The heat wave that had settled over the area more than a week ago was sucking the life out of everyone. The most recent round of brownouts had killed the air conditioner at the inn and Steve lay there, feeling the sweat dripped down his neck as the clock hit 2 AM.
There was no way he was going to be getting any sleep tonight. He hated the heat. He hated soggy, humid air and the feeling of damp sheets sticking to his skin. It made him want to take another shower, even though he’d had one not three hours earlier.
He was seriously contemplating giving up and just going out to sleep in his car (which would be cramped but blessedly cool), when the door to his room opened with a groan. Even the woodwork was swollen from the damp heat.
Claudia slipped in on tiptoes and said, “Hey, Steve, you awake?”
“Unfortunately,” he groused, sitting up and cringing as the comforter clung to his skin. “Is it wrong for me to hope we get a ping in Alaska tomorrow? Or Antarctica?”
“Nope,” she laughed, then tossed a thumb toward the door. “For now, wanna go for a swim?”
“God yes,” he replied, standing and crossing to his dresser. As he pulled open the drawer, it struck him that he didn't think Mrs. Frederic’s people, the goons who'd packed up his Jersey apartment and sent the necessities to South Dakota, had included a bathing suit in the boxes of clothes.
Glancing down at the long, baggy boxers he wore to sleep in, Steve shrugged. It wasn't like they showed anything a pair of board shorts wouldn't.
The air was still and oppressive as they exited Leena’s and Claudia made a beeline for the trees behind the inn. Steve haven't really explored back there, but he was delighted to discover a small lake.
It might have all been in his head, but it almost seemed like the temperature dropped a degree or two as he approached the water.
Immediately, Claudia dumped her towel on a rock and stripped off her T-shirt, revealing her black and teal bathing suit. Without hesitation, she stepped into the water and began wading in.
Shrugging, Steve followed suit, letting out a happy sigh. In reality, the water probably wasn’t that cold, but, compared to the air, the lake might as well have been fed by a mountain stream.
“This was a great idea,” he breathed, then dove under the water, popped up and shook himself, showering Claudia with droplets.
She laughed and splashed him, starting a water war. Steve initially thought his longer reach would give him the advantage, letting him dunk her easily, but Claudia proved a wily opponent. Finding themselves evenly matched, they settled down and paddled around until well after dawn.
By the time they made their way back to the B & B, the others were up and looking none thrilled about that fact. Myka had lost the battle to control her hair, which was somehow both limp and frizzy. H.G. was rubbing a handful of ice along her neckline while Pete was too miserable to admire the view. In concession to the heat, Artie was wearing a short sleeved bowling shirt and Leena was serving cold cereal for breakfast.
When Steve and Claudia entered, happy and cool (several hours in the lake had helped lower their core temperatures), everyone turned to look at them in askance.
“Hey!” Claudia said brightly as Artie’s brows climbed toward his hairline.
Okay, so they probably looked a little odd, both of them soaked and in swimwear (or a close enough approximation), a little punchy from lack of sleep. At the moment, Steve couldn’t bring himself to care, wanting to savor the fading coolness as long as was possible.
“Do I need to institute a dress code?” Artie asked, waving a distracted hand at them. “Because I can deal with Pete’s cargo shorts and t-shirts that look like they’re older than both of you, but totally forgoing certain essential bits of clothing….”
“We were swimming,” Steve protested, crossing his arms across his bare chest. Unlike Pete, he wasn’t prone to random bouts of public shirtlessness…though he wasn’t shy. He’d been a swimmer in college and, to be honest, the idea of layers was not appealing as the heat wave had not broken. Still…. “I’m gonna go get dressed.”
“Don’t feel obligated on our account,” H.G. teased cheekily, making Myka and Leena chuckle.
Artie rolled his eyes expressively and pointed to the stairs. “Go! Dress! I have assignments for all of you!”
As she joined Steve in trotting up the stairs, Claudia yelled, “Dibs on any Antarctic pings!”
This time, it was Steve who stifled a laugh.
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