Michelle Pinchette

Chapter 11



* * *

     Lee Crane had never liked Philip Kensington.  Of course, now that Kensington had taken to pestering his girlfriend on a regular basis, Lee liked him even less.  He was leaving Ro alone so far this evening, but Lee knew it was just a matter of time before he started in offering her obscene amounts of money to leave the Institute.  The Admiral seemed to take Kensington’s antics with a grain of salt and appeared to have thrown poor Dom at the magnate to keep him occupied.  The really frustrating thing was that Lee wanted to talk to Dom, but he couldn’t draw her off for a private conversation without freeing up Kensington.  No solution to this dilemma was presenting itself and Lee was ready to give up any hope of this evening being anything but a tremendous headache.

     “You’re going to give yourself ulcers,” Ro commented, drawing his attention back to her.  It didn’t take much to do that, really.  She was a captivating person in every sense and sometimes Lee wondered how he’d finally managed to snare her when every other man that laid eyes on her wanted her and most were more than willing to tell her so.  Right now, she was smiling at him with amusement lighting her features.  “You know, if looks could kill, he’d have a fiery hole burned right though the middle of him.  Just forget about Kensington.  He’s busy with the hopeless task of getting Dom out on a date and that will probably keep him occupied most of the night.”

     Lee shook his head at the whole thing.  “Why doesn’t Dom just go out with him and not sleep with him?  For a man like Kensington, that’s as icy a bucket of water as he’ll ever be doused with.”

     Ro laughed softly.  “For all her exboyfriends, Dom is picky about who gets to walk around with her on his arm.  Kensington doesn’t pass muster, so he doesn’t even get out of the gate.  I, for once, won’t complain that she hasn’t gotten tired of him giving it another try.  It’s keeping him out of my hair.  I would have thought that you would’ve been happy about that, too.”

     “Normally, I would, but I wanted to talk sense to Dom,” Lee grumbled.  He had thought he wouldn’t have to.  That’s why he had made sure that certain members of the Seaview’s crew knew what was going on at Dom’s house.  He had figured that Kowalski, Patterson and Riley would run this homeless man off, and Kowalski in particular had looked ready to care of the matter in a quite satisfactory and final manner.  They had gone around to Dom’s house before coming into the Institute, but things hadn’t gone as Lee had anticipated.  Now he was convinced that he needed to talk sense to Dom himself, since everyone else from the Admiral on down had dropped the ball.  He just hoped Ro wasn’t going to be furious about him take a firm stand on this after he talked to Dom.  Dom would probably be mad at him, but she wouldn’t stay mad forever and Lee didn’t want her to get hurt.

     Ro let out a heavy sigh.  “Don’t make me regret telling you about that, Lee Crane.  And I don’t think the Admiral would be happy about you picking a fight tonight.  That’s what it’s going to come down to, you know.  Dom does not back down when it comes to this sort of thing.”

     “What?  You’re not happy about her charity project either.  And you haven’t been at the Institute that long.  You don’t know the multitude of possibilities of trouble that Dom could be opening herself up to with this man,” Lee told her.  He knew first hand what those possibilities were, unfortunately.  Dom wasn’t going to have any such experiences if he had anything to say about it, though likely she wouldn’t thank him from saving her from trouble.  “I really don’t want my next mission for the Institute to be the retrieving of one kidnapped Marine Biologist, or worse, hunting down someone that hurt her or worse.”

     Ro made a calming gesture, saying, “I didn’t get that sort of vibe off Harper.  After meeting him, I was actually more concerned with him taking up permanent residence at Dom’s house and sponging off her indefinitely than any of that.  And Dom did have one pretty valid point.  Harper’s had a couple of days to do whatever he wanted with no one even knowing he was there and he hasn’t done anything at all.  It wouldn’t make sense for him to wait or to let Dom take him to the police to be fingerprinted if he wanted to hurt her.”

     “There are lots of crazy people in the world, Ro,” Lee replied grimly.

     “Yes, and one of them is my best friend,” Ro sighed.  “Just let it be for now.  Dom will be in on Monday.  You can get her alone in her office then.”

     Lee wanted to argue the point, but he had to admit that Ro was probably right that it could wait.  Whatever this man was up to, he didn’t seem to be in any sort of hurry.  Still, Lee told himself that he would go around to Dom’s house first thing in the morning and settle things once and for all.  “And you wonder why I prefer to be out at sea,” he grumbled, not looking forward to the task he had set before himself in the slightest.

     “Like things don’t do their best to see us all in an early grave there,” Ro said with a mischievous grin.

     “Don’t start,” Lee said.

     “I’m just saying that I would like to go out on a cruise and actually accomplish what we’ve set out to do without something weird or dangerous happening,” Ro teased.

     “We do, all the time,” Lee told her, not about to give her this one.

     “Such as when, exactly?  Refresh my memory.”

     Unfortunately, Lee couldn’t think of a mission that had run entirely smoothly since Ro had joined the crew of the Seaview or for some time before that.  He found himself thinking back on the boat’s misadventures, but didn’t get a chance to dwell on it for long because there was a high pitched squeak then angry voices suddenly were rising from across the room.  The louder of the two voices was Kensington.  Lee wasn’t able to hear the other voice clearly, but when he turned, there was no doubt that Senator Barnett was person that had drawn the magnate’s ire.  “Now what?” Lee sighed, but Nelson was already there, defusing the situation, which seemed to involve a blushing Doctor Babin.

     “I knew that Barnett wouldn’t be able to keep his hands to himself,” Ro muttered angrily.

     Whatever had happened, it was already over.  The Admiral, who had a fatherly arm around Dom, had Barnett looking shamefaced and apologetic as he started to make his way toward the room’s exit.  Kensington did not seem to want to let whatever had happened go, nor Barnett for that matter, and he began to follow the man, bringing the Senator’s security to attention.  Nelson halted Kensington with a look that Lee had seen on very rare occasions, the one that made seasoned sailors tremble in their boots.  He had probably already warned the man to back off, because that was what Kensington was now begrudgingly doing.  Lee wasn’t going to leap into the fray and make things worse, especially since Kensington was stalking away from the situation in his general direction, just where Lee didn’t want him to be.

     “How does Barnett get reelected term after term?  Can anyone tell me?” Kensington asked no one in particular as he snatched a glass of champagne from the server circulating through the room.  He stopped right in front of Lee and Ro and continued, “It’s not as if no one knows about his wandering hands.  Is that what our country is coming to?”

     “I don’t know, Mister Kensington.  Maybe the other person running for office was worse,” Ro commented offhandedly.  Her speaking seemed to be all the encouragement that Kensington needed to change the subject.

     “Now, Miss Simmons, I thought I told you to call me Philip,” he said smoothly.  “Certainly you would call me that around the office when you come to work for me.”

     Ro was trying not to roll her eyes and she said, “Mister Kensington, I’m not interested in...”

     “In your own department?” Kensington asked before she could finish what she was saying.  “Your own research and development department with an open ended budget.  Think about it.  What could you do with your own handpicked team and no financial worries?  You’ve complained about the energy problems California is facing when we’ve spoken in the past.  What if we could do something about that?  About fixing the country... no, the world’s energy woes.  You could do it, Rowena.  I know you could, given the right backing.”

     If Ro was tempted it wasn’t evident, especially when she said, “And you would profit handsomely from it, wouldn’t you, Mister Kensington?”

     “Ah, ah,” Kensington said, wagging a finger at her.  Ro was beginning to look like she was ready to bite it.  “That’s Philip, remember?  And I’m certain that Admiral Nelson profits from your work here at the Institute, Rowena.  It would be no different working at my company, except that you’d get a bigger cut of that profit.”

     “It’s Miss Simmons or Lieutenant Commander Simmons,” was Ro’s only reply.  She was struggling not to tell Kensington off and Lee figured that he’d let this go on as long as he was willing to.

     “You wanted to check up on Doctor Babin, didn’t you, Miss Simmons?” he asked as he imposed himself a bit between Kensington and Ro.

     “Yes.  Thank you, Captain,” Ro said, then she marched off in Dom’s direction without another word.

     “She’s a fiery lady,” Kensington commented with admiration, obviously not at all bothered by Ro’s less than flattering attitude toward him.

     “And not one to change loyalties,” Lee cautioned him.

     Kensington turned his attention to Lee and a good natured smile claimed his face.  “Yes, just one of the things that makes her so attractive, Captain.  You are a lucky, lucky man.”

     “I am a man that does not discuss my personal affairs in a public setting,” Lee told him.  He couldn’t believe he was stuck here having to be civil Kensington.  Lee had been hoping to avoid him entirely.     However, Ro had vanished off somewhere with Dom and the Admiral was scanning the room as if he were looking for something specific and unpleasant.  He’d been doing that on and off all night, which made Lee wonder what sort of trouble he should be preparing for.  Not that the Admiral had said to expect any trouble.  Oh, no, that would be entirely too easy.  When would Nelson stop trying to protect everyone by keeping them all in the dark until things had gotten out of hand?  Probably never.  Lee wondered who or what was about to assault the Institute and the Seaview now.

     Kensington started talking about the department he was planning to form for Ro, determined to ignore the fact that Ro wasn’t ever going to go work for him and that Lee wasn’t really listening to him.  What did the man think, that Lee was going to help him?  There was absolutely no chance of that.  He glanced around, wondering where Ro and Dom had disappeared to.  By the time he looked back to Kensington, the billionaire was glaring across the room at something.  Lee followed his gaze to find Barnett had not left and was talking to someone well away from Kensington.  Lee tried to remember the name of the couple that the Senator was laughing too loudly with, but he came up blank.  Kensington began to edge that way, but Lee shifted his position to place himself in the way.  At least this bit of trouble he could quell, wondering what Barnett had done to get Kensington so mad and Dom so embarrassed.  What a night, Lee thought with a mental sigh.  Now he remembered why he hated these affairs.

* * *

     Dom was exhausted as she trudged up the stairs to her house, shoes dangling from the hand that held her purse, her keys in the other.  She never knew that raising money for science could be so hard on the feet.  Thankfully, Philip Kensington, who had tried to monopolize her time on the dance floor, was a good dancer, not a toe crusher like some of the other men that were there.  Poor Philip, she thought as she put her key in the lock.  He hadn’t managed to woo Ro off to his company or her off to Australia.  Dom chalked the latter attempts up to her purple dress, knowing he certainly hadn’t shown much more than a passing interest in her before seeing her in it.  Philip had still given Nelson a sizable check at the end of the night and seemed cheery enough.  Actually, aside from when Senator Barnett grabbed her butt, making her squeak in alarm and fling a cup of punch over the buffet table, the evening hadn’t been all that bad.  As she opened her front door, she waved to the car’s driver, who was waiting in her driveway to make certain she was in the house before he left.

     As Dom entered her home, she saw that Seamus was still awake despite the lateness of the hour and reading something on her computer.  She closed the door, not making any effort to be quiet about it, but he still seemed oblivious to her.  “Seamus?” she said as she approached him, wondering what he was doing that had him so entranced.

     He looked up to her, bleary eyed with exhaustion.  “Oh.  Hi.  How was the party?” he asked as he rubbed absently at one eye with the back of his hand.  She found herself smiling warmly at the childlike action.

     “It was fine,” Dom replied, then looked at the computer to find the a news story about Middle East tensions on the screen.  That was odd, because after talking with him the last couple of days, she knew that Seamus didn’t know anything about that sort of thing.  Maybe that’s what he was doing, she thought, trying to get up to speed on what was happening in the big picture in the world rather than his small part of it.  “Seamus, it’s three in the morning.  You should be sleeping.”  He nodded to her words and signed off her computer, not really seeming to be awake enough to argue the point.  Dom took his arm, thinking that she had better guide him to his bed because he looked out on his feet.  Seamus gave her a sleepy grin as she took hold of him, not seeming to mind in the least that she was dragging him off someplace yet again.  “So, how was your night?” she asked softly as they started to the stairs.  He frowned a little and looked away from her to the stairs they had started to climb.

     “Depressing.  Doesn’t anybody like anybody else?” he asked, probably commenting on the world situation.

     “Well, as you predicted, lots of people, mostly male individuals, seemed to like my dress,” Dom said, not about to tackle such heavy topics as the Middle East or world tension in the wee hours of the morning.  “And fortunately, most of them were gentlemanly about it.”

     “Most?” Seamus asked as he looked back at her, sounding both more awake and more than a little peeved.  “Somebody got fresh?  Did you slug him or do I need to go after him?”

     “Why Mister Harper, are you offering to defend my honor?” Dom asked, adopting a southern drawl and fanning herself with her purse.  “I do declare, chivalry lives again, and in my own home.”  She dropped the accent and patted his arm.  “Don’t worry.  He’s been properly chastised for his beastly behavior.  And don’t you go getting into fights, especially on my account.  You’ll just get arrested.  Please tell me that you don’t make a habit of solving your disagreements with other men with your fists, or of getting into brushes with the law.”

     “No,” Seamus assured her.  “I’m a lover, not a fighter.  Not that I get much loving or that I don’t get my butt kicked far too often, but it’s not like I was the one to start things most times.  Well, not physically, anyway.  Sometimes my mouth has a mind of its own and it seems to have a death wish.  And as far as the police, I don’t exactly go out of my way to attract their attention.  It never turns out very well when they want to talk to me, so it’s the straight and mostly narrow for me, I swear.”

     Dom was rather curious as to what ‘mostly’ meant, but it was probably a subject best left for a better time of day.  “All right.  Good night then, Seamus,” she said, releasing his arm as they reached the top of the stairs.

     “G’night,” he replied, giving her one of his dimple filled smiles, then went into her guest room.

     Dom closed the door after him because he was already starting to undress, apparently not realizing that he was about to give her a show.  She chuckled softly as she went to her room, thinking about the number of times she’d had to close his door.  Maybe he wasn’t used to having a door to close so it just didn’t occur to him to do it.  Maybe he’d been locked into places where he didn’t want to be.  That thought was a little disturbing, but who knew how he’d been treated before now.  He did have a lot of scars, just not anywhere readily visible.  She’d known since the night he’d wound up in her care that someone had abused him badly sometime in his past.  It really was no wonder he was so afraid people were going to hurt him.  She hoped he felt safe and comfortable in her home.  After the panic attack in the garage, she thought maybe Seamus wasn’t as at ease as she had thought.

     Seamus certainly seemed fond of her, as the zealous hug, his earlier comment on the sofa, then his desire to defend her attested.  She hadn’t minded.  In fact, she had felt touched by his hesitant displays of affection, more so than she had been by any other recent attempts to get a similar reaction out of her by other men.  She smiled and shook her head, certain that neither Ro nor Nelson would be at all happy about that.  Not that she intended to let these little overtures get anywhere, especially while Seamus was staying with her.  She could only see that leading to problems.  Dom undressed and collapsed into bed, thinking that she needed to call her sister in the morning and see if she had gotten everything the police were sending.  Toni hadn’t called to say she had, but that wasn’t exactly unexpected.  Toni wasn’t big with updates within the family and since Dom wasn’t paying her, she couldn’t exactly press the issue.  It would all be settled soon enough.

     The next thing Dom knew, sunlight was filling her room.  She sat up, pushing her hair back out of her face and wishing that she had remembered to brush her teeth the night before.  She shuffled into the bathroom and had a shower, which woke her up completely.  She glanced at the clock as she dressed, finding that it was almost noon.  Still, Seamus had been up as late as she had, so he was probably still asleep or just getting up, she reasoned.

     However, when Dom opened her bedroom door, she found the guestroom door also opened and Seamus no where within.  He was probably hungry, Dom thought, assuming she would find him in the kitchen.  Again, she was wrong, for Seamus was sitting at her computer, typing at lightning speed.  She stood at the bottom of the stairs, watching him in amazed silence for a few moments until he looked over his shoulder, gave her a smile, then turned back to what he was doing as he said, “Good morning!  Must have been some party.  Figured you’d be up hours ago.  Sorry to make you drag me to bed last night.  Not that you’d have to drag me to your...”  He stopped suddenly, winced quite visibly, then quickly said, “your second floor!  To sleep!  Um... I... uh... I made a sandwich for you half an hour ago when I heard the water running.  It’s in the fridge.”  He glanced warily at her, cringing a little as he continued to type.

     Dom smirked for a second, but quickly forced a neutral expression on her face.  Okay, she wasn’t imagining things.  Seamus had a little crush going.  Well, that wasn’t exactly strange.  She was being nice to him and from what little he’d said about his past, not too many people had.  Dom could tell by his pained expression that he was hoping that she’d missed his slip, so she decided not to comment one way or another.  “Good morning to you, too, and thanks for the sandwich.  I guess you ate.”

     Seamus seemed terribly relieved and replied, “Sorry.  I got a little hungry.”

     “Don’t apologize,” Dom told him as she walked the rest of the way down the stairs and moved up behind him.  “I keep telling you, you’re a guest.  You should be making yourself at home.  So, what’cha doing?”  She leaned over his shoulder and looked at the numbers and symbols flashing quickly onto the screen.  None of it made the slightest bit of sense to her.

     “Hey, cut that out!” Seamus complained, lifting a hand to cover part of the screen.  “It’s part of the surprise!”

     “If you say so.  It’s all gibberish to me,” Dom told him with a little laugh.  She set a hand on one of his shoulders, leaned lightly against him as she pointed at one symbol and added, “Did that come out of my keyboard?  I’ve never even seen that before.”

     Now Seamus laughed and seemed to relax again.  “Of course it came out of your keyboard.  Where else would it come from?  You don’t know anything about programing, huh?”

     “No.  Like I said, me and mechanical things don’t get along.  Hey, this is work.  You’re not supposed to be working, remember?  Do I have to drag you out of the house again?”

     “It’s not work, it’s a present!” Seamus protested.  “I’ll be done in five minutes.  Go eat your sandwich or something, huh?  Give a guy a break.”

     Dom laughed and almost gave him a little peck on the cheek.  No, she told herself, she’d better not do that.  “Okay, but in five minutes I’m coming back in here and pulling the plug,” she warned him, then gave his shoulder a little squeeze before going into the kitchen.  As she took the sandwich Seamus had made for her out of the refrigerator, she wondered where someone that had been living on the street had learned to type that fast, much less do programing.  Libraries, she supposed.  They were open to the public and were a good place to get out of the cold Boston winter days.  What about the nights, though?  She shivered at the thought and glanced over to where Seamus was working, knowing he wouldn’t see the look of pity.  The look didn’t last, for she admired his fortitude too much for it to remain.  He’d been through so much, much more than she knew about, but he was still a nice person.  He hadn’t given up.  That took incredible courage.

     Dom thought about what Ro had said last night about how Seamus would be better off with someone whose job it was to help the homeless.  Ro hadn’t talked to him, though, not beyond polite dinner conversation.  She didn’t know how nervous he was about the police and other authority figures.  He was almost as afraid of them as he was of doctors and, for some reason that he wasn’t telling her, he was afraid that any or all of these people meant him harm.  Again, she thought about the scars she’d seen on his torso.  Seamus had every right to be afraid of being hurt.  He’d been hurt quite a bit.  Dom frowned.  No one was going to hurt him anymore, not if she had anything to say about it.  Seamus would stay here until she was absolutely sure he’d be all right somewhere else.

     “All done!  See?  Not even five minutes.  More like three.  Maybe four tops,” Seamus announced as he all but bounced into the kitchen, wreathed in triumphant smiles.  He lightened Dom’s mood immensely and she grinned over at him.  Seamus turned a chair around and sat on it backwards, leaning against the back and watched her take another bite of the sandwich he’d made with a delighted look on his face.  “How’s the sandwich?  Should be okay.  I didn’t have to cook anything to make it.  Course, I almost burnt the tomatoes by cutting ‘em up too fast.”

     Dom giggled around a mouthful of food, which seemed to please Seamus to no end.  Why did everyone immediately think he wanted to hurt her or take advantage when such a simple thing made him so happy?  If Dom had ever had any doubts, they would have dissolved in that moment.  Seamus would stay with her for as long as he wanted and she would be happy to have him.

* * *



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Belonging, Chapter 1
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