Home > Chance Encounters(13)

Chance Encounters(13)
Author: J. Sterling

“That’s okay, right?”

“Of course.” She smiled and touched his arm softly.

The hostess returned. “Right this way.” She led them to a booth in the far corner of the restaurant. “Is this okay?”

“Perfect. Thank you.” Jackson waited for Caroline to sit down before he sat down across from her. They looked at each other in silence for a moment and opened their menus.

“Thanks for meeting me. I really wanted to see you again before I left,” Jackson admitted.

“Are you kidding? Jackson, I’ve been dying inside thinking I was never going to see you or talk to you again. We left without giving each other our cell numbers, emails, or anything. You’re all I’ve been able to think about since I walked out of the airport.”

His chest fell as he let go of the breath he held. “Me too. But then I remembered that we talked about work. The first thing I did when I checked into my hotel was look up your work number so I could call you after my meetings.”

She reached across the table and gently touched his hand. Waves of emotions coursed through her body. Even her feet started to tingle. “I’m so glad you did.” She pulled her hand back. “So, hey! How was the wedding? Did you replace me?” she teased.

He cocked his head to one side and lifted his eyebrows before taunting her, “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

She let out a huge, “HA!” before continuing. “Maybe I don’t want to know.”

He smiled. “It was a really beautiful wedding. But honestly, I kept looking around for you.”

She felt her heart THUD inside her chest as her face lost all expression and her jaw dropped open slightly. He quickly apologized. “I’m sorry, Caroline. That was inappropriate. I shouldn’t have…”

She cut him off with a wave of her hand. “No. It’s okay. I know I shouldn’t, but I like hearing that.”

“Hearing what?”

“I like hearing the way I make you feel,” she admitted.

“Why’s that?” Jackson asked, his voice a little shaky.

“Because you make me feel things I’ve never felt before. I can’t explain the way it feels to be around you.”

Caroline had never intended to say that much, but it was hard to hold back when he was near. He brought out emotions she found hard to fight off.

Jackson reached across the table and gently stroked her palm with his fingers before admitting, “I feel the same way.”

Relief immediately washed over her, quickly followed by an ocean of guilt and concern. What did all of this mean? And what was she going to do about it?

Caroline glanced down at her diamond-encrusted watch, a gift from Clay for their anniversary last year, and noted the time. “I have to go soon. I have a meeting.”

“I know,” he said. “I mean, not that you have a meeting, but that you have to go.”

Caroline felt like she could literally reach into the air and cut pieces of the sadness that lingered within it.

“I don’t want to,” she admitted.

His eyes were heavy with emotion. “Me neither,” he whispered.

They both stood up from the table and walked toward the glass door. This time she practically leapt into his arms, wrapping hers tightly around his neck. Tiny tears spilled onto his shirt. “You’re breaking my heart, Caroline. Please don’t be sad.” He tried to console her as he rubbed his hand along her slender back.

She refused to look at him, so he pulled away gently and lifted her face toward his. He caressed her cheek with his thumb. “Please. No more tears. We’ll stay in touch, okay?”

She sniffed and wiped the tears from her face. “Promise?”

“You think I’d be able to leave and never talk to you again? Clearly you have no idea the effect you’ve had on me, woman.”

His words made her laugh. “That’s better,” Jackson said as he wiped the last tear that remained on her cheek. “God, I want to kiss you.” He longed to feel her mouth on his. He had daydreamed about what her lips would feel like, taste like, since meeting her that day.

She debated momentarily between the two questions ever-present in her mind. How much could one kiss really hurt? And could one kiss change her whole life?

Her breath suddenly felt shallow and her knees trembled. “Me too. So bad.” She looked toward the ground. “But we can’t. I’d never be able to live with myself, or the guilt.”

“I know,” Jackson agreed. “Why is this so hard?”

Caroline snickered in relief. “I don’t know! But it’s not normal right? I mean, you don’t feel this way about strangers you meet all the time, do you?”

“You know I don’t,” Jackson insisted.

“So what does it mean?” she asked.

He shrugged his shoulders. “I guess time will tell. You’d better go, babe…your meeting,” he reminded her.

“Shit. Well. Keep in touch? God, that’s so stupid. This is so stupid,” she complained and whined and felt like a jumbled girly mess.

“You’d better go before I refuse to let you.”

She recognized the painful longing in Jackson’s eyes and knew that her eyes held the same look. The realization that this beautiful, rare thing between two strangers simply had to be let go. She walked away as he stood in the doorway of the café and watched. It was less painful this time, but took more strength.

   
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