Meet Jackson Burk
From the corner of the restaurant I heard a laugh: male, hoarse, yet with a metallic ring. Touchable, as if it were caressing your skin.
The sound pulled my spine up straight as if by a steel chord.
Lance’s eyes went wide when he looked at me. “What’s wrong?”
I didn’t really know. My mind hadn’t caught up with the rest of my nervous system yet… but my heart had. It thumped painfully hard in my chest.
Just then a waiter appeared at my side and set a stemmed martini glass beside me.
I gulped looking at the chilled glass and the ring of salt on the rim.
A margarita in a martini glass—my flesh warmed as anger ignited in my chest, making my thudding heart burn.
“Compliments of the gentleman,” the waiter said, pointing to the corner of the dining room with an elegant gesture.
My gaze followed where he pointed and lit on a table of men in expensive suits. Dead in the center I caught sight of him, and my heart skipped a beat—the traitor…
I turned back around and closed my eyes, feeling myself slipping into an emotional rollercoaster.
Anger spiked with joy, shame mingled with cold fear, and a long lost feeling of love coated in black, sticky hate.
I'd never wanted to see Jackson again…
Yet here he was, just when my career and personal life were on precarious ground, looking…
Well, I’d only stolen a glance before I turned back around and closed my eyes, but he looked…
Like a fucking wet dream?
Thank you, so very helpful.
I gritted my teeth and pushed the shit-storm inside me back to the dark little corner of my mind where I’d long ago banished it.
I would not melt into a puddle of sniffling, tear soaked hurt.
No, this wasn’t college, and I wasn’t the dewy eyed girl I had been.
The memory of his walking out of my dorm room flickered through my mind, and the scorching feelings of hurt, shame, and confusion that moment had caused.
And now, sitting there in that restaurant, I saw for the first time that that moment, that feeling, had been reverberating inside me all along.
I swear that when I opened my eyes again everything was red.
I blinked a few times and it went away.
I stood, grabbing my clutch purse and the martini glass clad margarita, and headed towards Jackson’s table.
Jackson’s eyes were blue-green, like arctic ice, and they bore into me as I walked toward him. I strutted around the table until I was standing right next to him. He didn’t stand up. Simply sat there, staring at me with those damned eyes of his, a slight grin on his handsome face.
Dirty blond hair, cut short, the build of a college football star, and the sun kissed skin of a native California boy—he was the very definition of masculine beauty.
I smiled at him and his expression faltered.
Worried about what I’ll do?
I looked down at the martini glass in my hand.
“Liz,” he said, and then he sighed and tilted his head as he looked at me. “You’re not really going to—”
I threw the drink in his face.
Jackson wiped the margarita from his eyes with one hand, and then looked at me with irritation.
I leaned down and he jerked back an inch or two. I leaned in further, my smiling face so very close to his, and then ran my index finger down the line of his square jaw.
He watched, his mouth slack, as I put my finger to my lips and gently tasted what I’d taken from his flesh.
I moaned as if tasting something delicious.
I looked back to him and he was biting his lip.
“I forgot how much I enjoy those. Thanks for the reminder.”
I turned and started walking toward the front doors. Lance and Churchill were still standing at our table and I waved goodbye.
I needed out of there. I needed away from Jackson Burk, as far away from him as possible.
“Liz!” Jackson called after me, but I was already at the front doors, pushing past the doorman.
Once outside I gulped the city’s air as if I hadn’t breathed in years: desperate, halting breaths.
I glance around. No cabs in sight.
I needed to get away, so I started to run.
I was in four inch heels, so I wasn’t setting any land speed records.
I heard his steps as he caught up with me, and I felt it when he grabbed hold of my arm.
His hand was on fire. That heat seeped through my skin and made my blood boil on contact. I had forgotten how his touch made me feel. It was some scary chemical reaction… or magic.
No… I won’t do this, not ever again!
I swung around in his grasp and slapped him as hard as I could.
He winced, but didn’t let me go.
I went to hit him again, but he reached up and caught my hand in mid-air.
He was so strong; I had forgotten.
I was trapped in his grasp.
“Let go of me!” My voice dripped venom.
“You need to listen to me.” His eyes bore into me, and my traitorous heart skipped a beat again.
“And I’ll break something.” I looked behind Jackson and found Lance standing behind him, his perfect face a blank mask.
Jackson glanced over his shoulder and then back to me. “This is a private conversation.”
Lance tsked as he sauntered nearer. “It stopped being private the moment you grabbed hold of her.”
I saw Jackson’s face falter—he was thinking about how it looked, and about how he was holding onto me.
He let me go and took a step back.
“I’m sorry for that, but we need to talk.”
Lance walked up and stood beside Jackson. “I’m Miss Hamilton’s assistant.” He handed Jackson a business card. “You can call me tomorrow and we can discuss your manners and any future contact you may be granted.”
I saw the pissed off spark in Jackson’s eyes. He turned on Lance, his nostrils flaring, and reached out to shove him.
Lance caught his hand and in a heartbeat had Jackson flat on his face on the sidewalk, his muscular arm wrenched painfully behind his back.
I had always thought that Lance was bragging on his résumé when he’d put that he’d won a national championship in Aikido when he was in high school, but seeing him lay a six foot two ex-football jock out in two seconds flat confirmed his credentials.
I gulped and stifled a laugh.
I wasn’t paying Lance nearly enough.
Jackson groaned as Lance manipulated his spine with his knee.
I winced just from how painful it looked.
But… as much as I wanted Jackson Burk in pain, I said, “Lance, I don’t like seeing him in pain like that. Would you let him up please?”
Lance looked up to me, his perfect mouth pursed in question. “Are you going soft on me?”
“No, I’m still the bitch that hired you, but I don’t want you to end up in jail.”
Lance scoffed. “There are plenty of surveillance cameras on this street. They’ll all show he went to touch me first. I was just defending myself.”
Jackson groaned again as Lance rocked his weight a little more into the hold. I walked around the two until I could look into Jackson’s face. Even in pain, and pushed half into the pavement, the bastard was gorgeous.
I bent down and said, “I’m sure Lance here can be persuaded to let you loose if you promise not to touch me again.”
Jackson shook his head—quite a feat since his face was smooshed against the pavement.
“I can’t promise that. I have all kinds of plans for touching you… later on.”
I stood up and frowned. Even in pain and pressed against the sidewalk, he could still flirt.
That’s how he’d gotten me to go out with him.
Susan had manipulated me into volunteering on a blood mobile drive, handing out orange juice and cookies to the student athletes while they gave blood.
The woman taking Jackson’s blood was missing his vein repeatedly, and though he was a blotchy red, and sweating, and cursing, he asked me out the instant he saw me.
I crumpled that memory up in my head like a piece of paper.
“Well then,” I said, stepping past him. “Lance can just keep you there until I call him and tell him I’m safely at home.”
I took a few steps and he called, “Wait! Don’t leave.”
I didn’t look back. I wanted him to give up and leave—and to leave me alone forever.
“Just go to lunch with me tomorrow. We’ll meet at Chester’s.”
I hadn’t thought of that place in years. The best cheddar cheese fries in the history of the world, and steak hoagies so mouthwatering you never left any on your plate, or took it home.
“Is there one in Chicago?” It had been a small new chain restaurant back when we were in college. We used to eat there like ravenous wolves, studying and kissing, and…
I was about to say no… but then he’d just keep this up until Lance hurt him, and as much as I wanted him to pay for…
I let my head fall back and sighed, looking up at the sky, not seeing a single star due to all the ambient light covering the sky like smog.
“Fine, if you promise to go away now, I’ll meet you at Chester’s at noon.”
“Okay.” Jackson looked over his shoulder where Lance knelt on top of him. “Will you get off me now?”
Lance smiled and gracefully stood up, letting go of Jackson in one elegant movement.
Jackson groaned again, this time in relief, and rolled gingerly onto his back.
Lance leaned down and offered him his hand.
After scrutinizing the offered help, Jackson grasped hold of Lance’s hand as he was heaved off the ground.
Lance was far stronger than I’d imagined.
“Radioactive spider bite?” I asked as my assistant circled around behind me.
He snorted. “I’m just glad he gave up so quick—would’ve hated messing up something so pretty.”
The look Jackson was giving me as he brushed off his suit was like a forest fire burning behind his eyes.
“You may still have to,” I said.
Lance blinked and then rolled his eyes at me. “Breeders. I just don’t get you people.”
I turned to walk away, but Jackson moved to follow me.
Lance cleared his throat and wagged a finger at him. Jackson stopped in his tracks.
He leaned into me and murmured, “Churchill probably has his car ready for us, if you wouldn’t mind bumming a ride from us.”
I looked behind him and saw Churchill looking dapper, waving us over to his…
“Is that a vintage Rolls Royce Phantom?”
I walked as if in a dream toward the car… no, not a car, an automobile of the highest order. All those curves and metal, all covered by a perfect paintjob at least six layers deep.
“No,” Lance said as we got closer. “That’s a 1955 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith.”
Jackson was suddenly standing right beside me, staring at the four wheeled wonder before us.
“It’s an Empress Touring Limousine,” he chanted. “Bruce Wayne’s butler drives him around in one of those.”
I had to smile. Geek much?
I looked over to Lance and saw my expression mirrored there.
I walked over to where Churchill stood and accepted his hand as I slid into the car. The Italian leather seats were so soft I wanted to strip out of my dress and roll around on them… but I didn’t, of course.
That would have been tacky, though I’m sure Lance would have recorded it on his iPhone and posted it on half a dozen social media sites before I even got home.
Churchill followed me into the car, and then came Lance.
I heard Jackson call out, “Remember, Tigger… Chester’s at noon. Don’t be late!”
Lance turned and said, “Tigger?”
I gave him my most deadly of glares. “Don’t ask. Now shut the door.”
Lance laughed one perfect Ha, and pulled the door shut. The Roll-Royce sped off into the night, slipping through traffic like it was made out of smoke and shadows.
As Chicago slid past in our wake, my assistant placed his hand atop mine and squeezed.
“You alright, boss lady?”
No, I wasn’t alright. I was so confused. I was numb. My mind was a word jumble from hell: hurt, hate, loved, abandoned…
I suppressed the tears vying to course down my face, and wreck my makeup, and took deep breaths instead.
“Would you gentlemen mind dropping me off somewhere?”