No Matter What

By Helen H.

 

 

The Glenlivet flowed down his throat like a magic elixir, the fire muted by the whisky's extravagant bouquet.  He needed it.  Nearly twenty years had passed since the Stingfish had disappeared somewhere in the Pacific.  Twenty years, and going to the memorial service hadn’t gotten any easier.

Only a handful of people had shown up this year at the Chapel of the Thames.  Right after the war it had been different; back then there hadn't been an empty seat, attendees listening to speakers and family members sharing heart-felt remembrances, often humorous, of Commander Vanderling and the rest of his crew.  The organizers had said this year's service would be the last.  He wasn't surprised.  Obviously the widows had remarried or passed away themselves, the children getting on with their lives, memories of a father that many had hardly known fading away.  Harry didn't really know why he still attended.  Truth be told, he never liked standing up in front of the families.  There was always the chance he would see the accusatory look in their eyes, the stare that said, 'how is it that you survived?'

It had not been his decision to make.  Lieutenant Harriman Nelson had instead been flat on his back in a hospital bed at Pearl recovering from injuries received during a mission to the Japanese-held Philippines.   The boat had left on its final war patrol without him. 

No more yearly get-togethers, then, to remember the Stingfish.   That such an event better suited him made him feel ashamed. 

The bar was located on the ground floor of his hotel with a street entrance on one side and access to the hotel lobby across the room.  Besides the bartender, he was the only one in the place.  Cradling the glass, Harry contemplated his surroundings.   

The room looked familiar and comfortable, well-used, as most places in New London were.  In between the metal tins on the walls advertising New England's best beers were photographs of submarines and the men who have served aboard them.  Many of the photos were dingy with age.  The afternoon sun filtered through diamond shaped windows that allowed just enough light in to be respectable.  It suited his desire to be alone.  Each year it was the same, the nagging feeling that he had failed somehow by surviving.   It hammered at his senses and his short temper did the rest, the anger simmering just below the surface.  The almost empty bar was the best place he could find to let everything settle.   

The light streaming in through the window panes suddenly changed as if the sky outside had been turned off.  The shadow behind his glass disappeared.  Harry stared at the spot where it had been as if he could by force of will have the sun return, brightening the walls and cleansing the corners of the room of their dark matter.  He was still staring at it when the first faint mutterings of thunder shattered the silence and loaded raindrops splattered the windows, signaling an early afternoon summer thunderstorm.  If it had come any sooner there would have been no one at the chapel.   That that would have suited him caused another pain in his heart. 

Shrugging out of his uniform coat -- the service dress blues, not his NIMR uniform -- Harry draped it over the back of the bar stool.  Removing the outerwear might not have been regulation, but this was not the time for strict adherence to rules.  He cleared his throat, a long rumble that hung on the air, hopefully chasing away the ghosts.  

The bartender came over.  “Were you here for the memorial service, sir?” 

Harry took another drink and nodded.  When he put the glass down the other man plucked the bottle off a shelf and poured another generous shot.  “Thought I recognized you.  On me, Admiral Nelson.”

“That isn't necessary.”

“Yes, sir, it is.  I was in the first wave of guys who came ashore at Luzon.  Heard later about the intelligence you brought back.  If it hadn't been for you, I might never have made it onto that beach.”

“You're giving me too much credit, Mr.....”

“Just Charlie, sir.  I was PFC Charlie Sanders back in '44.  And no, sir, I don't think I'm exaggerating.  We needed all the help we could get back then.  You bringing those plans back detailing the Japanese defenses might just have been the edge we needed.”

Harry lifted his glass and acknowledged the salute.  “You're welcome, then, Charlie.”

“Not only me, Admiral.  My wife and my kids thank you,” Charlie said, grinning.  “I came back and helped raise a great family.  Got one at Harvard, even.  If you need anything else, sir, you let me know.”

Harry took all this in with a wry smile.  Family.  That was something he didn't have.  As a pompous fool at the beginning of the war he’d deluded himself into thinking that no woman should be subject to the pain and uncertainty of wondering if her husband would come back from the fight.  Getting the news of boats disappearing and presumed lost had stiffened his resolve and made him sure he'd done the right thing.   Afterwards he’d convinced himself he was too busy to settle down, what with his career skyrocketing; sub commands interspersed with NATO assignments, instructor duty at the Academy and a final billet as Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion.  The contacts gleaned from years of membership in an elite scientific community had afterwards crystallized into the majestic beauty and power of Seaview. Through it all, he’d somehow managed to keep up the simplistic idea that marriage wasn’t in the cards for someone like him.  Had there been chances for a wife and children?  Plenty.  So why hadn't he taken the matrimonial plunge?  He was musing about the deeper mysteries of that particular motivation when a soft voice interrupted his reveries.

“Mind if I join you?”

In the act of bringing his glass to his lips, Harry arrested the movement and cocked his head, staring at the woman who had materialized at his elbow. 

Without waiting for an answer she slid into the seat beside him, a cool, knowing look on her face.  “I'll have what he's having, Charlie." 

Harry put down the highball glass and regarded her appraisingly.  He liked what he saw.  A man would be crazy not to.

Mid-thirties, he thought.  A definite local accent.  Long loose curls of honey brown hair fell over her shoulders, held back from her forehead by jeweled clips.   She had a thin, straight nose and sharp cheekbones, a very kissable mouth and rounded chin.  The sleeveless dress, v-neckline tantalizingly deep, exposed creamy shoulders and an enticing figure.   The outfit's blue color made her skin seem paler than it was.  Just saying “blue” didn't do it justice, he decided; it was a blue close to the color of the water surrounding the islands of the Aegean Sea.  Dark brown eyes were staring down at the bar top, golden-tipped lashes slightly lowered, while she waited for her drink. 

Charlie brought the glass -- not without a disapproving frown, Harry noticed -- and she took a long swallow of it.  She flicked her eyes in Harry's direction, and her mouth, her very sensuous red mouth, parted a bit to show white teeth.  Very slowly she stuck out the top of her tongue and caressed her upper lip, staring unabashedly at him.  He stared back.

“Like what you see?”  The comment was accompanied by a smile that was nothing but a covert invitation.

“Obviously.”

He could smell her perfume over the whisky.  There was something about her scent that was familiar.  Discreetly he breathed in, trying to pinpoint the memory, but it remained elusive to his alcohol muddled brain.

She tipped up the glass and took another drink, her eyes never leaving his.  “Interested?” she murmured seductively.

A certain face flashed through his mind, and irritation replaced everything else.  He hadn't heard from Galené in a month, not since they had spent a passionate weekend together, love-making sessions that still burned in his soul.  He shook his head and brought his mind back to the present.  How could any man say that he held a goddess in his hand?  There was no hope of exclusivity, not with an immortal being, one that moved in and out of people's lives over the span of centuries.  Including the lives of other men.  The flicker of jealousy that whipped through him caught him off-guard, and he took refuge in the inward turning of emotions that he could always call upon when the necessity arose. 

“Not today,” he answered brusquely. 

The woman shrugged, turning back to her drink.  “You certainly don't look happy.  I could cheer you up a bit.”

She was persistent; he had to give her that.  Another thought whirled around in his brain.  Did she know who he was?  Beautiful women had been used since time immemorial to seduce and betray.   There were governments in the world only too happy to get hold of the secrets he held. 

“I'm fine.  I don't need cheering up.  Tell your bosses that your charms just weren't working today.”

She spun around on the bar stool until her left shoulder was almost attached to his right.  “My bosses?  What are you talking about?”  Leaning towards him, her lips close to his ear, she whispered, “I'm just a girl looking for a good time and a little friendly company.  You seem a little lonely.  I could fix that for you.  Let's make friends and go somewhere nice and quiet.”  She smiled playfully as she gently stroked his cheek with the back of her hand, her lips coming closer.

Tantalizingly close.  Needs that he normally kept in check rose up, taunting.  He leaned away, reddened skin darkening ever further as she tilted a finely shaped eyebrow upward.  He was saved from his discomfiture by the bartender. 

Charlie came over and threw down his bar towel, startling the woman.  She splashed a little of the whisky out of her glass and glared up at him in surprise.

“Lady, he ain't interested.  Why don't you find someplace else to drum up business?”

Shrugging, she spun around and faced the bar top.  “It isn’t what you think, Charlie.”  Pulling a bill out of her purse she threw it on the counter, then turned to Harry.  “I'll leave you to your drinking, unless....”  The invitation hung enticingly in the air.

Composure had returned almost as quickly as it had left.  If she was waiting for him to say something, she was going to be waiting a long time.  To reiterate the point, he took up his drink.

With a humph of exasperation she jumped off the stool and walked away, disappearing through the door. 

Harry drained the glass.  It went down his throat less restrained this time and he felt it shudder along his veins like a bucking horse.  He contemplated The Glenlivet bottle on the glass shelf opposite him.  There had been a lot more alcohol in it when he'd arrived at the bar.  Time to get up from this stool before he made a fool of himself.  Harry looked at the open doorway for a moment and then at Charlie, who was busily engaged in polishing glasses again.  He dug into his pocket.

“I'm done, Charlie.  Put all this on my room bill.”  He extended a hand, and Charlie moved over to grip it as Harry slipped him a generous tip.  “Nice to meet you.”

“The pleasure was all mine, sir.”

Swinging around on the bar stool, which was a mistake, for the ensuing swirl of stars in his eyes left him with the realization that he was just a little bit drunk, Harry grabbed up his coat and his cover and headed for the elevator.

 

Chapter Two

 

Apparently, she wasn’t done with him yet. 

The elevator door opened and he turned towards his room – and there she was, leaning against his door.  How had she known what floor he was on, much less the exact room?  Harry instinctively braced, taking up a defensive stance.

“Please, I'm not some Mata Hari waiting to seduce you,” she said, straightening up and putting up her hands.  “I just thought, by the way you looked at the memorial service, you could use some company afterwards.” 

Had she been at the chapel?  Somewhere she’d acquired a crisp linen jacket that was now draped over her shoulders, and as she pulled nervously at one of the lapels he recalled that there had been a woman sitting alone in the back.  The jacket had effectively hidden the plunging neckline of the dress.  Quite the transformation.  The perfume assailed his senses again, this time much stronger, and he finally knew it for what it was.  The smell of seawater, of foamy waves on an open sea. 

“Good lord!  Galené!  I'm drunker than I thought -- I should have known it was you immediately.”

“Better late than never, Harry,” she said in the familiar British accent, her own voice.  Then she stopped and stared at his face, her eyes going wide.  “You're angry with me!  Why?”  

“What do you think you’re playing at?”  Harry pushed her aside and opened the door, throwing his coat on a nearby desk.  He turned and faced her, hands on hips, raking his eyes up and down.  “I was supposed to fall for this?  For some streetwalker?  Give me credit for better taste.”  Then, because it made him feel good to say it, he continued.  “Damn it, Galené!  You cannot show up in my life on a whim and expect me to be grateful!”  He gestured toward the desk in the corner.  His briefcase was open upon it, surrounded by sheets of paper.  “I'm leaving tomorrow for a conference in Newport News.  I haven’t even finished going over my presentation.  I don't have time for your nonsense tonight!”

Her eyes faltered, and then hardened.  “Nonsense?  I haven't seen you in a month.  I've thought about you many times since then.  I broke away from something I was involved in because I knew you were going to this memorial service, and I thought you might need me, that I could help you through today.  I even dressed up a bit for fun!  Just because you're entitled to a pretty girl.  Nonsense, you say?  Fine.  Enjoy your time being alone.”  She whirled to leave.

Suddenly, without deliberation, he pounced - he had had enough of her walking away when it suited her only.  With a grunt he grabbed her around the waist and pulled her backwards into the room, then shut the door with a muted bang. 

She spun around like a top and ended up facing him, her mouth forming a large “O.”  Harry had never seen her look so surprised, and he was suddenly filled with a feeling of triumph and a fresh burst of anger. 

“Oh, no, you don't!  It's been a bad day, and you've made it worse.  You think strutting around like a cheap whore would get my attention?  Well, let's see it, then!  I'd like to examine the goods before making any deal!”

A look of dismay replaced the surprise.  “Harry!  What are you saying? I never meant--”

“What didn't you mean?  Were you testing me?   Is that what that obnoxious display downstairs was all about?  Did you think I'd fall for any piece of tail that stuck her ass in my face?  That's not how people who love each other behave, Galené.”   

That he had been vulgarly crude and yet used the word “love” in the same breath didn't escape either of them.  The heat in her eyes softened and became a questioning look.    

“Testing you?  Yes, I was, in a way,” she answered breathlessly.  “You must understand how hard it is to think the man you love is attracted only to illusions, to someone that isn't real.”

He dismissed that with an angry wave.  “That's just crap.  When are you going to believe I've come to know the difference?  That wasn't an illusion I took to my bed the last time you were with me!”  

She raised a hand to her hair, dislodging one of the clips.  The curls slipped forward over her face, and she pushed them back, her eyes coming up and meeting his, their darkened depths revealing her confusion. 

“I believe you.  I do.  You are a special case, Harry.  I revealed myself to you almost from the beginning.  But it always begins with the illusion...what other way is there?  I can't just walk into a public place as I truly am. 

Damn the woman!  Of course she was right.  The first time he had seen her it had been as someone else, and even then, they had butted heads.  No matter what she apparently thought it was the goddess he cared for, the real woman, intelligent, wise and stunningly beautiful, albeit with green tinted skin and swirling hair that was never still.  Silver eyes that tilted at the corners, full of fire and passion.  A body that fitted perfectly in his arms.  He could almost taste her sensuous lips that caused his blood to boil on contact.  A glorious creature that flitted through his life all too infrequently! 

The windows of his hotel room had a view of the river, and he pushed roughly past her to fetch up against the expanse of glass.  If he could have calmed down enough to contemplate the view he would have seen a magnificent sky, dark-bottomed clouds moving out towards New London harbor, wavelets catching the last glints of the setting sun and sparkling like thousands of miniature stars.  Instead he stared unseeing, forming the words that bubbled up to the surface from an agitated mind.  He was angry, angrier than he had been in a long time.  Angry that he had survived when so many others had not and angry that she could always stir him so.  What was the truth?  Was she sincere?   Or did she just like to toy, to play with emotions.  She had had thousands of years to get good at it.

“I'll grant that you're right about one thing -- showing up as yourself in a public place is impossible.  But you chose to believe that pretending to be a prostitute would pique my interest.  What does that say about how you think of me?”  He was becoming more and more conflicted by the second.  “Is this what you do when you’ve realized you’ve made a mistake, and want to get rid of the inconvenience?”

She stopped still, as if she'd become encased in ice.  “No, no!  How can you say that?  What have I done that could make you believe I have regrets?”

He saw her in his mind’s eye, in the blue dress that reminded him of...now the reference in his head made sense, damn it all!  Her scent was stealing towards him on the air, and impulsively he breathed in the exotic taste of the sea.  He stayed facing the window, determined to ignore how it was teasing his senses. 

“What have you done? You treated me as if I would be interested only in a body, a beautiful face.  As if the person inside meant nothing to me.  A piece of tail, if we want to get vulgar about it again, and I rather think I do!  A man more interested in sex for the sake of it than the pleasure of it.  Is that how you see me?  Is that how you see all the men you've been with?  Your arrogance is revealing, goddess.”  He turned fiercely, the color in his face rising again, the blade of one hand stabbing the air.  “Tell me -- did I pass your test?”

The answer was shockingly feeble.  “Perhaps I planned it as a test of lo--of loyalty, perhaps--” she stammered, the words uncertain. 

“Loyalty!  I am a United States Naval Officer!  It may be the world’s biggest cliché, but my entire adult life has been framed by loyalty and fidelity!”  With a weary sigh Harry looked around the room, wishing he'd brought the bottle of whisky back with him.  “By God, how did we ever get to this place,” he said more to himself than her, running a hand through his hair in tired despair, dark feelings slowly being replaced by fatigue.  “Especially after the last time we spent together.”  His troubled eyes sought hers.  “Have you forgotten that already?” 

Her hands came up, pleading for understanding.  “No, dearest, I haven't.  All the apologies in the world won't make up for what I've done here today, I can see that.  I started out with honest intentions.  Then I went too far.   All I can do is ask your forgiveness.”  She reached out and took his wrists, turning the palms up, placing a soft kiss first on one and then the other.   She stepped closer and moved his hands until they were wrapped around her waist.  Her face came up to his in tempting anticipation.

He caught her scent again, hauntingly familiar and dangerous.  Not this time.  Not yet.  He felt his temper rising, flare anew and soon every inch of him was rigid with indignation.  He broke the embrace, stepped backward so rapidly that she almost lost her balance, and heard her sharp intake of breath. 

The baritone voice became harsh and hurtful.  “And what then?  What happens the next time you decide to have a little fun with a mere mortal?   And don't try to tell me there won't be a next time.”

That caused an instant reaction.  Her brown eyes flashed with indignant fire.  “Do you presume to think you know me better than I do myself?”  

“I think I know you as well as you let anyone know you!  I've seen you in many guises, Galené, and all at your own convenience!  You may think you can pull strings and have me become one of your puppets, as you’ve no doubt done to countless others.  Well, I don't dance to anyone's tune.  You want to play games, you'll have to find someone else.  It won't be me.”

Surprise and confusion sweep over her face, to be quickly replaced by something else.  “I thought I was doing the right thing.  My mistake.  I've apologized, and it should be enough.  It would be best if I just left until you’re feeling better.”  She took a determined step towards the door.

Anger overtook him again.  “Don’t think you can pull away from me now!” he thundered. 

Harry crushed her to him.  His hands gripped her shoulders, pulling her closer, his lips buried in her neck, the fire consuming his senses.  His breath caught and then mingled with hers, shuddering as he took her face in his hands and savaged her lips.  He was rewarded by her transformation into her real body, the goddess’s body.  The mass of grey-green hair twisted up to entwine him.  He could feel the web of skin between her fingers as her hands circled the back of his neck.  Then those fingers were in his hair, pulling his head back, her lips playing over his jaw line, nipping then soothingly sweet. 

The voice was low and urgent.  “I will try never to make you so angry again, agapitos.”

The enormous pounding of his heart softened, the fury dissipating like the storm outside that had gone as quickly as it had come.  Love, sweet and mellow, flowed through him.  The time they had been apart melted away.  He studied the startling, exotic face, the pale green skin that shaped over sharp cheekbones and a wide brow, quicksilver eyes staring at him, the lips in a darker shade of green, parted now as she took tiny breaths.   He traced his thumb down the soft skin of her cheekbone, knowing that the taste was just as exquisite.  The mass of hair that was never still twined up and above her head, strands circling around them both as she circled his back with her arms and held him in a strong yet gentle grip.  

His face was very close to hers, bodies melded almost as one, the heat racing in both.  He wanted just to stay together like this, to never let go.  How could he make that possible?  Why did he know by even thinking it, the wish was impossible?  He touched her lips lightly, and felt her slight tremor. 

“I want to believe that's true.  I want to believe that you understand who I am and what's important to me.  But you come to me like a--” he couldn't use the modern parlance for some reason “--like a harlot, and wonder why I'm angry.”

* * * * *

She nuzzled up under his chin and kissed him softly on the throat.   She could feel his skin getting warmer as they clung together.  Had centuries of omnipotence dulled her senses to the feelings of these more fragile creatures?  She had to make him understand. 

A long time ago I decided that being the Goddess of Calm Seas meant nothing.  I needed to engage myself in the world I was supposedly guarding.  In the course of doing that I've saved many lives.  I've also taken lives.  I'm capable of both.  In doing all this it was necessary to become many different people, all with personalities and stories of their own.  I've come to know what it means to be human.  That’s dangerous.  And I’ve come to know you.  That may prove to be even more dangerous.” 

She pulled his lips to hers again and they kissed in unrestrained passion until breathlessness drove them apart.  But there was more to this than a crescendo of heady naked desire, much more which needed to be said. She tore her arms away and dragged her fingers through her hair, lifting it up like a fountain, the memory of his kisses sending electricity through her veins.   

“Oh, Harry, we are combustible together, you and I.  We are too accustomed to infallibility, my fine admiral.  Passion aside, we both like our own way far too much.”  Frowning, she said, “Do you think a future together is possible?  Didn't today show you that our limited time together makes you angry with me?  I'll never be able to be with you every day, you know that.” 

Harry sighed deeply. His left hand was around her waist, keeping her close.  He used his right hand to pull strands of hair away from her cheek, so that he could kiss the pale green skin ever so softly. 

“I let the memorial service cloud my reaction.  I'm angry at myself, not you.  The reality that you’re a goddess still boggles my mind, but I’ve seen the evidence of it.  How can I change what you are?  Why would I want to?  All we can do is learn to adjust to each other,” he murmured, brushing his lips over her forehead.

The tenderness Galené remembered was in his eyes and his hands.  It gave her a complete sense of satisfaction that what he hid so well from others was hers to see and appreciate.  It underscored the responsibility she had to keep his trust.

“I want to say something, and I want you to listen.  It's not an excuse.  It's an explanation.  Today, at the memorial service, I saw the way you looked when they had the tolling of the bell.  I watched you at the bar for a few moments before I came in and saw the sorrow on your face then.  My little charade ended up making you angry, angry enough that you forgot your guilt at being alive and that you just wanted to be alone.” 

“I've gone it alone a long time, Galené.” 

 “Indeed.  And where do love and marriage fit into that plan, my dear?”

Apparently that was a question he hadn’t been expected to be asked.  The growing flush on his face wasn’t just from her closeness alone.  It was a great many seconds before he answered. 

“You would tell me you don’t read minds, but I wonder.... I was thinking about that very thing while I was down in the bar.  I came close a few times.  But then I’d get a phone call about some new challenge that I couldn’t wait to take on.  And I’d go.  That didn’t set well, as you can imagine.”  

“So you made up your mind on a course of action, and that was that.”  She shook her head violently, the green-gray strands flying.  “Oh, love, you’re so damn good at just pulling yourself in.  But I've seen a chink in that armor.  I've seen how you are around people at the Institute, how you feel for the men aboard Seaview.  There's no need to hide your feelings any more.  There never was, but I know how the military has always felt about that.  You're a good actor, Harry.  You can retire from the stage now, and become the human being that you have always been.  No one is going to think less of you.  They might even admire you for it.”

“I doubt that.”

“You doubt everything.  Even how I feel about you.” 

She could feel the beat of his heart, the heat from his body penetrating to her soul.  She closed her eyes and pictured him in her mind, imprinting the image onto her brain forever.  Physically he was not a tall man, nor heavy or muscular.  He did not command with his bulk, but with the extreme force of his personality, dominating any gathering he was in.  He was like metal to a magnet; people flock to him, military and civilians alike.  He did not suffer fools gladly.  All those who came in contact with him knew that when those bright blue eyes flashed, attention to detail had to be their byword as it was his.  She had seen him rub his ear when pondering a knotty problem.  It was a sure sign that his complex mind was working, seeking a solution.

When he spoke his voice was hypnotizing, the sounds deep and rounded.   The intimate tone it held when he was using it against her mouth or neck sent a tingle up her spine.  In his years of service he had acquired knowledge of language that formed a common bond among sailors, of Anglo-Saxon phrases that could not be uttered in polite society. But he was also a man of infinite learning, from English poets to Latin philosophers, an intellectual giant who could hold his own in any situation.  The scientific turn of his mind, the brilliant analysis he could summon was legendary.  She could only hope that she could prove worthy of his attention.

What do you really want from me, Harriman?” 

“A better question is what you want from me,” Harry said thoughtfully.  I am not a patient man.  I know that better than anyone.  My life has been one of unrelenting service and while I regret nothing, it has left me lonely at long periods in my life.  Relationships have been difficult to sustain when duty has intervened.  I made that decision many years ago.  Duty will always come first.  For both of us.  Not coming home to you, not finding you near me when I reach out for you in the night is a price I'm willing to pay for the time we do have together.  When I love someone, there’s no other path for me, Galené.  It’s all or nothing, no matter what.”  

It sounded so right, so matter of fact.  So perfect for the both of them.  But when would he get restless with her?  When would her absences be too much?  The threat caught up her senses.  She had lost her heart to him, but that could be remedied.  What had been lost could be found.  She’d know when it was time to walk away, know when her going would cause him the least unhappiness.  She’d make that decision, for both of them.  For now all she wanted to do was to lean over and press her lips to his, and make him hers again.

She smiled adoringly.  “Then come to bed, my love, and prove it.”

Chapter Three

 

Harry woke quietly, only opening his eyes, afraid that if he turned he would find her gone.  Then a thick braid of green-grey hair fell across his arm, and he sighed loudly in satisfaction. 

Galené gasped ruefully, forcing a smile.  “You're supposed to be asleep!”

“I've slept enough.”

Harry wrapped his arms around her and pulled her onto his chest.  The events of the night before exploded in his brain, the sweetness of her body and the passion of her mind-numbing caresses making him forget anything past the emotions of the moment.  That, he realized, was her secret.

She rolled off and turned on her side, propping her head up on an open hand.  The covers slipped down and exposed her breasts.  Harry reached over and slid her hand over the silky skin, glorying as her eyes darkened and then flared.  To calm the fires rising inside he looked around the room.  His eyes fell on his briefcase, now closed and resting squarely in the center of the desk. 

“I've summarized your conclusions and prepared some points for a position paper.  It’s a long enough drive, you can work on it in the car.  Which, speaking of, will be here within the hour.  Time to get up and get dressed.”

“You're planning to get rid of me?”

“You have a touch so wicked that if I stop to think about it one more minute, you will never make it to Newport News.”

“Wicked, am I?  I don't think I've ever been described like that.  The car can wait.”  He twined a lock of her hair around his finger, smiling when it tightened and held tight.  “You're coming with me, of course.” 

He was watching her, with the deep, guarded look he used to good advantage.  The one that said no more discussion was coming. 

She curled into his shoulder, taking in his strength, and smiled up at him.  “I don't think I have anywhere I need to be in the next few hours,” she confirmed lightly.

“And tonight?”

“You're insatiable.”  

“I certainly hope so.”

She grinned and then laughed out loud when he sputtered an oath as she nipped at his skin.”And after that?”

“Do I need to tell you?  I thought we--”

His words were cut off as Galené silenced him by putting her fingers to his lips.  When she spoke, her voice resounded with passion.   “You don't need to tell me,” she replied softly.  “We will always have these moments, my love.  I want you to be happy.  I want to be a part of that happiness.  But there will be times when I cannot do or be all you want me to.  For both of us, our work is our lives.  Whenever we’re apart, which will be often, remember how I feel about you.  I need your strength, and your solidity.  I need everything that you are....” The words faltered as she stared at his face.  “Have I said something wrong?”

“No” was all he could get out.  She was a goddess, and she was telling him she needed him.  But this was always going to be the elephant in the room, he realized.  It had been evident from the moment she’d told him what she was.  When would she get restless?  When would his world not be enough for her?  He’d make that decision for her -- for them both before loathing drove them apart.  He’d know when to walk away.  For now--

“No, lass,” he said, speaking slowly.  “You didn't say anything wrong.”   

Soundlessly she pulled herself up until she was again stretched full length against him.  She was rewarded with a deep and meaningful groan.  “I'm glad.  I did a bad job of it for a while there.  I thought perhaps you wanted me to say something else.” 

He didn't know if he could live up to her expectations.  What he did know was that the desire in her eyes reflected his own.  Harry laughed a throaty laugh and hugged her closer, refusing to let his thoughts linger too long on what the future might hold.   “There is one thing.”

Her brows knit together.  “And what would that be?”

He kissed the little space of wrinkled skin in the center of her forehead, and felt her whole body relax.  “That you’re mine.”

“I’m yours, Harry.  I’m yours.”

 

 

...And I will keep you safe and strong and sheltered from the storm
No matter where it's barren, a dream is being born
No matter who they follow, no matter where they lead
No matter how they judge us, I'll be everyone you need

No matter if the sun don't shine or if the skies are blue
No matter what the ending, my life began with you
I can't deny what I believe, I can't be what I'm not
I know this love's forever, I know no matter what

 

No Matter What

Lyrics by Jim Steinman, Music by Andrew Lloyd Weber

 

Agapitos - Ancient Greek word for “beloved”

 

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