A Book By Its Cover
A/N: Wow, I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to offer their support and encouragement with this story. It made writing for the fandom fun. I'm sorry it took so long to get it all finished, but thanks to those of you who stuck with it. Also, I know I made a big continuity error early on in the story, and when I get a chance, I'll go back and fix it.
Finally, a hearty thank you to VR Trakowski for all her help.
Disclaimer: I've run out of them.
On the last night of their leave, Lady Jaye was packing when Flint moved behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist and running his lips along her shoulder. Pushing aside the strap of her camisole, he paused and looked up at her quizzically, and she smiled in response.
She had to give Flint credit; for all his hounding her for sex in the past, he wasn't being aggressive – well, too aggressive – now that she was willing. He just let her know when he was ready, leaving the decision of when to sleep together up to her.
Of course, he was turning out to be as horny as the brass section of the Boston Pops, so it was pretty much a constant state of letting her know he was ready, but he wasn't pressuring her, and that made all the difference.
Not that she minded indulging him – it was the most enjoyable vacation she'd had since joining the military. And it wasn't just the physical aspect of it. The weather had turned dreary, so they'd spent most of the last two days inside the hotel suite, but the isolation had never grown boring.
And while the sex had been wonderful, she wasn't sure her plan to relieve the tension between them had worked out that well. If anything, she wanted him more now; Flint had proven to be a delight to be with – charming, polite and witty – and, so far, he'd managed to refrain from pointing out that he had told her so multiple times in the past.
She'd given up any pretense that she wasn't falling for the big goofball, especially after learning he'd planned the mission to retrieve her body. He hadn't mentioned it again, in fact, he'd been extra jaunty the next morning, going out of his way to keep things on a light note. She never figured out if he was being so cheerful for her benefit or his own, but his reaction touched her deeply.
Lady Jaye kept her expectations grounded, though. For all his concern, he'd kept his emotional distance, leaving her still questioning just what exactly he wanted from their relationship. Turning around, she rested her arms around his neck, regarding him warmly. She'd deal with the emotional consequences later; for now, she was going to make the most of the situation, and ensure that he enjoyed whatever time they had together as well.
"I figured we'd turn in early tonight," she told him, smiling at his wolfish grin.
"Sounds good to me."
When he started necking her, she playfully pushed him away. "After dinner."
Chuckling into her skin, he stopped his kisses and pulled back with a smirk, fingering the strap of her camisole. "Silk?"
"You have expensive tastes."
"I have good taste," she corrected softly.
Flint raised an eyebrow in challenge, holding out his hands to indicate the suite. "Expensive. Even your half of this is going to be high."
"What do you mean 'my half?' You're my guest," Jaye said, smiling at him. "I don't expect you pay anything."
"I can't let you pay for this by yourself."
"Rein in your ego, Dash, a woman is treating you," she teased.
"It doesn't have anything to do with my ego, and I don't have any troubles with a woman paying for something," he said, pulling her closer. "But this is too much."
"No, it's not. Besides, I owe you."
For a fleeting moment, she thought a look of pain crossed his eyes. "Is that why you're doing this? Because you think you have to pay me back for that mission?"
"It's not why I'm sleeping with you," she told him, refusing to hope that his reaction went beyond wounded pride. "But it's part of the reason why I did it in such a nice location. I wanted to spend the time with you, and I enjoy a bit of luxury on occasion," she added when he didn't seem convinced.
"A bit?" he snorted.
Lady Jaye leaned up to rub her cheek against his and then moved to gently nibble his earlobe. "If it bothers you that much, you can take me out for dinner tonight. Of course, that means we won't turn in as early," she whispered as she pressed against him.
Flint let out a low groan and drew her tight against his body. "You definitely have an evil streak, do you know that?"
"Of course. I worked hard to perfect it," she said, taking his hand and leading him toward the bed. "I guess we'll call room service later."
Early the next morning, they finished their packing and walked hand-in-hand to the elevator. Once inside, he rubbed the back of his head and gave her a sheepish look. "There were some errands I wanted to run before heading back to base, but I got distracted earlier. Are you okay to get back by yourself?"
She hid her surprise and answered simply, "I think I can find my way."
They settled into an awkward silence, but once in the lobby, he followed her as she went to the front desk. Flint made a strangled grunt when he noticed the total on the bill while she was signing for it.
"I'll write you a check for my half when we get back to base," he said. "I'll have to postdate it until next payday."
"We're not going over this again, are we, Dash? You're my guest," she said, putting her hand on his chest when he started to complain. "Do you remember me telling you I got extra spending money from my investments? It's more than our combined salaries."
He blinked slowly. "The investments?"
"What I earn from the investments," Lady Jaye said, privately glad she hadn't told him just how much more when he gaped at her.
"Oh," he said, recovering quickly. "Still…"
Rolling her shoulders, she went in for the kill. "I don't know that I'll even be billed. My mother's family owns the controlling share in the hotel. It's been a long time since I stayed, so they may just comp my bill."
Flint goggled at her as they walked across the lobby. "Isn't this part of a chain of hotels across the US?"
"North America and Europe."
"Oh," he repeated, quiet again for a moment. It was clear he was working out the implications of her admission, and she had no doubt that he now had some inkling about the extent of her family's wealth.
"Don't think about asking me why I joined the military," she said, anticipating the question everyone always seemed to ask when finding out about her financial situation.
"I think it's great. You're doing something to help others, and you don't even need to work. There're probably not too many people who'd pick something so difficult," he said, sounding sincere. "So, the 'Lady' in your codename…"
"Someone at the Pentagon thinks he has a sense of humor," she said shortly.
His lips twitched as he nodded to the doorman to hail her a cab. "That's never a good thing."
"No, it's not," she agreed. "Will you stop worrying about the bill now?"
"Damn," he swore, letting out a long huff of breath. "I feel cheap for just getting Chinese for lunch."
"Why?" she asked sincerely, giving him a warm smile. "I love Chinese. It's always a good choice as far as I'm concerned."
He gave a half-hearted shrug. "Still, I wish you would have let me take you out for a nice dinner. Not that it would have come close to that," he said in an awestruck voice.
Lady Jaye resisted the urge to point out she'd be free on other nights, instead giving him a parting peck on the cheek. "I had a good time. I'm glad you stayed. If you ever need someone to talk to, grab me a cup of coffee and I'll be there for you."
Flint cocked his head, watching her curiously as he helped her into a cab. "I'll remember that," he said, and she wasn't sure if he was amused or disappointed.
Once back at base, she quickly checked in with Beach Head to schedule a time to develop an exercise regime to follow until she was cleared for regular PT, dropped off her things and changed into her BDUs, and settled in for an early breakfast. She was reviewing the situation reports from the previous days to see what had happened while she was gone when the others started arriving in the mess hall.
Scarlett sat down across the table from her, looking refreshed and recharged.
"I'm going to guess you and Snakes had a good leave."
"Hmm, we got in some great sword work."
"Somehow, I don't think that's an euphemism you're using," Lady Jaye chuckled.
"Oh, there was some of that, too," Scarlett admitted as a blush climbed up her cheeks. "What about you? Did you catch up on your sleep?"
"I spent plenty of time in bed," she answered with a straight face, setting down her mug and turning serious. "I understand you guys went looking to bring my body back. Thanks."
"I don't want to make a habit of that," the redhead stated firmly before giving her a friendly smile.
They were joking lightly when a sudden ruckus caused them to look up. Flint had entered the mess hall and was the center of attention. If there was one area where the macho nature of the military remained blatantly obvious, it was sex. Flint wasn't exactly strutting, but he wore a smirk that was so self-satisfied, a neon sign flashing "I got lucky" would have been less obvious, and the guys were grilling him for details.
Jaye watched him for a moment, silently swearing when she noticed a bite mark on his neck was clearly visible. She didn't have any regrets about sleeping with him, nor was she ashamed about it, but she never considered that their romp was going to be the fodder for the team gossip mill before breakfast was even over.
"Looks like he had fun," Scarlett noted.
Any unsettled feelings Lady Jaye had were worth it in exchange for watching her friend's rapidly morphing expression. Scarlett stared at her for moment before snapping her head toward Flint and back repeatedly. Suspicion, then doubt crossed the redhead's features, quickly replaced by disbelief and finally settling into something that resembled amused horror.
Jaye confirmed her suspicions with a gentle roll of her shoulders.
After a beat, Scarlett narrowed her eyes, leaning forward to speak in a low voice. "Just how drunk did he get you?"
"He didn't." She gave a half-smile. "It was my idea."
"Did you tell the doctors that you hit your head during the riot?"
Lady Jaye set down her coffee mug and let out a sigh. "The tension between us was getting … distracting. It was either sleep with Flint or kill him, and that seemed so déclassé after all the trouble you guys went to saving my life," she said nonchalantly.
Scarlett watched her carefully, and Jaye wondered if her perceptive friend was buying her response. "You don't need to thank Snake Eyes and me the same way," the martial artist finally said dryly.
"Damn, now I'll have to think of something else," she deadpanned so realistically that Scarlett did a quick double-take.
"You're scary," she muttered good-naturedly, pausing indecisively for a moment before asking, "Did your plan work?"
"I don't know. I may have created a monster," Lady Jaye said.
Scarlett glanced back at Flint briefly before picking up her coffee mug. "We don't have any pitchforks, but I'm sure Snakes and I can find something suitably pointy if you'll handle the torches."
She stared her friend for a moment, uncertain if she was joking or not. Turning towards Flint, a small smile formed as she finally paid attention to the conversation going on around him. He was clearly enjoying the attention, and he was entirely too smug, but the knucklehead was actually being somewhat tactful. "I don't think that's going to be necessary."
"Hey, Flint, you didn't hang around for the football game!" Shipwreck called out as the warrant officer tried to navigate his way through the line.
"It was too nice to stay cooped up with you guys."
"But you never came back to base," the sailor continued in a lewd tone.
"They call it 'leave' for a reason – you're supposed to go away."
"Do you have a number for me?" Ace asked from across the room.
"Do I look like the Yellow Pages?"
"Well, I'll be damned. He really is a gentleman," Scarlett said, making no attempt to hide her disbelief. Setting down her mug, she bobbed her head. "Or he's smart enough not to say anything where you'd overhear him."
Jaye chuckled, raising her mug in agreement. "Good point."
After watching more of Flint's evasive answers, Scarlett gave her a reserved look. "It's your life. So, how did you train him so well in such a short time?"
"I didn't have to," she said, suddenly apprehensive when the redhead broke out in a wide grin.
"Good morning, ladies," Gung Ho said as he settled into the chair next to Lady Jaye, sliding it closer to her side so their arms were touching.
"Morning," Scarlett said as she grinned in anticipation.
"Morning," Jaye said, giving the martial artist a warning glare and leaning away from the crowding Cajun.
A sudden round of laughter caused all three of them to look in Flint's direction, and Gung Ho grunted as he demolished a slice of toast.
"Some ego he has, eh? You should have seen in him in the locker room after PT. He was walking around with his shirt off so everyone could see the scratches and bites. He found him some hellcat, that's for sure."
"A hellcat? I really didn't need to know that," Scarlett mumbled as she closed her eyes, and Jaye kept her expression neutral; she didn't think she'd been that bad.
"Remember how stories get blown out of proportion around here," Lady Jaye signed clandestinely, flashing her an innocent smile when Scarlett tilted her head doubtfully.
Unaware of their conversation, Gung Ho shrugged as he started shoveling eggs into his mouth and resting his free arm across the back of Lady Jaye's chair. "Some guys, they gotta brag. Makes you wonder what they're hiding. A confident man doesn't need to do that, he'll treat a lady right."
"Is that so?" Scarlett said, ignoring Jaye's intensified glare. "And I guess you're the type of guy how knows how to treat a gal?"
"I never had no complaints," he said, nodding to Flint when he walked over to their table.
"Move it," the warrant officer told him.
"Sit over there. You had fun with your catin, why can't you let someone else have a shot?" Gung Ho joked, pointing to the empty seat beside Scarlett and smiling at Lady Jaye.
"Because she's mine," Flint answered shortly, and silence spread out around the mess hall as people turned to stare.
Lady Jaye wasn't sure which of them she planned on killing first, but she gave Scarlett a pointed look before turning to the burly Marine who was sitting with his mouth open. "I don't bite or scratch in public," she said sweetly.
It was the only time she'd ever seen the Cajun look embarrassed, and Gung Ho choked down his food hurriedly and picked up his tray. "Mo chagren."
A quick scan around the room showed almost everyone watching them, and she found their expressions somewhat amusing; almost all the guys looked like they had heard someone talking dirty about their sister, all the while trying to act like they hadn't taken part in the conversation.
Ignoring Scarlett's poor attempts not to laugh, she faced Flint. His possessiveness was not an endearing quality, but she was more staggered by his complete lack of discretion. True, subtle wasn't his style, but she never expected the big oaf to announce to the entire team that …
That they were together.
"So, you're his catin?" the redhead teased, bringing Lady Jaye's attention back to the conversation.
Flint flashed his lopsided grin as he sat down. "I think so. I'm not sure what it means."
"It damn well better mean something different in Cajun than it does in French," Jaye finally growled, deciding they'd have a little chat about his jealousy later. At least the others had stopped staring at them, although she had no doubt they were the subject of the various whispered conversations.
He smiled at her as he handed her a glass of milk. "Have you checked in with Doc yet?"
"I have an appointment later this morning. It shouldn't be too long before I'm cleared," she said, declining his offer of toast; it was hard to stay mad at the lug-head when he was being so kind.
"Hawk has some sort of project for you until you're back on regular duty," he said, turning to Scarlett and asking about her leave.
Lady Jaye ignored both Scarlett's amused looks and Flint's smug attitude as they chatted, returning to scanning the reports. A sudden silence caused them to look up, and they spotted Duke making a beeline to them. The guys at the nearby tables shifted nervously; they'd been surprised by Flint's admission, and everyone knew they were violating frat regulations, but it seemed no one wanted them to get into trouble.
"Well, there's our little half-drowned swamp rat," Duke said as he leaned against the table beside Flint.
"That doesn't exactly roll off the tongue," Scarlett quipped. "Maybe we should just start calling her 'Rat.'"
"People'll confuse me with Tunnel Rat," she shot back.
"Not likely," Flint said, and the martial artist rolled her eyes at his obvious sexual undertone.
The top sergeant proceeded to ask Jaye some questions about how she was feeling, and gradually the others returned to their conversations when it was clear the pair weren't in trouble.
"When you get done with Doc, come over to the office. We have some training spots available, and we need you to compile a list of people who qualify. Then Hawk wants a report on the mission team assignments with recommendations for better allocation of personnel."
"Ah, the real reason I made the team," Lady Jaye joked. "You needed a glorified secretary."
"Well, one who knows how to handle things covertly," he said, whacking the back of Flint's head with a manila folder. "That's something you should get her to teach you."
Scarlett let out a humorous snort. "Good luck with that."
"Don't worry about it," Flint laughed as he straightened his beret.
"Hey, if you want to ruin your career, that's your business, but when it affects one of the enlisted members, it's my job to worry about it," Duke said, turning serious. "Hawk has enough to deal with without having to worry about what two of his soldiers are doing in their free time. Plausible deniability only goes so far; if he has to know, you'll both wish you were still stuck in that bog."
"I told you it's not going to be a problem. The only people here are on the team, and none of them are going to raise a stink over us. If anyone outside the team ever finds out and has a problem with it, then I'll take responsibility," he answered just as soberly, ignoring the numerous impressed and approving looks directed his way.
"So, did you get some rest on your leave?" Duke finally asked her.
Lady Jaye smiled to herself; Flint was going to be insufferable later, but he was being so conscientious and polite. It was the least she could do for him. "I hardly got out of bed at all the past four days," she said, her tone making it clear she wasn't talking about sleep.
Her voice carried to the neighboring tables, and a fresh round of gossip quickly made its way across the mess hall. Flint's chest swelled as he faced Duke, grinning proudly. The top sergeant let out a grunt and got off the table to leave.
Scarlett winced as she set her coffee mug down. "I didn't need details," she said, waving her hands. "I don't want details. I'm going to go find Snakes and beat some mental images out of my mind."
It didn't take her long to find the mute ninja, and she quickly yanked his arm to pull him out of the mess hall. From the way her shoulders moved, Jaye guessed she was signing what had happened to Snake Eyes, and he turned around once to stare at her before being led out of the room.
While they were alone at the table, too many people came over to make some sort of joke, and Jaye went back to reading the reports. After Flint finished breakfast, he escorted her across base to the infirmary, and she finally gazed at him when they were alone.
"I told you I wasn't looking for a one-night stand," he said with a grin.
"I'm yours?" she repeated meaningfully, but he just shrugged.
"I didn't want Gung Ho bothering you."
"He wasn't bothering me," she said, realizing his jealousy was going to be an on-going battle. Rolling her shoulders, she turned to him inquiringly. "Did you get all your errands run?"
"Yeah," he said, digging in the cargo pocket of his BDUs and pulling out a paper bag. "I got these for you."
She took the bag with a curious look, smiling when she pulled out a small stack of paperback novels.
"I wasn't sure what type of book you like, so I picked up a selection. Not that the PX had a lot of choices," he said. "When you're done, we can grab some coffee and discuss them if you want."
"Oh, I want," she said mischievously.
He chuckled for a moment before pausing near the motor pool. "I have to run down to McGuire to pick up a shipment of captured Cobra weapons. I'm not sure I'll be back in time for dinner."
"Don't worry about it," she told him. "I do understand the demands of the job."
"Well, I'll definitely be back in time for our mission tonight."
"Our mission?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.
"We need to reconnoiter," Flint said jokingly. "Given Scarlett's reaction, I don't think she'd appreciate our, uh, 'meeting' in the women's barracks."
"Not likely," she agreed. "Are you thinking about the storage building?"
"No, too many people use that. I have some ideas, though."
They were interrupted by Crankcase yelling, "You're the man!" from inside the Mauler, causing Cover Girl to look up from her tank. Spotting them, her grin was clear as she started climbing down.
"Oh, I think I'm going to be interrogated later," Lady Jaye laughed.
Flint gave her a questioning look. "You didn't have to say anything back there. I know you think I brag too much, but I don't, not that way, I mean I wouldn't about you."
"I guess it won't kill me to boost your ego on occasion," she said, her lips turning up slightly. "And you were being so polite."
"Hey," he said, turning to face her and taking her hand. "I promised that you wouldn't regret hooking up with me. I keep my promises. Damn, I gotta run. I'll see you tonight."
"Bye," she said quietly.
Flint gave her a parting wave and jogged over to join the rest of his team by the jeeps. Heading over to the infirmary, a slow smiled formed. Maybe, just maybe, they had some sort of future after all.
A/N II: Catin means 'sweetheart' in Cajun, but it's closer to 'whore' in the original French. Mo chagren means 'I'm sorry.'