The tall, dark haired man ran along the beach as if driven by some unseen force. He had to make the ten miles that he set himself as a daily task whenever he was in port, and he was feeling tired here, long before he should have. This should have been a simple task; he was used to this run, he had been doing this ever since he came to the Institute. Finally, he stopped, bowing his head and bending at the waist, and rested his hands on his knees. He took several deep breaths, shook off the malaise, and began to run again. This time, however, it felt better. He began to increase his speed, getting to a steady pace, and began to continue to analyze the events of the last mission in his head. It had been a good, simple mission, and nothing, thank God, had gone wrong. They had come into port 24 hours ahead of their planned arrival and he had given the entire crew a 72 hour leave, before Admiral Nelson needed them to prepare for the next mission.
The next mission…
They were set to head out for the Galapagos to study trenches and depths, and a more boring, mundane trip he couldn’t imagine. He'd decided that when he finished this run, he’d take a long, hot shower and then take his son to the movies. Hopefully, he’d be able to persuade Chip to take Alex and the four of them could go together. Not that he didn’t want to spend time with his son, but Chip and Alex's presence helped in some strange way.
In the distance, along the water’s edge, he spied a group of people and wondered if it were some of the crew gathered for a beach party. As he got closer, he saw a volleyball net and people on both sides of it. Reaching the edge of the playing area, he stopped to watch and listen. He saw ‘Ski, ‘Pat’, Riley, Rodriguez, Ray, Carl, and a number of other men from the boat. Also present were a number of young women, obviously dates, girlfriends, and several wives. On the back line, having just pulled off a spiked serve, was a tiny but fiery long-haired blonde.
Caitlin Davis had been invited to the volleyball game and beach party by Stu Riley. She was now at the net, having served the last round, and Lee looked carefully at her, and was at once appalled and enthralled… She did something to him; he didn’t know or understand what he felt when he saw her or was around her. She often made him angry, that was for sure. And yet, she intrigued him, fascinated him, and well…she charmed him. And she was young… way too young for him to be interested in her, or her to even give him a second glance…
Damn! And way too young to be wearing an outfit like the one she's wearing! My God! The thing doesn't leave anything to the imagination…Ok, stop it, Crane!!!! Remember who the hell she is…there's too many complications to even consider going there!
He walked slowly towards the group, determined to keep his presence as quiet as possible, and yet watching the players, Caitlin in particular. Finally, Kowalski looked up and saw him at the fringe of the group.
“Hey, Skipper!!!! C’mon and join us!”
All eyes turned
toward him, and a chorus of ‘hello’, ‘come and join the game,’ and ‘hey’
followed the ratings’ greeting. Crane smiled back and quietly responded,
“Thanks, but I think I’ll just watch a while. I just got through with my
run.” And he stood off to the side as some of the players took a water
His eyes scanned the group carefully until they met a pair of blue ones that were studying him casually. He realized that Caitlin Davis was watching him surreptitiously. So, when the two pair of eyes locked, her smile was met with a scowl.
She watched him as he waggled a finger for her to come over to him. She pointed back at herself, and mouthed “Me? You want to talk to me?”
He nodded, still scowling. Then he mouthed, “Now!”
She shook her head ‘no’, pointing to the net, then absolutely ignored him as she turned her back and grabbed a quick cup of water before she headed back into the group of people.
He placed his hands on his hips and stood, staring sourly at her...the infamous Captain's scowl! However, the look that sent many a crewman to his knees went totally unnoticed by its intended recipient.
‘Damn it! Doesn’t she realize what she’s, or rather isn’t, wearing?? He shook his head, feeling stirrings of emotions he hadn’t felt for too long. The damn girl shouldn't be out there in that...my God! How could her mother let her...
The game, which had started up again, continued with a great deal of noise and playful jousting. Crane sat on the sand, watching the various plays and applauding when particularly good shots were made. But his eyes always kept drifting back to Caitlin. His eyes watched every line of her form, every movement, every expression as she apparently immersed herself in the game and became oblivious to all around her but those on the 'court.'
No...you can't be doing this. He blinked and then watched her some more, just a hint of a smile on his mouth as his eyes and body began to appreciate her form a bit more. Then, all of a sudden, he shook his head. Crane...you've got to admit...she's definitely not a child anymore. I mean...she's what? 25? 26? No...that's definitely not a child over there. Ok, Crane. No...you can not go there. It's not right...
Finally, after a particularly sharp spike of the ball, Riley shouted, “GAME!” and the players converged on the net, laughing and slapping each other on the back or shoulder. Several minutes later, Caitlin grabbed a towel, made her way over to Crane, and sunk on her knees. He was suddenly acutely aware of her state of dress, or as he thought of it, undress. She was wearing a teal blue string bikini bottom and a top that was made of a scarf, looped around her neck, over her breasts, and tied in the middle of her back. After playing the game, she was sweaty and the silk of the scarf revealed everything, leaving absolutely nothing to his or anyone else’s imagination, as far as he was concerned.
Placing the towel around her neck, she intoned, “Yes, oh great and wonderful Captain? You called?”
Quietly, through gritted teeth, he responded, “Yes...quite a while ago, in fact.” Giving her a disapproving once over, he pulled his Navy sweatshirt over his head, and handed it to her. “Here...you need to put this on.”
“Excuse me?” Her eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement.
“You need to put this on, now… before anyone gets any ideas.”
She held out the sweatshirt out in front of her…”Lee Crane,
what are you talking about? Give who what ideas?" A split
second later, the realization dawned on her and the look on her face became one
of disbelief and then confrontation. "Have you even bothered to look at
any of the other women here? We’re dressed for the beach, for God's sake...for swimming… I swim
in this… Do you have some sort of a problem here?”
“Well, it’s not appropriate for the Admiral’s daughter to be seen by members of the crew and his employees dressed like that!”
His insinuations and attitude hit her wrong and her voice
went both hot and cold as her temper flared. “Dressed like what? Not appropriate?
Hello!!!! Number one...you are not my father...you are not
my boyfriend or fiancé or husband. Number two...you do not
have the right to tell me how I can and cannot dress. What do you want me to do, dress
in black and live in a nunnery? If HN had no problem with it, then why
“He saw you dressed like that?”
“Yes, he did...when I said goodbye to both him and Mom this afternoon before I left the house. Oh, for God’s sake, lighten up, Lee...this is perfectly acceptable beachwear, and you, sir, have nothing to say about it!” Caitlin stood and, looking him dead in the eye with a deliberate 'up yours' look, calmly handed him the sweatshirt and then strolled off. Reaching the group at the volleyball net, she waved to Riley, and called, “Next game! I’m ready, and so’s my team! C’mon Stu!!” She sideways glanced over at Crane, and then jumped up to return the volley as the game began in earnest, once again.
Lee sat back in a stunned slow burn and watched the game, trying hard not to watch Caitlin alone, yet found himself constantly being drawn to watch her. She was laughing and joking with the men and women that she was playing with, at total ease and having fun. And the ironic thing was, Lee envied her for that. Realistically, command didn’t allow that kind of ease. And the past few years, since Cathy’s death, he hadn’t wanted it. At least, not until lately.
Lately, whenever he was around Caitlin, he felt...he couldn’t describe what he felt. Uneasy? She made him feel protective for some strange reason; there was something about her that he couldn’t put his finger on. She was pretty and bright. He had to admit that he did enjoy being in her company. But her attitude...she drove him crazy with her attitude. The way she'd just let him have it with both barrels had shown him that she didn't mind standing up to the captain of the Seaview. And speaking of company, damn! He had that formal dinner party tomorrow night, and the Admiral had given him orders. He had to bring a date. Damn!
Crane, you’re a hell of an idiot, you know that? Instead of accepting the fact that Caitlin Davis is a beautiful, talented woman, you want to treat her like a child. Then you get all tight-assed when she tells you off after you make her angry.
He sighed heavily, rolled the sweatshirt into a ball, and shoved it under his head, as he lay back in the warm sun, thinking, as he slowly drifted off to sleep.
Damn! You still need a date to this dinner...maybe she'd... Nah...you've just screwed that up. You really are a jackass!!
It seemed like seconds later when there was something peppering his face and chest.. He sprang up to sand being tossed at him.
“Hey, Crane! You’re gonna have a helluva sunburn if you’re not careful!!!” Caitlin stood over him, breaking up the sun with her shadow falling over him.
He threw an arm over his eyes, “Caitlin?” All he could see was the outline of a petite female form in front of him.
She dropped to her knees next to him, now more on an eye to
eye level. “What are you trying to do, Lee? Get out of HN’s party tomorrow
night? Get a bad sunburn and get out of it?… Huh! I don’t think that’ll happen.” She
changed her position, and slid next to him, very close to him. “Actually, I don’t know why
he’s having this party, considering the fact that you all are shipping out again in a few
days… but … well, Mom says he’s gonna have it, and that’s that.”
“I know,” Lee said morosely, the ‘disagreement’ they’d had
earlier now suddenly forgotten. “Something about having to have a new source of
funding for one of his projects, and he needs to meet these men now, not in a
few months.” He sighed. “So we have to put on the monkey suits, get a date, and
show up smiling…”
She grinned and cracked. "Smiling, huh? So…who’s your lucky victim?”
Lee looked at her, momentarily puzzled. Then with the realization of what she meant, “Oh… I… uh… I don’t have a victim. As usual, I’m dateless…and frankly, that’s fine with me. But…he’s gonna kill me if I show up and spoil the balance…” When her expression changed to one of near laughter, he added, “Well, the Admiral won’t kill me, but it won’t make him very happy. Those party planners that he hires for these things don’t like uneven numbers.”
“Look, you don’t have to say another word…I know exactly what you’re talking about. You have no idea how Mom hates to use them, but when HN gets these ideas, and she’s out with the team, there's no other alternative but to use them. There’s simply no other way. However, there has been a truce called… at least now they don’t get hassled them anymore about Maria doing the cooking and her family doing the serving. That first party that they had to use one of these planners, jeez! Did Mom have it out with them!” An eyebrow lifted slightly and a smug voice continued, “Course, we both know who won that round.” Lee smiled crookedly. Caitlin stared at him, careful not to let him know that he was being stared at. Realizing that what he had just told her was an opening for something she’d wanted to try, she decided to go for it. “So you can’t go to this shindig stag, huh? Well, guess what? My calendar just happens to be open for tomorrow night. Want to go with a friend?”
A dark eyebrow rose slightly.
’Crane! Your luck must be changing!!! She just offered to go with you!!! Remember man, she is the O.O.M.’s daughter…and she’s way too young for you…But hell… an offer you can’t refuse!”
“Sounds like a plan to me… go with a friend… Ok…let’s do it, Caitlin.”
Caitlin smiled and stuck out her right hand, as if to seal the deal. "You're on...What time should I be ready?"
Lee looked at her and then shook her hand. He held it longer than he realized he should have. Crane… this is going to be an interesting evening… ´Ok…I’ll pick you up at 1930? At the apartment?”
“Sure thing, Lee. 1930 on the dot…at the apartment.” She looked over and saw the others starting to pick up their belongings. "I've got to get my stuff and head in. Mom and HN are going out to dinner tonight and I'm babysitting my little brother. You need to get out of the sun, Lee...the sunburn excuse won't go over well with him...or me. See ya tomorrow night." She got up, dusted the sand off her legs, and walked over to where her beach bag was located.
As Crane started to walk away, he glanced back at the tiny blonde as she chatted with the remainder of the game's participants. Yep...this is going to be real interesting.
to be continued
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