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Excerpt from Tidal Falls by Jacquie Biggar
Jared pushed the car door open and hopped out the moment Frank pulled up in front of Grits and Grace, his lanky legs carrying him to the glass doors.
“Hey man, where’s the fire? Don’t worry, Grace has plenty of food, you don’t have to race us for it.” Nick joked through the open passenger window, shooting a look sideways to the chief, only to notice he wasn’t getting out as he stared somberly out the window after his friend.
“Um, am I missing something here?” Silence. He decided to try again. “Frank, you want to tell me what’s going on?”
“I think you’re about to find out.”
Jared sent them a what-the-hell’s-taking-you-so-long look, coupled with a distinct plea for support that had the two men scrambling to catch up. Nick didn’t have the faintest idea what was going on but if his buddy needed him, he was there.
They waited as Jared drank in a deep breath, let it whoosh out, squared his shoulders and stepped through the doors. The first thing to hit them were the smells, maple from the bacon and the ham, rosemary and sage from the turkey that had more than likely been cooking for a couple of hours, the rich beefy smell of gravy, and the aroma of fresh brewed coffee mixed with the tang of orange juice. There was a cacophony of noise, jukebox playing Hank Jones, the rise and fall of conversations from the nearly full breakfast crowd, and servers calling out orders to the kitchen.
“There she is, out from the back to schmooze the customers, her favorite part of the job she always said. Keep ‘em happy and they’ll come back.” Jared’s tone was a complicated mix of love and frustration. Nick, who was standing close because of the small entry, could feel the tension in Jared’s body.
She skirted from table to table, sharing a kind word here, a pat on the shoulder there, and then she stopped in front of them, about to ask where they would like to be seated when she froze, a stunned look of joy transforming her face with joy.
Her mouth dropped open in shock, her green eyes just like Jared’s, welling with happy tears. “Oh my good Lord. Jared.” She brought shaking fingers up and hesitantly set them against his lean cheek. “Well, would you look at you? You grew into a fine looking young man. I always knew you would though, good genes.”
At his shaky laugh, Grace held up her soft arms and he wrapped his own arms around her rotund figure and lifted her right off her feet, swinging her around in a King Kong hug before setting her down.
Blushing at all the amused looks, Grace grabbed up his calloused, scarred hand, kissing it as if it were sacred, and lifted her voice to be heard above the din. “Hey all, this is my handsome boy. He’s come home to see his momma,” ending on an almost whisper, “he’s home.”
Everyone whistled and clapped as Jared wiped the wetness from her still soft, rosy cheeks, and forced words past an obvious baseball-sized lump in his throat. “I missed you, Mom, every damn day, I missed you.”
“Oh son, you could have come home anytime, if you weren’t so dang stubborn, just like your Pops, but enough, let’s save that talk for later. I want to soak up the joy of having you here, it’s been far too long. Come on now, let’s get you fed.” She retained a death grip on his hand as she led them to a man-sized booth for six set near the back, close to the kitchen, as if she was afraid to let him out of sight.
“Momma, I’d like you to meet some good friends of mine. Chief, this is the woman who I judge all others by, which is why I’m still single.” He laughed as he turned to Nick, “Nick, I want you to meet the best cook to ever grace, pun intended, God’s green earth.”
“Well, if that isn’t the nicest introduction a girl could ever receive. I’ve already met the very charming Nickolaus Kelley. He’s one of my regulars.” Grace grinned. “Chief, huh? I’m guessing that to mean you were my son’s superior officer.” At Frank’s slight nod, she reached over the table and gave him a swift peck on his bristly jaw. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for keeping my boy safe.”
After a round-the-table chorus of throat clearing, she said, “Okay, enough of the sappy stuff, let’s get you fed. I know what Jared likes, so what can I get you, boys? We have on special a Meat lover’s Omelet filled with ham, bacon, sausage, and Monterey Jack cheese, or we have an eight-ounce sirloin steak and three eggs, any style. What’s it going to be, fellas?”
“A steak sounds just about perfect, thank-you ma’am, and please, call me Frank.”
“Well, Frank, I can do that if you’ll drop the Ma’am, which makes me feel about a billion years old, and call me Grace.” Winking she turned to Nick, “Okay honey, what about you, and where’s my Sara Sunshine?”
“She’s on the way. The omelet sounds fine to me, Grace, and about a gallon of coffee, please. Have you given any more thought to leaving this place and running away with me to Vegas to get married?” He teased.
“Go on now; you wouldn’t know what to do with me if you had me.” She chuckled as she called out to Susan, “Sue, look who’s here. Grab ‘em some coffee, would ya? I have to head back and whip my boy up a welcome home meal.” With a swift hug and a lingering kiss on one cheek while she patted the other, Grace bestowed a watery smile on Jared before turning into the kitchen where they could hear her giving orders left and right, as good as any drill sergeant they’d ever had.
“So, I didn’t see that one coming, though I probably should have. You look like her.”
“Well if you think I’m calling you dad, forget it.” Jared replied, “What are you doing hitting on my momma anyway? How many women do you need, Kelley?”
“Hey don’t blame me, blame my stomach. That woman can cook.” Nick grinned appreciatively.
“Yeah well, since you tried picking her up I think the bill should be yours…Pops.”
“I told you it wouldn’t be so bad. Family is everything, Jare. I love you like a brother but I was about ready to kick your ass if you hadn’t decided to mend your fences.” Frank rumbled from the corner as a thin as a rail woman came barreling up to their table, mugs in one hand, coffee pot in the other.
“Well, if it isn’t the prodigal son returned, and looking about a million bucks.” She slammed the cups and pot on the table and threw herself into Jared’s arms, narrowly missing taking out an eye from the pen she had tucked into her salt and pepper beehive hairdo. “Your mom missed you so bad, sugar. Welcome home.”
“Sue, I can’t believe some handsome guy hasn’t swept you off to a land of leisure yet. You look the same.”
She hooted, her eyes glued on Jared as she poured out the three coffees, barely watching what she was doing. “I told you a long time ago, honey, you spoiled me for any other man.”
Interesting as this was, Nick had been keeping a close eye on the door every time it opened, and then suddenly, there she was. The sun coming through the open doorway behind her created a nimbus over her head as she hesitated for a moment, letting her eyes accustom to the dim setting as she searched the room for him. She had a pair of dark trousers on that highlighted her slim thighs and mile-long legs. Over that, she had put some kind of silvery diaphanous top that flowed around her body from the outside breeze, creating an almost otherworldly look, especially with her golden eyes catching the light.
As she moved toward him, almost seeming to float among the sun’s rays, Nick wanted her with a fierceness he was beyond hiding. There had to be a way to convince her he hadn’t withheld from her to purposely deceive her. She arrived at the table, and after glancing for a long moment at the empty spot beside him, chose to instead slide in beside Jared. Ouch.
“Good morning, beautiful, where’ve you been all my life?” He slung an arm over her shoulders and gave a squeeze, and swear-to-God, Nick was going to punch his nose in if he kept that crap up for long.
“Morning yourself, sounds as if you got plenty of sleep last night. That’s good, because after today I think we’re all going to be running on nerves. In case I forget to say it, thank-you again for agreeing to come and help me with this, I can never repay you enough.”
“Don’t even think about it, we’re happy to help. I needed to get Jared out of Vegas for a while anyway, before he wrecked the whole damn city.” Frank clapped his friend over the shoulder, causing a hard grunt as Jared bore the impact.
Jared raised an eyebrow, “I wouldn’t have shut down the entire strip, just the places that pissed me off.”
Nick wasn’t sure if he was kidding or not, the boy was seriously wacko. But then they say that’s the flipside of being a genius.
Sue stopped by to refill cups and get Sara’s order. “Just coffee for me thanks, I’ve had breakfast already.”
“Sure honey, no worries. Jared, your momma says to tell you it’s coming right up. We got hit with a bit of a rush so she’s backed up in there for a few.”
“Tell her to leave us for last, Susan. We’re good, especially since a sweet server I know is keeping us happy with plenty of strong black coffee.”
Sue giggled like a fifteen-year-old as she moved on to the next table, fluffing her hair up with her pen as she gazed adoringly at Jared.
“Another conquest for your little black book?” Nick said, and ducked the creamer missile hurled at his head.
Sara stared at Jared, “Your Mom? Is Grace really your mother, Jared?”
“Well, you don’t have to sound quite so shocked about it. Is it so hard to believe she might have raised a hooligan like me?” Jared only half jested.
“Of course not, it just caught me by surprise. Wow, talk about a small world. She’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Her and Tess have done so much to make Jessica and I feel at home here. I count her as a very dear friend.” Sara smiled warmly at him and even though Nick knew it was platonic, he still had to clench his hands in his lap, because he wanted those smiles.
He needed to put an end to this whole Sheridan business so maybe Sara and he could finally talk. Right now, with it hanging over their heads reminding her of what she thought he’d done, there was no chance.
“If you two are done with the mutual admiration party, think we can get down to business? I want to make sure we’re prepared for anything before we bring Sheridan anywhere near here.” he growled.
Sara regarded him as if he had a screw loose before replying to the table in general, “He’s expecting Nick to take me back today, so I think the first thing we have to do is call him, let him know there’s a change of plans. He thinks Nick’s working for him, so why don’t we continue to let him think that?”
At his immediate move to object, Sara turned those lasers on him, the hurt and betrayal he could see swimming in their beautiful depths, cutting him to the bone. “You owe me this, you know I’m right. The only way he’s going to give us the time we need to get the DEA here is if he believes you’ll be watching me.”
Turning back to Frank, Sara asked, “How much time do you think it will take them to come? We have to hurry; I’m scared of what he might do to Fiona.”
“I agree, time is of the essence. Which is why I phoned Agent Holt as soon as I woke this morning. They’re on a plane headed this way even as we speak.”
“That’s perfect then, we can all coordinate together.”
“Their plane is scheduled to land in Seattle at one, so Jared and I will leave from here to go pick them up. You two can head back to the house…Sara’s?” At her nod. “We’ll meet up there around three, then you can make your call. I need you to make a list and keep to it. Do not let him change anything. You have to be the one in charge. Nick can help you get prepared. If Sheridan senses for one moment that something isn’t right we’ll lose him, so your preparation for this is critical, you get me?” He gave Nick a hard stare over Sara’s down-bent head.
Oh yeah, Nick got the message, loud and clear. Keep the personal issues out until they had this thing wrapped up. He could do that, he didn’t have to like it, but he would do it. It was far more crucial right now to keep the focus on the case, he knew that. The most important thing was to keep Jessica and Sara safe, the rest could come later. But it didn’t stop him from wanting to take her in his arms so bad it hurt. She had to be freaking out at the thought of both the phone call and then ultimately Sheridan arriving here in a few short days. It must be messing with her head. It sure as hell was messing with his.
Grace came bustling out of the kitchen, big platters of piping hot food held in her capable hands. “There you are, Sara. Have you met my boy? Look at him, isn’t he the most handsome man you ever set eyes on? He’s single…you are single, aren’t you?” Jared looked slightly dazed as he nodded dutifully. “He’s a good man, my baby. He would make a great father.”
“Mama, settle down, I only just arrived. I’m not looking to hook up…Ouch!” as both Grace and Frank clobbered him. “Sorry, I’m not looking to date right now. Besides, she’s with Nick.”
Sara seemed entertained by his friend’s antics and took no offence, a smile breaking across her gorgeous face as she watched the byplay before catching his gaze, eyes sparkling with mirth. He loved her. He sat back in his seat, the sounds of the busy restaurant, the continued bantering between mother and son, the ring of the till amid John Denver’s “Take me Home” blaring from the old jukebox. It all faded, leaving him staring at her and her staring at him, her smile slowly evaporating as she finally…finally acknowledged him.
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