~ Cupid's Arrows Ignite ~
Dinner with Jasper Jacks had been a mistake. Pamela should have run the moment he appeared at her table, but she didn't and now she was paying the consequences. Guilt and dread hung over her head like a dark, gloomy cloud. With another dinner date on the horizon, the cloud threatened to burst.
Pacing across the plush carpet on her living room floor, Pamela scolded herself. She should never have accepted that date! Carlotta entrusted her to keep a clear head when it came to the imminent takeover of Deception. Becoming personally involved with Jax was a huge no-no!
She couldn't allow herself to become entranced by the glimmer in his sapphire eyes and the warmth of his voice. She had to be stronger than that. Lust couldn't overrule integrity and good old-fashioned common sense.
Pamela left the living room and padded barefoot to her bedroom. She pulled the Palm Pilot prototype from her purse and searched for Jax's telephone number. Once she found it, she dialed. When the voicemail answered, she silently thanked God and left her message.
"Hello, Jax. Pamela here. I hate to do this last minute, but something has come up. I won't be able to keep our engagement tonight. To be honest, I've had a change of heart about the idea of Cinderella and her Prince. Fairy tales really aren't my cup of tea."
She quickly ended the call after that and fell backwards onto her bed. Her forearm rested across her eyes, enveloping her in darkness that matched the heaviness of her heart.
The instant attraction to the Golden Boy was uncommon for her. Men were gorgeous, entertaining creatures, but not worth the cost of heartache. How could one man have enamored her so completely? So thoroughly? What was it about him that made her want to forget her responsibilities and lose herself in his thick, muscled embrace and stay there forever?
"Argh!" She groaned mournfully. Maybe if she lost herself in the takeover, she would regain her focus and rightfully deserve the confidence that Carlotta and the rest of the company had in her.
Half-heartedly renewed with a sense of purpose, she dragged herself from the bed. After a quick shower, she changed into her comfort clothes—sweats and socks—and padded to the dining room table and reviewed the final steps that would lead to the acquisition of Jax's company.
Robert followed Luke's advice and reconnected with Robin. The reunion was better than he could have imagined. His daughter had matured into a beautiful young woman and he was so proud of her. His heart ached at having missed the transformation from adolescent to adult, but he planned to do his best to make up for lost time.
Hesitant about making his return widespread knowledge, he often met her in secluded spots. Forgotten trails at the park or in the woods near the cottage she shared with her friend. If Robin wondered about his need for anonymity, he never knew it. She never voiced her concerns aloud, always agreeing to wherever and whenever he requested her to meet him. For today's meeting, he chose the waterfront. In the upscale section amid expensive shops and cafes, they could get lost in a crowd and lose themselves in rediscovering each other.
Life on the run changed Robert. The once carefree man who thrived on adventure had a new word to live by: caution. He arrived at the designated coffeehouse an hour before Robin. Dressed to blend in with the other patrons, his present disguise consisted of brown slacks and turtleneck and a matching tweed jacket. A chestnut brown derby concealed most of his face from view and he sat in the far back corner, content to watch the entrances and exits of the patrons without fear of discovery.
Expresso slid down his throat as smooth as silk. The extra caffeine did little to jolt his controlled demeanor. A few times he glanced at his watch in anticipation of Robin's arrival, but other than drinking the dark brew, he didn't move. Forty-five minutes into his quiet perusal, the inside pocket of his jacket vibrated against his chest. He pulled out the cellular and answered, "Yes."
"Hi, Dad. It's me."
A smile spread across Robert's composed face. "Hello, sweetheart. I'm at the cafe, sitting in my usual spot. Will you be here soon?"
"I was afraid of that." Her voice became softer. "I'm sorry, but I won't be able to make it. I thought I could, but Mac is losing it. I've heard of pre-wedding jitters, but this is ridiculous. Are you sure you don't want to surprise him? I think he could use someone to talk some sense into him."
"Doesn't he have a best man?" Robert questioned. In his mind's eye, he imagined Mac, running about the church frantic. Robert nearly chuckled. Mac and marriage hardly seemed compatible.
"Yes, Kevin is here and I think I see a couple of the detectives pulling up now," she answered. "But you didn't answer my question. Today would be perfect. You could watch Uncle Mac get married to Dara. Why are you passing this up?"
Robert's throat tightened. "My decision isn't a frivolous one, Robin. I would want nothing more than to attend the wedding, but I can't. Seeing you is a risk, but if I re-enter Mac's life, it's an even bigger one. Whether he realizes it or not, he's watched and those who watch him are looking for me. I refuse to be imprisoned again. I thought you understood."
"I do! I just wish it didn't have to be this way," she lamented. "How long will this last?"
"Not for much longer," Robert assured her. "You'd better go tend to your uncle's needs. We'll reschedule later. Talk to you soon."
Robin gave her goodbye and Robert ended the call. With her cancellation, he had no reason to stay at the cafe a moment longer. He stood, threw a few bills down on the table for the tip and headed for the door. A whirlwind of a spicy floral concoction assailed his nostrils as a brunette breezed past him. A purple silk scarf fell from her shoulders and landed near his feet. Stooping to retrieve the flimsy material, a pair of shapely legs caught his attention. His restraint weakened and his mouth lifted at the corners. Very nice.
"Excuse me, miss," he murmured, his Australian accent more pronounced than usual. He tapped her on the shoulder. "I believe you dropped this."
The thick mane of brown hair brushed against the woman's shoulders as she turned to face him. Intelligent dark eyes regarded him with gratitude and open curiosity. Robert recognized her immediately. She was the woman who'd caught his attention on a number of occasions. The urge to run battled with his growing desire to remain. Desire won and he handed the scarf to her.
A friendly smile played at the corners of her mouth. "Thank you. I never seem to have a firm grasp on it."
"Perhaps you should take better care with it," he said, his voice low and teasing.
"Now, there's an idea," she returned with humor. She made a move towards the counter and then stopped. Looking at him, she asked, "Would you like to join me for coffee?"
"I'd be delighted," Robert replied and followed her to the counter. He waited for her to sit before he rested his backside on the adjacent stool. After the counterman took their orders, he turned to her and said, "I don't usually join strangers for coffee…no matter how clumsy or beautiful she may be. May I have a name to go with the coffee?"
A rosy blush touched her cheeks followed by a delightful laugh. "You're right, of course. I never thought I'd find so much wisdom in a coffeehouse. My name is Alexis. Alexis Davis. And you?"
Robert took her outstretched hand and shook it. Her skin was as silky soft as the scarf she dropped. He resisted the impulse to kiss her hand and instead released it. Settling himself comfortably on the stool, he answered, "I'm Robert. Robert Scott and the pleasure has been all mine."
"Well, we'll have to work on your ability to share," she said coyly. "Won't we?"
Jax played the message again. A frown of confusion crunched his forehead and he ran his hand through his hair.
The dinner he and Pamela shared had been wonderful. The conversation was fun and flirtatious and the developing romantic interest overpowering. Why would she back out now when they were on the brink of something magical?
Fairy tales weren't her cup of tea?
"Why the bloody hell not?" he asked his empty penthouse apartment. The telephone barked in protest as he slammed the receiver down. He refused to have his fate told to him by a recording. Grabbing his keys from the desk, he stormed out of his home.
The urge to pound on Pamela's door was strong. Somehow, Jax squelched it and simply pressed the doorbell. An eternity passed before the door was answered and Pamela stood in the open doorway, staring at him with dread in her expressive brown eyes.
"Pamela." He attempted a smile, but it felt twisted so he stopped. Gesturing inside, he asked, "May I come in?"
She hesitated for a moment then opened the door wider. Stepping aside to give him room to enter, she asked, "Didn't you get my message? I left it a few hours ago."
Jax waited until she closed the door before he answered. "I listened to it. I didn't like it so I'm here for answers."
"For answers?" she repeated. She clasped her hands behind her back and walked around to face him.
A cool, expressionless mask slipped over her beautiful face. The dread in her eyes faded until nothing appeared there at all. Jax was surprised by the sudden change in her. Where was the bright, energetic woman he'd become attracted to? Why did she disappear?
He folded his arms across his chest and nodded. "Yes. For answers. The message you left was cold…cryptic and not like you at all. I want to know what happened and I want to know now."
She shrugged. "The message was clear, Jax. I can't help it if you don't want to accept it."
"Oh, yes, you can!" He growled. His hands clenched at his sides, aching to grab hold of her. "Why are you backing out?"
"I'm not backing out on anything," she bit out, striding past him to go to the bar. The tinkle of the glass pitcher as it brushed against her tumbler was loud in the room. It gave evidence to her shaking hands. Once the glass was filled with water, she swallowed the liquid in one movement, keeping her eyes averted the entire time.
"Oh, yes, you are." He went to her and wrenched the pitcher from her hand when she would have poured more water into the tumbler. His hands closed over hers, warming them with broad strokes. Her faint trembles caused a shudder of longing to flow through Jax. Their attraction hadn't wavered. It was stronger than ever. "Don't tell me I'm alone in this. I know you want me as much as I want you-"
"Casual sex is so blasé, don't you think?" she asked. The attempt at sarcasm failed as her bottom lip quivered and tears glistened in her eyes. "Look, I don't want to get into this. Why did you have to come over? I didn't want to… It would have been so much easier if you hadn't come over."
He cocked his head to one side and gazed into her eyes. "Why should it be easy? You're trying to blow me off and I haven't the faintest idea why. Did I do something that offended you? Have you been reading the papers about me? Whatever it is, tell me."
"You're very persistent," she commented in a strained voice. "Why are you putting so much effort into a casual flirtation? You're a handsome bachelor who can be with any woman. Why are you dogging me like this?"
Jax released her hand to push stray tendrils of hair away from her cheek. His knuckles tenderly brushed against her smooth toffee skin. "Because the effect you have over me isn't casual, Pamela. From the moment we met, I've been spellbound. I can't be bothered with any woman when the only one who consumes my thoughts is you."
"Jax, can't you see that this is all wrong?" she questioned. "Don't you feel that?"
"No. It doesn't feel wrong to me because I know that it's right…or it could be right if you'd give us a chance."
"How do I know this isn't all a game to you?" she asked him. "You have a reputation for throwing yourself into a challenge. Once you've obtained your goal, how do I know you won't wander off to greener pastures."
"My goal? You make it sound as if sex is all I'm after. Believe me, if that was all I wanted, that would have been resolved a few evenings ago," he replied without smugness. "I know my reputation, but that solely extends to my professional life. My personal life is completely different. I admit that I'm not above taking a chance, but never at the expense of my heart or someone else's. "
Their close proximity did crazy things to his senses. The heat of her body made him burn with the desire to embrace her. Doubt that she wanted him caused him to refrain from fulfilling his desire. Continuing to hold her gaze, he stepped back. "There. I've pled my case. I won't try to force you into pursuing something you don't want. I'll leave you now."
He turned on his heel and strode purposefully for the front door. When his hand grabbed the doorknob, she called out and stopped him in his tracks.
He turned to find her standing right behind him. His arms opened wide and she stepped inside, molding herself against his long, hard frame. Untold pleasure pumped through him. His mouth covered hers for a slow, drugging kiss. His tongue traced the outline of her soft, full lips before dipping inside to explore the hidden recesses of her mouth.
When the kiss ended, a low moan of protest sounded from the back of her throat. The sound rocked Jax to his core. "Pamela, I don't want to leave," he growled in a low, hoarse whisper.
"Then don't," she murmured in a voice, sweet and warm as honey.
Without another thought, Jax accepted her invitation. "Happy Valentine's day," he said, wrapping his arms around her again.