Surrender To Me (Book One)

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Chapter 3: Hijacked! What Happens Next

Slowly, I open my eyes. I’m disoriented. I try to remember where I am and why I’m here. My head feels cold. Actually, I’m chilled over most of my body. I bring my hand to my forehead and find an ice pack.

When I remove the ice from my face, I get a good look at my left hand and the enormous diamond ring which resides upon it. Instantly, my memory springs to life. Quickly, too quickly maybe, as I’m a little woozy, I sit upright.

Once my equilibrium returns, I lift my eyes to find three enormous men watching me from across the room. The man in the center is Jackson. I have no idea who the other two guys are, but they’re big. The other Caucasian man is about three inches shorter than Jackson, but wider through the chest and shoulders, as if that’s even possible. His complexion is darker than Jackson’s and he has a finely trimmed beard that outlines his jaw. He has coal black hair and bright blue eyes. The other man is an African-American who is even larger than Jackson in both regards. His black hair is arranged in short dread locks and his eyes are very dark. Both men are dressed in expensive suits.

It appears as if the three of them were waiting on me to awaken. Jackson starts towards me. “Ellie,” he begins….

I interrupt him as I put my hand up to stay his advance. “Don’t you dare come any closer, Jackson!” I warn him with all the authority I can muster.

He stops but continues to speak. “Ellie, you need to listen to me, please! I have so much to tell you ….”

I shake my head at him. “You know, Jackson, as far as I’m concerned, you’ve completely lost all credibility with me.” I reach the length of the couch, retrieve my shoes and slip them on. I see my handbag lying on the coffee table in front of me. In one fluid movement I rip the ring off my finger, leave it on the table, and retrieve my purse.

I stand. Jackson starts toward me. I point my index finger at him. “Don’t!” I shout at him through clenched teeth.

“Ellie, let me explain!” Jackson implores me.

“No, Jackson!” I hiss at him. “You had every possible opportunity to explain everything to me. All you had to do was talk. Instead, all you did was play games and scare me to the point of passing out. We’re done here.” I chuckle sarcastically and say, with earnestness that pours from every cell contained within me, “We’re done period.”

I point my finger at him to add emphasis to my words. “You are a seriously twisted individual.” I turn and walk to the elevator. Once the doors close and separate me from my captor, all the fear and anxiety trapped within me gushes forth in a torrent of tears.

Dear God, forgive me. Dear God, forgive me.

Harcourt is waiting for me at the curb, but I refuse to get into Jackson’s car. Harcourt promises me he’ll take me straight home, but I want nothing, I’ll never want anything, to do with Jackson. Fairly quickly, I hail a cab and head towards home, leaving this horrible afternoon behind me. Time and time again, during the duration of my trip, I attempt to calm myself, but the ride isn’t long enough to completely quiet my mind. It doesn’t begin to touch the anger.

The next day harbors an onslaught of phone calls and text messages from Jackson. I call my cell carrier and have my number changed. I notify my boys of the difference in my phone number, so they’ll be able to reach me. Later in the day, six dozen red roses arrive. I immediately march them downstairs and around the corner to the alley dumpster. I half expect Jackson to show up at my door, but I’m incredibly relieved he doesn’t come.

By ten a.m. the next morning theater tickets are delivered. By 1:30 that afternoon, six dozen tulips, in assorted colors, put in an appearance.

Every day, for three solid weeks, I receive dozens of flowers, every day a different variety, all of which I throw away. Tickets of all sorts arrive as well: concert ticket, gala tickets, sports tickets, tickets to Tahiti and Hawaii. The tickets I give away. I figure someone might as well use them. After all, they’re paid for and it’s not like Jackson can’t afford them.

The day or two following a change in my cell number is the only time during which I find peace from technology. Unfortunately, I find it necessary to make new arrangements with my cell carrier two additional times. Somehow, though, Jackson figures out what I’ve done and tracks down my new number anyway. It gets to the point where I have to leave my phone turned off and check it several times a day for messages.

My boys are concerned for my safety and offer to assist me in securing legal help, but I hold them at bay. Eventually, Jackson will tire of paying for flowers that wind up in the trash, as well as, other people’s vacations.

Then, one day, three plus weeks into this crazy fiasco, the florist delivers six beautiful crocks of pansies, my all-time favorite. As much as I hate to admit it something in my brain clicks into place. I don’t know if it’s flower fatigue, fatigue in general or the simple awesome beauty of pansies. I continue to ignore Jackson’s calls and texts and I give away the plane tickets and lodging reservations for two weeks in Aspen, but I keep the pansies.

Six additional crocks of beautiful pansies arrive at my doorstep on each of the following two days. Evidently, Jackson has someone watching me to see what I do with his deliveries. He knows that the pansies didn’t make the trash heap so, of course, he sends more of them.

On the evening of the third pansy delivery I arrive home at about six pm. When I get to my door, I find Jackson Dawes standing outside in the hallway. I roll my eyes at him. He grins at me.

“What are you doing here?” I ask him with as much disgust as I can muster. “Are you really so slow that you don’t understand that you’re not wanted?”

“Oh, no, I understand just fine,” Jackson assures me.

I nod my head in an effort to drive the point home a little harder. “Well, that’s good, as long as we’re on the same page and all.” I pause for a second and look up at him before I continue. “Seriously, Jackson, what do you want? Why won’t you just leave me alone?”

“I want you to meet with me. You name the place and time.”

I shake my head in disbelief. “Why would I ever meet with you? Have you forgotten that we tried that already? Have you forgotten how badly it went?”

“No, Ellie,” Jackson says as he pulses the air with his palms. “I haven’t forgotten. I want to meet with you so I can explain everything.”

“No explanation is necessary, Jackson. You are dishonest and manipulative. Yeah, I think I understand already, thanks anyway.” My words hit pay dirt. Jackson grimaces and reflexively touches his belly like there’s a knot present that needs his attention.

Does Jackson just now truly comprehend the mess he’s created? Hasn’t he figured out, in the intervening three weeks, the reprehensible nature of his behavior that day?

Regardless of his physical tell Jackson disagrees verbally. “No, Ellie, I’m not dishonest or manipulative. I can make you understand if you’ll give me a chance.”

“You had chance after chance while I was at the hotel the other day, Jackson. You spent your chances playing games and scaring me to death. I’m not interested in giving you any more chances. I don’t want to hear a thing you have to say.”

Man, I’m good. I sound unaffected. I sound stern. I sound like I mean business.

That’s all well and good, but Jackson isn’t listening. “Ellie, I’m the first to agree I didn’t handle the hotel situation as well as I could have or should have. I need one more chance, please?”

I shake my head again. I hate giving in, but this man has the tenacity of one of those raptor dinosaurs. You know, the kind who can leap high into trees and crash through walls.

“For how long?” I ask him.

“Twenty minutes, tops,” Jackson assures me.

“If I agree, will you stop all this nonsense?”

Jackson feigns ignorance. “I’m not aware of any nonsense.”

“If I meet with you do you promise to leave me alone?”

“No,” Jackson refuses politely because he doesn’t want to upset me further. “I won’t completely leave you alone, but I will dial it back some.”

Hey, at least he’s being honest with me. Who knew he was capable?

“Sorry, that’s not good enough,” I tell him frankly. At this point, honesty will only get him so far. “I want you gone from my life, Jackson. Completely gone. The only reason I’ll meet with you is to make that happen. You want one thing. I want one thing. The math is incredibly easy.”

Jackson’s face falls at my words and the sternness with which I express them. He finally understands how serious I am.

It nearly kills him, but he does agree to my condition. “Okay, then, Ellie, if you’ll meet with me… I promise to leave you alone.”

I’m not leaving anything to chance. There will be no unaddressed loopholes. “Just to clarify, Jackson: No texts, no calls, no gifts, no visits. Got it?”

“Yes, I understand,” Jackson agrees again.

Good grief. The grown man standing before me begins to pout, but there’s still an unidentified gleam in his eyes.

He’s up to something. I know it as sure as I’m standing here. I am, however, without the ability to determine just what he’s thinking. He’s promised to honor the conditions of our agreement and it’s the only chance I have to get rid of him. I don’t really have any choice but to step out in faith and take him at his word. Well, on second thought, I could involve the authorities, I suppose, but something tells me that strategy is probably wasted effort.

“Tomorrow. Noon. Galleria food court,” I state flatly, quickly.

Jackson’s face falls. “Seriously?” He seems mortified.

I cross my arms in front of me and tap my foot on the hallway floor. “I will not be alone with you again. Take it or leave it.”

“Oh,…oh, I take it,” he says, raising his hands in surrender. “No problem.”

“All right then. Now, go. I’m not opening this door until you are out of sight.”

Jackson comes closer and I back up a step. “Please, Ellie, let me kiss your cheek.”

“Are you for real? Forget it, Jackson. I mean it, leave now or tomorrow’s off.”

Again, Jackson raises his hands in capitulation. “I’m going. I’m going.” He backs the entire length of the hallway, watching me the entire time. Before he turns the corner, he says, “See you tomorrow, Ellie.” He gives me one of his finest smiles and disappears.

I quickly unlock my door, slip inside and relock it. I take a deep breath and kick myself for having agreed to meet with him. I can’t believe I was so stupid. Why couldn’t I come up with some other way to get rid of him?

Now, my brain goes into protective mode because it’s trying to shield my self-esteem. It’s a twenty-minute conversation in a very public place. There will be lots of witnesses if he tries anything. There will be lots of help if he tries anything. There will be lots of video capacity on dozens of phones so as to document what happens, should he try anything. What could possibly go wrong?

I arrive at the food court a few minutes early so I can get a bite to eat while Jackson clears his conscience. I choose three eggrolls and a burrito. I was wise to choose the mall. The food court is a busy, bustling place this time of day. Jackson will have to behave himself in front of all these people. At two minutes till twelve he sits down across the table from me.

“You’ve got until eighteen minutes after, Jackson. Start talking.” I’m stern, all business and not the least bit interested in what he has to say.

“Ellie, I want to explain about happened at the hotel the other day.”

“Yeah, you told me that already, but I can’t imagine that anything you have to say is going to matter much to me. You’ve got nineteen minutes left.”

“Ellie,” Jackson begins as he reaches for my hand and takes hold of it.

I can’t believe the audacity of this man! I pull my hand out of his grasp.

“Obviously,” he continues as he shakes his head, “I have upset you far more than I realized. I’m truly sorry for that.”

“You’re sorry you upset me, or you’re dismayed to learn that I didn’t roll over for you?”

Jackson smiles at me.

I continue, “On second thought, never mind. Are you going to explain to me what that debacle in the penthouse was about or aren’t you? I have productive things I could be doing, Jackson.”

“Okay,” Jackson quickly concedes. Evidently, he’s beginning to understand his charm isn’t going to help him much. “When Peyton introduced us and we shook hands the first time there was a connection. You felt it too. I saw how you responded to me. You can’t honestly deny that.”

“So, there’s chemistry between us. Do you think that gives you the right to hold me against my will and scare me like that?”

Jackson doesn’t like my question, so he deflects. “Then, outside on the sidewalk that day when you helped that little girl…”

The little girl? What does she have to do with the hotel, or anything else, for that matter? I’m confused again, but there is something about him that engages my curiosity, so I humor him. “Yes?”

“You were going to take a beating for some kid you didn’t even know, Ellie. Time stopped for me in that moment and I’ll remember it the rest of my life.”

Jackson pauses until I look him in the eye. “I fell in love with you in that instant, Ellie,” comes his simple statement.

O…kay. I wasn’t expecting that. I drop my gaze and take just an instant to temper my surprise. I shake my head in disagreement. “Things like that don’t happen, Jackson.”

“You know what, Ellie? Up until that moment I’d have the said the same thing. Now, I know better,” Jackson assures me.

“Assuming for one second that you’re telling me the truth you still haven’t explained the hotel.”

Jackson continues eagerly. “After I watched you defend that little girl without any regards for your personal safety, I set out to learn everything I could about you. I hired an investigator and put some of my best security guys on you in an attempt to know everything about you.”

Mortification takes hold of me. It widens my eyes and stuns me into immobility. I shriek through clenched teeth, “You did what?!”

Jackson nods his head at me. “Yes, I did, Ellie. I’m laying it all on the line. I want you to understand everything.”

“Did you discover what you wanted to know, Jackson?” I slam my plastic fork onto the table next to my disposable plate. I purse my lips and shake my head. “Now I’m certain you need to have your head examined.”

Jackson disagrees as he shakes his head at me. “I told you my head is fine.”

“I’m not so sure,” I disagree emphatically. “Your time is half gone, and you still haven’t explained the hotel.”

Jackson nods his understanding. “Okay. Okay. I have never conducted an investigation and had the subject of it come up so… so… clean.” Jackson looks me square in the eye and says, “Seriously, Ellie, you are so straight laced I don’t know how you keep from squeaking when you walk.”

“Thank you,” I tell him with sincere gratitude I manage to steal from what little self-esteem I have left. “I’ve made decisions my entire life that would protect me and reflect on what I hope is a sterling character. It’s nice that someone noticed. However, having it noticed in such a grisly manner is anything but nice.”

I can’t tell for sure whether Jackson deflects my assessment of his treatment of me or if he continues with his explanation because he’s aware of the time crunch. “Well, finding out you are such an honest, great person only makes me regard you more highly.”

“Yeah, so?” I say like it’s impossible to be less impressed with him than I already am.

“The next step was the one on one test.”

I look up at him, meet his gaze, and cock my head sideways. I sigh and ask, “Are you telling me the hotel was a test?”

“Yes I am. It was a test on two levels,” Jackson admits.

“You had better explain it to me, fast,” I tell him as my blood pressure rises.

“Well, first,” Jackson continues, “I wanted to be sure the chemistry between us was actually what I anticipated….”

I shake my head in disbelief at his audacity. “Did I pass, Jackson? Were you satisfied?” My tone is icy. My words are abrupt and punctuated. I’m being snotty to him. I’m so peeved at his arrogance. I want him to understand how ludicrous all of this is. I want him to understand by way of my tone, demeanor and words how truly offended and pissed off I am.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to notice the level of my irritation. “Are you kidding me, Ellie? You were there. I mean I already knew what touching you, being around you does to me, but I had to know if I could pull the same kind of response from you.”

“Again,” I ask, “Were you satisfied by my response to your advances?”

Jackson’s mouth falls open in surprise. “Ellie, I had you dripping wet. I watched you lay on the couch and climax right before my eyes. For the love of God, I don’t know how you turned me down. I’ve never been more shocked.”

I will never admit to him how badly my body wanted him, how truly afraid I was or that I was praying for a way out of a terrifying situation. My pride won’t let me admit any of this to him. So, I decide to mess with him because I want him to squirm. “Maybe you weren’t as persuasive as you thought.”

Jackson shakes his head in disbelief. “Come on, Ellie. At one point you were so turned on you collapsed. I caught you and carried you to the couch, remember?”

“Why does my response to your advances matter anyway?” I want to know.

His answer to my question is instantaneous and honest. “I want to be sexually compatible with the woman I marry.”

I shake my head in disbelief. Honest or not, there’s no way I’m buying this. I answer his statement with a question of my own. “What you mean is, because I’m a person of faith, you wanted to be sure I’m not a prude. Isn’t that right, Jackson?”

He pauses and drops his gaze to the top of the table. It kills him to admit it, but admit it he does, even if his admittance is reluctant. “O…kay…,”

Here it comes.

“Yes, that’s part of it,” he admits further, but quickly continues in an effort to deflect any offense his words might offer. “But that’s not all of it, Ellie.”

“What was test two?”

“If I’m going to marry you, I want to be sure I can trust you, even if some guy with whom you have incredible chemistry comes on to you. I want to know you’ll be able to walk away.”

“So, I passed?” I ask like I genuinely need his answer.

Jackson is incredulous. He speaks equally with his hands and words in order to get his point across. “Ellie, I threw my ‘A’ game at you and you refused me. You left me sitting there horny as hell. Yeah, unfortunately, but wonderfully, you passed.”

This is too much fun. “What if this other guy’s ‘A’ game is better than yours? What if I can’t resist him?”

Jackson’s limitless hubris kicks in and he laughs at that idea. Evidently, he doesn’t believe anyone has a better ‘A’ game than his own. “You’ll do fine, Ellie I have absolutely no doubt.”

It looks as if I don’t have the ability to penetrate that thick skull of his. “Okay, let’s say you sufficiently explained your asinine behavior in the hotel that day. It’s a stretch, but I’ll pretend, for a moment, I believe your whole crazy story. That still leaves other things unexplained,” I tell him.

“Like what?” he wants to know.

“For starters, if you were so inexplicably drawn to me, why not try the old school method of a few dates and some time spent together so we could pursue this like two adults? I can tell you I’d have had a much easier time swallowing this whole tale of yours if I’d had more time to absorb it.”

“Yes, I know. That’s completely my fault,” Jackson admits. “You see, Ellie, I’m a bit of a charging bull. When I find something I want, I go after it. Sometimes, I get lost in the pursuit of my objective and lose sight of my methods.”

“Okay…, but that brings me to the other question I want to address.”

“What is it, Ellie? Ask me anything.” Jackson seems so eager to pursue this. For the life of me I can’t imagine why. This is going nowhere. He doesn’t even realize he’s spinning his wheels.

“What is there about me that inspires such interest in you? I tried to remind you in the hotel that day that I’m so unlike the women you’re always with. Besides that, I’m several years older than you are, Jackson.”

Jackson shakes his head slightly and says, “Ellie, I don’t know that I can describe what there is about you that draws me to you.”

“Well, you’d better come up with something or were done here,” I say seriously as I collect my foam food containers and prepare to head for the trash can. Jackson reaches for my hand. I think he’s afraid I’ll walk away. I just might. He rubs the top of the finger where his ring sat then holds my hand closed within both of his.

Patient lightning.

“Ellie, I’m no poet, but this is from my heart,” Jackson says quietly.

I raise my eyes from the union of our hands to meet his gaze. I nod my head at him, indicating he should continue.

“Ellie, there is a light in you that reaches out and shatters my previous perceptions about women. Well, about people in general, really, but especially about women. It’s your heart, Ellie. Your heart is what saved that little girl. When you sat and told me about your ministry ideas it was obvious your heart is leading that charge. There’s this blinding fearlessness about you. I think it’s partly personality and partly your faith. I’ll understand more as I get to know you better. You are determined to walk into the unknown, unaided if necessary, and do all you can to make the world a better place.”

“God’s given me a great deal,” I concede honestly. “I certainly want to share. People need Him for so many reasons. My purpose in this world is to be His hands and feet to them.”

“See,” Jackson exclaims as he punctuates the air with his open right palm. “That’s what I’m talking about. The other women I’ve been with were all about what they can get. They want my money, my company, to be on my arm at all the society events they flit around to. I don’t think there’s a single thought in their vapid little heads about anyone other than themselves. I’m including the intelligent, educated ones in my summation, Ellie. You are so far beyond them. I told you they are the ones who do not measure up to the standard you’ve set.”

I shake my head at him as I explain my perspective. “Jackson, I find it hard to believe that a man with your obvious total package appeal can’t find one worthwhile woman in all of Chicago.”

“I have, Ellie.” he replies quietly. He looks me directly in the eyes and says tenderly, “I found you.”

I swallow hard. That was a really good answer.

“What about the age thing,” I ask.

“What about it?”

“People will talk. People are going to wonder and whisper about how much older I am. They’re going to make assumptions and snide comments that are going to be hurtful to both of us.”

Jackson shakes his head at me. “Ellie, I’ve never been one to do what’s expected of me. Working within what others consider normal parameters is not something which appeals to me. Do you really think I’ve gotten where I am in this world by worrying about what other people think?”

I nod at him this time. “I don’t know what you think, Jackson, because I don’t know you. That’s kind of the point. You’ve got me at a horrible disadvantage. For weeks now, you’ve been investigating me, learning all you could about me. You’ve spent time understanding the way I think, what motivates me, and how I act. Then you put me through a mini terror session and dropped the ‘M’ bomb, completely blindsiding me.”

“Yeah, I did that,” he admits.

Finally.

“I have to have time to catch up, Jackson. I’m sorry if you don’t understand that.”

He squeezes my hand. He removes one of his hands from the cluster and holds it out to me, indicating he’d like to hold both of mine. I meet his gaze and hold it the entire time I pull my other hand from my lap and lay it gently in his. My hands are so small compared to his. His hands are so warm compared to mine. He takes his thumbs and begins twirling circles in the back of my hands.

I remember the familiar gesture from the hotel. “Well, that explains even more.”

Jackson cocks his head to the right as he asks in a manner that seems genuinely curious, “What do you mean?”

“The entire time we were together at the hotel there was an aspect of your behavior which completely puzzled me.”

“What’s that, Ellie? Ask me. I’ll tell you anything you need to know,” he reassures me.

Tears sting the backs of my eyes. It makes me mad that I can’t explain myself without falling apart. Simply reliving the memory tears me up inside. Still, I try to explain to him. “I was so scared, Jackson. I was terrified you were going to rape me. That’s one of the single biggest fears in my life, by the way, but you did little things when you touched me that were so intimate and familiar. I was standing there, scared stiff, trying to reconcile the intimacy of the way you touched me with the fact that you didn’t know me. I couldn’t get it to make any sense.

“Now, I understand the circles on my hands, the way you stroked my face or whispered into my ear. You acted intimate and familiar because you were intimate and familiar. You’d already done all the research and decided that you wanted me.”

I hate it when the obvious smacks you like you’re an idiot. “Well, the pieces are starting to come together for me even if I don’t like the way you treated me.”

“I’m so sorry I scared you, Ellie. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t want to. You just get the best of me. I’ve never experienced anyone like you, Ellie. You make it so I can’t think straight,” Jackson admits.

“Well, if what I went through at the hotel was you being nice to me, Jackson, what’s it going to be like for me when things get intense?”

“Won’t it make a big difference when you’re in the know and not being caught off guard?”

I watch him closely. I can tell there’s more substance to Jackson than I originally surmised. I shrug my shoulders and concede his point. “Yeah, being in the know would make a difference, I suppose.”

“Of course, it will,” he agrees.

“If you know pretty much everything about me you’re aware I’m not a social girl. I’ve always been backwards and awkward around other people. I’m not tactful and diplomatic and my opinions often vary greatly from those of everyone else. When I open my mouth, I tend to really piss off people. Your social standing is going to take a dive. Do you realize that?”

“That’s still just caring about what others think, Ellie. I don’t care. I can’t begin to tell you how much I do not care,” Jackson states emphatically.

“What if it affects your business adversely?”

Jackson shakes his head and chuckles at me. “Dawes is big enough to withstand one woman weighing… what do you weigh?”

Now, it’s my turn to shake my head at him. “My bathroom scale and I have a confidentiality agreement. It’s my policy to never breach it.”

Jackson throws his head back and laughs. “See, what I mean? Who talks like that? You’re so funny, Ellie. You’re so smart. You’re wise and kind. You’re beautiful and sexy as hell. You make me nuts in the best possible way.”

I begin to get nervous. The sincerity of his proposal defense is wearing through my skepticism. This whole thing is crazy. So, what if Jackson gives what he considers a plausible explanation. I sure don’t have to buy into it. I don’t have to let him suck me into his romantic delusion.

However, my curiosity is working overtime to trump my good judgment. What if, just for argument’s sake, I humor him a little further and find out where this is headed. I’ll play along and see what happens next. After all, I can shoot the tires out from under this runaway truck at any time.

“You know,” I continue, “I don’t want more kids. My days of having babies are behind me. I’ve not gone through menopause, yet, probably won’t for some time. I’m not willing to have surgery. I took birth control pills back when I was a newlywed the first time. I refuse to put those things back in my body. So, you’ll have to wear protection every single time.”

“I’m fine with that, Ellie. I don’t need kids,” comes his serious response. Jackson is calm and steady. He gives every indication he’s already considered this aspect of a union between us.

I, however, am mortified. “Jackson, you can’t be serious! You’re still plenty young for kids. You’ve got this global empire you’re going to want to leave to someone. Let’s face it, Jackson, with your looks, your babies will be beautiful.”

“I don’t care, Ellie. Life is full of choices. I choose you over kids. It’s a no-brainer.”

“Jackson, with a different woman you can have a wife and children.”

“I know that. Another woman isn’t what I want, Ellie. I want you.” He comes around to my side of the table, sits in the chair next to me and spins me on my chair to face him. Jackson takes hold of my hands and enfolds them within his own. Our entwined hands lie in my lap.

Jackson levels an incredibly serious, authoritative gaze at me. “Ellie, you’ve got to stop trying to talk me out of this. You’re not going to change my mind. Do you hear me?” He uses his fingertips to lift my chin, so I look him in the eye. “Do you hear me, Ellie?”

“Jackson, I won’t sleep with you until were married. Do you know that?”

“Not even if we’re engaged?” The surprise on his face is evidence that I’ve finally got his attention.

“No way. No how. Not a snowball’s chance. Not until we’ve said our vows. Thomas was the only man I’ve ever been with Jackson. Ever. I’m not someone who’s sexually savvy about anyone other than myself or my husband. I’ve been chaste since Thomas died and I’ll be chaste until I’m remarried to whomever. If remarriage never happens that’s ok by me.”

“Ellie, this is something my investigation didn’t tell me about you, but I actually love the fact that you’ve only ever been with your husband. However, in this day and age…”

I stop him in his tracks. “It’s not about this day and age, Jackson. It’s about my faith and aligning my life choices with Someone holier than myself. Sex isn’t just about the physical, Jackson. It’s about all of a person connecting with everything there is in another person. Emotions, baggage, body, hopes, hurt. All of it. My faith is going to get in your way from time to time, Jackson, just like it is now. Are you going to be able to handle that?” I pause for just a second and then continue, “Besides, there are some other considerations of which you need to be aware.”

“What are they?” he asks me, smiling as if he’s genuinely interested.

“For one, I want no part of oral sex.”

“O….kay,” Jackson says with a furrowed brow. “Why not?” he asks sincerely.

“It’s just never appealed to me. I won’t ask someone to do for me what I’m not willing to do for them. Can you live with that boundary, Jackson?”

Without batting an eyelash Jackson capitulates. “Absolutely, Ellie. There’s an awful lot of ground to cover without going oral.”

“Also, I want to know if I’m going to have to plead for my chastity whenever I’m with you. Is it going to be like the hotel?”

Jackson squeezes my hands. “Ellie, I will respect any boundary you set, but never doubt for one second that I want you so badly it’s killing me.”

“What about that, Jackson? Are you going to be able to stay faithful to me when you’re used to a smorgasbord of youth and beauty? I’ll be honest with you I’ve got my doubts. Even if you believe you can, even if you have the best of intentions sitting right here in this moment, it’s going to be a lot harder than you realize. Believing that you’ll be able to stay faithful won’t necessarily make you capable of it.

“I’ve got one long-term, very successful marriage under my belt. I chose well when I chose Thomas. I don’t want to be trapped in a relationship where everyone else knows I’m being played while I’m the last one to learn the truth. Giving my faithfulness and fidelity to a man, only to have him toss it aside, would completely destroy me.”

Jackson shakes his head. “Ellie, you have no idea of what I’m capable. Give me the chance to show you, please?”

I sit here compliantly and watch Jackson. My brain is cranking away on everything he’s told me. He’s certainly given me a lot to think about. Suddenly, an instant of lucidity hits me. This is completely crazy! Events like this do not happen in the lives of real people. I don’t even want to be married. I’ve got ministry goals, kingdom goals, I want to accomplish. It took Thomas and me years to really figure each other out, to truly understand one another and get to the point where we could put our marriage above everything, second only to God.

And that’s another problem. Thomas and I knew we were accountable to God for our words, our behaviors, even our motives. There was always a defined parameter within which our marriage operated. It worked beautifully. With Jackson that won’t be the case. I don’t want to spend my time and energy breaking in a new husband, especially a husband that amounts to a rogue entity, a husband who doesn’t share my world view.

Ok, back to the task at hand. I look at Jackson compassionately. I’m completely prepared to reject him as politely and gently as I can. “Jackson, I will admit our talk today has been far more compelling than I’d have ever thought possible. You’ve explained yourself pretty convincingly, I must admit….”

Jackson sits quietly before me as he listens with every ounce of his being.

Suddenly, though, somewhere, from the back of my mind, a wild hair thought surfaces. I realize my curiosity is not yet satisfied so I instantaneously change the course of my rejection and ask Jackson a question. “I have to risk sounding like all those other women you say you’d never want….”

Jackson interrupts me. “Tell me what it is, Ellie. I want everything out in the open.”

I drop my gaze and look at our hands where they still lie entwined. Jackson is hunched toward me with his forearms resting on the tops of his knees. His posture indicates an attempt to get as close to me as possible while remaining aware of our location in a busy food court.

Just to satisfy my curiosity, my crazy impulsive side, I jump. “If, by some massive stretch of imagination, I agree to this…what’s in it for me? I mean, I’ve been married. I’ve raised kids and done the whole family thing. I loved it, but I’m just starting a new phase of my life. I’ve moved to a new city. You know the goals I want to accomplish. I’ve got more money than I can ever spend. Why would I want to tie myself to someone who has such high expectations of me? Why would I want to be with someone I’ll disappoint horribly because of my faith and the influence it has on my life? Why would I pursue a relationship with someone I don’t know, someone I’m fairly certain will never be able to keep his marriage promise. Why would I, someone who doesn’t need a single thing you offer, risk everything and take that chance on you?”

Jackson smiles so confidently and says quietly, “That’s easy, Ellie.”

I raise my eyebrows and chuckle at what I believe to be his arrogance. “Oh really, how’s it so easy?”

Jackson still holds my hands. He gives me one of his million watt smiles and states simply. “I’m going to convince you that you can’t live without me.”

I see the absolute earnestness on his face. His eyes are wide open and completely unguarded as he returns my gaze. For some reason I get the impression that being unguarded is not the norm for Jackson. Unspoken before me is a sincere effort to relate to me in a manner which is largely unfamiliar to him.

I was wrong. Jackson is without arrogance and believes what he’s saying with everything in him. His answer is so incredibly ripe with promise. I’m eaten alive with curiosity about the components of that promise. The vagueness of his words compel me, pull me in, and make me want to learn more. Jackson is sincerely confident that he has something worthwhile to offer me.

I break my gaze and drop my head so Jackson can’t see me smile to myself. Amidst all the thoughts racing through my head is one which helps me realize I‘ll be driven insane by the angst of an incomplete knowledge and understanding of Jackson’s proposal. I know he’s convinced of his sexual prowess. There’s no doubting that. While sex is an important component to marriage it’s certainly not everything. There’s more going on here. The waters within him are deep and I simply can’t see through the depths. There’s only one way to learn about the void I’m facing. Dear God, I have to know more about him. I can call it quits at any moment. When I get my answers, I’ll do just that, Lord.

I return my gaze to meet Jackson’s. He’s literally holding his breath while he waits for my next words. I smile at him slightly. I do my best to hide a grin which betrays my awareness that I’m in over my head, but I have to plow forward. I say quietly, but with absolute sincerity, “I’ll think it over, Jackson. I make no promise beyond that.”

Jackson breathes a huge sigh of relief and radiates his best smile to date. He seems incredibly happy as he sits and holds my hands. This entire scenario seems off the charts nuts to me. No one is this crazy about someone they barely know. No one like Jackson gives someone like me a chance. I’ll give Jackson the time it takes for him to bury himself. Then, I’ll walk away from him, from all of it. Hopefully, if I indulge him a little further, Jackson will come to see the futility of his proposal and plan. Maybe, he’ll leave me alone and I can finally go on with my life without all the drama of calls, texts, flowers and tickets.

“Oh,” I mutter as a last second thought occurs to me. “There’s one more thing I want to know Jackson.”

That unguarded quality is still present in his gaze as he looks into my eyes. “Name it, Ellie,” he replies instantly.

“Why did we meet in the cafeteria that day if you already knew you were interested in me? I mean, if you wanted my attention you couldn’t have done a better job of hiding it.”

Jackson gives me the one percenter version of an ‘aw shucks’ grin. He actually blushes, but he has his answer ready for me. “This might sound a little hard to believe, Ellie, but I was afraid if I took you to my fancy office, I’d scare you and you’d run.”

I’m incredulous at his admission. “You’re kidding?!” I exclaim.

Jackson shakes his head at me. “No, I’m not kidding, Ellie. Hindsight makes it sound silly, huh?”

I nod my agreement at him as I sigh at the irony.

Now, Jackson’s curiosity gets the best of him. “Why did you ask me that, Ellie?”

I shrug my shoulders and tell him, “I’m just trying to understand you better, that’s all.”

Jackson affirms, yet again, “Anytime, Ellie. Ask me anything you’d like whenever you want, ok?” He strokes the side of my face. My skin tingles at the touch of his fingers.

Quickly, I think to remind him. “I will call you with my decision, Jackson. Do you hear me? I will call you. Got it?”

Jackson nods his head in understanding.

“I have no idea how long it will take me. You just need to be patient, okay?”

“I’ll do my best, Ellie.” Jackson hands me a business card. On the back is two handwritten numbers so he explains. “My number is the top one. It’s my personal line. Call me anytime. The bottom one belongs to Harcourt. He’s waiting to drive you.”

“I’ve got my car,” I say matter-of-factly. Surely, Jackson knows that.

“I’ll take your car. Give me your keys.”

“Why? I’m perfectly capable of driving myself.”

“I’d like to take care of you, Ellie, if you’ll let me. Harcourt is all yours, 24/7.”

I consider his offer for a moment. I guess if I’m going to consider his proposal, even cursorily, I need to immerse myself in as many of its realities as possible. A chauffeured limo would certainly be one of the realities.

I concede to his request. “Here are my keys. I like my car, Jackson. Don’t wreck it.” He smiles at me so charmingly my heart nearly stops.

“Ellie?” Jackson asks, almost shyly. Who knew? He’s actually capable of shyness.

“Yes, Jackson, what is it?” I ask, slightly frustrated. He just won’t quit.

“There’s one thing I want to add….” Jackson interrupts himself as he reaches over, picks me up out of my chair, and places me in his lap. The suddenness and ease with which he moves me steals my ability to breathe. He sits me so the insides of my thighs fall to the outside of his.

A tear escapes my left eye. I’m so glad we’re in this busy cafeteria. I’m so glad we’re in this busy cafeteria…

He cups my face and wipes away my tears with the pad of his right thumb. More tears are coming.

“Shhhh… Ellie, don’t cry,” Jackson says quietly. “I love you Ellie. Oh, my God, how I love you. I want you to be incredibly aware of that as you make your decision.” He gazes longingly and lovingly into my eyes like we’re the only two people present. When his gaze shifts to my lips, I close my eyes and wait for the inevitable.

His mouth claims mine and fiery rods grip my core in churning heat. He turns and twists my head with his hands so that his lips sear their imprint on my memory. As I sit astride his lap the rest of my body is all too aware of his impending presence. A growing part of me longs for closer contact.

Just before I completely forget my name Jackson pulls away from me. The entire cafeteria erupts in applause and the appreciation of the galleria audience is deafening. Jackson returns me to my chair and stands to take a bow. He leans toward me, kisses my forehead and says, “I’ll be expecting your call, Ellie.” He turns and exits the Galleria Commons, returning high-fives from adoring fans as he goes.

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