In August 2012 I was a launch author with Penguin's Destiny Romance, and I had the great privilege of reading an excerpt from my launch title, Small Town Storm, to an assembled crowd at the Romance Writers of Australia national conference. It was the first time I introduced Jordan Hill and Erica Lawrence to the public, and even today, these complex characters are never far from my mind.
So I'd like to share a special moment of theirs with you.
The moment that Jordan and Erica finally kiss.
Happy Valentines Day to all of you, may you be spoiled somehow, may someone attempt to touch your heart, and may you smile more than you do on a typical day.
A bit of background first:
It all began with love. The pure, innocent kind that only an eight year old heart can know. But when a family tragedy tore apart her family, Erica was literally dragged from the arms of her best friend, Jordan.
Nineteen years later, the young boy with a plastic police badge and a hero complex has grown up to be a detective, and the fragile, broken little girl has become a vet, letting only animals touch her distrusting heart. But both are dogged by the shadows of that night and independently make the decision to return home.
But their trip down memory lane is interrupted by two brutal murders, and Erica appears to be the next target.
The townspeople are jumping at shadows and pointing fingers in every direction,
Even as the horror creeps ever closer, Jordan and Erica are drawn together. The need for answers that once consumed them doesn’t burn so brightly now, and when their hearts begin to align, they dare to do something neither has had the courage to do before: look forward.
On the precipice of confessing their love –the world appears to be against them.
* * *
Jordan shifted so that she could rest her head against his shoulder. ‘If that git Elliot didn’t upset you, then who did?’
Jordan raised a brow. ‘The woman with the poison tongue. What did she say this time?’
Her fingers flexed in his hand. ‘She cornered me when I was coming out of the bathroom. She was digging for dirt, as usual.’
‘That’s our Beth.’
‘Anyway, all she wanted to talk about was you and me. Said the town was fooled, thinking Elliot and I were an item. She knew better, she said. Wanted a confession of sorts so I snapped at her and told her to mind her own business.’ There was a long pause as Erica gathered the courage to continue. ‘Then she said I was just like my mother: secretive and impulsive in love. She said . . . ’ Erica hiccupped, too mortified to continue.
Jordan winced and released her hand so he could drape his arm around her shoulders. He pulled her towards him as sobs shook her body. They sat like that until her rasping breaths subsided, then he pushed her back and cradled the sides of her face.
‘Listen to me. I can understand how that would have hurt you. But you are nothing like your mother.’ He waited as she nodded. ‘She was a famous, attractive and stubborn woman. You are obviously none of these things.’
Erica gave a watery laugh.
Jordan smiled. ‘Seriously though, your mother was a monster. No one could possibly liken you to her and believe it. Don’t let a nasty piece of work like Beth convince you otherwise.’
She melted into his arms and buried her face in his shirt. Very gently he pressed his lips to the top of her head. When he spoke again, he murmured into her hair. ‘As for impulsive in love . . . of all people, I can attest to that being rubbish.’
Erica lifted her shoulders slightly. And he would have traded almost anything to know what she was thinking.
When she finally answered, his breath caught. ‘I don’t know. Maybe I am impulsive. I fell in love a long time ago – very hard and very fast.’ Her face moved against his chest, and it felt like she might be smiling. ‘I fell in love with a boy. He had a police badge and a hero complex.’
Very slowly, she sat up and stared into his eyes. The darkness cast shadows along the lines of her face. ‘Then I fell in love again. With a man. He has a police badge and a hero complex, too.’
The air sizzled with tension.
It would have been the moment to kiss her, but Jordan forced himself to wait just a fraction longer. It surprised him that he could think clearly when she was pressed up against him this way. It made it harder still, that her mouth was lifted and her eyes were on his lips. But there was something he needed to do first.
His hand slipped beneath the jacket she wore and fumbled in one of the inside pockets. He withdrew his wallet and flipped it open, then pulled something free. When he angled the flashlight over the small item on his upturned palm, the slice of light illuminated a small plastic bag. In it was a delicate silver chain and a small blue bird pendant.
‘It would seem,’ Jordan said softly, staring at the old necklace, ‘that I fell in love with you at the same time.’
Seemingly overwhelmed, Erica closed her eyes. Tears slid down her cheeks and Jordan moved in to kiss them away. He clasped the chain around her neck and pressed his lips to the spot where the pendant lay against her throat. It sat much higher than it had when she had worn it as a child.
He lowered his mouth to hers.
And his mind blurred. She tasted sweet and somehow familiar, as if they had kissed before – if only in his dreams. Her tongue grazed his lower lip and he thought he would break with urgency.He drew back and kissed the sensitive flesh of her neck, curling his fingers in her thick hair. Her sighs quickened his pulse and brought his lips back to hers.
When at last they separated, their hands still clinging to the other, there were no words. So for the longest time they sat in warm silence.
In Jordan’s mind there was no doubt that he had just experienced his last first kiss. This was it – this was that great love that people spoke of. He smiled into the darkness, which somehow seemed much brighter now.