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Chapter 22

1730
Friday
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia


Harm replaced the receiver down on the phone. Mac just didn’t know what she was in for. He couldn’t keep the smile from his face. She just had to agree. He had left a message for her that said he couldn’t meet for lunch but that he would see her at the apartment after work.

He had made arrangements with his grandmother, her pastor, looked into getting a marriage license, and spoke with Chaplain Turner. He had made reservations at Pineloch Forest Resort for a cabin. They could spend their time any way they liked. They could go to a five star restaurant, go dancing, go skiing, snow tubing or just stay hidden away in their cabin the whole time. He kind of liked that idea, but anything she wanted would suit him.

You only got married once, as far as he was concerned. They would discuss it tonight and put in for leave over the long weekend at Christmas. Surely all the Christmases that neither of them had taken leave would account for something. He turned off the computer and picked up his cover, turning off the light and closing the door behind him. He strode down the hall and out to the elevators, still smiling broadly.

General Creswell looked out to see him leaving. Everyone else had secured for the day. This was the face of an almost-married man if he had ever seen one he thought to himself.


1815
Harm’s Apartment
North of Union Station



Mac heard Harm put his key in the door. She had ordered pizza, no cooking tonight. She was dying to find out what General Creswell had said. Harm pushed open the door with the key still in the lock.

“Hi.” He smiled sheepishly and looked at her from under the bill of his cover.

“Hello, Sailor…talk to me.” She was so anxious that she didn’t see the box in his other arm as he opened the door. When he had stepped fully into the room she saw it. He set the box down on the dining room table and took off his cover and then opened it. They were roses, deep red and beautiful.

“Oh, what have you done? Oh no, he didn’t say no, did he?”

Harm thought this might be an opportunity to give her a hard time but he was so excited about what he had planned he couldn’t wait to tell her. “He approved the request.”

Mac launched herself into his arms. “Oh!” she squealed. “I was so afraid he would deny it” She leaned back and looked at him “Every now and then I still get paranoid about something coming between us. I don’t want anything to keep us apart.” She hugged him again.

Harm smiled to himself, still surprised at the unguarded emotion Mac was able to show him, he would never tire of it.

“Come on, Mac, come sit down for a minute.”

“Aren’t you hungry? I ordered some dinner...I… “

“It’ll keep. I want to talk to you about something.” He took off his coat and loosened his tie. He took her hand and led her to the couch.

Mac thought he looked like the cat that ate the canary. “What are you up to, Flyboy?”

“Marry me Christmas Eve, Mac.” He knew he was just blurting it out, but he also knew he stood a better chance of not putting his foot in his mouth if he said it quickly.

Mac drew in a breath sharply. “What?”

“Marry me Christmas Eve.” He was starting to worry.

“Harm…I...”

“Come on, Mac, no more sad Christmases for us. Let’s make it our best day, our happiest day.” He pulled her closer to him and looked at her directly in the eye. “Come on.”

As she looked back at him she decided in an instant, she would do it. She was ready to put all the pain of the past behind her and she saw now that Harm was ready too. “I’ll do it.”

Harm laughed from pure joy and pulled her into his embrace.

“How will we do this, Harm? We’ve got two weeks.” Mac pulled back and looked at him questioningly.

“Well, this is where you are going to have to trust me.” He smiled mischievously.

“What have you been up to this afternoon? No wonder you couldn’t meet me for lunch.”
She sat back and placed her hand on her hip.

“Okay, now this is just tentatively set up. You can change anything or everything…as long as you marry me...okay?” He raised his eyebrows and was already giving her his best puppy dog look.

“Alright, spill it, Sailor.” She already knew she was ready to go to a justice of the peace with the way he was looking at her now.

“How would you feel about getting married in Belleville?”

Mac was a bit taken aback. It was perfect but she hadn’t even considered that. “Oh, Harm…I love the idea, but what about Annapolis? I just assumed you would want to be married there.”

“I used to think I did. The Academy still means a lot to me. It occurred to me after I spoke with General Creswell, when he was talking about how busy we would all be over the next six months. He also said that during the holidays our case loads would slow down a bit. I thought it might be the only opportunity we would have until next summer.” He took her hand in both of his hands. “I don’t want to wait that long….do you?”

“No.” ‘Wow, this is moving fast, Harmon Rabb moving at the speed of light,’ she thought

“The chapel would have been impossible to get...so I spoke with Grandma’s pastor and the church would be available early in the afternoon. It will already be decorated for Christmas Eve evening services. Chaplain Turner as agreed to perform the ceremony. Grandma will put him and Sturgis up the night before, and the early service will get them back to their families in time to celebrate the holidays.”

“What about guests and our reception?” Mac started to think of the logistics: Christmas, the distance, and so on.

Harm looked down at their joined hands. “Mac I just want our close friends and family. It’s too soon after losing my Mom for a big celebration.” Harm gave her a sad smile. “She would have loved it, though...wouldn’t she?”

Mac kissed his cheek. “Yes, she would have.”

The more Mac thought about this, the better she liked the idea. The elaborate wedding she and Mic had planned had been almost overwhelming, and as time went on became less and less about them and more about details...details that didn’t really matter in the long run. They couldn’t make up for what they really had never had. Real love.

“Who would we invite?”

“Oh, I thought maybe Keeter, Tom Boone, Mattie and Tom, the Chegwiddens, Grandma, the O’Reillys.” He looked at her questioningly. “We can get everyone together to celebrate our wedding after we get back.”

“Sounds good – maybe Chloe can make it too. It’s probably going to be too soon for Bud and Harriet.”

Being a part of their wedding had meant a lot to her. Looking at Harm across the aisle, he’d looked for all the world like a movie star; she thought she had seen something then. He had looked at her during the vows, for just a few seconds, their eyes had locked. When she allowed herself to think about it, she imagined he felt more for her than he let her see. He had been so hard to read then.

“Do you remember their wedding?”

“How could I forget? The day before I was accused of being a stripper in my off hours and got a beer bottle broken over my head.”

“I seem to recall bailing some sailors out of jail the night before.” She laughed.

“The look on your face when you saw the admiral… while you were scolding us was priceless.” Harm laughed and pulled her close.

“Do you remember the wedding itself?” She was fishing, she knew, but she couldn’t help herself.

“Yeah, I remember – I remember how beautiful you were that day. It had been a while since I had seen you dressed like that. It may have been the NATO Ball.”

“Oh, you mean back when you thought of me as your sister?” She teased.

“Knock it off, Marine. You know I didn’t see you that way. I remember looking at you for a moment during the ceremony. It was one of the times I asked myself why you and I weren’t more than friends.” His look softened and he kissed her. “I’m so glad were not there anymore.”

“Me too. So, Harm, where will we go for our honeymoon?” She raised her eyebrows and smiled.

“That’s where you’ll have to trust me. I want to make it a surprise.” He smiled slyly.

“How will I know what to pack?”

“Pack a little bit of everything. You’re a Marine, just use your initiative.” He laughed.

She punched him lightly on the chest. “Don’t knock Marine initiative, Sailor. It has saved your six more than once.”

“No arguments there. No kidding, Mac, I want to make this a Christmas and wedding gift combined.” He pulled her close again and kissed her. “Okay?”

She would have agreed to just about anything. She wondered if he understood the power he had over her now. She kissed him back, more sensuously and passionately, and looked at him through half closed eyes. “Okay.”

Mac drew back for a moment. “So...um...are you hungry?” she asked with a slow sly smile.

Harm nodded, still looking at her lips.

“Okay, I’ll warm up the pizza.” Mac started to slip out of his embrace.

Harm moved close again, not releasing her, and looked at her in the eye. “Pizza?” and pushed her back on the couch.

 

1400
Friday
December 17th
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia

 

The week had gone by at lightning speed. Their leave for the 23rd through the 28th had been approved. Case load had not been heavy but it had been complicated. Harm sat at his desk looking at a brochure for Pineloch Forest. He had just called to have some special things arranged for Mac when they arrived Christmas Eve night. The sound of his intercom pulled him from his reverie.

“Commander Rabb, you have Mattie on line 5.”

Harm picked up the phone and answered. “Hey, kiddo. What’s up?”

“Hey yourself. I’m just getting ready to get out of town with Dad and I wanted to say goodbye and that I can’t wait till the wedding.”

“Well, you guys drive carefully and I’ll look forward to seeing you both.” There was a silence on the line which was not at all like Mattie. “What’s on your mind, Mats?”

“Harm I don’t want to pry or be a busy body…I could be totally wrong and I don’t want to cause a problem for Jen.”

“Just tell me, Matilda.”

“I’m just worried about Jen. She really seems to be having a harder time than I thought she would about me going back to my Dad. I know it’s not official until next month but I don’t know...it’s hard to explain.” Mattie blew out a breath.

“What is she doing that has you so concerned?”

“Well, her old friend, the one I told you about before, she has been spending a lot of time with her.”

“That doesn’t sound bad...”

“It is just that this girl…really woman is …different.”

“How is she different?’ Harm was having a hard time following this. It sounded like Mattie’s intuition was kicking in at an early age…once again.

“Okay…I mean she is the same age as Jen...but she seems really older…and harder…I don’t know.”

“There’s something else, Mattie.”

“Okay…I overheard her talking to someone on the phone. She was talking about Jen and she didn’t sound like much of a friend. I think she’s in some kind of trouble and that she is using her in some way….I don’t know, I know I shouldn’t have been listening, but …I just felt that something wasn’t right. I know that there is a chance that I’m wrong…but I don’t think I am…you know?”

The scary thing was that Harm did understand. Mattie wasn’t the type of person to immediately dislike a person without reason. She may be having trouble expressing her concerns, but she had to rely on her instincts when she was on her own. He trusted them.

“Don’t worry Mattie, I’ll look into it.”

“Please don’t say anything to her, Harm. I don’t want her to think I’m spying on her.”

“I know, Mattie, don’t worry. Just go and have a great time with your Dad and the rest of your family. I’ll see you in Belleville.”

“Okay…love you, Harm.”

“Love you too, kiddo.”

Harm hung up, deciding it was time to take a little stroll into the bullpen and try and get a handle on what was going on with Jennifer Coates.

Harm walked into the bullpen. Major McBurney and Commander Coleman were making their way out and toward the elevators.

“Commander.” McBurney nodded.

“Major. Heading for Gitmo?”

“Yeah, you want to join us?” he smirked.

“No thanks…Hey it could be worse, you could be heading back to Iraq.”

McBurney laughed. “I think I’d almost prefer it.”

Commander looked from Harm to McBurney. She said nothing, she just continued toward the elevators. Harm opened the doors to the bullpen and glanced over his shoulder. He did not envy McBurney now, that was for sure. He wondered if she slept in that uniform. He shook his head and walked toward Gunny’s desk.

Gunny had been watching him approach. “Can I help you, sir?” He looked through the glass doors as the elevators closed on Commander Coleman and Major McBurney. Harm followed his gaze; he wouldn’t be sharing what he had just been thinking, that was for sure.

“Gunny, are you busy right now?”

“Just finishing a few things, sir.”

“I may need your help with something. I need any information you can get on a Pia Bonfilio.”

“Will do, sir.”

Harm looked toward Jen’s desk. “Oh, and keep this to between us.”

 

Chapter 23


1645
Friday
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia

 

Petty Officer Jennifer Coates was clearing her desk, getting ready to secure for the day. She buzzed into the general’s office. “Sir, I’m just finishing up for the day. Is there anything I can do for you before I leave?”

“No, Petty Officer, thank you.”

“Yes sir.” Jen shook her head slowly. She always had the feeling that she was annoying him. One thing was sure: she would never have the comfort level she’d had with the admiral. She sighed heavily and turned off her computer.

“Tough day, Petty Officer?” Harm stood just outside her office. Since General Creswell had taken office even the commander kept his distance.

“No sir, I’m fine.” She smiled at him. He seemed to be doing fine with Mattie going back to live with her father. ‘He’s had more time to adjust to it,’ she thought. She had been like a sister to Jen. She hadn’t been this close to anyone since her mother. She had friends, if you wanted to call them ‘friends’. She never had really trusted anyone; Pia was as close as she had gotten, but that was different somehow. “How about you, sir?”

Harm smiled. “I’m fine, Petty Officer.” Just like Jen to turn the question back to him.

“Big plans this weekend, sir?” Jen was steering the questions away from her.

“Mac and I haven’t really made any plans yet.”

“I’m meeting an old friend of mine at McMurphy’s tonight. You could say we used to get in a little bit of trouble together when we were younger. I’d like to help her, sir, the way you helped me.” Jen looked at Harm sincerely.

She looked so young to Harm. She was nearly 28 years old but she looked about 18.

“If you and the colonel are out tonight, drop by. I’d love to introduce you to her.”

“We may do that. Maybe that will help me keep Mac out of the mall.” Harm smiled.

Jen thought the commander looked so happy, and she was happy for him. She needed to get a life too. Someday. Jen got her cover and her purse and began to walk toward the door. Just then the door to General Creswell’s office opened and both Harm and Jen were startled.

“I thought you were securing for the day, Petty Officer.” The general looked at her with an unreadable expression. Both Jen and Harm came to attention, to which the general ordered them to stand easy.

“Yes sir, I’m on my way out.” Jen hurried out the door.

“Can I help you, Commander?”

“Oh no…sir, I am just on my way out as well.” Harm turned to leave.

“Very well.” The general turned back into his office and closed the door. He chuckled to himself. ‘No, they aren’t getting –too- comfortable with me yet,’ he thought.

Harm and Jen walked out of the bullpen toward the elevators. Gunny walked into the bullpen from the stairwell. “A word with you, sir?"

“Yeah, Gunny – excuse us, Petty Officer.”

“Sir.” Jen continued toward the elevators. She opened the glass doors to the bullpen
and stepped out.

“The petty officer’s friend has a rap sheet a mile long, sir.” Gunny handed a file to Harm.

“Are you leaving for the day, Gunny?”

“Yes sir, I’m on my way out.”

“Walk with me then. I don’t want to take a chance on the general getting wind of this. He seems to pop up out of nowhere.”

Gunny smiled. ‘What do you know, the general has the commander looking over his shoulder,’ he thought. “Yes, sir.”

Gunny and Harm walked out into the parking lot. Harm opened the file. “Looks like her friend just got of jail.”

“Yeah, mostly petty theft until she got involved with this guy.” Gunny stood next to Harm and pulled back a couple of pages. It was a mug shot of a very dangerous looking man. His prison tattoos were clearly visible, even from the shoulders up. “Grand theft auto.”

“Nice looking guy,” Harm said sarcastically. “Looks like he’s wearing a lot of ‘prison art.’”

“Yeah, he did quite a stretch for drug trafficking. He’s been out for 4 years. He’s been brought in a few times on suspicion of returning to his old trade, but police haven’t been able to make anything stick.”

“This could be bad for Jennifer.”

“Sir, no disrespect intended, but what is Petty Officer Coates to you?”

Harm looked up from the file sharply. He looked at Gunny directly in the eye. “What exactly are you asking me, Gunny?”

“I didn’t mean to imply that you had an inappropriate relationship with her, sir. This just seems pretty personal, you know.”

“Petty Officer Coates came to JAG after your time, Gunny. She had a rough beginning in the Navy, but with some intervention from Mac and myself, we were able to help her get back on the right track. She was assigned to the Seahawk; she was Bud’s legalman, and if she had not been with Bud when he stepped on that mine I don’t think he would be alive today. She was assigned here later that year.”

Harm and Gunny turned and walked toward his SUV. “She helped a lot with Mattie, my ward. When I had to be out of town, she made sure she was well taken care of until I got back. I don’t think I would have been able to maintain custody her if she had not helped me.”

“May I ask what made you suspicious of her friend?”

Harm crossed his arms in front of his chest. “My ward Mattie overhead Pia talking on the phone about Jen. Mattie was worried about her. I thought I’d look into it, set her mind at ease and move on. She and Mattie share an apartment in my building.”

Gunny raised his eyebrows. If it were anyone else but the commander, he would be very suspicious of this set up.

“I understand, sir, and again I didn’t mean to imply anything.”

“It was an honest question, Gunny, and you got an honest answer. Mac and I may go to McMurphy’s tonight while we’re out. Jen wants to introduce me to her –friend-.”
He opened the car door and started to get in. “Thanks for your help with this, Gunny.”

“You’re welcome, sir.” Gunny thought he might just drop by McMurphy’s himself. What he had uncovered had his curiosity up.

 

1930
Friday
December 17
Harm’s Apartment
North of Union Station


Mac was leaning against the bathroom sink, talking to Harm while he was in the shower.

“Hey, do you feel like going out tonight?” Harm was putting shampoo in his hair and lathering it up.

This was yet another time when he looked so young. His hair going in every direction, all that soap and water running down his back as he turned to rinse it out …Oh God, never mind. She smiled to herself and shook her head.

Harm turned off the shower, turned around and leaned out of the shower door. “What’s on your mind, Mackenzie?”

“Oh, nothing.” Mac started to walk out of the room when Harm decided he needed her towel.

“Harm!...give me my towel!” Mac made a grab for it while trying to stay out of his reach. “It’s cold in here.”

“Well, it’s warm in here….Come get it… if you think you can take it away from me.”

Mac made a grab for the towel, and Harm got a good grip on her arm, pulling her into the shower and immediately turning it on over her head.

“Ohhh!!” She blew water out of her mouth. “You jerk! I just dried my hair, I was already cleaned up!”

Harm tossed the towel out of the shower and pulled her from under the shower into his arms. “Well, let me see….maybe we should –” Harm kissed her deeply and broke the kiss. “–just make sure.”


2035
Harm’s Apartment
North of Union Station


Harm walked into the living room in jeans and a flannel shirt that he left unbuttoned.

Mac followed not long after. She had also put on a pair of jeans and a red pullover. Harm loved her in red; any shade she wore looked beautiful on her.

“Do you still want to go out, Harm?”

Harm looked at the clock. It was later than he thought. Mac in that towel had made him lose all track of time and what he wanted to do tonight.

“I kind of told Jen we might drop by McMurphy’s tonight and meet a friend of hers,” Harm told her as he was walking away from her; he glanced over his shoulder, looking very much like he was up to something.

“Harm, what aren’t you telling me?” Being direct seemed to be the best approach with him these days.

‘When did she get so perceptive?’ he thought. He sat down on the couch, holding out his hand to her, and she sat beside him. “Mattie called me today before she left for Christmas break with her dad. She mentioned that she was worried about Jen, about how she was adjusting to her going back to Blacksburg. She was also worried about this old friend of Jen’s being in some kind of trouble.”

“And she wanted you to look into it?” Mac didn’t think Mattie would ask that.

“She didn’t ask me to do anything – she was just worried and I knew it. When she told me about it, I thought I’d do a little digging and see what I came up with.”

“Did you come up with anything?” She was arching that eyebrow; there was a lecture coming…he knew it.

“Well yeah…Gunny found that this Pia Bonfilio has quite a rap sheet…”

“You asked Gunny to help you with this?” Mac couldn’t believe this.

“It’s not that big a deal, Mac…” ‘What was going on here?’ he thought. He believed that it was his responsibility to look out for Jen. He saw her the same way he saw Mattie: a person who needed his guidance and sometimes his protection….even if she didn’t always do as he said.

The phone rang. Harm got up from the couch and answered the phone, turning to give Mac a stern look as he answered. “Rabb.”

“Sir…its Gunny. Listen, I’m at McMurphy’s and I think you may want to come down and have a look.”

“What’s going on, Gunny?”

“Nothing yet…maybe nothing now, but I have no doubt that these two are trouble for Coates. It maybe a good idea for these two to meet you. If they know she’s not alone in the world, maybe they will be less likely to try and pull her in to whatever mess they’re planning…If you don’t mind my saying so, sir.”

“I’ll be right down, Gunny.” Harm started for the door. “Look, Mac, I think I have to go down and meet these people.”

“You’re right. *We* should go down and meet them.” Mac got up, and they both got their coats and walked toward the door.

They drove in silence for a few moments.

“You sure changed your mind quickly, Marine.”

“I just thought that if Gunny was worried enough about this to call you, that something must be wrong.”

“Oh…it’s okay for Gunny to get into this but not me? He doesn’t even know her, Mac.”

“That’s just it. It isn’t about being overprotective, it -is- about the Gunny’s ability to be objective...”

“Oh, great – I don’t know how to be objective? Thanks for the vote of confidence, Mac.”

Mac turned to look at him lovingly. “Harm, when it comes to people you care about, you still lead with your heart. It’s one of the things I love most about you.”

Harm smiled and shook his head. She blew him away with one sentence. How was he ever going to win any arguments at home? They stopped at a red light, and he reached for her hand as he leaned across and kissed her gently.

“I’ll talk to Jen and tell her my concerns.”

“Thank you.”


2110
McMurphy’s Bar
Georgetown


Coates spotted Harm and Mac as they entered the bar. They saw her and made their way toward the table. Gunny sat at the bar across the room. Jen introduced Pia and her boyfriend Vince Young. His appearance had changed from the photo in the file. His head had been shaved in the picture and now his hair was nearly to his shoulders. The tattoos on his neck were covered by the combination of his hair and his collar. His features were almost handsome, but the dark, almost dead look of his eyes hardened his chiseled face.

He extended his hand to shake Harm’s; Mac chose to nod and say hello. Vince looked a little too long at Mac and Harm caught his eye, warning him off with a look. The man smirked his smile and whispered to Pia.

She was Jen’s age but looked about 10 years older. She and Jen were the same height and build. Their hair was nearly the same color and they had similar coloring, but Pia’s face had hardness about it. She didn’t look as menacing as her boyfriend, but there was not a lot of difference as far as Harm was concerned. They both were trouble and he knew it.

“We’re going to have to go, Jen. Me and Vince have a few things we need to do.” With that they stood, and Jen walked with them to the door. They exchanged pleasantries as they left, Harm looking hard at Vince. Maybe Gunny had been right. Maybe they just needed to know that Jennifer had friends close by.

Mac was now as concerned as Harm had been. Something didn’t feel right about those two. They left too quickly, as though they didn’t want to let them get a chance to have a conversation with them.

Jen walked back to the table. “I’m glad you got a chance to meet her, sir. I didn’t know her boyfriend was in town.”

“I’m glad we caught you before you left.” Harm smiled at her as they sat down.

“Couldn’t keep her out of the mall, sir?” Jen looked at him questioningly.

Harm smirked. “Yeah…something like that. …Can I get you two something to drink?”

“Sure,” Mac answered him, and he got up to walk toward the bar. “Just my usual.”

“Nothing for me, thanks.” She turned to Mac as Harm walked away. “Congratulations, ma’am.”

“Thanks, Jen.” She felt a blush creeping up her neck

Harm walked up to the bar where Gunny sat. He ordered a drink for himself and Mac.
“Good eye, Gunny. He did a pretty good job of changing his appearance since that photo was taken.”

“What do you think, sir?”

“I’m glad you called me. I think you may have been right about our making an appearance here tonight. I’m going to have to figure out a way to let Jen know our concerns. I need to let her know about Pia and her boyfriend without….”

“Pissing her off, sir?” Gunny didn’t know Jen well but he had the impression she wouldn’t like this.

“Yeah.” That was it. The more he thought about Mac’s reaction the more he realized he may have gone about this backwards.

“Tell you what, sir, why don’t I just walk back over to your table with you and strike up a conversation with Coates. I have a law enforcement background. They both have records in more than one state. I can tell her I am familiar with their records and just go from there. What she does after that is up to her.”

“I don’t want to put you in this position, Gunny. I don’t want you to lie.” Harm looked away from him feeling more than a little guilty for pulling him into this now. Gunny was a good man. He had missed having him as part of the team at JAG.

“I don’t intend to lie; sir. I –am- familiar with their records and I did work in law enforcement. I just won’t fill in the blanks.” He smiled a sly smile.

“You don’t know Coates – she can be very perceptive.” Harm grinned sheepishly. He hadn’t been able to hide much from her since he met her.

“Well she doesn’t know me yet either, so it could work.”

“It’s worth a try, I suppose. Come on, Gunny, and remember…I tried to talk you out of this.”

“Leave it to me, sir.”

Gunny followed Harm back to the table. “Hello, Gunny.” Mac smiled but didn’t act surprised to see him. She already felt deceitful not letting Jen in on what they already knew. They sat down and exchanged small talk for a few minutes. Jen had a nodding acquaintance with Gunny and had seen him in the office so they were able to talk shop.

Harm took Mac’s hand. “Come on…dance with me.”

“Harm, there’s no music.” Mac looked around the room, there was a small dance floor but no band in sight.

“Let’s find something on the jukebox. They have a lot of good Motown…remember?”

“Oh yeah...”She stood and asked, “Do you think they have ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’?”

Harm had begun walking toward the jukebox. He looked sharply over his shoulder and gave her hand a tug. “Come on, Mackenzie.”

Gunny and Jen watched them walk toward the dance floor. Jen looked at Gunny. “About time, huh?”

Gunny nodded. “You don’t know the half of it.”

Mac stepped into Harm’s embrace as the music began. They were both laughing at what appeared to be a private joke. Chaka Khan sang ‘doncha hear me talkin’ baby, love me now or I’ll go crazy…oh oh you’re my sweet thing…” That line seemed especially funny for some reason.

Gunny caught a wistful look on Jen’s face. He was still looking at her when she turned to him. She looked at him directly. “It’s not what you think.”

“What do I think?” There was nothing going on, Gunny knew, but he also knew what he saw on Jen’s face was a little more than an enlisted person’s admiration for her superior officer.

She looked back at Harm. “I do look up to him. I admire him. I can’t deny that. He’s the only person who…” Her voice broke.

“Hey…look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry. I didn’t mean...” Gunny suddenly felt like a heel.

“It’s okay…you don’t know me really. What I meant to say was, I owe him a lot, but it is more than a debt...you know?”

“I think so.” Gunny really wasn’t sure.

“He helped me when no one else would, so I wanted to help him too. I mean, I would never…and if I thought he were the kind of officer that would pull something like that, I wouldn’t want anything to do with him...you know?” Jen looked at him, searching his face. Suddenly it was very important that she not be misunderstood.

Gunny smiled. “I understand, Coates.”

“After this conversation I think you can call me Jen,” she laughed.

Gunny shook her hand. “Victor.”

“Well, Victor…let’s dance.”

Harm and Mac danced in a loose embrace. Mac leaned back and looked at Harm.
“What are you two up to?”

“Oh nothing, really.” Harm looked down at her with a mischievous grin.

“Come on, Sailor, spill.”

“Okay, okay…We are going to tell her….in a round about way…what we found out today.”

“Good.” She hugged him a little tighter.

“You were right; I should have talked to her first.”

Mac snapped her head up and back and looked at Harm. “What?”

He pulled her back into his arms. “Don’t rub it in, Marine.”

They returned to their table and Jen and Gunny followed not long after. Harm and Mac left before much longer. Jen watched them walk toward the door. They both seemed to radiate happiness. They were so different now. Last year whenever they were in the same room you could have cut the air with a knife. They didn’t even look at each other most of the time, and when they did communicate they each seemed determined to inflict pain on the other.

“Jen?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, lost in thought. I was just remembering how they were last year. It was pretty awful.”

“They always had an adversarial relationship.”

“No…be glad you missed last year. When they clashed last year, they didn’t stop until they drew blood.”

“People change…I suppose.” ‘This could be a good way to start the conversation about Vince and Pia,’ he thought.

“Yeah…I did.” She smiled with pride.

“That’s what I heard.” Gunny listened, becoming more intrigued with her story.

“Pia and I used to be a couple of hell raisers. I figure if I can get my life straight, she can too.”

She was taking the conversation just where he wanted to go.

“How long has it been since you saw her? You just made first class, so it has to have been a while.”

“It’s been about eight years. She’s been in some trouble, she told me, but she says she wants to get straight once and for all.”

“Do you know her boyfriend?” Gunny hoped she wouldn’t suspect his question.

“No, he came out of nowhere tonight. Pia has to move some things into my apartment; he’s going to help her. She’s going to move in after Mattie goes to Blacksburg permanently. She doesn’t have a lot, but she’s afraid that if she doesn’t get it out of her car and her motel that it will be stolen. So…”

“Sounds like she’s got a good friend.” Gunny smiled and winked.

Jen blushed. “Yeah…and hey, I forgot to tell you…you dance pretty well for an old guy.”

“Old guy?...I’m not that old. I don’t have more than…oh maybe...eight years on you.”

Jen laughed. “More like ten.”

“Then you’re not more than twenty-six.” Gunny narrowed his eyes and grinned at her.

“Twenty-seven,” Jen said smugly.

Gunny became serious all of a sudden. “You know, I used to work in law enforcement.”

“No kidding…I used to be a –problem- to law enforcement.” She was having fun.

“You know, that guy looked familiar…that’s why I asked you if you knew him.”

“No, I don’t, really…you’re not kidding, are you?”

“No, I’m not…look, you don’t really know me, Jen, but if I’m not mistaken this guy has been in some major trouble.”

“How do you know this?”

“Look, I got out for a few years. I was a deputy sheriff in New Mexico for a while. I’ve seen that face before. He has a little more hair and his prison tattoos are covered but I’m positive he is someone who has been in some major trouble.”

Jen looked at him steadily. She wasn’t sure what to make of this man. She had heard about him from Bud and Harriet. She had never heard a bad thing about him, but Pia was her friend and she said Vince was okay.

“Hey, I’m not telling you what to do. I just know that he’s done some time and of course you already know about the time your friend did.” He wasn’t sure she knew, but it was one way to tell her without confronting her with it directly.

Jen nodded, but she did –not- know about Pia being in jail. She wasn’t going to tell him that, though. She looked down at her hands, saying nothing.

“I’m sorry if I overstepped.”

She looked at him then, not quite sure what to make of him. He had nothing to gain by telling her this. Did the commander know? “Did you talk to Commander Rabb about what you know and what you suspect about her boyfriend?”

“Yes, I did.” He hoped he had not made an enemy of her, but now that he had seen them and met Jen, he felt he had made the right decision. This was a minefield of another kind. Oh well, the first step is always the hardest one.

“He was concerned, Jen. You have a lot of friends at JAG. Friends who don’t want to see you get into any trouble.”

She knew he was right. “I know.” She looked away from him. Tears stung her eyes. She had been so lucky to find them all.

Gunny leaned forward across the table a bit and caught her eyes. “So, are we going to be friends?”

Jen looked up, blinking the tears away and smiled at him. “I think I’d like that.”

 

2330
Harm’s Apartment
North of Union Station



Harm and Mac stepped out of the elevator. Harm looked down the hallway toward Jen’s apartment and saw a note taped to the door. It read “Jen…Gone for a few days. See you after Christmas. Pia”

It looked as though Gunny’s suggestion had worked. They were probably out of the state by now, Harm thought.

“Looks like Jen’s friend and her companion have moved on.” Harm said smugly.

“I hope you’re right, for Jen’s sake.” Mac raised eyebrows.

Harm took her hand and they went back to his apartment door. Mac yawned sleepily.

“Looks like it’s about time I put you to bed, Mackenzie.” Harm kissed her cheek after he unlocked the door.

“Sounds like a plan.” She stepped in the doorway and slipped her coat off.

Harm had flipped on the light by the door and then he scooped Mac up in his arms. He carried her to his bed and pretended that he was going to dump her on the bed.

“Don’t you do it, Sailor,” Mac said in her best mean Marine voice, but with a smile on her face.

“Oh...I don’t know, Mac….I think I owe you for that ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ crack.”

Mac laughed out loud. “If I go, you’re going with me.”

Their laughter carried out to the hall and Jen heard them when she passed their door. She saw the note and read it. She wondered if Pia would be back.

Jennifer needn’t have wondered. Pia and Vince would return for what they had hidden in her closet.


Chapter 24


1345
Saturday
December 18th
Roberts Residence


Harm and Mac stood on the front porch and rang the door bell. Harm stepped closer to Mac and placed his arm around her. “Are you going to be okay with this?”

“Of course...why wouldn’t I be?” Mac looked at him questioningly.

“I just thought that...” He was getting ready to place his foot squarely in his mouth.
“Never mind.” He kissed her temple.

“Harm...I…” She was fine...he needed to stop worrying about whether or not they would be able to have biological children. It was too far in the future as far as she was concerned.

Bud interrupted them by opening the door. “Hello sir…ma’am.”

“Bud,” they both said at once. They had both hoped he would relax a bit once he made lieutenant commander.

“I’m sorry…I just don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that.” He invited them in and they made their way into the den. Harriet sat in a rocking chair with one of the girls and the other baby lay in a bassinette near the chair.

“Hello, Mommy,” Mac teased as she approached her.

“Hi, come see my girls.” Harriet beamed. She was so proud.

Mac had not been to see the babies since they were born. She had not avoided them; it had only been a little over a week and she wanted to give Harriet a chance to recover before visiting...

“They already look so different,” Harm said.

Mac walked over to the bassinette to see a sleeping baby Jennifer.

Harriet knew she wanted to hold one of them. “Here, come and hold Justice while Jennifer is sleeping. She’s wide awake, but I don’t know how long that will last. They’re both sleeping a lot…Thank God.”

Mac lifted the baby carefully from Harriet’s arms, and then sat down on the couch, cradling the baby in her arms. Justice looked at her as though she were studying her. “Hello, sweetheart.” The baby’s eyes opened wider.

Bud walked up beside the arm of the couch. “Say hello to your Aunt Mac, sweetie.”
The baby turned toward her father’s voice.

Harm had been looking at baby Jennifer, but when Mac spoke to Justice, he began to walk toward them. Seeing her hold the baby made his heart ache. He hadn’t been prepared for this. All he knew was that he never wanted to lose Mac. He still didn’t want to risk her life, but he realized now that he had wanted -their- children too. He sat down next to Mac and leaned in to say hello. The baby turned again toward the voice.

“Isn’t it disgusting…babies seem to focus more on a male voice than a female voice….how fair is that?” Harriet chuckled, bracing her abdomen with a small pillow.

“How are you doing, Harriet?” Harm wanted to know; he needed the reality check.

Oh, I’m fine…I’m resting pretty well. Jen came by for a while the first two nights I was home. Bud helps and really little AJ and Jimmy seem to be entertaining each other these days. It’s almost too perfect.”

Just then baby Jennifer made herself known with a piercing wail. Harriet looked at the clock. “Right on time.”

Bud leaned down and lifted the baby from Mac’s arms. “Let’s go into the kitchen and have coffee so Harriet can feed baby Jen.” He smiled at Harm, noting the almost panicked look on his face as he quickly got up and left the room.

They sat in the kitchen and drank their coffee while Justice slept soundly in the crook of her father’s arm. Harm noticed how much at ease Bud was with the baby. He seemed barely aware of her at times, but then she would squirm a bit and he would automatically comfort her, seemingly unaware he had done so. Mac and Bud were talking about the difference in the twins’ sleeping and eating habits. Harm had quietly listened before becoming lost in his own thoughts. Harriet walked gingerly into the kitchen.

“Hey, honey, we could have come back in to you.” Bud frowned slightly with concern.

“It’s okay, Bud. I needed to get out of that chair for a while. I wanted to come in here and have an adult conversation with someone besides you, honey.”

They all laughed, and Harriet braced herself with her pillow. “Come on, , we need to catch up.” Harriet nodded toward their sunroom which was beautifully decorated for the season. A beautiful Fraser fir sat in the middle of the room, decorated with silver and gold ribbons and ornaments.

They stood at the window, looking out at the snow-covered yard, filled with numerous snow angels, a snowman and what looked like an attempt or two at a snow fort.

“Looks like someone’s been busy.”

“Yeah, Bud has been trying to keep the boys occupied for me. It’s helping too. The kids are worn out. They play out there till they’re exhausted. That’s why it’s so quiet in here – they passed out after lunch. Jimmy especially loved the snow. He cried when we made him come in. He was nearly frozen but he wanted to stay out. He should have been our December baby.” Harriet eased down into a chair near the window.

“You found out about him on Christmas Eve, though,” Mac remembered.

‘That’s true, speaking of Christmas Eve...congratulations.”

“Thank you, Harriet. I know this is sudden.” Mac sat down in a chair across from her.
“We are both sorry you and Bud won’t be there.”

“We’re sorry to miss it, ma’am. I am so happy for you, though. It really is about time; I’m so glad you two finally found your way to each other.”

“Me too.” Mac smiled at the thought.

“If you’re half as happy as Bud and I have been, you’ll have a wonderful life.”

“I think we will be, Harriet. We’ve waited too long and have both been through too much to waste any more time apart.” Mac remembered that Harriet and Bud had both suffered losses during their marriage but they had enough love to get them through. She knew she and Harm would too.

Harm sat across from Bud at the breakfast nook. “So, sir…are you ready?’

“Ready?”

“You know...in less than a week your days of being single are over.” Bud waggled his eyebrows.

Harm chuckled. “You know, I can say with all honesty that I have had enough of being single.”

Justice snuggled into her father’s side a bit and drew Harm’s gaze to her. His face softened. “I can’t believe that just a couple of weeks ago she wasn’t here and now…”

Bud nodded knowingly and finished Harm’s sentence. “And now I can’t imagine the world without her. You never know, sir, maybe someday you and Mac will start your family.”

“I don’t know, Bud – I really don’t know if we can take the risk.” He looked out the window.

“You never know, sir.”

“I know, but think of it this way, Bud. You can’t imagine your life without her.” He nodded toward the baby sleeping in his arms. “But can you imagine your life without Harriet?”

Bud looked down and tightened his hold slightly on the baby. “I would hate to have to choose, sir.”

Harriet and Mac were making their way back into the room. “Harm, we should probably let Harriet get some rest while the babies are sleeping.”

Harm stood, “I’m ready whenever you are.”

They got their coats and made their way to the door. Harriet carefully hugged Mac and then Harm. “I’m so happy for both of you….Take lots of pictures.”

They all laughed, it was terrible that Harriet of all people wouldn’t be at their wedding. They had the feeling she had been rooting for them all along. Harm and Mac made their way out to his SUV.

They drove back toward Harm’s apartment in silence, both of them deep in thought. Mac broke the silence. “Harm, I want you to do something for me.”

“What?” Harm took her hand and unconsciously brought it to his lips, his eyes never leaving the road.

“Please stop trying to protect me...where children are concerned. What I mean is…I really am okay; we have a year before we will really know whether or not we will have our own children. We are just beginning now, Harm, and the possibilities are endless as far as I’m concerned. I want you to relax and be happy, for what we have now and for what we will have no matter what happens.”

“I know…and I’m sorry, Mac.” He didn’t really realize how much he had been thinking about this until today. He glanced at her. She wasn’t angry; she just looked at him with love and concern. “I’ll stop asking if you will promise to tell me if something does make you uncomfortable. We spent such a long time missing signals; I just don’t want to go back to that.” He looked at her lovingly.

“I promise.” She kissed his cheek.


1730
Wednesday
December 22nd
Harm’s Apartment
North of Union Station


Harm stood at the stove finishing up the stir fry they were going to have for dinner. One more day and they would be out of there and on their way to Belleville. He smiled at the thought of it. He could not believe everything they had been able to accomplish. On Sunday they had gotten everything squared away with her apartment. They would stay at his apartment for the time being. That had been Mac’s idea, and Harm was relieved by it. He had worked so hard on the place; he wasn’t ready to give it up just yet. They would put her furniture in storage after they returned and be completely out by the end of the month. Mac had shopped for her dress and done some Christmas shopping on her own. He had done some shopping as well. He hoped she liked what he had planned for her. He was counting on it. The paperwork for their marriage license had been completed. All they had to do now was get through tomorrow. The doorbell rang, startling him out of his reverie.

He walked to the door and looked through the security lens. “Keeter?” Harm opened the door, surprised. “What are you doing here?”

“Is that any way to greet a friend?”

“If he isn’t glad to see you, then he really won’t be glad to see me.” His grandmother stepped into view, her blue eyes twinkling.

“What are you two doing?” Harm opened the door wider but didn’t invite them in.

“Harm, I know you were raised right, aren’t you going to invite us in?” His grandmother laughed.

“I’m sorry.” He stepped aside, and Jack and his grandmother walked into the room.

Mac stepped into the room, carrying a suitcase and a small carrying case. She looked at Mrs. Rabb and greeted her “Hello, Sarah.” She was dressed in a soft brown sweater and jeans in a darker shade of brown.

Harm thought she looked beautiful and she was apparently going somewhere without him.

Mrs. Rabb smiled. “Hello, Mac, are you ready?”

“After we have dinner and Harm has a chance to take all this in, we’ll be off.” She took the suitcases to the door and turned to Harm, who stood looking from her to his grandmother. She placed her hand on his arm.

“I’ve been keeping a little secret. I got an extra day of leave. I want an extra day to get ready, so we can make this day as special as it can be.” She looked into his eyes and his look softened. “I’ll be going to Belleville tonight with your grandmother and you’ll come up tomorrow with Jack.”

Harm narrowed his eyes. “You two pulled a fast one on me, didn’t you?” He kissed her quickly on the lips.

“I didn’t want to give you a chance to talk me out of it.” She smiled at him, she would miss him, but it would only be a couple of nights.

Mrs. Rabb couldn’t resist teasing Harm a bit. “She knows you pretty well, doesn’t she, son?”

They all laughed and sat down to have dinner. It was a good thing that Harm had made extra for lunch tomorrow, so there was plenty for everyone.

“You should have seen your grandmother, Harm. I let her drive on the way down. I think I know where you got your love of speed.” He looked at Mrs. Rabb.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake. I’ve seen how you drive, young man.” Mrs. Rabb huffed. “I’m a good driver.”

“Yeah...for Daytona.” Jack dodged as Mrs. Rabb swatted at his arm.

“That really is a high powered vehicle you have out there, Jack. I was going eighty-five miles an hour before I knew it.” Mrs. Rabb grinned sheepishly.

“Oh, before you knew it, huh?” Harm teased

Mac spoke up. “By the way, Harm, I’ll be taking the SUV, so we’ll only have one vehicle once we’re there.”

Harm, who had been smiling broadly throughout the whole conversation, suddenly became serious. “You’ll be driving the whole way…..right?”

Mrs. Rabb was floored. “Well… Harmon Rabb!”

They all broke up laughing but Harm was dead serious. He did not want his grandmother driving his vehicle. He considered himself a brave man, but his grandmother had the ability to make him hold on for dear life, especially in a turn.

“I wasn’t going to drive anyway, Harmon. Mac is more familiar with Washington than I am.” She frowned at Harm.

“Am I still your favorite grandson?” He raised his eyebrows. He really did hope he hadn’t hurt her feelings.

She got up to take her plate to the sink. She tugged his earlobe and patted his cheek.
“I suppose so.” She took her plate in the kitchen and walked back to the table.
“Have you spoken to Sergei, Harm?”

“I talked to him for a bit on Sunday. I told him about the wedding. He wasn’t surprised, for some reason.” He looked at Mac and reached over to take her hand. “He seems to be doing alright. I wish he would come back here, though.”

Mrs. Rabb was worried about him. “The reports I have read in the paper make it sound as though things are getting more and more oppressive again in Russia. I would hate to lose contact with him completely.”

“I know, Grandma – I asked him about that. He didn’t seem worried about it. He promised he would call after the first of the year.”

“It would be wonderful to have you both here.” Mrs. Rabb had been thinking about Sergei a lot lately.

“You know, Harm, I’ve been wondering about something since you spoke to Sergei on Sunday.” Mac thought she may have a solution to connecting Sergei to Harm senior.

“What about?”

“Mrs. Rabb, do you have a lock of Harm senior’s hair: you know, a baby curl, or something like that?”

“Yes, I do.” It was sealed in an envelope with his first year album and baby clothes.

Harm wondered why he hadn’t thought of this before. “I’ve got the letters, too, the ones he wrote Grandma.” If he could get Sergei back here, maybe he would be able to get him citizenship more quickly. They would definitely talk about this when they spoke again. “Good idea, Marine.” Harm smiled at Mac.

They cleaned up quickly and Mac and Mrs. Rabb got things ready to go. Harm loaded Mac’s things into the SUV. Then the realization dawned on him that he wasn’t going to get to be with her tonight or tomorrow night, not with Chaplain Turner staying at his grandmother’s.

Mac noticed that Harm had gotten quiet. “It’s only a couple of nights, Harm.”

He opened her car door and she got behind the wheel. “I know.”

It was unreasonable, but he wanted her with him. He would miss her tonight. He leaned in and kissed her goodbye. Mac started to break the kiss but he deepened it.

Just then Mrs. Rabb opened the car door on her side and Jack hooted, “Break it up, you two.”

Harm leaned back and looked into her eyes. “See you at the church, Mackenzie. I’ll be the tall guy down front in the suit.”

“Oh, I’ll find you, flyboy.” She turned the key in the ignition and they were off.

Harm watched them drive away.

“You really have it bad, don’t you, Rabb?” Jack laughed and shook his head.

“I’m afraid so.” Harm smiled as he continued to look in the direction Mac had driven..


1945
December 23rd
Jack O’Reilly’s General Store
Belleville, Pennsylvania



Jack’s little general store was closed. It was a small, almost ramshackle place. The family name was painted neatly on the window but it had faded with time. A long front porch with a bench sat out front. A stack of balsam fir wreaths sat on one end of the bench. Bright red ribbons were wound around the posts that held the roof over the porch. A string of Christmas lights that hung across the window could be seen winking cheerily. A light snow was falling, dusting everything with white, making it all look new and clean. Through the window panes, badly in need of paint, a light glowed at the back of the store.

At an old wooden table sat Harm with five people who were part of his past and present. Jack O’Reilly, who knew his grandfather and his father and with whom he would be staying tonight; Sam O’Reilly, Jack’s ‘boy’ as his grandmother called him; Jack Keeter, his oldest friend from the Academy and soon to be his best man; Sturgis Turner, also his friend from the Academy and a colleague at JAG; and AJ Chegwidden, his former CO at JAG and the man Mac had asked to give her away tomorrow.

“No bars in beautiful downtown Belleville, huh?” Jack smirked.

“Nope, this is the best we can do.” With a smile, Sam rose from the table and walked to the old cooler that held the long necked bottles of Coors. He sat a beer down in front of each of them. They all opened their bottles.

“I remember when you couldn’t get Coors this far east.” AJ took a drink. God, he was old.

Keeter stood and walked over to where he had laid his coat. He had a paper sack with two bottles of Wild Turkey. “Well, when we run out of beer we can crack this open – it’s a guaranteed party wherever you are.” They all laughed.

Sturgis looked at Harm. “Well, do you think you’re ready for this, Harm?"

Harm studied his bottle of beer. “Yeah, I think so.”

“Hell yes he’s ready. It took him long enough.” Jack laughed.

“Can’t be a family trait, can it?” AJ smiled.

Jack O’Reilly spoke up. “No sir, it isn’t. David Rabb didn’t wait for anyone. Everywhere he went he was in a hurry.” He shook his head, lost in thought. “Sarah’s boy Harmon was the same; they were a lot alike in their character, even though David never saw him.”

Harm sat back on his chair. He would have given anything to have known them. Not having them had left such a gaping hole in his life.

Jack continued. “I met your grandfather when we were in school. I never saw him in a bad mood. I never ever saw him mistreat anyone, except that Labor Day when those boys thought they’d corner your grandmother.” Jack laughed. “That was a sight. Anyway, your father was the same way – didn’t know a stranger, and seemed always to be laughing about something….He was a good boy too. A great comfort to his mother.” Jack remembered him well; he had thought of him as a son.

“I remember him too.” Sam had looked up to Harmon senior. “He was about 4 years older than me, but he always had a good word for me. Dad would take us fishing when I was little. He wrote me once in a while when he was at the Academy. He was never the type to be tied down in a little town like this. He was going places, that’s for sure. You were a lot more serious when you were younger than your father was, but you are the image of him and that’s the truth.”

They all heard a knock at the front door. Jack looked toward the front of the store. “Do you recognize this man Harm?” Harm stood up and looked. It was Tom Boone. Jack walked to the door and let him in.

Tom walked into the store and back toward where everyone was sitting. “Great place for a bachelor party, Rabb,” he said, smiling sarcastically.

He nodded to AJ. Harm introduced Jack and Sam O’Reilly and Keeter. Tom hadn’t seen the inside of this store for a long time. Hammer had invited him home for Thanksgiving their second class year at the Academy.

“Don’t you recognize me, Jack?”

Jack O’Reilly studied the face in front of him. “Think of me with hair,” Tom said and AJ joined him in a laugh. They both seemed to have the same affliction... Recognition dawned for the old man.

“I remember now, you came home with Harmon a few times.” He offered Tom his hand and shook it.

Tom started to reach for another chair, but Jack O’Reilly stopped him. “Take my seat; I’m going to head back to my house. These old bones are telling me its time to go home.”

He looked at Harm. “I’ll leave the door unlocked for you.” He chuckled a bit. “Try not to drink too much, son; your bride may not appreciate a hung-over groom.”

His son stood. “I think I’ll head out too, Dad.” He took his beer with him and raised it to Harm. “Here’s to you, Harm, and to your bride to be.”

Harm nodded a thank you. God, bride to be – he was getting *married* tomorrow.

AJ slapped him on the back. “It’s starting to hit home now, isn’t it, Rabb?” He laughed.

“Yeah, I guess it is.” They could laugh all they wanted. Tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough for him

Tom took his coat off and sat down. “So the colonel is staying at your grandmother’s and you’re staying with the old guy?” He nodded toward the house they could see out of the back window.

“Yeah… Mac’s idea, not mine.” He hadn’t even seen her tonight. He shook his head; he didn’t see why that was necessary. He took a long pull on his beer.

“Think you can get through one more night. Harm?” Sturgis teased.

Harm was embarrassed – had he said that out loud? “Oh, I think I’ll manage.”

“Is Mac superstitious about your not seeing her until the wedding or something?” AJ had never seen Mac as the superstitious type.

He was trying not to sound disappointed…but he was. “I don’t know…who knows?”

Tom spoke up. “Your mom was. Hammer had just gotten back from a Med cruise and she didn’t let him see her until she came up the aisle on her wedding day.” Trish could be stubborn when she wanted to be. “That was a fun two days.”

He smiled, it was a wonder Trish still spoke to him. He’d gotten his friend good and drunk. He was almost as white as his uniform the morning of the ceremony.

“Yeah, I got a little drunk the night before I got married too – Marcella’s brothers nearly drank me under the table.”

AJ laughed at the memory. It was a wonder he and Marcella had made it through the first week. It was the real thing back then, but so many things got in the way. So much wasted time.

“So have you and Marcella decided to stay here?” Harm wondered.

AJ nodded the affirmative. “We bought a new place on Meredith Creek, out near Annapolis. I will be doing some coaching at the Academy this spring. We still have her family home in Naples – her parents left it to her – but we will be here in the States most of the time.”

Harm and Sturgis looked at each other.

“Not a word….out of either of you,” AJ warned.

Tom nodded. “I seem to remember that you were engaged to some professor named Meredith Cavanaugh?”

They were all laughing. “I have to hear this story.” Jack felt out of the loop.

“Not a word….and I mean it.” He drew his eyebrows down and looked at Harm and Sturgis.

Harm and Sturgis both sat back, smiling. Tom took the warning as a challenge. After all, AJ hadn’t been talking to him.

“Oh, yeah, isn’t she the one who drove like a maniac...and didn’t she damn near break your back…adjusting it one night?”

Harm and Sturgis didn’t know about that, and they both sat forward. Harm had to join in.
“She was fearless, I will say that. I never want to go up in a plane with her again.”

AJ chuckled; he had forgotten that. At least he could laugh about it now. What she had done had hurt like hell, but now that he had Marcella back he could put it all into perspective. Maybe that’s why no one ever got too close; he had never really stopped loving her. Anyone else was a substitute, at best.

Sturgis pulled him out of his reverie. “Sir? Sorry, Admiral, we’ll change the subject.”

AJ looked at him directly and Sturgis corrected himself. “Sorry AJ….force of habit.”

“Everyone has someone they would just as soon forget about. How about our friend Maria Elena Carmelita Moreno Gutierrez?” Jack knew Harm would never forget that particular young lady.

Harm grinned from ear to ear. He hadn’t thought of her in a long time; she was nothing compared to Mac, but he hadn’t forgotten her, that was certain.

“I take it that she wasn’t a bad memory at all, Rabb.” Tom hadn’t heard this one.

“No, she wasn’t. Although I had to remind Keeter what her name was, and if I’m not mistaken, I was accused of stealing your ‘Segundo cruise girl.’”

“I hear she’s got 3 kids and weighs about 300 pounds now.” Jack laughed.

Harm looked at him, shocked. “No!”

They all broke up laughing. “Sorry I ruined your memories, Harm.” Jack slapped him on the back.

“She was something else. She helped me a lot more than she even knew, and she got Krennick off my six anyway.”

AJ looked at him squarely. “When was Krennick on your six?”

“Oh, come on, I didn’t even work at JAG and I knew about that,” Jack huffed.

“Enlighten me, Mr. Rabb.” AJ sat back and folded his arms across his chest.

“Look, nothing happened between us, ever. Krennick just dropped a few hints now and then.”

“A few hints my ass – if hadn’t been for our mutual friend Maria being in your shower you might have had to throw the then-Commander Krennick out in the hallway in her birthday suit.” Jack could see the color come up in Harm’s face. He couldn’t believe this guy was over 40 years old and he was still blushing.

“Ah, yeah, she paid me a visit after we got back from that assignment in Cuba.” Harm grinned sheepishly.

“Why didn’t you say something, Rabb?” AJ knew Allison Krennick could be an imposing woman, ambitious to be sure, but he did not think she was capable of sexual harassment. If what Jack said was true, she was certainly guilty of that.

“What was I going to say? Besides, it wasn’t long till she was out of there and she didn’t do anything to hurt my career.”

“What about the case with Diane Shonke? She did try to have you removed from the case.”

Harm looked down; he hadn’t thought of her in a while, either. “I wasn’t objective, sir. I’m grateful I didn’t do my career permanent damage.”

“Yeah, you didn’t have Mac around back then to cover your six,” AJ said knowingly.

Harm raised his eyebrows. ‘He didn’t know the half of it,’ he thought. He had nearly given up his career and what would have eventually been his freedom to avenge Diane’s murder. She had saved his career and his soul that night, if the truth were told.

Tom took a drink of his beer and grimaced. “Tell me you have something better to drink than this.”

“Ah… thought you’d never ask.” Jack picked up the first bottle of Wild Turkey and broke the seal.


2130
December 23rd
Rabb Farm
Belleville, Pennsylvania



Chloe and Mac sat on her bed in the guest room. Mac had done her nails and was working on Chloe’s. They were a deep rich red, as Chloe’s dress would be. It had been great to wake up here this morning. Mrs. Rabb had out done herself in the kitchen and made her feel as though this were as much Mac’s home now as it was hers. She did love this place. The smell of cinnamon and vanilla always seemed to be in the air and now the Christmas greenery on the stair rail only added to the warmth. It seemed to be a Christmas out of her dreams.

“So what do you think of this place, Chloe?” Mac hoped she would like it well enough to visit along with her and Harm. Vermont was not that far away and it would be a place to enjoy what Chloe still loved best, horses.

“It looks okay – it’s kind of hard to tell how things really are when it’s snowing.” Chloe said honestly.

“I suppose so; it really is an awesome place, to me anyway. Harm spent a lot of time here, or as much as he could growing up.”

“It’s hard to see Harm anywhere but at JAG or on a carrier.” Chloe laughed. “It’s hard to see him as a little boy.”

“He was born old,” Mrs. Rabb said laughingly from the doorway. “How are you girls doing?”

“We’re fine, Mrs. Rabb. Thanks for letting me stay tonight.” Her father had brought her last night. He was staying with some friends near Altoona with whom he had been stationed aboard the Cayuga.

“It was wonderful of Kyle to bring you all the way here to spend this time with me.” Mac was grateful.

“He knows that I see you as my sister, Mac – besides, we never would have found each other if it had not been for you.”

“Bud really had a lot to do with that too. God, that Christmas seems like it was a hundred years ago.”

Mrs. Rabb smiled. “When you’re eighty years old you can say that. How are you feeling, Mac?”

“I feel lot stronger than I did in November. I really feel more like myself than I have for a long time.”

Chloe was aware of Mac’s illness. It had frightened her. She had not been sure what to expect when she saw her yesterday. She really did look great. She seemed happier than she had ever seen her. Chloe knew she had been right a long time ago. Mac and Harm were in love.

“My mom died of cancer,” Chloe said almost awkwardly. She still had a way of setting everyone in the room on edge. Mac wondered if she’d ever outgrow that.

Mrs. Rabb walked into the room and sat down on the bed. “I’m sorry to hear it, honey.”

“Oh, it’s alright. I still miss her sometimes, but the older I get the easier it is to handle it.”

She didn’t always handle it well, but she didn’t act out or blame anyone else anymore. She just got away and cried it out. Mac knew how she felt; she would call her sometimes and just unload. Mac really was a good sister. She really didn’t know what she’d do if anything ever happened to her.

Mac remembered a few phone calls recently. The mother-daughter activities at school had been especially hard. She had hated the days when friends would complain about stupid things their mothers had done when she would give anything to just talk to hers. Chloe still had her moments. Mac looked at Mrs. Rabb and saw that she was perceptive as ever. She was listening to Chloe with genuine interest.

Mrs. Rabb studied Chloe as she talked about school and her upcoming graduation. She understood now why she and Mac got on so well. They were both tough on the outside and heartbroken on the inside. Mac was doing a lot better. The pain that had been palpable when she first met her was gone now.

“I wish mom could see me when I graduate, but I don’t know … lately when I’m happy I feel like my mom is there, you know.” Chloe blushed, feeling a bit self conscious. “I know that sounds kind of childish.”

“No, it doesn’t, Chloe.” Mac meant to reassure her.

“I have always believed that the people we love are with us, even after we lose them in this life, in one way or another.” Mrs. Rabb had nearly based her life on that belief. She took Chloe’s hand and patted it.


2245
Jack’s General Store
Belleville, Pennsylvania



Jack Keeter stood and picked up the second bottle of Wild Turkey and broke the seal.

“Hey, don’t you think it’s time we slowed down? Harm will never make it down the aisle tomorrow.” Sturgis had been sipping slowly, keeping an eye on Harm and AJ. As far as Sturgis was concerned, Jack was on his own. He didn’t seem to need much supervision; he never had.

Jack sat back down and refilled his glass. “Listen to him.” He pointed across the table at Harm. “That’s serious –” And pointing to Sturgis, he added, “—and more serious…..It took me years to loosen those two up.”

Harm had not been drinking as much as AJ or Jack, but he was definitely getting punchy.
“Hey, Keeter, we can’t all be like you. Drink all night and wake up squared away and Joe Navy the next morning.”

Sturgis laughed. “I think we should donate his body to science when he dies. He drinks like a fish, smokes like a freight train and is still strong as an ox…..there’s something unjust about that.” Sturgis shook his head.

“Hell yes there is!” Harm said a little too loudly.

“It’s not my fault if you two can’t handle your liquor.” Jack had drunk more than both of them, but true enough, he was as steady as a rock.

“Hey…. who is that guy on the Stones that I’ve heard that said about?...” Harm was slurring a bit in his speech.

Tom looked at AJ. “How are you doing there, AJ?” This was getting pretty funny.

AJ had been quiet since Jack opened the second bottle. “Just thinking.”

Just then Harm snapped his fingers. “Keith Richards…that’s it.” He was proud of himself for remembering.

Jack smirked at Harm. “Nice to know you have a few brain cells left.”

Tom returned his attention to AJ. “You okay?”

“Yeah…..I’m good. I was just thinking.” He looked at Harm and Sturgis. “Imagine Jack needing to loosen you two up… Last year… I didn’t recognize either one of you….Hell of a year.”

Sturgis and Harm were stunned at first then Harm’s eyes darkened in a flash. “*You* didn’t recognize *us*?”

The room went dead quiet.

“That’s what I said.”

Sturgis saw Harm’s expression become almost unrecognizable. He placed a hand on his arm and Harm threw it off.

“What about you, *AJ*?” Harm leaned forward; suddenly he was mad as hell.

“What?...You resigned, Rabb, I processed it, that’s how it works.” He glared at him, matching his anger with Harm’s just as quickly.

“You knew I had no choice. I couldn’t leave her down there. Who the hell were you back then anyway? You were going to leave her to die.”

“I had access to information you didn’t, there were things in the works to get her out of there, the Company…”

“Fuck the Company – they were the ones who damn near got her killed!”

“You would not listen. I had the SecNav all over me after all the other shit you pulled, and you gave me no choice.” AJ slowly rose from his chair and Harm stood with him.

Tom knew where this was going. They were both too drunk to be reasoned with at this point. The best they could do was make sure they didn’t kill each other. He had a feeling this had been coming for a long time. He looked at Jack, who seemed to understand, and they stood with them, slowly. Sturgis was totally confused and looked at Tom, who tilted his head backward to direct him away from Harm and AJ.

Harm looked at AJ directly in the eye. “You didn’t give a shit about any of us.”

In a flash AJ came across the table, lunging at Harm and knocking him against the window. He held him by the collar, jamming his head back on the glass.

“Don’t you *ever* say that to me! You know better. How many times did I stick my neck out for any one of you?...Huh!!! How many!!!” Both of their faces twisted in anger.

A car door shut outside but it was not heard indoors. Gunny had gotten out of his car and opened his trunk. He lifted the case of Corona out of his car and stepped toward the back door to which he had been directed by Mrs. Rabb. He heard something slam against the window. He saw the commander’s head hit the glass.

“Shit!” He dropped what he was carrying, sending it all crashing to the ground. He burst through the back door and pulled what he thought was Harm’s assailant from his throat and connected with an upper cut right under his chin. By the time Gunny turned around to see Harm’s stunned expression, AJ was out cold. He turned back around and recognized now who he had just hit. “Oh….shit.”

It was quiet for a moment.

“Well that was one way to break up a fight,” Jack laughed.

Gunny looked up at Jack like he didn’t quite believe what he was hearing.

Tom and Sturgis both broke up laughing. The look on Gunny’s face was priceless.
Gunny looked around at all of them and shook his head. Harm was still leaning back against the window, catching his breath. ‘God, that happened fast,’ he thought. 'It came out of nowhere.' He had never gotten that mad that fast in his life.

“Don’t tell me Marines don’t get in bar fights, Gunny.” Jack continued to try and diffuse this situation. It had gotten way too serious, way too fast. Jack thought, ‘Jesus…I didn’t see that coming.’

Gunny grinned slightly without humor. “Not with each other.” He didn’t think he would ever completely understand naval officers. ‘Gentlemen?...not tonight,’ he thought ruefully.

Harm straightened and went to get AJ up from the floor. “Come on… help me get him up.” They righted the table and chairs and sat AJ down on one of them. Jack poured another drink for Harm and for AJ.

“I think there has been enough of that for tonight.” Sturgis pushed both glasses back.

Tom shook AJ and roused him. He immediately drew back and Tom dodged. “Hey!...I’m on your side.”

AJ looked around him and began to recognize where he was and who they all were. “What the hell?”

He stood suddenly and was standing directly in front of Harm. Harm wasn’t angry anymore; frankly he felt damned ashamed of himself.

AJ remembered then what had just happened.

“Are you alright, sir?” Harm asked.

“I’m fine.” Had Harm hit him? He wondered; then Harm stepped aside and he saw Gunny standing there. He remembered now.

“Still trying to start fights with SEALs, Gunny?”

“No sir.” Gunny stood almost at attention.

“Relax Gunny, I’m retired.” He rubbed his jaw and under his chin. Gunny had kept them from beating the hell out of each other.

“Have a drink, I think you earned it.”

“Don’t mind if I do.” Jack handed him a glass and he drank it in one swallow.

“Again.” He handed the glass back to Keeter.

Keeter whistled. “Okay, it’s your head.”

“I can handle it, sir, I’m a Marine.” He gave Keeter a condescending smirk.

Keeter gestured toward Harm and AJ, offering them another. “No thanks,” they said in unison.

“If you gentlemen will excuse me, I’m going to call it a night. I’ve had enough excitement for one evening.” Sturgis looked at Harm. “Are you going to be okay?”

“Yeah, Sturgis, I’m fine. I’m finished drinking tonight.” In the last few moments he had become stone cold sober.

And with that Sturgis left for Mrs. Rabb’s house. He was ready for tomorrow; Varise was coming to meet him at the wedding, and unlike last year they would be spending Christmas together. He didn’t have to be serious or sober with her, but if he was, that was okay too. He could just be himself. She understood so much without being told. Maybe it was time they made a more permanent arrangement too. He smiled to himself and began to whistle the wedding march.

They all sat back down at the table. Jack poured everyone but Harm a drink. He was truly done tonight.

“Oh come on, sir, your last night as a bachelor. What’s one more?”

“That’s okay, Gunny, you can have mine I’m done with being a bachelor, bring on the bride.”

He grinned sheepishly. He had experienced the best and the worse of being single, now it was his and Mac’s time to be together. He had a dreamy look on his face all of a sudden.

“Look at him…he’s hopeless.” Jack shook his head.


0130
December 24th
Jack O’Reilly’s front yard
Belleville, Pennsylvania



Harm and Keeter stumbled up the stone path to Jack’s ‘shotgun’ house that sat behind the store. It had a small but high porch, and if you opened the front and back doors you could shoot a shotgun straight through it, or so it was said. AJ stood on the front porch, waiting and laughing a bit as he watched them weave their way up to the house. They had Gunny between them, who was making it difficult to walk a straight path to the house.

“Hey, what’s wrong with you two?” Gunny slurred. “Damn naval officers can’t walk a straight line….how did you ever land on a carrier anyway?”

They all broke up laughing; except Gunny, of course, who was trying very hard to focus on the task at hand. He was getting these two into the house before they got in more trouble… or so he thought.

Harm and Keeter got Gunny in the house and deposited him one of the couches in the front room. Jack flopped onto the other couch and stretched out immediately. Tom had left them all to their own devices an hour ago. Mrs. Rabb had left her door unlocked so that he could come in when he wanted to.

“I’ll take the recliner,” AJ offered. “You need your sleep; you don’t want to frighten the bride.” He gave him a wry smile.

“Sir I can…”

AJ raised a hand and nodded toward the hallway.

Harm started to turn to walk down the hall but stopped. “Sir, I want you to know, I’m ashamed of the way I acted tonight.”

“Don’t even think about it anymore, Harm. We both had too much to drink and we left that discussion about what happened back then, too long. I still don’t know if I could put into words what happened and do it any justice. I regret the mess that resulted from that damn assignment Mac had with Webb, but once again, I had no choice. I don’t miss that, I’ll tell you, constantly having my hands tied with bureaucratic….bullshit. In all honesty, I would have done the same thing I did before, though I wouldn’t have lost my temper and said what I did. It was unnecessary and I do regret that.”

Harm did understand that now. It was a hell of a time, but in the end he had met and been able to help Mattie. He and Mac had finally found their way to each other. How could he regret any of that?

“I think I understand, sir.” They shook hands, and Harm walked down the hallway to the guest room. He looked at his watch and thought, ‘In about 12 hours, I’ll be a married man.’ He smiled to himself – he could not wait.

AJ sat down on the recliner and put his feet up and head back. He was getting too old for this stuff. He closed his eyes, knowing he wouldn’t have a bit of trouble sleeping tonight.

“Damn Navy,” Gunny was muttering in his sleep. “Worthless..All of ‘em ..’Cept maybe .Bud…Coates…..mmm, sure cleans up good.” Gunny turned over. “Looks about eighteen till she opens that mouth….talks like she…..she’s about fifty.”

AJ opened his eyes and raised his head to look at Gunny, who was still out cold but rambling. ‘What the hell is it about that place…something in the water?’ He put his head back down and closed his eyes. He was glad it wasn’t his problem anymore.


1330
December 24
Belleville Community Church
Belleville, Pennsylvania



Harm stood at the altar with his heart in his throat. Keeter stood to his right, grinning from ear to ear. Chloe had just come down the aisle and stood looking at him, her face reflecting her happiness on this day. One she had always known would come. She carried white roses and wore a beautiful red gown that made her look much too old as far as Harm was concerned.

He wore a black tuxedo with a red tie that was the same deep shade of red that Chloe wore. He and Keeter looked impressive in their wedding finery. The wedding march began and he turned to look for Mac.

What he saw took his breath away; she wore a dress of ivory white and carried bouquet of beautifully deep red roses that cascaded down the front of her gown from where she held them. The dress draped softly over her body with the neckline that framed her shoulders.

A single diamond on a gold chain sparkled at her neck, a gift from Mrs. Rabb, the only heirloom she had from her mother. She wore her hair down, falling softly down her back. She was radiantly beautiful and had lost the fragile look she had for so long. She seemed to glow with health. ‘Please, God…’ he prayed silently.

She stood next to AJ, with her hand in the crook of his arm. She looked at Harm and he thought he had never seen anything so beautiful in all his life.

AJ leaned toward her slightly. “Are you ready, Mac?”

She looked at him. “Yes, I am.”

Mac saw Harm turn to look at her and Harm’s eyes seemed to see right into her soul. He smiled at her, and this time the smile went all the way to his eyes. As nervous as she was, at that moment, she couldn’t see anything but him. She could see the blue of his eyes sharply even from this distance. He looked so handsome, almost imposing next to the other men waiting at the altar. ‘The Rabb stature,’ she thought. When she walked down the aisle with AJ she felt as though she were being drawn toward him.

AJ walked her to Harm and took her hand from his arm and placed it onto Harm’s.

He looked at Harm, who smiled at him and whispered, “Thank you.” AJ nodded and stepped back one step and waited.

The ceremony began. Chaplain Turner was glad to see this day. He had seen his son’s friend go through some terrible things in his young life. He was happy to be part of a joyful time, Harm was due. He began, “Dearly beloved…”

Mac felt amazingly calm all of a sudden. She had never felt anything more right in her life.

“…Who gives this woman?” Chaplain Turner waited.

“I do.” AJ then turned and sat down in the front row on the bride’s side of the aisle, next to Mrs. Rabb.

“Before we begin the vows, I have been given permission of the bride and the groom to speak to them and to you about marriage, about love really, because without true love there is no marriage. You have chosen a time of miracles to join your lives together. It is a time of the greatest miracle of all; God gave us the gift of his Son. Miracles happen sometimes in the most unlikely circumstances. ‘For we know all things work together for good to those who love God.’ It is hard to remember that verse when things are difficult, but it is no less true. These two are living proof of that.” Chaplain Turner smiled at them both.

Mac lightly squeezed Harm’s arm and he placed his hand over hers. She looked up into his eyes. She saw it again, that look in his eyes that made her feel safe, loved and cherished.

“First I will read from 1 Corinthians the 13th chapter, verses 4 through 7.” He opened his worn Bible and began to read:

Love suffers long and is kind;
Love does not envy;
Love does not parade itself,
Is not puffed up;
Does not behave rudely,
Does not seek its own,
Is not provoked,
Thinks no evil;
Does not rejoice in iniquity,
But rejoices in the truth;
Love bears all things,
Believes all things,
Hopes all things,
Endures all things.

“And the 8th verse begins, ‘Love never fails.’” He closed his Bible and looked at Harm and Mac as though he were speaking only to them.

Mac thought that the verses of scripture described what Harm had been to her over the past year. He had loved her in spite of everything; he had shown her love in the truest sense of the word. Even when she believed his love had failed…it never had. He had always been there.

“You have begun a journey today, one that I am sure will bring you great joy and also may bring you pain. If you bear all things together, you will endure, that I can promise you….Harmon, take Sarah’s left hand, place the ring on her finger and repeat after me… ‘with this ring I thee wed’.”

Harm repeated his vows and placed the gold band onto her finger. When he looked into her eyes all he wanted to do was to kiss her, but of course, he didn’t. Chaplain Turner must have sensed this. “Just wait a few more moments, Harmon. She has to say her vows first.” The people in the chapel laughed softly.

“Sarah, take Harmon’s hand in yours and place the ring onto his finger and repeat after me…. ‘with this ring I thee wed’.”

Mac repeated her vows as Harm had done, promising to love honor and cherish him all the days of her life. She had loved him for so long, even when they weren’t together, that the vow just stated a fact.

Chaplain Turner turned to Harm. “Now, you may kiss your bride.”

Harm suddenly felt shy in front of their wedding guests, but when she turned to him and looked into his eyes, he forgot there was anyone else in the world. He kissed her lightly and then deepened the kiss. Mac had placed her hand on his chest and came up slightly to kiss him. Harm broke the kiss and looked at her with half closed eyes. “I love you.”

They turned toward their guests and Chaplain Turner placed his hands on each of their shoulders. “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” The statement was both a proclamation and a prayer. The guests in the chapel seemed to collectively draw in a breath. They made a striking couple and their happiness seemed to radiate from them.

AJ blew out a breath. “There you go,” he whispered quietly.

“Amen.” Mrs. Rabb had heard him. They had finally done it; Harm had been able to complete the circle with Mac. Life would go on as it should.

Mac placed her hand in the crook of his arm and looked up at him through eyes glazed with tears. Harm leaned down and kissed her cheek softly. The music began and they walked down the aisle to the narthex of the chapel to receive their guests.

Keeter and Chloe followed, with Keeter catching Mrs. Rabb’s eye and giving her a conspiratorial wink and a smile. Keeter passed Gunny sitting further down the aisle on the bride’s side.

Gunny was feeling pretty rough all things considered. He could not remember how he had gotten to the O’Reilly’s house last night. For the first few moments he was awake he couldn’t figure out where he was. At least his hair had stopped hurting. If he never saw another bottle of Wild Turkey again it would be fine with him.


1445
Rabb Farm
Belleville, Pennsylvania


Harm and Mac had come back to the farm to change clothes and allow their friends to see them off. Mac used the guest room and Harm changed in the room down the hall. AJ and Marcella Chegwidden, Chaplain Turner, Sturgis and Varise, Mrs. Rabb, Jack Keeter, and Master Chief Kyle Anderson waited while his daughter Chloe helped Mac get ready.

Tom and Mattie had also been able to come and share this day with Harm and Mac. It had meant a great deal to Harm for her to be there. Mattie was happy for Harm and she felt a lot less guilty for getting on with her life now that Harm had Mac in his life all the time.

Frank had come and had been so glad to see his stepson’s happiness. Trish would have been so pleased. Even though it meant being in an airport on Christmas Eve, he was glad for the distraction; he had been dreading this first Christmas without her. It was odd, but he felt close to her here. There were other places too: in her gallery in LaJolla, her favorite chair at home where she would read, with her glasses down on her nose. He smiled at the memory.

Harm was ready, so he stepped out of the room into the hallway. Chloe came out of the guest room and looked at him. “She’s ready to go, Harm.” She turned and started down the stairway.

“Thank you Chloe.”

He walked to the doorway and she put down her suitcase for a moment. Harm was grinning from ear to ear. He put his duffle down and they stepped into each other’s embrace.

“Hey, you.” Mac pulled him more closely to her.

Harm kissed her, “Hello, wife.”

“Hello, husband.” Mac loved the sound of that. She hugged him again for sheer happiness. “I’m ready…..are you?”

“Yeah, let’s go.” He released her and picked up her suitcase. “Geez…what do you have in this thing?”

“Well, you wouldn’t tell me where we were going so I had to bring a little of everything…..I’m a Marine, so I have to be prepared for anything.” She smiled at him mischievously.

They descended the stairs to their friends waiting to see them off. They said their goodbyes to their guests as they made their way through the room toward the door. Gunny was out on the porch, still needing a little air. Harm and Mac stepped outside.

“Gunny, are you going to be alright?” Mac thought he looked a little worse for wear.

“I’ll be fine, ma’am.” He was never going to drink with sailors again. They couldn’t be trusted. Harm looked over Mac’s shoulder and gave him a wink and a lopsided grin.

‘Thanks a lot, sir,’ Gunny thought.

Harm stepped over to him and shook his hand. “Thanks for everything, Gunny.” He gave his shoulder a tap.

Gunny smiled in spite of his head pounding. “You’re welcome, sir.” Maybe sailors weren’t all bad.

“Jen couldn’t get away, I take it?”

“No sir, she didn’t want to push her luck with the general. She’s spending most of the holiday with Bud and Harriet,” Gunny added.

Harm raised his eyebrows. “Oh.” That was a little more information than he thought Gunny would have. “Well, if you see her, tell her I’ll be back on the 28th. I want to be sure her ‘friends’ don’t decide to show up.”

“Not a problem, I’ll check on her over the holiday.” Gunny looked at Harm directly.

‘What was that about?’ he thought. He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.

Harm walked back to Mac, who was hugging his grandmother and Jack Keeter and saying goodbye.

“Hey, hands off, that’s my wife you’re mauling there, Keeter.”

“Hey, don’t I get to kiss the bride?” Jack couldn’t resist giving Harm a hard time.

“Hell no, get away from there.” Harm feigned irritation.

Keeter hugged her tightly. Mac returned the hug and laughed. “Thanks for everything, Jack….I mean it.”

He released her and Harm stepped up behind her. He reached around her and shook Keeter’s hand. “That goes for me too.”

“Not a problem…you can just name your first child after me…I think that would do it.”

Mrs. Rabb piped in, “I don’t think they could name their first child ‘Rascal’ Jack Keeter.”

Jack turned to Mac. “See…I told you how she is.”

Mrs. Rabb hugged Harm and Mac “From one Sarah Rabb to another.” She handed her a small, flat and brightly wrapped package tied with a white bow.

“Thank you.” Mac was touched by the gesture.

Harm and Mac got into the SUV with the luggage loaded and Harm’s surprise was well underway. Their guests were going their separate directions, except Tom Boone and Keeter. They would be enjoying Mrs. Rabb’s hospitality this Christmas. AJ was on his way to Maryland. Sturgis and Varise were spending Christmas with his family. Chloe and her father were on their way back to Vermont. Gunny was heading back to D.C. Frank was on his way to the airport and returning to his home in California.

Harm and Mac had been on the road for about an hour. “So… no hints about where we're going, Sailor?” They weren’t heading for an airport, so a beach was not in their near future. Harm made a phone call on his cell phone, gave whom ever he was talking to his name and reservation number and only said, “We’ll be there in about an hour, thank you” before ending the call. They passed a sign on the interstate later that said something about the Pocono’s. Mac thought, ‘Surely were not going there…Harm wouldn’t do that…would he?’ Mac turned to Harm with a questioning look. Harm had seen the sign and the look on Mac’s face after she saw it.

“What?” This was going to be more fun than he thought.

“Harm...um…..were not going to the Pocono’s…..are we?” She didn’t want to hurt his feelings but she just didn’t think that it suited….them.

Harm looked at her. “Mac… don’t you want to get in a hot tub shaped like a champagne glass?” He was laughing now, and she knew he was teasing her. Soon after that he turned off of the interstate and onto a two lane road. Each side was lined with towering Blue Spruce trees, lightly dusted with snow. It looked like a Christmas card.

Mac gave Harm a light punch on the arm. “You!”

“Hey you walked right into that one, I couldn’t resist.” He smiled at her slyly.

The road wound slightly and Harm turned onto a drive that was named and numbered Pine loch #1. It was about another quarter mile until they came into a clearing. “Oh, Harm…” There was a cabin, rustic looking but not shabby, with a stone fireplace and a wide front porch. It was perfect and she told him so.

Harm knew she would love it. “Come on, I want you to see inside.”

Harm and Mac carried their bags to the porch and Harm unlocked the door. He turned to Mac. “Close your eyes.” He guided her through the door and into the room. Mac could smell the balsam fir and wood from the fireplace. “Open them,” Harm said quietly.

Mac opened her eyes, and what she saw the fulfillment of every Christmas fantasy she had ever had as a little girl. There was a fire blazing in the stone fireplace. Boughs of fresh evergreen were on the mantle, tied with ribbons of white and gold... There was a tall balsam fir beside the fireplace decorated with red ribbon and white lights and had wrapped gifts already under the tree. Mac turned and looked at Harm, speechless, and then she stepped away from Harm and toward the tree. She turned around and looked back at him. “Oh…I…” She could not finish her sentence; she didn’t have the words. Her eyes welled with tears and her chin trembled with emotion.

Harm went to her immediately and lifted her into his embrace. “Hey…this was supposed to make you happy.”

“Oh it did, it does….I’m overwhelmed, I think.” She pulled back and kissed him. “Thank you.”

“You haven’t even opened any of your Christmas gifts yet.”

“Harm, if I didn’t have anything else at all but you and this beautiful room, it would be the best Christmas I ever had.”

She looked over his shoulder and took in the rest of the cabin. It was all one big room except for the bathroom; it had separate sections flowing into one another. The walls were creamy white and had the appearance of old wood. There was also greenery in every window. The kitchen appeared to have all the amenities but was fashioned to look more rustic than it was. There was a window over the sink that gave them a view of the beautifully forested landscape and the mountains beyond.

“Hey….want to see the bedroom?” Harm pulled back and waggled his eyebrows.

He guided her into the back of the cabin. In the corner of the room was a huge four poster bed. It appeared to be made of mahogany. It was covered in a comforter and quilts of soft brown, red and ivory. There were many pillows at the head of the bed of the same colors. Beside the bed was a wrought iron lamp and a window just beyond, frosted with the cold. It was perfect. Harm stepped closer behind her and began to pull her coat from her shoulders. He threw it onto a chair and gathered her into his arms. He kissed her neck and her hair. “Happy?”

Mac turned to face him. “So happy.” She kissed him. No one had ever shown her the love he had. Harm pulled her closer to him and their kiss became more passionate. Mac knew that if she didn’t stop him she wouldn’t get to wear the gown she had bought especially for this night.

“Hey sailor….let me slip into something more…comfortable.”

Harm gave her a devilish grin. “I could help.”

“I know you could…but since I’m considering this one of your Christmas gifts, I want it to be…a surprise.”

Mac showered and changed into her gown. She suddenly felt nervous. Would he like it? This was silly; they had been together since October. He had seen her just about every way there was to see her. She usually slept in a T-shirt, for a while anyway. There hadn’t been time to ‘dress up’ for him. Harm never seemed to mind one way or the other. He made her feel beautiful, even in a hospital gown.

She stepped out of the room and didn’t see him at first. She walked through the cabin toward the fireplace. The room was so warm and inviting.

Harm had been standing in the kitchen; the only light in the room was the fireplace and the Christmas tree. Mac wore a red silk gown that clung softly to every curve on her body. Harm followed her quietly; she looked so soft and sexy. The gown dipped low, all the way to the small of her back. Her skin looked like velvet and Harm’s fingers itched to touch her. “Mac…”

She looked over her shoulder, turned to him and smiled. “So…do you like your Christmas present?”

Harm didn’t speak but the look in his eyes spoke volumes. He nodded and turned her back around. He began at the nape of her neck, touching her lightly with the tips of his fingers, stroking all the way down to the small of her back. Mac drew in a breath sharply and felt nearly every nerve ending in her body come alive. He gently brushed her hair to the side and kissed her between her shoulder blades.

“Harm…” She closed her eyes and gave herself over to wherever he was taking her.

“Hmm?” He was loving every minute of this. She was his now, in every way. Her body reacted immediately to his touch; it was the same for him. He prayed this magic would never leave them. He felt as though he had waited a lifetime for it. Her skin felt the way it had looked, like creamy, tawny velvet. Her skin tasted sweet; it made his mouth water, and it left him wanting more of the taste of her.

Mac stepped away and turned to look at him. He had taken off his shirt and shoes. He wore his favorite pair of jeans, hers too. She skimmed her hands up his chest and clasped them around his neck. He grasped one of her hands, brought it to his lips and kissed the palm of her hand.

He looked at her hand and noticed her red nails. “Red, Mac?”

She smiled at him slyly. “Yeah…. you know you love it when I wear red.”

He pulled her close to him “Yes, I do.” He kissed her deeply. She felt so perfect in his arms.

Mac broke the kiss to catch her breath but as she did Harm lifted her and placed hot open-mouthed kisses on her neck. She felt her knees start to give way and she locked her arms around his neck, pulling his head further down her neck.

“If you keep this up, I’m not going to be able to walk…”

With that he lifted her into his arms. “You don’t have to walk, Mac.” He turned to carry her toward the bed. Mac ran the tips of her fingers through his hair and felt the shiver down his spine. He set her down on her feet beside the bed and Mac undid the clasps at her shoulder that held her gown in place. Her gown pooled at her feet and Harm looked down at her intensely. Her body seemed fuller and rounder than it had been before. He pulled her close and ran both his hands down her back and cupped her bottom, lifting her up, pressing her against him. He was trembling with the need building up inside him. He wanted to take his time; this night had already been so special. He wanted it to be perfect for her. She leaned back and undid the top button of his jeans and slowly unzipped them. Harm gasped when she freed him from his jeans and gently grasped him.

Mac sat back on the bed and then quickly came up on her knees. She could look him directly in the eye and pulled him close to her. “Come here, Sailor; let me give you the rest of your Christmas present.”

Harm pushed Mac gently back on the bed and began an exchange of gifts that went on nearly all night.

When dawn came they were sleeping deeply in each others arms, not knowing they had both been given a gift one month ago. A life to replace another; taken away in a moment of violence.

This life came from love… their love



0830
Christmas Day
Pine loch cabin #1
Somewhere in Pennsylvania



Mac woke to the sound of what she thought was a light rattling at the window. She opened her eyes and looked out. She saw large flakes of snow whirling around in the air and blowing against the window. The ground was covered in white, and the little bit of sky that she could see from where she lay was steel grey with clouds looking heavy with snow. Harm slept curled around her, his even breathing calming and thrilling her all at once. She turned onto her stomach to look at him. Her husband Harm. She smiled warmly thinking, ‘Will I ever get used to seeing him like this?’ She couldn’t imagine it.

Harm stirred and opened his eyes, still heavy with sleep. “Merry Christmas, beautiful.”

“Merry Christmas to you, too.” She hugged him close and tucked herself into his arms as he gathered her in.

“God, this feels so good…let’s just stay here all day.” Harm grinned mischievously knowing Mac would be dying of curiosity about what was under the Christmas tree.

Mac raised her head and looked at Harm. “You don’t want to open any presents?”

Harm chuckled. She looked for all the world like a little girl. He had never seen that look on her face before. Another side to his wife that made her that much more precious to him. His look softened and Mac picked up on it right away.

“Don’t you try to distract me, Harmon Rabb.”

Harm leaned up and kissed her quickly. “Okay, okay, I’m getting up.”

“Great, I’ll make the coffee and then I’ll join you in the shower.” Mac walked toward the kitchen, grabbing a robe on her way. She threw him a saucy glance over her shoulder.

Harms gaze followed her. ‘If she joins me in the shower looking like that, it may be a while until we start opening presents.’ He got up and headed for the shower, whistling a tune he couldn’t quite recall the name of.


1230
Jen and Mattie’s apartment
North of Union Station



Jen closed the security gate to the elevator and turned to Gunny. “You didn’t have to come up with me, you know.” She didn’t care much for the ‘damsel in distress’ role. She had been taking care of herself for most of her life.

“I know I didn’t. Just humor me, will ya?” ‘What was the big deal?’ he thought.

“You don’t have to look after me for Commander Rabb. I’m a grown woman, you know.”

“I’m not looking after you for anyone, all right? It’s Christmas day; there isn’t a soul in this building. Is it going to kill you if I come upstairs with you for 15 minutes so you can get a change of clothes?”

Jen was suddenly embarrassed for making such a fuss about it. “Sorry.” She looked at her feet. He was just trying to be nice and she was making it difficult for him.

She opened the elevator doors and stepped out toward her apartment. Gunny followed about two steps behind her. She unlocked the door and headed toward her bedroom. Gunny stayed behind, standing in the open doorway of the apartment. Everything looked all right, but he couldn’t shake the uneasiness he felt when he walked into the room. The room was neat, with everything in its place … but there was something unsettled in the air, in the room. He shook his head, trying to clear it.

“Hey, you know you can come all the way inside. I’m not going to bite.”

Gunny was so deep in thought that she startled him when she walked into the room.

“Nobody said you would.” Gunny smirked. “Ready to go?”

“Yeah.”

Jen went to the door and followed Gunny back into the hall. She closed and locked the door on the way out. She was glad to be going back to Bud and Harriet’s.

It had been a great Christmas – much better than she had ever hoped it would be. Bud and Harriet had treated her like a member of the family. The kids were great, especially her namesake, of course. Gunny had shown up late in the morning and offered to take her back to her apartment to get a change of clothes. Bud and Harriet had insisted she stay another night. Harriet was expecting her mother and father that evening. “I need reinforcements,” she’d said.

Jen would return home Sunday. The apartment had seemed so empty, almost eerie without Mattie there and without Harm next door.

The doors to her pantry opened as Gunny and Jen drove away. Vince Dolan’s eyes stared vacantly, empty as always but now truly dead. His body fell forward with a pool of blood forming almost immediately from the wound in his chest.

Pia stepped from behind him. She wore Jen’s uniform and her hair was braided neatly as Jen’s always was. She picked up Jen’s cover and coat with gloved hands. She lifted a briefcase with enough money to get her all the way to California and to get herself comfortably set up. “Drug money is a little hard to trace.’ She smiled to herself. She was out of there.

‘Sorry, kid, you got a little soft in your old age…this was almost too damn easy.’ This little detail was what Vince hadn’t planned. He had beaten her down one too many times. They had hidden their stash in the apartment and had been able to get rid of it with a big pay off.

They had come back to celebrate and that’s when he got his Christmas present. Pia looked down at him and smirking as she stepped over him, walked to the door. She closed and locked it behind her.


1530
Pine loch cabin # 1
Somewhere in Pennsylvania



Mac stood at the stove making hot chocolate while Harm built up the fire. It continued to snow heavily but beautifully. Harm walked into the kitchen and looked out of the window. “I pity anyone who has to be out on a day like today.”

“Oh, most people are probably already where they want to be.” She looked at him lovingly and handed him a mug of hot chocolate. “I know I am.”

He took a sip of the rich sweet drink. “Mmm...Almost as good as my hot chocolate.” He smiled slyly.

She drew her brows down and he winked at her over his cup. The wind blew hard against the window.

“Man, it’s really coming down out there.” Mac stepped closer to Harm and slipped her arm around his waist. She set her cup down and snuggled close to his heart. His shirt was soft and warm against her cheek and she breathed in the scent that was exclusively his.

He gathered her into his embrace and sang softly, “I really can’t stay…”

Mac laughed. “But baby, its cold outside…”she sang along.

“I have to go away…” He leaned down and kissed her deeply.

“Mmmm… not anymore.” Mac looked at him directly in the eyes and kissed him back. “Thank you for my presents. They were all perfect, especially this beautiful cabin. Harm, it’s every Christmas I ever dreamed of, only better.”

“You’re welcome. I’m glad you liked your presents. I thought more than once that you were going to catch me.” He slipped a finger inside the v neck of her sweater and under the satin strap of her bra.

“I would have given a lot of money to see you in the lingerie department.” She giggled, thinking about Harm stepping awkwardly into the department and trying to find her size. He had done well, though. Everything he had given her made her feel sexy and very feminine. The colors perfectly matched her skin tone: matching sets of brown, blue, black and burgundy.

Harm looked down at her and gave her a lopsided grin. “Hey, it was no easy task. I had a lot of trouble finding your size.” He was almost blushing.

“Oh really?” She was enjoying this. “You must have given it a lot of time and effort.” He really had; not too many frills and everything fit perfectly. “Just how long have you been planning this, Harmon?”

“Oh, I don’t know… I’ve been daydreaming about you like this almost since the first time we sang ‘Baby its Cold Outside’.” Harm traced across her collarbone to the gold chain that hung around her neck. He lifted the black opal and then looked into her eyes. “This made me think of you when I saw it. I could see it on a chain around your neck.”


He kissed her softly and looked at her through half closed eyes. “It’s beautiful and rare, like you.” He kissed her again, more passionately.

Mac lifted her arms around his neck and after a long moment broke the kiss. “You’re spoiling me, you know.”

“If I’m spoiling you, why am I having such a good time?” He smiled at her slyly.

“Did you like your Christmas presents?” Mac raised an eyebrow.

Harm kissed her neck. “Oh yeah….especially the one you let me open on Christmas Eve.”


1710
Christmas Day
Lt. Commander Coleman’s apartment
Alexandria, Virginia


Faith Coleman stood at her kitchen counter, carefully measuring the ingredients to her recipe. Her measurements were exact, the first time. No need to add or subtract anything. After she would add an ingredient to the large bowl she washed the measuring spoon or cup, drying it carefully before using it again. It was just a simple cookie recipe; she was determined to do something out of the ordinary today. It was always a long day, Christmas Day. Clean up alone would take her most of the afternoon. Just then the door bell rang and she stopped to answer it.

She looked through the security lens to see Major McBurney standing at her door with someone she didn’t recognize. She opened the door.

There was a young woman standing to McBurney’s left, and she immediately offered Faith her hand. “Hi!...I’m Kim McBurney. My brother and I are out delivering Christmas cookies today.” McBurney was almost cringing.

A small smile was forming at the corner of Faith’s mouth. Faith was polite and shook her hand but did not smile.

“Thank you.” She followed Kim McBurney’s eyes as she tried to see into her apartment behind her. She unconsciously pulled the door a bit more closely to her.

“We’d better get going….just wanted to come by and wish you a Merry Christmas.”
This was awkward; it didn’t appear that Commander Coleman loosened up anywhere.
“We have another stop to make before we finish up.”

“Yeah, our mom and sisters are expecting us. We’re going to tour Washington D.C. on Christmas night.” The girl couldn’t be more than 18 years old. Faith could see that she looked very much like her brother. “Would you like to come along?”

Faith’s face remained calm but McBurney could see almost panic in her eyes. “Oh, no thank you. I just started something here and I need to finish up – thank you.”

“Well, goodnight.” Major McBurney turned to walk toward the elevators.

Faith Coleman looked down at the beautifully wrapped box, and hesitated for a moment.
“Merry Christmas…..and thank you again.” She tried to smile but then shut the door quickly.

As the elevators closed his sister spoke “Wow…not a very friendly person. is she?”

“You have to know Commander Coleman,” He honestly didn’t really know her, but what could he say? He almost felt sorry for her now. She was obviously alone tonight of all nights. He couldn’t remember ever seeing her speak to anyone with whom she wasn’t working. He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head as he walked out of the elevators. As he walked out of the building, his mother called,

“Come on you two, let’s get this show on the road!”

“Coming, Mom.”

“*Coming, Mom.*” his sisters all said at once, teasing him.

McBurney stopped in his tracks. “Alright you guys – keep it up and no tour.”

“Michael James! You get in this car!” The voice had to be his mother’s.

The girls all laughed, and their laughter floated up to the window where Faith watched him climb into the SUV. She turned away from the window back toward her kitchen. She picked up the bowl from the counter and walked to her lidded and lined trash can and dropped it in. She then took everything on the counter and washed and wiped it down.


The order in which she had begun her task had been interrupted; she would have to start all over or not do it at all.

She walked into her living room and sat down on the couch. Her eyes came to rest on the brightly wrapped package the McBurneys had brought her. This was the only gift she had received today. She had not given any gifts at all. She had isolated herself from people for so long that she could barely grasp the concept of gift exchange. There were no Christmas decorations at all in her apartment. The only evidence of Christmas was the package from the McBurneys.


1935
Christmas Night
Robert’s Residence


Harriet and her mother stood at the kitchen sink loading the dishwasher. It had been a fairly pleasant evening. No major gaffes made by anyone followed by the uncomfortable silences that seemed to go on and on.

“Well, at least there won’t be any more babies,” Lydia said with a sigh.

Harriet turned to her mother, incredulous. “What?” She should have known it was too good to be true.

“Well, I mean really, Harriet; you’ve been pregnant 4 times in less than 8 years. I think that’s enough.”

Harriet felt as though her mother had slapped her. She had a terrible habit of condensing her life into a sentence or two, making her feel small and insignificant. She turned to her. “Mother….”

Just then her father walked into the room. “Whoa, what’s going on here?” He had seen the anger on his daughter’s face.

Harriet looked directly at her mother. “Nothing…at least nothing that hasn’t happened a thousand times before.” She turned and walked out of the room.

Roland looked at his wife. “What did you say to her?”

“Me? Why do you always assume it was something –I- said?”

“Because it usually is.” He had thought things were going so well.

“Well…excuse me if I show concern for my daughter…”

Harriet could hear her mother’s voice dripping with self pity. She was so weary of it. Her mother would never change. How had her father stood it all these years?

She walked into the sunroom to compose herself. She would not let her mother ruin this day. She had her health, her beautiful children, and a husband who adored her and friends who made this time all the more special. For all their sakes and for that of the season she would enjoy this day.


2130
Chegwidden Residence
Meredith Creek, Maryland


AJ Chegwidden stood looking out at the beautiful night. The moonlight reflected off of the snow, giving the illusion of daylight. He was able to see nearly out to the water. The Christmas tree was the only illumination in the house.

“AJ.”

He turned to see Marcella walking toward him. She was the only woman he knew who could manage to look elegant in lounging pajamas .He gathered her into his arms and kissed her. “You look lovely.”

Marcella smiled. “It has been a wonderful day, has it not?”

He returned her smile. “It has. Where is Francesca?”

“She is upstairs phoning some friends who are spending the holiday in New York. I think she will be leaving us soon.” She kissed him. “I think she’s tired of being around such old people” She kissed his cheek and looked into his eyes seductively.

“Old?” AJ kissed her and began what was the perfect ending to a perfect day.


2230
Christmas Night
Rabb Farm
Belleville, Pennsylvania


Jack Keeter lay stretched out on the sofa, sleeping comfortably in front of the fireplace. Christmas turkey had knocked him out….more than once today. His hand had dropped from his chest to rest on Oscar’s back and they both snored softly. Tom Boone descended the staircase and couldn’t help smiling at the picture they made. Mrs. Rabb stood at the doorway of the kitchen.

She nodded toward Keeter and his new friend. “One old dog knows another.” She laughed and Tom nodded his agreement. “Come on in the kitchen, I’ve made a fresh pot of coffee.”

She took two mugs down from the cupboard and set them on the table. “It looks like you’re a night owl tonight too.”

Tom nodded. “I’m not much of a sleeper these days anyway.”

She filled their mugs and they sat down. “Tom, I’d like to ask you something, if I may.”

“Go ahead.”

“Have you been able to find out anything about what happened in London….when Trish was killed?”

“To tell the truth, it has been difficult. There really isn’t a lot to tell. We know the components were from a number of different countries in the Middle East. We know the car that held the bomb had been stolen a couple of hours before, but other than that...”

“The shake-ups in the Company make it that much more difficult to get reliable information.” Jack stood in the doorway and had heard the last of what Tom had been saying. He walked into the kitchen and took a mug from the cupboard and filled it.

Jack continued, “This is going to be difficult to follow up…for quite some time. It really is a whole new ball game at Langley these days.”

“High time if you ask me.” Tom had been disgusted with the Company for some time…long before Harm’s short stint in their employ.

“Hell of a time for a shake-up if you ask me. We’re in the middle of a war here,” Jack thought out loud.

“It’s the best time, Keeter; we’ve got a job to do.” Tom was adamant.

Mrs. Rabb stood and went to refill her coffee cup.

“Different times…huh, Mrs. Rabb?” Jack wanted to steer out of this particular conversation.

She nodded “Different and the same, I guess – it depends on your point of view. We had been attacked. We were defending our very existence as a nation.” Mrs. Rabb shuddered at the memory. “You can’t imagine what that was like. Nothing was certain. We didn’t know if we would win. The first year of the war we lost a lot of battles. We lost a lot of good men; my husband was included in that number.”

Jack leaned forward in his chair. “There are those who feel we are in the same situation now and others who see more grey areas.”

Tom took a drink of his coffee. “To some….I’m not one of those people.”

Mrs. Rabb spoke. “Oh there were what we called ‘Isolationists’ in our time, especially before Pearl Harbor, but their voices were all but drowned out by the reality of what was happening all over the world. We had Germany on one side of the world and Japan on the other with both their governments bent on world domination.”

“Now we have a nameless stateless enemy.” Tom smirked humorlessly as he said it.

“I hate that term. I think people use it to make the terrorists sound unbeatable.” Jack was sick and tired of the way they had been portrayed in the media. Some even had the gall to compare them to freedom fighters. They weren’t interested in anyone’s freedom, in his opinion, but their own power.

Mrs. Rabb looked from the face of her son’s best friend to that of her grandson’s best friend. “Well, boys, I think we have studied the problems of the world enough for one night.” She smiled and placed her hand on both of their arms where they rested on the table. “I appreciate your talking with me about this, Tom. I know there is probably a lot you can’t say.” Tom returned her smile

“Hey, Mrs. Rabb…do you have any more of those pastries we had this morning?”

Tom sat back and frowned at Jack… ‘Where does he put it?’ He was going to have to run every day next week to make up for the food he had been eating during his visit here.


2345
Pine loch cabin # 1
Somewhere in Pennsylvania



Mac lay on her back, sleeping deeply. Harm lay on his side next to her. The room was warm from the fireplace, almost too warm. He pulled the blanket and sheet back and down to his waist, which brought them down on Mac’s side of the bed too. She looked like a picture from his dreams. The way her beautiful olive skin contrasted against the creamy white of the sheets. She didn’t need sexy underwear; she was perfect with nothing at all. He softly placed his hand on her stomach and followed the lines of her well-defined muscles. She was still so strong, in spite of the surgery and all she had been through. She still worked out faithfully at least 3 times a week. He saw the top of her scar from her surgery in October – it didn’t take away her beauty but seemed a testament to her strength.

Mac smiled in her sleep. Harm thought she was beginning to wake, but she slept on. He lay still on his side and continued his exploration. His stroking became more insistent on her stomach. Her hips, which had been almost sharp just two months ago, were now full and round. Mac’s breathing became deeper and his heart beat just a bit faster. The feel of her under his hands never ceased to arouse him. He knew he should let her sleep, since they hadn’t really slept very much at all, but he could not help himself. He leaned down softly kissing her neck, and she turned her head toward him and spoke his name in that sleepy sexy voice that he loved.

‘She could always say no……right?’

 

 

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