Lauren hovered in the doorway of the command center. The place was buzzing with activity. On the wall furthest from the door, three large-screen television sets were playing the news; CNN, BBC, and Al-Jazeera in English. Faces seemed most intent upon BBC, which was covering the ongoing eruption in Iceland.
Against one wall was a row of computers. Several were occupied by what appeared to be grad students. Lauren recognized data from the USGS on seismic activity off the West Coast on the one closest to her. Nothing special, this sort of information was generally available on the Internet. On the other wall were a couple of doors, probably private offices.
Lauren scanned the room once more, looking for Brent and seeking any familiar face at all. But she did not recognize anyone. She hesitated for a moment, reluctant to enter this inner sanctum. She had already turned and was about to leave when the door opened from outside.
In walked Brent, she recognized the tall, thin auburn-headed beauty with him immediately. It might have been five years since they had spared at an international conference on climate change, but Lauren swore that this woman did not look one day older. She envied the woman, whom she knew was almost a decade older than her but could still pass for twenty-something.
Monique Fournier was a climatologist. The glorified weather girl of sorts had made a name for herself by jumping into the fray surrounding global warming early. But she had quickly diverged from the consensus, favoring instead the theory of a New Ice Age brought about by the Gulf Stream’s halting. It was the science of Hollywood movies, and Monique had dropped from favor because of her alliance. For the past five years, she had not published a single article in a peer-reviewed journal.
Neither had Brent; it suddenly occurred to Lauren. Was this place what they had been up to? Looking at the natural way they laughed with one another, a streak of jealousy coursed through her. Had they been up to something more than just junk science?
The thought tormented her as scenes from the morning’s lovemaking with Brent played like a bad movie in her head. Lauren tried to push past them. “Excuse me. I was just leaving.”
Monique smiled, a look that Lauren always felt was a little too perfect, a little too practiced, and much too calculating. “Lauren, dear, so nice to see you again. I hope you are getting settled. Brent was telling me about his trip to England.”
Lauren could only imagine what Brent must have said to the woman. How easy it had been to convince her to come. Easier still to get her into his bed. Hell, not even a bed. Rutting around in the wild like a couple of senseless teenagers. She cursed herself for being a fool. It was apparent from looking at these two that she did not belong here — she, who was the third wheel.
“I just bet he was,” she spat, pinning Brent with a glare that she hoped conveyed her annoyance with him for taking this woman into his counsel. What was between them was between them. Certainly not some joke to be shared with this…siren.
Brent cleared his throat. “Something isn’t quite right with the model. We were trying to figure it out. I told Monique how glad I was for a fresh set of eyes.”
“Yes, you always were so good at the application side of things. Algorithms and data checking is more your forte. Those kinds of things do my head in. Brent and I are much more the big picture, theory types,” the woman seemed to purr.
Lauren fought back the urge to slap the woman. If Monique had spent any time doing the calculations and checking her ludicrous theories, her career might have amounted to more than merely consulting with Hollywood on low-budget sci-fi movies. “Yes, well, without the right maths, those theories will never be accepted by our peers. Is that why you have not published in what? Five years? Ten?”
Monique shifted uncomfortably. But it was Brent that stepped in then. “Monique has been a bit busy, helping me out around here. We have all watched enough of those movies to know that what we are working on here would never be accepted anyway,” he smiled. That thousand-watt grin that he always used to smooth things over with her.
After all these years, it should not have worked. She should have pushed right past him. She should have said enough with this whole crazy thing. She should have demanded that he put her and the girls right back on a plane home.
But she did none of those things. Instead, “Yes, well, if you still want my help, then perhaps those fresh eyes you were talking about could find where your calculations are off.” She turned to Monique. Smiling proudly, “We wouldn’t want Monique to do her head in with all those algorithms now, would we?”
Brent laughed. The deep, rich melody washed across her skin like a thunderstorm after a long drought. Goosebumps rose on her arms. Her nipples pebbled painfully inside the lace that suddenly seemed too rough on her skin. She could feel the blush rising from her chest, up her neck to her face. She knew that in moments, her cheeks would be the same bright red as her hair.
Monique glared at her. “Yes, well, Brent, mon ami, I better get going. There are some other things I need to check on.”
Turning back to Lauren, she crooned, “It was nice to see you again, mon cheri. It always amazed me how such a smart woman could be so damned stupid when it came to some things. But at least you had the sense to listen to him this time. I’m sure we’ll be seeing lots more of each other this week.”
Before Lauren could come up with a pithy reply, the woman had turned and disappeared back through the door. She felt the angry frustration coursing through her body. Fuming, she turned towards Brent. “You want to show me your formulas. Anything that woman had something to do with is bound to have big holes in it.”
“Monique may be unconventional, sweetheart, but she is the second-best mind I have ever met.”
Insulted by his words, Lauren started to push past him. “You always were an arrogant bugger. Since the two ‘best’ minds have already been working on the damned thing, I don’t see what I could possibly add.”
“Second best. Like I told you last night, darling, you were always the one mind that I loved sparring with the most.”
Lauren looked down at her shoes. The heat was returning to her cheeks. Hesitantly she added, “Oh well, sorry then. If you want to show me the data and algorithms, I’ll see what I can do.”
Brent placed his hand at the small of her back and turned her back towards the large room. “I’ll get you set up in my office. You still take your coffee black? Afraid there isn’t any tea around here, not much call for it. But I’ll ask Jill to add some to the supply stocks for the command center.”
“Coffee will be fine,” she followed his lead across the room towards a closed door.
Coffee and tea were not what occupied her mind. The familiar way he touched her, even something as casual as a hand on her back, it was enough to distract anyone. How was she supposed to focus upon complex theorems when he touched her? When he looked at her like that.
Opening the door, he ushered her into the small office. It had only a desk, chair, and bookshelf. But she noticed there was a framed picture on his desk. It was the last family picture they had taken seven years ago. She picked it up as he fumbled with the computer, turning the machine on and entering his password.
Her fingers caressed the lines of his face through the glass. She remembered that day well. They had taken Elise to another doctor. She was supposedly the best in her field. But Brent had stormed out halfway through the meeting, unsatisfied with the grim prognosis that the woman offered. Lauren had finished the appointment alone.
They had barely spoken two words on the long drive from London to Oxford, but the moment they were inside their house and Elise was tucked safely into her bed for an afternoon nap, they had both unleashed.
Sharp words that bit to the bone. Allegations flew. ‘You don’t want to accept the truth.’ ‘You see only what you want to see.’ It was the beginning of the end. The divide created by those words grew with each day that passed. Both so profoundly hurt that there was nothing left to say.
But the moment that Megan had come bouncing into the house, shouting a reminder about the family pictures, they had both plastered smiles on their faces. Like robots, they had functioned on autopilot to get the girls ready and drive across town to the photographer that took their picture each year. The photograph that they used on their holiday cards.
This picture looked like any other — a happy young family. But if you stared at it for a moment, you soon realized that things were not as they appeared. Each adult clung tightly to a child, careful not to touch one another in any way. The smiles, too, seemed stiff, not reaching the eyes or the soul.
Lauren shook her head and placed the photograph back on his desk as he finished bringing up the program that powered his model on the screen.
“I’ll get you some coffee and tell the others not to disturb you. I have some more things I need to check on. When you finish, let me know.”
Lauren smiled and nodded. How like Brent to realize that she would need time alone to dissect and analyze the information. But then again, they had worked together for most of their lives. And if she were honest with herself, it felt damned good to be working with this man again.
Brent pondered the exchange between Lauren and Monique as he checked once more on the preparations that security was making for the new arrivals. Once he sent out the call, what was now a trickle would rapidly escalate to a flood.
As it was, there could be no more air extractions from Europe, but several people were making their ways to alternatives. He was leery of attempting a sea rescue at this point. If La Palma did erupt…and if the weakened flank of Cumbre Vieja did collapse… Well, the models, according to ‘sources,’ were as unreliable as his and Monique’s.
And those scientists had been just as discredited as they were. The scientific community could be as cliquish and unforgiving as any other group with its ‘in crowds.’ Anyone, who did not conform, was, of course, ostracized. But he had never been a conformist.
He chuckled, was his bad boy of science what attracted Lauren, to begin with? He had to admit; he had missed their mental sparing as much as he missed the sex, holding her at night, and his daughters.
“See you been keeping company with the Missus again, Doc,” Samuel chuckled as he came up to stand next to Brent by the vast world map with blue and red dots that hung on the wall.
“What makes you say that, old man?” Brent had just sort of adopted Daniel’s nickname for their friend.
“That smile,” Samuel replied as he fingered the dots scattered across Eastern Europe. “What about them?”
“I was thinking the same thing myself. Jason said that we don’t dare attempt another flight into Northern Europe…even using a Southern flight plan across the Atlantic like we used to come back. And I am not comfortable using boats. Not even my father’s oil tankers stand a chance against a mega-tsunami. Well, we don’t know for certain, depends on whose sim you believe, but it is not worth risking lives, in my opinion.”
“Agreed. Which leaves air extractions from Northern Africa,” Samuel pointed to Morocco. “Or Asia, but where from?”
Brent pointed to a tiny spot on the map, “Bhutan is the most stable and friendliest option. I will make a couple of calls to my contacts. See if they will allow us to use their airfields. But even then, that means stopping to refuel a couple of times on islands in Indonesia and Hawaii.” He frowned, “And perhaps even land journey from the West Coast, depending on the situation.”
“Damn it,” Brent ran his fingers through his hair. “If we only had a better idea of what to expect.”
Samuel chuckled, “Back to the Missus, are we?”
Brent laughed, “I never left the woman. And yeah, I got her set up on my computer before I came here. I am just hoping she can figure it out before it’s too late.”
“Are we talking before your week is up or before things get out of hand?”
“Both, either,” Brent tried to focus on the map and looking for answers to questions they did not fully understand. After a moment, he gave up and turned back to his friend, “Heard anything from your folks?”
“Yeah, Dwayne and Chloe made it as far as West Virginia. They are held up there on the farm, making final preparations for the trip and waiting for as many others to arrive as possible. Most of the wives and kids are either there already or heading out soon.”
His face tightened, “Of course, the guys can’t leave until the last moment. Only in the worst-case…” He sighed and shook his head, “Is this even really happening, Doc? I mean, I know we put all this hard work into this place, but I guess…”
“What? Did you think I offered you some cushy job?” Brent put his hand on his friend’s shoulder, “I didn’t mean it like that. I understand…all of this must have sounded like one of those cheesy movies you watch on television on a Sunday afternoon.”
“And to answer your question, I don’t know yet. Not for certain. And that is the problem. By the time we do…” Brent could not even bring himself to say it.
“It might be too late?” said Daniel from behind them.
Brent turned to face him as he nodded reluctantly. Unable to even admit it aloud.
Daniel crossed the room, pointing to four blue pins on the map. Two in England, one in Germany, and one in Southeast Asia, “Those are Jill’s sons. Look me in the eye, Doc. Is it too late for them?”
Brent felt helpless. It was not the first time over the past two decades he had done so. There were too many of them to count. But he knew that as bad as those were, the magnitude of this one could eclipse them all combined.
But this was not just his employee. These were his friends. Hell, they were closer than family. And they deserved the truth, “I don’t know, Daniel. I’m doing my best here to figure things out.”
Daniel nodded as he put his hand on Brent’s shoulder, “I’m sorry, Doc. I know you are. And I know how heavy a burden this is for you. But I need as much information as I can get. Those boys are smart. Given half a chance, my money is on them to find their way here somehow. But we have to give them that chance, Doc. If those were your sons, what would you do?”
Brent weighed the question seriously. He knew that Jill’s sons were in the military. More than a few of their people were. But while it was one thing to delay to the last minute, as Samuel said with their people in the US, it was another to do so with thousands of miles and an ocean separating them, especially with Katla already closing off much of the air travel across the Atlantic.
But if he was wrong. If, as Lauren pointed out, this was just a single Icelandic eruption, no matter how bad. He was playing god with the lives and careers of people he cared about. And on what? This was more of a gut feeling at this point. Certainly not something he could prove scientifically. Hell, he could not even make his own damned simulation work.
To be fair, though, he had risked his life and Jason’s, as well as jail, to ‘kidnap’ his family. He was doing everything he could and worrying himself sick about his brother. Hell, he had even tried to convince the pompous old bastard that he called a father to join them.
“Daniel, I can’t take that kind of responsibility. I can’t give the bug-out order to any essential personnel. Not yet. Not based on what we know so far.”
He paused and inhaled deeply before continuing, “But you didn’t ask that, did you? You asked what I would do if those were my boys. You know how much you and Jill mean to me. Hell, I’m closer to all of you than I am my own flesh and blood.”
“So, to be honest, get them out. I can’t tell you if it may be too late already, but I do believe that every day, every moment we wait makes it riskier.” He sighed under the weight of it all, “But be honest with them. This is their careers and their lives that are on the line. If I am wrong. If they leave their posts now…”
Daniel squeezed his shoulder lightly, “Doc, trust me, you don’t have to tell me the risks those boys are taking. And even if they chose not to leave, I need to make sure they have the opportunity. Even if it will kill their mother.”
Brent wished again that he had better answers for his friends. Something more than the certainty of uncertainty. But it was a story that was all too familiar. As much as his wife and other ‘esteemed’ colleagues wanted to believe otherwise, volcanology and, honestly, most of the sciences were as much a guessing game as a trip to Las Vegas.
A very high-stakes poker game, partly based upon odds and partly the luck of the draw. Calculated risks that cost people, usually other people, their lives. And as much as they might like to dress it up with formulas and theories, the truth was that his gut was just as valid a predictor as anything else.
And that was what he was betting on. Not just with Jill’s sons, but with his wife too. The odds were getting higher by the minute. And he just hoped that this time Fate was on his side.
Lauren was still pouring over the data and calculations several hours later when Megan popped her head into the office.
“Mum, are you coming to dinner? Grandmam has made a nice casserole out of the leftover roast and some potatoes,” the young girl asked as she stood in the doorway.
Lauren blinked to clear the glare from the computer screen. She noticed that the outer offices were empty and dark, except for the dim glow from the mainframes as they continued their work. How had she let the time slip away from her? But that was always so easy to do when a new theory or problem caught her attention.
She still was not buying the snake oil of total destruction that Brent was selling, but after hours trudging through the data he and his team had collected and archived, she had to admit something unusual was happening.
The need to see the project to its end warred in her mind with her responsibilities as a mother. Looking up at the smiling face of her eldest child, she wondered how many dinners had she missed in pursuit of science and her career.
Wasn’t that part of the problem? What brought her here, to begin with? She had so lost touch with her family that it had been easy for her grandmother and daughter to conspire with Brent. She remembered her promise that morning as the plane landed – to get to know her children. Well, no time like the present, as she stood up and stretched.
“Sure, I’m coming to dinner.”
Lauren was a bit shocked at how happy and surprised her daughter looked at her pronouncement. “Just give me a couple of minutes to shut down the computer.”
Megan smiled and nodded. “I’ll wait by the televisions,” she pronounced as she disappeared into the other room.
Lauren smiled; even if the world was coming to an end, some things could still be counted upon, like teenagers’ attraction to television. She turned back to her work, hitting a few keys to save her files and shut down the computer for the night. Then she walked across the tiny enclosure, pulling the door closed behind her.
As she predicted, Megan was sitting at one of the desks near the display of large screens. Her face glued as the latest news show ran footage of the Iceland eruptions. Lauren felt the intense need to reassure her child, realizing for the first time the weight that Brent’s plans and the secrecy must have carried for Megan.
“You know these types of eruptions are cyclical. Iceland is right in the middle of the mid-Atlantic Ridge. As a divergent tectonic region…”
Megan shook her head and held up her hands. “Mum, I don’t need volcanology 101. Both my parents are geologists…volcanologists. I could have passed 101 before I could even read. Divergent, subduction, eruptible melt, pyroclastic flows. I learned what those meant before I knew my ABCs.”
Looking back at the screens, they both watched as the newscaster made comparisons with previous eruptions; 2010 in Eyjafjallajökull and the 1973 eruption of Eldfell volcano that saw man’s greatest triumph over the tremendous power of Mother Nature with their massive lava-cooling operations on the island of Heimaey.
But it was the 1783 and 1784 eruptions at Skaftáreldar, the worst in the island nation’s history, that seemed most appropriate. An eruption that saw the death of over half of the livestock and a quarter of the country’s people.
The effects of that eruption extended far beyond just the tiny nation. Contemporary reports that volcanologists had studied suggested that its effects reached most of Europe and parts of North America. An outpouring of gases, hydrogen fluoride, and sulfur dioxide gave rise to what had since become known as the “Laki haze” across Europe, resulting in thousands of deaths from respiratory failure, especially among the elderly, the sick, and small children.
The meteorological impact of Laki, as it was called by most, contributed significantly to several years of extreme weather in Europe. In France, a sequence of extremes, including droughts, bad winters, and a violent hailstorm in 1788 that destroyed crops, resulted in a build-up of poverty and famine that may have been a catalyst for the French Revolution in 1789.
In North America, it resulted in the longest and coldest winter in history. Some scientists even thought that the eruption contributed to weakened African and Indian monsoon circulations that saw widespread famine across those regions. Perhaps the eruption extended its menacing hand halfway around the globe, exacerbating the Tenmei famine in Japan.
Lauren shook her head as the facts raced through her head. No one was arguing with Brent that volcanic eruptions could have cataclysmic and relatively long-lasting impacts upon the fragile weather systems on this small planet on which humans lived. That was proven over and over again as scientists studied the patterns of volcanic eruptions. Still, the idea that man-made greenhouse gases, the same gases naturally produced by eruptions, could work in reverse to trigger eruptions…that was a leap that Lauren was too grounded in fact to make.
Watching the explosion of gray smoke and lightning swirl about the white-topped mountain peaks, she admitted that the next couple of years might not be easy ones across the world. She even pondered the effect that those gases might have upon Elise’s already fragile health. But she simply did not buy Brent’s snake oil…she could not.
Forcing her eyes from the screen, she willed herself to smile at her daughter. “You said something about dinner?”
Megan nodded as she hit a button on the remote, blanketing the building in nothing but the dim glow of backup lighting and the whir of mainframes chewing and spitting out data and calculations.
Brent tucked Elise in for the night. Even though it was spring already, it was still cold enough at night in the desert for her weighted blanket. He knew that it offered her some comfort, the pressure providing the deep touch that she eschewed from hugs. He guiltily bent and stole a light kiss on the top of her head. But even that caused her to rouse a bit.
It had taken her almost an hour of tossing and turning before she finally exhausted herself out. Sometimes he wondered what was going through her little mind. What did she think about that kept her so preoccupied? But something was happening in her mind, something that was likely so brilliant that it eclipsed his, Lauren’s, and Megan’s, of that he had no doubt.
It was another of the multitudes of things upon which he and Lauren did not agree. It was, in fact, the only one upon which they had been unable to find common ground. The one that had become so embittered that there was no way forward for them. The one that had torn them apart as surely as continental drift. But what Brent was counting on was that continental drift worked both ways. The same forces that tore them apart could pull them back together.
And if the very fact that Lauren had gotten willingly, if reluctantly, upon the plane was not enough to fuel the embers of hope that had never died in him, then this morning’s romp in the desert was. He tried to keep those hopes under control. After all, Brent had never for a single moment believed that Lauren would go through with the divorce. He had dragged the whole thing out for over a year through mediation and counseling. He had fought her every step of the way.
But she had. Seven years later and that still hurt him worse than anything ever had. Not his father’s disappointment in him. Nor his mother’s years buried in the bottle and addiction to prescription drugs that had ultimately taken her life during his Freshmen year in college. Not even the sibling rivalry that he had never been able to bridge with his baby brother.
The only thing that came even close was missing his girls. He looked over at the double bed, which filled most of the tiny space. Megan still had her head buried in her phone, messaging friends back in England who were waking and getting ready for school.
He smiled at how much like her mother, their oldest daughter looked. It was like stepping back in time a quarter of a century. His throat tightened just at the thought of how beautiful Lauren had been the summer he first noticed her as more than a pesky little brat that was always challenging every theory he had.
“Time for bed, kiddo.”
Megan smiled at him, “So, where is Mom sleeping if Elise is here with me?”
He laughed at her playfully teasing, “My bed. And before you get any ideas, I am taking the couch.”
“Aww, Dad, where’s the fun in that? I mean, I just figured after this morning…”
He frowned; he had been confident that their eldest would be capable of managing the situation. But the hope he heard ringing in her voice reminded him of Lauren’s conditions. “Your mother and I had some things to discuss; that was all.”
“Oh, come on. I am not Elise, Daddy. You and Mom only have two speeds: drag-out fights and too hot to handle. You think I don’t remember the kisses and the way you could barely keep your hands off one another. Gees, I knew Mum could be a total prude, but I did not realize you had turned into one too since the divorce,” she accused as she set the phone on the shelf next to her bed.
“Especially since Mum was sporting a hellacious hickie at lunch today,” she teased.
Brent knew that it was useless to deny their junior scientist’s observational skills. “Just don’t go getting your hopes up, kiddo, as your Mom keeps reminding me, one week. And that is down to six days now.”
Deep lines creased his daughter’s forehead, “You aren’t going to hold to that, are you, Dad? I mean if… Well, if you are right, I don’t want us all to be separated — different countries. Different continents, even. And an ocean apart.”
Brent heard the anxiety rising in his daughter’s voice. He bent and kissed the top of her head. “I’m gonna do everything I can, kiddo. You have my word on that.”
“You could always just tie her up, you know.”
He frowned at just how close Megan was to his earlier assessment of the situation. “Go to sleep. You know that we get up early around here.”
“Good night, Dad,” she turned back over.
“Night, sweetie,” Brent crossed the room and turned off the energy-efficient light on the wall between his daughters’ bed.
“Just give it some thought, Dad,” she teased as he closed the door.
The communal area was empty, and he was sure that Lauren would not be waiting naked in his bed as much as he might like the idea. Perhaps she had gone to check on Grandmam and Katie, but they had gone home an hour ago. She might have gone back to the command center, though, have another go at the program.
He opened the sliding glass door to find the one thing he sought. What he had been missing for too damned long. The woman of his dreams. The only one that fit the bill. He inhaled and could almost smell her sweetness in the crisp desert air. Lauren Masters was as beautiful now as she had been all those years ago. More beautiful, in fact. A sight for sore eyes, as Jason would say.
Lauren stood on the front porch of the tiny container building that was her home for the next week. Dinner had been quiet and straightforward. As Megan promised, her grandmother had turned the leftover beef and bits of potato into a creamy English pie complete with fluffy, layered crusts. It seemed that even the end of the world could not put a dent into her ex-husband’s appetite as he demolished a third of the pie all by himself. She, Grandmam, Katie, and her daughters made quick work of the rest.
Little had been said of the events that brought them here. Instead, they had all pretended it was another family dinner, sharing updates on football, school, and soap operas. Brent had even remembered how much her grandmother loved her soap operas. He had told her not to worry; he would show her how to stream episodes on the laptop while she was there. The whole evening seemed surreal.
Was this whole trip just a diversion? Goodness knows Brent had been against the divorce from the beginning. He had made numerous attempts at reconciliation, too many to count. Was this just another of those in cahoots with her grandmother and their daughter? Had she played into his hand with their wild sex among the cacti?
If the man did think that the world as they knew it was coming to an end, he certainly seemed to be rather casual about it. Sure, he had built this whole compound. But that did not necessarily have anything to do with the other. Brent had often spoken about a desire to get away from the pressures of modern life, to get back to nature and live more sustainably.
Looking around her at the dozen or so other homes that made up their street in this eco-village, she realized that many of its features were straight out of the late-night musings that she and Brent had shared when she was pregnant with Elise.
The pregnancy had been difficult. In addition to morning sickness that lasted well into her third trimester, Lauren suffered from excruciating heartburn that kept her up late each night. As a diversion, the young couple had taken to planning a weekend retreat for their growing family, a place away from everything, especially those demands of modern life. They had even talked about living there full-time once their careers were more established, once they both had tenure.
But Elise’s birth had brought those dreams crashing down around them. From the moment that she held her new daughter, something inside of Lauren had known that things were not right. Elise had difficulty breastfeeding. She had tried everything; even the lactation consultant had proven futile. Then there was the constant crying that the doctors dismissed as colic; she would outgrow it, they said.
Over the coming months, she never did. Each loud noise, bright light, and sometimes even Lauren’s touch sent the baby screeching and screaming. Lauren worried that the neighbors in their block of flats would call the police, accuse them of abusing their child. As her baby missed milestone after milestone, the doctors finally listened to her mother’s instinct. Referrals poured in, one specialist after another, medical tests and evaluations became their life.
It had taken close to a year for a diagnosis, and even then, the doctors had not agreed. That was when the fights had begun. Battles that took on new meaning as she and Brent disagreed on the most important thing of all, how to best help their child. As always, the battle lines were drawn. She and accepted science on one side versus Brent and…
Warm hands caressed her arms. She had not realized until that moment how chilly the night air had become. But the heat rising from the familiar and assured touch was in stark contrast to the cold darkness that surrounded them.
“I was just coming to look for you, darlin’,” his deep whisper caressed her ear.
“Are the girls asleep?” Lauren tried to refocus the conversation. Being alone with this man was the last thing she needed right then. She had come out here to think, to figure things out. Like the mainframes at his office, she needed to chew up data, run the calculations, and spit out a likely scenario of events based upon probabilities and accepted scientific theory.
The problem was…when she was around Brent Jacobs, she had never been able to think. His hands moved lightly up and down her arms. Hairs stood on end. The goose flesh had little to do with the chilly desert night and everything to do with this man. The way he made her feel. Because when it came to Brent Jacobs, that was all she did – feel.
“Brent, we need to talk.” Did her voice sound as needy and breathless as it did ringing in her ears?
“Talk, Lauren,” he stepped closer, wrapping his strong arms about her, enveloping her in warmth. The heat of his body overpowered her.
“Brent, we can’t keep doing this,” she whispered into the night air.
“Doing what, sweetheart?” His hands began to caress her once more. “Can’t keep loving each other?” His mouth was against the sensitive flesh of her ear. His words breathed like a prayer into them.
Lauren felt her resolve melt under the power of it. His breath was hot, burning her skin like pyroclastic flow rushing down the side of a mountain, taking with it houses, trees, plants, and animals, all life.
“Brent,” she whimpered even as her body leaned into his embrace.
His tongue lapped gently at her ear lobe, tracing its lines slowly. His hands continued the slow up and down caress of her arms. How could arms and ears be such erogenous zones?
Her whole body strummed with bent-up sexual energy. Her breasts felt uncomfortably heavy as they strained against the silky confines of her lace bra. Wetness flooded the matching panties, moving like lava through the crevices, collecting and pooling, awaiting an eruption, building like magma beneath the surface until it reached the tipping point, exploding forth with power and beauty.
She cursed her body and its never-ending need for this man. “Damn it, Brent. You know we can’t do this here. Anyone could see us.”
He chuckled into the softness of her flaming red hair. “Isn’t that part of the fun? Knowing how exposed we are. Wondering who might be watching us.” His hands trailed softly across her shoulders, down her collar bone, until they hovered just above the painfully engorged globes of her full breasts.
“It’s not like we are doing anything naughty. Two lovers wrapped in one another arms. Enjoying the night, nothing more.”
“Goddamn it, Brent,” Lauren cursed the power that he held over her. She knew that she should kick him in the shin or someplace a far sight more painful. She should run inside, slip into the double bed that she was sharing with Megan.
But it was his bed that held her imagination. His bed…in his bedroom, …in his house. And Lauren knew that despite jet lag if she did that, she would not sleep. She would lie in that bed all night long, next to the daughter that their lovemaking had created. Her mind would play like some bad soft-core porn, images of the things that they had done — the things they could be doing.
“I hate you,” she spat at the futility of it all as she pulled away from his embrace. Stealing her nerves for a night of torment, she turned towards the door.
He smiled down at her. His blue eyes danced with mirth. Mirth that she did not share at the moment. She raised her hand to slap the look from his smug face, but he captured it. His gaze locked on her face; he turned her hand and drew it towards his lips. He placed a soft kiss in the palm of her hand.
“There’s an empty cabin next door, sweetheart. Care to join me?”
War raged in Lauren’s brain. Logic told her that despite her boasts earlier of a week of wild fucking, she would burn this fire out forever; she was in real danger. Not even the fiberglass suits used for sampling lava could withstand the heat that she and Brent generated when they made love.
She should call it all off…now. Demand that Brent take her back home, back to the ivory towers of academia, back to scientific theory, back to safety.
But something more primal rose in her too. Something that pleaded and demanded that she sample this man and the feelings he brought forth in her. Begged her to surrender to the heat and fire that they created.
One week, her mind reasoned. One week to walk on the edges of this sleeping giant that bellowed and boomed, huffed and spewed with heat, fire, and energy that was more than sufficient to destroy everything in its path.
Of course, the trick would be not getting burned. And Lauren Masters recognized that would not be easy. Brent’s presence was enough to melt her insides. His casual touch could singe her soul. And the eruptions their bodies caused when they came together were definitely a VEI 8 – a super-eruption.
Despite their destructive and deadly potential, few volcanologists could resist the beauty and power of an eruption. And while scientific logic might argue against it, many secretly prayed for the once-in-a-thousand lifetimes chance to witness such an event.
Lauren was no different. She was as addicted to the beauty and power of eruptions as the rest of them. Her scientific mind be damned. She, too, wanted to taste the power of thousand-degree rocks, gases, and ash propelled forth at hundreds of miles per hour. She wanted the lightning and thunder. She wanted it all.
And the only person that had ever been able to give her that was here, right now. A mere step away. Offering it all to her. Those blue eyes begged her to take the chance one more time.
“What about Elise? What if she wakes up?” Lauren reasoned. Looking for an excuse, a reason to choose safety.
Brent smiled as he pulled a monitor out of his back pocket. “Got these last summer when the girls visited for that very reason.”
Lauren hated that boyish grin that meant he had thought of everything. It had always infuriated her. But at that moment, she was in no mood to argue. Her body still strummed with harmonic tremors that science recognized as a predictor of eruptions, molten lava moving slowly upward through those crevices towards the surface, pushing aside everything in their path. All reason fled.
“One week.” Was the reminder of their deal for Brent or her, she wondered as she took his hand and rushed the few steps to the small house next door.