Jade’s Peace Excerpt
JV slowed her pickup as she passed the city limits sign entering the small mountain town of Springerville, Arizona. She took care to stay under the speed limit. She wasn’t sure how long she might be in the area and didn’t want to get on anyone’s bad side, at least not so soon. Over the last two days, she’d come to realize this trip had been a long time in coming and she wasn’t going to give anyone a reason to run her off before she was ready.
Her stomach growled.
The sudden sound made her jump. JV glanced at the clock on the dash, 2:17pm. “No wonder, I should have gotten something to eat on the road.” JV muttered.
The petite brunette looked around for somewhere to eat. It had been a long drive, several hours and more than three hundred miles since breakfast. She hoped she could find someone from the local Chanat, the cougar shifter clan, and try to get them to direct her to Steve’s place.
She scanned the worn buildings on either side of the highway, looking for a restaurant. Most were older than she was, and reminded her of the buildings in a western movie, though there were some newer ones scattered around. The town was obviously aging, but not run down. It was apparent it was well cared for and most of the newer buildings looked like they had been designed to match, or at least not clash, with the older ones. It looked like the town embraced its history.
The aging town took JV’s mind back to the last time she’d seen Steve, more than ten years earlier. At the time, he’d been about the same age she is now, but to the teenager she’d been, he’d seemed mature and worldly. He was only home for a couple weeks after he getting out of the Marines, then he’d left town again. She hadn’t seen him since.
She remembered watching him with hungry eyes, praying he would notice her, but all too soon, he was gone. She’d never forgotten him, or the odd feeling of being pulled toward him she’d felt. She hadn’t experienced it since, sometimes she wondered if maybe it was all her imagination.
At first, she’d waited for him to come back, to act on their mutual attraction, or so she thought. But days stretched into years, and eventually JV had given up. She’d tried dating, had gone on with her life, but in all the time since, there hadn’t been anyone she’d considered spending her life with. More recently, as the memory of that odd sensation haunted her, she’d come to a conclusion. It was necessary to find out the truth. She had to know if her memory was correct or not, and if the only potential mate she’d ever met wouldn’t come to her, she would go to him. She needed to confront him.
It was hard to believe after so long, she was this close, but now that she was in town, more information was key.
Walking into the small diner, she let the door swing shut behind her and looked around. The place was decorated like an old log cabin with rounded logs covering the walls and exposed beams. There were maybe twenty tables scattered through the dining room, about half of them were taken. To be so busy, this late in the afternoon meant something, either people around here eat late, or the food was good.
“Have a seat, hon, wherever you like. I’ll be right with you.” A waitress wearing an old-fashioned pink uniform with a white apron, called as she carried a coffee pot from table to table, filling cups.
JV found an empty table, sat and waited. A moment later, the same woman brought her a menu and a glass of ice water.
“I’m Liz, what can I get you to drink, hon?”
JV looked up; the waitress’s auburn hair had been teased into a tall bouffant. The fine lines on either side of her eyes told JV she smiled a lot. JV’s enhanced sense of smell told her the woman in front of her was a shifter, a cougar too. “Water’s good.” She smiled at the older woman.
“All right, I’ll give you a few minutes.” The waitress smiled back. The expression made her look younger and JV guessed she was somewhere in her forties, though it could be hard to tell with shifters. Sometimes they didn’t age the same as humans.
JV placed her order, then watched patrons come and go while finishing her meal. There were only about a half dozen people left in the restaurant when the waitress came back to check on her.
“Is there anything else I can get for you?” Liz asked.
“Actually, there is.” JV smiled at Liz, trying to look hopeful. “I’m looking for an old friend; maybe you can help me find him?”
“I’ll do what I can, dear. Who are you looking for?”
“His name is Steve Romero. I know he lives around here, but I don’t know exactly where. Now that I’m here, I need some help.”
A surprised look flashed across Liz’s face before she could stop it. “Sure, I know Steve.”
“Could you tell me how to get to his place?”
“I can,” Liz frowned, “but I can’t imagine him not giving you directions himself.”
JV’s face heated and she looked down at the table, unable to meet Liz’s gaze. “He doesn’t know I’m here. I’m trying to surprise him.” She looked back at the older woman, hoping she would still help.
Liz lowered her voice, “I’ll tell you where to find him, but he’s our Shaku. He lives too close to our Khan and Karhyn to send you out there without letting them know you’re on the way.” She smiled for a brief second, “But since I don’t know who you are, all I can tell them is there was a young woman looking for him and I gave her directions.”
JV understood, Steve was the clan’s head of security and lived very close to the clan leader and his wife. While she had to give them a heads up, Liz would do what she could not to ruin JV’s surprise. “Thanks,” she smiled up at the other woman.
She wrote down the directions and paid her tab, thanking Liz again for the help. She climbed into her truck and headed back in the direction she’d come. It wasn’t far, half an hour was nothing compared to the two days she’d spent on the road already.
Following the directions Liz had given her, JV turned off the highway and drove along a narrow but well maintained dirt road for about two and a half miles before it opened into a clearing. The road continued along one side of the open space and disappeared into the trees on the other side. In front of the cabin sat a pair of pickups, one several years old and a little beat up, the other newer and still nice looking.
Pulling into the yard, she saw someone sitting on the porch. A tall man stood and headed in her direction as she parked beside the other trucks. She watched him as she killed the engine and slid out. The man coming toward her wasn’t Steve. That meant it was probably the clan leader.
“Hello, I’m Nick, Khan of the White Mountain Chanat. What can I do for you?” he asked.
“Hi, I’m JV. I’m looking for Steve Romero?”
“You’ve found the right place.” He looked her up and down before offering her his hand. “He has a cabin around back; he’ll be here in just a minute.”
Bracing herself against the pain, she shook his hand, and let go as soon as was polite. “All right.” She resisted the urge to rub her hand against her jeans to try and ease the sting from her skin, but she was unsure what to do while she waited.
A crease formed on his brow, “I take it Steve didn’t know you were coming?”
“No, sir. I thought I’d surprise him.”
“What makes me think he may not be so happy about your surprise?” He gave her a lop-sided smile, one side of his mouth lifting while the other stayed put.
JV could only give him a wry smile back. She suspected he was right.
“You wanted to see me, boss?” Steve came around the corner, his voice dying off when he spotted her.
“There’s someone here to see you,” Nick motioned to JV.
Steve looked stunned. “Jade? What are you doing here?”
“I came to see you.”
“I’ll leave the two of you to your business.” The clan leader turned and went in the house.
Steve waited while his leader went inside. “Why are you here?” he asked, his tone matching the frown on his face.
“I needed to see you.” She couldn’t put it any plainer.
“Is everything all right?” His displeasure turned to concern when he thought someone might be sick or hurt. “Your parents? Mine? Matt?” He said her brother’s name last, dread filling his eyes at the thought of something happening to his friend. “Why didn’t someone just call?”
She shook her head, “No, everyone’s fine. That’s not why I’m here.”
“If that’s not it then why are you here?” His frown returned. He wasn’t happy to see her.
JV looked at the ground and slowly started toward him, “When you left, I knew it was because of me. It hurt. It hurt, a lot.” She paused, trying to keep her voice even, “At first, I waited for you, and the longer I waited, the more I tried to hate you, because it hurt so bad. Even then, I hoped and prayed that you’d come back. I tried to move on.” She looked up at him and paused again, because Steve was shaking his head, then she went on, ignoring him. “It took me a long time to realize that you had no intention of returning, even longer to understand why.”
“That doesn’t tell me why you’re here now, Jade.” He put his hands on his hips, still frowning.
“I had to see you again,” She knew this wasn’t going to be easy. However, it was important to her to find out if what she remembered was real, or if it had merely been the wishful thinking of a starry-eyed teenage girl.
“Now that you’re here—?”
The breeze kicked up and blew bits of leaves and needles across the hard-packed ground. The scents of pine, juniper and a subtle musk she instantly recognized as Steve’s scent were pushed into her face. His unique fragrance pulled at something low in her body, something she barely remembered and had feared might be a fantasy.
“Now, I see you.” She tilted her head to one side. “Without even touching you, I know it wasn’t my imagination, it was real.”
“What was real?” His scowl deepened.
“What I feel.” She knew she was being evasive, but she didn’t want to tip her hand just yet. He might stop her if he knew what she was up to.
Steve frowned, “What are you talking about?”
“I’m pretty sure you know. I appreciate that you’ve tried to forget, I did too. But I can’t. So now I’m here.”
“I’m not following,” his scowl deepened.
She took a deep breath and braced herself, she had to do it. He wasn’t going to like it, but she didn’t see any other way. She stopped thinking and moved.
She reached out and laid her hand on his arm, waiting for the sharp, burning pain she always felt when touching anyone of the opposite sex. For so long, the touch of any male not related to her had burned her skin. She’d hoped with a potential mate it would be different. When no pain shot through her, she took the next step. She wrapped her arms around his neck. Using his momentary surprise to her advantage, she pulled him down so she could kiss him before he had a chance to stop her.
Placing her mouth against his, she ran her tongue along the seam of his lips until he opened to her, then she pushed inside. She licked and tasted him, drawing him in. She pressed her body against his, letting the instinctive attraction between them speak for her.
His body responded before his brain. His arms wound around her waist and pulled her closer as he lost himself for just a moment.
The second his brain started functioning again, he stiffened and pulled away. She let him withdraw, then stepped back until she stood about a foot in front of him.
“Why did you do that?” His voice had gone thick and husky.
“Now you’re following me.” JV smirked, spun around and went back to her pickup. “I’m going to go get a room. I’ll see you later.”
“You’re wasting your time, Jade. Go home.”
“There’s nothing for me there. That’s why I’m here.” She didn’t bother to turn back. Given the chance, he’d talk her into going home, or at least try. She wasn’t going to give him that chance.
“There’s nothing for you here, either.” His voice got louder with every exchange.
“I’m not convinced.” Her tone was strong and confident, even though she didn’t feel it. “If you can kiss me like that, neither are you.” She climbed back into her truck and left, enjoying for once having the last word as she left him standing there, watching her drive away.