0615 Hours, PST
A rain forest in central Java
He awoke in the pale grey light before dawn. He was lying with Mac
pulled into the curve of his body, his arm snug around her waist and his
morning erection firm against her back. He began to pull away before he
realized she was still asleep, so he rose quietly on one elbow and gazed
down at her.
With her hands tucked beneath her chin, she looked like a little girl.
She had grown thinner since last spring, he saw with a prick of concern,
and remembered that the last time he had watched her sleeping was in a
jeep in Afghanistan. For an insomniac, Mac certainly managed to fall
asleep in the most uncomfortable places.
Harm nestled his face in her hair for a moment, then cautiously eased
out of the tent, grabbing his shirt and shorts as he went. The jungle
was eerie and still, obscured by thick mist. Only the chuckling of water
over stones broke the silence.
He stretched, thinking that sleeping with Mac in his arms made a night
on the ground almost bearable. He waited for his body to leave him alone
before moving quietly away from their camp. When he returned, she was
dressed and had the shelter packed up.
"Leave it to the Marines," he kidded her.
"I figured it was probably an emergency, if you were already up." She
smiled to show she was kidding. "Breakfast is served."
"I'm so hungry, even this stuff is beginning to look good." He tore open
a packet of fruit cocktail.
"Harm, you need to eat some of this. You can't keep going without some
"Look, Mom, I'm fine. What is that stuff, anyway?"
"Turkey a la king. Here, try it, there's noodles."
He sampled it. "You know, that's not too bad."
"Okay, you eat the rest, and we'll split the other stuff too. You can
say you got me to eat green beans."
He grinned, thinking that only Mac could make bossy sound cute. For the
first time in months, the tight little knot in his chest wasn't there.
She looked more relaxed this morning, too. "Looks like you managed to
get some sleep last night," he said.
"Like a log. How about you?" He caught the flick of concern in her
"Yeah, actually, I did. Once I got the whim whams out of my head, I was
fine." He bent to lace up his boots.
Mac gathered up their food wrappers and buried them. Her silence warned
him something was coming even before she blurted, "Harm, is there
something you're not telling me? I mean, I know we're in a situation
here, but it seems like our chances of coming out okay are pretty good.
Am I wrong?" Her gaze was keen, and he met it straight on.
"No, you're not wrong. I'm just worried about this mess I've gotten you
"I walked into it with my eyes open."
He nodded. Hesitantly she said, "Harm? What?"
"There *was* something I didn't tell you." She cocked her head warily.
He said with quiet vehemence, "My interest never faded, Mac. Not once."
Her eyes widened in shock. She swallowed and glanced down.
Abruptly he stood and hefted his pack. "We'd better get going.
Eventually they're going to trace that transmitter back here, and I
don't want to leave any tracks."
Mac rose, not meeting his eyes. He hoisted her pack and held it while
she fastened the straps. Very slowly he smoothed the t-shirt across her
In silence they forded the stream above the pool, carefully erasing any
sign of their passage, and headed northwest.
By the time the third deluge of the day inundated them, Mac decided she
was grateful for the rain. It gave her something to focus on besides the
emotions playing ping pong inside her head. An idiotic song kept
repeating an endless loop in her inner ear, keeping time with her
footsteps, and no matter what, she couldn't get rid of it. Worse, it was
"Jingle Bell Rock." Give me a break, she thought.
The rain also made conversation impossible, thank God. All morning they
had hiked in a fizzing silence. Small talk or a banal comment would be
worse than saying nothing. She never thought Harmon Rabb would make an
admission like that, never -- just as she never would have expected him
to open up as he had last night. She could still feel the pressure of
his hands on her shoulders.
Dreamily she watched the play of powerful muscles where his jeans clung
to his long legs, the easy athletic grace of his big body as he walked
ahead. He pushed a palm frond out of the way, and she realized she was
staring at the strong bones of his wrist, the long fingers of his hand.
She pulled herself together and grabbed the branch.
Despite the miserable discomfort of this little adventure, she realized
there was nowhere she would rather be than hiking through the Indonesian
rain forest. With him.
Their route sloped gently across the southern flank of the huge peak,
and they stayed just below the tree line for cover. It made for rough
going as they scrambled over rocky outcroppings and slogged through
muddy stretches of scrubby bushes and grass that rose waist high.
Harm paused to consult the GPS, and she came up beside him to look. "How
are we doing?" she asked, feeling absurdly self conscious.
"Better than I expected," he said. "We made close to 18 miles yesterday,
and we've already done ten today. If we go as far as that ridge up ahead
and follow it down, we should be in pretty good shape to make Maribaya
by tomorrow night." He pointed out the route, half obscured by clouds
rolling up the mountainside.
"You march pretty good, for a squid," she teased him.
"Okay, Marine, how about you break trail for awhile?" he grinned back.
She lifted her brows in response to the challenge, took a deep drink
from her canteen, and set off at a smart pace. Forty minutes later they
reached the top of the ridge which divided the south from the western
face of the mountain like a buttress. Rain obscured the view as Mac
started down. The trees became taller as they descended, and the
understory vegetation grew thick with ferns and shrubs.
At the top of a rocky cliff Mac paused to scan the possible routes
before starting down a narrow opening between the boulders. The thin
soil beneath her boots deepened into slick mud, and without warning she
slipped, slithering into a wild downhill slide on her ass, bumping and
banging off rocks and tree roots until she thumped to a stop against a
"Mac! Mac, are you okay?" Harm came barreling down, moving nearly as
fast as she had but managing to keep his feet. He grabbed a branch, slid
to a stop beside her, and dropped to one knee. "Mac?"
She waved her hand. "I'm fine," she gasped, trying to get her breath.
"Just wind -- knocked out--" She kept bending over, coughing a little
and trying to quiet the trembling in her knees. Harm waited tensely, one
hand on her shoulder, until she looked up and gave him a quavery smile.
"Some Marine, huh?"
He let out his breath in relief. "You're sure you aren't hurt? That was
one hell of a spill."
"No, really, it's nothing." She grimaced and touched a tender spot on
the side of her head, smearing mud across her cheek.
"Here, let me see," Harm said, earning a glare as he peered into her
eyes. "Okay, your pupils are contracting normally. Can you stand up?" He
extended a hand to help her. Mac took it and rose shakily to her feet,
trying to balance her pack, when Harm stiffened and bent closer. "Wait a
minute, Mac. That's not nothing."
He lifted her hand to reveal a long, bloody gash running down her
forearm. Mac regarded it in amazement, as if wondering how it got there.
"C'mere," Harm ordered, and dragged her over to a trickle of water
dripping down the rocks. He cupped his palm to direct the little rivulet
over her arm.
"Ow! Why is it these things never hurt until you know they're there?"
"Don't worry, it isn't deep. It's just a long scratch," Harm said,
examining it. His touch was very gentle as he rinsed the skin clean.
"The bruises will be worse than the cut." He dug the first aid kit out
of his pack, ripped open an antiseptic pad, and dabbed at the blood.
"This isn't as bad as the fall I took on the obstacle course at Quantico
on your birthday," she said. "Skinned my knee *and* my arm."
His fingers stilled. "My birthday?" he said lightly, not looking up.
"This was the first year we didn't celebrate together," she answered in
a small voice. "I had to do *something.*"
He wiped the last of the blood from her arm and applied a dry bandage,
smoothing it into place. "That has to hurt," he said, and covered it
with his warm hand.
"Missing you hurt more," she whispered.
A muscle twitched in his cheek, and she could see the pulse beating in
his throat. His eyes came up to meet hers, and she caught her breath at
the raw pain and longing she saw in their brilliant depths. The sights
and sounds of the forest faded away as they stood suspended in a crystal
bell of silence. Slowly he took her face in his hands, and his mouth
came down on hers.
His touch swept through her, aching with need. Tears stung her eyelids
as she surrendered to the softness of his mouth, the urgency of the big
hard body curved around hers. She couldn't breathe, couldn't think,
could only answer his fierce intensity with her own.
He broke off and stared down at her, panting. He started to speak, then
swallowed and cupped his hand behind her head, gathering her gently
against him. Vaguely she became aware that their cumbersome packs were
in the way, so Mac simply laid her cheek against his chest, where she
could feel his heart pounding in syncopation with hers.
They stood leaning against each other. Her head fit just beneath his
chin, and he rested his cheek against her hair. After awhile he kissed
her on the forehead.
"Mac," he began, and hesitated. Patterns of sunlight played across his
face, illuminating the man she know so well, poised on the knife edge
between friend and lover -- at once both familiar and unknown, and more
urgent, more necessary than her next breath. Exhilaration and confusion
tumbled together in his expression and resolved into blazing certainty.
"Mac" -- he tried again, and then he was kissing her with a thoroughness
that obliterated any other thought. Clearly she was not the only one
hanging onto composure by a thread.
Harmon Rabb was not a patient man, she thought, but my God, did he know
how to kiss. Kisssing that was slow and simmering, his mouth and hands
moving with passionate tenderness that told her everything he had never
been able to say.
Like a rose unfurling to the sunlight, Mac surrendered with a sense of
utter belonging. After a long while Harm rested his face against her
hair and simply held her, which was a good thing because she wasn't sure
she could stand up by herself at the moment. He curved his warm palm
around her throat and tilted her head back for another gentle kiss, and
He stared down into her lovely face, feeling as if he had just pulled
seven Gs. Mac gave a little sigh. "We have to get going, don't we?"
He shook his head slowly, with a rueful little smile. "We're going to
run out of daylight if we don't. I'd rather find a better place to spend
She cupped her hand against his jaw and kissed him gently on the corners
of his mouth. The knowledge that she could touch him now, as much as she
wanted, steadied her. "If you keep looking at me like that, we'll end up
spending the night here after all."
"I was planning on someplace a little softer, actually." Harm's hands
came up and smoothed her hair back from her face, and now she was
trembling for a different reason.
He took her hand, and without another word they set out, walking side by
side. Dappled green light surrounded them, an enchanted forest filled
with birdsong and drowsy with heat. From time to time their eyes met,
and each saw the same sense of wonder reflected in the other's face.
It was late afternoon before they heard the sound of water.
Mac turned her head from side to side, seeking the source. "It's a good
thing the rain stopped," she said. "We never would have heard it."
Harm pointed. "That way, I think." He shouldered aside an overhanging
banana palm, and together they pushed their way through a dense cope of
shrubs dripping with moisture. Abruptly the forest opened to reveal a
waterfall -- a wisp of white rushing from one ledge to the next before
tumbling into a stream at their feet. Heavy jungle cloaked the walls of
the narrow ravine in violet shadow, and a sliver of late sunlight lanced
down to sparkle on the water.
Mac gave a little sigh. Harm lifted her pack from her shoulders, dropped
it beside his, and put an arm around her shoulders. "Tired?"
"Starved." She smiled and pulled out an MRE. "Dinner is served."
Harm sat down on a log and made room for her. "What is it?"
"Does it matter?"
He gave her a tired grin and accepted one of the foil packets. "I guess
it's true that if you get hungry enough, you'll eat anything." He ripped
open the packet and sampled the contents. "I never thought I'd eat
hamburger helper and like it." He handed her the rest, and started on
the creamed spinach.
"I never thought I'd go without a bath for three days." Mac swallowed
her half of the tapioca pudding, handed him the packet, and stood up.
"I'm going to rinse off about ten pounds of mud." Without removing her
boots, she waded straight into the water, spread her arms, and fell back
with a huge splash.
Harm lounged on the log and chuckled indulgently. He didn't recall
bathing being a high priority in his jungle survival training, but Mac
made it look pretty inviting.
Laughter was bubbling up inside him, a fountain of quiet joy. He felt
exhilarated and naked and vulnerable, as if a searchlight were
illuminating the corners of his soul. The dark burden of unhappiness he
had carried for the past months had disappeared as if he had stepped
into sunshine. It was crazy, and he didn't care.
Mac was splashing happily around, washing out her BDU trousers. He stood
up to join her, but paused and lifted his head when he caught a whiff of
a strange odor. Harsh, chemical -- sulfur. Coming from over there.
She was about to pull off her t-shirt when she saw Harm beckoning to her
from the bank. Quickly she waded to the shore and stood there dripping,
looking at him inquiringly.
"Got a surprise for you," he grinned, and took her hand. She looked
intrigued but didn't question him as he led her up the bank and into the
"Harm?" she said. "What's that *smell*?" He stepped aside, and she saw a
rocky little grotto tucked among ferns at the base of the cliff. Steam
was rising from the still surface of the water, milky white.
"Natural thermal spring," he said proudly. "This area's full of them.
That's what Maribaya is, a resort where people come to take the cure.
I'm just surprised we haven't come across one sooner."
"Is it okay to get in?" she asked, bending to test the water with her
"Don't see why not. It isn't too hot, is it?"
"It's perfect." She gave him a glorious smile that stopped his breath.
"Thank you." She sat down on a rock to unlace her boots. "Join me?" She
looked down, suddenly shy, and he found himself hesitating.
"Ah, I'll go set up camp," he said, and reluctantly retreated. The last
thing he wanted to do was pressure her, he thought, even as he kicked
himself. Hell, he had waited eight years for this woman. He could wait
until she was ready.
Still, he found himself jerking at the ropes and fumbling with the knots
as he rigged their shelter for the night. They were both exhausted, he
argued in his head. There might be people on their trail right now. . .
this was no time to be fooling around. . . what the hell was he
thinking? She was probably wondering how to hold him off, he thought
savagely as he ripped up armfuls of ferns and piled them beneath the
tent before spreading the groundsheet on top. Slowly he smoothed his
hand over the rough fabric, thinking of how she would feel beneath him,
wondering if she would want him tonight.
With a snort of impatience, he stood up and yanked off his boots. The
hell with it. At least he could cool off. Quickly he stripped and took
two steps into the water before launching himself in a long, shallow
dive, luxuriating as the delicious coolness flowed over his body. He
pulled himself along the clean rocky bottom as far as he could before
surfacing with a splash, then leaned back and floated. The first stars
were glimmering in the sliver of evening sky above the trees.
Something made him lift his head. A pale figure was standing in the
waterfall. He blinked, and there was Mac, submerged to the hips with her
back to him, letting the cascade flow over her. The water glistened on
her tawny skin as she raised her face to the spray and smoothed back her
He had no memory of moving, but he found himself stepping onto the rocky
ledge beneath the waterfall and rising to stand waist deep. She lifted
her arms to the spray, and he was mesmerized by the play of taut,
trained muscles in her slender arms.
As she wiped her face, she glimpsed him and went very still. Slowly she
turned to face him, standing tall, arms at her sides. Her breasts were
lush and round and beautiful, resting proudly on her slim ribcage.
Her dark eyes met his. With one stride, he swept her into his arms, and
she embraced him fiercely, molding herself against him, her body all
warm curves beneath cool slick skin. Slowly, gently he brushed her mouth
with his, barely nuzzling at first, and then her lips parted and they
were tasting each other, slow and deep, breaking only for a quick breath
before desperately seeking more.
How did he ever wait for this? To finally touch her, to let his hands
roam free, sliding over her flanks and up her long, smooth back. The
flashpoint ignited between them, he was spiraling out of control and he
felt her breath warm on his neck as he plunged his hands through her
silken hair, mindless with desire. Oh, Sarah.
Her head dropped back as he traced a line down her throat to her breast,
and she swayed against him. With a low growl, he swept his arms down to
catch her beneath the hips and lifted her hard against him. Just as her
legs went around his waist, he leaned back, panting.
"Harm," she murmured, reaching for him. Her eyes were not quite focused.
"Wait," he rasped, wrapping his arms around her waist. "I don't want to
She rested her hands on his shoulders, her expression luminous and
filled with wonder. Slowly he eased back into the water and swam until
his feet found the bottom, then he scooped her against his chest and
carried her up the bank.
Twilight had filled the valley, and the forest was loud with the chorus
of night birds and insects. Harm stopped beside their little tent and
looked down at her, resting so trustingly in his arms. Slowly he let her
slide down his body until her feet touched the ground.
"Ow!" she squeaked and slapped at a mosquito, then fanned the air around
her head as the whine of insects filled their ears. "Bug juice, quick!"
With an oath, Harm ripped open his pack and dug frantically around until
he found the plastic bottle. He pulled off the cap and squirted some
into her cupped hands, then quickly drizzled it over himself. "Goddamn
vampires," he muttered, slapping two of them against his thigh. "Shit!"
Mac began to giggle, and then they were laughing and holding each other.
Slowly they began sliding their hands over each other, their touch slow
and sensual. Her breath caught, and very gently, he laid his palm over
her breast to feel her heart pounding.
Mac knelt gracefully and slipped beneath the tent, and he crawled in
after her. She began spreading the oily stuff on his thighs until he
caught her hand, swallowing hard. Slowly he slipped a hand behind her
knee, pulling it into his lap, and smoothed the oil down her long legs,
first one, then the other.
She recapped the bottle and set it aside. Her eyes were luminous in the
spangled dark, her glance eloquent as a touch. The heat leaped up, pure
as sunlight. Now was the time to speak in a language beyond words.
Entranced, he traced his fingertips lightly along her collarbone and
over the swell of one breast, watching her eyes darken and her breathing
deepen. Her skin was like satin, and there was a fine tremor running
through her body as he leaned down to touch his lips between her
breasts, over her heart.
She brought her hands up to cradle him, and her touch sent the cool fire
flickering through his blood. She was silken and slender and strong all
at once, and without effort he felt eight years of restraint fall away.
The first time . . . the first time . . . the emotional tide sweeping
through him was obliterating every landmark. He felt the softness of her
breasts against his chest as he placed delicate kisses on her forehead,
her cheekbones, her eyelids, and beneath her ear, slowly sliding his
mouth along the exquisite curve of her jaw. He lingered to kiss the
little hollow at the base of her throat, feeling her pulse pounding
clear and hard against his lips, answering the beat he could feel in
every part of his body.
Slowly he lowered her until she was lying across their bed, the
starlight turning her skin to silver. He wanted to look at her forever,
but she was reaching for him, her smooth slender arms and legs sliding
around his body and pulling him down to her. Distantly he was aware that
somewhere deep inside, a tightly guarded barrier was melting away in her
silken warmth. Joy flooded through him like a golden tide.
My God, Sarah . . . the ache in his body was an imperious demand. He was
drowning, desperate to get closer and closer still, shaking with the
effort to hold back as their mouths caressed each other slowly,
endlessly. Beneath his hands, the long, delicate lines of her body were
at once familiar and utterly new.
Her eyes were dark and blurry with wanting, and her body rose to meet
his as he kissed her throat. Then her cool hands were there, stroking
and guiding, and he surrendered and entered her, feeling as if he were
plunging into the heart of life itself.
In the night, he awoke to the rush of rain in the leaves and the gentle
touch of Mac's hands on his body. Softly her mouth caressed his neck and
chest. "Harm," she whispered, her breath warm on his cheek, and they
reached for each other. This time it was slow and simmering, with a
sweetness that seemed to fill the night.
0720 Hours PST
Somewhere in the rain forests of central Java
Mac snuggled closer to the warmth of the big hard body wrapped around
her, letting his fine, springy chest hair tickle her face as she
breathed in the scent of him -- of them. Her body felt tender all over,
languorous and sweet.
Slowly she opened her eyes. Harm's sleepy smile filled her vision, his
eyes gleaming beneath drowsy lids. Their hands rested between them,
entwined, and after a moment he lifted them and brushed a kiss across
her knuckles -- a light, almost casual gesture -- but now there was
ownership in his touch.
"Tell me we don't have to get up," she murmured.
The corners of his eyes crinkled with amusement. "Works for me."
She gave a satisfied little sigh and nestled closer until the tip of her
nose brushed his. After a few minutes, she spoke without opening her
eyes. "I have to go to the bathroom."
"You Marines have such sweet pillow talk."
She smiled and sat up, brushing her hair back and knuckling her eyes
like a little girl. Pale sunlight slanted down through the canopy high
above and turned the mist on the water into gold. Swiftly she slipped
out from beneath their shelter and disappeared into the trees.
Groaning with displeasure, Harm crawled out after her and did the same.
When he returned, he saw her standing in the stream, waist deep, just as
he had first glimpsed her last night. His heart expanded with a sweet,
He waded into the water and slipped his arms around her, and she leaned
back against him. "This feels like Adam and Eve in the Garden," she
said. "But no apples, darn it."
His chuckle was a quiet rumble deep in his chest. "Not even a serpent."
"Yikes, I hope not."
"I hear they can be very tasty."
"Eew, did they teach you *that* in SERE training?"
"Why do you think I became a vegetarian?"
She laughed, a light, happy sound. He held her, rocking just a little,
and together they watched the mist rise off the water and listened to
the jungle come alive around them. After awhile he dipped his head to
nuzzle her neck where it met her shoulder, and she tilted her head with
a sound that sounded suspiciously like a purr.
When his hands began roaming over her body, she turned in the circle of
his arms. "If we start, we may never get out of here."
"Would that be a bad thing?"
"You're right, that MRE is our last meal."
"Don't even joke about it."
He smoothed her wet hair back. "Okay. But I promise, next time there'll
be room service."
They waded out and pulled on their damp, muddy clothes, and sat on the
log in the sunshine to share the remaining food. "This is not how I
envisioned our first breakfast together," Harm said.
"You did?" Her eyes were shining.
His gaze was warm. "Repeatedly."
"I love you," she whispered.
The flash in his eyes told her how much he needed to hear it. Her heart
was hammering in her fingertips as she leaned forward, cupped his face
in one hand, and kissed him gently. "I tried so hard to get over you,"
"Hopeless, huh?" He had a cocky grin, but it would never fool her again.
This man was guarded, not because he did not care, but because his
emotions ran so deep.
"Utterly," she agreed, and then he was kissing her until she couldn't
Bushwhacking through the jungle that day was hard, hot, slow going, but
her heart was so light it scarcely seemed to matter. Every few minutes
she would feel Harm's eyes upon her and look up, and his smile would
lance through her with a physical shock.
As they moved lower in elevation, the understory vegetation became
increasingly dense as the trees reached higher and higher for the
sunlight above. The canopy was alive with scampering monkeys and the
flitting shadows of birds and butterflies, and the air was heavy with
the rich, damp odor of decaying plants on the forest floor. Insects
droned around their ears.
After five hours, they had made barely four miles of the twelve they
needed when they came across a thin trail of packed dirt. It intersected
their route, disappearing among the trees uphill and continuing down the
slope below, headed more or less in the direction they had been taking.
"First signs of civilization," Harm observed.
"If we follow it, we could be spotted," she said.
"Yeah, but not likely, not up this high. There will be settlements down
lower, but my guess is, this is a path to a hot spring somewhere. There
won't be a lot of traffic along here."
"Well, it would certainly be a lot easier to follow a trail," Mac said.
She was tired, more tired than she would have expected to be, and a
faint headache pressed behind her eyes. Guess the hard going and short
rations are getting to me, she grumped to herself.
"Okay," Harm agreed, and took a reading on the GPS. "We can start making
up some time. Maribaya is about eight miles that way, all downhill."
They hiked in silence for the next hour, walking single file on the
narrow track. Just as Mac was about to call for a five-minute rest stop,
the trees thinned out to form a small clearing where a second trail
intersected theirs. She dropped down to sit on a fallen log and
surreptitiously swallowed a couple of aspirin with a deep drink from her
"Here, Mac, let me have it. I'll refill it for you." Harm held out his
"Thanks," she said, grateful that she didn't have to get up for a
minute. "Do you think we need to start purifying our water?"
"Definitely, now that people are around. But I think we're still okay
with rain water." He pulled down a big frond and let the runoff splash
into the canteen.
A movement in the corner of her eye brought Mac's head up. Two girls
stood on the branching path, hesitating just inside the trees. They were
slim and brown and held bundles that looked like washing.
"Hello," Mac said, standing up and putting her palms together in the
traditional gesture of greeting. Harm looked up, surprised, and followed
"Hello," he added, smiling. The two girls giggled behind their hands,
and Mac saw that they were very young.
"It's all right," she smiled, gesturing for the girls to continue on
their way. With bent heads and averted eyes, they sidled past, cutting
covert glances at them. Just as they came abreast of her, Mac held up
her hand, palm out. "Wait, please?"
The younger of the girls looked like she wanted to bolt, but the other
turned to her shyly. Mac gestured at her clothes and wrinkled her nose.
"Sarong?" she asked, and gestured at the girl's garment. "Buy sarong?"
She held up a folded bill.
The girl's eyes became huge. Wordlessly she set her bundle on the grass,
pulled out a square of blue fabric printed with tiny red flowers, and
held it up questioningly. "Yes," Mac smiled, nodding vigorously. "Yes, I
like it. Here." She extended the money to the girl, who hesitated, then
snatched it and handed over the cloth. Rapidly she retied her bundle,
swung it to her hip, and hurried off with a brief, muttered phrase,
pushing her companion ahead of her. They quickly disappeared into the
"Shopping again?" Harm was amused.
"I'll stick out like a sore thumb in BDUs if we have to blend in with
tourists," Mac said. She folded up her purchase carefully and sealed it
in a plastic bag before stuffing it into her pack.
"They'll tell their village about us."
"They would have done that anyway. At least this way, they might think
we're just tourists on a hike."
"Good point. This is probably the way to a hot spring where they do
their laundry." He handed the canteen back to her.
"I wish we could find one. I feel like an old, wet dog." She picked at
her filthy shirt.
"You look beautiful." She started to make a tart rejoinder before she
saw the tender light in his eyes and realized he meant it. He gave her a
brilliant smile, and her heart warmed to see him looking so relaxed and
happy. He said, "Of course, you look better without any clothes at all,
but still . . . ."
Her smile grew wistful and sweet, and he took her in his arms and kissed
"Speaking of old, wet dogs, they'd probably run if they got one whiff of
me," he mumbled into her hair.
"You smell great. Very manly." She leaned back in his arms and regarded
him with a grin. "So is the four-day beard."
"You like it? I was thinking of keeping it."
"Really? It's a whole new look for you. Kind of scratchy, though."
He laughed. "In that case, it's history." His voice dropped into that
husky, sexy murmur that made it hard to breathe, and then he was kissing
her again, slow and hot, and she was kissing him back.
Harm lifted his head and took a shaky gulp of air. "We can't do this
She sighed and stepped back, letting her fingertips trail down the deep
muscles of his chest. "Good thing you're worth waiting for, sailor." She
glanced up from beneath her lashes.
"I'll never ask you to wait again, Mac." He touched her cheek, his green
eyes turbulent, then swung his pack to his shoulders. They set off, and
as the afternoon passed, they encountered no one else on the trail.
By late afternoon, Mac was exhausted, with a cracking headache. She
plodded along, keeping her eyes on Harm's heels, and only looked up when
They had emerged from the trees into a valley where fields had been
cleared from the surrounding forest. Narrow terraces and rice paddies
spread out across the land, and far in the distance they could see tiny
buildings on stilts, with thatched roofs.
"Is that Maribaya?" Mac asked.
"No, the town's about a mile down the road," Harm pointed, and she saw a
thin track winding along the far side of the valley. "This is just a
village. Good place to spend the night, though." He gestured to a small
hut, open on three sides, perched at the edge of the fields on their
right. It was deserted.
"Looks like they probably use it as a place to rest when they're working
in the fields during the day," he said. "Nobody will notice if we sleep
"Okay," she nodded, too tired to hide her disappointment.
Harm looked at her sharply. "Are you okay?"
"Yes. I'm sorry, I just thought we'd get there tonight."
They started toward the little pavilion, staying inside the trees to
avoid being seen. He said, "I know, I was hoping so, too. But it's late,
the tourist buses won't be running any more tonight, and I don't think
we can risk a hotel."
"No, that wouldn't be smart," she agreed. She tossed her pack onto the
rough wooden platform and hoisted herself up. She sat down and reached
for her canteen.
"I'm going to scout around over there." He pointed, and she nodded as he
headed back into the trees. The sun was beginning to set, and a tiny
breeze rustled the dry thatch in the roof of the hut. She curled up on
the dusty boards and closed her eyes against the glare.
When Harm returned, he was surprised to find her asleep. I should have
noticed she was worn out, he kicked himself, and sat down quietly
nearby, squinting as the setting sun turned the surface of the rice
paddies into burnished bronze. Across the valley, cooking fires winked
on like fireflies in the gathering dusk, and still Mac slept. He watched
her with growing concern.
Just as it was getting dark, the harsh cry of a bird broke the
stillness. Mac sat up and gazed around in confusion. "Harm?" she said.
"It's okay, you were sleeping," he reassured her.
"How long?" she grumbled, rubbing her eyes.
"Oh, an hour or so. Hey, look what I found." He held up two coconuts.
"Wow, great! Where did you find those?" She tried to muster some
"Under a palm tree, where else? We finally got down where they can grow.
Here, try this." He dug into the eyes on the end of one nut with the tip
of his knife, and handed it to her. Dutifully Mac tilted it and sipped
at the rich liquid that ran out.
"This is great, Harm. Thank you."
"Well, at least we won't go to bed on an empty stomach. Tomorrow, we
should get up before it gets light so we can bypass the village, then we
can just walk into town and find a restaurant that serves breakfast.
Think you can hold out, Marine?"
He was working on the second coconut, but her silence made him look up.
She was sitting with her head bowed, holding her coconut in her lap.
"Mac?" he said.
Her head snapped up. "Sorry," she mumbled. "I'm not very hungry."
He frowned. Mac wasn't hungry? On impulse, he reached out and laid the
back of his hand against her cheek. She pulled away irritably as he
caught his breath in a little hiss.
"Mac, you're running a fever. Why didn't you say something?"
"What good would it have done?" she asked dully. "We had to keep going."
"We could have rested more. You could have taken some aspirin, at
"I did take some. Don't fuss, Harm, I'm just tired. I'll be okay
He frowned and bit back his questions. She was right, that was the
trouble. There wasn't a damn thing he could do until they got back to
civilization, and that wasn't going to be easy.
"Okay," he said with a calmness he didn't feel, and resumed hacking at
his coconut. He forced himself to eat a few chunks of the white meat,
but it was cloying and stuck in his mouth.
He could hear her rustling around and saw the gleam of her body in the
starlight as she undressed. He started to object, thinking she would get
chilled, and then she shook out the fabric she had bought that
afternoon. Mac stepped into it, pulled it up and knotted it above her
breasts. Then she knelt beside him.
"So that's a sarong, huh?" he said.
"Yes. It's wonderful for the tropics -- it's cool, and at night you just
loosen it and lie down, and it covers you. Tomorrow, I can wear it as a
"I like it. Easy to get off."
That earned him a smile, he was relieved to see. She said, "We can bury
all our stuff before we leave here, right? Especially these nasty
"Right. We'll just take our money and papers. Nobody will find our gear,
at least not right away."
"What about weapons?"
"I'd like to have them with us, but I'd hate to get caught with them.
What do you think?"
He watched her as the moon came up, outlining her exquisite profile in
silver. "I think we should risk it," she said. "If you stick one in your
belt at your back and button your shirt, nobody will see it. And you can
dump it if we have to go through a checkpoint."
"Sounds good." He spread out their groundsheets and stacked their packs
against the single wall of the hut. Mac opened her canteen and tilted
it, but it was empty.
"I need some water," she fretted. "Where are the iodine tablets?" With
growing irritation she dug around in her pack.
"Here, take the rest of mine," he said, handing her his canteen. "I'll
get you a refill." She had already drunk three quarts since noon, he
realized with unease. Well, he supposed it could only do her good.
"Thanks," she said. "Too bad we couldn't camp beside a stream again
"I promise you a hot bath tomorrow."
"That would be lovely." She gave him a wan smile and lay back down.
When he returned, he thought she was asleep, but she sat up and reached
for one of the canteens. "Thank you," she said, and gulped thirstily.
"Need some more aspirin?" he asked.
"I just took some, thanks."
He settled himself against the wall at his back and opened his arms.
Gracefully she settled herself between his bent knees and leaned back,
and he wrapped his arms around her. "This is nice," she murmured against
"Yeah," he agreed. "Sleep now, Mac."
" 'Kay," she mumbled. He could feel her relax, and a moment later her
breathing became soft and even. She was warm, but not overly so; in the
sultry heat of the tropical night, he held her close.
He hadn't intended to sleep. It seemed a foregone conclusion that his
anxieties -- about Mac, about the village across the valley, about the
unknown dangers they might face tomorrow -- would conspire to keep him
alert and on guard. So of course he went out like a light.
The moon was high in the sky when his eyes snapped open. For a moment he
couldn't tell what had awakened him, and he listened, taut with tension,
his automatic in his hand. Then Mac stirred against him and he realized
she was burning up.
Her slender body positively radiated with fever. He stroked her damp
hair back from her forehead and winced at the baking heat beneath his
palm. Her face and body were slick with perspiration and she was moving
restlessly in her sleep. That must be what woke him, he realized.
What could he do for her, he wondered frantically. He groped for the
canteen and poured a little water into his hand, then smoothed it over
her neck and shoulders. She mumbled something and opened her eyes,
gazing at him dully.
"Hi, sweetheart," he said quietly.
"Thirsty," she muttered.
He sat up, propping her against him, and held the canteen to her lips.
She gulped at it, then turned her head away. "Thanks," she managed.
"Just rest, baby," he murmured, stroking her forehead.
"Sick," she mumbled. " 'm sorry."
"It's not your fault, Mac," he said quietly. "You're going to be okay."
She looked at him with trust and closed her eyes. He sat cradling her
against his chest, hoping he had told the truth. What could have caused
this, he wondered. We have eaten and drunk exactly the same things, and
the military stuffs you so full of shots before you go into the field,
there's no way you're supposed to get sick.
Her hands plucked fretfully at the knot in her sarong, so he finally
loosened it and let the garment fall lightly over her. She seemed
cooler, and rested against him more quietly. Harm tilted his Rolex so he
could read the lighted dial -- 0015. They needed to get up in a couple
of hours, and she needed all the rest she could get.
He awakened from a light doze to feel her huddling against him,
clutching his t-shirt in her fists and shivering. Great, now she was
having chills. Quickly he dragged the spare tarp over her, tucking it in
as best he could. He was stifling in the hot night, but Mac's teeth were
actually chattering. He hugged her close, willing her to get better, to
be all right.
It was one of the longest nights of his life. When Mac seemed to be
resting more quietly, he allowed himself to relax, but soon he would
feel her temperature start to climb again. Over and over she pushed at
the heavy tarp, he pulled it off, and the cycle would start again.
Repeatedly he soaked her discarded t-shirt in water and smoothed it over
her arms, her neck and breasts, trying to cool her off, but she scarcely
seemed aware that he was there.
At last she stopped moving restlessly and dropped into a quiet sleep.
Harm eased out from behind her with a silent grimace as he stretched his
cramped muscles. Quickly he slipped into the trees and dug a shallow
hole to conceal the gear they needed to leave behind. The moon had set,
and the night was very dark.
When he returned to her, he saw the gleam of her eyes. "Hi," he said
softly, stroking her hair. Her forehead was cooler.
"What time is it?" she whispered.
"Oh-four hundred. Do you feel any better?"
She sat up, absentmindedly gathering her sarong around her. "Yes," she
"Think you can walk?"
That earned him a glare, as he hoped it would. "Think you can keep up?"
He grinned and began tossing their things into the center of one of the
tarps. Mac gathered up her dry t-shirt, underwear, and her boots, and
dressed quickly. At the last minute, she remembered the aspirin bottle
and slipped it into the pocket of his work shirt.
Harm pushed his automatic into his belt, resting flat against his spine,
and pulled his shirt on over his t-shirt. He wrapped both tarps around
the small pile of gear and knotted the bundle securely with the
clothesline, then carried it into the woods and tossed it into the
shallow hole, covering it with leaves and dirt.
Mac was waiting beside the hut when he came back. He took her hand, and
silently they started down the path.
A mile outside Maribaya, Indonesia
Slipping past the sleeping village was surprisingly easy. They left the
trail as they drew near and moved stealthily through the jungle, angling
toward the road. A dog gave a sleepy bark, and that was all.
They halted just inside the trees when the road came into view. The
eastern sky only hinted at dawn. Mac sat down to rest.
"Think we'll be too conspicuous on the road?" he asked.
"Yes. But I don't see that we have much choice. I don't think I can
manage a long hike through the jungle today."
He looked at her closely. It was unlike Mac to admit any weakness. She
gave him a faint smile. "I'm just trying to be realistic, Harm."
"Well, we shouldn't meet anybody at this hour," he said. "Let's chance
She stood and took his hand again, and together they stepped onto the
road. "Here goes nothing," he muttered under his breath, and they
started walking down the dusty track that gleamed pale in the darkness.
He shortened his stride and Mac kept pace gamely, but he could tell her
endurance was already waning. It was only a mile to the town, he
reminded himself, but by the time the first bullock cart rolled past
them, he had his arm firmly around her waist, supporting her. They
walked past scattered, silent huts where chickens scratched and smoke
was just beginning to rise from cooking fires, and as the eastern sky
gradually lightened they began to see people -- just a few, here and
there, then more. An old taxi rattled past, followed by a group of women
carrying water jars. A few incurious glances came their way, but that
The road changed from dirt to pavement, then became a street lined with
small shops and buildings. They passed some crumbling stone ruins, which
he supposed were the ancient temples that attracted tourists, and they
paused to let Mac rest on a bench. Harm wished fervently for some sort
of prop -- a camera, anything -- so he improvised, pretending to consult
a creased brochure that he found on the ground. The sun lifted above the
palm trees and filled the street with clear light.
"Okay," Mac said, and stood up. "Is it too early to find a café or
"We'll find out," he said. Slowly they walked on. After about fifteen
minutes they emerged into a wide paved square surrounded by handsome
stucco buildings, and Harm steered Mac to the central fountain. "Let's
rest here for a minute and reconnoiter," he said, and she sank
gratefully onto the low stone wall encircling the fountain.
There were some people around, and a few cars drove by. Harm kept his
eye on the outdoor restaurant in front of the largest hotel, and
eventually a waiter appeared and began cranking open the colorful
umbrellas over each table.
"Okay, here we go," he said. Mac pushed herself upright and swayed, and
he caught her around the waist. "Easy," he said, frowning with concern.
"I'm okay, Harm," she said firmly, but she leaned on him. "I can do
Slowly they paced over to the café and sat down at a table overlooking
the square. The waiter appeared, and Harm ordered. When the food came,
he smiled at the waiter and held up some money. "We want to get the next
bus back to Jakarta. Can you tell me what time it goes?"
"Right in front of the hotel, sir. At nine o'clock." The man nodded and
discreetly pocketed the tip.
"Three hours," Mac said lightly.
"It'll be okay," he reassured her. "Are you hungry at all?"
She shook her head and sipped at her mineral water. Harm tried to keep
himself from gobbling as he downed four crisp rolls with butter, a bowl
of sliced mango, and several cups of blessedly hot, fresh coffee, but he
scarcely noticed what he was eating as he watched Mac pretend to pick at
a piece of toast. She was very pale.
They dawdled over their breakfast for more than an hour, watching the
activity in the square. Harm could detect no signs of military vehicles
or surveillance. Other customers began to drift into the café, and
finally he decided they would be conspicuous if they lingered any
longer. They walked into the hotel and found seats in an alcove of the
spacious lobby. Harm picked up a newspaper from the table and unfolded
"I think I'll use the ladies room," Mac said.
Automatically he stood and reached out to steady her, but she gently
disengaged her arm. "I think people will notice if you try to go with
me," she smiled.
"Will you be all right?" He was tense with concern.
"Yes." She set her jaw and walked slowly across the lobby.
Harm waited anxiously until he saw her navigating toward him ten minutes
later. He jumped up and took her arm. "Okay?"
She swept her hair behind her ear with a hand that shook ever so
slightly. "Okay," she nodded. He let his hand brush casually across the
back of her neck. Her skin felt hot. They sat down side by side on the
small sofa, and he took her hand.
"Mac, there has to be a doctor in the hotel. I'm going to ask."
"No!" Her low tone was vehement. "It will only attract attention. We
can't afford to answer questions now, not until we get to the embassy. I
can make it, I promise." She knew better than to remind him there was
nothing he could do.
Harm scowled. "How about some aspirin, at least?" He fished the little
bottle out of his breast pocket, marginally relieved to be taking some
sort of action. She nodded, and he beckoned a passing waiter. "A bottle
of mineral water, please, and a pot of coffee."
When the refreshments came, Mac swallowed two tablets and leaned back
with her eyes closed. He stretched his arm along the back of the sofa,
and she settled against his shoulder.
She dozed off and on for the next ninety minutes, while Harm
meticulously read every page of the International Herald-Tribune and
didn't remember a word of it. He was very careful not to rustle the
paper and disturb her. At last people began bustling around the lobby,
and he saw a big bus pull up outside. "Okay, Mac, it's time," he
murmured in her ear, and she opened her eyes and nodded, sitting up a
Mac started to stand, but her knees gave way and she plopped back into
the cushions. He saw her clench her teeth and grip the armrest to try
again, and his heart turned over in his chest. "Easy, baby," he told
her, grasping her arms lightly. "I'm here."
When he helped her get to her feet, she was trembling. "I'm sorry," she
whispered. "I'm so sorry to be such a nuisance."
"You're not a nuisance. Easy, now," he said, and locked his arm around
her waist. Moving very slowly, they walked outside with a total lack of
hurry that belied his inner tension. People were dropping tote bags and
duffels beside the cargo doors of the bus and climbing aboard, and the
driver merely shrugged when Harm inquired about two seats. Certainly,
sir. Yes, they would stop at the Hilton in Jakarta. He accepted the cash
and punched out their tickets, and Harm helped Mac up the steps. Nobody
seemed to notice their lack of luggage.
The old Trailways had definitely seen better days. Harm inched his way
down the aisle, keeping a firm grip on Mac and waiting for other
passengers to struggle into their seats. A babble of European and
Australian accents swirled around them.
The bus wasn't full, and he was able to steer Mac to a pair of seats
near the back. She stumbled into a spot by the window and dropped onto
the shabby blue upholstery, letting her head fall back against the
headrest. He sat beside her and took her hand, scanning the scene
outside as best he could through the dusty windows.
There was the usual delay, as someone insisted on loading a crate of
clucking chickens into the cargo bay, engaging the driver in a loud
argument with much gesticulating. The old bus smelled of dust and babies
and orange peels and people, but Harm knew it could have been a lot
worse. At least there were seats, not benches, and there was a restroom
in the back and a cooler with bottled water at the front. And no
livestock in the passenger area, he noted grimly.
The driver climbed in and the doors hissed shut, and they started up
with a jerk and a belch of black smoke. The heavy old bus ground its way
up through the gears as it circled the plaza and headed out of town, and
Harm sent up a silent prayer of gratitude. So far, so good. Just four
hours to go.
Of course, the air conditioning didn't work. The fans hummed and blew
hot air around, but the interior of the bus was stifling. Every window
stood open, even when it rained.
They swayed and bounced over the rutted mountain road, which was paved
only in short stretches. The endless green of the jungle pressed close
on both sides of the road, often brushing against the sides of the bus
and parting occasionally to provide a view when they veered around a
corner of the mountains. The road became an endless series of
switchbacks that slowly descended toward the coast as the day wore on.
Mac's head lolled against his shoulder with every lurch. Harm kept his
arm around her to hold her steady, but he knew it was more to reassure
himself than anything. If there was one thing he hated more than forced
inaction, it was feeling helpless, and now he had to endure both.
Mac's fever waxed and waned. One minute her skin was cool and clammy,
the next she was radiating heat. She didn't really sleep and tried to
stay alert for his sake, but her eyes were dull. From time to time he
held a plastic bottle of water to her lips and she managed a few
swallows, and twice he helped her to the malodorous restroom, where he
waited anxiously outside the door.
"Is your wife all right?" a pleasant voice spoke behind him in an Aussie
accent. He turned and was confronted by a nice-looking older woman in a
straw hat who was regarding him with polite concern. She continued, "I
noticed she doesn't seem to be feeling well. Is there anything I can
Harm felt unreasonably relieved. "Yes, thank you," he nodded. "She's
ill, and she's being awfully quiet in there. Can you" --
"Of course, dear." She bustled past him and tapped at the door, to no
response. "What's her name?" she demanded.
"Sarah, are you all right? Answer me, dear." The woman rapped smartly on
the door of the restroom and bent her head. "Sarah, it's Cora Boyles.
I'm coming in, all right?" She tried the handle and it turned, and
cautiously she eased the door open. Harm stood back, his view blocked.
"All right, dearie, you're going to be all right," he heard Cora say
soothingly, and there was some bumping. The door swung shut, and Cora
stood there with Mac leaning on her.
"I think she just fainted, poor thing," Cora said as Harm practically
lifted Mac into her seat. "Whatever is the matter with her?"
"I don't know," Harm admitted, brushing Mac's hair off her forehead.
"She's running a temperature. It's why we decided to go back to Jakarta
"Oh. I see." Cora leaned toward him with a conspiratorial whisper. "I
thought she might be -- you know, expecting."
"N-no," Harm stammered. "I don't think so." He looked up. "Thank you for
your help, Mrs. . . ."
"Boyles. Cora Boyles, dearie. Just let me know if there's anything else
I can do."
"Thank you." Harm turned back to Mac and gently pulled her into his lap,
cradling her against his chest. Mrs. Boyles shook her head and whispered
to her husband, who hadn't been paying attention, "She isn't wearing any
For the next hour they swayed steadily along a level stretch of road,
and Harm scarcely took his eyes from Mac. She had not roused at all, but
her breathing remained light and even. Her face was waxen beneath her
tan, and her skin was filmed with perspiration. Please, he prayed
silently. Please, let her be all right.
The sound beneath the tires changed, and suddenly they were running
smoothly along on blacktop. Afternoon sun slanted across the road where
small houses and farms were scattered among scrubby palmettos. Harm
glanced at his watch and saw it was nearly 1300.
When he looked down, Mac was watching him with a tiny smile. "Hi," she
"Hi," he smiled with relief and stroked her forehead, which seemed
cooler. "How are you feeling?"
"Better, I think." She lay quietly in his arms. "Where are we?"
"About 30 minutes out," he said. "Be there in no time."
"What time is it?"
His gaze sharpened, but he concealed his worry and told her. "Oh," she
whispered. "I thought we just left."
Her fingers plucked restlessly at his shirt and then were still. "Will
they let us stay together?" she asked in a small voice.
"Count on it."
She turned her face into his chest, and he felt her warm breath. Gently
he cupped the back of her neck, supporting her against him, and dropped
a soft kiss against her temple. "You won't leave me?" he heard her
Pain twisted his heart. "No," he said quietly. "No, I won't leave you,
Sarah, not ever again." With infinite tenderness, he stroked her hair.
"I love you," he whispered. "I'm sorry it took me so long to tell you."
Her hand tightened in his, and he knew she had heard him.
The teeming squalor of the capital city closed in around them.
Ramshackle huts thrown together from corrugated iron and palm thatch
jostled for space with low stucco buildings and areas of scrubby grass
where goats and naked children played, and telephone wires zigzagged
everywhere. Gradually the buildings became larger and more prosperous as
they approached the center of the city, where rickshaws and foot traffic
gave way to sleek modern cars. Beautiful old Colonial buildings mingled
with modern steel and glass, and the boulevards were lined with stately
At last the bus swung into a wide central square and pulled up in front
of the Hilton. People stood and started gathering up shopping bags and
hats and purses, while Harm remained sitting quietly with Mac, waiting
for the crowd at the front to move ahead.
He put his hand against Mac's face and stroked her cheek. "Come on,
baby. Time to wake up now. We have to get off."
"Huh?" she frowned and opened her eyes, squinting.
"Can you stand up?" He would carry her if necessary, but it would draw
" 'Course I can," she snapped, and swung her feet to the floor. Quickly
Harm put his hands on her waist, boosting her to her feet and steadying
her as she swayed. "I'm all right," she muttered, and began tottering
down the aisle, hanging onto the back of each row of seats. He got in
front and helped her down the steps.
Throngs of well-dressed people were milling around the entrance of the
hotel, chattering in a dozen languages. Harm peered into the wide, shady
lobby, wondering if they could call from here, but then he spotted a
pair of military guards who appeared to be stationed by the front desk.
He drew Mac behind a wide pillar.
"Okay," he whispered in her ear, "our embassy is right across the
square. Just a couple hundred yards away, Mac. There are lots of people
around, so we're going to walk right over there and show our credentials
at the gate."
"Okay," she nodded, and set her jaw. He tightened his arm around her and
followed a noisy group heading to the cab stand.
They had taken only a few steps when a woman's voice rang out, "Sir! You
can get help in the hotel!" From the corner of his eye he saw Cora
Boyles waving at him imperiously. Oh hell.
Harm ignored the woman and kept walking, trying to keep the group of
people between them, but Cora would have none of it. She came bustling
up, tugging at his sleeve. "Mr. -- Mr.? I'm sorry, I didn't get your
name. But Sarah, she needs a doctor, you must see that. You must let me
take her into the hotel." Her eyes were kind, but her strident voice
"Please, no, Mrs. Boyles," Harm said politely, not stopping. "Our hotel
is right over there. We'll be fine, thank you." Over his shoulder, he
saw people peering at them. One of the army guards turned with a frown.
"But she is *very* ill! They have a splendid doctor here who speaks
English, don't you want me to call for him?"
Harm caught Cora's arm in a viselike grip. The quiet fury in his tone
was frightening. "Listen to me. We are in serious trouble. If you don't
stop right now, you'll be in danger too. Walk away from us. *Now.*"
The authority in Harm's cold face was sufficient. Cora's mouth snapped
shut, and she backed away with wide eyes. People turned away, shrugging.
The flagstones of the plaza were hot and white in the pitiless glare of
the afternoon sun. The American embassy seemed very far away as Harm led
Mac across the street and into the park. People strolled here and there,
some in business clothes, others obviously tourists, and no one paid any
attention to the tall man walking very slowly with his arms around a
Mac's steps wobbled uncertainly. She seemed almost to be sleepwalking,
but she clung tightly to him and kept putting one foot in front of the
other. They paced slowly beneath a grove of tall palms and sat on a
bench to rest in the shade. Harm hated to make her move, but he felt as
exposed as a fly on a plate. After a few minutes, they continued down
the walk toward the far corner of the plaza, where the gates of the
American Embassy stood surrounded by flags hanging limp in the humidity.
"Almost there, sweetheart," he kept repeating in her ear. "You're doing
great. Just a little farther."
By the time they reached the bustling intersection, Harm was practically
carrying her. A few people turned to stare and he glared at them until
they turned away. The traffic lights changed, and they joined the throng
crossing the street. Harm turned right on the wide sidewalk and started
walking toward the Marine guard standing at attention in front of the
embassy gates. Twenty steps. Ten. He dug in his pocket and pulled out
his wallet and Mac's.
"This is Lieutenant Colonel Sarah Mackenzie, Corporal," he said, holding
up their credentials in front of the Marine. "I'm David Roberts, CIA. We
need protection inside the embassy immediately. Ambassador Beresford
will vouch for us."
The Marine's impassive expression didn't flicker. Furiously Harm turned
to look for the sergeant in command of the guard post.
A black Citroen screeched to a halt at the curb and two army officers
stepped out. One shouted an imperious command as a dusty truck with
canvas sides pulled up and a dozen armed soldiers scrambled from the
back and fanned out across the street, stopping traffic. Behind them, a
crowd began to gather.
"Halt!" the officer cried again. "These people are fugitives, criminals!
They are wanted for arrest by the government of Indonesia! Take them!"
At his peremptory gesture, four soldiers ran forward.
"Hold it," Harm bellowed in a voice that could carry across a busy
flight deck. He held up their credentials. "We are American citizens,
and we are requesting the protection of our embassy! You can't arrest
us! Sergeant!" Desperately he looked around. Two Marines appeared behind
the gate and he snapped, "Gunnery Sergeant, this is Lieutenant Colonel
Sarah Mackenzie of the United States Marine Corps. Now open this goddamn
Sidearms appeared in the Marines' hands as if by magic, covering the
surrounding soldiers. The gunny was speaking urgently into his radio and
gesturing for the guard to unlock the gate. Harm slipped an arm behind
Mac's knees, picked her up, and turned to carry her through.
From somewhere came a sharp crack, no louder than a motor backfiring.
Harm's head snapped back as if he had been kicked, and he staggered. A
woman screamed, and a second shot rang out. His leg collapsed and he
went down on his knees.
He refused to let her fall. Slowly he sank forward until Mac rested on
the dusty pavement, and only then did he crumple beside her.
"Hold your fire!" the gunnery sergeant bellowed at his men. The snick of
weapons cocking and locking backed him up and feet pounded inside the
compound as Marines with rifles came running to join those aiming their
weapons through the gate. "Okay, Corporal. Bring 'em in." the gunny
ordered in a low voice.
Even as the gate swung open, the government troops drew closer. "Halt,
or be fired upon!" the gunny shouted. Then he paused, as every eye
turned toward the two figures sprawled on the ground.
Mac was struggling to rise. She got to her hands and knees and pulled
herself painfully toward Harm. She tried to shout, but her voice was dry
and cracked. Painfully she leaned across Harm, trying to shield him with
her body. She raised a hand that trembled with effort. "Don't shoot."
Somewhere at the back of the crowd, cameras were clicking. An officer
barked an order, and the government soldiers lowered their weapons. Four
Marines hustled onto the sidewalk, closed ranks around Harm and Mac, and
carried them inside. The embassy gates clanged shut.
United States Embassy, Jakarta
"Colonel. Colonel, can you hear me?" Ambassador Beresford's face swam
into her field of vision. She blinked.
"Where's Harm?" she whispered.
"Colonel, what the hell happened out there? I've got to talk to
Washington *now.* The Indonesians are claiming Marburg was murdered, and
CNN has it all over the news."
Shakily Mac pushed herself to a sitting position and let her legs dangle
over the side of a hard little brocade settee. Her head swam, but she
looked around and recognized the entrance hall of the embassy. "Where's
Harm?" she insisted doggedly.
"What Harm? Oh, you mean Roberts? They're taking care of him," Beresford
snapped irritably. "Look, Colonel, you *have* to give me something to
Mac wiped her face with a trembling hand and forced herself to
concentrate. "Marburg and his assistant were murdered by members of the
military," she said carefully. "We have their identification, we can
prove it. Harm and I killed six of them and escaped. We walked cross
country to Maribaya and took a bus from there. That's it." She got
slowly to her feet and started unsteadily toward the archway.
"What the hell do you mean, that's 'it'?" Beresford scurried after her
and grabbed her arm. "You mean to say that cockamamie theory of yours
"Yes," she said, and looked pointedly down at his hand. "Now take your
hand off me."
Beresford dropped her arm. "This won't be the end of it, Colonel," he
began, but the tirade stopped abruptly as his wife appeared at his
"Colonel Mackenzie," Mrs. Beresford said graciously, impaling her
husband with an icy glare, "you look exhausted. Won't you sit down?"
"I need to see Harm," Mac repeated stubbornly, and kept going.
The older woman slipped her arm around Mac. "This way, dear."
The doors to the kitchen slammed back to reveal a scene from hell.
Banging metal, harsh lights, voices barking orders. Controlled chaos as
men hurried past. Marines bent over the stainless steel counter in the
center of the room. Dark red streaks smeared the tile floor where their
boots scuffed in it.
Long legs in blue jeans hung off the end of the table. Feet shod in
muddy hiking boots.
Mac staggered forward, clinging to Mrs. Beresford's arm. A Marine moved
aside, and there was Harm, sprawled half on his side with his shirt gone
and blood everywhere.
Someone pulled a stool forward and she sat, clutching the edge of the
counter. Harm's cheek was pressed against the metal table and she
noticed a little patch of fog on the cool surface beneath his nose. His
eyelashes fluttered, and there was recognition in his eyes as he saw her
and struggled to speak. Mac watched with sick dread as a thin streak of
bloody foam trickled from the corner of his mouth. She clasped his
fingers and squeezed gently. "You're going to be fine, Harm. It's okay,"
"Get that pressure bandage secured," a calm voice ordered. "And where
the hell are the splints?"
"This is all I could find, sir," a young private said, looking scared as
he held up a couple of bed slats.
"Okay, it'll have to do. Gimme that tape. How are his vitals?"
The voices continued clanging above her, and she stopped listening.
When they rolled him onto his back to immobilize his leg his body
clenched, shaking with a spasm of pain. She pulled herself to her feet
and leaned over him. His hand clutched hers so hard she thought the
bones would crack, but she managed to smile. "It's okay. You're going to
be fine," she kept whispering, over and over. Harm's desperate gaze
locked with hers. At last his body relaxed, and his eyelids drooped.
Someone took her by the shoulders and moved her back, and four men
lifted Harm into a stretcher basket, securing him with heavy webbing.
"Okay, Colonel, we're taking you to the roof now," someone ordered.
"Roof?" She looked up in confusion.
"This man needs a hospital asap. Do you want to trust the locals? We're
evacuating you both to the Guadalcanal. They sent a helo, it's on the
roof." She focused on the Marine corpsman who was speaking to her, and
then someone picked her up bodily and followed behind Harm's stretcher.
Four Marines carried him, swaying and bumping up some dark stairs. One
corpsman was holding aloft a clear plastic bag connected to a thin tube
that snaked down to disappear beneath the blanket.
The unfamiliar arms around her were enormous. It occurred to Mac that
this is what it must feel like to be carried by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
They burst through a door into brilliant sunlight. Hot wind roared
around them, stinging with sand and grit. She squeezed her eyes shut and
turned her face into the wall of the Marine's huge chest, feeling his
ribbons against her cheek. "Okay, ma'am," someone yelled, "we've got
you," and she felt herself being handed to another set of arms, lifted
and bumped and laid down on a hard, flat surface.
She turned her head to see Harm's stretcher beside her. An oxygen mask
obscured his nose and mouth, and his eyes were closed. His eyelids
looked thin and bruised. She reached over and managed to grasp one of
the straps that held him.
With a roar and a shudder, the big helicopter lifted off, tilted, and
headed out to sea.
December 17, 1400 Hours PST
University Hospital, Sydney, Australia
There was a tree outside his window. He gauged the passage of time by
the color of the light filtering through its leaves, and amused himself
by watching shadows dancing on the wall while he drifted on the drugs.
There was no change in the constant, soothing hum of background noises
from the corridor, but he knew when she came in. A breath of fresh air,
a whiff of perfume. Mac.
"Hi," he croaked, and opened his eyes.
"Hi yourself," she smiled, and leaned over the rails for a quick kiss.
She was wearing her Class A's. This couldn't be good.
"Going somewhere, Marine?"
She flicked an anxious glance at him and pulled up her usual chair. She
reached for his hand, carefully avoiding the IV line taped to the back.
With her other hand, she held up a long envelope.
She nodded, looking unhappy.
He digested this in silence. "You sure you're feeling okay? Well enough
for the flight, I mean?"
"I'm fine, Harm. It was just a light case of dengue -- a few days of bed
rest and Tylenol and I'm fine. Really." She shrugged. "I felt a whole
lot better when they told me you were going to be okay."
He made a face. "Nothing three weeks flat on my back won't cure." His
left leg was encased in a full length plaster cast suspended in a sling.
"They still won't let you try the crutches?"
"Not until the incision in my back heals enough to start rehab." He
shrugged. "No big deal. It's not like I have anywhere else to go,
"Only if coming home to me doesn't count," she said lightly. He squeezed
her fingers and stared at the ceiling, and she peered at him closely.
"You heard from them, didn't you?"
"Yeah. They cut me loose." He gave a brief, humorless laugh. "They'll
pay my medical bills and buy me a ticket home, but that's it. Sure you
want to be involved with a guy who can't hold a job?"
"You may not be the only one." She tapped the envelope. "I guess I
should be glad this wasn't delivered by a couple of guys carrying
"Think they'll charge you?" His casual question didn't deceive her.
"I think that's going to be up to the Admiral," she said. "I'll worry
about it when the time comes."
"What time is your flight?" he asked, hooking his index finger around
"I have to leave in a few minutes." She smoothed the short hair from his
forehead. "I'm going to miss watching reruns of 'Walker Texas Ranger'
She hoped he would laugh, or at least smile, but his bleak expression
turned serious. "I'm going to miss a lot more than that, Mac."
He nodded, frowning, and shifted a little. A not-quite-comfortable
silence fell between them. She was looking away with a sad, wistful
expression that tore at him. Through the fog of medication, he scrambled
for the right words, but nothing came. Jesus, Rabb, suck it up. Now or
never. "Mac," he managed in a strangled voice.
She looked up.
"What happened out there" -- he tried, and started over. "It was
important to me."
"Me too," she said. When he remained silent, the light in her eyes went
out and she said casually, "But hey, stressful situation and all that.
How long can something like that last, anyway?"
"How about forever?"
Her gaze snapped to his. Suddenly the whole future was poised in the
stillness between them.
Mac was staring at him as if she could see right into his soul, and he
supposed she probably could. "All or nothing," she murmured, shaking her
"What?" he whispered, confused.
"All or nothing, it's all you know how to be. It's why I love you so
much." Oh great, now she was crying.
"Mac -- sweetheart -- I didn't mean to upset you--" If she says no, he
thought wildly, I won't survive it.
"Harm. Shut up." She was leaning over him, smiling, and then her soft
mouth was on his. He could taste her tears, hot and salty.
When he could breathe again, he grinned, "So I guess I can take that as
a yes, counselor?"
"Yes," she laughed, wiping the tears from her cheeks. "Yes." Slowly she
shook her head. "You really do have lousy timing, you know that? I have
to go, right now."
He grabbed the shiny steel bar hanging above him and pulled himself up,
grimacing. "Harm -- no, you'll hurt yourself," she said, reaching for
"I love you," he said.
"I love you too," she murmured, and kissed him.
Six weeks later, 1900 Hours
North of Union Station, Washington, D.C.
"Hey," she said, tossing her coat and cover on the rack. "Sorry I'm
Harm looked up from the sofa where he was sitting with his leg stretched
out across the coffee table and clicked the remote to turn down the jazz
pouring from the CD player. "You're not late," he said, smiling up at
She bent to give him a swift kiss. "Wow, you started dinner already. You
must be feeling better."
"I had to do something with all this time on my hands." He caught her
wrist and pulled her down onto his lap.
"At least until you find something better to do with your hands," she
grinned as he began unbuttoning her jacket. Their kiss was long and
lingering. When they finally pulled back, Mac rested her head on his
shoulder and asked, "How did rehab go today?"
He shrugged. "Okay."
"You've come a long way from the skinny scarecrow who came off that
plane in a wheelchair two weeks ago," she said. The deliberate pace of
physical therapy would never suit Harm's restless nature, she thought,
smoothing his hair.
"Yeah, I guess. Anyway, it's better now that the cast is off." He
tightened his arm around her shoulders and stared across the room at
nothing. His deep set eyes were somber.
"Huh? Oh -- no, not yet. You go ahead."
"Harm. What's wrong?"
She wanted to shake him, but she knew he'd simply clam up. So she took
his hand and said carefully, "Whatever is bothering you, it's affecting
me, too. It would really help me to know what it is."
His lips tightened, and for a bad moment she was sure he wouldn't
answer. Please, she thought. If he won't trust me now, it will never be
Harm looked at her and sighed. "The Admiral came by the hospital to see
"Yep. He offered me reinstatement, with full time in rank and benefits."
He looked at her sharply. "You didn't know."
"I'm not exactly on his short list of confidants these days. But Harm --
that's wonderful. What do you think?"
"I think he needs good litigators, or he wouldn't have asked."
Privately, Mac thought the Admiral was struggling with a classic case of
letting go. He saw himself in Harm and had nurtured his career, but when
the leash got too tight, Harm had rebelled. They were both strong,
stubborn alpha males -- it would be difficult for them to get past it.
"What do you want to do?" she asked.
He started to speak and stopped. "I don't know, Mac. I love the Navy,
and I love the law, but I'm not sure whether Chegwidden wants me -- or a
lap dog. Besides, you and I are together now. We can't both work for
"There are lots of jobs in the military, Harm."
"And that's another thing. What are the odds that we'll both be
stationed in the same place from now on?"
She leaned back and fixed him with a stern look. "Harm. You told me how
much you miss it. Do you really want to give up this chance? If you
don't want it, fine, but don't do it on my account. The details will
work themselves out."
He regarded her silently. Finally he said, "The Navy is where I belong,
Mac. Not just because I love it, or because I didn't leave on my own
terms. When I was seventeen, I made a commitment to serve -- I can't
turn my back on that. It matters."
She nodded, unable to speak. He swept her hair back and cradled her face
with both hands. "It's not much to offer you, Mac. We won't be rich,
we'll move around a lot, there'll be times we won't be together. We'll
have to make some tough career choices."
"Don't sugar coat it or anything," she grinned.
"So you'll marry me?"
"Just try and stop me."