” is my immediate response, “I’ll tell you anything you’d like to know. Is there anything in particular which interests you?”

Jackson shakes his head to dissuade my assumption. “No, I don’t suppose. I guess I’d just like to get a better general idea of who he was and how your marriage worked.”

“Well, Thomas was several years older than me and he was a schoolteacher, as you know. He taught for 32 years and was gifted in his vocation. He served as president of the union for many years. He did an amazing job. He loved all that analytical, negotiating contract stuff. He did so much to help the teachers with their benefits and wages. Most of them had no idea how hard he worked to help their lives. Very, very few of them had any real appreciation for the work he did on their behalf.

“Thomas dearly loved his students and genuinely cared about teaching them to read and write. All but the first few years of his teaching career was spent in the first grade. By the time he retired, though, his teaching responsibilities had taken a serious toll on his health. Within one year of retiring he passed away and left me alone.”

Jackson reaches for my hand. He lifts and kisses the top of it and gives it a gentle squeeze.

“I know, Ellie, how hard it is to lose someone you love so much.”

I drop my gaze down onto my plate of remaining food. “I don’t worry about him,” I say sincerely. “I know he’s safe in heaven, but it was incredibly lonely to begin with. We were the best of friends. When he wasn’t at work, we did everything together.

“We had our three boys, got them raised and put through college. One of the things that Thomas always wanted to do for the boys was to pay for their college educations, but a schoolteacher’s salary isn’t nearly large enough for that. Thomas’ good name was sufficient collateral for the boys to borrow against so they could go to school.

“The money we’d been waiting on came a few months before Thomas passed. So, he did get to fulfill his dream of paying for their education. It was after the fact when he paid off their student loans, but that didn’t bother him. He was just so happy that the boys wouldn’t have that debt hanging over their heads. That was God answering prayers for us, that’s for sure.

“Thomas was a great dad. He spent lots of time with the boys doing all kinds of crazy things together. I was often surprised at the activities in which I’d find my four fellows knee deep. They spent time playing ball, raising animals of different breeds, repairing barns, building chicken coops and fence for the perimeter of our property, gardening veggies and selling them at the farmers’ market on Saturdays. They went mushroom hunting in the spring and fishing during the summers. Oh, and that doesn’t count the whole slew of things I did with them as well.

“When the boys got older Thomas helped them set up a lawn mowing business, so they’d have spending money. He taught them how to be bargain shoppers and to get the most out of every penny they earned. He taught them to drive and helped them get their first cars. He taught them about girls and how to treat them like ladies, not objects. He taught them to stay away from drugs and drinking with both his words and his example. Besides, he’d have killed them if they’d disobeyed him. They knew it too. I know it’s not p.c. these days, but there’s nothing wrong with kids having a healthy respect for authority. It helps them avoid a lot of problems with which life would like to defeat them.

“To this day the boys relive their childhood with fond memories and a terrible feeling of grief over the loss of their dad. They really, really loved him and appreciate that he was truly vested in them and their success in life.

Slowly, Jackson shakes his head. “Wow,” he says somberly, “it sounds like Thomas was one in a million. I wish it could’ve been that way with my dad,” Jackson says in a voice which barely registers above a whisper.

Tenderly, I rub my hand up and down his forearm. “I’m sorry, Jackson. I didn’t mean to upset you,” I tell him softly.

Jackson shakes his head like I’m being silly. “It’s okay, Ellie. My dad’s been gone a long time now, but I still miss him. My dad and I were great buddies at the time he died. Hearing you talk about Thomas makes me wonder how things would’ve developed between us as I grew older.”

“That’s only natural. Little boys need their dads. There’s just no way around it. It’s the way God has life arranged.”

“Tell me about you and Thomas,” Jackson continues.

“Like I said, we did everything together. Over the years we tried several business ventures to help supplement his income, but none of them never really panned out.”

“Oh, really? What kinds of things did you try?” Jackson asks, seriously curious.

“We tried registered quarter horses, registered miniature horses, goats, chickens and even a restaurant at one point.”

“Wow, that’s quite a variety of ventures,” Jackson admits. “Do you have any idea why none of them worked out for you?”

“Different reasons for each one. Our entire goatherd, which we accumulated over many months as we could save the money, disappeared one Christmas Sunday morning. Someone backed a trailer up to our barn, loaded them up and drove away with them while we were at church. We were devastated and didn’t have the money to replace them.

“It was kind of the same thing with the chickens. Not all of them were stolen, but the entire flock of our most valuable breed was. They were my favorite, of course. One little hen, I called her Gertie, took a real shine to me. When I’d go in to collect eggs she’d walk up and peck on my boot, just begging to be loved on. So, I’d pick her up and scratch her chest for her while she looked at me like I was the most wonderful person in the world. I know it’s silly, but I cried for days after she was taken.

“After the theft of our expensive breeding stock we tried for another six months, but our hearts, mine in particular, just wasn’t in it anymore. I was so tired of working so hard for years and then having some stupid thief come in and help themselves to the benefits of all of our hard work. It completely demoralized me.

“The restaurant was three years of 80-hour weeks, and everyone got paid except me. The landlord, utilities, the vendors, employees and the government all got paid. There was never any money left for my wage. The workload was incredible and since there was no benefit in it for me, I finally wore out. I couldn’t take it anymore. We pieced out the equipment and sold some land to pay back the unsecured loan we had on the place.

“We actually made a little money on the horses for a time. Then the economy collapsed in 2008 and the bottom fell out of the horse market too. Add to that, the killer market for horses was made illegal and that hurt their value even further.

“Also, I hit a run of several years where my health wasn’t great, and I couldn’t help Thomas with the workload on the farm nearly as well. Over the years, in a effort to economize, I’d taken on the job of trimming all the horses’ hooves, in addition to, training the babies, doing the feeding and cleaning out stalls. My body just wasn’t strong enough to do it anymore, but that wasn’t what Thomas wanted to hear.

“When it came to something Thomas didn’t want to hear he had this incredible ability to tune me out. It seemed crazy to me to work that hard and have nothing to show for it, especially when I didn’t feel well enough to tackle it all anyway. So, after many attempts at telling him I was tired of being his ranch hand and having my efforts ignored, I told him to pick between me and the animals because one of us was leaving. He put the animals up for sale the next day.

Jackson is listening intently. “It sounds like you two had a rough way to go.”

“Looking back, I remember how hard it was, especially after I became ill, but I will say, we stood with each other and battled whatever came at us. I suppose we were no different than any other couple that manages to stay married for so long. We just kept putting one foot in front of the other working as hard as we could until something worked out or fizzled. I do have the satisfaction of knowing, though, that we did our absolute best. None of it failed because it was neglected or done halfway.

“We laughed an awful lot, even when we wanted to cry. Crying never accomplishes anything toward fixing a problem. It only makes you feel better, briefly, by allowing you to shed some anger and hurt, but that’s about it. I suppose, though, that can be of tremendous help.

“Thomas always could make me laugh. I don’t know how he did it, but no matter what mood I was in, tired, angry, sad, it didn’t matter, he could always find something to say or do that made me laugh and made me feel better.”

Sadness creeps into the tone of Jackson’s voice as he says, “Sounds like you two were really good friends, sticking together like you did.”

“Yeah,” I admit, “we sure weren’t perfect, nor did we have a perfect marriage, but we were certainly the best of friends.”

As easily as such a change can be executed, Jackson diverts the course of our conversation. “So, how was it for the two of you romantically?” he asks nonchalantly as he takes a drink of his iced tea.

Quietly, it occurs to me that this question might be the real reason for our time together today. His question strikes me as odd because I’d have expected this type of conversation prior to our wedding day. However, I have nothing to hide, so I forge ahead. “It was good between us,” I say honestly. I won’t diminish the awesome man Thomas was just to make Jackson feel better. “Thomas was always thoughtful and patient. We had a good sex life.”

Suddenly, the gloves come off. “Was it as good as ours?” Jackson asks as he stares mercilessly into his empty plate and holds his breath while he waits for my answer. Suddenly, I understand why he couldn’t ask me about this prior to our wedding night.

I nod my head. “Yes, in a way,” I tell Jackson, but I do want to qualify my admission. “It was just so different from us, Jackson. You and Thomas are such intrinsically different men. Thomas didn’t have your physical size, strength or appetite.” I reach out and stroke his forearm, then squeeze his large warm hand. Jackson begins to breathe again so I continue. “Jackson, when it comes to sex, you have truly broadened my horizons.” He smiles at me and, for a second, I forget what I’m saying.

When my brain reconnects to my vocal chords, I tell him, “Like I said, Thomas was several years older than me, but we had a very strong, very satisfying emotional connection. He was a great husband, a great dad and a really remarkable man.”

Jackson probes a little deeper with his next question. I’m not sure what he’s searching for, but I guess we’ll get there eventually. “Did you have any ongoing issues?”

“Issues in a marriage that lasted for twenty-five years, are you kidding me? We had all kinds of issues. Some of them were easier to beat into submission than others, but we never gave up.”

Jackson is looking me in the eye. His gaze is full of expectation. Ok, he wants specifics.

“When we first got married, we had so much interference from our parents that we almost didn’t make it. It got especially bad after our first son was born. For some reason, both of our mothers thought they needed to run our married life. I’ll tell you, Jackson, that doesn’t work. I told my mom to butt out, but Thomas wanted everyone happy. He just couldn’t understand why everybody couldn’t get along. Finally, I told him I’d fight for my kids in court before I let his mom have them. He had to choose between his mother and me. Silly me, I thought he’d done that on our wedding day.

“When he heard me utter those words the light in his brain came on and he understood that I’d leave him if he didn’t get his act together. So, we bought a sorry little house and moved out of his parents’ rental unit. Slowly, with some time and effort, things got better between us. Turns out we raised our family in that little house. It holds incredible memories.

“The only other issue I had with Thomas was his stubbornness. It’s kind of the same thing as the parental interference problem. If there was a situation that needed discussing or fixing and Thomas didn’t want to be bothered, he’d just stick his head in the sand and pretend it wasn’t there. That left me to deal with some big things on my own, which was unfair.

“Personally, I think that “avoiding conflict” mentality is gender specific. I know my dad had the same problem, as do the husbands of many of my friends back home. I truly believe parental interference and the whole “head in the sand” mentality are significant contributors to the divorce rate.

“Over the years, though, Thomas really improved. He came to trust my instincts and learned if I brought something up for discussion, I had a reason for it. “I was very blessed in that regard. Many men never figure it out.”

I recognize an opportunity has presented itself, so I honestly avail myself of it. “I will say that if Thomas ever lied to me, about anything, I was never aware of it. To my knowledge, both of us were completely faithful to each other, as well.

My explanation of our married life has Jackson’s undivided attention. So, in the interest of full disclosure, I tell my side of the story. “As for my contributions to the ‘issues’ between us: I could be impulsive, and I had a temper. My parents fought like Iran and Iraq the first 35 years of my life. I learned that if you wanted a man to do something you had to have a meltdown to get it done.

“I think my impulsiveness was tied to my faith, though. I just loved God so much and trusted Him so completely that I’d jump without looking. Thomas taught me to give more intentional thought to my decision making and that doing so didn’t diminish my faith. He also taught me that being mad at him wasn’t going to motivate him to do better.

“The only two exceptions were the two times I threatened divorce. I’m not proud of the tactic I resorted to, but please know I gave the ultimatums I did because I felt I’d exhausted every other avenue and I was desperately trying to save my marriage. I felt alone and overwhelmed with the work load of our relationship. Thomas understood my threats were genuine because I’d reached my breaking point. He overlooked a lot in me, and I overlooked a lot in him.

“Anyway, we both ultimately understood our marriage vows and the promise we made before God. So, we grew up, grew together and figured out that we had to cherish our good times together and forgive each other for the not so good times. Forgiveness makes the hard parts of life so much easier.”

Jackson’s focus is still very much on Thomas. “So, Thomas wasn’t this perfect icon who could do no wrong?” he asks after he finishes his desert and sits his plate off to the left and out of his way.

I shake my head at him. “Hardly, Thomas was extremely well-liked and respected in our community, deservedly so. He was a hard worker and he taught thousands of local kids throughout his career. But when you live with someone you get to see the real person. All of the facades and personas get stripped away. No, Thomas was a great guy, but nowhere near perfect.”

Jackson comes to me, pulls me from my chair and holds me close. I love it when he holds me like this. He’s so big, strong and warm. His presence makes my problems seem smaller somehow.

“I’m sorry, Ellie,” he says as he looks deeply into my eyes and strokes my cheek.

I have no clue as to why Jackson is sorry for me. “Sorry for what?” I ask him.

“I’m sorry that Thomas is gone, and you miss him,” Jackson says tenderly.

“Don’t be sorry, Jackson. We had a great life together then God called him home.

Thomas isn’t missing anything. He’s got it made and he sure wouldn’t want me moping around all sad and lonely, so don’t be sorry. I have you now. Life is full of newness and hope and excitement for the future.”

“Ellie, do you know that you are truly amazing?” Jackson whispers to me as he kisses my cheek.

“No,” I disagree as my skin starts to tingle. “There’s nothing amazing here. I’m just me.”

“Oh, but that’s what I love about you.” He pulls back from our embrace and says, “I’ve got something else I’d like to show you, if you have time.”

“I’ve got all the time in the world,” I assure him. “Do you have more top-secret goodies for me to see?” I ask expectantly.

“No, this isn’t nearly as flashy as the glass trick, but I want to show you just the same, okay?”

I can’t imagine what Jackson has for me. “Sure. Show me!” I encourage him.

Jackson walks over to the bookshelf located at the southern end of his glass wall. He reaches in behind some books and pushes some obscure feature. Rather quickly, a door on the south side of his office opens. He captures my hand and leads me forward.

“Come with me, Ellie. Let me broaden your horizons.” I follow him as we enter a hidden room.

“What is this place? It’s beautiful!”

“It’s a panic room really, but I’ve stayed here overnight many times when I’ve worked late and was too tired to bother with driving home.”

“Wow, it’s really big!” The room is huge and has a very masculine decor. Expensive mahogany paneling lines the walls. It has matching crown molding, as well. All the textiles are in the colors of shimmering blue and silver. The eastern perimeter of the room houses a wall full of video feed, computerized capabilities, as well as, communications.

There is a large, beautifully crafted bed that sits in the center of the room. Abutting the headboard on the backside is a large leather sofa that faces an enormous TV which hangs on the western wall. Flanking each side of the TV is a small weapons arsenal. Knowing Jackson and his attention to detail, I’m certain the defensive measures are meticulously maintained and exist in an ever-ready state.

Off to the corner of the western wall is the bathroom. It’s not as large or ornate as the one in Jackson’s office, but it’s lovely and has everything one could need. The northern wall is flanked by a small stove, sink, microwave and cupboards.

“This is a mini apartment,” I remark.

“Yeah, I had it set up this way so I could stay several days at a time if I needed to. The doors lock from this side and it has a separate power supply and life support system all buried deep underground. I mean what good is a panic room if the bad guys can cut off your oxygen and force you out, right?”

“Exactly,” I say like I’ve already thought of that very thing. Suddenly, something occurs to me and I pull away from Jackson.

He instantly senses my emotional distance. “Ellie, what’s wrong?” he asks, concern seasoning his tone.

I shrug slightly and say, “I’m standing here, taking all of this in and it dawns on me that I should ask you how many women you’ve brought here?”

Jackson, like he does everything, takes the question in stride. “I can honestly tell you, Ellie, you are the first.”

I give him my best ‘You expect me to believe that?’ look.

He captures my hand and pulls me toward him. “Seriously, Ellie, this has never been about having a place to score with women. That’s what hotels are for. Were for,” he corrects himself. “This is my space. Mine alone, until now, because I’ve shared it with you.”

Truth rests in Jackson’s gaze as he watches me, so I decide to believe him. I give his hand a squeeze. “Thank you, Jackson, for all you’ve shown me today. I’ve enjoyed it tremendously.”

“The pleasure is all mine, Ellie,” he states quietly. He walks over to some other obscure feature and the door to his panic room startles me as it quickly closes.

I have to have him show me how all this works.

Jackson comes to me, takes hold of my hands and begins to twirl his thumbs into the backs of them. He gazes longingly into my eyes. I know what he’s thinking. I know what he wants. Why doesn’t he make his move? It’s not like I’m going to turn him down.

Slowly, he reaches for my face and strokes my cheek with the pad of his thumb. He gazes longingly into my eyes and I hear the words, “I love you, Ellie Dawes.”

I whisper in response, “I love you too, Jackson.”

Jackson’s gaze drops to my lips and stays there while he comes for me. It absolutely mesmerizes me that my body responds to Jackson every time he asks it to. Jackson kisses me like it’s the first time ever, like I’m so fragile he’ll break me if he’s not careful. When his mouth claims mine, it is not with fiery passion. Agonizing, deliberate tenderness is the best way to describe it. His ache is present, but there’s a sensitivity to Jackson’s kiss I’ve never known before. His passion is ignited, but his kiss contains a component of hope. What is the unknown quantity for which Jackson hopes? I don’t know yet, but my hope is that he’ll soon tell me.

The second kiss is equally tender. It expresses gratitude that we have this moment, this connection to share. My body’s response is so much bigger than a physical ache. His kiss, his touch, pull longing from my groin, but now my response is not just about needing him; it’s about wanting him.

Suddenly understanding takes hold of me. The hope Jackson is expressing is now identifiable. He’s asking me to want him as a person, not to merely need him as a man. He wants to know that it’s him, and what he means to me, that ignites my body. It’s not enough that I need him because he’s a male with functioning parts. He should know this already. I married him, not someone else. Still, it’s intoxicating to realize that I can interpret his touch so precisely; he doesn’t have to use words to explain himself to me.

Jackson always leads me. If it’s hot steamy sex he wants, he pulls it from my body and my brain. He makes me aware in ways that are new and unimaginable. Today, though, he leads me in a different direction. Today he wants emotional passion in addition to the physical surrender of my body. It’s as if he wants the tenderness he shares with me, and summons from me, to be branded forever upon my memory. My knees liquefy beneath me. I moan and relax into his sturdy frame. My body yields to the call Jackson places on it.

Jackson is always such a take charge lover. Now, however, I sense he’s asking my permission. He’s asking if I want him as badly as he wants me. I kiss him back with a resounding yes.

The third kiss is more like the Jackson I’ve come to know. He responds to my agreement and steps into my space. If he didn’t embrace my back with the strength of his left arm, he’d knock me clean over. But he’s got me. Jackson always has me.

Jackson’s right hand supports my head while his left arm supports my back. His fingers weave into my hair so they can work my head in tandem with his lips. The urgency in his kiss is growing. He’s making his demands, his desires, known. He slides his left hand down my body so that it cradles my bottom and draws my groin into his pelvis. Jackson groans with anticipation.

“Ellie?” he asks in a voice hoarse with need and fractured with breathlessness.

“Yes…?” I sputter in response.

“Can I broaden your horizons?”

My heart smiles at his question. “I’ll be horribly disappointed if you don’t,” I whisper breathlessly.

Jackson picks me up and carries me to the bed. This time, though, the tone of our entire connection has been set by the first kiss he gave me. Jackson, who’s always a kind and thoughtful lover, is especially tender with his passion. It’s like he wants me to see a new side of himself. He behaves as if he’s aware our physical connection is rock solid so, now, he’s more concerned with the emotional aspect of our union.

I’m not sure why, but I get the impression that this new direction from Jackson has been prompted by the conversation we had at lunch. However, it’s happened, it’s working for us.

Jackson frees me from my clothes and fondles my breasts. He uses delicate kisses and suckles that send my spirit, as well as, my pelvis soaring. As Jackson penetrates my body, he talks to me, telling me over and over how much he loves me, that I’m the center of his world. His shower of kisses is relentless as if his words and presence at my center aren’t enough corroboration.

When the motion of our united bodies brings release, I find myself weeping. The ecstasy in tenderness brought to my body by my husband overwhelms me. Jackson rolls sideways and pulls me in close to him.

“You okay, sweetheart?”

“I don’t think so, Jackson.” He sets up on his elbow and pulls my chin up so he can meet my gaze.

“Ellie, what’s wrong?” he asks with concern as he wipes tears from my cheeks.

“I think you’ve forever ruined me. That was the most powerful sex I’ve ever had, Jackson. What was that all about?”

“I just think you’re amazing and I wanted you to know it, that’s all.”

“Well, you’ve set the bar now. I’m forever spoiled.”

Jackson pouts as he feigns offense “Is that all the faith you have in me?”

“I have all the faith in the world in you. All I’m saying is that you have to make a believer out of me.”

“My pleasure, Ellie, just say when and where.” Jackson grins at me slyly, rolls me over on my belly and begins to rub my back. I snuggle deeply into the expensive sheets.

“You have the softest skin,” Jackson marvels. “It’s so smooth and silky.”

“You enjoy it as long as you care to,” I urge him.

Jackson’s hands are large and warm, and they speak to my body in a whole new, totally welcome way. With my body sexually and emotionally sated Jackson works out any residual stress left in my muscles. In no time I’m as limp as a dishrag.

Waking sometime later is the sole indicator that I fell asleep in the first place. I rise, redress and locate Jackson. He’s returned to his duties but welcomes my interruption. After he pushes his chair away from his desk I curl up on his lap.

I put my arms around his neck and whisper into his ear. “This afternoon has been mind-blowing for so many reasons, Jackson. I can’t tell you how happy and grateful I am. Thank you so much.” I punctuate my words with loving kisses on his cheek.

“Ellie, you are my world,” he replies as he wraps his arms around me. “You are all that truly matters to me. I’m going to do better about showing you that.”

“You have my permission to show me anytime you want,” I tell him while I give him my best smile.

“I’m going to hold you to that,” he challenges me.

“Go for it. I’m good to my word,” I assure him. I kiss him sweetly on his lips and stand. “I’m heading out now, Jackson. Don’t forget we have a party tonight.”

“Oh, yes, I’m glad you reminded me. I’ve been busy thinking of other things,” he grins at me mischievously as he stands. He captures my hand and walks me to the door of his office. “Are you heading home?”

I shake my head at him and say, “No, I think I’m going to do some shopping. Someone has made me feel especially girly today and I’m going to make the most of it.”

“That’s great, but I want you to take Harcourt and let him chauffer you around, okay?”

How’s this going to work? “How will you get home if I take your car?” I ask him. “I’ll get a cab. I’ll be fine,” I assure him.

“No, Ellie,” Jackson insists. “I don’t want you using a cab. I’ll catch a ride with one of my guys. Harcourt will meet you downstairs.”

I’m a little blindsided by Jackson’s insistence, so I don’t respond immediately. I need to find my verbal bearings before I say something for which I’ll have to apologize later.

Jackson takes hold of my elbow which prompts my response to his question. “Ellie, do you hear me?” he asks with a serious tone.

“Yes, I heard you,” I tell him, but I’m peeved, and I think he should know it. “I just don’t understand all the sudden bossiness,” is my honest reply.

Jackson pulls me into his chest and holds me seriously close. “I’m sorry, Ellie. I don’t mean to be bossy. Obviously, you can do whatever you like. It’s just that I feel so protective of you and feel such responsibility for keeping you safe. I have this overwhelming need to do all I can for you which includes your protection. I’m sorry it comes across as bossy.”

I hear the earnest concern dripping from Jackson’s voice and it soothes my irked spirit. “Well, when you put it like that…” I say softly.

Jackson pulls back from our embrace and cradles my face in his hands. He kisses me like his very life depends upon it. “Ellie, when I think about how much I’ve come to love you and what you mean to me, it overwhelms me.”

I look up into his beautiful, brown eyes. His sincerity is completely transparent. “Personally, I’m a big fan of overwhelmed,” I tell him.

Jackson chuckles and gives me one of his best grins. “Me, too.” He straightens me on my feet and makes sure I’ve got my balance. “Goodbye, for now, sweetheart, I’ll see you later this evening.” He plants one tender kiss on my forehead. “I love you, Ellie,” he tells me as I walk to his office door.

I turn back to him as I open the door. “I love you, too, Jackson. Bye for now.”

Rico meets me in the lobby outside Jackson’s office and escorts me to Harcourt and the waiting limo.

The time I spent with Jackson today puts new light on our relationship. The conversation we shared as we ate our lunch, the incredibly emotional love making and Jackson’s proclamation of orbiting his world around me, as well as, his seemingly irresistible protective instincts, help me view my place in his life from a different perspective than the one I previously held.

Maybe, I’ve been wrong all this time about deception on his part. Maybe, I’ve grievously misunderstood his words and behavior the last few weeks. Maybe, the alarms sounding in my head have been wrong all along. Maybe I’m not invisible after all.

For the first time since I suspected Jackson’s deception I feel like, maybe, just maybe, I’m standing on solid ground where’s he’s concerned. I don’t really understand Jackson’s need to discuss Thomas or how our conversation translated into such incredible sex, but I do believe him when he tells me I’m his everything. I can’t keep myself from smiling at the memories we just made.

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