Duty Is an Icy Shadow
Harriman Nelson strode out of the state courthouse in San Francisco,
threading his way through a group of reporters and photographers gathering
in front of the McAllister Street entrance.
The grilling by a throng of sanctimonious lawyers all morning had
been tiresome, and all he was interested in now was getting the hell out
of there as quickly as possible. That
he was at the courthouse at all only increased the frustration of coming
out and finding the sidewalk filled with people.
His old friend Sheldon Greer was one of the most meticulous
researchers he’d ever known, all his findings backed up with concrete
data and solid proof. He
should know; he’d taught the man himself.
That a rival research corporation had even thought of bringing a
lawsuit against him was an outrage, and Nelson had delighted in providing
evidence that he had begun the project, only turning it over to Dr. Greer
when business on the Seaview, the submarine owned by the admiral’s own marine research
institute had become too pressing. If
the dour looks of the attorneys on the other side of the aisle were any
indication, he knew his testimony had demolished their case.
They’d be no reason to stay for the verdict.
He'd return to the hotel and wait for the call from Lee.
He wanted back on the boat, back where greedy, unethical scientists
weren’t lurking around every corner, eager to grab unearned credit for
was happening in front of the courthouse, something that was keeping the
crowd rooted in their places. The
onlookers surged toward him as courthouse marshals began controlling their
movement, and Nelson found himself trapped against the building's
exterior. Armed with a few
choice words, he thrust himself forward and bumped hard into someone
walking hurriedly past. Nelson
glanced up into the man’s face, seeing blue eyes narrowed against his
own and a bushy gray mustache that contrasted sharply with the mop of
black hair. The mustache
almost but didn’t quite cover the luxuriously lipped mouth.
the man mumbled, moving away.
suspicious nature stirred, Nelson followed the stranger with his eyes as
the man maneuvered himself in amongst the reporters and stood quietly with
his hands in his pockets, looking back at the admiral a couple of times.
No longer impatient to leave, Nelson made to work forward just as
two men and a woman emerged from the building's interior and took up
position on the short flight of steps.
older man adjusted his necktie. “Ladies
and gentlemen, I will begin by saying that my client was perfectly willing
and indeed, looking forward to testifying today.
That he was not able to do so due to the stalling tactics of
Standford Enterprises only emphasizes how corrupt his former employer is
proving to be. I’ll take a
watched the lawyer field questions, while
thinking the other, younger man's face was familiar.
It came to him that he was looking at Mark Giacomo, a
whistle-blower who had accused his company, a large military contractor,
of selling defective equipment. The
investigation was fast becoming the lead story on every network news show.
Despite his attorney’s glib words Giacomo didn't look happy, and
the admiral reflected that here was someone unsure of what he was doing,
afraid of the future. The woman may have sensed it too, because she took Giacomo's
shoulders and slowly turned him to face her, speaking quietly to him.
about it later, Nelson couldn’t say what caused him to focus at that
moment on the man he'd run into. Perhaps
it was the slow, sure movement, then the shock and recognition of what the
stranger was pulling from an interior pocket.
Whatever the reason, he had time to do only one thing.
down! He's got a gun!”
their credit, the marshals reacted instinctively, scrambling for their
weapons. The problem was that
the crowd reacted too, running in all directions, forcing the Admiral
backward as he struggled to get closer to the shooter.
The gunman never hesitated. Pointing
his weapon at the trio frozen on the steps, he squeezed off one round just
as the woman pushed Mark Giacomo away from her.
She fell backward, a red stain already blossoming
on her chest. The
assassin cursed loudly and turning, caught sight of the admiral. The gun came up again.
threw himself down as two shots ricocheted off
the marble façade. Cursing
again, the assassin ran to the curb and dived into a waiting car.
Tires squealing, the car leapt forward and merged into traffic,
disappearing down the street.
admiral rose slowly from the ground, brushing marble dust from the sleeve
of his uniform. One of the
courthouse marshals rushed forward and asked him how he was, and he
answered curtly that he was okay. Someone
was screaming. Nelson looked
over and saw the bottom of the shoes of the young woman who had saved Mark
Giacomo’s life. And saw
Mark Giacomo, and the look on his face said that the girl, whoever she
was, was dead.
I am so ready for this break.”
telling me, Chip.”
Crane and Chip Morton, C.O. and X.O. respectively of the Seaview,
stood together on the sub’s home dock in Santa Barbara watching the last
boxes with new computer parts being manhandled into the interior of the
boat. Both men were tall,
both in their early thirties, but the resemblance
ended there. Commander
Lee Crane was dark-haired and dark-eyed, overly slender perhaps, his
appearance belied by a muscular structure that was a key ingredient of a
successful boxing career during his Naval Academy days.
His Academy roommate Lieutenant Commander Charles Philip “Chip”
Morton was also of slim build, but solid where it counted.
His blond hair and blue eyes were a sharp contrast to Lee.
Female heads turned when either man was around.
They were a formidable team, in every sense.
glanced at his captain. Lee
looked as squared away as ever in his crisp khaki uniform, but there were
tension lines around his eyes that Chip knew meant a change would be
welcome. Admiral Nelson had
been pushing the boat and her crew hard lately.
The plan was for a quick cruise up to Hunters Point to pick up
their boss, an even quicker trip home, and then a new computer system was
going in. The crew was getting leave, and the anticipation amongst the
enlisted men and officers of the Seaview was palpable.
Everyone was eagerly awaiting the time off.
really think the contractors will be ready to start on the new system when
I get back?” Chip asked.
He rubbed his chin and grinned.
“Surfing, sun, a beautiful girl… relaxing in Waikiki… I might
not want to leave.”
flashed a toothy grin of his own. “You
wish. You know those guys
don’t want Admiral Nelson breathing down their necks.
They’ll be ready.”
on the Seaview's deck the Chief
of the Boat, Curly Jones, signed off on the manifest handed him and said,
“Cap’n, she’s all loaded up and ready to go.”
two quick strides Lee was aboard the gangway.
“Thank you, Chief. Mr.
Morton, make all preparations to get underway.”
Without turning around he said, “I’ll send O’Brien up.
He needs the practice.”
grimaced, snapping off a quick “Aye, sir!”
The last time the young lieutenant had taken the boat out he'd
almost run over two harbor buoys and
the mayor of Santa Barbara's yacht. The
mayor had demanded a personal apology from Admiral Nelson, and Chip didn't
want to go through the repercussions of that ever again. Climbing up the sail, preparing himself for O'Brien's
appearance, he hoped they wouldn’t crash into anything today.
* * * *
was digging into a new crop of paperwork when the knock sounded on the
cabin door. “Come in!”
stuck his head in first and then his clipboard. “Message from Admiral Nelson, Captain. Top priority.”
looked perplexed as he held his hand out.
“Top priority? What
kind of trouble is he in now?” He
would remember those prophetic words in the days that followed, but for
now, an unexpected communication was only a slight irritation.
He scanned the message quickly, initialed it and then looked up at
the radio operator. “’Make
all possible speed… imperative you get to pick-up point as quickly as
possible.’ Nothing else?”
stood up from behind the desk.
“Guess we'll get a move on, then.”
order was given the moment he arrived on the bridge, and the submarine
seemed to leap forward as the engines were brought to flank speed. Seeing his X.O.'s raised eyebrows, Lee said, “Something’s
up with the admiral. Estimated
time of arrival, Mr. Morton.”
hands flew as he bent over the charting table and made some swift
calculations. “At this
speed we'll be there in two hours.”
her along if you have to. Maybe
he just wants to hit the beach sooner than we thought.”
Nelson never wants to just do
anything, Lee,” a grim-faced Chip said.
expression tightened. “I
know. I guess we’ll found
out what’s going on in about two hours.”
* * * *
set the maneuvering watch as the Seaview
transited uneventfully under the Golden Gate Bridge, deftly avoiding the
harbor cruise boats whose public address systems were busy announcing to
their passengers the unusual appearance of the famous submarine.
It was a glorious summer's day, and even with the uncertainty
behind their accelerated voyage he never tired of seeing the San Francisco
skyline get larger and larger. He loved coming to this city, loved the feeling of life and
energy that emanated from the streets.
Maybe the admiral wasn’t caught up in something, maybe there’d
be a chance for a whirlwind visit with a girl he’d met that worked at
one of the downtown hotels. He
could cross his fingers and hope he’d have a chance to call her. The thought made him smile; time to call Kramer to the
bridge. The Engineering
Officer was the OOD today, and Lee was going to let him take her in. The Seaview could
turn on a dime and give you nine cents change; he'd lean back and enjoy
wasn’t to be, apparently. The
radioed message from Hunter's Point that Kramer brought with him, the one
ordering them to take the boat down to the furthest possible pier was a further clue that something wasn't right.
That was confirmed as they approached the dock.
They could see the admiral surrounded by a phalanx of MPs.
Lee paid little attention to the woman in a naval uniform that was
standing nearby, hands on hips, watching the Seaview
would be disappointed, but it couldn't be helped; the look on Admiral
Nelson's face said no delays would be tolerated.
Lee took command of the boat back from the lieutenant and took the Seaview
in himself. He was a superb
ship handler and in a matter of minutes the monkey line went over and was
retrieved, the rest of the lines were secured, and the Seaview
was alongside the out of the way pier.
second the gangway was in place Nelson came hustling aboard, the flush on
his face almost matching his hair. “Don't
bother to double up the lines! I
want us out of here immediately, Captain Crane!”
and Lee had moved to the deck to greet their returning boss, and both now
threw themselves out of Nelson's way as he made for the hatch.
Lee looked at Chip with chagrin.
“Well, I guess we won't have to set out the rat guards.
Better go see if there’s anything you can do, Chip.”
great, save it for the X.O.”
you don’t think I’m gonna
follow after that, do you? Anyway,
I need to speak to our visitor.”
female officer from the dock was making her way along the gangway, trailed
by an MP carrying the admiral's overnight bag and a small suitcase.
Lee walked forward to greet her.
He immediately liked what he saw; big grey eyes that looked
straight at him, a thin nose over a nice mouth crinkled up in a smile.
Jacket stripes identified her as a Lieutenant.
There was only a peek of hair visible under her combination cap,
but Lee made out that it was a sunny blonde.
Slowing down, she allowed the MP to go ahead of her and then
stopped in front of Lee, making a point of checking to see that the
enlisted man carrying the luggage had disappeared through the hatch.
She looked down at the deck and then back up at Lee.
mouth dropping open, Lee almost took a step back.
He knew her by her eyes; he knew those piercing, white blue eyes,
the steel blue pupils that followed you with an intense gaze.
So unnerved was Lee to see her
standing in front of him he missed the introduction and she had to repeat
the name to him, in a southern drawl that was totally alien from the
accents he remembered.
Victoria Wynn, 12th Naval District Office of Public Affairs.
Vicky to her friends. Even
though your admiral might not agree, I'll be countin' on your
cooperation to help me out while I’m aboard, Captain.”
Wynn? What happened to
Ellen Westerman?” Lee shot back. "What's
up with Admiral Nelson? What's
held up a gloved hand. “Lordy,
not here. All in good time,
Captain. Follow me to the
Mr. Kramer!” The lieutenant leaned over from his perch in the sail.
“Let's do what the admiral wanted.
You've got the deck!” Ignoring
the lieutenant's big grin Lee turned back, pointed at the hatch and said,
“Welcome aboard” -- he almost said ‘again’ -- “Lieutenant
you, sir.” She walked
forward, her jacket blowing up behind her like a balloon.
Lee took a few seconds to make sure his orders were being carried
out and then followed her inside.
couldn’t believe it. It had
been over six months since the late Admiral Benjamin Westerman and his
niece Ellen had spent the night on the Seaview
being ferried to San Diego for a party. That
same night he had been shocked to the core when “Ellen” revealed not
only that she wasn’t Ellen Westerman but that she was in reality a
Nereid, the goddess Galené to be precise.
What he had always thought was only an element of ancient Greek
mythology was soon explaining to him that the Seaview
and its men were now under her protection.
The next big surprise was being told to keep her true identity a
secret from everyone, Nelson included.
Lee had done that even at Admiral Westerman's funeral two months
later, which he had attended with the admiral, where she had presented
herself as the grieving niece. Now
she was back, with Admiral Nelson, and not as Ellen.
Life was getting interesting again.
behind her, observing the attention she was getting from the crew, Lee
compared the two women. Ellen
had been short and dark haired. Victoria
Wynn was about 5'-7,” and her heels added a couple of inches.
The blond hair that appeared when she took off her cap was set in a
French roll on the back of her head.
Bright pink cheeks surrounded the shapely nose.
Lee estimated her age at about 25.
While Ellen had been dressed in casual clothing, Lieutenant Wynn
looked like she'd just stepped off the cover of a recruiting brochure.
Her service dress whites were crisp and unwrinkled, the regulation
length skirt showing off a pair of shapely legs.
The jacket seemed a size too large, which only emphasized the slim
lines of the rest of her body. Lee
figured that her looks and that drawling, lyrical voice got her into
places that she wouldn't ordinarily have been able to access, and the
sharp intelligence he knew the goddess possessed did the rest.
Funny how Ellen and Vicky shared the same shaped mouth, red, full,
sensuous… damn. He'd been
at sea way too long. But all
thoughts of the girl at the downtown hotel slipped out of his mind.
went straight to the windows and turned to face him, presenting the clear
gray eyes to him once again. Seeing
his surprised look, she said, “Gracious, I can't go around with eyes
that color all the time. Don't
ya think somebody'd notice? Your
X.O. certainly would. He
didn't like me before, I doubt if his opinion has changed.
And here I thought y'all be glad to see me.”
She set her mouth in a tiny little pout.
“It has been four
behind him, Lee made sure they were alone in the space.
“Maybe, if you’d shown up as Ellen Westerman, and maybe, if I
wasn’t worried about what you’re going to tell me, I would be.”
He leaned back against the console and planted his hands on the
top. “At Admiral
Westerman’s funeral you, or should I say Ellen, said that she was going
off on a long vacation. So
you dumped her and found another body?
I expect this Victoria Wynn is dead, too?”
mouth pursed in irritation. When
she replied, it was in an accent he hadn’t heard before, clipped British
tones that matched the formality of what she was saying.
“How crudely you speak, Captain.
I do not discard these identities as the mood suits me, as you seem
to be implying. Ellen's fatal
car accident was an opportunity for me to assume her identity and save her
grandfather from dying before his time, which the United States Government
should be grateful for, I might add; without his efforts your officials
would not have that treaty. Yes,
she has gone off on a vacation from which she'll never return.
But she really died in peace a year ago.
I borrowed her body then for what I needed to do, which was to keep
someone alive for as long as possible.
Just as,” she passed her hand down over herself, “I’m doing
the same with this one.”
calm demeanor made Lee uncomfortable.
There was something wrong about all this, talking so
matter-of-factly about a dead girl. “What,
did you decide that it was easier to be a southern belle?” he blurted
out, then instantly regretted the words as her expression grew stonefaced.
straightened up, and the challenge in her eyes was unmistakable.
“It might be well for you to take care, Captain Crane.
It's not a good idea to get sarcastic around a goddess,” she said
irritably, her eyes snapping and the clipped voice strident.
“Men greater than you have been struck down for such insolence. Whatever you may think, I am not responsible for the deaths
of the people I impersonate. They
offer their bodies to me, and I accept them gratefully, invoking ancient
rituals that a mortal” - she
spat the word out - “can't be privy to.
I have been in this body for nearly four months, ensuring the
safety of several high-ranking members of Naval Intelligence in San
Francisco. With these
disguises I am able to be close to those that I protect without suspicion.
Be glad that this is the way it is.
Your admiral's life depends on it.”
stared long and hard at her, irritation being replaced by what she’d
said about Admiral Nelson. “I
apologize. It's just a shock,
seeing you again... and in a different body.
What's this about the admiral's life?
Vicky explained about the incident at the courthouse, the death of the
woman, who had been Mark Giacomo's fiancé, and the near shooting of
Admiral Nelson, Lee's expression got progressively darker.
There was something tough and hard there at the moment, the jaw
line rigid, the finely shaped cheekbones taut under the tanned skin.
He lightened up a bit when she described, in her animated fashion,
how the admiral had pitched a fit when he'd been refused permission to
just leave, had complained more when she'd met him at the local precinct,
and had absolutely refused to accept the protection she'd told him he was
getting. It had taken a call
from his old friend Admiral Starke followed by a few words from the
Secretary of the Navy to get him to understand she wasn't going away.
was a grim face he presented when she'd finished, hazel eyes menacing.
Running a hand over his hair, allowing himself some time to come to
grips with her story, Lee said, “I
guess I had better get used to calling you Lieutenant Wynn, then. If
this is what it takes to protect him, then I'm all for it.
So, tell me, who was... is… Vicky Wynn?”
the adventurer. Unfortunately,
when you go slidin' down a rainforest cliff, things happen.
Luckily there were no family complications; Vicky was an only
child, her parents are dead, no kids, no husband.
Her job made it easy too, public relations folks can pretty much go
anywhere they want. The
Intelligence boys I wuz keepin’ an eye on are all back at the Pentagon,
so when the First Lady came to town I decided to take a look-see.
I was attendin’ her fancy ladies’ luncheon when Admiral Nelson
got shot at, curse the luck.” She
was back to using Vicky’s voice, the accent a real attention-getter.
“Things had to happen fast, so I told Miz McNeil who I was and
what I needed to do and she pulled the strings that needed pullin’.
We made up a great cover story 'bout me having prior security
experience and I got over to the police station and picked up the admiral
before they could wonder what the heck I was doin' there.
Those boys from the FBI and ONI never knew what hit 'em.”
his own Office of Naval Intelligence days, Lee was used to operating on a
“need to know” basis, and he was surprised to hear that she'd revealed
her true identity, even if it was to the First Lady.
“You actually told her who you really are?”
to. I needed to move fast,
and boy howdy, that lady sure gets what she wants.
But she won’t remember a bit of it.
A little trick I’m privileged to use on special ‘ccasions.”
Vicky shifted around and stared out the windows, face sliding into
a frown again. “Course, if
I hadn't been with her at that silly ol' luncheon I'd'a been outside that
courthouse and the admiral wouldn't be mad enough to spit nails.”
She looked down and shook her head, and tilted her eyes back up at
him. “Does he always get
this angry? He took the call
from SecNav as if his momma had told him to kiss his ol' stinky granny,
and he never said two words to me while we were comin' over here.
And lord knows I tried, sir.”
he saw that woman murdered he would think that somehow, it was his
nodded decisively. “Which
is why I’ll be needing to keep him out of harm's way.
He'll be wantin' to go after the guy himself.” She moved toward him, wincing a little, and put a hand on his
arm. Lee was surprised first
at the painful look on her face and then by the perfume she was wearing,
not the familiar scent of saltwater he remembered from their last time
together, when he’d seen the real goddess.
searched his eyes for a moment, and slid back into the goddess's voice.
“It is my job to ensure he is kept safe.
We know the identity of the assassin, and we also know that he'll
stop at nothing to kill the admiral.
He finds it a game to track down and kill witnesses to his
Dunning. Uses disguises that
people concentrate on, instead of his overall face.
Admiral Nelson saw past that, luckily enough. His description was spot on.”
they going to find him?”
understand the FBI has some good leads.”
She did not sound confident.
I don't understand is why don't you
just find him?
Can't you just wave a hand and uh, see things?
Stop this all from happening?”
That would be going against the Moirae, the Fates, Captain.
Those who control man's destiny.”
you trying to tell me there's nothing anyone can do to stop this
at all. I am here, am I
not?” Almost in the same
breath but with a startling change in intensity, she added, “The Moirae
can be influenced.” She
said it defiantly, as if she intended it for more than just his ears.
are you going to tell the admiral?”
I'm gonna stick to him like a bug on flypaper.”
Vicky's accent was back. “And
because I don't want him hatin' every minute of it, Admiral Nelson also
gets to know who I really am. It’s
not a secret that I planned to keep from him for much longer, anyway.
Maybe it will keep him from bein' such a big ol' grump.”
laughed out loud. “Are you
going to tell him that?”
on how nice he is to me.” Straightening
up, she pulled at the bottom of her jacket, smoothed her hair and said in
the accent that Lee was realizing was her normal voice, “Might as well
get it over with.” Then she
bent her head and spoke under her breath.
Noticing Lee's enquiring look, she said, “A prayer to my sister
Eukranté. I can use all the
help I can get.”
* * * *
first knock on the door met with silence and the second a barked “Come
in!” Lee looked at the
girl, who squared her shoulders and nodded.
He opened the door and let her go in ahead of him.
Nelson was seated at his desk. He
looked up quickly and then went back to whatever he was writing.
When he spoke his voice was icy cold.
see you've met my new guardian. You'll
forgive me if I am not very happy about this.
I'm back on the Seaview,
we're heading out to sea -- we are heading out to sea, yes, Captain?”
Lee nodded, and Nelson went on.
“So there's nothing that anyone need do.
Especially not a wet behind the ears girl.”
all due respect, Admiral, arrogant fools get themselves killed a lot
quicker than ordinary fools,” Vicky said quietly, her voice menacing in
got a response from both men. Lee
went rigid while the admiral flushed to the roots of his hair and started
to open his mouth. If he
noticed that her southern accent had disappeared, he made no sign.
She quickly held up a hand.
no need to comment, sir. Go
back to the way you were while I was flirting with you in the car.”
are being insubordinate, Lieutenant!
I won't be talked to in this manner!”
grabbed a corner of her jacket and pulled back, and Lee knew why the fit
was big and shapeless: it had
to fit over the .45 in her shoulder holster.
“You will do as I say or I'll shoot you myself!
Got it?” Admiral
Nelson, mouth set in a thin line, slowly sat back.
But the look in his eyes and his posture communicated his extreme
displeasure, in ways that made words unnecessary.
settled her jacket back and waited until he'd stopped moving. With an impatient wave she indicated that Lee should sit
down, too, and he hustled himself into the second office chair.
and releasing a deep breath, she said, “Sir, when someone’s life is at
stake, it’s best to come right to the point.
Admiral Nelson, I am Galené, the Goddess of Calm Seas.
In simpler terms, I am a Nereid. My sisters and I are protectors of the ships and their sailors
who ply the waters of this world. To accomplish this goal, I have the
ability to take over a human body and make it my own when necessary.
That is what I’ve done with Lieutenant Wynn.”
She leaned over the desk until she was inches from his face.
“Protecting this ship and her crew is my special charge.
That crew includes you. I'm
not going away, so your complaining is rather useless.”
face went white again. Goddess
or not, no one, absolutely no one, talked to Harriman Nelson this way.
narrowed and jaw tight, Nelson looked
back and forth between his two visitors, rubbing his ear in a
characteristic gesture that Lee knew well.
The admiral was furious. Barking
a short laugh, he said, “Young lady, I don’t know what you’ve said
to Captain Crane, but in the meantime... I’m supposed to believe
you’re Callimachus' bright goddess?
Oh, yes, I know my Greek mythology.
And that's all it is. Mythology.
You actually expect me to accept that you’re an immortal being
who can command the behavior of the oceans, that you’ve decided to take
up residence on the Seaview, and
further that you can change sha...”
His voice trailed off as she slapped the desk with both hands,
threw an exasperated look at Lee and shimmered into the form of the
proof for you, then. I'm a
firm believer in showing, not telling, sir!”
admiral looked stunned. Lee
remembered how he had felt the first time he’d seen this beautiful
woman, and understand the emotion. A
sea goddess she had to be; how else to explain the pale green skin, the
long limbs, the webbed fingers? Not
to mention those up-tilted, steel blue eyes.
She was wearing a simple silver chiton that emphasized the lines of
her slim body. That was another surprise; from experience, Lee knew that the
huge mass of gray-green hair wafting around her was usually her only
He wondered if this was what all Nereids looked like; young, fresh,
and full of purpose. No
wonder mortals fell head over heels for them.
Yet -- immortality aside, in ways he would be hard-pressed
to articulate, he felt she was the oldest person in the room.
over to Nelson's desk she asked, “Believe me now, do you?”
wiped a hand over his face. “I'd
say I'd have to. Either that,
or I'm going crazy.”
eyes danced at Lee. “Funny,
that's just what your Captain said to me six months ago.”
whipped around and glowered at the young officer. “You knew about this six months ago? And didn't tell me?”
was sworn to secrecy, Admiral,” Galené broke in. “I don't reveal who
I am until it's absolutely necessary.
It's obviously not something that most people need to know.”
admiral rose from his seat. “I
can certainly appreciate that. I’ve
seen some incredible things in my time, but this tops that all. Please, sit down.” He
pulled his chair out for her and Galené, with a delighted smile, changed
back into Vicky and settled into his place.
The admiral then looked pointedly at Lee, who looked back blankly,
and then recognition sunk in. He
shot up and offered the empty space to Nelson.
A sheepish Lee took position on the edge of the bunk.
glad you’re seein’ it my way now, Admiral.
Makes all the arrangements a heck of a lot easier,” Vicky said
with a smile. Now that all
the meetin' and greetin' is out of the way, we need to discuss your
security arrangements while the FBI is searchin' for Mr. Dunning.”
that will be easy,” Lee said. “He
can stay on the Seaview.”
shook his head violently. “Much
as I love Seaview, I won't be a
prisoner on her! I have a
perfectly good apartment at the Institute.
And I need to be able to move back and forth while the new computer
system gets installed.”
a face, Vicky turned to Lee. “How
long was this computer thing goin' to take?”
crew's expecting two weeks of leave.”
fine, we'll go ahead. It'll
be better with the crew off the boat.
Fewer targets. Dunning
isn't above shootin' anyone who gets in his way.
Did you get a look at the gun, Admiral Nelson?
Was he using the Astra?”
gun, Admiral, his gun. He has
a real special likin' for a Spanish Astra.”
saw him pull a gun out of his pocket and that's when I yelled.
He had his back to me when he shot that young woman.
I didn't wait around to identify it when he was pointing it at me,
would be interestin' to know if he is still carrying this particular
handgun. It's one he uses in
close quarters. An attractive
he carries to assassinate people. The
ugliness of that should be apparent,” Admiral Nelson replied, the heat
rising in his voice.
had been looking at the papers he'd left on his desk. The silence in the room grew longer as she rearranged a
couple of pages, then lifted her head and met his eyes.
Vicky’s cheery expression was gone, and the goddess’ scornful
look was in its place. “Deadly
weapons can be elegant and beautiful, Admiral.
I believe we're sitting in one right now, are we not?”
sat back and began twisting his class ring.
looked away, mouth working. “I
don't use the Seaview to murder
innocent people. I fail to
see how you can equate the deterrent capabilities of this submarine with
the ability to kill your fellow human beings for personal gain.
Your attitude obviously comes from studying your own mythology,
with gods who thought nothing of destroying lives and causing suffering to
all who stood in their way.”
opened her mouth for a retort, and stopped, then started again.
“You are absolutely correct.
The frailties of humans are as nothing to the frailties of gods.”
She slapped the sides of the chair and stood up.
“A harbinger of death and destruction I am not.
Perhaps you will learn nothing from me that will make your life
better, Admiral Nelson. But
what you will learn is that I will stop at nothing to keep you safe.”
if I choose to decline your services, and order you off this boat?”
Admiral. Did I forget to
mention I can also become invisible?”
She looked at Lee and rolled her eyes.
“When we get closer to Santa Barbara I'll decide what we're going
Nelson's eyebrows shot up. “You'll
don't tell me we're getting started on this again!
I don't usually work by committee, sir!” Frowning, she stood up and started for the door, flinging it
Your input and that of the captain's will be considered.
Admiral, Captain Crane can fill you in on my curriculum vitae, if
he is so inclined and you are interested.
Right now I think I’ll just go for a short swim.
I presume the cabin that Ellen used is where you had my luggage
placed, Captain Crane?”
nodded and jumped up from the bunk. “Galené--”
he shook his head and said, “Sorry.
something else. As X.O. of
the Seaview, Chip deserves to know who you are.
Otherwise, it could get awkward.
It's less of a problem to keep it from the crew, but as my second
nodded her head curtly. “You're
right. Mr. Morton deserves to
be told, too.”
what?” Chip stood at the
doorway, frowning back and forth at the two of them.
“Lee, I've brought those requisitions.
Did I come at a bad time?”
captain and the goddess glanced at each other, unspoken assent passing
between them, and Victoria disappeared and Galené took her place. With a sad smile, she reached up and touched Chip on the
cheek. “Nice to see you
again, Mr. Morton. I thought
the first time I saw you that you were something special, and I was right.
I'm always right about these things.
Can't have you wondering what I'm about every minute of the day.
I suspect that someone else will take over that duty.
Captain, I'll let you know when I'm back.
Then, please come and see me in my cabin.”
She faded through the bulkhead and disappeared.
Morton was a very experienced naval officer.
He’d been all over the world, made port in dozens of countries
and survived dangerous encounters both aboard and ashore. There wasn't much he hadn't seen, done or planned to do.
So to watch a female officer who hadn't been on the boat five
minutes change herself into something... green and then disappear, well,
hell! He couldn't wait for
a dull moment aboard Seaview, is
there?” Chip blew out a
bemused breath and stepped into the cabin.
“What have you gotten us into now, Lee?”
Lee turned accusingly toward Admiral Nelson, and Chip followed
noticed the silence and looked up. “This
is not my doing!”
men said simultaneously, “No sir, of course not!”
admiral had resumed his customary seat so Lee let Chip take the empty
second chair. “Where would
you like to begin, sir?” Lee
asked gamely, and got a baleful stare in return.
Lee, you’ve known about this woman – this goddess for six months?
That wasn’t really Ellen Westerman I met at the party?”
head jerked up at that.
sir, not really. Ellen was
actually fatally wounded in that accident in Virginia.
Galené took over her body and saved her uncle, and saw to it he
survived long enough to push through that new NATO treaty. As Lieutenant Victoria Wynn she was in San Francisco when
this assassin took a shot at you, and she hustled you out of there as soon
as she could.” The scowl on
Nelson’s face increased. No
doubt he was remembering the little dust-up at police headquarters.
“I guess you could say we’ve got a guardian angel, Admiral.”
wouldn’t make up my mind as to whether that’s a blessing or a curse
just yet, Lee,” Admiral Nelson said dryly.
told you, Lee. I told you
there was something about her,” Chip said.
“It was those eyes. But
a goddess... you’re sure about that?”
men nodded solemnly.
this all about, anyway?”
face went from sheer amazement to calm resolve as Lee spent the next few
minutes explaining what little he did know about the goddess and how she
had appeared on the boat. He
filled in both men on the biographical information Galené had provided
about Vicky, and emphasized that she was there as a bodyguard for the
admiral. He left unspoken
Admiral Nelson’s lack of enthusiasm for that role.
can raise a security detail from the men, there certainly wouldn't be a
lack of volunteers,” Chip offered.
head went forcibly from side to side.
“I've had enough of a crowd of MPs to last me for a very long
while. Since I seem to be
stuck with this... girl, I neither want nor require any extra
I think 'business as usual' is our best course of action aboard,” Lee
said. “We three are the
only ones that know Lieutenant Wynn's true status.
No reason to alarm anyone else.”
we get enough of that on a regular basis,” Chip said, and immediately
realized his error as the admiral's eyes narrowed and Lee turned away to
hide his smile. “I mean,
it's one less thing to worry about, with this killer running around
loose.” He quickly changed the subject.
“Like I said, Lee, I've got those requisitions for you to take a
look at for the final computer replacement.”
He stood up and started for the door.
“Thanks for the information.
See you in the control room.”
shut the door after Chip and said, “Admiral, we've got to face the
facts. You're the only
witness to the murder of Mark Giacomo's fiancé.
If they catch this guy you're probably the only living witness to
any of his crimes. If I was
an assassin, if I wanted to continue in that line of work, I'd get rid of
scowled. “I think I've
proven I'm capable of taking care of myself.”
course, sir. But I don't
think you should discount any help - especially the kind that she can
provide. You might be surprised.”
rubbed the top of his ear. “Not
going to happen, Captain.”
walked over and grasped the door handle.
“Whatever you say, sir. But
I think you'll find she can be anything you want her to be.”
and Chip were busy double-checking the engineering charts when Lee felt a
tap on his shoulder. His
automatic reaction was to turn around, to realize there wasn't anyone
standing within five feet of him. “Chip,
you've got the conn. I'll be
back in a few minutes.”
went up a deck and knocked on the door of the guest cabin. The doorknob turned slowly and the door opened to reveal
Vicky standing in the middle of the space.
She had changed into civilian dress, a brightly patterned shift
that came to her knees. He
shut the door softly behind him and watched as she brushed her long hair,
legs slightly apart and bare feet braced on the deck.
The overheads were off, and the diffused light from the desk lamp
softened the maturing lines of her face.
Gone were the frown lines playing around the mouth, the hardness in
the eyes as she'd been arguing with Admiral Nelson.
He caught a whiff of her sweet and sensual perfume, knew the scent
but couldn't place it. The
fragrance reinforced her attractiveness.
Suddenly she bent over and flung her hair forward and then back,
and Lee's heart went thump. He
thought to himself that no matter what the admiral might think, he could
get used to being around Victoria Wynn.
Whether that was wrong or not, he'd think about that later.
does anybody get any work done around you?”
let 'em think they're in charge. The
job gets done, and that's all that matters.
I don't have the Sight, some of my sisters do, and they tell
me that things are changin'. I'll
be glad to see it.” She had
a pretty voice, very clear, the drawl pronounced but unpretentious, a part
of her that was as real and alive as the rest.
then the Seaview gave a slight
lurch and as Vicky stepped toward the cabin's sink her left leg collapsed.
Lee caught her under the arms before she could slip any further.
He could feel her trembling as he lifted her up and helped her
towards the bunk, filling his nostrils with her perfume.
He also became aware of the deep gouges above both knees, the
reddened spiders' webs of scars disappearing under the edge of her dress. His startled look brought forth an explanation.
isn't in the best of shape. Guess
I don't have my sea legs yet.” She
laughed a half-hearted giggle, quickly replaced by a muffled groan as she
shifted around on the bunk. “You
think this is bad, you should see the scars on my, I mean, her back.
This poor ol' body aches somethin' fierce, all the time.”
She took in another shuddering breath.
stepped back, not too far in case she'd need help getting up. “You can't stop that from happening?”
take 'em as we get 'em, Captain.” She
described, in graphic detail, all the injuries Vicky had sustained.
“The body still functions, just barely, but enough for me to get
by. I don't shut off
anything. It gives me a
greater appreciation of what you humans go through.
What I have replaced is her brain and her heart and her will.”
She stared up at him, her round eyes serious.
“Tell me about the new computer system
would have persisted, but the look on her face put paid to that idea.
He spent the next few minutes explaining that all the parts were on
board, that all they had to do when they got back to Santa Barbara was to
dismiss the crew and wait for the contractor to show up.
was goin' to be gone?”
Chip is taking off for the first few days.
The other officers are gone for the first week and on standby for
the second week. Most of the
rest of the men get the whole two weeks off. It was just going to be the admiral and I on board, getting
everything organized. The
computer techs weren't even supposed to be here right away, we're supposed
to call them when we're ready.”
think we should let Mr. Morton go on his vacation for longer than a few
days, sir. He needs to be off
the boat, away from here. Far
away from here.”
dawned on Lee what she was saying. “Dangerous
or not, Chip won't like it. This
computer system is his baby.”
“Would he rather be dead? As I said, Dunning doesn't have a problem with killin' people around his targets. I'm afraid you'll jest have to pull a little rank, Captain.” She regarded him thoughtfully for a few seconds, mock irritation on her face. “It'll be easier for me, too. It's bad enough that I know you have no intention of makin' yourself scarce, sir.”
can handle myself. You can't
eat dirt than call those fair haired galumphs in San Francisco for help,
but they'd be there if needed. Especially
if I need 'em,” she said, laughing with a self-depreciatory grace.
“There's always… relatives.”
let a mock scowl settle on his face.
“And you'd be able to explain the presence of Grecian sea nymphs
aboard a nuclear submarine.”
laughed. “You'd be
surprised how imaginative I can be.”
didn't think he would be surprised at anything she did.
expression softened, and he watched her relax as she flipped some spare
strands of hair over her shoulders. It
came to him that she was holding on to Victoria Wynn, could tell that this
was something special to her in the way she stayed in Vicky's wounded body
even in the privacy of the cabin, in the care she was taking to use
Vicky’s accent. Most of all
he thought it was true because she was using perfume.
Nereids wouldn't bother with perfume.
like Vicky, don't you?”
She's a little banged up, is all.
Most of the time I can control it, it's jest that it's been a long day.
Workin' with the First Lady has been the most fun, I got to say.
I'll be sorry to see this one end.”
should it need to?”
Moirae can be placated only so far, Captain.”
It was the goddess that answered, the tone gently chiding.
“It is Dunning's fate to try to kill Admiral Nelson.
It is my fate to be the instrument that stops him.
When Dunning makes his appearance, as he is sure to do, I will not
survive that little go-round.”
she said at first hadn't sunk in. The
statement, said in a matter of fact fashion, stunned him.
“But -- you’re immortal!”
course, but Vicky isn't,” she said quietly.
She brushed her fingers over her temples, appearing to sooth away
an ache. “I've grown
comfortable in her life, even though it's only been a few months.
When I speak, it is in this accent that men find pleasing.
They follow me with their eyes, and I enjoy it.
I've gotten to rub shoulders with the First Lady, attend fabulous
parties and do wonderful things. When
you assume someone else's life, the high points of that life become yours.
And the low points.” Her
voice dropped, and Lee looked at her sharply, surprised to see her eyes
clouding with sorrow. “It
is difficult when the person has family, or other... connections.
We cannot always avoid that. I
retain their memories, their feelings and emotions. Sometimes it comes in handy.
Other times.... When
these people die Captain, they leave people behind, people that love and
are loved in return. And the
survivors can never be told the truth.”
stared, dumbstruck. Now that
he had time to think about it for a moment, impersonating someone meant
keeping those closest to you from ever becoming suspicious.
He flashed back to the first time he'd seen Vicky coming aboard the
boat, immediately attracted to her smile and vivacious personality, the
vitality she personified. Saw
her now, the little shift exposing her tanned legs and trim arms and
shoulders, her hair a shining halo around her face.
Smelled that wonderful perfume, intoxicating and exciting. He understood suddenly and with infinite sadness that
someone, many someones perhaps, would miss Victoria Wynn greatly.
smiled, her eyes coming back from being far away.
“I don't usually confess so much.
You make it easy to talk to you, Commander.”
just want to help in any way I can,” he said.
I want to help you, if you'll
awkwardly to her feet, she said briskly, “Have a car waiting on the
dock. I'll ride home with
allowed her to re-direct his thoughts.
“He won't like it.”
bad.” She bit off the
words. “It'll just give him
somethin' else to be crotchety about.
I’ll see you later, sir.”
been dismissed. Lee stood up
and made for the door as she began combing her hair again, ignoring his
quiet leave-taking. He had
his hand on the knob when she spoke again.
uh, Captain?” She leaned
over conspiratorially. “It’s
brow furrowed and then recognition set in like a light bulb going on.
His smile matched her own. “I’ll
remember that for future reference.”
* * * *
used the time left before docking to arrange for the admiral’s ride and
finish his interrupted paperwork. Then
he placed a call to the computer contractor's office.
He stressed the need to make sure that they knew all their workers;
he didn't want any unfamiliar faces amongst the group swarming over the Seaview.
Chip was taking the boat in Lee made a
quick visit to Admiral Nelson, using a few seconds along the way to
steel himself for the inevitable explosion.
He got the gruff welcome and entered the cabin… accompanied by a
soft breeze wafting past his ear. At
least he would have backup.
was standing at his desk putting some papers into his briefcase.
I've made the arrangements for the contractors and they okayed the
Saturday start date. They'll
be at the Institute at 0900 tomorrow.
We'll keep the watch on the boat tonight, but I've passed the word
to the division officers to let the rest of the men start their leave as
soon as we tie up.” Taking
a deep breath, Lee added, “Lieutenant Wynn will be accompanying you to
the apartment. I've got a car standing by.”
hand putting the papers into the briefcase stilled.
“It appears you've thought of everything, Captain Crane.”
ignored the sarcastic tone of voice.
“I do my best, Admiral. You
expect no less.”
reluctant smile appeared on Nelson's face.
“I suppose not. However,
I do not need that girl… whatever she is… following me
everywhere I go! I won't have
it, I…” Nelson's voice
stilled as a hand appeared out of the air and settled itself on his wrist,
and the soft southern voice filled the room.
arguin', Admiral.” Shimmering
out of the air Vicky became fully visible.
“Captain, I'll make some phone calls while I'm at the admiral's
place, check in with San Francisco, and rest up a bit.
Tired ain't the word for it. Heck,
maybe they caught up with him already.
Wouldn't that be a hoot? All
this trouble for nothin'.” She
smiled weakly at Nelson, at the same time pressing a shaking hand to her
forehead. “Bet that would
make you real happy, Admiral.”
heart took a tumble again. What
he wanted to do was to take her back into his arms and let her rest
against him, holding her tight while she regained some of her strength.
The rest of the world be damned.
But he didn't think the admiral would like that much.
Especially when Nelson said crossly, “If you're not feeling well
perhaps you should stand down, Lieutenant Wynn.
Or whatever you like to call yourself.”
met his eyes levelly, the fatigue still there but faded. “Your manners are not currently those of a gentleman,
flushed a little. “I
apologize. But my objections
noted. Captain Crane, Admiral
Nelson, from this moment on, please remember who I am -- Lieutenant
Victoria Wynn. I am relyin'
on both of you to see that my secret is kept.”
have my word, Lieutenant,” Lee answered.
Nelson merely nodded curtly.
I can ask. I'll see you on
deck, Captain. Once again, it
was a mighty fine trip aboard the Seaview. With you.”
she disappeared into the air Lee was out the door and gone before Admiral
Nelson could comment. Chip's
voice calling “Surface, Surface, Surface” over the 'com system
hastened his pace towards the control room.
Chip was not going to like it, being told to leave the boat.
Lee would have to explain that if somehow this assassin got past
all their defenses, one of the boat's senior officers needed to be kept
safe. A sense of duty was one of his X.O.'s strongest traits.
Lee would appeal to that.
our first stop will be Roosevelt School.”
was a moment before her brain registered his words.
“Wait a minute,
who said anything about a detour, sir?”
had chosen to sit in front with the driver.
With a great exaggerated sigh he turned around and looked at Vicky
over the back of the seat. “I
just did, I believe. I have
several scholarship applications to review.
I told the principal, Mrs. Johnson that I'd pick them up when I
returned from San Francisco. I
called her and she graciously agreed to come back to the office.
She's made a special trip for me.
I have to get them.” His
thin mouth and the determined set to his eyes brooked no argument.
Vicky said wearily, “whatever you want.
But I'm stickin' with you.”
As he made to protest she added quickly in a lowered voice, “Dunning's had plenty of time to hoof it down here.
Believe me, he knows who you are by now.
It's his business to know.”
determined, Admiral. You know
his face, sir, and he can’t let that stand.”
Raising her voice, she said, “Driver, just do as the Admiral
quickly left the main gate behind and drove towards the heart of Santa
Barbara. Every vehicle coming
up alongside drew her scrutiny. She
would assume that the assassin already knew who his target was.
Dunning was successful because of his resources and talents and an
efficient network of evil. Her
reach would just have to be longer.
few cars behind them, a battered old truck pulled out onto the coast
highway and headed south in the same direction as the admiral's vehicle. The light traffic made keeping the sedan in sight easy.
open highway soon gave way to a residential area, and Nelson gave quiet
instructions to his driver, who pulled to a stop opposite a building that
could be clearly identified as a school even without the letters on the
sign outside spelling out its name. Classrooms
flanked either side of the whitewashed office while an expanse of lawn
fanned out to a red-painted sidewalk that was marked for buses only. Streetlights fought against the darkness, creating circles of
light on the empty pavement.
the vehicle into the residential area, the truck's driver slowed and then
drove past as the car pulled over. The
truck made a left turn at the next corner and then a neat u-turn, and sat
idling at the curb.
had her door open before the car stopped moving, flinging herself out as
soon as it was safe. With a
flourish, she opened Nelson's door. “After
you, Admiral.” His eyebrows
lifted as she checked her shoulder holster, but he said nothing.
Nelson wasted no time in getting across the street, ignoring her
grimaces as she hobbled along behind, her wounded legs showing their
were lights on in the office building.
Nelson knocked once and walked in, first saying to Vicky, “Wait
here.” He made that
official by letting the door shut in her face.
stared at the door, a slow burn making its way up inside her. Patience, Galené,
patience. Keep him safe now,
kill him yourself later.
was back in just a couple of minutes, waving a manila envelope.
“All taken care of, Lieutenant.
Nothing for you to worry about.”
pressed her lips together. So
far, he had been right. That
didn’t make it enough.
back had started aching again and she was thinking about that as they
turned to go back to the car. An
old truck was lumbering toward them, and Vicky picked up her pace. Bending down to speak to their driver she didn't notice that
Admiral Nelson, who was a few steps behind, had paused in the center of
the road to allow the vehicle to pass.
truck's sullen rumble changed pitch.
She looked up to see it take a sudden, drunken swerve toward
look out!” She flung
herself towards him.
backward leap saved his life, and her shoulder tackle sent them both to
the pavement. The truck
straightened out and kept going, the driver making no attempt to stop.
should I be sacrificed to Momus, to put an end to my stupidity!”
Vicky raised herself slowly on her elbows as the admiral sat up.
“Are you alright, Admiral?”
twice today I've hit the deck. I'm
getting rather tired of it,” Nelson said dourly as their driver helped
him to his feet. He
extricated himself from the man's grasp and together, they raised Vicky
up. “Other than an extreme loss of dignity I'd say I'm fine. Why
is your hand bleeding?”
she raised one and then the other out in front of her.
Several of the beautiful nails on her right hand were gone, the
skin around them torn, the blood already running down her fingers.
“I guess I didn't judge jumpin' through that truck quite right.
Damn, that was some fine manicuring work.
And double damn if I didn't ruin a nice pair of silk stockings!
By the Chimera's black bones, Dunning will pay for that!”
produced a handkerchief. “I
can't help you with the stockings, but at least I can put something on
your hand until we can get to a first aid cabinet.”
accepted the handkerchief with a wry smile.
“Many thanks, Admiral, but let's get out of here first!”
She opened the rear door of their vehicle and practically pushed
him inside, and then followed herself.
The driver jumped in, started up the car and pulled away.
gently bound the hand up. “Thank
you for the warning, Lieutenant Wynn.”
are welcome, Admiral Nelson. I
hope this means you believe me now.”
She looked down at the remains of her stockings.
“If it only takes one pair of hose to accomplish a feat like
that, it was worth it!”
* * * *
driver wasted no time in getting back to the Institute grounds.
They were soon in front of a nondescript building on one of the Institute's
steep side streets.
stepped gingerly out of the car -- her tumble in the street had taken its
toll -- and faced a large two-story building that apparently served as the
admiral's current address. It
looked forlorn, with its dun-colored stucco walls, blank facade and
roll-up door. Upstairs, large
windows broke up the exterior
she was facing.
this somebody's garage at one time?”
a matter of fact, yes, one of the original buildings on the site.
I've got plans to build something down on the beach, just haven't
gotten around to it yet.”
Nelson pulled out his key, she waited for the driver to bring the luggage
up. Vicky spoke quietly to
him, laying a hand on the back of his neck.
He shuddered as if a shock of electricity had struck him, deposited
the bags inside the doorway and departed without saying a word.
have him rememberin' what he saw, me disappearin' through that truck
instead of around it,” she said as she limped into the building. “Oh! This is
outside might have been plain, but the inside was anything but.
Two side walls, each broken by a single door ran the length of the interior,
painted in a cream color that set off the magnificent artwork hung on
their surfaces. What she was
sure was an original Stickley sideboard held up an assortment of pictures
and memorabilia. Another door
faced her on the far wall behind a spiral staircase.
A Persian rug, a blue Kirman of magnificent size and immense value,
centered the granite floor.
and dining area on the left, com center and conference room on the
right,” Nelson said, pointing at each in turn.
“Upstairs, personal quarters and my office.”
aches and pains were forgotten as she followed him up the staircase,
running a hand along the polished teak.
The lower floor was beautiful enough, but it was definitely a space
for formal occasions; upstairs, this was a sailor's home.
Heavy throw rugs covered the hardwood floor, and bookcases lined
the walls interspersed with paintings of maritime scenes. Alcoves held the admiral's retirement flag and other
souvenirs of his naval service. She
knew without needing to look out that there would be an ocean view.
cleaning service's been through, so everything's reasonably shipshape.
I've got work to do in my office, so if you don't mind,” he moved
over to the room on the left and flipped on a light, “I'll put your
luggage in here and get to it.”
you don't have to give up your bedroom to me.”
decision. You've earned a
rest. When I get sleepy I'll
use the couch in the office.”
stood aside so she could enter. The
room was painted a dark blue, and the white coverlet of the king-sized bed
and the rich red upholstered chairs and deep red curtains that covered the
windows formed a charming contrast. It
was dark and homey and tidy, too tidy for the man standing next to her.
He'd have it lived in again before the cleaning service came back.
expect you can see to China through those windows.”
quite, but I do have a nice little view of the coastline.” Taking off his jacket, Nelson flung it onto one of the
suppose I should apologize, Lieutenant Wynn, for doubting your ability to
protect me. It seems I was a
little hasty. Your
qualifications would appear to be more than adequate,” Nelson stated
formally. He picked up
her injured hand and gently pulled the handkerchief away, careful not to
look at her, clearing his throat in a way that brought the ghost of a
smile to her lips. “Thankfully,
that doesn't look too bad. You'll
find a first aid kit in the bathroom.
A hot bath will probably help more than anything,” he said,
laying his hands down by his side again.
“If you need anything else, I'm just
across the hall.” He
gave her a little nod and shut the door firmly.
accepted, Admiral Nelson.”
smiled softly, then gave a little gasp as a painful spasm arced across her
back. A hot bath was going to
feel very, very good.
* * * *
bathroom was another surprise. It
was rather utilitarian, the entire room painted white, with white tiles on
the floor. The only touches
of color were the fluffy blue towels piled high on a rattan cabinet and
blue curtains on two small side windows cracked open for fresh air.
Everything else was tucked away, from the Admiral's shaving kit to
the small first aid kit. She
would use that after the bath. “Grab
and go,” the room seemed to say. Except
that she had actually come across some bubble bath.
The most interesting find had been the female-sized bathrobe that
was hanging from a hook on the door.
She knew he had a sister; somehow, she didn't think this was
Maybe her admiral was human, after all. Then another emotion hit, a twinge that brought her up short,
eyes going wide. Jealous?
Was she feeling just a bit peeved at the thought that another woman
had been in this house? Impossible! She
would never feel any sort of emotion other than a commitment to duty to
this man, a curmudgeon that didn't want her around.
Which was fine with her. She
tossed her head, and yelped as the pain shot up her back.
Enough! She needed a
bath, not a psychological session with herself.
She had been amongst humans for far too long.
She was starting to think and act like them far too much.
claw foot tub was decadently large, and next to it was a vanity where
she'd discovered the bubble bath crystals.
Inside was another surprise -- a telephone, and she busied herself
calling San Francisco and then the Santa Barbara Police, giving them a
description of the truck. Her
suspicions that it was no accident were confirmed when the detective she
spoke to had already gotten a report of an old truck found engulfed in
flames at the local airport. Dunning
had taken no chances. There'd
be nothing left.
boys in San Francisco had had nothing new to offer either. At least she could tell them they could stop looking up there
and start looking further south. As
usual, it had taken some persuading, but Vicky had gotten good at
then the tub had filled with water, hot enough to turn her skin deep pink,
but that was nothing compared to how her muscles were relaxing. Even the deep scars on her back and the barely closed wound
underneath her rib cage, where the tree branch that had stopped her from
falling further had penetrated, had stopped aching. She used her webbed fingers to pick up cascades of bubbles
and blew them into the air, laughing as they popped against the water's
surface. The bubbles were
followed by little waterspouts followed by miniature tsunamis as Vicky
ordered her inland ocean to rise and fall at her command.
When the last tidal wave produced a splash that emptied itself onto
the tiles she reluctantly
the temptation to put on the bathrobe Vicky slipped on the long and
luxurious garment she'd “borrowed” from the First Lady's hotel suite.
She liked the way that her hair stood out against the purple satin
kimono, liked the way her skin looked fresh and new, and pinched her
cheeks to make them pinker. She
got out her bottle of perfume and sprayed a little down the opening of the
robe. Satisfied, she'd go and
tell the ol' curmudgeon about the police report.
Looking like this, maybe he wouldn't bite her head off.
door to the office was half-open, so she knocked once and walked in,
expecting to say, “Truck was found near the airport blazin' away, won't
be enough evidence to sweep into an envelope.”
But there was no need.
Nelson had fallen asleep at his desk, face cradled in his arms, sprawled
out over a table-full of papers. She
knew he wouldn't like knowing that anyone was watching him, least of all
her. It was such a simple
thing, watching him sleep, that she couldn't turn away.
So intimately simple. She
studied him now; the frown lines smoothed away, the lashes that matched
his red hair lying soft against his cheeks.
And were those freckles? Smiling,
she counted a few scattered across his nose and disappearing into his
hairline. The color of that
hair matched his temper; she could well imagine junior officers quailing
as Commander, then Captain, then Admiral Nelson took them to task for a
job not up to his rigorous standards.
Right now, listening to his gentle breathing, he was anything but a
severe taskmaster. She wanted
to reach out and stroke the circle of skin on his cheeks, touch that
little cleft in his chin that made his face so distinctive.
But that would mean he might awaken.
she snapped her fingers. The
air in the center of the room was suddenly disturbed, and out of the haze
materialized a burly Cyclops, already bent on one knee.
I am at your service.”
well you should be, doulos.
What is your name, slave?”
She pointed at Nelson and then at the couch.
“Move him, Theron. Your
death if he wakes.”
a surprising gentleness the giant lifted the admiral up and deposited him
on the couch, made a deep bow and vanished.
Vicky covered Nelson with an afghan that had been thrown on the
floor and took off his shoes, then stepped back to admire her handiwork.
Impulsively she reached down and stroked his cheek, watching him
you had best be listening to me. I
will not lose another.”
am listening, sister. You are
playing a dangerous game, Galené.
so the wise one deigns to make an appearance!”
She stepped out of the office, closing the door quietly.
“And you would be -- where?”
answer, another female shimmered out of the air.
This one was not an exact copy; her hair was colored a softer
silver, bound up with cockleshell combs.
She was tinted a darker green, and deep green dots formed a
mesmerizing mosaic across her cheeks and temples.
emerald eyes swept her sister up and down.
“Look at you, staying in this body!
You've always had a softer spot in your heart for these humans than
I, Galené. But this one --
this one is special to you.”
Seaview and her men are special, Eukranté. Alright,
perhaps it goes a little deeper than that,” she said in response to her
sister's scoffing look. “You
use your head to keep your charges safe, sister, while I use my head and
my heart. The end result
is the same; they do not die before their time.
What kind of god am I if I cannot do that?
So when I make a mistake, it's a big mistake.”
have always done the best you could.”
folded her arms and leaned against the door.
“Oh, have I. The
death of Admiral Callahan and all those men on the bridge of the San Francisco works against that.”
She shook her head. “It
should never have happened.”
was war, sister. You saved so
many in those years. The body
you were in was gravely wounded himself.
A lapse in judgment is understandable, even permissible.
Such things can be forgiven.”
“You talk big for someone who is worshipped by fisherman looking for larger catches!”
green eyes went black. “You
flaunt your high standing with Zeus.
The Moraie will not be the only ones you cross.”
goddess took her sister by the arms.
“Forgive me, 'ranté. I
am sorry I said that, truly. You
are only looking out for my best interests, I know.”
threw up her hands in obvious disgust.
“You cannot protect everyone, sister.
Do not get too close to this one, Galené. If you go beyond the limits foretold to you, not even I will
be able to protect you. What
the Fates portend--”
Nelson is not going to die, no matter what you or anyone else believes the
augurs portend!” Galene
cried. “Don't you see why?
Others may have no problem with a good man going to his death, but
Victoria Wynn would.”
her head, Eukranté slowly
began to fade. “A human
emotion. Just remember my
words, sister. We must all
choose our battles. Perhaps
this one is meant to be lost.”
reached out and touched the spot in the air where the other goddess had
been. “You mean well, 'ranté,
but this is a battle I will win. You’ll see.”
would not do to get complacent. Saving
Admiral Nelson’s life was all that mattered.
She had been given the Seaview
and her crew to protect. That
seeing him again sent a little frisson of excitement up and down her spine
just meant that her task was as important as she had originally thought.
That was all. She had a job to do.
* * * *
her surprise, she had actually curled up in the big bed and fallen
promptly asleep. The sound of
a foghorn brought her to full awareness.
Vicky stretched her muscles and pronounced them fit for duty.
The upstairs was quiet; the admiral slept on. The bedside clock said 0658.
Time to start the day.
little magic and her uniform was restored to its immaculate condition from
its pavement encounter. Dressing
quickly, she went to the kitchen. As
soon as she heard the water running upstairs she put the coffee on.
When he walked in she had just placed the morning's newspaper
across his plate and filled a juice glass.
this is a pleasant surprise.”
have the bacon and toast ready in a minute. Best to start your day off
with a good breakfast. Didn't
your mamma tell you that, Admiral?”
do believe she did,” Nelson said, seating himself. “But I don't believe she said anything about rating such
tell me you don't have stewards aboard the Seaview,
do. But they're not usually
s-so.…” he stammered slightly as she leaned over his shoulder and
poured coffee into his cup, first pulling her .45 out of the shoulder
holster and laying it on the table. “Resourceful.”
eyes smiled innocently as she spoke.
“I s'pose you could call it that.”
took a sip of coffee, and his eyes were just as innocent as he asked,
“I'm pretty sure the last thing I remember is sitting at my desk. Care to tell me how I ended up on the couch?”
They come in mighty handy.”
Cyclops.” He regarded her
last thing I want to do is break another nail.
Jest fixed these up again.”
She held up her hands for inspection.
see.” He looked down into
the coffee cup. “Well, it's
nice to know that Cyclops wear perfume, too.”
blushed like a young girl, and quickly put both hands to her cheeks, eyes
wide. “You could not have
been awake! I watched you,
you were sleeping soundly....” She
stopped talking as his shoulders went up and down in silent laughter.
“How do you know?”
noticed the scent when I woke up. I
smell it now. But somehow, I
don't think it's a Cyclops that wears it.”
covered her embarrassment by pointing at the paper.
“Never mind that. Read.”
picked it up and scanned the headline.
“Where'd the paper come from?”
are a lot of nice driveways close to here which happen to have newspapers
You stole a newspaper from one of our neighbors?”
What is this stealing? There
was no one home!”
do you know that?”
eyebrows knit together. “I
sure you didn't steal it?”
shook her head, her frown getting larger, and then she caught the twinkle
in the admiral's eye. “No
sir, the house is empty. Papers
pilin' up, that looks bad. I
took 'em all.”
thinking. Still, I don't want
to upset our neighbors.”
allowed a little grin to show. “It
won't happen again.”
that it doesn't,” he said, the corners of his mouth turning up.
* * * *
was just finishing the dishes when there was a knock from the front of the
apartment. Nelson started to
rise from the chair but Vicky laid a hand on his shoulder, picked up her
gun and slipped through the kitchen door.
A few seconds went by and she was back, with Lee Crane following
morning, Lee,” Nelson said, turning from a smiling captain to a smiling
lieutenant, who stood at the sink with a coffee pot in one hand and a gun
in the other. “Coffee?”
for me, thanks. I've got our
ride -- figured I'd give everyone a lift down to the dock.”
let me get my briefcase.”
Admiral Nelson walked upstairs, Lee asked quickly, “How's everything
a quiet night was spent by all. He's
not so bad -- when he's asleep. Quite
charming, actually.” She
felt a little warm flush stain her cheeks as she recalled the scene in the
admiral’s office and his comments on the lingering perfume.
She saw the captain’s speculative gaze on her and hurriedly
sought to divert him as she proceeded to clear the table. “Did you get Mr. Morton away?”
recognized the tactic immediately but allowed her strategy to work.
“Yes, kicking and screaming.
But like you said, fewer targets.”
He sighed silently to himself as he watched her move around the
kitchen, refusing to meet his eyes. Well,
you can't blame a guy for hoping.
“I'll see you two at the car.”
Admiral stepped out into the foyer as she was grabbing her cap from the
sideboard. “It's probably a
good thing we're not walking down the hill.
It, uh, might be somewhat difficult in those.”
He pointed down at her high heels, a little smile forming on his
I'd just float down if it came to that.”
Deliberately, she reached down and hiked her skirt above her knees,
careful to keep the scars covered. “Like
my legs, do you?”
colored right up to his sandy eyebrows.
“I would be lying if I said I hadn't noticed.”
the compliments coming, Admiral. It
isn't just goddesses that love to be worshipped.
settled his cover on his head and straightened the brim.
“We'll see about that.” He
opened the door and held it open. “By
the way, I've been meaning to ask: Aren't
you a little far from the Mediterranean?”
dismissed that with a wave of her hand.
“There's more to do these days, sir.
When Greece ruled the oceans it was easy to stay in the Aegean,
doing what was needed. Our
charges now sail the seven seas. We
Nereids must needs bend with the times.”
She grinned broadly. “I'm
am I.” His grin almost
matched her own.
began a quiet workweek, a time of watching out for a man who didn't seem
to be around. Vicky’s
contacts had reported that Dunning had been spotted in Rio de Janeiro.
Vicky did not believe it. As
she put it, in the colorful accent that everyone was rapidly coming to
enjoy, “Dunning wouldn’t miss a chance to put anotha notch on his six
computer installation was going well, thanks to the contractors being
putty in her hands. Just when
the last straw had been reached, when Nelson had complained one too many
times Vicky would step in and sooth their ruffled feelings with a polite
turn of phrase and a big smile. The
work would begin again.
admiral and lieutenant began to form a familiar partnership as they went
about their daily routine. The
crisp white uniform that never looked wrinkled could be seen anywhere
Nelson went, whether down at the dock, at the Institute's offices or even
at the gym. He had firmly
insisted she stay outside for that. That
battle had been won at least.
scuttlebutt would be overheard that their relationship was more than a
working one. When that
happened, the gossiper would be quietly taken aside and told in no
uncertain terms what he could do with his opinion.
Even Angie, the admiral's secretary had come around.
The word had gotten out why Vicky was there.
only hitch was that Dr. Greer had called and said his trial had been
continued due to a death in one of the lawyer's families.
It meant a few more days of waiting, but he was still confident of
Friday finally arrived. Lee had left with the contractors, headed to a shindig that would keep him partying long into the night. It was just the two of them now in the nose, double-checking service requests when Nelson put down the report he was reading and cleared his throat.
know, you’ve been a tremendous help.
This computer job has gone smoothly, thanks to you.
Could I interest you in dinner this evening? The Biltmore has a terrific dining room.
I've been there, uh, many times.”
first thought was to turn him down flat, say it was far too dangerous.
But goddesses have resources beyond the ken of mere mortals.
She would call in a few favors.
And tell herself that he had been working too hard and needed a
diversion, that the delight she'd immediately felt was just a chance to do
something different. “I'd
be happy to.”
I'll call and make the reservation, and then we’ll head back to
the apartment. Be ready by
Admiral? Don't put the
reservation in your name.”
looked surprised for a moment, and then nodded.
“Do you ever stop protecting me, Lieutenant?”
* * * *
1915 her resources were in place. Eukranté
was fuming, angry at being asked to be at the hotel when she had better
things to do, but little Sao was eager to help.
They would be her advance warning if anything was amiss.
Best of all, the goddess had requested and been granted a respite
from the pain. That had used
up the rest of her favors but it would be worth it.
was still deciding whether she wanted to switch out her diamond studs for
dangling emerald earrings when the admiral knocked on the bedroom door.
“You’re early! Five minutes!” She
left the studs in.
would not tell the admiral about the crush of attendants who had assisted
her. Her sisters had fussed
and scurried about, fixing her hair, twisting it into a simple chignon at
the nape of her neck, adding two large white orchids for dramatic effect.
Others had applied her makeup.
And Sao had been the one to appear with the dress, whereby Vicky
had clapped her hands and pronounced perfect.
The little black dress skimmed her hips, had short-capped sleeves
and a square neckline cut low enough to show cleavage. The dress came to the center of her knees.
Black stockings and black stiletto heels finished the look.
The paleness of her skin and hair created the illusion that she was
a column of light in the darkness. The
sparkle from the diamonds did the rest.
little color on her cheeks and lips, a splash of Shalimar,
and she was ready -- and uncharacteristically nervous.
She had firmly told herself that this was not a date; she of all
people knew what her true role was. But
she was looking forward to this, to the opportunity of being seen and
was the point being a goddess if you couldn’t be desired occasionally?
up her purse -- nothing in it but a compact and lipstick, no weapon
tonight -- she took a deep breath and opened the door.
Watching him step back, his eyes widening, she automatically asked,
nothing. You look beautiful.
You are beautiful,” he replied proudly, the light coming up in
his eyes. Gone was the
lieutenant in her stern white uniform.
For the lack of a better word, he was looking at a goddess.
She was his for the evening. His
face reflected his pleasure.
did a little twirl, the dress flaring out slightly, and saw his eyes glide
up and down, taking in every detail.
The unbidden thought I wore
this for you swooped into her mind.
To hide the flush spreading on her checks she turned swiftly and
closed the door.
Admiral. You look pretty good
was dressed in a superbly tailored charcoal-colored suit, pristine white
shirt and black and silver striped silk tie.
Every inch of him screamed rugged strength, authority and
protection. A woman would
feel safe in those arms. A
happy woman would know what he was saying with those eyes.
down the staircase, he offered her his arm and said, “Shall we?”
talked animatedly as they were driven to the hotel, but he was only
halfheartedly listening. After
his delight at her appearance, reality and his ordered sense of the
universe started to sink in. The
realization that this was all play-acting, that the person sitting next to
him in the back of the Institute’s sedan was a facade, was slowly coming
into focus. He had accepted that she was there to protect him, even
accepted that she was a goddess, he had seen it with his own eyes.
Obviously, then, her interest in him was purely professional. Just
as his interest in her was of course the same!
That went without saying… didn’t it?
the matter, Admiral?"
started slightly as she touched his arm.
“Nothing, nothing at all. It's
just been a while since I've had such a stunning dinner companion.”
out of that uniform is always a special treat, I'll tell ya.
By the way, just in case you're thinkin' I've fallen down on the
job,” she whispered, leaning over so the driver wouldn't hear, “there
are two, count 'em, two, Nereids helpin' out tonight.”
didn't answer right away, lost as he was in the creamy smoothness of her
neck and the swelling bodice of her dress.
Never mind that her perfume was like a time bomb ticking away at
away, I presume,” he answered huskily.
of course. Otherwise little
green girls take a hell of a lot of explainin'.”
were still laughing when they got out of the car.
He would enjoy himself tonight.
There would be no harm in that.
felt the excitement the moment they entered the dining room, saw the envy
in the eyes of the male diners as the maitre'd led them to their table.
That she was with him
gave him a flush of pleasure that he hadn't experienced in a long time.
took charge of ordering for both of them, to Nelson’s begrudging assent
and the obvious delight of their waiter, who exclaimed rapturously over
every choice. As each dish
came out her praise was effusive, and eventually the head chef appeared,
to be fussed over extravagantly and kissed several times.
Soon every waiter in the place had been by the table at least once
to make sure their every need was seen to.
Her enthusiasm soon carried over to the other tables and the
atmosphere in the room became electric.
was followed by coffee and brandy, and finally, when he didn't think he
had an ounce of strength left in him, she led him to the dance floor.
What he lacked in experience he made up with enthusiasm, soon
settling into a rhythm that surprised and delighted his partner.
When the music stopped everyone in the room applauded.
returned to the table and collapsed, both spent.
a good time, Admiral?” The
question wasn’t necessary. It
was evident by the lack of tension in his eyes and his body language.
God, I can't remember when I've had a better time.
I can't believe you got me out there.
If you ever tell Lee about this, I'll deny it entirely...you've got
blackmail enough to last for years, young lady.”
you best keep doin' what I say, or else.”
said that with her back to him, scanning the room -- she hadn't done a
security sweep in a while -- so when she turned around again she was only
inches away from his face.
filled his eyes as he slowly leaned forward and cupped her chin, the other
hand caressing her wrist. “You're
beautiful, Miss Wynn. Have I
told you that this evening?”
would have answered him but for the sharp breeze that wafted suddenly past
his fingers. Without thinking
she broke free, and saw the hurt and embarrassment replace the other look.
is it, Eukranté?”
think there is someone here who should not be, sister.
think? Don't you know?”
She was carrying on a conversation with herself, but her warning
finger told him all he needed to know.
It is nothing after all. Sao
is inexperienced at these things. A
did that deliberately!”
am only saving you from making a bigger mistake, sister.
sat there fuming for a few moments while Nelson watched in confusion.
“Jest one of my sisters tryin' to be funny.
And failin'.” The
mood had definitely been broken. “I'm
sorry. Admiral, time to
leave, I guess. We need to
get the bill....”
He waved a hand impatiently. "It's already been taken care of, put to my personal account.”
a handy little arrangement. We'll
have to do this again sometime.”
you'd like.” He did not
sound happy at the thought.
sat in silence, neither looking at the other.
She was angry with her sister, but especially angry with herself.
She had been on the edge of surrendering to him, already imagining
the pleasure that would give her. She
needed to believe she wasn't playing with emotions, both hers and his.
Then why did the whole evening feel like a lie, all of a sudden?
rose from the table. “I'll
get our car, sir.” She was
out of reach before he could say anything.
pushed back his chair and followed her out.
inside the vehicle Nelson turned away from her and stared out the window.
He knew that what he had done was inexcusable.
But holding her close while they were dancing, seeing the fire in
her eyes, knowing what was reflected in his own... he was coming close to crossing a line, a line that when broken he wouldn't, couldn't step
back from. But she isn’t real!
churning, he stole a sidelong glance at Vicky.
She was sitting very straight, hands clasped together in her lap,
her face turned towards the floor. As
the lights of another car flashed through the window, her head flew up and
she pressed a palm against his shoulder.
The headlights faded, and the hand went back to her lap. He realized she was getting ready to push him down into the
seat, if necessary. He didn't
believe she'd even known she'd done it.
What was it that Lee had said?
She can be anything you want
her to be. He didn't want
a bodyguard, didn't think he wanted a goddess.
He wanted her. But
just who was that?
she dismissed the driver Nelson went upstairs and waited, pacing a little,
the words of his apology forming. He
found himself at the head of the stairway as she came up. God forgive him, he wanted to touch her, knew he needed to,
wanted to tear that little dress off her shoulders and explore every inch
of that exquisite skin, every last
inch. Wanted badly to take her to bed, the beautiful hair tangled in his
fingers, feel her tremble to his touch as he ran his hands along her body.
Ashamed at himself for even considering such actions he went to the
door of the bedroom and flipped it open for her to enter.
want to apologize, Lieutenant. The
wine must have gone to my head. That,
and your perfume. Thank you
for a wonderful evening.” When
he leant forward to kiss
her on the cheek she shifted her face and caught his lips.
Her hand snaked around his head and she pressed her mouth to his
again, closing her eyes. His
were wide open as his hands wandered up to settle on the curves of her
face. The world went quiet
and still. Murmuring
sensuously, he said her name. “Vicky....”
shuddered and pulled back, her eyes open wide.
He isn't kissing me.
He's kissing a dead girl.
me, Admiral. The goddess has
made a grave tactical error. A
stupid mistake. My fault
entirely, sir. Please excuse
flew back down the staircase, changing into the goddess even before she
reached the floor below. Nelson
heard one heel ring out against the bottom step, and then silence.
She was gone, out of the house.
The quiet settled again. He
could hear the faint roar of the sea even over the roar of his heartbeat.
She had surprised him, and he had responded.
The act had been rash, the blame his.
But she was so beautiful... His thoughts flashed back to the
exquisite softness of her lips, how she had felt, melted into his arms.
then it came to him, what he had done and she had meant. And as he had done too many times to count, his heart
hardened a little. An impossible situation, to get involved with a -- ghost.
I'll apologize, of course. He
turned away from the bedroom and made for the office.
Galené kept watch until the lights had all gone out. Even then, she did not return until the sun began its slow
creep over the foothills. Somewhere,
she knew Eukranté was laughing.
* * * *
had spent a restless night, impatient to make amends for forgetting
himself in the heat of the moment. He
had kept his life purposely empty, to keep himself and those around him
from being hurt. The threat
of someone like Dunning was evidence enough that he could ill afford to
get close to anyone, lest they become a target.
This one, though -- this one was different.
She didn’t need his
protection. He realized he
was thinking now of the goddess, and not the human.
When had that happened? Which
one was his concern for? He
had to find a way to separate the two himself before he could even think
of approaching her again.
knew her sense of responsibility was strong enough that she would not
disappear forever, and he was right; when he came into the kitchen Vicky
was there, his coffee cup filled, paper on the table (from the main gate,
she’d kept her promise, she had told him).
didn't know how the sink had gotten so dirty, but she was scrubbing every
inch of it. She was in a pair
of hip hugging blue jeans, and he found himself wanting to grab that
little waist and... stop it, Harry!
Galené -- I'd like to make something clear.
I think we're both sorry for what happened last night.
You were stunning, the moon and the stars were properly aligned,
the dinner was superb and I got carried away. A
lot's happened lately that… well, I let my enjoyment get out of hand,
and forgot myself. It won't
turned round. He was standing
apart from her, discomfiture in his eyes; Admiral Harriman Nelson was not
used to apologizing. In
an instant, she replayed the events of last night.
There had been his spicy aftershave that filled her senses every
time he'd leaned close. That
sexy cleft she couldn't tear her eyes away from.
The way he'd looked in that wonderful suit, carefully groomed, his
blue eyes bright and clear. What
woman wouldn't have been glad to be seen with him?
He was magnificent. She
had been the one to forget herself and steal the kiss, leaning into him,
wanting more - until the moment had been broken.
It had been Vicky that he was kissing; she could not fault him for
that. It had taken the long
hours outside to remind her that no matter what the goddess wanted,
right now she was Vicky. The vision faded into contemplation
of the one fact that would soon put an end to everything.
There won't be time to
talk, when Dunning kills me. Better
to end all this now, before he gets in too deep.
Or was it herself she was talking about?
her nerves, she turned and regarded him gravely. “Thank you, sir, but that was all my fault last night.
You are one handsome devil, Admiral, and it turned my head. Please
believe me when I say I had a wonderful time. I’m
sorry that I led you to think there could be more, but there can’t.
There's a good reason that we need to leave it at that, and I’d
appreciate it if you did.” She
blew the air out of her cheeks, turned back to the sink and threw down the
scrub pad. “Lee called and
wants you down on the boat. Phil's
there and he has some readouts he'd like you to look at.
The car's outside waitin' to go.
I'll meet you there.”
silence stretched a fraction too long.
took a quick, controlling breath. “If
that's what you want,” he said woodenly.
isn't, it isn't!
What she wanted was to run into his arms and forget about
everything except how his lips felt against hers, how his hands brought
the heat up inside her trembling body.
But that was what somebody
else wanted. The
lieutenant merely said, “It is, sir.”
* * * *
took only a few minutes to get down to the boat, the way he was driving.
As the admiral went through the hatch she appeared beside him,
startling him, but he said nothing. The
expression on his face said something else.
was in the nose, looking at a bunch of computer printouts. Standing next to him was the contractor's chief computer
technician, Phil Simpson, when they walked in.
“I've brought down the read-outs from yesterday, Admiral,” Simpson said. “Take a gander at this while I tweak a couple more things. Be right back.” With a grin at Vicky, he disappeared into the control room.
looked up from the printouts, a big smile on his face. “This is going along great, just a few more tests,
and….” Lee's eyes
traveled from the admiral to her, the questions forming,
and the smile faded. “Is
fine, sir,” Vicky replied formally.
Lee, I think we're done here. Lieutenant
Wynn, if you have anything on the Seaview,
I suggest you get it now.”
me?” The confusion on her
face was evident.
decided that I'm done with a babysitter.
Your services are no longer required.
Lee, I'd appreciate it if you'd make arrangements to take the
Lieutenant wherever she wants to go.”
will be impossible, Admiral, and you damn well know it!” Vicky said coldly, a silent fury building up inside.
it is not impossible. I
suggest you do as I say, Lieutenant, or I will make sure that the whole
world knows who you are and more precisely, what you are.”
I?” Nelson answered
slowly lowered the printout he was holding.
The admiral's face was flushed and angry, but it also bore a look
of sad resignation, as if he realized that what he was saying would put an
end to everything. Already
Lee could tell that he regretted the harsh words.
But Lee always knew that stubbornness was a trait that Harriman
Nelson had been born with. His
eyes turned toward Vicky. She
looked equally livid, her eyes narrowing and her hands turning white as
she fisted them at her sides. Neither,
apparently, was in a mood to back down.
sighed heavily. How often had
he been in a scenario like this, playing the mediator?
That it involved the emotions of people he cared about rather than
cold facts made the stakes even higher.
He tried to calm both adversaries.
“Admiral, I think that you should rethink your position--”
your have your orders.” Nelson
stood up and started for the spiral stairway.
stepped in front of him, blocking his way.
“For what I said, you can punish me with your silence and your
contempt, if it makes you feel better, sir." She had kept Vicky’s form but it was Galené that was
speaking now. "But don't
even think of threatening me with a foolish attempt to make me give up my
responsibilities! I am a
goddess, Admiral. We don’t
respond well to threats.”
that as it may, I've made my decision.
I do not need your help. Consider
lieutenant locked eyes with him for one second, her color coming up as she
searched his face. Even
though she wasn't in uniform, just a simple shirt and jeans, she went to
full attention, fingers placed precisely along the centerline of her
pants, feet together, eyes staring at a place far over his head.
that an order, Admiral Nelson?”
thought if they had been under the Polar
icecap, her voice couldn't have been colder.
what happened between you two last night to cause this rift?”
When she didn’t answer Lee tried again.
“Try to be patient with him, he’s not used to needing care, he
whirled on Lee. “He
doesn’t understand plenty, Captain!”
Turning, Vicky beat savagely with her fists on the top of the
console chair. Just as
quickly as the attack had begun she released an agonized breath and
gripped the chair, her energy spent.
“But maybe, that’s my fault,” she said quietly.
voice was also quiet. “What
are you going to do?”
I'm not leavin’, that's for damn sure!
For all his power and influence, the last thing Harriman Nelson can
do is get rid of me!”
Simpson chose that moment to reappear.
“Hey, where's the Admiral going?
I wanted to show him these readouts!”
The stubborn, pigheaded ol' so and so, I’m gonna kill 'im!”
Vicky brushed past Phil and disappeared through the hatch.
computer tech looked dumbfounded at Lee.
“What was that all about? Am
I missing something here?”
clapped him on the shoulder. “You
have no idea, Phil.”
* * * *
is ridiculous. I'm sneaking
around on my own property.
had jumped in the car and immediately headed for the beach road.
A hidden elevator had been installed years ago into the cliff to
give easy access to the shore. The elevator could be opened only by those with a special
code, and it took only a few seconds to tap in the combination and start
the short descent to the ground. Here,
where the elevator opened onto the sands of the Institute's private beach
he could calm down and let his thoughts return to normal.
And end this, so he could go back to the perfect world he’d
created for himself.
was gazing out to sea when the voice came from behind him.
turn my back for five minutes and you take the opportunity to escape!”
threw up his hands and said, “Did I not tell you that I no longer needed
reached out and pulled him back towards the elevator.
He shrugged off her hand. Infuriated,
she became the goddess. Nelson's
eyes met hers briefly, then flickered as he glanced away.
if that's the way you want it,” she said with great vehemence.
“Admiral, I can't be the person you want me to be.
I can only be myself.”
think you've made that quite clear. Let
me make this clear -- I am no longer interested in your services!
The Institute is one of the safest places on earth.
Our security is second to none!”
“Oh, as good as when Captain Crane snuck in and showed up aboard the Seaview? Yes, that's real good.”
dismissed that with an impatient wave of his hand. “We've made changes since that happened.
Cameras, patrols, the works.”
held up a finger. “One man,
Admiral. One man determined
to get in here and kill you. It's
a piece of cake for someone like Dunning.”
She looked up at the cliff face and then surveyed their
surroundings, looking down the empty beach.
you can tell yourself, this spot is virtually inaccessible. Our property is triple-fenced on both sides, the elevator is
monitored, and you can see anyone approaching from the water.
One would have to be invisible to surprise anyone here.
I come as often as I can. It's
where I do my best thinking. I
merely felt the need to get away and think over some upcoming projects
that require my attention. My
solitary attention! So
if you don't mind….”
shot him a mutinous glare. “You
can't get rid of me so easily, Admiral.
And please, sir, we both know why you’re here.
You didn't come here today just to get away. You know he's nearby, don't you?
I know it too. Putting
yourself in harm's way deliberately is foolhardy!”
you did say I was an arrogant fool. I
will not hide in my cabin or my home, jumping at shadows. By exposing myself won't it get this Dunning to come out?
Risking my life, my life and nobody else's is a small price to pay
to bring the murderer of that young woman to justice!”
getting yourself killed is a fair exchange?
Your martyr complex is quite intact, isn’t it, Admiral?
What do you think you're trying to prove?”
she demanded angrily.
one else should be in danger because of me!”
is where I come in! Your
dying is not happening on my watch! Look
had turned away from her, and in an instant she had grabbed his shoulders
and spun him around, the fury on her face matching his.
Nelson reached up to push her off and winced as the pressure of her
fingers increased. She was in
full Galené persona, hair forming a cloud around her body, silver eyes
was immediately equally determined, mouth set in a thin line and his eyes
narrowed and glaring. Her
hair was writhing around her, and in an imperious act he grabbed a handful
of curls and pulled her towards him, pinning her arms to her side.
“We'll see how you like it.”
she said, “You can't possible think you can hold me!”
think I'm doing a pretty good job,” he growled breathlessly.
was in his arms, where she wanted to be.
The need to be desired, to be loved for the woman she was and not
someone else arose, and there would be no tamping it down this time. Staring into his eyes, her lips parting, she whispered, “If
you'd have wanted to get this close, you should have just told me.”
Nelson asked, “Would it have worked?”
she whispered as she kissed him, forcing him against the elevator door.
Nelson looked shocked and then eager as he kissed her back, drawing
her into a tight embrace.
through the khaki shirt she could feel the warmth of his skin, his arms
strong and firm as they tensed against her back and neck. His heart was beating rapidly
and Galené reveled in the furious life of it, pulling him closer to her,
a moan escaping her lips. His
desire was radiating from him and she wanted to take that strength and add
it to her own. She wanted
this man, wanted to know him, wanted him to know her completely.
She leaned into the kiss this time, her fingers skimming through
drew back slightly and his fingers settled on her jaw. Slow, even breathing whispered over her lips.
Unhurriedly, deliberately, while she shivered in anticipation, he
touched her with tiny kisses, on her eyes, her cheeks, finding her lips
for a moment and then moving to her neck.
He laid a kiss of utter tenderness in the hollow of her throat and
her legs buckled as desire robbed her body of strength. They
stared at each other, the need in her eyes matching his own.
His body was hot against hers.
Tendrils of her hair began working at the buttons of his shirt.
hands came up and began slowly traveling down her arms, trapping her hands
in his, bending her arms behind her back.
Releasing one hand, slowly, sensuously he slipped the chiton off
one shoulder, teasingly leaving the other alone while his mouth began a
slow exploration of her skin. The
world was spell-cast, all reason gone, both of them being pulled to a
destination from which there was no escape.
know that we are still deciding his fate, goddess.
This conquest is ill advised.
familiar warning, one she had heard before.
To disobey would mean only one thing.
her eyes, she pushed him violently away, her heart crumbling, turning over
in her chest. “How dare
you! No one touches a goddess
without her permission!”
are you talking about?” Anger
was mounting on his features. “Seems
to me it was you that--”
“Silence! Nereids belong to the
sea, Admiral. We are not
playthings of mortal men.”
“Never would I ever consider you a plaything!”
how easy it is to say that now! Were
you kissing the goddess just then, or was it Victoria Wynn?”
Just who would that be?"
Her face grew stony. “Admiral
Nelson, return to the boat. And
if you think you don't have to obey,
you would be very wrong. I'll
be along shortly.”
curt dismissal hit home. Nelson
whirled and stabbed the call button and the elevator door opened
immediately. Once inside he
turned and met her eyes. She
almost stepped back at the cold fury she saw in them.
done this twice. There won't
be a third time,” he said grimly.
stabbed at the button inside and the door slid closed.
Galené rolled over and pressed her back to the door, and closed her eyes.
Perhaps, if she’d made it plainer that it was as the goddess,
and not the human... stop it,
Galene, you’re getting as bad as he is!
She deeply regretted her part in his frustration.
But how to tell someone that whether they lived or died was being debated,
that capricious gods had decided it would be amusing to argue that a
man such as he was not important enough to be saved.
What good was her protection, then?
What good was she to anyone?
was a small splash from the sea.
know better than this, Galené.”
me the lectures, sister.”
shimmered upwards until she was towering over her sister goddess.
It made Galené look very small, and the downward tilting of her
head made her appear even smaller, no strength in her limbs.
She did not look up even when Eukranté burst out, “You cannot
allow yourself to have feelings for this human, Galené!
Your only obligation is to save his life, if the fates decree.
have told him, and I will tell you -- he is not dying on my watch.
Anything else I feel... well, as you can see, I think we will all
be spared any continuation of that scenario.”
* * * *
knocked on the admiral’s cabin door and announced her name.
Lee opened the door.
to see you again, Lieutenant,” Crane said, glancing apprehensively at
the admiral, who was seated at the desk writing.
The pen stilled for a second, and then the scratching resumed.
Lee’s eyebrows went up in a silent questioning stare at her, and
he put his hand on her wrist. She
covered it with her own hand, grateful for his support.
phone on the desk rang. Automatically
she took two quick steps and reached for it at the same time as the
admiral, and their hands met. He
pulled back as if he’d been stung and Vicky picked up the receiver, her
chin coming up. “Your bad
manners are showing again, Admiral,” she scolded.
listened for a few seconds and held the phone out towards Nelson.
“For you, sir. Dr.
took it without looking at her and said, “Sheldon!
I hope that ridiculous trial is over at last.” A smile began forming on his lips as he listened to the voice
coming from the phone. “Wonderful
news! What's that?
William Cavendish is sponsoring a reception for you?
Will he be there? Splendid.
Yes, yes, put my name down on the guest list. Yes, I know how to get to his estate. Tomorrow at 4:00 PM. Fine,
Sheldon, and congratulations again. No, no, you're welcome.
Glad to help.”
and Lee exchanged looks. Vicky
said flatly, “You can't go.”
course I'm going! The judge
threw the case out of court. I
need to congratulate Sheldon in person.
And I've been trying to interest William Cavendish in one of my
research projects for ages. The
attempt to mine the seas must be thoroughly researched and all the facts
made known before any work begins. The
Cavendish Company can fund that, and more.
He's throwing a party for Sheldon.
I may not have another chance to talk to him for months.”
will find out about this. He'll
me, then. You're a goddess,
right? Prove it,” he bit
Lee began, haltingly, ready to step in again to settle another
held up a hand. “No, Lee,
all she's done since she's been here is inform us about her supreme
ability to protect me. Now’s
the time to prove it.”
longer bothering to sound like Vicky, she said, “Oh, I shall.
No doubt tomorrow.” She
motioned at Lee. “Captain
Crane, outside, please.” Throwing
a smirk back at Nelson she went straight through the door.
Lee opened it and confronted her outside.
what can I do--”
done with talking, Captain. I’ll
meet you two at the party. Dunning
will be there, never doubt that. This
little game will soon be over.”
was nothing he could say to that.
certainty came over her features. “Trust
me, Captain, it’s the choice Vicky would make, too.
We've all got choices, and I've made the right one.
That's all anyone can ask, of a god or a man. See you tomorrow.”
bad about this guy being his size; he needed the uniform.
pulled the dead waiter into a storage closet and shut the door.
He wouldn't be found for hours.
He was not pleased that this new piece of information about
Nelson's whereabouts had cost him his whole advance from the Giacomo hit,
but since that hadn't gone off too well, it didn't matter.
He'd kill Nelson, then go and find Giacomo again.
It was only a matter of time, for both of them.
* * * *
valet getting ready to open the car door jumped a little when the female
voice sounded in his ear. “Next
one’s mine, if ya please.”
had she come from? He stepped aside, his face a study in bewilderment, the look
quickly fading as he re-focused on the need to keep the line of vehicles
entering the Cavendish event moving along quickly. “Sure, lady, whatever you say.”
smiled at him and waited for the Institute’s car to roll to a stop.
The passenger doors opened, and it was Lee who got out on the side
she was facing.
eyes warmed at her outfit, a light summer dress of white silk covered by a
jacket of sapphire blue. Her
hair was pulled tight into a ponytail that hung far down her back.
look wonderful, Vicky.”
you, Commander. It's nice to
see y'all out of uniform. That
includes you, too, Admiral. That's
a very pretty jacket.“ Both
men were dressed casually in slacks and blazers.
Nelson stood out especially in an expensive camel's-hair blazer
that complemented his cream-colored shirt and tan slacks.
Lee had chosen a combination of navy blue slacks and jacket, and
grey shirt. “You've got
that stinky granny look on your face, though.
I'd suggest dealin' with that before you get inside.
Nobody will want to talk to you.”
Nelson looked from her to Lee, who was staring up into space and
clenching his jaw to keep from laughing.
“What did you just say?”
Admiral. Jest having a little
fun. It's a party, ain't it?
Fight’s over and we’ve fought to a draw, seems to me.
I know you didn't mean all those nasty things you said.
I accept your apology,” she said innocently.
words, just noises came from the admiral.
“Jest as I thought.” She took Lee by the arm and smiled at both of them. “It's a beautiful Santa Barbara day. No place I'd rather be then with two such handsome gentleman. No place,” she said, her voice softening, knowing the truth of her statement.
huge Montecito estate owned by the wealthy industrialist and entrepreneur
William Cavendish was filled with partygoers.
They had just walked into the expanse of the gardens when a tall,
overly suntanned man strode up, hand outstretched and too white teeth
Nelson! I'm William
Cavendish,” he roared, shaking hands.
to meet you at last. Thanks
for the invitation.”
at all, not at all.” The
words were directed at Nelson, but it was Vicky he was looking at.
“Well, you've certainly brought along a beautiful addition to our
little party. And just who
might you be, my dear?”
lip curled. “My name is
Victoria Wynn. I'm a
Lieutenant in the United States Navy.
And Admiral Nelson's bodyguard.”
well, feisty aren't we. My
congratulations, Admiral on your good fortune to have such a delightful companion.
Have a nice time, you two.”
He chuckled and turned to greet more guests.
eyes bored into his back as he walked away.
“Sure you can't find your funding some other way?”
began looking for Dr. Greer. There
would be no ruminating about the assassin.
Too many people here, too much security; Dunning would never take
the chance. Speaking of
security…. He looked down
at Vicky, watching her, her head turning from side to side.
He'd regretted the words said in anger at their last meeting the
moment he'd said them. She
wasn't dying on his watch, either. If
Dunning needed a target, Harry would make sure he'd find this one alone.
Sheldon. If you don't mind,
I'd like to speak to him in private!”
It came out gruffer than he intended, and he saw the flash of anger
appear in her eyes, followed by grim determination.
my guest, Admiral. You jest
go along. I'll visit here
with Commander Crane.”
* * * *
it crazy, coming to this party?”
stopped a waiter walking by and lifted two glasses of champagne off his
tray, passing one to Lee. “Yep,
but he's not interested in being told not to do somethin' at the
moment.” She raised her
glass in a salute. “Sir, I
want to tell yah, it was a pleasure workin' with you this past week.”
you make it sound so final?” He
said the words so quietly they seemed to disappear into the air.
is final. Dunning didn't know
what he was gettin' into, when he messed with Admiral Nelson. He needs to be stopped.
I'm glad it's worked out this way.
And it's time to let go of Vicky, and be myself again.”
She took a sip of champagne and added quickly, “Listen to me,
soundin' all sappy. This
whole business has brought out the worst in me, I swear.”
She set her glass down and then his and took his hands, squeezing
them tight. “Captain Crane, you're a fine officer, a gentleman, and the
best captain Seaview will ever
have. I asked you before to
keep her safe, and you're doing a fine job.
Just continue taking care of her, her crew and the ol' grump, when
he'll let you.” Her hands
moved to his face and rested there for a moment.
“A different time, a different place, perhaps,” she said
softly. “Now, please excuse
me. There was something about
that waiter... it's time to go to work.”
turned and quickly walked off before Lee could say anything else.
He watched her move directly to Nelson's side, greet Dr. Greer and
then say something into the admiral's ear, at the same time drawing him
away into a corner of the grounds. Lee
realized Vicky was setting the two of them up for a confrontation.
He touched his cheek where her hand had rested.
There had to be something he could do.
gardens were very crowded, and Lee began circling in the opposite
direction, searching for the man who had offered them champagne.
* * * *
looked up into Nelson's eyes, sensing his concern for her safety.
Her hand clamped down on his wrist and held on tight, and it was in
Galené's voice that she spoke. ““Please
don't do anything to put yourself in danger.
You're safe, you'll always be safe when I'm around.
No, don't say anything. Just
listen.” She reached up and
put her free hand around his neck and drew him closer to her, her lips
next to his ear. “I never
want you to go away angry from me, ever. “You
mean too much to me, I--” She
stopped and gently placed a kiss on his cheek, and whispered softly,
waiter at his side said, “A glass of the bubbly, sir?”
heard the abrupt intake of breath from the man she had sworn to protect.
Her hand started to creep toward her jacket as Nelson spoke.
mustache and wig today?”
today, Admiral. No, lady,
don’t even think about going for yours.
There’s a small but very deadly weapon pointing at your gut right
underneath this tray.” Dunning
glanced about quickly, then shifted his stance until he was standing in
front of them, looking at Galené as she glared at him.
“My, my, you have managed to pick up a pretty bodyguard. Just put your sweet little hands into your pockets, honey, and
you'll be fine.”
did as the assassin instructed her. “Mr.
Dunning, you've just made your last mistake.”
His arrogance would be her ally.
She needed to keep him talking, needed him to stand there for a few
you decided? You must decide!
yet, goddess. There is time.
know my name,” Dunning said, his eyes narrowing.
“How inconvenient for you. Now,
we're all going to walk
over to that gate over there, and go to the parking lot.”
Nelson stated flatly. “If
you want to kill me, you'll have to do it in front of all these
Of course he wouldn't cooperate.
She could see Lee a dozen yards or so away take notice.
She utilized one of her powers to keep him where he was.
not averse to shooting a whole lot of people at this party.
And I'm quite capable of disappearing in a big hurry.
It's one of my most amazing traits.
But a little privacy is never amiss.”
Dunning shifted the tray slightly.
“You don't come along, I'll kill her first.”
didn't hesitate. “Lead the
way, Dunning.” He put a
hand on Vicky's shoulder and made to push her away.
made a scoffing noise. “Oh,
I don't think so. That dog
won't hunt, Dunning.” She
moved forward and stood an inch from the tray, forcing Nelson to step
back. “So you jest go ahead
and shoot me, 'cause I'm sure as hell gonna shoot you.”
Her right hand rose up in her pocket.
both fired at the same time.
body slammed back into the admiral's, and as Nelson went down with her he
saw the utter shock on the assassin's face as he folded at the knees, tray
flying and the gun falling from his hand.
Freed from his immobility, Lee raced to Dunning's side and kicked
the weapon away.
erupted all around him, but the admiral wasn't hearing it or seeing it.
All he was aware of was the girl he was clutching who was holding
her hands to her chest, taking short breaths.
He pulled out from underneath her and bent forward, eyes searching
her face. She looked up and
was right; the Astra it was. Fool
figgered I was stupid, wouldn't have 'nother gun.
Is he dead?”
I think so.” Nelson looked
over at Lee, who nodded. On
his knees himself now, Lee scrambled over and pressed down on the girl's
I couldn't move! Damn,
why did you do that?” Lee
think your admiral would 'preciate your gettin' killed, Captain.”
Blood began to trickle from her mouth, and her eyes bored into
Nelson's. “Tell 'em, in the
desk at my 'partment, letters. Y'all
take--” One more breath,
and she was gone.
stopped pressing and sat back, shoulders falling.
Admiral Nelson looked up, into a cloudless blue sky, and then back
down. Without a sound, he
gathered the crumpled body into his arms.
men were exhausted when they returned to the boat.
The Santa Barbara PD interview had seemed to take forever, and then
they'd had to deal with both the FBI and Naval Intelligence.
Dunning was dead. So was Lieutenant Victoria Wynn.
Lee had heard that the news had been broken to the First Lady, who
had taken it very hard.
looked down at his hands. “If
I hadn't had to wash the blood off, I'd say this was all a bad dream.”
He rubbed his face, stubble catching on his palm.
admiral sat slumped over his desk, his face grey, his eyes lifeless.
The dried blood on his shirt was a livid reminder of her death.
No, not her death. Vicky’s
maybe, not Galené’s. Even
as he had sat there holding Vicky’s lifeless body in his arms, he had
reminded himself that she
wasn’t dead, couldn’t be. She
was a goddess, for Christ’s sake!
Thus they had expected to see her any second, expected to see a
sign that she was alive, but there had been nothing.
Not a whisper, not a sound.
can't believe she lied to us. Why?
I'll never understand it.” Nelson
ran a hand through his hair, and with the same hand began an angry
movement toward his desk. “Damn
it, Lee, where is she?”
never made it. A thick swatch
of gray-green hair appeared out of the air and clasped his hand, and Galené
giggled as they looked up at her in astonishment, surprise and joy
flashing over their features. She
was floating gently above the floor, her thick curls spiraling around her
in undulating waves.
know, you two really shouldn't look so gloomy.
I'm immortal, how many times do I have to say that?”
found his voice first. “But
it's been hours!”
“It might have seemed that way to you, but it's been but a few moments
She would not tell them that the Moraie were very angry that she had acted
to save Nelson's life without their consent. The summons to Olympus to address her indiscretion had taken
her away far longer than anticipated.
Zeus had made gruff noises about a punishment, but he had liked
Vicky. Galené had escaped
with one of his patented scoldings. “I
had to make sure they got into her apartment and found everything.
There were little notes, notes that Vicky was planning to send when
she got back from her trip. Those
will be read now.” Her wise
eyes became introspective as she tilted her head up and sighed heavily. Contemplation faded into amusement as she said, “I also like
to take souvenirs with me. Vicky
had some beautiful jewelry.” Then
she looked over at the Admiral, and smiled a tiny smile.
“Give us a few minutes, won't you, Captain?”
saw the look that passed between them, nodded and stood up. “Thank you, Galené.”
Glancing significantly at the admiral, he added, “for
waited until he had closed the door softly after him before turning back.
“I'm sorry I couldn't come to you right away.
Sometimes things can't be helped.
Are you alright?”
rose to his feet. “I am
feet settled on the floor and she went into his arms, sighing, her body
curving into his. The
tenseness in her body and eyes left her as he went over every detail of
her face. Up close, the subtle green coloring of her skin softened the
starkness of her steel blue eyes. Her
hair was almost still, tiny ringlets moving delicately to a dance of their
own. He raised a hand and
passed it over her cheek, and felt her quiver.
He was going to miss Vicky, miss hearing that happy voice.
He had come too close to falling in love with her.
But she had been a façade; the real woman was here.
He put Vicky away from him forever, and concentrated on the woman
he had in his arms. Hugging
her tight, he planted a kiss on her forehead and said, “You gave us
quite a scare, lass.”
I'm no lass! I am Galené, daughter of Nerus, the goddess of calm seas!
A girl I certainly am not!”
A woman, to whom I owe my life.”
believe I told you, Admiral. No
one dies on my watch.”
did tell me that. It's a
responsibility I find hard to accept.
And would it be too much to ask you to call me Harry?
Admiral Nelson is much too formal.
I'd like to think we've gone beyond formal.”
laughed at him gently, nodding her head up and down.
“You are my sworn charge,
Harry. A task I accepted
gladly. There is nothing more
important than to see that you, the Seaview,
and her men are kept safe. And
since that's been taken care of for a while, I'll be going.”
you really want me underfoot? That
would take a lot of
disentangled herself and stood out of arm's length, frowning, not meeting
his eyes. “Who do you see,
Harry? Who are you looking
see a beautiful woman that I care for deeply.”
heart soared, but she answered calmly.
“I wish with all my heart that that was all I was.
But this goddess has responsibilities and demands that cannot be
overlooked. When I am called
by others, I must answer. Of
all people, you should understand that.”
took her hands and pulled her to him.
“I do. Doing my duty
has cost me a lot. Is it
going to cost me you, too?”
looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; and therefore is winged Cupid
painted blind.' When
you need me again, I'll come.” It
was not what she wanted, but he would be safe.
She could not run the risk of the gods toying with him.
Wait for a while, wait until their attention was drawn to something
else. Then... she would
follow her heart, and never mind the consequences.
“But--” Her chin came up in the way that he was rapidly coming to
know, and he cast any further argument aside.
“I'll accept this. For
now. That quote...Shakespeare
got it right, didn't he?”
time.” She pulled
his head down and pressed her lips upon his, blotting out all light
and all thought. Then she was
out of his arms, floating backwards until she was far enough away to do a
swan dive and disappear through the deck.
returned to his desk, staring straight ahead for a long moment.
He slowly realized his hand was resting on the scholarship
applications he'd picked up over a week ago now, paperwork that had been
too long neglected. This was
work to be done, duty to be attended to.
Smoothing his hair back and straightening his tie, Admiral Nelson
picked up his pen.
Duty is an icy shadow. It cannot fill the heart’s sanctuary.”
Beulah, ch. 13.
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