Finding Home Excerpt © J.M. Adele, 2016.
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Much like the rest of town, Lucy’s Diner was stuck in a time warp. They had the jukebox to prove it, complete with vinyl records. It had a nice homey feel to it, though. It was another thing she’d miss while she was gone. The bell on the door jingled as it slapped shut behind her. Chelsea turned and waved to Angel as she drove off shaking her head. Her friend thought she was crazy, meeting a strange man who wasn’t hanging around for long. Maybe she was, but there was something about him that drew her in. She was impulsive. It was one of her faults. But she wasn’t completely irresponsible. She’d chosen the diner because it was safe. They’d be on her turf, and there’d be people here that would look out for her.
Chelsea’s blue gaze roamed the cracked, red vinyl booths until they landed on the deliciousness that was Greyson Stranger. She didn’t know his last name, so Stranger it was, and that’s how she wanted it to stay. This was just a short detour to let off some steam before she had to get back to the serious business of paying for her sins.
Her smile stretched wide as she watched him take her in, the heat in his eyes blazing. His long, dark hair hung over one eye and brushed the tops of his wide shoulders. He leaned back in the chair and rested his arms across the table in front of him with a hint of smile in greeting. She slowly walked towards him, keeping eye contact, half because she wanted to make an entrance, and half because she couldn’t look away. “Is this seat taken?”
Greyson waved his hand at the seat across the booth as if to say, “Be my guest.”
Chelsea slid into the seat and rested her chin in her hands, still staring at him.
“Hi,” he smirked as he said it.
“Yeah. I’ve ordered a piece of pie and a sweet tea. Didn’t know if you were gonna show up, so I figured I’d... fill up my body...” He wiggled his fingers to put air quotes around his use of her phrase. “... before gettin’ back on the road.”
At the mention of his body Chelsea’s eyes dropped to his straining T-shirt again. It was hard not to look. The man was gorgeous. “Well, sugar, if I invite a man somewhere you can always guarantee I’ll show up. A piece of pie and some sweet tea sounds mighty fine right about now.”
The waitress appeared in time with Chelsea’s declaration. “Hi sweetie, good to see you again. You having what he’s having?” The older lady stood with pencil and pad poised, and a ready smile.
“Okay hon,” she said as she bustled back behind the counter.
Chelsea turned back to her companion. “So, tell me about your first kiss?”
Greyson’s mouth dropped open and he huffed out a laugh. “Excuse me?”
“First kiss. Come on. Spill.”
“Mindy Lawson, second grade, on the swings. How about you?”
“Decker Turner, two years old, in the playpen. What did you think you’d grow up to be when you were a kid?”
“Lois Lane.” She smirked, batting her lashes playfully. A deep laugh rumbled out of him, sending tingles down her neck.
“Do I get to ask a question?” He raised a dark brow.
“Only if it’s not personal.”
“Your first kiss isn’t personal?”
“No.” She shrugged.
“So I can’t ask what your last name is?”
“Or your number?”
“Nooo.” She shook her head, dramatically.
He sat up straight and scratched the stubble on his chin. “Arrabbiata or Carbonara?”
“Ooh, good one. It depends on my mood. Arrabbiata, most of the time.”
“Spicy... Nice.” He leaned towards her, his eyes dipping to her lips for a second before seeking her gaze again.
She put her hands on the table mirroring him as she leaned forward. “Red or white wine?”
“Whatever goes with the dish.”
“I like a man that’s adventurous.” The smile broke out on her face again.
“I’m on the biggest adventure of my life.”
“Where ya headed?”
“Isn’t that a personal question?” He raised a brow and moved his hand closer so their fingers touched.
“Touché. Yes, it is.”
The clink of plates on the table broke the intensity, and they leaned back. Chelsea took in a much needed breath.
“Thanks Doreen, you’re a darlin’.”
“You’re welcome, sweetie. Enjoy!”
They each took a forkful of pie and chewed as their eyes roamed over each other. The taste on Chelsea’s tongue was amazing. The country song playing on the jukebox barely registered over the sound of Grey’s lips smacking together as he enjoyed his food. He made a low hum in his throat, and she let out a whimper. This was the most intense foreplay she’d ever experienced. She couldn’t help feeling sad at the thought that this couldn’t go anywhere. Maybe it wasn’t wise starting something with this man. It felt like she was setting herself up for a painful experience rather than the fun she had hoped for.
She picked up her glass and gulped down some cool, sweet tea, looking away from him for a beat.
“Feelin’ a bit heated, sugar?” The amusement was obvious in his voice.
The glass thunked on the table as she put it down too forcefully. “I am. You wanna get out of here?”
“What’s the hurry? Are you tired of me already?”
“Nope. It’s just the opposite. I’m afraid I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, but like the greedy girl I am, I’d like to gorge myself some more.”
His jaw tightened and he paused, his eyes flashing to her mouth. She watched that jaw loosen as he continued to chew and swallow slowly. His gaze drifted back to hers and he picked up his drink draining it in one, long chug, before pushing the glass away. “I love a woman who knows how to enjoy the pleasures in life.”
He sat so still with his eyes boring into hers, his face an intense mask. His eyebrows had dropped, he looked almost angry... or maybe frustrated. It did nothing to dispel the heat that gathered in her core. If anything, the hint of fire in his eyes set her want for him at furnace level. She’d never experienced an attraction like this before, and she felt a distinct disadvantage. She needed to be the one in control. And she felt anything but.
“I’m going to get back on the road. If I don’t get out of here now, I’m never going to leave.”
Greyson stood. Reaching into his back pocket he pulled out his wallet and threw some green onto the table. His warm palm landed on her cheek as his thumb drifted across her bottom lip. The touch set off all sorts of tingles, further awakening parts that had no business being excited in a 1950s diner.
Chelsea’s heart thundered in her chest as he leaned down to place a soft kiss on her lips. The barely-there touch seared more than the hottest chili.
“The first kiss is always personal,” he whispered in her ear before walking out of her life. For good.
She sat for the longest time staring at where he’d been sitting, trying to calm the hell down. Wondering what the heck had just happened. And why she suddenly felt so bereft, like her carefully planned future now had a gaping hole that she had no idea how to fill.
She was up. I leaned back a bit so I had a view down the hallway. The bathroom door opened revealing Veronica in a purple tank top and… were those shorts or knickers? Her mass of dark curls moved free and wild. She rubbed her eyes as she walked towards me, heading for the kitchen. Those legs, that hair. Those legs. I was amazed this woman was for real, to be honest.
She dropped her hands as she reached the counter, and squealed when she spotted me watching her.
“Morning, Veronica.” The look on her face was priceless. I let the chuckle escape.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Arms akimbo, stormy eyes, she set my heart on fire. The flame dimmed at the sight of the dark circles under her eyes.
I grinned at her outrage, and moved inside, wanting to get closer and take away whatever troubled her. “Enjoying the morning show.”
She rolled her eyes and opened the fridge to grab the apple juice. I made a mental note to keep the apple juice stocked.
“Hurry up and get your running gear on, we’re leaving in five.”
She paused mid gulp with her cheeks puffed out. The glass clinked on the counter as she set it down, swallowing loudly. “I beg your pardon?”
She was putting on her stern-librarian voice. I bet that worked on most people. She liked to keep everyone at a distance. Not gonna happen with me because it was making me hard. Made me want to rough her up, and show her who was in charge.
Her dark chocolate eyes grew wide as her delectable lips parted. I noted the pulse on her neck as it jumped. She liked it when I took charge. Interesting. A smile tugged at my mouth. “Three minutes. If you don’t change out of those pyjamas, the neighbourhood is going to know what you sleep in.”
She made a strangled sound. “Okay, Bossy Boots. Sheesh.”
She had to brush past me as she navigated the kitchen counter. I breathed in deeply. Her scent wrapped around my chest, and drew my balls up tight. She made me want. She made me need. She made me forget.
In less than two minutes, she was standing in front of me ready to go, wearing black Skins and a fluorescent yellow, razor-back singlet. Her baseball cap dangled from one hand, and sunglasses from the other. I reached out to take them from her.
“You won’t be needing those. We’ll be back before the sun breaks.”
She held her hands up in dismay. Her phone was strapped to her arm. I ripped off the Velcro, taking that, too.
She put her hand over mine. “No. I need to have music when I run.”
I slowly shook my head. “You need to let your mind wander. Listen to the hum of the morning. Let yourself relax and mull things over. I do my best thinking when I run. Pictures of designs start flicking through my head. It’s liberating. Better than therapy.”
“Everything’s better than therapy.” She bit her lip as she let that slip.
I might’ve found a kindred soul. Her eyes told me she knew pain. The kind that I did. I almost felt like a prick for taking away her safety blanket. Almost.
I placed her things on the kitchen bench. Before I could stop myself, my thumb pressed on her chin to free her lip. “Please stop that, it’s very distracting.”
I heard her soft gasp. Her huge eyes seemed too innocent. It was such a contradiction to the independent, sassy girl I’d come to know.
I let my hand drop and turned towards the door. “Let’s go.” Without waiting for her response, I headed out the front, hoping she’d follow.
The imposing beauty of Old Government House filled my vision. I stood like a statue on the perfectly manicured lawn in front of the sandstone magnificence. My stomach tumbled, and the skin of my neck and arms prickled with fear and excitement. I loved old buildings. Old, haunted buildings. I just couldn’t bring myself to go inside them. I spent a great deal of time avoiding spirits, so the idea of putting myself in their path, on purpose, went against my instincts. Ridiculous, I know. But this was all about taking back control.
I pouted my lips, and slowly breathed in and out through my nose, shaking my arms and legs in preparation for battle. Stepping into the building, I could almost feel the people who’d lived here generations before. It smelled of ingrained dust. Not the dirty kind. Just the irremovable layering of years in the pores of every surface. Rich burgundy shaded the walls, complementing the rich, dark wood of the windows and doors. This was the womb of the house, dark and crowded, but cosy.
The receptionist started her welcome speech, offering me a brochure, and pointing the way to the courtyard café where I ‘might like to end my tour’. Not likely. I took it by my fingertips, careful not to make contact, and moved past the people watching a documentary on a small screen. Immediately, I was drawn to the Governor’s Library, and not because of the books. I could see her. A maid wearing a black dress with layers of skirts and a white apron. She bustled around, dusting every surface. Humming quietly, quite happy in her work. A relieved breath eased from my lungs. I could do this. The smile that stretched my face felt foreign, but welcome in this public place.
I worked my way back to the winding staircase that led to the art gallery. Yet another reason I was drawn to this place. The display of William Robinson’s works. He won the Archibald Prize two times. Twice! He was more of an expressionist than a realist. A misfit like me appreciated the individual interpretation of his views on life.
I wandered through the bedrooms turned into art displays, until I reached the self-portrait of the artist with his brother, clad in opposing outfits. Comfy PJ’s versus knowledge and power. Both of them depicted with solemn expressions. The laugh bubbled up from my gut, escaping without my permission, just like the smile I’d been wearing before. It felt fucking awesome to let it out. Until I heard a deep laugh join the melody of mine.
My tailbone throbbed at seeing him again. He was laughing at my shoes, not the painting. What’s so funny about my sneakers? I watched as his eyes travelled over me, the pupils growing larger despite the bright light streaming in the windows. My heart pounded, and my muscles tightened in response. I wanted to run before they reached my face, but I was too slow. He looked at me, rendering me speechless with his smile. He didn’t smile like that before. Given the circumstance of our past meeting, I probably would’ve slapped it off his face. Now, it’s an art work all on its own.
My heart galloped along, out of control. Lord knows where it wanted to go, but it definitely felt like it wanted to leave my chest and leap into someone else’s. It was scaring the shit out of me. His smile faded a little and he took a step back, and said something about the artwork. I couldn’t answer. My vocal chords had checked out on me, apparently on board with the travel plans taking place inside my rib cage.
His boots thumped against the floorboards as he retreated another step. He was looking at me strangely, continuing to prattle about the painting. I couldn’t figure out what he was thinking, but his feet spoke for him. Two times he backed away… Twice. I was used to it. I encouraged it. I couldn’t afford to let people in. But watching him stand there looking scruffy and dangerous… holy shit… he was sexy. I didn’t want him to back away. I wanted him to take a step closer. But those buckled, biker boots backed up, slicing a piece off my tough exterior as they went. With my vulnerable centre exposed, the second step cut even deeper. I couldn’t let it happen again. So I ran.
That’s what I do. I’m good at it.
Remembering Home Excerpt © J.M. Adele, 2015.
Angel didn’t sleep well last night. After the build-up of tension all week, the encounter in her office only made it worse. She was ready to explode. Not the most conducive state for relaxation. Now, some ass decided that he’d wake up the birds with a lawnmower on a Saturday morning.
Bless his heart.
The muggy morning air clogged her nostrils, and made the feel of the sheets wrapped around her legs unbearable. She wrestled them off, sitting on the side of the bed to grab a Kleenex. The clock said it was 10:18 am.
Shit. Sugar. She was supposed to pick up Aiden. Her stomach grumbled. She scrubbed her hands over her face, yawning in protest at the rude awakening. She processed that the lawn mower sounded nearby. Gulping down water from her bottle, Angel went to the window, peeling back the curtain to look in the yard.
Sweet Baby Jesus and all that is holy. Water spilled down her chin when she pulled the bottle away after over filling her mouth. Her cheeks felt like she was collecting nuts for winter.
Aiden was shirtless and sweaty, pushing the mower. He stopped, turned down the engine, and disconnected the catcher to empty it into the compost. The muscles in his back and arms moved in symphony. She had a thing for back muscles. Gulping twice to empty her bursting cheeks, more water dripped down her chin, wetting her tank. She grabbed the neck of her shirt to wipe it off and pressed her chest and forehead to the window to get a better look.
Aiden reattached the catcher and turned up the choke. The engine revved louder, assaulting her ears. He turned and looked up at her window staring at her for what felt like an hour before waving and moving off again. She stepped back and took a much-needed breath. Obviously, she’d forgotten to breathe.
She needed to wash up and get presentable. She was awake now, that was for sure. Practically running to the bathroom, she screeched to a halt when she saw what greeted her in the mirror. Birds nest hair with a ‘Something About Mary’ fringe—check. Puffy, red eyes—check. Sweaty sheen to her skin—check. Wet, see through tank top displaying bullet-point nipples—check.
Oh my freakin’ God!
Her groan was loud enough to compete with the mower. Aiden wasn’t the only one putting on a show.<
Aiden paced across the shag pile carpet, wearing a track from the door to the bathroom of the apartment. Every third round he checked the mirror again to make sure he didn’t have any stray nose hairs, ear hairs or food in his teeth.
Hmm. He cupped a hand in front of his mouth huffing out and sucking the breath back in. Minty fresh.
He dropped his hand and spun around at the soft knock on the door. Power walking to the table, he collected his keys, wallet, a grocery bag, and a bunch of flowers.
He opened the door to find Angel, looking like—an Angel. Her pale skin against the dark fall of hair, and bright green eyes. It was a killer. She was goddamn gorgeous. How was she not already married? Thank fuck for that. She had on a long, loose dress with some sort of colorful, swirly pattern, and thin straps holding it up. He followed the line of her body down to her painted toes in fancy flip-flops, and back up to her chest. No bra. His body grew taut and he gulped.
She waived a hand in front of his face. “Hello. Earth to Aiden.”
He snapped his eyes back up, and shoved the flowers under her nose. “These are for you.”
She took them with an amused smile. “Very beautiful and colorful. They match my dress. Thank you.” He watched her transfixed. “You ready? Or have you changed your mind?” Her forehead creased.
“Ready!” he coughed.
She turned her back on him and seemed to float down the stairs as her dress fluttered around her legs. She had her hair piled on her head with loose pieces falling around her neck and face. He wanted to trace the curve of her spine, and bury his nose behind her ear.
He nearly mowed her down at the bottom of the staircase when she stopped abruptly. “I hope you still like Italian. I made a lasagna.”
She had her back to him, looking at him over her shoulder. He dropped his chin and leaned in, breathing her subtle scent. “Delicious.”