Riders On The Storm
California was nothing like the warm South. San Francisco had been
cold, Redding colder, and after passing Shasta Lake, freezing rain had
started to fall. Nearing the base of Mount Shasta, the rain turned
into .22 calibre hail bullets. This new weather, direct from hell,
marked the end of his endurance.
Shit, he thought. He felt
defeated. He felt as if he’d travelled through a deluge of steel
He contemplated turning around and heading to the dinky fleabag motel he’d seen about 15 miles back, but then a sign he could easily have missed swam into blurred focus – MiddleofNowhere Tavern.
aloud, he turned off the road, hurtled drown a narrow drive, and
parked the bike in front of the massive stone inn’s heavy door. The
machine occupied the area clearly reserved as cover for the valet.
wiped down the long redwood bar, wearily tossed the rag into the sink
and sank down into a red leather chair before the dying fire.
last,” she sighed, and unbound her hair, which fell in auburn waves
to her waist. Leaning forward, she rubbed her neck, massaging out the
soreness. She was relieved to be finished with the day.
she poked the disintegrating logs until only hot embers fell into the
grate. Bed, she thought. Her most pressing need.
tavern was fully booked, every room occupied, save for her own. Ski
season had descended and a veritable blizzard was due this night.
Already, icy rain assaulted the window panes, and for a millisecond
she fancied that a draft had whispered by from the front stairwell.
heard soft footfalls. She had felt a draft. Then she heard steady
dripping; it sounded like a leak.
damn roof!” she exclaimed, jumping up and nearly knocking over the
man who stood to the left of her chair.
His deep voice pulsed into her. “I don’t think it’s the roof
leaking. It’s me.”
stared at the man as he sniffed and cleared his throat. He indicated
the water running off him. “Uh, about the floor, do you have a
She liked the look of this one. He was tall and wiry, with long, light
blond, almost white hair that he had pulled back from his clean-shaven
face. His eyes, a dark turquoise, looked a little tired. He ran strong
hands through his wet hair and absently flicked more water on to the
realised she was gaping at him, and shook herself. “Don’t worry
about the floor. I’ll get you a towel. But you are absolutely
drenched! I think you may need more than that.”
she was trying not to laugh at him. He was like a drowned rat. Her
eyes twinkled merrily.
will do, for now,” he responded, pinching the bridge of his nose and
stifling a sneeze almost soundlessly.
certain if she should bless him, Keelin went behind the bar and found
a terry towel. “This should help. Now, how about a seat in front of
the grate. I’ve snuffed out the fire, but the heat from the embers
is nice. You could warm yourself. I’m Keelin, by the way. This is my
place. Please, make yourself at home.”
inviting voice touched his cold ears like a blessing.
Rochad. And thanks.” He shook her hand, thrilled by the soft
electricity of her touch. He smiled for the first time that night,
blue eyes sparking into life. “I appreciate the offer. Though heat
up close might be hard on the leather. It tends to tighten when dried
too fast, and then…well, there may be no getting it off. Uh, perhaps
a beer if it’s not too much trouble?”
smiled again, surveying her casually: auburn hair cascading; slim, yet
not thin; full breasts beneath a white blouse; tiny waist, with an
immaculate white apron tied around curvaceous hips; slender legs
enclosed in britches and full-length brown riding boots. His gaze
reached her face, and lingered there. Pert features. Suddenly it
struck Rochad: Keelin possessed the face of a fairy princess. Her
honey brown eyes warmed him on the inside.
beer is no trouble at all, Rochad.” Clearly he was one of those
rough, tough types – dripping wet, freezing cold, but loathe to
admit it. Keelin grinned as she filled a glass with her homemade pale
ale and passed it to him across the bar.
God did his touch ever feel incredible, she thought, for though his
hands were cold there was a heat to him that could not be ignored.
a long swallow, Rochad stared at Keelin, a slow purposeful caress with
his eyes that made her hungry for his hands on her body. She shivered
convulsively, a response that Rochad did not miss.
raised an eyebrow, suddenly appearing both wild and wise. “Go back
to your fire, Keelin, and be warm. I can’t rightly go anywhere
tonight – the bike won’t make it up to the lodge in this weather
and I need to thaw. The only thing I’ll need is a room. Have you got
room was what she didn’t have, but she supposed she could allow him
to stay in the parlour of her apartment; she had allowed other guests
to do the same when a blizzard was imminent. After all, her bedroom
door was a massive gothic oak barricade, and inside she’d be safe,
should this man have any ungentlemanly thoughts. And Mack would be
here just after dawn.
booked solid through the week,” she said. “But you’re welcome to
stay in the living room of my quarters.”
appreciate it,” he said. “I’m in your debt.”
it summer or even spring, I’d offer the cottage in the back yard,
but there’s no fireplace and it is just too damn cold. Feel free to
bring your pint.” She yawned. “Actually, I was about to head to
bed before you arrived.”
strode to the foot of the bar, picked up his leather pack, and then
followed her silently down the hall and up two flights of
carpet-covered stone stairs. She unlocking the big door at the top of
the landing, and moved to one side, inviting Rochad to step across the
threshold. The room was enormous and filled with extraordinary museum
pieces. An imposing stone fireplace, logs and kindling already in
place, occupied most of the main wall. Keelin went to it, produced
long matches, and set the kindling ablaze.
watched her graceful movements, then turned his attention to the rest
of the room. Lead-paned windows ran nearly the entire length of the
opposite wall, with heavy red drapes on either side. A sitting area
offered an overstuffed leather couch, a wrought iron table and two
large armchairs. Beyond the chairs, a gothic door stood ajar, and he
could see another fireplace where a fire already flickered merrily.
noticed Rochad was pinching the bridge of his nose with one hand
again. She took the pint from him and he sniffed and drew in a sharp
breath before releasing the most impressive sneeze Keelin had ever
He sneezed forcefully into cupped hands.
you,” Keelin said, placing the ale on a small table. She reached
into her apron pocket and offered a tissue that Rochad gratefully
he said, wiping his nose.
stared up at him openly, invitingly. Laying her hand lightly on his
arm, as if to gain his undivided attention, she smiled warmly and
said: “So Rochad, since heat is not good for the leather, have you
anything to change into? Because to be cold and wet is obviously not
good for the man.”
voice seemed to flow into his awareness like spun sugar, and Rochad
grinned. “I’m fine. My nose is extremely temperamental. I’ll
sneeze for a while after being out in the cold; at least until I
thaw.” He paused, and sighed. “If the rain hasn’t soaked through
my pack, I’ve something. But if my things are wet, Keelin, can I
assume you are about to offer me an alternative?”
man spoke her name with such comfortable familiarity. “May I?”
Keelin reached up boldly, pulled the towel from him and tossed it into
a basket near the door. Then she took his pack and felt it.
“Delightfully damp,” she said, and laid it gently at his feet.
stood on tiptoe to smooth his wet hair back from his forehead and,
without hesitating, moved her hands to his leather jacket and unzipped
it, exposing the soaked white T-shirt that clung to his well-muscled
shoulders and chest. She removed the jacket and hung it on the back of
an antique wooden valet.
her standing by his side, the cold air hit his back and chest, and now
it was Rochad’s turn to shiver. Keelin took his hand, gently pulling
him to a huge Victorian wing back chair just to the left of the
mesmerized by the woman in front of him, sat obediently.
turned and pressed a wooden panel that clicked open from floor to the
ceiling, exposing a built-in linen closet lined with cedar. She pulled
two towels down, one large, one small. She hauled off his wet shirt
and dried him with the large towel. As gooseflesh rose on his skin,
Rochad pinched the bridge of his nose and stifled again, an almost
be quick, Rochad.” She wrapped a thick quilt around his shoulders
and kneeled to remove his boots and socks. “That’s good. Nice dry
feet. Stand, please.”
Rochad stood, and the quilt fell to the floor behind him. Looking up
into his eyes, Keelin made quick work of his button and zipper, and
then bent to peel the wet leather over his hips and down his thighs.
Her eyes never left his as she asked him to step out of the pants. He
did so, and the leathers were whisked to the back of the room and hung
with the jacket on the valet. She called over her shoulder: “The
thermals are wet as well. At least, around your knees. But I’ll let
you remove those, Rochad.”
chuckled and did as she had suggested, first wrapping the large towel
around his waist. “So, having you take off my underwear isn’t
included in tavern hospitality?”
returned to him, handed him the ale and indicated that he should sit.
She sat on the footstool facing him, her back to the fire, and placed
the small towel across her lap. “Here,” she said, patting her lap,
and pulled his feet on to her thighs. “This way we can both be
comfortable until the room warms and I make up the couch for you.
nodded as he sipped the ale. “Much. Thank you. Uh, Keelin, can you
hold this again for a sec?” He handed over the glass and quickly
cupped his hands, sneezing: “Haaatchhh! Huptishhhahhh!”
he rubbed the bridge of his nose and winced slightly. “Damn it was
cold out there.”
you. So I take it you are not planning to catch a nice case of
pneumonia?” Keelin handed him another tissue.
Seriously, I’m thawing out now. Any significant temperature change
pretty much takes hold of my sinuses until my body balances out. I
don’t know what made me consider working up at the ski lodge.
Thinking about it now, going from one extreme to the other could have
me sneezing for the better part of every damn day.”
would certainly be something,” Keelin said, eyes shining. “Wait.
You say you are planning to work up at the lodge? My brother owns the
place. Crap, he said nothing of any Rochad. I was under the impression
he’d hired some young hot shot snowboarder type.”
chuckled. “Hot shot huh? By whose authority? Your brother’s Mack,
am I right?” Keelin nodded, and Rochad continued: “Did he happen
to tell you the name of this hot shot? I think I’m entitled to know
whose ass I’ll have to kick for trying to take my job.”
frowned. “Oh crap, I am sure he told me. Um, wait. Yes – RJ
something, um, RJ David.”
features smoothed into amusement. Then he cupped his hands over his
he sneezed harshly. “Phew, I think that one robbed me of life
Bless. Are you sure you’re warming up?” Keelin’s voice was full
nodded. “Yes, I’m getting warmer by the second.” He cleared his
throat. “RJ David is another matter all together. I couldn’t lose
to a better man.”
adored Rochad’s company already. He was so good natured, so fabulous
to look at; and the sneezing – well, it just did things to her
insides. “So you know him then?”
winked, nodded, then pinched the bridge of his nose again.
“Ahhhh…” He began a sneeze, but it faded. “Yes, I know him
very well.” He leaned forward, moved his feet off Keelin’s lap and
held out the dog tag that hung round his neck. She held it in her
delicate fingers, turning it over to read the inscribed name. Their
faces were kissing-close.
twinkling impishly, she read aloud: “Rochad Johan David ‘RocketMan’.
Nice and humble. So you are the hot shot, huh? I took you as more of
an outlaw myself. A very sneezy outlaw.”
did, did ya? And sneezy? Ya think?” Rochad reached out to stroke her
I know so,” Keelin whispered. “ And you are about to sneeze
turned to one side and stifled. A near silent sneeze. “Hhhchmpf!”
Then he pulled her to him. “So, Keelin, tell me what I am about to
Keelin moaned and took his face into her hands. She climbed on to his
lap and sat astride him. “Now you are going to kiss me and do your
very best to avoid sleeping on the couch.”
stroked her hair, and shook his head “You are right Keelin, but
wrong about the reason. I am going to kiss you, but not to avoid
sleeping on the couch. That I will do gladly. I am going to kiss you
because I’ve wanted to taste your lips from the moment you parted
them to speak.”
with that, he lowered his lips to hers.
her hungrily to his bare chest, RJ’s arms wound around her slim
waist. Keelin slipped fingers through his damp hair and pulled free
the band holding it back, so that she could luxuriate in its softness.
She slid her hungry tongue between his warm lips passionately,
pressing against him. Kisses rained upon her lips, face and throat
until she felt Rochad tense, holding his breath as he leaned to one
sneezed loudly, uncovered: “Haatttchhh! Haptishhhhhahh!”
bless you RJ,” she soothed. “Let’s get you to bed, then? That
just doesn’t sound good.”
if you leave me now, I am not sure how well I’ll sleep…”
her finger against Rochad’s lips, Keelin smiled. “Shhhh. Who said
anything about me leaving you by yourself? Rochad, we can’t have you
out here all by yourself, cold and sneezing with no one to offer a
blessing, can we?”
soft moan escaped Rochad’s lips as he stood, swept Keelin into his
arms without effort, and strode toward the bedroom door. He placed her
on the bed, drew back the coverlet and unlaced her boots. Climbing in
next to her, he pushed her hips gently and she rolled over as he
untied her apron and tossed it on to the floor.
rolled back, pressing against Rochad and kissing him deeply. He lay
back on the pillow and shivered. Turning his head, he cupped his hands
again. “Huh happptishhh! Uptishhhahh!” He sniffed. “Damnit,
kissed his cheek. “Bless. No apologies. Your sneezes are incredibly
sexy.” She pulled the covers over them both. “RJ, I know you said
you’re fine, but we have to keep you warm. I have seen very strong
men become extremely ill due to exposure.”
on her side, facing him, she moved her hands over his stomach and
chest, making a study of his upper torso and rubbing him warm at the
kissed her forehead, sniffing. “I’m fine.”
reached to unbutton Keelin’s blouse, his hands brushing her
shoulders as he pushed the fabric back, freeing her breasts. He sucked
gently on her nipples, then nibbled and licked each one. His breathing
was deep and regular, soft on her warm flesh…until he drew in air
sharply, his face pressed to her stomach, and stifled sneezes against
her skin. “Htchmpf, chmpf, chmpf!”
moaned loudly, and Rochad moved up, gazing into her eyes. “So you
say my sneezing is sexy?”
Rochad! Extraordinarily.” Her reply was breathless, and she closed
her eyes, ready to give herself to him completely.
wanted to devour her whole. He could tell she was already close to
climax, and it gave him a heady feeling to think that he had caused
this. Abruptly, he wanted to know that she was as profoundly attracted
to him as he was to her. For what was probably the first time in his
life, he didn’t want a one-night stand. Rochad knew he wanted more
than a week with this woman, more than a season; and an idea occurred
to him slowly, just as the next sneeze was building. “Uh, Keelin?”
opened her eyes and looked at him, her hand resting on the side of his
face. “Yes? Are you okay?”
the sneeze was causing his sinuses to clog, which in turn made his
eyes fill with tears. Sounding a little more congested than he
actually was, he said: “Do you know, you may be right after all. I,
uh…I could be coming down with something. My throat is a little
tender, and normally I would have stopped sneezing by now.”
brow furrowed with concern. “Oh RJ, shit, I’m so sorry. Rest. You
have to rest. How selfish of me. Can I get you anything? An
aspirin?” She felt his forehead, which was a little warm, and then
felt her own, which was warm from passion. “We should stop. Being
overheated is no good.”
felt a pang of guilt, and then the sneeze he had been struggling
against returned with renewed forced. He lay back and succumbed to it
sneeze drained the hell out of him, and he almost wondered if there
was some truth to his ruse after all.
bless you. Here, you should have another pillow.” And Keelin offered
Rochad her own.
no. You keep it.” He shivered, and Keelin pulled her shirt on and
drew the covers over them both. “Maybe I should sleep on the couch,
Keelin. If I am getting sick, I would hate to have you catch it.”
laughed good-naturedly. “RJ, it would be a little late for that now.
But you needn’t worry, I haven’t been sick in just under a decade.
My brother insists on making this winter elixir. At first I didn’t
believe him when claimed it was a preventative medicine – he has
been completely full of bullshit before. But when he took it, he
didn’t get sick for the first time in like five years. So I figured
I’d try it. You know, it really works. Anyhow, if you are ill, I
would never forgive myself for wasting your energy. But no couch for
you. You’re staying right here.”
with that, she kissed his lips gently, drawing him close.
nuzzled against Keelin for warmth, happy to forego further lovemaking
tonight, now that a deeper and more lasting relationship seemed
likely. He listened to the even tones of her breathing, feeling his
own breath come in the ragged gasps that preceded what he knew would
be the final sneezes of the evening. He turned from Keelin’s
shoulder, sneezing loudly: “Ashhhhhh! Huuptishhhhh!!”
you,” whispered Keelin softly, stroking his hair when he leaned back
hold of her fingers, Rochad kissed the tips of each one. Quietly,
almost uttering a prayer, he said: “Thank you, angel, thank you.”
smiled in the dark. The thoughts that carried her into slumber were
far from those of an angel – she was planning the things she and
Rochad would do together as soon as he was well.