Kiss Across Chaos – Tracy Cooper-Posey

It was a perfect day, up until Brody opened his mouth. Jesse found it twice as hard to deal with because it was Brody who said it. Jesse stood in front of the big picture window of Brody’s, Taylor’s and Veris’ luxury log house in the Canadian Rockies when Brody uttered his simple, awful observation. She was there because Alannah had picked Jesse up from her last housesitting assignment on Long Island three days ago. For two nights, Jesse had slept on the sofa in Alannah’s L.A. apartment. She’d spend tonight there as well. Tomorrow, Alannah would jump her to Arlington, her next housesitting job. Because Jesse had been in Alannah’s apartment when Taylor, Alannah’s mother, phoned about Thanksgiving, Taylor had insisted Jesse come to their house for the day, too. Four years ago, Jesse might have made an excuse to get out of it. She’d been fresh out of the Marines and still finding her way and was stupid into the bargain. Since then, she had got to know everyone in the family a damn sight better, so when Taylor invited her to the family dinner table, Jesse didn’t hesitate. So Alannah and she tucked a pecan pie and big, fresh organic avocados they’d picked up from the Grand Central Market into a carry bag, then jumped to the house on the side of a mountain where Veris, Brody and Taylor currently lived. It had been fifty degrees in Los Angeles when they left.

Here, the outdoor thermometer by the big picture window overlooking the mountains and the town of Canmore sprawling along the valley, showed it was minus fifteen. Jesse blinked at that, then remembered to convert to Fahrenheit. Five degrees. It was still damned cold. A foot of snow showed beyond the window, smoothing out the bumps and lumps in the landscape, turning it into a white rolling plain. But it was lovely and warm inside. The house being full of people didn’t bother her, either. A fire crackled and popped in the giant stone fireplace at the end of the big front room. The smell of roasting turkey perfumed the air. Jesse’s stomach growled.

“And welcome to you, too,” Taylor said as she got to her feet and came over to hug her. Taylor was one of the Blood, so she had heard the rumble from across the room. So had everyone else in the room, most likely. There was little true privacy when you were in the company of vampires. “It’s been a while since I had a turkey dinner,” Jesse admitted. “Still eating hand to mouth, then, Jesse?” Rafe asked from the depth of the armchair he was sprawled in. “Still my self-appointed life coach, then, Rafe?” she shot back. He just grinned. So did everyone else. Brody came over and hugged her, too.

Veris didn’t, but he never did, and Jesse didn’t mind. He nodded at her from his perch on the window seat, next to Rafe’s chair. Alex and Sydney—Queen Morrigan, although she was wearing jeans, so she was just Sydney right now—were sitting together on the sofa, with Remi taking up the third cushion. London and Neven were on two dining chairs, pulled up close to the fire. London sipped something that steamed gently and smelled divine. The three people on the second sofa—Nial, Sebastian and Winter—were from a different timeline, but they were frequent visitors here. Jesse was still trying to figure out Nial, though. He made the hair on the back of her neck lift far too frequently, and her hand reach for the Glock that no longer lived on her hip. But he never looked at the other two with anything but warm regard, and Winter and Sebastian were deeply attached to him. That had to count for something, Jesse supposed.

She lifted her hand and waved at them. Winter raised her glass of whatever in acknowledgement. Sebastian winked. From the floor above, Jesse heard giggles and chatter, light feet bouncing and moving about. All the younger kids would be up there on the big landing space where the chairs, lounges and bookshelves encouraged reading. They were not reading, though. “So who is cooking?” Jesse asked, looking around the big room. “Marit is in the kitchen, bathing in the heat from the stove,” Brody said. He grinned, his dark eyes dancing. “It’s summer in Australia.

Her blood is thinned.” Jesse glanced at Veris. He could hear what Brody said, even from across the room, and even though Brody hadn’t raised his voice, but he didn’t react. He and Marit had found a mutually agreeable position of truce over the last few years, especially as David, the only other polytemporal in the known worlds and the source of Marit and Veris’ long term disagreement, tended to keep his distance. “I’d better go and help Marit,” Jesse said. “Me, too,” Alannah said. “Nah, I got this,” Jesse said hastily, for Alannah was cursed, when it came to cooking. Everything she touched turned to charcoal and crumbled. Jesse was clumsy in the kitchen, but she didn’t burn things and she could take directions. Marit was the closest to the best cook in the house.

Rafe was superior in skill, but he was clearly taking a day off. Or perhaps Marit had shoved him out of the kitchen so she could linger there out of Veris’ way. An extra loud thud came from overhead. “Why don’t you make sure the kids aren’t climbing the drapes?” Jesse suggested to Alannah, as everyone looked up. Alannah left via the main door, heading for the stairs. Jesse took the avocados and pie through to the dining room, where the long table had been extended and was being set for the meal, then into the kitchen. Marit wasn’t alone. The tall redheaded woman—a different sort of red from Marit’s bronzed locks—Nayara, stood in the corner made by the counters, sipping another steaming drink, while Cael, her partner, plucked silverware from a big varnished box lined with red velvet. Both of them nodded at Jesse. They were from somewhere in the future on this timeline, a fact that still tickled Jesse’s funny bone.

“You came back just to eat turkey, then?” Jesse teased them. “We have turkey in the future,” Cael assured her gravely. “Although I prefer lamb, myself.” He was Greek and human, Jesse reminded herself. Nayara was the vampire—or she was when she was in her own time. When she used psychic talents to jump back in time, the symbiot that made her a vampire went into stasis, which was how she could drink mulled wine and eat turkey. Jesse had learned a lot about the different forms of time travel just by sitting at Veris’ table and keeping her ears pinned back. A direct question would make the jumpers and vampires clam up and toe the metaphorical dirt, too self-conscious to reply to a civilian, non-jumper and human. But getting them to reminisce over an amusing moment or a hairy one always revealed more than they realized, if she listened well. Jesse pointed at the glass in Nayara’s hand.

“Best be careful. That stuff will take your head off. You’re not used to it.” She hugged Marit, who wore a thick sweater and fleece-lined pants and still looked cold. Her nose was pink, but the rest of her was tanned and glowing with good health. “Roasted potatoes for you and mashed for everyone else,” Marit said, before Jesse could asked. “You shouldn’t have made them for me, first time around, or I wouldn’t keep asking,” Jesse said. She adored the roasted potatoes the way Marit did them—they were crisp on the edges and soft in the middle and soaked up all the flavors in the roasting pan. Cooked with onions, they were far superior to mashed. “What can I do?” Marit let her gaze move over the food and utensils sitting on the scrubbed pine island.

“Peel carrots, shell peas—oh, avocados! Yeah, peel a couple of those and we’ll put them in the salad.” Jesse got to work, while chatting with Marit and Nayara and Cael, as he moved in and out of the kitchen, laying plates and cutlery and condiments on the long table. The afternoon drifted along pleasantly. There were enough people in the house who could eat food that the dinner was a noisy, joyous occasion, with lots of empty wine bottles lining up in the center of the table. The vampires sat at the table with them, a single glass with an inch of champagne sitting before them for toasts, for Veris would not let anyone toast with an empty glass. The old pagan considered that to be beckoning the worst of ill luck. Despite not eating with everyone else, none of the vampires looked upset or anything but contented. They talked and laughed as much as anyone else. Five children sat at the table, although Jesse judged that Liberty wouldn’t be a child for too much longer. She was twelve, looked older and was going to be tall just like her uncle-father, Alex.

She had enormous, exotic black eyes and hair and smooth olive skin, and a way of watching everyone that drew attention to her, even though she said nothing. Sydney sat beside her, and the two of them were clearly very close, for they would put their heads together and murmur and laugh. It was a glorious meal, finished off with their pecan pie and custard—an Aussie custom that Marit insisted everyone try. The custard was oddly delicious with the sharp sweetness of the pie. Nayara scraped her bowl and diffidently asked if there was more, while Cael smiled and kissed her hand. “Home life is somewhat fraught at the moment,” Cael explained. “And it’s not often we get to relax like this, back in time.” “Amen to that,” Brody murmured. “The hazards never end.” Veris stood and served Nayara another slice of pie, and Jesse passed the jug of custard along.

The doorbell chimed from the big front room and everyone paused, looking at each other. Taylor got to her feet. “It’s not Thanksgiving in Canada,” she reminded them. “It’s a normal Thursday here.” She went into the front room. Veris smiled. “We actually forgot about the Canadian Thanksgiving,” he admitted as he passed the pie down the table. “It’s in early October, but Canmore just got noisier, not quieter, like the States does for Thanksgiving.” “Someone’s coming,” Sydney said, her head tilted as she listened to something happening in the front room. She sat up and glanced at the children.

“Remember the Game, hmmm? Just for the next little while.” They all nodded solemnly. “Yes, Your Majesty,” Aimee added. She was nearly as old as Liberty and was already beautiful. “Aunt Sydney for now,” Sydney corrected. Aimee nodded. “Mom,” Liberty added and grinned. “With holes in her jeans and no bra.” Rafe snorted. “Oh, you’ll pay for that later, darling daughter.

” “She will,” Sydney said, her tone serene. Liberty didn’t look worried. Alannah nudged Jesse’s arm, while holding one of the last bottles of wine over her glass. “Not right now, thanks,” Jesse told her. “Why aren’t you comatose? You’ve drunk a whole bottle all by yourself.” “Practice,” Alannah said, and winked. “Also called college,” Brody said, from Jesse’s other side. “Everyone, it’s Kit,” Taylor said from the door. Jesse turned in her chair to look toward the archway into the front room. Kit McDonald, the park warden who lived in Canmore, stood in the archway, towering over Taylor.

He wore the heavy coat the wardens used in winter and held the brimmed hat and his gloves in one hand. Snow dusted his boots. “Sorry to disturb you folks,” he said easily. “I forgot you use the American calendar.” His gaze lingered upon Alannah, who was carefully pouring the remains of the bottle into her glass. “Everyone came up for Thanksgiving, then?” “Everyone but Aran,” Taylor said. “He’s too busy buying and spending political favors,” Alannah added. She rested her arm on the back of her chair as she swiveled to take in the two standing in the archway. “Something up, Kit?” Veris asked, getting to his feet once more. Kit hooked a thumb over his shoulder.

“I have a whole salmon in the truck that I thought you folks might like.” “Fresh salmon?” Marit said, her attention caught. “Should be,” Kit told her gravely. “I pulled it out of the Clearwater this morning.” “You don’t want it, Kit?” Taylor asked. “I caught two. I’m salting the smaller one, but I haven’t got room for the big one and you’ve got lots of people around your fire, so…” “Oh, I would love some salmon steaks,” Marit said. “They’re so expensive back home.” Veris glanced at her and Jesse knew Marit’s use of the word “home” to describe Australia had prodded him. Then he smiled at Kit.

“I guess that’s a yes, thank you. I’ll come out and get it.” “No need,” Kit said. “Stay and finish your meal. I’ll put it on the verandah. It’s cold enough outside it can sit for a while.” He tapped the hat and gloves against his thigh. “Well…I’ll get going.” He nodded at everyone once more, his glossy black hair gleaming in the light from the antique-style light over the table. “Happy Thanksgiving.

” Taylor took him back out to the front room, and Veris sat once more, while everyone listened to the murmur of the voices at the front door. The vampires at the table would be able to hear the conversation far more clearly. “He stops by a lot, then?” Alex asked Veris, his brow lifting. “Often enough,” Brody said. “He built a log house on the other side of the valley and likes to talk house-building with Veris.” He frowned. “Canadians are usually more aware of American holidays…” He met Veris’ gaze. Veris grimaced. “Maybe he did just forget.” “He just happened to arrive bearing gifts,” Alex murmured.

Jesse saw all three of them exchange thoughtful glances. She didn’t turn her head but slid her gaze sideways to see if Alannah had picked up the inferences. Alannah sorted through the bowl of nuts, picking out the macadamias and lining them up beside her wine glass. Sydney was chatting with Liberty and Alannah was listening to them, oblivious to the other conversation. Cael and Nayara exchanged fond glances. “We’ll have to worry about that, soon.” Nayara nodded. Winter, though, just looked sad. Christian, the youngest person at the table, and still using a booster seat, tugged at London’s sleeve and said something in French, too fast for Jesse to follow. “Yes, sweetheart, you can go and play,” London told him.

“But let me wipe your hands and face first.” She used her napkin to clear away the last of the custard and put him on the floor. That was a signal for the other children to slither from their seats and run from the dining room, their voices already lifting. Taylor swayed out of their way as she came back in. “It’s enormous!” she said, also pointing back toward the door. “I’ll take some of it off your hands, if you like,” Neven said. “London likes fish.” Remi snorted. “She lives in Brittany. She doesn’t have a choice.

” London laughed. “I like fish anyway, but salmon would be a nice change.” Veris got to his feet once more. “Cael, do you want to take some?” “Yes, please,” Cael said. “We don’t…” He paused. “Well, it would be very welcome,” he added. Jesse wondered what he had been about to say, that he had clearly considered to be a breech of protocol. Were salmon extinct in their time? The adults at the table also rose to their feet, discussing who would get salmon, who could take it home, and how they should cook it, while they stacked dishes and took them into the kitchen. Jesse was shooed out of the kitchen when she carried her pile of plates and dishes in and parked them on the island. “You cooked,” Sydney told her, flapping the tea towel at her.

“We all sat on our asses.” “You didn’t eat the food, either,” Jesse pointed out. “I would have, believe me,” Sydney assured her. “Besides, if I used that as an excuse to get out of doing something, my life would come to a grinding halt.” Her smile was warm enough, but the idea was startling. “As human as possible, huh?” Jesse said. “For the sake of the children, for those we love, and for our sanity, yes,” Sydney said gravely. “So go and relax,” she added, turning Jesse around and pushing her out of the door. Jesse headed for the front room and the dying fire. She built the fire up again, then moved over to the big picture window.

She would never get tired of this view—although the view from the back verandah, where the Mount Lady Macdonald seemed to rise directly in front of the house, was astonishing in its own way. Brody came up beside her and held out a small flat-based glass to her. Jesse took the glass. “What is this?” she asked, as Brody uncorked a dark bottle with a label that looked hand-drawn. Jesse would have said it was a very old bottle, but the label was crisp and new, even though the paper it was made from had a slight creamy cast to it. There was no English on the label, either. “This is a straw wine. A Vin Santo,” he said, and poured a deep amber liquid into the glass. “A dessert wine,” he added. “I’ve had more than enough wine today,” Jesse said.

“Try it,” Brody urged her. She sipped. It was sweet and thick and rich. “Mmm, nice,” she said. “Let it warm in your hand. It gets even better,” Brody told her. “I’d warm it, but…” He shrugged, smiling. His dark eyes danced. But he was the same temperature as the room and couldn’t warm it. “Where is this from?” Jesse asked suspiciously, eyeing the odd-looking label once more.

“Tuscany.” He recorked the bottle. “We have…had…have a villa there, back in the fourteenth century. Taylor took me back there a couple of days ago and I took a couple of these bottles out of the cellar, just for today. I thought you would like it.” “I do,” Jesse said truthfully. Brody put the bottle on the mantelshelf over the fire and came back to the window seat she stood in front of. “That view doesn’t grow old,” he said softly. The wave of…something washed over her without warning. An invisible band clamped around her chest and grabbed her throat.

Her eyes stung. Her chest hitched and she realized she was a step away from crying. She breathed deeply, trying to ride out the odd sensation. “Hey, what did I say?” Brody said, still speaking quietly. She shook her head, afraid that if she spoke, she would bawl, instead. She kept breathing, battling back the tears. Brody waited. He was very good at that. So was Veris. They had infinite patience, because they had all the time in the world to figure things out.

When Jesse thought she could safely speak once more, she said, “I’m happy.” And her eyes filled once more. “God, this is stupid,” she added and dashed at her eyes with the back of her hand. “I should be smiling, but it just…” Brody was smiling. He sat on the window seat and patted it. Jesse folded onto the cushion and wiped furiously at her damp eyes and they refilled. “You’re family, Jesse,” he said gently. “You don’t have to be grateful for that. It just…is. Taken for granted.

” She swallowed. “But I’m pathetically, wonderfully grateful anyway.” Her voice was hoarse. “After Mom died, I was alone—jarheads excluded, but even they aren’t the same as you guys. You get me. You let me be myself. And you’re…you’re nice.” Brody gave a soft laugh. “No one has ever called me nice before.” “But you are.

All of you. You’re different. Of course you are. But that doesn’t make any difference, or maybe that is the difference. You don’t brim over with milk and honey—none of you do —but you’re all nice to be around and you don’t seem to mind me and my ways, and you’re always happy to see me, and if it hadn’t been for you guys, I think I might have curled up and blown away, the last few years, but you’re here and you let me in and…and I’m happy.” Brody picked up her hand and just held it. “You know there is no ‘letting in’ in the way you’re talking about, right? You’re family by default, not by a show of hands. Time tapped you on the shoulder. You’re one of us, whether you like it or not.” She nodded.

Aran had said something like that, a long time ago. “But still…” He bumped his shoulder against hers. “We’re only nice because at the moment, no one is taking pot shots at us. No one is coming after us, stealing us away, screwing with time and our lives. So we can be nice. You haven’t been around to see the dark side. We all have one, you know.” Jesse wiped the last of the moisture from her cheeks, feeling foolish. “I’ve got one, too,” she muttered. “That doesn’t scare me.

” “It should,” Brody said. “One day, you might get to see that darkness and then you’ll understand.” He put her hand back on her knee. “We’ve been having a nice run of peace for a few years now, but that won’t last. It never does.” “I can’t figure out if you’re sad about that, or glad.” “Bit of both,” Brody said. “Surviving interesting times is tough, but it’s not boring.” “And peace is,” Jesse finished. It wasn’t a question.

“It can get that way, although for a while, it’s good.” She nodded, because she understood that completely. It was always good to get back to camp, but a month standing down was usually too long. “Are you upsetting Jesse, Brody?” Veris said, moving across the room toward them. Jesse sat up straighter. “No! I was just being stupid—”

.

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