Josie Eastman needs an escape. A long overdue vacation brings her to a small mountain town in Montana. What initially began as a retreat to reevaluate her life takes a tragic turn. The care and nurturing of a stranger awakens Josie in ways she could have never forseen. Soon she is forced to reevaluate everything she has believed about her life and the people in it. In doing so she becomes a new woman. Leoti.
Read an Excerpt
Josie tossed her phone to the seat. The conversation between her and her sister didn’t end well. However, it would not alter her mood. Her fingers played against the buttons on the steering column flipping through stations. She settled on Stevie Nicks, Landslide. Carlton turned her on to Stevie. He loved a good guitar instrumental. She almost turned it off but Stevie’s bluesy voice stilled her hand. Josie’s head dropped back as she listened to the words, and remembered that sometimes love isn’t enough. It evidently wasn’t enough for her and Carlton. She feared the future if it was one of wild parties and tiring civil cases. There had to be more to life. Maybe Carlton would realize that marriage, kids, and a family were what he needed. Maybe not. She would use this time to figure out what truly mattered in her heart.
The sign welcoming her to Mission Creek brought another smile to her face. Soon she drove through the heart of the town. Not much to the place. There was a gas station with a garage; a couple of cabin-like stores, and what looked like a Sheriff’s office. She also saw a produce store with fresh vegetables and fruit on display outside its doors. The serene quietness was a comfort. Ironically this would be a place that Carlton would love. He could write music and play his guitar all day.
Josie reached for the map. Stapled to it were the directions to the cabin she’d printed off of MapQuest for when she arrived. She felt proud that she hadn’t turned on her GPS once. The road continued through a community of log cabin homes, and rentals that would be impossible to navigate at night. The forest trees along the roads blocked the sun. It was a rental she’d secured over the internet from a private owner. She’d taken a risk on this one but at least she knew her mother and sister, and more importantly Carlton, wouldn’t be able to easily locate her.
7209 was the number and soon she found her cabin. The Mustang rocked, bobbed, and dipped, over the gravel driveway that lead to a log-house nestled in a plush, green-forested enclave. It was so cozy and cute. Josie put the car in park and smiled. A warm smell of wild cypress, freshly mowed grass mixed with sun dried leaves, pine and the faint berry scent of wild flowers filled her lungs when she exited the car.
With her hands tucked into the back of her snug-fit jeans she slowly approached, her heels sinking in the moist soil. At the porch steps she soon found the hide-a-key right where the owner said it would be, under a fake turtle. A couple of hard shoves on the door forced it open and she went inside.
The cabin was muggy. A sliver of light seeped in from the closed blinds. Shutting the door behind her she tossed her keys to the wall table then went about opening the place up.
It was beautiful. She had rented a one bedroom with a full kitchen and a spacious sitting room to the back, with double doors that opened to a large wooden deck. The view was spectacular. Blackfoot Mountain and a serene stream could be seen from the deck. The sunlight shimmied off its dark, still waters. Maybe she’d venture down there and do some writing by the lake. First order of business was unpacking.
Josie retrieved her bags and everything else from the car. After she completed the task of emptying her suitcase, she hauled in her antique typewriter, which weighed close to thirty pounds, and set it up in the back sitting room. A complete scan of the contents in the kitchen cabinets and fridge revealed she had nothing. Not even bottled water. She had to get up the road to the store or there would be no dinner. Especially before it got dark, she didn’t want to be forced on those roads at night.
Nate’s General Store
The bell over the door chimed as she stepped inside. An older gentleman with a silver beard that reached all the way to the top button of his shirt looked up from his paper. He stood behind the cash register. “Evening ma’am,” he said with a nod.
“Hello.” Josie said, shyly. She picked up a basket near the door and headed down the aisle. The man’s kind eyes followed her, as she imagined he did all strangers to his town.
“If you need any help finding anything, let me know. The names Nate, Nathaniel Collins,” he said.
“Thank you,” Josie answered.
She spent the next ten minutes gathering dinner, making a mental note of all the things she’d return for when she went exploring through Mission Creek the next day. She stopped and inspected a block of ground chuck too. The door chimed again but she didn’t bother to look over. She was stuck between deciding on sticking to her diet or a binge-filled week. Deciding that a little cheating on her menu wouldn’t do any harm to her curves she snatched up all the things she wanted as opposed to needed and then walked up to Nathaniel perched behind the register. As she unloaded her haul she took inventory of everything, and it dawned on her that she’d never checked the bathroom. The worst thing ever would be arriving to no toilet tissue.
“Excuse me, I forgot something,” she said and turned to slam bodily up against the hard frame of a man. She went back on her heels and he caught her elbow steadying her.
“Oh I’m sorr-” her voice caught when her eyes reached his.
“Are you okay?” he asked, his voice deep, rustic, with a smooth delivery. It was a voice that was all man. She gaped, swallowed then forced a smile, stepping out of his reach. “I didn’t see you.” She apologized tugging at the bottom of her shirt, trying to fix the mistake by reclaiming her poise. He gave a soft chuckle, and she knew why. He stood over six-foot-five, and was broad shouldered with a Herculean physique. This man was hard to miss. His blue-black hair, rested on his dark brown aviator jacket with the fleeced collar. She’d never seen a man with hair so long and beautiful that it didn’t in any way detract from his masculinity. In fact every bronzed inch of him looked as if his skin was sun kissed. And his eyes, they were deeply magnetic like Carlton’s.
What was he? Native American? Resting off his neck was a silver medallion with turquoise stones, beautifully crafted, on a thin leather chain. With his collar open she noticed a tribal tattoo at the base of his throat. Interesting, it had a circular pattern.
“Excuse me.” She apologized, realizing that the two of them were now just staring. She walked around the tall man bringing his eyes with her. Josie snatched rolls of tissue and paper towels pretending to be unaffected. She then returned them to Nate. Digging through her purse for her wallet she caught glimpses of him from her peripheral. He was inspecting the selection of shovels and other tools, having forgotten something as well. She handed Nate her credit card and braved another look. He must have been psychic because he cast a glance back over his shoulder. The exchange had her blushing like a schoolgirl.
“Stop it.” She chastised herself. The last thing she wanted was a man. She had a guy. She never doubted Carlton’s love for her they just had different priorities.
“Excuse me?” Nate asked, handing her the card and a pen to sign the receipt.
“Nothing,” she said scribbling away then stuffing her card in her wallet. The Native American was behind her now, something in his hand. She could sense his presence. Josie accepted one bag then the other but again in her nervousness dropped part of her load.
“Oh, damn it,” she cursed. Now she was all thumbs? Nate came around the corner concerned, and the stranger who had her knees weak bent down to help. She wanted to just run out of the store, she was so embarrassed. Hell it looked like she was playing the role of a damsel in distress. How ridiculous.
“I’m so sorry, so sorry.”
“It’s okay.” he smiled, putting things in the fresh bag provided. “Do you need help to your car?”
“NO!” she said a little too loudly.
Nate and the stranger frowned.
“Ah, I mean, I’m okay, thank you,” she stammered. “Thank you.” She accepted the bags and quickly left.
Elu was speechless.
There were few women in these parts and it had been even longer since he’d seen one so strikingly different and beautiful. She stood up slowly. Standing he found her petite, delicate, feminine. She had to be no more than five-feet four or five. And curvy in all the right places, with full jutting breasts in a creamy yellow slimming shirt that was flat to her tiny waist. His gaze lowered to find she had a fine shapely backside and thighs. He inhaled the lilac embedded in her perfumed skin when he aided her.
Round amber brown eyes gazed up into his under long lashes and perfectly arched brows. She had a slender nose and full moist lips on a lovely oval face. She was natural too. No makeup, her complexion a deeper shade of brown than his, he guessed her to be African American. She had picked her hair out into a riot of curls that dusted her shoulders and puffed around her face like a dark cloud. He’d bet those curls were silky to the touch. And before he could say his name or make conversation like a nervous butterfly she was gone.
“Pretty ain’t she?” Nate asked, and Elu realized the old man was at his side grinning up at him amused.
“I hadn’t noticed.” Elu said, his voice croaking with his false attempt at being nonchalant.
“Guess you don’t care to take this roll of tissue she left behind out to her then?” Nate chuckled.
Elu snatched the roll and hurried after her.
Josie loaded the back of the Mustang, thankful the top was still down when she heard him.
She looked up.
He smiled with perfectly white teeth and approached. “You left this on the counter.”
It was the blasted toilet tissue that started the folly.
“Thanks,” she said. A dog barked. A beautiful black and white Siberian Husky. It looked like a wolf, with ice blue eyes. The animal was huge, and if she didn’t love dogs she’d probably be frightened. “Is he yours?” Josie asked.
“Yes. Name is Po, gets a little anxious in front of a beautiful lady. Can’t say I blame him.”
Her eyes moved from the bed of the truck to the stranger and then away. “Oh, um, thanks,” she said. “Thanks again.”
He gave a curt nod and then turned for the store. Interesting. Josie expected another pick-up line that would mean she’d have to kill the fantasy and put him in check. Her heart belonged to one guy. Even if Carlton didn’t know how precious a gift her devotion was. But this stranger’s politeness was genuine. He made no attempt to know more of her. And even more refreshing he didn’t recognize her. Back in Seattle she couldn’t get a cup of coffee without being recognized as the black lawyer turned author who’d won a national case that made her a Nobel Prize in literature nominee at the young age of 26.
Smiling to herself she got in the car. The dog barked again, she winked at the animal as she backed out then drove away.
Josie’s dinner simmered on the stove. She’d made a pot of chili for the cool evening. Instead of sitting in front of her typewriter she chose the sofa for her spot of reflection with her journal. She skimmed the past few weeks of her musings since she and Carlton had split. Her thoughts were a ramble of insecurities. Was it wrong of her to want her rock star boyfriend to settle down and be a family man? Why did she daydream so often of making babies and baking pies?
Carlton had been upfront about his lifestyle and at first she found him wildly exciting and sexy. Theirs was an unexpected love. It started as a blind date that sparked passion beyond her belief. With him she could be a rebel and not the nerdy scholar her mother bragged about. At twenty-three she was in and out of seedy clubs, and having wild sex on tour busses. No one understood how she could flip her professional persona as a hard-edged young attorney and let her hair down. No one truly understood her, period.
Lately the glamour had worn off. Overnight Carlton had a platinum selling album and she was crowned the most brilliant civil attorney of her generation. It was like a switch was thrown and they were people she didn’t know, or care to. It didn’t help that women threw themselves at Carlton’s feet, including celebrities who were far more beautiful and wealthy than she was. Carlton’s aloof attitude about her concerns and his refusal to go public with their relationship hurt her deeply. The paparazzi had already tagged them as dating, but neither had gone on record to confirm it. And each day they ran a headline of him screwing someone else. Her mother, not so surprisingly, liked Carlton after his stardom had made him the black prince of the rock industry. But Josie was tired of the disappointments.
Her gaze slipped over to her purse where she kept her cell phone. She considered calling him. Just to hear his voice. But what would she say? If she invited him to Montana she’d spend every night in his arms, in that bed, and be no closer to the commitment she truly wanted.
No. She wouldn’t call him.
She wrote her thoughts down, mused over some others, then closed the journal and sunk into the sofa cushions. Nibbling on her pen she stared up at the wood beams lining the cabin roof then let her eyes swept the cabin. They stopped at the windows.
It was April and relatively cool in this region, but evidence of spring could be seen everywhere across the land. Josie was reminded of the lake. She brought her feet down, and considered what an early stroll by the waters edge would do to clear her head. The mere idea calmed her. So she packed a little basket she’d found in the kitchen, put on her North Face windbreaker, and retrieved an outdoor blanket and her journal before venturing out. It was true, once outside she felt free. She was a city girl, with her early years reared in South Miami and New York, and then her teen years in San Francisco and later Seattle. Her father’s export business had them relocating every five to six years of her life. Her parents divorced when she was fourteen. Her father now lived in Canada with a new wife and family. He rarely acknowledged her and Tiffani.
Josie strolled out across the land, drawn to the glistening waters. She spread her blanket near the edge. The wind stirred the waves on the water’s surface. The view was wonderful. The mountains beyond were reflected on the surface of the lake. Josie closed her eyes and leaned back on her elbows letting the warmth of the sun heat her. The hum of the wind and the noises of the forest lulled her into comfort. After a couple of spoonfuls of chili, and deep gulps of the sweetest water she’d ever tasted in a bottle, she fell back on the blanket and slipped away into contentment.
Later she woke. Her lashes fluttered then parted to the clear bluish-purple sky above. For a minute she lay perfectly still. A hawk or eagle with wide spread wings flew over and she blinked, surprised by the way it effortlessly glided to the trees. Josie sat up. What she thought was normal nature sounds of insects cleared to something more. A soft chanting or humming reached her ears. It was close yet far.
It was the most soothing sound she’d ever heard. Her eyes closed again as she felt seduced into a melodic peace that slowed her heartbeat. Josie scanned the trees and reached for her jacket. The temperature was plummeting. The sun was near gone. How long had she lain there? The evening breeze seemed to cool with each passing minute.
“Hello?” she spoke out, sensing she was not alone. “Hello?” she looked around.
Josie sat forward and listened. She tried hard to discern where the sound came from, it changed in pitch, it became something more, then less, but it persisted.
Curiosity could be an overpowering and stupid motivation. Here she was in the woods, alone, and her heart raced with a burning need to find the source. She rose from the blanket. Her back sore and legs cramped, she stretched and tried to remain quiet. Maybe she should return to her cabin and bolt the windows and doors? The thought was dismissed. Though the melody was faint and foreign it was sweetly benign. Like a sparrow’s call to her young it pulled her through the thicket to the west side of the lake.
Moving branches from her face she emerged just before the clearing, and what she saw before her stopped her heart. A man, beautifully proportioned, was out in the calm waters, nude. In this weather! With the sun all but gone it had to be close to fifty degrees. He was only partially submerged. Josie could see all the way to the rise of his muscular buttocks. She took a step forward and stopped.
A soft humming came from him.
Was he for real? She looked around for the joke. Even with the waning light of the sky she could see the glistening pearls of water sparkle over his broad shoulders. His blue-black mane was slicked flat to his head and smoothed to a neat V down the line of his spine. His bare arms were both ringed with tribal tattoos.
The chants gave way to a song like she’d never heard and she wondered if it was him or the forest that was singing it. There was such enchantment to the scene she again questioned if she was dreaming. Then he went forward and swam out into the water. His glide was strong and full of virility. She stepped forward herself, wanting to stop him, to let him know she was there. He submerged under the black waves and disappeared.
Josie stood mesmerized waiting for him to surface. He soon drifted further out floating on his back, his arms going out above him in a backstroke. It was him. The guy from the store. Where did he come from? Josie slipped back into the forest, guilty over the intrusion on this stranger’s private moment, and flustered over what seeing him in his element did to her already confused heart. She’d never seen a man and felt such a visceral connection with him. Not after she found her Carlton. Walking back through the forest she looked twice over her shoulder toward the now hidden part of the lake, questioning all she’d witnessed. Disturbed. She respected the privacy of others, and somehow she felt as if she had violated something spiritual, something sacred. Quickly Josie gathered up the blanket, basket, and water bottle and left. The image of him permanently burned into her mind.
After a hot shower and a warm cup of tea, Josie got under the covers. She turned on the light to scribble her thoughts. However her mind wandered and the image of the man by the lake pushed to the front of her thoughts. Josie should go to the typewriter and begin to trace her thoughts into something meaningful but she wasn’t interested in leaving the warmth of her blankets.
What her mother and sister didn’t know was that she loved romance. Books, movies, songs, anything romantic and she was all in. She’d even written a few steamy stories herself. She could never abandon the seriousness of her life to become a romance author, but the best-selling non-fiction novel that was so acclaimed had her wishing she could. Josie smiled. Her pen scribbled away.
He had the body of a god, but it was his angelic voice that drew her to him. She boldly stepped out of the cover of the trees as the stranger dove into dark glistening waters. The lake parted then swallowed his grace. She watched him from the clearing, longing, wanting the peace and serenity the atmosphere seem charged with. But she held back. He swam the lake and returned to the shore. Halfway in she knew he’d seen her. Still she did nothing to conceal her presence. In fact she stepped forward. The stranger stood in waist deep water and walked out of its rippling current. His body was slowly revealed to her.
He looked tough. His powerful well-muscled body moved with easy grace. The water had slicked his dark hair to both sides of his face and laid the nest of curls above his cock smooth and silky as well. He had a massive chest, long, thickly sculpted arms and herculean thighs. But it was his manhood on display that captured her breath. The stalk thickly veined, dropped at least seven inches and slapped against his thigh.
She took a step back. Not from fright, but indecision. To stay would mean she’d act on the challenge in his dark penetrating eyes. And she didn’t know him. Not really.
“Your name?” he asked.
“I… I do.”
A sly controlled smile curled the left corner of his mouth. His damp cool hand cupped the back of her neck and she felt shivers like dropping cubes of ice trickle down her spine. But she did not retreat. She stepped forward, her head tilting, her eyes closing. He covered her mouth with his. It felt as if he first tested the sweetness of her tongue. Soon after he took the plunge and it was an urgent demanding kiss. His hands went into her hair and he tugged hard, forcing her chin up and her mouth to open wider for his plundering.
With his other strong hand he ripped open the front of her shirt. She gripped his bare arm, thrilled by the wildly erotic way he claimed her. This is crazy! This is crazy! Her mind kept screaming but the moment his rough palm and calloused fingers cupped her breast she was lost. Still caught up in his kiss she offered no resistance as he brought her down to her knees then forced her to lay back in the prickly grass and soil. She aided him in removing her jeans and he tore his mouth away from her lips to suck and lick her neck before ravishing her nipples trapped behind the cups of her bra. Swiftly he had her jeans and panties off. Her thighs parted and he fit nicely between them.
“I’ve been looking for you,” he said with a voice husky with emotion.
“Me too,” she nearly screamed. “I’ve been waiting… oh, yes, waiting, wanting, needing!”
A single thrust sent him half way into her. She clenched her channel and bucked her hips. He raised his clenched buttocks and then drove his length deeper.
“Sweet merciful…” the words dried out in her throat. Josie had to swallow down another deep breath. Her heart skipped a beat before picking up the pace and pounding in her chest. Heat spread through her as her sex contracted around his invading cock and became heavy with tingling awareness. She looked into his eyes and felt like prey caught in his trap. There would be no way she’d let this faceless, nameless man go after this. No way.
He pumped in and out of her strong and hard, and Josie’s bare ass rubbed over the grainy soil while her thighs were pricked and scratched by blades of grass. Still she capitulated up into his rhythmic commands giving him all of her. The misty, humid currents of love rushed to the surface making her body feverishly hot. All thoughts of pain from a once broken heart were erased. This was how a man loved his woman. The bitter and sweet forced a cry of release from her parted lips.
The man forced her thighs back with his muscular arms, one draped over his shoulder the other pointed at an awkward angle. And he thrust in and out of her with his lustful gaze pleading with her to submit. So she did. She clung to him the best she could and rolled her hips beneath him until the continual friction of his thrusting cock in her channel, and rubbing of her clit, unleashed what she had been holding back for so long. She tilted her head back and cried out in ecstasy.
Josie closed the journal. Her heart beat so strong she touched her chest. Did she just write that? Freehand? Where the hell did it come from? Josie tossed the journal aside and slumped down against her pillow. She found herself panting a bit, her blood rushing through her veins and flooding the chambers of her heart.
She knew her mother expected greatness from her. Carlton just wanted her unquestioning devotion and support with the offer of nothing in return. But Josie longed for something more. Before she couldn’t quite name what she needed. Well now she could. She called it freedom. Reaching over she turned off the lights and tried to forget how vivid her imagination was. If the Native American man from the store visited her dreams she wouldn’t turn him away. Josie chuckled and turned over with a smile on her face, feeling better than she had in weeks.