Author's Note: Hi, everyone! Extreeeemely sorry for the lateness of this update. I have a good excuse, I promise you! I've met someone (like a story worthy of any good fictionpress humor/romance writer) and things are extremely serious between us. I don't want to say anything more in case I jinx/ruin it, but I have a feeling in a few months I'll be having a small party of my own. Nuff' said!

Special thanks to my beta, Nobody Knows the Darkness, who despite her busy schedule took time out to polish this chapter for me.

BIG Thanks to thetasteofsun for making my day, and NeverLast690 for your continued interest in my story.

I might just have the greatest readers of all. I love you guys!

Thank you to all my reviewers and to everybody who's followed and favorited the story. I'm sorry I haven't been replying/responding properly, but I promise to personally reply to everyone who messages and reviews my stories. Thank you!

Hope you like this chapter!

Lesson Nine: Planning Is For The Hopeful

Alex probably should have been paying more attention to the crowd of people being paraded before, but instead she was busy day dreaming.

With a slash of her mighty blade, she cut through the foliage of the jungle around her. She was in a dangerously toxic environment. One wrong move, one thoughtless action could very easily mean the end for her.

Sweat dripped of her brow. She crouched down and scanned her surroundings again. She grimaced as her left hand throbbed – a recent battle-wound from her encounter with the deadly West African Gabon Viper. But the important thing was that she had survived.

Suddenly, everything went silent. Silence was not a good thing -someone who's been in the jungle long enough will tell you that the eerie silence of the jungle was worse than a death sentence– so she froze, waiting. The hush seemed to stretch on. In her panic, she was expecting anything from a fierce predator to a deadly earthquake.

All at once, all the animals seemingly appeared in front of her. She would have screamed, if the breath hadn't been completely knocked out of her. Wild boars, jaguars, cougars, scorpions, brown recluse spiders, fire ants coral snakes, pit vipers, cobras, the dreaded anaconda –and even the cute yellow tree frog which upon closer inspection turned out to be the golden poison dart frog (with enough toxins to kill 10 to 20 humans) surround her, trapping her without an exit. If she strained her ears, she could even hear the carnivorous piranhas bristling in the water, her only supposed escape-route.

Finally, Xandra Carmicheal admitted that she had met her match. This was the end for her. She shrugged and let the anaconda – in the form of her formidable relative – catch hold of her.

"You're late, honey! Where have you been?!" cooed her great-Aunt Myrtle, who always had knack of making Alexandra want to punch herself. "Sorry, I ran into Uncle David outside" Alex managed to explain as she was steered into a sofa among all her long-lost relatives. She looked around for Jack, but he was nowhere in sight. She'd lost him when she'd exited his car in a huff, at the entrance of the house.

Friends, relatives, acquaintances – people whom she never saw in her life flocked around her and aired their opinions.

"My daughter, you know" boomed her father's voice from somewhere not too far off. "To my son! Who'd have thought?" continued an equally loud voice and Alex stretched her neck to catch sight of at least one close relative.

Derik's face briefly appeared but it was gone before she could call out, and Alex was forced to down another of "Grandmama Piper's Blended Juice" before she was let out for some air. She frantically looked for her siblings – she had three of them, how hard could it be to find them! But instead she ran into Jack's mother who was gushing about how she was so happy Alex was joining their family; and to please call her "Mama"

Alex's room was given out again to another relative, she was expected to share a room with Jack again ("We're under no illusions about you kids" her mother told her. What Alex would have done to spill the beans right then). She finally made it to the third floor balcony, where she took a second to breathe and calm herself down.

Her thoughts returned to the final conversation in the car. Jack had insisted they don't wait for lunch to have the fight, but Alex kept explaining how a fight before lunch would mean they would spoil the meal for everyone. It might have been a bit of a rationalization on Alexs part, and excuse to stay with Jack a little bit longer, but she didn't care.

"Do you realize they will pair us together the whole time? How can we sit together and make merry – and then suddenly fight? No one will believe us. No, it is best to get things over with and tell everyone we just want to be friends"

Alex angrily blew the hair out of her face again. "Mother" she practiced. "I heard you sent out invitations for my wedding, without consulting me. Considering that without me, there wouldn't be a wedding, I'd appreciate it if you had consulted me first, especially on a matter of such importance."

That sounded about right. Now if she could only spit the words out, in that order, when the required relative was in was within listening range.

She peered down and froze at the sight of Susan and Jack in the garden. No, this had gone too far, she was sick and tired of watching Jack with other women from the sidelines.

Suddenly she realized what she might be facing. Did she really want a lifetime of restless suspicion over Jack?

This wouldn't do.

He wanted a fight? Bring. It. On.

She breezed past all her relatives, ignoring their calls and stormed down the steps, out into the garden.

She was almost literally foaming at the mouth by the time she reached her sister and…him.

One look was all it took for him to understand what she wanted. Jack quickly excused himself and followed Alex, trying to calm her down and alternately ask her if she was okay.

She faced him one last time at the back entrance of the mansion. I love you, she told him mentally, before firmly pushing the door open. Just before it swung, Jack grabbed her and kissed her hard, before letting her go and heading in first.

Confused, Alex watched him walk into the room. "What do you mean by bringing that up again?!" he thundered, right on cue. And yet Alex, for the first time in almost a year, found hope that Jack might just have feeling for her. Her heart went into over drive as Jack launched into his speech about how "overbearing" Alex was behaving, and how she was invading his space.

No, no, no, no!She began to weep inside. Did that kiss mean anything to him? Was it just a peck goodbye? Or was it…something more?

"… how many times do I have to explain that I had no idea she thought of me that way?" Jack paced the room, apparently getting into his character, so much so that he hadn't noticed that Alex was still outside the door.

"… trust, Lexy! It all boils down to trust" he continued, finally jerking Alex out of her pondering. She quickly walked in, chiding herself for not planning an "abort" code earlier. "…and if there is no trust between us…" Jack's beautiful green eyes finally connected with hers "… then we have nothing."

He paused, waiting for her to speak. Alex struggled to keep their eyes connected but he looked away too soon. "Alright!" she cried desperately, hoping to throw him off by agreeing with him. They really, really needed to talk. No more dodging the subject with petty excuses, this had to happen now.

"Alright" Alex accepted again, swallowing her pride, admitting her mistake in front of all the staring, judgmental eyes.

"I mean, you've got your faults and I've got mine. Clearly, we're not compatible" Jack continued; apparently misunderstanding her hidden plea for forgiveness.

Instantly, Alex recoiled. That was not in the script. Jack seemed to be improvising –or was he just telling her the truth? What if he had wanted to get this off his chest the whole time? She was horrified.

"Do you real think that?" she asked. "Of course I do! Look at us, we fight all the time; we've hardly spent any time at all these past few days together; the car ride here was barely tolerable…"

"But all couples go through that!" Alex fought back, unable to believe what she was hearing.

"I've never faced this before" Jack retorted. "Maybe that's because you're not giving us a chance!" Alex replied. "Not give us a chance? Honey, who do you think has been looking out for you all these years?!"

"From the sidelines! Maybe if you spent less time "protecting" me from "the big bad wolf", or whatever it is you're afraid of, and actually invested more time being with me instead of just watching, then we'd actually have a shot at this thing!" Alex grew hotter with each passing word.

"You're one to talk, have you spent any time at all in this relationship?! Any time at all?" Jack spun on his heel and stared pointedly at her.

"More than you have" she stood her ground.

They had reached an impasse. Neither of them said a word. Silence permeated the air as someone shuffled beside them. Jack loomed over her, ignoring everyone else.

"Oh, for heaven's sake! Someone get them a closet!" Gerald groaned from somewhere in the crowd. Both Alex and Jack cracked their necks as they snapped out of the trance they were in.

Alex looked straight at Gerald who had such a comical expression on his face, that against her will she burst out laughing. She couldn't help it. Suddenly the entire situation tickled her and she found herself laughing like never before.

The tense atmosphere diapered at once. Everyone started laughing. Alex slapped a hand over her mouth to keep her giggles contained but she just couldn't stop.

Jack jerked her hand away, pulled her towards him and kissed her thoroughly. He kept going and going… and going. Alex's eyes fluttered close as she wrapped her hands around his neck. He lifted her off the ground just as everyone began to hoot.

They broke apart for air, red-faced and embarrassed, eyeing each other wearily. "What drama-queens! Perhaps we should let them be, for a while. If you would all like to join me now, lunch is served" Cynthia said good-humoredly, shepherding the gossiping crowd out of the room.

Alex and Jack continued to breathe heavily, eyes locked onto one another, oblivious to the world around them.

"Told you it wasn't serious!" Gerald could be heard saying, as he was walking out. "Those two can't keep their hands off each other. I saw it myself. Did I tell you about the time Jack kept Alex waiting for over an hour? He didn't hear the end of it for days…"

"We need to talk" Jack said quietly, when the room was almost empty. Alex nodded and followed him into an empty room nearby.

A/N: Very, very sorry about the cliff-hanger. But I promise to update soon. Stay tuned! R&R please!