Note: This one is for Liz and all Lee’s
Ladies. Just cos I’m a Chipette doesn’t
mean I can’t appreciate the captain! Thanks to Liz for the wonderful beta. This is not part of my timeline and stands
entirely alone. And it basically wrote
itself – wish they were all as co-operative.
Hope you enjoy and wish all of you and your families – wherever in the
world you are – a peaceful, safe and happy Christmas and a prosperous and
healthy New Year in 2010.
‘Tis the Season – And All That
“Are you ready to go?”
“What? NOW? You’re not
serious!” The glare she sent his way had
him positively wincing. At least he had
the grace to look sheepish! After
standing her up twice – twice! – he had a nerve showing up in her office smack
in the middle of her Friday afternoon and just expecting her to drop everything
to accommodate him at a moment’s notice.
She was determined to make him pay!
Then he did that… thing… he did with those gorgeous amber eyes behind dense inky black lashes. She called it his ‘puppy dog look’ and it was almost impossible for any female with a modicum of estrogen and a beating heart not to succumb. He sort of slightly dipped his head to the side, and then slid a sorta shy glance up from under those almost feminine eyelashes. Enough to make a lesser girl swoon. And she was totally committed to another – and the recently appointed Deputy Director of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research to boot! But she wouldn’t be human – and female – if she weren’t at least momentarily tempted. He was a stunning example of good-looking manhood – in uniform, no less. No, she hardened her heart; he had two – TWO – strikes against him.
You’ve rescheduled this twice!
And now you expect me to just drop everything at your command and row in
with your plans? (Like the slightly nautical lingo here,
ladies?) What makes you think I’ve got time to go Christmas shopping
with you this afternoon? Huh? The fact that the family Christmas party is tomorrow afternoon and
you’ve run out of time to procrastinate and now you’re counting on me to take
pity on you?”
She tried, she really did.
But as his hangdog expression got progressively
more miserable she couldn’t hold back the burst of laughter that eventually
“Oh, you are a pain in the ass, Crane! You know that, don’t you? I should send you on your way with
your tail between your legs and tell you to get your buddy, Chip Morton, to
help you out of this mess of your own making.
I would too, if it wasn’t for the kids.
They don’t deserve whatever weird and totally outlandish gifts you two
would for sure come up with! And you do
have a reputation to uphold! This has
become one of the highlights of the annual staff party. Thanks in no small way to yours truly!”
And I really appreciate this. I
couldn’t do it without your help. I’m
really sorry for leaving it so last minute but you know I’ve been swamped.”
The earnest entreaty in those golden eyes had
gotten to her after the first sentence.
She could almost feel her heart melt into a puddle on the spot.
“You’re always swamped! Especially this time of
year. I don’t know why I’m even
surprised any more. But you normally
don’t re-schedule twice! And you’ve
never left it til the day before.” She
continued to grouse half-heartedly as she shut down her computer and locked up
“Totally forgot the party was tomorrow if you
must know. Only Chip mentioned it at
lunch it would have been panic stations tomorrow morning.” He admitted self-deprecatingly.
“I did offer to go shopping for you. Would’ve been quicker and a heck of a lot
cheaper!” This last was muttered as
an aside while she dragged her purse from her bottom drawer but she knew he’d
heard and had sensed her capitulation by the little snicker he couldn’t quite
“Wouldn’t be the same, though.
It wouldn’t be personal if I didn’t have a hand in picking out the gifts
and paying for them myself.” Lee
shrugged self-consciously, meeting her now twinkling green eyes and knowing
instinctively he was forgiven.
“Just let me tell the admiral we’re off and
that I’ve switched the phones over to Debbie.”
“Want me to have Chip meet us somewhere for a
drink or dinner after we’re done?”
She paused with one hand raised to knock on the
connecting door between her office and Nelson’s, casting him a horrified look
over her shoulder.
“You’re not serious? Do you honestly think I’ll be fit for
anything but my bed after you’ve dragged me around every toy shop and baby
boutique in the whole of
“Well….” He drawled, the often hidden jade
lights in his chameleon eyes coming to the fore as he watched the blush sweep
across her cheekbones when she realised what she’d said.
She snapped. “Oh, why do I even
Angie practically threw herself into the seat
on the pub’s covered outdoor deck. She
toed off her shoes gratefully; almost whimpering as the release from the
pressure of her heels caused an ache to throb through both feet and she flexed
them for whatever minute relief could be gained. Although it was December the terrace was warm
from the crush of bodies on this final work night before the holiday break and
the patio heaters that were working overtime to ward off the night chills. Lee sprawled into the seat opposite hers at
the small table he had charmed from the hostess with one of his incredible
smiles. He’d changed out of his uniform
before leaving NIMR but still looked lethally gorgeous in black jeans, a jade
green polo top and a butter soft creamy-beige leather jacket, which he’d hooked
over the back of the chair before sitting.
He picked up the faux-leather-bound menu their hostess had left and
swiftly perused the contents.
“What will you have, Ang?”
“I think I deserve a glass of whatever
Chardonnay they’ve got – after putting up with you and your mind changes for
the past five hours!” She sniped as she
reached down to rub one aching foot.
“Your sacrifice deserves dinner and I’m
buying. But we’ll start with the
Chardonnay.” He signalled a hovering
server and placed the order with a draught beer for himself. He glanced around appreciatively.
It was a nice place and had come recommended
but he hadn’t frequented it before. Upmarket but far from stuffy. There was a pleasant hum of conversation and
laughter, the occasional clink of raised glasses, the muted clatter of
silverware on china and the contented sighs of well-fed patrons. The atmosphere was aided by the fairy lights
twinkling from the leaves of miniature, potted trees and strung along the
wooden deck railings. A giant Christmas
tree, at least fifteen feet tall and decorated in blue and silver with blinking
white lights, graced the opposite corner from where they sat. It was all extremely festive and the holiday
cheer was evident around them. Already
mellow from his successful shopping spree, Lee settled more comfortably into
his seat and nodded his thanks as the server deposited their drinks on the
He fought a laugh as Angie abandoned her foot
rubbing and latched onto the wine glass, taking a healthy slug of the pale gold
liquid. He enjoyed her company and her
penchant for life but didn’t usually get enough time to savour either. She bossed them all mercilessly in their
professional lives – including Admiral Nelson when she could get away with it –
but was curiously a little shy in a personal sense. Not that there was anything remotely sexual
between them. She was sweet on Chip
Morton and his friend was more than smitten with her. It made Lee grin to watch the two of them
dance around each other in the courtship game that neither acknowledged they
were playing and had led to Lee treating her as a substitute for the little
sister he’d never had.
The glare she sent him as she caught his
smothered grin indicated she’d overcome much of her shyness today. She took another gulp of the fine Californian
Chardonnay he’d picked before setting the glass somewhat defiantly back on the
table. “I needed that!” It came out more defensive than she
“Hey, there were only nine kids to buy for this
year!” He felt obliged to protest, even
as he couldn’t contain the grin that surfaced at her disgruntled
expression. It was fun to see her all
riled up for once. She was usually so…
contained… and, yeah, bossy in their business dealings.
“And I could have shopped for ninety in the
amount of time it took you to pick those nine presents.” She bickered as she picked up the menu and
shot him a look over the top of the folder.
“So be aware that I’m picking the most expensive thing on this menu to
compensate for my aching feet!”
He’d already seen the menu selections and
concluded that nothing there was going to break the bank – it was mainly pub
fare, chosen for its ability to soak up alcohol rather than its fine dining
attributes. “Have at it.” He invited mildly, silently chuckling at her
bristling demeanour. She was by no means
an extravagant person and he recognised that her threats were idle. Hell, after working with her for four years,
he knew she’d probably opt for the cheapest thing on the menu; such was her
giving nature. And one of the reasons
his best and oldest friend was besotted.
He signalled to their waitress that they were ready to order.
Angie handed the slim folder back to the server
and, looking Lee straight in the eye, declared. “I’ll have the Lobster
Having just taken a swig of his beer, Lee
choked – as much at her sass as at the confused expression on the waitress’s
face. “I’m sorry, ma’am. But that’s not on the menu.”
“Oh, very well.”
With an entirely staged put-upon expression, she pretended to scan the
proffered menu once again. “Better make
it the Shepherd’s Pie. And I’ll want an
order of fries with that and a green salad.” She snapped the menu shut and returned it to the
waitress who had cottoned on to the fact that there was something else going on
“And for you, sir?”
“I’ll have the same, thank you. And bring the lady another glass of
Chardonnay.” Lee managed to get out,
weakly. The waitress gathered up his
menu and departed. He forestalled
Angie’s protest. “You’re not driving so
just enjoy it. You worked hard this
afternoon and I appreciate it.”
A smirk curved her lips. “You mean your credit card does. Honestly, Lee, it’s just as well I’m with
you! The clerks practically drool when
you show up every year.”
“Then they notice you covering my back and
sober up.” He admitted with a soft smile
She sighed and put down her glass. “It’s not like I’m trying to be a
killjoy. It’s just that… sometimes you
try to do too much.” The last came out
as a burst and obviously embarrassed her as she pushed back from the table and
crossed her arms over her chest.
His brow furrowed. “We have this conversation every year. How can it be too much? They’re only babies.”
“Duh! And who had to stop you buying a double
jogging stroller for Seaman Jenkins’ twins?
That was for the babies?”
He shifted uncomfortably. They’d almost had a stand up fight in the
children’s department over that one!
“Emma Jenkins loves to run. With
two babies and Ted away at sea so much it just seemed like a nice present.”
She downed the end of her first glass and
traded it off to the server who replaced it with a full one. “It was a way too extravagant gift, Lee. And that’s not what this is all
He capitulated as the waitress brought their food. Everything looked good and he was suddenly starving. “I know that. It’s why I need you there. You balance me. And you know what’s appropriate.”
Angie softened as she picked up a french fry
and practically inhaled it. “Lee, this
is the third year you’ve asked for my help and you know I love doing this with
you. And I think it’s really great that
you involve yourself so totally in the process of buying the gifts. It’s become a huge part of the annual staff
and family party. Everyone looks forward
“I can’t exactly take credit for that. That’s over to you and Chip.”
She snorted in a most un-ladylike fashion as
she dug into her salad. “Oh, come
on. You started it that first time! We only pressured you to continue it the next
He spluttered. “Try harassed and
practically downright threatened.”
“So we make a good team.” She shrugged it off at the gleam that came in
his beautiful amber eyes – directing her fork at him in a pseudo-threatening
manner. “Don’t even go there!”
Just pointing out that you and he are the perpetrators of this First
Christmas stuff. I’m just the sap that
pays for it all!”
And the guy who gets the major kudos every year – out trumps Santa! And, as your exec would say, that’s our job –
to make the captain look good! Don’t we
do it well?” She batted her eyelashes at
him and he just had to grin. “You know,
I think Harry Evans still takes that stuffed dinosaur to bed with him and he
started kindergarten this year.”
Lee stilled, with a forkful of food halfway off
his plate. Memories washed over him –
unwelcome for the most part – of that ill-fated mission when Seaview had
been stranded on the seabed, almost out of air and Chip Morton and the then
COB, Curley Jones, had descended in the Diving Bell through a minefield to effect a rescue. *
Good men had died that day and Curley Jones had
suffered a major and fatal heart attack a couple of months later. Lee had always wondered if it was due to the
strain of that traumatic and stressful rescue.
He knew Chip did too and blamed himself in part for the chief’s demise. Jamie hadn’t been around back then and
neither of them had since felt like discussing it with him. It hurt too damned much to remember.
Angie reached across and gripped his forearm with concern. She’d seen the happy expression wiped from
his face and grief replace merriment in eyes now darkened to bitter chocolate. She felt the shudder that ran through his
body and cursed herself for awakening unpleasant
memories. It wasn’t often one got Lee in
such a relaxed and expansive mood and she was sorry to have spoiled it by
dredging up old wounds.
“I’m fine, Angie. Stop worrying.” He picked up his fork and began eating again
but the smile he pasted on his face didn’t quite reach his eyes and didn’t fool
her. Sipping her wine and continuing
with the meal that didn’t taste quite as good as it had before her blunder, she
studied him surreptitiously.
She’d worked with Lee Crane for over four years
now, ever since he’d joined NIMR as captain of Seaview and if her heart
hadn’t already belonged to his best friend she’d probably have been swooning
over him along with most of the rest of the Institute’s female staff. He was undoubtedly the best looking guy she
had ever seen – who was also totally unaware of his looks. On top of being almost startlingly handsome
he was intelligent, hardworking, chivalrous, generous and just a little bit
shy. He was additionally one of the
kindest men she knew. Take their little
Angie knew from mission reports that the
incident with Seaview’s sinking during Lee’s first year aboard had begun
with an altercation between Seaman Evans and Lt. Bishop – the latter having
just returned to the regular navy in recent months – over Bishop’s refusal to
allow the rating to contact his in-labour wife.
After the rescue Lee and Admiral Nelson had personally visited the new
mother and son in hospital – the baby having been named after the admiral,
which had given Lee a huge kick. At the
annual ‘Staff and Family’ Christmas party that year Lee had given the six month
old – the only baby born to a crewmember that year – a plush stuffed dinosaur
for his First Christmas. The following
year several infants had been born to the crew and it had come to Chip’s
attention that the men were speculating, as Christmas approached, as to what
gifts the newborns would receive from their captain.
He’d spoken to Lee about it and the man had
visibly paled, spluttering that he couldn’t possibly shop for baby gifts – he
didn’t know a thing about kids, being an only child himself. Chip had volunteered Angie for the mission,
knowing that she selected the admiral’s gifts for all the staff’s children each
year. But, while Lee had welcomed her
help, he’d insisted that paying for the presents each year wasn’t enough and
instead had accompanied her to pick them out personally – which was inevitably
more of a hindrance than a help!
And thus a tradition had been born.
So each of the last three Decembers she had
spent one afternoon shopping with him for the ‘First Christmas’ babies. Angie knew Nelson had wanted Lee to expense
the gifts but he’d quietly, but determinedly, refused. She did her bit by steering him away from the
more extravagant stuff and suiting the gift to the child by gender and appeal –
appeal to the captain that was. Lee was
adamant that each gift had to have some ‘wow’ factor.
Which was why it had taken an entire
afternoon and a goodly portion of the evening to purchase just nine gifts.
Of course she had added the, now traditional, soft hats sporting ‘Baby’s
First Christmas’ for each of the infants – five pink and four blue this year.
She’d finished the last of her wine without
realising it and set the glass down, picking at her salad although her appetite
was more or less gone.
“I’d buy you another but I don’t think Chip
would appreciate me dropping you home half sloshed.” She looked up at Lee’s quip and grinned back,
recognising the teasing banter for what it was – an attempt to lighten the
atmosphere once again.
“You’re probably right. Not that I’m going to see him! But I’ve got a busy day tomorrow putting the
finishing touches to the cafeteria for the party. However, don’t think you’re getting
off that easily, Captain. I fully intend
to have dessert – and coffee!”
“Your wish is my command.” He signalled for their waitress and placed
her order, adding black coffee for him, as the table was cleared. “Now, what would it take to have you help
with the rest of my Christmas shopping?
I have no idea what to buy for my mom or Claire - and Bill is just impossible
to buy for.” **
The look of shocked horror on her face and her
succinct but unprintable reply had him doubled over laughing and, when she’d
calmed down enough to realise that he was teasing, she dissolved into
“There is nothing on this earth, Lee, that
would tempt me to get involved in that shopping list!”
The wicked grin that slashed across his mobile
mouth had her pausing, interest engaged.
His first words had her backtracking totally.
“Not even if I told you the tale about Chip’s
little misadventure during our first shore leave in
“Lee Crane, surely you are not offering
me a bribe?” She tried to sound
scandalised but it just didn’t come off as she couldn’t prevent the bubble of
laughter from escaping.
“Will it work?”
‘Submarine Sunk Here’
and Bill Morton – Chip’s parents
Merry Christmas everyone!