Lauren was floating through the clouds. More like flying, gliding above it all. The sun was bright, warming her face as the wind gently caressed her cheeks. Spreading an array of soft kisses everywhere it touched.
“Good morning, beautiful,” the soft, deep whisper of her ex-husband was enough to pull her from the dream as she sat bolt upright in the bed.
“Shit,” she looked out the sliding glass doors that were still just slightly ajar. The sun was so bright that it hurt her eyes and much higher in the sky than she would have thought. Her heart raced at the ramifications of that. “What time is it, Brent?”
Her ex had that ‘eat-shit,’ little boy grin on his face as he picked up a steaming cup of coffee from the table next to the couch/bed. But not even the peace offering of her first cup of coffee was going to save his sorry, but hot, ass from this one, “I told you that no one could know about this. What were you thinking? What about Megan? Knowing that we spent the night…”
She could not even put words to what they had spent the night doing. It had been amazing, unlike anything they had ever…
After that first time, they had talked, caught up a bit on one another’s lives over the past seven years, and laughed. She had forgotten what it felt like to talk and laugh with this man, who had always been her best friend as well as her mentor and lover.
She reached for the cup of coffee, needing something to do with her hands and her eyes. Better to look at the mug of black magic than the visage of the man, who had spent the night worming his way back into her heart and mind. Not that she had ever managed to get him out.
No, Brent Jacobs still held the title of her one and only lover. Well, if a drawer full of toys did not count. But even with those, it was always fantasies of this man that fueled her orgasms, more than batteries and buzzing motors. Damn him, “Damn you, Brent.”
He bent forward slowly, and the moment his lips touched hers, her mind cleared once more. He tasted sweet, better even than her morning coffee. She was glad for the hot liquid in the cup. Not spilling it gave her something else to concentrate upon other than the taste and feel of this man’s kisses.
Damn, Brent Jacobs. He was not the only man she had ever kissed. She had briefly tried dating – a couple of colleagues from other departments at the university. While she had enjoyed the outings and conversation, she always dreaded the disappointment of this…the kissing. None of them had been this man, which was why it had never gone any further.
He nibbled at her bottom lip then ran his tongue along it before drawing back. “If you would let me speak, Mrs. Jacobs, you would discover that our daughter is eating breakfast right now. I told her that you had gotten up early and were already in the command center.”
He motioned towards a tray of food and neatly folded clothes on the table next to him. “I said I had just stopped in for our breakfast. So, eat a bit then as much as it pains me to suggest covering those delicious curves, grab a quick shower, and get dressed. We probably have no more than fifteen minutes before our daughter makes her way there.”
She glared at him, “And you wasted precious moments of it…” She rubbed her lips softly against one another. She hoped their child was not as astute as her grandmother would be. She knew that she would hear some comment from the woman about her tender and slightly swollen lips from the hundreds of breath-stealing kisses they had shared last night.
His laughter caressed her mind as she noticed the fine lines about his eyes. It was not fair. Almost thirty years and this man only got better looking each and every one. She shuddered to think what he would look like at seventy. She gripped the mug tighter to keep from reaching up to caress his blond locks that were beginning to lace with white. The thought of a whole head full of that snowy softness should not make her wet and tingly, but it did.
Everything about this man did, always had. From the moment her sexual appetites had begun to bloom as a young woman until the day she died, she knew that this was the only man she would ever truly want. And no amount of wishing otherwise would help.
“As much as the idea of conserving water by joining you in the shower appeals to me, I think it would take far longer than we have to wash your back.” His fingers reached out and tweaked her nipple, an action that elicited an involuntary moan from her.
“But we don’t have that kind of time. I bought you a clean t-shirt and underwear. Figured wearing the same thing two days in a row might blow your precious cover with our baby girl. And no, there are no more hickeys on your neck. I heard about that one from Grandmam too,” he smiled as he stood.
Lauren bit her lower lip as she tried to keep her mind from the way his jeans hugged his perfect ass. Damn the man for being so sexy on top of a genius. And the most romantic, intense lover that no other man could hold a candle to.
As if to prove his point, he stopped in the doorway with the sunlight dancing off his golden hair. With that smile, he crooned, “I couldn’t see the light. I didn’t know day from night. I had no reason to care. Well, since you’ve came along, I can face the dawn cause I know you’ll be there.”
His blue eyes glistened in the morning light, and Lauren would have sworn that they clouded with unshed tears for a moment, “Good morning, beautiful, how was your night? Mine was wonderful with you by my side. And when I open my eyes to see your sweet face. It’s a good morning, beautiful day.”
Damn, did the man have to serenade her with a sweet country tune? One day she would find that fatal flaw in him. The one that would finally extinguish this flame of love. Douse its fires until it was nothing more than a sleeping giant, dormant and harmless.
So, why was that thought not comforting? Why had she not been able to find that flaw in seven years apart? Even his stubborn determination, the alternative therapies for Elise, even this damned wild goose chase, she could not begrudge him even those because she knew that at their core, he did them out of love.
“Get that shower, sweetheart. Don’t worry about rushing. I’ll make an excuse to Megan that you have run out for fresh air and coffee,” he stood there for a long moment, just looking at her.
While it made her uncomfortable and self-conscious, it also made her feel beautiful, wanted, and very much loved. Safe, only Brent ever made her feel truly safe. “I love you, Lauren. And nothing will ever change that. You always have been the only woman for me.”
His laughter bubbled and rumbled, breaking the morning silence, “So, no catfighting with Monique. For the record, I never have. The woman would rather have you in her bed than me, beautiful. Not that I can blame her from where I am standing. But I never did learn to share my toys, so don’t even think it, woman.”
Lauren was left confused and shaking her head as he disappeared into the morning sunshine like her golden boy. She hated the way that it left her feeling bereft and alone. She forced herself to eat a few bites of the fresh muffins and finish her coffee before rising to walk naked to shower.
“I’m gonna wash that man right outta my hair.” Brent was not the only one who could sing first thing in the morning. Even if she did not believe her own words. And even if her ears almost hurt with her pitiful attempt.
Brent was still whistling the tune that had been stuck in his mind since he woke to the feel of her curves pressed tightly against him. His cock had been hard as it nestled in its favorite spot between the soft cushion of her ass cheeks. It was utter and complete perfection. For the first time in over seven years, all was right in his world again.
Until the moment he opened the door to the command center, and all chaos broke loose. People were rushing from computer screen to computer screen. The television was blaring the BBC. It took him a moment for it all to register. He was still trying to process it all when Monique came up to him. “Laki blew too.”
“Damn,” he rushed to his office. He ran his fingers through his hair as the thing powered up.
Looking up, he was glad to see that Monique had followed behind him and tarried in the doorway. “We are downloading the latest data from Iceland and feeding it into the model.” She shook her head, “But still no luck.”
He sighed, “Lauren will be here shortly. She’s…”
Monique giggled, “Having trouble walking this morning?”
Brent chuckled; that was his friend, as irreverent as ever, even as their worst fears appeared to be unfolding before their eyes. Her friendship and this place had been all that kept him going these past few years.
He frowned as he realized what all of this meant for the woman personally. He pushed a button on the walkie-talkie on the corner of his desk. It crackled as it came to life, but Samuel’s voice broke the silence, “Yeah, boss?”
“Any news from West Virginia?”
“I’m on my way to your office…”
“Right now,” the man towered behind Monique with a broad grin.
Brent chuckled at the comedy duo, “Come in so that we can talk.”
But before the door could even close behind them, Megan burst through it. “Is it true, Daddy? Is there another eruption?”
He stood up quickly, crossing the room to his oldest daughter. “Yes, princess. But…”
She stared up at him in panic. Brent sighed as he realized that even those closest to him had not truly believed this was coming. Of course, he was confident that Lauren would argue this proved nothing. And to some extent, she was right.
Right now, though, he was more concerned with soothing their daughter. “Relax, sweetie. We don’t have enough information yet. It is still too early to know. This could be something minor. Just another of your old man’s wild goose chases.”
Megan shook her head, “But what if it isn’t, Daddy? All of my friends are back there. What’s going to happen to them and their families?”
It was the same question that had been weighing so heavily upon his mind since Katla began to erupt. Even more so now. Where was the line between raising the alarm and inciting anarchy?
One thing was for certain: they could not count on governments, any of them, to make the correct call on that one. Modern history was rife with examples of just how ill-prepared they were to do battle with the all-powerful Mother Nature.
But as he had told Daniel, raising the alarm too soon carried just as many risks. Rushes on stores, riots, even civil war. So, where was the line? And what might be the consequences to those they cared about most?
“Let’s see what they have to say on TV while the data downloads. Then we’ll have a better idea. Okay, princess?”
She nodded her head slowly, but he saw the fear and worry in those bright green eyes that were so much like her mother’s. He knew as he guided her and the others back into the central part of the building that his daughter had lost something precious today — her innocence.
He remembered how that felt…and he had been much older. Much, much older. Was that also the reality of this new world into which he believed mankind was being birthed?
It was not the first time he had watched as childhoods were lost. But perhaps he too had been naïve, had not counted all the costs. He might be able to keep Megan physically safe here, but what about mentally and emotionally? How had he failed to consider those consequences? And now that he had, what was he going to do about it?
He pondered it all as he watched the faces of those closest to him. He saw the shock registering on every single one of them. But he supposed he understood that too. Theories are one thing, but until the worst happened, until you witnessed the absolute power, havoc, and devastation that those nice, neat scientific theories did not fully explain, until then, it just did not seem real. Perhaps it never could? Maybe even he was a bit caught off-guard by this one.
Lauren was still whistling the show tune as she made her way to the command center twenty minutes later. But the music stopped when she saw everyone gathered around the television screens in the middle of the room. At first, she thought it was just more about the eruption of Katla, but she quickly realized that it was another more famous or, more accurately, infamous volcano that was rumbling to life.
“Laki?” she asked as she approached the group.
Brent nodded his head. Those small lines in his forehead appeared deeper than ever as he spoke, “Laki began erupting a couple of hours ago, and now it looks like the Grímsvötn fissure is coming unzipped.”
“Like in 1783, Dad?” Lauren had not noticed Megan off to the group’s side with her friend Sammy and a couple of other teens a bit older than her daughter.
Lauren shook her head, “We can’t know that yet, Megan. It is still much too early to predict these things. A previous eruption is not necessarily a predictor of future ones. This could be much shorter and less volatile. It is not even all that surprising. Laki is part of the EVZ, East Volcanic Zone, same as Katla. So, it could easily be localized.”
Nothing could prepare Lauren for the eruption that followed her words. “Come on, Mum. Does everything have to fit your neat little scientific formulas? Do you always have to be right? What if just for once something bigger is at work than our limited knowledge can account for?”
Her daughter threw up her hands and shook her head. “I get it, Mum. It is about control. About everything fitting nicely and neatly into place. About being able to predict what happens next based upon history. But not everything works that way. Remember I am the child of divorce too? I know how it feels. How you just want everything to make sense again. But guess what? Things don’t work like that.”
Her daughter was trembling by the time she finished her outburst. Lauren wanted to slink off into the desert alone. To have all her fears and anxieties laid bare before a room full of strangers, by her daughter, was a nightmare. But she also recognized the truth in her child’s words and the pain behind them. “I’m sorry, sweetheart.”
She wanted to reach for her daughter, take her into her arms, and kiss it all better as she had when Megan was a toddler. But she knew this one was not that easy as her daughter had said. So instead, she turned to her ex-husband, “Do you still want my help, Brent?”
His smile was tight as he nodded his head, “Always, Lauren.”
She swallowed all those emotions. She had gotten good at that after a lifetime of practice. Looking at the man, who had kept his word to taste and explore every inch of her body the night before, well, except for him. “Do you have the latest data to feed into your algorithms?”
“It’s downloading as we speak,” he replied. “I really need your help here, sweetheart. There are people, lots of people that I care about, depending on us getting this right. You know as well as I do what happens if we raise the alarm too soon or too late.”
Lauren nodded her head solemnly. It was the biggest challenge of volcanology. Accurately predicting eruptions so that they could save lives.
She turned to their daughter once more, “Care to bring your old lady some fresh coffee?” She struggled to keep it light.
Megan smiled at her, “What, no tea? It must be bad,” she teased. “Thanks, Mum.” Her daughter crossed the short distance to stand in front of her. Megan pressed a kiss to her cheek, “With you and Dad working together, I know it will be alright.”
Then she and her friends were gone. And Lauren was left to face her ex-husband and the others. “I’ll get you set back up in my office, sweetheart.” Brent placed his hand at the small of her back.
Even that light touch sent harmonic tremors coursing through her body. Damn, the man. Why did he have to prove the scientific theory that one small eruption could keep triggering larger ones? And why, after their brazen tussle among the tumbleweeds and their night in nirvana, was her body still aflame for this man?
It was a question that was more perplexing than Brent’s crazy Apocalypse theories ever could be. And perhaps just as unsolvable. So, for now, she would focus on the calculations at hand and leave those mysteries for another time.
By the time Brent had finished setting Lauren up in his office once more, complete with a fresh pot of coffee and more muffins that their daughter had snitched from Jill, Megan had disappeared from the command center.
He knew he had to go after her, have a serious talk with her. The problem was he did not know what to say. How to reassure her. How much to tell her even. Sure, she was bright like he and Lauren had been, beyond her years. But she was still a child.
The truth was this thing was bigger than he was. And if what his gut was telling him was right, if this was it, then he was quickly discovering that even he had not adequately prepared for the very thing he had poured his heart, soul, and money into for seven years.
He began to scour the village for her. He tried her room first, the kitchen, the cabin where Grandmam and Katie were staying. All the obvious places. Of course, everyone here knew everyone else, and there was no real danger, but still, he was worried.
He found Sammy, Jess, and Althea hanging out with Elise at the barn, but no sign of Megan. “Hey, kiddo, do you know where Megan has run off to?” he asked as he put his arm around his cousin’s shoulder.
When had Sammy gotten almost as tall as he was? And was that hair on his face? Brent realized that perhaps he had spent so much time working, he had not been living.
“She said she needed some time alone to think. She went off into the desert on one of the ATVs, but she promised to stay close, so she should be fine,” Sammy replied. “She asked us to keep an eye on Little Bit. Said she would be back in time for lunch for sure.”
Brent sighed as he pondered the best course of action. It was another way that Megan was so much like Lauren. He had learned early on in their relationship that his wife needed to be alone to think sometimes. While he carved the stimulation of brainstorming, bouncing ideas off of other brilliant minds, and talking things through, they were different. So, he had learned first to give Lauren her time alone, then once she had her ideas formulated, only then to engage her.
Perhaps it was best to do the same with Megan? Like Sammy said, she should be safe, and he could always catch up with her over lunch in a couple of hours. “Thanks, kiddo. I’ll catch her then, I suppose.”
Sammy looked up at him. He was smiling, but Brent could tell it was forced. “Is this it? Is it really happening? Is the world really coming to an end? The Apocalypse and all?”
Once more, Brent was left to answer the unanswerable, “I don’t know yet.” It was as close to the truth as he could give anyone but left him feeling powerless and impotent.
Well, except around Lauren, he chuckled at the random thought. But once more sent a silent thanks to Fate that now of all times, she was back in his life. Just when he needed her most. In more ways than one.
He frowned as he said his good-byes to the group of teens. He knew better than to disturb Lauren just yet. The best option was to check in with Daniel and Samuel to see how things were coming with them. He knew that they were more than competent to handle it all and that he was probably a pest. He certainly hated the way his father always micromanaged him. But he just needed to see if there was any more word on Travis or Monique’s lost family.
He did not even have to go as far as the bunker to find them this time. They found him, in fact, near the small pool of ATVs and other vehicles. “Just the man we were looking for,” Samuel smiled. “What’s up, Doc?”
Brent still chuckled at the pun, “You tell me. How are preparations coming? And any word on the prodigal brother or Monique’s family?”
“Everything is running smoothly in terms of the evacs. The plane from Morocco leaves in a few hours. It is a bit overbooked, with the extra people from Southern Europe. So, unfortunately, the pilot has ordered everyone to leave cargo behind, except for special toys for the little ones, of course. But we can’t be sure if we will be able to get another plane out of there as it is,” Daniel answered.
Brent nodded, “Hire another one. Pay whatever you have to, but find another plane somewhere.”
Daniel nodded his head with a smile, “I’ll see what we can do.”
“And Jill’s sons, are they on that plane?”
Daniel shook his head, “Not yet. They had decided to remain at their posts, but after Laki started to blow, I spoke with them on video conference again. I think they might change their minds. I’m hopeful that her youngest son, Darren, might even be able to fly that second plane out of there. If we can find one.”
“Find one then. I might have a few more people coming too. Once I talk to my baby girl. So, buy as much time as we can for those in Northern Europe to get there. Without putting anyone in danger, though.” Brent gave orders that seemed surreal even to him. “Europe has to be our priority for now. Are our Italian friends safely out, especially those around Naples?”
“All except your colleague Dr. Bianchi. The old coot refuses to go, says he needs to stay there, and do what he can. We tried our best, Doc, I promise,” Samuel answered. “But he says he’s lived long enough, and he’d rather go out with a Botta Bing, Botta Bang. Gotta love a man like that.”
“But he did evacuate his daughter’s family,” Daniel added.
Brent sighed; as much as he wished otherwise, the volcanologist inside of him understood his mentor’s feelings. As Samuel said, he had to love the man for his dedication to both science and the city he loved. Brent also knew that the man might be one of his few allies around the globe, which would put his neck on the line to sound the alarm the moment he raised it. Reluctantly, he agreed with his friend’s choice and added another entreaty to Fate to watch over Benito.
“And Travis? Monique’s family?”
“Dwayne has confirmed with his sources that Maria, her mother, and the children made it as far as Rosarita, Mexico. But it seems they dropped off of the face of the earth there.” Samuel shook his head, “But we’ll keep trying.”
“Getting lost in Rosarita seems to be some kind of fad. We still have not been able to locate your brother either,” added Daniel.
“Damn it,” Brent cursed as his fingers bunched in his hair once more. “Keep trying with that too. Do all you can to locate Monique’s family.”
“Let me guess…whatever it costs?” laughed Samuel.
Brent glared at him, “It’s only money.”
Daniel frowned, “And if you are right, Doc, then soon it ain’t gonna be worth a hill of beans.”
Brent nodded as he clasped each of their hands, “Yeah, but hiring you two was some of the best of it this old boy ever spent. I know you’ll handle it all.”
“We’ll do our best,” Daniel promised as the two men headed back to the bunker with their new orders. Brent decided he would check-in at the command center since there was not much else he could do until he caught up with Megan anyway.
Brent lost track of time at the command center. While he found himself peeking over at his office, just to watch Lauren work, he could tell from the look on her face not to mess with her yet. But he was continually being distracted as this person and that sought his input on the latest data coming in. He had no idea what she was coming up with in there, but from where he stood, things were not looking good.
He sighed as he stretched and snuck one more glance her way. He always had loved how beautiful she was when she totally focused on something. Her passion was not limited to the bedroom. She cared as much about their work as she did their girls and Grandmam.
‘So, what you going to do when she leaves again, buddy?’ He hated that voice. It had taunted him with his failures for seven years. He could not imagine a lifetime of sarcasm — any more than he could imagine living the rest of it without her. And the clock was ticking, six days.
Which reminded him; he looked over at the clock on the wall, noticing that it was past the height of the lunch rush. Damn, he hoped he had not missed Megan. He quickly hibernated the laptop he was working on as he stood and stretched out even more of the kinks.
He thought about asking Lauren to join him, but she looked even more intent than she had earlier. Besides, this conversation with Megan might be best had alone. He would bring some food back for her later.
He had always loved her curves, but it seemed she had lost a bit of them since the last time he had held her. Nothing that Jill’s cooking could not correct, though. Brent smiled as he made his way across the compound towards the kitchen, mess hall as Daniel and Samuel called it.
The sun was very bright, especially for a spring day. He stopped for a moment inside the building, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dimmer light. All the buildings here used lower wattage, power-saving bulbs to conserve energy. They could not afford to waste even alternative energy.
He made his way to the serving line. This late, there were only a couple of people in it. As he waited, he scanned the room, looking for Megan. She was not at the table with Grandmam, Elise, and Katie. He was about to give up and go looking for her elsewhere when he noticed her at a corner table with the other teens.
He sighed as he filled his tray with food. But this day, his mind was so pre-occupied that he could not fully appreciate even Jill’s cooking. Food was nothing more than a necessity, an energy source to be consumed and utilized like all other fuels.
He made his way across the room with only a nod to Grandmam. He would try to talk to them once he had handled his older daughter. Guilt swamped him at how little time he had spent with Elise. Usually, when she visited, he cleared as much from his schedule as he could and was a full-time Dad to the girls. But this time, he shook his head with a sigh, was different.
He approached the table where the ‘cool kids’ sat with a smile. “Hey, princess, mind if the old man joins you?”
Megan sighed as she looked down and nodded her head just slightly, “Sure, I guess. Whatever.”
Sammy looked at him then the other girls sitting with them. “We were just heading out, Brent. Catch up with you later, Megs?”
Megan looked up with a smile at his young cousin and nodded, “Yeah, maybe we can take a walk and talk some more.”
Sammy nodded at her words, and with the others, said their goodbyes to Brent.
He did not even get the chance to speak before his daughter nervously stammered, “I’m sorry. I know I was a bit of a bitch to you and Mom both earlier. It’s just…”
He watched helplessly as tears began to pool in her eyes. “Dad, what if you are right? What if this is it? I have friends back home. What is going to happen to them?” Once more, she voiced her worries and his.
And as much as he had been cogitating over it all morning, one he still did not fully have the answer to, “I don’t know for certain, Megan. There are lots of unknowns in this situation.”
“Worst case, Dad,” she pinned him with a stare.
He weighed just how much a teen should know, but Megan was not just any teen. And he knew that if he did not answer honestly and the worst did happen, it would stand between them. He had built enough walls with her mother; he would not with her too.
“This is the worst case, Megan, alright?” He waited to begin until she nodded her head slowly.
“Worst case is that Cumbre Vieja blows and the western flank of the island fails. That would generate a tsunami…”
“A megatsunami, Dad. Shot straight with me. I’m no kid anymore,” Megan clasped her hands tighter around her cup.
“Yes, a megatsunami. That affects the Atlantic coasts, but it is why we are so worried about our friends in Virginia Beach. It could cross the ocean in as little as eight to ten hours, leaving little time for a mass evacuation.”
“And back home?”
“England is an island, Princess. And like any island, it would be hit harder. But your friends in Oxford should be far enough inland to weather it okay,” he tried to alleviate the worst of her fears.
“And London, Dad? Some of them live in London or have family there,” she pressed.
He shook his head, “There will be flooding, of course. The Thames Barrier cannot hold against even high tides generated off of an indirect hit. But no one can agree on how bad it might get. And that is as honest as I can be with you, sweetie.”
She nodded slowly, “Thanks, Dad. But even if there is no megatsunami, things are going to get worse, aren’t they?”
“Yes, they will, but slowly. Perhaps giving people enough time to make plans, to adjust a bit.”
“Is it going to be like the last time Laki erupted? The gas clouds, super hot summer, and then bad winter?”
“Yes, Megan. That is almost certain. That is why I have ordered evacuations for all our people across Europe. The plane should be leaving tonight.”
“And what about my friends, Daddy? What do I tell them? What should they do?”
He sighed as he placed his hands over hers on the cup. “I am arranging another plane. Tomorrow, maybe the next day, if we can hold out. It will leave from Morocco and take the Southern route across the Atlantic, assuming La Palma remains quiet. We’ll take as many of your friends and their families as can get there, sweetie.”
She smiled at him, and he saw the tears fall from the corner of those green pools. “Thank you, Daddy. I love you.”
“But you need to realize; not everyone is going to listen. Some may think…”
“That you’re crazy?”
He chuckled, “Yeah, I have been called that before.” The pain in his chest tightened, reminding him that while he might not care what others thought of him, he did what they thought of her. “Where…”
“Don’t worry, Dad. I kneed the guy who said it.”
He chuckled as he squeezed her hand. “For those who do stay, encourage them to stock up on canned food and batteries. The Ice Age won’t happen overnight. Some will have the time to migrate by sea to warmer locales. But,” he sighed again, “Refugees aren’t always welcome, especially when people’s own resources are scarce.”
“Chaos, anarchy, and war, right?”
“Yes, princess. That’s why I built this place.”
“And why you hired Daniel and Samuel? And why half the Navy SEALs will descend on this place when all hell breaks loose?”
This time his only response could be a nod. Though right now, he was not satisfied even that would be enough. Not when he went public with his predictions. He might well have to place the lives of those he cared about the most at risk to save the lives of millions of strangers. It was a decision that weighed upon his mind. Now more than ever.
“Speaking of which, I should check on how things are going,” he forced as reassuring a smile as he could muster.
“Thanks, Dad. For treating me as an adult and giving me at least a chance of saving some of my friends.”
“Message as many as you can. I’ll have Samuel keep you posted about when the plane might leave. Of course, they can’t fly to Morocco, but trains as still running through the Chunnel. Boats too. But warn them not to attempt a trans-Atlantic crossing in one, just in case…”
“I know, Dad. I’ll do what I can.”
“And one more thing, young lady…”
“Uh-oh, it must be bad. If you call me that,” Megan teased.
“Give your Mom a break. She didn’t deserve what you did this morning. I expect you to apologize to her properly. Do you understand me?”
His daughter blushed as she looked down, “Yes, Sir.”
“Good girl, princess,” he bent and kissed the top of her head before heading out.
Perhaps he would try to catch up with his younger daughter, spend some time brushing the pony. He had taken to grooming the animal himself when Elise was not around.
It was very soothing. And right now, he could use something to soothe his troubled mind. Since his first choice was otherwise occupied in his office, he would settle for some time with their younger child and her pet.
Lauren’s shoulders and neck ached. She had lost all track of time hunched over the computer in Brent’s office. She had played with the algorithms, fed the data they had into it a dozen times or more. But the problem was, it was not enough. There was just not enough data to make a legitimate estimation.
It sounded so simple – more data. But the reality was that meant another eruption. In another location. More lives in danger. More people forced from their homes…perhaps never to return. It was the story that they had seen over and over again. Whole villages evacuated. Abandoned. Ghost towns.
And as she played with the figures, the news from Iceland only got worse. Katla had escalated from a relatively minor VEI-3 to a five. And fissures continued to unzip along the Grímsvötn; no longer was it strictly Laki to contend with. Once again, it was too early to tell, but it was increasingly looking as if this eruption could be as devastating as the 1783/84 one that had killed six million people worldwide.
Lauren shook her head as she ran the simulation that she had created. One which accounted simply for what they knew at this point. It was alarming enough as it was.
If this one followed that pattern, this summer would be blistering and stifling as the sulfur dioxide clouds would trap the sun rays within the Stratosphere, causing an initial increase in temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere. Besides, tens or even hundreds of thousands of lives, especially in Europe, would be lost due to respiratory distress from the noxious gases.
That was just the beginning, though. This winter might not reach the Ice Age standard, but it would likely be significantly colder and harsher than average. The weather for years to come, as much as a decade by her estimation, would be extremes: hailstorms, droughts, and floods.
From a historical perspective, it did not bode well for political and economic systems that were already strained by years of recession and deep cuts to programs meant to help the world’s poorest. Her mind rang with reminders of the brutal and bloody French Revolution of 1789, which some historians contributed in part to that earlier Laki eruption. In an interconnected world of the internet, such rebellion could spread globally very quickly.
While she was unwilling to cede to Brent’s Apocalyptic predictions just yet, her own predictions were concerning. “Fuck,” she spat in frustration at the utter and irrevocable power of Mother Nature over even the most brilliant of minds. Humanity, whether they liked it or not, was nothing more than another of her creatures. Just as much at her mercy as every other species out there.
She moaned as the strong fingers that knew her body in a way that no one else ever had, or ever would, sank deep into the tight muscles at the exact point where her neck met her shoulders. “That bad, sweetheart?” his deep Texas drawl teased her ear as his warm breath caressed her cheek.
She chuckled as she turned her head enough to stare into those striking baby blues. “What makes you say that, Dr. Jacobs?” How had she so quickly fallen back into the gentle teasing they had once shared?
Brent kissed the tip of her nose. His favorite freckle he had always claimed was the one right in the center. “Because, my love, outside of our bed, when you are begging me to do just that, I have only heard you use that word once.”
Her throat tightened at the memory. She shared a lifetime of them with this man. But that was one of the worst. Thanks to Jason’s skill as a pilot and some luck, they had managed to be the first outsiders to arrive at a coastal village in Sumatra, barely a day after the most devastating tsunami in modern history. She had stepped from the plane and taken one look around her. She had known then they were dealing with something the likes of which they had not imagined and were not prepared for.
She sighed as she reluctantly admitted that even if the worst of his predictions were not to come, Brent was better prepared for what was to come than anyone else. She frowned at the implications of that thought.
Brent pulled back and moved to lean against the desk next to her, crossing his arms across his impressive chest. “Okay, Lauren, I know that look too. It means you don’t want to admit it, but I might be right. So, what have you found?”
She shook her head, “I did not say you were right, Brent.” She pulled up the original simulation model that he and Monique had worked on to the computer screen. “The truth is we don’t have enough points of data to make an accurate prediction.”
“In other words, more eruptions,” he sighed. “Damn it! How many more?”
She shook her head, “One, maybe enough to make some sort of guess. But realistically, two more.”
“By then, it might be too late to get some of our people to safety.”
Lauren watched the play of muscles as he ran his fingers through his hair. The tightness around his mouth spoke volumes about this man’s stress. As always, it brought forth in her some deep-seated primal need to comfort and even protect him. It was only natural to offer what solace she could as she pulled up her simulation.
“But, even if you are wrong about more eruptions and a new Ice Age, you should see this.” She hit the run button as he bent over her shoulder, and together they watched the numbers run. Red eruptions triggering climatic changes that, in turn, could trigger socio-political ones.
His frown deepened, “So, you are saying that even the present eruptions at Katla and Laki could have…”
“More drastic effects than even those scare monger reporters are aware of,” she minimized the screen. “I used your basic algorithms and just scaled them back for the data we do have. My confidence in this model is close to ninety percent.”
“Fuck,” it was Brent, who cursed as his fingers once more laced through blond hair. “What do we do, Lauren?”
“I have sent my calculations to colleagues at the Met and USGS.” She tried to soften her next words with a gentle hand on his arm, “When they learned that you and Monique had done the original…”
“They discounted it all, right, Lauren?” he shook his head. “I suppose you warned me about this…”
“…but it does not make it right, Brent. As I said, I am almost certain about these calculations. I would and am staking my professional reputation on it.”
“But it is not enough, is it, sweetheart?” he smiled tightly as his hand covered hers on his arm.
“No, no, it isn’t.”
“Now you see, sweetheart. We are scientists. We deal with simple things like theories, calculations, and probabilities. But there is something else, a much larger factor that we cannot account for in any of that – human greed, avarice, and hubris. The ‘powers that be’ do not want our facts, unless they further their agendas.”
He bent and kissed her lips tenderly. It was another of those soft, tentative, and exploratory caress like that first one over twenty years before, and it was just as devastating.
“I always loved your idealism as much as I loved your practicality, darlin’. But I grew up in that world. The only time my father ever gave or gives a damn about my science is when it puts money in his pockets. He don’t give a shit about me, Travis, or our girls, not if it was a choice between us and the almighty dollar.”
Lauren had always been aware of the impact that her parents’ divorce had upon her life and choices. She supposed that she had just assumed because Brent grew up with two parents that he did not bear similar scars.
Sure, she had always known about the rift between father and son but never had Brent spoken with such obvious pain and anger about his father. Perhaps it was a part of the reason he had fought the divorce until the end, remained so close to their daughters, reluctantly she admitted… maybe even closer than she was.
His fingers bunched in the shortly cropped waves once more, “What now? What the fuck do I do? What do I tell them? People who are counting on me. On us, to keep them safe.”
“I know this may not be the answer you want, Brent, but a conservative approach is probably best. For now…”
“Unless there are more data points, more eruptions, right, Lauren?”
She nodded her head with a tight smile and another gentle squeeze on his forearm, “Yes, unless.”
She sighed before continuing with her ‘sensible,’ as he would call it, solution. “Children and the elderly, the vulnerable, especially in Europe where the winds will blow the gases first. Evacuate them. Bring them here. It will take some time, months, perhaps even a year, for the worst of the vog to make it here. By then, it will have dissipated at least a bit. It is not the perfect solution, but it is…”
She chuckled at his use of that word. “Yes, Brent, sensible.”
He was silent for a couple of moments as his fingers worked back and forth across his scalp several times. She watched the play of emotions across his face as he pondered her suggestions. She knew that she had won when his shoulders slumped. He nodded his head as he spoke, “Okay, that’s the plan. I’ll send the word out then.”
He reached into his back pocket and drew forth this phone. His face was a tight mask as he typed away at the tiny screen for a couple of long moments. When he finally looked up, Lauren saw the pain and worry etched into every small line and crevice of his still breathtakingly handsome face.
She was reminded then of another reason that she loved this man – he cared. Brent genuinely cared, not just about facts, data, and theory like so many of their colleagues. But about the people, the lives that were affected by all that. He was always the first to offer his water bottle to thirsty villagers — the one to half his own rations to feed a mother and her child.
Tears filled her eyes as she remembered that first day in Sumatra. They had come across a mother holding her dead baby. The woman’s husband desperately tried to get her to release the child’s bloated and smelly corpse. But she would not. Not without a blanket. Something to keep her dead body warm. Lauren had cried then as she did now, thinking about how Brent had taken the shirt from his back and wrapped it about that dead baby.
Lauren trembled as she realized the inevitable – she would never get over this man. No matter what, she would love Brent Jacobs until her dying breath. How could she not?
And how could she not do the one thing now that she had done then? Take this gentle, intelligent, and strong man into her arms and body. Offer him the one thing that only she could…comfort, peace, and solace.
The world might not precisely be coming to an end, but he still needed her. And if she were honest, she needed him just as much. Her rock. Her safety. The one person besides Grandmam that she had always been able to count on.
She stood up from his desk, slowly stretching the muscles that had grown tight over hours at the computer. She smiled softly at him, her best imitation of a seductive grin, as she came to stand in front of him. She wrapped her arms about those broad shoulders and pressed her body against his, feeling the immediate stirring beneath his belt buckle. She could not stifle the girlish giggle as his arms wrapped about her waist.
“What’s so funny, sweetheart?” he buried his face in the side of her neck. His five o’clock shadow scraped along the sensitive skin there, once more sending those butterflies into flight.
“I guess what they say about big belt buckles in Texas is not always true then?” Lauren wiggled her hips seductively against his growing erection.
“When a whole lot of Decembers are showin’ in your face. Your auburn hair has faded, and silver takes its place. You’ll be just as lovely, and I’ll still be around, and if I can, I know that I’d still love to lay you down.” That rich baritone caressed her every nerve, alighting them like a trail of lava burning everything in its path until it reached her knickers and flowed forth.
“Brent,” she drew his face closer, “make love to me.”