Surrender To Me (Book One)

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Chapter 1a

The contact between us is perseverant lightning. You know, the kind captured in those photos where multiple lightning strikes are super imposed over one another. It’s fast, frenzied, beautiful and energetic for all the obvious reasons. It’s perseverant because Jackson just keeps coming. Kiss after mind blowing kiss captures my heart and imagination. I know, though, that lightning also carries a damaging component. I suppose the damage will reveal itself when it’s ready.

In spite of Jackson’s fervor, I can sense restraint in his touch, his kiss. He’s exploring the complexity of my response. He tested me by asking me to kiss him, but since I’ve refused, he’s grading my reaction to his aggression. Goose bumps erupt all over my body as I fight the urge to melt into him. My mind is in turmoil, racing even, as it contemplates the different possibilities as to why this is happening.

I’m not someone with a vast sexual history. I’ve only ever been with my husband of 25 years, the love of my life. If Jackson were going to rape me, wouldn’t he have done so by now? I don’t understand his need to toy with me like this. His behavior goes way past mere seduction and none of the scenarios I imagine are worth the collateral damage on either side. However, he’s the one in control and he’s obviously not concerned with consequences. I mean, who would ever believe me if I cried rape against Jackson Dawes? It’s likely he has half of the city’s police force on payroll.

It appears as if my mental meanderings prevent me from giving Jackson the response he wants, so he tries again. This time, his lips cover mine with an altogether different kind of kiss and the electricity hits me harder. The restraint I felt earlier is now a thing of the past. Now, it’s as if he recognizes and appreciates the response of my body even though I’m fighting it the best I can.

Jackson obviously subscribes to the school of ‘pushing the envelope.’ Now, it seems he wishes to accelerate my response even further. A shocking jolt shoots the length of me. It starts in my face, runs through my belly and settles in my groin. First, my knees betrayed me and now it’s my body’s turn. I’m wet and a flooding heat expands throughout me, getting my body ready for the invasion.

Gratefully, I realize that, on some level somewhere inside him, Jackson is aware of my internal, emotional resistance. Slowly, he pulls away from me, smiles, and says in a sincerely charming voice, “Why are you being so stubborn, Ellie? You feel the heat between us. I can see and sense the way you respond to me. Why are you fighting this?”

My mind won’t quit. It refuses to leave me alone. “You still haven’t answered my question, Jackson.” Earnestly, calmly, even though I’m virtually breathless, I repeat myself, “Why…me?”

Suddenly, the answer to my own question hits me like a different kind of lightning. You know, the kind that’s captured in a photo of one lightning bolt, massive, alone, and extremely focused. Man, you have to love the obvious for showing up when it’s needed! I forge ahead as my insight provides a new defense against the fear and confusion raging around inside of me.

“Maybe the better question is: why not me? Is that it, Jackson?” My newly birthed courage recharges the strength in my knees, and I get my legs back up under me, allowing me to stand slightly taller before him. Truthfully, though, I’m still not standing tall enough to matter much, but, that’s okay for right now because I’m doing the best I can.

I open my mouth and express what’s thumping around inside my head. “Am I just a silly, little country frump who showed up at some bogus meeting today because you were sure that I couldn’t resist your offer of “hospitality?” Am I simply a conquest for you to document somewhere in the back of your mind? I’m that quick little indiscretion, aren’t I, Jackson?”

Once I hear the words out loud, I realize they make little sense. If sex is the objective of Jackson’s behavior, there are far more desirable women to be had. Many of them would cooperate with Jackson because of who he is. I’m no one. I’m an invisible. Jackson has absolutely nothing to gain by conquering me. This realization puzzles me even more.

I have, however, posed my question and I want it answered. I watch Jackson’s expression as he responds to me. His honesty, or the lack of it, will reside in his gaze.

Nothing, however, could prepare me for what I find resting in Jackson’s eyes. Lying there in the depths of his gaze is actual mortification. He’s earnestly offended by my questions.

I can’t get him to give me any answers, so I thought, maybe even hoped, for just an instant, I’d figured him out. Now, though, I can see for myself I couldn’t be more wrong. If this conversation were taking place over the phone it would be so easy for him to lie to me. But, right here, right now, deceit is not an option for Jackson. I can read him so easily. There’s nothing but transparency drenching his expression.

Jackson quickly recovers from his offense. By the time he speaks, his voice holds no hint of anger, hesitation, or even the huskiness of need. His tone and his words drip sincere remorse. “I’m so sorry, Ellie. I never wanted to give you that impression. I would never disrespect you like that, but now that you bring it to my attention, I can certainly see how you misunderstood.”

The layers of this puzzle keep coming. Jackson continues to hold me in an intimate manner. He acts as if it’s really difficult to let go of me. There is such familiarity in his touch, but I can’t fathom why. A man like Jackson, with his looks, his money, and his connections will never have to resort to this level of behavior in order to have his needs met.

I place my hand over his so the rubbing of his thumb ceases. Instantly, the back of my hand misses the gentle caress. Next, I stop the motion of his fingers stroking my cheek. It, too, becomes lonely. How is that possible?

Now, I’m merely holding Jackson’s hands in front of me and, if I were a swearing girl, I’d swear the electricity is still present between us. Our chemistry is off the charts.

I’m certainly unsure of myself, nearly as bad as a short while ago when Jackson was coming on like a tank, but my practical nature asserts itself one more time. “Jackson, to put it plain and simple, I don’t understand what’s going on here. You won’t answer my questions but tell me I’ve misunderstood your intentions. I’m still left without any comprehension of why we’re here and what this is all about. I think I should go.”

Slowly, I turn toward the corner which harbors the elevator. My intention is to wait for Jackson to remove his arm so that there’s nothing between myself and the door. Jackson does drop my hand but reconnects physically with me by taking hold of my upper arm.

“Ellie,” Jackson says earnestly,” I don’t want you to leave.” He offers another familiar gesture by gently squeezing my arm within the grasp of his fingers. “I brought you here for a reason and, while I’ve obviously made things more difficult than I intended, my reason still

stands. Can we begin again?”

Somewhere inside me a voice tells me to leave. It screams at me to get out while I can. I’ve finally found a way out of this mess and I’d be incredibly stupid not to avail myself of it, but something in Jackson’s demeanor, his words and the tone of his voice fine tunes my curiosity.

Now, the puzzle deepens because another aspect of it has presented itself. Instead of holding me captive Jackson is asking me to stay. My fear unexpectedly lessens because, now, I have the option of leaving. It’s not honest to say I’m fearless, but the awkwardness, the electricity, maybe even the futility of the puzzle itself compels me to cooperate a little longer if only to discover the outcome, if not the reason, for this fiasco. I’m afraid if I give into my fears and flee this will become one of those situations I will always ‘what if?’

After a millisecond consideration of this new development, I concede. “Okay, Jackson,” I say with pretend confidence, “I can stay for a few minutes.”

Jackson’s response to my concession is another dazzling smile.

Why does he do that? He seems so happy. Why does he care?

My interpretation of Jackson’s smile as happiness must be accurate because he finally begins to explain some things. He backs away from me slightly but recaptures my hand and restarts the thumb twirling. He speaks with quiet sincerity. “You want to know why I have you here as opposed to someone else. Well, it’s because you’re different than the type of women you mentioned earlier.”

“Yeah, I’m well aware of that,” I remind him. “I brought it up, remember?” Exasperation seasons my tone as I say, “There’s no way I will ever measure up to the kind of women who run in your circle of influence.”

Jackson shakes his head like he can’t believe what he’s hearing. “Ellie, you perceive being different as a bad thing. You seem to think of your differences as negatives, hindrances, or disadvantages. I perceive your differences as strengths. Your differences are what draw me to you. But, you’re also right about not measuring up,” he tells me. “You are not equal to them, Ellie. The truth of your difference lies in the fact that you surpass them. They are the ones who do not make measure.”

Now, Jackson has my undivided attention. Well, I guess he’s had my undivided attention this entire time, but that’s not the point because, now my attention engages on an entirely new level.

I shake my head vigorously. Is this guy for real? I risk looking up into his eyes. I’m certain I’ll find him mocking me, but, once again, Jackson is all surprises. The last thing I expect to find is anything honest, but absolute sincerity leaps from his eyes as he returns my gaze.

Jackson continues in a warm, tender tone, “Ellie, you are smart, beautiful, sexy as hell, and wise. You are passionate, brave and kind. I’ve never met anyone like you. I’m no kid, Ellie. I’m old enough, and smart enough, to know you are in a class of your own. You are unique in ways that other women can’t fathom.”

Jackson strokes the side of my face and dogs my gaze until I make eye contact with him. Once I concede visual cooperation, he asks me, “How’s that for an answer?”

I shake my head again. I gingerly bang my temple with the heel of my hand in an attempt to clear my head of confusion and stupidity. Confusion comes and goes, but stupidity seems to be a constant. What am I missing?

“Jackson, to say that you’ve surprised me is an enormous understatement. I’m pretty sure, though, there’s been a misunderstanding. First, you don’t know me well enough to know who or what I am, or aren’t, for that matter. Second, you must not realize that, technically, I’m nearly old enough to be your mother. A really young mother, grant you, but, yeah-uh, there it is.”

“Ellie,” comes his quiet, steady reply, “I know far more about who you are than you could possibly imagine. Also, I’m very aware of your age. I even know the date of your birth. Such things are of no concern to me. They’re just numbers and they’re irrelevant when it comes to meeting my objective.”

Okay, I’ve had enough of this. It’s time to put a stop to all of it. “Good grief, Jackson! What is your objective? Do you simply want inside my panties? Sexy? Beautiful? Come on! You obviously have me confused with someone else! You said your head was fine, but maybe you should have your eyesight checked!”

Jackson offers me a broad, beautiful smile as he comes for me. He pins me against the wall a second time as his right arm slips from the small of my back and lowers until his large, warm hand cradles my bottom. His left hand captures the back of my head as he pulls my body and face into him. I can feel the hardened length of his shaft as he holds me sternly against himself.

Jackson plants a crushing kiss on my lips, but this time his touch sears more than my skin. I’m way past gooseflesh as he ignites a fire between my legs. My mind and body are forever marked with the intensity and passion of this moment. Every romantic instant of my life will be forever compared to this one. I hate to admit it to myself, but this truth works for the life behind me as well. As much as I loved Thomas, we never shared passion like this.

Jackson’s fingers work their way into the hair on the back of my head. He uses my head as an anchor to position my body where he wants. Over and over the kisses come. Relentlessly, he nips and brands me with his lips like the response he’s reaching for is a life force he craves with every ounce of his being and it’s a force to be found within only me. He’s hungry for me as if being denied me will be the end of him.

Quietly, understanding settles over my intellect. For the first time, since this whole crazy mess began, I finally grasp that Jackson’s objective is not merely sex. Jackson doesn’t want sex with just anyone. He wants sex with me. In hindsight it seems pretty obvious, but I refuse to let guilt get the best of me. Sometimes, the obvious can be clouded by panic and confusion.

More questions ping around inside my mind. Now, that I understand what Jackson wants I have to know why he wants it. Why does sex with me matter so much? He doesn’t know me well enough to want me on anything but a physical level. He says there’s more to his attraction, but there’s no way he knows me well enough as a person to want me this badly.

Earlier, I thought I was tired of Jackson’s game, but now my fatigue is slain by desire. My body is on fire as every nerve ending screams “Let yourself go! Let Jackson have you!”

Dear God, it’s what I want!! This gorgeous incredible man wants me! Me! Can you believe that?! It would be so easy, Lord!

My mind won’t give up, though. My conscious is in crisis. Sex between Jackson and me is not possible. The differences between us are too numerous and too immense in size. From the perspective of a needy woman, I’m over thinking this, I get that, I really do, but this is who I am. This part of me, my faith, is serving me in this moment just as it has served me my entire life. I’m not going to bail on it now simply because it becomes inconvenient.

A few kisses later and my weary mind is mush. My needy body is defenseless in Jackson’s arms as he consumes me. I can’t find a single cohesive thought in my head. I can’t think of any objection with which to stop him. I can’t even find the word “no.” Even if my brain could locate a defense, I couldn’t possibly vocalize it.

Dear God, help me!

In this moment, all I know is Jackson’s demand on me. His need of me is mystifying, insatiable and incredibly appealing. The complexity and intensity of this moment are overwhelming, and I succumb to their pull on me. My knees actually give way. Jackson catches the slack in my body and compensates by picking me up. He always seems to know what to do and it always seems so easy for him.

Nothing seems easy for me. Everything always seems so difficult and, right now, difficult includes fear of myself. I’m terrified I’ll fail to resist Jackson and will yield to his need of me. Even worse, though, I’m terrified I’ll yield to my need of him.

Over and over Jackson’s kisses take my lips, my cheeks, my throat, any part of me he can reach while holding me in his arms. He carries me to the couch and gently reclines me so that I lie directly beneath him.

I’m quiet as I lie here, looking up at Jackson through my confused, deliriously needy gaze. I’m hurting so badly I can barely stand it. Now, that I know Jackson wants sex with me, and only me, because of who he believes me to be, I can’t help but be flattered. This particular awareness only increases my need for him to fill me. The fire in my groin expands to the point of creating an intense, massive ache that demands satisfaction.

Dear God, is it possible for a person to be broken by the intensity of desire? Can the ache deep inside me actually do physical harm? I’m pretty sure I’m about to find out for myself. Where are You, Lord? I need your help!

Jackson hasn’t moved and stands before me like some warrior angel complete with blonde hair, large brown eyes, virile features and a ripped body.

Dear God, what am I going to do?

My mind continues in its effort to help me. It looks for a defense mechanism and tells me that Jackson is playing some sort of trick on me. I have to be the victim of some cruel joke. There’s probably a camera set up somewhere so that others can have a laugh at my expense. After all, I’m new to the world of power players. It wouldn’t be the first time some initiation passage was executed on the new person in a given group.

That has to be it. This all is some huge, hidden camera moment. Please God, let that be the case. I deserve the humiliation. I’ll take humiliation over this any day of my life. Where are you, God! Do something to stop this!

Sadly, the protective effort exerted by my mind falls short of what’s needed. Despite my prayers to be free of this situation, the ache deep within me causes an orgasmic shudder to claim me. The muscles in my belly and back tense as I close my eyes and savor the sensation. I moan quietly and give myself over to the intense pleasure. It’s been so long since Thomas spoke to me in this manner. Dear God, I miss my husband!

Slowly, I reopen my eyes to find Jackson watching me. He sees my orgasm and recognizes it for the event it is. He says nothing. He makes no move to use my vulnerability to his advantage. I recognize his chivalrous response to my climax and I’m incredibly grateful for it.

I hate to admit it, but my orgasm did nothing to quiet the ache within me. The delightful, horrible discomfort commandeers my gaze and lowers my eyes from Jackson’s angel inspired face, back and forth across his powerful shoulders, down his broad chest, past his rock-hard abs all the way to his groin.

The tautness across the front of Jackson’s pants attests to something other than a publicity stunt. It, whatever it might be, is something I have a hard time comprehending. I understand what Jackson told me, but I don’t believe him. His words make no sense. This can’t be happening! Powerful, gorgeous men like Jackson don’t desire everyday women like me. Life simply doesn’t work this way.

It’s saying an awful lot, but confusion consumes me even more than the passion. I don’t know what to think. I don’t know how to think. Right now, I can’t even tell you my name.

My mind won’t quit, though, and it convinces me that I could be wrong about confusion besting desire because it suddenly occurs to me that thinking is overrated. The ache in my groin reminds me that other activities are so much more enjoyable. It occurs to me that I should take just an instant to contemplate the size of Jackson’s restrained shaft.

If it’s proportionate to the rest of him, it’s huge. It would blow my mind to feel the steely length of him pulsing deep within me. The perceived friction makes my skin tingle and my body shiver as orgasm number two makes its claim on me. Without conscious thought, I close my eyes and moan at the pleasure the mere thought of Jackson brings me. More than anything I want to languish in the bliss of my climax, but I force my eyes open and blush with embarrassment when I realize Jackson is still watching my body’s reaction to his inattention.

Jackson makes no mention of it as he watches my gaze return to fondle his groin. Dear God, I know it’s wrong, but I want to touch him. I want to take hold of him and place him at my center. I want to actually feel the heat, the friction of him, as he eradicates the ache within me.

Jackson waits patiently before me as he feeds off my orgasms. I’ve hidden nothing from him. He understands exactly what’s happening because he’s all man and he’s seen women, probably many of them, yield to their inner urges. As a result, my body’s transparent surrender and the horrific need present in my eyes are his to wield as he chooses.

Jackson’s gaze locks onto mine with devastating intensity. He takes a seat on the couch next to me, pulls me toward him and cradles my face in his large warm hands. This time, his kisses are gentle, patient and tender. They’re so unlike the hungry ones from a moment ago. The searing, passionate kisses coaxed hunger from me. These gentle, loving kisses evoke longing in me, additional longing I wouldn’t have believed possible if I weren’t living it for myself.

The ache, wetness and heat in me spiral upwards, downwards, and outwards all at the same time because Jackson pulls them forth from where they’ve lain dormant since Thomas’ death.

This man is contradiction personified. How is such tenderness possible from someone who makes me fear for my chastity and my safety? How can he be this loving and gentle when I know his need is as great as my own, if not greater? I’m not ready for this! This isn’t what I want!

Well, it isn’t, but it is!

Dear God, help me! Help me now before it’s too late!

Jackson pauses long enough to remove his shirt and tie. I can’t help but gasp. I’ve never been this close to a perfected physique. It’s incredibly difficult not to stare while marveling at the impressive muscles which comprise the upper portion of Jackson’s body. Sculpted is the word that comes to mind. Powerful and gut wrenchingly gorgeous are other words that work really well. I can feel the heat and vibrancy of raw need radiating from him.

Electricity crackles relentlessly between us.

Dear God, can this get any more intense?

Jackson reaches for me and sits me in his lap. I’m not a heavyset person, nor am I a petite person, but Jackson moves me around without effort or strain, so easily in fact that, if I didn’t know better, I’d be inclined to perceive his exertion as an afterthought. The size of his body and the strength he wields are intoxicating. His physicality and passion consume me all over again. Many passionate kisses pass and I’m a goner. I’m simply waiting for the inevitable.

He’s going to penetrate me. I can’t wait!

No, Lord, I don’t want this!

I only want this to be over. Maybe, after he’s finished with me, I can crawl home and put together the shattered pieces of my life.

Help me, God!

Suddenly, certainly without any provocation from me, Jackson comes up for air. He nuzzles his forehead against mine, again with such familiarity, and whispers in a voice husky with need, “Ellie, tell me now if you want to end this. Tell me now before I get to the point of no return.”

I shake my head slowly. What? Haven’t we already breached the intangible boundary of no return?

Jackson’s breathing is haggard and, as he runs his hands backwards through his hair, a deep-seated longing reveals itself in his gaze. It’s so incredibly obvious that Jackson is in agony for the want of me. Giving me the option to leave, to stop all of this, is causing a battle to rage within him, but in this instant, chivalry wins over primal urges.

This could be so easy. I know what he wants. My body wants the same thing. However, I know what I have to do and I’m not finding it easy. I asked God for help and He’s provided a way out. I’m so gonna take it.

I push and pull my ridiculously needy body from Jackson’s lap as gracefully as I can and retrieve my shoes from the couch behind him. I lean against his muscular shoulder to steady my stance as I put on my shoes. I do my best to slow my breathing, clear my stupid head, and wrestle my stupid shoes all at the same time.

I’m not sobbing, but I am crying intensely enough that the tears can’t be stopped by pausing to catch my breath or by wiping my eyes. The source of my tears is multifaceted and overwhelming.

My body hurts deeply inside where only one thing can make a substantial difference. I close my eyes and welcome the stimulation that Jackson’s attention has already provided. I gasp at the pleasure possible with further incentive. In my mind’s eye I picture Jackson naked on his back beneath me. I brace my hands against his taut ab muscles as I repeatedly slide my body up and down the warm, hardened length of his shaft.

The orgasmic sensation hits me so intensely it doubles me in half as it makes a plea for the company of its peers. My skin erupts in a sheen of sweat and quivers at the longing for more. The vacancy makes my heart, as well as my body, ache.

I brace myself more fully against Jackson’s shoulder. It makes me angry I have to do without a complete physical release of such need and tension. I didn’t knowingly put myself in this situation, but now that I’m here, now that I have a need I haven’t had since the death of my husband, I want it satisfied.

I honestly can’t ever remember being so tortured by desire. I can’t think of a time when I hurt so intensely that my body took upon itself the burden of meeting its own need. I’ve never climaxed without direct stimulation. Until this very moment, and unless I was dreaming, I didn’t even know it was possible. Every ounce of femininity to be found within me screams for satisfaction. I want it. I want it now. God made my body capable of incredible pleasure and it truly bites that I have to deny myself.

I’m angry at Jackson for putting me in this situation, scaring me like he has, and then making me so needy I’m about to die for the want of him. Who does he think he is? Why does he feel entitled to treat me this way? Damn him for his male arrogance!

At the same time, I’m so grateful to God for providing a way out of this mess. I’m so grateful He gave Jackson pause in the pursuit of his objective and offered me an escape. It’s a painful, bittersweet out, I’ll admit, but to have given myself over to Jackson would have harmed me on many levels.

The kind of pleasure both of us wants flies in the face of all that I hold most dear. Turning my back on my faith, disappointing the One who’s loved me and cared for me my entire life, would have crippled my spirit and dealt a blow to my self-esteem. The damage to me would have been catastrophic and I solemnly doubt my ability to ever recover from such an act of betrayal.

Ultimately, I suppose I’m facing the question of whether or not I believe God’s grace is big enough to save me. To count on His grace, though, while I willingly embrace something I know to be wrong makes a mockery of Jesus’ sacrifice. I want no part of that.

Slowly, from where he sits on the couch, Jackson turns and looks at me. He sees the tears of my rattled composure as they stain the front of my beautiful blue dress.

When I look down, and over, into Jackson’s eyes I see the battle that rails within him. Disbelief and disappointment saturate his gaze. His expression is raw and so stark I’m afraid he feels betrayed by my departure. I venture to guess it’s a rare occasion on which Jackson hears the word “no,” especially from a female.

Who, after all, would be stupid enough to refuse him? Guess that sums up my intellect in a nutshell. No! I fuss at myself for fussing at myself. My refusal of him sums up my faith. I’ve done nothing of which to be ashamed. God created my body to respond to such stimulus. I have no control over that. I can, and will, control how I react when I’m tempted. I didn’t give Jackson what he wants so there’s no doubt in my mind that I can leave here with my dignity intact.

It seems to have taken forever, but I finally have my shoes on so I straighten where I stand. I find my voice. It’s shaky, but usable. “I’m sorry, Jackson. I can’t do this. I won’t be this person. You brought me here under false pretenses with the intention of jumping me. You lied to me and manipulated me. I agree the heat between us is certainly undeniable, but not like this. Not ever like this. I won’t bother you again. I’ll find someone else to help me with my charity. The cost of working with you is simply too great.”

I turn and start towards the elevator. It’s my intention to retrieve my handbag from the floor as I walk that way. I bend, get a firm grasp on my purse, and as I straighten, I turn towards the exit only to find Jackson standing in front of me.

How did he get from there to here? I didn’t even hear him move. I must be completely losing it. How does such a big guy operate in stealth mode like that?

I close my eyes and sigh. I am so very weary of Jackson and his game, but, now, fear returns too. Fear and weariness are keeping one another company. The two of them are wrapped up in a great big hug.

I know God’s peace and strength are at work in me because I stay calm and even manage to get my tears under control. Once again, I present a decently calm version of myself to Jackson as I quickly sum up the situation before me.

Jackson gave me permission to leave. I availed myself of his offer, so he knows willingness from me is not part of the picture.

Has he changed his mind? Is he going to keep me here and force me to do this against my will. What will he do with me when he’s finished? Will he take my life to keep me quiet and protect his reputation?

If he forces himself on me, and doesn’t kill me, can I ever recover? The weight of such an event will crush me. I know it as sure as I’m standing here.

Without warning, the peace and inner strength of the previous instant flee and leave me on my own. Nausea hits my belly and my tears return. Terror is right on their heels. Several loud, scary warnings are sounding in my head. Hysteria is about to erupt in all of its misery.

I don’t want to upset Jackson, though, so through shaky tears, I manage to calmly ask, “Jackson,…what is this? You told me if I wanted out all I had to do was say so. Well, this is me saying so. Why are you standing between me and the door? Was your offer to let me leave a lie?”

It’s so very obvious Jackson sees my fear and understands he’s responsible for it. This time, though, there’s no massive display of male arrogance. There’s no cocky smirk on his face. He’s behaving as if he’s a different person.

Jackson’s next movements are slow and purposeful. Without taking his gaze from mine he gently pulls a small, black box from his pocket, slowly raises his hand and reaches out to me. He takes one easy step forward and kneels on one knee as he gently takes hold of my left hand. He places an enormous diamond ring on my fourth finger so that it sits atop the ring left by Thomas, my late husband.

In a voice that is calm, kind and steady Jackson asks what most little girls spend their childhoods waiting to hear.

“Ellie,” Jackson says quietly, earnestly, “our time together today has been about this. I’ve fallen hard for you, Ellie. You are remarkable and amazing. I can’t imagine the rest of my life without you. I love you, Ellie. Will you marry me?”

I move my gaze from the huge diamond ring, up Jackson’s arm to his face, until our eyes meet. My expression has no choice, but to expose the utter shock thrashing around inside of me. There’s too much turmoil, fear and confusion beating me up on the inside me and I’m not actress enough to pretend that I’m ok, that any of this is ok.

My body begins to quiver. I actually feel my eyes expand even further. By now, they have to be the size of small plates. I open my mouth to speak, but nothing audible escapes. I stand before Jackson, stammering silently, as I feel my quivering body give itself over to the pull of gravity. The earnest expression on Jackson’s face is the final thing I remember before I yield to all consuming darkness.

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