~~~ Chapter Twenty-nine – Step
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA
Mac walked into the bullpen and paused by the glass doors. She smiled
warmly. This was the closest thing to home she had. The four-week TAD to
Naples had been insanely busy, but it had kept her from thinking too
much about the events of the last year, especially the mess she had made
of her personal life.
"Good to see you back, ma'am!"
Harriet's cheerful greeting broke her reverie and snapped her back to
"It's good to be back, Harriet. How are the kids?"
"Angels, ma'am. I don't mean to rush you, but the admiral's waiting for
Mac sighed and strode towards her office to drop off her cover and
briefcase and headed for the admiral's office.
"Welcome back, Colonel. How was Italy?" AJ asked, once she was seated in
front of his desk.
"Busy, sir. I'm glad to be back."
AJ leaned back in his chair and studied the woman in front of her. He'd
watched from a distance as she struggled though the last year, watched
her run to Clayton Webb to forget the pain of Harmon Rabb's departure.
He'd seen the hollowness in her eyes, the long working nights, the
wistful looks she still gave to his old office...
"I look forward to your report, Colonel," AJ replied. He leaned back in
his chair and thought for a moment. He blew a quick breath and spoke up.
"When was the last time you took some leave, Mac?"
"It's a simple question, Colonel," AJ replied curtly. This wasn't going
to be easy.
"Um, it's... A few years, sir. But I don't need--"
"Let me be the judge of that. You have over 60 days of leave on the
books, and I prefer my staff to accumulate no more than 30 days. So, I'm
giving you 15 days of leave, effective immediately."
AJ saw Mac bristle, her jaw set, ready to argue. He held up a palm,
"Before you say a word, let me make a suggestion." He pushed a folder
across his desk and motioned for her to pick it up. "I hear Wyoming's
nice this time of year."
Mac took the folder from the admiral's desk, giving her CO a puzzled
look. "Wyoming, sir?"
AJ stuck his chin out towards the folder in her hand. "Mr. Webb left
these vacation plans for you while you were away. Dismissed."
Mac suddenly felt a cold shiver run down her spine. She rose to her feet
and snapped to attention, heart hammering. "Aye, aye, sir. Thank you,
The about-face and subsequent retreat to her office was done purely
automatically, her entire mind focused on the folder in her hand. She
dropped to her chair, knees weak, stomach in knots.
This was it.
There was only one thing Clay could have left for her. Harm's
whereabouts. She placed the folder in the middle of the blotter and
stared at it for long minutes. Her hand hovered over the cover, shaking.
The words from his letter still haunted her.
If you love something, let it go... I ask of you only one thing: let me
go. Don't try to find me. Leave me in peace, and be happy...
She swallowed thickly and took a deep breath. Her hand dropped to the
thin cardboard folder. Her breath turned to short, panting gasps as the
pad of her thumb caught the edge of the cover.
He'd let her go. She'd be damned if she'd let him slip away without
knowing. She had to know if he truly meant it.
If you love something...
The word echoed though her mind as her eyes quickly scanned the few
pages of information, until they saw a picture, in black and white
Her hands trembled as she picked up the clipping. Even with an oxygen
mask on his face, she had no doubt it was he. She closed her eyes and
silently thanked the admiral and Clay. She closed the precious folder
and safely tucked it into her briefcase. Within only a few minutes, the
report for her TAD was printed and delivered to Coates, her inbox was
cleared and she was on her way home to pack.
Part Thirty – Face to Face ~~~
TWO DAYS LATER
CRAFTON'S OUTFITTER AND CHARTER
Mac walked into the old outfitter's store, her heart pounding. A year. A
very long year. Her search was about to end, either way. She had found
him. Harm was somewhere out here. Only one question remained: how would
"Can I help you, miss?" an old leathery man asked, from behind the
"Um, I'm not sure... I'm looking for... for this man," Mac replied,
showing him a picture of Harm in his dress blues.
Mo eyed the young woman carefully. Yes. It was definitely her. This was
Dean's Sarah, the one he had spoke to Kat about, the one he called out
for in fevered delirium... This was the woman he had come here to
"A commander. I knew it," he said, shaking his head. His gentle amber
eyes met hers and locked there. "He's out back in the hangar, child.
He's been trying hard to forget you. But he can't."
Mac stood there, unable to move. He truly was here.
"Go. It'll be all right," the old man said, giving her a little push
towards the door.
Numbly, she walked outside, towards the hangar. Before she could recall
moving, she stepped though the open bay door and froze. She spotted him
immediately, up on a stepladder, working on a plane's engine. Although
his back was to her, it was unmistakably him. His six-foot-four frame,
as lean and muscular as ever, was clear, even through his loose,
checkered flannel shirt. His faded jeans hugged his body like a
well-worn glove, and if this image wasn't already familiar enough, the
USS Seahawk baseball cap he wore backwards was a dead giveaway.
He'd heard the steps behind him, but he didn't turn.
"Gimme a sec, Mo. I'm almost done. I'll need to rebuild the carburetor
soon. We'll have to order a new air filter too."
Squaring her shoulders, Mac spoke up. "Hello, Harm."
Instantly, he stiffened and his hands stilled. He didn't need to ask who
it was. He heard her voice in his dreams, saw her smile, saw her laugh
and cry every time he closed his eyes.
But he didn't turn around. He didn't say a word. He stared through the
engine in front of him, suddenly lost. All the pain, the anger, and the
sadness he'd tried to bury resurfaced in a single instant, cutting off
his air supply. He gripped the wrench in his hand tightly, until his
knuckles turned white. Sarah Mackenzie. She was here, standing right
behind him. He didn't know what to feel, didn't know what to do. After
all this time... she'd found him.
Through all the pain in his soul, something else reappeared, something
not completely unexpected, but completely unwanted: love. God help him,
after all this time, all this heartache, he still felt as strongly for
her as he ever did. But... why? What was she doing here? How had she
found him? Where was Clay? A million questions swirled through his mind,
and not a word made it past his lips. Somewhat regaining his composure,
he started twisting the wrench in his hand, tightening the bolt he had
been working on.
Mac couldn't help but be hurt by his silence. She had gone to incredible
lengths to find him and he wouldn't even speak to her.
"You won't even speak to me? I spent months looking for you! You at
least owe me an explanation!" she cried, a hint of anger creeping into
Harm took a deep breath and struggled for control. Anger and longing
mixed in his head, making it impossible for him to think. He was angry,
simply because she hadn't had enough respect for him to honour his last
request, that she not chase after him. Still, the only piece of his
heart in working order screamed that she wouldn't have come all this
way, after all this time if she didn't love him. But he wouldn't let
himself hope. He wouldn't let himself be hurt again like he had been in
that damned Paraguayan hell, or just a few weeks before.
His discussion with Kat, or rather Kat's dressing-down, came back to
mind, and he realised with a start that he'd fallen in the same hole
again. He was still burying his heart in the middle of nowhere, and he
was still miserable. He'd hidden behind the ranch fire, telling himself
Kat needed him. All the reasons he'd given himself, like his need to
move on, to leave the past behind, floated in his head. But it was just
another smoke screen, another stall tactic.
He cursed himself to hell. Time had run out, and for the first time in
his life, he was truly scared. He was afraid to screw up his last chance
with Mac, afraid of losing control, and terrified of the power Mac held
over him. No. No way. He couldn't do this! Not like this, not now! Panic
slowly crept into his heart, making his hands tremble.
"Not here, Sarah. Let me finish this, and then we can talk," he replied
softly, despite his intentions to ask her to leave him alone. But
somehow, he couldn't. 'You're a coward, Rabb,' he thought. Rabb. How
long had it been since he'd thought of himself as Harmon Rabb, not the
Dean Harmon he'd become?
Mac hadn't expected that. She hadn't expected the effect of his voice
uttering her name again would do to her. The empty void in her soul
suddenly shone with a ray of hope, a chance that maybe, just maybe,
their love wasn't dead.
Once he'd finished what he was doing, Hammer, Harm, Dean -- he wasn't
sure who he was anymore -- dropped the wrench to the toolbox beside him
and wiped his hands on a rag before stepping off the ladder. There was
only one thing left to do. He turned and faced her.
He was completely unprepared for the sight of her. He'd expected a
uniform. Not a flowing cotton sundress, in a pale yellow, with small
roses printed on the soft fabric. She held a white knit shawl tightly
around her shoulders. Northern Wyoming weather was a lot cooler than the
late DC spring. Her hair was a bit longer than he remembered, a soft,
dark cross between mahogany and auburn. He caught himself getting lost
into the brown depths of her eyes. Involuntarily, his gaze wandered to
her left hand. Bare. At that, he was even more confused. Should he be
glad, angry, hopeful? Her voice brought him swiftly back to the present.
"You look good," she tried hesitantly.
He didn't reply immediately, as he took off his flannel shirt. "You're
cold," he stated, as he draped the shirt over her shoulders.
"Come on." Harm said, as he led her to his pickup. He stopped and turned
back to the hangar, giving a sharp whistle. "Lea! Let's go!", he yelled,
as he opened the tailgate. A few seconds later, a flash of white and
brown fur whizzed past and jumped up into the bed of Dean/Harm's pickup.
Mac couldn't help but smile. The dog was lovely. "She's beautiful!" she
said, as she stroked Lea's head. In return, Lea licked her hand.
"Lea, this is Mac. Mac, Meet Lea," Harm said in the same soft tone he'd
He opened the door for her and shut it once she was in, careful not to
touch her. He slowly stepped around the driver's side and climbed in. He
started the engine and headed for the farm.
Mac studied him intently. His expression remained unreadable, his eyes
locked on the road in front of him. After an interminable silence, he
cleared his throat and spoke up.
"How did you get here?"
"Cab, from Gillette Regional Airport."
"Where are we going?"
Again, a heavy silence filled the cab, neither willing to touch the
tacit truce they had involuntarily agreed upon.
A few tense minutes later, he pulled up the ranch road and stopped the
truck in its usual spot, next to Kat's, halfway between the main house
and his cabin. As he parked, he caught sight of Kat, coming from behind
the house, dust swirling around her feet, her loose denim shirt flapping
in the wind.
As he stepped out, she called out to him.
"Dean! It's done," she called joyously, tucking a strand of hair behind
her ear. "First post on the new barn is in the ground! Fiesta toni --Oh,
sorry. I didn't see you had, um... company," Kat said carefully,
studying the new arrival. A flicker of recognition flashed in her mind.
She remembered that picture from a few weeks ago, and her gaze hardened.
This was Sarah Mackenzie; the cause of all of Dean's pain.
Mac stood a bit uneasily beside the silver pickup, hands tightly
grasping her purse. She instantly felt a wave of hostility from the
young woman in front of her.
Dean glared at Kat, sensing her resentment. "Katherine Miller, meet
Lieutenant-Colonel Sarah Mackenzie, a former colleague of mine... Mac,
Kat is the owner of this place, and my boss."
"Colonel," Kat said coldly, her eyes drifting towards Dean's. Catching
the pleading look in his eyes, she softened, remembering the vow she had
made. If she could help Dean find his heart, she would. She let a smile
slip onto her face. "It's a pleasure to meet you. He's told me a lot
about you," she said, rolling her eyes at Dean.
Mac gave a thin-lipped smile. His boss... So, why all the hostility?
"Miss Miller. You have a nice place, here."
"Thank you, if you take abstraction of the fire..." Kat shifted her gaze
to Dean. "There's a barbecue tonight, and campfire. Why don't you join
Dean nodded fractionally. "We'll see." He gestured toward his cabin.
"Mac, shall we?"
She followed Harm and Lea up the cabin steps and paused just inside the
"Dean?" she said questioningly.
"My middle name," he said simply, looking at the floor. He toed off his
boots and headed straight for the bathroom.
"Make yourself comfortable while I take a shower. Lea'll keep you
company." The bathroom door slammed shut.
Dean/Harm leaned against the closed door, his heart pounding. He closed
his eyes and willed himself to calm down. He felt like a trapped rabbit,
with a wolf staring it down. Kat was right: he had been running from his
feelings, and now, everything had caught up with him.
The problem was, he had no idea how to deal with it. He had to admit, he
still felt as strongly as ever, and she apparently cared too. He caught
himself hoping she had come to get him back, to tell her the words he'd
wanted so much to hear, after he'd given up the biggest obstacle between
He blew out an annoyed breath. That was only an excuse. Nothing he had
done had changed the way he felt about Mac, and nothing ever would, he
was sure of it. And suddenly, the ugly reality of what he had done was
staring him right in the face, and the picture he was contemplating was
less than pretty. He recalled Kat's words to him, only a few weeks
before, with vivid clarity. It was time to stop running for good, this
He quickly undressed and stepped under the hot spray, praying he would
find a way to work things out with Mac, thanking his lucky stars that
for once, he'd said the right thing, telling her he wanted to talk,
instead of running again. He'd decided to go back to Washington after
the hunting season, but he hadn't exactly decided what he'd do about
Mac. He rubbed his hands over his face and shook his head vigorously. It
was a moot point, now.
Sarah Mackenzie slowly walked through the small house Harm had been
calling home for about a year. There wasn't much of the man she knew in
this place, but there were subtle signs, here and there, like the
picture on the foyer table: Little AJ and his sister, Mackenzie. Harm
Sr., his guitar... But no pictures of her. She didn't know if she was
surprised or hurt by that. Probably a little of both, she reasoned.
Lea followed her from room to room, her little tail wagging. Almost
unconsciously, Mac put a knee to the floor and caressed the dog's soft,
"Harm with a dog. Go figure," she mused Lea sniffed her hand intently,
her dark brown eyes focusing on her face.
Mac watched, puzzled by the concentration the animal displayed.
Suddenly, Lea headed straight for the bedroom, a place she hadn't dared
Mac didn't know what to make of Harm’s reaction. Shock, of course,
but... There was no hint of the man she used to know, no smiles, no
cocky remarks, no friendly banter. When he'd walked her into the cabin,
the look in his eyes had been the one of a cornered animal.
She blew a long breath and took his shirt off her shoulders. On a whim,
she pressed her nose into in and inhaled his distinctive scent. He
hadn't changed his aftershave, and the hint of kerosene and engine oil,
mixed with his unique scent was somehow very fitting.
From what little information she'd gleaned from the package Clay had
left her, she had learned that he'd found a way to fly. She chuckled, as
she imagined him in the cockpit of an old bush plane, his ever-present
Seahawk ballcap backwards, a wide grin on his face.
But somehow, she doubted this was how the people of Sundance knew him.
A sharp tug on the hem of her dress snapped her back to reality. Lea had
grabbed onto her dress and was tugging her towards the bedroom.
"Hey! Let go!"
Lea complied, but kept running back and forth from her to the bedroom.
Mac quirked her brow and called Lea to her.
"You want to show me something?"
Curious, Mac followed Lea to Harm's bedroom. She paused in the door,
making sure the water was still running in the shower before invading
his privacy. The bedroom was surprisingly stark, considering Harm's
tastes in contemporary decors. A simple double bed, white sheets, wool
blanket, two pillows.
The nightstand harbored a tissue box, a tiny reading lamp and a small
alarm clock. Nothing on the dresser. To Mac, the room felt impersonal,
cold. There had been one or two pictures, a few personal items in his
stateroom on the Henry, but nothing here.
In a sense, it comforted her. Maybe he hadn't planned on staying here
Lea bumped Mac's hand with her wet muzzle, drawing attention. When Mac
looked down to the dog, she trotted to the bedside table and pawed at
the drawer insistently.
Mac glanced back and forth between the drawer and the door. The last
thing she wanted was for Harm to find her snooping around his bedroom.
Hearing the shower running still, she walked over to the nightstand and
pulled the drawer open. Her breath caught in her throat at the sight.
She reached in and tentatively withdrew the stack of pictures from the
drawer. They were all of her. The first thing she noticed was how worn
they were, as if he'd sifted through them time and time again. In her
mind's eye, she could picture him, lying in the dark, the only light
coming from the tiny lamp, looking at those pictures. God knew she'd
done the same with her pictures of him, sometimes even when Clay was
asleep beside her.
~~~ Part Thirty-one – Memories and
Harm felt the water slowly turn cold as he let the spray pound on his
back, both arms braced on the stall wall in front of him. He raised his
head and shut off the water. Time to music. He grabbed a towel and
quickly dried himself. As he toweled his hair, he reached to the door
hook for his clean clothes. His hand encountered wood.
"Damn it!" He smacked the heel of his hand to his forehead. In his haste
to escape Mac, he'd completely forgotten to bring a change of clothes...
He snorted angrily and tied a towel around his waist. He cracked the
door open and called out.
Startled, Mac promptly replaced the pictures in the drawer and shut it
"Yeah?" she asked as she walked back into the living room.
"Um, I, ah, I need a favor..." His voice was contrite, uncomfortable.
"What can I do for you?"
"I... I, ah... need... um, could you..."
"Spit it out, Harm..."
A quick smile graced his lips before he sobered again. She hadn't
changed a bit. Still right to the point. "My bathrobe... back of the
bedroom door," he said quietly.
"Oh, um, sure. Just a sec."
Mac quickly retrieved the garment and rapped on the bathroom door.
The door opened a crack and Harm snaked his left arm out, palm upwards.
Mac couldn't help but stare at the rosy-pink and brownish, barely healed
skin on this upper arm, all the way up his shoulder. Before she could
stop herself, her fingers trailed the fresh scars, breath locked in her
Harm sucked in a hissing breath at her touch and winced. The burns
didn't hurt, but her touch burned hotter than the charred timber that
had seared his flesh.
Mac instantly removed her hand. "I'm sorry," she mumbled. "I... I didn't
mean to hurt you."
Harm stood frozen, on the other side of the door, his heart in turmoil.
His body still hummed with the aftershocks of her touch. He shook his
head sharply and grabbed the robe.
"It's all right. Doesn't hurt much anymore. You just... startled me." He
quickly slipped the robe over his shoulders and secured it around his
waist. He dumped his dirty clothes into the hamper with one sharp flick
of the wrist and pushed the door open. Mac was still in the middle of
the hallway, eyes wide, mouth slightly agape. God, she was beautiful.
Mac was caught in a similar trap, but what she saw was slightly
different. Out in the hangar, he'd looked a strong as ever, a deep tan
giving his skin a warm glow. Now that she really looked at him, she saw
how thin he was; still muscular, but more angular. The pallor of his
skin wasn't completely covered by the tan, and his eyes had lost some of
their sparkling brilliance. He looked... she wasn't sure what, but
something was wrong with him, besides the obvious burns.
She blinked once, twice, breaking the trance. He dropped his gaze to the
floor and brushed past her to his bedroom.
"What happened?" she asked gently.
"Barn fire, thee weeks ago. Kat's ex tried to kill her. A beam fell on
me when I pulled her out. Second degree burns. They're healing," he said
quietly as he shut the door.
Three minutes later, he was dressed. He squared his shoulders and joined
Mac in the living room, a tense smile on his lips.
Both started at the same time. Mac blushed. Harm chuckled. The tension
filling the room sagged a bit as the two former best friends and
partners recognized a bit more of each other.
Harm flopped into the leather armchair facing the fireplace. Easy banter
floated through his head, coupled with hurt and resentment. He just had
no idea how to react. Barely three weeks ago, he'd vowed to close the
Mackenzie chapter of his life for good, and now, she was here,
completely paralysing him. He rubbed his hands restlessly together and
wracked his brain for something to do or say.
"How's Clay?" popped out of his mouth. He closed his eyes and bit his
lip, kicking himself mentally. To his surprise, Mac didn't get angry.
"Don't know. Clay and I... Things didn't work out."
"Oh. I see," Harm replied a bit crossly. Instantly, he shook his head.
"I'm sorry. This," he gestured towards her with both his hands, "...
Mac pursed her lips and smoothed her dress. "No, it's not... Why is
that? We used to be friends.."
Harm smiled sadly. "Used to be."
"Why did you leave?"
"You know why!" he said, heatedly. He threw his head back and sighed
deeply. "Mac... Listen, I don't want to fight with you. I just... I
don't know how to do this, okay?"
"Talk to you."
Mac lowered her head. "We were never very good at that, were we?"
"Seems all we ever managed to do was get one of us hurt."
"Is that why you left? Because I hurt you?"
Harm ran a hand over his still damp hair, leaving it to rest on his
neck, lost in thought.
Mac cocked her head and studied him carefully. There was something very
different about his whole demeanour. He had changed. He was calm,
composed. And then, it occurred to her. He'd taken an unmistakable air
of maturity. It was undeniable. Even from what little he'd said, she
could tell he was still the same, yet so different. And for an instant,
she was afraid she didn't know him any more.
"I don't have an answer ready for that one, Mac. All I can tell you is I
needed to." His gaze sharpened and bore into her suddenly, accusatory.
But he didn't speak. After a few seconds, his eyes softened again. He
rose off his seat.
"You hungry?" he asked, a lopsided grin lighting his features.
Mac smiled back. This was him. She could always tell if he hid something
by his smile.
"Aren't I always?"
"Okay. I'll cook us dinner. Maybe it'll make talking easier." His eyes
lingered on her, his entire being aware of her close proximity. It would
be so easy to let go, to sweep her up in his arms and...
He shook his head to rid himself of the mental images. He'd been alone
for way too long.
"What?" she asked, staring back.
"Nothing... I just... You're really beautiful, that's all." He smiled
thinly, eyes averted, and walked into the kitchen. He breathed deeply a
few times, composing himself. As he rummaged though the pantry, he
couldn't help but wonder at how fast she could turn his world upside
down, and make him completely lose focus. Sudden anger bubbled up and he
grabbed top of the pantry door tightly.
"Why are you here, Mac?" he asked sharply, his head low, his forehead
resting on his arm. "Why did you come here when I asked you not to? Have
you no respect for me?"
Mac was a bit stunned. One second, he was almost flirting with her, the
next he was snapping at her. When he lifted his head and looked at her,
she was completely unprepared for the depth of the pain she saw there,
or the fathomless sadness.
She stood in the kitchen doorway, frozen. "What?" she mumbled.
"Why the hell couldn't you stay away from me and let me try to find some
sort of happiness? Huh, Mac? Tell me why. Why are you here?" he
practically screamed, fury clouding his expressive eyes.
Her own anger rose through her and she shoved her purse open,
withdrawing a worn envelope from it, waving it at him. "This. This is
why. I have to know if you meant it."
Harm released the pantry door and faced her, his brow crinkled in
confusion. He knew what was in her hand: the letter he'd left for her,
taped to his apartment door.
He lowered his despondent sea-coloured eyes to the floor. "I meant it. I
want to be left in peace, Mac."
She didn't reply. She didn't move. She didn't breathe. The letter
fluttered to the floor.
Hearing only the soft brush of paper on the floor, he lifted his eyes to
look at her. His gaze narrowed in puzzlement. What he saw on her face
could only be described as shocked amazement. Her eyes were shining, but
her face had suddenly drained of all colour.
"Mac?" he questioned softly, stepping towards her.
"W... Wh...Why..." she stuttered.
"Why didn't you tell me?" she whispered, as he took her elbow and gently
guided her to a chair.
"I thought the letter was pretty clear, Mac. As I said, I can't keep
watching you with others. It's... It's too much to ask," he said softly,
as he knelt in front of her. All his rage had gone up in smoke at seeing
the trouble in her eyes. He just didn't understand why.
She shook her head. "No... that... That's not what I meant."
He was completely confused now. "What are you talking about, Mac?"
"Why didn't you tell me you loved me?" The words rushed out in a
Harm's eyes widened and his jaw slowly dropped. How could this be? How
could she not have known? "I... Mac, Sarah... You know I always have,"
Mac slowly shook her head from side to side, too overwhelmed to even
A horrible realisation was slowly forming into Harm's mind. She *hadn't*
known. He swiftly rose to his feet, dazed. He felt his throat tighten
and his breath came in panted ragged gasps. 'Oh, dear God, what have I
done?' he thought.
"But... Mac, Clay... I saw you kissing... Oh dear god, how could you not
know?" he asked, almost frantic.
"You always pushed me away," Mac cried. "How was I supposed to know? And
I kissed Clay because he kept me from being tortured. Harm, he was
willing to die for me. How could I not grant him some comfort?"
Harm scrubbed both his hands over his face in a vain attempt to regain
some control. He suddenly found himself suffocating.
"I need some air," he mumbled and stormed out.
Instantly, Mac went after him, grabbing his arm. She wasn't about to let
him run again. "Harm!"
"I'll be back, Mac. Please. I just need to breathe." He gazed deep into
her eyes, silently pleading.
Her hand slipped off his arm. She nodded and went back inside.
~~~ Part Thirty-two - Adversaries in
Kat was stepping out of her own house when she saw Dean abruptly burst
from his, quickly followed by the mystery woman. She watched the scene
unfold with apprehension, but when she saw her go back inside, and him
slowly amble towards the stables, she knew it wasn't over between them.
Not yet, at least.
She hesitated only a fraction of a second, eyeing the stables, before
walking decidedly towards the cabin.
She carefully climbed the porch steps and pulled the screen door open.
"Can I come in?" Kat called softly.
Mac's head rose sharply. "Oh! Um, Harm, I mean, Dean's not here..."
"I know, Miss Mackenzie. I saw him walk out. Can we talk?"
Kat saw the puzzled curiosity in the other woman's eyes. "His
description of our relationship was a little understated; I'm his boss,
but we're also good friends. I like to think of him as a big brother,
especially after what he did for me a few weeks ago. Other than that,
there's nothing between us. I'm no threat to you, but I can be your
Mac regarded the young woman curiously. "You're.... ah, very, ah..." Mac
struggled to find a polite way to describe the young woman's boldness,
but Kat beat her to it.
"Forward, blunt, brutally honest?" she said with a smile.
Mac gave her a pursed smile. "That's one way to put it."
"I am. What you see is what you get. Dean, um, Harm said the same thing
when we met. The first thing I did was call him an idiot," Kat
explained, her lopsided grin and sparkling green eyes offering nothing
"Okay, I'll bite. What did you want to talk about?"
Kat sighed and flopped to the sofa. "I'm not sure. I guess I wanted to
meet the woman who means so much to De-- Harm. He's told me a lot about
"Well, most of it not willingly. I didn't even know you existed, till
about a month ago. I had to pull him out of a bar fight over you."
"What?" Mac asked, incredulous.
"Long story short, he was considerably drunk when two of my employees
swiped a picture of you. One of them made some inappropriate comment,
and next thing I know, my foreman has bruised ribs and a split lip, and
two of my employees are in the drunk-tank, one with a broken nose.
That's the night he told me about you."
Mac stayed silent for a spell. About a month... AJ' birthday... She
realised Kat was still talking to her.
"I'm sorry, what?"
"I said that's when things all went to hell. He vanished the next
morning. I found out he went to DC. To find you..." Kat paused, unsure
of the emotions she was provoking in the other woman.
"Look, this isn't really my place to tell. But you need to know this.
When he was on his deathbed, you were the one he was calling for. I did
try to reach you, but you weren't available, I was told. But all he
could think of was you. He's scared of getting his heart torn out again.
But he loves you, very much."
Mac moved to speak, but Kat held up a hand. "Don't. I shouldn't even
have said a word, and Dean..." Kat paused, rolling her eyes, "Harm will
probably never forgive me. Just give him time to speak his heart, Miss
"You seem to have quite a rapport with him," Mac said icily.
Kat turned to Mac, her eyes blazing, her jaw set. "Now, listen
carefully. Harm is my friend. Nothing more. We understand each other,
and yes, he talks to me about his feelings." Kat suddenly chuckled.
Seeing Mac's bewildered look, she explained. "You see, three weeks ago,
he told me you'd be jealous of my ability to make him talk. Looks like
he knows you pretty well."
Caught red-handed, Mac could only lower her eyes and concede. "He does.
But I feel like I don't know him, anymore."
"He's more mature, I think. Pain has a tendency to do that to a person,"
Kat replied, her features closed.
Mac studied the young woman for a spell. "I can see why you get along so
well. You're a lot like him, only a lot more open."
For an instant, both women's eyes met, and held each other's gaze.
Silent understanding rose out of a simple look. Those eyes shared and
mirrored abuse and fear, loneliness and love. They understood. They
Kat smiled. "I knew there was a reason I wanted to talk to you before I
tracked him down."
Mac smiled back. "I'm glad he had a good friend."
Kat pursed her lips and nodded ruefully. "Yeah, but I have a feeling he
won't stay here for much longer. Not when he has you to go home to."
Mac threw her head back and sighed. "We're nowhere near anything like
"But you still do love him. Otherwise, you wouldn't be here."
"Listen, Miss Mack--"
Kat nodded. "You'll find a way."
"I'm not so sure. I'm not even sure I should have come here," Mac
"Love as strong as this finds a way, Mac. It always does. Take it from
someone who knows."
Kat once again smiled at Mac's disbelieving air. "I may be young, but
I'm nothing if not wise. And I'm 28, not 18..." Kat said smartly.
A bit overwhelmed, Mac could only nod and smile. "Friends."
Kat rose and whistled. Lea appeared from the bedroom. "We'll find him
and bring him back."
Harm leaned onto the old poplar fence, arms crossed over the weatherworn
wood. He stared over the newly growing alfalfa fields; the pale green of
the young shoots was slowly tuning to shimmering yellow in the setting
sun's light. He narrowed his eyes against the glare, lost in his own
private world. The reddening rays shone onto his open denim shirt and
undershirt and he felt the heat of them onto his chest, warming his
But nothing could dispel the chill in his heart. He didn't have enough
words to describe how big of a fool he'd been. He shook his head and bit
his lip, swallowing a deep sigh.
"What are you doing out here?" Kat asked gently, suddenly appearing by
He didn't say a word but looked curiously at Kat. This wasn't one of his
usual thinking spots.
Kat pointed her thumb and rolled her eyes towards something behind him.
He threw a look over his shoulder and snorted. "Don't you have anything
better to do than track me down?"
"Yeah, that's what I thought too."
Kat hoisted her small frame onto the fence and sat on top, facing Harm.
"You didn't answer my question."
"That's because I haven't found a way to tell you how much of an idiot I
am," he replied, his voice low.
Kat chuckled and gave him half a smile. "Isn't that the first thing I
ever said to you?"
He threw his head back and put his hands on the small of his back.
"Now's not a good time, Kat."
"You can't just stay here while she waits for you to get your ass in
gear... And what do I call you now, anyway? I know it's Harm, but..."
"My real name is Harmon Dean Rabb Jr."
"Junior, huh? I have to say, your, quote unquote, new name is--"
"What the hell is it you want me to say, Kat?" he retorted angrily.
"That you were right? That I was wrong? That I misjudged the situation,
and ran like a scared pigeon?" He stalked off the fence and tossed his
head, lips drawn into a thin line, like he always did when he was upset.
"I was right about what, exactly? And what did you misjudge?" she asked
softly, still sitting on the fence.
"You were right about my hasty judgment of the situation... And she
Kat cocked her head to one side and blew an annoyed breath. "Complete
sentences, and complete explanations, Harm, please."
He turned on his heel and paced up to her, and back. "You were right.
She was kissing him for comfort. We... we didn't know if he was going to
make it or not. And she didn't know I loved her. But I swear to god, she
was with *him* when I went to DC... She told me things hadn't worked out
between them," He abruptly halted his pacing and scrubbed both his hands
over his face.
"God, I don't know what to think anymore..." he murmured.
Kat jumped off the fence and placed a hand on his shoulder. "She's here,
"Yes, but is it because she ended up alone again? Am I just a
replacement to her? And why the hell didn't she come and find me
"Those, you'll have to ask her."
"But how can I? I left! Vanished without a trace for over a year! How
can she get past that?" Harm asked, his eyes closed tightly. Conflicting
emotions were chasing themselves so fast over his features that Kat had
trouble keeping up. But the desperation in his voice was heartbreakingly
"Do you love her?" Her voice was soft and warm.
He opened his eyes and looked into her green ones. "You know I do."
"Then go to her. Work it out. However long it takes, but don't let her
leave here with any doubts or misconceptions left. Okay?"
"How? How can I do that, Kat? I betrayed her. How can we ever work
through my leaving her the way I did?"
"Start from ‘I'm sorry,’ and work from there. You can get though this,
one day at a time, if you both want to. Now, go. She's waiting for you."
Harm stood still for a full minute, gathering his thoughts.
"I said GO!" Kat repeated firmly.
Harm drew in a full breath. "Thanks, Kat. You'll make a hell of a great
mom, one day."
Kat eyed him suspiciously. "I'm not sure that's a compliment, coming
from a guy almost twelve years older than I am... But I'll say thanks,
She watched his retreating form for a few minutes before climbing back
up on the fence. As he disappeared around a bend in the road, she
couldn't help but think how much she'd miss her unofficial big brother.