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Chapter 4

Sarah Mackenzie’s Apartment
Thursday
2323 Local

 

Mac was stretched out on the couch, not quite asleep, but not quite awake either. For once she was not tossing and turning, miserably stressed. Clad in cozy flannel pajamas, she was relaxed, thinking over the past 24 hours.

She hadn’t realized how cathartic it would be. True, she hadn’t voluntarily told Harm, and had even been angry at him, but his knowing about it had helped. Well, not just his knowing, his unwavering support and tender care as well.

Pulling up the afghan under her chin, she snuggled down in the couch more. She should have trusted him from the beginning, but she just couldn’t. Thank God he’d been a true friend and seen through her façade. He was amazing.

She shied away from his hints of a future though; she wasn’t ready to even think about that. Part of her felt like she was…well…just not good enough. Not for him. Not for anybody really. Intellectually she knew that this feeling of being ‘unclean’ was a by-product of the rape, but knowing that didn’t make it any less real.

But she was so grateful for his friendship and support. He’d even broken the ice with the Admiral for her.

The Admiral. Another man she should have trusted. He’d gone out of his way to help her, keeping the whole incident confidential and reassuring her of his belief in her. Way beyond the call of duty. She was lucky. In fact, although she definitely wasn’t about to share it with anyone else, she was lucky in all her friends. Bud, Harriet, Sturgis…They’d all been there for her in one way or another.

Her biggest worry right now was the counseling Harm insisted upon. At his prodding, she’d called and made an appointment with Dr. Gloria Masterson, the psychiatrist the Admiral had recommended. She hadn’t told her why she needed to talk to her, just made the appointment and hung up. She couldn’t get into it over the phone. She wasn’t sure she could get into it in person.

A knock at the door snapped her awake. She definitely wasn’t expecting company. Rising, she checked the peephole before opening the door. It was Harm.

Dressed in sweats, he had his hands in his pockets and looked a little nervous. “Hey.”

Opening the door wide, she gestured him in. “Hey yourself. Kinda late for a visit, isn’t it? Is something wrong?”

Stepping into her apartment looking uncharacteristically uncomfortable, he actually fidgeted as he answered her. “Well, no, not exactly. It’s just…” His voice faded away as he struggled for a coherent answer.

Concerned, she placed a hand on his arm. “Harm? What is it?” He didn’t answer immediately, so she pulled on the arm gently. “Come on, Flyboy, sit down. You want some coffee?”

He allowed himself to be led to the couch. “No thanks.” Pushing the pillow and afghan out of the way for him, she practically forced him into a seat.

Seating herself next to him, she gave him her full attention. “OK then, spit it out. What’s going on?”

“Nothing, really.” Shooting her a grin at her disbelieving look, he continued, “I just couldn’t sleep, so I went for a drive. I saw your light on, so I thought I’d stop in.”

She couldn’t help it. He was so transparent. Breaking into a smile, she answered him. “You really expect me to buy that line?”

Realizing he was caught, he gave in with an anxious chuckle. “All right. I was worried about you. Satisfied?”

Instead of getting angry as he expected, she was touched. “Harm, a phone call could have saved you a trip out here. I appreciate it, but I’m doing a lot better. Thanks to you.” She laid a hand on his arm again, reassuring him. “You don’t have to worry about me.”

Instead of relaxing, he became more troubled. “Yes, I do! Damn it, Mac, that shouldn’t have happened. If I’d been with you, it wouldn’t have.” He shut himself up abruptly, realizing he’d said too much.

Astonished, she stared at him. “Are you saying you feel responsible in some way?” She should have realized he’d feel that way, but she’d been so wrapped up in her own misery she hadn’t given any thought to his feelings.

He stood up and wandered over to the fireplace, rubbing the back of his neck. “No…yes…I don’t know what I feel. I’m just angry that it happened, and I…I…” Once again his voice faded away, then he finished the sentence softly. “I’m just angry. And I need to be sure you’re really okay.”

He dropped back into his seat on the couch and laid his head back. “I’m sorry, but a phone call wouldn’t have done it. I had to see for myself.”

Intuitively she realized that he had his own issues to deal with about the rape. “It’s not your fault, Harm.”

“I know that!” His head snapped up and he glared at her. The anger in his voice caused her to flinch, and he softened his voice. “I know that, but if I’d been there, it wouldn’t have happened. I could have killed the son of a bitch before he laid a hand on you!”

“Or he would have killed you first, and then the rest of us. There’s no use second guessing it, Harm.” She kept her voice calm. “I know you’re upset, but-”

“But nothing!” He cut her off, the anger growing. But he wrestled with it and got control. “I’m sorry, Mac. I’m sorry that this happened to you, that I couldn’t stop it.” To his disgust, his voice choked up. “I’m really sorry.”

“Oh, Harm.” Instead of trying to argue with him, she leaned over and hugged him. He clutched her to him like she was his lifeline. This time it was his tears on her shoulder, but she didn’t hold back. She cried with him.

After a few moments, his hold loosened and she felt him regain control. “Hey,” he whispered. “I’m supposed to be comforting you.”

She laughed softly through her tears. “How about we comfort each other?”

He didn’t answer, just tightened his grip on her, then let her go. He gave an embarrassed swipe at his eyes. “I guess I should go. It’s late, and you need your sleep.”

The haunted look in his eyes had lessened, but not gone away. If she let him go now, he still wouldn’t sleep. How well she knew that feeling. She tugged at his hand as she stood up, pulling him with her. “Why don’t you stay here tonight?”

“Are you sure?” His unsure look spoke volumes; he didn’t want to smother her.

She gave him a shy smile. “Last night, I slept better than I have since this all started.” Looking down, she went on. “I just thought…maybe…I mean…I’m not…”

She was stumbling around the subject, trying to clarify what she meant, but he understood immediately. “You don’t have to explain, Mac. I understand. And yes, I would sleep better here with you. Just for tonight. I really need to know you’re okay.”

“I will be. Thanks to you.” Shutting the lights out, she led him to the bedroom, where they lay down together. Despite the previous night, it was awkward there in the dark.

They didn’t touch, but were too aware of each other to sleep.

“Mac?” His whisper broke the silence.

“Yes?” Her answer was just as quiet.

“Can I hold your hand?”

She didn’t answer. Instead she slipped her hand in his, and they both fell asleep.

 

Masterson & Associates
Friday
1625 Local

 

The stately home on a wide avenue looked nothing like a clinic. For that he was exceptionally grateful. Mounds of snowy chrysanthemums interspersed with purple pansies lined the flagstone path to the front door. Lacy branches of white crape myrtle waved gently at eye level. It was a welcoming home, a home that embraced guests.

He thought about how much Mac would admire it as he crossed the wide verandah, pausing briefly before entering. He also thought about what Mac would say when she found out he was waiting for her. He figured he’d be better off inside, with witnesses, than if she discovered him skulking around outside.

The receptionist desk was empty, so he took a seat in the waiting area. Once again he was struck by how lovely everything was. Tall windows, a color scheme of muted blues and ivory, and many, many plants. A veritable forest. Someone here definitely had a green thumb. It was incredibly relaxing.

In spite of the beautiful room, he leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. Mac was going to kill him.

She’d been incredibly sweet last night, and even in the morning. She’d made breakfast (sweet rolls and coffee- it figured), reassured him that she totally understood, then shooed him out the door so they could both get ready for work.

It wasn’t until she was getting ready to leave for her 1500 appointment that things started getting a little rough. She’d been nervous, he’d readily understood that. She kept checking her watch all afternoon, in spite of her internal clock.

It was when he offered to take her to the appointment that things started going down hill. Okay, so when she said no, she needed to do it herself, he should have backed off. Instead, he’d argued that she needed support; it was no problem for him, etc. He knew she was getting hot under the collar as he argued; he simply couldn’t seem to shut up.

It ended when she yelled at him. She needed to do things for herself. She needed to stand on her own two feet. She couldn’t have him bailing her out of everything, she was capable of going to a god damned appointment by herself- she didn’t need a nursemaid.

When he’d started to withdraw in offended silence, she’d apologized instantly. She hadn’t meant to yell, and she appreciated everything he’d done, but some things she was going to have to do on her own. It didn’t mean she didn’t care about him, or appreciate his friendship, but she needed to do this alone.

Deep inside he knew he needed to back off a little, give her breathing room, but something in him wouldn’t let him. Quite simply, he wanted to watch over her, protect her. Moreover, he didn’t want her out of his sight. He just worried about her when she was.

“Can I help you?”

Harm opened his eyes to see an older gentleman standing in front of him. The cultured Virginia accent fit perfectly with the silver haired man in front of him. He was the epitome of the southern gentleman, even to the three piece suit, complete with a gold watch chain.

“No, thank you, I’m just waiting for someone.”

“Miss Mackenzie?”

“Yes.” Harm didn’t want to be rude, but he certainly wasn’t going to discuss Mac with a stranger, even if he seemed to work here.

The gentleman smiled. “You must be Commander Rabb.”

Startled, Harm gave a nod. “How did you know?”

An easy laugh accompanied the answer. “Sarah said you’d probably be here. I’m Dr. Masterson. Sarah is in with my colleague, who also happens to be my wife.”

Embarrassed, Harm had the grace to smile. “I guess she knows me better than I thought.”

“Annoying, isn’t it?” They both laughed, Harm feeling more at ease.

“Commander, I may be out of line here, and if I am, please feel free to tell me so. But it occurs to me that you might have some difficulty dealing with Sarah’s…situation.”

Instantly wary, Harm asked, “Did she tell you that?”

“No, she only mentioned that you were feeling very protective and would probably be waiting for her. I’m reading between the lines. And I have some familiarity with the situation.” Dr. Masterson hesitated, then continued, “You see, several years ago, my wife was raped.”

Harm wasn’t sure what to say. ‘I’m sorry’ seemed so inadequate.

Before he could say anything, Dr. Masterson went on with a sad smile. “She’s uniquely qualified to help Sarah through this, to say the least.” Then he looked at Harm meaningfully. “I know the rage you must be feeling, and how you want to make sure she’s safe. All the time. I went through it myself.”

“I’m handling it.” He could feel himself becoming defensive.

Dr. Masterson just looked at him for a moment. Then, as if weighing his words carefully, he said, “You know, in order for you to help her, you have to be okay yourself. You need someone to vent to, and a way to let out what you’re feeling.”

His smile was self-deprecating. “Believe me, I know. My wife had to hand me my head on a platter before I realized it, but I know it now.” He became more serious. “She can’t be okay with you if she’s afraid you’re too angry about the rape. She’ll just feel guilty that she’s hurting you, and she’ll hide her emotions. It will all be more difficult than it already is.”

Mentally worn out, Harm rubbed his eyes. “Damn it. Why did this have to happen? To Sarah? It’s not fair.”

“No it’s not, Commander. It’s not, at all.”

There was a short silence, Harm struggling with his emotions when Dr. Masterson spoke up again. “I don’t need to drum up business, I assure you. But I think I can help, if you let me.”

Harm didn’t say anything at first, considering everything. More than anything he wanted to help Mac, but he was astute enough to recognize the truth in what Dr. Masterson was telling him. “I think I’ll take you up on that, Dr. Masterson.” He smiled suddenly, some of the weight lifting from his shoulders at the thought of help. “I don’t need Sarah handing me my head. She’s a Marine, she could literally do it.”

Dr. Masterson laughed at Harm’s joke. “Sarah’s next appointment is Monday at 4. Why don’t you come at the same time? We’ll talk more then.”

“I’ll have to check with my CO, but I think it will be fine.” Harm smiled his appreciation. “Thanks, Doc.”

“It doesn’t seem like it now, Commander, but it really will be okay. It will take time, and work from both of you. But happiness really is possible.”

 

Masterson & Associates Clinic
Fairfax, VA

 

It was while he was chatting with Dr. Masterson that Harm saw Mac approaching. Walking slowly, head down, her shoulders slumped in exhaustion. She hadn’t seen him yet. Peripherally he was aware of someone behind her, but all his attention was on Mac.

Instantly on his feet, he started towards her only to be stopped by Dr. Masterson. Startled, he looked down at the hand on his arm. “Don’t startle her.” The older man kept his voice low. “Trust me; she’s going to need some space.”

Harm stared for a moment, considering the advice, then nodded and called out to her softly, “Mac?”

Her head came up and he could see the remains of tears on her face. She attempted a smile as she walked over to him. “I guess I should have known you’d be here.”

Despite her attempt at humor, he could see the turmoil in her. He started to reach out to her, but caught Dr. Masterson’s eye. The psychiatrist gave a tiny shake of his head, and although everything in him wanted to comfort her, he decided to follow the doctor’s advice. Smiling back at Mac, he answered, “I just thought I’d see if I could take you to dinner. You know, feed the bottomless pit.” Of course, she hadn’t been a bottomless pit in a long time- she was far too skinny.

An honest glint of humor shone in her eyes for a moment at his banter, before being swallowed up by exhaustion. “I don’t think…”

“You must be Commander Rabb.” The woman that had been following Mac spoke up, interrupting Mac’s refusal. “Sarah said you’d probably be here.” Her soft Southern voice was charming.

Beside him, Dr. Masterson chuckled. “Commander, I’d like you to meet my wife, Dr. Gloria Masterson.”

Courteous as always, Harm was prompt in his reply even when all his attention was focused on Mac. “Nice to meet you, Ma’am.” He dragged his eyes away from Mac to offer his hand.

Dr. Gloria Masterson was a perfect foil for her husband. A few inches shorter than Mac as well as several years older, she’d kept her figure. Silvery blonde hair in an elegant French twist and wearing a deep blue suit, she was an elegant sight. Her handshake was firm, and Harm liked her immediately.

“Please, call me Gloria. And this is Bill.” She gave a short laugh. “It’s just too confusing with two Dr. Mastersons around.”

Gallantly, Harm replied, “Then make it Harm, not Commander Rabb.”

Mac seemed to fade into the woodwork during this exchange. The lines of exhaustion were clear, and she was uncharacteristically silent.

Gloria turned to her with a gentle smile. “Sarah, I’ll see you again on Monday at 4, right?” She reached out to touch Mac’s shoulder, but didn’t seem surprised when Mac moved away.

Mac managed a nod, not meeting anyone’s eyes, and stepped toward the door. It was obvious all she wanted was to get out of this place. She didn’t acknowledge Bill at all.

Hurriedly Harm took his leave, trying to follow her. “Gloria, Bill, it was a pleasure to meet you both.”

“Harm.” It was Gloria that held him up. “Give her room. She’s in pain right now. Be there, but let her call the shots. You’ve got to trust her feelings on this.”

It was all Harm could do not to argue, but he didn’t have time. If he’d trusted Mac’s feelings on this subject Mac would never have told him anything. But he was going to lose Mac if he didn’t expedite his departure. “I will. Thank you.” He hurried out the door to catch Mac.

Mac was opening her car door when he caught up with her. “Hey, Mac. Slow down a minute.”

She ignored him and got in the car.

Managing to get there before she shut the door, he gave her his best puppy dog look. “I thought I’d take you to dinner. You know, a nice juicy steak.” His voice took on a pleading tone.

Her entire body tensed. “Harm, please.” Her voice broke on that last word. She leaned her head against the steering wheel. “I’m so tired. I can’t…”

“I just want to be sure you’re all right,” not knowing quite what to say. She’d been reaching out to him before, seeming to need him. Just this one session with the doctor seemed to have made her worse, not better.

“I’m fine.” Her standard answer, second only to ‘I’m a marine; I can take care of myself’. “I just need some time alone. Do I need permission for that?” The sharpness in her tone made him stop. This was about what she needed, not what he wanted.

Changing tactics mid-stride, he decided to listen to the advice the Mastersons had given him. “How about this? I’ll follow you home; stop to pick up some food. You don’t have to talk to me, or anything. Once you’ve eaten, I’ll fade away and go home. I promise.”

Finally she looked up at him. “Harm, I’m not good company right now. I’m angry and tired. I’ll just say things that are mean. Please, do yourself a favor and stay away from me.”

She was deadly serious; he could see it in her eyes. “I can handle you being mean, Mac. But I can’t handle staying away from you.” He could see the spark of anger in her eyes and tried to head her off. “We’re friends, right? Friends don’t run out when the going gets tough.” He did his best to sound reasonable.

Abruptly, too tired to fight about it, she gave in. “Fine. It’s your neck. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Shutting the door, she started the car, not waiting for him to get to his.

As he hurried to his SUV, he was starting to be glad he’d agreed to see Dr. Masterson himself. This was like walking a tightrope. And as much as he wanted to be there for her, he was aware that one slip could bring them both crashing down.

 

Sarah Mackenzie’s apartment
Georgetown
1700

 

She hadn’t eaten much of the Chinese food he had picked up. Nor had she spoken to him. At all. Not one single word. Not when he had showed up with a smile, his hands filled with cartons of food. She had just walked away from the open door, leaving him to come in and set up the food. And not when he had arranged the food on plates and announced that dinner was ready.

True to his word, he hadn’t made her talk, even though he’d wanted to. God how he’d wanted to make her talk. He had wanted to ask her about her session today, he had wanted to know what she was feeling and why. But as much as it killed him, he had been quiet. The silence and the tension had been deafening.

They were sitting at the table now. She was poking at the food with the chopsticks, a sullen expression on her pretty face. It was making him nervous, and irritating him as well. He was only trying to help, damn it.

He was just about to make a sarcastic remark when she suddenly threw the chopsticks down and burst into tears, covering her face with her hands. Shocked, he didn’t move. He just stared at her, infinitely glad he hadn’t opened his big mouth.

“God, Harm, I’m the biggest bitch alive.”

The humor of that statement caught him, and his nervousness and irritation disappeared. “Well, not the biggest, you’ll have to work for that title a little harder.” Laughing, he decided to tease her out of her doldrums.

A choked laugh escaped her, but she didn’t look at him. “Damn it, Harm, if you were smart, you’d just get away from me.”

Smiling, he flicked a piece of rice at her. “No one ever accused me of being smart.”

A fresh burst of tears greeted his humor. Getting out of his chair, he went around and crouched down next to her chair, taking her hand in his. “Mac, get it through your head, once and for all. I’m not leaving you to face this alone. You’re not going to drive me away.”

Turning those tear stained Bambi eyes on him at last, she melted his heart into a puddle. “You should, Harm. You should run far and fast.”

Tenderly he brushed some hair out of her face and wiped away a stray tear. “Ain’t gonna happen.”

Standing, he pulled her into a hug. “Whatever happens, Mac. We’re friends. I don’t pretend to know everything you’re going through, but I’m here for the duration. Got it?”

She nodded against his chest.

Feeling like he finally had a handle on things, he decided to push his luck. “Now earlier, I promised I’d fade away and go home. But I have a different suggestion. But it’s your choice, okay?”

She nodded again. God, he just wanted to hold her and keep her safe. “You said you need some time alone. Do you still feel that way?”

She struggled with the decision, knowing she should send him away. She wasn’t good for him, but she needed him near.

“It’s okay if you do, Mac. But I was going to say, why don’t you just go and relax, take a bath, read, whatever you want. I’ll just hang around out here for a while, till you go to sleep. Is that okay?”

Please say yes, he begged silently.

Finally, one more time, she nodded.

Drawing away from him slowly, she paused. “I’m sorry. For everything.”

He pulled her in for another hug, and kissed the top of her head. “If you keep apologizing, you’ll never win the biggest bitch title.” He didn’t need an apology from her. “Go on, I’ll be around. Just yell if you need something.”

When she disappeared into the bedroom, Harm dropped onto the couch, tired. Again he thanked God that he was there with her. And he thanked God that he had agreed to talk with Dr. Masterson, because he was going to need help and advice.

 

90 minutes later-

 

Mac entered the living room, feeling a little better after a steaming hot bubble bath.

She was not surprised to see Harm stretched out asleep on the sofa, a paperback on his chest. Retrieving a blanket and pillow from the bedroom, she pulled off his shoes and covered him with the blanket. Carefully lifting his head, she placed the pillow under it. Unable to stop herself, she placed a light kiss on his forehead. When she drew back, he was smiling in his sleep.

He loved her. He hadn’t said it, but she was sure of it now. He had gone to great lengths for her sake, far and away beyond what a friend would do, no matter what he said. He’d wait for her, as long as it takes. That simple statement pulled at her heart, bringing tears to her eyes as she looked at him.

She watched him for a moment, wondering why he would love her. Here was an incredibly handsome, smart man…who could have just about any woman he wanted.

Sighing, she just couldn’t see it. Hating herself right now, she felt unclean, and unworthy. One minute she’d be coping, and the next her feelings were zooming out of control. She reminded herself of Dr. Masterson words, “Sarah, it will be hard. But if you want it, you can be happy again. You can feel safe, and good, again. You’ll have to fight for it, but you can have it.”

Right now she wasn’t sure it was possible. But one little voice reminded her of something else. If Harm can see something good in you, you can’t be all bad.

Taking one last loving look at him, she turned off the lights and made sure the door was locked. Once in her bed, she decided to hang on to the hope. Happiness was possible.

 

Six months later-
On the way to Benzinger’s
Harm’s SUV
1930 Local

 

He was home. Finally. Gone for 2 weeks on an investigation on the Big E, he’d managed to get some flying time in. But home was home and definitely where his heart was. Or rather, home was wherever Mac was.

A quick change at his apartment, and he was on his way to Benzinger’s, where the JAG crew had gathered for an informal get together. No special reason, just to socialize. Since he wasn’t expected back until tomorrow, no one was expecting him.

As he drove, he thought about all that had happened in the last six months. It had been one of the most difficult periods of his entire life. In fact, sometimes it had been sheer hell. Mac’s emotions while dealing with counseling had been all over the place. There were times when she wouldn’t talk to him, times when she vented her rage, and times when all she could do was cry. In the beginning, there had been two entire weeks when she insisted he leave her entirely alone except for work-related discussions. That had been the worst by far.

It had started when she found out he was going to counseling himself. She had hit the roof. Her anger caught him entirely by surprise, although with the clarity of hindsight he should have realized what her reaction would be. Not thinking it really important, he’d neglected to mention it to her until his first session, which happened to coincide with hers. His appointment had coincided with hers, so he’d innocently suggested that they carpool.

Initially she hadn’t understood, thinking he only meant to accompany her. When he’d explained that he was attending a session of his own with Bill Masterson, he had been taken aback by the depth of her rage. At first he couldn’t understand it.

She had felt that he was intruding, taking a much bigger part of her problem on his shoulders than was proper or necessary. He wasn’t her husband or lover. It was not appropriate for him to become so involved. And, to add insult to injury, he was going to the same place she was.

He’d argued, at that point, that his relationship status with her didn’t matter. He was her friend, and he wanted to be there for her, to understand what she was going through. He honestly felt that counseling was a healthy thing for him to do. Her sarcastic rejoinder that he should have had his head examined earlier in his life had not helped an already tense situation. They had driven to their respective sessions in separate cars, quietly enraged with each other.

When he apprised Bill of the situation, Bill had been surprisingly on Mac’s side. He had apologized to Harm, saying that he had made assumptions about his relationship with Mac. It had taken Harm two full hours to explain his rather bizarre history with Mac, at the end of which Bill had agreed to continue with the sessions, with the stipulation that both Gloria and Mac agreed.

Rather insultingly, Mac had finally said she didn’t care one way or the other. Before she put on a mask of cold indifference she made some final comments. If he wanted to have his ‘head shrunk’, it was up to him. It had nothing to do with her and she wanted no part of it. As an aside, she added that she didn’t think it was possible to make his brain any smaller.

His next 2 sessions with Bill had been spent picking apart why Mac had reacted so poorly to the situation. Harm had finally understood that there were several reasons behind her anger.

First and foremost, he’d committed the cardinal sin of taking away control. He definitely should have discussed his intention with her, allowing her input. With the best of intentions, he’d agreed to something that affected her deeply without even acknowledging her opinion on the matter.

But secondly, on a deeper level, she felt guilty about it. In Mac’s mind, he shouldn’t have had to deal with her problems, especially not to the point of needing counseling. It was just too much for her to accept. If he was having problems, she had to lay the blame for that at her own door.

And thirdly, she was just plain afraid. Afraid to rely on him at all. He’d been truly hurt by this realization, but had been able to put it aside at Bill’s urging. Given Mac’s history, trusting anyone had always been an issue with her. This last incident had her doubting the entire male population. While Harm had no doubt that Mac trusted him with her life, trusting him with her emotions was an entirely different matter. And Harm had to admit to himself that his own history with her gave her reason to doubt him on this.

And fourthly, painfully, she was afraid that his involvement implied commitment. One she obviously wasn’t ready to make. Self esteem had never been her strong point, and the rape had certainly detracted from what little she had. She wasn’t good enough for him, not in her eyes. And she definitely wasn’t ready to even imply that she might ever be.

At Bill’s suggestion, he hadn’t pursued Mac or tried to reconcile with her. It had killed him to do it, but Mac had to decide on her own if she wanted to be friends with him. He couldn’t force her. Thank God it had only lasted 2 weeks.

She had showed up at his apartment on a Friday night. It had been raining, and she looked wet and bedraggled, as if she had been walking out in the storm. She didn’t say anything at first, and didn’t come in, just stood looking at him with those big brown eyes full of unshed tears. Hesitantly, he had held out a hand, and then she was in his arms, crying and apologizing. It had taken him a full thirty minutes to calm her down.

Since that night, she hadn’t really shut him out. Not like that. There were times when she was withdrawn and uncommunicative, but he just gave her the space she needed. As Bill kept reiterating, all he could do was be there. It was her struggle, and she had to deal with it the best way she could.

His sessions with Bill Masterson had been a Godsend. Not only had they given him an objective viewpoint about Mac, they had allowed him to deal with his own anger. And his own guilt. In fact, just discussing his life with Bill had given him a lot of insight into his own actions throughout his life.

If the last six months had been the worst, conversely they had also been the best. Once that initial struggle had been resolved, they became closer, closer than they’d ever been. For all the times she wouldn’t talk, there were other times when she spoke more deeply and freely than she ever had before. And he had responded in kind, for once in his life not holding anything back. Surprisingly, it had been remarkably freeing. As a result, the bond they had always shared was stronger than ever.

They had even discussed past relationships, more specifically Mic and Renee. The revelation from Mac that she had not loved Mic with her whole heart did not come as a surprise, but it was a relief to hear it. When he had revealed that Renee had never been a candidate for a wife, Mac displayed a similar relief, albeit silently.

He had been careful to avoid mentioning his feelings for her, or any kind of future for them together. There was no place for that kind of discussion yet.

Although his relationship with Mac was the most intimate he had ever had, they had not, of course, explored their relationship in a sexual sense. It wasn’t that he didn’t want her, it was just common sense. Mac’s traumatic experience had left her with a deep wound, one that would require careful healing before that subject could even be broached.

After his first session with Bill, it had become obvious to him that if Mac were to trust him completely, certain things had to be faced, up front. If there was even a shadow of a doubt in Mac’s mind as to his intentions, she’d be on guard with him constantly.

So, once they were speaking again, he’d gathered his courage and talked to her. It had been tricky. And embarrassing. He and Mac had never really discussed their relationship. Definitely more than friends, they had never ventured into the territory of lovers, although they had danced along the edge. Something he still castigated himself for. Coaxing her into discussing her feelings toward sex had not been easy, but he’d persevered. He was not surprised when she revealed that she couldn’t even imagine having sex again. Fear of flashbacks, a general feeling of being ‘dirty’ and unworthy, and not wanting to be touched were classic symptoms, according to Bill.

Delicately, he tried to broach the subject of “them” as a couple. He felt like an idiot stumbling around the subject, but he managed to make his feelings clear to her. Red-faced, he’d attempted to answer her unasked questions. Yes, he found her very attractive, and no, her experience had not ‘diminished’ her in any way to him. But he knew there could be nothing sexual between them right now. She was not to worry that he would make a move on her, or be anything except the friend she needed right now. When she felt comfortable enough…when she was ready…they could talk about being more to each other.

It had been hard for her too, he could see that. She tried her best to tell him not to wait, that she was never going to be ‘good enough’, whatever that meant. He was free to go to anyone, she would not take it as rejection, she would understand. He had needs and wants, and was free to act on them. It was enough for her to be friends, that was what she needed and wanted from him.

All the while, as she explained, he watched her eyes. Always expressive, they now held a deep heartfelt anguish at what she thought she could never have. A normal life. A life with a husband, 2.5 kids, white picket fence and the shaggy dog. A life with him.

Thanks to Bill, he’d been emotionally prepared for her feelings. Instead of arguing, he’d merely held her, saying they would wait and see. Whatever the future held, he was her friend. And she could trust him.

He loved her, of course, more than he had ever loved any woman. He hadn’t told her, but she must know. And he believed that she loved him too. Every once in a while, he’d caught her staring at him, a soft and tender light in her eyes. It had been happening more and more lately, and he was glad to see it.

Professionally, Mac was definitely back in the swing of things. About a month after counseling began, the Admiral had put Mac back in the courtroom. He’d started her out with easy cases, but it hadn’t been long before she’d moved up to the top cases again. The objectivity and deadly calm that served her so well was back. And lately, flashes of humor, and temper, had begun to show up again.

He laughed to himself. The day before he had left for the Big E, he’d pulled one of those ‘last minute witness’ surprises that she hated. His client had been exonerated, and Mac had been furious with him. Not because of the loss, which she’d actually expected, but because he “insisted on melodramatic tactics that belonged on a soap opera, not in a courtroom.”

And so he stood there as she chewed him out, enjoying every second, not even attempting to defend himself. Her eyes snapping with irritation, she’d finally asked him what the hell was so funny. He couldn’t help it. He’d just grinned at her, blissfully happy, and said he was just glad she was back.

Instead of retreating into her shell, she’d poked him in the chest. “You won’t be happy long, jerk.” Then she’d given him one of those too rare, beautiful ‘Mac’ smiles and sauntered off.

As he pulled into the parking lot at Benzinger’s, hope filled him. Somehow, sometime, they were going to get it right. Even if it took years, he would wait for her.

Getting out of the car, he pushed the button on the remote key lock and headed towards the entrance, anxious to see her.

But some little part of him believed…hoped…it wouldn’t take that long.

 

Benzinger’s
1950 Local

 

Harm walked in the door just in time to see Mac laughingly protesting to Sturgis, who was trying to pull her out onto the dance floor. Apparently whatever Sturgis said was effective, because she finally gave a nod and followed him out. Harm noted that Sturgis held her loosely, but Mac was not in the least nervous. In fact, she was talking animatedly to Sturgis as they danced.

He paused to watch her, glad to see her relaxed and enjoying herself. It seemed like it had been years since he’d seen her out with people, laughing.

Feeling he was being watched, he turned his head to see the Admiral watching him watching Mac. Raising a hand, AJ gestured to him to join him at the bar. He walked over without greeting Mac, not wanting to interrupt her good time.

Taking a seat next to AJ, he greeted him. “Evening, Admiral. Good to see you.”

“Same here, Commander. Investigation wrap up early?” AJ gave him a half smile and a knowing look.

Harm gave him a grin in return. “Yes, sir. I was just tired of the carrier life and wanted to get back.”

Before AJ could roll his eyes, the bartender interrupted their conversation, and Harm ordered a beer.

As he turned back to the Admiral, he noticed AJ was looking out at the dance floor at Mac. “She’s amazing, isn’t she? She’s got to be one of the strongest people I’ve ever known.”

Nodding, Harm could only agree. “Yes, sir, she is.”

They both watched Mac for a moment, profoundly content to see her having fun.

Mac must have felt their eyes on her, for she turned her head and saw them. Well, she saw Harm.

AJ could almost hear an audible click as Harm and Mac’s gazes met. He backed away, smiling to himself as Harm didn’t even notice his retreat.

Mac excused herself from the dance with Sturgis and made her way to Harm. Sturgis, left on the dance floor alone, watched her go. He caught the Admiral’s eye, shrugged with a smile, then walked over toward him.

Mac’s smile lit up her face as she approached Harm. “Hey, Flyboy, I didn’t expect you to make it back tonight. How are you?” Instead of sitting on the stool next to him, she leaned on the bar, very close to him. He caught the scent of her, and reminded himself sternly that they were just friends and that she wasn’t ready for anything more.

Returning her smile, he answered her. “I’m fine, I was just anxious to be back home. I’m getting too old for carrier life.” He loved the sparkle in her eyes. She looked gorgeous. It was just so great to see her happy.

Surprising him, she laughed and leaned in closer. “Really. I thought maybe you were just homesick.”

Was she flirting with him? Unsure, he looked away and began peeling the label off his beer bottle. “Well, that too.” Down boy, he reminded himself again.

A slender hand reached out to cover one of his hands. “I missed you.” Simple words, but the tone of voice conveyed so much more. It was sultry, seductive, and totally unlike the Mac he was used to.

Shocked, he didn’t move or say anything. Truthfully, he was too scared. What if he was reading this wrong? God help him, what if he was reading it right? His heart pumped even faster at that last thought.

When he showed no reaction, she withdrew her hand. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t do this to you.” He felt, rather than saw her falter. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.” Moving away, she continued the apology. “I’m sorry, really.”

He finally kick started himself, grabbing her arm. “Wait, Mac…”

She smiled bravely at him, but he could see shame in her eyes. “It’s okay, Harm. I understand. I’m just going to-”

“No, wait.” He cut her off. “You just took me by surprise.” Attempting to smile reassuringly, he held on to her arm firmly. “I mean…I thought you didn’t want…you weren’t ready…”

Embarrassed now; he wasn’t sure how to get out what he meant without sounding like an idiot.

“Harm, I understand.” He could feel her arm trembling under his fingers, and he cursed himself for his bumbling stupidity. Whatever she thought she understood, it wasn’t what he meant, but this time he was not letting her run away.

“No, you don’t understand anything. You’re jumping to conclusions. Just let me explain, ok?” Panic made him sound sharper than he intended, but she didn’t flinch. Nodding, she looked down, avoiding his eyes. She braced herself as if readying for a blow.

Marshalling his thoughts, he turned to face her. “Mac, look at me.” When she didn’t respond, he put a gentle finger under her chin, tilting it up. “Mac, please.”

Once again there were unshed tears in the brown eyes that looked at him. “Just say what you have to say, Harm.”

He took a deep breath and blurted it out before he thought. “I…I love you.” Finally, he’d said the words. A huge weight lifted off his shoulders.

But she didn’t react. “I know you do. No one could ever be a better friend, and I’m sorry I put you in this position.” She began to move away again. “Maybe we could just forget about this, ok?”

“I don’t want to forget about it.” He turned her around to face him, grasping both her arms. She was going to hear it now, regardless of consequences. “You’re not listening, Mac. I love you, not just as a friend. I love you…as a woman. And I want you…as a woman.” He was practically yelling now, oblivious to their surroundings. “I just didn’t know you were ready for…anything more.”

Her mouth opened in stunned surprise. “I didn’t…I don’t…what?”

He lowered his voice. “It’s you I want. It always has been.”

When she didn’t say anything, just stood and gaped at him, he smiled and slid his hands down to her wrists. He could feel her pulse, fast and furious, beneath his fingertips.

It was, he decided, highly ironic that Mac was the one tongue-tied and in shock. Usually it was he that couldn’t spit out the right words. She had that deer in the headlights look-panic-and he decided to give her a break, time to process everything.

He pulled gently on her hand, leading her to a table in the corner. “Come with me.”

Seating her at the small table, he sat down across from her and took her hand. “Mac, I can’t believe you didn’t know that.”

Once again she found it difficult to meet his steady, honest gaze. “I…I think on one level, I did. I guess I was afraid to believe it.” Her fingers wound around his. “But I love you too, Harm.”

Bringing her hand to his lips, he kissed it gently. “I’m glad to hear that.” He hesitated, then decided to ask the question. “It’s just…Mac, are you really ready to try for us? Because I can wait…as long as it takes.”

She risked a glance at him then, and smiled. “I want to. I’m scared, but I want to.” Taking a deep breath, she continued. “Remember the support group that Gloria insisted I join?”

“Yes.” He nodded at her to go on.

“Well, they’ve been pretty good for me. Supportive, encouraging. And vocal.” She gave a short laugh. “They think I should trust myself, and you. They think it’s time I stepped up to the plate.”

“And what do you think?” He held his breath as he waited for her answer.

Her other hand crept across the table to hold his. “I think they’re right.” Her dark brown eyes were full of love. “I love you, Harm, and I want to show that to you.” A light blush suffused her features, but her gaze never fell. “I want to feel like a woman again, with you.”

Somehow, his roguish sense of humor took over. He couldn’t help it. He raised her hands to his mouth again, kissed it, and waggled his eyebrows at her suggestively. “You’ve always felt like a woman to me.”

She giggled, then burst out laughing, taking him along with her. “Harm, you’re terrible!” She slapped his shoulder lightly.

Their shared laughter died away, and they were left holding hands again, and gazing into each other’s eyes. The silence should have been awkward, but it wasn’t.

There was a heat in her eyes that did not escape his notice when she said, “I think I’m very tired, aren’t you? I’m ready to head home.”

Standing, he pulled her to her feet as well. He just managed to refrain from kissing her.

“Yours, or mine?”

“Mine. I’ll be waiting for you.” With one last look, she headed over to say good night to their friends.

He grinned to himself as he watched her leave. The evening was definitely looking up.

 

Sarah Mackenzie’s Apartment
Georgetown
2110 Local

 

The stage was set. At least, it was set as much as she could bring herself to set it up. A fire was blazing in the hearth, throwing flickering light throughout the living room. She’d lit a few candles to add a romantic glow. But she couldn’t make herself change into something sexy. It seemed…wrong, somehow. Artificial.

What about music? Would he want that? Something slow and sexy? Maybe Latino music. She shuffled through a few CD’s, then laid them aside, unable to decide.

The waiting was killing her. And she’d only been actually waiting for 5 minutes. She’d started out feeling confident, but as each minute ticked by, she became more and more nervous. Telling herself it was Harm wasn’t helping. In a way, that made her even more nervous.

It was Harm. The man she’d loved for years, yearned for, ached for. Oh God, what if she had a flashback? What if she just couldn’t? What if she froze? What if she didn’t please him? What if he didn’t enjoy it? What if she couldn’t feel anything? What if…”

A knock at the door interrupted her self-torture. “Suck it up”, she said to herself out loud and walked towards the door to open it. Walking the plank must have caused similar feelings.

Sure it was Harm; she opened the door without checking the peephole. And there he was. All six foot four inches of him. Looking handsome, dashing…and anxious? Oh God, was he nervous? Maybe he’d changed his mind! She wouldn’t blame him. After all, she wasn’t exactly…

“Mac? Are you all right?” It was his voice that interrupted her panic this time.

“Um, yeah. Come on in.” Smiling uncertainly, she stepped aside to let him enter. “Sorry, I guess I’m a little nervous.”

He walked in and waited for her to lead the way. She just stood there for a moment, then started talking non-stop. “I guess we should get started. Do you want to sit in here with the fire for a moment, or go to the bedroom?” Looking down at her dress, she didn’t take a breath as she continued. “I didn’t change, I didn’t know if you wanted me to. I have nightgowns, of course, and some negligees. Oh! I didn’t make any coffee or anything, would you like something to drink, first?”

“Whoa! Mac…stop, relax.” He took her hand, hoping to calm her down. It was cold as ice. “This isn’t a job, honey, calm down. There’s no schedule to keep.”

She gave a choked laugh. “I’m sorry, I guess I’m a little nervous.” Anxiety made her repeat herself.

He’d been a little nervous himself on his way over, imagining himself doing all the wrong things to scare her. Realizing that he needed to project confidence and understanding, and that she needed to relax, he decided to slow things way down. Maybe even postpone things. “Why don’t we just sit down and talk?” At her hesitation, he continued, “It’s all right, Mac. We don’t have to rush into anything.”

Careful not to crowd her, he led her to the couch. “I’ll make us some tea, how about that? You just sit here and enjoy the fire, ok?”

She gave a nod and sat down, curling herself protectively into the corner of the couch. Smiling, he reached out and tapped her nose. “Relax. We’re friends before anything else, ok? And nothing’s going to change that, whatever happens here tonight.” He paused meaningfully. “Or doesn’t happen.”

As she waited for him to return from the kitchen, she stared into the fire, hoping to recall her earlier feelings of self-belief and poise from Benzinger’s.

This was Harm. More than anything she didn’t want to disappoint him. He’d been so good to her, he deserved better. She made a promise to herself. No matter what she felt tonight, she would please him. She was a marine, and she could control fear. Tonight would be for him.

Harm emerged from the kitchen, handed her a mug of tea, and sat down on the other end of the couch, giving her plenty of space. “You okay?”

Laughing a little, she nodded. “Sorry about that.” She paused for a moment, then continued in sultry tone, “Why are you sitting so far away?”

The sexy tone stirred him as it was meant to, but he couldn’t decipher the look in her eyes. There was still a tension in her, and he meant to make sure things were all right before proceeding any further. “Because I think we should talk.”

Carefully she set the mug down and scooted over close to him. Leaning close against him, she ran her fingers through his hair. “I think we’ve talked enough.”

As much as he wanted to believe her, something was off. He couldn’t put his finger on what exactly, but he meant to find out. She’d been so nervous before, he’d never seen her like that. Could she just snap out of it that easily and quickly?

Despite his good intentions, her nearness and touch were getting him hot. It had been a long time since he’d been with a woman, and this was Mac. The woman he’d spent years fighting his feelings for, having secret fantasies about her. She was making it difficult to think straight.

Still, he tried to initiate conversation. “Mac…” She cut him off by leaning over and kissing him. She was pressed against him, the warmth and curves of her intimately touching him. Her lips so soft against his. God, did he ever want her. In spite of his doubts, he deepened the kiss, tasting her.

Something wasn’t right, he could feel it. Pushing her away while he still could, he struggled to get the words out. It wasn’t easy. “Mac! We’ve got to talk.” Breathing hard as if he’d been running, he had to wrestle to get control.

Pulling away from him, she regarded him with a hurt expression. “I…I thought you wanted this…wanted me.” Her dark eyes reflected her embarrassment and shame. “I didn’t mean…I…I’m sorry.” Shoulders slumped in defeat, she turned away.

She shrugged off the gentle hand he placed on her shoulder. “Mac, it’s not that I don’t want you. I do, very much.” He gave a short laugh. “Very, very much.” He was still willing his body under control.

Turning back, she gave him a puzzled look. “Then why did you push me away?”

This time when he took her hand, she didn’t resist. “Because, honey, I have to be sure that you’re ready for this. As much as I want you, it’s not just about me. I want to be sure you really want me- that you’re really and truly ready.” His blue eyes stared intently at her. “I want you to enjoy it too.”

“I am ready-I do want you.” The honesty in his candid blue gaze undid her, and she looked down to avoid it. “I was, anyway. I just sort of…panicked.” Looking back at him, she hastened to explain. “I don’t know why…it wasn’t you. It was me. I just…” Helplessly she let her explanation die away. She didn’t know what to say.

“Then why didn’t you just say so? I would understand.” There was a gentle reproach in his voice that had her blushing, ashamed of her attempt at deception, however well-intentioned.

Once again it was hard to look at him. Her voice was forlorn when she answered. “Because, I’d already…started, back at Benzinger’s.” She tugged a little at her hand, but he didn’t let go. “And even if I couldn’t…if I didn’t…feel good…I could at least make you feel happy.”

She still didn’t look at him. Pulling her with him, he leaned back against the couch, holding her loosely in the circle of his arms. “Mac, I know you meant well. But I don’t want to make love with you if you’re not going to enjoy it. I’d much rather wait.”

Laying her head on his chest, she whispered, “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t need to be sorry, sweetheart.” He kissed the top of her head, then laid his cheek against her hair. “Just promise me you won’t do anything like it again. Be honest with me; tell me when you don’t feel good. I promise I’ll understand.” His arms tightened around her. “I love you. I want you to enjoy it, not feeling like you have to do something like that for me.”

She nodded against his chest. “I promise.”

He nuzzled against her hair for a moment, enjoying holding her. “Do you want me to go?” He didn’t want to leave her, but he would if that’s what she wanted. Even if they didn’t make love tonight, he still wanted to hold her, at least for a little while.

“Only if you want to.” She pressed up more closely against him. There was just something special when he held her. It hadn’t happened often, and she wanted to enjoy it while she could. There was love in his embrace, and she was starved for that.

“Let’s just move a little,” he whispered. With a few twists and turns, he was lying on the couch, his head propped up with a throw pillow. She was next to him, cuddled close in his arms, her head on his shoulder. “This is better, isn’t it?”

He could feel her smile and nod. “Yes.”

Quiet fell between them. The candles still lent a soft glow to the room, and the fire cast softly dancing lights. The warmth and tranquility was a balm to both their souls.

“Harm?” He barely heard her whisper.

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry about before.”

“Mac?”

“Yes?”

“Shut up about it, will you?”

He smiled when he heard her stifled giggle.

Only the occasional crackle from the fire disturbed the peace.

“Harm?” He barely heard her this time; he was almost asleep.

“Hmmm?”

“I love you too, you know.”

Pulling her in even closer, he turned on his side, fitting her between his body and the back of the couch. “I know.”

Snuggled up against him, she smiled.

The quiet wasn’t disturbed again as they both fell asleep, content at last.

 

Sarah Mackenzie’s Apartment
Georgetown
0145 Local

 

The fire had died down to glowing embers, the candles were burning low. The room itself was chilly, but she was warm. Snuggled up securely in his arms, she doubted anything could bother her here.

Never in her entire life had she been so comfortable. Or felt this safe. It was amazing, really. Or rather, he was amazing.

Deep in her heart she had always known that he was the kindest and most honorable man she had ever known, but tonight had been something completely out of her experience. No one had ever put HER needs first and foremost. Typically men were just not that tuned in to her.

And it wasn’t that she had always been with selfish men. Most had wanted her to receive pleasure and had attempted to make sure she had. It was just that their pleasure had come first. She had always thought that that was just the way it was supposed to be.

Opening her eyes, she pulled back a little to look at the sleeping man holding her. There was no doubt he was incredibly handsome. Even in sleep he was gorgeous. She traced a finger lightly across his cheek and his bottom lip. He had such sensuous, soft lips.

She’d never had this chance before, the chance to touch him like this. Unable to resist the temptation, she let her hand trail down his chin and curve around the strong neck. Feeling brave, she slipped her hand inside his shirt, delighting in the feel of his muscled shoulder.

It was then she realized that he was aroused, even if he wasn’t awake. They were intimately close together below the waist, and she could feel him, hard against her. A smile flitted briefly across her face as she realized that he really did want her.

A thrill of desire ran through her. She almost didn’t recognize the feeling; it had been so long since she’d felt that. Without thinking, she arched up to kiss him, allowing her lips to brush gently against his.

For an instant he didn’t respond, but then his arms tightened around her, drawing her up and pulling her even closer. She tried to draw back, afraid she’d woken him, but then all thoughts flew out the window as his mouth settled over hers.

In an instant she was drowning in a torrent of feelings. Feelings she’d been afraid she’d never feel again. Need, hot and heavy, washed over her, drugging her. His mouth-oh God- his mouth was on hers, and her senses went into overload.

Sweet and gentle at first, he nibbled at her, his lips teasing hers before claiming her mouth in a passionate kiss that swept her completely away. When his tongue grazed her lips, as if asking for entrance, she opened to him like a flower.

There was nothing she wanted more than this. Harm as her lover. For so long, she’d been tied up in knots emotionally, fearing making love, fearing she wasn’t good enough. Just plain fear. She reveled in her new found freedom, reveled in the fact that she wanted him and he wanted her.

Desperate to get closer to him, she pushed away slightly and began unbuttoning his shirt. She wanted skin to skin contact, nothing between them. She wouldn’t settle for less.

It was a struggle. He kept pulling her closer, never stopping his sensual assault on her lips and she couldn’t bring herself to interrupt him. When the shirt finally opened, she slipped her hands in, glorying in his smooth hard muscles. Greedy for the feel of him, her fingers tangled in his chest hair, then slid up, trying to push the shirt off his shoulders.

While she was struggling with the shirt she felt him freeze. “Mac?”

Giving a low laugh, she managed to get the shirt off one arm as she answered. “Yes?”

He still didn’t move. “What are we doing?”

He was so cute. She took advantage of the fact he wasn’t moving and nibbled his neck, delighting in the goose bumps she raised. “I think you should be able to figure it out, Sailor. I’m pretty sure you’ve done it before.”

Laughter rumbled in his chest, but he persisted. “I thought we were going to wait until you were ready.” Boy scout that he was, she noticed he hadn’t pushed her away. And his hands closed on her shoulders convulsively as she tasted a sensitive spot where his shoulder met his neck.

“I’m ready.” She gave a little giggle. “I was kinda hoping you’d noticed.”

It was her turn to gasp when his hands reached down and cupped her rear. He shifted slightly, and then his lips grazed along her neck and his tongue flicked in her ear, sending shivers down her spine. “I noticed. I just noticed before I was awake, and I wanted to be sure I hadn’t misinterpreted.”

His hand slipped under her dress and skimmed along the silken skin of her leg. “Oh.” She could barely think straight. “You didn’t.” His other hand smoothly unzipped her dress from the back. Another shiver went through her.

“I can’t tell you…” As he spoke he traced butterfly kisses back down her neck. “How glad I am to hear that.”

Incoherent now, she only managed to answer, “uh huh” as his fingers unsnapped her bra. Instead of pushing her dress down, he eased both hands inside the now open back of her dress, sliding down until they slipped under the waistband of her panties.

He paused, and she could feel the effort it took him to do so. “Are you sure, Mac?” His whisper was hoarse.

Taking his face in both her hands, she kissed him with everything she had in her. She broke it only to say breathlessly, “I’m sure, Harm.”

He groaned then, and pulled her tight against him. The heat between them became frantic as hands fumbled with clothing and still tried to touch and caress each other. Neither one wanted to move from the couch or leave the other long enough to disrobe.

It was Mac that finally made the move. Still kissing, she rolled over Harm and stood up, drawing him to a sitting position. She stepped away, allowing her dress and bra to fall to the floor. She tried not to look at him as she pushed her panties down and stood before him, naked.

He gazed at her, drinking her in. Hair tousled from their lovemaking, eyes liquid in the flickering candle light, she was breath-taking. “You’re so beautiful.” It was his tone of voice that gave her courage. He sounded…reverent…awestruck.

Taking his hand, she pulled him up. Boldly she answered him. “I want to see you. Naked.”

It didn’t take long to get his shirt off the one arm still in it. His pants were already unbuckled; he wasn’t even sure how that happened. But in an instant he was naked too.

He didn’t give her the chance to really look at him. Instead, he pulled her to him, and the shock of feeling him naked against her rendered her speechless. But she gloried in it. Bare skin to bare skin-total intimacy. Oh how she had longed for it.

He seemed to echo her thoughts, because he just held her as he whispered. “Mac…I’ve wanted you for so long…” It seemed as if he held her forever, and at the same time it seemed as if it was only a moment. When he sat her down on the couch, she almost whimpered from the loss of contact.

“Wait,” he instructed. Turning from her, he took the poker and stirred the embers of the dying fire, then carefully placed more wood on it. As the flames flickered and shot up, she took the opportunity to admire him.

Well rounded bottom, muscled shoulders and abs. He was magnificent- all male. She watched as the muscles in his back rippled as he moved, bronzed by the fire. “Harm,” she called softly to him. “You’re the one that’s beautiful.” She couldn’t be sure because of the dim lighting, but she thought he blushed.

Stepping in front of her, he began to lean in to kiss her, but she stopped him with a gesture.

She couldn’t help it. Her hand went out to his shaft, delighting in the satiny feel of the skin. Her fingers curled around it, caressing and stroking.

“Mac…” he groaned, almost undone by her gentle touch. When she scooted forward and took him in her mouth, he thought he would pass out from the pleasure. Warm and wet, she engulfed him, swirling her tongue around him, gently circling the base with her hands. Unable to stop himself, his hips moved in perfect counterpoint to her movements.

Intuitively, Harm realized that Mac needed to control this first time together. He couldn’t rush her, or seem to overpower her. But if she kept up what she was doing to him, he was sure he wouldn’t be able to last. “Mac…please.” He couldn’t get the words out to make her understand.

But she did understand. With a last kiss to the tip, she released him, allowing him to sink to his knees in front of her, struggling to catch his breath. “You trying to kill me, Mac?” The smile in his voice belied the serious words.

A sultry laugh was his answer. And then she was kissing him.

He wasn’t quite sure how it happened. One minute he was gasping for air in front of her, the next he was on the couch beside her, mouths fused, hands exploring again. Finally…FINALLY…he was touching her. The full roundness of her breasts, the taut peak of her nipples.

With light nips and delicate suckles he made his way down her neck to her breast, pausing to nibble gently on her collarbone. “Oh Harm…” the sound of his name when she moaned that way sent another tendril of heat coursing through him. He sucked at her nipple, eliciting louder moans from her, as she clutched at his hair.

But when his hand snaked its way through her curls and grazed her clit, she almost came off the couch. “Oh God, Harm, Oh God…” The way she called him…he wanted to hear that again and again.

The final denouement began when his mouth followed his hand. The scent of her was overwhelming…delicious. He wanted to bury his face in her. But he forced himself to stop. “What do you want, Mac?”

“Please, Harm…” was all he could make out when she answered him.

“Look at me, Mac.” He asked, rather than commanded. Lifting her head, she met his gaze. She looked so sexy he almost came right there. “Is this what you want?” He flicked her clit with his tongue.

At his action, her head fell back and she called out loudly. “Yes … yes … yesss …. Haaarmmmm…”

Relentless, he slipped a finger, then two inside her, all the time teasing her clit.

“Yes…please…Harm…Oh God…Harmmm.” The tide rose inside her, pushing higher and faster, until she was on the crest, poised to tumble over. Consummate skill on his part kept her there until she could stand it no longer, and she cried out for release. “Please…now…Harm…I can’t…”

She didn’t know what he did, but he sent her crashing and tumbling over the edge, the wave washing over her. For the first time in her life she lost control completely and screamed out his name. “HARM!”

Disoriented, she could only wait while the waves slowly dissipated, leaving her limp and sated.

He waited with her, resting his head on her thigh, half on and half off the couch. Despite the fact he was cramped and uncomfortable, he wasn’t ready to leave her. He drank off her sexual flow, and inhaled the sexy aroma. He was in heaven.

When she managed to move, she pulled herself up, helping him to sit up on the couch. Smiling, she kissed him deeply. “Harm, I…don’t know what you did. I’ve never felt like that before.” She didn’t allow him to reply, resuming her kiss.

Her fingers found his cock, stroking and fondling, wrangling a few strangled moans from him. He couldn’t wait. He was already hard, hot, and ready. This time he was the one begging. “Please, Mac. I need you.”

Recognizing the raw tone of desperation, she didn’t make him wait. Straddling him, she guided him into her, slowly sinking down. As the wet heat of her slid over him, he could only think of one thing. This was what he’d been waiting for his entire life. This feeling of completion. Whatever else happened in his life, he knew this was it for him.

“Ooooohhhhh….” A long moan was all he could verbalize. When she rotated her hips and began the push and pull, he thought he would black out from the sheer bliss of it all.

He could feel her muscles tighten inside, drawing his shaft in deeper, squeezing it. Moaning her name loudly, his hand found her nipples, pinching them. One hand slipped to down to massage her clit, and their heated motions increased as the both groaned out their delight.

She went over the edge almost silently this time, whispering his name over and over, and he couldn't resist her. He plunged over right behind her, back arching in one of the strongest orgasms he's ever had. He couldn't even call out as he sank into a sea of ecstasy.

Collapsed against him, she could barely move. He held on to her and slid sideways, allowing his body to fall prone on the couch. She fell with him, landing on top of him and driving what little breath he had left out of him with a loud whoosh.

She giggled and then apologized, sounding completely unrepentant. "Sorry."

For some reason, it struck him as funny and he laughed out loud. "Sorry? Sorry for what? Disturbing my sleep? Trying to kill me?"

They both laughed at that, feeling deliriously happy and silly the way lovers often do.

When their laughter faded, he shifted a little, settling them both more comfortably on the couch. "I love you, Mac." There was not a trace of laughter in his voice as he said this.

"I love you too." Her voice was equally serious.

"Think you could get us a blanket?" Humor crept back in.

Heaving a long-suffering sigh, she answered, "I guess so."

Making sure that she rolled over him, smothering him and pressing an elbow into his stomach, she fought her way to her feet.

"Hey!" His indignant tone set her to laughing again.

"Sorry." She still didn't sound repentant.

He made a grab for her, but she evaded his hands as she went for the blanket. "You're lucky I'm tired."

"Yeah, yeah. Big bad squid will punish the little marine," she called over her shoulder sarcastically.

A tickle struggle ensued when she returned, but eventually they ended up snuggled under the blanket together.

Sleep came easily to both of them.

 

Epilogue


9 Months later-

 

“I can’t do this.” Mac’s voice was uncharacteristically weak. “I just can’t.”

“Suck it up, Marine.” Harm’s voice was reassuringly close in her ear, and in spite of the words, uncharacteristically sympathetic.

“Drugs. I need drugs.” She turned beseeching eyes on the doctor, currently crouched like a baseball catcher between her legs. “Please Doc, can’t I have drugs?”

“Mrs. Rabb, you know it’s too late for that.” The doctor was used to this particular demand. “And you wanted a natural childbirth.”

“No, I wanted drugs.” She gestured rudely at the man behind her who was propping her up. “Nature Boy here wanted natural childbirth.” Turning her head so she could see him, she continued, “You son of a bitch. This is all your fault!”

Far from taking offense, Harm seemed amused. “I would hope so, Mac.”

“Don’t laugh, you creep!” Her hand clutched his. “Oh God, here comes another one.”

“Breathe, Mac.” He attempted to keep his tone soothing, despite the iron crushing grip she had on his hand. “Breathe through the pain.” Feeling ridiculous, he nevertheless panted through the contraction with her.

“You…pant…pant…shut…pant…the hell…pant…up.” She tried to glare over her shoulder at him, but failed miserably.

Prudently, Harm merely held her and panted with her, refraining from any smart ass comments that would get his six kicked.

As the contraction eased, the Doctor checked her again. “We’re almost there, Mrs. Rabb. I’d say you’ve got about 15 minutes before delivery.”

Once the worst of the pain had passed, Mac relaxed in relief. She wanted this baby with everything she had in her, but pregnancy sure wasn’t a romantic dream. Especially the last three months when she had felt fat and uncomfortable all the time.

Not to mention it had been totally embarrassing to realize she’d gotten pregnant accidentally at her age and level of experience.

“You know, Fertile Myrtle,” Harm’s teasing voice drawled in her ear, “if you didn’t want me around you shouldn’t have trapped me into marrying you by getting pregnant.” Winking at the Doctor who was listening with an amused smirk, he further endangered his life. “Most women would be thrilled they’d snared a fine specimen of a man like me for a husband.”

Even 9 months pregnant and on the verge of childbirth, she wasn’t going to let that go. Slapping him on the hand, she answered him. “If you hadn’t seduced me the first time we made love, I’d have remembered birth control, you big stud.”

Used to their banter, the doctor merely smiled.

It was a long standing joke between them. The only unprotected sex they had ever had was that first time. Neither one had given a thought to birth control that night, although they had begun using it right after that. They figured the odds were with them and hadn’t worried about it again. Until they found out she was pregnant.

Another contraction began. He held her as he had learned in Lamaze class, silent this time in his encouragement. Panting with her again, he allowed his mind to muse back through the memories.

It had taken him two full weeks to convince her to marry him. Her self-esteem, never a strong point, had taken a beating after the rape. Finding out she was pregnant hadn’t helped. He’d had no doubt she was thrilled about the baby, but she hadn’t believed he really wanted to marry her.

Fortunately he was a very persuasive man.

“She’s crowning!” The doctor called out. “Push now! Now, Mrs. Rabb!”

With eight hours of labor behind her, she still managed to gather her strength and push. He could feel the effort she put forth, her muscles straining. She was amazing. Definitely the strongest person he had ever known, and that was saying something.

Just because they’d finally gotten together didn’t mean everything had magically gone away. She still had mood swings, and even flash backs. And there was a vulnerability in her that hadn’t been there before. She second guessed herself frequently.

But she was a fighter. She’d continued with the counseling, even taking the lead in a new support group her counselor had set up. Like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, she was spreading her wings to fly higher and farther than she ever had before. It had taken work on her part, but she was definitely getting there.

He hadn’t continued much longer with Bill, although they kept in touch and occasionally played golf together. The support and advice that Bill had given him had been invaluable.

“That’s it, Mrs. Rabb. You’re halfway there. One more good push and your baby should be delivered.”

Even as he watched this miraculous birth, Harm was thanking his lucky stars. Here he was, with a wife, and now a daughter. He got choked up at the thought. As much as he’d always wanted this, he never really believed he’d be lucky enough to have it.

“Here she is, Mrs. Rabb.”

The baby was delivered to Mac’s eager arms, and it was all he could do not to carry both Mac and the baby around the delivery room in a mad jig of joy. He had everything he ever wanted now.

“Hello Elizabeth.” Mac’s teary voice was music to his ears. Elizabeth O’Hara Rabb. They’d fought long and hard over names once they’d found out the sex of the baby. Well, not fought, just bickered. He kept proposing old-fashioned names, like Lavinia or Rosamund just for the fun of seeing her get riled up and argue with him. They’d settled on his Mother’s middle name, and O’Hara for Uncle Matt.

Harm found he still couldn’t talk, but a gentle finger went out to trace Elizabeth’s soft cheek. When she opened her eyes and grabbed on to his finger, he knew that he was a goner. He now had the two most beautiful women in the world as his family, and life couldn’t get any better than this.

Leaning down, he kissed Mac’s cheek. “She’s beautiful.” He whispered. “She’s as beautiful as her mother.”

She turned her head and kissed him back. “She’s got her Father’s beautiful eyes.”

Much to his dismay, Elizabeth was swept away for whatever hospitals did to newborn
babies. He was instructed that he could see her in the nursery within the hour. And then he was gently but firmly ejected from the delivery room, away from Mac. Apparently she needed some stitches and other things he preferred to know nothing about.

Before he left, he kissed her softly one last time. “I love you.”

Her loving eyes said even more than her whispered words. “I love you too.”

And with that he was back in the bright white world of the hospital waiting room. Surrounded by friends and family, all congratulating him, demanding to know how the birth went. It was a scene he’d watched in a hundred movies, but never thought it would happen to him.

Sturgis had even brought cigars for him to pass around. Which he did, with great pleasure and amidst much laughter.

But it was later that night, when it was just he and Mac and Elizabeth in the hospital room, that he realized just how far Mac had really come.

He was watching her breast feed Elizabeth, when she suddenly looked up at him. “I never thought I could be this happy. I have you. I have Elizabeth. I have friends and family and loved ones. I never thought this much happiness was possible.”

He reached out to stroke her hair before leaning down to kiss her. “Me too, Mac. Me too.”

 

The End

 

 

 

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