A Powerful Thing
Norfolk Naval Yard
When she walked out of the makeshift lab, she muttered obscenities under her breath - words her momma wouldn't have liked. "Lord! Momma would've washed my mouth but good if she heard me talk." She felt slightly foolish that she had spoken out loud even though no one was around to hear her. There! I've done it. Missed my damn flight back to Memphis and I'm so tired, I'm talkin' to m'self. Need to get to a hotel, need to get to bed. I'm plum wore out.
She had flown into Norfolk early this morning, certain she could do what needed to be done and fly home again this evening. A Navy transport had brought her into Norfolk, but she had to take a commercial flight home. Naturally, the case was more involved than she had been led to expect and she needed to double check the autopsy results, repeating several procedures, running toxic screens, writing and rewriting her report. Her information was vital to the court case the military justice system had instigated against the Marine Major that had taken an unauthorized absence.
Commander Valentina Fletcher, forensic pathologist, wasn't surprised no one was about. The Navy Yard looked deserted and no wonder. The rain was heavier than she'd seen it in a while and the temperature was rapidly dropping. There was a good chance of sleet or snow and she was relieved to get into her rental car and out of the weather. She groaned when the motor wouldn't turn over - the battery was dead.
"Okay, Valentina Jardine Fletcher, now what?" Grabbing her briefcase with a weary shrug, she reluctantly got out of the car. "Someone in this place has jumper cables," she muttered. "I just have to find him."
A shiver went through her as she walked back to the lab and it had nothing to do with the cold or the rain. Someone was walking behind her, mimicking her footsteps - or so it seemed.
It's just the late hour she thought. Or maybe the rain or... She couldn't remember the last time she was scared and stopped abruptly and turned around... and slammed right into a hard chest. She dropped her briefcase and would have fallen if strong arms hadn't grabbed her in time.
"You okay?" a deep baritone rumbled. "Hope I didn't scare you. Just trying to get out of this damn weather."
"Ad... Admiral Willhaven? Sir?"
"Affirmative. And you are...? Commander Fletcher!" he exclaimed, finally getting a glimpse of her face as she tilted her head up. "What are you doing here so late?"
She started to explain why she was still at the Naval yard at this late hour when he took her elbow. "Let's get somewhere dry; then you can tell me what you're doing here on this godforsaken night."
Pulling her into the sheltered doorway of the closest building, he put his back to the cold rain, shielding her from the weather. "Now tell me, Commander. Why are you here at this late hour?" he asked. He had automatically assumed the stance of command, his arms folded across his chest and his eyebrows arched.
His voice had been one she was used to hearing on those occasions when she had visited the Navy's operation center. It was a little gruff sometimes, but there was no doubt in her mind that it currently held a note of concern. Valentina looked up at him, wondering why it had taken so long for her to notice how handsome he was.
She blushed slightly when he arched a brow at her. She had remained quiet, taking in his facial features, his stance and the aura of his masculinity.
"Commander?" There was a chuckle in his voice as his lips curved slightly. It only took him a moment to realize she was eyeing him in the same manner he tallied the assets of an attractive female.
"Ad... Admiral, I... I've plum forgot what you asked. Did you ask me somethin?"
Hank laughed softly, unfolding his arms and placed them on her shoulders. "Are you all right, Commander?"
"Yes... yes, of course I'm all right. Just a little tuckered out and a bit tired of this rain." The feel of his hands on her shoulders was warm and reassuring. "It's been a long day, just tired, that's all."
She was startled when one of his gloved hands cupped her chin. "Why are you here so late?" he asked again, the concern in his voice obvious.
Suddenly aware that he was touching her unnecessarily and that he *wanted* to touch her, he put his hands in his coat pockets and waited for her to answer.
"I ran into a bump in the road when I was double checkin autopsy results, Sir," she explained, "and I was fixin' to get around it, but the toxic screens just didn't sit right with me." She looked directly at him while she explained her reason for being at the Naval yard at this late hour. "I needed to keep lookin until I was satisfied. Got my report, though," she patted her briefcase. "The Navy attorney assigned to the case will have solid evidence when it goes to court."
"That's well and good, Commander, but I don't relish the idea of you being here so late. This place is practically deserted on weekends. Where are you staying?"
"Hoped to be back in Memphis by now," she admitted. "Didn't think my work would take this long."
"You don't have a reservation anywhere, do you?"
"No Sir, I don't. Missed my flight and everythin's booked - have to wait till Sunday night - or maybe get out very early Monday mornin." She watched him purse his lips and fold his arms across his chest for the second time. "If you don't mind my sayin so, Admiral, you're here kinda' late too."
"I am," he scowled, not about to explain his presence. The less said, the better. No need to alarm her.
When he didn't explain further, she asked if he had jumper cables so she could get the rental car started.
"Forget the car, Commander. I'll arrange for someone to take care of it. Let's get off this base and head for a warmer and dryer place." He took her unresisting arm and escorted her to his car.
She didn't even ask where they were going when he pulled out onto the highway. She stared out the window, thinking that was safer than staring at him. Get your head straight, Valentina Jardine. He's a two-star. She sighed again, thinking he'd gotten mighty handsome since the last time she looked.
"You can sleep till we get there, Commander," his deep voice interrupted her thoughts.
She nodded, closed her eyes and laid her head back, not even asking where "there" was. She'd find out when they got there.
She woke when he opened the passenger door, disoriented and feeling like she'd been run over by a truck.
"Easy, Commander. Let me help you," he said gently, taking her arm and helping her out of his SUV.
"Still rainin," she commented. "You'd think someone would know better than to give the good Lord a diuretic. He sure is pissin' up a storm."
Hank burst out laughing, giving her a quick hug before leading her up the stairs to his house.
She turned several shades of red, realizing she'd said her thoughts out loud and not in her head.
"Admiral, I apologize. I..."
"No need, Commander," he was still laughing. "That's the best damn thing I've heard all day."
Lordy, Lordy, Lordy! That man has a sexy smile!
He set her briefcase on the low table in front of the fireplace and took her wet coat.
"Your cover," he gestured to the same table. "Put it over there as well as your jacket and wet shoes. I'll be right back." She felt awkward standing in his living room in her stocking feet and kept her jacket on.
"Commander?" he narrowed his eyes at her. "I will not allow you to remain in wet clothes and catch cold. You will take your wet jacket off." The voice of command was one she was used to obeying. She removed her jacket. He took it from her, spreading it on the table and then, without a word, he led her to the guestroom and its accompanying bathroom. "In here," he gestured. "There are clean towels and I'll put some dry clothes for you on the bed." He went into the bathroom, turned the shower on for her and left.
The hot spray felt good. It warmed her chilled bones, her thoughts becoming more coherent as she began to feel less like a drowned cat and more like a real person. What in blazes am I doin in the Admiral's house, in his bathroom and...? Lord have mercy! The man best keep his distance or I swear on my momma's grave, I'm gonna' jump his bones!
He had left a T-shirt, sweatshirt, sweat pants and socks on the bed for her. His house was warm and she dressed, leaving the sweatshirt behind. When she came out of the bedroom, her long blonde hair was still damp, softly curling around her face.
"Shower did you good," he commented, eyeing her rosy complexion and her curves, wondering how he was going to get any rest knowing her lush body was sleeping in his house but not in his bed.
She hoped she wasn't droolin like a one-eyed cat peekin in a seafood store, but he was as fine as they came. In fact, he was downright scrumptious in his own T-shirt and sweatpants. She thought she'd better keep her distance 'cause the only thing separating them was a lil' bit 'a cloth. "Come here and sit down," he said, offering her a glass of wine.
"Thank you, Sir," she gave him a shy smile, startled when his hand brushed hers as he handed her the glass.
"Feel better?" he asked softly, thinking she was a beauty with her hair down.
"I must've looked like the rear end o' hard times," she laughed. "Thank you for rescuin me from the rain and the cold."
He laughed softly, enjoying the way she put words together. "You're the best thing I've seen all day and it was my pleasure," he patted her hand. "You'll spend the night here and we'll see about getting you back to Memphis before you have to show up for work on Monday."
"Admiral, I really don't want to impose. I know I'm puttin' you out..."
"It's not an imposition. I know I'll enjoy your company for the weekend and it's Hank, not Admiral. Understood?"
He gave her an exasperated look.
"I don't want to hear you say sir, either."
"Habit," she replied.
"Do I have to make that an order?" he scowled and then grinned at her.
Val laughed. "No Sir, you don't."
"Missed supper and I'm starvin'. You hungry?" he asked, getting up and heading for the kitchen. "I know it's late to be eating, but my stomach's gonna create a ruckus if I don't get some food." He looked back at her. "Come on into the kitchen with me. Maybe, you'll see something you want."
"I... um... I think I'll stay here," she said, a catch in her voice.
"You don't know what I have in the fridge. How will you know what you want?"
"I know what I want, Admiral Willhaven." She gave him an embarrassed smile. "That's why I think I'd better settle my fanny right here on the couch."
"Didn't I tell you not to call me Ad... oh!" He gave her a wolfish grin. "Not only do they make 'em pretty down in Memphis, they make 'em straightforward and blunt, too."
Val felt her face warm.
Hank turned toward her and leaned down so his arms were on either side of her shoulders. "I know what I want too," he said, the huskiness in his voice evident with every word he spoke. "But in case you come after me before I have a chance to come after you, I'll protect myself with the cooking utensils, maybe give you a spanking you so richly deserve... more than one use for a wooden spoon, you know." He laughed softly at her sweet blush. "Come on, Commander Fletcher. Let's go find something to eat before we think about anything else."
"Haven't been able to clear my head to think 'bout anythin but you," she admitted softly. "Lord have mercy. I'm gonna get to hell faster than I planned. I swear on my momma's grave I'm not usually so bold, Admiral. I..."
"I'm awfully glad you are," he smiled, cupping her chin, then pulling her to her feet. "I've been wondering how I was gonna' get any rest tonight knowing you were lying in one of my beds. Now I think I'll just give you a sweet spanking..." he let the thought dangle, "and see what follows."
"Hank," he reminded her. "Let me hear you say my name."
"Hank," she said softly, her desire for him evident in her eyes.
He gazed back at her, his hunger growing - although food wasn't what was on his mind.
"Valentina," he reached for her.
"Hank, I want you," she turned away. "Lord! I really must be plum wore out. What have I just said?"
"Hush, sweet thing," he murmured, pulling her against his chest. "You said what you meant to say, no beating around the bush and I want you just as badly." He tilted her chin up, kissed her brow and then cupped her face. "You're not under my command, Valentina Fletcher. You're not even on active duty. The only regs we're bending is the difference in our ranks and I, for one, am not about to quibble about a rank or two..." He kissed her gently, his lips rubbing against her mouth. "...or three or four."
"You sure?" she asked shyly. "I don't want you to feel you have to... just 'cause I... maybe, I'd better go..."
"I want you in my bed," he stated simply. "I don't think I can make it any plainer than that." He tightened his hold on her, his erection obvious. "Do you still want me?"
"Oh sweet Jesus, yes!" she exclaimed, lifting her head for his kiss, wrapping her arms around him, and hugging him to her.
His stomach rumbled and he chuckled. "I think we'd best eat a little somethin' so I have the energy to keep up with you, darlin'."
She poked her head under his arm when he searched the refrigerator for the makings of sandwiches. Finding ham and turkey, he set the ingredients on the kitchen table, but she pushed him aside so she could make the sandwiches.
He sat on a stool, refilled their wineglasses and watched her work. Even though she was only putting mustard and mayonnaise on the bread, she used the knife with precision, no wasted motion. He realized he knew what she did for the Navy when called on a case, but he didn't know much about *her* at all. He wanted to know more about her. He wanted to hear her talk about something other than a case file. He wanted to know what she liked in life, her favorite books, what she liked to eat. Did she watch TV? Did she like sports? Could she cook? Who was Valentina Fletcher in civilian life?
God! She's a beauty.
She watched him as she made the sandwiches, returning extra food to the refrigerator, rinsing the knife, grabbing some napkins she spotted on the counter. She wondered why she hadn't paid much attention to him the few times she had been at Navy HQ and then remembered another officer had her attention on those occasions.
She caught his eye and blushed. He laughed softly, enjoying the sheer luxury of just looking at her.
She pushed his plate across the table, the sandwich overflowing, a dab of mustard on her thumb. He pushed the plate aside, leaned across the table and gently pulled her hand to his mouth. He licked the mustard off her thumb and then licked her palm.
"Admiral! Hank! Oh Lordy! I..."
Letting go of her hand, he chuckled at her unabashed lust. "Eat up, darlin', you're gonna' need your strength."
"Knew I should have stayed in the other room," she groaned. "Are you sure we should be eatin' at this hour?"
"Wait till you see what else we're gonna' do, baby," he promised, his palms itching to touch her in ways she never dreamed of.