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Falling In Love With A Lie
Rated M for explicit (but tasteful) heterosexual content. No warnings other than that for this installment of the series.
FALLING IN LOVE WITH A LIE
Sheila stepped into the office, where she had been told her uncle was waiting to see her. Peter Quinn, her immediate supervisor leaned against a desk waiting. She was surprised to see him. She had made the call when she arrived at Cam Ranh, and that was only two hours ago.
He stood as she pushed the door to. At six foot six inches, he towered over most people, but he made Sheila, at a scant five foot three inches feel like a midget. His gray eyes were sharp, and intelligent, and were currently studying her with an annoyed curiosity. "So you're here a day early. Did you manage to complete your assignment?"
Sheila gazed at him steadily and shook her head. "I
told you, I need to remain with the USO up to
"Captain Murdock is not in
"I know the difference between
Quinn rubbed the bridge of his nose. "What do you suspect?"
"This USO tour is a distribution mechanism, and Dean Steiger, the stage manager, and Willie Leighton, the procurement specialist are both involved. I don't think they're very high on the food chain, but – "
Quinn interrupted, "Any substantiation for these suspicions of yours?"
Sheila barely stopped herself from snapping at her Supervisor. If he would stop interrupting and just listen she would get to it. She needed to tread lightly with the next part, but she didn't really have any choice but to reveal Murdock's past involvement. Given Quinn's leaning to jump to conclusions, she had a feeling this could be a dicey conversation. She took a deep breath to calm herself before continuing.
Murdock told me that he was involved in the smuggling as a courier when he was
Sheila swallowed her irritation when Quinn interrupted her once again, one eyebrow raised above skeptical eyes. "Sounds to me like they were watching out for a naïve young woman getting involved with a lying, trouble-making pilot. I wonder, Agent, just how involved did you allow yourself to become?"
Sheila crossed her arms, and managed to respond evenly. "That is immaterial to what I have to report, sir. If you would stop interrupting me and listen to my full report, maybe you would understand."
Half a smile contorted Quinn's full mouth. "Continue."
Sheila began pacing to work off the anger before she said something she regretted to the man who could make or break her career. She spoke in a carefully controlled cadence. "I overheard a conversation between Leighton and Steiger last night. They discussed the fact that Captain Murdock walked away from the network – apparently that doesn't usually happen. Leighton, in particular, was angered by it. He said Murdock shouldn't have been allowed to walk away and live. Steiger told him he better cool it, because somebody higher in the organization wanted all hands off the pilot."
"Sounds like your flyboy might be higher in the organization than we thought."
Sheila turned on Quinn in irritation and was briefly stymied by the amused look on his face. "Are you going to let me get to the punch line or not?"
He carefully schooled his featured, though amusement still sparked in his eyes. He waved a hand at her.
Sheila ground her teeth in frustration. She crossed her arms and turned so she faced him squarely. "Steiger said that he heard that Murdock was being groomed as the fall guy for the state-side task force."
The amusement evaporated, and Quinn launched to his feet. "They mentioned the state-side task force?"
"Goddamit. How do they know about it?"
"I don't know. But Steiger even said that the task force was hitting the ground within the week, and that it was going to be a pain in the ass to work around."
Sheila watched in grim satisfaction as Quinn took his turn pacing the small area. "Son of a bitch, how could they find out about it?"
"I was thinking that if I stuck with the USO for a
little while longer, maybe I could uncover more when we arrive at
Quinn stopped and locked eyes
with her. "Steiger was right about the timing, too. Our first undercover
agents hit the ground this week, in
She raised an eyebrow at him. "Sounds like we have an internal leak. I think you should let me stay with the USO and see what I can find out from Leighton and Steiger. Maybe they'll lead me to a source."
One more circuit of the small office, and Quinn turned and looked at her. "You're with the USO
Again, the amused glint shone in Quinn's eyes, arousing Sheila's curiosity, this time, instead of her ire, though she was irritated when he chose to ignore her question.
you able to get any additional information out of Captain Murdock about the
network makeup at
"Pretty much just what I've told you. I couldn't exactly come right out and ask."
Quinn nodded, his gaze thoughtful. "Well, maybe that will change."
"What will change?"
Sheila was irritated when he ignored yet another direct question. He took a long step that put him right in front of her, his gaze stern, like he was talking to an errant child. "I'm not in the habit of listening to the recommendations of a junior field agent, especially one as green as you. This is a short term extension of your original assignment. Learn what you can, maintain your cover, and come out clean. Am I understood?"
Sheila could feel the smirk on her face, but couldn't seem to erase it. "Understood."
Quinn's gaze was discerning. After several seconds, he shook his head and put an arm around her shoulders. "Let's go make this uncle thing look good."
Vi set down the box she was carrying and mopped at her forehead. It was like a sauna today, and she felt like she was going to turn into a puddle. Glancing around, she realized that Sheila had disappeared.
She grabbed the arm of one of the regular key grips. "Hey, have you seen Shy, I mean, Sheila?"
"She went to see her Uncle at the rec offices. He happened to be on base and asked to see her before he shipped out."
"I'm going to go get some water and check on her. I'll be back." Vi ducked out of the newly erected supply tent.
A few minutes later, she walked into the rec offices. She found the water cooler, drinking several paper-cups-full of the tepid liquid before going in search of her absentee roomy. She heard the murmur of voices coming from a nearby office and walked to the door. She stopped cold when she heard a male voice say , ". . . Our first undercover agents hit the ground this week . . ."
She immediately decided this was a conversation she should not be listening to, and was about to move on when she thought she heard Sheila's voice. "Sounds like we have an internal leak . . ."
Shock rooted her to the spot. She pressed against the wall, listening intently and becoming more and more certain that it was Sheila in that room, though she didn't say much. Vi almost missed the cue that they were leaving the office, and scrambled out of sight. She ducked out a back door, circled around, and came at Sheila and her 'uncle' from the direction of the trucks. She acted like she was just heading in to the rec offices.
Sheila's uncle was a tall, dark-haired man with large, friendly features, and a warm smile. He and Sheila looked like family members enjoying a happy reunion.
Sheila caught sight of her and waved. "Hey, Vi!"
She pasted a smile on her face. "Hi, Shy."
Sheila looked genuinely happy to see her, but Vi wasn't sure she trusted anything about her anymore. She had never been taken in by a con, not even Face.
out and taking Vi's hand, Sheila indicated the man on
her arm with a nod of her head. "I want you to meet my Uncle Quinn. He's shipping down to
Vi took the man's offered hand. "It's real nice to meet you, Uncle Quinn." She smiled at him suggestively.
"It's good to meet you too, Vi. Glad to know someone is keeping an eye on Sheila. I've been a little worried. She tends to be a bit naïve." He gave Shy a meaningful look, and Vi found herself very curious about the portion of their conversation she hadn't heard. One thing was certain, that was the male voice she overheard in the office. Shy was really a fucking spy.
Vi was reeling, but managed to hide it. "Well, I'm taking good care of her. Maybe you could give me some pointers . . . over a drink?" Vi took Quinn's other arm, and fell into step beside him.
Sheila leaned forward. "He's my uncle, Vi. Did I mention that?"
Vi winked at her, but she knew her smile was tight. "I believe you did, sweety."
Sheila's 'uncle' didn't hang around, and Vi was just as glad. The guy had piercing gray eyes that kind of freaked her out and made her feel like he knew she knew. Hell, who was she kidding, the whole idea that her straight-laced roomy was a spy freaked her out.
As she and Sheila set to work to finish unloading the equipment, she was careful to keep her in sight. She wondered just what the hell Sheila was doing undercover with her USO tour. Who the hell knew what she had been doing when Vi wasn't looking? She wouldn't make that mistake again.
When unloading was done, the crew went to work on setting up the stage. Shy pitched right in, but Vi managed to slip away, determined to find Face and warn him about Sheila – or whoever the hell she was.
Face was pleased with himself. He had managed to find everything they needed to finish Ray's latest contraption, as well as a few extra items that he figured would come in handy someday, if only in trade. He had sent Gravy to join Murdock at the bar, while he finished one last run through the checklist to make sure they hadn't missed anything.
"Face!" He turned to find Viola running toward him.
His responding smile faded as he took in her distressed expression. "What's wrong, Vi?"
"It's Sheila. I just can't believe it . . ." Vi's breathless opening made Face's heart drop into his toes. He knew his friend had already fallen hook, line and sinker for the petite USO show girl. Murdock would be devastated if something happened to Sheila.
"What happened? Were you attacked on the drive over? Usually the road from Nha Trang to Cam Ranh is safe –"
"What in the hell are you talking about?" Vi looked at him blankly.
Face sighed. "You said something happened to Sheila –"
"No, I didn't. Sheila is not Sheila. I don't know who the fuck she is, but she's not Sheila- "
Face grabbed Vi's arm and led her away from the prying ears hanging around the truck. "What the hell are you talking about, Vi?"
"I'm telling you, I overheard her talking to her uncle, only . . . well, he wasn't her uncle . . ." The whole story came pouring out.
Vi stood in front of him, arms crossed, fuming. "I was about ready to confront her as soon as her 'uncle' left. I can't believe it. I've never been scammed before, never. You couldn't even scam me."
Face put a restraining hand on her shoulder. He wasn't any happier about being duped than Vi was, but he also knew that whatever Sheila was up to, she was in it up to her eyeballs. The only thing keeping her safe was likely her anonymity. "Vi, you can't do that. I know you're upset about her lying, but it wasn't personal. She's doing a job, and you could put her in danger by exposing her."
Vi's voice dropped, but her eyes still flashed in anger. "But she hasn't just lied to me, she's lied to all of us, including your best friend. I think Murdock should know."
Face took a deep breath. "I agree, but we have to be careful. She's not going to volunteer the truth and I'm not sure it's fair to ask her. Murdock is going to want to insist on at least knowing who she really is. Otherwise . . ."
Vi's face fell. "Oh my God . . . that's why she said it was better if he didn't see her again. Oh, Face, I think she really fell for him, and she doesn't want to hurt him. What are we going to do?"
"Christ, what a cluster." Face rubbed the back of his neck, his mind racing.
Vi finally broke the silence, her tone matter-of-fact. "We'll just find Murdock and convince him it's best to leave."
Face gave a resigned snort, and shrugged. "We can try. But when Murdock gets his mind set, there's usually no changing it. He's intent on seeing Shy, and I seriously doubt anything we say or do is going to change that."
"Even if he knows she's not who she said she was?"
Face's eyes narrowed. "Even then."
They found Murdock and Gravy at the bar by the beach, where they sat out on the deck playing cards.
Vi put a hand on Face's arm. "I think I'm going to need a drink to face this mess. I'll be out in a minute. Want a beer?"
Face nodded. As Vi headed into the bar, he walked out to join his teammates.
Gravy was grinning as Face walked up. "That's three hands in a row, Howlin'. You off you game."
Murdock threw his cards down. "Not in the mood for cards."
"Well I sure as hell am. Wanna win back some a da kob I lost to you o'er the last year."
Face stifled a laugh. Gravy was the only guy on base that would still play cards with Murdock. The pilot didn't cheat, but Face had a feeling that he counted cards out of habit, or perhaps it was boredom. Either way, he was nearly impossible to beat when he was concentrating. Face was determined to take him to Vegas when they got back state-side. They could clean up and be out of town before anyone was the wiser.
Murdock smirked. "I ain't got that much dough on me, Gravy. No more cards, today." He looked up as Face sat down. "All done?"
"Yeah . . ." Face started in irritation. "Shit, I didn't lock down."
Gravy stood up and drained his beer. "I take care of it, Faceman. Howlin' ain't willin' to play no more no how. 'Sides, Anh ought to be gettin' off work soon."
As the Cajun walked away, Murdock looked at Face narrowly. "Not like you to go to all that work scammin' and not lock it up, Face."
"I was distracted."
Vi came walking out and Murdock snorted. "So I see."
"Well, it was Vi, but not the way you're thinking. She overheard something that I think you should know."
Murdock emptied his beer, and waved to the waitress for another. The buzz from the six he'd already had was the only thing keeping him from looking for Shy. It was too soon for that. He needed to stay put.
He sighed when he realized that Vi and Face were both looking at him. "Alright, what's got you both lookin' like you just lost your best friend?"
Face glanced around. The waitress came out and set a beer in front of Murdock. As soon as she left, he waved a hand at Vi. "It's your story, Vi. Go ahead and tell it. Nobody around to overhear, at least for the moment."
Vi spoke quickly and softly, relating her story. Murdock listened attentively but kept his expression impassive. When she was done, they both stared at him again, obviously waiting for his reaction. He wasn't too sure what to say to them, so he took a drink of his beer and didn't say anything.
Face shifted. "Murdock, do you understand? Sheila has been lying . . . to all of us. I'm really sorry buddy, but I thought you should know."
"Yeah, I got that."
Face glanced at Vi, then leaned forward and looked at him intently. "I think it might be best if we just headed back to Nha Trang. Now."
Murdock trailed a finger through the condensation on his beer bottle and shook his head. "I'm not leaving without seeing Shy."
Vi reached over and put a comforting hand on his arm. "Murdock, sweety, she isn't Shy. We don't know who she is."
Murdock quirked an eyebrow, and a thoughtful smile curved his lips. "Well, that may not be her name, but I know who she is. I gotta see her."
"You knew she was lying, didn't you?" Face peered at him narrowly.
Face shifted his gaze to Vi. "I told you we wouldn't change his mind."
Vi sat back, lips pressed into a thin line, though her eyes were sympathetic. "What do you want me to do?"
"Bring her here after Willie leaves," Murdock said.
Vi's brows furrowed. "As far as I know, Willie isn't going anywhere –"
Murdock smiled, smug. "Yeah, he is, and once he leaves, he should be gone at least until tomorrow morning."
Vi's lower jaw dropped. "I seem to be the only one who isn't a scam artist around here." She shook her head, picked up her gin and tonic and drained it. "I'll get Shy here as soon as Willie jets. Will you still be back here?"
Murdock raised his beer. "I'm not moving . . . except maybe to the bathroom periodically."
Face laughed. "I may have to carry him there and back. We won't be moving too far."
"I can get to the bathroom under my own power, thank you."
"You'll be back here – that's all I really need to know." Vi hurried away, and Face and Murdock looked at each other and cracked up.
Vi grabbed Sheila's arm on the way back from the mess tent. "C'mon girl. We're washed, fed, and done for the day. Let's go get a drink."
"I don't feel like picking up guys at the bar, Vi. Really. Go without me."
Against her better judgment, she steered Shy away from their quarters and directly toward the bar. In blue jeans and a tank top, Shy was hardly dressed for an evening out, but Vi knew if they went back to the tent, she'd have trouble getting her roomy back out to the bar.
Vi kept a firm grip on Sheila's arm. "I don't want to pick up any new guys. I just want to go and have a few drinks with my lovelorn girl friend and cheer her up."
Sheila sighed. "I really don't feel like it."
Vi shrugged. "C'mon, Shy, just come have one drink with me and if it doesn't help you relax, you can head back to the tent."
Sheila dragged her feet. "I don't know, Vi. I'm really not in the mood for a crowd. Now if you brought a fifth back to the tent, and let me get falling down drunk, that I could go for."
"I'll tell you what. You go to the bar and have a drink with me tonight. And I'll get you a fifth and we'll get falling down drunk together tomorrow." You're gonna need it after tonight, Vi thought.
The bar was a zoo, and Sheila would have turned right around and left, but Vi held her arm in a vice-like grip. "C'mon, Shy, just a couple drinks and we'll leave. Remember, you promised. "
Sheila sighed in acceptance. "I'll go get our drinks." The bar looked like the least crowded place in the visible part of the building.
"Sounds good. I'll go out on the deck and see if I can find us a seat."
Sheila made her way to the bar, and ordered. A stocky soldier with dark hair and dark eyes leaned on the bar next to her as she waited for the drinks. "You here alone, honey?"
Sheila didn't even look at him. "No, and I'm not your honey."
"How 'bout if I buy those drinks for you, and we can talk about who you're going home with."
"No thanks, I'll be going home with myself."
He slid closer to her. "You're a real fire cracker, aren't you?"
Sheila's jaw clenched. "Get your hand off my ass."
"C'mon, sweet cheeks, I bet I can make you forget whatever's got you so uptight."
She caught the guy off guard, grabbing his hand by the thumb and bending it up behind his back. "I said 'no', sweet cheeks, so back the hell off."
She let him go, and he walked away, red in the face, muttering 'crazy bitch.' She felt the adrenalin buzz along her nerves. Guys like that always underestimated her, and she had learned early on to take advantage of those misconceptions.
The bartender set the drinks down in front of her. "You ok?"
Sheila smirked. "I'm just fucking great." She picked up the whiskey and shot it. "How about another double?"
She noted with satisfaction that the other men standing around the bar had backed away from her too, leaving her in a little island of space. Maybe she would just stay right here and drink herself into a stupor. Vi would be sure to come looking for her eventually.
Sheila stiffened. The bartender put her drink in front of her. She picked up the drink and downed it. "Another double, please. In fact, why don't you bring over the bottle?"
The bartender smirked and nodded. "You got it."
Turning slowly, Sheila braced herself for the sight of Murdock. Her involuntary reaction was immediate, and with the press of bodies around them, there was nowhere to go to get away from him.
Sheila allowed her irritation at her roomy to swell, using it to steel herself against the desire to melt against him. "Vi knew you were here, didn't she? I should have known there was a reason she was so fucking insistent about me coming to the bar with her."
His smile was apologetic. "Yeah, she knew. She's the one that suggested I come in here and corner you, too. She said if you saw me you'd bolt. Why is that, sugar?"
The bartender appeared again, filled her glass and set the bottle on the bar pushing a bowl of pretzels next to it. Sheila picked up the glass and swirled the amber liquid, contemplating how to answer that question. She definitely would have bolted if she had seen him before he saw her – bolted and then hidden. She downed the whiskey. She knew it wouldn't help her come up with an answer, but it might help deaden the discordant emotions that were threatening to overwhelm her at the moment.
Murdock picked up the bottle and filled her glass again, but pushed the pretzels forward. "I'd encourage you to slow down, but I can't decide if the booze is going to help my position or hurt it."
She snorted. "And here I was trying to decide if I could drink enough so I passed out until after you were gone. When do you leave?" She was relieved he wasn't pressing her for an answer to his previous question. The ones she came up with were all far to encouraging, and she knew she couldn't lie to him anymore – at least not convincingly.
He leaned on the bar next to her, his lazy smile and nearness doing funny things to her insides. Maybe it was the whiskey. Maybe the combination. It didn't matter. Sheila knew she was in trouble.
He slid closer. "I'm here until noon tomorrow. Face got us a room on the beach."
She avoided his evocative gaze and instead stared at the half-empty whiskey bottle. "I don't think I can drink enough."
"You're kinda cute when you're cornered and half-wasted." He leaned toward her and she shivered, her fingers tapping on the glass of whiskey. His breath tickled her ear when he whispered, "I got your note. It occurs to me that I don't know your name."
"The note was . . . a mistake." Her fingers closed around the glass, and she shot it. She popped a chewy pretzel in her mouth and pushed the whiskey bottle away; then motioned to the bartender, who came over and looked at her questioningly. "I decided I should probably lay off the booze. Could I have a large glass of water, please?"
He grabbed the whiskey bottle, and smiled. "Sure."
Murdock covered her hand where it rested on the bar, his voice earnest. "Sugar, we need to talk."
Sheila took a deep breath, balling her hand into a tight fist, fingernails biting into the skin of her palm, distracting her from the feel of his hand on hers. "So talk."
Anger shot through her, and she turned on him. "I can't believe you told her . . ."
Murdock frowned as he stood up. "I didn't tell her anything. She overheard you and your . . . uncle talking earlier today."
Sheila slumped against the bar. "Fuck. So much for getting out clean."
Murdock took her upper arm in a caressing grip. "I really think we should go to the room where we can talk in private."
She jerked her arm out of his grasp. "I have to take Vi her drink. Besides, I think you and I going anywhere private, let alone your room, is a fucking lousy idea."
Murdock shook his head. "You are one hellaciously stubborn little lady."
She glared at him for a moment, then grabbed Vi's gin and tonic, and her glass of water and started elbowing her way through the crowd toward the deck.
She felt Murdock's hand at the small of her back, as he moved close behind her to follow her through the bar. The touch caused goose bumps to sprout across her entire body, despite the heat. She cursed silently to herself. She couldn't see a way to avoid having him uncomfortably close for the next several hours. The whiskey had probably been a mistake given that reality. In addition to mellowing her out, it tended to lower her inhibitions.
He steered her to the table. Sheila set her and Vi's drinks down and Murdock held the only open chair out for her to sit next to her roomy. He disappeared and reappeared a minute later carrying another chair; wedging it next to, and slightly behind Sheila's. He stretched one long leg under the table beside her, and one behind her. There were six of them crowded around the small table: Gravy and a young Vietnamese woman, Face and Vi, and now Murdock and her. Face and Gravy were having a heated debate about the merits of traditional French cuisine versus its 'poor Cajun cousin' Creole cuisine. They barely acknowledged the new arrivals before continuing with a detailed comparison of crawdads and lobster.
Murdock's arm draped casually across the back of her chair, his fingers trailing lightly down her arm and brushing discreetly against the swell of her breast. The touch brought her nipples to uncomfortably-stiff points. The direction of Murdock gaze and the suggestive smile on his face caused her to glance down, and she cringed at how visible her involuntary reaction was through the thin fabric of her tank top.
Sheila took his hand and deliberately removed his arm from the back of her chair. He didn't resist, but smiled in amusement as he rested his arm on the leg behind her. The change in position caused him to lean closer to her, and she felt his other hand slip onto her knee. His breath stirred her hair as he whispered near her ear. "What's wrong, sugar. Wishing you took me up on my offer?"
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to concentrate on the conversation at the table and ignore Murdock's proximity.
Vi's giggle prompted her to reopen her eyes. Her roomy was looking at her with a broad smile. "Enjoying your surprise?"
Her irritation at Vi resurfaced, and Sheila was grateful for the distraction. "You should have told me, Viola."
Vi raised an eyebrow. "I can keep a secret almost as well as you can, Shy."
Guilt replaced her initial irritation. "I'm sorry, Vi."
She shrugged. "It's alright, sweety. Just give me a break over flyboy here. He was pretty determined to see you."
Sheila's jaw clenched. "I told you, Vi – "
"Let Vi alone, sugar. She was just doin' what I asked." Murdock turned her attention to the other couple sitting at the table. "This odd couple here is Gravy and Anh."
Gravy took her hand and grinned. "Nice to see you again, li'l fi."
The young Vietnamese woman sitting next to Gravy smiled tentatively. She took Sheila's offered hand and said in halting English, "Nice to meet you."
Sheila smiled at her. "Chào bà. Rat hung hang duc gap bang."
"Chào bà! Chào bà!" She spoke rapidly in Vietnamese, and Sheila chuckled and responded easily.
Sheila looked at Murdock. "She said she doesn't know much English and that it was nice to have someone other than you or Face to talk to."
Murdock grinned. "Yeah, I caught that."
Anh's attention returned to Gravy, her feelings for him apparent in her solicitous touch and tender gaze. Gravy turned and gave Anh a warm kiss. "Anh yêu em." He stood and said in general, "Gotta hit the head."
Anh looked at Murdock questioningly, who translated briefly. "Buồng tắm." He chuckled and spoke to Shy. "Not only does Anh have trouble with English, but you just witnessed the extent of Gravy's Vietnamese. Hell, Gravy barely knows English himself. They seem to make do, though."
Sheila chuckled. "What do they do when you're not around?"
He raised an eyebrow at her, the smile that played around his mouth teasing. "There are other, more intimate ways a man and woman can communicate."
She concentrated on her glass as she picked it up and took a drink of water, trying to rein in her runaway heart. She had believed that sitting here in the middle of a crowded bar, nothing could happen. She now recognized just how wrong that was.
She set the glass down and took a deep breath. "I'm not sure it's possible to communicate effectively . . . that way."
Murdock lifted his hand from her knee, gently tucking hair behind her ear, while his other hand slid from the small of her back to cup around her hip, pulling her closer. He pressed his lips to her ear and whispered, "I think we communicate quite effectively . . . that way."
Sheila couldn't seem to ignore the desire that Murdock ignited in her mind, body and soul. Her heart was pounding, and the sound of blood rushing through her veins was like thunder in her ears. She closed her eyes and tried to focus on the voices around her.
"You sure you don't want to go back to the room, sugar?" His hand slipped up into her crotch, as he nipped at her earlobe.
Murdock caught her chair and kept it from toppling when she stood abruptly.
All eyes at the table were on her, but the only ones she saw were Murdock's, the amused glint in them provocative and irritating. "Let's go dance."
Murdock's face broke into a broad grin. "Great!"
It took them a couple minutes to make it to the dance floor. The press of bodies around them didn't allow much personal space, and Sheila found herself plastered to Murdock's front, his arousal obvious, and lending fuel to her own.
He looked down at her. "Not sure this can technically be called dancing. It feels more like being part of a human wave."
Sheila considered how apt the comparison was as Murdock's arms wrapped around her. She closed her eyes, and rested her head on his chest, letting the movement lull her mind from thinking too much about what she was feeling. Her hands slid down Murdock's chest to circle his waist as the music slowed; its tempo a stark contrast to Murdock's heart beat.
She felt him shift and lifted her head to look at him. A slight smile curved his lips, and his gaze was enough to cause a hot flush creep up her face. He leaned down and kissed her lightly on her lips, then on her cheek, before folding her close and nuzzling her neck. That pleasant, coiling tension started to build, and her breathing became more rapid the longer he lingered there.
He pulled back and looked at her, and the low timber of his voice caressed her more thoroughly than if he had used his hands. "Have I changed your mind yet?"
She couldn't seem to help the answer that slipped from her lips. "Yes."
"Let's get out of here."
Outside, away from the crush of people, Murdock's desire cooled, and he could tell Shy's did too. There was too much they needed to discuss to allow their physical longings to drive their actions; later, hopefully, but not now.
"Let's go to the room." Murdock held out the key with a grin. "Face said it's a great little place right on the beach."
Sheila shook her head resolutely, and took his hand, guiding him to the temporary stage they had erected this morning. She led him behind the curtain to the dressing area at the side of the stage. It was simply a curtained-off area with a few folding chairs and a leaning rack of costumes, but it did provide some measure of solitude.
Murdock glanced around, fingering the room key in his pocket. "Well, at least it's private. I still think the room would be better."
Sheila dropped into a chair. "The best thing about this is that there is no bed –"
"And here I was thinkin' that was one of the drawbacks."
She licked her lips and continued as if he hadn't spoken. ". . . and it's hard to sneak up and eavesdrop on this stage – the floor is too creaky to allow stealth."
"Speaking from experience?" She smirked, so he figured his suspicion was correct. He flipped a chair around so he could straddle it sitting directly in front of her. He laid his arms across the back of the chair and rested his chin on them, looking at her uncertainly.
She raised weary eyes to his face. "Don't ask me questions you know I can't answer, HM."
He reached out and stroked her cheek with his thumb. "Maybe you know me better then I think."
"I think I know you better then I should." She
shook herself, and took a deep breath. "One thing I did want to stress,
you need to be careful. Whoever is involved in this smuggling ring, they let
you walk away in
"I can take care of myself."
"From what I've heard, you can be pretty damned reckless when it comes to your own safety. Please, for the sake of my sanity, promise me you'll be careful."
He grinned at her. "You worried about me, sugar?"
Her jaw tightened. "Don't let it go to your head."
"I care about you, too. Will you at least tell me a couple things . . ."
He gazed at her as he considered what the most critical thing would be for him to know. He knew he was going to be permitted precious few questions, and probably even fewer answers.
"I only have one question I really want the answer to. What's your name?"
She laughed. "That's all, huh?"
"C'mon, sugar, it's a simple question and you know your secret is safe with me."
She stared at him for several long seconds, and then shook her head. "Then how did Vi find out?"
"I told you she overheard you and your uncle earlier." Murdock related what Vi had told him. "She and Face were all concerned about how I would react. Honestly, it was kind of comical. You would have laughed."
She stood up and began pacing slowly, arms wrapped around herself. "I'd laugh except it's not funny. I was instructed to get out clean, and that's going to be impossible now."
"I really don't think you have to worry about Vi. She's not gonna rat on you. I get the impression she doesn't really like Leighton or Steiger, anyway. She may even be able to help."
"You really don't fucking get it. Do you know how many women are in a position like mine? Very few. And my supervisor is just looking for a reason to send my ass home. I am not going to do anything else to jeopardize my mission. That includes recruiting Viola to help … or telling you my name."
He stood up, too, and put his hands on her shoulders, forcing her to stop and look at him. "I am not asking you to do anything that would jeopardize your mission. All I'm asking for is your name. If I wanted to blow your cover, I don't need that."
"You're better off not knowing."
He ground his teeth. She wasn't the only one who could be stubborn. "Don't make me resort to blackmail to get what I want, sugar. I could still blow your cover."
"You wouldn't do that, HM."
He gave an angry grunt. "Don't bet on it."
"What would Leighton and Steiger do if they knew I was investigating their drug smuggling activities?"
Murdock stiffened, and looked up to find her gazing steadily at him. "They'd kill you."
She nodded. "That's how I know you won't blow my cover. Don't make this harder then it has to be. You should go back to Nha Trang and forget you ever knew me."
"It doesn't have to be this way." He looked at her earnestly, but could see the resolve in her eyes. "Why do you have to be so fucking stubborn?"
"It's just the way I am."
"Damn it all, sugar! You're really starting to piss me off!" Murdock stomped a foot as he turned away in frustration.
She laughed at him. "Now you're just acting childish."
He took a deep breath and turned back toward her. "That's
how you want it, fine. But I'll tell you one thing. I may not know your name,
but I know you. And when our paths cross again, and I'm confident they will,
you better be believing you aren't going to get away so easily next time.
She walked up to him and stretched up to kiss him lightly on the cheek. "Good bye, HM."
He started in surprise as she turned to walk away. "Wait a minute, where do you think you're going? I'm here until noon tomorrow, and regardless of the future, I plan on spending the rest of my leave with you. I went to a hell of a lot of trouble to make that possible."
Her lips formed a straight line. "We've said all there is to say, HM. If I stayed now, it would just make it harder to walk away tomorrow. And that's what has to happen. Please, just let me go."
"You're really going to abandon me with over 12 hours of leave still to go? That doesn't seem fair."
"Nothing about this whole situation is remotely fair, HM. Have a good trip back to Nha Trang, and take care of yourself. Please remember to be careful."
"C'mon sugar, it's not even a full day. Just stay with me until I have to leave. That's all I'm asking."
"I don't think I can, HM. Please, let me go."
The hurt evident in her eyes kept him from following her. He was resolved that come hell or high water he was going to see her again, whoever she was. Unfortunately, given the approaching monsoon season, both hell and high water were distinct possibilities, and not knowing her name was going to be a huge problem.
He knew why she felt like she had to leave, but all that did was confirm that she felt about him the same way he felt about her. He was certain that meant that they were supposed to be together. He grasped at the vague hope that there was a higher power out there that would make sure he and Shy met again. Face, despite his steadfast belief in the Almighty, would likely tell him he was nuts. It wasn't the first time, and he was pretty sure it wouldn't be the last.
But Vi might be able to help. He was pretty confident that the little nympho harbored more romantic notions than Face did. At least he hoped so. And while Shy might be unwilling to enlist Viola's help, he sure as hell wasn't.
Sheila stopped by the supply tent and found Karen, one of the other women in the show. "Where's Willie?"
"Said he had to head to
"He went to
"That's where he said he was going. Left a couple hours ago by jeep."
Murdock's words echoed through her head in his low
Sheila ground her teeth in irritation and muttered, "Murdock."
"I thought you weren't supposed to see him anymore." Karen sneered at her.
Sheila's brows drew together. "That's none of your fucking business."
Karen gazed at her in challenge. "It is if you've been told to stay away from him by Dean. Is Murdock here?"
Sheila turned and crossed her arms, looking at the woman narrowly. Karen was one of the women in the show that was always lurking in the background. She was well built, but she had a face like a mule, and a stubborn attitude to go with it. Sheila wondered how much she knew about Murdock? Obviously, Steiger had her in his hip pocket, and was using her to keep an eye on the girls in the show.
Sheila smirked at her. "What does it matter to you, Karen?"
"Willie left me in charge, and I plan to enforce Dean's wishes."
Sheila took a deep breath and schooled her features into an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry I snapped at you. I'm just a little uptight about everything that's happened today. And, yes, Murdock is here, finishing out his leave. I just told him he had to go away. I was looking for Willie for a little support, that's all."
Karen's face relaxed, though her look was annoyingly smug. "Well, he'll be back tomorrow. For now, I'd recommend you head to your quarters and stay there."
"Thanks, Karen. I'll do that after I walk off some of this nervous engery. I'll see you later."
Sheila practically ran out of the tent. She needed to go talk to Murdock one more time. Hopefully, Karen took her assertion at face value and didn't come looking for her. She was glad Murdock had at least shown her the key to the room – she was pretty sure she knew where to find him.
She walked around the base for awhile to make sure Karen wasn't following her. She also needed to give herself time to build up the resolve that would be needed to walk away from Murdock yet again. She walked around for quite awhile working on that sticky problem.
Murdock finally worked up the energy to leave the stage. On his way back to his room, he stopped by the bar deck and found their table. Face and Vi were gone, but Gravy and Anh were still there, heads bowed together, oblivious to the crowd around them. He waved and called to get Gravy's attention. The Cajun finally looked up with an irritated expression.
When he caught sight of Murdock, he gave Anh a kiss on the cheek before making his way over to lean on the railing. "You lose somethin', gason?"
Murdock snorted. "Yeah, I lost her alright. Listen, Gravy, I'm heading back to my room. Would you do me a favor and tell Vi I need to talk to her before we leave tomorrow?"
"I'll let her know, she and Face just out on the dance floor. I take it Shy ain't joinin' you in your room."
Murdock shook his head. "'Fraid not, man. You have fun tonight. Tell Anh I said 'bye.'"
He took his time walking back to his room. He didn't have a clue where Face's and Gravy's rooms were. Chances were, given the short notice, Face had trouble finding three rooms, let alone three rooms together. They had agreed to meet back at the truck just before noon.
He shoved into the short hall leading to his room and nearly stumbled over someone sitting on the floor next to his door. He grinned when he saw it was Shy, but the accusing look in her wide, blue eyes tempered his initial pleasure.
"What did you do with Willie?"
Murdock's brow furrowed. "I didn't do anything with him."
He pulled her to her feet. His grip would have lingered but she snatched her hands back as soon as she was standing. She tried to hide the abrupt action with a pretense of brushing herself off.
crossed her arms, gaze narrow. "So you have nothing to do with him heading
He knew the smile on his face was smug. "Oh . . . that. You really need to be more specific."
"Are you going to be a jerk and turn this into some
kind of interrogation lesson, or are you going to tell me why Willie went to
Murdock turned away from her and unlocked the door. The room was utilitarian, with a bed, a little side-table, and a chair, but had a door on the far wall that opened onto the beach. It was the first time he'd been to his room, but either Face or Gravy had brought his duffle from the truck. He grinned when he saw the bucket sitting on the side table. He moved toward it.
"Murdock, answer me."
He turned to find a fuming Shy still standing in the hall way. "You know, I've noticed that you only call me Murdock when you're irritated with me. The rest of the time, you call me HM. I like that a lot better. Are you coming in?"
She stared at him, but didn't move, her indecision written plainly on her face. He shrugged and walked over to the bucket. A slip of paper on top had a name and phone number on it with, 'In case things go south with Shy' written below, all in Face's bold block print. Murdock crumpled the paper and threw it towards the trash can. Face took Hannibal's lessons to heart and was always contingency planning, even if it was misguided.
He lifted the lid on the bucket. Inside, nestled in a pool of melting ice, he found at least a dozen beer bottles. "Thank you, Face." He grinned and pulled one out, popping it open on the edge of the table. He put the lid back on the bucket and picked it up.
He raised the beer in a mock toast. "You know, beer always loosens my tongue. Lock the door behind you, huh?"
He walked out the beach door, set the bucket on the sand next to a bent table, and slouched into one of two rickety wooden and cloth beach chairs. He took a long draw on his beer and then stared out at the waxing moon, no more than a sliver in the sky. The stars still provided the majority of the light, and Chiron leered down at him, mocking his naïve and sloppy-romantic narration to Shy two nights ago. It was amazing how much could change in such a short time.
He recognized that he found Shy much more interesting now than he had when she was just a USO show girl. The realization kind of bothered him. If he was looking for a woman to settle down with when he got home, she probably wasn't the ideal choice. He shook his head as it dawned on him that whatever 'choice' he may have had in the matter was long gone.
It was several minutes before she finally ventured out to join him. Coming to a decision seemed to have relaxed her some, but she remained standing. He flipped the lid off the bucket. "Help yourself."
She hesitated, but did finally bend down to grab a beer. After replacing the bucket lid, she pulled out a pocket knife and flipped the cap off the bottle.
She tipped the bottle back, and drained half of it. The chair seemed to swallow her as she tried to sit stiffly on it. It was comical watching her try to remain rigid, while sitting in the old lounge chair. She finally gave it up and sank into it, taking another long draw on the beer. Her sigh was resigned. "The beer tastes good."
nodded in agreement, and glanced at her. "So, I assume you're wondering if
you should go running after Willie? The answer is 'probably
not' – his reason for going to
"Why did he go?"
"May seem hard to believe, but even Willie has a love life. I just leveraged it into an evening of absence."
"Willie has a girlfriend?"
"Not really, though Frankie is probably only loosely defined as a boy. Not a bad kid, but he definitely got stuck in the wrong body."
"Don't ask, don't tell."
Shy had drained her beer, and slammed the empty bottle on the table. "That is one of the dumbest policies I've ever heard. Second only to women not being allowed in combat. The army is obviously run by moronic, macho men."
Murdock grinned at her. "I could help you get that bra off to burn."
crossed her arms and slouched down in the chair. "It's not a joke, HM. As
a woman, I have to work twice as hard in a man's profession to be considered
half as good. When you face that kind of uphill battle for equity we'll see how
you feel about it." She turned and looked at him, eyes flashing. "Do
you know that I graduated top of my class from
Murdock pressed his mouth into a flat line and looked at her repentantly. "I didn't mean anything by it, sugar. I was just hopin' to getcha outta your bra."
Her eyes widened, and she let loose with a self-deprecating snort. He joined her and soon they were both laughing uncontrollably.
She took a deep breath. "Sorry, guess I'm hypersensitive about the issue. That number two student also seemed to think I'd give up my career so I could marry him and have his kids. I spent too many years working my way through school to throw in the towel and become someone else's chief maid and bottle-washer." She pressed her lips together, and shook her head. "Sorry, there I go again."
Murdock had drained his first beer and pulled out another two. He handed one to her. "I can't argue that it's not right, sugar. Unfortunately, I think it's gonna take a lot more than burning a few bras to drive the message home. True equity is going to be a tough thing to win. Just ask any black man."
"This from the white man that calls his black teammate a mudsucker."
He nearly snorted beer out his nose. "BA and I understand each other – he knows I don't mean nothin' by it. He's damn good at what he does – better than most of the honkies I've seen in his position. We all got our crosses to bear."
He shrugged. "A compulsive need to belong coupled with deep-seated independence and lack of a positive self-image."
She raised an eyebrow at him. "That sounds like the psycho-babble bullshit I heard from my evaluator."
He grinned at her. "Yeah, they know how to make you feel all warm and fuzzy about yourself, don't they?"
They both laughed again.
"So, this Frankie that Willie went to see. Is he a friend of yours?" Shy asked.
"Hell no. Frankie isn't real discerning about who he hits on. I was the target of his advances one night, and flattened him. I don't have a problem if a guy swings the other way, as long as he doesn't push it on me. Know what I mean?"
"I can imagine. In fact, I think I might have paid to see that." She burst out laughing.
ha, ha. Anyway, I still know a couple guys back at
"That was mean."
do you mean, 'mean'? I got Frankie some time with his
main squeeze. I figure I did him a favor. Anyway, I really don't think you need
to go to
She gave no indication that she heard him. He let the silence stretch, punctuated by the pounding surf. It was several minutes before she moved.
She licked her lips, refusing to look at him. "I'm afraid . . . "
"Afraid of what?" He prompted.
"I'm afraid that if I stay tonight, I won't be able to leave tomorrow."
"I'm the one that has to leave tomorrow."
"I'm afraid that I won't be able to let you go, then." She shook her head, muttering, "That has to be the booze talking."
"If that's the case, have another beer." He held a fresh one out to her. "Maybe I can even get you into bed. Though I have to admit, you have a disturbingly high tolerance for alcohol for such a little lady."
She ignored the offered beer. She still had half of the last one he had given her. She obviously didn't need any more, anyway. "You are impossible. And I should definitely leave."
"Don' be that way, sugar. 'Sides, you know you don't wanna go."
She closed her eyes, hoping if she couldn't see him, she might be able to resist that thick drawl that seemed to become more pronounced when he looked at her in that way that made her breath catch.
She felt his fingers slide along her arm, and her entire body reacted to the touch. She took a deep breath, and slid her hand into her lap, and out of his reach.
"I love you, sugar."
She stood up. "I should go."
"You know, Frankie's the one who introduced me to Willie." Murdock looked up at her, a devilish gleam in his eyes.
She ground her teeth and considered him for several seconds. "What are you up to?"
"Whatever it takes to make you stay."
"Dammit, Murdock. Have you been holding out on me?"
"Not really. It just occurred to me that there may be some other information I could provide that might help you along in your investigation. On one condition . . ."
"Don't say it."
"It's just one night, sugar. That's all I'm asking for."
She stood in front of him, arms crossed, and tried not to look at him while shooting an angry look his general direction. She couldn't quite pull it off. "What do you have?"
"Aside from a serious hang-up on you?"
"HM, please . . ." Her voice sounded pitiful to her own ears.
He leaned forward and snaked his arms around her waist. She held back, arms still resolutely crossed. He kept pulling her forward, until she folded onto his lap. At which time the chair buckled beneath them. They landed in a heap on the ground, looked at each other in surprise and burst into laughter.
Several minutes later they both lay on their backs in the sand, catching their breath while lying on the remains of Murdock's beach chair.
He propped himself up on an elbow and looked down at her. "Slick, huh?"
She put an arm behind her head and smiled up into his laughing eyes. "Yeah, you're one slick flyboy."
The transition from amusement to arousal occurred without warning. She didn't even try to resist when he leaned down and covered her mouth with his, while his hand slid up under her shirt. As soon as he touched her bare skin, the ache that had been present since she walked into the room became all-consuming. She put her arms around his neck and pulled him down to her.
His knee slid between her legs, and she parted them, shifting, encouraging him to move between. Even with the clothing preventing them from actually coupling she could feel the mounting tension as they pressed against each other in an insistent rhythm. He was hard against her slit, and she was approaching the peak when HM groaned and pushed himself off.
He collapsed onto his back next to her. "We need to move inside, where we can do this properly."
"No." She slowly sat up and drew her knees to her chest. The need for release was nearly overwhelming, but she had to regain control.
Murdock's eyes closed. "You are so goddam stubborn it's not funny."
"You keep saying that like somehow you might be able to change it."
He growled at her and she felt her lips curve up in amusement. She turned and looked at him. He lay flat on his back, chest heaving. Her eyes strayed below his waist where his erection still strained against the fabric of his pants and she felt the familiar coiling tension between her legs.
She bit her lip and looked away. "How the hell do you do that?"
Ragged and husky, his voice caught her off-guard. "How do I do what?"
She chanced a look at him. Murdock's eyes were open, again, and fixed on her. In the dim light of the stars, they looked almost black, bottomless, and she felt herself falling into their depths.
She shook her head, trying to clear her head. "How do you make me lose control like that?"
His low, throaty chuckle sent a pleasant shiver down her spine. "I don't think that's a one-way street, sugar."
She chewed on her thumb for a few seconds before responding. "The difference between you and I is that before I walked into the room, I promised myself I wouldn't let you get to me. Then a scant half hour later I'm dry humping you like a fucking teenager. What the hell is up with that?"
propped himself up on his elbows. "This really bothers you, doesn't it?"
"Yes, it fucking bothers me! I do not lose control." Except with you, she thought.
"Obviously, you do."
Her blue eyes flashed in anger when she turned to look at him. Murdock took a deep breath and rolled himself to a sitting position, long arms looping loosely around his knees. He smirked at her.
Her hand swinging out to smack him caught him off-guard, and he fell sideways, holding up an arm to fend off the next attack. "Hey! Ouch!"
"Fucking smart ass," she muttered as she stumbled to her feet.
Murdock sat up, laughing. He caught her, one arm around the knees, one around her waist, and pulled her into his lap. "I suppose my advantage in this situation is that I'm not fighting it. I like losing control with you."
He caught her wrists in one hand and cradled her head in the crook of his other arm. Her jaw was clenched, as she stilled in his arms. "Why are you fighting it, sugar?"
She wrenched her wrists free and slid off his lap. Confusion was apparent in her face. He put a hand on the sand next to her and leaned forward to kiss her shoulder.
"It's not so bad, you know. There's freedom in surrendering control." He pushed her hair behind her ear, and allowed his finger to trail down her neck and over her shoulder. She shivered. He shifted closer and placed a feather-light kiss at the curve between her neck and shoulder. The scent that he knew he would forever associate with her enthralled him, his personal aphrodisiac.
She pulled away suddenly, turning to put a hand over his mouth. A woman's voice carried to them, "Over here? Are you sure it was Sheila? She said she was headed to her quarters."
The accompanying male voice was barely audible, but Shy was pulling Murdock to his feet and urging him into the room, so he didn't have time to decipher the words. Inside, she pulled the curtain over the beach entrance, and watched through a rip in the fabric.
Murdock put his chin on Shy's shoulder and followed her gaze. Outside a tall, thin woman and a nondescript young man stood on the beach looking around, and then turned to talk to each other.
"Who are they?"
"I don't know who the guy is, but the woman is Karen Lawrence." Shy slid the door open slightly, listening intently. "Damn. She's heading to my quarters to make sure I'm there."
He chuckled. "My little spy is being spied on - intriguing."
She turned and smirked up at him. "You do realize that that means I have to leave?"
"But you'll come back." He placed a hand on either side of her and moved forward, forcing her back against the door. He lowered his head and her lips parted as he met them. The kiss deepened and her hands slipped up to his shoulders. He wrapped his arms around her lifting her off her feet and molding her body to his.
He nearly groaned out loud when Shy pulled away from the kiss, though when he looked into her eyes he could tell she was as reluctant to break the contact as he was.
Her voice was breathless. "I have to go, HM. I'm going to have to move if I'm going to beat Karen to my quarters. And if she figures out I'm here with you . . . there isn't going to be any coming back."
Murdock set her feet back on the floor, and she ran from the room. With a frustrated growl, he dropped onto the bed. He knew she had to go, but he was afraid that once she cooled off, she'd have second thoughts about coming back.
He really needed her to come back.
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