posted on September 2, 2009 by Catherine Mann
Five Years Ago: Randolph AFB, Texas
Lieutenant Nola Seabrook accepted that she could face death on Monday. But for the weekend, she intended to celebrate life to the fullest.
She gripped the door of the Officer’s Club bar, preparing herself to do something she’d never even considered before. She intended to find a man – a stranger – for a one night stand.
Lucky for her, she was away from her home base, which gave her a wealth of unfamiliar faces to peruse. Country music and the clang of the bell over the bar swelled as she swung the door wider to reveal the Friday night crowd.
No crying. No fear. She would forget herself with some stranger and lose herself in sensations she might never feel again.
Nola shouldered deeper into the press of bodies. The room reverberated with cheering. The place was packed, as she would expect on a Friday night, but the majority clustered in a circle to the side, the source of the whoop, whoop, whoop. And “Go, Lurch! Go, Lurch!”
Lurch? Now there was a call sign for a guy worth investigating.
Curiosity nipped, sucking her feet sideways.
She angled toward the commotion. Sidestepping an amorous couple making tracks toward the door, she caught sight of a chalkboard mounted on an easel. A bartender stood beside with a nubby piece of chalk to scratch out numbers. Ah. Bets. But what for?
She sidled through to the inner circle. Her eyes homed in on the source of the noise. The focus of the cheering was…
Holy cow, what a man. On the floor pumping push-ups in BDU pants and a brown T-shirt, he clapped between counts – ninety-five at the moment. The number hit a hundred and still he didn’t stop or even hesitate. Must be his size that earned him the nickname “Lurch” because holy cow, he was big.
Two men in similar uniforms split from the crowd carrying a fifty-some-odd year old waitress on their shoulders like Cleopatra. With ceremonial hoopla, they placed her on the man’s back. Finally, his arms strained against the T-shirt, muscles bulging, veins rippling along the stretch of tendons, but still he pushed.
Up. Down. Again and again.
Ohmigod, her own tummy did a flip of attraction. Arousal. And hadn’t she come here for just this reason?
Twenty-five years old and she didn’t have anyone else to turn to for comfort, which could really pitch her into a tailspin if she let herself think on it for too long.
Her elderly parents gone. Her marriage ka-put because her ex-husband couldn’t take the stress of a wife who might not live to see thirty. Zero siblings. Her best friend deployed to Turkey. Her only other friends a bunch of rowdy Air Force crew dogs who spent as much time on the road as she did, and she really couldn’t see herself showing weakness by bawling her eyes out to any of them.
Charge ahead, girl.
She made a quick check of his left hand. No wedding band. No pale cheater mark along his tan ring finger. Sheesh, she wished she’d thought to change into something other than her flight suit.
Too late for regrets. She was here now, and if she left to change, the man in front of her might be gone by the time she returned. Besides, she didn’t want to miss a second of this display.
Sweat started to pop along his forehead and even a hint along his shoulders, but still he kept moving. The man was a poster boy for health and vitality.
Invincibility, perhaps? All things she so desperately wanted to soak up right now. She found herself clapping the count along with everyone else.
“One hundred forty-eight.”
He switched to one handed push-ups. The crowd roared louder.
“One hundred forty-nine. One hundred-fifty.”
He reached behind to steady the waitress and jumped to his feet, easing the apron-clad lady to hers as well. With all the showmanship of his single-handed display, he wrapped an arm around the waitress’s waist, dipped her and gave her a quick kiss before setting her free. “Thank you much, Delphine.”
“No problem for you, Captain Rick. Anytime you’re in town.”
Rick. She liked that name. Solid.
However if she didn’t get her butt in gear and make a move soon, he would be gone. Nola stepped forward. And thank you, Jesus, that’s all it took.
He looked her way and his deep chocolate eyes held.
Without breaking the stare, he smiled, snagged the rest of his uniform off the back of a chair and slid his arms through, slowly buttoning up over his chest.
DeMassi was stitched over the left pocket and above that she recognized the insignia for a pararescueman. He hurtled himself out of planes. Penetrated the most hostile of territories. Anything to save a downed airman, to bring someone like her home.
Honorable to the core and darn near invincible, for sure. Even his patch proclaimed, “That Others May Live.”
He fastened the last button and started toward her. “Hello, Lieutenant Seabrook.”
“Hello to you, Captain DeMassi.”
“Do you have a first name?”
“Nola, like New Orleans.”
“Ah, classy.” He extended his broad hand toward her. “I’m–”
“Rick. I heard from your cheering section.”
“We’re all away from home, coming in from maneuvers to one of our favorite Officer’s Clubs, needing to let off some steam. They would have cheered on anybody.”
“So you say.” She folded his hand in hers, warm and strong.
More of that vitality she needed. Her imagination skipped ahead to thoughts of his hand against her skin. She didn’t need to worry about concerns of compatibility or depth. This was about the moment. She refused to let echoes of her mother’s preaching voice make her feel guilty or shallow.
Nola’s hand stayed connected to Rick’s, shaking, seesawing slower and slower, up and down like his pushups until finally she inched away with a self conscious laugh, wiping her hand against her flight suit leg. “This is awkward.”
“I want to be all collected and say something femme fatale perfect but now I’m… She started to turn, her nerve wobbling. “Forget it.”
His hand fell on her shoulder, heavy and warm sparking another jolt of that alive feeling she needed.
“Wait,” he said.
She looked back and what she saw in his eyes mirrored the sensations zipping through her like lightning traveling through an aircraft – not fatal, but hair crackling, unsettling, and oh so invigorating.
“Yes?” She meant the word as a statement as well as a question.
“How about this?” He held her with those deep eyes rather than his hands, as if sensing she needed space. Would he be this perceptive in bed? “Let’s not worry about saying the right things. We can say whatever we want, even if it’s a damn awful first date wrong thing to say.”
Date? She was thinking encounter, but okay. Breathe. His game had intriguing merit. The bar patrons kept their distance, even if they watched with half-veiled interest.
Hesitantly, she hitched her elbows back onto the bar. “You go first.”
He propped one arm beside her and leaned in to make his move, his shoulders blocking everything but him.
“I live with my parents.” He thumped his chest with his fist and belched. “Mom does my laundry.”
She burst out laughing. Settling a somber _expression, she responded, “Speaking of laundry, I just don’t get what all the hoopla is about fancy underwear.”
“Ouch. You go right for the jugular, lady.” He grabbed his head in mock agony. “All right, time for the big guns. My doc said not to worry. It’s only a cold sore.”
“Then you should be able to enjoy our meal together.” She reached for the laminated menu wedged between the condiments. “What’s the most expensive item featured?”
“I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter since I maxed out all my credit cards.”
“Fair enough, since it will soon be our money because I’m husband hunting.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Her divorce left her scathed, but good.
“Ah, good one.” He tapped his forehead, then snapped his fingers. “As long as you don’t mind going a lifetime unsatisfied in bed.”
“As long as we get to go to bed together.”
“I’m counting on it.”
She froze and so did he. They weren’t playing anymore.
He held out his hand. “Dance with me.”
And she did. Silently. Talking softly about anything, mostly seductive. For hours until the crowd thinned and the bell rang for last call. They broke apart and he extended his hand again. She knew if she took it this time they would be heading for a different kind of dance, the one she had come here searching for.
Again, her hand fit perfectly in his. A short stroll later they had walked to his room in the visiting officer’s quarters. He kicked the door closed behind him.
She didn’t even bother telling him she’d never done anything like this before. Truth or not, she didn’t want to sound trite and she didn’t intend to see him again anyway. He seemed okay with that. No guilt for either of them. She was through with words and he seemed to feel the same way.
Between kisses, their clothes fell away until only their underwear remained. Skin to skin. Her hands explored the hardened expanse of his muscles more impressive than she’d even imagined.
And her imagination had been mighty darn amazing. She’d been right to do this. This was exactly the escape she needed this weekend to take her away from the ordeal that awaited her next week.
His talented hands made fast work of the front clasp on her bra and he swept the lacy scrap down her shoulders with reverent fingers. A long, slow exhale slid from his mouth, blowing an appreciative whistle over her exposed skin. “Wow, lady, you are something to behold.”
Gulping back emotion, she lifted his hand, placed the callused warmth over her bared breast and savored the sensation as if for the last time. Which it very well could be.
Because Monday, combat veteran that she was, she began her toughest battle ever – one that started not with a mission briefing, but with a mastectomy.