When Juniper met Jaxon, neither wanted a relationship. Both were pursuing their academic dreams and goals. They didn't expect to find their perfect match.
The only problem now, is the secrets they hide. His interests that wander all too close to the abuses she suffered. Her collection of other people's secrets and hidden shame.
They'll try to find their way together and have the life and love they desire.
“Juniper. What happened? Please.” Jaxon said, his voice filled with concern.
“She knew, Jaxon. She blamed me and kicked me out. The deal was made in bad faith. He knew that she knew. He played me.” I laughed with tears in my eyes.
“Teddy left with me. Mr. Reed says we can stay here as long as we need.”
“I… I can’t believe it.” He murmured.
I felt him drawing close. The urge to throw myself into his arms and let him comfort me was strong. I didn’t know what to do. I realized my anger was caused by my embarrassment, but I couldn’t let it go. His hand came down on my shoulder and he pulled me back against his body.
He was warm and solid behind me. Jaxon slid his arm across my chest and held my shoulders against him. He slipped the other around my waist. Jaxon rested his chin on top of my head and I closed my eyes. It felt safe and secure.
I’d put so much work into maintaining an air of calm and control. There was nothing left to hold on to. My whole life, my whole plan, was dependent on freeing myself and my family. What did I have anymore?
“Hush, sweet. I have you now. You’re safe. Don’t cry anymore, my sweet girl.” He whispered as he held me tightly.
Jaxon stared out the window of the bus as high desert and sagebrush rolled past. He was on his way to Kotter’s Folly, Texas. It was a medium size city in Trailbrush County. In fact, it was the county seat. The city had a community college, a large park with a manmade lake, lots of bars and restaurants, an event center, and a huge fair ground where they hosted the county fair and rodeos.
There were clubs and church groups that helped the community and kept the population involved and interconnected. He missed the sense of community that he’d felt when he lived here. It was his childhood home until the age of ten, then his father had to move the family north. He’d spent the next thirteen years in Boise, Idaho. Graduated from Boise High School and attended Boise State University for his undergrad.
He was moving back to Texas for his master’s degree program at the University of Texas in Austin. Though he was in the comparative literature field, his focus was primarily on late nineteenth and early twentieth century British literature. Jaxon had found a deep love for the depictions of class and gender struggles in the material and how each author approached the subjects.
There was a movement in the seat across from him that was reflected in the window. A young woman, also travelling alone, was staring at him. One of her legs was up on the empty seat next to her and the other settled under her. He watched as her left hand moved in a familiar motion between them. She’d tried hitting on him at the last stop, but she really wasn’t his type.
Her hair was long and blonde with green and purple streaks, her facial features distinctly Scandinavian. She had tanned skin and wore a skin tight top and a leather mini-skirt. Her legs were swathed in ripped fishnets and she wore Doc Martens.
Definitely the sexy party girl type. He could see at least ten piercings on her face, ears, and tongue, which she had stuck out at him when he refused her advances. The tight top showed that there were at least two more piercings lower.
Though he liked blondes, he preferred the more feminine ‘girly’ type. The ones that wore pink, had perfect makeup, even if it took them a long time, spoke softly, and had big, innocent eyes. The soft, delicate femininity that made him feel protective and strong.
Jaxon crossed his legs. Just because he wasn’t interested, didn’t mean he was completely numb to the girl pleasuring herself less than five feet away from him. Her reflection in the window showing her ministrations. He ran a nervous hand through his shoulder length black hair and swallowed hard. That was exactly the type of girl he should bring home to get his mother off his back about finding a girlfriend.
He heard her breath quicken as she got closer to her goal. There were only a handful of people on the bus, but they were far enough away, and predominantly wearing earbuds, that they couldn’t hear her panting breaths and soft moans. When she finally reached her climax, she practically lifted herself off the seat. After a few moments, she got up to head to the bathroom in the back of the bus. Before she did, she leaned into his seat and smiled. Jaxon turned to look at her, she was incredibly close.
“Was it as good for you as it was for me?” She giggled and walked away.
Jaxon took a shaking breath. He couldn’t wait to get off the bus and be settled somewhere sane. His half-sister, Bobbi would be waiting at the next stop to take him to her house.
She was hosting a barbeque with their other half-sisters and their families. He hadn’t seen all of them since he came to visit in the summer between high school and college. Bobbi insisted that they had to get reacquainted.
When the bus arrived at the depot in Kotter’s Folly, Jaxon gratefully dismounted and grabbed his bags from the undercarriage. After the bus left, he was waiting for only five minutes before Bobbi got there.
She pulled up in a dark blue sedan and got out. Jaxon had been thrilled when she’d made the offer for him to come stay with them for the summer, while he worked at the ranch owned by his oldest sister, Tamsin. He wanted to get used to the climate and social environment of Texas again.
Bobbi was 5'6", with reddish brown hair, light brown eyes, and a soft, curvy figure. She was bubbly, bouncy, and friendly. His father used to say Bobbi had never met a stranger. He knew, for all this, she had a terrible temper. It ran in their family. Though it took a lot to bring that temper out, it wasn’t one to be trifled with.
“Oh my goodness, Jax! Look at you, all grown up! You’re such a handsome young man.” She grinned.
“You said that when you saw me four years ago. Bobbi, please call me Jaxon. No one calls me Jax anymore.” He smiled and wrapped her in a hug.
She was the youngest of his sisters and about seven years older than him. Their father couldn’t seem to keep a family for very long when he was younger. His marriage to Jaxon’s mother was the longest. Each of his sisters was from a different mother, but they all remained close and included each other in holidays and family events. It made him feel a little lonely.
“I’ve called you Jax since you were a baby and I’ll call you Jax ‘til the day I die. Now, get your bag in the trunk. I wanna introduce you to a few people before we get to the house.” Bobbi winked and popped the trunk.
With a sigh, Jaxon loaded his two cases into the trunk and slid into the passenger’s seat. He buckled his belt and they were on their way. He’d been dreading this part. Matchmaking was a pastime of most married women in town. And Bobbi prided herself on being the best.
At the first business they visited, a sewing shop, he was introduced to three girls around his age. They were nice, but had few interests that aligned with his own. Mostly he heard about football, the weather, their political views, and what crafts or baking they were doing. He made sure to be polite. When they asked about his major, he tried to simplify it, like he did normally, but their questions were aimed at what work he could do with it and how much it paid.
The next shop, a coffee shop, he was introduced to a few local artists. They were interesting to talk to and told him some great places to go to clear his head while he was in town. A couple of the girls had slipped him their phone numbers and offered to show him around.
They invited him to an art show in a couple weeks at a place called The Painted Wagon. They seemed like fun people, but when he started talking about authors that he was fond of in his field of study, their eyes glazed over. It was hard to hold a conversation. He was a bit grateful when he and Bobbi left.
“I need to stop at a friend’s house next. You can sit in the car. I just gotta pick up a book.” Bobbi smiled.
“You’re sure your friend doesn’t have a half dozen single nieces looking for a husband? You’ve tried to pawn me off on enough.” Jaxon scoffed.
“This is why I’m not bringin’ you in. That attitude. You stay in the car and don’t embarrass me. Buck tore up my copy of the book for book club and Juni says she has an extra for me.” She told him.
Jaxon sighed and looked out the window. The city faded as they headed to the west side of town. Space between homes became larger. Most of them were down long driveways and couldn’t be seen from the road. He wondered what kind of woman Bobbi was friends with in this socioeconomic bracket.
They came to a dirt drive marked by a metal sculpture of a covered wagon. After driving down it for a bit, they arrived at a large gate with wrought iron bars and spikes. Bobbi pulled up to a pile of river rocks that were cemented around the gate access box. She pushed the intercom button.
“Hello?” A soft female voice answered.
“Juni. It’s Bobbi. I came to pick up that book.”
“Oh. Goodness. Yes, I have that. I’ll open the gate. Sorry, things have gotten a little crazy. Hank’s headed on a business trip and the house is in an uproar. I’ll meet you in the entry. Just knock. Teddy’s in the living room; he should hear you.” The voice responded.
“Thanks so much!” She chirped.
The gate opened and they drove through. He liked the tree lined drive, it reminded him of the one at his parents’ home. When they came to the house, Jaxon was amazed. It was huge. There were at least two stories, with a deep covered porch, and it sprawled like a housecat in the sun.
“I’ll be just a sec. I’m gonna leave the engine runnin’ for the air.” She told him as she exited.
He zoned out and within minutes, Bobbi was getting back in the car and handing him a tattered, well-worn book while she put on her seatbelt. He rolled his eyes and turned the cover over to see what romance novel or self-help book was on the plate of the book club. It took a moment for him to process what he was seeing. It wasn’t what he expected at all.
“You’re reading ‘Sons and Lovers’? Seriously?” Jaxon grinned.
“Yeah. We wanted to read different things. Juni said we might find somethin’ interestin’ in this and we’d do an easier one next time. She does that for us, like a treat after we read somethin’ heavy.” Bobbi smiled.
They finally went to the house. It wasn’t too far from the mansion they’d been at, but the difference was obvious. Bobbi’s house was pretty large, but nothing like the last place. After they parked, Jaxon retrieved his bags. They were met half way up the sidewalk by Beau, Bobbi’s husband.
When he’d been young, Jaxon had been a little scared of Beau. He was always teasing the boy. Beau was just under six feet tall and broadly built. He had sandy blond hair and looked like he’d heard the funniest joke in the world just moments before seeing someone. His laid back nature was at odds with the immense danger vibes he put out. Getting on Beau’s bad side was a perilous proposition.
He took one of the bags from Jaxon and escorted him into the house. They went into the kitchen and down to the basement. It had been remodeled with a mother-in-law suite that had one bedroom, one bathroom, and a little kitchenette. Beau dropped Jaxon’s bag in the bedroom and left without a word.
“He’s just a little moody. Don’t worry. He’ll be better once Red and Trace get here. You get cleaned up and rest for a bit. There’s time before everyone gets here.” Bobbi said as she was heading out.
“Thanks for offering me a place. If you want to discuss the book before your club, let me know. I wrote a whole paper on it.” He offered.
“Oh, well… maybe. I was almost half done when Buck got ahold of it. Did… did you want to come to the book club meetin’ on Friday to talk about it? You might have fun. Most of the members are my age or older, but it might be nice for you to talk about somethin’ other than whatever Red and Tamsin are gonna have you doin’.”
He smiled. “I might do that. Thanks.”
Bobbi left the basement and started preparing for the barbecue. She was hopeful everything would work out. She, Tamsin, and Karen had been in charge of this part of the plan. Jaxon was intrigued and would go with her to book club. He wouldn’t be able to resist it. She chuckled.
A few hours later, Jaxon entered the kitchen. Bobbi smiled. She took him to the living room and reintroduced him to his nieces and nephew. Miley was the oldest at fourteen, then Mattie who was thirteen, Buck was six, and Dani was two.
Bobbi had been fifteen when she met Beau at a party. They started dating seriously. He was twenty and hadn’t realized how old she was until her mother and stepfather showed up on his door step with a shotgun and a positive pregnancy test.
Beau was shocked, but had already fallen in love with Bobbi and was more than willing to marry her. He’d managed to turn his parent’s grocery store into a profitable local chain inside ten years with his innovative business model and positive community involvement plan. Now they were very comfortable and considered one of the most important pillars of the community.
Jaxon was talking with Miley when Karen and her husband, Trinidad Ramirez, arrived. With them was their daughter Camille. She was about Jaxon’s age, with long black hair, smooth dark skin, and sparkling honey brown eyes. Camille and Jaxon used to play together when they were small and he was happy to see her again.
Karen apologized that their other kids couldn’t make it. They were all living in larger cities or different states working on families or degrees.
He stood and shook Trinidad’s hand. They’d kept in contact because of how much Jaxon looked up to him. Trinidad went by Trace. He’d been a bounty hunter over twenty years ago when he’d gotten stabbed by a man he was chasing and ended up at the emergency room Karen was working at as an RN.
Trace had fallen for the commanding and caring girl, even though she’d led a sheltered life and was almost a decade younger than him. She convinced him to give up bounty hunting and become a deputy in the sheriff’s office. His military record had helped land him the job. Ten years later, she encouraged him to run for sheriff and he’d won the election. They were another prominent couple. Always on the frontlines of any emergency in the county.
Karen was the singular redhead in the family, but had her father’s light brown eyes. Even though she was the only illegitimate child of Jackson Boone, she was still accepted by her half-sisters as one of the family. Trace was always looking for his wife in any gathering.
People often remarked on the striking couple with his dark, rugged features and her pale softness. He was stocky, five foot ten, scarred, with dark hair and eyes. His skin was a rich ruddy brown that made her ivory paleness glow. He was warm when talking to Jaxon and had made him feel accepted in a way his other brothers-in-law hadn’t.
Soon after, they were joined by Tamsin and Frederick ‘Red’ Reed. She was the oldest of the siblings and looked most like Jaxon. Tamsin had long, silky black hair, deep blue eyes, and a natural tan. She was regal, statuesque, and stately. In the past, she’d been in the pageant circle, but her passion was riding. That was how she’d met her husband.
Red’s family owned a large ranch in the area that offered riding and roping training. They, also, trained kids for the rodeo circuit. He’d been teaching the beginner adult classes and had gone especially hard on Tamsin.
His strength from years of working the ranch, handsome dark looks, and calm serious nature had intrigued many girls. Only Tamsin ever caught his eye. She loved how he pushed her as much as she tried to push herself.
After she graduated to the intermediate class, she walked up to him and told him he could pick her up for a date the next evening at seven. He just nodded and they’d been together ever since. They were the golden couple of Kotter’s Folly, throwing the most attended parties and ever present at charity events.
For his part, Red made sure Tamsin had everything she could desire. They had eight children with their youngest two still being in high school. Every child was raised on ranch chores and proper etiquette. Only the two youngest children came with their parents. Even though their oldest, Rick, still lived on the ranch, helping to run it.
The oldest of the two was Clayton. He’d inherited his father’s looks, but also his mother’s blue eyes. He was admired on the junior rodeo circuit and a popular teacher for the youth riding group. His sister, Blaine, was in pageants like her mother had been. She was practically a carbon copy of her mother, but with dark, chocolate brown eyes like her father.
Clayton was only five years younger than Jaxon and tried to connect with his uncle in their shared youth, but Jaxon had little interest in Clay’s talk of attractive actresses and horror movies. They didn’t even have similar taste in music. Even though their mothers were the same age, they’d been raised completely different. Jaxon found more in common with fourteen-year-old Miley, who was more bookish.
The barbecue was friendly, for the most part, but Beau and Red never spoke to him in more than a grunt or single syllable response. He knew what Red’s problem was. Tamsin had watched her father jump from family to family. It was worse when he had ended up married to her rival from high school. Jaxon was the product of that marriage. He looked like a male version of the tall, raven haired Tamsin, but with his mother’s gray eyes, which made the whole thing more painful.
At the end of it, Jaxon felt like he’d gotten a better idea of his family. They realized how different he was from his father. Tamsin had even given him an approving smile when he used proper manners through the entire meal. He believed it was an inroad to creating a better family relationship. That night he went to sleep with hope.