The first person that Harm saw on Monday morning was Mac, who was smiling. "You look like you had a productive weekend," she noted.
"I think it was. You are looking at a soon-to-be-married man."
"Congratulations!" she said. "I have to say that you look very happy."
"I am," he told her. "Any chance that you and AJ -?"
"We're moving a little slower than you two," she said, moving toward his office with him. "But AJ *has* hinted about it."
"I highly recommend it," Harm said, putting his briefcase, cover, and coat in their proper places.
"Have you two set a date yet?"
"Not yet. We *have* looked at a house in McLean, though."
"Jen wants to keep working for AJ," he told her. "And the house is perfect. Needs some work -"
"Of course," Mac interjected, recalling how much he had enjoyed finishing his apartment.
Bud appeared in the door. "Good morning, sir, ma'am," he said. "Ready for staff meeting?"
Harm opened his briefcase and removed some files. "I am. Mac?"
"Let me get my files from my office," she said.
"You look rested, sir," Bud told Harm. "I guess the meeting with Jen went well?"
"Very well, Bud," Harm assured him. "She's supposed to meet me here for lunch."
Bud's eyes widened. "She's meeting you *here*? What about -" he looked around, lowering his voice. "The General?"
"Not much he can do, Bud," Mac said as she joined them. "Jen's not in the Navy anymore."
Bud shrugged as he realized she was right. To Harm, he said, "You still haven't called Harriet."
"I'll do it this evening," Harm promised. "And
I'll tell Jen to call when she gets a chance as well."
Jen greeted the Marine guard and received her visitor's badge from him, silently thanking Harm for clearing the way for her visit. She still wasn't sure about this. Confronting General Cresswell on his turf might not be a good idea.
But Harm had insisted that they needed to be open and above-board about their relationship, especially since they were going to be married.
She entered the elevator and pressed the button, then waited as the car began to rise. Taking a deep breath as it came to a stop, she waited for the doors to open and stepped out into the familiar corridor.
"Jen?" a female voice called out, causing her to turn. "Is that you?"
"Carla," Jen said, nodding at Petty Officer Third Class Carla Davis.
"You took everyone by surprise quitting that way. How's civilian life treating you so far?"
"Not too bad," Jen said. "I'm working for Adm. Chegwidden."
"Wow. That was quick."
"I got lucky," Jen told the other woman. She and Davis had never really been close. Jen had always gotten the impression that Davis was jealous of Jen's position with the senior staff.
"I didn't expect to see you back here so soon after the way you left. It was so sudden."
"I'd been thinking about it for some time," Jen confided, looking around for another familiar face to rescue her. Unfortunately, the first one she saw was the one person she hadn't *wanted* to see.
"Coates," General Cresswell said. "Don't tell me - you've had a change of heart and want to come back.
"Excuse me, sir," Davis said, and promptly disappeared, leaving them alone.
"No, General," Jen said in answer to his supposition. "I'm - meeting someone for lunch."
"Fair enough," Cresswell said, indicating that they should continue toward the glass doors into the bullpen. "How are you doing?"
"I'm fine, sir," she told him. "I have a good job working in a law office."
"I never doubted your ability to find work in the private sector, Jennifer," Cresswell assured her. "Who are you here to meet?" he questioned.
Harm wasn't in his office, Jen noticed, and glanced at her watch to make sure she wasn't early. "Uh - Harm. Commander Rabb."
"He's still in court, but he should be out any minute. You're welcome to wait in my office until he's free. I can have Sgt. Morris let him know where you were."
"I wouldn't want to keep you from anything important, General," Jen said.
"Nonsense. I'm waiting for my wife to get here so that we can go to lunch." He took her elbow. "You can fill me in on this new job while we wait."
Jen resigned herself to spending the next few minutes being grilled by her former CO and moved toward his office, nodding pleasantly at the young Marine Sergeant as Cresswell introduced them. "Keep an eye out for Commander Rabb and let him know that his visitor is in my office, Sergeant," Cresswell said.
"Yes, sir," Morris barked.
Jen took one of the chairs before the fireplace, sitting on the edge of the chair, silently praying for Harm to rescue her. "So. Where is this job you've found?"
"It's a small one man office," Jen said. "In McLean."
Cresswell frowned. "McLean. Isn't that where Admiral Chegwidden lives?"
"Yes, sir. That's who I'm working for."
"So I have him to thank for my losing a fine yeoman?"
"Actually, he offered me the job after I'd decided to leave, General. I called him to see if he knew of a job in the area, and he said he needed someone to help him out in the office. It seemed like a good fit."
"Apparently. You look - different somehow."
"Do I?" Jen questioned, looking for something to say. "My hair is down," she suggested. "That's probably it. You're not used to seeing it that way."
"Possible," Cresswell agreed, but he didn't sound convinced. There was a knock on the door, and Jen lifted her eyes toward the ceiling in silent thanks as Cresswell called out, "Enter!"
The door opened to admit Dora Cresswell. Jen had met her only once before, and stood nervously when she saw the General's wife. "Hello, Biff," she said, and then smiled at Jen. "Jennifer Coates, isn't it?"
"Yes, ma'am," Jen said, expecting that she'd be able to make her excuses and wait in Harm's office now.
"Jennifer came to meet Cmdr. Rabb for lunch, Dora," Cresswell told his wife. "Since he was busy in court, I thought she and I could catch up on what's she's been doing over the last week."
"A good idea," Dora agreed, smiling at Jen, who sank back into the chair when the older woman took the other one.
Harm entered the bullpen in a good mood. He'd won the case against Mac and Bud, and knowing that Jen would be there waiting for him. "I still say the jury would have found him guilty if they'd known about the last time he was accused," Bud said.
"It wasn't for the same thing, Bud," Mac reminded him. "So it wasn't admissible."
Sgt. Morris approached them. "Excuse me, Commander Rabb."
"General Cresswell asked me to let you know that your visitor would be waiting in his office, sir."
Harm glanced at Mac and Bud. "Thank you, Morris," he said. "Bud, could you put this in my office, please?" he asked, holding out his briefcase.
"Sure. Good luck."
Harm knocked on the door into Cresswell's office, and waited until he heard the General bade him to enter. Opening the door, he went inside. "Excuse me, sir, but Sgt. Morris said that Jen was in here -" Jen rose from the chair in which she'd been sitting. Another woman rose as well. Jen moved to Harm's side.
"So you're Commander Rabb," the woman said, coming forward, hand extended. "It's a pleasure to meet you. I've read very good things about you in the Navy Times. You're a hero."
"Well, you know how the media likes to make more of things than really happened, ma'am," Harm said. "I was only doing my job."
"You're embarrassing the Commander, Dora," Cresswell said. "Commander Rabb, this is my wife, Dora."
"Mrs. Cresswell," Harm said, taking her hand and giving her a charming smile.
"Are you ready to go now, Harm?" Jen asked, obviously eager to make her escape.
"Yes. We're going shopping for an engagement ring," Harm informed Dora and her husband.
Dora's eyes widened, while the General's narrowed. "An engagement ring? Are congratulations in order, then?" Dora asked.
Harm smiled. "Yes, Mrs. Cresswell."
"How wonderful. And romantic. Don't you agree, Biff?" she asked her husband, either ignoring or pretending to ignore his reaction to the news.
"I'd call it surprising," Cresswell answered. "Dora, would you and Jennifer give us a moment?"
"General," Jen began, and refused Harm's attempt to pull her back. "Before you speak to Harm, I think you should know that nothing happened while I was in the Navy, because he wasn't aware of how I felt until I made the decision to leave. We broke no regulations, and since I'm no longer in the Navy there's no reason why he and I shouldn't be together now."
"Is that all, Jennifer?" Cresswell asked, and Harm wished he could sink into the floor.
She seemed to realize that she probably said too much, and subsided. "I'll wait in Mac's office," she told Harm before following Dora out of the office.
Harm remained at attention when the door closed. "Is she telling the truth, Commander?" Cresswell asked.
"Nothing happened, sir," Harm confirmed, knowing that he was technically lying. "But if it would make the General feel better, I'm prepared to resign my commission."
"I don't think we need to go *that* far, Rabb," Cresswell said, shaking his head. "I don't know how Admiral Chegwidden did it. The interpersonal politics of this office - a Petty Officer sharing apartments with the ward of an officer; a Lt. Colonel seeing her former CO off duty; now this. As I told Col. Mackenzie, what you do in your off duty hours is none of my business as long as it doesn't affect this office."
"It won't, General," Harm assured him, realizing that he'd just dodged a huge bullet.
"Besides, marriage might not be such a bad thing. Promotion boards like married officers. Shows they're settled, mature."
"Yes, sir," Harm agreed, wondering what that had to do with him. He'd blown his chances of making Captain by resigning his commission and being gone for six months.
"Congratulations, Rabb," Cresswell said. "Treat her right."
"I intend to, General."
"Now, I have a lunch date with my wife, and I'm sure you have a lot to take care of."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." Harm turned and left the office, smiling at Dora who was waiting in Morris' office en route to Mac's office, where he could see Jen sitting talking to Bud, Mac, and Sturgis.
"Is everything okay?" Jen asked when she saw him.
"Everything's fine," he assured her, putting an arm around her shoulder.
"Something you were going to tell me old buddy?" Sturgis asked.
"I had planned on telling you sometime today," Harm said.
"Congratulations." He watched the Cresswells leave the office, and shook his head. "You have to be the luckiest man in the world, friend. I would have expected him to throw the book at you."
"He couldn't. Not after he looked the other way with Mac and AJ."
"Mac and -" Sturgis said, and Mac lifted her shoulders. "I've missed something here."
"If we're going to find a ring," Harm told Jen, "we'd better go. I'll see you all later."
"Bye," Jen said.
"Call Harriet," Bud told her.
As they left Mac's office, Harm told Jen, "Let me get my coat and cover." She followed him to the door, and he noticed that she still looked a little pale. "Hey, it's okay," he told her, taking her hands once he had put on the coat. "I offered to resign," he told her.
"The General refused to let me. I think he likes you. Everyone likes you. Especially a certain Navy Commander."
She managed a smile. "Anyone I know?"
Harm returned the smile. "Sturgis," and pretended to avoid her as she playfully swatted at his chest. "Let's go."
Harm was leaving JAG that evening when his cell phone rang. He and Jen were supposed to meet at his place and go out to dinner. He needed to get home, shower and change out of his uniform. Seeing Jen's number on his phone, Harm found himself smiling.
"Hi yourself," she replied. "Change in plans. You'll have to come get me at my place."
"No problem," he said, glancing at his watch. "Give me an hour, hour and a half to get home, shower - why the change?"
"My car. It finally broke down for good. The garage says it needs a new motor."
"Where are you now?"
"At home. I called AJ to come get me from Harriet's." She had gone to see Harriet, to 'face the music' as she'd put it, after lunch.
"AJ? Why didn't you call me?"
"Because you told me that you had court this afternoon, and I didn't want to disturb you," she explained.
"So you're without any transportation?"
"For the moment. It's not a problem with getting to work unless it's raining or snows, but anything farther away -"
"I have an idea about that. I'll be there as soon as I can," he told her. "How did it go with Harriet?" he asked.
"I'll tell you when you get here," she said. "I love you."
"I love you, too," he said before hanging up the phone, edging his speed up as far as he could considering the traffic heading into the city.
Jen was surprised when she looked past him toward the parking area and saw the SUV parked there. "Where's your Corvette?" she asked once their kiss of greeting ended.
"At home. I decided to bring that tonight - because it's part of the idea I mentioned. Why don't we get started for the restaurant and I'll explain?"
Jen picked up her coat, only to have Harm take it from her and hold it, lifting her hair over the collar. "Thanks."
He leaned forward, his hands still on her shoulders to whisper in her ear, "Did I mention how beautiful you look tonight?"
"No," she said, turning her head to look up at him.
"Well, you do. And I should have."
"I told AJ about what happened this morning at JAG," she said as they got into the car.
"What did he say?"
"That he would probably have said the same things that the General said if he'd still been the JAG, even though he knows that neither of us would have violated any regs. He got a good chuckle out of it, too." They smiled at the thought of AJ's reaction in that situation, and Harm privately thought that AJ would have thrown the book at him if he'd still been the JAG. "Did you get a chance to call the real estate agent about the house?"
"I did. She's setting things in motion on her end. Since the place needs so much work, she thinks that the owner will be willing to lower the price. Financing's no problem, I had most of that set up when I was looking for a place for Mattie and me." He reached across and took her left hand, which now held the diamond engagement ring he'd bought earlier in the day. "She said that it looks good. We should know something by the weekend."
"The weekend," Jen said. "Isn't that when your mother said she *might* drop in?"
"Yeah. You're not worried, are you?"
"Do you blame me? I want to marry her only son. If I were in her place, I'd be checking the woman out and asking a *lot* of questions."
"That's not my mom, Jen," Harm said with a soft laugh. "She gave up trying to run my life a long time ago. You'll see."
"I hope so." Deciding to table any further discussion about their relationship until dinner, Jen asked him about how his day had gone after lunch.
"What's this 'idea' you were talking about?" Jen wanted to know after they had ordered and were waiting for their food.
"Well, you need a car. Something dependable. I happen to have a second car - the Lexus. I prefer the Vette. And I have the motorcycle. But I'm thinking about selling it -"
"Don't," Jen said quickly, and then sat back, obviously embarrassed by the outburst. "I mean - not until you take me for a ride on it."
Harm grinned. "You're a cycle junkie at heart, aren't you?"
"I guess it comes from all the time I spent with Tiny and his friends. Riding a bike is - freeing somehow."
"Okay. We'll take her out this next weekend if the weather holds," he promised. "Now, about my idea -- what do you think of it?"
"You're sure you won't mind giving up the Lexus?" she questioned, smiling as well now. "I remember you seemed *so* fond of it when we first met."
Harm recalled that meeting clearly. "Yeah," he confirmed with a knowing smirk. "I can manage without it. And it's safe. I'll worry less about you out there driving on the roads."
"You *could* let me have the Vette," Jen suggested playfully, running her finger over the back of his hand on the table, knowing what his reaction would be.
Harm shook his head. "We'll see," he told her, pulling his hand back as their waiter arrived with their food. Once he was gone, Harm asked, "How did it go with Harriet?"
"She was a little uncertain at first. I guess I was, too. I wasn't sure how she was going to react to everything that's happened. But when she saw the ring -" she held up her hand so that the candle light struck it, causing it to glisten, "-she was full of questions about when and where and how you proposed-"
Remembering the details of that proposal, Harm felt his cheeks color. "I hope you didn't tell her the details."
Jen gave him another playful grin. "Believe me, Harm, you have *nothing* to be embarrassed about. But no, I didn't tell her that we were in bed when you asked."
"Thank you for that much, anyway. So she's okay with it now?"
"Yes. In fact, she's offered to help plan the wedding."
"You and I still need to discuss that, too, don't we?"
"We have time yet," Jen told him. "There's no rush."
He put down his fork and reached across to take her hand again. "I don't want to let it drag on, Jen. I want everyone to know that we're together and plan to *stay* together. I want us to be a family. The sooner that begins, the better, as far as I'm concerned."
"Do you want to set a date?"
"Like I said, the sooner the better. I know you probably want a big wedding with all the trimmings -"
"No," Jen said. "Just close friends and your family will be enough," she told him. "I don't really *have* any family - at least none that would care enough to show up -" she grinned again. "As long as you're there, I'll be happy getting married before a Justice of the Peace."
"You deserve more than that. Tell you what - how about the chapel where we go to Christmas Eve services?" he suggested.
"Do you think that Chaplin Turner would agree to perform the ceremony?" Jen wondered. "He's the only minister I've trusted in a long time."
"I think he'd be glad to do it," Harm said.
"Okay, we have a where. Now we have to decide 'when'."
Harm picked up his fork again, thinking as he took a bite of the salad he'd ordered. "Let's see. Thanksgiving is coming up in a couple of weeks -"
"Oh, Harriet asked if we were going to stop by that day. I said I'd have to talk to you."
"We can. I want to spend part of the day with Mattie, if we can."
"No problem. I'll call her tomorrow and let her know." She picked up Harm's speculative thread. "And then a month after Thanksgiving is Christmas. New Year's Eve," she said finally.
"You're suggesting we get married on the last day of the year?"
"It would be difficult for you to forget your anniversary that way," she pointed out.
"What makes you think that I'd forget *our* anniversary no matter when it might be?" Harm questioned, lifting one eyebrow as he did so.
"Most men -"
"I'm hurt," he said, putting a hand to his chest. "You're already lumping me with 'most men'." Leaning forward, he lowered his voice. "Jen, we could get married on the most obscure day you can think of, and I promise you, I'll *never* forget the date."
"So why not get married on New Year's Eve?" she suggested.
"Okay. New Year's Eve it is. *If* we can get the chapel with this short notice. And *if* Chaplain Turner doesn't have other plans already."
"I'll call the chapel tomorrow if you'll call Chaplin Turner," Jen offered.
"Fair enough," he agreed. "We have less than two months. Is that enough time?"
"Like I said, all I need is someone to perform the ceremony and you. Well, and maybe that sword-arch thing," she amended with a grin. "That looked wonderful in the photos that Harriet showed me of her wedding."
"Well, considering the time of year, I don't think I'll be in dress whites," Harm noted.
"Dinner dress is okay, too," Jen said with a smile.
"I guess that you'll ask AJ to give you away?"
"Yes." She must have read his mind, because she continued. "It's not like I could ask my dad to do it."
"You could," Harm risked, knowing what her response would be.
"I thought we agreed not to go there?" she said, sitting back in her seat, her eyes on her food.
Harm lifted his hand. "Okay. I won't mention it again. Who are you going to ask to be your maid of honor?"
Jen picked up her fork again. "Mattie, of course. And then - if you don't mind - Mac and Harriet as bridesmaids. If Harriet's willing, since she's pregnant."
"Why would I mind your asking my best friend to be your bridesmaid?" he wondered. "You've known Mac for almost as long as you've known me. It would make sense for you to want her to be in the wedding party."
"I know. But after -"
"Jen, it's in the past. Mac's happy with AJ. Who knows? We might end up seeing who can get to the altar first?"
She shook her head. "Not according to AJ," she said.
"What do you mean?"
"He's more than willing to 'take the plunge', as he put it. Mac's the one who's not sure about getting married. Something about marriage never working out for her."
"She does have a point," Harm agreed, and saw Jen's confusion. "Mac had a brief, unhappy marriage when she was younger - before she joined the Corps. Then she nearly married someone else a few years ago. It - didn't work out and he went back to Australia."
"Commander Brumby," Jen recalled. "I remember hearing people at the office talk about that. They all thought the wedding got called off because you and Mac were -"
"Another missed opportunity -" he said, smiling. "One that I'm very grateful for at this particular moment."
"What about you? Who are you going to ask to be your best man?"
"I thought I'd ask Bud since I was his best man. As for groomsmen -" he thought for a moment. "I could see if Keeter's going to be in town. I'm sure he'd be more than glad to stand up with me."
"Keeter? You old Academy roommate?"
"Yeah. Jack Keeter. He's stationed in Pensacola right now."
"That still leaves you one short," Jen pointed out.
"I guess I could get in touch with Sergei," he said. "But the way his schedule's been lately, I doubt he'll be able to get away."
"I think you should call him and invite him anyway."
"Oh, I will," Harm said.
"What about Commander Turner?"
Harm winced before answering. "Sturgis and I haven't been as - close we once where, Jen," Harm said. "I don't know that he'd even agree -"
"I thought things were okay after he gave you your old office and moved back to the storage closet."
"They're *better*," Harm confirmed. "But not back to the way they were. I'm not really sure they were ever that way to begin with, though."
"Is this because he was named acting JAG?" Jen questioned.
"No," Harm insisted, a bit more forcefully than he probably should have. "I didn't mind that he was picked for that."
"That's not the impression most of the office got," Jen said, and Harm frowned.
"What do you mean?"
"I'm not sure you realize how much everyone in office looks to you for guidance, Harm," she said. "You're a natural leader - and even though he was in charge, everyone in that office took their cue from you as to how to treat his command."
Jen nodded. "They saw that you weren't happy with how he was doing things - with the assignments he handed out - and it affected the way they reacted. It was the same while you were gone after Paraguay. The office wasn't the same. It lacked something - even though AJ was there - most of the people in the office didn't understand how he could just let you go that way. You're liked. I think, if given a chance, a lot of them would probably follow you if you were to get a command of your own."
"That's not likely to happen," Harm sighed. "Not after I quit and stayed gone for six months. That's a pretty big gap in my record that I can't account for. To be honest, Jen, I'm probably 'topped out' at Commander. Another five years and I won't have a choice about retiring."
Jen reached out and covered his hand. "That just means we'll get to spend more time together," she pointed out.
"Now that *is* a bright spot," he agreed, leering and lifting an eyebrow in her direction.
Outside, Harm handed the keys to Jen once he'd unlocked the Lexus. "You want me to drive?" she questioned.
"You need to get used to it. It's a little bigger than your car. And it's four wheel drive -"
"Okay," she said, getting behind the steering wheel while he went around to the passenger side. Before starting the engine, she looked at him. "You're *sure* you trust my driving?"
"I trusted you to drive Mattie around," he told her.
"And I used this occasionally," she reminded him. "So I already *know* how to drive it."
"It's been awhile." He put his seat belt on. "Fasten your seatbelt. If you decide you don't want to run around in a tank, then we can always trade it in on something smaller."
But Jen loved driving the Lexus. Being up higher than other cars, better visibility - they were pluses as far as she was concerned after having driven her small compact car. She pulled up in front of Harm's apartment and turned off the engine, looking at him. "So. How did I do?"
"Very well," he acknowledged. "Let me get the Vette out of the garage, and I'll follow you back out to your place."
"We're not staying here tonight?" she asked.
"I don't like the idea of your driving back to McLean tomorrow during the rush hour," he told her.
"I won't mind. You're more comfortable here," she told him. "And to be honest, I am, too. It's more familiar than that postage stamp of an apartment."
"And bigger," Harm agreed, but still hesitated. "You're sure?"
Jen leaned across to slide a hand around his neck, pulling him into a long kiss. "Does that answer your question?" she asked.
"Hmm," he murmured, pulling her across the console and into his lap, threading his long fingers through her long hair to return the kiss measure for measure. "What do you think?" he questioned.
"I think we should go upstairs before the police come along and arrest us for public indecency," Jen answered.
"Good idea." He reached over and took the keys out of the ignition.
"I need my purse," she told him.
He grabbed the oversized handbag from the floor, surprised at how heavy it was. "What have you got in there?" he asked, opening the passenger door, then waiting for Jen to climb from his lap to the curb. He followed, locking the doors and turning on the alarm before putting an arm around her shoulders.
"Just a few things I need. A change of underwear, a brush, various toiletries . . ." her voice trailed off.
"Pretty sure of yourself, weren't you?"
"No, I was sure of *you*," she clarified, giving him a brilliant smile as she entered the building via the door that he held open for her.
Two days later
"Uh, Sturgis, could we - talk for a minute?" Harm asked his old Academy buddy one afternoon a few days later. He could see several of the staff trying to hide their interest in the two officers standing near Harm's office.
Sturgis looked at him, frowning slightly. "Sure, Harm."
"Why don't we go into my office?" Harm suggested, leading the way. Inside, he indicated the chair before his desk and waited until Sturgis sat down in it. "Jen and I set a date for the wedding," he said.
"Oh? Not letting much grass grow under your feet are you, Harm?"
"No reason to," Harm said. "Jen and I both want a small ceremony with just family and close friends in attendance. I called your dad yesterday and asked him to perform the ceremony - and I'd like you to be one of my groomsmen. If you're willing to, that is."
He saw the confusion on Sturgis' face. "Forgive me, harm, but this is more than a little bit of a surprise. I wasn't aware that you still considered me to be a friend these days."
"I know. And I'm sorry for that. I know that I probably didn't make things easy for you when you were acting JAG."
"No," Sturgis confirmed. "You didn't."
"I didn't realize *how* difficult I made things until I talked to Jen about it. You're one of my oldest friends, Sturgis. I don't know where we went wrong, but I'd like to try to find out way back to that."
"So would I, Harm," Sturgis agreed.
"So, will you agree to be part of the wedding party?"
"Well, now, that depends," Sturgis said, and now it was Harm who frowned. "On when the big day is. You still haven't told me that."
Harm smiled. "New Year's Eve."
"What time?" Sturgis questioned.
"Eighteen hundred. Why? Do you have other plans?"
"Varise is performing in town that night. I told her I'd be there."
"What time is her first set?"
Sturgis thought for a moment. "Twenty-two hundred."
"That'll work. The two of you can still make it after the wedding," Harm assured him. "I'd really like for you to be part of this, Sturgis. Keeter's going to be the other groomsman," he said, pulling out the Ace he'd been holding up his sleeve.
Seeing Sturgis' wide grin, Harm knew it had been a wise move. "Well, then, I can't very well say no, now, can I? I'd consider it an honor, Harm."
Harm held out his hand, aware that several eyes in the bullpen were on them as they shook hands and laughed together. "Good."
"Someone's got to keep Keeter from getting you into too much trouble at your bachelor party."
Monday after Thanksgiving
"What's causing that frown?" Mac asked on the Monday after Thanksgiving. "You don't look very happy, especially for a man who's about to get married in less than a month."
"I am," Harm insisted. "I'm just -" he broke off, sighing. "Has Jen ever talked to you about her father, Mac?"
"Other than the fact that they haven't spoken since before she joined the Navy and that he was abusive to her mother, no. Why?"
"When I first met her, I was trying to find someplace for her to stay -"
"I remember," Mac said. "She ended up with me."
"Well, one of the places I took her to was her father's. He wasn't very receptive."
"And you want to fix it so that they're talking again," Mac guessed. "Do for her what you tried to do for me - and did successfully for Mattie."
He managed a tight smile. "I guess so. I just feel like Jen *needs* to - make up this rift with her father before it's too late."
"Do you want me to talk to her?" Mac suggested.
"No. I don't think it would do any good. Thanks for the offer, though. I just don't want Jen to wake up one day and realize that he's gone and that there's nothing she can do to change things."
"It's her decision, Harm," Mac pointed out. "Right or wrong. Something that she'll have to live with if that happens."
"And if I can prevent her *having* to - live with it?"
"What are you planning on doing? You can't force her to go to him."
"I know that. But I can go talk to him. See if he's receptive to the idea that Jen's changed. That she's not the same angry young woman that he remembers."
"You'd be walking a fine line."
"Yeah. But I need to hear his side of this. All I have is Jen's side of what happened. After finding out that Mattie's version of things involving her mother's death wasn't what I believed -"
"It's understandable. As long as you realize that Jen might be more clear-headed on this than you think she is."
One week before Christmas
Harm paused in front of the house, looking at the door. Jen was with Mac, Mattie and Carla and Harriet for a dress fitting. With two weeks to go before the wedding, Jen was starting to get nervous about the dress not being ready. While Harriet had been delighted to be asked, she had suggested that Jen find someone else to stand with her and just let Harriet help with the planning. Jen had asked one of her ex-roommates, Carla to stand up instead. Carla was a Navy Petty Officer as Jen has been, and had jumped at the chance.
He exhaled, watching as his breath formed in the cold air. He'd come this far, might as well go all the way. Taking a step toward the house, he found the others a little easier until he was standing before the door. Lifting a hand, he knocked and waited.
A young man opened the door. "Can I help you?" he asked. Harm figured that he was probably Rev. Coates' boarder.
"I'm looking for Rev. Coates," Harm explained.
"Who is it?" a familiar voice questioned, and Harm felt his back straighten. He'd come in civvies instead of in uniform since it was a Saturday. Coates probably wouldn't recognize him.
"Tell him it's Harmon Rabb, Jr," Harm said to the young man, who relayed the message.
A moment later, Conrad Coates appeared in the doorway, and the young man disappeared. A pair of dark, suspicious eyes fixed on Harm. "Do I know you?"
"We met almost three years ago, sir," Harm explained. "When I brought your daughter -"
"You're in the Navy. Some kind of lawyer," Conrad remembered, then frowned. "What's she done now?"
"Jen's fine, sir," Harm said. "But I would like to talk to you about her - if you have a few minutes."
"I'm in the middle of writing my sermon for tomorrow," Conrad informed him coldly.
"Surely you can take five minutes away from that, sir," Harm insisted. "I think it's important."
Conrad stood there, glaring at Harm, who refused to back down from his mission. He felt that he had to try to find out what made Jen's father tick. If he went down in flames, so be it. At least he would have tried.
Finally, Conrad stepped back, opening the door wider. "Come on in." The invitation was decidedly grudging, Harm decided as he entered the small house. The furnishings were sparse and plain, with few feminine touches, proclaiming it to be a house in which no women lived.
There were no photographs on the tables or walls, only a large Bible on the center of the coffee table, and religious icons hanging in the places where one might expect to find a picture of Jen or her mother. "You said she's fine," Conrad repeated. "If that's so, then why are you here?"
"Because I'm curious," Harm admitted. "I wanted to find out why you a man would refuse to show his daughter the slightest trace of compassion when she turned up on his doorstep needing a place to stay."
"And what business is it of yours - Commander, wasn't it?"
"Because she and I are going to be married in two weeks."
Conrad frowned even more at the news. "She's enlisted. I thought the Navy frowned on enlisted and officers -"
"She left the Navy a little while back," Harm began.
"Got kicked out finally?"
"No. It was her choice not to reenlist," Harm explained, feeling his anger rising at the man's tendency to think the worst of his own daughter. "She's turned her life around, Mr. Coates. She's not the same girl you remember."
"A leopard doesn't change its spots, Commander," Conrad declared. "She lied, stole, made me a laughingstock with my congregation. They wondered why I couldn't even control my own daughter when she seemed to be possessed by the Devil himself."
"Maybe if you'd made an attempt to understand her," Harm suggested. "Maybe if you'd shown her any sign that you cared for her more than your 'congregation', she might have responded."
"I was called to be a minister," Conrad said. "That is the most important thing in my life. Jen's mother understood that. Jen never did. And she did everything she could to try and cause problems for me. Can you imagine how it was for me, having to minister to people who knew that my daughter was sneaking out at night, drinking and smoking and doing who knew what, committing every sin she could to cause me pain?"
"Did you ever think that maybe *Jen* was in pain, too, Mr. Coates?" Harm questioned, deciding that this had been a bad idea. Conrad Coates was a holier than thou hypocrite of the first order.
"I did *everything* for her, and she repaid me by becoming a thief and a liar and whore," Conrad accused.
That was enough for Harm. Another moment, and he would put his fist through the older man's smug face. "Jen is *none* of those things - and even if she had been, doesn't your 'Good Book' say to forgive?"
"That's God's work, Commander. Not mine. If you're really going to marry her, then I wish you good luck. You'll need it. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a sermon to finish." He opened the door again, signaling that the interview was over.
"Jen was right," Harm said, pausing in the doorway to face down the smaller man, deliberately intimidating him with his size. "You don't care about anything or anyone else. I feel sorry for you, Mr. Coates. You're missing out on the love and companionship of a wonderful young woman."
"I don't need *your* pity. Good bye, Commander," Conrad said, his voice as cold as the north wind that was blowing through the door. "I'll pray for you."
"Don't bother," Harm sneered. "I doubt He'll hear you anyway." He left the house, hearing the door close loudly behind him.
At least he'd tried.