Authors Note: This is for all the ‘Lee’ fans that were so kind about my first story. Hope you like it. ( Many thanks to Carol for her help and honesty!)
By Lillian H.
Captain Lee Crane stood on the upper deck of the submarine Seaview and looked down at the harbour side. He watched the crew greeting their families and smiled. His attention was concentrated on his best friend and first officer, Chip Morton. A beautiful woman had thrown herself into his open arms and was being very thoroughly kissed.
“ Someone is very pleased to be home,” said a voice behind him. Lee turned to see the Admiral also looking at the happy scene.
“It would seem so, sir.” Lee said smiling broadly.
On shore the couple now held hands and turned to wave up at their friends. Nelson and Lee waved back. As the lovers walked away to a parked car, the two officers turned and made their way down into the control room.
“Well, it seems our Exec is a contented man. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile so much and Grayling is the happiest I’ve ever seen her.” The Admiral said as he walked forward to his ‘front porch’ in the nose of Seaview. He poured his Captain and himself a cup of coffee and turned to look at him, “ I’ve been thinking Lee. Chip is going to want to spend more time with his new wife. Only natural of course but that means we will miss his organisational skills at the Institute. How would it be if I appointed an administrator to co-ordinate finance and mission details, under Chip’s direct supervision?”
“ Have you run this by Chip, how does he feel about it?” Lee asked as they sat at the table.
“ I think he was glad I suggested it. A lot has changed in his life recently.” Nelson laughed.
Both men remembered back over the five months since Seaviews first officer had met Grayling Harkness. Chip Morton had fallen in love at first sight, although he hadn’t known it then. Lee remembered the shocked expression from the usually calm Exec, when he finally realised it. Grayling had been more cautious after the failure of her first marriage, but when her obsessive colleague had endangered Morton’s life, she had reluctantly admitted her feelings.
Their marriage had taken place at Thanksgiving, a small affair, at Grayling’s insistence. Just Chip’s family, Lee as Chip’s best man and Harry to give her away. The happiness had radiated from them both. The Admiral was right; Chip did smile a lot lately!
“Well I’m happy to agree. Chip deserves to spend as much time as he can with Grayling when we are in port, and our Exec is too conscientious to let anything slip by.”
“ I agree. Actually Lee, I already have a candidate in mind. She comes highly recommended. A graduate of Harvard business school, she was in private industry for a while but wants to expand her experience. She’s advising government departments on fiscal management at present, so she has the highest security rating.” Nelson opened a file and checked the details in front of him.
“What’s she called?” Lee asked interestedly.
“Professor Darling.” The Admiral smiled at the unusual name.
“ Darcy Darling?” asked Lee with concern.
“Yes. Why, do you know her?” Nelson looked at Lee’s dark face. “Lee is there a problem?”
Lee Crane stood and walked to the window, “ I do know of her, sir.” He turned back to his commanding officer, “ We met about two years ago at a conference, I don’t doubt her professional abilities but I heard things about her private life that were less than favourable.” He came back to the table and leant on it, hesitantly he said. “Admiral, I’m not sure this is the right person for the job.”
“Jiggs Stark recommends her very highly and you know how Navy he is. Where did you get your information Lee?” Nelson looked puzzled.
“All I know is what I heard and saw Admiral. She’s a very attractive woman and she’s certainly not shy about herself. I did hear rumours of a Senator that was so involved, he set up house with her for a while.” Lee stood back and would have said more but was interrupted by his second officer, Lt. O’Brien.
“ Excuse me Admiral, Captain but I have the final reports for you.”
Lee came towards the officer and held out his hand for the clipboard, “ Very good Mr. O’Brien. Have all security watches been set?” O’Brien nodded. “ I will be overseeing the refit but make sure that the work crews report to the watch commander as well. Thank you Bob, for covering Mr. Morton’s early departure. I’m sure he appreciated it.”
“ I know he did sir. It’s good experience for me he said.” The grinning Second officer replied.
“He’s quite right, as usual.” Captain Crane smiled in return. “ Okay Mr. O’Brien your dismissed on leave. See you in seven days. Go enjoy yourself.”
“ Thank you Captain, I’m sure I will.” O’Brien turned and left.
Lee turned back to the Admiral, who was standing waiting for him.
“Lee, Leave it with me for now. I’m going to make further enquiries into this. We can’t afford to make a mistake. In the mean time, I suggest you take some of your own advice and get some leave as well.”
“Yes sir, I will. I shall see you at the Morton’s for dinner tomorrow night?” Lee asked, with a broad smile.
“Wouldn’t miss it.” Nelson turned and left.
The Captain took a final tour of the boat before going to his cabin. Lee helped himself to coffee and sat at his desk. He leant back and remembered.
Two years before he had attended a conference on Naval Operational and Fiscal Management. It was mostly a bore, except that he had met up with a few old friends.
One of those friends was Josh Chambers. He had been at Annapolis with Chip and Lee. He was not an obvious candidate for command responsibilities but had managed to scrape by and was then assigned to shore based duties. Lee had liked him well enough but Chip had been less favourable, “He’s not my idea of an officer, I’d sure hate to rely on him.” Morton had told him after another chance meeting with their friend.
Josh had met Lee in the lobby shortly after he had arrived and arranged to meet him for drinks that evening.
He remembered his first sighting of Darcy Darling. Lee had gone to the bar to wait for Josh when he had first seen her. She was standing in a group of very attentive men, definitely enjoying their admiration. She was laughing easily, when she started to look around the room; she seemed to be aware of something. She caught his eye and looked at him quizzically and then smiled. She was an attractive woman. Slim but shapely, long dark curly hair and dark eyes that danced with amusement, Lee estimated her to be early thirties. She was wearing a dark crimson, figure hugging, medium length gown. Lee, who was also dressed casually, watched as she had detached herself from the group and came across the room towards him, he was more than aware that she moved with womanly grace.
“ Hello, Do we know each other?” She asked smiling.
“ I don’t think so, I certainly would have remembered meeting you.” Lee answered.
She laughed warmly, “I’m Darcy Darling.”
Lee swallowed a laugh, “ Interesting name, must have been fun for you growing up?” he said smiling.
“You have no idea!” she replied laughing. “ You are?”
“Lee Crane. Are you here for the management conference Miss Darling?” Shaking her outstretched hand.
“ Yes, Why? Don’t I look like an accountant?”
“ Not any accountant I’ve ever met.” Lee replied with amusement.
“ Well Mr. Crane, first impressions can often be deceiving, I rarely trust them myself.” She watched him with obvious interest.
“ I’m tend to be careful as well….. but when I’m approached by a beautiful woman my first night in town, I’m prepared to be a little daring. Can I buy you a drink?” Lee replied, turning to the counter.
She laughed happily, “ You don’t believe in wasting any time do you?”
“ Did you expect me to? After all you approached me.” Lee ordered drinks and turned to look at her.
“ I saw you watching me from across the room. You’re a very attractive man and I like attractive men.” She watched as he turned away slightly, “I can’t be the first woman to tell you so.” She watched him with laughing eyes. “Does it embarrass you? Are you one of those men who doesn’t like the woman to take the initiative?”
“Not necessarily. Your very confident but I don’t feel threatened by it. Tell me what makes beautiful woman like yourself become an accountant?” Lee said warmly.
“ Why not an accountant? I‘m just as able to balance figures as any man…better than most in fact.” She eyed him carefully.
“ I’m sure you are but somehow I would have guessed something much more glamorous, accountants don’t have a very interesting reputation.
She led the way to a vacant table. As they sat, she looked at Lee with obvious humour, “There you go again, making assumptions. Most of the accountants I know are great people, with very interesting lives.” A waiter put their drinks in front of them. As she sipped hers, she asked, “ Tell me Lee Crane, your obviously not an accountant, what do you do that is so much more worth while?”
Lee looked at Darcy with apology, “ I’m sorry if I offended you, I’ve been at sea a while and maybe I’m a bit rusty at small talk.”
“Sea? Are you in the Navy then?” she interrupted.
“ Naval reserve. I work on a submarine, the Seaview, you may have heard of it.”
“ Seaview? Then your Nelson’s man. Of course! You’re Captain Lee Crane. I’ve heard a lot about you Captain. Your reputation precedes you!”
Lee looked slightly embarrassed, “ I’m not sure what you’ve heard but I suspect it’s all been exaggerated. The Seaview is basically an exploration vessel. We have had some adventures but you shouldn’t believe all the gossip. It’s a lot more routine than people might think.” He finished.
“ Now don’t disappoint me. I was hoping for tales of daring deeds and exciting adventures. Really Captain, you’re not living up to your publicity.” She laughed with genuine amusement, at Lee’s obvious discomfort. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t tease. I doubt your adventures are as boring as you would have me believe but I won’t press you for details now… I’ll wait to get to know you better first.”
Lee smiled. “ Are we going to get to know each other better?”
“I hope so Captain. You have a very interesting reputation and I think you would definitely be worth getting to know.” She flirted with him.
“ Please call me Lee. Tell me are you always this direct Darcy?”
“I don’t believe in playing games if that’s what you mean. Life’s to short believe me. It can have a way of running out, when you least expect it. ” She looked down at her drink with a grimace, then took a deep breath and looked back up with a smile. “ I believe you have to take your chances while you can, I mean you may not get a second chance and in your case that would be an awful waste.” She smiled at him and batted her eyelids in an exaggerated fashion that dissolved them both into laughter.
Lee looked at her empty glass, “Can I get you another?”
“ No thank you, I’d better return to my friends. I just came over to meet the handsome man who caught my eye, shall we get together tomorrow …for dinner say? Start on getting to know each other better.”
Lee looked at her with amusement, “ Not tonight?”
“Nope, sorry. I already have a previous commitment. Anyway anticipation can be part of the fun.” Her voice was slightly seductive.
“ I’m already looking forward to it.” Lee fixed her with his eyes.
“ So am I now. See you tomorrow then, Captain Crane.” She smiled, rose and gave him a mock salute as she turned and walked back to the group of men and women on the other said of the room, only once looking back to him with a smile.
Lee watched her go. She was certainly unlike any woman he had met before; her approach was direct and flirtatious and he thought he kind of liked it. It was at least refreshing to meet a woman who did not play the usual games. This could turn out to be a lot of fun; Chip should have come along after all! He had an unusual instinct about this woman; she was not at all like his usual companions. As Lee mused about her, his thoughts were disturbed by the arrival of his friend.
“Lee, sorry I kept you waiting. I was trying to reach Karen.” Josh was holding a drink and sat dejectedly in the chair recently vacated by Darcy.
Lee studied his friend closely, “Are you okay? Is something wrong with Karen?” Lee asked in concern, he had obviously been drinking. Josh had married shortly after graduating Annapolis. Both Chip and Lee had attended the wedding and knew Karen. Lee noticed Josh’s gaze kept crossing the room to the group Darcy Darling had rejoined. “Josh?” No reaction. “ Hey Josh!” he said as he reached out and tapped his arm.
“Sorry Lee, what did you say?” Josh sat up straighter and turned to face Lee.
“ Is something wrong with Karen? Are you okay Josh? You seem upset.”
Josh sat looking into his drink. Finally he lifted the glass and drained it and waved to the waiter for another. “ No, I guess I’m not okay. Karen has left me. Just up and walked out!” The waiter put down a drink, picked up the empty glass and was about to leave, when Josh asked him to bring another, this time a double.
Lee leant forward, “Josh are you sure? Why? What happened between you two?”
Josh was drinking steadily. He looked at Lee and grimaced, “What happened?” he turned slightly and looked across the room at the group again, “ She happened! Professor Darcy, bloody, Darling happened!” Josh turned back to Lee. “ Have you ever heard such ridiculous name? Let me tell you all about how I threw away my marriage for a beautiful mirage Lee.” His voice had become slightly slurred and his eyes were beginning to glaze.
Lee sat and listened to him talk; a feeling of shock and disbelief came over him at all he heard. Josh told how he had met her at a party for his father-in-law, a Professor of Economics. He claimed she had made a play for him. “I was flattered, so I played along. I became infatuated, who wouldn’t? I mean just look at her.” Both men gazed at the laughing group of people Darcy looked up and saw their attention, her eyes narrowed for a moment, and then she looked away.
“Josh, are you saying you had an affair with her? Is that it? And Karen found out.”
Josh laughed without humour. “ An affair? Oh no Lee, nothing so dignified. She led me on, promising, encouraging, always just out of reach! I was a game for her; I lasted only as long as it took to find a new, richer, conquest. This time it was a damn Senator. How could I compete with that?” Josh took another swallow of his drink; he became sullen and evasive “ I’m not sure how Karen found out. Gossip, I suppose. Anyway she told me we were finished and left. Goodbye to seven years of marriage and all for what? It wasn’t my fault Lee. Really, I just couldn’t help myself. ” He finished pathetically.
By now Josh Chambers was quite drunk. Lee helped him to stand and started him towards the lift. “Come on Josh, it’s time you turned in.” As Lee helped him to his room and put him to bed he thought over all he had heard. Slowly his temper began to replace the shock. How could he have been so fooled by her? He had seen for himself that Professor Darling was far from demure. All those admirers in the bar, she had been lapping up their attention. Her approach to Lee had been so obvious too. She had even told him herself, that she went after what she wanted!
As he made his way back to his own room, his temper was now well established. He prepared for bed himself and decided that he would give Professor Darling a very wide berth from now on. He had a large dislike for women without moral standards and to think he had even considered getting involved with her. He berated himself for being interested, for all her beauty and appeal. .. but he realised, deep down, a part of him was disappointed as well, why, he was not sure.
The next morning Lee checked on Josh, who was feeling definitely the worse for wear. Lee suggested he rested today and left him nursing a headache.
He went to have breakfast and shared a table with some more old friends but found it difficult to relax. After they had left, he was finishing his coffee when he heard a familiar voice behind him. “Good morning Lee. How are you today?”
Lee looked up at her smiling face. “Good morning Professor.” His voice was cold and hard.
She narrowed her eyes and looked closely at him, “Do I detect a certain chill this morning.” Lee looked at his coffee cup, “ May I sit down a moment Captain?” He hesitated and then nodded, so she took a seat. She studied him closely, “ Shall I guess that Lt. Chambers has told you of his cruel treatment at my merciless hands and now you’re filled with moral outrage and indignation?”
Lee looked her straight in the eye, “Are you surprised? You act as if your behaviour was acceptable. You’ve destroyed a good marriage with your sophisticated games and you sit here laughing about it. Your actions last night were hardly a testament to high moral standards, either. Tell me do you regularly pick up men in bars, or was I the exception?” Lee’s raised voice attracted looks of people sitting close by, but Darcy Darling did not notice as she gave her chilling reply.
“ How dare you sit in judgement on me? Have you bothered to find out any of the real facts? For your information, Captain Crane, you’re poor hard done by friend is a loser. His ‘good’ marriage has been on the rocks for some time. Oh! Not by any of my doing I assure you. His other previous affairs saw to that. I told him the first time we met that I was not interested, but he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He pestered the hell out of me, sending flowers, calling me and showing up at my apartment uninvited. In the end I had to speak to his father-in-law just for some peace. If his poor wife has finally had enough of his fooling around, I say, good for her. Don’t blame me for his lack of character, it’s all his own doing.” She stood up, “You know nothing at all about me, yet you have tried and condemned me without even asking my side of the story. You’ve made a big mistake and I deeply resent it. However I made a bigger mistake about you Captain. Last night you enjoyed our game, don’t deny it but in the cold light of day, you are running scared. I guess you’re no better than Chambers in a way; you both want everything on your own terms! You don’t live up to your reputation Captain, in more ways than one; I had thought you would be a better judge of character! I warned you that first impressions were often unreliable…. seems I should have listened to my own advice.” She turned and left with her head held high.
Lee sat still and tried to absorb all she had said. Was Josh really playing around? Had he really been the one to throw away his marriage? He had to admit her parting shot had hurt his pride. He considered himself to be a fair judge of character, was he wrong on this occasion? He stood up determined to sort this out with Lt. Chambers.
As he approached the lobby, a bellboy stopped him and handed him an envelope. Lee opened it and found a short note from Josh,
Sorry Lee but I couldn’t face the conference. I’ve decided to cut and run.
Maybe I’ll try again for Karen. Maybe not. Wish me luck anyway.
Lee crumpled the note in annoyance. Damn, now he couldn’t resolve anything. He went to his room still smarting from the recent encounter.
That had all been two years ago and although he had not seen Professor Darling since, he did hear some talk about her being involved with a Senator and he managed to convince himself that his opinion had been justified after all.
It was early evening the next day, when Lee pulled up outside the home of his best friend. As he switched off the engine, he looked across the lawn to the house. He could see two people inside with arms wrapped around each other. They were obviously very much in love. Lee sighed. He wasn’t jealous but he did envy his friend. Lee had no family as such, certainly no-one close and Chip Morton was more like the brother he never had. They had met on the first day of their enrolment at Annapolis and had become firm friends. Chip Morton, was the antithesis to Lee. He had an inner calm that reflected on those around him. Lee had a more quicksilver nature and had often been grateful for Chip’s unwavering loyalty and support, when his Captain had, on more than one occasion, taken on the world with no regard for himself and nearly lost. Now Chip had found the happiness that had eluded Lee and although he was very happy for him, Lee hoped he would someday find the same contentment.
He knocked firmly on the front door and it was immediately opened by Chip, “ Lee, come in, come in. I thought you were going to sit out there all evening. Nothing wrong is there?” Chip asked in concern.
“ No nothing wrong. Lee assured him.
Chip smiled at his Captain and friend. “ We’re outside. Come on through.” They walked through the lounge and out onto the brightly lit deck area.
Grayling Morton approached him and reached up to gently kissed his cheek as she said, “Lee, I’m glad you came.” He looked at the woman who had stolen the heart of Seaview’s first officer. She had quickly become like a sister to him and he had a deep affection for her.
“ Grayling, I’m not sure what you find so appealing about this character…” he indicated to Chip, “ but any time you manage to come to your senses, I’ll always be available. You grow more beautiful each day.” He was smiling broadly at her and gave her a big hug.
“ Hey buddy, you go find your own girl.” Chip came and put an arm around his wife. Morton smiled and in a loud stage whisper said, “ This guy is definitely not to be trusted around beautiful women.” Grayling laughed softly as she lent against her husband and Lee turned to greet the Admiral and Seaview’s CMO, Doc Jamison.
As the evening progressed, they all ate and talked together in a happy carefree atmosphere. Later over coffee the Admiral and Jamie went off with Grayling to inspect the changes she had made to Chip’s former bachelor home. Chip and Lee sat contentedly listening to the sea lapping the shore farther down the beach.
Lee looked at his friend, “You know Mr. Morton? You’re in danger of wearing a permanent grin. I’m not sure that it will have the desired effect on the crew.”
“I’m sorry Captain. I’ll see what I can do about it.,” said Chip seriously, then both men looked at each other and laughed aloud. Chip sobered up, “Lee I’m so damned lucky. To think I nearly lost her. My life has taken on new meaning with Grayling. I wish everyone could be as happy.” The Exec looked at his Captain. “ What about you Lee? Don’t you ever want to find ‘the one’, to share your life with?”
Lee looked out into the darkness. “ One day, maybe, but I’m happy for now. After all Grayling’s one in a million and I wouldn’t settle for anything less myself. You both deserve to be happy, you went through a lot to find each other.” He looked at Chip’s smiling face. “ Enjoy it Chip.”
“ Thanks Lee. We will.” said Chip seriously.
“ Will what? Just what are you two talking about?” Grayling came up behind her husband’s chair and leaning on it, put two arms around his neck and kissed his hair.
Chip took her hand kissed it, “ Nothing at all my love for you to worry about. Lee was just giving me the benefit of his ancient wisdom.” This caused another round of unrestrained laughter.
Soon after, the guests took their leave, all expressing their thanks for a marvellous evening. As the Morton’s waved the last goodbye, Grayling turned back into the house, “Well I suppose I’d better tidy up. I don’t like leaving it ‘til the morning.”
Chip caught her hand, “ Leave it, I’ll help you tomorrow. Let’s go to bed.” With this he scooped her into his arms.
“Why Mr. Morton. What would your crew say about you leaving a work detail unfinished?”
“They’re not here and you’re going to be far too busy to tell them.” He started to climb the stairs.
“Am I indeed? I wonder what detail you have in mind for me?” Grayling smiled expectantly.
“ Nothing you can’t handle, my love. Just taking care of the first officer, while he tries to make you happy.” Chip stopped and kissed her with mounting passion.
When he continued on to the bedroom Grayling said breathlessly, “ Oh! I do hope so Mr. Morton… I really do hope so!” Laughter erupted from them both as Chip nudged the bedroom door closed.
The next day Lee and Chip were going over the details of the refit progress, in Lee’s office. “ So you see Chip. When the new valves are fitted we should be able to speed up the ballast tank operations by ten to fifteen percent.” Lee said as he checked over the latest reports.
“That’s great Lee. With the new enhancements the Admiral has implemented to the reactor and engines, Seaview’s overall performance should be greatly improved.”
Chip’s enthusiasm made Lee smile. He reached for the phone when it rang, “Crane here. Yes Admiral.” He looked towards Chip as he listened. “Yes, he’s here with me now. Your office, of course, we’ll be right there.” Chip was looking at Lee with raised eyebrows. “ The Admiral wants a meeting in his office.”
“That much I heard. Any idea what about?” Chip asked as they walked out of the office.
“Nope, he didn’t say.”
A few minutes later, they were seated in the Admiral’s office, drinking coffee and waiting for him to explain his summons.
“ Well gentlemen, I’ve just had back the updated report on Professor Darling. I must admit it’s not what I expected.”
Lee thought he knew what was coming. “ I did try to warn you Admiral. She’s not suitable for this particular post.”
“No Lee, you mis-understand. The recommendations are glowing. I will admit after your negative reaction I was expecting…shall we say, less than favourable comments but the opposite is true. Everyone I contacted has nothing but high praise for her.”
Lee interrupted the Admiral. “ Were they all men?” he asked with scepticism.
Chip looked between his two senior officers. “ Am I missing something here? Why don’t you think she’s acceptable Lee?”
Crane stood and began to wander around the room. He told Chip and the Admiral, almost, everything that had transpired two years ago. “ So you see, a woman like that, working around so many men all the time, is not going to make for an easy atmosphere.” He finished.
“ Wait a minute Lee. Are you basing your opinion on what Josh Chambers told you?” asked Chip.
“ That and what I saw and heard from others. She had a reputation for being ‘very friendly’.”
“Lee, I don’t doubt what you say but look at the report. Professor Darling has a clean and highly favourable security clearance. You don’t get that without passing some rigorous inspection.” The Admiral passed Lee the folder marked confidential.
Lee looked through the reports, there was nothing that related to the Senator he had heard about.
“You do know about Josh Chambers don’t you Lee?” asked Chip as his Captain sat back in his chair.
“Know what? I don’t understand Chip.”
Chip turned in his chair to look directly at Lee. “About…must be a year ago, I heard through the grapevine that Josh Chambers had been given a dishonourer able discharge, something about his conduct towards a fellow officers wife. He was pestering her or something…I’m not sure of all the facts exactly.”
“ Why did I never hear about it…?”
“Lee wasn’t that about the time you returned from that ONI mission to Russia?” Admiral Nelson asked.
“That’s right” stated Chip, “You came back more dead than alive as usual, you were really out of the loop for a couple of months there, buddy.”
“Yeah, I remember. Must be how I missed it” Lee considered his friends faces. Was the Chambers ‘..affair’.. really influencing him or was he still feeling the embarrassment of their last encounter. “I still not sure Professor Darling is right for the Institute Admiral.” Lee said firmly.
Nelson stood up and paced to the window. “Lee I respect your opinions, I really do…but on this occasion, I’m afraid, I’m inclined to go with my instincts. She is more than qualified academically and with the recommendations and her experience she is highly suitable. ” He turned to face the Captain and Exec. He could see Lee’s was not happy with the decision. He knew Lee had a strong moral code and would be opposed to any thing that broke it. Nelson rarely went against his advice but something just felt right about this appointment, he made a suggestion. “How about I set up a meeting, semi-informal, dinner say, we all meet with her and decide after that?”
Chip nodded in agreement, Lee however looked unhappy at the prospect. After a moment he said, “Okay Admiral, I’ll agree, if only so that you can see for yourself.”
It was Sunday night and Lee was waiting in the restaurant bar with Admiral Nelson, when he spotted the arrival of Chip and Grayling. The Admiral had thought that by including Grayling Morton in the party it might be a bit less formal and help to relax everyone.
“Hi. Sorry we’re a bit late, Grayling took an age to get ready,” said the laughing Exec. His blushing wife then gently elbowed him in the ribs as she remembered with clarity the reason why it took her so long to get dressed…. her husband had kept undressing her!
“You’re not late. Professor Darling is not here yet.” Nelson replied warmly as he greeted Grayling, who he looked on as daughter.
“She is now,” said Lee as he saw her enter the door. He was surprised at his reaction to her. He felt himself tense a little. He studied her appearance. She hadn’t changed much… except her hair. He remembered it being long and wavy, now she had it cut to just above her shoulders but it was still in soft curls. She was still very beautiful. Two years ago he had felt justified in his attitude towards her, now, well thinking about it, maybe he had been a bit hasty.
All three men stood as she approached. Grayling also stood, with her hand in Chip’s.
“ Professor good of you to come. I’ve been receiving very favourable reports about you. It’s good to meet you in person at last.” Nelson had extended his hand to shake hers.
“It was kind of you to invite me Admiral.” She smiled warmly.
“Allow me introduce my officers. Captain Lee Crane, whom I understand, you have already met, Lt. Commander Chip Morton and his wife Grayling. Please sit down, can I offer you a drink?”
“Thank you Admiral, something soft perhaps, a pineapple juice please.” Darcy had shaken each hand as the introductions were made and had smiled softly at Grayling Morton. “ I must say you have an interesting interview technique. Do you wine and dine all potential applicants?”
“ Well not all… but we like to be flexible on occasions. This is intended as an informal, get to know each other, meeting. ” Nelson replied.
Darcy looked at Lee, “ Nice to see you again Captain. Must be about two years since our last meeting I think.”
“Indeed it is Professor Darling. You don’t appear to have changed much, except your hair is shorter than I remember.” He watched as she automatically put her fingers to her hair.
“Yes, you’re quite right. It did use to be longer I’m surprised you remembered.” She said it almost nervously.
“ You made a lasting impression Professor.” Lee said with emphasis.
“ As did you Captain.”
Just then the waiter brought her drink and the Manager approached, “ Excuse me Admiral Nelson, are you ready for your party to be seated?”
“ Yes I think so.” He looked around the group, “Ladies and gentlemen, shall we?”
When they were all seated at their table, Chip asked, “Professor Darling, do you know Santa Barbara well?”
“No, not at all. I flew in yesterday from Washington. I am enjoying the warm sunshine though, Washington was cold, wet and windy when I left.”
“Oh. I know what you mean. England always seems to be like that. I am definitely a sunshine weather, person.” Grayling commented.
“ No mistaking your accent. What part of England are you from? I have some friends staying in Oxford.” Darcy looked interestedly at the other woman.
What then followed, was an animated discussion about the weather, travel, ideal locations to live and everyone joined in…. even Lee, although he found it hard to be relaxed around her. He knew she was aware of his scrutiny; she flicked careful glances his way but made no attempt to engage him in conversation.
During the dinner, Chip gently questioned her work experience and talk gradually came around to the vacancy that had been created with Chip’s recent marriage.
“So Grayling, I have you to thank for this opportunity.”
“Only indirectly. It’s the Admiral’s decision really but one I am very grateful for.” Grayling smiled at her husband, who smiled back, “ Chip is away at sea enough, without being in the office all the time when he’s ashore.” she shrugged her shoulders, “Those are the peril’s of being a sailor’s wife, I suppose.”
“Mr. Morton’s skills have always been extensive. I just didn’t realise how much he actually managed. It’s high time he had some assistance to ease the load.” Nelson said fondly. “Don’t you agree Lee?”
“I do Admiral. Chip is a vital part of Seaview and the Institute. He should benefit from the help of the right assistant.” Lee finished looking directly at Darcy Darling. The silence that followed his statement was tangible.
“Do I take it Captain, that you don’t think I fit that criteria?” She asked him carefully.
He assessed her for a moment,“ Do you think you do Professor?” Lee said quietly.
Nelson was about to speak but Darcy held up her hand and said, " Admiral, if the Captain has concerns about me, I’m happy to answer them. After all that’s what interviews are all about. So Captain Crane, what can I say to allay your fears?” She spoke mildly and looked at Crane but her smile did not reach her eyes.
Lee studied her. He knew she was on the offensive. Why? Was she still angry with him?
“I am just concerned that you may find working within the N.I.M.R. restrictive Professor. After all your private life and friendships are all back East. Difficult to maintain relationships from such a distance.”
Darcy narrowed her eyes and watched him with calculation. “ Why Captain, I thank you for your concern. It is indeed gratifying to know that you pay such attention to detail. So often judgements are made without a fair examination of the facts. However, I can assure you that you have no need to worry about my ability to adapt. I’m sure I will be able to manage my…private life… and my work. After all it's only what sailor's have to do everyday. I always keep the two completely separate if I can, saves difficult situations developing.” She finished with firmness.
Lee studied her innocent expression. Was she warning him off?
The other occupants around the table shifted in their seats, as they sensed the undercurrent.
The uncomfortable silence was broken by Grayling, “ Darcy, have you any family close by?”
Darcy looked at Grayling and smiled, she had already come to appreciate this woman’s gentleness and was willing to allow herself to be distracted from Lee Crane.
“ No. Not much family at all. My father died when I was ten and my mother promptly fell apart. Life was kind of crazy for a while but she met someone and re-married. She’s still fragile emotionally but her husband‘s very good with her and very kind to me. Apart from them, I only have a few very good friends and even more acquaintances.” This last remark she aimed at Lee.
Grayling started to tell Darcy about her own early childhood and the talk around the table became more general, as the earlier atmosphere was eased.
As the woman talked together, the officer’s thoughts were otherwise engaged. Nelson was concerned with Lee’s behaviour. He knew Lee could be stubborn at times but this was more than that, he just didn’t know what had got into him tonight.
Chip was carefully watching his friend as well. He saw that the Admiral was confused by Lee's attitude. He was not usually so hostile and Chip was concerned that he was allowing a misguided friendship to Josh Chambers to colour his opinion. He knew Lee was loyal to his friends and crew and he would never allow anything to harm them but quite why Lee felt that Darcy Darling presented a problem, he wasn't sure. From his observation of Darcy, Chip could find no reason to fault her. She was obviously intelligent and knowledgeable and he admired her confident personality, She would not easily be intimidated. In his opinion, she was highly suitable for the post, now all he had to do was convince Lee.
The evening gradually drew to a close and as Darcy made to leave Lee stood and said, “Allow me to take you back to your hotel Professor, it’s on my way.” Everyone was surprised at Lee’s offer, no more so than Darcy.
“ But… well, there’s no need Captain…I’m sure …I can get a cab. Please don’t allow me to end your evening so soon.” Darcy was nervously saying hurried ‘goodbyes’ to everyone.
“No trouble at all. It really is on my way.” He turned to his friends, “Goodnight Grayling,” he smiled and kissed her warmly, “ see you soon. Goodnight Admiral, Chip, see you in the morning.” He shook the hands of both men. “ If you’re ready Professor.”
Seeing his determination, she knew it would be foolish to argue further.
“Thank you again Admiral. I’ve enjoyed meeting you all.”
“ Yes…well, I will be in touch Professor Darling. Goodnight.” Nelson watched Lee specutively.
Outside, Lee led the way to his car. Once they had pulled out into the light traffic, she glanced at him, saw his face was stern. “ Well let’s get it over with Captain Crane. You engineered this confrontation, so get on with it.”
Lee abruptly turned the car onto a side road, drove a little way then stopped at a pull in on a headland overlooking the beach. He turned to look at her, the moon was high and full so there was enough light to see clearly.
“ You’re right …we do need to talk.” He said carefully.
“Did you have anything particular in mind, or is it just small talk. Oh! No, you’re not good at that as I remember.” She challenged him.
“ My memory is also very clear Professor. I find I remember a lot of details of our first encounter.”
She watched him with defiance, “ You should do. You were quite insulting.”
Lee was a little chagrined. "I admit that maybe I over reacted to the situation."
"You did come on a bit strong yourself, you know." Lee answered quietly.
"Was your male ego dented Captain?" Darcy was feeling angry.
"Not at all. You just didn’t give the impression of being.. shy... at our first meeting. You ‘picked’ me up quite willingly enough. However I heard later, you liked Senator’s better.” Lee said with cynicism.
Darcy looked away from his gaze, “ Is that what you heard?" She eyed him carefully. “Yes…well, there were exceptional reasons for my behaviour that night.”
“We can all make excuses, when we feel ashamed.” Lee watched her quick flare of temper.
“The only shame I feel is for even approaching you at all. Oh! What the hell. Just say your piece Captain Crane and take me back to my hotel.” Darcy finished with frustration, she was tired of all this tension.
Lee was surprised. She seemed suddenly to deflate. His own attitude mellowed a little. “Professor… if I admit, I made an error of judgement at our first meeting and I apologise will you give me your assurance that you won’t attempt to play any games with my crew. Some of them are married men and not used to your sophisticated Washington ways. I expect you to behave with discretion around my men.”
" There you go again Captain, making assumptions. What makes you think I would be interested in your precious crew or yourself for that matter? Maybe I have learnt my lesson and don't waste my time picking men up in bars any more." She finished with determination and then slowly she started to smile. “Don’t worry Captain I assure you, your men are perfectly safe from my predatory ways.” She said through gritted teeth, “ you are all perfectly safe from me.”
Lee looked at her as she started to laugh softly then started the engine and took her back to her hotel.
Monday morning saw the Seaview’s senior officers ensconced in the Admiral’s office, again discussing Professor Darling.
“ Well Lee, what’s your opinion now?” asked Nelson. “You must admit she interviewed well and was very friendly and approachable. I must say I was quite impressed by her. ”
“Yes sir, she did. However have you noticed the approximately ten-month gap in her work resume? All that’s recorded is ‘absence for personal reason’s” Lee was reading from the open file in front of him. “That’s not very informative.”
“Well…there could be any number of reason’s for an absence. Maybe she needed some relaxation time.”
“Hell of a holiday!” muttered Crane closing the folder.
“Just because you don’t take time off Captain, doesn’t mean everyone’s the same,” said the Admiral with a hint criticism.
Chip decided to try and diffuse the situation, “ Lee what is it about Professor Darling that you really object to. I thought you had accepted that Josh Chambers had totally mis-represented her. Don’t you think that her qualifications are adequate?”
Crane stood up and ran his hand through his hair. “I don’t know Chip. Her ability is proven but I just have a feeling that she could be trouble we don’t need.” Lee wished he could put into words the feelings he had about this woman. Was he just being petty?
Just then the intercom buzzed, Nelson answered, “ Yes Angie.”
“Admiral, Professor Darling is here sir.”
“Thank you Angie, please ask her to wait a moment.” Nelson turned to Morton and Crane. “Well gentlemen, how should we proceed? Do I offer her the post or should we look for another candidate?”
Both Admiral and Exec looked at the Captain. He looked back, “ Well Chip, what do you say, you’re the one that will be working closest with her?”
Chip Morton thought carefully for a moment. His calm blue eyes belaying his inner turmoil. He didn’t want to reject Lee’s concerns, although he was not sure exactly what they were, at the same time he could see her potential. “ I would suggest a six month trial contract, see how she works in the situation and then review it after the initial period.” He watched for Lee’s reaction.
“ Lee, you know I want to appoint her but if you really can’t work with the situation then we need to know now. Chip’s suggestion is a good one. It’s an acceptable compromise, can you accept it?” Nelson asked his Captain.
Lee Crane walked to the window. Looking out he considered his objections. What was he really so disturbed about. Could it be that it was just wounded pride, after their first meeting that haunted his conscience. He remembered her parting word's ' I thought you were a better judge of character'.
He turned back to their concerned faces, “ You’re both right of course. Let’s settle for Chip’s suggestion and have a review in six months with the proviso that access to Top Secret plans are kept on a need to know basis for now.”
“You’re sure Lee.” said the Admiral with some relief.
“Yes sir. I’m sure. Professor Darling should have the chance to prove her suitability.” She was certainly well qualified and the Institute only employed the best.
Nelson smiled and walked to the door and opened it.“ Please come in Professor, sorry to have kept you waiting.” He stood aside and Darcy came in smiling at those present.
“ Thank you Admiral”
They all sat down. As she waited patiently for the Admiral to continue, she glanced carefully at the Captain. He seemed relaxed enough after last night’s meeting. She remembered how he had driven in silence to her hotel and driven away without a word.
“ Professor, I am pleased to be able to offer you the position of Mission Co-ordinator and Finance Administrator with the Institute. You would be Mr. Morton’s P.A. and directly under his command, however you would of course work with the Captain and myself in unison. When we are away at sea you would be responsible for the relevant organisation of the office. We would like to start with a trial six-month period, merely to ensure that we are all happy with the terms and conditions. ”
She smiled broadly, then hesitated slightly, “Admiral…. do you mind if I ask, was this a unanimous decision?”
Nelson narrowed his eyes and felt Lee stiffen slightly, “ Yes Professor. I could only make this appointment with the complete support of my senior officers.”
“I’m sorry Admiral. I just wanted to make sure that everyone was satisfied with the choice. In that case I would be pleased to accept. I will admit that I am delighted at the prospect of working here at the N.I.M.R.”
“Just one point we would like to clarify Professor” Lee said looking at her directly but with a smile, “There is ten-month gap in your work record and we were wondering about it. Is there any particular reason for such a long vacancy?”
They had all been aware of her tension, as Lee had asked his question. Now she sat assessing the Captain with calculation.
Darcy almost asked out loud ‘was it everyone or just you that needs to know Captain?’ She sat quietly evaluating her answer.
“ Is there a particular reason why this is relevant Captain.” She asked guardedly.
“ Is there ‘a particular reason’ why it shouldn’t be.” Lee replied with a frown.
Darcy looked at the Admiral and Morton, both appeared confused. The Admiral spoke first. “ I’m sorry Professor but is there a problem we should know about?”
Darcy inwardly cursed, ‘damn you Captain’ but outwardly she smiled confidently and replied. “ No, not at all Admiral. I just needed some time off. I had worked a long period without a break, I was exhausted. My doctor recommended some serious R and R. I decided to spend sometime at my mother’s home. So you see it was merely some private re-cooperation time that became an extended vacation.” She finished positively and thought that it was nearly the truth.
“ I see.” Nelson looked at Lee and saw that he was not entirely convinced. Crane looked at the Admiral and nodded. They continued to discuss the aspects of the position and the different challenges involved for a while, then the Admiral said, “ Yes, well thank you Professor. Perhaps you would like Mr. Morton to give you a tour of the Institute and your new office. We’ll meet up with you again later and discuss any details you may think of.”
They all stood and she shook hands with Nelson and Crane, not looking the latter in the eye.
After Chip had left with Darcy, the Admiral looked at Lee and said, “ Okay Lee out with it. You weren’t satisfied with her answer were you?”
“Were you? She was certainly evasive.”
“ Lee I thought you were going to give her a chance. Her reluctance was perfectly understandable. None of us like to admit to being ill; you above all people should understand that. Let’s see how everything works out, Chip will not allow any breach in security. She is entitled to a private life after all.”
“That’s what I’m worried about!”
Grayling and Darcy were having lunch together at a beachside restaurant after another shopping trip together. They had become firm friends after Darcy’s arrival at the Institute. Grayling had invited her to dinner on several occasions, sometimes alone; sometimes she invited Lee and Harry. At first Lee had been reticent about joining them but he slowly came around with Chip’s constant bullying and Grayling’s soft insistence.
It had been nearly two and a half month’s since Darcy had become a member of the staff. She had fitted in well. The work was interesting and she found that she really was good at it. At first Lee had watched her very carefully, questioning her decisions and challenging her methods. Gradually he had lessened his opposition and they had achieved a reasonable compromise with each other of professional affability. She never backed away from an argument but found she was less inclined to look for them now. Social occasions had at first been a strain when Lee was present but slowly they had relaxed a little around each other. However, she remembered the last spectacular meeting they had just before Seaview had sailed. She was still not sure what set him off but she was not about to let him have his way.
She had been waiting for Chip to start a meeting with some of the contractors. Darcy was chatting amiably with them and started to laugh at something funny that had been said, when Lee had walked into the conference room. He had taken in the scene and his face had reflected obvious annoyance but before he could say anything, Chip had arrived with apologies for his delay and Lee had turned on his heel and left.
After the meeting she had returned to her office, only to find the Captain waiting for her. Startled she said, “ Oh. Hello. Did we have a meeting planned? I don’t remember….”
“ No. Professor nothing was planned.” He was very obviously angry. “ I was just waiting to discuss what went on in the conference room.”
She felt herself tense, “ I thought Chip was going to brief you on our meeting.”
“I don’t mean the meeting, as you well know!” Lee stated.
“ I don’t know anything Captain, unless you can be more specific.” She matched his anger with her own.
“Professor, I thought you understood my warning about your behaviour. I saw you. I saw the way you we encouraging those men. Don’t you have any pride?” Lee glared at her.
“ You saw what! I don’t know how your mind works Captain but there was nothing at all to see. I was doing my job, politely entertaining three businessmen, while waiting for Mr. Morton to join us. Upon his arrival we concluded our business and they left!” She was good and angry now. “Who do you think you are? You have no right at all to police my ‘behaviour’ as you call it. I will continue to do my job, my way and you can think whatever you like, you will anyway!” Darcy stood almost toe-to-toe with him, her face flushed and her eyes sparkling.
Lee was about to respond when there was a knock on the partially open door and the Exec came in hesitantly. “I think you should know, half the Institute can hear you two.”
Lee was about to say something, when he suddenly turned on his heel and left.
“Want to tell me what that was about?” Chip asked Darcy.
“No.” She saw Chip assess her reply. “ I’m sorry Chip. This really doesn’t involve you. Captain Crane has some misguided opinions about me and it seems I can’t change them. It’s probably a good thing you’re off to sea tomorrow.” She tried a smile.“ I’m okay, really. It will take more than him to upset me. Now let’s finish up our notes on the meeting.”
Chip allowed her to change the subject but determined to have this out with Lee, he was behaving so out of character. He had his own suspicions as to why and if he was right…well they would have three weeks at sea to sort it.
The three weeks were nearly up and now she was sitting, watching Grayling carefully. “You look like Christmas has arrived early. What’s making you so happy? Chip doesn’t arrive back ‘till the day after tomorrow.”
Grayling smiled, “Then it will be his birthday. You are coming to dinner still, aren’t you?” she asked anxiously.
“ Of course. You have something big planned? Is that it?”
“No, not big, but I hope he’ll like it.” Grayling smiled secretly. To change the subject she asked. “ How are you feeling about Lee now. Chip told me of your argument before they left. He tried to have it out with Lee but he wouldn’t talk about it. Do you want to talk?”
“Nothing to talk about. Our intrepid Captain has decided what kind of person I am. Who am I to disagree?” Darcy was very matter of fact. “ While he’s been away at sea, life has definitely been calmer, that’s for sure.”
Grayling looked in speculation at her newest friend. “ Darcy do you plan on staying at the Institute?”
Darcy looked at her in confusion, “ Yes. Any reason I shouldn’t?”
Grayling took a deep breath. “Please don’t mistake what I’m about to say as interference…but… I know how you feel about Lee?”
Darcy became very still. She took a deep breath and looked down at her unfinished meal, pushing it away slightly. “ I won’t pretend not to understand. How did you guess?”
“Oh…from experience I suppose. You know how it was with Chip and me. It takes one to know one.”
“ Does Chip know?” Darcy asked with resignation.
“He works closely with both of you and well…Chip isn’t blind when it comes to Lee.” Grayling smiled at Darcy. “ We care about both of you, we only want to help, if we can.”
“ Help…that’s kind of funny you know. Oh, I know how he feels.” She saw Graylings surprise. “Lee Crane could easily be in love with me. In fact as much as he doesn’t want to admit it, he knows it to. That’s why we fight so much. You’re surprised. Why? We had a connection from the beginning, only I thought it was just …lust. I wasn’t looking for love then and I’m definitely not looking for it now. His problem is, he thinks I’m totally unsuitable and in a way I guess, I am.” she finished quietly.
“Not looking for love? Darcy I don’t understand?” Grayling was very confused.
“Grayling…two years ago I received what I thought was a death sentence. The bottom line was my doctors had discovered a small tumour… on my optic nerve very close to my brain. I was told all the possible outcomes and after…very little thought actually…I decided to take what time there was and enjoy it. My mother couldn’t cope again and my stepfather tried to get me to have the operation but me…well I didn’t want the possibility of being an invalid. So I ignored it! Pretending, as best I could that everything was normal… and then I met Captain Lee Crane.” Darcy gazed out over the beach. “ You ever had the feeling that you met someone before but can’t remember where or when. Well…I did, when I first saw him.” She gave herself a shake. “After a spectacular mis- understanding, which you doubtless know about, we parted company. But something in me had changed and life no longer seemed quite so inviting. So I had the surgery, spent nearly a year re-cooperating and here I am today, intact and giving thanks for every extra moment.”
Grayling sat in shocked silence. Then slowly she gathered herself and said, “Good grief Darcy, how can you be so…so…casual about it. You must have been terrified?”
“You’d think so…. but I wasn’t really. I just didn’t accept it at first. Then I got angry because it was me and then...well you know the rest.”
Grayling studied her, “What did you mean…You’re definitely not looking for love now? You are cured. Everything is all right… isn’t it?”
“So they tell me. At least for now. Who knows about the future?” Darcy smiled at her friend. “ Grayling, I don’t intend to be a burden to anyone. I’m quite happy as myself. If it should return, then I’ll deal with it …alone. As for how I feel about Lee Crane…that’s the rub. I don’t want to love him any more than he wants to love me…but it seems I do. So either we ignore it, fight it or just have the most glorious affair and get over it.” Darcy became pensive. “ I expect we could try to ignore and fight it but I very much doubt, knowing his high moral attitude and need to do the right thing, he’ll settle for an affair. So maybe I will have to leave.”
“Oh, Darcy no. No you can’t run away like that. Lee should have the choice. You owe yourselves that. Lee puts his life on the line all the time for those he loves. He would understand how you feel. He would help you.”
“Pity! No way will I accept pity. No, I will not be his…or any ones project!”
“Not pity, but love. If you’re so sure Lee is in love with you then he has rights to.” Grayling said animatedly.
“Dear Grayling, you always see the positive don’t you? Chip is a very lucky man. You’re so sure of him and secure in your devotion to each other that you don’t accept the negative things in life. I wish I could be so sure of my life.”
“ You make me sound rather smug. Am I really that bad?” Grayling said with a slight smile.
“No, your not smug at all, just extremely lucky.” Darcy said as she reached across to hug her friend.
A few hundred miles away, deep below the ocean, two friends were sharing a meal together.
“Where does all this paperwork come from?” Lee looked at the pile of files on his desk.
“You want to ask the Admiral for an assistant. They’re a great help.” Chip said with laughter.
Lee grimaced, “ Very funny. Are you trying to tell me that you do not have enough to keep you occupied anymore? Because I can always find extra details for you, Mr. Morton.”
“Whoa there Skipper, I was only trying to help you find a solution. I still have enough duties to keep me busy thank you.” Chip finished with a frown. “ Lee you’re losing your sense of humour here, buddy.” He looked at his friend with raised eyebrows.
Lee rubbed a hand over his eyes and tried a sketchy smile. “ Sorry Chip. I’m just a little tired. This trip has been a little more involved than we bargained for.”
“ Lee… you know what’s really wrong with you…. don’t you?” Chip looked at him seriously.
Crane considered his Exec with a look of resignation. Chip had been trying to get Lee to ‘talk’ to him this whole trip. He should have guessed that the innocent suggestion of a working supper was just another ploy.
“Okay Chip, say your piece. You’ve been trying to get at me this whole cruise. Go on get it off your chest.”
“ Lee, how can you say that? I only want to help. I remember a certain conversation a few months back that helped me to sort out my feelings. You’re my friend, brother even. You don’t expect me to do less…”
“Chip stop right there” Lee interrupted. “ If you are going to lecture me on what or who you think is missing from my life, save your breath. I know what the problem is and I will find my own solution thanks.”
Chip narrowed his eyes and leant forward. “You know do you? So how about talking about it.”
Lee leaned back into his chair and studied his friend. He knew that look of determination on Chip’s face; he wasn’t going to give up. Lee sighed, “What do you want me to say Chip? That I’m probably in love with Darcy Darling? I know. What am I going to do about it? That I don’t know.” He stood up and went to pour more coffee. Turning back he looked at Chip’s concerned expression. “It’s not exactly easy. I’m not sure I even like her! I have feelings for her…. most of the time …the rest of the time I could easily fire her from the nearest torpedo tube! Hell Chip, she’s not what I had in mind for my life. She’s independent, challenges my decisions, she purposely flirts with the men, even though I warned her not to….”
“What makes you think she flirts with the men?” interrupted Chip.
“Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed! She laughs with them all the time and encourages them to call her by her first name. Chip, she’s too casual, too friendly around them”
Chip looked at Lee with interest. “ Grayling’s just as casual and friendly.”
“Grayling’s completely different. Why couldn’t I find a nice gentle woman like her? With her you need never have doubts.”
Chip looked at Lee’s agitation. “ Is that what bothers you? You don’t trust Darcy.”
Lee looked his friend square in the eye, “ You never knew my Mom did you Chip?”
“You know I didn’t. I didn’t know you did either. I thought you said she left you when you were young.”
“ She did. I didn’t tell you that she came back briefly when I was about sixteen.” Lee sighed and looked away. “ She…well she didn’t lack for male company, if you know what I mean. Her philosophy was ‘enjoy it while you can’. She was only briefly married to my Dad, when he got tired of her playing around, he divorced her and left. I never saw him again. She left me when I was about six; I think it was a piano player or some sort of musician. Anyway she came back looking for some home comfort just after I left my last foster home. She was getting a little old to play the young divorcee by then. She hung around a while, full of remorse and plans to make it all up to me, when along came a businessman, he caught her eye and off she went again. A few years ago I had word she was in the hospital. I went to see her. She was kind of pathetic really. Old before she needed to be and well, I couldn’t seem to relate to her. She must have known it wouldn’t work. The next time I went, she had signed herself out and disappeared. I tried to find her but she was gone.
Chip sat in amazement. This was the most Lee had ever told him about his early life. Chip also felt a tremendous sympathy for his friend. It certainly explained a lot about his attitude to life and his own disregard for himself. “ Lee I’m sorry, you never said. Is that your reason for not trusting Darcy? Do you think she’s the same kind of person?”
Lee got up restlessly and paced, “Maybe she is. The way she tried to pick me up at that first meeting and the affair she had with that Senator, the way she behaves now. I know just what sort of woman she is but dammit, it doesn’t stop me from wanting to be with her.” He spoke with frustration.
Chip looked at Lee with concern, “Lee, I can’t help feeling you’re wrong. I’ve never witnessed anything that would lead me to believe that she’s not just what she seems. Grayling likes her a lot, they’ve become good friends, I can’t think she wouldn’t know if there was something wrong.”
“Maybe with women she is herself but around men she definitely takes on a different attitude. Believe me I wish it weren’t so.”
“You could be wrong Lee. Maybe this is just your defences trying to protect you from any serious involvement. You never seem to encourage long term relationships...do you?”
Both men sat with their own thoughts. Then Chip said, “ What are you going to do Lee? Can you work around her, feeling the way you do? You know the Admiral would release her if you asked.”
“Yeah, I know but somehow it doesn’t feel right. She is good at the work. You are comfortable around her and Grayling has found a friend. The Admiral trusts her. Can I really dismiss all that for the sake of my own feelings?” Lee sat down and looked at his friend.
Chip smiled softly. “ Lee you’re putting everyone else first as usual. What about you?
If she stays this is going to be tough, feeling the way you do and not willing to pursue it.”
“Chip, I do know that I have to resolve this. Maybe I’ll just get over her and move on. That would be the sensible thing to do.” Lee looked thoughtful. Quietly he said, “ Or maybe I’ll just accept her the way she is and try to make it work.”
Chip sat and considered his friend, “That’s what you want isn’t it? To be with her, no matter what. Love can do that to you. Confuse the hell out of you…then give you a solution that’s the one you want deep down. ”
“Possibly…. Yeah…. I suppose it is, or this wouldn’t be such a problem…would it? If I get involved with Darcy, I just know that I could lose my perspective so easily.” Lee looked thoughtful. “ I felt something about her from our first meeting. I could have strangled Josh Chambers for just being there. I guess we’re both a women guys, my friend. Grayling for you and Darcy for me.” Gradually he began to grin, “ I guess I just made a decision.”
“ I guess you did” Chip watched his friend carefully. “ Do you have any idea about how she feels about you?”
“I have a shrewd idea. I think she’s resisting as hard as I’ve been…but for entirely different reason’s.” Lee said with a smile. “Maybe I’m a better judge of character than she thinks”
“I’m sorry, did I miss something?” asked Chip with a broad grin.
Nearly two days later, Seaview came into port. After all the crew had been dismissed and the necessary paperwork was done, the senior officers were together in the nose.
Admiral Nelson looked at his Captain and Exec. He seemed distracted, both Lee and Chip noticed.
“Admiral is everything all right, Sir.” Lee asked.
Nelson looked thoughtful for a moment, then said, “ Lee, tell me truthfully. What is going on between you and Professor Darling.”
Chip struggled to keep a straight expressionless face, while Lee blushed a little and asked, “What exactly do you mean Sir, going on?”
Nelson sighed in irritation, “Lee you know what I mean. Are you in love with the woman or not?”
Even Chip could not help being surprised at his statement. Lee just looked trapped, like a rabbit caught in the headlights Then he looked defiant, “Yes sir, I am. Is it a problem?”
The Admiral chuckled, “ No Captain, not a problem. I was just verifying what I have suspected for a while. Well Lee what are you going to do about it?”
Lee smiled, “ I guess I’ll have ‘to go a courting’ Admiral”
“Yes, I guess you will son.” All three men laughed. “ Well go ahead, Lee, go ahead.” said Nelson shooing him away.
Lee got up, looked to Chip and after receiving an affirmative nod, left with a spring in his step.
“How did you know sir?” asked Chip smiling.
“Well, with you and Grayling as templates, it didn’t take me long to catch on. I just hope he’s not too disappointed if she doesn’t feel the same way.” the Admiral finished with concern.
“Oh. I don’t think we need to worry, sir. Unless I miss my guess by a long way…. we had better get our dress whites back from the cleaners.”
Lee bounded up the steps of the Institute. Now he had made his decision, he knew it was the right one. He would make it work. He knew he had to be with her, so all he had to do was make Darcy his Darling. He almost laughed aloud at the pun.
He came into Chip’s outer office. “Hi, Debs, is Professor Darling free?” he said to Debbie, Chip’s secretary.
“Hi Lee. No, sorry she isn’t right now. Senator Mac Michaels is with her.”
Lee’s smile froze on his face and his blood turned cold. Senator Mac Michaels. He slowly went to her office and knocked. After receiving a ‘Come in’, he opened the door.
Inside seated together on the couch were Darcy and a distinguished looking man in his late sixty’s. He was holding her hand fondly.
“Oh! Captain… I didn’t know you were back.” She flushed and took her hand hurriedly out of the man’s grasp. “ Allow me to introduce my… Senator John Mac Michaels. He’s only in town a few days and came to catch up.” She spoke breathlessly and with embarrassment. She knew how this looked and she just knew what Lee was thinking. It was written all over his face. Then an idea came to her.
Lee struggled to control his temper. “Senator, I didn’t know you knew Professor Darling.” He said tightly.
“My dear, Captain Crane and I already know each other from the appropriation committees that I chair.” The Senator explained to Darcy. “Captain, how are you? Nice to see you again. Yes I’ve known Darcy since….”
Darcy interrupted. “ Mac, darling. Let’s not bore the Captain. He’s only just arrived back after three weeks at sea. I’m sure he’s not interested in our…. friendship. Why don’t you get off now and I will see you later at your hotel. Then we can catch up...properly.” She rested her hand on his arm and gently led him to the door. “ Excuse me Captain I won’t be a moment.” Outside she took a deep breath. She saw the Senator looking confusedly at her.
“Darcy what are you doing?”
“Mac I’ll explain later. Please just play along and I promise to make everything clear.”
“Does this have anything to do with you wanting the lodge again? Are you running away from someone…the Captain maybe?” John Mac Michaels looked at her with interest.
“Mac…please.” When she saw he was not going to be put off, she sighed, “ Okay, you’re right. The Captain thinks you’re something to me that you’re not. For reasons of my own, I’d like him to continue thinking that way. You’re going to be my get out clause. With any luck he’ll fire me and I can walk away from this whole mess, with no-one the wiser, well almost no-one.” She thought of Grayling. “So please just go, I’ll see you later.” With that she kissed him hurriedly on the cheek and turned back to her office.
As he was walking down the corridor he met two familiar faces, “Harry, Commander Morton just the men I wanted to see, can you spare me a moment?”
Back in her office Darcy prepared for the inquisition she knew was coming.
“Captain, did you all have a good voyage?”
Lee turned from the window and carefully looked at her. She was breathless and obviously very nervous. Her face was flushed and she looked beautiful to him. Even now he couldn’t stop himself from wanting her.
“Darcy is that the man you really spent your…leave of absence with last year?”
She was un-nerved by his quiet tone of voice. She had expected anger. “I…well yes, we did spend some time together.” She hesitated “ If I tell you it was not what you’re thinking, would you believe me?” part of her still hoped for the impossible.
Lee studied her anxious face. Would he believe her? He wanted to but memories of long ago were etched in his mind. Another woman who had said the same words to him, “It’s not what you think.”
“I want to, I really do want to but… No. I can’t take that chance.” Lee finished firmly. He turned back to the window.
Darcy watched his rigid back and didn’t know quite how to react. She knew she was hurting him but it was for his own good. “Well Captain, where do we go from here?”
He didn’t answer. She had to get him angry with her. He would feel better when she’d gone then. “Well…is to be a keel hauling or firing squad. Chief Sharkey could probably fix something up?”
Lee turned from the window and fixed her with an icy glare. “ Is this all it means to you then? A joke.”
She swallowed nervously. “Captain, let’s not get things out of focus here. You weren’t interested he was. It’s done all the time.” Hell, this was hard.
He took a step towards her, his fists clenched at his sides. In a deathly quiet voice he said, “Professor Darling, you have no concept of how I feel about you. Today I was about to make the biggest mistake of my life. Thankfully, you have saved me that humiliation. The Institute would appreciate your resignation at the earliest opportunity. Until that time I suggest you leave the premises or I will have security remove you!” His voice had risen significantly and she stepped back automatically.
“ You’re so sure of your facts…aren’t you? This fits perfectly with your original judgement of me, doesn’t it Captain? . I bet you feel mighty relieved that your opinion has been vindicated. Now you can go to Nelson and say ‘I told you so’. Well go right ahead Captain and I hope you choke on it.” Darcy challenged him.
Lee looked at her flushed angry face. He felt a strong urge to take hold of her and…. what?
She watched him with caution, “ I know what you’re thinking. You want to either slap me or kiss me. Well I’ll give you a clue. One I would probably enjoy too much and the other I wouldn’t enjoy at all. I’ll leave you to work out which is which. By the way …I Resign!” She turned and left with a satisfied slam of the door, missing his stunned expression.
In an office not too far away, two officers were sitting, also with stunned expressions.
“A brain tumour. Good God! Why didn’t she say something?” Nelson’s voice was grim.
“Darcy has never shared her feelings willingly with anyone. She is unwilling to allow anyone into her life. Especially not her mother, who, although I love her very much, is quite frankly useless in a crisis, and she only shares with me out of necessity. At first she refused to have the operation at all. Pretended that it didn’t exist. I tried to reason with her but nothing would move her. She went off to a conference and all of a sudden she ‘phoned me and agreed, it went ahead three days later. As you can see it was a resounding success. Now after nearly two years, she has recovered and been given the all clear for the foreseeable future. Margaret and I were delighted when she came here to work for you Harry. We thought she might start to look forward at last. However her recent ‘phone calls have had us worried.”
“Why John? She hasn’t seemed upset in any way.”
“Harry, she is clever at maintaining an outward appearance but something was eating at her. That’s why I came to see her. My guess is it has something to do with your Captain Crane… could I be right?” he asked after seeing the look that passed between Admiral and XO.
Both of the officers looked to John Mac Michaels but it was the Admiral that spoke, “John, I think you need to hear something that might interest you.” Then both men told what they knew of the story so far. At the end all three sat in silence. Finally John Mac Michaels said, “ I see. Well that explains the little scene I just witnessed. You do realise that these two people are in danger of out manoeuvring themselves.”
Chip sighed, “Tell me about it! Lee can be the most stubborn man on the planet if he decides to be.”
Just as they were about to continue, the intercom went, “Yes Angie.”
“Admiral, Mrs. Morton is here, sir.”
“Send her in Angie,” Nelson turned to John and said, “Grayling maybe able to help us with this”.
Chip had gone to the door to greet his wife. “Hello love.” He kissed her cheek. Then saw her worried expression, “What’s wrong?”
“Chip, I just saw Darcy slam out of her office and run out of the building.”
All three of the men present glanced at each other. After quick introductions and even quicker explanations. Grayling said, “Oh. For heavens sake, of course Darcy’s in love with him but she’s not about to admit it to Lee! Now, we need to get those two and bang their heads together. Harry, you and Chip find Lee and take him to his office. The Senator and I will find Darcy and bring her there. Then we don’t let them leave until they sort this mess out.” She looked around the startled faces, “What’s the matter?”
All three smiled, Chip hugged his wife, wearing the broadest smile of all and Harry said laughing, “Nothing at all my dear, nothing at all.” As they all went to the door John Mac Michaels looked at Chip and said, “That’s quite a wife you have there Mr. Morton.”
Chip looked at Grayling with love and replied. “ I know sir. I know.”
Lee was walking towards his office, when he saw the Admiral and Chip coming towards him. Damn! He didn’t feel up to explanations right now.
“Lee I was just coming to look for you. Your office, Now.” Said Nelson grimly, he turned and headed that way.
Lee knew that tone of voice brooked no argument. He looked at Chip who merely raised his eyebrows in sympathy and followed.
Once they were all seated Harry looked closely at Lee. “Well? Would you like to explain what went wrong and why Professor Darling is preparing to leave? I take it that you did ask her to resign!”
Lee saw that he wasn’t about to get any help from Chip, who was studiously avoiding his gaze. So he went on the attack. “ Sir, I told you what to expect when you employed her. I warned you that her moral standards were not the most reliable. Today I found her in her office with Senator John Mac Michaels, holding hands no less and he’s a married man. She was arranging to meet with him tonight.”
Lee looked at the Admiral’s face expecting to see shock or outrage but instead the Admiral smiled and said, “ He’s also her stepfather.” When Nelson saw Lee’s shock he said again, “ Yes Lee…. her …Stepfather!”
Crane was still and very pale. Harry looked at Chip who too became concerned. “Lee…Lee are you alright? Come on buddy speak to me.” His friend just continued to stare. “Lee!” Suddenly, as though he woke up, Crane turned to Chip.
“She let me believe something else. She let me believe he was her lover. Why? Why on earth didn’t she explain?”
“Did you let her get the chance or did you go off at her, like an out of control torpedo!” Chip said in frustration.
Lee had the grace to blush. “She made no attempt to explain, in fact she seemed purposely not to try.”
“What is it about my most senior officers, two intelligent, highly trained, highly experienced men, that has them behaving like complete fools when it comes to affairs of the heart!” The Admiral roared.
“Don’t look at me Sir. I’m happily married.” Morton said smugly.
“You had your moments Mr. Morton, so don’t sound so righteous. I cannot believe that you both need to be shown how to win the women in your lives!” Nelson ran a hand through his hair and looked at both men, who were sheepishly eyeing each other and trying not to laugh. “What’s so damn difficult about finding someone you love and telling them so?” Captain and Exec looked at him with identical expressions of ‘your kidding, right!’ that he smiled as well.
Lee stood up and started to pace. “I’ve made a mess of everything haven’t I? Right from the start.”
Chip nodded, “ You should have listened to me pal. I told you, you had her all wrong. Now are you going to wake up to yourself and put it right? Darcy’s your future Lee, you only get so many chances at this.”
“Thank you… Mr. Voice of Experience. Okay, I’ll try to find her, although what I’m going to say I don’t know.” Lee smiled ruefully.
Both Nelson and Morton looked decidedly uncomfortable. Lee eyed them suspiciously. “What’s going on?”
Chip started to explain Grayling’s instructions.
Down at the beach, Darcy was walking aimlessly. Well she’d got what she wanted, she could leave easily now. After all it was what she had planned for. So why was she feeling so miserable? ’Damn you Lee Crane’ she thought, ‘why couldn’t you just believe me?’…… ‘Because you gave him no reason to’, she answered herself.
Two years ago her life had collapsed around her. She had not behaved well. Darcy had thought that by ignoring the threat it would go away. Of course it hadn’t and by trying to be someone she wasn’t, she had discovered that the situation didn’t change either. Josh Chambers had been a nuisance. He had believed his own fantasy and it had taken a lot out of her to deal with him. Yet he still managed to spoil something she had hoped would be special to her. The look of distain in Lee’s eyes had woken her up to herself. She had gotten back in control, agreed to the operation and had been blessed with a successful outcome..
How could she be in love with Lee Crane? It was not what she wanted. She didn’t need him…but her heart told her differently..
As she turned to go back, she saw Grayling and Mac coming towards her. Oh! Oh! She recognised the looks of determination on both their faces. There was nowhere to run, so she lifted her chin a little higher and met them head on.
Lee was waiting. “ What if she won’t come? Maybe she really does want to leave.”
“ You think Grayling will give her a choice? I don’t, she was pretty determined.” said Chip. There was a light knock on the door and Grayling, Darcy and the Senator entered.
“Right I’m only going to say this once.” Graylings soft voice, held the attention of everyone in the room, “Lee, you’re a fool if you let Darcy go without explaining how you feel about her.” She turned towards her friend, “Darcy, let your guard down this once and open yourself to the possibilities of love.” Glancing at both of them she said, “ No amount of pride is worth losing the each other for, believe me Stop behaving like stubborn fools and sort this out.” She looked lovingly at her attentive husband. “Finally I will expect both of you at the party tonight, no excuses.” She then gathered up the Admiral, Senator, Chip and they all left.
Lee stood slightly stunned, as did Darcy. “ I wonder if Chip knows what he has there?”
“Oh. I think they both know how lucky they are.” said Darcy softly. She waited nervously. Finally she started. “Captain…Lee I need to explain a few things, put right some …..”
Lee came across the room and stood in front of her. “First things first.” Then he took her in his arms and kissed her. For a second she stood rigidly, then melted into the embrace and responded with enthusiasm.
When he released her, she swayed and he put an arm around to steady her. “I’m glad I guessed correctly.” She looked confused for a moment, and then laughed happily. “I’m glad you did to. We do need to talk Lee.”
“I know and we will but later….much later.” He started to kiss her again. How could she ever think she could like this too much and then stopped bothering to think at all?
It was early evening and the Morton home was filled with happy smiling people.
Harry had arrived first. He was still recovering from Grayling’s earlier display of determination. As he joked with her she blushed. “I don’t know what came over me Harry. I just knew that Lee and Darcy had to be brought to their senses before it was too late.”
“Well I hope it works. I’m getting too old for all this emotional upheaval.” He said smiling.
“You’ll never be that Harry. I think they will see the love they have for each other, once they stop long enough to look.” She linked her arm in his and they went to find Chip.
When Lee and Darcy arrived at the party, they found the Admiral, Jamie and the Senator were also gathered together in the happy atmosphere.
As they came into the room, each had an arm around the other, all conversation stopped and they looked at a sea of smiling faces.
“Lee, Darcy, I’m so happy for you both.” Grayling embraced both of them warmly, kissing both on their cheeks.
That encouraged everyone else to express their congratulations.
“Welcome to the club, Pal” Chip slapped his friend gently on the back.
Lee smiled broadly, “ Thanks. We didn’t dare do anything else after Grayling’s warning.” Lee smiled towards her.
“Lee Crane you are not afraid of me and you know it! I just wasn’t going to allow two people I care about, ruin their chance at happiness.”
“Oh, I don’t know. You can be pretty formidable when you want. But thanks anyway for caring.”
Grayling blushed furiously and her laugh was infectious.
After dinner they went out to watch the sunset. Lee took Darcy’s hand and they wandered a little way up the beach. Grayling took Chip’s hand and said, “ Walk with me. I have an extra birthday gift for you.” Chip looked confused but followed her.
Darcy stopped and turned to Lee. “You are sure about this? It has to be marriage? I would be quite willing to just be with you…no strings attached…then if… well.. if I got sick again you would be free to…”
Lee smiled and took her in his arms. “ Darcy, I told you marriage, nothing less will do. We face the future together, whatever it brings. I love you and that’s all that matters.”
“ I’m not easy to live with. I won’t back down from arguments…you know how determined I can be. It could make for some stormy times.” She looked at him carefully.
“So? The making up will be interesting.” Lee laughed.
“Lee, you know it’s unlikely I can have children. Will you mind terribly?”
Lee looked Darcy’s pained expression. “ As much as you will my love.”
She smiled. “Then I guess we’ll just have to great Godparents.” Her gaze going to the other couple on the beach.
Grayling stood looking out to sea, with her husband’s arms wrapped around her. “ Well, do I have to guess, or are you going to tell me. Where’s my present?” Chip asked with amusement. For a long moment she stood still, then taking his hands placed them over her stomach. “ Right here but you will have to wait about seven and a half month’s for it.”
Chip went very still. Suddenly he spun her around. “ Are you…are we going to have a baby?”
“Yes. You are pleased aren’t you?” she watched his face. He started to smile and picked her up and swung her around, at the same time letting out a loud, “ Whoopee” Then kissed her passionately.
Back on the deck, alerted by the yell, all three men looked towards the couple.
“Does that mean, what I think it means, Will?” Harry asked his CMO.
“Oh, I should definitely think so Harry. In about seven to eight months you are going to be needed for babysitting duties!”
Then all three men started to laugh as the couples came back to celebrate.
Please let me know what you think.