Nick is available from all e-stores here https://books2read.com/nick
And until Nov 6th, Ridge, book 1 in my Men of Honor series, is $1.79/1.99 on Kobo https://books2read.com/ridge
The excessive fear of thunder and lightning.
A warning that things are about to go to hell in a hand basket.
A loud crack sent Brenna shooting out of her chair as fierce winds drove debris against the outside of her windows and lightning flashed sinister patterns through her living room. She shivered pressing her hands over her ears to block out the sound of the waves slamming the rocky shore.
How was she supposed to overcome her fear of storms when the elements—lightning in particular—were a reminder of their potential to change a life forever?
Brenna had a self-help pamphlet with suggestions ranging from keeping all the lights on to crawling into bed with a family member. But there was one solution she hadn’t put a name to until now—diversion. Specifically, when that which you feared was illuminating a naked man not five feet in front of you.
Yep, that worked.
She watched the dazzling flickers dance over the taut muscles of the man’s backside creating a shadow on the wall behind him, a perfect imitation of 007 down to the signature crouch and the finger “pistol”.
She’d eased out from between him and the armoire, where he’d pressed her—for her protection, of course—but he continued to track potential threats with his gun, back and forth. His reflexes had been un…friggin’…believable. She raised her eyes to his and avoided staring at his fine physique. “Put the ‘gun’ away, big guy. We’re safe now.”
It should be difficult to pull off that masquerade with his lack of costume, but it was as if he really was James Bond, in secret agent mode. In a feigned English accent she purred, “James, darling, it’s time for bed.” His narrowed gaze swiveled to hers, and then a sexy smile kicked up at one corner of his mouth.
If anyone had told Brenna that she would be holding back laughter and oblivious to this raging tropical system outside her own home. . . well. . .even she couldn’t have predicted the events of this night.
* * *
She’d been awakened before dawn by ground-rumbling thunder that shook a candle loose from a its place on a nearby shelf and sent it thudding to the floor. She was a light sleeper under these conditions anyway and rose to peek out toward the west between the curtains in the front room.
By midmorning, the lake’s surface had been turbulent and black. The wind blew sideways, bending trees and lifting waves like aquatic enemy soldiers on a tireless march toward shore as boats slammed against their docks in a frenzied tug-of-war. It was as if the Rain God had a giant air gun driving rain bullets into every exposed surface while he tossed capricious bolts from his dark tower.
“Your imagination is running amuk,” Brenna muttered remembering a night filled with anticipation of tropical storm Ira. Now, with the “perfect storm” riding down upon her little corner of Thunder Point, dread bubbled in her stomach like acid. But she stayed at her computer, collecting readings on her equipment, logging wind data, and working the Electron Molecule Deformulator. It was imperative that she complete her work before a loss of power. For this, the storm was critical to her work.
Brenna didn’t know what she feared more—the lightning—or the near certain feeling that something bad was about to happen.
As usual, knowing so little didn’t help. It wasn’t as if there was a bolt from nowhere and the outcome of her premonition was magically written on her kitchen calendar. Most of the time she didn’t know who was in danger, didn’t know where, didn’t know how…until it was over. And sometimes, not even then.
Before—Brenna squeezed her eyes shut and pushed the memories away. Before she’d left Storm Lake to attend college in D.C., this would have been just another thunderstorm, another facet of life on the big lake. Residents on the East end were used to it. It was the inexperienced and newcomers to the area who found themselves stranded, or worse.
The cabin had come to her through her great-grandmother who’d been a stalwart matriarch of one of the oldest families in the area, the Callaways. The property ran along the tip of Thunder Point offering spectacular views of the sky from sunsets to storms to meteor showers.
“Get a grip,” she chastised herself, and tried to play down the feeling of doom.
On nights like this, she questioned the wisdom of moving back from D.C., but she was determined to overcome the hysteria that embarrassed her, haunted her, and still—sometimes—held her in a vice-like grip. The Lake was home and while it contributed to her peace of mind and her work in climate forensics, being here forced her to confront her fear.
There was something extra tonight, the anticipation morphing into a living, breathing entity. She just hoped no one was dying, or going to die. That whatever it was…this time, she would be able to prevent someone from being hurt.
Her fingers sped across the keyboard, tweaking the settings on the electronic instruments outside to make sure they would hold up to a loss of electricity. They would, undoubtedly, but would she?
The next rumble of thunder surprised her with its strength. Her fingers moved faster with nervous energy as she kept her eyes glued to the monitor. Anxiety traveled along her nerves like the electrical conduits in the EMD. Those horrific memories wouldn’t be far behind.
In that instant, a magnesium-white light turned the living room into an overexposed movie negative and she found herself on the floor, hands pressed to her eyes for agonizing seconds as a mighty trunk split, striking other trees and sending chips and limbs like missiles against the exterior of the house. A picture tumbled off the shelf by the fireplace and hit the floor as the grumble continued.
The crashing seemed to go on forever, followed by gradually diminishing thunder. Throughout the clamor and chaos, Brenna held her breath, as if merely breathing would bring calamity down on her. As if not breathing could keep the beast from finding her.
When silence reigned, she raised her head.
To black velvet darkness. “Crap.”
In the dark the storm’s power was more terrifying, a constant barrage of light that bounced off every surface, attacking her senses and her already precarious sanity. She pushed herself off the floor and stumbled to the bedroom. With her eyes half covered with her fingers, she retrieved the last flickering candle in the ruby glass holder from the bedside table which had been her grandmother’s.
By it’s meager light she hurried to the kitchen, shielding the flame with her other palm. She sat the holder on the counter and rummaged through the drawers, finding everything from garbage bag ties, assorted screws, and bottle caps, but no candles.
A loud boom coincided with another flash of light. She counted, “One thousand one, one thous… uhnn.” With the next flash and simultaneous crack of thunder her elbow hit the kitchen counter. “Brenna. It’s merely a thunderstorm.” Even if it was a bad one.
Right. When was the last time a thunderstorm was a mere anything to her? Brenna knew the answer—to the year, the season, the minute. The memories came at her like leaves in a microburst and she pressed her hands against her head as if to still them.
Something hit the porch and Brenna froze. With her back to the kitchen wall, she took a deep breath, repeating her therapist’s rant, er, chant. Empty your mind as you inhale. Or was it exhale?
The front door rattled again and her litany continued. “Nothing to fear. There’s nothing to fear. It’s just the wind. No sane person would be out in this weather—unless—” Her mind flashed to a horror movie commercial, and her breathing stopped.
“Quit that!” She shook her head and did a mental reset, peering around the opening to the front door. Nothing.
“See?” Feeling silly, she wiped her palms on her jeans and spread her hands out in front of her, “Steady…” but flinched again at another deafening boom. The ruby glass holder hit the floor and extinguished the light. She squeezed her eyes shut and felt the wetness of hysteria on her cheeks.
Once again she attempted to reset, dashed the tears away and let the other Brenna, Fearless Brenna, who’d peeked her head out recently, give the Fearful Brenna a pep talk. The damn lightning’s outside. Stop this craziness and get the candles.
Nodding, she edged toward the old trunk, just as something brushed the front door. She whirled. The apparition on the other side of her front door froze her in place.
Starkly backlit by the storm’s intermittent light, was the dark shadow of a man. It was a menacing form, moving back and forth like a shadow boxer. Her scream was absorbed by a loud blast of thunder as she dove to the floor, eyes locked on the cabin’s entrance. In the flickering light the phantom’s raised arm looked like a coiled snake about to strike.
Crab-walking backwards toward the couch, she glanced around for a weapon. Her eyes locked on the fireplace implements. She seized the iron shovel and scurried toward the door, sliding down against the wall under the front window close to hyperventilating. Had he seen her?
Her lungs were gripped by an invisible fist. Calm. If she didn’t calm down he’d be able to hear her heart pounding against her chest. Even with the storm outside, her blood thumped in her ears and her breath came in noisy pants.
Broken glass spilled from the door’s window pane near her feet and her fingernails dug into to her palms as she gripped the iron tighter in a batter’s grip. Sliding up the wall behind the door, she flattened her body against it as more jagged pieces of glass fell to the floor. All her attention was on the hand reaching through the opening.
Unlocking the door.
Turning the handle.
Like a seasoned batter aiming for the strike zone, Brenna timed her attack. As the large figure stepped across the threshold she swung. The shovel connected with a sickening thwack against his forehead. With a grunt, he staggered out the door and down the porch steps to lie still in the heavy downpour.
Three tries later, her fingers jerking uncontrollably, Brenna threw the bolt. She stared at the broken window pane, her senses on overload while time moved as slow as cooling lava.
What should she do?
Run! Smart Brenna yelled. Get as far away as you can. But where could she go? Out the back door? But…the storm. A shiver went through her when she thought of leaving the safety of her cabin. “911.” She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and saw the familiar No service message. Dashing to the old dial phone in the kitchen, she kept her eye on the front door as she picked up the receiver and dialed. But when she put the phone to her ear, the line was crackly. “Damn.”
She slapped her palm with the phone. “Damn, damn, damn!” Taking deep gulps of air she dropped to a crouch against the cabinet assessing her situation. She was alone, with nothing to protect herself but tools from the fireplace, no means of communication, and a burglar outside.
A wounded criminal, offered the other Brenna. Who might charge the door at any moment. And that damaged door wasn’t going to keep him out. Pushing to her feet, she edged forward to look outside. He was still there.
“Oh, my God.” She slapped a palm to her forehead as a horrifying thought struck her. What if he wasn’t a serial killer? Or a burglar?
A vise twisted her shoulder blades. Even worse, what if…“No, no, no-o,” she warned her inner tormentor. “Don’t even go there.”
Too late. She was already there. Brave Brenna snarked, You killed him.
“No!” Her emotions bounced back and forth like a tennis volley at Wimbledon. “Make up your mind, Brenna. Do you want him alive or dead?”
Thunder and the sound of glass falling on hardwood forced Brenna’s attention back to the figure at the bottom of the porch steps. Through the window panes, the flickering light played like a TV show and Brenna could almost hear Rod Serling saying, “Welcome…to the Twilight Zone,” as the stranger raised his hand, and dark ooze dripped down, mixing with rain.
His eyes connected with hers on the other side of the glass. She stumbled and bumped against the wall as his hand rose turned toward her. Was he pleading for help? He slumped down on the steps, back against the support column, his head tilted up to the downpour.
Crap. Brenna unlocked the door. Moving cautiously on the slick steps, she rushed to him, the rain like sharp needles against her skin.
He wasn’t unconscious but he shook with the effort to remain upright. A nuclear light illuminated everything around them. “Arrgh—”. She ducked, and felt his big warm hand settle on hers.
“Don’t be…’fraid.” She winced at his slurred words. He was traumatized and shivering from the cold rain, but he was trying to calm her. Hardly the trait of a criminal. Mortified, she realized that in her panic she really might have killed him.
Brave Brenna sneered over her shoulder. This silly phobia was bound to get you in trouble sooner or later.
“Shut up, will you?” No longer conflicted, she pulled his arm over her shoulder and set her hip against the column. “Come on.” She shouted, “On three!”
At a jerky nod from him, Brenna counted, “One. Two.” She took a deeper breath, “Three,” and heaved. He was tall, broad shouldered and so heavy, but she was no pixie. She grunted as they struggled up each step, rain sluicing off the roof and down over them. His chin dropped as he swayed, but Brenna kept them upright until they slammed against the wall of the cabin. He groaned as the grinding impact revived him.
“You have to help me,” Brenna said. “Are you listening?” Breathing hard, she said, “I can’t get you any further unless you help me.” She cupped his prickly jaw in her hands. “Look at me.”
She watched him struggle. His eyes narrowed and from somewhere within he found the inner fortitude to straighten. His muddled whiskey eyes focused on hers, or to be exact on some place near her forehead. In a hoarse voice, he said, “Go.”
The man had grit, she’d give him that, but this was no time to admire his iron will. They started through the open doorway where water had puddled from the blowing rain. He balked.
“What?” Brenna said, panting.
“—f you’re bringin’ me t’ your lair to finish me off. . .”
Brenna stared. Amazing. He was joking. Or it was self-preservation; after all, from his point of view, she’d already attacked him once. At least it didn’t look like he was going to expire. Thank God.
She took a firm grip on him, “A big strong guy like you isn’t afraid of a mere babe!”
Blearily he looked down at her near six-foot height and snorted, “Babe Ruth.”
She shook her head at his attempt at levity under the circumstances. Then, careful not to slip, now that they were so close, she dragged him toward the living area. But too soon, his body went limp. “Nooo…” and they toppled onto the couch where she was crushed under what felt like three hundred pounds of solid muscle.