Dirty (JUST BREATHE Ephemera Book 3) (2 page)

BOOK: Dirty (JUST BREATHE Ephemera Book 3)
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Neena appeared before her, holding out a small pile of neatly folded fabric and a pair of moccasins. Jetta hadn’t even heard her footsteps rustle the leaves. She warily accepted the clothes. Tugging a brown cotton tunic over her head, she wove her arms through the loose holes, marveling at the increased circumference of her triceps. When she donned the matching pants, Jetta met Neena’s stolid gaze.

“Thank you for the clothes. I’m confused as to what happened to me.” She held up her arm, made a muscle, and poked it with her index finger. “This wasn’t here … before.”

Neena’s expression remained neutral. “What do you remember about ‘before’?”

An image of a red-eyed man’s violent hands forcibly spreading Jetta’s thighs shattered her amnesia for a split second. She shivered, crossed her arms, and rubbed them furiously.

Disgraced. Degraded. Dirty.

Victim.

She lifted her head and met Neena’s eyes. “I tried to fight, but I couldn’t. I was helpless.” She held up big hands she didn’t recognize. If only she’d had these when Tyson attacked her, she might have stood a chance against him.

The woman nodded once. “You’ll not find yourself in such a predicament again. Come. Today you rebuild your foundations with new materials.”

Yeah, right. Losers like Jetta were destined to be prey for predators like Tyson. She sighed.

“Forgive me, but I don’t understand what’s going on.” Oh, hell, what did it matter? She had to go home. She’d sort out this insanity where things were familiar and normal. “I need to file a police report. And I run an animal clinic. I have patients waiting …”

“Not anymore, you don’t. You can never go back to your old life.”

No kidding. At least not to the comfortable little shell she’d hidden within for thirty years until now. But broken as she was, she still had responsibilities. “But—”

“It’s time you learned how to fight.”

What a joke. “Who am I supposed to fight? Tyson? You can’t fight something stronger than you.”

“Then you must become stronger than your enemy. Strength lies not only in body but also in one’s state of mind.” Neena stabbed her temple twice with an index finger.

The woman leveled her gaze on Jetta and clasped her forearms gently.

Heavy, thick energy roared into Jetta’s skin and dug deep into her bones, grinding out worries and filling in the gaping wound of shame with rock-hard potency. Her whole body shook with the power of it. Addictive. All-encompassing. Invigorating.

What the hell was happening to her? Whatever it was felt good.
Really
good. Her heart pounded out a steady rhythm, a change from its usual wonky stumble. Holding out an arm, she could almost see her muscles growing bigger before her eyes. A force greater than anything she’d ever experienced seized control of her body, and Jetta submitted to it. The aftershocks of the strange energy transfer brought a sudden onslaught of consuming greed that devoured her shame. Starving for another taste of that gritty fuel, she swallowed hard.

“More. I want more of that.” The words were more breath than voice.

Neena’s mouth curved into a smile. “Soon, you’ll have
much
more. Come. I’ll show you how to get it.”

J
une 25

A
s Jetta
and Neena sat facing each other in a small clearing, a sharp breeze knifed between them, disrupting the calm of their communion with the land. Both shuddered.

“Why do I dislike the wind so much?” Jetta rubbed her arms to get rid of the creepy, almost painful sensation crawling her skin. “It never bothered me before.”

“Air eclipses Earth. It’s the nature of things.” Neena stood.

Jetta got up and fell in step with Neena as she walked away. Since Neena showed her yesterday how to pull Earth energy from the ground, Jetta couldn’t bear to put her moccasins back on. The allure of the raw sensations between her toes and across her arches was too comforting.

“What do you mean, ‘Air eclipses Earth?’”

“It means you are evolving into something different from the Wyldling you once were. Do you not sense that you are on the cusp of a great change?” Neena thumped her fist against her chest twice. The thud echoed in the canyon of air between them.

Jetta stared at her. Yes, she did feel a change coming. Like the bitter rumblings of far-off thunder, rolling closer with each breath.

At first, she’d thought Neena’s tree-hugging rants were products of her Native American beliefs in the power of nature. But when Jetta fell asleep on the ground last night under the stars, her dreams were filled with the ponderous weight of something eternal and far-reaching. A profound presence shifting the layers of broken bedrock deep within her and cementing them into something much more resilient. Preconceived notions of life with a broken heart shattered and reformed. Untested potency lay dormant just below the surface of her skin. Waiting to break out.

As Neena promised, Jetta was no longer weak in body. Her mind had provided the strength she needed to overcome this obstacle—this
illusion
—of physical weakness.

Strength had been within her all along. She just hadn’t known how to access it.

Until now.

Jetta made a fist and studied the protruding veins in her hand. “When Tyson raped me, I felt so dirty.” A swell of anger pushed against her windpipe, begging for escape. She tried to swallow back the rage, but it clung to her tongue.

Neena’s heavy laughter dug into her ears. “There’s no shame in being dirty, Jetta.” She bent down, grabbed a clump of soil, and hefted it. Then she lobbed the mass into Jetta’s chest. It was like being hit by a high-speed train. Jetta flew about twenty feet before crash landing flat on her back.

She winced, more out of anticipation of pain than
actual
pain. Cradled by a vaguely human-shaped dent in the ground, she sat up, furious. “You could’ve killed me!”

Neena shrugged and sauntered over. “Not likely. You’ve enough Earth inside you now to withstand a tidal wave. A little dirt isn’t going to hurt anything more than your pride.” She offered a hand up. “Why don’t you try to hit me back?”

Instead of accepting Neena’s help, Jetta double fisted two Earth bombs and wildly lobbed them at the woman. Neena easily ducked the blows. A loud crack resounded, and a tree limb splintered and fell behind her.

“You let your anger over what happened fuel you. If you want to become powerful, you must focus your strength.”

Clenching her teeth, Jetta tried again, fury infusing her arms as she hurled two more clumps of Earth. This time, her aim was so far off, Neena didn’t even move to get out of the way. Jetta relinquished a howl of frustration.

“Anger derives from the same Fire that burned you in that police car. Every time you use it, you dishonor the Earth mother, Terra, and you give Tyson what he needs.” Neena’s calm face lowered close to Jetta’s.

“Tyson’s not here,” Jetta spat. She rubbed an arm across her forehead.

“No. But his god Incendius is. Feed that power, and you feed the flames of hatred.”

More talking in riddles. Jetta was so sick of this. She punched the ground beside her. Her fist sunk in a foot deep. “I need you to be straight with me, Neena. What am I? What are you? What is Tyson?”

A hint of a smile touched the woman’s lips. “You’re Jetta Briggs, soon to go by a new name when the change comes. I’m Neena, an Erthe Elemental and agent of the goddess Terra. My job is to show you the way to your destiny. Your job is to embrace it.” She circled Jetta, arms folded neatly behind her back. “Tyson is a Fyre Elemental who stands in the way of that destiny. You can give him what he wants and succumb to the Fire burning inside you, or you can oppose him by becoming his counterbalance—the opposite side of his coin, the yin to his yang.”

Jetta stood. “If I hadn’t been raped, killed, resurrected, pumped full of steroids, and turned into the Incredible Hulkess over the last few days, I might say you were crazy.”

“No steroids were used in the making of this soon-to-be Erthe Elemental. You’re one hundred percent natural. I guarantee it.” Neena chuckled but didn’t pause her steps.

Lowering her chin, Jetta closed her eyes for a long moment, then focused on her friend. True, the words were insane, and no rational person with half a brain would believe them. But Jetta
felt
the Earth Neena spoke of. The Element’s influence wasn’t something she could quantify or explain, but it absolutely existed within her. It hardened her. And she innately understood how this new body could withstand the fire of somebody like Tyson. Neena was right. Fire
was
her opposite.

Neena stopped in front of her and settled hands on her hips. “Now, are you going to hit me, or what?”

A grin rooted at the corners of Jetta’s mouth and spread across her face like a fast-growing vine. Neena darted away at racehorse speed.

Channeling the heat of the earlier confrontation away from her body and absorbing the Earth underfoot, Jetta dropped to the ground for more ammunition. Faster than light, she popped up, the growing force of Terra—or whatever Neena wanted to label it—blossoming inside.

When she thought she couldn’t become any heavier, she focused the Earth energy on the ball in her hand, cocked her arm, and let Terra guide her aim. The bomb collided square in the middle of Neena’s back. The blow sent her airborne, but she landed easily on her feet. Pride lit her glowing green eyes when she faced Jetta. She nodded once, then retaliated.

A full-blown dirt war erupted, punctuated by laughter and a few mild curses. It felt good to cut loose and let some of the tension in her shoulders ebb.

When they finished, Neena took Jetta’s hand and smeared a dark line of mud into her arm. Tingles lit up Jetta’s nerve endings, grafting more potency into her muscles and bones. Stronger than a drug and far more addictive.

“As I said, there’s no shame in being dirty.” Neena touched Jetta’s chin with a soil-covered thumb. “But plenty in being angry.”

Jetta met her gaze and nodded.

She had no idea what sort of madness had claimed her life over the last few days, but she couldn’t deny that being out here in the middle of nowhere with Neena felt
right
.

She glanced at the last rays of sunlight slipping past the horizon. Tyson was probably long gone, but there were plenty of others like him roaming the streets. Millions of unsuspecting people suffered from cruelty every day, just like the dogs and cats she euthanized at her practice.

Just like
her
.

“I’ll never be a victim again. And I’ll do everything I can to ensure no one else is a victim, either.”

A soft smile cracked Neena’s dusty lips. “That will require a great sacrifice. If you use Terra’s strength to help others, you must give the Earth goddess something in return.”

Jetta’s heart pounded its agreement. Nothing in her life had ever made more sense. It was as if twenty tumblers clicked into place at once and unlocked an indomitable force within her.

“Show me.”

J
une 28 – 4
:57 a.m.

I
n the predawn
darkness of Joshua Tree National Park, where yuccas huddled together, something shook Jetta awake. An internal alarm clock of sorts. As she started to rise, two strong hands grasped her throat. A pair of glowing red orbs stared down from the craggy cliffs of a hate-filled face.

Tyson.

Rage lit up her nerve endings. She slammed her eyes shut and mentally kicked dirt onto the Fire, snuffing it out as fast as it had flared. The molten iron grip on her neck tightened. Airflow to her lungs decreased. Panic rose at the all-too clear memories of the first incarnation of this familiar scene.

He bared his teeth. “I thought I killed you. Why can’t you just die, bitch?”

Jetta’s skin siphoned energy from the cool Earth embracing her. “You did kill Jetta,” she choked out. Her muscles throbbed with sudden intensity, and she shoved Tyson off. The Fyre Elemental soared through fifty feet of air, and slammed into an ancient yucca. A shower of evergreen needles sprinkled around his prone body.

She sprung to her feet, meaty hands balled into tight fists, and stalked toward him. “I’m the new and improved model.” She snapped her neck left, then right. Her heart pumped so fiercely, she thought it might burst right out of her chest. Raw power pulsed through her limbs.

Tyson lifted his chin and shook his head. Blood poured from behind his ear, saturating his shirt. “What the fuck?”

A deep vibration rocketed through Jetta’s bare toes, up her legs, through her chest, and stumbled out of her rattling teeth. Uh-oh. Had she angered the Earth goddess? She searched the night for Neena. A bellow, like a mighty yawn from an underground cavern, rose from Earth’s belly.

“Neena?” A fresh surge of adrenaline invigorated her limbs. She turned in a full circle.

“We don’t have much time.” Neena appeared at Jetta’s left, chest heaving for breath.

Balancing her attention between friend and enemy, Jetta shouted, “Is it an earthquake?” Southern California had been waiting years for The Big One. She hoped it wouldn’t decide to show its face today. Especially when she had an ass to kick. She glanced at Tyson.

Green eyes shining, Neena didn’t answer. Instead, she looked at her feet, then aimed her gaze over Jetta’s shoulder. “Your training is nearly complete. Tyson is your final test. Pass it, and you’ll meet your destiny.”

The Earth growled another curse. The ground shook in reply.

Jetta threw out a hand to steady herself. Feet sinking into the dirt, she concentrated on burrowing her “roots” in search of more of that addictive, heavy power. The deeper she tunneled, the thicker her muscles bulged, harder than ever.

The rumbles grew louder and more frequent. Fixated on Tyson, Jetta continued to dig.

The Fyre shook his head like a menacing lion, slinging blood this way and that. He shot toward Jetta, a wall of heat preceding him, announcing his impending arrival. His eyes blazed with the fire of vengeance, catching her off guard.

Jetta’s blood pressure took a nosedive as images of him forcibly taking her in the patrol car roared back to life inside her brain.

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