Harm stood up from the chair that he'd been sitting in while he and Mac discussed the Connerly case. "Uh, are you busy this evening?" he asked.
Mac looked at him, and he knew before she spoke what her answer was going to be. "I'm sorry. I have - other plans already," she said as the phone rang. "Mackenzie," she answered, and the glance toward Harm told him who it was immediately. "Hello, Clay . . . Sure, I can meet you. What time?"
Taking a deep breath, Harm turned on his heel and left Mac's office, his jaw so tight that he could almost feel his teeth crack. It was the only thing he could do after seeing the look on Mac's face when she'd realized it was Clayton Webb on the phone - and after being turned down for another with the spook. If he hadn't walked out, he would have said something stupid again - something that would undermine the fragile friendship that he and Mac had begun to enjoy once again.
From her desk, Petty Officer Jennifer Coates watched him stalk across the bullpen toward his cubbyhole of an office. She grabbed a folder, intending to drop by the Colonel's office and see if things were okay, but the Admiral's voice came over the intercom before she had a chance.
"Coates, have Col. Mackenzie and Commander Turner report to my office."
"Aye aye, Admiral," Jennifer responded crisply, moving to immediately comply with the Admiral's request. Ever since he had told her to keep her nose out of his personal business, she had been totally by the book. Whatever was wrong with her CO and his fiancé was none of her business - even if he *had* made it her business by asking her to help with the wedding planning and with finding a suitable Christmas gift when his had been turned into a melted glob of circuit board and plastic. Moving toward the Colonel's office, Jennifer tapped on the frame of her door, noticing that she was on the telephone.
Mac looked up, saying into the phone, "I have to go, Clay. I'll see you this evening . . ."
That explained the Commander's glowering expression, Jennifer guessed. The phone call from Clayton Webb.
"Yes, Jennifer?" Mac asked once she had hung up the phone.
"The Admiral wants you and Commander Turner in his officer, ma'am."
"Thanks, Jennifer," Mac said, already standing up.
"Ma'am, I couldn't help but notice that Commander Rabb seemed - upset when he left -"
Mac smiled tightly. "Harm's just throwing another tantrum," she said. "I'm sure he'll get over it."
Jennifer nodded and left the office ahead of Mac, going to inform Cmdr. Turner that he was wanted in the Admiral's office before heading around the corner - running into Harm as he came *from* his office.
When his hands fell on her shoulders, Jennifer looked up into those blue-green eyes with a startled expression. "Whoa, Jennifer," he said, smiling down at her. "Where's the fire?"
"Uh, there's no fire, sir," she said, pulling away from him as he released her. "I -" she suddenly realized that questioning him about his relationship - or rather his *lack* of relationship with the Colonel wasn't something that she could do. "I - was just coming to make sure that you knew that Mattie's having a sleepover at Janice's tonight -"
"Yeah. She mentioned it this morning when I drove her to school."
"Oh. Okay, then. I just- wanted to make sure."
"Guess that means you'll be able to do something for yourself this evening instead of babysitting Mattie," Harm noted.
"I don't think of myself as babysitting her, sir," Jennifer quickly clarified. "She's a friend. If I wanted to go out, I could, even if she was going to be there. You're just across the hallway, after all."
Harm nodded and held up the file in his hand. "Well, I have to get to court -"
"Of course, and I need to get back to my desk before the Admiral finds out I'm not there," Jennifer told him, moving back toward the bullpen with him.
"Things aren't any better?"
"No sir. Has he said anything you about what's going on?"
"Only that the engagement is off," Harm explained. "Beyond that - you know what he's like."
"He's a lot like you at times, sir," Jennifer observed before she realized what she'd said. "I'm sorry, Commander. I shouldn't have said that." She indicated the bullpen. "I'll see you later."
Harm stood there, watching her for a moment, wondering what she'd meant by that remark before reminding himself that he needed to get a move on if he wasn't going to start things off on Admiral Morris' bad side.
Mattie was working on homework when Jennifer entered their shared apartment. The younger girl looked up with a smile. "How was work?"
"About the same," Jennifer said. "How was school?"
"Same answer. Is Harm home?"
Jennifer shook her head as she went to the refrigerator and got a soft drink. "He had a last minute meeting with a client, I think. What time are you leaving for Janice's?"
"Her mom's picking me up at seven," Mattie answered, glancing at the clock on the wall. "And since it's after six, I'd better make sure I have things ready." She closed her book, stacking them neatly before putting them back into her knapsack.
"You're sure you're having dinner over there?"
"They always eat late," Mattie told her. "Janice's dad works late."
"Well, I'm going to take a shower and change," Jennifer decided, following the girl into their shared bedroom which contained twin beds. Grabbing some civilian clothes from the closet, Jennifer disappeared into the bath, stripping out of her blouse and skirt as she went.
After her shower, Jennifer released her hair from its confining twisted braid, brushing it out to fall down her back. As she returned to the living room, Mattie whistled. "You got a date?" she asked as Jennifer moved toward the kitchen.
"Just curious. I don't think I've seen you wear that sweater before."
Jennifer glanced down at the low-cut blue sweater. "It was a whim," she told Mattie, taking a dish out of the refrigerator.
"What're you having for dinner?" Mattie asked, peering into the dish as Jennifer lifted the lid. "The casserole?"
Giving her roommate a look of warning, Jennifer said, "And what's wrong with my casserole?" she asked.
"Nothing. If you like veggies."
"It so happens that I do," Jennifer answered, placing the casserole into the microwave to heat it up. She had fixed the broccoli/cheese casserole as an experiment a few days ago as her contribution to dinner at Harm's. While Jennifer and Harm had liked it, Mattie had suggested that she could improve it a hundred percent by putting some meat in it the next time she made it.
"What are you going to do tonight?" Mattie wanted to know.
"Study. I have a test in my psyche class Monday evening."
"You've got the whole weekend to study," Mattie pointed out. "You need to go out and have some fun with some friends."
A knock at the door drew Mattie's attention, and Jennifer breathed a sigh of relief - taking it back when she saw Commander Rabb standing in the door once Mattie opened it. "Hi, Harm," Mattie said, giving him a hug.
"Sorry I'm late. I had to work out a pre-trial agreement with a client," he apologized, nodding in Jennifer's direction. "Something smells good," he said, sniffing the air.
"Jennifer's dinner," Mattie said, going to the window as the sound of a car horn reached them. "It's Mrs. Green," she confirmed as she grabbed her overnight bag and knapsack. "See you two tomorrow."
"Remember the ground rules," Harm said.
"No going out after ten - 2200 hours," she amended, "- without an adult," Mattie repeated back to him. "Jennifer has the number, and I'll be home by noon tomorrow. We *are* still going flying, right?" she wanted to know.
"You bet," Harm confirmed, returning her embrace. "Have fun."
"You too. Bye, Jennifer."
"Bye," Jennifer called back as Mattie left the apartment.
Harm stood in the middle of the living area, watching as Jennifer turned to take the casserole dish out of the microwave. "That all you're having?" he asked.
Jennifer looked up as she placed the dish onto the counter, and thought she saw him quickly lift his gaze up to her face from a spot just above her cleavage. "Yes sir."
"Tell you what, I have some of that fish left from last night - and I could throw a salad together - if you wouldn't mind sharing."
"Are you -asking me to have dinner with you, sir?"
"It's not like it would be the first time we've had dinner together," Harm pointed out.
"Yes, sir, but Mattie's always been there before."
"You're alone, I'm alone. You have a casserole that I'd like some of, and you said you liked the fish I made last night," Harm said.
"I wouldn't want to intrude, sir."
"I'm asking, Jennifer," he said. "I wouldn't ask if I didn't want to."
Jennifer smiled at the sincerity in his tone. "Then I'd love to, sir."
"You know, Jennifer, you don't have to call me 'sir' when we're off duty," Harm said.
"It wouldn't be right, sir," she replied. "You're still in uniform -"
"Well, I can take care of that," Harm told her with a smile. "Give me fifteen minutes to get the fish in to reheat, shower, and change, then bring the casserole over," he said, opening the door into the hallway. Halfway into the hall, he stopped and turned. "Unless - you have a date or something -"
"No, sir," Jennifer assured him with a shy smile. "No date. Studying for a test, remember?"
"That's right. I'll see you in fifteen, then," he said, smiling, and was gone, closing the door behind him.
Jennifer took a deep breath, considering going to change clothes for a minute. But when she remembered the smile on Harm's face before he'd left Jennifer knew that she wasn't going to do that. Going into the bedroom, she picked up her hairbrush and ran it through her hair, trying to decipher the brief look she'd seen on Harm's face when she'd turned around earlier. Whatever that look had been, it had sent a dart of electricity throughout Jennifer's body, making her very aware of Harm's presence in the room. "Get real, Jennifer," she told her reflection. "He's not interested in you that way. He's in love with Mac. Everyone knows it. He might think you're attractive and show it, but that's as far as it will go."
Jennifer sighed, accepting the truth of her words. She'd had a major crush on Harmon Rabb since the first moment she'd seen him - well, maybe not since the *first* moment, precisely, she amended. Ever since he'd made her realize that she could have more of a future than Leavenworth and a cell, anyway. That crush had given way to something more substantial, but Jennifer would never act on it - even if she thought he was making a huge mistake in pining for Col. Sarah Mackenzie. She'd accept friendship - if that was all he could give her. But that didn't stop her from fantasizing about what it would be like . . .
Jennifer balanced the still-warm casserole dish in one hand and knocked on the door to Harm's apartment with the other. Hearing him call "Come in!" she opened the door and entered. Music was playing on the stereo, not loud, more of a background than anything else.
Harm was nowhere to be seen. "Hello?" she said.
"Finishing getting dressed," he told her, his voice coming from the raised bedroom area that was partially shielded from the rest of the apartment by vertical glass 'blinds'. "You're early."
"Sorry, sir," Jennifer said automatically. "I can come back -"
"No, that's okay. Why don't you set the table? I won't be a minute."
Jennifer placed the casserole on the table before going to get plates and silverware out of the dishwasher where she and Mattie had placed them the previous evening after dinner. Jennifer wasn't sure how it had happened that she was taking her meals with Mattie and Harm every evening, but she'd been sitting down with a sandwich and glass of milk one evening not long after she and Mattie had moved in together when Harm had knocked on the door and all but tossed the sandwich into the trash before insisting that she join him and Mattie in his apartment for dinner. It had become a tradition for them all to eat together - mostly with Harm doing the cooking and she and Mattie doing the clean up after. Until she'd made the casserole and brought it along as her contribution, anyway.
She heard Harm come down the steps into the dining room, and glanced up at him. He was wearing jeans and a light blue long sleeved shirt. The top three buttons were open, revealing the dark curling hair on his chest beneath it, and the cuffs were turned back. He had also shaved, she decided, getting a whiff of the aftershave that she would always associate with him.
He paused momentarily, and Jennifer felt her cheeks redden as she realized where he was looking. Leaning over the table as she was, he had an excellent view of her chest. He cleared his throat and moved again, ending the moment, leaving Jennifer feeling drained by the experience.
As he passed on his way into the kitchen, he said, "I'll get started on the salad."
Jennifer nodded, not daring to look at him as she made sure the silverware was placed where it should be. "Is there anything I can do to help, sir -?" she asked, finally realizing that she couldn't keep fiddling with the table settings any longer.
Harm nodded toward the bottles of wine on the counter. "You could open that bottle of white wine over there. Since Mattie's not here, we might as well have some. And it's Harm, Jennifer."
"I'll - try to remember that, s- Harm." His smile was a reward for her remembering. She forced her fingers to grab the bottle that he indicated and to keep from dropping it.
"There's a corkscrew in the drawer," Harm said, reaching down to pull it open.
Jennifer saw the corkscrew and reached for it at the same moment that Harm did . . . When their fingers touched, their eyes met as well. "S-Sorry," she apologized, slowly withdrawing her hand from the drawer, lowering her gaze as well, focusing on the wine.
She swallowed heavily, slowly looking up at him again.
"Here," he said, putting the corkscrew into her hand before going back to cutting tomatoes for the salad, a smile on his handsome face.
"Thanks," she said, forcing herself to take a deep breath - and then regretting it when all it did was fill her lungs with his scent. She exhaled, and then set about uncorking the wine, thankfully without any further incident. Carrying it over to the table, she went to the cabinet and found two glasses for the wine.
Harm had just finished putting the salad into bowls when the oven timer buzzed. "Could you carry these over to the table, please, Jennifer while I get the fish?"
"Yes, s - Harm." She heard him chuckle softly as she carried the salad over and placed one bowl beside each plate.
"The dressing is in the fridge."
"I'll get it."
By the time they sat down at the table, Jennifer's nerves were stretched as tight as a drum. Harm poured two glasses of wine and picked his up. "What shall we drink to?" he asked.
"Mattie?" she suggested.
"Okay. To Mattie," he said, lifting his glass to tap it against hers before taking a drink.
Jennifer took a drink as well. "Mattie."
"After all, if it wasn't for her needing a roommate, we wouldn't be here now."
"No, I guess not," Jennifer agreed, picking up her fork to concentrate on her food instead of looking at him. The room was more or less silent as they ate, but Jennifer felt herself relaxing slightly. She wasn't sure if it was the wine or the companionship. And the silence wasn't uncomfortable, she realized.
Pouring them each more wine, Harm said, "I'm glad you were able to have dinner with me, Jennifer. I wasn't looking forward to an evening alone. Guess I've gotten used to having you and Mattie around."
"Col. Mackenzie had other plans, I guess," Jennifer said.
"Yeah. With Clayton Webb. What she sees in him -"
"They went through a lot together down there, sir." When he looked at her, Jennifer realized her mistake. "Harm. From what I heard, Mr. Webb was tortured - almost died - for her. That had to form a bond between them."
"If you say so. Tell you what, why don't we drop this subject? There *has* to be something more pleasant than Mac's infatuation with Clayton Webb to discuss. You said you were taking a psyche course?"
"That's right. I figured it might help me understand people a little better."
"Are you planning on taking it all the way? Becoming a psychologist?"
Jennifer laughed. "I doubt it."
"I don't know. I just know that I want to finish college - not sure what I want to do after. I guess that sounds a little - strange to you, huh?"
"Why would you say that?"
"Well, you've always known what you wanted to do. I don't mean being a lawyer. Flying. Becoming a Naval aviator."
"You know, Jennifer," Harm said, leaning back in his chair, "there are times when I wonder if it was worth it."
"If what was worth it?" she asked.
"Giving up so much in order to follow in my dad's footsteps. Never marrying, having a family of my own. Don't get me wrong. I love Mattie. But I still wonder sometimes, what it would be like, having a wife and kids -"
"I think everyone wonders about that, Harm," Jennifer said.
"Do you?" he asked, looking at her over his glass.
Jennifer lifted her shoulders. "Sometimes," she admitted, rising to her feet, her glass in hand as she moved toward the living room windows. "Of course, I'd have to find a boyfriend first," she joked.
"You're not trying to tell me that you don't have a boyfriend," Harm said, following her.
"I've dated a few guys - Jason and I went out once or twice - but then he left for OCS, and well - I don't relate to most guys my age. They all seem so - shallow and immature. Out for one thing, you know?" Realizing what she'd asked, Jennifer winced. "Sorry, s- Harm. Must be the wine."
"Its okay, Jennifer. I understand," Harm assured her, chuckling. "You thought Tiner was - shallow and immature?"
"Not Jason," she quickly corrected him. "But we didn't really - click, I guess. He's a nice guy. And I like him a lot. But we're more like brother and sister than anything else."
"So you're not seeing anyone at the moment, then?"
"Until recently, I didn't really have time to see anyone," she pointed out. "I was helping the Admiral with the wedding plans and trying to do my job. Plus, being in an apartment with so many other girls, it wasn't easy to bring someone home."
"You don't have that problem now, though," Harm noted, looking into his glass.
"No. Now, I just can't seem to find anyone that I *want* to go out with."
"Picky?" Harm questioned.
"I don't think so. Like I said, I just like - older men," Jennifer admitted. "Problem with that is that I don't meet many older men who aren't officers or outrank me. And as for civilians -"
"I see your point."
She'd gone this far, so Jennifer decided to keep going - praying that she didn't wreck everything in the process. "May I ask you a question, sir?" She gave him a smile. "I'm sorry. It's just - habit."
"Ask your question, Jennifer."
"Are you happy?"
"Well, you don't smile as much as you used to. Except around Mattie -"
"And you," he added.
"Because Mattie's around."
Harm made a show of looking around the room, laughing. "I don't see Mattie here now, Jennifer."
"You didn't answer my question," Jennifer noticed.
Harm took a deep breath. "Am I happy? I should be, don't you think? I mean, I'm back in the Navy, back at JAG, I have Mattie - Yeah, I guess I'm happy. The only way to make it better would be to have someone to share it with."
"You mean Mac, don't you?" When Harm didn't answer, Jennifer decided that she'd overstepped her bounds with the question. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have -"
"No. You're right. Up until recently, I hoped -" he shook his head.
"You really do love her, don't you?"
He smiled at her. "How come *you* could see that and *she* can't?" Shaking his head again, he lifted a hand. "You don't have to answer. I already know what it is. She never loved me in the same way. There was always someone else - for both of us, I suppose. The time was never- right for us to be together," he said, sounding sad again. "But now - I think I'm just going to have to learn to accept that it's never going to work out. Mac's always looking for greener pastures, and well, that just leaves me -"
"Alone," Jennifer finished.
"I really hate seeing you so unhappy," Jennifer told him. "You deserve someone special. Someone who loves you and has your best interests at heart."
"Well, I agree with you, Jennifer," Harm said, sitting down on the sofa. "But I don't see a line forming."
"Maybe you're just not looking in the right places."
Jennifer saw him look up at her, examining her face as he realized what she was trying to say.
"Jennifer - you're not in love with me. You may think you are, but you're grateful for what I've done for you over the years, and you shouldn't be. You're the one who had to decide to change your life. I just gave you a little push in the right direction."
"But without you in my life, I wouldn't have had incentive to make that change. It's not gratitude," Jennifer declared.
"Not even for getting you of out that apartment and into the one across the hall?"
"No. I'd glad you gave me the opportunity, and I'm pleased that you trusted me enough to know that I could keep an eye on Mattie when you couldn't, but it's not that."
"A crush, then."
"Harm, I'm not a teenager like Mattie. I know the difference between a crush and being in love with someone."
Harm stood up, pacing across the room. "I'm almost old enough to be your father," he pointed out.
"I don't think so. I'm almost twenty-five," Jennifer said. "That's only a fifteen year difference. Not so much, really. Harm, I'm not asking you to return my feelings. I just wanted you to know how *I* feel - I won't affect our work anymore than my being Mattie's roommate does."
"Unless - you wouldn't change your mind about that, would you? I mean, because you know how I feel?"
"I should," Harm told her.
Realizing that she'd taken the leap and discovered there was nothing to catch her, Jennifer nodded and turned toward the door. "Okay. I suppose it might best if I request a transfer out of JAG as well -"
"Might be less temptation," Harm said quietly.
"I'll start this weekend finding another place to stay," she said, fighting back her tears. "I'm sorry, sir. I just - I wanted you to be happy again. I - hoped that - that maybe I could do that for you at least."
Jennifer had a hand on the doorknob when he spoke again. "Don't go, Jennifer."
She stopped, not daring to turn around and look at him. "Sir?"
"I'm still not convinced this is a good idea, but I don't want you to leave. Not JAG, not the apartment next door - and not from my life."
Jennifer drew a deep breath as she turned around. "I'm not asking for more than you can give," she told him, walking toward him. "There are no strings attached to my feelings. I just wanted you to know that there's - someone who *does* care. Someone who loves you -"
Harm placed his hands on her shoulders. "Jennifer - I can think of a thousand reasons why I shouldn't let this happen. But you're right. I do need someone. It's not fair to you -"
Sliding her arms around his broad chest, Jennifer pressed her cheek against the fabric of his shirt, feeling the rapid beat of his heart. "I don't care. I know I should have more pride, but - I just want to be with you." She lifted her head to look at him. "To make you happy."
Harm fought his better impulses for what seemed like an eternity. He'd be breaking every rule in the book if he gave in. But the feel of Jennifer's breasts pressed against his body, her arms around him was more than any man should be asked to resist - and with a groan Harm lowered his head, capturing her soft lips with his. He wasn't surprised when she opened to him willingly, giving herself to him without reservation.
His fingers slipped under the soft material of her sweater to touch her equally soft skin. Jennifer's lips were on his chin, moving down to the side of his neck, nibbling, caressing. "Jennifer," he said in a strangled voice, knowing that if he didn't call a halt to this soon, it would be too late.
Harm looked down into those deep brown eyes and knew that he was past pulling back - he was already lost. Framing her face with his hands, Harm bent to kiss her waiting lips before pulling her into his arms to carry her to his bed . . .
Harm woke much later and wondered for a moment where he was. It *looked* like his bed and his bedroom - but he wasn't alone. Someone was laying half across his body - his naked body - her long brown hair spread across his chest.
Long brown hair. Harm lifted his head and saw Jennifer's content face, her eyes closed in sleep. Dropping his head back onto the pillow, it all came back to him. Jennifer's confession that she loved him, that she wanted to make him happy - she had, hell, she'd practically exhausted him before they'd fallen asleep. It had been some of the best sex he'd had in years; he had to admit that much. Jennifer was warm, willing, and had denied him nothing.
Closing his eyes, he lifted his free hand to his face, pinching the bridge of his nose. He needed to think, and the only thing lying here with Jennifer's nude body sprawled across his was letting him think about was burying himself in the sweet, willing warmth of her lithe body once again.
Carefully, Harm shifted the sleeping young woman off of him and then waited a moment to insure she was still drifting in an exhausted sleep. Smiling, he decided that it hadn't been Jennifer who had exhausted him so much as the other way around. Giving himself a mental pat on the back, Harm immediately also gave himself a mental slap, and got out of bed. After stopping in the head to clean up, Harm found his jeans on the floor along with his shirt, Jennifer's soft sweater and her lacy bra. Putting the other things into a chair, Harm stepped into his jeans and quietly cleared the table of the remains from their dinner.
He needed something to keep his mind occupied, something to keep his thought away from where he wanted to be - back in bed with Jennifer.
But as much as he wanted to be there, Harm also knew that he couldn't allow what had happened to happen again. For the sake of Jennifer's career as well as his own. If anyone ever found out that he'd slept with Jennifer - Harm sat down at the bar, resting his head on his hands. Figured. He finally found someone like Jennifer and the damn regs were going to keep them apart. There was also Mattie to consider. If she ever suspected -
He straightened at the sound of her voice, willing his body not to react. He heard he get out of bed and cross the room toward him. "I think you'd better go back to your apartment now, Jen," he said, refusing to look at her.
"If that's what you want," she said, and he saw her out of the corner of his eye, gathering her clothing. "I'm sorry if you're upset, sir," she told him. "I only wanted to -"
Harm turned around to look at her, standing there, her clothes in her arms. "Jen - it's not what I want. It's what has to be. I can't - your career, mine. My guardianship of Mattie - this could put all of that in jeopardy."
"That's not what I intended, sir."
"I know," Harm said, finally moving toward her, risking a movement to cup her cheek in his palm. "Thank you."
"Mattie won't be back until noon," she told him. "I could stay -"
"No. As much as I'd like that, I won't do that to you."
Harm covered her lips with his fingers. "No 'buts'. We'll put this behind us. Can you do that?"
"If that's what -"
"You're not going to make this easy for me, are you, Jen?"
She smiled. "No, sir, I guess not. I just want a few more hours," she told him. "Is that too much to ask? And then I'll never mention it again. Never let anyone else guess that we're anything more than neighbors or Commander and Petty Officer."
Something about her smile broke through Harm's determination. He grabbed her clothes, tossing them toward the bedroom, and then pulled her against him, pressing her breasts against his bare chest. "Ten hundred," he said. "No later."
"Yes, sir," Jennifer said as he lifted her into his arms and carried her back to bed.
Mattie entered the building with a smile on her face, stopping at the door to Harm's apartment. There was a note on the door, addressed to her. *Gone for a run. Will be back by noon and we'll leave for the airport. Be ready. Love, Harm.*
Still smiling in anticipation of flying the Stearman with Harm, Mattie continued toward the apartment that she shared with Jennifer. Letting herself in, she called out, "Jennifer?"
There was no response, so Mattie took her knapsack and bag into the bedroom, dropping them onto her bed. Frowning, she saw that the other bed barely looked slept in. Of course, Jennifer's bed was usually well made, but Jennifer didn't usually make it until *after* her shower.
The shower was running, so Mattie went back to the kitchen, pouring a cup of freshly brewed coffee for herself. Adding some sugar and cream, she sat down at the counter, already planning out the moves she was planning on trying during her flight lesson.
Seeing Mattie's things on the bed, Jennifer realized quickly that her roommate was home. "Morning, Mattie!" she said brightly.
"Morning," Mattie replied, giving Jennifer a look of surprise when she realized that she was dressed for bed.
Jennifer poured a cup of coffee for herself. "Did you have fun at Janice's?"
"Yeah. We watched a couple of movies, worked on our papers for English -" she stopped as Jennifer tried to hide a yawn. "Am I boring you?"
"Sorry," Jennifer apologized, looking into her cup. "Didn't get much sleep last night."
"Really? Studied all night?"
Jennifer shook her head. "I didn't study at all," she said truthfully. "Right after you left, some friends called and asked me to go out with them. I wound up staying the night with one of them."
"Ohhh," Mattie said. "I guess that explains why you weren't here when I called around ten," she said.
Jennifer nodded, glad that she'd been aware enough to check the answering machine when she'd returned to the apartment around ten fifteen. "Yeah. So I'm going to get some sleep. You and the Commander still going flying?"
"According to this we are," Mattie said, showing her the note. "He went running. Guess he got a late start this morning, too." Finishing her coffee, Mattie slid from the stool. "I'm going to go unpack before he gets back."
Jennifer nodded, taking her coffee to the window, she looked down at the street, watching for Harm's return. Last night had been wonderful. She'd always suspected that Harm would be a wonderful lover, but the reality had far exceeded her expectations. Seeing him appear on the sidewalk below, still running, Jennifer watched him for a moment, smiling before she finished her coffee and turned toward the kitchen to leave her cup. "The Commander's back," she told Mattie as the other girl came from the bedroom.
"I didn't hear the elevator," Mattie said.
"He never uses the elevator after a run," Jennifer informed her. "He takes the stairs to cool off."
"Yeah," Mattie nodded. "You're right. I'd never noticed that. I guess I'll go hang out over there til he's ready to leave. You sure you'll be okay?"
"I'll be fine," Jennifer assured her. "Just need some sleep."
"K. See you later, then."
"I'll be flying," was Mattie's response as she grinned. "Of course I'll have fun."
Harm noticed that the note was gone as he tried to catch his breath after running ten miles and taking the stairs two at a time. He heard the door across the hall open and looked up to give Mattie a smile. "Hey there," he said, straightening up to unlock the door.
"Hey yourself," Mattie replied, giving him a hug. "You're running later than usual," she commented, following him inside the apartment and closing the door behind them.
Harm went to get a bottle of water. "I overslept," he explained. "Stayed up working on a case last night," he continued as he moved toward the bedroom. "Let me get cleaned up and we'll take off."
As they came out of the apartment later, Harm started toward the elevator, but Mattie stopped him. "Let's take the stairs," she suggested. "Jennifer's trying to sleep - and when someone uses that monster it rattles the whole apartment."
Harm nodded. "Jennifer's sleeping at this time of day?" he asked, following her down the stairs and outside to the Vette, which he'd pulled out earlier so they could use it.
"She went out clubbing with some friends last night. I don't think she got home until a little while ago. She said she spent the night with a 'friend'. I think she got lucky last night."
"Got lucky?" Harm repeated, giving his ward a look of surprise.
Mattie laughed at Harm's reaction. "Yeah. You know, had sex? She seems a lot more relaxed this morning. I've heard it relieves tension."
"Mattie!" he said, looking at her in surprise.
"Harm, I'm not a kid," Mattie sighed, rolling her eyes. "I *do* know where babies come from."
*Babies.* Harm froze in the bucket seat. "Damn," he said, seeing Mattie look at him.
"I don't remember turning off the coffee maker," he lied.
"I can go check," she offered, reaching for her seatbelt.
"No, that's okay. I'll do it," he said, unfastening his own seatbelt and opening the door. "Stay here. I won't be a minute."
Harm took the stairs two at a time again, knocking on the door to Mattie and Jennifer's apartment, hoping she wasn't asleep yet. "Jen?"
She opened the door, smiling when she saw him. "Yes sir?"
"Mattie's waiting downstairs," he said. "I needed to ask - last night. We didn't use any - protection -"
Jennifer's smile widened. "It's okay," she reassured him. "I'm on the Pill."
"I don't usually forget," he told her, aware that he'd forgotten a lot of things while she was in his arms. "Next time -" Seeing the expression on her face, Harm realized what he'd said and swallowed the rest of the statement.
"Next time?" she questioned, and Harm couldn't miss the hopeful tone of her voice.
"Forget I said that," he admonished, lifting a hand to touch her cheek. "You're sure you don't want to come with us?" he asked.
"You and Mattie need time alone," Jennifer pointed out. "You don't have to include me in your life, sir."
He wanted to, Harm realized, but he knew she was right. They were already stretching the limits by her being Mattie's roommate and his neighbor. More than that would raise too many flags. "We'll probably have an early dinner out -"
"Don't worry about me." She covered his hand with hers. "You'd better get going before Mattie comes up looking for you."
As if on cue, Harm heard the door downstairs from the street closing and stepped back from Jennifer. "Get some sleep," he said, taking out his key and sticking it into the lock of his own door, hearing Jennifer close hers quietly behind him.
Mattie appeared on the stairs just as Harm turned away from the door. "Everything okay?" she asked. "Took you a long time to turn off the coffee maker."
"It was already off. But I decided to use the head before we left."
Harm put an arm around her shoulders. "Ready to go flying?"
Mattie smiled up at him. "Always."
The first person that Harm saw on Monday morning was Mac. She was frowning as she moved toward her office. He recognized all the signs that she was upset about something. Tapping on the doorframe, he waited for her to look up at him. "Need to talk about it?" he offered.
She grimaced. "I doubt you'd want to."
Harm came further into the office. "Let me guess: Clay had to cancel your date at the last minute."
Mac exhaled loudly. "Yeah. *Again*. It's becoming a habit with him."
"That's what you get for getting involved with a spook," Harm pointed out, arms crossed over his chest. "To be fair, though, it's not really his fault. It's his job."
He saw Mac's confusion as she looked at him. "Since when do you take up for Webb?" she asked.
"Well, I just know how hectic it can be working for the CIA," he pointed out. "During the time I was there, I barely had a chance to catch my breath."
"Or to return phone calls," Mac added pointedly. "How's Mattie doing?"
"Well. She's doing good in school - even playing catch up for the six months she missed," he responded.
"She's a smart young woman," Mac pointed out. "Has she spoken with her father at all?"
"She keeps finding reasons not to," Harm confirmed.
"She needs to talk to him on the phone at least, Harm. You know that as well as I do. If she doesn't -"
"I know, Mac. But I'm not going to force her to talk to him if she doesn't want to. That won't do any good."
"You're right. I'd suggest seeing if Jennifer could talk to her, but I think Jennifer still has a few 'daddy issues' of her own to work through."
"Daddy issues?" Harm questioned, frowning, hoping that the heat he felt in his cheeks wasn't noticeable.
"I doubt she's even spoken to her father in years, Harm. And she should. If only to make things easier for herself."
"Mac, you didn't meet her father. The man -"
"You know I'm right, Harm."
"Maybe. But just because she and her father don't speak doesn't mean that Jennifer has so-called 'daddy issues'," he insisted, realizing that he was protesting too much when he saw the way Mac was looking at him.
"If you say so," she said. "I guess she and Mattie are enjoying the new apartment? Jennifer certainly seems happier living there."
"I think she is. She and Mattie get along like they were old friends."
"They're both young and understand each other, it makes sense they'd get along," Mac pointed out.
"Yeah," Harm agreed. "Well, I have some files to go over - and a hearing at ten. I'll talk to you later."
"How about lunch?" Mac suggested.
Harm almost said yes without thinking. "Clay's out of town, isn't he?"
"Yes, but that's not why I'm asking. Can't two friends have lunch together?" she asked.
He smiled, knowing she was right. "What time?"
"When can you get away?"
"I'll have to check my calendar. I'll let you know."
He was heading toward his office, thinking about what Mac had said about Mattie and her father - and about Jennifer as well. Mac's words about Jennifer's 'daddy issues' bothered him. He wasn't really paying much attention to where he was going - and suddenly found himself with his hands on Jennifer's shoulders to keep her from falling as he barreled into her in much the same way as he'd done on Friday afternoon.
"Jen-nifer," he said, quickly withdrawing his hands and remembering to call her by her full name. "Sorry. I was thinking and didn't notice -" he realized that she'd been coming from his office. "Did you need to see me about something?"
"No, sir," she said, every inch the dutiful Petty Officer. "I just left some files on your desk from Lt. Roberts. He had a meeting at Pax River that he had to get to."
"Oh." Harm nodded. "Thanks."
"Just doing my job, Commander," Jennifer said, her deep brown eyes searching his face. "Are you okay, sir?"
Harm took a deep breath. "Yes. I'm fine, Petty Officer." They hadn't spent much time together over the weekend - except for dinner last night with Mattie, and even then she hadn't acted any differently around him than she had before Friday night. Even Mattie hadn't suspected that Jennifer had spent the night in his arms. "I'll see you later."
"I'm sure you will, sir," she said brightly, moving on past him, leaving Harm to continue to his office.
Picking up the files that Jennifer had dropped off, he glanced at the note that Bud had written about the cases involved. Moving to the window, he stood looking outside, remembering Jennifer's promise that no one would ever know what happened. So far, she seemed to be handling things better than he was. If he kept this up, kept torturing himself with memories of those hours they had spent together, Harm knew he'd make a mistake that would destroy both of their careers. Jennifer had worked too hard to finally make something of herself for him to allow that to happen. If it came out, if someone stumbled on the truth, Harm knew that he would take the fall for them both, claim that he seduced Jennifer into his bed. Do whatever he had to do to protect her reputation and career.
With that decision made, Harm sat down in his chair and opened the file for the Aaronson case, making a list of questions he needed to ask his client.
It was nearly a week before Harm found himself alone with Jennifer again. Mattie was spending Saturday afternoon with Janice, with plans to go shopping at the mall and maybe take in a movie. He told himself later that he'd forgotten about those plans, and that was why he stopped by the other apartment.
Jennifer opened the door with her usual smile. "Commander. Did you need something?"
"Is Mattie here?" he asked.
"No. Don't you remember? She and Janice are spending the afternoon at the mall."
"That's right. I was going to drive out to Leesburg and fly for a couple of hours, thought she might want to join me." He shrugged. "I guess I'll go by myself," he decided, then paused, turning back to look at her. "Unless - I - don't suppose - you'd like to come along."
"Col. Mackenzie's busy again?" she questioned.
"I'm not asking Mac, Jennifer," he told her. "I'm asking you."
"You think I should, sir?"
"We're just going flying, Jennifer. Nothing wrong with that, is there?"
Her smile brightened his day. "Let me grab a jacket," she said, going into the bedroom, returning with a corduroy jacket with faux sheepskin lining. "I guess I need to leave a note for Mattie so she won't worry if she gets back before I do."
"What are you going to tell her?" Harm asked.
"That I'm going flying with you?" she said with a straight face, finding a paper and pen beside the telephone.
She laughed softly, the sound sending a tremor through Harm's body and he began to wonder about the advisability of what he was doing. "Don't worry. I'll tell her that a friend called and asked me out -" she glanced at him again. "Any idea what time we'll be back?"
"Not really. Shouldn't be more than four or five hours. Didn't Mattie mention something about having dinner at the mall?"
"Just tell her you're not sure what time you'll be back," he suggested. "I'm going to call her on her cell and let her know that I'm going out to Leesburg to fly and might be a little late myself depending on conditions."
"Won't she be disappointed that she's not with you?"
"I'll take her tomorrow," he said as she finished writing the note and propped it against the telephone where it would be seen.
Harm considered taking the Vette, but at the last minute changed his mind and headed toward the Lexus instead. Unlocking the doors, he got inside, waiting for Jennifer to get in before taking out his cell phone to dial Mattie's cell number.
"Mattie? It's Harm . . . What movie? . . . I think I'll wait until it comes out on DVD," he laughed. "No, nothing's wrong, I just wanted to let you know that I'm driving out to Leesburg - . . . Yeah. I'm going up for a couple of hours." He glanced at Jennifer to confirm that she'd been right. "Tell you what, we'll go out tomorrow for an hour or so, okay? . . . Okay . . . I will be." He looked at Jennifer again. "Yeah. I told Jennifer I was going - and that I was going to call you and tell you about it . . . I don't know when I'll be back. I might stop for dinner on the way . . . I will. Don't spend too much, okay?" he asked, and grinned. "Bye."
"She was upset that she wasn't going, wasn't she?" Jennifer asked as he put the phone away and started the SUV.
"Yeah. But she'll be satisfied with going tomorrow," he told her as he pulled out and turned toward Leesburg.
Harm had moved his plane back to Leesburg from Blacksburg after the bank had taken over and sold Grace Aviation at auction. Pete, who owned the hangar at Leesburg, was standing beside his pick up truck when Harm parked the Lexus. "Hi, Pete," Harm said,
"I got her all fueled up for you," Pete told him, indicating the yellow Stearman sitting on the apron outside of the metal building. "Can I trust you to lock up when you get back? It's my daughter's birthday and -"
"Sure Pete," Harm assured him. "No problem. Give her my best."
"Will do," Pete said, watching as Jennifer got out of the SUV. "That's *not* your usual flying partner."
"You're very observant," Harm said, smiling. "Mattie's busy this afternoon so I thought I'd give Jennifer a treat."
"She's a cutie," Pete said with a wink and an elbow in Harm's ribs. "A little young for you, though, isn't she?"
"She's just a friend," Harm explained. "I promised Mattie we'd go up for a while tomorrow - say around - three?"
"Sarah'll be ready," Pete promised, getting into his truck.
As Harm joined Jennifer near the airplane, she said, "Did I hear him call the plane 'Sarah'?"
He grinned. "After my grandmother," he told her. "She had a farm near Belleville, Pennsylvania."
"Had?" Jennifer questioned.
His smile vanished. "She died last summer. Went to bed one night and - didn't wake up," he continued as he began to do a pre-flight check of the aircraft. Feeling Jennifer's hand on his arm, he turned and covered it with his seeing the look of sympathy on her face. "I was on the other side of the world when it happened. Wasn't able to get back for the funeral."
"Nothing you could have done about it," he said, examining the fuel line closely. "You ever been up in a small plane like this?" Harm asked, finally satisfied that the line wasn't cracked or damaged. No sense in tempting fates into a repeat of Mac's first flight, he told himself.
"Never," Jennifer told him. "But I've always wanted to do something like that. I, uh, had this boyfriend who had a motorcycle -"
"Hal?" Harm asked, remembering their first meeting.
Jennifer laughed. "Yeah. He taught me how to ride his bike."
"Trust me. This is better," Harm promised, climbing onto the wing to look inside the front cockpit. Removing the gloves, leather cap and goggles he found there, he jumped down and held them out. "Here you go."
Jennifer held up her hand. "Just a sec," she said, pulling her long hair back before she twisted it and tucked in into the collar of her coat. Harm stood there, remembering twisting that long hair around his wrist, pulling her down to him; or the feel of that dark curtain of hair spread out over his chest. "Harm?" He blinked, realizing that she was looking up at him, trying to take the leather cap out of his hands.
"Uh. Sorry," he said, releasing the items, wondering how the hell he was going to fly the plane with his hands shaking like they were. "I'll just - finish the walk around," he told her, moving quickly around to the other side of the plane, pretending an intense interest in the control surfaces while he took deep breaths in a futile attempt to regain some control. He'd managed over the last week, but Jennifer had made it easy by always calling him 'sir' and being strictly by the book whenever they were in the same room.
"Are you okay?" she asked, and Harm jumped, realizing that she was behind him.
"Yeah. I'm just -" he turned around to look at her, unnecessarily adjusting the collar of her jacket. "How do you do it, Jen?" he asked.
"How do I do what, sir?"
"Turn it on and off. All week long, I almost convinced myself that last weekend was a dream. That it never happened. Then, after five minutes with you today -"
She smiled at him, placing her ungloved hand on his chest. "I promised to keep it separate. And I keep my promises."
Harm covered her hand with his, bringing it to his lips. "You ready to go flying?" he asked.
"Anytime you're ready," she answered, causing Harm's breath to catch in his throat at the double meaning of her words. For one crazy minute, he considered saying to hell with the flight and dragging her to the nearest motel. Then sanity returned and he smiled at her.
He made sure she was fastened into the front cockpit, showed her the headset for the intercom system and explained to her about the various instruments, stick and rudder pedals before he climbed into the rear opening, turning his hat around and putting on his own goggles and headset. "Contact!" he yelled, even though there was no one else for miles around, and brought the huge radial engine to life.
He taxied the yellow biplane to the end of the runway - increasing the engine rpms and checking the engine gauges. Satisfied, he spoke into the microphone. "Here we go!"
Releasing the brakes, Harm opened the throttle, sending "Sarah" down the runway until she was airborne. Turning the aircraft away from the field, he kept the airplane straight and level for the most part. "You doing okay?" he asked.
"I'm great!" Jennifer called back enthusiastically. "This is great! I love it!"
"Ready for something a little more drastic?" he asked.
"Bring it on!" she replied, laughing.
"Okay, just remember, you asked for it!" he warned, smiling from ear to ear as he sent the plane into a roll followed by a steep climb and then dived for the ground, pulling out as he heard Jennifer's delighted laughter over the intercom.
"Bet you love roller coasters, don't you?" he asked, returning to straight and level flight.
"I *love* 'em!" she told him. "How did you know?"
"Just a hunch. You want to fly her?" he asked.
"Sure!" There was no hesitation whatsoever. "What do I need to do?" she asked.
"Put your feet on the rudder pedals and grab the stick." He waited until he felt a slight resistance on the controls and released them. "Okay, you've got her."
Jennifer was a natural at the controls, with an even lighter touch than Mattie's, Harm decided. And she wasn't afraid to try anything - something which Harm realized shouldn't have surprised him, considering her boldness in other areas.
She sounded disappointed when he told her that they needed to land and took the controls back from her. He brought the airplane to a stop in front of the hangar and killed the engine. Only seconds after he got out of the cockpit and onto the ground, Jennifer's arms were around his neck.
"That was - fantastic!" she declared. "I loved it! Talk about freedom. I finally understand why you and Mattie feel the way you do about flying. It's - it's -"
Harm put his arms around her, laughing as well. "So, I guess you enjoyed yourself?"
"I think you could say that," she agreed.
Suddenly the laughter faded as they stood there, Jennifer's arms around his neck, Harm's around her, holding her close. The adrenaline from the flight was still driving them both, and before either of them knew what was happening, Harm's lips were on Jennifer's, devouring them as much as hers were devouring his.
When the kiss ended, Harm's fingers were buried in Jennifer's dark hair. He pulled her close for a moment, resting his chin against the top of her head as he struggled for control. What was it about this woman that made him lose control so easily? "We need to get the plane into the hangar," he said.
"Okay," she said. "Tell me what to do."