Some More About Jade and Mike—Part 1
By Amy Lane
I’ll be honest—there are some sacrifices you have to make when you write mystery suspense as opposed to straight romance, and I wasn’t excited to make them.
One of the first is that scenes which don’t actually connect with the mystery need to be shaved off and slimmed down, and in this case, it was really a shame, because we didn’t get to know Jade nearly enough.
I like Jade (I like all the characters in the book—I think I sort of have to.) She’s strong, she’s unapologetic, and she speaks frankly. She’s not entirely comfortable with Jackson’s sexuality—but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t love him. She may give him shit about it in private, but she has his back no matter what, and that counts. She is also open to change—and her relationship with Mike is a quirky example of that.
I know some people won’t see Jade and Mike—but I do. Maybe because they remind me of a couple I know, I can picture them perfectly—right down to the language of their courtship.
Jade was tired to her bones. Langdon, Pfeist, Harrelson and Cooper didn’t give her a day off just because her brother was a client now, and for the last two days she’d been pulling her weight at work on top of the extra running around to help Jackson keep Kaden out of jail.
One more thing.
One more goddamned thing on the goddamned list, and she could go back to her apartment—fuck—Kaden’s house, let out the goddamned dog for a crap, and fall into the guest bed Kaden and Rhonda had made up exclusively for her or Jacky, if they ever needed a place to stay.
It used to be her and Jacky.
The sudden ache of their recent—final—breakup assailed her, and she was suddenly not just tired, she was exhausted and heartsore and alone.
And seriously? This fucking guy was behind the counter?
“So, how are you doing tonight, Miss Jade?” Mike asked, a tentative smile lighting up his bright blue eyes. Yeah, he wasn’t bad looking for an old guy. Or maybe not so old—she remembered Rhonda telling her that he was forty-five. He let his white hair stay white, though, and she sort of admired that—not that she’d ever admit it to him.
“I’m too fucking tired to be here,” she said frankly. Aggression was her weapon against being sad—always had been. When you were angry, you weren’t weak, and weakness in her old neighborhood was not a good thing. Anger didn’t always work, but it was what she had. “Please tell me you’re not letting my brother’s business get run into the ground.”
Mike looked around the vacant quickie-mart and shrugged. “It’s been swept, mopped, and shined up,” he said, spreading his hands.
Jade blinked and looked around. The night before, the place had been practically destroyed—there’d been a shooting there after all. Tonight, you couldn’t tell a damned thing had been damaged.
“Did Danny hire a crew?” she asked, a bewildering sense of relief making her a little weak.
Mike stood up and gestured her behind the counter. “C’mere, sit down,” he said, holding out the cashier’s stool. “I’ve been sort of bored anyway.”
Jade sank onto the stool, looking at Jackson’s neighbor—and friend—with a gratitude she was not equipped for at this moment. But still, her mother, rest her soul, had instilled basic courtesy in her. “Thank you,” she said stiffly, and then looked around the quickie-mart again. “So, cleaning crew?”
Mike shrugged. “Naw—I told him not to bother. He worked this morning shift and we put the place back together.” He was standing about three feet away, and for the first time she noticed that the crinkles around his eyes were mostly smile wrinkles. For a moment she gaped stupidly at him, trying to remember when Jackson’s irritating neighbor became a skinnier version of Sean Bean.
Then it hit her.
“You worked all day?” she asked, feeling numb.
Mike shrugged and looked away, leaning against the counter, restlessly. Well, when he was at Jackson’s place for holidays and such, he was always the guy cleaning up the backyard, playing with Kaden and Rhonda’s kids and setting up things like sprinklers to play in or a makeshift tire swing. He couldn’t open his mouth without offending her, but he sure did like to do a lot of things.
“Yeah, well. You know. Jackson and Rhonda, they’ve been good to me.” He didn’t meet her eyes, and she filled in the rest. Jade and Kaden, not so much. Jade flashed to River’s fourth birthday, when her tight spirals of hair hadn’t been braided, they’d just sported a bow at her crown. She’d gone up to Mike to touch his prematurely snow-white hair and he’d winked at her and poofed her tight spirals and Jade had lost her mind. Rhonda soothed it over, of course, explaining to Mike that touching a black woman’s hair was pushing a personal boundary—and then rounding in on Jade and telling her that River hadn’t minded, she’d just been playing with her friend.
Jade and Mike had retreated to their corners then, but Jade remembered the wounded, apologetic looks Mike had kept casting her. The memories made her raw inside.
In that moment, as she watched him look away in embarrassment, she wondered how many grudges she’d held against the guy who’d been educating himself one dumbass redneck preconception at a time.
He’d brought Kaden and Rhonda’s kids presents for pretty much every Christmas and birthday since they’d been born. Maybe it was time to let go of her own preconceptions—and his mistakes.
“I’m a bitch,” she muttered, and then winced because it was a shitty apology.
“No you’re not!” Mike said hurriedly. “You’re real nice, Jade—don’t think I don’t know how you take care of everything. You’re the grease that keeps that family running!”
Jade let out a soft huff of laughter. “That’s Rhonda,” she said. “My brother couldn’t take a crap without his wife.”
Mike shook his head. “Naw—I mean, Rhonda’s the heart here, but she’s a teacher. She’s got all the pretty ideas. Kaden’s the rock—place would dissolve without him. But you’re the machinery. You make sure the family all knows about the family gatherings, you call everyone, you juggle people. It’s a woman’s job—“
Jade’s hackles rose.
“But that doesn’t mean a bad thing,” he said a little desperately. “It’s just… just women see when to do it. Men… we don’t have the smarts to know it’s needed, you know? It’s just…” His voice trailed off, tired and a little sad, and Jade took pity on him. Her mother would have agreed with him, actually. Toni Cameron had talked about how it was Jade’s duty to keep the family together, especially Jackson who might not know he had a home once Toni had passed away.
“I’m not mad,” she said mildly, relaxing a little more deeply onto the uncomfortable stool. She reached out and touched Mike’s bicep tentatively—and realized he was tough as tree roots. He looked like a scrawny white man, but he was apparently damned strong. She must have been tired because her fingers flexed.
He turned his head slowly and regarded her with hope. “No?”
She shook her head. “I get mad a lot,” she said into the quiet, seeing him as a person for maybe the first time in eight years of acquaintance. “I’m sorry.”
“I grew up in West Virginia,” he said, sounding forlorn. “I know it’s different here—and better in some ways and worse in others. I just keep opening my mouth and stepping in it.”
“How’s it worse?” Jade asked, suddenly curious.
Mike looked out into the vacant minimart and shrugged. “Well, my town sort of had a black side of town and a white side of town—so you and me, we probably wouldn’t be talking like this. It was small, lots of farmland. A guy like Jackson?” Mike half laughed. “He’d get the shit kicked out of him, right quick.”
“Nobody beats up Jackson,” Jade said, shocked.
“But they’d beat up the gay guy on the block,” Mike told her, matter of fact.
“Yeah—that doesn’t matter. He’s fuckin’ other guys. And doesn’t give a shit. I said it was a small town, Jade—what do you want from me?”
“Well how’s that better?” she asked, uncomfortable talking about Jackson’s sexuality. She’d known—he’d always been honest with her—but the idea of someone hurting him because of it? That made her mad.
“It’s not,” Mike said, sounding surprised. “That’s not the part that’s better.”
“Well what part is?” Because right now, she was pretty much ready to write Mike’s hometown off as a garbage pit and nuke the place.
“Well, see this? Kaden in jail, didn’t do anything, you guys needing help?”
Jade nodded, her exhaustion hitting her all over again.
“Yeah. This would never happen. You guys would have help out the yang. Your neighborhood would be all over it.”
“But no white people,” Jade said, her mouth quirking up.
Mike gave her a sad smile. “I can see how you might see that as a plus.”
And it was official. Jade not only liked the guy, but she felt bad. “No,” she said sincerely. “No. I see friends anywhere as a good thing.”
Mike met her eyes hopefully. “I’m a friend?”
Hell. “Yeah. You’re a friend. I’m really grateful for you here.” She gave a sigh and leaned on her arms, lulled into a relaxation by the quiet and his actually pleasant company.
“Well, I love your family, you know. Jackson gave me a break right after my divorce—I couldn’t have gotten credit from anybody, but he took a chance. Let me have you guys in my life. I’m grateful too.”
Jade turned her head, not sure she’d ever heard this before. Her vision was a little bleary, and Mike was looking more and more like Sean Bean—she half expected that yummy accent out of him, but she wasn’t disappointed by the softly accented West Virginia accent, either.
“Why was your credit so bad?”
Mike grunted. “Cause my wife wanted so spend money and I wasn’t making any. That’s why we got divorced.”
Jade huffed. “Why did she not make any money her damned self?”
Mike’s sudden grin, happy as an evil Leprechaun’s, took her by surprise. “She wouldn’t, but I always swore if I found someone else, they would be able to take care of themselves too.”
Jade rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I make money,” she said proudly. Her mom had been a trained court reporter and Jade had trained as a paralegal. Besides admiring the hell out of her mother, she’d liked Jackson’s idea about going into police work to make the world a better place. She wanted to be on the side of the law too.
“Yeah, Jade. You always look like a queen.” Mike’s eyes on her were frankly admiring, and Jade blinked hard, waking up a little.
“You think so? I don’t dress rich.”
“I wasn’t talking about your money,” he said, biting his lip. “I was talking about you. You don’t sit and wait for the world to give you what your worth, you go out and look the world in the eyes and it bows down to you. You’re a queen through and through.” He looked away, blushing. “At least I always thought so.”
“You never said anything,” she said softly, remembering him huddling in the corner of the yard during Jackson’s last barbecue.
“I never felt worthy,” he said, still not looking at her. “I do the wrong shit, say the wrong shit. Why would you even look at me like that?” He grimaced. “Besides, you and Jackson—“
“Are broken up for good,” she said, and that ache that had swelled in her chest all day suddenly didn’t hurt anymore. She’d have Jackson in her life for the rest of their lives—nothing could change the shit they’d been through, the shit they’d done together.
But she wouldn’t have him like this. Thinking she was a queen. Wanting so badly to please her he blushed at the thought of it.
“You sure about that?” Mike said, finally looking at her. “You guys have been in each other’s pockets—“
“Since we were kids. But I don’t want someone who sees me like a kid.” She bit her lip, suddenly shy herself. “I want someone who sees me like a woman.”
Mike swept her body up and down with his gaze, and although Jade had always been frank in her sexuality, she had never felt so treasured—and so wanted—as she had in that one candid glance.
“Jade, me seeing you like a woman—a damned fine, amazing woman—has never been in question.”
The wave of desire that blazed through her completely stole her breath.
obviously doctored crime, Jackson will move heaven and earth to keep Kaden and
his family safe. Defense attorney Ellery Cramer grew up with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, but that hasn’t stopped him from crushing on street-smart, swaggering Jackson Rivers for the past six years. But when Jackson asks for his help defending Kaden Cameron, Ellery is out of his depth—and not just with guarded, prickly Jackson. Kaden wasn’t just framed, he was framed by crooked cops, and the conspiracy goes higher than Ellery dares
reach—and deep into Jackson’s troubled past.Both men are soon enmeshed in the mystery of who killed the cop in the minimart, and engaged in a race against time to clear Kaden’s name. But when the mystery is solved and the bullets stop flying, they’ll
have to deal with their personal complications… and an attraction that’s spiraled out of control.
Amy Lane has two kids in college, two gradeschoolers in soccer, two cats, and two Chi-who-whats at large. She lives in a crumbling crapmansion with most of the children and a bemused spouse. She also has too damned much yarn, a penchant for action adventure movies, and a need to know that somewhere in all the pain is a story of Wuv, Twu Wuv, which she continues to believe in to this day! She writes fantasy, urban fantasy, and m/m romance–and if you accidentally make eye contact, she’ll bore you to tears with why those three genres go together. She’ll also tell you that sacrifices, large and small, are worth the urge to write.