Chapter 3. Saturday

Jordan woke early but lay in bed a few minutes longer than usual, taking advantage of her leisurely schedule to reflect on the past two days. She smiled as she remembered the previous evening. When she’d called the master chief on Thursday, she’d hoped that her attraction for him might be reciprocated, but she had never imagined that anything would develop so quickly. She had been looking forward to reporting for duty on Wednesday; now her eagerness was tempered by the thought that she might be leaving someone special behind. She stretched and pushed herself out of bed. Yes, life had become more complicated, but she wasn’t complaining. She was looking forward to seeing what came next.

A long run to the marina and back, followed by a short swim in the motel pool, got her blood flowing and mind in focus. When she returned she had a message from Jack. “Pick you up at 0900. Pack light, bring swimsuit.” She grinned as she looked at her watch. It was 0730 hours. She had a couple of phone calls to make, leaving her an hour to shower and find some breakfast.

At 0830 sharp she called her friend Lynn, an attorney for the Office of the Naval Inspector General in D.C. “Please be home,” Jordan pleaded silently as the phone rang.

“Conner residence,” came the familiar voice.

“Hi Lynn, it’s Jordan.”

“Jordan! Great to hear from you!”

“It’s good to hear your voice again too. Have I caught you at a bad time?” Jordan asked.

“I’m getting ready to meet a friend for breakfast, but I can spare a few minutes. Have you started your new assignment yet?”

“Not until Wednesday,” Jordan replied. “I came down to Florida a few days early to do a little advance research, and things have taken an unexpected turn.” Taking a deep breath, she plunged into her story. “Remember the command master chief I mentioned, the SEAL/CRT trainer?”

“The one who beat you up?” Lynn replied. “How could I forget? I saw your face.”

Jordan winced. “It wasn’t personal. He does that to all the trainees.”

“That makes it okay?” Lynn snorted. When Jordan didn’t respond immediately, she added, “Sorry, Jordan, go ahead. What’s on your mind?”

Jordan tried again. “I met with him Thursday night to ask his advice on my new assignment. He was surprisingly helpful, and…” she paused, “and well, we kind of hit it off. He invited me to go see a movie last night, and we ended up talking for a while and making out on his couch, if you can believe it.”

“Goodness, woman, you are full of surprises,” Lynn chuckled, shaking her head. “So I take it you are thinking about doing some further fraternizing with this man? And how can you be sure he’s not going to beat you to a pulp again?”

“I’ve done some discreet checking. I don’t think he’s a danger to me, though I’ll continue to keep my eyes open.” Jordan paused. “I need to ask you for some legal advice, off the record, of course.”

“Let me guess. You want to know how the Navy is going to look at you, an officer, fraternizing with an enlisted man, even one as high-ranking as a master chief, especially as he was your instructor until recently.” Lynn paused. “Am I on the right track?”

Jordan smiled. “Spot on, as always. The class has been over for two weeks now, if that makes any difference.”

“Who is your new commanding officer?”

“I report to Captain Kurt Sehloff, effective Monday, but I’m still on leave until Wednesday,” Jordan replied.

“To whom does this master chief of yours report? And does the chief have a name, by the way?”

“His name is Urgayle, Jack Urgayle. He reports to Captain Salem, C.O. of the Catalano Naval Base here in Florida.”

“Two different commands. That’s in your favor, then. You’re not going to be stationed at Catalano, are you?” Lynn continued to tick off her questions.

“No, ma’am, I’ll be based at CRT headquarters in Virginia.”

“Okay.” Lynn paused. “Insert standard disclaimer here. This is not legal advice, merely the comments of a friend. Having said that, I feel pretty confident that what I’m about to say is accurate.” She glanced quickly at the notes she’d taken before continuing.

“The regulations are designed to specify some clearly damaging behavior but also to leave room for interpretation to cover cases they didn’t foresee. The commanding officer has some flexibility with cases that do not clearly fall on one side or the other.

“Since you and Urgayle are no longer in an instructor-student relationship and are not serving in the same unit or chain of command, I don’t think that a relationship between you would be considered to meet the criterion of ‘not respecting differences in rank and grade.’

“But the language is so open-ended that a person with an agenda could level a fraternization charge against you, as the officer involved. Sehloff is the key; he would have decision-making authority in your case. Likewise Salem would have authority with respect to Master Chief Urgayle.” She reflected. “You could take your chances and ask forgiveness if caught, but I strongly recommend talking to your respective C.O.s first, especially since you haven’t worked with Sehloff before. Does that help?”

“Lynn, you are awesome. Thank you.” Jordan sent a warm smile through the telephone.

“Always glad to help, girlfriend. I wish I could talk more but I have about five minutes to get dressed and get out of here. Let me know how it goes, okay?” Lynn signed off briskly.

Jordan looked at the clock. Jack would be arriving in twenty minutes, leaving her time for one more call. Finding Lieutenant Blondell’s home phone number in her address book, Jordan dialed, hoping to catch her at home.

“Blondell here,” came the friendly but businesslike voice.

“Hi Kathy, it’s Jordan. Thought I should check in with you before I take off for the weekend.”

Kathy took the bait. “Where are you off to, Jordan?” She paused. “And should I ask, with whom?”

“The ‘whom’ is the master chief,” Jordan answered, grinning. “As for the where, he hasn’t told me yet. Somewhere we can ‘get past the Navy’s radar’ is all he said.” She braced for an explosion on the other end of the phone line.

“Heavens, Jordan.” Kathy stopped in mid-sentence, hesitating to throw cold water on her friend’s plans. “I want all the details, but first I have to ask, are you sure this is a good idea?”

“That’s part of the reason I’m calling. I don’t expect any problems, but I figured I would let someone know who I’m with, in case I don’t return when expected.” She paused. “Jack and I had a nice time yesterday. We went to his house after the movie and talked a while. We decided we’d like to get to know each other better, and I only have a few days before reporting to duty. Hence the weekend getaway.” She grinned. “It all seemed like a good idea last night, anyway.”

Kathy shook her head. “So he’s ‘Jack’ now, eh?”

>”What, you think I should keep calling him ‘Master Chief’?” she chuckled. “It’s okay, Kathy, really it is. I’ll find a way to mention to him that someone knows he and I are spending the weekend together, but I won’t mention your name. We’ll be back Sunday night. If I don’t show up or contact you by 9 a.m. Monday, feel free to notify the authorities. Tell them I’ve been staying in the Wayside Motel on Marine Drive. But please don’t tell anyone otherwise. We’re not sure how this would play against fraternization regulations, so we’re silent running for now.”

“Jordan, promise you’ll call me Sunday evening as soon as you get in. I don’t care how late it is. I’m going to want the whole story.”

“I promise. Thanks, Kathy.” She hesitated. “Wish me luck?”

“Girl, I know you. You make your own luck. But I’ll be sending good thoughts your way. Have a great weekend.”

“You, too. Talk to you soon.” Jordan hung up the phone with a smile. She didn’t expect any problems but she didn’t want to be foolish.

It was already getting warm out, so she changed into shorts, a tank top, and tennis shoes, and gathered her kit together. She used the extra time to tidy up the motel room, though it was hardly disorderly.

Promptly at 0900 a now-familiar 4Runner pulled up in front of her door, and Jack debarked, his hair combed neatly back, wearing a tan tropical-style shirt and khaki shorts. She came out to greet him. He nodded to her, smiling with reserve. “Still game, Lieutenant?”

She grinned. “You make it sound like a test, Master Chief.” Her eyes were drawn down to the brace on his leg. For the first time she could see his scars, a grim reminder of their misadventures in Libya. She lost her smile and raised her eyes back to his. “Nasty business, Jack,” she said sympathetically, as she reached out and touched his arm.

He frowned. “It’s doing fine,” he said testily, pulling his arm back. “I don’t need pity.”

Jordan retracted her hand and frowned, chewing on a reply. Then she relaxed visibly. “Guess I just stepped on a land mine.” She looked up at him, eyes alight with mischief. “Can we restart the simulation? I’ll go back into the motel room and close the door. You knock, and I’ll answer.” Before he could summon a response, she turned and went back into the room, shutting the door behind her.

Chagrined, Jack had to smile in spite of himself. He limped over and knocked. She opened the door with a welcoming smile. “Good morning, Jack.”

“Ready to go, Jordan?” he asked carefully.

“Hooyah,” she replied, smothering a grin. “Where are we off to?”

“A little island in the Keys. Get away from the base for a couple of days, kick back. Work for you?”

“Sounds great.” She picked up her bag. “Lead the way.” She followed him to the waiting vehicle, where he opened the doors for her. Stowing her bag in the back seat, she climbed in next to him.

Within fifteen minutes they were at the marina. They parked the SUV and boarded a trim 32′ cruiser with a small forward cabin and an uncluttered deck. A dive shelf and row of tanks hinted that SCUBA diving might be in the plans for the weekend. “Walk on the Moon?” Jordan asked. “That’s an odd name for a boat.”

“She belongs to a friend of mine,” he explained, donning sunglasses and a baseball cap for the voyage. “We’re just borrowing her for the weekend. I don’t know why he named her that. You ever pilot one of these babies?”

“Not one like this,” she acknowledged. “But I’ve driven smaller craft and had some basic instruction in PT-boats. Show me what to do.”

“I’ll give you the quick course. Then I can lie back and snooze while you do the work.” Jack grinned at her. Now that he was in his element, he was starting to relax.

Learning to pilot the boat came easily for Jordan, with the master chief standing behind her giving directions. He kept his left hand on her shoulder as she stood at the helm. She felt him lean on her slightly as the boat moved, compensating for his injured leg. After she had the basic operation down and they were well under way, he moved closer as he continued giving her pointers. Soon his right hand was caressing her ear and softly trailing down her neck toward her waist. She smiled, pretending not to notice. But when she felt him nibbling on her earlobe, she caught her breath. Maintaining concentration had become a challenge. “Are you trying to distract me?” she asked, her voice husky.

Jack paused. “Do you want me to stop, Jordan?”

She shook her head and turned toward him with a grin, lifting her face for a kiss on the mouth. He obliged. She returned her attention to her job, giving him his operating instructions. “Just keep your eyes open and let me know if we need to change course.”

He smiled and switched targets, massaging her shoulders for a few minutes. “I’m going to get off this leg for a while. Keep us pointed in this direction, steady as she goes, for another 45-50 minutes. Give me a shout when you see some islands in the distance off the port bow. Call me if you see any other indications of land, or if anything seems wrong.” He made his way slowly and carefully across the moving boat to a bench, where he lay down with a sigh, elevating his leg on a flotation cushion. He watched Jordan for a while, enjoying the view, then pulled a small book from his pocket. He wrote in the book sporadically for the rest of the trip.

Several small islands showed up on the horizon just as predicted. She alerted Jack, who joined her at the tiller and guided her in, hands on her shoulders. They reached the dock of the tiny cay shortly after 1100 hours. As he moored the boat, he directed her to a gear bin, from which she selected a mask, snorkel and fins. He tossed her equipment into a duffel bag along with his own. Once the boat was secured, they gathered the duffel and their personal bags and headed up the dock to the beach.

“It’s beautiful,” Jordan exclaimed as she surveyed the small beach. A small convenience store and cantina 50 yards from the dock kept company with a dozen tiny cottages, a neatly tended vegetable garden, two goats, a small flock of chickens, and one old Jeep. Other than that the beach was clean and unspoiled.

“The whole island is less than five miles long,” Jack said, heading toward one of the cottages. “It’s where I come when I need to escape for a while. I just hope no one ever ‘discovers’ it.”

She had been curious to see what sleeping accommodations he was going to offer. She felt reassured and yet oddly disappointed when he pointed out that their cottage had two beds, a queen in the small bedroom and a hide-a-bed couch in the living room. They stowed their gear and headed to the cantina for lunch.

Their pace was slow. To Jordan, it seemed that he was limping noticeably worse than he had on Friday. A dozen ways to ask him about it came to mind, but she bit her tongue, remembering how testy he’d been earlier. When they finally arrived at the little cafe, he eased himself carefully into the chair and settled with a long exhalation. “Leg would pick this weekend to act up,” he muttered. Realizing he had created an opening he’d rather she didn’t pursue, he turned to her and changed the subject. “Everything’s fresh. Simple but good. Never had a bad meal here.”

A grizzled waiter, wearing a clean and serviceable apron over his T-shirt and shorts, approached their table. Jack greeted him by name, “Ciao, Mario.”

“Ciao, Jack, good to see you again,” Mario replied. “It’s been a while. And you brought a pretty girl this time!” He raised his eyebrows and winked broadly at Jack. “Way to go, you old sea dog, it’s about time.” Jack glared at him, but Mario didn’t seem to notice. He took their beverage order and left them menus.

“So, Jack, you don’t bring all your girlfriends here?” she teased.

“No, just Pyro a couple of times.”

She raised her eyebrows and smiled at him. “Well, I know he’s pretty special.”

He growled warningly. “Jordan.”

She wisely directed her attention to the menu. It was indeed simple: catch of the day or chicken, in five variations including tacos, burritos and pasta. She selected a fish and pasta combination with a green salad; he chose fish tacos with extra salsa. While they waited for Mario to return, she shared the information Lynn had provided in the morning’s phone call, making a point of mentioning that her friend knew they were spending the weekend together.

Jack grunted. “So it’s pretty much as we thought. Salem’s not going to care what I do, which means that Kurt gets the final say.” He shook his head, flashing Jordan a crooked smile. “I know it’s part of being in the Navy, but I never thought I’d have to ask Kurt Sehloff for permission to pursue a relationship.” He reflected a moment. “I think we should do as we please and seek amnesty if necessary. I’ve known him a long time. He’s tough but not unreasonable. I can’t see how he could consider us to be a problem.”

She shook her head. “You know the captain better than I do, but we don’t know what his agenda is. What if he’s been asked to look for a way to drum me out of the CRT? We’d be handing him just the ammunition he needs.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I guess it’s possible. Then again, if that’s his agenda, you might be better off getting out earlier rather than later.”

“That’s a good point. And asking permission rankles me, too,” she continued. “But, Jack, first we need to decide whether a relationship is something we want to pursue. We have two days to get to know each other. Hell, we may hate each other by the end of the weekend.” She grinned to soften her words.

He nodded, reaching his hand to clasp hers. “You’re the one who’s affected, Jordan. It’s your decision.” He smiled mischievously. “I could make it easy for you, make this weekend a living hell.”

She snorted. “Been there, done that. You have nothing left to prove.” With an impish grin, she added, “Don’t forget, you haven’t seen my worst.”

He rolled his eyes. “I have a pretty good idea of what you can do,” he said, crossing his legs protectively.

They were interrupted by Mario, bearing glasses of iced tea and asking whether they were ready. Jack gave him their orders. When the waiter left, Jordan asked, “So what’s on the agenda for this afternoon?”

“I was planning to head down the beach about a quarter mile. There’s an inlet with a little reef just offshore, makes for good snorkeling.” He paused. “There’s SCUBA equipment on the boat but it’s really overkill for such a shallow reef. If you want to dive, we can cruise around to the other side of the island tomorrow.”

“Snorkeling is fine. It’ll be great to get in the water,” she replied. She hesitated before adding, “Is your leg up to all this?”

“It’ll be okay,” he replied curtly. Seeing the frown on her face, he realized he was being testy again. “The swimming will do me good. It’s the only real exercise I’m allowed these days. And I brought a cane in case I need it.”

Jordan nodded. She knew she needed to stay clear of this subject, but it worried her to see how badly his leg was hurting him. “Swimming and snorkeling will be good for me, too. The last few months have been pretty stressful. Nothing personal, Jack,” she added with a wry grin. “Snorkeling is my favorite way to relax. Simple equipment, no sounds but your own breathing, just you and the water and the fish. I could spend hours out there.” She looked up at him and laid her hand on his. “Thank you. Time like this is a rare gift.”

He relaxed, allowing a small smile to appear, and clasped her hand in return. “Thanks for giving me the excuse to go. How did you get hooked on snorkeling, anyway? I thought you grew up in northern California?”

She filled him in on her family’s vacations in Baja, where they stretched the budget by camping on the beach. They continued to share snorkeling and diving stories until lunch arrived. Mario proudly pointed out to Jordan that all the fish was caught locally, and the salad came from his own garden. It was as fresh and tasty as promised, and took most of their attention for the next ten minutes.

Jack finished first, and sat back in his chair, content for the moment. Soon after, Jordan pushed away her plate as well. “I’m stuffed!” she said happily. “That was delicious.” The observant Mario promptly appeared, laying the check on the table between them. They both dived for it. Jordan was closer and her hand quicker. She clutched it firmly as she pulled a small wallet from her pocket.

Jack protested. “This weekend is my treat, Jordan.”

“You paid for dinner and the movie last night, Jack, and the boat, the cottage. It’s my turn. I don’t want to be beholden to you.”

Frowning, he questioned her, “You don’t think I’d use that to pressure you…?”

“No,” she replied, shaking her head. “It’s not about you, Jack. This is about me. I need to know that I’m on an equal footing.” She looked at him directly. “You know how I am.”

He had to smile at that. “I recall some white steps.” She nodded, letting herself smile. While she counted out the lunch money, he started the process of getting up from his chair, and they finished almost simultaneously.

They strolled back to the cottage and changed into swimsuits. Jordan came out of the bathroom in a simple one-piece black suit with a low-cut back and high-cut legs just as Jack emerged from the bedroom with boxer-style trunks that were no more revealing than his favorite khaki shorts. He had retained his shirt and traded his full brace for a water-tolerant exercise version. “Aww, Jack, I was hoping to see you in some teeny little Speedos,” she teased.

He gave her his best glare, but couldn’t hold it for long. He demonstrated approval of her suit with raised eyebrows and a low whistle. She caught his eye and grinned. “Glad you like it,” she said, picking up her sunscreen and squeezing some into her palm. “Sunscreen?” she asked, offering him the bottle.

“I’ll pass,” Jack said, looking at the bottle dubiously. Nodding, she turned to place it on the table. Seeing her bare skin, he offered, “Put some on your back?”

“Thanks, I’d appreciate it,” she said, handing him the bottle. As she applied the sunscreen to her neck and arms, he obligingly massaged it into her back, from shoulders to waist. No square inch was overlooked, and Jordan was in no hurry for him to stop.

When he finished she turned around. “Thanks, that felt good. I have a bit extra on my hands. Would you like some on your face?” He nodded without thinking. She reached her hands to his cheeks and pulled his head down for a long, serious kiss. “Now,” she grinned, “how about some on your back? I’m assuming that shirt is coming off when you go in the water. Promise I won’t hurt you.”

Hooked by the thought of her hands on his back, Jack removed his shirt. Jordan let out her own low whistle, enjoying her first view of his tanned, muscular upper body. She caught him grinning as he turned around. He stood at ease as she worked the lotion into his back and shoulders. On his left side, a few inches above his waist, she ran into a small round scar. “What happened here, Jack?” she asked.

“Just an old war wound. Part of my collection.” He declined to offer further explanation. “You about done there?”

“Yup.” She squeezed some more lotion into her hand and offered him the bottle once again. “For your arms and legs?”

He shook his head, “No, thanks.” Setting down the bottle, she quickly finished her own legs and they headed for the beach. Jack carried the duffel with beach towels and snorkel gear, and Jordan hauled a gallon water jug, as they slowly walked down to the small inlet he had mentioned earlier. They spread their towels in the shade of a large rock outcrop and headed into the water.

Jack immediately relaxed into a back float, elevating his aching leg, while Jordan circumnavigated the inlet with an efficient crawl stroke as an excuse to stretch her limbs. When she returned she came up on him silently from behind and swam underneath him, coming up just enough to bump his lower back on her way back up to the surface. He exploded from the water as she sat back and laughed. He quickly figured out where the “shark” had appeared from, and took off after her.

With his injured leg, she had the edge, but she decided it would be more fun if she him catch her. As she had suspected, the penalty was another embrace. He folded himself into a chair in the shallow water and sat her in his lap for an exchange of soft kisses. She was giggling and enjoying herself when she began to feel his interest rising. She raised her eyebrows and pushed herself back off his lap. “I’m going to get the snorkeling gear,” she told him as she headed toward the beach.

Jack swore softly under his breath. If he was going to get through two more days of this, he was going to have to keep a bit more distance between himself and Jordan, which was the last thing he wanted to do. For lack of a better idea, he swam to the far side of the inlet and back at the best speed his leg would allow, redirecting his energy and enjoying the feel of the water.

When he returned, she was waiting at the shoreline with the water jug and their snorkel gear. “Sorry, Jack,” she said, just as he came out with “sorry, Jordan.” They both grinned awkwardly.

“Let’s not apologize, Jack. Hell, if I had a dick it would be doing the same thing.”

He snorted, adding seriously. “If you don’t want me to explode before the weekend is over, we need to back off. Keep it above the waist?”

She nodded. “Okay by me, Master Chief. Thirsty?” She held out the water jug.

“Thanks.” He took a long drink of water and returned the jug to her. She handed him his snorkel gear and took the jug back up to their shady spot. By the time she returned to the beach, he was ready to go. She put on her own gear and joined him in the water. “Ready to swim with the fishies?” he teased.

Laughing at his choice of words, she followed him as he set out for the edge of the inlet. They spent over an hour wandering around the coral reef, spotting all the common reef dwellers, puffers, pipefish, and even an imposing Moray eel. By the time they returned to their beach towels, they were tired and thirsty, and the tension between them had dissolved for the moment.

Jack pulled a bag of tortilla chips out of the capacious duffel, opened it, and sampled the contents. “Only slightly crushed,” he testified, offering her the bag.

In return, she passed him the water jug. “Something’s bothering me, Jack,” she said, munching chips. “Do we have time to talk before we head back?”

Jack looked at his watch, feeling vaguely apprehensive. “It’s not quite 1600. What’s your problem?”

She gestured to the beach towels and sat down cross-legged on one of them. When he didn’t immediately follow suit, she looked at him, head cocked, and patted the other towel imperatively. Jack slowly eased himself to the ground and sat facing her, left leg outstretched and right leg bent. He clasped both hands around his right knee, bracing himself.

“When we talked at lunch about Sehloff and the whole fraternization issue, you didn’t seem convinced that we needed to wait. You said it was my decision.” She hesitated. “I understand why you feel that way, but I’m realizing it troubles me.” She caught his eye. “I’d like it to be our decision, Jack.”

Shaking his head, he replied without hesitation, an edge of frustration coloring his voice. “Truth? I don’t understand what we’re waiting for, Jordan. The definition of fraternization includes dating. Hell, just going for pizza last night made us a target. Even our dinner Thursday could have been considered suspect. It seems to me that you’re drawing an arbitrary line at sex.” He paused and looked at her. “Don’t get me wrong, I respect your decision and I’ll abide by it. But it isn’t my decision.” He looked out over the ocean, his voice becoming low and husky as he continued, “If it were up to me, you would have stayed over last night.”

Jordan felt desire hit her like a blow to the stomach. “I wanted to stay. Believe me.” Her tone left no doubt in his mind, even as her rational mind took charge again. “But you know it’s not an arbitrary line. Technically you’re right about the fraternization policy. But I’m sure Sehloff can appreciate the difference between spending time with someone and sleeping with him, even if you can’t. Waiting says to him that I care about being on the team, that I care about doing the right thing, that I can exercise self-control where men are concerned. It also tells him that I did my best not to put him into an impossible situation.”

She paused briefly, continuing before he had a chance to respond. “Jack, this isn’t just about Sehloff.” She struggled to find the right words. “I consider you a valued friend. We’ve seen some tough times. Hell, we risked our lives together. And I’ve really enjoyed the time we’ve spent together the past few days.” She reached out her hand and placed it on his knee. “I’m already halfway in love with you. If we slept together I couldn’t easily go back to being just friends again.” She shook her head. “I’m not willing to risk much of anything for a few days of passion. If sex is all you’re looking for, we should head home now.”

They sat quietly while he drew circles in the sand, processing her speech. “I guess I’ll buy your argument about Kurt,” he conceded. Puzzled by her last statement, he added hesitantly, “So is friendship all you want, Jordan? Or do you want more?”

Jordan spoke from her heart. “I want it all, Jack. I’d like to believe we could make this work. But you said yourself last night that special operators don’t always make the best partners. A relationship would be tough, with me going off on assignment and you here training. We’d both have to work at it if we wanted it to survive for more than a few days.” She cocked her head. “What about you? What do you want?”

Jack ran his fingers through his hair, shaking his head. “I don’t know what I want, Jordan. You’re right. It wouldn’t be easy to maintain a connection.” He looked at her soberly. “I like spending time with you. And I’m willing to bet we’d enjoy each other’s company in bed. Truthfully, though, I’m not real optimistic about a relationship.” Seeing her frown, he reached out his hand, clasping hers. “Hey, the weekend’s not over. We make a hell of a team. Don’t give up on us yet. Can we leave it as ‘friends’ for now?”

“I can do friends.” She smiled and squeezed his hand. “Interested in going back in the water?”

“Actually,” he replied, grinning sheepishly, “I was thinking about taking a nap. It was hard to get to sleep last night after you left.”

She nodded. “Something else we have in common. A nap sounds good.”

They built up small sand pillows under the tops of the beach towels and settled themselves comfortably, back to back, lightly touching. Once Jack’s head hit his pillow he was out within minutes. Jordan lay thinking a while longer before she succumbed to sleep.

She awoke slowly from a dream in which a tiger was following her, staring at her. Its gaze felt intense but not ominous. She opened her eyes to see Jack sitting next to her, watching her. He smiled slowly. “Good afternoon, Jordan.”

She smiled back dreamily. “Hello, tiger.”

He chuckled. “Tiger?”

“How long was I asleep?” she asked, still a bit muzzy.

“Over an hour. I just woke up about five minutes ago myself,” he answered. He reached out and touched her face softly. “You’re beautiful when you’re asleep.”

She smiled. “I guess I should sleep more often, then?”

“I didn’t mean it that way.” Initially defensive, he looked at her face and realized she was amused. “And you knew it.”

“Yup.” She slowly sat up and stretched. “Do me a favor?” she asked.

“What is it?”

“I want you to kiss me. But first I want you to cup my chin like you did when you hit me.” She saw the doubtful look on his face. “I’m not crazy, Jack. I just don’t want any leftover charge clinging to that gesture. I thought maybe you could help me defuse it.”

“Right. Desensitization therapy.” A smile touched his lips. “Anything I can do to help.” He reached his left hand slowly toward her face, cupping her chin, watching her eyes for signs of anxiety. Pulling her face toward his, he met her lips in a soft kiss, then backed off and dropped his hand. “How was that?”

“Okay,” she replied. “I could feel myself tensing, but I was able to follow my breath and let it go. Try again?”

He obligingly repeated the operation a few more times, each time moving a little faster and savoring the kiss longer. “Again?”

She nodded. “This time try to look menacing.” She braced herself.

He hesitated. “I don’t want to wear that mask with you, Jordan.”

She thought a moment. “Imagine that I just bugged you about your leg again.” He frowned. “Yes,” she said, “that’s perfect.”

He repeated the exercise, struggling to maintain a frown. She raised one hand to the back of his head and ran her fingers through his hair, prolonging the kiss. When they finally tore themselves apart, Jack asked, “Is it working?”

She smiled and touched his jaw. “Working great, my friend. How about for you?”

Rolling his eyes, he replied, “I’m never going to be able to use that move on the trainees again.”

She grinned. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to put a kink in your training program. But seriously, I think it did the trick. Thanks.”

“All in the interest of science, Lieutenant.” He smiled. “Know what I’d like to do now?”

“Yeah, Jack, I know what you’d like to do,” she replied smugly, arching her eyebrows.

He snorted. “Besides that. We need to go find some dinner. It’s after 1730.”

She laughed. “Now that you mention it, I’m getting hungry myself.”

He enjoyed seeing her laugh. “That little cafe has the only eats on the island, and sometimes if nobody shows up for dinner Mario closes early. We don’t want to go to bed without dinner tonight.”

“Hooyah, Master Chief. Don’t want to go hungry.” They packed up their gear and headed slowly back to the cottage, hand in hand. The swimming seemed to have helped Jack’s leg; she judged that his limp wasn’t quite as bad as had been on the way down to the beach.

Jack left his sandy exercise brace at the door and took the first shower, changing into a clean pair of shorts and a T-shirt. While she showered, he put on his full brace and hosed off the lighter one. She donned a simple sundress for dinner, earning an admiring glance.

Jack was right about dinner time. By the time they made their way to the little cafe, Mario was surveying the empty tables sadly, looking at his watch. He brightened to see them arrive. “Jack! Miss! Please. Have our best table.”

The dinner menu was unchanged from lunch, but each easily found something that sounded good. This time they splurged and ordered a bottle of wine to accompany the meal.

Margaritas and lazy conversation occupied their time while they waited for the food to arrive. It had been over seven hours since lunch, so they dove into the meal with gusto. Despite the unresolved issues between them, they were able to relax and be comfortable with each other.

After dinner they lingered for over an hour, drinking wine and talking about their favorite places to travel, until finally Mario stood over them, tapping his foot, encouraging them to move on so that he could close. Jack let her pay the bill without comment, and they ambled companionably back to the cottage arm in arm.

Jordan was first through the cottage door. Never a heavy drinker, she was noticing the effects of the alcohol. “I’m feeling a bit rocky,” she said, heading for the kitchen.

>”What’s this?” he teased. “An operator who can’t hold her liquor?”

She turned and made a face at him. “I should know better than to try matching drinks with someone who outweighs me by seventy pounds. I don’t usually have more than one or two glasses of wine.”

“You going to be okay?” he asked.

“I’m just a bit unsteady,” she replied. “I’m going to lie down for a few minutes.” She drank a glass of water, then made her way into the bedroom and closed the door. She lay down, trying to relax and bring the world back into focus. Her feelings about Jack were confusing enough, she thought. She really didn’t need the alcohol making things worse. After twenty minutes she felt better, so she returned to the living room, to find Jack sitting on the couch writing in his little book. She sat next to him and tried to peer over his arm. “What’s this?”

He smiled, closing the book and putting down the pen. “Nothing, Jordan.” As he started to put his arm around her, she snatched the book from his fingers and danced away with a teasing grin. He lunged for the book but caught only the hem of her short dress as it slipped through his fingers. “Damn,” he swore softly, but the grin on his face told her he was willing to play.

She sidled back to the couch with her prize. “Read it to me, Jack?” she asked. This time he ignored the book dangling above him, tackling instead her more accessible waist. They fell to the couch in a tangle of legs and arms, the coveted book landing on the floor unnoticed. Laughing, they wrestled, Jack’s size giving him a decided edge.

When they finally reached a stable position and paused for breath, Jordan was pressed against the back of the couch, his body lying atop hers. Her right hand was gently held captive by his left, their fingers laced together. He grinned wickedly and stroked her jaw. She ran her fingers through his hair, pulling his head to her, directing his mouth toward hers. She met him hungrily, laughter turning to moans of pleasure. Her hand left his head, finding its way under his T-shirt. She ran her fingernails lightly down his back.

Distracted by his mouth and her own activities, she didn’t notice when his hand first left her face and started traveling down her side, down her leg to mid-thigh. There it found the bottom of her dress, and started its journey back up between her legs. She involuntarily lifted her hips to meet his hand, just as her internal alarms went off. She wrenched her head free. “No, Jack. Stop.”

He froze, frustration and desire fighting with his self-control. Seeing his expression, Jordan shivered. “Please, Jack,” she said, trying to bring him back to her. She reached down and captured his roaming hand, bringing it up and gently holding it against his chest. He shook his head and groaned, pulling his hands away and pushing himself up. He sat on the edge of the couch facing away from her, head bowed, resting in his hands. She lay silently, regret on her face. After a moment she sat up and laid her hand on his shoulder. “I’m so sorry.”

He rose to his feet, shrugging off her hand. He stood for a moment, facing the doorway. His left leg almost gave way beneath him as he turned his head toward her slightly. “I’m going to sleep on the boat.” He started for the door, his leg stiff and awkward.

She was afraid he would be gone before she found the words to say what she felt. She got one more chance as he stopped and collected his cane from its place near the door. “Jack. Please. Don’t go,” she pleaded. “Talk to me.” She rose from the couch and started toward him.

He looked at her, his face weary, his voice ragged. “No, Jordan. I can’t stay here tonight. I’ll see you in the morning.” He walked out the door and closed it firmly behind him.

“Damn.” She cursed herself. She wanted to blame the alcohol but she knew that all the decisions were hers, from joining him on the island to drinking so much wine to playing a teasing game with him when she knew he was already on edge.

Glancing down, she noticed Jack’s book lying on the floor where it had fallen in the melee. She glared at the book as she retrieved it, as though it had been the cause of this debacle. Briefly she considered reading it, searching for whatever he had been trying to protect, but she frowned at the thought and placed it on the table.

She looked at her watch. Barely 2100 hours. Worried about Jack, she considered a trek to the boat, but knew he wouldn’t welcome her intrusion. He had spoken clearly; she needed to respect that and give him the time he needed. She spent a few minutes tidying up the empty cottage and for lack of a better idea, made her way to bed, where she slept fitfully.

Fortunately Jack knew the trail to the boat well, as he had left the cottage without a flashlight and the moon was not as bright as he had expected. Even with his cane, he stumbled several times and almost went down once. He swore at everything: Jordan, his leg, the mess in Libya, the Navy, the margaritas and wine, and most of all himself.

Climbing aboard, he eased himself onto the same bench he’d rested on earlier. In his mind he could still see Jordan at the helm. “What the hell was I thinking, getting involved with this crazy woman who thinks she wants to be in spec ops?” he asked, as though the wind and water might give him an answer. “Why couldn’t I find someone normal?” He snorted at the thought. “Normal like me?” Most people he met kept their distance when they found out what he did for a living. Jordan was the first woman he could remember who embraced all that he was and met him head on at every turn.

She liked to do the things he enjoyed, and to his continuing delight she liked doing them with him. She made him laugh, even when he was determined to be grouchy. There had been a time when he wasn’t such an ill-tempered son of a bitch. He knew precisely when that had changed. When Carol left, his laughter had gone with her. All that had remained was the satisfaction he got from his job. Until recently it had been enough. Now he felt he’d found a gaping hole in the middle of his life. He didn’t know whether to cover it up quickly or make an investment in this woman who seemed to fit there so well.

“She’d fit there for a few days,” he reminded himself. Then she was heading off for advanced training, and he might not see her for months. He shook his head. He knew better than anyone all the ways she could be hurt, captured or killed if she were to go operational. The thought of her in trouble with him back home, helpless to do anything, turned his stomach. He thought about asking her to turn down the assignment, but he could imagine her response. He paused, a memory from his past nagging at him. It didn’t take long to trace its source. It was Carol, asking him to stay home with her. His response to her had been the same as he would expect from Jordan. “The universe does have a sense of humor after all,” he said grimly.

He lay down on the bench, propping up his leg as before, and stayed there, mind spinning, until finally the cool night air forced him into the cabin. He washed up and spent the rest of the night tossing and turning in one of the bunks.