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Michael and Jen's romance blossoms as well, and Jen discovers her own needs are far beyond the 'vanilla' life she had lead until now.
Join the two couples as they make this final journey together under the command of the overprotective Marine Corps generals... and see how skilled the girls have become in weaseling out of trouble ahead.
“Captain? Sorry to botheryou, but your sister is gone. Again.” Nick rubbed his head, the phone close to his ear.
“Great. What happened this time?” Michael Quimby sighed, leaning back in his chair. He had just left with Jen for the conference in San Francisco, only four days since his promotion to USMC captain.
“I reinforced your orders regarding the specimen collection and told her that she was to wait until you returned. I left for chow, and now she is nowhere in sight,” the lab manager explained nervously. “I’m sorry, Mike. I tried.”
“This isn’t your fault, Nick. We both know that she picks and chooses the rules she is going to follow. I’m sure she’s safe; otherwise I would be sensing something. She isn’t responding to her transmitter, is she?” Michael asked, tapping the device on his wrist to signal his obstinate lab partner and achieving no response.
“She isn’t answering my call either. Is Rich around?”
“Lt. Lewis is still over in engineering. I didn’t want to tell him before talking with you first.”
“Okay. I’m really not worried at this point. Please don’t say anything to the folks unless one of them asks for her. I’ll take care of it myself when I get home. Just let me know when she gets back.”
“Yes, sir. I did try.”
“Nick, you know that girl almost as well as I do. She doesn’t care about our boundaries when she is determined to do something. I promise that I will find a way to get the point across to her this time.”
“I hate seeing her in trouble, but I’m between a rock and a hard place. If she gets hurt out there�” The man sounded miserable.
“Please try not to worry. We all know that there is no place in the world safer for her to be than the open ocean. This is simply a matter of not obeying her orders, and nothing more, okay?”
“She’ll kill me if she finds out I snitched. Mike. Please�”
“I won’t say anything about this call.” Michael chuckled. “I really don’t know why you guys are so afraid of her. She would never harm any of her crew.”
“She has a bit of a temper that makes a great white on a diet look like a goldfish. And now that she can do that swirling thing with her mind, we are all a little wary of crossing her.”
“Sammi is a spoiled little brat, but she would never do anything to hurt you guys or lose your trust. Don’t be afraid of her abilities. She would never use them against any of you. Remember that Dad, Rich and I are immune to them, and if we found out that she tried anything on the crew, there would be hell to pay.”
“If you say so.” Nick sounded doubtful.
Michael rolled his eyes as he hung up the phone. Samantha had managed to disobey every last order in less than eight hours of him leaving for his meeting. You would think at eighteen years old and given her intelligence; she could follow simple instructions! Nope, not his little sister. He rubbed his neck as he dialed another number.
“It’s just me, Rich. Our brat has decided to ignore the limits I specifically gave her and took off. Would you please follow up and check on her? Please make sure you cover for Nick. He is afraid she is going to swirl him or something.”
“She wouldn’t do that to the crew. Where do you think she went off to?” Rich’s deep voice growled.
“Probably to the canyon to get those water and soil samples she’s been talking about. Save this one for me, please.”
“She deserves it from both of us. You know my feelings about this behavior. I am so tired of her putting herself into danger because she has no patience.”
“Yeah, me too, but she deliberately disobeyed my instructions this time. She’s my responsibility, buddy.”
“Very well. Should I go look for her?”
“Nah, I’m sure she’s fine. We would both know if she were in danger because of the integration. So would Dad. Plus, she has the pod to look out for her. I’m more concerned about her flagrant disregard for her chain of command.”
“Yes, but what about the terrorists who are blowing up our boats? If they find her�”
“Then she will call in every cetacean on the planet to make them into sushi. Try not to worry. Do you have any plans tonight?” Michael asked, lovingly stroking the hair of the young blonde woman who rested her face on his thigh.
“I’m going to pick her up at the unit. We were going to go out for dinner, but now�”
“Go ahead and do it. She’ll eventually begin to feel terrible if she thinks she got away with things. I know her well. That guilt will grow in leaps and bounds, especially if she doesn’t ‘fess up to you.”
“And if she does?”
“Remind her of the orders, but pretend that you don’t care. It’ll eat at her.”
“You’re cruel.” Rich chuckled. His best friend returned it.
“I learned mind games from Uncle Scott. No one knows how to play the guilt factor as well as he does. Please try to keep this from him and Dad if you can. They will be livid and the last thing either of us need are the almighty commanding generals breathing down our necks for failure to be diligent in our babysitting efforts.”
“I hear you. I don’t need either of them on my case, thank you. How’s the conference?”
“Bored shitless. I designed a new propulsion device while the house speakers droned on about issues from ten years ago. Next time, you’re going as my proxy. There are better uses for my time.”
“Gee, thanks.” Rich laughed. “Speaking of time, I have to get back to work while you are sitting back and enjoying room service. Give Jenny a hug for me.”
“Shall do. Keep me updated. And good luck.”
* * *
Rich twirled his pen in his hand, thinking about his wayward girlfriend and the endless possibilities of trouble she could find for herself. He stood at his desk, stretching his back. Michael was not the only one bored. “How’s the work going?” he asked the two engineers leaning over a tiny computer chip, magnified with a large screen microscope.
“Having some trouble with this connection. Want to try?” one of them responded, handing Rich the soldering pen. He leaned over and neatly sealed the conduit.
“You have a surgeon’s hand. You should have been a doctor.”
“That’s what Doc Quimby keeps telling me. Did you hear about our new project? He and Scott rented a hanger and we’re going to build a personal helicopter.”
“Sam’s going to like doing that.”
“No girls allowed. Men only. We just have to keep Mike and Scott on fabrication and steer them away from the power plant. You know how physicists like to try to fix things that aren’t broken.”
“Good luck with that. We have a closet full of equipment that they both managed to break over the years. Here, get this one, too.”
Rich grinned, soldering the minuscule piece in place. He patted the engineers’ shoulders and ventured over to another crewmember who was working on a computer. “Any updates on the blind dive sensor for the new transmitters?”
“It’s almost ready for testing. Who’s going to take it out?”
“I’m guessing Sam,” Rich said, eyeing the reading on the screen. “Do you gentlemen need me? If not, I’m taking the hopper across the bay and get some stuff finished up for Mike at the seal unit.”
“We’re good here. Can we close up early?” one of the crewmen asked mischievously.
Rich wrinkled his nose, and then nodded. “Yeah, go ahead. You work more than enough overtime. Find a stopping point and get out of here for the weekend.”
Rich smiled thoughtfully as he hopped in the small boat. He was immensely happy with his job, his new family and his life. Not so happy with his little Samantha, though. Why did she still insist on testing everyone? He inhaled the early September ocean air and gazed over the gray waves, wondering exactly where Sam was at that moment.
Rich considered activating his neuroband to give his recalcitrant girlfriend warning that he was on his way. The device would alert her to his presence and send her scrambling to get back before he arrived. With a chuckle, he decided that he would better serve his purpose by surprising her upon the return from her defiant quest. Steering the tiny boat across the bay to the seal unit docking area, Rich chuckled again as he imagined the expression on Sam’s face when he busted her.
Nick immediately took him aside after he entered the secured building. The lab manager tilted his head towards Sam’s private office. “She’s not here, Rich. She took off a while ago and I still haven’t heard from her. She’s not answering the transmitter, either.”
“I know. Mike told me. I am sure she’s okay. Did she bring vials with her?”
“I’m assuming she did. Ton’s gone, too.”
“The brat. Oh well. How’s everything going in here? Any problems?”
“No sir. We only have problems when Mike is here alone. You know that.” Nick snickered.
Rich nodded. “I still don’t know why you are so afraid of her. She’s a midget. Oh, speaking of which� Hello, Samantha.”
“Samantha?” Sam repeated, unaccustomed to him using her full name. She squeezed water from her dark red, hip length hair. “Okay,” she responded skeptically, “Hello back, Richard.”
“Good swim?” Rich asked, ignoring the returned formal address.
“Yep. Here, Nicky. Run these for me, please. They’re all labeled.”
“Ma’am? Um, is this right?” Nick asked, handing a vial back and receiving a nod.
Rich frowned, taking it from her. “700? Like in 700 feet?”
Sam did not respond. The look on Rich’s face spelled trouble, and keeping her retorts under control was her only hope. “Try not to expose them to UV light until after you run the panels, and keep them contained in the temperatures listed. I don’t want anything in there to deteriorate.”
“Yes, ma’am I’ll run them immediately,” Nick said quietly, looking at the other bottles in the basket. His eyes widened as his mouth fell open, reading the label that indicated that the amazing girl had touched the canyon’s bottom at 1000 feet! Nick straightened his expression and scurried away before Rich caught on.
* * *
“What are you doing here so early?” Sam asked pleasantly as Rich followed her into her office and closed her door. She drew the shades to change, ignoring the fire in her boyfriend’s eyes. Even without the neuroband, her unusual bond to him indicated that he was pissed. She could sense images of whirlpools and massive waves in the back of her mind, which was the cetacean’s way of communicating anger.
“Sam? Didn’t Mike tell you not to take those samples unsupervised? You have never gone down that deep.”
“Rich,” she returned in the same condescending tone, leveling her eyes at him, “Did you sense any danger? Did Daddy or Michael pick up anything and call you? No? This integration would alert you if I was ever in danger and you need to trust it. I told you I would be fine and you need to stop worrying. Michael is aware that I was going to gather these samples and had stated that he needed them a.s.a.p.” Sam casually informed him while stripping off her wetsuit and standing before him unashamedly naked with her hands on slender, curved hips.
He shook his head, clearing his mind of the image of her perfect, tanned body. Focus. “No, I did not sense anything. That’s regardless. What are you going to tell Mike and your father? You know their feelings about taking the canyon dives without supervision. Especially with those jerks that have been turning our ships into marshmallow roasts. These guys have attached bombs to over six vessels so far and�”
“Honey, how many times do I have to tell you that there is no safer place for me than in the ocean? I have thousands of eyes watching out for me out there. Those terrorists have no chance to sneak up on me. As for Daddy and Michael, they are fine with this. Because of the integration through the cetaceans they, like you, would know if anything happened to me. Plus, the pods promised Daddy that I would always be safe and under their care. Don’t you remember him telling you that after they took him in and named him my bull?”
“Still, Sam, I don’t like this running off. It makes us worry.”
“I swear, darling, you are starting to sound like them. Please stop. It really is annoying. I cannot drown, I have no natural predators out there, and I am completely unaffected by the depths and the temperature. You would have to take a sub down to supervise me, which would defeat the purpose of my taking the samples. All of you need to let it go already.”
Rich stared dumbfounded at her as she pulled on her dry clothes. She was so nonchalant about her disobedience; pretending she was given authorization! She didn’t exactly lie to him, however, but she certainly evaded the issue and used her logic to justify her actions. Remembering Michael’s words, he shrugged. “Sorry. As long as you’re safe, that is all I care about. Do you still want to go out for dinner?”
Sam frowned at Rich’s sudden change of subject. “Of course, why wouldn’t I?” She raised her eyebrow and looked at him suspiciously. “Rich? What is going on in your mind? This isn’t like you to give up a bone so easily.”
“I’m fine. You wanted me to lay off, and I am honoring your request. Is that a problem?”
“No, but like I said, you usually don’t just drop something like this so easily. I was anticipating at least another half hour of your lectures.” Sam shrugged, watching his body language out of the corner of her eye.
Rich stood up to kiss her. “It’s not my orders you disobeyed, it was Mike’s. As I said, all that matters is that you are safe. Gimme sugar,” he demanded, grazing his lips against hers.
“I didn’t disobey anything. I told you, I was allowed to go,” Sam blatantly lied as she returned his passion and melted in his arms. Wrapping her hands around the back of his neck to draw his lips closer to hers, she activated the neuroband worn around his throat. Her heart quickened as a strong image of a whirlpool spinning violently in the center of a large body of water flooded her mind through the electronic impulses of the device. She had sensed it before, but then there was nothing disguised. His fury was vivid, and she suspected it was because he knew she had lied to him. Sam bit her lip, resting her cheek against his muscular shoulder as he held her snugly in his strong arms. She drew back, willing herself to stay calm.
“There’s something you need to know about the integration, Rich. You can’t deceive with it. Even if you were not wearing the neuroband, I can still feel you in the back of my mind. You’re angry. Why?” she asked innocently.
“Angry? Why would I be angry if you cleared this with Mike and your dad? Their decision supersedes mine and I will respect it. I was just very concerned, that’s all. It is difficult to keep my mind calm and relaxed when I am worried about you. You know that, baby,” Rich insisted, pressing his mind to deflect his emotions. Slowly the image calmed, the whirlpool easing until the only image left was peaceful waters, and then disappeared.
Sam frowned. “How do you control yourself like that?”
“What do you mean?”
“You just willed the image to change and then vanish. You completely cleared the mental path I was receiving from your band. How did you do that?”
“I told you I wasn’t angry and I’m not,” Rich commented. It was clear that Sam was not convinced, so he changed the subject. “What would you like for dinner?”
“You.” She kissed his lips and gazed up at him through long, sooty lashes, her grey-blue eyes gazing lustily into his emerald green ones. “I don’t like seeing the whirlpool coming from you.”
�He looked back down at her tiny frame, musing over the fourteen-inch difference in height. “Better a whirlpool than a tidal wave, right? Do you realize that your smile touches my heart? Literally?” he asked, her cheek on his chest. “Well? Dinner? I am starving.”
“Let’s ask Storm what she wants. She’s coming with us.”
“Yes, I know.” Rich sighed patiently. He had grown accustomed to Sam’s insistence on including her animal family in almost everything they did. “Is she with the whale?”
“She’s always with the whale. She loves that silly fish.” Sam chuckled, leading the way to the tank. The three-month-old puppy laid on the edge of the dock, wagging her tail as Ton swam by her, spraying her from his blowhole. She jumped up to catch the water and then plopped back down for his next round.
“Storm? What would you like for dinner?” Sam asked, sitting next to the wolf hybrid, her bare feet dangling over the side to rub Ton’s back as he swam by. Sam imaged different foods with no response, sighing impatiently as the pup ignored her attempt to communicate. Dogs were scent driven. How did one relay the thought of a scent, especially when the very cetaceans teaching her the mental integration techniques did not have a sense of smell that she could relate to?
“I’m not getting anywhere. No seafood, though. Please,” Sam said to Rich.
“How about some steak?”
Sam nodded eagerly. “I like my meat. I like yours, too, so maybe for desert�”
“Not when we have the puppy with us. She gets too nervous and whines.”
“Nope. Since it’s our turn to babysit, then we must act responsibly,” Rich said with a serious note. “Where is her K-9 vest?”
“In my office. I’m so glad Daddy got her for me, even though it was his sneaky attempt to teach me responsibility. She is so spoiled, you know,” Sam said, rubbing the fat, pink tummy of the cub with love. “She always has one of us with her, gets to go everywhere, and Uncle Scott lets her do anything she wants. He’s the worse of all of us.”
“Yeah, I know. Jen thinks that he just needs to have a baby around. Your uncle has not appreciated the fact that you and Mike decided to grow up on him.”
“He never spoiled us like he does this dog,” Sam scoffed. “Let’s go to Old Town for Mexican and walk around. There will be lots of people, and the exposure is good for her.”
Rich agreed, knowing that Sam had wisely chosen a loud and jovial environment to prevent the engagement in any intimate discussions. Brat, he mused.
Sam announced she was closing the lab early and received numerous grins from her crew as they both thanked her for the time off and teased her about her eagerness to be alone with the handsome engineer. Rich shook his head with a chuckle as the men scurried from the building as quickly as possible. “That dog isn’t the only one who is spoiled around here.”
Sam shrugged. “They work hard. Are you almost done with that project Daddy asked for?”
“Not yet. I am running the location coordinates of the hostile sub through the system right now. Hopefully, we are close to finding its headquarters.”
“That would be good. Maybe you boys will stop worrying so much. Just remember that even though it’s a big ocean, that vessel has to have access to resources. There also has to be a common thread. The attacks on both personal and professional vessels have been too erratic and makes me suspect they are distractions from what is really happening out there. Let me know if you need help.”
“Thanks, I will. Did you finish all the sampling today? If not, I can act as standby so you can finish it tomorrow,” he asked with indifference.
Sam caught her breath, choosing her words carefully. “No, not yet. It’s a lateral sweep in the lower canyon and I should get some help with that. It’s too dark for me to see anything, even with a light.”
“Like I said, I could help you. I can maneuver the sub to give you spotlighting.”
“I shouldn’t go that deep just yet. I can wait until Mike returns,” Sam said stiffly.
Rich frowned. What was she up to? “Oh, okay,” he said pleasantly. “I’ll be done here in ten minutes.”
Sam nodded, avoiding eye contact as she combed out her long hair. Guilt was starting to claw at her stomach. She had never lied outright to Rich, except for that one time when she had been on special assignment. Raised in an honest and straightforward home by her father and uncle, the importance of honor had been stressed throughout her entire life. She was disgusted with her deception, which only served the purpose of temporary self-preservation.
She considered her situation as the waiter seated them and took their order. It was only a matter of time before everyone discovered the truth. She knew she had to come clean, but she so enjoyed being able to sit comfortably!
“Having fun?” Rich asked sweetly, interrupting her thoughts.
“Yes, thank you. Storm’s a happy puppy. She got chicken.” Sam avoided his eyes, leaning to the side to pet the pup that lay quietly at her feet.
“How about you? You barely touched your dinner. I thought you were hungry, baby,” Rich asked, munching on a tortilla chip. “Are you feeling okay? Usually you scarf down the carne asada like it was your last meal. Are you getting sick?”
�Sam swallowed heavily. He knew! Damn. “I’m fine. I had a big lunch.” She forced a smile, taking a small bite.
Rich feigned a look of confusion. “No, you didn’t. Remember? You said you wanted to save room for tonight. If you aren’t sick, that means you have something on your mind.” He reached for her hands, gazing at her with sparkling emerald green eyes. “I love you and I worry.”
“Don’t worry. I� oh hell, Rich, I lied to you. I’m sorry,” Sam admitted grumpily.
Rich raised an eyebrow, “You did? About what, baby?”
“Oh, come on. You know I lied. You and Michael can always tell when I’m hiding something,” Sam said crankily. “I didn’t have permission to dive. In fact, Michael specifically forbade it. I also went way deeper than what you saw.”
Rich frowned in earnest this time. “How deep, Sam?”
“One thousand,” Sam whispered, hanging her head and tensing for the explosion.
�Rich’s face reddened under his dark tan as his eyes glowed with rage. He forced himself to take in a deep breath. “One thousand feet? You touched the bottom of Scripps Canyon?” She nodded, still staring at her hands wringing in her lap as Rich’s penetrating glare pierced through her. “Look at me, Samantha.”
“I don’t want to.”
“I did not ask,” he growled. Slowly, she lifted her face to watch him lean towards her. “Call your father right now and tell him what you did.”
“Oh my God, no. Rich, please don’t make me tell him. Please,” she begged, true fear in her eyes. “This is send him over the edge. It will kill him!”
“Your dad has a very strong constitution. Do it. Now,” Rich ordered. After attempting a pleading look, and seeing his finger point to the cell phone, Sam sighed in resignation. Her hand visibly trembled as she dialed her father’s number, her eyes not leaving Rich’s face for a moment. His anger was nothing short of volcanic.
“He’s not picking up,” Sam said, hanging up.
“Then call Scott.”
“Rich, they’re at the O’ club tonight. Neither will hear the phone and this is not an emergency to have them paged.� This can wait for later. I’m so sorry. Please believe me.”
“Call Michael. Now.”
Biting her lip, Sam obeyed. She held her breath as her brother answered the line. “Hey, princess, what’s up?”
“I miss you,” she whimpered.
“You miss me? That only means one thing. You are in some sort of trouble and need my help rescuing your little butt. What did you do this time?” he asked, leaning back on the bed and pulling Jen to his broad chest.
“I disobeyed you.” Her voice was tiny and contrite.
“That is not a new event. What did you do?” His voice was calm, not suspecting the depth of her disobedience.
“Please don’t be mad. I’m fine and I knew what I was doing!”
“Out with it, Samantha. What did you do?” her brother asked patiently.
“I got the samples alone, Mike. I wanted to get the study ready for you when you got back.”
“I suspected you would do that, so I am not a bit surprised. This could have waited until I returned to tell me. It’s not that big of a deal.”
“Rich made me call. I, um� Here, he wants to speak to you.”
“Mike, it isn’t about the dive. She touched bottom,” Rich said gravely, his frown deepening as he surveyed his anxious dinner partner.
“Yeah, I know.”
“No, you don’t. I’m not talking about the drop down La Jolla canyon. I’m talking about Scripps.”