The Storm By Tahira Iqbal
Copyright © Tahira Iqbal, “The Storm”, Cowboy Lust (Cleis, 2012)
The storm arrives with wild abandon, twisting and turning, gray fury unleashing torrential rain that blurs the horizon. “I don’t think you should drive in this weather, Candace!” my friend says from the covered deck.
I shrug away her concern, tossing my jacket over my head, and run for my car.
“I’ll be fine, Renee!” I yell over the rumbling. “Thanks for lunch!”
Soaked to my ankles, I start the SUV I borrowed from my daddy—my car is at the dealership after a suspicious rattle under the hood demanded attention. I switch on the wipers, which beat rapidly across the windshield but barely make a dent in the deluge.
I wave to Renee, hoping that she can see me, and maneuver up the drive to the main road.
Borrowing the SUV was a good idea, but taking the back roads isn’t. Water gathers against the body of the powerful vehicle as I drive through a flooded dip in the road, the engine growling menacingly as it chokes on the rainwater.
“Come on, baby…” I nudge the gas, my heart pounding against my ribs as the beast climbs, clearing the water. Miles of fork lightning ignite the sky, showing me eerie black clouds.
I’m about eight miles from my apartment in town when the phone rings. I activate the hands-free system. The connection’s patchy, but my daddy’s distinct voice peppers over the line.
“I’m okay,” I say, speaking over him, hoping he can hear me, “I’m on my way home.”
“…road is under two foot of water… Don’t go to…”
“Road? Which road? I can’t hear you!”
“Stay at Renee’s…” he says. “…not safe…under…” More crackles. “…two foot of water…”
The line disconnects suddenly as a giant whip of lightning snaps across the sky. I try to play connect the dots with my daddy’s words and come to the realization that I should indeed turn back to Renee’s. In the act of searching for a place to turn the SUV around, I’m distracted by rushing movement in front of the windshield.
Panicked horses bolt toward me. I can see a broken fence behind them. My gut reaction is to wrench the wheel hard left to avoid them, and I hit the brake with both feet at the same time. The SUV skids on the surface water, sending me toward the edge of the road, and I careen down a hillside.
“Oh God…” The air bag explodes open as I slam to a stop at the bottom. My head cracks backward, smashing off something hard. The impact is enough to show me stars, and more worryingly, I see water rising over the hood.
Lazy hands try to work the seat belt, but there’s an urgent need to close my eyes. With a breathy sigh of horror, I’m drawn into an unconsciousness I’m helpless to fight. The last thing I see is blood dripping into my eye.
Arms—strong, sure and wet—reach around my frame, pulling me up and out of the haunting stillness.
“It’s okay. I’ve got you.” Rain beats down on the roof of the car like a drum; the smell of overheated metal is in the air. It’s acrid and catches the back of my throat.
“What happened?” I cough.
“You were in an accident.” The voice is male, deep, authoritative, and utterly familiar.
“Brent…?” I whisper. “Is that you?”
“Hold onto me, darlin’.” He adjusts my weight, bringing me up against his chest once we clear the cab.
My arms obey, going around his neck, vision filling with lightning, blinding me for a moment until my sight is then consumed by eyes that shine with equal power.
“I’ve got you,” he says again.
Brent easily carries my weight up the bank, using a guide rope tossed down by someone on the road. We go slowly and steadily, his strength almost mythological against the storm. Horse hooves clip rapidly on the pavement, sharp bellows of fear rising from the scattered herd.
I’m on my feet, Brent’s hands on my elbows for stability.
I look up to take in the violent heavens lighting up all around us, the rain stinging the wound on my head.
“You’re okay.” His hand smooths back the strings of hair sticking to my face. I look down the ravine at the car, the hood crushed, water flowing into the cab.
“You’re all right now.”
I’m awed by the moment, the storm, the crash, seeing my ex again after so long and under this awful dark sky.
I mean to say something, but my knees unlock; Brent’s arms envelop me before I hit the road.
When I wake, I’m in a bed, nude and with a headache that shakes my back teeth. My fingers reach for the small bandage tugging my hair line; my eyes adjust to the delicate light in the room. I sit up slowly, pushing away the nausea in my stomach with long, deep breaths. I hug the sheets, cosseted also by the roaring fire set in the hearth at the side of the room.
Oh God. I’ve been in this bed before, but never alone.
Affected by the location, I leave the linens behind, heading to the bathroom, willing my legs to obey and keep me upright.
I grimace as I see the blush of a bruise at my temple, and there’s an equally terrific gathering of color starting at my collarbone and ending at my right hip. The seatbelt saved my life…and so did Brent.
The door in the room opens. I search for a towel, dragging the folded bath sheet around my frame and edge out.
Six-feet-six of recognizable perfection with eyes as gray as the storm stare at me as if I’m an apparition.
Brent’s wearing faded blue denims and the leather belt I bought him for our first Christmas together. His shirt is pure white cotton; I know what that feels like under my fingertips, soft with age, scented like the earth from hard work, but mostly of the designer cologne I also gave him that year.
“You should be resting.”
I can’t respond, captivated as I am by the man who always moved with such authority.
“I would’ve put you in one of the barns, but there was a last minute rush of bookings. Tourists couldn’t get out of town because of the storm.”
I nod my understanding; Brent’s mom had converted the derelict barns on her property into five-star guest houses that were booked out most of the year.
“Um. Who undressed me?” I ask as the quiet lingers.
His gaze is unyielding. His damp hair catches the light. “It’s not like I haven’t seen you naked before.”
“Brent…” I start.
“What the hell were you thinking?” His voice is suddenly hard, coarse with stress. “You shouldn’t have been driving in a storm like this!”
The strength of his concern reminds me of a moment we’d shared today; I’d roused, worried by my predicament, in the cab of his vehicle as he drove back to the ranch. I’d sighed, held onto his corded biceps, moved by the fact that the only man I’d ever loved had saved my life.
Something blooms inside of my chest, making me choke back tears.
With a soft, realizing breath, he says, “Come down, okay? Mom’s cooking up a storm. No pun intended.”
I laugh softly, glad the tension has broken. “I’ll need something to wear…?”
A smile dawns over his lips as his gaze roves my bare shoulders. “Here—your clothes are still in the wash.” He reaches into the wardrobe, lifts out one of his shirts, and leaves me to it.
As I stand by the dresser to change, I notice a framed photograph of Brent and me cuddled close, watching the Fourth of July fireworks overhead. I trace a fingertip against the glass. My copy lives in a closet in my spare room.
Stiff and sore, I make my way downstairs, greeted by the scent of bread fresh from the oven and by Mrs. Williams, who fusses as if I haven’t been out of her life for nearly six months.
“Thank God you’re all right! Now, your daddy knows you’re here, so don’t worry about that, okay?” A huge rumble of thunder rattles the window panes. “I’ve assured him you’re going to be just fine and told him to stay put. The man was half out of his mind with worry.”
“It’s still that bad out there?” She touches my brow with gentle fingers, but it just makes me teary-eyed. She’s always been so nice to me.
“Sit, sweetheart, eat something.”
There’s a rapid knock at the back door; Mrs. Williams gets distracted by a ranch hand who’s been brave enough to cross the yard to the main house.
“Help yourself to anything you need.” She reaches for her waterproof jacket. “I’ll be back soon.”
I fix myself a plate of home-baked bread and make a large cup of hot, sweet tea. I close my eyes, not enjoying the headache, but savoring the taste of the bread and the knowledge that I’ve had a lucky escape.
When I open them, Brent is there, watching me from the door.
“How are you feeling?”
I nod carefully, holding up my bread. “Better. This is helping.”
He cuts a piece for himself, takes the knife, and slathers a generous daub of peanut butter on it.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I borrowed socks and”—I blush—“a pair of your boxers.”
He leans against the counter rather than taking a seat. “They always did look better on you.” Brent’s words send heat through my pelvis, though really they shouldn’t.
An awkward silence stretches between us and is finally broken by an almighty curl of lightning, followed by a huge peel of thunder that resonates in my belly.
Suddenly, Mrs. Williams is tapping hard on the glass window facing the yard, getting Brent’s attention. He reaches for his jacket and heads out without a word.
I go upstairs, my heart aching. I stop and stare at the bed I woke up in, nervous like it might bite me, but when exhaustion tugs at my senses, I lay down, sobbing.
Movement in the room wakes me an hour later. “Brent?” I squint against the lamp light.
“It’s okay. Go back to sleep.”
“What happened? You’re soaking wet!”
He quickly unbuttons the shirt and drags it off his shoulders, revealing a body precisely carved by his physical work outdoors. “Lightning struck one of the barns.”
“Is everyone okay?”
He reaches for something in the wardrobe, and then starts to unbuckle his belt, sending my heart into my throat as he disappears into the bathroom.
“It didn’t start a fire,” he says through the wall. “We’re okay.”
He reappears wearing only sweats, his chest magnificently bare. Something deep inside me undulates, reminding me that I’ve had my hands on that skin, that I’ve had his delicious weight on top of me for hours.
“You risked your life,” I whisper.
He shrugs his shoulders as if to say “no big deal.”
“Brent…you saved my life.” I kick out of the comforter, putting myself right in front of him, palming his wet hair, tracing the drops rolling down the curve of his shaded jaw.
He groans, stilling my hand under his. “Don’t do this unless you mean it. When we broke up, Ace…”
The shirt I’m wearing only reaches to mid-thigh, so I guide his hand under it until he gets the hint and cups my ass, the hard press of his erection against my belly. “I love it when you say my name like that.”
Brent weaves his hand into my hair, bringing his mouth to mine, the kiss burning my senses as his tongue enters my eager, open mouth.
All too soon he pulls away. “Bed. Now.”
I stumble back to the covers as Brent kicks the door shut and locks it.
He finds home between my shaking legs, his lips on mine, his hand disappearing into the boxers, but this time at the front, where he rubs slowly, ever so slowly, in the gathering wetness.
My gasp of delight doesn’t change his speed or pressure. My orgasm is a slow ride that snakes to the top of its peak before exploding outward.
I sink back, bumping the headboard.
“Careful, darlin’. I want you awake for the rest of the night.” A lovely smile spreads across his features, illuminated by the small lamp that’s showing me only inches of his skin.
I nuzzle his hard shoulder. The eroticism of the moment has brought my nipples to a tight peak.
He pushes the shirt up and over my head before focusing his attention on one nipple, enveloping it with his mouth. “Beautiful, as always.”
I wind my hands into his hair as he starts to trace his lips down my body until he reaches my belly button, his fingers catching the boxers and pushing them down.
He kisses the sensitive skin of my inner thigh, leaving me trembling with the expectation of his journey as he strips me completely.
Soft kisses scorch my most intimate parts as Brent rises to draw his sweats off, finally showing me his incredible arousal.
“When I saw you in the SUV… I thought…” His eyes glitter suddenly as his fingers trace the bruise on my skin from the seatbelt. He positions himself on top of me.
I caress the side of his face in slow, teasing slides, widening my legs to create the space we need. “You’ve got me now… I’m here.”
Brent reaches down, holding himself so that he can slide into me. Once inside, he waits a moment, as do I, enjoying the perfect fit we’ve always had.
I palm his taut backside as he begins thrusting, deep and sure, knowing that I’ve always loved his rhythm, that it always drives me insane with pleasure.
There’s never any talk, no need for carnal encouragement. It’s with silence that Brent and I make love.
“Keep your eyes open,” he says. “I want to see what I’ve missed so much.”
He comes deep inside me as I vault into another sensational climax that forces the breath out of my lungs.
Later, as I rest against Brent’s chest, I’m able to hear his relaxed heartbeat against my ear. He’s lit a few candles around the room now that the storm has knocked out the power.
“The last time I saw you was at Duke’s wedding.” Brent’s fingers trail through my hair.
“I know.” I think about the tremor that had raced through my heart as Brent’s brother had married Renee; I was her maid of honor, Brent the best man, and we’d broken up only a month before.
“I kept my distance.”
“We both did. We didn’t want to ruin their day.”
He reaches for my wrist, rubbing the inside flesh softly. “It damn near killed me when we had to dance together.” He kisses my bruised forehead, the touch bringing pleasure rather than pain.
“It was a bitch,” I say with an exaggerated sigh. “You kept standing on my toes.”
I feel Brent’s deep laugh through my whole body as a wonderful vibration.
“You know, I would imagine you here with me,” he says quietly.
I shift onto my side, facing Brent.
“I would imagine touching you, the way you like it…” His hand disappears under the sheets, palming me gently between the legs.
With his gaze welded to mine, our silence grows. His ability to be silent yet utterly powerful is something I’ve always found fascinating about him. I’d watched Brent from the comfort of the house as he broke in horses…his patience, his utter dedication and endless determination, now focused on me.
“Why the hell did we break up, Ace?” He leans in to kiss me gently.
“I was scared,” I whisper softly.
“Of what, darlin’?”
“Of this. Feeling so…” Tears sting my eyes
Brent smiles, “In love?”
I exhale, feeling a strange weight lifting off my shoulders. “You get it?”
“I get you. Always have, always will. I was just waiting for you to come back to me—although I could have done without you scaring me half to death in the process.”
“Brent…” I welcome his lips back to mine, enjoying the strokes from his hand between my legs. When I come, the waves of my orgasm beat furiously against my nerves.
Giving me no time to get my breath back, he gently draws my legs apart and enters me. We make love until the wet, quiet dark of morning.
I wake just before dawn, Brent behind me, his arm over my hip, offering me shelter in such a comforting way. Gently, I draw his arm off to slide away from him.
I shower, then return to the room. Brent’s awake, propped up against the headboard.
“Good morning.” He drags the sheets aside, flashing me that beautiful body and kissing me boldly as he heads for the bath- room.
I hear the shower switch off no more than a minute later. Thinking nothing of it, I reach for my borrowed shirt, but instead stop in my tracks as I feel his hands on my hips.
“You don’t need this.” He reaches for the knot in the towel and unhooks it throwing it to the bed, “Here…” He takes my hands, placing them on the dresser, the photograph no longer making my heart smart.
The sensation of his big body pushing up and into mine makes me loop my hand around his neck to keep us as close as possible. I don’t care that the bruise across my chest is protesting as his thrusts gain momentum.
Brent cups my breasts, rubbing the nipples between his fingers as warmth spills from him, leaving me fighting an orgasm so strong that I have to close my eyes.
An hour later, from the comfort of the bed, I hear encouraging shouts from outside. I loop sheets around me, following the sounds to the window.
Brent is standing at the open doors of the barn, horses racing past him into the wide, sun-drenched field, the sky utterly blue and clear of clouds. He cracks a rope, ensuring the animals get the spark they need to run and stretch their legs.
I see Mrs. Williams, clipboard in hand, talking to a ranch hand on a ladder assessing the sizable cracks in the roof’s shingles. In the distance, there’s a repair crew mending the fence that had allowed the horses to escape and run into my path.
Some inner sense makes Brent turn to the window and touch a finger to the brim of his hat, his smile as bright as mine. He hands the rope to another cowboy, jumps the fence, and lopes toward the house.
Moments later, he’s in front of me, tugging the sheets away and pushing me back toward the bed.
He reaches for his belt, the coolness of the metal scraping my skin. “Ace,” he says softly. “Ace.”
And something inside me fixes right into place.