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1117 Local
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia

 


Harm caught up to Mac as she was leaving the courtroom, touching her lightly on the elbow to get her attention in the crowded hallway. She spun around angrily, and he took a quick step backwards.

"Whoa…everything okay?" He asked, startled. Mac nodded, but moved out of the flow of traffic before answering him.

"Just a tough case," she said with a sigh. "What's up?"

"I was able to get a meeting with Admiral Reed over at Homeland Security at 1430 hours. Are you free to come along?"

Mac glanced at her watch, the move more a habit than a necessity. She sighed. "I can if I work through lunch. I need to write up some notes, and I have some phone calls to make."

"I'll drive. You can eat a sandwich on the way."

"Sounds like a plan. I need to run. I'll meet you at your car at 1345?"

"Sure."

"Excuse me. Colonel?" Mac turned, and an ensign handed her a slip of paper. "This call just came in for you, ma'am. It sounded important."

Mac glanced at the message, and then back at the ensign. "Thanks, Marsh." The young man turned smartly and faded back into the crowd. Mac turned back to Harm. "It's from Gunnar. I'd better go call him back. See you in a bit."

Harm watched her go, wondering if the NTSB team had already formed some conclusions about the crash. He shrugged slightly and headed back to his own office. Mac would fill him in when they went to the Pentagon.

Two hours later, they were on their way.

"So?" Harm asked, breaking the silence. "Are you going to tell me?"

Mac looked over at him, faintly puzzled. "Tell you what?"

"Didn't you talk to the NTSB team?"

"Oh. You mean Gunnar. That was a personal call. He wanted to know if we could get together for dinner."

Harm squashed a twinge of unease. Gunnar and Mac were old friends. There was nothing to worry about. "No word on the investigation yet?"

"Not yet. It'll be a couple of days until they get the autopsy results. I think they're still talking to witnesses and airport personnel."

"I see." The next question slipped out before he could stop it. "So are you?"

"Am I what?"

"Going to get together."

"Oh." She looked over at him, the trace of an impish smile on her face. "Does the idea bother you?"

"Not at all," Harm said quickly, maybe a little too quickly. "You haven't seen him in years. I think it's a good idea."

Mac studied him for a minute before answering. "He's just an old friend, Harm."

"I know that." He took his eyes off the road and looked over at her. "But you still haven't answered my question."

Mac sighed. "We're meeting for dinner tomorrow night. Would you like to join us?"

Harm shook his head. "I don't think so. I have some wedding plans of my own to work on."

"Oh?" Mac asked. "Do tell."

"Not on your life."

Mac sighed theatrically, but completely unconvincingly. "Well," she said. "If that's the way you want to be about it."

"Sure is." Harm swung neatly into a parking spot at the Pentagon, having cleared security at the gatehouse almost without her being aware of it. He reached over and took her hand. "Harriet got you last night, Gunnar gets you tomorrow night. How about coming over for dinner at my place tonight?"

Mac smiled. "I'd like that."

"My place? 1930 hours?" Something of his thoughts must've shown on his face, because she swallowed and took a deep breath. He saw her chest rise with the action, and fought the urge to run a finger around the inside of his collar, pulling it away from his suddenly constricted airway.

She freed her hand from his and skipped it lightly up his arm, coming to rest at the highly starched edge of his uniform collar. He felt the light touch of her fingers on his neck and closed his eyes against the nearly overpowering desire that rippled through his body at the contact. "I'll be there," she said, her voice husky and her eyes full of promise.

Harm dragged himself out of the trance she'd cast on him and captured her wayward hand, holding it securely in his own.

"We'd better get inside," he said, relieved that he'd manage to make his voice sound almost normal.

Mac smiled at him as she collected her cover and opened her door. "You're right," she said. "It would never do to be late."

Harm shook his head and grinned as he followed her into the building, surreptitiously admiring the thoroughly female sway of her hips as she moved smartly through the entrance.

Fifteen minutes and two security checks later, they stood at attention in Admiral Reed's office. The pose, performed countless times in the past, was as familiar to them as breathing, and they held it patiently while they waited for the senior officer to lift his eyes from his notes and recognize them. The room was silent except for the heartbeat of a wall clock as its pendulum swung inexorably to and fro. Several more minutes passed before Admiral Reed finally picked up a pen and scrawled his name at the bottom of the document he'd been reading. He set the papers aside and leaned back in his chair, staring silently at the two officers before him.

Harm and Mac returned the admiral's gaze impassively, nothing about their stance or expression allowing any hint of impatience to flicker through.

"At ease." The admiral's authoritative command worked like a flipped light switch as Harm and Mac instantly reverted to the more relaxed position. "JAG, right?"

"Yes, sir," answered Mac.

"You're here about Captain Clark, I assume?"

"Yes, sir," Harm answered this time.

"He was a good man," said the admiral. "One of the best I've served with."

"Understood, sir," said Harm.

Admiral Reed picked up the pen again and tapped it a couple of times on his desk blotter before dropping it with a sigh and sitting back in his seat.

"So, you have questions for me?"

Harm and Mac exchanged a quick glance.

"How long did Captain Clark serve under your command, sir?" Harm asked.

"Just over two years."

"And his assignment?"

Admiral Reed hesitated. "There isn't much I can tell you about that, I'm afraid. Much of Captain Clark's work was of a classified nature."

"We'll take whatever we can get, sir. We're just trying to figure out what happened."

"You think the accident had something to do with his work here?"

"It's too early to say, Admiral," Mac said. "At this point, we're just collecting information."

"I see." Admiral Reed nodded. "I can tell you that the captain's primary responsibility was to identify flight line vulnerabilities."

"Vulnerabilities, sir?" Harm asked, hoping for more specific information. The admiral turned to him.

"Yes. As you're no doubt aware, ours is a trusting nation."

"In many ways, I'd agree with that, sir."

"After 9/11, it became clear that we'd become too trusting. Too complacent. Rudimentary research identified many places where the Navy could be vulnerable to an attack from within, and it was determined that we needed to identify the weak spots in the system, and then work to shore them up. This is the work that Captain Clark was involved with."

"I see," Harm said. "From Captain Clark's service record, we know he was also flight qualified on the Hornet. Were flight missions a regular part of his duties?"

The admiral looked at him for a moment, a vaguely sardonic gleam in his eye. "You're a naval aviator, are you not, Commander?"

"Yes, sir," Harm said.

"Do you find yourself flying many missions for JAG?"

"It's a… long story, sir." Harm saw Mac's lips twitch with suppressed humor at the understatement.

The admiral observed him for a moment before speaking. "Yes. I'm sure it is," he said finally. "Anyway, to get back to the point, the captain's work kept him out of the office more than in it. He spent much of his time visiting Atlantic fleet aircraft carriers, performing assessments and doing training. In his spare time, he managed to maintain his flight readiness qualifications, but he didn't fly regular missions, no."

"Was there anything about his work that might've made him a target, sir?" Mac asked.

"What do you mean by that?" The admiral directed a piercing gaze at her.

"Is it possible that Captain Clark's work made him any enemies? Did he have access to sensitive information that might've made him a target for any reason?"

"Colonel, we all have enemies. Even JAG lawyers have enemies." He paused, and then added almost as an afterthought, "In fact, I expect JAG lawyers have more enemies than most."

"Maybe I should rephrase," Mac said. "Is there anybody who might benefit from Captain Clark's death?"

Admiral Reed considered the question carefully before answering. "I wouldn't imagine so, but the captain's behavior has been a little unusual lately."

"Unusual how?"

"Captain Clark was extremely professional. He was dedicated to his job and to everything that service to his country meant. His behavior was impeccable."

He folded his hands on the gleaming surface of the desk, scrutinizing the two officers carefully, as though wondering what they would do with the information he was about to share.

"Last week, Captain Clark returned from an assignment to the USS Harry Truman in the Persian Gulf. When he came back, his mood was unusually erratic. He seemed to vacillate between frenetic activity and silent distraction. He'd asked to meet with me, but I had meetings all week. I told him the earliest I could see him would be this morning."

"So you don't have any idea what might have been on his mind?" asked Harm.

"None at all, Commander."

"Was he close to any of his co-workers? Was there anybody else he might've talked to?"

"I doubt it. Captain Clark was a very private man."

Mac felt frustration sweep through her. Captain Clark's assignment to Homeland Security might easily have set him up as a target for all kinds of disenfranchised wannabe terrorists. In order to solve the case, she and Harm would need to isolate possible suspects among the people the captain had interacted with on assignment, but it didn't look like they were going to get much help from Admiral Reed.

"Nevertheless," she said. "We'd like a chance to speak with the captain's co-workers."

"I suspected you might. They're all in their offices this afternoon. They've been informed that you were coming. I'm sure they'll make time to talk to you. Will there be anything else?"

"Not right now, sir."

"Keep me informed, if you would. Dismissed."

Harm and Mac rose, snapped briefly to attention, and left the office. A petty officer met them and directed them to a conference room where they spent the remainder of the afternoon conducting less than helpful interviews with Captain Clark's few co-workers. It was nearly 1700 hours when the last interview concluded, and Harm and Mac began collecting their notes.

"Any thoughts?" Mac asked.

"Just one," said Harm.

"And that is?"

"If Captain Clark's death had something to do with his work, it's going to be nearly impossible to prove it."

"I agree. Either these people really don't know anything, or they're not talking. I think the most useful piece of information we got all afternoon was that single reference to an unexplained absence from the office on Monday morning." She capped her pen, dropped the case file into her briefcase, and stood up, sliding her chair into place under the table. "Either way, I've had enough for today."

"Same here. Let's go."

They talked briefly about the case on their way back to the office, discussing their plans for the next day and going over the fruitless interviews again. Once back at JAG, Mac spent a few minutes returning phone calls and answering email; then she shut down her computer, gathered her things, and prepared to leave for the night.

"Heading out?" Harm asked from the doorway.

"I've done about all I can do for today. We're going out to Ashburn Aviation in the morning, right?"

He nodded "The meeting's scheduled for 1030."

"You must be dreading it," she said, tongue in cheek.

"Dreading it?" Harm looked puzzled. "Why?"

Mac shrugged and grinned at him. "Forced to talk about airplanes with somebody who builds them for a living? I'm sure it's a special kind of torture."

Harm rolled his eyes at her. "I thought you were leaving."

"I am. I need to head back to my apartment to take care of a couple of things."

"You're still coming over, right?"

"I'll be there, but I might be a few minutes late. I want to drop off a couple things at the house on the way back across town."

"Mac. You should wait on that. We've already got the basics moved in, and the rest can wait until after we get back from Nassau."

"I know, but since I'll be passing nearby anyway, it makes sense to stop."

Harm shook his head at her. "I'd argue with you, but I know it wouldn't do any good."

"You're right," she grinned. "It wouldn't."

"Try not to be too late, okay? I have something special planned for dinner."

"Assuming the traffic cooperates, I shouldn't be late at all."

"Good. Then I'll see you in…" He glanced at his watch. "An hour and a half."

"See you then." Mac smiled and left, settling for a light touch on his arm as she moved past him. They both recognized the restrictions imposed by their uniforms, but soon they'd be alone together, and Mac found herself thinking about the upcoming evening as she waited impatiently for the elevator to arrive.

When the bell finally sounded, the elevator doors opened on a deserted corridor. Nearby, the stairwell door clicked softly closed. Mac had grown tired of waiting.


Chapter 5


1925 Zulu
Harm's Apartment
North of Union Station

 


Mac had barely finished knocking before the door opened and Harm pulled her inside. He relieved her of packages and purse, dropping them summarily onto a nearby table before kicking the door closed and pulling her into his arms. He stared into her eyes for the span of a single heartbeat before lowering his head and taking her lips in a kiss that made her strain against him, every muscle and nerve in her body surging toward his warmth. She felt him respond to her, felt his thighs tense against hers as he instinctively pushed his hips forward, and she moaned softly in the back of her throat. She deepened the kiss; her tongue tangling suggestively with his while her hands kneaded the muscles at the base of his spine.

She wanted him, needed him with every fiber of her being, and she tugged his shirt out of his waistband, murmuring in satisfaction when she felt the smooth muscled texture of his bare skin beneath her palms.

"Mac," Harm's voice, hoarse with longing, almost failed to penetrate the haze of desire that enveloped them.

"Hmm?" Mac skimmed her hands up Harm's sides, lifting his shirt out of the way and giving her clear access to his broad chest. She explored this new territory, marking a trail across it from west to east, delighted at the rumble of sound that tickled her lips as she went.

"Mac." This time Harm bracketed her face with his hands, forcing her to look into his eyes. In retaliation, she smoothed her palms lightly up his rib cage, pleased when it rose convulsively to meet her.

"God, Mac." He groaned her name, and she rewarded him with a heavy-lidded half smile.

"Talking is overrated," she said, arching her back as she felt him drop his arms to mold her hips with his hands, pulling her more snugly against him and making her ever more aware of his own desire.

"Maybe, but dinner's getting cold." His words were muffled as he nibbled at her neck, making it hard for her to form a coherent thought.

"Microwave?" she finally managed. "You have?"

"You know I do." He murmured the words in her ear as he traced the lobe with the tip of his tongue. A shiver rippled beneath the surface of her skin.

"Then," she traced the waistband of his jeans with the tip of one finger, "I fail to see a problem." She followed the finger with her lips, drawing a vaguely tortured moan from him in response. She looked up. "Make love to me, Harm."

He captured her face in both of his hands, lifting her until they were once more face-to-face. Her hands settled on his hips as she raised her brown eyes to meet his blue ones. With the tip of one finger, Harm traced the shape of her face, ending by hooking her chin and drawing her towards him long enough for a single soft touch of his lips against hers. He dropped his arms and stepped back.

"I have a better idea," he said, holding out his hand to her. "Why don't we make love together?"

Mac smiled and stepped forward. His fingers closed warmly around hers as he led her up the two short steps that separated the bedroom from the rest of the apartment.

They came to a stop beside the bed, and Harm released one of her hands so that he could slide it around her neck beneath her hair, tilting her head up to receive his kiss.

"Do you have any idea," he murmured between kisses, "just how much I love you?"

Mac smiled against his lips. "Almost as much as I love you," she answered.

She sank down onto the bed, pulling him with her so that they lay side by side. Harm propped himself on his elbow and smiled down at her. "You think?" He slid his hand under the edge of her sweater and eased it up until it rested just beneath the rise of her breast. The warmth of his touch against her bare skin made her suck in a breath, and she saw Harm's eyes darken as he watched her.

Taking him by surprise, she pushed at his shoulder and rolled, and before he could catch his breath, he was flat on his back, looking up at her. She grinned down at him.

"No," she said. "I don't think. I know." She grasped the hem of her sweater and peeled it off in one smooth motion, arching her back and shaking her hair out so that it came to rest in a dark shimmering mass across her shoulders. She unsnapped her bra and tossed it aside. Then she leaned down, enjoying the tingle that coursed through her as she brushed against him. Harm's hands, which had come to rest at her hips, found their way up the smooth slope of her ribs and skimmed the outer edges of her breasts. He cupped her softness in his hand and raised it to his mouth, his tongue flickering like the flame of a candle against her.

Mac gasped and arched into him as electricity raced through her body, its heat fueling a growing need to fill the emptiness at her center. Harm mumbled an incoherent answer, and the deep vibration of his voice against her skin sent another shockwave through her system. Growing impatient, she reached down to unbuckle his jeans, determined to eliminate the barriers that still remained between them. In short order, jeans and boxers hit the floor. Coins spilled out of the pockets and rolled unheeded across the carpet.

Harm wasted no time in helping Mac out of her remaining clothes, and moments later sounds of mingled pleasure filled the room as skin slipped softly against skin. Mac reveled in the springy texture of the hair on his legs as they twined with hers, but she didn't think about it for long. There were other, more interesting delights to be explored, and she allowed her hands and mouth to roam freely.

Harm twisted unexpectedly, and she suddenly found herself flat on her back staring up at him. He met her eyes for a moment, smiling slightly before leaning down to kiss her again, his mouth wandering freely over her face, her neck, and then lower, exploring the soft landscape that was a source of endless delight to him. Mac tangled her hands in his dark hair and pulled him close as she explored the muscles of his shoulders and back with impatiently questing fingers. Caught up in the feel of him, she didn't notice what his hands were doing, and she gasped in startled surprise when she felt him run his fingers through the curls that protected her femininity.

He caught the sound with a kiss that mimicked the movements of his lean fingers, and she moaned.

"Harm," she murmured. "Please."

"Please what, Mac?" He continued kissing her, continued the maddening magic of his touch, and Mac moved impatiently. He smiled against her skin, nipping gently. "Tell me what you want," he said.

"I want you, Harm. I need to feel you. Now." She nibbled at his bottom lip, and he raised up to look at her, his eyes heavy-lidded as he shifted his body slightly and she finally felt him brush against her. She moved her hips forcefully, and was rewarded as he matched the move, ending the aching emptiness with a single long stroke.

He rested there for a few moments, enjoying the feeling of oneness. Then he kissed her, and began to move. He stopped when he saw her eyes flicker closed, waiting until she opened them again, smiling at the question in their dark depths.

"Don't close your eyes," he murmured. "I want to watch you."

She nodded, her body dancing to the music of his.

He began to move again, and she met him, matching him stroke for stroke, urging him on. She felt herself spiraling higher and higher as their movements quickened and their world narrowed until nothing existed beyond the moment. Dimly, she heard him groan her name, his voice somewhere between a plea and a promise, and the sound sent her over the edge. She clutched at him as she shattered into a million points of light, barely aware when he followed her seconds later.

Afterwards, Harm collapsed beside her, pulling her into his arms and holding her close while they both waited for their breathing to return to normal. Several quiet minutes passed during which Mac entertained herself by lethargically drawing patterns on Harm's skin with the tip of her finger. She felt him kiss the top of her head and looked up with a smile.

"I don't think I'll ever get tired of doing that with you," she said quietly.

"God, I hope not," he answered, hugging her tightly. Satisfaction wrapped them in peaceful silence again, and Mac allowed her mind to drift, not really thinking about anything specific, content just to exist in the moment.

Harm finally broke the quiet, his voice low. "I'll be glad when the general sorts out the re-assignment issues," he said. "Working with you without being able to touch you is torture."

Mac propped herself up on an elbow and grinned down at him. She traced a feathery figure eight across his chest, amused when a chance encounter with one nipple caused him to tense beneath her hand.

"You mean you've wanted to do this?" She stretched up to kiss his chin, the movement causing her breasts to flatten against his ribs. "Or this?" She nibbled the point where his neck met his shoulder, and he growled as he flipped her over on her back.

"Careful, Marine," he said. "Don't start something you can't finish."

She raised an amused eyebrow at him. "Oh, I can finish. No worries there." She sat up and stretched. "But right now I'm hungry. Didn't you say something about dinner?"

Harm groaned halfheartedly. "Don't you want to rest for a while?"

Mac looked around at him, pausing in the act of buttoning his shirt. "Nope. I want food. Need energy for round two."

She winked at him and left the room. Moments later, he heard her rummaging around in the kitchen. Harm dug through the jumble of clothing on the floor until he located his boxers. Mac had the fridge open and was poking around in the crisper when he wrapped his arms around her from behind, nuzzling the juncture of neck and shoulder. He smiled at her swift intake of breath.

"Hi," she said, as though she hadn't just seen him seconds before.

"Hi yourself." He watched her push the crisper drawer shut and start poking among the things on the shelves. "Looking for something specific?"

"Anything that isn't rabbit food."

He reached around her, picking up a container from the bottom shelf and handing it to her. "Will chicken do?"

Mac lifted the lid and sniffed suspiciously at the contents, then smiled slowly. "How long have these been marinating?"

"Since last night."

"Perfect. You cook. I'll set the table." She'd started to reach into the cabinet for plates, when suddenly she froze. She lowered her arm slowly and turned around to stare at him, one eyebrow lifted in suspicion.

"Wait a minute…" She folded her arms across her chest and crossed one ankle behind the other as she looked at him. It was a pose he'd seen her strike before when interrogating a witness, but somehow it didn't carry as much power when her only clothing consisted of a man's rumpled shirt with most of its buttons undone.

"Something wrong, Mac?"

"When I first got here, you said something about dinner getting cold." She sniffed the air, nose twitching delicately as Harm fought the urge to glance toward the oven. "And it certainly smells like you've been cooking."

Harm looked faintly sheepish. "It isn't anything, Mac. Here." He reached behind her, making a grab for the chicken, but she snatched it neatly out of his reach. He rolled his eyes at her. "If you'll give that to me, we can be eating dinner in ten minutes." Her stomach growled, and he grinned triumphantly. "See?"

"Never mind that," she said, padding across to the oven. She hit the button to turn on the light and leaned down to peer inside. The movement made his shirt rise high on her thighs, and Harm felt his body respond as he tried to intercept her.

"Mac…" But he was too late. She stood up and turned to look at him.

"Soufflé?" she asked in disbelief. "You made a soufflé?"

The sad-looking concoction he pulled out of the oven moments later was difficult to identify.

"Lobster even," he said without regret, and dumped it unceremoniously into the trashcan. "Well worth the loss, though."

"Harm, I'm sorry," Mac said. "I didn't know."

In response, he pulled her into his arms and dropped one hand to knead the curve of her hip. He lowered his head and kissed her, nibbling gently at her lower lip until she opened to him with a low moan. Several mutually enjoyable minutes passed before he pulled back and looked down at her, pleased when it took another second or two for her eyes to flutter open.

"I'm not," he said, when he judged that she could hear him again.

"Hmm?" she asked, blinking fuzzily at him. "Not what?"

"Not sorry."

"Oh." She looked like she'd entirely forgotten what they'd been talking about, and Harm took advantage of her inattention to make another grab for the chicken.

"Hey!" she yelped. "That's cheating!"

He grinned unrepentantly as he pulled a skillet out of the cabinet. "All's fair in love and war, Mac."

She groaned at the cliché, but set about pulling dinnerware out of the cabinet, too hungry to waste time complaining.

An hour later, the simple dinner finished and the kitchen cleaned, Harm snaked an arm around Mac's waist, and turned her to face him. "Now," he said, reaching for the top button of her shirt with his free hand, "What was that you were saying about round two?"

Mac smiled at him, sliding her hands up his muscled forearms as she rose to meet his kiss. The move brought her lower body into close contact with his, and Harm automatically placed his hands on her hips.

"Did you bring clothes for tomorrow?"

The practical question stumped her for a second, as she shifted mental gears. Then she realized why he'd asked and smiled. "Spare uniform in your closet, everything else in the bag I brought up with me." She glanced over to where it still sat by the door, abandoned and forgotten since she'd first arrived. Harm's eyes followed her glance and he grinned.

"Good," he said, just before scooping her up in his arms. He ignored her half-hearted squeal of protest.

"Harm! You'll hurt yourself!"

"Hush, woman. We aren't going far."

Seconds later he dropped her, still laughing, on the bed. He followed her down and captured her lips in a kiss that instantly changed her laughter to a low moan. Boxers and shirt soon drifted through the air, their trajectories and final landing places unobserved by the couple who had eyes only for each other.

 

 

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