Men and women of the armed forces experience love and desire pretty much like everyone else. Except, well, there is that uniform. And the hard-to-resist attraction of “duty, honor, service” as a man might apply them to a woman’s pleasure. All things considered, romance among the military is a pretty sexy, compelling force for which you’d better be armed, whether weighing anchor and moving forward into desire, dropping anchor and staying put for passion, or setting a course for renewed love with anchor home.
Weighing Anchor (allowing a ship to move forward by retrieving the anchor): A professional woman sworn to avoiding all things military finds herself in love with a lieutenant commander in the Navy. Love won’t conquer all if she allows her childhood memories to eclipse future happiness.
Dropping Anchor (securing movement by dropping the anchor): Two people find (surprisingly) that they are both in the Navy and love their chosen professions — until one turns out to be an officer but not a gentleman and the other is a gentleman but not an officer.
Anchor Home (safe, smooth sailing): When two former lovers find each other after more than a decade, will a long-hidden secret threaten the course of a rekindled romance or be the cause of it?
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Carie made her way around the side of the building and nearly ran into Todd, who lounged against the weathered wood siding. He looked better than good in a pale blue polo shirt and jeans. Top-Sider boat shoes with no socks gave him that naturally casual look that no model could successfully carry out.
“I was hoping you’d come,” he said.
“You were pretty obvious,” she said dryly.
“I knew you were smart enough to catch the hint. I just didn’t know if you’d follow it.”
How could she not? The moment she noticed him she’d remembered the feel of his being deep inside her. But that didn’t change a damn thing. They shouldn’t be here, not together.
She held her head high and tried to look down her nose at him — nearly impossible since he was taller than she, but she had perfected the attitude long before meeting Todd Baxter. Senior Chief Todd Baxter. “I wanted to walk the beach while I was here, that’s all.” Todd grinned and Carie melted inside.
“Lucky for me, I wanted to walk the beach, too,” he said. “Quite a coincidence, huh?”
She snorted in disbelief and slipped off her sandals. Brushing by him, she was glad he didn’t try to kiss her or hold her. But then she frowned. Why didn’t he try to kiss her? She’d wanted to jump his bones right there in that Norfolk hallway. They had to maintain propriety then, but here, no one would see them. What held him back? She knew an unfamiliar sense of self-doubt. Had she mistaken his feelings before?
Nonsense. Carie knew what they’d had was more than mere lust. It had been lust of stupendous proportions, far beyond a few days of burning out. Then what held him back? Knowing the military regulations preventing officers and enlisted personnel from having a relationship, you idiot.
Damn. She finally found someone she clicked with, and he had to be an enlisted man in the Navy.
The sand felt good between her toes, cool and squishy. Gulls screeched overhead and on the sand, where they snatched up sand crabs and poked around for scraps sunbathers might have left. Surf pounded to the shore and then surged forward, the sharp white of its foam sharp against the dark, wet sand before the water was absorbed. The sun beat down, making her wish she’d worn her bathing suit under her jeans and tank top so she could take a quick dip, and remembered to bring a floppy hat to shield her face.
Suddenly, something was plopped on her head. She dragged it off to look at it. SFC Baxter was stamped on the inside of a white sailor hat, brim folded down.
“I kept it for sentimental purposes when I made chief,” Todd said. When she raised her brows, he continued. “I brought it in case you came without a cover. I remember you were sensitive to the sun when we went to pick up your clothes.” He smiled. “And I know you’re quick to freckle. Not that I don’t like your freckles a great deal. Ma’am.”
She cringed at his use of “Ma’am,” though it was the proper term for him to use when a superior officer was a woman. But she smiled inside that he’d remembered such a small thing like the sensitivity to the sun suffered by all redheads. Chagrined, she put the hat on and pulled it forward, shielding her eyes from the sun.
“After all that time in North Carolina, how in hell did we never mention what we did for a living?” She couldn’t believe her stupidity. Martha had nothing on her for not asking the right questions.
“In Carolina we had lots of other things on our minds. I knew you’re a lawyer. When I thought of you, I never wondered how you spent your time at work. I just thought of how you spent your time with me.”
“That’s pretty shallow.”
Todd laughed. “Not to a man.”
Stupid answer. But it had been his very maleness that captivated her. Well, and orgasms. Who’s shallow now?
“Look,” he said, his hand out in a request for understanding. “It isn’t as though I didn’t want to get to know you better. I did. I do. But when we’re together I can’t keep my hands off you. I can’t stop thinking how I want to touch you, kiss you, do other things to — ”
“When were you going to tell me you were in the Navy?” she asked.
He sighed loud enough that she heard it over the sound of the waves. “I don’t know. I guess when we slowed down enough to talk. There wasn’t much time.”
There hadn’t been. In Asheville, if they hadn’t been eating or sleeping, they busy in other ways. And there hadn’t been much eating or sleeping going on.
“I think they should put a plaque on the outside of that room for the fewest number of times the occupants left in four days. I couldn’t get enough of you.” Carrying his shoes in his left hand, he stuck his right hand in his pocket and strolled along beside her, barefoot. “I still can’t.”
“You didn’t exactly write and tell me that.”
He shrugged. “I didn’t want to assume too much, not knowing if you wanted me again as much as I wanted you. Call me shy.” He grinned, and she burst into laughter. “Besides,” he continued, “you’re the one who left saying, ‘It’s been fun.'”
She dipped her head, acknowledging the fact. “And you agreed.”
“Carie, I was scared.”
He sounded sincere, but really? He stopped and stared out across the breakers. She stared along with him, wondering what he saw out there. “I’m pretty set in my ways,” he said, and she had to strain to hear him, he spoke so low. “I’ll be honest, I haven’t been a monk, but sex with you was different. You made me think of things I’d never considered before.” He studied her face. “Do you understand?”
“I think so,” she said softly. “I wanted you more than anything. I’ve never had time or energy for a relationship. I’ve given all I have to my career. But I think I want more now.”
Todd reached to cup her cheek but then dropped his hand. “Like I said, I’m not a monk but there’s been no one since you.”
She wanted him. More, she needed him. “Nor for me. It wouldn’t have been the same. Nothing before you was ever that intense. Nothing else has ever touched me.” Pain struck her heart. “I want to kiss you so damn much.”
Before he could say anything, she turned and began walking again, sticking her hand in her pocket so she wouldn’t be tempted to reach for his hand. She’d had to hold herself back from stepping into his arms in the hallway on base. Here, on a near-empty beach, she had to exert even more will power. “That was then, and this is now. Vacation and real life seldom mix.”
“Funny,” he said. “Given the chance, I’d mix vacation and real life in a New York minute”
“Me, too,” she admitted. “But we can’t now. You’ve ruined everything.”
She felt him stiffen beside her. Idiot! You make a living saying the right thing to sway people’s opinion and you screw up like that?
“This is my fault how?” he asked quietly. She hadn’t seen him angry, but she had an idea this quiet voice was the prelude.
“You’re in the Navy but you’re not an officer.” It might sound petty, but regs were regs. “Why aren’t you an officer?” Okay, and that sounded whiny. But damn it, she felt whiny. “That attorney friend of yours said you were a mechanical engineer. Weren’t you offered OCS?”
“As a matter of fact, yes. After I received my BS and again after I earned my Masters. I didn’t accept because I didn’t want to be an officer.”
“Why not?” She spun to face him, the arm holding her sandals outstretched in confusion. She’d never met anyone who would turn down the chance to make more money and have more prestige.
“I like working, using my hands, being with my men — on the job and off.”
She started walking again. “Well, too bad you like sleeping with me. Or you seemed to. God knows, I loved being with you. And now it’s all over.”
“I’m surprised at you, counselor. The regulation obviously was written for two people who work together. It’s to keep one from having undue power over the other. We don’t work together.”
“It’s military regulations. You don’t mess with them. I don’t mess with them. I work to uphold them, not bend them to suit my desires.”
“I love your desires.” He pulled her hand from her pocket. Linking their fingers, he stepped closer and they continued their stroll across the sand as though the world hadn’t just turned on its axis. “Right here, right now, it feels like we never left Asheville. The view is different but we’re the same.”
Carie opened her mouth for air, suddenly needing more than she had a moment ago. But she couldn’t gather the strength needed to take back her hand. “The view isn’t the only thing different.”
He frowned. “Was I the friend you had planned to surprise this weekend?”
“Yes.” She sighed.
He laughed out loud. “You succeeded wildly.”