Surrender To Me (Book One)

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Chapter 11a

He comes for me, takes my hand and gives it another gentle squeeze. He stops and takes the time to put his tux back together. When he’s finished we walk on hand in hand.

“Do you know how to get us out of here?” I ask quietly.

“Sure. It’s just a few steps this way,” comes Jackson’s confident response.

I’m glad he knows where we’re going because I can’t tell you through which arch we entered this beautiful maze garden. Sure enough, a few twists and turns later, we arrive back at the mayor’s house.

Suddenly, I remember to ask Jackson about his pensive mood from earlier this evening. I stop and place my hand on Jackson’s arm. He pauses and turns to face me. His warm liquid gaze embraces me.

“Yes, Ellie?”

“Are you going to tell me what there is at the office that has you so upset?”

“What do you mean?” He looks at me as if he’s clueless regarding the need for my question.

“When we had lunch today you seemed in great spirits, but by the time you got home this evening you were all closed off and distracted. You’ve been pensive and preoccupied all evening. It took the last half hour to pull you out of your mood. What’s bothering you?”

Jackson shrugs his large shoulders and, for all intents and purposes, blows me off.

“I’m fine, Ellie. Things at work are great. I’ve got an incredible team of high-level managers in place, so the company is running at peak efficiency. We’re making money hand over fist.”

I tug harder on his sleeve and pull him backwards so that we’re just inside the entrance of the maze. I’m concerned now. Jackson is hiding something from me. It’s written all over him. I’m not letting him off this easily.

“Jackson, what aren’t you telling me? Are you okay? I mean, are you healthy?” I ask with honest concern in my voice.

Instantly, Jackson shakes his head at me. “Oh, yes, Ellie. Don’t worry about me. Seriously, I’m in perfect health.”

Okay, then, if it’s not his health then it’s something else. One vague dismissal is not good enough. “Jackson, marriage doesn’t work like this,” I tell him. “It’s sharing everything, great and terrible, beautiful and ugly. Tell me what it is that you don’t want me to know. In time, I’m either going to find out or figure it out, anyway. By then, I’m going to be terribly mad at you because you were less than honest with me. So, spill it.”

“It’s hard to talk about, Ellie. I don’t think I could handle disappointing you, especially after this evening. I just want us to ride this high together.”

“Jackson, disappointment is a part of life. I’m not naïve enough to think that everything is going to be perfect 100% of the time. I don’t know what you’ve done, but if you let me down somehow, I will forgive you. It won’t change the way I feel about you, I promise,” I implore him with my tone and my touch.

Slowly, almost shamefully, Jackson admits, “I’m not very proud of myself….”

I wait several seconds, but he doesn’t continue. So, I prompt him. “Why aren’t you proud of yourself? What have you done, Jackson?” I ask as I look up at his stressed features.

I take a quick peek through and around the entrance to the maze to make sure we’re still alone. I don’t want Jackson’s confession overheard by some ruthless jerk who’d try and make a buck off his heartbreak. I’m relieved to find there’s no evidence that anyone is listening.

I turn Jackson to face me and find his features covered in sadness.

My heart breaks for him. “Jackson, you’re scaring me. I’ve got goose bumps running the length of my body, and not in a good way. Please, tell me what’s got you so upset.”

Silently, he captures my elbow and retreats us further into the maze. He refuses to look at me. Whatever this is, it’s got him scared. Has he hurt someone? Has he cheated someone in a business deal? Has someone done something to hurt him? My mind stays busy cranking out possible scenarios.

I’m at a complete loss as he stands silently before me. I walk close to him and wrap my arms around his rock-hard abdomen. Even though my head comes to rest below his heart, I can still hear it beating within him, strong and steady. Thanks, God for that.

I look up at him. He hasn’t returned my hug or given any indication that he even knows I’m standing with him. He refuses to look at me.

“Jackson, obviously, you’re the one who’s scared. I wish you’d tell me about it. You’ll feel better, I promise.”

Stone silence. Stone motion.

“Are you ever going to look at me or talk to me, again? Have I done something to hurt you?”

Almost instantly, he speaks, “Ellie, you could never hurt me. You don’t have it in you to be mean or selfish.”

I pick right up on Jackson’s inadvertent admission. “Have you been mean or selfish, Jackson? Is that what this is about?” More silence.

I pull away from him and stomp my foot. “Jackson!” I demand, “Answer me!” It’s a meager school girl attempt to snap him out of his funk, but there isn’t much more I can do.

Frustrated by Jackson’s lack of cooperation I turn to walk away from him and get a mere two steps before Jackson is standing in front of me. Slightly panicked, Jackson asks, “Ellie, where are you going?”

I squish up my face, shrug my shoulders and flag my hands at him as I speak with my best smart mouth attitude. “If you must know, I’m going home, Jackson. What do you care? You won’t talk to me, look at me or give any indication you’re even aware of my presence. I’ve got better things to do than stand around and be ignored by you.”

Jackson grabs me by my upper arms and spins me so that I’m caught between him and the hedge wall. The ferocity and speed with which he moves me startle me so badly I have to catch my breath. He obviously doesn’t want me to leave him here alone.

“Jackson,” I gasp. “What’s going on? You weren’t in this bad of shape when you were out of sorts this evening. Now, it’s like you can’t even function.”

“It’s so hard to talk about because I don’t want you to think badly of me. Ellie, this is a crushing confession and I don’t know where to start.”

“You just did, sweetheart,” I urge him. “Now, just go back to the beginning and put one word in front of the other until you’ve explained it to me.”

Jackson grimaces and runs his hand through his wavy blonde hair. Whatever this is, he’s giving himself a tremendous beating over it. I can’t imagine what’s got him so torn up.

Suddenly, and from out of nowhere, my relentlessly cranking brain provides me with an answer. It hits me HARD.

“Oh, dear God, Jackson…!” I sob as giant tears find their way from the corners of my eyes, down over my cheeks and caress the length of my neck. I back away from him and bump into the hedge. “You’ve been unfaithful to me, haven’t you?” The pain in my heart prompts me to slide sideways along the hedge in order to get past him.

My eyes are full of tears as I turn to flee. I can’t see where I’m going on the uneven ground. My shoes are uncooperative, my ankle goes sideways and causes me to stumble and lose my balance. I careen toward the ground, but I’m so upset and so busy wiping away tears I fail to bring my arms forward in time to break my fall.

Before my face hits the ground, though, Jackson’s right arm catches me around my waist and hauls me backward into his chest. He wraps his left arm around my upper body and the fight begins. Well, my version of a fight anyway.

I sob into the air in front of me, “That’s how you’ve been mean and selfish, isn’t it? That’s why you come home with your body all bruised and battered, isn’t it? You’re having rough sex with someone else, right?”

I squirm and fight and do my best to free myself, but I’m caught in a vise. I have no hope of breaking Jackson’s hold on me.

“Ellie,” Jackson’s plea comes to my ear, “Stop fighting me and listen.”

Tears stream down my face and coat my neck with moisture as they seek to stain the front of my black, blingy dress.

This time Jackson’s voice comes to me as a sharp command. “Ellie, listen to me! I can understand how you came to that conclusion, but I have not been unfaithful to you. Ellie, I promise you there isn’t another woman in this world who captures my heart and imagination the way you do. Not one, anywhere. Do you hear me?”

Slowly, his words penetrate the haze of my panic. I stop my fight against the hold of his arms as I try repeatedly to catch my breath.

Jackson shakes me sternly and commands me, “Ellie! Answer me!” He kisses the side of my cheek. I turn my face away, so he moves his kisses to the side of my neck. I feel so trapped and claustrophobic. I know I really need to get away from him, so I struggle against Jackson again, harder this time, hoping to catch him off guard.

Fat chance. His kisses are relentless.

“Ellie?” Jackson’s voice is shaky now. It’s fearful and uncertain. “I could never hurt you like that, sweetheart.” Now the kisses come from the other side. “Ellie, I’ll only ever want you. Please, Ellie, please, believe me. What’s bothering me has nothing to do with another woman.

“Come back to me, Ellie. Give me back your heart. Mine only belongs to you,” he begs with tears in his voice.

My panic dissipates as his words and earnestness work their way through my erroneous understanding. My struggle against Jackson’s fortress like body subsides as I let go of the tension in my own body.

Very gently, Jackson sets me on my feet and turns me to face him. He cradles my face in his hands, kisses me tenderly, and says with sincerity shining in his eyes, “Never, Ellie. Never. You hear me?”

I close my eyes and nod my head as much as his grip will allow. He kisses my closed eyes and holds me tightly against his body. My mind goes back to work. If infidelity isn’t the cause of his pensiveness, then I’m still left searching for an explanation.

“Jackson, is it that you don’t want to tell me because you don’t trust me? Are you afraid I’ll be vindictive and want revenge? Do you think I’m weak and will be crushed by it? Are you afraid I’ll tell others and embarrass you?” The lights come on in my brain. “That’s it, isn’t it? You don’t trust me.”

I’m furious with him and I slap his chest hard. Jackson doesn’t flinch, but my fingers sure sting. “How dare you treat me like this after all we accomplished here tonight. How many

times did you call on me to trust you, Jackson? How many times did I writhe before you because you wanted to prove to me that you’re trustworthy? So, as long as you’re the one who’s doing the caretaking it’s all good, right? But when it’s time to be taken care of, you’re just too macho. There’s no one trustworthy enough. That’s it, isn’t it?”

“Oh, Ellie!” Jackson moans and pulls me into his arms. He kisses me passionately. My stupid body betrays my anger at him and responds the way Jackson entices it to.

Why does my body always take his side?

Fortunately, I recognize his evasive maneuver. “No, Jackson!” I yell through clenched teeth as I push away from him. I’m not doing this now. More sex will fix nothing. You have to talk to me,” I demand.

Evidently, my equally ardent refusal gets through to him. Or, maybe it’s the pain in my eyes regarding my recognition of his distrust. Maybe it’s some of both. At any rate, Jackson starts to talk.

“Ellie,” he groans out agonizingly, then pauses. I watch his face and wait for him to continue. Suddenly, and even though Jackson refuses to look me in the eye as he speaks, his confession gushes forth: “I’m jealous of your dead husband.”

Jackson’s words hang in the air between us like a levitating, concrete block. They’re heavy, awkward, hard and horribly out of place, impossible even.

Now, he watches me as I shake my head and do my best to dislodge the stupidity and confusion. “Wh..wh…what did you say?” I ask him, stunned.

I get the impression that the worst is over because Jackson continues like he can’t explain fast enough. “The last few days I’ve been thinking about your life before I met you. I’ve thought about it a lot, probably too much if the truth be told because it’s in the past. It’s over and nothing can be done about it, anyway, but for whatever reason it’s bothered me so much I wanted to learn more about it.”

“Jackson, what about my life before you has you so troubled? I’ve told you absolutely everything. I’ve held nothing back. I have no secrets from you, not even one.”

“I know that, Ellie. I’m not suggesting that you do. That isn’t even a consideration.”

I’m completely dumbfounded. “Well then, what is it?” I ask with surprise shining in my facial expression.

Jackson reaches out and takes hold of my hands. “Ellie, since we’ve been married and I’ve gotten to know you better I’ve discovered that I don’t like the fact that you had a life before me, before us.”

Understanding sets in. “Oh, this is what prompted our conversation at lunch today.”

“Yes, it is. I’m kind of stuck on this track of wanting to know more about Thomas.”

“Didn’t I answer your questions sufficiently? Is there something more you need to know? What can I do to help?”

“See, that’s what I’m talking about,” Jackson says in defeat as he walks away and puts his hands on his hips, catching his suit coat behind them.

“What, Jackson? I don’t understand what you mean,” I implore of him.

Jackson shakes his head, in what I assume, is disbelief, and punctuates the air in front of him with an open vertical right hand. “I’m standing here about to tell you how really stupid and selfish I’ve been, and you want to help me cope.”

I walk over to him and tug on the front of his shirt. “Jackson, I’m your wife. I’m crazy about you. Of course, I want to help. When you’re hurting I want to make it better.”

Jackson’s earnest question finds my ears. “Are you, Ellie?”

Jackson loses me. I wish he’d quit switching gears on me. I’m having an awful time following his train of thought.

“Am I what?” I ask completely dumbfounded.

“Are you crazy about me?” he wants to know.

I tap my forehead with the fingertips of my left hand. Maybe if I tap long enough, hard enough, the pieces of this puzzle will fall into place. What is he thinking that he can ask me that?

Jackson comes to me and rubs circles into the backs of my hands. He’s in dire need of reassurance. I look up at him and find him watching me expectantly. Great trepidation is shining in his gaze. He is earnestly terrified that he’s going to fail in my eyes. He’s making himself sick over the possibility.

I open my mouth to speak, but Jackson cuts me off.

“Ellie, I’m jealous of Thomas. I don’t like him because of all the years he got to spend with you. I know that makes me a terrible person and I’ll die if you’re disappointed in me, but there it is.”

Before I can interrupt him, he continues quickly. “In my defense, Ellie, meeting you has changed me. You’ve changed me in ways I never expected to see in my lifetime, much less within a few short months.

“For the first time in my life I understand the protective instincts that come with loving a woman. Until you, I’d never known that. The entire idea of settling down was something I laughed at my friends for. I thought they were weak and whipped. The concept of monogamy, now, that one was truly laughable. Now, I understand what it is to love someone so much that I don’t even notice other women. Now, my friends laugh at me because they all believed I’d die a playboy bachelor. As far as they’re concerned, it’s payback.”

“Who are these friends? I’ll beat them up for you!” I announce fiercely.

Jackson laughs at my offer, but there’s still sadness in his eyes that his laughter doesn’t touch. He continues, “I understand the need for security in a whole new way. Not just personal security, but having finances in order, making sure life is paid for and protected financially.”

I ask because I want clarification. “Are you saying you feel additional burdens because of me?”

“Oh no, Ellie,” Jackson denies. “I’m saying I feel purpose in my life because of you and I want to bring all the components of our life together so that you’re taken care of. Ellie, you are my world. There’s nothing I won’t be, nothing I won’t do for you. Whatever you decide you’d like to do in life I’ll find a way to make it happen.”

At least he’s looking at me now. His eyes are full of love and sincerity. He’s still holding my hands, still twirling his thumbs.

“Jackson, why would your insecurity disappoint me?”

“I don’t feel insecure, Ellie. I feel jealous that Thomas got to have something with you that I won’t.”

I’m aware that feelings of jealousy are rooted in insecurity, but I think now is not the time to pursue that conversation.

“Jackson, of course, you’ve got time with me. We have the rest of our lives together, assuming that we don’t screw it up. That’s all anyone ever has. Look, you weren’t even interested in settling down until you met me, am I right?”

Jackson vehemently shakes his head. “It was the last thing on my mind….no, that’s not right, either. Marriage is something I never, ever, thought about. Now, that’s a lot more accurate.”

“So, when you met me you became ready, right?”

Jackson senses where I’m headed with my logic and deflects. “How do I know that I wouldn’t have been ready sooner, if I’d met you sooner? Then we’d have had more time together,” he asks sincerely.

“Oh, that’s easy,” I tell him.

Disbelief washes over his features. “It is?”

“Sure. God’s providence, that’s how. According to the plan He has for my life, and yours, we met when we were supposed to. Also, Thomas and I met when we did and had the life we had because that’s what God wanted for the two us.

“Jackson, I refuse to make myself sick over such things. When I look at you, I don’t get mad at God because he didn’t take Thomas from me and send you to me on some accelerated schedule. When I look at you, I thank Him every day that He brought you to me when He did. Now we can spend the rest of our lives together.”

“Well, that’s a different way to look at it, I suppose, gratitude instead of bitterness.”

“You should try it, Jackson. It will change your life. Besides if you let bitterness or jealousy, or whatever you want to call this, get a hold of you, it’s going to make you cranky and no fun to live with. Do you want to live at odds with me for the rest of our lives or do you want to laugh and have fun and change the world with me?”

“When you put it like that it sounds so easy, Ellie. There is nothing about this that’s easy for me” Jackson confesses with slumped shoulders.

I hug his waistline tightly. “I know, sweetheart. I can see how this is working on you. I’m so sorry you’re struggling like this.”

An idea occurs to me, so I offer another explanation. “Think of it the same way you’d make a business decision. You look at all the options before you, right? You look down the road, using decision theory and all the information at your disposal to do your best to see what each option will cost and where each option will leave you in six months, one year or five years. Then you’d pick the option that has the best chance of getting you where you’d like to be, isn’t that right?”

“Yes, that’s exactly what I’d do,” Jackson verbally agrees as he nods his head.

“This is no different, Jackson. You’ve got two choices here. Jealousy and bitterness will destroy you and our life together. Or, you can choose gratitude and let our life together grow into all it can be.” My brain keeps working. I have to find a way to make Jackson understand that jealousy of Thomas is wasted effort.

Suddenly, inspiration hits. “There’s still one more way to look at this.”

Jackson implores me for my explanation as if he’s looking for a lifeline. Desperation is present in his tone and his gaze as he says, “I don’t see it, Ellie, show it to me.”

“You know, you were seven years old when Thomas and I got married. And to be fair, I did a world of growing during our marriage. Thomas taught me so much and made me a much better person than I was all those years ago. I told you about Thomas, the kind of person, husband and father he was, right?”

Jackson agrees. “Yes, Ellie, you answered every one of my questions. I can tell you that knowing he was such a great guy doesn’t ease the jealousy factor.”

“Okay, but let me finish my thought, Jackson. Maybe you could look at Thomas as a great guy who took wonderful care of me until we met, because he did. I was loved and cherished. I was never abused or abandoned, never made to feel like I didn’t matter in the ebb and flow of every day marriage. I was never mistreated in any way. Sure, we had our disagreements. I wasn’t perfect, neither was Thomas, but he was really, really good to me, Jackson. How would it affect you if I’d been with a man who beat me or treated me like I didn’t matter? I can tell you if I’d had to live like that, I would be a far different person from who I am today.

“Maybe you could look at Thomas as the man who helped me become the woman you love so much, because he did. Instead of being jealous and angry with Thomas, maybe you can be grateful to him for the part he’s played in the life you hold so dear.”

Jackson gets misty eyed on me. He pulls me into a huge hug and holds me close. “Ellie, the thought of someone mistreating you enrages me.”

“There are a lot of women who live that way every day. They are trapped in violent, hopeless situations. I’ll tell you, Jackson, if not for God’s providence in putting me with Thomas I could very easily have been among them.”

Jackson pulls me even closer and sobs into the top of my head. “Oh, dear God, Ellie, I can’t imagine not having you with me. It’s too painful to think about.”

“I’m not disappointed in you Jackson, not in the slightest,” I reassure him. “We can’t choose the feelings that hijack us from time to time. What we can do is choose how we respond to them. The fact you are so bothered by this speaks to how much you care for me. That’s nothing in which to be disappointed. That’s something to celebrate.”

Jackson swallows me with his arms once again and whispers into my ear, “Thank you, God, for my Ellie.”

Jackson retreats from our hug and looks me in the eye. I swallow hard and try to transition gracefully into the next part of our conversation.

“Jackson, honey, I’m thrilled that you feel for me as you do. I’m honored that you think so much of me, but your purpose in life is far, far bigger than me. You are an amazing man with incredible skills and incredible resources. God has blessed you with all of this and I know he has a purpose for your life that will help others and honor Him.

“Since you run with the big dogs, it’s probably a big dog scaled purpose, far surpassing me. I want to go on your journey with you, but please don’t expect me to carry the burden of being your sole purpose in life. In the scheme of things, I’m very small and frail. I can tell you without a doubt that God didn’t put me here to carry the burden of being the purpose for your life. I can’t be your end all, Jackson. I’m to be your partner, not the one who carries the weight of your world on my shoulders. You’ve got to look past me, to God, and find out from Him what your purpose is.”

“I’m not sure I understand, Ellie. I’m not sure I want to. It sounds like you want me to change my life with you. Aren’t you happy?” Insecurity fills his tone. “Have I failed you already?”

“Oh, no, Jackson, you’ve not failed me in any way!” I assure him once again. “Here’s what I’m trying to say: For the life of me I don’t understand what you see in me.” I raise my hand and stop the interruption Jackson is about to make. “I’m so unaccomplished compared to the types of women you could have chosen. Good grief, when I dwell on it, I can really get down about it. You could be with a doctor, an investment banker, an attorney or judge. The list just goes on and on, Jackson. You could be with someone who is familiar and comfortable in your world. You could be with someone already savvy about navigating it, probably someone who’d even enjoy it.

“Jackson, I’ll come to you with your social functions because I love you and I’ll do my absolute best to be a good ambassador for you personally and for Dawes Inc., but I’m never going to be good at it. I’m never going to enjoy it as an objective in and of itself.

“Now, with all that being said here’s why it’s important: I’m terrified you’re going to reach the conclusion you’ve made a mistake with me. You’re going to get bored with me or tired of putting up with my faith-based worldview because at some point it’s going to clash mightily with your secular worldview. As insecure as I am about my qualifications to be your wife, our conflicting worldviews was my biggest concern when I married you. You seem totally devoted to me and you won me over, but sooner or later I’m going to do or not do something that is going to hurt you and disappoint you beyond your ability to absorb it. If I’m all you have, if your whole world rests on my shoulders and I drop it, where does that leave you?

I see the light of understanding flash in his eyes.

“See what I mean? It’s too big of a burden for me to carry and we already have several strikes against us. You have to find a purpose in your life beyond me, not excluding me, but in addition to me. If you decide that Dawes is all you want, that’s fine. But I know God would like for your life to take on more meaning than you can possibly imagine. If that’s not the way you want to go, that’s okay, too. I chose you as the man who stands before me. I had no designs about making you into someone else. I’m only mentioning it as an option. I’m simply asking you to spread the weight of your happiness around so that I don’t carry it all by myself.

Jackson takes a step back and runs his hand through his hair. “Wow, Ellie. That’s a lot to take in. I’m beginning to understand better what you mean, though. Can I mull it over and get back with you?” His voice is somewhat shaky and uncertain.

I nod my head in agreement. “That’s fine, Jackson. Life’s a journey. I’ll be here when you’re ready to discuss it,” I assure him. “Jackson?”

He looks at me again. I can see the pain in his eyes is far less stark than before, but as I watch him closely, I see that his stature indicates anxiety. Again, he runs his hands through his hair.

My God talk has spooked him. I have to fix this. I have to help him.

“Jackson, I feel like there’s one more thing we still need to discuss. Right now, though, our proximity isn’t working for me. I want to be on eye level when I say what’s on my mind.”

Instantly, Jackson bends over and picks me up. He cradles me in his arms, so I cuddle up next to his chest.

“Thank you, sweetheart. This is so much better.”

“I’m listening, Ellie,” he whispers to me in a shaky voice. “I want to hear everything you have to say. I have to.”

This is really hard on Jackson. I understand better with every passing second the inner struggle he’s had in dealing with this and sharing it with me. His vulnerability is maxed out. I’m the only person in the world who gets to see this Jackson.

I don’t understand why it’s so hard for him to trust me. To my knowledge, I’ve never given him a reason to doubt me. He’s not called me out on anything. Hopefully, in time, as our life unfolds, I’ll understand him better and he’ll grow to trust me more.

“When you were talking earlier, before you told me about your feelings regarding Thomas, you asked me if I’m crazy about you. Why in the world is that worrying you?”

Jackson sighs heavily and my body rises and falls with the motion of his chest. “I suppose I’m afraid you might be missing your life with Thomas and might regret marrying me.”

“Jackson, on our wedding day, I pledged myself to you. I’ve lived enough to understand a promise of that magnitude. You know, yourself, I don’t give my heart easily.”

Jackson looks at me. “Boy, you can say that again,” he readily agrees.

“But, Jackson,” I counter, “the point is: I gave you my heart.”

Jackson pulls me more tightly against his chest. “Yes, you did,” he agrees.

“My heart is yours, Jackson. It will never be shared like this with another man on earth. I belong to you. I love you and no one else. Hopefully, you feel better about Thomas. If your doubt about my feelings for you dwells within the feelings you’re having about Thomas, you have to know that life is in the past. Thomas is behind me and I look forward with you. Jackson, there is no regret, I promise.”

“You really helped me with my Thomas problem, Ellie. I’m going to be able to look at it completely differently from now on,” Jackson tells me. He smiles at me for the first time since this conversation started.

I’m always so concerned about not being enough to meet Jackson’s needs, his expectations. It’s never once occurred to me that Jackson doubts my love for him. It seems incredible to me that Jackson questions his worthiness of me because he’s been comparing himself to Thomas for quite some time. Wow, you just never know what any given day has in store for you.

I take his hands in mine and smile up at him as I say, “Now, maybe it will be easier for you to believe I love you. I love you, Jackson. I crave you with my heart, my body and my hopes. I’m so excited about walking into our future together.”

Jackson lifts me as he crushes me to him. I feel the tears on his cheeks.

My big stud of a husband is a teddy bear. This is a whole other level of him to explore and appreciate. He has his face buried in my neck. He’s giving me all of himself while still trying to hold it together.

Jackson finds his breath and his words. “Ellie, I want to consume you. Sometimes the urge to be with you, to know you better, to claim you with my body and to marvel at you is so strong it leaves me breathless.”

“You don’t have to be breathless, Jackson. There’s no pressure. There’s no hurry. We have the rest of our lives. We can operate on our own time schedule, making the necessary connections and corrections as we go.”

“Tonight, Ellie, here in the maze, I felt closer to you than to any human being I’ve ever known. We forged something incredible, didn’t we? It was about a lot more than sex wasn’t it?”

I nod my head in agreement. “I could see how important it was for you to be my hero tonight. So, for me it was a lesson about trust and putting someone else’s needs before my own. Jackson, I have never made myself that vulnerable to anyone.”

I touch his cheek, silently asking for eye contact.

He obliges me.

“Do you hear me, Jackson? Anyone.” Jackson nods that he understands the meaning of my words. “Honestly, I didn’t know that kind of intensity was possible. Looking back, I loved it, of course, but I’ve got to admit that you really like to push the boundaries and it got kind of scary for me, Jackson.”

“I came on a little too strong, huh?”

“Just a little, yeah,” I readily admit.

“I’m sorry, Ellie. I don’t want you to ever be scared of me. You have to know I’d never hurt you. It’s just that I want so desperately to own you. I want you so happy you can’t think straight. I want you so satisfied that the thought of other men is foreign to you. I want to soak up everything about you while giving you everything of myself. I want to brand you with my heat as my wife for all time.

“The physical need I have for you is enormous, Ellie. I crave you. Every ounce of testosterone coursing through me craves your surrender to my touch. My sexual satisfaction is dependent upon it, but Ellie, I need you to understand that my climax isn’t any more important to me than yours is. That’s how much I love you, and, as great as my physical need for you is, it is nothing compared to my all-encompassing need to make you mine in every regard. I want so desperately to be the man you need me to be, Ellie, the entire man.

“I thought I had life all figured out, Ellie, but you’ve made me aware of new possibilities and opportunities. You challenge me to be better than I am without you, Ellie.”

I stroke his cheek with my fingertips and reach up to give Jackson my sweetest doting kiss. “I think I’ve said all I need to. Thank you for listening. You can put me down now. I’ve got to be getting heavy.”

“I could hold you like this forever, Ellie.”

“I will say, Jackson,…” my voice falters as he starts toward the house with me still in his arms.

“Yes, Ellie?”

“Your body is as incredible as the rest of you. The feats of strength you showed me tonight blow me away. I mean, anyone can look at you and see how strong you are, but nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced with you tonight. I love your brute force when you take me. I love it when you whisper encouraging words to me while I come for you. You turn my mind and body to mush, Jackson. I’m so impressed with your body and virility. I can’t get enough of you inside or out. You’ve opened my eyes to a whole new appreciation of you. I feel like I can do anything when you’re beside me.”

Jackson hugs me tightly once again. “I know the feeling, Ellie. I know exactly what you mean.” Jackson plants an award-winning kiss on me as he carries me up the steps into the mayor’s home.

“You can put me down now, sweetheart,” I remind Jackson like he’s forgotten.

“I don’t think so, Ellie. I’m taking my wife home and I don’t care who knows it.” Branson meets us at the French doors and opens both sides so Jackson can easily step through. Jackson says to him, “Let’s go home, Branson.”

“You bet, Jackson.”

Jackson carries me through the crowded room of liquored up attendees, each of whom has their mouth dropped in surprise.

Jackson acknowledges the mayor as we pass through the enormous room. “Have a good evening, Martin. Thanks, so much, for the party.”

On the ride home I sit snuggled up next to Jackson in the back of the limo. My heart soars. Today has been remarkable for so many reasons, but my favorite reason of all is the honest emotional connection Jackson and I forged together this evening.

We are truly beginning to define our unity as a couple and are ready to go forward into our future.

In this instant, this glimpse of smiles, hope and warm fuzzies, there’s something unknown that lurks in the darkness. It’s coming for me, it’s coming for both of us, and when it finds us it will do its evil best to destroy our fledgling marital bond.

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