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Chapter One: The Sweet Release

 

            Three years ago…

 

Italy was always a great port of call.  It was part of the reason she enlisted; see the world, travel to exotics places - that sort of thing.  It was just the sort of adventure the young seaman expected when the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, the USS Lincoln sailing into the harbor of Trieste.  This would make a good photo op to send to her sister back home.

But sight-seeing and picture taking would have to wait until tomorrow.  It was almost 2100 local time and any shore leave was hours away.  She could wait.  She waited this long.  Fortunately, her section chief asked her to run an errand to the bridge.  Normally the seaman had no desire to go anyway near a gathering of officers unless she had to, but this was an exception.  This particular task would bring her above deck and give her a chance to see the skyline of the city.  Her steps were light and swift as she burst onto the deck of the Lincoln.  She paused for a moment to regard the ancient architect when something caught her eye.  She went to the rail of the deck and peering into the inky black of the sea below her.  She couldn’t tell but she thought she saw something moving…a boat, something small.  She knew most vessels were smart enough to give way to a US warship, but still she thought she saw something. There it was again.  This time with a sound like an outboard motor.  It came closer.  She shook her head.  It was nothing to be concerned about.  No law against a vessel passing by.  She was sure everything was fine.  She heard a pop then a whooshing sound.  A flash of light accompanied the noise - a flash of light heading straight towards her.  She turned back to her original course heading for the bridge.  It was clear something was wrong and she needed to warn someone.  Her mission ended suddenly as fire, light and heat engulfed her. An explosion flung her body overboard.  As life left her body, she was sorry she would never get the chance to send her sister pictures of this beautiful city.

 

            Today…

 

Jordan T. Noble III drove his Cadillac.  The favorite of his four cars was his Corvette, but he felt this occasion needed something a bit more formal.  The Phantom Gray Metallic CTS-V was a suitable exchange for the customize sports car Jordan usually tooled around in.  It provided the class and elegant the long-postponed date with Jackie Myers called for.  She didn’t appreciate the pure animal performance the ‘Vette could deliver, but she found the Cadillac’s soft leather seats and uncompromisingly smooth ride far more desirable. Everyone can’t appreciate the mind numbing zero to sixty in 3.5 second of customized 1991 Corvette ZR1.  Oh, well.

            Jackie rewarded her escort with the tiniest of smile and slight sigh upon entering the CTS-V. Waves of relief came off her as she would not have to lower herself into the almost-on-the-ground corvette while wearing a skirt.  Her initial satisfaction set the tone for the remainder of the evening. 

They went to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History.  A sizable crowd turned out for the evening’s event.  The modern designed structure in the city’s Midtown had steadily moved its way up the ranks of one of the nation’s best. Jordan brought his guest through The Ford Freedom Rotunda. The ninety-five-foot wide by sixty-five-foot high glass dome practically begged boys, young and old, to shout, thanks to the echoes it generated. Jordan fought the urge.

The evening’s feature was a photo expose’ from the 1960s, held in the museum’s theatre.  The photographs were a collection of the civil rights struggles as told from the lens of various reporters from the era.  After a tour of both deeply disturbing and heroically triumphant images, the evening concluded with an address from one of the photographers.  Wizened and broken down by a lifetime of struggle, the well-suited gentleman passionately recounted tales of fire hoses, sit-ins and attack dogs.  All eyes were locked and every ear bent to catch the pearls delivered by the soft-spoken man.  A sense could be felt, this was one of, if not the last opportunity to hear such words.  This elderly man was on his final rounds, passing his wisdom to the next generation before going on to his much deserved rest.  When he finished, the entire audience came to its feet and rewarded the speaker with applause that wouldn’t end for several minutes.

Jordan insisted on shaking the speaker’s hand before leaving.  The man was clearly moved by the simple gesture, visited upon him again and again and again…

The program ended and they drove back towards Jackie’s Indian Village house.

“What did you think?” Jordan asked.

            “Very nice,” she told him.  Jackie was always a woman of few words. It usually annoyed him. Today, it just struck him as funny. A grin grew under his mustache as he looked over at her. 

            “What’s so funny?” Jackie asked.

            “You.” He looked at her just for a second, time enough to admired her turned sideways in her seat, causing the cut of her plum dress to reveal more than the usual amount of her brown flesh beneath. “You’re always holding back.”

            She cocked her head to one side. “What do you mean by that?”

Jordan’s eyes turned back to her.  He upset her a little – Jackie was a private person, even with him. Especially with him. His comment may have been a little too close to home.  Still, Jackie was a woman of even temperament and despite being bothered, she wouldn’t make Jordan pay for it too much.  A constant in their history was a reluctant to delve too deeply into the emotions they felt for each other.  It was Jackie who elevated their relationship to its current level of ‘more than just friends’.  Albeit it was due to the shock and stress of her near-death experience during the affair with Cody Random, nevertheless, she put her heart in harm’s way and open herself up to Jordan.  The three months since the Random affair ended and the surprise kiss Jackie rewarded Jordan with, had been more a slow dive into deeper feeling. They loved each other clearly as friends. But anything else…

            “You always hold back what you really thinking, Jack,” Jordan said. Jacqueline Myers was ‘Jack’ to no one but Jordan.

            “What did I do now?”

            “‘Very nice’,” Jordan repeated her comment, “not very forthcoming.”  He tried to soften the accusation with a smile.  It worked as Jackie mirrored his features. 

            “You were very moved by the speaker.  I’ve never seen you pay such undivided attention.”  Jackie smiled broadly now, expanding on her answer and at the same time, turning the table onto Jordan and his feelings.  He squirmed a little in his seat.  They both knew he was uncomfortable when so easily read, even by those close to him.  He flashed her a hot look as he exited the freeway.  Jackie busied herself with straightening her dress as she looked forward again.  A moment passed and she snuck a peek at Jordan.  He saw it and also noticed she had kicked off her shoes. She reared back in the leather seat, retracted back further than usual. She was letting her guard down and getting comfortable around him. And comfortable was good.

            “It was a very important topic,” Jordan said. “I was just…you know… I…I -”

            “I…I.” Jackie took up Jordan’s narrative but with her own slant. “I was just staring like a little boy.” She laughed, rearing her head back and covering her mouth. She crossed her legs. “So you were moved by the man.  It’s okay.  It doesn’t make you any less manly.” She reached over and touched his arm, “It’s very attraction.”  Again, she smiled.  Jordan wanted this to be her coming on to him a little but he knew she was teasing him.

            “You’re just saying that to make me feel better.”

            “Oh no, I would never do that.”  She lasted a full two seconds before collapsing into laughter.

            Jordan wheeled into Jackie’s driveway. It was a brick two-story Detroit was once famous for in its role as the ‘City of Homes’. A block or so west or north and the neighborhood was a much darker place. But, in Indian Village, the real estate was still prime. The neighborhood had long been the home of Detroit’s rich and powerful – for Jackie to find an affordable home here was something of a coup.

Jordan pushed the transmission in park, fully expecting a hug and a warm wish ‘good night’.

            “Want some coffee?” Jackie’s face was at neutral, and reading her emotions was impossible.

            “Er, yeah, sure.” Jordan had been in her house before, not since they started dating. With her rotations at the hospital and Jordan’s detective agency, the UrbanKnights’ sudden increase in business, being physically together was rarer than the norm. But this was different. Now, the invitation carried with it a suggestion of sex. And the kiss aside, Jordan found it hard to believe, they would ever be more than ‘friends’. 

He had always been attracted to her. He knew Jackie back in college – when she was at University of Michigan and he was at Michigan State. During all that time, Jordan had been quite taken with Jackie, admiring her from afar.  She, conversely, seemed eternally indifferent to him. Their friendship was undeniable.  But still, that’s all they were:  friends.  Until now. 

            She led him into her home.  Jackie took his coat while he went into the living room.  She paused for a moment to turn on Bose stereo.  The sound of Swing Out Sister’s Momma Didn’t Raise No Fool came forth. The lack of a local smooth jazz station meant the music was a product of a streaming service.  Jordan was alone for a moment, while his hostess vanished into house. He frowned.  He was making too much of this.  He decided to treat this like any other time he was in a woman’s house. 

He paused in front of the mirror over her fireplace.  He turned sideways. He was still in good shape. He trained and run constantly.  His line of work, past and present, demanded that he be in top shape.  He checked his hair and smiled, realizing he was acting like this a date with potential.  Jordan pushed that thought aside. It was Jack. Just Jack. Still, he noted his dark hair was accented with only the fewest flakes of grey.  It was an acceptable amount. A decade as an agent for the Defense Intelligence Agency and a couple as a private detective was sure to leave its mark on anyone. He opened the middle button of his suit, splitting the black coat, revealing a grey shirt beneath. 

            Jackie’s head poked from out of the kitchen. “No coffee.  I got tea…is that okay?” 

            “Only if you got -”

            “Earl Grey?” Jackie smiled further demonstrating how well she knew Jordan.  He suppressed his own smile as he lowered himself onto the couch.  He really wanted to be more enigmatic to coincide with his public persona as an investigator.  He accepted his friends and family probably could see through all that.  To be honest, this ‘self-vision’ wasn’t due to any vanity on his part.  Instead, it was an occupation necessity.  He always felt keeping an emotional barrier between him and everyone else would enable him to go into dangerous situations without friends worrying about him – no one worries about someone they can’t figure out. It never seemed worked out that way.  Jackie along with the UrbanKnights, his parents and few close friends, had pierced Jordan’s shield.

            Jackie emerged from the kitchen carrying a serving tray. It swayed a bit in her grip. What was that about?

Upon it was a tea pot, saucer and a pair of mugs.  She sat next to her guest.  Jordan accepted the mug of tea from his friend and took a spoon and a couple packets of sugar.  Honey would have been better. The mug bore the scripture, “The man of integrity walks securely”.  Jordan never asked her, but he always assumed this mug was especially for him.

Jordan enjoyed his ‘spot’ of Grey Earl, but he hadn’t adapted the English tradition of taking the drink with lemon.  Jordan was willing to open his tastes to new things, but he would only go so far.  You can take the boy out of the city…

            Jackie quietly sipped at her tea, still sporting a slight, secret smile.  When she brought the cup from her lips, Jordan saw her pleased look.

            “Now, what, Jack?” Her eyes seemed to brighten at his personal nickname for her. 

            “Nothing,” she said, “I was thinking about you and your tea.  You know, Jordan, you’re not that guy I met in college.”

            Jordan turned to her. “Really?  Wow, who’d have thunk it?  Are you surprised I’ve matured?”

            Jackie laughed. “I didn’t say anything about maturing…”

            “Ha, ha.  So what are you saying?”

            She paused before she answered, cocking her head to one side.  She studied Jordan, as was her way, much like a doctor examines a patient. It may have been her professional life intruding on her personal one, except Jordan remembered her always looking at him like that.

            “Well you and this tea,” she told him, “that’s so…I don’t know, European.  But back in college, you were so…”

            “Cool?” Jordan completed for her.

            “Hardly.”  That earned Jackie a hard look from her visitor.  She ignored it. “You were trying so hard to define yourself.”

            “What!” Jordan jumped back into the couch’s cushions.

            “You know it’s true.” Jackie reached out to playfully slap Jordan’s hand. “First you were a rapper, then a deejay.” she stopped to laugh, rocking with her mirth.  Jordan bit his lip.  It was funny. Everyone goes through a period of discovery.  It was natural, of course, a part of growing up. But when you hear someone else talk about it, it was a little silly. 

            “You were something else,” Jackie said. “You had a demo tape and everything.  What was your ‘rap name’?”

            Helpless to deny her recollection, Jordan said, “King Rock.”  Jackie put a hand to her lip to hide her laugh, the other unconsciously tightening on Jordan’s.  He surrendered and joined her in the joke. Tears were in Jackie’s eyes as she continued her trek down memory lane.  “Jordan Noble: rapper!”

            “I could have been too,” Jordan protested, “if my crew hadn’t abandoned me at the talent show. I had mad skills, yo.”

            She ignored his protests. “Instead, you became Jordan Noble, secret agent.”

            “Intelligence operative,” Jordan said, elevating his chin.  To the world at large, Jordan Noble was never an agent of the Defense Intelligence Agency.  All open source records reflected that Jordan spent his military career in Missile Operations in North Dakota and then doing classified staff work at the Pentagon.  There was something about him being an ethics instructor at the spy agency, but never a field agent. Even Jordan’s family thought that he was just another officer in the United States Air Force.  Years ago, however, Jordan needed a trusted ear he could confide in and revealed the true nature of his government service to Jackie.

            Jackie rolled his eyes. “Anyway, intelligence operative.  Sitting around drinking Earl Grey.”

            “Oh,” Jordan said, “so I’m all worldly now, and you’re feeling me, huh?”  Jackie blushed at Jordan’s blunt way of putting what was essentially true.   Somewhere in the room, Regina Belle asked Do You Wanna Get Serious.  The silence between the pair stretched to awkward dimensions.  The two friends, who could talk about anything, couldn’t tolerate the discussion of their own feelings.  Jordan realized that he had embarrassed Jackie and knew he had brought the evening to a premature end. 

            “Well,” Jordan said as he set his mug back on the tray. “Score one for my big mouth.”

            Jackie smiled gently but said nothing.  Jordan nodded at her silence and took it as agreement.  He stood to leave.  Jackie was on her feet after him. 

            “You don’t have to leave.” Her voice trailed off at the end.  This was something neither one of them wanted to deal with.

            Jordan continued through the living room to the front closet and the door beyond. “It’s probably best. There’s no need to…” he fought to find the right phase, “force this.”  He drew his coat from the closet and put it on.  Behind him, Jackie struggled to resolve the situation.  The attraction was there, he had seen it time to time over the years. But it wasn’t a hot blaze passions are known for…maybe a cozy campfire. Good for snuggling and little else.

He got his coat and looked back to her. Her fingers locked and unlocked, seeking something to do. If he knew her, and he did, the past months were going through her head. Late night phone calls. The business referrals they sent to each other. Longing looks. Casual hand holding. Though never spoken, these actions were the down payment for future romance.

            He twisted his lips into a half smile and unlatched the door. It cracked open. He felt her hand at his shoulder.

            “Jordan.” He turned to her at the sound of his name.

“I haven’t been fair,” she said. “All this time.  What we’ve been doing…I’m attracted to you. You’re a great man and a good catch.”  She smiled at the last bit, as if it would help heal his wounded pride and make this easier. He just turned to face her, eyes intense. He had an overwhelming sense something was ending. She was one of the few people he trusted without pause. If this was the last he would see her, he wanted to burn the memory of her into brain.

            Jackie dropped her head and moaned softly. “This isn’t working. I’m just messing it up.  Let’s just say that we’ll be better friends than lovers.”

            It was his turn to sigh. It was a long tiring road getting here. Just face the truth and get on with it. Rip off the damn band aide. “Okay, Jack. If that’s what you want.” 

Several seconds passed as the pair tried to figure out what to do next.  A kiss was straight out but would a hug be too friendly?  On impulse, Jordan reached and caressed Jackie cheek.  He paused for a moment to look into her brown eyes.  Jackie leaned in and kissed his cheek. She pulled back and tears brimmed. Jordan felt the hot sting fill his own eyes. He was about to turn when she leaned in again. Their lips met. Soft. Brief. She was backing away again but Jordan came forward. Her lips parted and his tongue slid through. They stopped kissing again, yet still close enough for noses to touch. His hands rested gently on her hips. She, however, had a fistful of his shirt in her grip.

“It’s…it’s hard.” The words came out of her between gasps of air.

“It always is,” Jordan said. “I’ll just -”

“I don’t want you to go.” She dared to look in his eyes.

“But you don’t want me to stay.”

A heartbeat. Then another. “Yes. Yes, I do.”

She kissed him again. Not a kiss goodbye. An invitation whose meaning was clear. The passion caught Jordan off guard but only for a moment.  His arms encircled her as he returned her affection.  She put her weight on him, forcing him back, slamming the portal closed.  Her breath was hot on his face, rapidly flowing over him in a steadily increasing rhythm.  His right hand filled with her hair, pulling her head back so he could probe her mouth deeper.  As they broke, Jackie pulled away with a gasp.  She looked at him, almost like a wild creature. No trace of the reserve woman he had known for so long.  In her stead was a being fueled by lust, if the look in her eyes were any indication.  Her breasts peered from behind her dress, heaving in time with her breathing. 

Without saying a word, she turned and started up the stairs.  Jordan undid the buttons of his shirt as he followed her.  By the time he reached the landing, Jordan’s jacket was a memory and he was working on his pants. Jackie made it to the bedroom.  She turned and Jordan seized her with a kiss.  It was her turn to be caught unaware. Thirty-three seconds passed before her survival instinct won and forced her to split the kiss.  Jackie drank in a lungful of air, but it was too late.  She was completely at the whim of Jordan’s advances and he was no mood to be denied.  He lunged forward and they fell onto the bed.  Jordan gave her no chance to recover and he descended with another kiss. 

The forbidden lust that had remained bottled within him had finally found release.  His hands explored her body, each touch, she jolted as if a shock of electricity igniting her entire being.  Nimble fingers discover the buttons of her dress. With a deftness that surprised her, Jordan undid the pants as his hand was still pinned between their bodies. 

“Oh, God.” The words slipped out of her as he with the skill of a safe cracker, slid his hand beneath the lace of her undergarment and caress her hip.  She went to moan but his lips came down firm on hers. Their tongues gently introduced themselves again. Jordan slightly shifted his weight so that his other hand could invade her bra and touch ever so gently the curve of her breast. Beads of sweat covered her.  Jordan moved to straddle her.  He dropped his underwear, the last of his clothing.  No sooner than they were gone, Jackie sat up.  She pushed Jordan back, just a step.  She looked at his naked body for the first time. There was no going back now.

            Before she could fully appreciate the view, Jordan bent over and yanked off her panties in a single motion, making her gasp. He smirked as he went to his knees.

“Wait, wait. Wait.” Even as words left her lips, her legs opened for him. “I’m not…I don’t think I’m…” A breath. “Okay…okay.”

Her spine curved as Jordan’s tongue kissed the innermost part of her.  If she enjoyed his handling of her body thus far, there were no words for the bliss that befell her now. 

            Time had no meaning as Jordan pleasured her. His skill was such that he brought her just to climax, and then back down, only to start again. 

“Jordan…Jordan, stop. I can’t take anymore.”

He almost felt bad for her. A woman always so in control. Now on the brink of begging. Her every nerve in her body would be alive and at full readiness by now.

            “Jordan…”

            He wouldn’t make her beg, and like a master of his craft, Jordan somehow knew that he had taken Jackie as far as he could with this technique.  He stood to enter her. She widened her legs as he lay atop her. She grabbed Jordan by the arm so hard, three days would pass before the marks faded.

            Their bodies came together. Slowly, then increasingly faster.  Her eyes rolled into her skull, showing only the white.  Jordan filled her as if they were designed for each other. 

He suddenly increased tempo.  The climax was nigh.  Jackie brought him close, tightening the hold, as if that were possible. Breaths were now grunts. Movement, swift and deliberate.  Not one iota of strength was wasted.  Their entire beings, body and soul, were totally dedicated to physical, sexual pleasure.     

            Then they felt it, as one.  The orgasm forced every muscle to tighten as if a bolt of lightning had descended on them from on high.  A moment in time so short yet all consuming, united them like no other.  Tightly closed eyes opened slowly and they regarded each other as if for the first time.  In many ways, it was.  A door had opened and another had closed.  Friends they were and friends they would always be. Fortunately, the enormity of the moment cannot be grasped by the mortal mind for long and quickly as it came…it was gone.  Jordan and Jackie went from being connected on a level they could only previously only imagine, to simply being naked and lying on each other.

            “Damn,” Jackie sighed.

Jordan could only drop his head and laugh.