It was late. Lauren was not sure how late. She dared not look at the clock in the corner of the computer. She had been working for hours. That seemed like days. An eternity. Brent had come and gone a couple of times, checking on her. Jill and Simone had brought lunch and more cake. Megan had delivered dinner. That remained pretty much untouched on the tray next to her.
Try as hard as she might, she could not get the simulation to run with anything more than fifty-fifty accuracy. Fifty-fifty! How could they possibly warn people and save lives if they could not say with any more certainty than that? “The world, as we know it, maybe coming to an end…or maybe not,” she sighed under the weight of the responsibility.
Strong hands gripped her shoulders, began to massage the tight muscles there. Brent bent and kissed the top of her head, “That bad, darlin’?”
Lauren felt the tears burning her eyes, “I can’t get the simulation to work. Well, not with the accuracy that we need to go public with your theory.”
He nodded, “What we do know is bad enough, though. If Daniel’s friend Zane can’t make our colleagues in Washington see that, then I’m going ahead and authorizing Monique to talk to her friends in the media. I’ll keep your name out of this. One of us ought to have a career left if I’m wrong.”
“It’s not that, Brent. I don’t give a damn about my professional reputation. Not when it is stacked against human lives like.” She could not bring herself to even think about it, let alone say Naples.
He drew her to her feet, “I know, sweetheart. I did not mean it like that. I guess my attempts at humor are a bit off the mark right now.”
She soothed the deep creases around his mouth, “I understand, Brent. You have a lot on you right now. How is everything else going? I was so busy working on the model that I have not been paying attention to much else, I’m afraid.”
“Katie’s plane landed in D.C. a few hours ago. Zane Rogers is going over your earlier data as we speak. Of course, what still worries me is La Palma. Even if he convinces FEMA and USGS about the severity of the effects of these eruptions on the environment, that still won’t prepare anyone for what could happen.”
“I know, and that’s the problem. What to tell whom and when. What is the latest with Vesuvius? I mean, all I have are numbers. A VEI 5 and approaching a 6?”
“Yes, even if Benito had had more time, the officials there were only prepared for a four. They would have only called for the evacuation of the Zona Rosa, which would not have made a damned bit of difference.”
“Science and politics have never mixed well,” she admitted reluctantly.
“I heard from Monique a while ago. They had a bit of trouble with the plane on the way.”
“What? Are they okay? Jason was flying her, wasn’t he?”
“Yeah, I switched planes and pilots at the last moment when I knew you were not going. Good thing too. From what he tells me, any other pilot might not have been able to handle it.”
Lauren saw the tension strumming through his body. She knew there was something he was not telling her. And she did not need the ‘sight’ for that one. She had known this man long enough to know. “It could not be an ash cloud, and I take it from that look, it was not lightening. So what is up, Brent? What happened that has you so upset?”
“I know Jason is thorough, but these things do happen, Brent.”
“No, sweetheart. This was meant for you. Someone sabotaged that plane. Jason inspected it himself the moment they made the emergency landing in Denver. Like I said, if it had been any other pilot, they would both probably be dead, right now.” She saw his tan skin blanch as he ran his hands through his hair, “You could be dead if you were on that plane.”
She stood up and went to him. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders, pressed her body as tightly as she could against his, got as close to him as she could with layers of clothes between them. “I’m fine, Brent. I’m right here. In your arms.” She stood on tiptoes and brushed a soft kiss across his lips, “And I’m not going anywhere, sweetheart.”
He wrapped his arms around her waist, burying his face in the side of her neck. “I need you, babygirl.”
She chuckled as she moved her hands between them and began unbuttoning his shirt, “Any time, any place, Dr. Jacobs.”
He shook his head and his hand covered hers, stilling its movement. He lifted it slowly to his lips and pressed a tender kiss to the center of her palm. “No, Lauren, not like that. Well, not just like that anyway.”
“I need so much more than just that beautiful body of yours. I need my partner back. We always were the best volcanologist team out there. You don’t know the number of times in the past few years; I’ve turned to ask you a question, seek your opinion.”
“I need to fall asleep holding you every night for the rest of my life and wake up next to you in the morning. I need to argue with you and love you. I want to raise our girls together. Truly be a family again.”
Lauren’s heart stopped as he dropped to one knee on the floor in front of her. She could barely see through the tears that streamed down her cheek, but what she did see choked all words from her. Between Brent’s fingers was the golden wedding band that he had given her over fifteen years before on the slopes of Kilauea.
“Remember what I told you last time, sweetheart. That gold was only purified when it was tested in fire. These past seven years have been worse than any hell that I could imagine. Missing you. Loving you. Needing you.”
“I’ve been tested in those fires, Lauren. My love for you has only grown stronger and purer. Will you wear my ring again, babygirl? Be my wife. My partner. My lover. My best friend. Forever and ever this time,” the tears were streaming down his cheeks too as he spoke.
All she could manage was a simple nod of her head as he slipped her wedding band back onto her finger. Once it was entirely in place, he bent and placed a kiss on it. Then he turned her hand over and put something in her palm. She smiled as she recognized the more substantial, matching circle.
She nodded her head as she drew Brent back to a standing position. She knew what she wanted to do. How she wanted to cement this bargain, but she was not sure she had the courage. She inhaled deeply, looking around, even though she knew there was no one else about. She had to double-check as she began to unbutton her silk blouse. Her jacket had been discarded hours ago.
Her fingers fumbled as they unzipped her trousers as well. She let them all cascade to the floor until she stood clad only in her knickers and matching bra. She loved the way that Brent loudly sucked air deep into his lungs. But she adored the twinkle in his eyes and that sexy smile even more. They gave her courage for the rest.
She reached behind and fiddled with the hooks on her bra. It was even more challenging and slower going since she still held his wedding band in one hand. But she finally managed the task. She held his gaze as she slipped her fingers beneath the lacy wisp that passed for her underwear. She pushed those down her legs.
She fell to the floor. Her knees spread far apart. She knelt, no part of her body hidden from this man. She kept her head and eyes down as she reached for his left hand. She frowned as she noticed the white mark for the first time. She had not seen before. Had his wedding band been there all along? Honestly, it would not surprise her. To know that he had never removed it in the past seven years.
Slowly she slid the wedding band back into place. As he had, she bent and placed a solemn kiss on the cold metal that could never fully represent the depths of love that she felt for this man. Love that despite it all, she had never been able to extinguish any more than the science she loved and had devoted her life to could dim or even control the forces of Mother Nature that was their shared calling.
“For better or worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. Forsaking all others, I pledge my trough to thee,” Lauren whispered.
“Damn, babygirl, you forgot. Love, honor…and obey,” he chuckled as he drew her naked body slowly up his.
“Oh no, Doctor Jacobs, if you want obey, then I heard these strange rumors around here about this thing called a collar? How barbaric?” She skipped the buttons of his shirt and went straight to work on his belt buckle.
His fingers encircled her neck, and she was shocked by the heat that raced up her spine to her addled brain at the erotic feel of them tightening. It was not enough to truly choke her, but enough to make breathing difficult.
Definitely enough to get her attention as she began for the first time to wonder just how deep her newly discovered submissive nature was. She would have never thought she could find something so dangerous, so appealing. What else was there that Jill and Simone had shared that she might discover surprisingly pleasurable?
“Yes, well, collars, unlike rings of fire, are earned, babygirl. So, you may need to learn to check that cheeky brat side of yours.” She jumped as his hand came down hard on her bare bottom, “Or other cheeks will pay the price.”
“Yes, Sir,” she smiled with a saucy grin that was as much a challenge as it was acquiescence.
“Oh, this is going to be fun, darlin’,” Brent pushed her over the desk.
Lauren moaned in both pain and pleasure as a series of solid blows landed on both cheeks of her bum. She jumped and fidgeted against the cold hard surface, but that only increased the fires burning between her legs.
Just when she thought she could not handle anymore, Brent entered her – smoothly, quickly, and deeply. There was no doubt that this was ancient, primal. Dominate male claiming his prize. Staking his claim and branding his mate. Body and soul.
Lauren cried out as his fingers wrapped through her hair, pulling her head back as he bit into her ear lobe. “Mine,” the single word held more power and meaning than the formal service that had once joined them as husband and wife.
“Yes, yes, Brent,” she pressed back against him, drawing him deeper as her body began to spasm harder about his. She screamed out her release as he plunged faster and deeper inside of her. “Please, please,” she panted mindlessly.
Her mate roared his release as his fingers jerked her head back harder. Her eyes flew open at the shocking depths of pain that only made the pleasure more intense. Their gazes locked and held as he emptied himself inside of her.
They remained like that for several long moments as their breathing and heart rates returned to normal. Lauren whimpered as she felt Brent’s cock soften and slip from her.
She jumped as another firm slap landed on her outer thigh, “Later, my greedy little slut.”
Her eyes widened in shock. She knew that she should correct him. That such a term was misogynistic and demeaning. But it certainly did not sound that way when Brent said it in that tone of voice. She bit her lower lip as she pondered the cognitive dissonance.
He drew her up off the desk as he once more removed his shirt, wrapping her in it and buttoning it just enough to cover the basics. He scooped her back into his arms as he made for the door.
“Is this some neo-Neanderthal mating ritual, Brent? Claim your mate in the man cave, then dress her in your skins and carry her off?”
His deep laughter filled the night as they stepped into the clear moonlit West Texas desert. “Sounds like a good mating ritual to me, Mrs. Jacobs.”
Lauren smiled as she wrapped her arms about his neck tighter and buried her head in it. The moonlight danced upon her wedding band.
Yes, tried in flames. Their love had only grown stronger. Their union might always be as unpredictable and explosive as the giants of nature they studied. But like those volcanoes, their souls truly were Rings of Fire entwined across time and Fate.