This story is something of a departure for me as it brings me back to the very first romance story I ever read. I was around nine years old and one of my older cousins had left this magazine at home and I picked it up and read this amazing short story and I loved it. I've been a sucker for romance ever since.

Anyway, enough babble.

On to the Story!


Chapter One

June 1999

It was funny how endings sometimes also got to be beginnings; this was true about many things in life but Valentine St John was beginning to think that this was specially true for her, almost like a pattern in her life.

At the advanced age of twenty-two, she wasn't exactly thinking about marrying and such, oh no, she was thinking more among the lines of getting her college degree and land an internship at some important fashion label, learn a lot and in a few years become a famous fashion designer herself… but life had other plans for her.

One day she had been sitting at home, unpacking after moving back there for the summer, she had seen the lights of the patrol car as it moved down the street and was most surprised when the le red lights flooded her bedroom and stayed there. And a few moments later the doorbell rang. Her parents had had an accident, nothing could be done. They were gone.

Val remember very little of what had happened next… she had somehow planned the funeral, several of her father's former fellow firefighters had helped but when it was all done Val realized that she had little over 500 dollars to her name (Her parents had never been big planners and they had spent most of their savings on her college tuition anyway), there was no way she could pay the house mortgage and she was all alone in the world.

That was why when Maximilian Lawrence had talked to her at the wake and made his strange proposition Val had been tempted and eventually accepted it.

Val didn't know much about Max – as he insisted he called her – other than he had been good friends with her father, that in fact her father Ray had once saved Max from a car wreck and that Max had always felt like Ray had save his life; and that the two of them had remained friends afterwards. She even remembered seeing him a few times during her childhood and early teens. Val knew he was a successful and rich businessman and that he was handsome in the George Clooney kind of way. And as George Clooney, Max Lawrence was a consumed bachelor… and yet, he had offered to marry her.

It had all been very straight forward, Max had said that he felt like he owed Ray to look after her; and that he thought the best way to protect her was to marry her and give her the protection of his name and fortune, that he hoped one day there would be love and affection between the two of them and their marriage would turn into something real; but that if they found it wouldn't be the case, they could divorce later on, once Val was back on top of things and figured out what she would do with her life. Max told her to think of him as a friend and let him take care of her.

Val thought about it for a long time, and as the bills pilled up and she realized she was a complete an utter mess; she called Max and agreed.

That's how she found herself on a plane bound to New York a few days later, all her things had already been packed and sent to Max's house at upper state New York; and now she was going herself. They had been married the day before in a small, discreet ceremony at his lawyer's office. Max had had to return right away, Val had decided to stay the night and then go the following day… her nerves were a mess and she was craving some alone time

Val was incredibly nervous as she sat there waiting to see if the seat next to her was taken, if it wasn't she was just going to take over and sleep until it was time to switch planes in Chicago. She watched the flight attendants walk up and down the aisle making sure everyone was on their sit and that all the treys were in the up position and so on. Val was distractedly watching out the window when she felt that someone had sat next to her.

"Sorry," her companion said when he bumped against her shin as he bent down to put something under the seat.

"That's okay." Val said automatically.

"I'm Jack, by the way." The man said, he had a very nice voice, with just a hint of growl on it.

Val turned "I'm Val." She said and her jaw nearly dropped when she saw the man sitting beside her. Jack was tall, dark haired, his skin was nicely tanned and his smile reached all the way up to his dark blue eyes.

"Nice to meet you Val," he said. "First time to Chicago?"

"I'm actually going to New York," She said, feeling immediately at ease.

"Really? Visiting someone?"

"I'm moving there." Val said, it wasn't a lie, it just wasn't the truth.

"I'm going there too; my uncle keeps asking me to visit him. But I love Chicago, so I'm going there first, I'll spend a few days there before going to visit my uncle."

"Are you two close?"

"My uncle and me? Yeah, he's pretty much all I have left. My dad split before I was born so my Mom moved in with my uncle – it was her brother –and the two of them pretty much raised me."

"That's nice."

"Yes. What about you?"

"My parents died recently… in part that's why I'm moving…I didn't want to stay at the old house."

"And the other part?" Jack asked.

"I got married." She answered. Val had never been one exceptionally romantic person, she had never believe in love sight no matter that she had been stuck with a name like Valentine, but she knew deep down that if there was someone who was going to make her a believer it would be Jack. It had been instant. Just like that. She knew there was something about Jack and she no longer was allowed to explore it.

"Damn," Jack said, half joking, half not. "And here that I was beginning to think you are cute."

Val smiled sadly. "I'm not sure how I feel about being married yet. I just married yesterday."

"Then what are you doing here? Where is your husband?"

"New York. He had to go back for business."

"I see…" Jack said and maybe he was going to say more but then the flight attendant told them to put on their belts and he let it go.

Two hours into the flight, Jack was feeling a little weird… and sad, oddly, oddly sad. Here he was on his way to one of his favorite cities in the word, seating next to a beautiful young woman and she was most definitely off limits. And by all the diamonds in her wedding band, she had married a rich dude indeed. The moment she had told him she was married, Jack had tried to put a distance, to remain casual, but there was some sort of magnetic pull between them. Something he couldn't explain.

Sure, Val – short for Valentine of all things! – was just the type of woman he liked, she had long dark hair that curled just a little bit as it streamed down her shoulders, and she had large pale-green eyes, she was healthy looking and well rounded - Jack had never been one to go for the super-thin type, as he personally felt that he didn't want to grind bones with a stick – even if she was a bit pale and had faint purple circles under her eyes, she was beautiful to him.

So, after his first intentions of remaining aloof had vanished, Jack found himself leaning closer, telling her all sorts of things about his life. He talked more about his uncle and his mother, he talked about how he worked for a big firm of architects in Seattle and that he hoped to one day open his own firm himself. He told her about the two years he had lived in Rome studying classic architecture. He talked and talked and bared his soul without meaning to. In a very short span of time he realized that he liked making Val laugh.

She laughed and quickly covered her mouth with her hand, feeling guilty. She explained that she felt weird laughing after her parents' deaths and I told her that she shouldn't feel that way. That laughing was good for her. She would shake her head and but Jack could tell it meant something to her that someone was telling her that it was okay to laugh again.

When they reached Chicago, Jack had already convinced her to have an early dinner with him before she continued to New York, and since her lay over was of approximately two hours, Val didn't say no.

They stayed at the airport, eating at the airport, laughing and talking like they had known each other forever.

"My uncle absolutely hates fast food." Jack told Val over their meal of burgers, lots of fries and extra-icy sodas. He had offered to take her to one of the restaurants but Val said he liked Burger King as much as the next person. "He actually refuses to step into any restaurant with less than four stars."

"I love fast food, I mean, I wouldn't eat it every day but I love the fries… and the iced soda."

"I know." Jack said and leaned over to brush some ketchup that Val had near her mouth.

Val held still as Jack touched her face, his hands were warm and steady and big and gentle. She felt something flutter deep within herself, her heart skipped a beat and everything went warm and mushy. Jack pulled back and ate another fry while Val focused on breathing and controlling her blush.

"I should probably go check in for my flight," Val said.

"I'll go with you." Jack said courteously.

Just as the approached the counter, the steady rain that had been falling for the last hour or so intensified to a downpour. The lady at the counter told them that the flight to New York was likely to be delayed.

One hour later the flight was officially delayed. Two hours after that the flight was cancelled and all the passengers were given vouchers for the Holiday Inn. Jack offered to escort her to the hotel since she didn't know the city and he knew it pretty well. So Val called her husband and told him she would arrive he next day and then let Jack take her to the hotel.

He wasn't supposed to go beyond the lobby of the hotel, but he found himself lingering, aching to hold her hand; to touch her, to kiss her. It was the most damnable thing. She was married, they had just met… but he didn't want to walk away though he probably should.

Jack had never believed on love at first sight. The idea behind it was downright stupid, you couldn't love someone just by looking at them, love didn't happen that way… but the girl was named Valentine for god's sake. And when smiled at him, Jack felt it in his heart.

So, Jack stayed with her for the longest time, just talking, sometimes not even doing that. Around one in the morning, Val realized she had to go and Jack walked her to the lifts.

"It has been nice talking to you," Val said. "I don't think I had laughed since my parents died. Thank you for making me laugh."

"I'm sorry you have to go." Jack said, taking her hand and standing closer than what was appropriate.

"I wish I had met you sooner." Val admitted.

And in a moment of complete folly, Jack cupped her face between his hands and kissed her; softly at first… just teasing, feeling the plump softness of her moth, the contour of her lips; hearing her breath catch and her sigh as she pressed closer.

Reason flew from his mind as a soft 'ding' announced that the lift had arrived and he found himself pushing Val into the small elevator without breaking the kiss. Before long kissing wouldn't be enough. Before the night was through they would be in the same bed.

They had to stop. They didn't.

There was a moment when Val pulled back and they stared at each other, still so close, breathing each other breaths. And Jack felt something shift, as if the course of his life was being altered just then, and at the same time he was sure, he knew it with his soul, that it had been his destiny to met Valentine St. John; that she was her destiny.

It was almost like dying, in a way. Jack saw the entire course of his life before his eyes. All those moments, all those faces and feelings. Everything that had conspired to make him who he was; all the things that told him this shouldn't happen. Jack saw all of this… but when he looked into Val's eyes, he saw his future, and he didn't have the strength to be a better man and fight against it.

He kissed Val again…


End of Chapter One