Chocolate…dark chocolate ripple with French vanilla….maybe a banana split with all that pineapple goo….I clutched the steering wheel with one hand and absently rubbed my outer thigh with the other. I wasn't up doing cardio before the freaking birds every morning so that I could blow it all on ice cream. Yogurt, then. Fat free Dutch chocolate…

"Aunt Shanny?" a small voice piped up from the back seat. "We gonna stop soon? BearBear thinks he's hungry but he says it's not a 'mergency yet."

I smiled at the new word tumbling from the lips of the most adorable five year old in the world. "Pretty soon, Sarah Kate," I said, smiling at the rear view mirror. "Maybe the next exit will have a McDonald's and we'll get some ice cream. Get you guys all sugared up before I turn you loose on your parents. How does that sound?"

Squeals of approval from the vehicle's other occupants were immediate. It wasn't often that I got to spend time with my niece and nephews; the precocious Sarah Kate and her rowdy twin brothers Rory and Ryan, aged eight. My sister and her husband live several hours away and asked me to watch them for the weekend. They said they were attending the opening of a new upscale art gallery with a late dinner party after. I think it's much more likely they spent the weekend in bed making additional nieces and nephews.

Anyway, it was a beautiful day for a drive and traffic on Northbound I-95 was light, even for a Sunday morning. The kids passed the time watching a movie on my portable DVD player - Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief - and it was only a few moments before a spirited discussion ignited in the backseat. "They're playing blackjack," Rory said, puffed with self-importance. "Those plastic things are money." He pressed pause and continued with his lecture. "Aunt Shanny said that the house holds at 17 so if…"


"Pays 18," Ryan nodded in solemn agreement.

"Uh, kids?" I interjected quickly. "You're gonna need to not tell your mom about…"

"What happens if it's a push?" Sarah Kate asked, clutching the treasured stuffed bear to her chest.

"Nobody wins," Rory answered succinctly. "Pot rolls to the next hand. Right, Aunt Shanny?"

"Jaysus," I muttered under my breath. "I'm going straight to hell."

The commentary now completed, the movie resumed. The kids slipped their ear buds back in and once again the car fell into silence. Deciding I would cross that parental bridge when I came to it - by blaming it on research books lying about in my apartment, my usual alibi - I lapsed back into watching my compact sedan eat up the miles. I didn't turn on the radio, enjoying the momentary peace and quiet after a raucous weekend of babysitting.

On any given spring day in Florida, the amount of motorcycles on I-95 rivals the number of cars, especially around the Daytona area. This morning was no exception; there were large and small groups of them out enjoying the fine weather - sleek little racing bikes, fat rumbling Harleys with fringed saddlebags, even the occasional Gold Wing driven by retirees still walking on the wild side. After my recent brush with traffic court, I stay closer to the speed limit and had the cruise control firmly locked on 72. This meant, in a nutshell, that I was getting passed left and right which sorely offended my inner road warrior.

A throaty growl announced yet another motorcycle coming up fast. The single rider came up within a foot or two of my bumper before whipping into the lane beside me and slowing down. A large masculine form sat astride a very impressive bike, black on black on chrome. I darted a quick glance over but couldn't make out anything underneath the mirrored surface of the racing helmet. The motorcycle itself was a thing of beauty - a new Ducati, unless I was mistaken. And I wasn't - I know bikes and I had no reservations whatsoever about staring at this showroom piece with more than just a little envy.

Even without the benefit of a face, the guy adorning said bike was no slouch either. Hard to judge, but he was definitely over the six foot mark. Leather jacket and faded jeans pulled tight over heavily muscled thighs…my romance writer mind was prepared to wax poetic over those alone. The helmet turned in my direction and nodded once before the rider accelerated and pulled away, blending into the flow of traffic and eventually disappearing over a distant overpass.

Well, damn. I shrugged and went back to the mental to-do list awaiting my attention when I returned home. I've got to do the Twitter thing and update my Facebook page then I can get right back into the edits for…

"Aunt Shanny, BearBear says he wants ice cream too. And he needs to tinkle."

"You tell BearBear I'll buy him ice cream but if he tinkles in my car I'll make a tiny rug out of him," I growled to appreciative giggles. Glancing at the gas gauge, I looked up to see one of those big green highway signs fly by with a list of available food stops. "There's a big exit up ahead. We'll stop for gas and see if we can't find him some."

The tinkle part overrode everything else so we stopped in at McDonald's first. Several happy meals, a couple of fudge sundaes (yogurt parfait sans granola for me) and a little playground time later, we piled back into the car and headed for the nearest gas station before getting back out on the interstate.

The kids rejoined their currently in progress movie while I filled up and scraped deceased love bugs off the windshield. I was revisiting my to-do list when I heard the distinctive purr of an expensive motorcycle rolling up behind me. Machines have their own voices - anybody who appreciates cars can tell you a Countach sounds a lot sexier than say, a Ford Pinto. This one sounded fast, tight and oh so very Italian. I almost didn't dare turn around, but I really wanted to see the bike….ok, I wanted to see the guy on the bike too. There, I said it. Unable to fight the feeling, I turned and froze.

He killed the engine and casually threw a leg over to stand and stretch. Definitely over six feet, maybe six and a half. Lean and muscled like a (yes, I'm going to say it) big cat. Leather fingerless gloved hands reached up to tug off his helmet and a lion's mane of long, blond curls tumbled nearly halfway down his back. OMFG, it's a real live Viking was my first thought. All my past lustful memories of Eric Northman from True Blood died with a small whimper. I gulped.

He shook his head vigorously and pulled off his sunglasses to reveal eyes of deep sapphire blue. Lips, full and sensual, curled into a slow smile and tiny dimples appeared in his cheeks. Suddenly the phrase "Wanna play pillage the village?" took on a whole new meaning and my mouth went completely dry. "I could not help but notice you…" he began, his voice slightly accented.

Of course he's too gorgeous not to be in love with himself, I thought acerbically, waiting for the rest of the narcissistic line. It never came.

"…I doubled back but when I realized you had turned off the highway…well, I guess I am lucky." He smiled, waving towards the gas pump.

"That's…ah….a beautiful bike," I stammered "Ducati, right?"

Without breaking his gaze, he trailed long, loving fingers over the gas tank. "She is," he said, nodding. "You have a good eye. You should ride with me - she is glorious."

I should probably mention at this point that I stopped breathing right after he started speaking. Light headedness followed immediately by inane babbling was imminent. "That sounds like fun, but I'm uh…kinda in the middle of ah… something…" I gestured lamely towards the car and the oblivious kids in the backseat.

He lifted one broad shoulder in a shrug. "Pity - my loss," he said. "Then perhaps I might steal only a few moments of your time for myself." He closed the distance between us and unable to comfortably stand still at the sight of the advancing marauder (he was a definite danger to my rational thought process) I leaned back against my car. The squeegee hit the pavement with a wet plop.

"Call it a toll for driving on my road," he said with a wicked grin.

"If I may p-point out it's an interstate highway, which is hardly your…"

"Hush." He leaned forward and brushed his lips over mine, once, twice. He tasted of honey, ocean breezes. Leather and sunlight. My knees buckled, and an iron sinewed arm shot out to catch me around the waist. At that point he got down to business, his lips settling over his lips (possession being 9/10s of the law) and kissed me completely senseless.

When he finally drew back and smiled down at me, I prayed that I didn't look completely witless. I tried to smooth a hand over my hair and get my casual "this happens all the time" demeanor back and he chuckled softly. "Perhaps when next you travel my road we will meet again." Without another word, he pressed something into my hand, mounted his bike and roared out of the parking lot.

"Wait - what's your name?" I wanted to call after him but could only stand in stunned silence. When the sound of the expensive bike died away, I looked down at the card and nearly laughed aloud.

"Thor? Seriously?"

I touched my fingertips to my bruised lips, trying hard to convince myself that that didn't just happen but the glossy calling card in my hand was pretty persuasive. I got back into the car and after a quick glance in the rear view burst out laughing. Three little owls sat round eyed in the backseat.

"Who was that, Aunt Shanny?" Sarah Kate asked.

"His name's Thor. He's a…ah…Viking," I said vaguely, tucking the card into my wallet with a shaking hand.

"Like the Avengers?" the boys asked at once. "Did he have a hammer?"

I planned to spend some quality time later thinking about just that. Biting back my first answer I said "I didn't ask - I think he was in disguise." I turned the car on and pulling back out on the street made a right instead of going left towards the interstate.

"BearBear says you're going the wrong way," Sarah Kate said helpfully.

"We're going back to McDonald's for more ice cream. This time I'm having some too," I explained. "And if we're all really lucky the nice manager will let Aunt Shannon eat hers sitting inside their cooler."
 
   
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