Lauren forced her eyes away from those crystal blue pools whose depths threatened to drown her or her last shred of sanity anyway.
“I thought you were going to show me around.” She needed the distraction. Desperately. This man was doing things to her. Things that she had thought long since dead. Things that only he had ever done to her. Her mind. And her body.
Brent cleared his throat and nodded. He took her hand in his. When she made to draw back, he squeezed her fingers a bit. “There are rocks and holes in the ground. You could twist your ankle in those heels if you aren’t careful. And I know how much you love wild animals, so I’m just trying to keep you close by.”
Lauren nodded at the mention of anything wild. It was a running joke with them. Since the year that another girl at science camp had put a frog in her bunk. When she found it, she had screamed so loudly that the whole camp came running. Of course, Brent was there first. And like a true hero lifted the offending creature and carried it safely outside.
Over the years, it was a pattern that had been repeated time and again as they traveled the globe following disaster after disaster. Brent would check each path, the tent where they usually stayed, and their sleeping bag for anything that moved – except him, of course.
“Still my girly girl, I see. How have you managed any fieldwork at all these past few years with that phobia of yours?”
Lauren ignored his use of her pet name. “I am a big girl now, Brent. I have learned to face my fears and not give in to them.” She only hoped that she would be as successful at not giving in to other emotions, especially where this man was concerned.
“I always knew you were stronger than you think, Lauren. I just wish that we could have grown stronger together as a family.” Tugging her hand, he led her towards an outcropping of satellites, wind turbines, and solar panels. A prefabricated building sat next to it.
“This is the command center. It houses a collection of computers, televisions, and short wave radios. It also serves as a meeting place for a lot of people here. Of course, most people here have tablets or laptops that they use at home, and we all get satellite Internet and television.”
He shrugged as she surveyed the area, “But this place houses the scientific team that collects the data from various locations: USGS, Kilauea, Yellowstone, and a couple of Icelandic observatories as well. We feed this data into the forecast model I showed you so we can make constant updates.”
As they arrived at the metal doors, Brent pushed them open, stepping back a bit to let her pass. It was a tight squeeze, and Lauren’s breast brushed against his arm as she did. Her nipple pebbled instantly. She cursed her own body that seemed determined to betray her.
But a quick intake of breath from Brent told her she was not alone in this minefield of desire. Their eyes met for a brief moment, and the passion she saw in his blue depths was every bit as intense as it had been the first time they made love.
“Don’t be. I’m not. Touching you was always my salvation. No matter how badly the world was falling apart around us, I knew as long as I had you to hold, everything would be all right in the end,” his voice was a deep caress close to her ear so that no one else could overhear.
“Brent,” she whispered.
In an instant, his expression changed. He was back to the cool, efficient scientist. “Come on; I’ll show you around. Introduce you to a few people,” he acted almost as if she were merely some colleague come to visit.
Brent smiled and waved to a couple of people congregating in the large, glass-enclosed room that looked for the world like the worst of any academic break room. He led them into the enclosure, careful this time to give her plenty of room to pass.
Unlike other command centers, Lauren noticed that rather than expensive vending machines hawking high-calorie, low nutrition food with even higher prices, there was a table in the corner with some cheese, jams, and what appeared to be fresh homemade whole wheat bread. Her stomach took that moment to growl, a reminder that she had not eaten yet.
Brent looked at her. “Damn, I am so sorry, Lauren. Why didn’t you say something? I got so caught up dealing with Jason and security earlier that I completely forgot. You have not eaten yet this morning.” Turning to an older, bald man who was trying to get his attention, “I’ll be with you in a minute, Stan. Just let me get Lauren something to eat first.”
“It’s alright. I can manage on my own,” she could use the break to get her hormones back in check. Or she hoped she could.
Brent nodded, “Of course you can. You have been for seven years,” his voice was laced with bitterness and pain as he turned his back to her and walked over to his chief of technology.
“Hey, Stan, what do you need?”
“Wanted to let you know that I fed the latest set of data on the Katla eruption into the simulation, but it still is not quite coming out right.” Stan was the computer guru Brent had stolen from Jacobs Energy when he decided to retire.
“Thanks. Has Monique looked it over?”
“Yeah, she had no luck with it either.”
Brent looked through the glass as Lauren brought a piece of Jill’s homemade bread to her mouth. He had trouble concentrating on anything as her eyes flared wide, and she tilted her head back just a bit. It was almost the exact look of bliss that he had put on her face thousands of times when they made love.
How could he be so fucking jealous of a hunk of flour and yeast? But he was. He wanted to be the one making her moan softly at the back of her throat. Fuck that; he wanted to make her scream again.
He cursed his body as he shifted from one foot to the other, trying to relieve the tightness as his half-hard cock pressed against the zipper. Maybe for the next week, he should switch to wearing the ratty old sweat pants he slept in. Or until…
He forced his mind back from the thousands of ‘what ifs’ and turned back to Stan. “Hopefully, Lauren can make more sense of it than any of us did.”
Stan nodded, “Your ex, right?”
“Then you must be on better terms with yours than I am with mine,” chuckled his friend.
“Nope, practically had to kidnap her. But I know the woman. She won’t be able to resist the chance to prove me wrong for long. And if that ain’t enough incentive, besting Monique will be.” He watched as she opened those green eyes and brought the bread towards her lips again. “Excuse me. And thanks. We’ll talk later.”
Lauren ignored the twinge of regret that ate at her. Next to their daughters, Brent was the last person on the earth that she would ever want to hurt. But it was clear from his words that she had. Hurt him more deeply than she ever realized. “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride,” she told herself as she headed towards the table of food.
Slicing through the thick, dark crust, Lauren confirmed her suspicion. This was homemade bread, still warm from the oven. She slathered it with a touch of butter and strawberry jam, both of which also appeared to be homemade.
Her mouth awoke with sensation as she bit into it. The taste was better than anything she had ever had, even in the most elegant bistros. The nutty flavor of the whole wheat combined with the creaminess of home-churned butter with just a touch of salt was complimented perfectly by the sweetness of the strawberry jam, which she recognized had no added sugar. Its natural taste was sufficient for the most delicate pallet. The textures, too, were a mix of soft and firm, robust and sublime exploding in her mouth and sending sensations racing along nerve endings to her brain.
“Hmmm,” she moaned as she took another bite, closing her eyes to savor this one.
“Don’t do that again, sweetheart, or I might come right here,” she felt Brent’s warm breath against the side of her face as he whispered.
Lauren’s mind filled with erotic images that his words elicited. Except it was she, who was on the verge of coming at the moment. Her nipples budded beneath the soft silk of her blouse. His voice, his words, hell, just Brent’s presence so close to her was more than her sex-starved body could handle.
She steadied her nerves for a moment. Drawing in a deep breath, she turned to face him. “We can’t do this, Brent. We need to talk.”
“You’re right,” he took her hand and led her towards the door.
Lauren was not sure where Brent was taking her. She followed him anyway. Outside into the increasingly hot late morning sun, across the desert sands, past the barn where they had left the girls.
“Shouldn’t we check on the girls first?”
Brent shook his head, “They know their way around this place, and everyone knows them. We all sort of look out for one another’s kids. They will be perfectly safe.”
Lauren wanted to protest that Elise had been more troubled lately, but she remembered the look on her daughter’s face when she held that brush and stroked the pony. Perhaps Brent was right.
There was a small selection of a dozen or so all-terrain vehicles on the other side of the barn. Brent selected a four-wheeler and handed her a helmet. “Put this on.”
Lauren buckled the helmet as she watched Brent do the same. He kick-started the machine and motioned for her to get on behind him. Lauren considered protesting. Sitting on the back of the dangerous vehicle, her arms wrapped about his waist, her front pressed against his broad back was not what she needed at that moment. But the determined look in Brent’s eyes pleaded with her.
Shaking her head at her stupidity, she climbed on behind him. She had no choice but to wrap her arms about his waist, lacing her fingers together just above his belt buckle. But she did all that she could to keep a couple of precious inches between the rest of their bodies.
That was not easy as Brent revved the engine, sending the machine lurching forward, her breasts brushed against the soft chambray of his plaid shirt. She was helpless to stop a soft moan that sounded remarkably similar to the one elicited by the fresh bread, but this sensation was far more intense.
She did not believe Brent could hear her over the tin of the engine, but something was driving him. He gunned the engine, sending them racing even faster across the desert and away from the settlement.
Brent tried his damnedest to remain focused on his driving as the desert flora and fauna sped past. But the sweet way her whole upper body pressed against his back was a new form of torture.
Was it his imagination, or had her nipples hardened into tight little eraser the moment that they touched him? Did that mean she was feeling the attraction as intensely as he was?
Oh, he knew that Lauren had always been attracted to him, but these past few years, she had grown so cold and aloof that he just figured she was over him. Until she had somehow ended up in his arms while they slept. Now he was not so sure.
The idea that these fires burned as brightly for her was reassuring. Even if it was false, it gave him hope that they might somehow find their way back to that thin strip of common ground upon which they had once built their paradise.
Brent felt intense guilt as he sent a silent entreaty to Fate, the only god he was remotely comfortable acknowledging…and then reluctantly. Nonetheless, he pleaded for more time. More than just a week to convince this woman that their love was worth another chance.
The problem was for them to have another chance, people would have to die, lots of them. So, he was torn between wanting to be right and hoping that Lauren could prove him wrong once and for all. He shook his head, but his gut told him that he was not. Not this time.
He gunned the engine and headed towards an outcropping of rocks just over the ridge. He had no idea how this one would end. Probably in another screaming match like most of the last two years of their marriage. But at least their daughters would not see or hear it this far from the settlement.
Of course, some part of him hoped for an eruption of another kind.
Lauren was not sure how long they traveled or how far. It was hard for her to keep track of time when she was around Brent. It always had been.
She remembered the summer science camp when she had been thirteen. Her body and mind were beginning to catch up to one another. And while she was not entirely sure about this whole sex thing, she had guiltily read more than one of Grandmam’s romance novels. Kissing definitely sounded like fun. And there was only one boy that she wanted to kiss. Her infinitely more mature, sixteen-year-old best friend.
One night she and Brent had stayed out late talking. They realized they had missed curfew. What they did not know was that it was after two in the morning. Not only had they lost privileges and come very close to being sent home, but rumors spread around the camp that it was far more than talk they had been doing.
Lauren had tried to ignore them. The rumors had led to more than one hot dream about what it would have been like if it were true. Brent, on the other hand, had blown his top. He had given one boy a black eye when he commented at lunch about Lauren’s virtue. They had learned their lesson. They were careful for the rest of the summer to stay close to their crowd and make curfew.
But they weren’t kids anymore. And Brent had dispensed with Lauren’s virtue long ago.
None of that mattered. This man still drove her insane. This trip was proof of that. How the hell had she ended up in the middle of the West Texas desert with her ex-husband anyway?
She did not have time to answer that question as Brent pulled the four-wheeler over near an outcropping of rocks and trees that provided an oasis of sorts. He got off first, walking to the trees and rustling them a bit. A couple of small mice fled the underbrush.
“Coast is clear, my lady.”
Lauren laughed, “Sir Galahad?”
“More like a good old boy, I am afraid.”
“I’m pretty certain that they are the modern-day equivalent.”
“Besides…I’m not nearly as pure of mind or body as the great Sir Galahad. And that’s what we need to talk about,” he began to pace back and forth among the trees.
Lauren knew that pacing meant one thing; Brent was trying to figure something out. And she had a pretty good idea what. “What are we going to do about us, Brent?”
He looked up at her. “So, it isn’t my imagination? You feel it too?”
She nodded, “I honestly thought after seven years, all that fighting and the divorce…this thing between us would have died.”
“But it hasn’t. The fire is as hot as ever,” he quickened his pace and ran his fingers through his hair. “Hell, I think it might even be heating up more.”
Lauren wanted to deny the truth of his words, but she could not. They had always had remarkable chemistry. Over the past seven years, when they had seen one another at conferences or when Brent picked up and dropped off their daughters, Lauren had braced herself for days and sometimes weeks of vivid, erotic dreams. Hell, she even made sure that her drawer was stocked with extra batteries, knowing that her toys were certain to get an extra workout trying to relieve the need.
Which made her decision to follow Brent now even more ridiculous. “How the hell did I think I could spend…”
“…a week with you and not want to…” he finished for her.
She nodded as they both left the ‘to’ unsaid. It hung in the still, hot air.
“What the hell we gonna do?”
“We could try to avoid one another,” Lauren suggested.
“This ranch maybe two thousand acres but most of it is undeveloped. The compound itself is just three acres, and hell, Lauren, if an ocean between us didn’t work, what makes you think that getting lost on this place would?”
“But we could try focusing on the girls and our work. I mean, if you believe your theories, then you must be damned busy right now.”
“Too damned busy. There are a thousand things I need to be doing, sweetheart, and the only thing I seem to be able to think about is you. The way you smell like honey even after a nine-hour flight and being in a barn full of animals.”
“The way you purred like a kitten over that damned bread. All I could fucking think about was how you used to moan the same way when I entered you,” Brent was frantically pacing. He did not even look up, studying the dusty toes of his cowboy boots as if they held the answers he sought to this predicament.
Lauren watched the fluid flow of muscle beneath the worn cotton shirt. His tight jeans molded to his thighs and ass. The bulge behind that zipper left no doubt how tormented her ex-husband was at the moment. She remembered vividly the power that coursed through her body each time she would teasingly play with his zipper.
She was not the only moaner. Although honestly, Brent was more like a growler. Deep rumbles from his chest reminded her of harmonic tremors that were almost certain pre-cursors to volcanic eruptions.
Thinking aloud, “Then it seems we have only one option left. When a magma chamber fills with enough melt, the only way to release it is…”
“…an eruption.” He stopped dead and stared at her. Was she giving credence to the dreams that he had only dared to hope for? “What are you saying, Lauren?”
“I’m saying…some things are inevitable. The only thing we can do when a volcano reaches that point is to move people to safety, then stand back and enjoy the fireworks.”
Brent sucked in a deep breath as the power of her words hit his brain like a pyroclastic flow leveling all sense of reasoning. “So, you’re suggesting…”
“…that we screw our brains out for the next week,” Lauren bluntly stated.
“But with conditions, Brent. I don’t want Megan or anyone else confused by this. This is nothing more than a volcanic eruption – an irresistible force of nature that we can do nothing to stop. Both of us need to recognize that and protect those around us.”
Brent shook his head. He knew that Megan was far more astute than Lauren was giving her credit for. In all likelihood, no matter how hard they tried, their daughter would figure it out. But he was not in the mood to argue at the moment.
He had much better ways of expending his nervous energy, “I think you are underestimating our daughter and what she is capable of understanding. But I can see your point.”
“And Brent, this changes nothing. At the end of this week, you take the girls and me home. This is sex, pure and simple.”
Those were not the words that he wanted to hear at the moment. To be reminded that his ex-wife was using him for sex…no better than some fucking dildo with a pulse. He frowned at the bluntness of it.
But in truth, while his mind might want to argue, his body was going to win this round. Hands down. Even if he ended up regretting it later.
Besides, perhaps it was a bargaining chip that he could use. A tool in his never-ending war to remind her of just how good they were together. How good they always had been. Stronger as a team.
If they were heating up the sheets and working side by side like they used to, it would be another opportunity to draw her into his web. Like Jason had said, you caught more flies with honey than vinegar.
Honey…his mind went down a long winding path at the thought of slathering her body in it and slowly licking it off. Hell, he might even find some rope and give some of the kinky ideas he always heard Samuel and Daniel joke about a whirl.
How would he feel about being on the receiving end the way Daniel sometimes let his wife? The rustling behind the zipper that made his jeans even more uncomfortable was the only answer he needed. He promised himself that sometime during the next week, they would try both.
Not that he was telling his friend Samuel that. He was not opening himself up to the ribbing that Daniel took for being a ‘switch,’ whatever that was. And he had heard enough to know that riding crops were definitely out. But rope, teasing, and maybe even a bit of barehanded spanking that he could live with.
He watched Lauren’s face. The way that she fidgeted from foot to foot told him that she was far less nonchalant about his answer than she wanted to let on. And that renewed his hope. If this were ‘just sex’ like she claimed, she would not be so anxious.
Let her sweat. He did not want her thinking he was easy after all. He studied her a moment more as a plan began to formulate in his mind. A rough sketch for now. But it had possibilities. Definite possibilities. He would bind her to him, …in more ways than one.
For a moment, a dark shadow crossed Brent’s face, and Lauren thought he might change his mind about the whole thing. Then he shrugged his broad shoulders, “Deal. A man dying of thirst will take whatever he can get.”
Lauren had not until that moment realized how much she, too, wanted this time with Brent. So much so that she was not sure what she would have done if he had turned down her offer of casual sex. She liked to think that she had too much pride to beg, but the warm, wetness between her legs presented a compelling argument to the contrary.
“So…” She did not have the chance to complete her thought before Brent strode past her to the four-wheeler. Fumbling inside a compartment, he pulled out a large foil packet and marched back to the crop of trees. Tearing the package open, he unfolded a shiny silver blanket that he placed on the ground.
Turning to look at her like the man dying of thirst that he mentioned, “So, what the fuck you waiting for, woman? I’m dying here.”
Lauren threw back her head and laughed. The sound echoed about the canyon, wrapping them in the soft melody. It had been a long time since Lauren had laughed like that. A very long time. She had forgotten how good it felt. How good this man felt.
But she was about to remember. Remember every last feel of strong muscles moving beneath her fingers. Every taste of sweet, hungry kisses. The sound of those deep growls washing over her skin. The sight of this great bear of a man brought low by the touch of her soft hands over his hot skin. And the unique smell of their love.
And if the world was coming to an end, then this was the last memory Lauren Masters Jacobs wanted to take with her into the afterlife.
She added a gentle sway to her hips as she walked towards Brent. Her fingers fumbled with the buttons on her blouse. By the time she crossed the short distance, she had managed to open only two, but it was enough to reveal the gentle swell of her cleavage.
Looking up into those blue eyes, a blue that always reminded her of the hottest flame, she purred, “Don’t you think you’re overdressed, cowboy?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Brent began to work the buttons of his shirt. Lauren took the opportunity to watch the performance from a different vantage point as she lay back on the blanket, staring up at him. It was far more erotic than any Chippendale’s show, because she knew what lay beneath those dust-covered clothes. And better still, she knew it was all hers – at least for the next week.
With her intent gaze upon his every move, Brent only managed to get about halfway before he cursed and tugged the shirt from his jeans. He quickly pulled it off over his head instead. Lauren smiled at his impatience and at the view of defined muscles covered with a sprinkling of blond chest hair that grew darker as it formed a line dividing his abdominal muscles in two. A line that disappeared in his jeans just above his belt buckle. A line that Lauren ached to trace with her fingers…and her tongue.
Lauren noted that Brent’s abs were not as defined as they once were. Then again, at forty, she could hardly expect his body to be the same as it had been when they first became lovers. Honestly, she found that tad extra padding around his middle rather appealing. It made him real, more approachable somehow.
She smiled as she watched Brent’s impatience grow exponentially. He jerked at his belt buckle until it gave way. He practically tore his jean buttons off before pushing them and his boxers down his thighs. Lauren’s breath caught at the sight of his exposed cock. Her heart skipped a couple of beats as her fingers itched to reach out and touch him once again.
A string of foul curses punctuated the stagnant heat preventing Lauren from doing so. Lauren laughed again as Brent struggled to get his jeans off, tangled as they were about his boots. “I know you cowboys have a thing about making love with your boots on, but I never realized how funny it must look.” The teasing felt good, like old times.
Brent chuckled as he kicked off the first one and then the other boot. His jeans and boxers went flying with them to land on a bush a couple of feet away. “Funny is it, sweetheart? Let’s see how funny you think this is,” he covered her still-clad body with his. His hands seemed to be everywhere at once.
When his mouth came down to capture hers, all rational thought fled. Lauren clung to him as she drank in the taste of his kisses. Coffee, sunshine, and all man blended into the headiest of flavors, intoxicating her senses until her head spun. His lips were almost brutal as they crushed hers, his tongue determined as it slipped inside her mouth. But Lauren was brimming with fire too.
She was no innocent bystander in this explosive act of nature. Her tongue wrapped about his, dueling for supremacy. Her fingers gave into the need to explore, tracing the lines of his shoulders and back. She moaned at the feel of his soft skin.
Her hands smoothed their way lower, running lightly across the tight muscles of his thighs and cupping his firm ass, pulling him closer to her until his cock wedged against the zipper of her trousers. She moaned, “Fuck,” into his mouth. Her frustration, at being so near and yet so far from what she needed most, got the better of her.
Brent broke the kiss for a second. “That’s what we’re trying to do, little lady.” His fingers tore at the button and zipper of her pants. She heard something pop but was past the point of caring by then. When she felt the calloused skin of his hands, pushing the material down her legs, she sighed with relief and lifted her bottom to ease his way. Within seconds, this final barrier was breached.
Lauren smiled as she reached up and pulled Brent back so that their lips were practically touching. “Thanks, cowboy. Now, where were we?” She proceeded to remind him with another searing kiss. Their bare legs tangled in the crunchy metallic blanket as they tussled for position.
In the end, Lauren won this battle of wills. Brent lay on his back beneath her. Her legs curled about his thighs as she sat astride him. She took advantage of the position to explore, her fingers dancing about his chest and shoulders.
But it was not enough; she lowered her hips until she felt his hard cock rub against her. Her hips rocked slowly back and forth, teasing them both with the imitation of the act.
Brent rumbled like an ancient volcano awakening from a long slumber. In an instant, he flipped them. Lauren’s eyes flew open at the move. Even though their lips fought the battle of wills, she watched in fascination as the emotions rolled across his face – need, frustration, determination, pure lust, and something much more dangerous that she refused to acknowledge.
Then she felt him, moving teasingly at her opening. It was all she could take. Closing her eyes once more, afraid of what she would see, she opened her legs a bit more, and he slid home, deep inside of her. As he had accused, she moaned at the feel of him. But the moan quickly deepened as she felt her body gripping his, arching upward as she came apart in his arms.
Brent growled, “Fuck, Lauren,” as he quickened the pace, pounding into her hard and fast. She felt the rough ground beneath her and knew that she would have more than a couple of bruises to show for this explosion, but she did not give a damn at that moment. The feeling of this man, this moment was too perfect as her orgasm went on and on, one billowing eruption leading into another.
Then suddenly, it was too much as she lifted her hips to take him even deeper. Like the column of smoke collapsing into a pyroclastic flow, she enveloped Brent in a tangle of arms and legs and hung on for dear life as she felt a matching deep rumble within his body. His tongue plunged deeper, as did his body into hers as he too came in a blaze.
They lay there, a tangled mass of arms and legs for several moments. Brent’s head rested in the curve of her shoulder, their bodies still locked intimately. Lauren knew she ought to move, but nothing had ever felt better than moments like these after their explosive lovemaking. It was one of the few times in her whole life that Lauren ever felt completely safe.
In the end, it was Brent who made the first move. Turning his head, he placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. “Sorry, sweetheart. I guess you are right. I don’t have any patience…at least where you are concerned.” His hands ran slowly down her body as if checking for injuries. “You alright? I’m sorry if I was a bit rough.”
“Seems to me you weren’t the only one lacking patience, Brent. And I’m fine. Or I will be after a hot bath.”
Brent tried to roll off of her, but Lauren wrapped her legs tighter about his waist. “I didn’t mean right this minute.”
He smiled at her soft words, “Oh, do you have something in mind, Dr. Masters?”
She matched his smile with a mischievous grin, “Well, Dr. Jacobs, it seems that sometimes a small eruption is a precursor to things to come.” To emphasize her point, she lifted her hips once more, drawing a bit of his still hard cock deeper inside her until she moaned softly against the heated skin of his chest. Brent met her with a thrust of his hips that took their breath away.