At first, Annie thought she was hearing things. The dark, rumbling noise was so much like the sound of thunder in her homeworld, her whole body automatically went into fear mode. Her stomach knotted and her blood felt like icy cold rivers running through her veins.
"No! Can't be!" she murmured to herself. Maybe if she kept denying it, she would find out she had been mistaken. After all, she had been on this world for nearly six months, and there had never been a massive storm. Rainfall, yes. The occasional windy days, of course. Sizzling sunshine, most definitely, especially since Parra was graced with two suns. But a true, outright, lightning and thunderstorm? Never.
At least, not since I've been here.
The low growl echoed again in the distance. Curious, she hurried into the bedroom and glanced outside the slender window. There was no glass in the narrow slit, and when she had first been brought to this world and began learning about the planet that would be her new home, it had taken her some time to learn all the ins and outs and reasons why things were the way they were. And why ordinary items were so different. Like the teeny tiny windows with no glass.
But she understood now and it made sense. The little slits were placed in strategic areas throughout the apartment, so that when the front doors were opened, a cool breeze flowed from room to room. And on days when the temperature soared, the windows kept the burning rays from penetrating. Yet there was always plenty of sunlight. Plus, she knew now where to find and how to pull down the little doors that sealed off the slits whenever it rained.
Leaning over the narrow sill, Annie glanced out at the inky clouds quickly gathering outside. The rumble of the approaching storm reached her, and a moment later she saw a quick flash of lightning--or rather, what looked like lightning, except it was orange instead of white.
Nevertheless, the sight of the massive black clouds was enough to start her heart beating in a furious rhythm. With hands already clammy from fear, Annie rushed around the apartment, closing every window slit in preparation for what was to come. Shutting them darkened the rooms, but as the clouds thickened enough to block all sunlight, the place became pitch-dark.
She had to hide. The warning bells in her head had gone from a mild ringing to an all-out clanging. The storm was growing closer. Either that, or it was growing bigger. Neither indication was a positive one.
For a second, Annie wondered if she should go outside and send up a flare. Her panicked side screamed yes, but her common sense told her no. She wasn't the only person being affected by what was coming. But why did this have to happen in the middle of the day when Rion was away at work? Why couldn't this thing have come during the night when he would be home, and she could burrow herself and her fear within the safe circle of his arms?
The air exploded with the sound of a rifle being fired at short range. Only it wasn't a gunshot. It was lightning striking one of the apartment towers, and it sounded close, too damn close. And in the darkness, it was nearly enough to stop her heart from beating. Annie shrieked, nearly falling to the floor. The next moment, a frightened wail started up in the second bedroom. The unexpected noise had awakened Kerr. The need to protect her son overrode her sense of urgency to run and hide, and Annie hurried into the baby's room.
Kerr was sitting up in his crib, frightened and seeking her. Annie went straight to the crib, despite the lack of adequate light. Gathering the crying child against her, she went into the living room and tried to think above the terrifying circumstances. Where would be the safest place to ride out the storm? Built in an elliptical shape, the outer walls of the apartment were adjacent to the outer walls of the building itself. Every room had at least one wall abutting the outside, and every outer wall had at least one window. There were no inner rooms, no interior space or core to the apartment where she could seek shelter.
Frantically, Annie hurried back into the bedroom just as another resounding blast shook the air around her. Her eyes lit on the enormous bed, and an idea took shape. Maybe if she used the mattress as a shelter, and pulled herself and the baby into the center of it, perhaps it would insulate them enough.
Laying the infant boy in the doorway that adjoined his room and theirs, Annie began tugging at the bed to pull it away from the inner wall. Her plan was to drag the mattress over the headboard to where she and Kerr could huddle between the bed and the wall, with the mattress as a roof.
She had barely gotten the bed moved a few inches when the storm erupted with a vengeance. Annie snatched her son into her arms and crawled into the tiny space, abandoning her idea to seek immediate safety. Holding him tightly against her, she tried to rock the crying child with little success. The storm was too loud and too forceful. Even the floor vibrated in response to the wind's fury.
Another crackle of lightning nearly deafened her. Yet she continued to try and soothe Kerr's wails of fright, unaware that the tiny boy's tears were mixing with her own. She was at a loss. It had been a long time since she had felt this helpless against nature. Taking a deep breath, Annie tried singing as she prayed.
"Hush, little baby, don't say a word. Poppa's gonna buy you a mockingbird."
The storm roared. Heavy rain pelted the outer bedroom wall, the thick drops sounding like cannon fire.
"If that mockingbird don't sing, Poppa's gonna buy you a diamond ring."
She didn't worry about Rion. She couldn't afford to. She had enough on her plate, what with trying to keep the baby calm, not to mention her own frayed nerves.
"If that diamond ring turns brass, Poppa's gonna buy you a looking glass."
After all, Rion was used to these kinds of storms, wasn't he? He had been trained to take on these huge thunder boomers, and he knew how to fly through them like they were so much cotton candy.
"If that looking glass gets broke, Poppa's--"
"Annie!" The voice sounded far away.
She blinked and strained to hear above the gale. "Rion?" Sticking her head out from under the mattress, Annie tried again. "Rion! In here!"
Visible as a ghostly golden glow, Rion rushed into the bedroom to find her cowering behind the bed. He was dripping wet, but he was the most wonderful balm for her frazzled nerves. As he bent down toward her, a monstrous fist of wind battered the side of the apartment tower, and the entire bedroom, including furniture, shook. Annie cried out as she launched herself and the baby into her husband's muscular arms.
He took no time to see if she was all right. "Why are you not in the safe room?" he gruffly asked her as he pulled her out from behind the bed. Annie started to answer when his question sunk into her brain. But she had no chance to ask him what he meant when she realized they were standing before the inner wall where Rion's small bureau was recessed. Adjacent to the bureau was his closet.
His closet? Of course! She should have thought about crawling into the bottom of his closet--
Rion pulled open a drawer or panel in his bureau. It was difficult to see in the near-blackness, but he appeared to pull a lever, or flip some kind of switch. The screaming storm drowned out any sound coming from beyond the closet, but she was aware of another door opening. The next moment, he gathered Annie and Kerr, and led them into the inner room, pressing a hand to the back of Annie's head to help her duck beneath the low opening.
It was a narrow room, but a long one. As soon as they were inside, Rion closed the door behind them, and the effect was immediate. The storm's blast dampened to a low rumble. She could finally hear her own loud, raspy breathing and Kerr's whimpering.
"Are you all right?"
Annie nodded, and then realized he probably couldn't see her. "Yeah." She started to say more when Rion took Kerr. "Is there a light of some kind in here?"
He moved, and presently a candle was lit. Annie surveyed her husband who was soaked to the skin. Some of his feathers were skewed from flying through the buffeting winds, and stuck out like cowlicks. "You're dripping wet."
And then, like a stroke of lightning, it came to her. "You're not carrying a lantern?"
"I know my way home in the dark," he defended himself.
"I had to come make sure you and Kerr were safe. Why were you hiding behind the bed?"
"You never told me about this little room." She glanced around and noticed a few items stacked at the far end of the narrow space. "What's that?"
"Food and water, in case we need to stay for any length of time." He rocked the little boy on his shoulder, who was growing drowsy. "Forgive me for not telling you sooner. When the storm started, the only thing I could think of was how terrified you were of them. That is why I came home to check on you."
She gave him a small smile. "I'm glad you did. Do you get these storms often?"
A distant boom punctuated her question. Annie gasped, unable to stop herself. In the next second, the entire room vibrated from the storm's impact. Crying out, she threw herself into her husband's strong embrace. Now they both were shivering--her from fear, and him from his wet clothing. A chuckle echoed in his chest.
"What's so fu-funny?" Annie whispered.
"I was thinking I need to get out of these wet clothes and dry off, but you are such a sweet temptation, my Annie." Rion laughed softly. "It would not be fair for me to undress without you reciprocating. Unfortunately, I do not think there is enough room in here for us to do any sort of romantic exploration."
Annie giggled. He was right. His enormous wings took up a lot of space. If she also had wings, the room would barely fit them both. As it was, they were forced to sit and wait for the storm to dissipate, but not much else except converse.
"Why didn't you tell me about these storms? Are they bad all over? I mean, do they appear elsewhere on your world besides over the city? Do they cause a lot of damage?"
Rion laughed aloud. The storms didn't bother him. Flying through the worst weather was something he was trained to do. It warmed her to know it had been his knowing of her fear of storms that had caused him to return home.
Lifting a hand to caress her cheek with the back of his fingers, Rion gazed at her lovingly. "Forget the storms, my Annie. Now that you know about this safe room, you can come here whenever the tosis erupts. And I will feel better knowing you are in here."
"Tosis? Is that what you call a tornado or thunderstor--"
She started to ask more, but he silenced her with a warm kiss. She loved his kisses, melting from the way they could send tingles down to the tips of her toes. His natural body heat was already drying his tunic and pants, but droplets still fell from his hair.
With his free arm, he lifted her against him. His honed, muscular body was rock-hard, and Annie spread her chilled fingers across his chest. His mouth continued to play with hers; his tongue teased hers, stroking and licking her inner roof and teeth. Slowly, seductively, he pulled her even tighter against him, until she could feel his erection pressing impatiently into the layered fabric of her gown.
Reluctantly, she raised her face from his to glance at their son.
"He is asleep," Rion stated the obvious. "Grab one of the pallets back there."
Annie found one of the bedrolls he mentioned. Opening it, she laid it on the floor where it nearly took up half the space of the tiny room. As she placed the baby on the pallet, she could sense Rion shifting behind her. Before she could turn around to see what he was doing, his hands slid around her waist, and she was gently pulled toward him.
Releasing his grip, Rion lifted the back of her skirt and ran his fingers up the back of her thighs. The subtle scrape of his blunt nails sent a pulsing desire straight to her abdomen. Annie gasped as the little room grew stuffier. When he reached her buttocks, he gave them a squeeze, then spread them slightly and began to guide her downward.
Annie glanced over her shoulder. "I thought you said--"
The hard, hot head of his erection gently nudged the lips of her entrance. He teased her, finding her eager little nub and stroking it until her inner thighs were slick.
"Now," Annie whimpered softly.
The rigid pole slid into her, quivering and warm. Her guttural moan filled the room as he lifted her by the hips, and then lowered her again over his entire length. Up, then down, gradually adding speed as each thrust pushed him deeper and deeper into her.
Without anything to hold onto, Annie grabbed Rion's thighs and used them for leverage. It was like trying to get a grip on two tree trunks.
The ramming continued, increasing in speed and intensity as they both sought to reach completion. Now she was tilting at an angle as the exquisite torture spiraled faster and harder. Behind her she could hear Rion's soft grunts, and she could envision in her mind how his face would appear--eyes closed, lips parted, his entire face looking pinched as his body poised on the edge of his climax.
It overwhelmed her without warning. One second she was relishing the feel of him driving thickly inside her, and the next second an inferno combusted, sending scorching flames throughout her body. Annie stiffened and cried out at the onslaught. Rion continued to pound himself into her tightening channel, forcing himself past the wet, silken grip trying to hold onto him. Gasping for air, Annie arched beyond her peak just as her husband found his, and the ragged breath at her back was testimony to the richness of his orgasm as he finally slowed.
Wordlessly, he pulled her into his embrace, resting his forehead on the back of her neck. His hands reached into the bodice of her gown to find the hard nipples he loved to play with. He was panting as fast as she was. His hot breath on the back of her neck sent shivers through her. Astonishingly, their son continued to doze.
"The truth. Did you come back to protect us? Or to get a little afternoon delight?"
The chuckle rolling through his chest was her answer. "You know me too well," he accused. His roughened hands cupped her breasts as his fingers continued to tease her nipples. "I love the way your nipples tighten when you come." He nipped her neck and shoulder, scraping the skin with his teeth, and then placing a kiss on top. "Actually, I came to give you some news."
"What kind of news?"
Outside the world growled as the storm progressed, but she could tell it was beginning to abate. The building no longer shook.
"In three days I will be presented with an Honorum," Rion murmured. "I want you to go with Chloe to buy yourself the most beautiful gown you can find, so that when I present you, you will be the most beautiful woman there."
"Flatterer." Annie giggled. "You know you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."
He sighed. His warm breath tickled her sweaty skin. She felt his hands pull out of her bodice, and knew he did it reluctantly. Looking over her shoulder, she watched him manipulate something on the wall until the door slid open. The rush of cooler air felt wonderful.
"Do you have to go back?"
"I will not be gone long." He lifted her to her feet outside of the safe room. Annie adjusted her gown while he retrieved Kerr and handed the sleeping infant to her.
By the time she had the baby settled in his own bed, she heard the front door close. Her husband promised he would not be gone long and Rion always kept his word. Smiling, Annie went to open the windows as she wondered what to fix for supper.