Did he really think a bunch of silly flowers and puppy dog eyes would make her forgive him? Meredith Baxter snatched the bouquet of pink carnations from Jackson’s hand and tossed it to the icy sidewalk.
He widened his green eyes in surprised amusement. “Don’t be that way, sweetheart,” he said. The warmth in his voice was enough to cause the cold air to melt, but not the hurt and anger surrounding her heart. He rested a hand on her arm. “It was just a misunderstanding.”
She jerked from his grasp and glared at him. “A mis...” she sputtered, then drew a deep breath. “A misunderstanding is showing up an hour late for a date. You went on tour with the band. Without telling me!”
Confusion clouded his eyes and knitted his brows together. “But I thought—is that why you didn’t bother to show up for the last gig?”
She huffed, her breath forming white wisps in the wintry air. “I’d slap your face if I thought it’d knock some sense into you.”
Jackson chuckled, the soft sound moving over her like hot chocolate, soothing and sensual.
“You always had a temper.” He stepped closer, his body heat chasing away the chill from hers, and lifted a hand to brush a wayward snowflake from her hair. “But it never lasted very long.”
She hated that he was right and even now her anger was dissolving with each frigid blast of arctic air, but he would not do this to her. Not today. And especially not after the way he left. She gazed into his face. A couple of cinnamon brown dreadlocks peeked beneath the black wool newsboy cap he wore. He could do with a shave, but the shadowed beard darkening his jaw added depth to his narrow face. She swept her gaze over his mustache and tried not to think about the way the hairs tickled her lip when he kissed her or how his mouth always drove her crazy with its whispered seductions.
Meredith fought her rising desire and stared into his eyes once more. Green. His eyes were a remarkable shade of emerald she’d never seen anywhere or on anyone else. Mix that with his caramel complexion, decadent body and hell of a voice and she was stuck faster than a compact car in a snowdrift.
His dulcet tones mesmerized her. The way his raspy baritone warbled on blues notes was enough to grab her attention, but it was the haunted look in his eyes that captivated and his selfless giving that kept him in her heart.
He’d always been attentive and caring. But that was three months ago, before he decided to fill in for another bassist. Before he left her without so much as an email or old-fashioned ‘Dear Jane’ letter. She’d have settled for a text message, anything was better than him leaving with her heart and not telling her why. Especially after all the promises he made.
He’d pledged his love, promised her grand adventures, made her believe in the magic of love, then he took it all away.
With a sigh, she spun on her heel and stalked up the sidewalk. Metallic red and green ornaments dotted brightly lit Christmas trees. Silver wrapped packages and crimson stockings peeked among the various window displays. Shop signs announced last minute Christmas discounts and early closing hours. A florist shop window sported deep red roses spilling from vases and boxes. Some were attached to Mylar balloons, while others were nestled around boxes of chocolate and cute stuffed animals. Just her dumb luck. All the days of the year and he had to pick Christmas Eve. She huffed and doubled her steps.
Arctic wind whipped by, slapped her in the face and stung her eyes. She ducked her head and yanked her scarf higher on her chin.
The ache in her heart was just beginning to subside. Meredith blinked rapidly and her watery eyes had nothing to do with the blowing wind. Jackson broke her heart when he left without a word, and the only thing she could think to do when she saw him was jump in his arms and plant a big wet one on him.
But she couldn’t let him off the hook that easy. They’d made plans for the holiday and he wasn’t even around. She had to hear about his good fortune from her boss, Ashley. Her boss! The conniving little witch couldn’t wait to share that bit of news, or rub in the fact Meredith would be spending the holidays alone.
Oh yeah, Ashley couldn’t wait to toss that little tidbit in her face.
Jackson grabbed Meredith’s elbow and jerked her to a stop. “Hey! At least talk to me.”
“I don’t want to,” she said with a pout. Sure she was being childish, but she had endured Labor Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving without him. How dare he show up on Christmas Eve thinking she’d listen to him?
He folded her unyielding form into the haven of his embrace. She stood stiff in his arms, not wanting to admit how much she missed him or needed this closeness. His warmth and strength beckoned her.
“I’m sorry, Mere. I really thought the reason you never called was because you were mad at me about leaving, not because you never received my messages.” He held her tighter and brushed his lips against her temple.
His lips were soft and warm against her skin and slowly heated the rest of her body. She inhaled, colliding with the crisp, slightly woodsy scent of his cologne. Sage. She had a small bottle of it at home in her drawer. And now she was surrounded by his scent, by him. The last of her anger receded. Exhaling, she sank into his arms grateful for the solid reassurance of his chest.
“Why didn’t you at least write or call me at work?”
“I did. I wrote you once a week. And then I lost my phone, so when I tried to text you to see what was going on, a nice grandmother type told me I had the wrong person.” He sighed. “Somehow the tech at the phone store goofed and lost all my numbers. But I called the club on numerous occasions when I knew you’d be in the office or behind the bar.”
Stunned, she gulped a breath and tears burned her eyes before sliding down her cheeks. Indeed, she’d spent the majority of her nights at the club as its manager, but she’d never received anything from him. Who at the club would be so cruel as to not give her his messages?
“Don’t lie to me, Jackson.”
He brushed a tear from her cheek. “I wouldn’t do that. Did you really believe I wanted nothing else to do with you? Good god woman, I could forgive you not showing up for our Halloween gig, but when you ditched me for Thanksgiving I knew something was up.”