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Chapter 1

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The warm sunlight illuminated the bedroom, but the brilliant light beaming through the large window couldn’t penetrate Jacks’s broken heart, which was eclipsed by a cold misery. It was her sister, Maxine’s, wedding day, and it was the worst day of Jacks’s life.

Jacquelyn White’s five-feet-six-inch hourglass frame stood like a Beverly Hills store being renovated. Her outward appearance was the storefront, which under normal conditions would be beautiful, inviting, but intimidating to those who didn’t feel wealthy enough to enter. However, today she looked like a store that was going out of business as she stood behind her sister, longing to reverse positions.

Maxine struggled as she tried to fasten the white satin buttons on the back of her wedding gown. "Jacks, can you help me with this?"

Jacks forced a smile. "Max, I would be honored," she said, relieving her sister from the difficult task. She fastened the long trail of pearl-sized buttons on the back of her sister’s gown. Trying to cloak her jealousy, Jacks commented, "Miles is just going to die when he sees you in this." Jacks bent down and smoothed out the six-foot train across the hardwood floor. She felt nauseous as she continued to shove her emotional pain deeper inside.

Maxine stood in front of the mirror and checked to make sure her hair was still in place. "I don’t want him to die; I want him to be horny," she joked, carefully applying the cinnamon red lipstick to her lips.

Maxine was soft-spoken and a year older than Jacks. Her slender face normally seemed sad, as if she had just lost her best friend, but today it wore signs of love. Her big brown eyes sparkled like a child anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus.

Jacks continued standing behind her, admiring the detailing on her sister’s white wedding gown. The heart-shaped neckline gently framed her bustline as the pearls and lace made her look like a princess.

"So, you and Miles haven’t made love yet?" probed Jacks, closing her eyes, praying the answer was no.

"No. He wanted to wait until our honeymoon," she answered with a deep, disappointed sigh.

"How romantic," exhaled Jacks. As a sign of relief brightened her face, she asked another question she really didn’t want the answer to. "Do you know where Miles plans to take you?"

"No, he’s being mysterious," Maxine replied with a silly schoolgirl giggle.

"Well, you know you don’t have to worry about the babies. I’m more than happy to watch the little princes."

Maxine’s smile faded to a tense stare. "Jacks, that will not be necessary," mumbled Maxine, glancing down at her gown.

"Maxine, you know I love spending time with them."

Maxine avoided eye contact. "But don’t you have a company to run?" she reminded Jacks as she moved closer to the mirrored dresser.

Jacks was becoming uneasy by her sister’s inability to look at her. "My company runs itself. And besides, I have Peter there to keep me informed," said Jacks, moving closer so she could see her sister’s reaction.

Maxine, feeling uncomfortable, quickly maneuvered herself away from Jacks. She scrambled over to the dresser and began searching for her pearl teardrop earrings. "You’ve been gone for over two months. Maybe it’s time you start to put your life back on track."

Puzzled by her comment, Jacks said, "Max, my life is on track."WHAT’S DONE IS DONE

Maxine looked into the mirror as she put on her earrings. She whispered with dread as she dropped her head, "I wish I could say the same thing."

Jacks noticed her mood change. "Why? What’s wrong? This is your wedding day. I thought Winston and I would beat you to the altar, but shit happens," she said with resolve.

Maxine turned to her sister. "Maybe now you and Winston can try to work out your differences," she suggested, hoping that Jacks would reconsider her relationship with Winston.

Jacks casually walked over to the mirror and pretended to check her makeup. "He walked out on me, remember?" she replied.

"Only after you pushed him away."

"It’s water under the bridge," declared Jacks.

Maxine continued to encourage reconciliation. "So much was going on with you at the time. Now that the dust has settled, maybe things will work out."

Jacks was getting annoyed by her sister’s persistence. "Things won’t work out, because I hear he’s dating someone else now. And I also heard it was getting very serious."

"Jacks, you’re my sister, and I love you." Maxine paused as she searched for the right words.

Jacks sensed her sister’s struggle. "Max, what’s wrong with you? Are you sick? Do you want to call off the wedding?"

Maxine, knowing what she was about to say would hurt her sister’s feelings, chose her words carefully. "Jacks, please, I’m very happy, and I hope that someday you’ll be as happy as I am right now. This day is a new beginning with my family, and we need to be alone in order to adjust as a family."

Maxine’s words were clear, but Jacks played dumb. "Well, when you come back from your honeymoon, I’ll leave."

Maxine realized her subtlety was being ignored. "No! No!" she said in frustration. "You have done more than enough. And I feel that you are becoming too attached to my children." Again, Maxine knew what she was about to say would hurt Jacks’s feelings, so she paused for a moment to muster up courage. Realizing there was no way to spare Jacks’s feelings, Maxine blurted out the dreaded words. "After the wedding, I would like for you to leave."

Jacks stood silent as her sister’s request strangled the air from her windpipe. Wanting to run crying out of the bedroom like a spanked child, she casually walked over to the window. She looked down at the driveway and watched the guests arrive as she tried to contain her feelings of rejection and disappointment.

Maxine noticed her sister’s reaction. "Jacks, are you all right?" she asked, regretting what she had to do.

Jacks wanted to keep her sister at a distance, so she nodded her head, reassuring her that she was okay.

"Jacks, I don’t want to hurt you," apologized Maxine.

"Max, please, don’t insult me with your pity," said Jacks as she continued staring out the window. "I knew it was just a matter of time before I would overstay my welcome. I just was hoping . . . never mind what I was hoping. Don’t worry, sis, I’ll be gone by morning."

"Jacks, I’m sorry."

Turning to her sister, she said, "No, Max, I’m sorry that I forced you to kick me out. I thought if anyone would have kicked me out by now, it would have been Mother." She smiled, concealing her sadness.

Maxine was relieved the subject had changed. "Speaking of Mother, where is she?"

Jacks seized the chance to leave the room. "I don’t know. The wedding is going to start in about fifteen minutes, so I’m going to check to see if everything is running on schedule. And maybe I can find Mother so you can have your woman-to-woman talk." She gently hugged her sister, then like a flash exited the bedroom.

Jacks walked down the long narrow hall to the nursery. The large nursery was decorated in bright blues and yellows. The three babies’ beds were lined along the Mother Goose–themed wall. And it was obvious by the lavish surroundings that the boys would want for no material possessions.

Susan, the nanny, was feeding one of the baby boys, who was dressed in a soft blue terry-cloth sleeper. The other two baby boys were sleeping in their blue lace bassinet.

"May I hold him?" Jacks whispered as she entered the room.

Susan smiled. "Sure, if you don’t think he will soil your beautiful dress."

Reaching for the infant, Jacks asked, "Are you going to attend the wedding?"

"I would love to, but I don’t think Nicholas will let me," she answered with a caring smile.

Beaming as she gazed upon his face, Jacks cooed, "He thinks he will miss something." She gently cradled the little coffee-heavy-on-the-cream-colored baby. "Look at you, so beautiful. I bet you don’t know your mother is going to get married to my best friend in a few minutes. Well, she’s not your real mother, but she’s the best mother for you. She’ll love you and your brothers as if you were her own."

The baby wrapped his small delicate finger around Jacks’s pinkie finger while she watched him nurse the bottle. "I just came to say good-bye, my little prince. I must go home and take care of my business before things get out of hand. You know the work of a business tycoon is never done. Now, you must promise me you and your brothers will always look out for each other. And always remember that even though your mother gave you up, not loving you wasn’t one of the reasons."

Jacks clutched the small child to her bosom. Tears began to trickle down her cheeks as an overwhelming sense of loss blanketed her soul.

"Susan, please take him before my makeup ruins this dress," she said as her voice began to quiver.

Susan carefully removed the baby from Jacks’s arms; then Jacks gently kissed the baby on the forehead.

Concerned by the tears, Susan asked, "Are you all right?"

Jacks rushed over to the changing table and grabbed a soft white tissue and began to dab the tears. "I will be once this day is over. Weddings always make me emotional. And this one is beginning to take a toll on me."

Jacks softly kissed Nicholas, Neal, and Nathaniel on their cheeks, then made a hasty exit from the nursery. She closed the door and stood in the hallway as if she had just left a funeral parlor. She slowly began to move down the hallway, regaining her composure with every step away from the door. She noticed the wedding consultant walking toward her.

"Is everything ready?" inquired Jacks.

"Everything is ready, except your face. Honey, what happened to you?" asked Diane, examining Jacks’s face as if she had just been in a fight.

"The mascara is irritating my eyes," explained Jacks, rubbing her eye.

"Well, go clean yourself up, because you can’t go anywhere looking like that."

Jacks thought she had managed to conceal her sadness, but she soon found out she was wrong as tears began to cloud her vision. Not wanting to be seen in her fragile condition, she dropped her head and made a mad dash to her bedroom. However, her evasive action came to an abrupt halt when she bumped into Miles as he was leaving one of the guestrooms.Miles used to be like Jacks’s convenience store, always open and nearby. He was in his early thirties. He worked out, so his physical appearance was toned and muscular. His olive complexion, coal black hair, kiwi green eyes, and thick eyelashes gave him an exotic islander’s appearance. His boyish smile was charming, alluring, and ignited thoughts of passion.

Miles Stallone was dressed in a black penguin-style tuxedo with a gray vest.

"Hey! Jacks." He reached out to her as he tried to block a collision.

Jacks was caught off guard. "Oh, Miles, I’m sorry. I didn’t see you."

"That’s okay." He smiled. "What’s your hurry?"

Wiping the tears from her eyes, she replied, "The wedding is about to start, and my eyes are bothering me."

Miles gently moved her hand away from her face. He examined her eyes like a doctor. "Yeah, they do look a little puffy," he said.

She pushed his hand away. "So now you see why I must go," she said, darting into her bedroom.

Miles followed her and shut the door behind him as he entered the bedroom. "Don’t stop what you’re doing. I just wanted to talk to you alone before I walked down that aisle."

Jacks felt like a trapped animal. She was afraid that her love for him would take control of her good sense. "Miles, I don’t think this is a good idea," she cautioned him as she slowly backed away.

"Why?" he asked, moving toward her.

Jacks felt her body tensing up. "You’re about to marry my sister," she replied.

"This has nothing to do with your sister. This has to do with two best friends who are about to be separated."

"Miles, we’ve been separated for some time now."
"We’ve been apart, but not separated," he said, gently taking her hand.

His touch was like a live wire shocking every part of her being. She jerked her hand away as she tried to swallow the thoughts of passion. "Miles, can’t this wait until after the wedding?" protested Jacks.

Miles was surprised by her reaction to his touch. "No, this can’t wait," he insisted. "Because I know you won’t be here after the wedding."

Jacks, caught off guard, tried to pretend she didn’t know what he was talking about.

"I know Maxine asked you to leave. I want you to know I had nothing to do with it. For some reason, she feels threatened by your presence, especially when you’re around the babies."

"Miles, it’s okay. I have things to take care of at home."

"I wish that you could stay. Ever since that day I picked you up off the concrete sidewalk, I wished that you would stay in my life forever," he confessed, slowly moving closer to her. "I had hoped you would be wearing the wedding dress as I stood patiently at the end of the aisle waiting for you to join me until death do us part."

Each beautiful word Miles spoke was like a double-edged sword, because she loved him as much as he loved her. But the reality was he was about to marry her sister, and his adulteress words caused her to feel sorry for her sister, because she knew her sister’s future husband’s heart was not completely hers.

"Miles, if you don’t love my sister, then why are you marrying her?"

"She’s giving me what you will not, or cannot, give me—her love and a family."

As much as it hurt her, she knew he spoke the truth. "Well, I hope you two will be very happy," she said halfheartedly.

Miles didn’t want the moment to end. He gently took Jacks by the hand. A surge of forbidden love and fear ran through them. They glanced at each other but tried not to make direct eye contact. They were unsuccessful; their eyes connected and Miles drifted closer and closer to her. Her intellect told her to get the hell out of there, but her feelings for him hungered for one last kiss. Passion erupted and their lips collided like two freight trains on a dark wooden bridge. They both felt the foundation of their lives falling from underneath them, but they did not care, because for one more brief moment, they had each other.

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