Copper skin stood out against Tessa’s cream colored gown. Diaphanous material and the low back allowed Jake the most beautiful view from her waist up to her neck. Wispy tendrils escaped from her upswept hairdo and caressed her shoulders. Jake was almost jealous of those little curls at being able to brush against her skin. He wanted his fingers there. Forget his fingers; he wanted his lips there if he were being truthful.
Leaning against the railing outside the festive ballroom, Tessa had come out for air. Jake had set down his ice filled drink on top of the decorative snowman and followed a few seconds behind. He stayed near the door, not wishing to disturb her respite from the revelry inside.
The gathering was a Christmas celebration and welcome for those who’d transferred from the Boston office. Jake hated fancy events where he was required to wear black tie, but as a manager he was obligated to attend.
He allowed himself the luxury of just watching Tessa for a while as she seemed lost in her own thoughts. Was she thinking of Chad? After yesterday’s conversation he doubted it.
“I know you miss him, Tessa. It was a hard decision for you to transfer here.”
Was this the second chance he’d been hoping for? He’d always had feelings for Tessa but had unwisely kept them hidden. He still wasn’t sure if it was respect for her as a coworker, fear of actually admitting that he felt emotions or just plain old stupidity that had kept him silent for all these years.
Now was his opportunity to make up for keeping quiet so long. But was he strong enough to actually do this? Presenting her with his heart out on his sleeve was such a risk. Normally he had no problem in taking risks. He was all about taking risks. But not when his heart could be stomped on and trampled and beaten to a pulp. He’d been there before.
He’d never had feelings for anyone this strong though. He’d make every sacrifice in the world for Tessa. He’d give his life for her in a second with no regrets and that fact alone brought fear that he could care for someone so much. Caring that much also meant they had ultimate power over you and Jake wasn’t sure he trusted someone that much with his heart.
He heard a distant church bell ring, tolling the hour, and saw Tessa turn around. Like a Greek goddess, with her deep cut neckline and glittering gold cord circling her waist. Eyes sparkled when she saw him standing there and in that moment he knew, knew that he trusted her; needed to trust her or he’d spend forever regretting that he’d missed this second chance he’d been given.
He moved closer, sighing. “Did I tell you how absolutely amazing you look tonight, Tessa?”
A feminine laugh escaped her lips. “Yes, several times. It must be the dress.”
“It’s not just the dress,” Jake insisted. “The person wearing the dress has such grace and elegance that no matter what she wears, she looks beautiful.”
Tessa blushed and looked shyly away. Jake didn’t usually give her such compliments and she wasn’t used to it. He hoped soon he’d be able to do it always.
Jake stuck his hands in his pockets and stared at his feet for a moment. He took a deep breath again and screwed up his courage.
“I, um,… wanted to give you something, Tessa,” Jake started nervously. Tessa flashed him an encouraging smile and he grew bolder and more sure of himself. He pulled his hand out of his pocket and clenched the item he’d searched for all day. Would she understand what he was asking?
He held up the delicate gold chain with the tiny heart dangling from the end and gave a quirky grin. Tessa’s eyes opened wide and she whispered, “It’s lovely. You got that for me?”
Jake nodded still anxious. “It’s my heart, Tessa. I’m offering it to you. If you want it.”
Did she think it was just a Christmas gift or did she understand the symbolism? Her eyes grew moist and her face lit up like a firework display. Maybe she did. He hoped she did.
She stepped away from the railing and lifted her hand to touch the gold charm. “There’s nothing I’d want more.”
Jake’s heart began to beat again and he hadn’t even realized it had stopped. He reached to encircle the chain around her neck and allowed the heart charm to rest near hers.
Tessa touched it again and took the hand that was lingering near the necklace. “I don’t have anything for you. But my heart’s been yours for a very long time. And it always will.”
Jake wasn’t even sure what to say so he just pulled Tessa into his arms and held her tight. Her arms wrapped around his shoulders and she reached up to press her lips to his. “Thank you. I know it took a lot of courage to tell me your feelings but I’m glad you finally did. It’s what I wished for this Christmas.”
“Yeah, me too,” Jake breathed into her ear as the music inside turned slow and seductive. He slipped his hand onto her bare back and began to move his feet in rhythm. Tessa instantly followed his lead.
Their eyes remained on each other as their bodies glided slowly underneath the star filled sky. Jake knew they would have to go back inside at some point to make small talk with the others. But for now, he had Tessa in his arms and no words were needed at all.