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0500HRS (EST)

Mic Brumby looked up at the darkened apartment just as the light of another day dawned, his anger rising uncontrollably as he gripped the steering wheel with a surreal darkened fury. He had known he was right. What did she think she could play him for a fool? He had feigned for, a business trip, and there it was right before his eyes . . . Harmon Rabb's SUV parked exactly where it had been the night before.

0500HRS (EST)

It had never been simple, and it had never been complicated. It had just seemed impossible, but the first step of letting go proved that what he felt was right, it was true and it would be forever. What he thought would give him only a sleepless night full of regrets, full of a longing for a love that wasn't, gave him the complete opposite. As he wrapped himself in the memories of their embrace he was just lulled into a sleep filled with the incredible feelings of a burning need, an extraordinary desire, and a mind-altering passionate kiss.

But as the alarm shook him from slumber, his pillow a cold replacement for the incredible body he held last night, there were questions that surfaced once again to plague him. Would she ever trust him with a heart that had been beaten in the past? Would she ever trust him with a heart that he had pushed away with his own fears? He had felt her hungry passion, but would she be the one to finally ever let go?

0500HRS (EST)

Trish finally heard Mac rummaging around the kitchen and knew it was time for her to get up and apologize for the bout of uncharacteristic ill temper she had exhibited last night. But she couldn't believe two people who obviously cared so much about each other could fight with each other and themselves so zealously. How could two people who truly loved each other try to convince themselves they didn't? How could they try to ignore feelings that the world could see?

She had risen a few times, heard Mac's restlessness and her stifled sobs long into the night, but decided it wasn't time for a mother's comfort and wisdom, not just yet. Some things a person had to work out on their own before trying to deal with the wisdom and comfort of another.

"Well, I'm glad to see you two didn't come to blows after I left."

"No, not quite."

Trish noticed Mac's shaking hands as she was having trouble even performing the simple task of making coffee. "Hey, let me do that."

"Thanks, I don't seem to be much good at anything this morning. I didn't sleep very well last night." Mac offered Trish a weak smile through red-rimmed eyes.

"Trust me, I noticed . . . "

"Oh I'm so sorry Trish, if I woke you . . . I also should apologize for our little display last night."

"To tell you the truth Mac, I was very disappointed in both of you . . . you both acted like too ill-behaved, hurtful children slinging mud at each other."

"It was worse than that . . . it got much worse." Mac tried to shake the memories of him from her mind, but her mind's eye still felt his arms securely around her, his lips hungrily pressed against hers and his masculine scent drugging her as he moved against her. The feel of him incredible . . . his masculinity surrounding her, addicting like the strongest of opiates.

"Worse, dear? What happened? What did he do? What . . ."

" . . . He . . . He . . . kissed me."

"I don't understand . . . "

"He just kissed me." Mac's voice was barely a whisper, trying desperately to sort out the memories that still haunted her from just a kiss. "No, he REALLY kissed me . . . and well, I REALLY kissed him back."

"And that was a bad thing because . . ." Trish Burnett almost couldn't contain herself. She wanted to scream "YES", start ordering wedding invitations, book the church, choose the caterer, order the flowers, and start planning for the birth of her first grandchild. But she tried her damnedest to remain neutral . . . sympathetic and understanding, especially when she saw the confusion and indecision flutter across Sarah Mackenzie's face.

" . . . bad? It was electric . . . it was a surge . . . it was a shock. It was like an electric shock."

"Well, you can't receive a shock unless you have an electric affinity for that which shocks you. Mac, do I need to ask the obvious?"



"I don't know anymore. I thought I knew . . . that night in Australia it was all I wanted . . . all I had wanted for as long as I could remember . . . then . . . since those simple spoken words, we seem to have lost everything we had . . .we seemed to have lost each other."

"Until last night."

"More passed between us in that one brief kiss than has in the way of words over the last four months . . . but is it just his guilt for what happened with Palmer, his hatred and jealousy of Brumby, or is it all just a deception I've created in my mind?"

"Is he deceiving you . . . or are you deceiving yourself? If you don't believe in his love you have nothing to gain and everything to lose. My son loves you, Sarah Mackenzie. This I know. A mother knows."

"Trish . . .

"Don't look for an ending unless an ending is what you what. Consider last night the beginning of a beginning. My son loves you and you love him, but you're both so afraid to love. You're both so afraid to love and lose what you have. But what exactly is it that you have Sarah Mackenzie? It doesn't look like much of anything anymore to me. Give faith a fighting chance Marine, and go dance."

Trish Burnett watched the red-rimmed eyes flicker with a newborn spark . . . a spark of hope fueled by love as she suddenly rose and moved towards the bathroom. "Sarah?"

"I'm going . . . I'm going to him . . . to talk to him one last time."

Hearing the shower, Trish poured herself another cup of coffee. She whispered the words, "Atta girl, Marine, go after your Sailor."


0530HRS (EST)


She let herself in, intending only to pickup the few incidentals she had left there the last time, before she left for California. Once in the apartment, she heard the shower running and a small smile crossed her devious face. As memories of their last conversation crossed her mind, she started to strip out of her clothes. He hadn't sounded all that convincing, maybe a little time had made him change his mind and if it hadn't, she was more than confident she could . . . or one last time for old times' sake could be good, could be very good.

Her clothes were strewn across the floor, like a carpet of sleeping animals, as she made her way to the bathroom, naked and aroused . . . knowing what she wanted and knowing what she offered he would take if only for one last time.




Mac turned the SUV onto 13th Street and found herself trembling with anticipation, desire and hope as she parked across from the apartment. She knew Trish was right, she wanted last night's kiss to be the final beginning . . . a final beginning of a lifetime of love with Harmon Rabb. She did truly love him with all her heart, and she wasn't going to deceive herself any longer by allowing her hurt pride to convince her that he didn't care, that she didn't care. That they would ever be happy in the arms of anyone else but each other's.

She exited the vehicle, ignoring at first the familiar silver sports car parked in front of the building entrance. She glanced up at the dark apartment, the only visible illumination coming from the window blocks that intentionally blurred the view of the bathroom . . . the view of the shower. But the blocks were not enough to blur Sarah Mackenzie's view of the two bodies that appeared to dance naked against one another in the shower. A naked dance of lust? A naked dance of passion? A naked dance of love? A naked dance of . . .?

Hot, bitter, lonely tears of betrayal streamed down her face, numbed her mind, drown her soul, and shattered her heart, the blurred naked vision continuing to dance repeatedly in her head as she tried to maneuver through the now rain-soaked streets towards . . . nowhere. There was nowhere left to go, nothing left to want, nothing left to need, nothing left to say, nothing left to do . . . nothing left to ever make her feel anything again for a lifetime.

One final door had slammed shut, and no other door would ever open Sarah Mackenzie's heart again . . . and the next time she had the choice . . . the next time . . . she would never give faith a fighting chance . . . she would sit it out . . . sit it out . . . rather than take the chance and dance.


0630HRS (EST)


She didn't know how she made it home, the tears still streaming down her face, but when she turned on to her street she was greeted by a tangle of police, fire and medical vehicles parked directly in front of her building. Leaving the SUV in the middle of the street, she tried to run past a police officer who was trying to manage the crowd by keeping them out of the way of the official vehicles without much success.

"Wait just a minute little lady. There is nothing to see here. Get back behind the barrier."

"I live here, damn it! What the hell is going on!"

"Name and ID."

"Sarah Mackenzie." Trembling, Mac fumbled through the pocket of her jacket, finally pulling out her license. "Is this enough? Now what the hell is going on!"

"Hey, Watkins. This is 203." Turning back to her and with a nonchalant wave of his arm, the officer pointed her in the direction of the detective who was apparently in charge.

"Ms. Mackenzie? I'm Detective Charlie Watkins. This way please."

"I'd like to know . . ."

"Follow me, ma'am, and all your questions will be answered."

Mac followed the Detective as if she was in a drugged stupor, the worst of fears now running rampant through her mind. Keeping up with him and taking the stairs two at a time, she exited the stairwell and raced down the hall to her apartment, only to encounter another snarl of paramedics and police officers where the door to her apartment had once stood.

Sarah Mackenzie's audible gasp of horror quieted even the staunch city employees around her as she pushed her way towards Trish Burnett. As her tears blurred her vision again, and her ribs screamed louder than they had the night before for relief, she wondered if her world would ever stop crumbling around her . . . a surreal world that just in one week's time seemed to be engulfed by the forces from hell.


0530HRS (EST)


He let the water cascade over his body, erotic thoughts of her assaulting his mind as the water swirled around his naked body, further arousing his desire for their joining. The water played over him, leaving no part of his body immune to her heated touch. He groaned and braced himself against the cool tiles, every nerve tense and taut at the pleasure she was evoking in him, his body reacting quickly to her seductions, evoking an inexplicable explosion of pleasure like he had never experienced in his adult life.

"I see you're more than ready for me, Sailor. More than ready."

Suddenly, it wasn't her hands that glided knowingly over his body arousing his insatiable need . . . it wasn't her lips teasing and taunting his naked flesh until his senses were raw with desire . . . suddenly it wasn't her . . . instead, the erotic dreams of love with his Marine had turned into a living nightmare of unwanted advances from Renee Peterson.

He grabbed her wrists, pinning her against the wall the minute she tried to touch him again, hissed words of disgust dripping with venom escaping his ragged breathing. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Helping you release an obvious desire. A rough Harmon Rabb, oooh I like this." She tried to get closer to him, oblivious to the fact he was actually angry, her mind still just meringue when it came to Harmon Rabb.

Grabbing both her wrists with his one hand and shutting the water with the other, he dragged her out of the shower, throwing his terry robe at her and wrapping a towel around himself. "Get dry, get dressed and get the hell out!"

"You're kidding, right? Harm?"

"Let me tell you something, Renee. You have one hell of a staircase, and I'm sure many a man will enjoy climbing it in the future. But me, well I find it much more sexually arousing climbing a great staircase when there is something waiting upstairs."

"It's the mousy Marine isn't it?"

"What . . . Look, we're not having this discussion."

"You've been mixing it up with the Aussie's little Marine . . . well I'll be damned. Who would have ever thought that the angelic Harmon Rabb would diddle with someone else's woman? You've been doing the office help . . . "

"I told you we're not having this discussion! Now get the hell dressed and get the hell out!"




He clutched the counter, his knuckles threatening to split the skin, his rage so intense, his anger so all-consuming. Her naked appearance, hot and wanting, had shocked him and left him cold. Her presumption as to his own desires had incensed him and made him ashamed. What had he been thinking, all those months he had bedded her? His jaw set in a firm grim line. He knew exactly what he had been thinking. He had been thinking about Sarah Mackenzie and Mic Brumby . . . and he had accepted and taken the most available surrogate at the time. There had been no effort expended with Renee Peterson. She had been there willing, able and ready . . . ready to help him ignore what he really wanted and what he had always needed. Ready to help him ignore his need for Sarah Mackenzie.

"The key."

He barely got the words out before he heard the clatter of the metal object ricochet against the refrigerator and hit the counter . . . and only when he heard the final slamming of the front door did he breath.


0645HRS (EST)


She made her way quickly over the splintered door frame that lay strewn in her path and knelt by the ashen figure on the sofa. Fear and concern her only emotions now, the naked dance a mere memory of another less important point in time.

"Trish . . ."

"Sarah? You're back already?"

"Trish, are you okay? What happened?"

"Yes, to the first question. Since I believe, 'Brumby' stands for wild horse down under, I think I was trampled by a stampede of them."

"What . . ."

"Hey, it was an accident. It was an accident. All I wanted to do was talk to my woman, and well she got in the way . . . Hey! No need to chuck a spaz, mates."

"You bastard!" The paramedics couldn't get a grip on Sarah Mackenzie quick enough as she lunged toward Mic Brumby.

"Me? You bitch! Playing me for a fool, Sarah! Was it fun? Was it fun screwing Rabb? I saw his damn car here all night! Was it fun! Did you do him while you wore my ring! You bitch!"

"Why you . . ." Not even the two officers holding a cuffed Brumby saw what was coming . . . saw the flash of fire in the Marine's eyes . . . saw her brace herself . . . and saw the swift and forceful kick without hesitation to the Australian's manhood. They both went down with the screaming Aussie cuffed and unable to grab what now throbbed with excruciating pain.

While Brumby writhed uncontrollably in pain, Detective Watkins grabbed an irate Sarah Mackenzie by the waist, trying to stop her from inflicting any further damage on the downed suspect. "Little lady, I think he's down for the count, and with a kick like that I think maybe, just maybe his little fellows won't be swimming up anybody's stream for a very long time."

Even the seriousness of the situation was suddenly covered in a comic haze for Trish Burnett. She suppressed a small, painful smile as she noticed the obvious discomfort and empathy on all the men's faces as they subconsciously imagined the excruciating pain their suspect was feeling at the hands of one highly pissed Marine . . . some of them reaching discretely to shelter their own male worth.

"I'm Okay . . ." Mac felt Watkins relax his grip, she took two deep calming breaths and moved back to Trish Burnett's side. "Is she all right?" Her words were whispered to the EMT, who was finishing dressing the wound on the older women's forehead.

"She looks a lot worse than she is, considering she took the brunt of the falling door. Cuts, bruises, she has a nasty splintered gash on her head from the door and a large laceration from where the doorknob hit her. Because of her age, I would like to transport her to the hospital and keep her the night for . . ."

"Because of my age? Right now I may feel and look like the day after the night before and I haven't even been anywhere. But believe me, my get-up and go hasn't got-up and gone." Besides, I'll be fine right here with my Sarah."

"Thank God, Trish. Thank God." Mac's words were whispered through the tears that once again streamed down her cheeks.

While the two women comforted each other, Watkins and the officers were struggling to bring a gasping Brumby to his feet. "I'm assuming you're going to press charges, Ms. Mackenzie."

"You can bet on it, Detective. Breaking and entering, assault, trespassing . . . "


"Full-on, asshole."

"You bitch! You think once I'm out of the way you'll enjoy a life with that sanctimonious, egotistically poor excuse for a naval officer. Before he's through with you, he'll chew your heart up and spit it out like all the others and then just move on to his next Sheila." Brumby tried to free himself from the officer's grasp once again, making a violent move toward the couch where Mac sat by the older woman.

This time Watkins grabbed Sarah Mackenzie, but he reached for the wrong victim. He had ignored Trish Burnett who rose unsteadily and moved within inches of Mic Brumby. "You, Mr. Brumby, are a reprehensible rogue who would probably steal a dead fly from a blind spider. My son, on the other hand, is an officer and a gentlemen, a credit to the uniform he wears, a credit to his family and a credit to the woman he loves. I am third generation military, I am a lady and I have seen much over the years," without warning Trisha Rabb Burnett grabbed Mic Brumby's damaged privates with the strength of a lioness protecting her cubs, "but I promise you this. The next time you meet a Rabb, consider it to be your worst nightmare."

Everyone heard the strength and conviction in the older woman's voice, everyone noticed the Australian double over in pain, but no one saw her grasp Mic Brumby in a vise-like grip . . . no one saw the action, recognized the fire in her eyes, but Sarah Catherine Mackenzie.

Trish Burnett turned to Sarah Mackenzie and linked her arm through hers. "What do you say we put on a pot of coffee, call my son, get a cleaning crew in here, and have a new door installed. But first I think I'll go wash my hands."


"Yes, dear."

"You are an amazing woman . . .I . . . "

"As are you. I know darling, I love you too."


0930HRS (EST)


Harmon Rabb's head was pounding as he finished his opening arguments. The morning had been hell and the only saving grace was that it was Friday. Absently, he listened to Mattoni drone on about "honor", "duty", "integrity", "truth", "courage". When had Sarah Mackenzie become everything he had once been, and when had she become everything he had always needed? As his mind tried to focus on Mattoni's opening argument, his thoughts still wandered to the erotic shower scene . . . minus, of course, the silicon princess. But the thoughts of her presumptions and her childish ranting caused his anger to resurface, and he was abruptly snapped back to the reality of the courtroom.

It was Friday, they had Bud and Harriet's barbecue on Saturday and he swore that Sarah Mackenzie would know what a large part she played in his world. She was his world, he needed her as a friend and he needed her as a lover . . . as his wife, as the mother of his children, as his partner for life. He needed only her love. He smiled as he realized that his mind had finally shut down and his heart had started up.

He had always placed himself in a very dark place when it came to love, where he didn't know his way and where he became frightened. He was afraid to go forward with her and yet he couldn't go back with her. So he listened to his heart, where there was the light of love, where he didn't have to be afraid, where there was real strength . . . so he knew only her love would take him forward . . . take him where he had always wanted to be.


0930HRS (EST)


Mic Brumby had made quite a mess of Sarah Mackenzie's home as he tore through it looking for her and confirmation that she was sleeping with Harmon Rabb. As the two women finished giving their statements to the police, they both sat in silence at the dining room table, still numb from their morning adventures. Trish mused about the violence, about her reaction and the toll it all had apparently taken on the younger woman. Mac mused about Trish's injuries, the ranting of Mic Brumby and the dance she had seen in the shower . . . and once again her inability to find a good man, an honest man.

"Well, the cleaning crew is on their way, the door should be replaced shortly and Sergeant Galindez will give Harm the message as soon as he comes out of court. Since everything has settled down, I didn't think it was necessary to drag Harm from court." Trish glanced at Mac, noticed her vacant nod and the sudden mist that settled over her beautiful eyes. "Darling, I'm all right really. The rest are just things and things can always be replaced. It's going to be fine."

"Of course you're right, Trish. I just think that maybe if I had been here, Mic would have been a bit more controllable and you wouldn't have been the one hurt. Maybe I could have . . ."

"Nonsense, the little I remember tells me that he really didn't want to hear the truth. What he believed was his only truth. He thought that you broke up with him because you were sleeping with my son, not because you couldn't see him as your friend, let alone your partner for life."

"God, I never thought he could be so violent . . . so hateful . . . so deceiving . . . God, the men I choose."

"The men you chose . . . past tense." Trish saw the tears start to well in Sarah Mackenzie's eyes, remembered how quickly she had returned from Harm's and intuitively realized something was very wrong. "Sarah, what is it?"

"It's nothing . . . it will be fine."

"Sarah, did you speak to Harm, or had he left for the office already?"

"No, I didn't have a chance to talk to him?"

"He had left already?"

"No . . . he wasn't available. Look Trish, I appreciate your concern, I will never be able to repay you for your friendship and care over the last few days, I feel terrible for what Mic did to you, but if you wouldn't mind I would prefer just to drop the subject of my visit to Harm's right now. "

"Mac, I . . ."


" . . . Of course, if you would prefer not to . . . "

"Thank you. If you're okay, I think I'll go and try to at least to pick up the bedroom before the cleaning crew shows up."

"I'll be fine . . ."

Just as quickly as Sarah Mackenzie voiced her intentions, she disappeared into her bedroom and closed the door quietly . . . shutting out Trish Burnett and effectively her world. But as Trish Burnett heard the muffled uncontrollable sobs, she controlled a mother's instinct to comfort a child in pain . . . a child in obvious overwhelming pain.




When Harm pulled up to Sarah Mackenzie's apartment, he was like a man possessed. He was madder than hell at his mother, he was madder than hell at Mac and he wouldn't have hesitated to killing Mic Brumby with his bare hands. He took the steps two at a time, and as he entered the hallway and saw the carpenters and the discarded items that were strewn in the hall, his heart was in this throat. As he pushed his way through the remnants of the new door that was being hung, his anger rose when he saw the destruction that the Aussie had apparently inflicted on all in his path.


"No need to shout, this isn't the Taj Mahal, I'm right here." Before Trish Burnett finished her sentence, she was uncomfortably in her son's embrace. "Easy, Sailor. I think I still have the doorknob permanently attached to my rib cage."

"Mom, are you okay? What happened? Why would he go after you? Why would he do something like this?"

"I'll be fine. But to tell you the truth, I'm still a little foggy. I think I could answer all your questions, but I'd have a problem putting the correct answers with the correct questions."

"Mom . . . god, where is Mac?"

"I'm right here." Sarah Mackenzie walked in from the bedroom her arms filled with broken pots, torn baskets, a lifetime of collected and now broken memorabilia. Things she accumulated that represented years of her life, now only to be garbage in the barrel that had been placed in the hall by the door.

"Mac . . . thank god, he didn't hurt you." Harm tried to hold her in his arms, but she walked past him to stand behind Trish's chair. Confusion and hurt crossed his face as he tried to understand her action.

"Well, thank god she wasn't here. God knows what he would have done to her if she hadn't gone to your place."


"I'll get more coffee for you Trish."

"Thank you dear. She must have just missed you, because she was back almost immediately. The neighbors heard the ruckus and . . ."

"Wait a minute. What?"

"Why do you keep asking 'what'? Mac went over to your place this morning when Brumby . . . "

"What time?" Suddenly the color drained from Harm's face . . . she couldn't have . . . it wasn't possible . . . could she have seen . . . no it wasn't possible. "What time, Mom?"

"I told you everything is a little jumbled. I don't know, it's all so foggy . . . it was . . .wait . . ."

"It was exactly 0530 and 16 seconds. You must have been in the shower. Trish, if you don't mind, I'm going to go by Harriet's and pick up Jingo. It's time he comes home. Can I get you anything while I'm out? Trish?"

"No dear, I'll be fine here with Harm. But be careful."

"Mac . . . wait. I'll walk down with you." Harm tried to grab her arm, as she breezed past him, but she pulled away.

The fire in her eyes would have melted the largest of icebergs, as she focused her glare on him. "That isn't necessary. Why don't you just stay here with your Mom and let her fill you in on all the details of our morning excitement . . . then you might want to tell her about your morning excitement."

His jaw tightened from both anger and regret, but the anger quickly dissipated and he was only filled with the aching regret. She had seen it all, but she hadn't seen anything. She had seen what she thought was the truth, but he had to tell her the real truth. He had to stop her and explain. He couldn't lose her to a lie. He couldn't lose her to the illusions created by Renee Peterson's intrusion.

And Trish Burnett just watched . . .




Barely making it to the 'vette before she left, he grabbed her shoulders in a vise-like grip, noticing her hands were shaking and her tears that soaked her like the rain that fell around them.

"Listen to me . . ."

"No! There's nothing left to say! Just let me go."

"I'm not sure what you think you saw, but it wasn't what it appeared to be. We . . ."

"Stop it! What are you saying? That besides being a fool, I'm a blind fool! That you thought with the wrong head! Damn you, Harmon Rabb. Damn, you!" She tried to get away from him, but he had her pinned against the vette.

"You're going to listen . . ."

"No, you're going to listen. Do you know what it is to really love someone? To finally admit in your heart, your soul, and your mind that that person is all you want . . . all that you've ever wanted. Have you ever loved someone so much that it makes you cry, because all you want is feel your love returned? Have you ever loved a person so much that you can't sleep at night, because the ache, the loneliness and the emptiness keeps you up at night knowing the one you love is in the arms of another? Have you? Damn it have you?"

"Mac . . . "

"Well, I have! Let me tell you real love makes you vulnerable, it can devastate you and it can shatter all your dreams . . . that's what real love is when it is not offered by an honest, decent and good man!"

"It wasn't what it appeared . . . This isn't over, Marine. You're going to listen. Do you have so little faith in my . . ."

She broke free and managed to open the car door. "It is over! I'll never give faith a fighting chance again! Go dance with your video princess."

Harm shuddered as the downpour engulfed him and watched as the 'vette spun away on the rain-slicked streets. As her taillights disappeared into the rain, her words stung his soul, her tears melted his heart, and her blind, inconsolable anger shattered his dreams.

"Damn you, Sarah Mackenzie. WHY!"




She watched her son exchange some words with the workmen who had finally finished replacing the door watched him loosen his tie and discard his jacket on the sofa. But it wasn't his actions, which appeared to be in slow motion, that caught Trish Burnett's attention. It was the look in his eyes . . . vacant and hollow like the catacombs where dead souls were placed for eternity.

"Is there more coffee?" His words were an emotionless whisper, as hollow as his blue-green eyes.

"I'm sure there is in the kitchen. You . . . of course know where the cups are . . . Aren't you going back to the office?"

"No. As second chair, Bud can handle the afternoon session. I though I'd just . . . "

"Wait for Sarah?"

"No, just sit with my mother and hope she gives me the whole story of what happened here this morning."

"Okay, I believe I can tell you about our little excitement . . . and then you can tell me about yours."

"How do you do that?"

"Do what, dear?"

"See all, hear all, feel all, sense all that's going on around you?"

"Being a mother doesn't come with a manual, so you tend to hone your abilities using your basic instincts. I look, I listen, I hear and I learn. I had a lot of practice with you, darling. So shall I start or shall you?"




The hours passed, and Trish Burnett relayed her experiences with Mic Brumby. Brumby breaking into the apartment, her being knocked down by the falling door, his ransacking the apartment as he ranted, crazed, about Sarah belonging to him always, and finally the neighbors calling the police. A smile crossed her face as she continued to recount the events surrounding Mac's arrival, her attack on Mic, but she neglected to mention the final "grip" she had inflicted on Mr. Brumby herself. After all, she was his mother and she didn't feel it appropriate to admit to her son she had grabbed another man's privates in anger.

"The bastard! Why didn't you call me immediately? He could have seriously hurt the both of you! Damn it, Mom." As his mother recounted the morning incidents, his anger continued to rise, again. Even the relief that Brumby was in custody and they were not hurt, couldn't salve his rage.

"I was a bit busy trying to control the 'wild horse', then the police arrived and once Mac came home, well, believe me she had the situation well in hand. Besides, I understand that perhaps you were predisposed."

He had been waiting for this turn in the conversation, and though the subject was one he didn't want to discuss with his mother, he knew that maybe he could get some answers from her . . . some answers that would not be forthcoming from Sarah Mackenzie now.

"Well, Mr. Rabb?"

"This morning when Mac apparently came by, Renee was there."


"It was nothing like that! It was over between Renee and I."

"Mac doesn't strike me as an individual who would just jump to conclusions concerning your relationship with Renee unless . . ."

"Apparently Renee, among other things, was suffering from 'clothestrophobia', ended wrapped up only in herself . . . and well . . . joined me in the shower . . . but . . ."

Trish Rabb sat rigidly with her hands clasped tightly around her coffee mug, unable at first to look at her son, until she could digest what she had heard and the pain it must have inflicted on the woman who had gone to her son to bare her soul . . . only to find him bared with another. "Let me try to understand. You did all but profess your love to Mac the night before and then ended up 'lathering' with the queen of the bedsheets the next morning."

"No! That's not it at all . . . Damn it, how could you even think I would do something like that to Mac? Renee had a key . . . she let herself in . . . and she presumed that she was want I wanted."

"Then I don't understand why . . ."

"We struggled in the shower while I tried to get her away from me. I can only assume . . . Mac must have seen . . . well, what she thought was . . . well . . . something else through the blocked windows . . . I don't know . . ."

"Harm, just talk to her."

"You know Mom, what's the point? All I do is keep apologizing, even for things I haven't done. I love her with all my heart, but there comes a point where maybe that isn't even enough anymore."

"Harm, don't talk like that . . ."

"Why? Why not? I tried to talk to her downstairs. She inferred I wasn't decent, I wasn't honest, I wasn't a 'good' man. If she truly loved me, how could she believe I would . . . after the other night . . . How could she have so little faith in me?"

"The last four months have been difficult for the both of you, and you . . ."

"'Difficult' . . . yeah, I'd say that. She stood on that ferry and all but told me she loved me. I told her I wasn't ready to let go yet. So is that a reason to run into Brumby's arms two days later? What the hell was that about?"

"Her past relationships with men have been, well, less than supportive, less than fulfilling."

"You think I don't know that! Hell, I lived through half of them with her. And I have been nothing but supportive. I'll admit I haven't always been the most sensitive guy . . . but damn it, I was so afraid of loving her that now that I've admitted and faced my insecurities and my failures, she has no faith in me. She doesn't trust me. In the past we would have given our lives for each other. We trusted and respected each other implicitly, but now . . . maybe love did kill the trust, the faith, the respect . . . maybe there is nothing left . . . maybe it did kill the friendship."

"Darling please, she does love you and I know you love her."

"Maybe that's not enough for us. With Mac, I thought I had found the one person I could love without being afraid to love. I thought I had found a person who trusted me without question. I thought I had found a love without demands, without restrictions, without inhibitions. In Mac, I thought I had found the one person in life who accepted me for who I was, without trying to change me. She's become my world and I love her unconditionally, but is it too much to ask for the same in return? Is it, Mom?"

Trish Burnett sat silently, tears welling in her eyes, for her child's pain as she saw the utter defeat in her son's demeanor and heard the utter despair in each spoken word. God, maybe it was too much to ask of Sarah Mackenzie and Harmon Rabb . . . maybe it was too much for them to love . . . maybe both couldn't nor wouldn't ever love.


1730HRS (EST)


"Sarah Mackenzie."

"Sarah, it's Trish. Are you all right?"

"Yes, I'm fine. Why?"

"Well, it's getting late and I was concerned . . . since you haven't called and you've been gone all day."

"I'm sorry, I intended on calling, but Harriet and I took AJ to the park, and we just lost track of time. I never meant to make you worry. How are you feeling?"

"Fine, just fine. What about you? You haven't pushed yourself too much today, have you?"

No. I'm fine. I'm tired, but . . . I'm fine."

"Mmmm hmmm . . . Harm and I are getting ready to go to the airport and pick up Frank. Harm's offered to cook us all dinner, so we thought you might like to join us at his place."

". . . Trish, I'm sorry, but I've offered to help Harriet with . . . with . . . the preparations for the barbecue. I hope you don't mind, but I think I'll pass."

"Of course, dear. Listen with Frank in town and you healing, we've taken a suite at the Hilton. I hope that is all right . . . leaving . . ."

" . . . Oh, sure . . . Trish . . . that's absolutely not a problem. You've been wonderful. I'll be fine. Enjoy your night and give my love to Frank."

"I will . . . and Mac . . . "


"We'll see you tomorrow at Harriet's."

"Yes . . . tomorrow. Good night."

As Mac ended the call, she thought about tomorrow. What was she going to do about tomorrow? The barbecue had been planned for weeks. A JAG Family-like Picnic idea of Harriet's, endorsed by the Admiral, therefore attendance compulsory. Tomorrow. What was she going to do about tomorrow? How was she going to face Harmon Rabb?


1730HRS (EST)


Just as Trish Burnett hung up the phone, Harm returned from hauling away the last of the trash. The minute he saw the expression on his mother's face, he knew. "She isn't coming. Is she?"

"No, dear. She isn't. She . . ."

"I'll leave a key to the new door with Mrs. Trumble." Defeated and distant, he grabbed one of the keys and left the apartment before Trish Burnett could cushion his disappointment with the pillows of motherhood.


1730HRS (EST)


"What about the barbecue?" Harriet returned to the living room just as Mac ended her call with Trish.

"Oh, I just thought I'd stay tonight and help you prepare for tomorrow."

"No need. I told you everything was under control, and besides, you should still be getting your rest. You've already done so much today, volunteering to take AJ to the park to give me a breather. I would imagine, after all that's happened today, Trish is probably anxious and could use the company."

"You know I love spending time with my godson, and besides, Harm and Trish are on their way to the airport to pick up Frank and then have dinner, so I think that . . ."

"Aren't you joining them?" Harriet noticed Mac tense but recover immediately, so typically the strong marine when she was trying to bury her emotions, somewhere no one could ever touch.

"Isn't it time for AJ's bath?"

"Well, yes, but you don't have to . . ."

"No, I'd love to, if you don't mind of course, Harriet."

"No. I don't mind any help I can get. Mac . . ."


Harriet watched as Mac scooped up AJ and made her way toward the bedroom. She knew by instinct that her friend was hurting and it wasn't from the injuries that Palmer had inflicted on her, nor from the actions of Mic Brumby. It was deeper, and it was causing her once again to slip back into herself. Without a doubt it had to do with the Commander, it always had to do with the Commander lately. It wasn't something that he had done to her. It wasn't something that she had done to him. It was always something that they seemed to do to each other . . . because of foolish pride, unfounded insecurities and a blur of misunderstandings. It was . . .


"Bud. You're home early." Harriet smiled and pushed the thoughts of the two stubborn souls from her mind as Bud entered the kitchen and hugged her. "You look beat, dear."

"It has been one heck of a day with everything that's happened."

"Problem with the trial? After Brumby's episode this morning, what else could have possibly happened? Bud, you're okay aren't you?"

"Lot's more happened, but I'm fine. What's for dinner?" Bud worked this way around the pots that were bubbling and boiling on the stove, testing and tasting all with a spoon as he went.

"Stop that! Most of this is for tomorrow. I thought we'd go out for dinner. What else happened . . . Bud stop it!"

"Well, I told you the whole Brumby thing. Right?" Bud watched as his wife nodded her acknowledgment while still trying to stop his assault on the food items tempting his already voracious appetite. "Well, that was bad enough, but Renee Peterson was a whole other thing. Where do you want to go for dinner?"

"What about Renee?"

"Let's do Italian, I'm kind of tired of Chinese, and besides . . ."

"Bud! What about Renee?"

"Oh, yeah. Well, when the Commander came in this morning he looked like he was about to explode . . . you know that look, Harriet . . . the one he's had since . . ."


"Okay! I asked him if he was all right, but you know how closed lip he can be about his personal life . . ." Seeing the exasperated look on his wife's face, he decided to continue rather than have her drag it out of him inch by inch. "Apparently, Ms. Peterson invaded his space."

"Invaded his space? What does that mean, Bud!"

"Well, from the little he told me, she. . . well . . . let herself in with a key . . . presumed . . . that he well . . . wanted to continue their relationship . . . and joined him in the shower."


"From what the Commander said . . . he had to almost physically throw her out and . . . "

"Hey, Bud. Who threw who out? Bud? Bud, are you okay?"

"Colonel?" Bud turned white and lost his nerve on continuing this conversation in front of Mac.

". . . Uh, nothing it's nothing."

But Harriet, as always, couldn't restrain herself. With a look of concerned innocence on her face, she answered Sarah Mackenzie's question in detail. "Apparently, Commander Rabb threw Renee Peterson out of his apartment this morning after she made some presumptions about them continuing their relationship."

Now it was Mac who turned ghostly white, as she handed AJ off to Harriet, afraid of dropping the baby as her knees weakened. "He . . . what?"

"Can you believe it! Renee turned up unexpectedly, used her key to get in, and well . . . you know. For god's sake he told her it was over a week ago. Can't she take a hint? From what Bud told me, the Commander, was really upset, not wanting to have anything to do with her any longer."

"Harriet, I never said . . ." Bud froze at his wife's look of "don't go there" as he took AJ from Harriet and turned his entire attention on his son.

Sarah Mackenzie's world was darkening around her as the realization of what he didn't actually DO hit her and the realization of what she had actually DONE hit her. She no longer heard Bud and Harriet, she no longer noticed baby AJ, now her only focus was why she had just not let him explain. Why had she just assumed? Why had she just not let him explain?

"Harriet, I need to go . . . to . . ."

"I understand." Seeing the sudden tears welling in her friend's eyes, Harriet Roberts hugged her friend. "Go. We'll see you tomorrow."



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