Clay was still standing on the terrace, watching the two people sitting on the beach below when he felt someone join him. Without glancing around, he said, "I didn't think you were still here, Mother."
"Kershaw and the others left," she informed him. "I didn't think you should be here alone."
Turning to look at her, he saw the concern on her face. "Don't worry, Mother. I'm not planning on taking a walk into the ocean."
"I never thought you were, Clayton," she said. "Am I wrong that Col. Mackenzie and you are -?"
"It's over," Clay said, putting his hands into his pockets, wishing he didn't have to say the words aloud. They made it all so - final, somehow. "On her part, anyway."
"And on yours?"
"Nothing's changed," he said. "But she's right. I misjudged her. Misjudged what was between us."
"What the two of you went through in Paraguay, dear, was horrific. But it wasn't nearly enough to base a lifetime's commitment to each other on. Perhaps, with time, the two of you can be friends again. And *I* believe that you owe Commander Rabb an apology, as well as a note of appreciation."
An apology was out. Even if Harm would listen to one, Clay had no intention of apologizing for anything. "Appreciation? Mother, what *are* you talking about?"
"It's not every man who would help the woman that he cares about try to find a man he considers his rival. Not to mention risking his own life in the process. Even if he *did* once consider that man to be a friend."
"Friend? Mother, Harm and I were never friends -"
"That's not what he told me a few years ago when he thought you were dead," Porter pointed out. "You don't have many friends, Clayton. Angering the few you *do* have isn't always a wise move."
"Harm's got a hero complex. Always wants to be the one to set things right -"
"But he didn't," Porter noted archly.
Clay smirked. "No. You did."
"You would have let him shoot Col. Mackenzie, wouldn't you?" Clay started to deny her words, but was unable to. "And if he had, then I've little doubt that Cmdr. Rabb would have killed you at the first possible moment. So I saved you from the memory of having to let her be killed and from being killed yourself."
"Harm wouldn't have -" Clay began, glancing toward the beach to see Harm walking away from the woman who still sat there on the sand, staring out over the ocean. "The man's a fool, Mother."
Porter's gaze followed that of her son. "Clayton. I don't believe that. And I don't believe you do, either. She wasn't right for you. She couldn't accept the things you have to do. Some women can't."
"I can't believe that I misjudged her so terribly. I thought she would understand. Being in the military, knowing what I do - she just never seemed to *need* much."
"I have feeling, Clayton, that Sarah Mackenzie needs a great deal more than even *she* realizes that she does. She needs time to figure out what that is. Harrison Kershaw said that he will expect your report later. He also told me that he wanted you to take some time off - to regroup."
Clay nodded. "He's right. I need to figure things out. Get the edge back. I've made more mistakes over the last year than I can ever remember making. I let things get too personal. Started letting things get to me."
Porter slipped an arm through his. "Why don't we take a trip? Perhaps a cruise?"
"I could use a little time away from here myself," she decided. "Shall I call my agent and ask him to make the arrangements?"
Clay was still watching the beach below, slowly realizing that his mother was right. Not about his feelings. What he felt had been there for a long time - and he doubted that those feelings would disappear overnight. He'd taken the chance - and lost. The last thing he needed to do was hang around DC and watch as Sarah moved toward Harmon Rabb. He'd known that he was only a stopgap, something to keep her from facing how she felt about the man she really wanted, but Clay had managed to convince himself that he'd been wrong. That he and Sarah had been destined to share the future together. He knew better now. He wasn't the right man for her. She needed someone who would always be there for her, someone that she didn't have to constantly worry about. Someone who could be honest with her.
She needed Harm. Even if he was oblivious most of the time, even Clay had to admit that Harm was there for Sarah more often than not. Or, he would have been if Clay hadn't been in the way this last year. Maybe if he removed himself from the equation, and gave those two a little time - they'd find each other. Or else Sarah would realize that she'd made a mistake by ending it with *him*. Either way, he wanted her to be happy.
The realization gave Clay the strength to let go. "Make the call, Mother. I do need to get away for awhile." He took a deep breath. "As for right now, let's go home."