“Wake up, sleepyhead.” That rough, gravelly voice pulled Stacey out of the dark abyss. At least this time, there had been no dreams or nightmares to disturb her sleep.
She stretched and looked around. It was still dark outside the cabin of Reb’s truck, “Where are we?”
She shook her head, trying to make sense of any of it. They had left Chad and Rose’s ranch in East Texas yesterday evening. After their rough beginning, Rose had insisted they stay for dinner once the guys had finished installing the computer software for the security system. Rose’s daughter had not been that thrilled, though, barely saying two words during the whole meal.
The other woman, that Stacey might have once considered an enemy, had tried to get them to stay the night. But Reb insisted that night was the best time to travel, especially through Texas. He might have been right, too. They had made it to Oklahoma City in barely more than six hours. They had stopped for breakfast just before they once more crossed the state line through the Panhandle.
Reb had spent most of the meal with his eyes glued to his phone, scanning all the news stations for any updates. There had been none. That was good news, or Stacey liked to believe it was. At least, it meant that the authorities had not found her daughters. But she still worried that the ‘bad guys’ might have.
She had tried to get Reb to let her drive Elvira for a bit. Instead, they had crawled into the back and slept on the comfortable mattress there. It was probably better than any they would have found at a motel. And no one thought anything of it. Since it was a truck stop, half the people there were doing the same thing.
Stacey had been uncomfortable, almost panicked about the whole thing. But since they both remained fully clothed and the bed was queen-sized, she had finally managed to relax enough to fall asleep.
She had not woken until dinner time. They were out of Texas once again, and Reb had relaxed. They had found a nice Mexican place, and for the first time in days, her appetite had returned.
Once again, she had tried to convince the man to allow her to take a turn driving. But it seemed, despite what the man had said that first night, he was determined to baby his machine.
Stacey would have sworn that she was not tired. But somewhere before Alburquerque, she must have fallen back to sleep. “Here? Where is here, Reb?”
The man opened his door and stepped out, “Agartha. Welcome to Agartha, Stacey,” he waved his arms about. Even in the dark of early morning, she could see the almost pristine beauty of the pine trees and lower shrub bushes.
She tried to clear her head. It simply did not seem real. After all the stress and anxiety, they had simply driven straight to the place without any trouble. Almost as if this were some vacation. But it was not. This was serious, deadly serious, and her whole family was in danger.
At least until they could figure out this whole damned situation. Even if Laura and Ryan did manage to negotiate a deal with the feds, and given what they knew about the leaks, that might not even be a good idea. That still left the uncertainty of Mercy’s situation.
Kerr might have survived practically unscathed, but Stacey, of all people, knew how vengeful the man was. He had murdered at least one man for double-crossing him on a drug deal. What would he do to a woman that shot him? Those were the latest of Stacey’s nightmares.
She reached for the handle of her door and pulled it open. Reb was around the truck and holding out his hand to help her down. She gave him one of her stares, the ones that usually sent men scurrying for cover, but he only smiled and waited. She debated shoving him aside, but the fact, that she had no idea where she was or where she would go, put a kibosh to that idea.
When she held out her hand, he took it in his large, calloused one. The zing she felt was almost physical. Sure, they had touched a couple of times. Hell, this man had held her naked in that damned shower while she fell to pieces. So, what the fuck was that? And why now? Rather than ask those questions and draw attention to the matter, Stacey decided that bluffing her way out of the awkward situation would be better.
She looked around more closely, trying to find something to comment on or complain about, but this place was truly unique in its natural beauty. Even the large stone and glass building that stood in front of her seemed to blend into its surroundings. “Impressive,” was all she could manage.
The excited feminine voice drew Stacey’s attention away from the building as a svelte woman with what must be premature grey hair descended the steps towards them. For a moment, Stacey felt an unexplainable sense of betrayal, anger, and jealousy. This man had brought her all this way, said all those things about kindred spirits, hell, he’d seen her naked, and he had another woman stashed away here all along.
She was so lost in those thoughts that it barely registered when Reb turned towards the woman with a tight smile and responded, “Mother.”
Stacey was glad that Reb still held her hand, that something seemed to cue the man to her needs as he stepped closer and wrapped his arm about her waist, almost holding her up. She looked from his weathered and chiseled visage to the woman’s ethereal beauty, trying to see any resemblance. She failed as the woman rushed toward them.
She tried to do some quick calculations in her head, but this woman looked her age, maybe even younger. How could she be this man’s mother? But Stacey did not have any further opportunity to ponder the matter as the petite woman somehow managed to wrap them both in her arms.
If that zing when she took Reb’s hands had been shocking, then the utter calm, peace, and tranquility that she felt in the other woman’s embrace stupefied her. Stacey tried to remember even one time she had felt anything like it. The closest she came was those first moments when she held her babies in her arms. But even those had been marred with worry and fear. In this woman’s embrace, she felt neither, even in this uncertainty.
The woman held them both for a long moment before she drew back. Her dainty hand caressed his cheeks, and Stacey recognized the loving look of a mother in the woman’s face. “Welcome home, my son.”
Reb might shake his head and sigh at her words, but Stacey could see something, some tension, relax in the man. “Thank you, mother. But can explanations wait until morning, please? I’m exhausted. Do you have a place we can stay?”
The woman shook her head and frowned, “You know that your cabin is always available.”
She turned towards Stacey, “I am Celestine Rainbow Moonmother. But you can call me Cellie, those closest to me do.”
Stacey studied the woman even closer. Her hair was cut unfashionable short, forming almost a cap of tight white spikes on her skull. Looking closer, she could see the map of lines around her eyes, mouth, and forehead, as well as the deeper ones on her neck. Maybe she was a bit older than Stacey had first thought. A few years older than she was? Sixties, perhaps? She must have been almost as young a Stacey when she had him.
“Thank you,” she managed to mumble at last.
The woman studied her as well. As if taking some measure of her. It was an uncomfortable feeling as if the woman could see inside her soul. Stacey held closer to Reb. As if he sensed her unease, he drew her tighter against his body. “Well, good night, Mother. I promise I’ll explain everything tomorrow.”
Her face lightened as she gently squeezed his shoulder, “This is your home, Reb. You don’t owe me any explanations, and you should know that.”
“This time, we need to talk.”
Those lines deepened as his mother frowned at his words, “Of course, Rebel. But nothing you can say will change that.”
“I hope you’re right, Mother. But honestly, I just need sleep right now.”
“Of course, I’ll let your father know you’re here. I’m sure they will be glad to see you.”
“Which ones are here now?” Seemed an incredibly odd question to Stacey.
“Barry is. Edward is back in England. And, well, I have some news to discuss with you tomorrow, too.” Did the woman look nervous? That seemed strange, somehow.
“Malcolm and Indie?”
“Your sister will be as happy to see you as I am.” Again, Stacey saw some dark shadow cross the woman’s beautiful face, “And Malcolm stays mostly in London these days.”
“We’ll speak tomorrow, Mother. But if I don’t get to bed soon, I’m going to collapse.” Looking at him in the faint light that filtered from the open double doors, Stacey could see the price this man had paid for their adventures. She felt guilt eat at her heart.
“Do you need anything, son? Some food? I can see if chef has anything in the fridge?” Chef? Stacey wondered just what sort of place this was.
“No, Mother, we stopped in New Mexico for dinner. I just need my bed.”
The woman stood on her tiptoes. Her hand once more caressed his rough cheek as if it were the most precious gemstone. It was a feeling that Stacey could understand. What would she give to have that same opportunity with any of her girls?
“Go, get your sleep, Rebel Zappa Moonchild. And welcome home.”
Stacey watched as the woman turned and ascended the steps with some inherent grace with which she had never been blessed. She turned back towards this man, who she still had not figured out. “Rebel Zappa Moonchild?” She could not manage to hold back the laughter.
Reb did not bother getting anything out of Elvira. He would do that in the morning. He had been running on pure adrenaline for over forty-eight hours. Sure, he had been trained by the Marines and Rangers to do just that, for more extended periods even. But it had been years since he had done so.
And honestly, the stakes had never been this high. Her life, Stacey’s life. Her family’s. Those were more precious to him than some esoteric, misplaced, and idealistic belief in duty and country. But they had made it. They were safe, at least for now.
At Agartha. He looked around at the mostly familiar surroundings. While they were always expanding the center to meet the ever-growing demand for the serenity that this place, his mother, and the others provided, they made sure that such expansion fit with its natural beauty.
Reb had honestly never believed he would come back here. Well, not for more than the occasional night to visit his mother and sister. He shook his head as Stacey continued to laugh. Leave it to his mother. The woman always had to get that one in somehow. Not even when he left the Marines and legally changed his name had she wavered.
He could not blame that all on his mother. He had never felt comfortable sharing the real reason that he had changed his name with her. Or anyone else for that matter. Only a handful of people knew. Chad because of the nightmares that had almost derailed his sharpshooter training.
And the guy who had found him half-dead in the sand on that beach, his jeans around his ankles. Mike had been another Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, but they had not known one another. He had wanted to call the police and an ambulance, but Reb refused. The guy would not take no for an answer, though. They had compromised on Mike driving him to the emergency room.
Reb thought that would be it, but when he finished with the doctors, he walked out to discover the other man waiting. Mike had driven him back to the base. Hell, the guy had gotten into trouble for being late for duty. They had stayed in touch, off and on, over the years.
Was it exhaustion or this place? Reb knew he could not afford to go down that hole yet. Sure, it was coming. He and his woman needed to have that talk. Come clean with one another. But not yet.
“Are you done laughing?”
The tears that glistened in her eyes this time were lightened by the genuine smile that erased the lines and took away years. Hell, maybe that damned name was good for something. If anything made her laugh, then what the hell did it matter?
Stacey nodded and straightened to her full height, which was close to a foot shorter than he was. But even in the darkness, he could see a faint smile and a new lighter mood. “So, where is this cabin?”
“It’s a bit of a hike, I’m afraid. My mother knew that I prefer my privacy, so when she built one for me, it was on the edge of the compound.” He held out his hand for her.
She looked at it for a long moment before slipping hers into it. He laced their fingers together and gave a gentle squeeze. He understood. It had taken him three years before he could manage even the most casual touch.
Of course, then he had thrown himself into the deep end of sensuality. Hedonism really. First, he had fucked any woman that looked at him, trying to prove his masculinity. When that did not work, he had thought perhaps he was hiding from himself.
Maybe he was gay? Perhaps that was why it happened? Maybe he gave off some gay vibe that he was not even aware of. So, he had gone the other direction. Experimenting with dozens of men. But always as Top. He could never bear the idea of being bottom, of being that vulnerable again. But that had left him even more hallow.
Damn it, he needed sleep. He was on the verge of losing his shit. And now was not the time for that.
He tugged her gently down the virtually hidden path. They walked for a few minutes in comfortable silence. When Reb drew to a stop in front of the small dwelling that had been hewn out of the mountain itself, he hesitated. He had forgotten how tiny the place was, only a couple hundred square feet, like all the individual cabins at Agartha.
That was one way his mother encouraged the communal living. None of the outbuildings had kitchens. Just the barest basics, a bathroom and one room that doubled as a living and sleeping area. Meals were eaten in the dining hall or, on rare occasions, brought back from the kitchen. No, like the ancient monasteries, these cabins were places of refuge and meditation.
The only furniture inside his cabin was a chair, built-in bookcases on two walls, and a futon that doubled as a couch by day and a bed at night. A double bed. Sure, they had managed to sleep on the queen mattress in the bed of Elvira earlier, but as tired as he was, he did not relish the idea of going back to the floor as he had that first night in the motel.
“It’s pretty sparse.” He warned her as he opened the door, his phone in his hand, and its light shining on the place he had not seen in over a year. He should have known. It was pristine, like he had just left yesterday. No dust, everything exactly as he left it.
He stood back and ushered her inside. Some weird feeling rose inside his chest as she passed. Like some force in the universe shifted, something inside of him changed forever as she stepped across the threshold.
But that was ridiculous, more of his mother’s esoteric mumbo jumbo. And despite being raised by the woman and even his dreams, Reb had never been comfortable with the unknown.
He shone the light around so that she could take it all in. He noticed her eyes kept going back to that futon/bed. “I’ll take the floor.” He found himself offering despite the tiredness that beat at him like those rare downpours on the desert.
He watched her bite her lower lip before she shook her head. “No, it’s okay. I’m sure it’ll be fine. We shared the mattress in the back of Elvira.”
Reb heard the hesitancy in her voice. Was she trying to convince him or herself? But the truth was he wanted this woman sleeping by his side for the rest of his life. Even if all they ever did was sleep. Well, maybe a bit more than they had managed so far. Cuddling.
Yeah, sex might no longer do much for him. Hell, he sometimes wondered if it ever really had. He had been a nineteen-year-old virgin before that night…
He drew his mind back. That was not something he needed to be thinking about before bed. Especially not if she were going to share this cabin. He did not want to wake her in the middle of the night with his screams.
That was why he rarely allowed himself more than a couple of hours of light sleep. But this time, he knew he did not have that luxury. He was crashing hard. The endorphins that he had been running on for over two days were depleted. He needed sleep, real sleep, to replenish them. And he had to refill them. They may have made it to Agartha, but that did not mean they were safe.
He pointed to the door in the corner, “The bathrooms there. You can change.”
Stacey nodded her head and clutched that backpack closer than ever. But she did as he suggested, slipping inside it.
Reb turned to the futon, unfolding it and grabbing the bedding from the drawer underneath. It took him only a moment to make the bed. He pondered taking a shower, once Stacey was done in the bathroom, but he was just too fucking tired to care. He would worry about that shit tomorrow.
He stripped his t-shirt over his head. He unbuttoned his jeans, then paused. Should he keep them on? Would it make her more comfortable? Probably. But he knew that he would not rest as well. Hesitantly he unzipped them and pushed them down his legs. This time he did leave his boxer briefs on, though he generally preferred sleeping naked. When he knew he was safe. Which was rare enough.
But for tonight, he was almost certain they were as safe as they could be in this world. How long they stayed that way? Well, that was the question. But if he was going to face that, he needed sleep. He barely made it beneath the blanket before his eyes closed. All those thoughts were jumbled and mingled in his fucked up brain, but exhaustion won this battle.