Surrender To Me (Book One)

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Chapter 4: Recon

I moan and lay my head down against my forearm where it lies against the table. In no time at all, I sense a warm body go past me to the chair Jackson just vacated. I look up to find an elderly woman returning my gaze.

She stands four and a half feet and is as wide as she is tall. She has cherub cheeks, adorable features and the most soothing granny voice I’ve ever heard. She rubs my upper arm as I pick up my head.

“Hi, I’m Margie. Are you okay, young lady?”

“You have no idea how you’ve already cheered me up,” I tell her.

“I haven’t said anything yet. How could I have possibly made you feel better?”

I smile at her as I confess, “You called me ‘young lady’. It’s been a really long time since anyone’s called me that.” I swallow as I remember her inquiry. “But in answer to your question, and to be totally honest, I’m not really sure.”

“That was some kiss, huh?”

“You saw?”

“Oh, honey, everyone saw.” I moan and return my head to my forearm.

“I saw him pick you up and sit you in his lap’” she continues as I roll my forehead back and forth across my forearm. “It was like he was moving a loaf of bread!”

I look sideways and up at her.

She laughs and smiles at me. “I saw what was coming so I pointed you out to my granddaughter and we watched him kiss you. Honey, my knees gave way from under me and I was four tables away, sitting down! Talk about a looker!”

“Yeah, he’s kind of got that something, something, doesn’t he?”

“That man loves you like there’s no tomorrow.”

I furrow my brow at her. “Really? How can you tell?”

“That kiss didn’t come from lust. That kiss came from his soul,” is her concise assessment.

I groan and confess loudly enough that Margie can hear me. “He wants to marry me.”

“That’s wonderful! Congratulations!” she exclaims.

“I’m not so sure,” I contradict her. “It’s complicated.”

“Tell me,” Margie says.

“Do you know who he is?” I ask her.

Margie shakes her head. “I have no idea who he is. I just saw a random kiss in a food court.”

“That’s Jackson Dawes,” I tell her. I can see her mind turning, trying to find the significance of my simple statement.

Suddenly, a light comes into her eyes and her mouth utters a silent ‘oh.’ “Dawes…?” she asks. “As in Dawes Incorporated?”

I raise my head and nod at her. “The one, the only.”

“He’s that good-looking… has those kinds of moves… is crazy about you… and he’s got money to boot? Honey, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but are you brain-dead? For crying out loud, what’s the hold up?”

“I know. It seems really obvious, doesn’t it? I told you it was complicated.”

“What kinds of complications are there?” she wants to know.

I sigh heavily and begin my explanation. “We come from such different worlds. I only met him six weeks ago. He’s bulldozed and railroaded me to this point. Is that how I want to spend my marriage? Do I want him running roughshod over me like I’m invisible? Is that how I want to live my life?”

Margie pats my arm as if she understands completely, as if she’s been in this situation herself. “Men in his world make billion-dollar decisions like the rest of us eat breakfast. I’m sure when he sees something he wants he just goes after it. This time… it was you.”

“That’s exactly what he said.”

“Put the brakes on if he’s moving too quickly to suit you. Slow down and make him operate on your timeline,” she offers.

Suddenly, a frightening thought occurs to me. Now, it occurs to me to be frightened by the fact that I’m frightened by my thought. “What if I scare him off?” I ask her.

“Honey, when a guy kisses you like that, he’ll jump through any hoop you put in front of him. I promise.”

“I told him sex is off-limits until we exchange vows.”

“Well, what’d he say?”

“It surprised the heck out of him, but he told me he’d respect any boundaries I set.”

Margie’s eyes light up with glee like she’s a vested family member. “See! What’d I tell you! Keep him honest and make him work for it.”

I think intensely on the words Margie just uttered. I nod my head at her. The gears in my brain begin to move, looking for a solution. “That’s a really good idea,” I tell her.

“See, you can do this. I mean, assuming that you’re interested in him. Just stick it to him and find out what he’s made of.”

Suddenly, the gears in my brain click into place. The answer seems so straightforward and obvious.

“Margie, you have been a remarkable help to me. Thank you so much!” I stand and hug her. “You have simply been a Godsend.” I give Margie a quick kiss on the cheek as a physical demonstration of my gratitude for her kind concern and advice.

As I walk away from the food court, I can’t help but express a huge smile. I retrieve my phone and call the number Jackson gave me for contacting Harcourt. He meets me at the main entrance to the mall.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Morgan,” he greets me cheerfully.

“Hi there, Harcourt. I hear your services are mine for the next few days. Is that right?”

“Yes, ma’am. Those are my instructions.”

“Okay, then, let’s go for a ride.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Harcourt seats me in the back of the limo and takes his seat behind the wheel. “Do you have a particular destination in mind, Mrs. Morgan?”

“Can you take me to my condo, please?” I grimace and ask him, “Hey, Harcourt? Can we do away with Mrs. Morgan? Can you just call me Ellie?”

“That will be hard, Mrs. Morgan. It seems kind of familiar. I’m used to using proper names,” Harcourt tells me as he pulls the big car out into traffic.

“Okay, then, I just thought I’d mention it. Thanks, anyway.” Once I’m silent, it occurs to me I’d be crazy to delay the start of my intelligence gathering with regards to Jackson. I have, after all, a wealth of information sitting right in front of me. I collect my thoughts before I continue. “Harcourt, I need to ask you something. If you can’t do it, please feel free to say so.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he agrees readily.

“How do you feel about answering some questions about Jackson Dawes? If it’s too much of an imposition, I certainly understand.”

“Well, why don’t we take the imposition problem on a question by question basis. I’ll tell you if any of them hit too close to home.”

I smile up at him in the mirror. I’m so pleased with his insightful manner. “That sounds more than fair. Thank you, Harcourt. Can you tell me about the kind of man Jackson is?”

Harcourt jumps right in with his commentary. “He’s a very hard worker, of course. But you probably already know that.”

I nod my head in agreement to his assumption. “Yeah, I’m sort of looking for things about him that most people don’t know.”

Harcourt asks me, “Do you mind if I ask why you want to know?” He handles the oversized ride with incredible ease.

“I can tell you, Harcourt, but just so you know, it’s personal and confidential.”

“I understand.” he tells me. Discretion is listed as part of my job description,” he further explains.

“Jackson has asked me to marry him and I’m trying to discover who he is, you know, discover the man deep inside his business persona.”

“Okay…,” Harcourt says as he nods his head. “That helps me understand what you’re looking for.” He pauses for a second and then continues. “I’ve never seen him be unkind or rude to anyone.”

“How long have you worked for Jackson, Harcourt?”

“Seven years, Mrs. Morgan.”

“That’s certainly long enough for you to have a fair assessment of him. What about his personality? Is he funny or serious? Is he ever a smart aleck? How does he relate to other people?”

“He’s a go-getter that’s for sure. When he’s working on business deals, he’s serious and focused. He knows how to get things done.”

“What about when you drive him to parties. What’s he like then?”

“He doesn’t attend a lot of parties, unless he’s driving himself and I’m not aware of it. The few he’s attended while I’ve been on duty have been attended alone. He left alone as well.”

“Does he leave parties drunk or does he have you drop him off at bars frequently?”

“Oh, no, ma’am, I’ve never seen Mr. Dawes inebriated. I don’t even remember ever having delivered him to a bar. I’d venture to guess he drinks very little to none at all.”

“Oh, well, that’s good,” I admit. I’m relieved to hear one huge positive. “Does he ever laugh and joke or is he business all of the time?”

“No, he’s always pleasant, always asks after me and the wife. He comes out all smiles and happy after he’s pulled off some big business deal he’s proud of.”

“What about women, Harcourt? Is there a different girl every night of the year?”

“Here again, I can only speak to the times I’ve chauffeured Mr. Dawes. What he does when he drives himself is unknown to me.”

“I understand,” I tell him. I’m really dreading his answer. I know Jackson is a playboy. I know it. I know it. I know it.

“In all the years I’ve been with him, he’s had fewer than ten women in this car. A good number of those were business associates. I think part of the dynamic with Mr. Dawes is that women relentlessly chase him. I mean no dignity all-out marathons to get in good with him on one level or another. I think he’s just weary of it. He has to constantly keep up his guard or he’ll find himself embroiled in a lawsuit with someone who wants to get rich off him.”

“So, he’s not really had any serious relationships?”

“Not until you.”

“Me? What do you mean?”

“You just told me he proposed to you and I know for a fact you’re the only person to whom he’s ever loaned his limo.”

“Really? Why do you think that is?”

“I think you’re the first person he’s ever cared for. It’s obvious, Mrs. Morgan. This isn’t usual behavior for Mr. Dawes. He must be crazy about you. Even I can see it. He walks a little lighter. His voice has joy in it that wasn’t there prior to meeting you.”

I drop my gaze from the rearview mirror through which I’ve been visually connecting with Harcourt.

Harcourt continues. “There’s one more thing I think you should know.”

Incredibly curious, I ask him, “What’s that, Harcourt?”

“My salary was a full 25% greater than that of my chauffeuring buddies. When I asked Gina to marry me Mr. Dawes increased my salary by an additional 30%. He also bought us a house, free and clear, in a really nice neighborhood.”

“Did he retain the title to your home?”

“Oh, no, ma’am. He signed it over to Gina and me.”

“He did, did he?”

“I can’t speak for his other employees, but he’s been very generous to me.”

“Wow, that’s interesting, Harcourt. Thank you so much for your insight into his character.” I hesitate because I’m almost embarrassed to mention it, but, ultimately, I have to know. “What do you think about the difference in our ages, Harcourt?”

“What age difference? He isn’t that much older than you, is he?”

I smile at the charming, immensely likable driver. I’m aware of what he’s up to and I surely appreciate his effort. “Nice try, Harcourt. You know I’m older than him. It’s pretty obvious, after all.”

“Honestly, Mrs. Morgan, it hadn’t even occurred to me until you mentioned it. Evidently, Mr. Dawes doesn’t see it as a problem if he asked you to marry him.”

“He says our age difference is irrelevant,” I inform him.

“Then, I’d take my cue from him. He’s no kid and plenty strong-minded enough to know himself and what he wants. Anyway, the heart doesn’t see age. It only sees what it needs. The heart searches for what it’s missing. It sounds to me like Mr. Dawes’ search has ended.”

“Harcourt!” I exclaim while I smile at him, “there’s a poet buried inside you, isn’t there?!”

“Well,” he says chuckling at me as his grin spreads from ear to ear, “I’ve been known to turn a phrase or two.”

As if on cue, Harcourt pulls up in front of my condo. He comes around to my door and escorts me all the way upstairs.

“Can you be back tomorrow morning at ten?” I ask him.

“Yes, ma’am. I’ll be here.” He smiles and tips his hat at me. “Call me, Mrs. Morgan, if you’d like to go somewhere. Mr. Dawes wouldn’t be happy if he discovered you were using a cab.”

I cock my head rearward as my curiosity gets the best of me. I have to know. “Harcourt, why would Jackson care if I used a cab?”

Being the discreet, tactful employee Harcourt exemplifies, he answers me, “I have my orders Mrs. Morgan. Any information beyond that will need to come from Mr. Dawes.”

I took my best shot. I didn’t get the information I wanted, but I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t tried. I decide to file my question for use at a later date.

Suddenly, I remember my manners. I smile at Harcourt. “I will do as you ask. Thank you so much for talking with me. You’ve help me understand Jackson much better.”

“Glad I could be of service, Mrs. Morgan. See you tomorrow.”

“Bye, Harcourt.”

As soon as I get my clothes changed, I get on the phone. First, I call Peyton Stanley. I arrange to meet with him at 10:30 tomorrow morning.

Next, I locate, via the Internet, a reputable lab here in Chicago. I call BioDynamics and speak with a phlebotomist by the name of Mallory McCullough. She agrees to do what I have planned for the sum I offer to pay her. Using Mallory’s skill in this manner, while highly irregular, is in no way illegal. I’ll pay her with cash and keep a low profile on the entire transaction.

Finally, I call Jackson and arrange a quick meet with him tomorrow morning at his office. I tell him I’m shooting for ten am. Poor guy. He thought I was calling with my answer, but I told him I wasn’t ready yet. He doesn’t care. He seems excited at the prospect of simply seeing me.

I spend the next three hours putting around the neighborhood. I’m excited about what I have planned, but nervous about getting it done. I’m home safe and sound before dark. I slip into my PJ’s and turn on the TV, surfing the internet and TV channels at the same time. At some point, I fall asleep on the couch, waking up mid night in order to haul myself to bed.

Next morning, I’m awake and ready to go by 9:30. I’ve eaten, showered and dressed in a soft, orange colored suit, sling backs to match of course. My favorite perfume completes my look.

Harcourt knocks on my door at ten o’clock and we’re on our way. At ten thirty, Peyton’s assistant shows me into his office and closes the door on her way out. Peyton’s office suits him perfectly. It’s southern charm personified. High ceilings, white wood floor trim and white crown molding define the wall and ceiling spaces. Magenta red coats every painted surface and heavy classical wooden furnishings populate the room, ready for a variety of uses.

One piece that catches my eye is a low rise tufted bench. It’s expensive, traditionally styled and is upholstered in a color that compliments the southern colored walls. Along the eastern and southern sides of the room is an extensive library that lines the walls from floor to ceiling. Each wall lays claim to one of those little library ladders that rolls the length of its literary selection. Any book Peyton might choose is readily accessible. A solid wood floor, complete with a creak or two, obvious as you traverse it, completes the southern décor.

Peyton heartily shakes my hand and smiles generously like the gentleman he is. Then he says in his lazy southern drawl, “You sounded slightly panicked yesterday when I spoke with you, Eliza. Is everything all right?”

“I’m sorry, Peyton. Maybe urgent is a better word than panicked. Everything is fine, but I’ve had a development and I’m in serious need of your help.”

“All right, then, Eliza. What can I do for you?”

“First, I guess I need to know if you represent Jackson Dawes as counsel in any regard?”

Peyton shakes his head at me. “No, Jackson and I are only friends. I have a high regard for him.”

“He returns your high regard, Peyton. Will your friendship prevent you from representing me well?”

“No…, I don’t think so,” Peyton states slowly. Impatience gets the better of him. “I wish, Eliza, you’d tell me what’s going on. I can better address your concerns if I’m fully informed.”

I nod my head at him. “You’re right, of course,” I concede. Am I crazy for pursuing this? Why am I pursuing this? This isn’t what I wanted when I moved to the city. Why am I throwing away all of my plans?

Conversely, though, should I come across someone with whom to share my life, someone who has the same interests and considerations, someone who makes my heart, head and body go “WOW,” won’t marriage be better than slogging through life alone? Jackson has overtly reminded me that single living does have one enormous drawback for someone with my kind of faith. I’m obviously flustered. My face is covered in a slight sheen of sweat and my breathing is rapid and shallow.

“Eliza, it’s all right,” Peyton tells me. “Just take a deep breath and tell me what’s going on.”

I wring my hands in my lap, take Peyton’s advice about breathing deeply and continue because I have to be certain, “Attorney client privilege?”

“Goes without saying,” he reassures me.

“Jackson has asked me to marry him,” I confess somewhat breathlessly.

A look of shock covers Peyton’s face. “Well, that was fast! You’ve only been in town a few weeks.”

“I know, hence my urgency. It’s not like he has this countdown clock going, but I need to get on this, get as much information as possible and get on with my life regardless of my answer. Since the two of you are friends you can probably help me with insight about him on a personal level, if you’re comfortable with that, I mean. I want an investigation conducted. I want everything about him on paper in front of me so I can make an informed decision. Can you help me?”

“Absolutely,” Peyton assures me. “We have a crack team of investigators on staff here at the firm. I assume you’ll want family history, personal history, past performance of Dawes Inc., as well as, a serious financial study…”

“Yes,” I begin speed thinking. I’m nervous about all of this. It’s so intense. Jackson is so intense. I can’t afford a bad choice. It could destroy my life. I catch myself emotionally and force my breathing rate to something approaching normal. Slowly, my emotional waterfall subsides.

I look at Peyton and nod my head. “I want all of that and anything else you’d consider relevant. I know I want him followed. I want to be certain he’s not seeing someone else in addition to me. That’s a huge concern, Peyton. Also, what about a pre-nup? When both parties have money is it still important? See, I don’t know how these things work.” I pause and rub my forehead with my fingertips. It occurs to me to ask, “How long do you think this will take?”

“Well,” Peyton begins in a comforting tone, “we can begin today. It should be close to two weeks before we can be confident that we have sufficient, accurate intelligence for you. How’s that?”

I offer Peyton a huge smile. “That’s awesome, Peyton. Thank you, so much.” Mentally, and verbally, though, I switch gears. “Now, is there anything personal about Jackson you can tell me or is that uncomfortable for you? Does it put you in an awkward spot?”

I can hear my phone buzzing in my purse as it sits at my feet. I’m pretty sure at least six calls have gone unanswered.

“Not at all, I’ve known Jackson for probably twelve years, close to it anyway. I knew him even before he took over the company. He’s brilliant, dedicated and hard-working. He took control of Dawes at age twenty-eight. That’s remarkably young for an undertaking of that size. He’s brought the company to an entirely unprecedented level of growth and success. His father would be over the moon with pride.

“From what I understand, he’s done it with a minimum of hard feelings from competitors. Evidently, Jackson prefers to develop new and revolutionary products in-house as opposed to using hostile takeovers to steal competitors’ products. That says a lot about his character, Eliza, and it’s not the industry norm, I can assure you.

“That’s good to know. You’re the second person I’ve talked to about him and I have to say I like what I’m hearing. There’s been nothing negative so far. Then again, none of you is married to him.”

Peyton chuckles at me. “When did all of this happen? It’s awfully fast, Eliza.”

“I know it’s fast. That’s why I’m trying to be careful. The first proposal came three weeks ago…”

“What?!” Peyton doesn’t quite slam his hands down on his desk, but he does rise to his feet rather quickly.

I flinch at his overt response. I sit up straighter in my chair and continue. “Then, he proposed again yesterday. It occurred to me the first proposal might have been a prank of some sort because I’m new in town and trying to get in good with the big dogs, but I have to say, after our discussion yesterday, I believe he’s really sincere. I can’t imagine what someone like him sees in me.”

Peyton’s instant, earnest reply comes quietly to my ear. “Oh, I can.” He blushes when he realizes he’s outed himself. In an effort to relieve the awkwardness, Peyton reseats himself and straightens his tie.

I keep my response to his admission very low key. I don’t know what else to do. “Really? I don’t get it. It seems like some kind of dream.”

“Eliza, you’re being way too hard on yourself. Jackson will be extraordinarily fortunate if you agree to marry him.”

“Don’t you think the age thing is a little odd? It kind of concerns me. Maybe not so much right now, but years down the road.”

“Eliza, the age thing is mute. You and I, even Jackson, for that matter, are all old enough to understand that we need to grab happiness when it presents itself. For Jackson, you represent that possibility. He’s wise for not missing the chance. If he’s not worried about it, you shouldn’t be. Base your decision on anything, everything, else but that, will you?”

I listen to Peyton. I hear what he’s saying, but my mind races on ahead of me. I get the impression it’s working overtime to find a ‘justifiable’ excuse for refusing Jackson like simply

being uninterested doesn’t qualify. Then again, I’m hardly uninterested, am I?

I pull my thoughts together and continue, “Once I realized he was serious about me I didn’t want to dismiss his proposal outright because of some possibly erroneous stereotype.”

“What stereotype is that?” Peyton wants to know.

“Billionaire playboy?” I reply a little too quickly, a little too sheepishly.

Peyton shakes his head at me. “Eliza, I will tell you, that as far as I know, Jackson is no playboy. I’m sure, being a healthy young man, he’s kept himself occupied in a physical regard through the years, but it’s never been about loose women and parties for Jackson. He has never shown himself to be anything other than a discrete, responsible business owner.”

Maybe Peyton will know. “Has he ever had a serious relationship?”

Peyton pauses while he gives serious thought to my question. Finally, he answers me. “Not to my knowledge, Eliza, but it’s very possible I wouldn’t have been privy to that information anyway. It’s not like we’re the kind of friends who visit frequently.”

Concern takes hold of my heart, my thinking process and my words. “See? How can being married to a guy his age, who’s never had a long-term romance, but has women flinging themselves at him all the time, going to work? How can he possibly stay faithful to me? Is he able? Do I want to take that chance?”

Peyton takes a deep breath, makes eye contact with me and says, “Eliza, instead of making yourself sick over all this, ask yourself a few questions.”

I shrug my shoulders as confusion commandeers my gaze and tears sting my eyes. I wipe the tears away and take a deep breath. “What questions are those?” I ask. I’m frustrated with Peyton. He acts as if making inquiries has never occurred to me. Doesn’t he understand that’s why I’m here? Questions are the sole purpose of this entire meeting.

Peyton overlooks my mini tantrum and asks me, “Do you like him? Are you even interested? If everything you learn about him is answered to your satisfaction can you see yourself with him long-term?”

I grimace because I don’t want to upset Peyton, but the truth is what the truth is. “Yes, I can see myself with him long-term. Absolutely, yes.”

“Why’s that?” Peyton wants to know.

I state simply, “The chemistry between us is off the charts.”

Peyton grimaces, but says nothing. He’s taking this awfully well for a guy who’s obviously interested himself. “Okay, then,” he continues. “Wait on the results of our investigation and make your decision based on that information. Here’s the bottom line, Eliza: You need to follow your heart. You’re too beautiful, too interesting, and too smart to spend your life alone. Share yourself with someone and be happy.”

That was so sweet of him to say.

“I’ll get with you when our investigation is finished, and we have some definitive answers for you. How’s that?”

“That will be wonderful. Thank you, so much, Peyton. I’ll talk to you soon. Have a great afternoon.” I shake his hand and exit his office.

On my way to the limo I retrieve my phone and check it for missed calls. Jackson called twelve different times while I met with Peyton. I dial Jackson back, curious to see how he’s going to respond.

One half of a ring into the connection, Jackson breathlessly answers the phone. He sounds panicked. “Oh my God, Ellie, are you all right?!”

“Yes, Jackson. I’m absolutely fine. Why wouldn’t I be? You know, there’s no need to worry about me. I’m just running late that’s all. I’ll be there soon.”

“Why didn’t you answer my calls?” he asks. The panic starts to subside so now he wants answers.

“I was in a meeting and I couldn’t be interrupted. I’m sorry.”

“Well, to say I’m relieved is a massive understatement. The most important thing is that you’re all right and I’ll see you soon, correct?”

“Yes, Jackson, I’ll be there soon. Bye for now.”

“Bye, Ellie. Oh, one more thing, before you go…”

“What’s that, Jackson?” I ask sincerely. I can’t imagine what he wants to tell me.

“I love you and I can’t wait to see you. Bye, Ellie girl.”

I can’t help but smile at his rock-solid familiarity. “Bye, Jackson,” I tell him quietly. It’s way too soon for the ‘L’ word from my end of things.

I find Harcourt, who gets the car door for me, and I plant myself in the back seat of the limo. I ring up my lab girl and confirm a 1:30 pickup time in front of the lab. With an hour and a half to kill I ask Harcourt for a lunch recommendation. Twenty minutes later, we’re seated in his favorite fish restaurant enjoying the finest fish and chips I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.

At 1:30 we pull up in front of BioDynamics lab and find a young woman with brilliant red hair waiting on the sidewalk. Harcourt opens the car door, Mallory peers into the limo and asks, “Ellie?”

“Hi Mallory. Come on in!” I encourage her.

“Wow! This is some car!”

“A little over the top, huh?”

“It’s awesome! Now, I can say I’ve ridden in a real limo with a chauffeur and everything. The girls back at the lab aren’t going to believe this. It’s just sooo cool!” Her youthful exuberance seems to be making Harcourt’s day. He’s grinning from ear to ear.

“I see you brought your basket of goodies,” I say to Mallory.

“Yeah, this is everything I’ll need to draw the samples you requested. What’s up with this guy that he can’t come to the lab? Not that I mind, with the limo and all.”

“As you can imagine a guy who owns a car like this is very busy and it’s hard for him to get away. Plus, there’s the fact that I haven’t asked him,” I say honestly.

Mallory does a double take and cocks her head at me. “Huh?” She obviously doesn’t understand. Why would she?

“This man we’re going to see has asked me to marry him and were going to show up unannounced to take a blood sample because I want to know if he’s healthy.”

“O……kay, I get the blood part, but why the secrecy?”

“I want to see how he responds. Will he get angry at my appearance? I was supposed to be there at ten this morning. Is he going to resent my tardiness, my rudeness, my interruption of his day? If he has clients with him and our visit costs him a big business deal is he going to handle it with grace and maturity or is he going to be a jerk about it?”

A huge grin lights up her adorably freckled face. “I get it!” she exclaims. “You’re making him work for it! That is sooo cool. I love it!”

“That’s the idea,” I confess. “Hopefully, this little mission will give me some insight into his character.”

Mallory shoots me a high five. “You go, girl! This is so much fun! It’s so much better than an ordinary day at the lab!”

Harcourt shakes his head, still smiling. He likes Mallory as much as I do.

Within a few minutes Harcourt has the limo parked in front of the Dawes’ Corporate building. Harcourt helps us exit the car and asks me with his eyes if he can accompany us.

I shrug at him and say, “I have no idea what’s going to happen, but sure, come on. The more the merrier.” If this endeavor goes south, it might produce collateral damage that could include Harcourt. Harcourt must have great faith in Jackson if he’s willing to be a part of my little invasion. That realization is encouraging.

Evidently, curiosity gets the better of Mallory. “Your guy works in this building?” she asks, a bit star struck.

I glance over at Harcourt and catch his eye. I reply to Mallory, “You could say that.”

Harcourt smiles slyly.

“I’ve always admired this building,” she says. “It’s awesome to actually see the inside of it. This is sooo cool!” I smile at her response. I wonder if Mallory has ever met anything or anyone who isn’t sooo cool.

We make our way to the top floor of Jackson’s building and present ourselves, front and center, at his assistant’s desk.

“Hello. I’m Eliza ….”

“Hello, Mrs. Morgan. I’m Sarah, Mr. Dawes administrative assistant.” She catches me off guard. “Mr. Dawes told me you would arrive at some point and he told me to notify him immediately upon your arrival. Please, have a seat and he’ll be right with you.”

I nod the shock out of my head and manage to say, “Thank you, so much.” The three of us turn and take seats across from Sarah’s desk. I’m flanked by Mallory on the right and Harcourt on the left.

I look further to my right and see Jackson sitting behind his desk in an elegant masculine office. He gives no indication he’s seen us. He isn’t even aware I’ve arrived. His focus is on the task at hand. There are three Asian men sitting in chairs opposite him. It looks as if he’s in a meeting.

Sarah beeps his phone. I watch as Jackson indicates to his clients he’ll be one minute. He answers Sarah’s call and instantly looks out at me. He smiles one of those mega-watters he’s so good at sharing. He hangs up the phone, makes an excuse to his attendees, and starts toward us.

I hear Mallory beside me. “Dawes…Dawes? You mean your guy is the guy?”

I nod my head at her.

Mallory’s excitement is palpable. “That is sooo cool!”

Harcourt chuckles heartily, so heartily in fact that he has to wipe a tear from his cheek.

Jackson barrels through his office door and makes a beeline for me.

“Ellie! It’s so great to see you!” he says as he kisses my cheek, lingering slightly. “Hi, Harcourt.” Harcourt nods a greeting to Jackson and Jackson asks, “Who do we have here?” as he indicates Mallory.

“Jackson, this is Mallory McCullough. She’s a phlebotomist with BioDynamic labs.”

Confusion shadows Jackson’s countenance. “A lab tech? Hi, Mallory, nice to meet you,” Jackson greets her as he turns on the wattage.

Mallory giggles and says ‘hi’ to Jackson, and states how everything is ‘sooo cool’!

Jackson looks to me for an explanation. “We’re here for blood draws, Jackson, yours and mine. Mallory will take the samples back to the lab and see that they’re processed. This way we’ll know for sure that everyone is healthy and ready to go forward. Is that okay?”

Jackson is already rolling up his sleeve. “Absolutely, let’s get this done,” he says as he takes a seat next to Mallory.

She pulls her chair in front of his and positions his arm open, face up with Jackson’s fist extending out over his knee. She swabs the crease in his arm and expertly withdraws a fine sample of Jackson’s blood. She extracts the needle and places a cotton swab and band aid over the injection site. Next, she labels the sample with Jackson’s name, his date of birth, as well as, today’s date.

She repeats the process with me. In less than ten minutes Mallory has her kit repacked and we’re ready to leave. I apologize for interrupting Jackson’s day and thank him for his time.

Harcourt, Mallory and I start towards the door. Jackson reaches out and captures my left hand. He pulls me into him and whispers loud enough so everyone can hear, “Ellie, you’re forgetting something.”

Before I can object, or even think of what he’s referencing, Jackson takes hold of the back of my head and bends me over backwards, holding my weight with one arm. His other arm is curved around my waist and rests upon the small of my back. Jackson plants a tender, searing kiss on me right in front of God and everyone. His mouth thoroughly memorizes the structure of mine as it leaves its own memory in its wake.

Heat rushes from my groin upwards to my heart and down into my thighs. Can anything ever truly be this wonderful? Just before my knees buckle Jackson severs the electrical connection and stands me upright once again.

Jackson whispers into my right ear, “I’m still waiting on my call, Ellie.” He kisses my forehead lightly and walks back to his office. Once inside, the three Asian men congratulate him while bestowing bows of reverence. It looks as if Jackson’s charming ways can be availed upon for use on either gender. He speaks and the waters part. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have that kind of effect on people. No wonder he’s a business prodigy.

I hear Mallory to my left, “Man, that has to be the most awesome kiss ever!”

I touch my face so I can be sure I’m not dreaming. “He has a way of doing that,” I remark weakly.

Mallory can hardly stand it. She’s so excited she hugs me. “You are so lucky! That was sooo cool!”

I glance back at Jackson. He’s watching me. I mouth “Show off!” to him and he gives me a thumbs up. I’ll never outsmart him. Would I want him if I could? No, I wouldn’t. One thing about it; If I agree to marry Jackson I’ll never be bored.

Harcourt escorts Mallory and me to the limo. Mallory is still wound up. I get the impression that being keyed up is pretty much a full-time job for her.

Once we’re seated inside and are underway Mallory asks expectantly. “Well, did he pass your test?”

“I’ll tell you what I think in a moment. Tell me what you think about the way he responded?”

“Well,” she begins, “He didn’t care about the blood test or that you were late or interrupted his meeting. He was just really happy to see you! I’d say he passed. Mondo passed!”

“What about you, Harcourt? What grade do you give him?”

“Well, Mrs. Morgan, I have to agree with Mallory. I say Mr. Dawes gets an A+.”

“Yes,” I say thoughtfully, “Me too.” I smile. I’m quite proud of Jackson, as well as, myself. Things are off to a rip-roaring start.

In a few minutes we have Mallory back at the lab. “The results should be ready morning after next,” she informs me. “If I were you, I’d go to the Covington Clinic and ask them for the results of your test. We’ll fax the results right over and then you’ll have your information.”

“Okay, Mallory, that sounds great. Here’s the money I promised you plus a nice tip because you were so awesome.”

Mallory takes the envelope from me, but she seems pensive.

“What is it Mallory?” I ask her.

Mallory frowns slightly. “You probably don’t want me to tell the girls in the lab about this do you?”

Mallory sits before me expectantly as I give her question serious thought. I’m very pleased that she’s sensitive enough to consider our privacy in such an unorthodox situation. I so want her to be able to share her cool experience with her friends because she has been such a joy to spend time with today.

“How about this,” I offer, “You probably have several blood samples each day, right?” “Yes, dozens of them,” she confirms eagerly.

“Since I’m paying with cash and there’s no insurance involved why don’t you change Jackson’s last name to Lawes on his sample. Then, go put our samples in your inbox with all the other new samples, but mix our samples in amongst the others so they’re not readily identifiable as the ones with which you just returned. Then, you can tell the girls all about your limo ride, the secret mission, even my name and your nice tip. Just be sure to keep Jackson’s name a secret. Can you help me protect him?”

“Oh sure, that’s a great idea!” she readily agrees. She’s so happy she gets to brag about her experience to all of her friends.

“Thank you so much for all your help Mallory. We couldn’t have done it without you.”

“Thank you, Ellie. If you find you have more secret missions, remember, I’m your girl!”

“Yes, you are!” I agree whole heartedly. “Bye Mallory.” Once Mallory exits the car Harcourt shuts the limo door, retrieves his seat and pulls the car away from the curb.

“Well, Mrs. Morgan, I have to agree with Mallory on one thing.”

“What’s that?” I ask him, genuinely interested.

Harcourt grins shamelessly at me and says with glee in his voice, “This has been sooo cool!”

Harcourt and I laugh until we hurt.

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