Chapter 5 – Checking In

The sun was high over the scorching Texas desert before Brent and Lauren made it back to the compound. It seemed that whether or not Brent’s theories about one volcanic explosion triggering others were scientifically accurate, it was definitely true of their need for one another. One hot and heavy coming together had barely whetted their appetites for more, three more to be exact. 

It was not until they were dressed and on the ATV, her arms wrapped around Brent’s waist once more, that Lauren had come to her senses enough to realize what they had done. Unprotected sex was a risk that exceeded her scientific calculations. She had spent the whole ride back to the compound entering data and making calculations. She hoped that her assumptions were correct this time.

She hoped even more that Megan and her grandmother had remembered to pack her old-fashioned calendar that served as more of a journal, since she now stored most of her appointments on her phone. Always one to suffer from PMS, Lauren had taken as a teen to carefully charting her moods in the journal. Like the scientist she was, Lauren felt that it gave her some control of her body – the ability to know what was to come.

As they drew back up to the other vehicles, Lauren cursed her lack of control with this man. For the millionth time in their lives together. Why did Brent Jacobs have the ability to make her forget everything that she held dear?

Science could not explain the phenomenon. Lauren had long ago given up on the simple explanation of neurotransmitters that provided the brain with sensations of pleasure and love. This was not that weak. This was not merely love. It was an irrational obsession. One that even her logic-driven brain had been powerless to thwart over the years.

Lauren could only hope that stupid neurotransmitters had something to do with it because she intended to do everything within her powers to burn them out this next week. Once and for all. She wanted to be free of the power this man held over her. The ability to control not just her emotions, those she had decided long ago meant next to nothing.

No, what scared Lauren most about her ex-husband was his ability to override even the most logical of her scientifically formulated theories. One look, one touch, a couple of sweet words from Brent Jacobs blew it all to hell, like the north side of Mount Saint Helens in the 1980 eruption.  

Lauren smiled at the memory. She had been just seven years old, but she remembered staring at the television fascinated as the BBC replayed those mind-boggling moments of video over and over again. It had been the moment that she decided to become a volcanologist.

Why should she think of that now? Why the connection to this man? She chuckled, perhaps because he was just as destructive. Or maybe because her commitment to him was as eternal as her love of this scientific field.

When Brent stopped the four-wheeler, she quickly jumped off, needing to put some distance between them. Perhaps a little too late. Taking off her helmet, she tossed it on the back of the vehicle as she turned towards the barn where they had left the girls. Brent reached out for her, grabbing her arm.

“They probably went to the mess hall for lunch. Either that or Megan found Sammy, and they went off exploring with Elise somewhere. I need to get back to the control center and look at the latest models. Check-in with our pilots and see how things are going at the rendezvous points. I want to give everyone as much time as possible to make it out, but I can’t risk waiting too long to call the planes back.”

He scuffed his boot against the ground. “After you find the girls and get that shower, I could use a second set of eyes on my calculations, Lauren.”

Lauren supposed she should be surprised that Brent would consult with her, given her adamant refusal to accept his theory. But after almost thirty years as best friends and colleagues, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to nod. “Sure, Brent. I’ll meet you there after my bath. You know I don’t necessarily agree with the assumptions that drive your model, but I am happy to check out the data you are feeding into the calculations.”

“That’s why we were always the best team going, little girl. I do the theory, and you handle the application.”

Lauren shook her head, “One week, Brent. This is only for a week. Working together again, playing family, the sex. It all ends in a week. Don’t forget that.”

Brent’s face darkened. A frown creased his forehead and crinkled those magnetic blue eyes. “Yes, Lauren. How can I forget with you reminding me constantly?”

He stepped forward, and his hands caressed sensually up and down her arms. “But how about you take the time actually to live in the moment? How about for the next week, you remember we are a damned good team, maybe the best? And if we are going to save the lives of the people I…we care about, it is going to take us both.”

His grip on her upper arm loosened, “And while you’re thinking about that…try this one. Divorced or not, we are a family. Those are our daughters. Mine and yours. And nothing is ever going to change that.”

His other hand came up to her face, his fingers lifting her chin, forcing her to meet his blue eyes. “As for the sex, try the words – making love. It always fit us better. Whether it was hot and fast, surrounded by the world falling apart around us, or slow and gentle after the girls went to bed and we had argued and laughed. It was. It is love, Lauren. And nothing is ever going to change that either.”

Lauren remained silent. His words shocked her sensibilities. It was not what she wanted to hear. Not when all she wanted to do was run as far and as fast as possible from this man. She jerked her arm from his grasp. “I’ll go find the girls, then grab that shower. I’ll see you in a couple of hours,” she pronounced with finality as she turned and walked away.

Brent had trouble forcing his mind to focus on the latest numbers coming in from Iceland. It seemed that like a fucking potato chip when it came to his ex-wife – once was never enough. Her whole theory about burning out like some asteroid as it entered the Earth’s atmosphere seemed to be nothing more than wishful thinking.

And all he could think about was how soft her skin had been, how he could still smell her sweetness clinging to his skin. How good she had felt, how tight and wet and warm as he entered her for the first time in over seven long miserable years. The sound of her moans and especially those precious screams still rang in his mind. They probably would for a lifetime.

Damn, he had not gotten around to tasting her sweet depths. Oh, well, there was always tonight. And the next. And the next. And if he had his way, a lifetime of them to come.

Because while they were still no closer to proving his theory, to making the simulation work, to finding that elusive magical prediction in the crystal ball of science, he knew in his gut this was it. And there was no way in Hades that he was allowing her and their children back on a plane to a place where he could not protect them. Not even if he had to tie her up and keep her helpless in his bed for days or weeks.

He growled as his cock thickened at the mere thought of it. Down boy. How the hell could he even still manage to get an erection after coming inside her four times already? The simple answer was Lauren. Since that summer when she spoiled everything by coming to camp a woman-child that he could not ignore, she had had that effect on him.

“Get that brilliant mind off that woman, stud puppy.” The thick French accent of Monique intruded on his thoughts.

It was enough to rapidly bring him back to reality, “How did you guess?”

Her soft laughter echoed off of the glass of his private office. “Nothing else ever makes you smile.” Monique took a seat on the corner of his desk, “Well, your girls, of course. But I’m putting my money on their mère this time.” She reached over and pulled something from his hair. “Definitely, Lauren,” she used the French pronunciation.

Brent could feel the heat rising in his cheeks as he cleared his throat. “So, did you have any better luck with this damned thing than I did?” He attempted to redirect the conversation as he pounded the keyboard.

She shook her dark head, “Non, mon cheri, you know I am no use with such things. Have you convinced the girl genius that owns your couilles to have a go at it? Or only at emptying them?”

Brent shook his head at Monique’s frank assessment of the situation. Not that he was in any position to deny that Lauren either owned his ‘balls’ or had emptied them. But that was perhaps one of the reasons why the two women in his life had never managed to get along. Monique’s brash and open French mannerisms grated on Lauren’s stiff upper lip.

He barely bit back a moan at the thought of how good that upper lip felt wrapped…

“Earth to Brent,” Monique punctuated her words with a slap to the side of his head. Just like the big sister, he had always considered her.

But Brent knew the underlying reason behind her angst. While his family might be safe, Monique’s were lost somewhere out there. “Has Daniel and Samuel been able to make any headway in locating them?” He broached the subject gently.

Her face fell, and the fake smile dropped as she shook her head, “Non, Dwayne traced them as far as Mexico City.” Tears gathered in her dark eyes as she shook her head and rubbed perfectly manicured hands together slowly. “He discovered that Hector was murdered. A cartel, or so it seems. What does the life of one inconsequential politician matter against the billions of dollars of drug money? It is easy to cover things up with the corruption.”

“Maria and the children?”

She shook her head as the speed with which her hands moved increased. “No one knows. It is like they just disappeared. I do not want to think the worst, but what if…”

Brent covered her tiny hands with one of his. He gently squeezed to reassure her, “If anyone can locate them, you know it is Daniel’s team. Why don’t we go and check in with them now? See how the evacs are going and if they have any more news.”

She nodded her head and forced that smile once more, but Brent saw behind it all. He knew her pain because until a few hours ago, it was his own. The idea of being separated by thousands of miles from those you loved the most, not being able to provide for and protect them as the world fell apart all around them – it was overwhelming.

He thought of his younger brother, Travis. Another good reason to check in with his security team to see if they heard from his prodigal sibling yet.

Once more, he pondered life beyond just their little community. Of course, he had never made any secret of his theory. It was all laid out there on the internet for everyone, but he knew that only a handful of survivalists took it seriously.

But if this really was the beginning of the end? What should he, or they, do with that knowledge? Shouldn’t they try to warn others so that they, too, could do their best to prepare and protect their loved ones? It was an argument that he and Monique had often had, how and when to raise the alarm for others.

It was another conversation they needed to have with Daniel and Samuel. Because Brent had long ago lost his idealism. So far, the powers that be had been content to merely discredit him and Monique, make them look like kooks and freaks, mad scientists.

But if they took this story to the major media, especially with Katla already spewing her gases into the air, disrupting travel over most of Europe, well, Brent was just not sure to what degree the government and corporate America would go to protect their interests.

And until the others were safely here, was it worth taking the risk? He was sure it was an argument they would be having again soon, and one that Lauren was sure to weigh in on the side of caution. In this case, they were on the same side for once.

Lauren had foregone her shower for the moment in search of the girls. She had found them in the mess hall, as Brent called it. It was easy enough to find. She just followed everyone else to the large building in the center of the compound. Although she could just as quickly have followed her nose. If the homemade bread, butter, and jam that morning had been delicious, there were no words to describe the aroma drifting from the building now.

She quickly found her daughters sitting at a table in the corner with Katie, her grandmother, and a young man she assumed was the mysterious Sammy. He was not what she had expected, though.

For some reason, even though she knew they were not related by blood, Lauren had pictured a miniature of Brent, just as Travis had once been. But the dark-skinned, young man sported an Afro that made him appear remarkably like a young Michael Jackson.

The only thing that remotely resembled Brent about him was the intensity of his eyes when he looked at Megan. It was a stare that she recognized, one that had stolen her composure just a few minutes before. In that instant, she seconded Brent’s earlier wish. ‘Please let their road be easier.’

“Hello,” she said as she pulled a chair out. “That smells delicious.”

“I told you everything here tastes great. Not only is it grown fresh, but Jill is a brilliant cook. She and her family came here after her husband Daniel retired from the SEALs. He is part of dad’s security team. She’s American, but she lived for a long time in England. I’ll introduce you after lunch. But you should go get you something to eat now.” Megan rambled on enthusiastically about everything around this place.

Her grandmother smiled knowingly, “Yes, child, you must be hungry. You look like you could use a bath too. Off exploring with Brent?”

Lauren stared down at her dusty pants. “He was showing me around.”

“Uh-huh,” was her grandmother’s only response as she winked across the table to Megan and the young man.

Lauren tried not to look as if she were running away as she stood and headed across the room to the bright display of serving equipment.

The blond woman, who was arranging dishes, smiled as she approached. “You must be Lauren,” she continued her work. “Brent and Megan have told me so much about you. I’m Jill.”

“Then you’re the chef? The food smells great, and the bread this morning was delicious.”

“Thanks,” the woman smiled. “Help yourself. Since it is so hot today, I kept things light. Salad, some more bread, and a bit of roast beef to give these guys their protein fix.”

Tilting her head towards a table to their right, she added, “That’s my brood. My husband Daniel can’t live without his meat. Neither can his friend Sam. That’s him and his wife, Simone. She’s a real character,” she added, looking towards the couple sitting at the table with her husband. “I’ll be happy to introduce you later. You go eat, and I’ll find you when I finish in the kitchen.”

“Thanks, maybe another time. I am supposed to join Brent at the command center after I eat and grab a shower,” Lauren explained.

“That’s right. You’re a scientist like him. No problem. You can usually find me around here from about four in the morning until three each day. I serve breakfast and lunch. Then everyone is on their own for dinner.”

“Gives us families a chance to spend some time together. Don’t worry if you don’t feel like cooking, though. When lunch is over, everyone sort of grabs anything leftover. Makes life easy for the single guys around here or us moms, who are too tired to cook.”

Lauren smiled and nodded, “Thanks. I’m not much of a cook anyway.”

She finished filling her plate with the food and headed back to the table where her grandmother and daughters were sitting. Lauren noticed that Elise was managing to feed herself a slice of the buttered bread.

“Elise, is that bread nice? You seem to be eating a lot.”

Megan nodded, “She loves Jill’s cooking. Most of us do.”

“I can see why,” Lauren took a seat. She noticed that Katie was quiet, picking at her food and pushing it around on her plate. “Everything alright, Katie?”

The young woman nodded, keeping her eyes on her food. “Yes, just not feeling very hungry.”

“Jet lag may have gotten you, sweetie,” replied Grandmam. “Why don’t you go back and take a nap? I’ll bring some food for later if you’re hungry when you wake up.”

Katie looked up and smiled at the older woman. “Thank you.”

Lauren took a couple of bites of the food, careful this time not to moan even though the food warranted it. Her grandmother fussed about with Elise as Megan and the young man murmured. Their eyes danced with laughter.

“Megan, have you lost your manners? You have not introduced me to your friend.”

Her daughter’s cheeks reddened a bit at her chiding words. “Sorry, Mum. This is Sammy. He is dad’s cousin, sort of.”

Lauren smiled as she put out her hand to the boy. “It’s nice to meet you, Sammy. Brent told me about your parents. I’m sorry.”

Sammy looked uncomfortably at his plate. “Yeah, well, Brent has been great.”

Lauren nodded. Silence reigned for a moment before Megan asked, “Is it all right if Sammy and I head out. We want to hook up with Jess and Althea. They’re friends of ours.”

Her grandmother spoke before Lauren could finish chewing the bite of food in her mouth. “Sure, sweetie. You have fun. Elise and I will wander around a bit.” Her bright eyes pinning Lauren, she added, “I think your mother and father might have some unfinished business to take care of.”

Lauren almost choked on her food at the clear innuendo. Swallowing her food quickly, she replied. “Actually, I am meeting your father. At the command center. To go over some of his calculations.” Her eyes flamed at her grandmother’s interference as she corrected her before her daughter got the wrong impression. Or the right one, given this morning tumbles in the bushes.

“Great, then I’ll see you all later,” Megan said as she took Sammy’s hand and dragged him from the room.

Lauren turned her attention back to her grandmother. “Don’t be feeding her any wrong ideas. This is only for a week. I don’t want her thinking that Brent and I are getting back together. You of all people should know how easily children are hurt by things they can never understand.”

Her grandmother’s eyes softened. “Yes, child. I know how badly you were hurt by everything that my daughter and your father did. But Megan is much older than you were when they separated. And she understands a hell of a lot more than you think.  So, if you don’t want her getting the wrong ideas, I suggest that you don’t come in here covered in dirt, with twigs in your hair, and a hickie on your neck.”

Lauren’s eyes flew open wide at her words. Her hand automatically reached towards her neck. “Oh my god! Please tell me no.”

Her grandmother laughed, “It isn’t that noticeable, child. Finish your lunch, then get a shower and change your clothes. Megan put your bag in the girls’ room at Brent’s. You should find everything you need in it. I packed it myself.”

“And that’s another thing. You knew. You knew about all of this. What the hell were you thinking? Didn’t you think you should tell me that my ex-husband was going to kidnap my daughters?”

“He is their father, Lauren. The two of you share custody, so I would hardly call it kidnapping. And what I was thinking was how stubborn you could be.”

Reaching across the table, her grandmother placed her wrinkled hand over hers. “Brent needs to know that his family is safe right now.  Whether he is right or wrong, he could never live with himself if he could not protect you and the girls.”

“And you, child, need to stop and smell the roses. So, why don’t you do like I suggested and see this week as a holiday? Relax and enjoy. Live in the moment for once. Think about it. What if Brent is right? What if the world as we know it is coming to an end? Where do you want to be? Busy working away, building your career that might not even matter soon? Or here with your daughters, me, and the man you love?”

Lauren forced her eyes away from the pleading look on her grandmother’s face. “I’m here now, aren’t I?” she replied defensively before she stood up, taking her plate to the table of dishes on the side. She came back to the table long enough to hug and kiss Elise. “I’ll see you both later.”

Brent and Monique had no problem locating Samuel and Daniel. They were in the emergency bunker buried over twenty feet underground. It housed the stocks of essential items such as flour and grain and an impressive arsenal of weapons. The likes of which made even Brent, who had learned to shoot a gun by the time he was five, more than a bit uncomfortable.

But Brent truly had lost his innocence. He had seen too many disaster zones. And he knew that if the toll Mother Nature could exact upon her pitiful creations were not enough, then the atrocities that men could enact upon one another were far worse.

While he was prepared to help any willing to work together to help themselves, he was not ready to leave his family or those he cared about open to attack from predators – animals or humans. So, alongside bags of sugar, flour, coffee, and other sundries were grenades, rocket launchers, and fully automatic machine guns. Obtained on the black market, and if that bothered his conscious, not as much as the thought of what might happen to his girls without such necessities.

“Hey, you two, how are things coming?” Brent asked the two best friends that had together become the heads of his security team. He never forgot to thank Fate that years ago, in a bid to win some stupid Department of Defense contract, his father had generously replaced his standard security team with undercover Navy SEALs.

The dark-skinned man with the natural smile and wicked sense of humor was the first to respond, “Hey, Doc, you find time to come up for air with the Missus?”

Daniel playfully slapped his friend on the side of his head. “Leave the man alone, Samuel. It isn’t like you don’t find time for some afternoon delight with Simone.” The man turned to Monique with a smile, “Sorry, Ma’am.”

Monique only laughed, “Don’t worry, mon cheri. I said the same thing. Not that I would not enjoy burying my face between her tits and motorboating.”

Samuel and Monique laughed and high-fived as Brent and Daniel blushed. Brent cleared his throat after a moment, “Can we please get back to business, you two?”

“Sure, Doc, whatever you say. You’re the boss,” Samuel joked.

Brent shook his head and turned towards Daniel. “How are things coming? Are all the planes in position? Fueled and ready to go when we give the word?”

Daniel nodded his head, “Yes, Sir. Of course, those in Europe are our biggest concern right now. Declan is channeling as much Intel as he can without breaking any laws or endangering his position, of course. But it looks like you got your family out just in time. Of course, trains, buses, and boats are still able to keep most of Europe connected.”

He sighed before continuing, “But if you are right. If this is it. If other volcanos begin to erupt, especially Etna and Vesuvius, then all bets are off. No telling what chaos destruction on that scale might cause. The EU is no better prepared for such a wide-scale natural disaster than the US or anywhere else for that matter.”

Brent nodded his head. It was the tragic reality, but as omnipotent as man liked to think himself, in the end, Mother Nature held the ultimate power, to annihilate the whole species if she wished. And what few remained would be more than glad to finish the job for her if left to their own devices. “We still don’t have a clear enough timeframe to raise the alarm. But I’m hoping that once Lauren has a go at the data, we will have a better idea of what we are dealing with here.”

“Smart as she is pretty then?”

Daniel punched Samuel in the ribs, “That’s the man’s wife, buddy.”

“I’m sorry, Doc. It’s just so much fun having someone to tease besides the old man here. Not that I don’t enjoy his switchy ass, but damn – fresh meat,” he laughed. “You have to give Simone all your birth information and hers so that she can do your charts. Though she’s already decided that…”

“De stars be wif you,” Daniel and Samuel keeled over laughing, and even Brent had to chuckle.

Until he looked over at Monique, he noticed her brushing her eyes with the back of her hand as she forced that fake smile wider. “Any word from Dwayne on that other matter?” he quizzed.

Samuel stopped laughing as he shook his head, “Last we heard was yesterday, right after you took off. He said that he had a lead he following up in Rosarita, but we ordered him to get Chloe, the kids, and as many of the non-essential personnel as he could to the staging area in West Virginia.”

Daniel broke in, “I’m sorry, Doc. I know we may have overstepped, but those are our family. And we figured that if you were concerned enough to kidnap yours, then we needed to give ours the best chance possible.”

Brent smiled in reassurance, “No, that’s why I chose you two. If anything happens to me or I am not around, you can make decisions independently. The right ones too. As you said, I barely got Lauren and the girls out of England. And when La Palma goes…”

The potential consequences of that one did not even bear thinking about. The worst destruction he had ever seen had come not from a towering volcano but normally calm, clear, warm waters. But if an earthquake had churned those waters enough to destroy whole villages, killing hundreds of thousands of people, and sweep life as they knew it away, then he did not want even to consider what a mega-tsunami might do to all those around the Atlantic Ocean.

He drew his mind away from those dark days that had become the seeds of his new world view and Regenesis. “Once they get to the cabins at the bug out zone, please have him see if he can find out anything more. Have you heard from my brother either? He was supposed to be surfing somewhere around there in Baja California.”

“No, Doc, afraid not,” answered Daniel.

“We tried tracing his cell phone, but it was turned off or something. The last signal we got from it was in Rosarita too,” added Samuel.

“Damned irresponsible little brat,” Brent cursed as he ran his fingers through his hair.

“Do not worry, mon cheri. Travis is a big boy. I am sure he will be fine. Even if he misses the plane, he knows where we are. I am sure he will find some way of getting here.” Monique put a reassuring hand on his shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze.

He shook his head as he covered her hand with his. “Thanks, Monique. I don’t know what I would have done without you these past few years.”

Samuel shook his head, “Doc, might I suggest you don’t do that shit around your missus.”

Brent tossed him a glare, “What? Lauren knows that Monique and I are friends. Have been for years. I’m sure…”

Monique broke out in giggles, “Oh, yes, my sweet naïve friend. Samuel is perfectly right, mon ami. Your wife always sees green when it comes to me.”

“But…” he stammered as he shook her head.

His friend only smiled, “Oui, but Lauren does not know.”

He could not hold back laughter at an oversight that explained so much of the animosity between his wife and friend. Monique had been honest with him from the beginning, so it just never occurred to him that Lauren had not figured out the score for herself. How could such an intelligent woman not have realized what was so blatantly staring her in the face?

He would, of course, have to straighten out the oversight in his own sweet time. Until then, perhaps a bit of the green-eyed monster might serve his purposes. The idea of Lauren being jealous of Monique while preposterous was more than a bit reassuring as well. After all, you were not jealous of a man you no longer cared for, someone you were just using for sex. Now he just had to make his wife see the truth for herself.

Not that he had ever been any good at that.

The water felt refreshing as it sluiced down Lauren’s body. It washed not only the dirt and dust from her skin but the bone-deep tiredness of jetlag from her mind.

But what replaced that tiredness were vivid memories of him. Brent. The way he felt when he touched her. When she touched him, all soft and hard at the same time. How he felt inside her, as if something that had been missing for years was suddenly found again. The way he smelled like coffee, sunshine, and man; and how he tasted of pure sin and salvation. His little growls of hunger and satisfaction as she touched him.

Lauren moaned as the rough washcloth brushed across her sensitive nipples. Looking down at them, she realized that her breasts were still slightly pink. She shook her head at the memory of Brent’s slightly roughened face rubbing against her skin as he suckled at her. He had not shaven since hopping the plane to England, and the two-day-old stubble made for a delicious addition to the symphony of sensations that he was playing on her untuned body, bringing forth music that had long been smothered, hidden beneath the cold façade of a scientist.

But there was nothing cold about Lauren at that moment. Even as the warm water washed away the remnants of their morning sex-scapade and brought a measure of relief to sore, aching muscles, her body betrayed her, calling out for more. Calling out for Brent, again.

With a grunt of displeasure and self-loathing, she turned off the water and stepped from the shower. She grabbed a towel and began drying herself. But that sensation, too, the rough material against her soft skin, elicited another moan.

In some odd way, it reminded her of the feel of his calloused hands moving over her breasts, down her stomach, over her hips and thighs. She had ached for more. Hell, she had pleaded for his caress where she needed it most, between her legs.

Lauren blushed and cursed at the memory of how easily she had succumbed to Brent’s touch. Then again, he had not been immune to hers either. Had he not growled and demanded her compliance at every turn? ‘Don’t do that…Not yet…Please.’ Theirs had been a war of wants and needs with no rules of engagement. The battlefield was rife with casualties, the biggest of which was her sanity.

Stepping into the small alcove that served as a bedroom for her daughters, Lauren reached for the green duffle bag that had once been her ‘go’ bag. How many times had she and Brent grabbed it as they raced out the door to another natural disaster; volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis? These past seven years, it had lain hidden in the corner of her closet. Just as her feelings for her husband had lain hidden somewhere deep inside her calculating mind.

Opening the bag, Lauren found a pair of well-loved jeans and the almost threadbare t-shirt from her final science camp. That year had not been the same. Without Brent, who was already at Cal Tech, she had found the work tedious. Exciting and challenging but annoying. There was nothing to stretch the boundaries; no one to challenge the accepted theory. It became another round of digesting and regurgitating facts.

Her fingers traced the worn emblem on the material. Even though she and Brent had remained in touch those five years when they were thousands of miles apart in distance, it had been almost lifeless, mostly via email. ‘As lifeless as the past seven?’ Her mind betrayed her. She shook her head and refused to examine that question any further.

Reaching back into the bag, she searched for underwear. What she found brought a smile to her lips. Her grandmother’s meddling crystallized as she pulled forth a frothy, convection of pink lace and silk. She had forgotten her collection of erotic underwear at the back of her dresser. For most of these past few years, there had been no reason to wear it, no one to wear it for. Digging deeper, Lauren found nothing but the same. Her simple, utilitarian garments were nowhere to be found.

But Lauren did find something else that she was looking for. Her fingers caressed the well-worn leather of her journal. Drawing it from the bag, she toyed with it on her lap for several moments. She knew that she needed to open it; confirm her scientific calculations, and relieve any remaining doubts.

But? But what if she were wrong? The thought did not bear considering.

Determination outlined in every movement of her small hands, Lauren thumbed through the crisp pages. Towards the end of the book, she found what she was looking for. Reading and re-reading it again several times, she closed the book with a sigh.

Her mind had been right. Her calculations were accurate. She was far enough past her last period that she should have ovulated days ago. There was little chance of their rash behavior that morning having any lasting consequences.

So why did she feel almost disappointed? The last thing that she needed, that they needed, was an unplanned pregnancy. This was only for a week, after all. Complications like that did not bear thinking about given the divorce and this crazy, confusing situation.

And while she loved her daughters, she was too old to start over again with breastfeeding, diapers, and everything that went with it. Still, she supposed that some dreams died harder than others. How many times after Elise’s birth had she dreamt of another baby? A little boy with blonde hair and cerulean eyes.

She slammed the book shut as surely as she slammed her mind closed on that image. Picking up the scraps of lace, she donned what her grandmother thought passed as underwear. She pulled the jeans up her legs and the t-shirt over her head, tucking it into the waistband before buttoning and zipping them. Lauren found a pair of comfortable trainers in the bag and put those on as well.

There was no mirror in the room, so she could not check out her appearance. She would have to assume that everything was fine. Remembering her grandmother’s comment about the hickie, she fumbled inside the bag, hoping to find one of the scarfs she favored when teaching. But there was nothing even faintly resembling her work attire in the bag. Sexy lingerie, comfortable t-shirts, and jeans were the uniforms of the day for the next week, it seemed.

With a shake of her wet head, she just hoped that her grandmother had been right, that the mark was virtually unnoticeable. She ran a brush through her hair, then sectioned it and braided its long lengths, securing it at the end with a Hello Kitty rubber band that she found on the dresser.

It was probably a good thing that there were no mirrors in the room, she thought as she imagined what she must look like. Sexy lace push-up bra straining thin skin-tight cotton shirt and jeans that hugged her round hips. No make-up, her hair plaited like she was a schoolgirl Megan’s age and a child’s barrette to secure it no less. But since there did not seem to be a Wal-Mart around this place, she supposed it would have to do. It was only for a week anyway.

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