Brent was up before dawn. Even with as little sleep as he had gotten with Lauren in his bed. It had never been quantity with Lauren but quality. He sighed as he brushed a strand of hair out of her face and kissed her shoulder. Despite how much they had made love the past two days, his cock was hard, nestled between the cheeks of her warm, soft ass.
He smiled; two mornings in a row, he had woken up to perfection. After seven years of tossing and turning alone and lonely in his bed, he appreciated it more than he ever had.
That was what made this so damned hard. But Brent knew he had to get up. Not only did he need to check and see how things had gone during the night with the evacs, but there was also something he needed to speak to Daniel about in particular. Lone.
He snuck naked and barefoot from the warmth of their bed. He made sure to tuck the blanket tightly about her. He meant what he had said. If he saw her face out of this bed before noon, he was spanking her cute butt and bringing it right back here even if he had to tie her to the bed…again.
That had gone better than he expected. Well, except for her threats after the second time they had woken. When she discovered that she had fallen asleep under him with her hands still tied to the headboard, she had sworn that she was going to return the favor and tie him down next time. Brent reminded himself to watch his back, perhaps find a nice, safe hiding spot for those stupid silk ties.
He gathered fresh clothes and his boots as quietly as possible and made his way to the small bathroom. His shower was even quicker than usual this morning; wasting water was not something you took lightly in the desert. He did not bother with shaving either, just brushed his teeth, got dressed, and was out of there before he missed Daniel.
He knew that the man liked to spend time in the kitchen with his wife as she got breakfast ready. Not that he blamed him. He wanted to spend the whole damned day with his. But after last night, he was hopeful there would be a lifetime for that.
He made his way to the bunker and climbed down just as the sun was coming up over the rolling hills topped with low mesquite bushes and cacti. He was glad to find Daniel alone still in the small office and storage area.
He was studying the map once more. The red dots for active volcanoes. Yellow for other ones. Clusters of blue for their people around the globe. Curving, swirling lines for the jet stream across the Northern hemisphere. Brent looked over his shoulder at the map too, “How’d it go last night?”
“Not as good as it went for you, Doc. Saw somebody carrying something out of the command center late last night. Looked kind of heavy, but he seemed to have it in hand.”
Brent blushed though he supposed he deserved it. For almost five years, he had been the innocent third party in the harmless ribbing between Daniel and Samuel, never taking sides, instead merrily going along with whoever was the instigator. It should come as no shock then that both men were going to take their chance at payback.
“Did the plane get off?” Brent turned the conversation back to the topic at hand.
“Yes, it should be landing on the airstrip early this evening, and so far, so good. Samuel has Simone rallying the troops and getting cabins refreshed for the new arrivals. Since the pilot made them leave most of their things behind to take more precious human cargo, it is going to be a bit of strain on our stock rooms.”
“Have Simone take the kids with her into town. Clear Wal-Mart out if you have to. All the basics: blankets, shoes, underwear. She’ll know what to buy, I’m sure. And have those kids pick up as many toys as they can too. Have Jill give her a list of supplies, too. Send one of the guys to rent a moving truck and bring it all back here.”
Daniel shook his head and stared at him. “Let me guess…whatever it costs?”
Brent laughed and nodded, “Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. If I am wrong, then I’m gonna be broke. But, hell, it is only money. I’ll still have this place, my salary, and stock shares from Jacobs Energy. That is a hell of a lot more than most people make every year. So, don’t worry, yeah, I can still afford to pay yours and Samuel’s salary.”
“Fuck that shit, Doc. Like you say, it’s only money. So, I reckon Samuel and I will be pooling ours with you to purchase whatever we can for this place and the others. It’s not like we need the damned stuff around here. Not like we ain’t got everything we need right here. Especially the most important thing – family,” his friend looked back at the map.
“Are they coming?”
“Yeah, I’m just not sure that they will all make it to Morocco in time for tonight’s plane. And we both know that we can’t afford to wait. Can’t put other people’s lives at risk for the four of them,” Daniel’s face darkened.
“Then find another plane. If not Morocco, somewhere in Northern Africa. Fuel the damned thing and leave it sitting there for them,” Brent made the call.
“You sure, Doc? A plane for just four men. I know money won’t be worth much if you’re right, but still?”
Brent clapped him on the shoulder, his fingers biting into corded muscles, “Friendship is. Worth a hell of a lot more than money. No matter what happens.” He forced a more jovial chuckle than he felt, “Besides, I don’t want nothing affecting your wife’s cooking.”
Daniel roared in laughter though Brent saw that the mirth did not reach the man’s icy blue-gray eyes. “Nothing to worry about there, man. One of the first things that the woman told me was that she cooked when she worried. When she was happy, sad, or mad, she just cooks.”
Brent smiled at the love he heard in his friend’s voice. It felt damned good not to be envious and a bit resentful of that for once. Especially now.
Still, the unspoken worry eked at the back of his mind, and Daniel Monroe, former US Navy SEAL team Commander, was probably the one person who could confirm or deny his biggest fear. Could he keep the people he loved most safe, even here, with all he had done?
He cleared his throat, “Daniel, there is something I need to ask you while we have some privacy. Not that I don’t trust Samuel just as much, just that,” he sought the right words to explain. “Just that this is more a command than a logistics issue.” He hoped those were the right words; he did not want to create any friction between the men.
Daniel looked away for a moment, and when he turned back, there was a cold stony pain in his eyes, something that Brent could not explain but knew. He had seen it on other men. Men forced to make hard choices of life and death, sometimes even when it came to innocents. And he supposed that in some ways, it was a fellowship that he was joining now.
Before he even put the question to words, Daniel answered, “You want to know how safe we are here. How truly safe?”
“But not just against marauders.” He sighed, “Daniel, I hate asking this, but I have to know. Are our women and children safe from…”
“Our own government?” Daniel finished as he shook his head. “All I can say is that we have done our best. But it honestly depends on how badly they want you dead, Doc.”
The former Commander motioned to a chair by the desk as he perched on the end of it. “Want to tell me why you’re asking this now?”
Brent’s shoulders slumped, “You got my orders last night? You have the basics of what Lauren discovered. Even if I am wrong and no more volcanoes blow, there will be enough damage from Katla and Laki to send a cloud of noxious gases that we call vog, volcanic fog, across Northern Europe. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of the most vulnerable, the elderly, young children, the sick will die from respiratory problems.”
“And that’s just the beginning. This summer will be one of the hottest on record. Followed by a nasty winter. Unpredictable weather of floods, droughts, and who knows what, for perhaps the next decade. And it could wrap around the globe. Crops could fail all over the world.”
“Famine and war, right, Doc? What you’re saying is that even if you are wrong, you’re right. With the instability in world markets and geo-political systems, the world as we know it is over?”
Brent nodded his head at stark words that sounded even more alarming spoken aloud. “Lauren tried to warn some of our colleagues in Washington and London…”
“But let me guess, they won’t listen? And you’re thinking about going public with your theories. Warning people? Giving them at least a chance to prepare before it is too late? A fighting chance at survival for them and their families?”
“Of course, you know they will do everything they can to discredit you. Drag your name through the mud. Hell, make up lies if they have to.”
“That does not bother me. My career as a scientist was over long ago.” He looked his friend in the eye, “It is not what they can do to me that bothers me, Daniel. It is what they might do to the people I love that scares me.”
Daniel nodded slowly, “Theoretically speaking, you hear me?”
Brent had never asked this man or Samuel to reveal their past. Hell, he had put this question off for as long as he dared. He did not want to make his friends uncomfortable, reveal national secrets. Just help him make an informed decision.
“Theoretically speaking, it would be fool-hardy of them to make a direct attack on this place. Your daddy has his own powerful allies. And you are no gun-hoarding, evangelist messing with little girls. You might not be the most respected man in the field of volcanology right now, but it would not make sense to do a full-out frontal assault with the FBI or ATF.”
“What about others?”
“You mean Black Ops?” Daniel shook his head again, “I still think it is too risky. Too much collateral damage at risk here. Too many friends in high places.”
“But someone might try a subtler attack. If I were planning it,” Daniel looked him directly in the eye. “Contractors. Private security. More deniability. Shit, the government does not even need to be directly involved for something like this. Just pick up a phone and leak the information to the right person, someone with lots to lose. Then if something did go wrong, it could never be traced back to them.”
Brent paused for a moment as he weighed up what his friend was saying. Confirming his worst fears but at the same time, “What would be our chances if they did?”
Daniel smiled, “Let’s just say that Samuel and I thought about this before you did. And I would not want to be the one leading that suicide mission.”
“Suicide mission? That sounds a bit too confident, Daniel.”
“Really? Everyone over the age of ten in this place knows how to shoot a gun. Hell, both my oldest and my wife can put a bullet in the sweet spot right between a man’s eyes. Bel can’t bring herself to go for the kill shot, but let me tell you where that girl aims, a man will wish he was dead.”
“We have guns, ammo, and heavy artillery stocked piled here, and I made damned sure that the powers that be don’t know that, Doc.” Daniel met his stare head-on, “I trusted you with my family’s life when I came here. Just like you know your volcanoes, I know this. And I have made damn sure that short of that full-on attack on all fronts, my family, yours, and all the others can take care of themselves.”
“So, Doc, you do what you gotta do and leave the rest to us. As long as you are still as good a shot as you used to be.”
Brent chuckled as he stood and held out his hand towards his friend. Like so many things, this was not the answer he wanted. But it was good enough. He did trust Daniel and Samuel with his life and those of his family. Now the rest was up to him to decide when and how to inform the rest of the world that the Apocalypse was nigh.
Lauren did sleep until almost noon, but that had more to do with spending the whole night in her ex-husband’s bed and waking to make love twice more during the night, the last time just as the sun began to rise over the desert.
When she finally woke, she had to admit she had not felt this rested, this refreshed in a very long time. She had showered and dressed once again in comfortable jeans and a t-shirt before going in search of something to appease another kind of appetite.
As she stepped from Brent’s cabin, she noted a marked difference in the Regenesis community. Dozens of people scurried around carrying boxes, stacks of linens, and other essentials. They were busily working about the cabins that had been closed just the day before. She had almost decided to give food a pass until lunch, perhaps seek out Brent and see if there was anything she could help with, but the loud rumble of her stomach made it seem more prudent to seek out sustenance first.
She made her way towards the kitchen, noting even more activity, especially among a group of men, two of whom she recognized as the cook’s husband and his friend. She tried to remember names, but that skill had never been her strong suit despite her above-average intelligence.
The dining hall was darkened when she arrived, empty but perfectly tidy. She once again contemplated the situation and was about to turn and leave when the doors to the kitchen swung open. The cook and her friend appeared through them with three small children running at their heels laughing.
They stopped just behind the buffet. The chef, Lauren embarrassedly searched her brain for the woman’s name, smiled at her in greeting. “Good morning, Dr. Masters. Doc said you might stop by later. I saved a couple of blueberry muffins just in case.”
The two women spoke quietly for a moment before the blond woman disappeared back through the doors. The other woman and the children, who looked to be about three or four, came towards her. They stopped by the wall on her right for a moment, and a couple of lights came on overhead.
The woman came to stand by her as the children began to run and play. Lauren smiled at how care-free the kids were even as the whole world was changing. Reluctantly she admitted that it was doing just that – changing irrevocably.
“I’m Simone Jackson,” the woman extended her plump hand. “My husband and Jill’s are the head of security around here.”
Lauren took the hand with a smile. The idealist in her wanted to believe that security was not something that a place like this needed, but she had been in too many disaster areas, knew what desperation could do to people. “Lauren, Lauren Ja…” she stopped herself, realizing her mistake. “Masters. Dr. Lauren Masters,” the final one more a reminder to herself of who she had become these past seven years.
She was a tenure track professor at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, a respected and well-published public speaker, and a scientist in her own right. She was no longer merely Brent’s protégé, his student, his partner, or his wife. Or she had been anyway.
But rather than fill her with pride at her accomplishments, it made her sad because the truth was she was no longer a part of a team either. And this place proved that Brent, too, had moved on. Had created a new team without her.
The other woman nodded stiffly as a dark blond toddler, Lauren could not tell if it was a boy or girl, clutched the woman’s thigh. “Auntie Simone, save me.”
She laughed and pried tiny fingers from around her leg, “No, Dylan, you’re on your own.”
He shook his little head with hair far longer than was fashionable as he pleaded. “But there are two of them. Why does Darcy always side with Davey? She’s my sister; she should be on my team,” he pouted.
Abundant laughter rang out through the building, “Cause, baby, those two’s stars are entwined. Besides, you are older than Davey. Maybe your sister feels like she needs to protect him.”
The little boy put his hands on his hips and stared her down, “Six months is not older.”
The door swung open, and the other woman joined the organized chaos. Jill, Lauren was pleased to have a name to go with the face without the embarrassment of asking. She repeated it silently ten times as the woman placed a tray on the closest table, “Dig in. I brought you tea this morning. Doc asked that I add it to the stocks.”
Lauren shook her head as she took a seat; she was not sure which smelled better. She took a bite of the muffin first but followed it with a sip of the perfect English breakfast tea. She smiled her appreciation to her hostess as she queried, “Doc? Who is Doc?”
But it was the other woman, Simone, she reminded herself, that answered, “Dat’s just my Samuel and Daniel’s nickname for your husband. Before we all came here, our guys were SEALs. They met Brent when they were assigned to one of his expeditions.”
Jill laughed as she continued the story, “Our guys figured that your husband would be some geeky, science nerd, so before they even met him, they started calling him Doc.” The women exchanged a glance as they giggled and fanned themselves, “Of course, Brent proved to be anything but a nerd.”
Lauren joined them in laughter as she took another bite of the muffin, “If you only knew.”
Simone raised her eyebrows and sat down at the table with them. “Do tell, gurlfriend. Dat man been squirreling your ass away ever since you gots here. But we figure sometings up when yous come back from the desert with ‘tumble’ weed in your hair and a hickey on your neck.”
Lauren blushed at the woman’s words. Had her actions made them fodder for gossip in this small community. Jill’s hand covered hers on the table, “Don’t mind Simone’s kidding, Dr. Masters. She does not mean any harm. It’s just her way.”
Once more, the two women exchanged glances and a stare. Lauren covered her discomfort with another bite. She hated to admit it, but she was envious. She had never really had a ‘gurlfriend’ as Simone called it. No female companion to share secrets with. Her life was books, knowledge, science…and Brent. For the first time, she felt perhaps she was missing out.
“Hey, I resemble dat,” Simone laughed as she looked across the room to where the children were now playing with building blocks. “But she’s right, Dr. Masters. I don’t mean any offense. It just sort of comes naturally to me. You see…I’s got the sight.”
Lauren shook her head as she took another sip of tea, “Not you too.”
The women both studied her, but Simone spoke first, “What you mean?”
Lauren looked down at the table, “Mind you, I don’t believe in such foolishness. But my Grandmam says that the sight runs in our family.” She shook her head, remembering the uneasy feeling that she had had as she left her office to pick up Elise, “She insists that I have it too.”
Simone’s laughter echoed off the walls. “Naw, child, if you had the sight, you’d know better than to fight the stars with dat man.”
Jill giggled and smiled reassuringly at her, “Afraid you are in real trouble now, Dr. Masters.”
“What do you mean?”
“Once Simone decides that ‘de stars be wid you,’ she won’t stop meddling.”
“And dat worked out so awful for you, gurlfriend? I saw how you winced when you sat down. And I know dat Sammy made a new paddle for Danny Boy. So, don’t you be complaining about my meddlin’ when you be reaping de benefits of it?”
Lauren almost spewed hot tea across the table at the woman’s boldness as Jill blushed. “Yeah, well, it is Samuel’s fault, insisting that Daniel has to learn how to keep things lively.”
Lauren felt her cheeks redden with each word exchanged. She had read ‘that’ book too. Strictly out of scientific curiosity about the fuss. Of course, that was all it was, she assured herself. After all, the ink was not even dry on the divorce back then. She was merely sexually frustrated. She certainly would not want… No, certainly not.
Hell, Brent’s silk ties had been shocking enough. She certainly did not want to imagine paddles or any of the other kinky stuff she remembered, like floggers and clamps…and tawse. Lauren inhaled and stopped her mind from trapesing further down that unknown path. No, ties were bad enough.
So, why were her nipples hard inside the lace bra? And why did she have to shift uncomfortably on the hard seat to keep her jeans from rubbing certain sensitive spots? She turned back as Jill stood up.
“Well, I better get back to work. The lunch crowd will be here in less than an hour. But it was nice getting actually to talk with you, Dr. Masters.” Jill held out her hand, and Lauren shook it, “I can’t tell you how glad I am that you came. Doc always said yours was the one mind that could put it all together.”
“Ain’t the woman’s mind dat has dat man smilin’ and struttin’ his stuff round here like a banty rooster,” teased Simone.
“You be good. Don’t go scaring her off with your ‘written in the stars’ shit. People have to work that stuff out for themselves; you know that.” She turned back to Lauren, “Besides, it has been nice having another woman to chat with round the table. Who knows, I might have to make scones tomorrow. If it will draw you back here, Dr. Masters?”
“Lauren. Call me Lauren, especially if I am invited back for scones.”
“Deal,” Jill held out her hand again.
Lauren took the woman’s hand and was only mildly shocked when another darker one covered both of theirs, “Ain’t been this much fun since…” But Simone stopped, and sad looks covered both of the women’s faces.
Lauren would have asked what was wrong, but the doors swung open. Brent and Monique entered with a couple of others, whose names she could not remember.
“We have to now, Brent. Lives depend upon it…”
Brent saw Lauren’s head come up at Monique’s assertion. It was the same argument they had had all morning. From the moment he had explained all the implications of Lauren’s findings to her, Monique had been insisting that he give her a plane so that she could fly directly to Los Angeles.
She had more than one friend in the media. She could be on every major network, get the news out in a day, she insisted. While Brent had concluded that they did have a moral obligation to share what they knew, he knew that how they did it was just as important.
It was not just the safety of those he cared about here either. There might not be much he could do to stop ‘them’ from smearing his name, Monique’s, or perhaps even Lauren’s now, but he was all too familiar with how people took these warnings.
More than once, his teams had raised the alarms on a volcano. Called for evacuations…too soon. The people left. But if they did not see immediate results, if the volcano did not begin erupting on their specified schedule, and they rarely did, then people began to trickle back. One by one returning to the danger zone, and lives were lost. It was a case of the ‘boy who cried wolf.’
This time, even more so, because the Iceland eruptions seemed so distant, unrelated to their everyday lives. Even in Europe, he knew that most people still believed this was nothing more than a few days, a couple of weeks max, of inconvenience until the skies were clear again and their lives returned to normal just as it had in 2010 with Eyjafjallajökull. Asking them to make this kind of long-term jump, months and years into the future? Well, Brent still had not figured out how best to accomplish that.
Lauren turned back to Simone with a smile and said something before standing and walking over to them. She looked decidedly uncomfortable as she bit her lower lip and stared at the floor. He wanted to laugh as he realized what was going through her brilliant mind. His wife was not sure what to say or do – after last night.
In true Lauren fashion, she ignored the issue and turned instead to Monique. “Good day, Monique. I could not help overhearing what you were saying. What do we have to do now? What lives are depending on it?”
Brent braced himself for the explosion that he knew was to come. These two women, his best friends, never agreed on anything, and he was confident this one was going to be a biggie. A VEI 6 at least.
“Good morning, mon cheri. I am trying to convince this stubborn husband of yours to let me fly to Los Angeles. I have friends in the media there. People need to know what is happening. What is to come.”
“Yes, I agree. People do need to know what is to come,” Lauren nodded her head as she placed her hands on her hips.
Brent’s mouth dropped open.
But nothing could prepare him for what came out of his wife’s mouth next. “That is why I am going back. To talk to my contacts in London and Washington. Make them see the truth. Help them to formulate strategies to handle this situation, the proper way.”
“Oh hell, no, you are not,” Brent practically shouted as all around them, everything and everyone came to a complete standstill.
Now she turned towards him. Without even so much as a cordial ‘good morning,’ let alone a proper greeting after all they had shared last night. Her hands firmly on those hips, her feet wide apart, she glared at him, “Yes, yes, I am, Brent. It is the only thing that makes sense.”
Brent knew that look. Hell, he had seen it often enough those last couple of years. Shit, on some level, it was the same one that had made him take notice of the pesky little kid with all her ‘yes, buts’ all those years ago at science camp. But it was a matter of magnitude. He knew when he was going to be on the losing end of that look.
And short of throwing her back over his shoulder and carrying her off to their bedroom and tying her to the bed once more, he knew he was in big trouble here.
He sighed as he looked around at the toddlers playing and Simone almost laughing. He knew that in less than an hour, this place would be packed. Even before then, Jill needed to set things up out here. This was certainly no place for this kind of argument. Besides, there was expertise that he needed…and hopefully, it would be on his side.
“Okay, you two follow me,” he commanded as he hit the button on his radio and summoned Daniel and Samuel to meet them in the bunker. Though why he would think a room full of guns was a good idea for this conversation was beyond him. Pistols at high noon in the bunker, it was then.