Rings of FirebyTara_Neale©
Lauren Masters came awake suddenly. She gripped something warm, soft and firm in her left hand. She felt the roll and lurch of a plane as it shifted direction.
For a moment, her mind was clouded and confused. Where was she? Then it came crashing back to her like the first wave of a tsunami.
She was on a plane with her crazy ex-husband, her daughters and her grandmother. They were headed towards some secret location in the United States that Brent would not even disclose to her. All because of another of his ridiculous doomsday theories. A string of volcanic eruptions that would release so much sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere that the earth would be cast into a mini Ice Age.
Lauren berated herself for giving into him. Into them...her grandmother and oldest daughter were in on this too. She should have stood her ground. She should have called the police or the airport authorities or someone. She should have stopped Brent. Looking out into the dark night sky, enveloped in ominous grey clouds, Lauren cursed her stupidity.
When whatever she was gripping squeezed her fingers back, Lauren turned her head to stare into the most breath-taking blue eyes she would ever see. She reminded herself; those eyes always got her into trouble.
"Where are we?" she demanded.
"We are over the Canary Islands right now. The pilot had to re-plot our route. Katla blew just after we took off. It was not safe to fly the northern route," he explained.
Lauren nodded her head. "Well, Iceland does have the highest concentration of active volcanoes," she justified, knowing that this relatively normal geological event would only play into Brent's ludicrous hypotheses.
He nodded. "I am just hoping that La Palma stays quiet long enough for us to make it across the Atlantic."
Lauren shook her head. "Brent, you of all people should know how common eruptions are along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. A single eruption, no matter how big does not prove anything."
Brent's expression darkened. "Are you willing to listen to me, Lauren?"
With a heavy sigh, she shook her head. "Brent, you know I have always been willing to hear you out on anything. Even when we don't agree." Her mind went back to those dark days after Elise's birth. As they began to notice increasing developmental delays in their daughter, they had sought out the experts. Each doctor's visit had seemed to result into another fight.
Brent nodded his head as he opened the laptop that sat on the table in front of them. "I always loved arguing with you, Lauren. No other mind has ever challenged me as yours does. Not since that first day."
His expression softened and once more Lauren was reminded of that little boy who had sat on the green grass. Their friends gathered around him as they munched on sandwiches for lunch. Brent was refuting much of the science on space and time travel that their guest lecturer had spoken about in the morning session. He quoted Einstein's theory of relativity, mixed liberally with science fiction of Star Trek and Star Wars to justify his own theories of worm holes and alternative universes. Lauren had listened in awe for several minutes until finally she could not hold back. "Yes, but..."
It had become the theme of their lives it seemed. Lauren was always the one that stood up for accepted theory, questioning Brent often. Even when years later, he was the tutor and she the student, she had often spoken up in class, highlighting points that sometimes conflicted with his.
Of course, their friendly disagreements had taken on new fervor after Elise was born. They might have both wanted the same thing for their child, but they had markedly different ideas about how to achieve that outcome. It was one thing to disagree over scientific theory. It was another to fight over your child.
The screen had come to life and Lauren turned her attention to it and to his deep baritone voice that washed over her skin like the warmth of a bubbling hot spring fuelled by earth's unstoppable natural forces.
"All right, we all agree the basic mechanics of the carbon cycle that removes excess carbon dioxide and stores it in sedimentary rock on the ocean floor."
Lauren nodded her head.
"In subduction zones, this rock from one plate is forced under the colliding plate, resulting in hydration melt."
"Is this Volcanism 101, Brent?"
He chuckled, "Not at all, just establishing theory that we both agree upon."
"Yes, but instead of drawing straight lines from point A to point B, you twist accepted theory to suit your hypotheses," she accused.
"So you see absolutely no connection between the recent increase in volcanic activity along the Aleutian Islands and the massive increases in carbon dioxide in the last century to previously unheard of levels I might add?"
"Brent, that's a major jump. You know that these things are cyclical. Volcanoes can be dormant for decades or even centuries and then erupt. For no reason."
"Yes, but there is also the effect of glacial melt. As millions of tons of ice melts, the land beneath it can expand like a spring. The resulting tectonic shifts and earthquakes can open new fissures for this melt to rise. I believe those forces are what we are seeing in action in Iceland."
"Even if you are right, Brent, that is just a small portion of the picture. There are dozens of other recognized geological factors at work here. Besides you are talking apples and oranges. Iceland is not the subduction volcanoes that recycle carbon dioxide. They are divergent, tearing apart to build new ocean floor."
"Yes but the earth is a holistic system. What effects one zone will have ripple effects on all others eventually," he said.
"And that is where you get this ridiculous idea that we are entering another stage of the Holocene period...another Ice Age brought on by a series of volcanic eruptions..."
"The likes of which has not been seen in written human history...over forty thousand years in the making," he finished for her. It was a habit that had once endeared him to her, the ability to complete her thoughts.
"That might play well in some late night movie on the sci-fi channel, Brent, but we are trained scientist and I don't have to tell you the huge gaps in your theory."
"I know. I felt the same way until Monique Fournier and I spoke. Her paleo-climatology theories regarding the origins of the last Ice Age filled in those gaps perfectly."
"Don't talk to me about that French hussy. She is not interested in real science, just getting her face on television," she bit her tongue to keep from adding 'and into your bed.'
Brent shrugged his broad shoulders as the computer screen filled with a map of the globe dotted with red and yellow specks that Lauren knew represented volcanoes.
"This is a simulation model that I just finished. The bar on the right is calibrated to global carbon dioxide levels. Watch what happens in terms of eruptions as I run the last hundred years of human history."
Lauren noted that each time the bar reached into the red zone it was followed shortly thereafter by a light show representing global volcanic eruptions.
Brent leaned forward and touched another button, "This is a forecast model covering the last ten years of emissions. If the previous patterns hold true, this is what the model suggests will happen."
Lauren watched as the screen lit up like lightning strikes hovering above an erupting volcano. It began with flashes of red in Iceland and moved slowly south through the Aegean to the Canary Islands and then across to the Caribbean. Dozens upon dozens of eruptions at places she recognized, places they had studied. Vesuvius, Crete, Etna, La Palma, Montserrat.
Shaking her head in denial, "That is just a model, Brent. A pretty light show. There is no clear cut scientific evidence to support it. You know the weakness of correlation studies such as yours. Even if an increase in eruptions were preceded by a period of increased carbon dioxide emissions that does not establish a causal link. There could be any of a thousand other factors at work to explain the phenomena."
Brent threw up his hands in frustration. "You always were as stubborn as a red-head."
A soft chuckle from the seat behind them caused Lauren to turn. "Yes, boy, we know she is stubborn. But admit it, that fire is why you loved her from the beginning."
A deep, rich laugh bubbled from inside Brent. A broad smile cut across his face, erasing the worry lines and lightened the dark circles beneath his eyes. "Grandmam, I can't deny that wisdom. And I suppose as long as I know that you are all safe, it doesn't matter if she buys my snake oil."
The old woman winked at him. "That's my boy. You win more flies with honey than with vinegar. And you got plenty of honey to offer a girl."
"Grandmam!" Lauren protested.
"What, child? A woman my age can still appreciate a thing of true beauty. You're just lucky I'm not twenty years younger, I'd give you a race for your money."
Brent chuckled and leaned back to take the older woman's hand, drawing it up to his lips. "Elisabeth, as beautiful as you are, you know there has only ever been one woman in my heart." He turned towards Lauren those blue eyes alight with mischief.
"I give up. You two are impossible."
Her grandmother chuckled, "I certainly hope you do, child."
Later that day on Brent Jacob's eco-village hidden deep in the West Texas desert....
Lauren Masters looked around the well equipped facility, but his presence at her side was too distracting. After a lifetime how did this man have the ability to still send her blood boiling? She steadied her nerves for a moment; drawing in a deep breath she turned to face him. "We can't do this, Brent. We need to talk."
"You're right," he said, taking her hand and leading her towards the door.
Lauren was not certain where Brent was taking her. She followed him anyway. Outside into the increasingly hot morning sun, across the dry desert sands, past the barn where they had left the girls.
"Shouldn't we check on the girls first?" she asked.
Brent shook his head, "They know their way around this place and everyone knows them. We all sort of look out for one another's kids. They will be perfectly safe."
Lauren wanted to protest that Elise had been more troubled lately, but she remembered the look on her daughter's face when she held that brush and stroked the pony. Perhaps Brent was right.
On the other side of the barn, there was a small selection of a dozen or so all-terrain vehicles. Brent selected a four-wheeler and handed her a helmet. "Put this on," he commanded.
Lauren buckled the helmet on as she watched Brent do the same. He kick started the machine and motioned for her to get on behind him. Lauren considered protesting. Sitting on the back of the dangerous vehicle, her arms wrapped about his waist, her front pressed against his broad back was not what she needed at that moment. But the determined look in Brent's eyes pleaded with her.
Shaking her head at her own stupidity, she climbed on behind him. She had no choice but to wrap her arms about his waist, lacing her fingers together just above his belt buckle. But she did all that she could to keep a couple of precious inches between the rest of their bodies.
But that was not easy as Brent revved the engine, sending the machine lurching forward, her breasts brushed against the soft chambray of his plaid shirt. She was helpless to stop a soft moan that sounded remarkably similar to the one elicited by the fresh bread, but this sensation was far more intense. She did not think it was possible that Brent could hear her over the tin of the engine but something was driving him. He gunned the engine, sending them racing even faster across the desert and away from the settlement.
Lauren was not sure how long they traveled or how far. It was hard for her to keep track of time when she was around Brent; it always had been.
She remembered that final summer of science camp. They had stayed out late talking. They realized they had missed curfew; what they did not know was that it was after two in the morning. Not only had they lost privileges and come very close to being sent home, but rumors spread around the camp that it was far more than talk they had been doing. Lauren had tried to ignore them, actually the rumors had led to more than one hot dream about what it would have been like if it were true. Brent on the other hand had blown his top. He had given one boy a black eye when he made a comment at lunch about Lauren's virtue. But they had learned their lesson. They were careful for the rest of the summer to stay close to their crowd and make curfew.
But they weren't kids anymore. And Brent had dispensed with Lauren's virtue long ago. None of that mattered. This man still drove her insane. This trip was proof of that. How the hell had she ended up in the middle of the West Texas desert with her ex-husband anyway?
She did not have time to answer that question as Brent pulled the four-wheeler over near an outcropping of rocks and trees that provided an oasis of sorts. He got off first, walking to the trees and rustling them a bit. A couple of small mice fled the underbrush.
"Coast is clear, my lady," he announced.
Lauren laughed, "Sir Galahad?"
He chuckled, "More like a good old boy, I am afraid."
"I'm pretty certain that they are the modern day equivalent."
"Besides...I'm not nearly as pure of mind or body as the great Sir Galahad. And that's what we need to talk about," he said as he began to pace back and forth among the trees.
Lauren knew that pacing meant one thing; Brent was trying to figure something out. And she had a pretty good idea what. "What are we going to do about us, Brent?"
He looked up at her. "So it isn't my imagination? You feel it too?"
She nodded, "I honestly thought after seven years, all that fighting and the divorce...this thing between us would have died."
"But it hasn't. The fire is as hot as ever," he quickened his pace and ran his fingers through his hair. "Hell, I think it might even be heating up more."
Lauren wanted to deny the truth of his words, but she could not. They had always had remarkable chemistry. Over the past seven years when they had seen one another at conferences or when Brent picked up and dropped off their daughters, Lauren had braced herself for days and sometimes weeks of vivid, erotic dreams. Hell, she even made sure that her drawer was stocked with extra batteries, knowing that her toys were certain to get an extra work out trying to relieve the need.
Which made her decision to follow Brent now even more ridiculous. "How the hell did I think I could spend..."
"...a week with you and not want to..." he finished for her.
She nodded as they both left the 'to' unsaid. It hung in the still, hot air.
"So what the hell we gonna do," he asked.
"We could try to avoid one another," Lauren suggested.
"This ranch maybe two thousand acres but most of it is undeveloped. The compound itself is just three acres and hell, Lauren, if an ocean between us didn't work, what makes you think that getting lost on this place would?"
Lauren nodded, "But we could try focusing on the girls and our work. I mean if you believe your theories then you must be damned busy right now."
"Too damned busy. There are a thousand things I need to be doing, sweetheart, and the only thing I seem to be able to think about is you. The way you smell like honey even after a nine hour flight and being in a barn full of animals. The way you purred like a kitten over that damned bread. All I could fucking think about was how you used to moan the exact same way when I entered you," Brent was frantically pacing by then. He did not even look up, instead studying the dusty toes of his cowboy boots as if they held the answers he sought to this predicament.
Lauren watched the fluid flow of muscle beneath the worn cotton shirt. His tight jeans molded to his thighs and ass. The bulge behind those button flies left no doubt how tormented her ex-husband was at the moment. She remembered vividly the power that coursed through her body each time she would teasingly play with those buttons. She was not the only moaner. Although in truth, Brent was more like a growler. Deep rumbles from his chest that reminded her of harmonic tremors that were almost certain pre-cursors to volcanic eruptions.
Thinking aloud, she began, "Then it seems we have only one option left. When a magma chamber fills with enough melt, the only way to release it is..."
"...an eruption." He stopped and stared at her. "What are you saying, Lauren?"
"I'm saying...some things are inevitable. The only things we can do when a volcano reaches that point is move people to safety...and stand back and enjoy the fireworks."
Brent sucked in a deep breath. "So you're suggesting..."
"...that we screw our brains out for the next week," Lauren bluntly stated. "But with conditions, Brent. I don't want Megan or anyone else confused by this. This is nothing more than a volcanic eruption...an inevitable force of nature that we can do nothing to stop. Both of us need to recognize that and protect those around us."
Brent shook his head, "I think you are underestimating our daughter and what she is capable of understanding. But all right, I can see your point."
"And Brent, this changes nothing. At the end of this week, you take me and the girls home. This is sex, pure and simple."
For a moment, a dark shadow crossed Brent's face and Lauren thought he might change his mind about the whole thing. Then he shrugged his broad shoulders, "Deal...a man dying of thirst will take whatever he can get."
Lauren smiled. She had not until that moment realized how much she wanted this time with Brent too. So much so that she was not certain what she would have done if he had turned down her offer of casual sex. She liked to think that she had too much pride to beg, but the warm, wetness between her legs presented a powerful argument to the contrary.
"So..." she began. But she did not have the chance to complete her thought, before Brent strode past her to the four-wheeler. Fumbling inside a compartment, he pulled out a large foil packet and strode back to the crop of trees. Tearing the package open he unfolded a shiny silver blanket that he placed on the ground.
Turning to look at her like the man dying of thirst that he mentioned, he said, "So what the fuck you waiting for woman? I'm dying here."
Lauren threw back her head and laughed. The sound echoed about the canyon, wrapping them in the soft melody. It had been a long time since Lauren had laughed like that. A very long time. She had forgotten how good it felt. How good this man felt. But she was about to remember. Remember every last feel of strong muscles moving beneath her fingers. Every taste of sweet, hungry kisses.
The sound of those deep growls washing over her skin. The sight of this great bear of a man brought low by the touch of her soft hands over his hot skin. And the unique smell of their love. And if the world was coming to an end, then this was the last memory that Lauren Masters Jacobs wanted to take with her into the afterlife.
She added a gentle sway to her hips as she walked towards Brent. Her fingers fumbled with the buttons on her blouse. By the time she crossed the short distance, she had managed to open only two but it was enough to reveal the gentle swell of her cleavage.
Looking up into those blue eyes, a blue that always reminded her of the hottest flame, she purred, "Don't you think you're overdressed, cowboy?"
"Yes, ma'am," Brent said as he began to work the buttons of his shirt. Lauren took the opportunity to watch the show from a different vantage point as she lay back on the blanket staring up at him. It was far more erotic than any Chippendale's show, because she knew what lay beneath those dust-covered clothes. And better still, she knew it was all hers...at least for the next week.