What a night. I've had some disappointments in my life, some really low moments, but they've been mostly career-related – and short-lived. But tonight, for the first time, I know what it's like to be truly frustrated in my personal life. I've always handled my affairs on my own terms, and I've been successful. I've dated the men I wanted to, ended relationships when they no longer suited me, and ultimately married the man I chose. The only man who's ever stood between me and my desires is Harm, and I'm furious at him for sending his wife after me tonight. Those ten minutes with Colonel Sarah MacKenzie Rabb have got to be the most mortifying, humiliating minutes of my entire life.
For a moment, I relive the pure, cold fury I felt when she confronted me. How dare she? I'll ruin her career – I have the ear of the CNO, doesn't she realize that? I have considerable influence among the top military brass. They like me, they trust me, they confide in me, the less scrupulous ones among them even call me when they need someone to help clean up their messes. A few of them actually owe me – and if I choose to collect, they won't even hesitate. How dare she confront me like that?
A couple of years ago, I overheard the Assistant Marine Corps Commandant talking to one of his colleagues about MacKenzie Rabb. He said she was 'an excellent Marine, tough as nails and always exceptionally dedicated to the mission. She could even have ended her career with a star on her shoulder if she had followed the track mapped out for her. Instead, at a pivotal moment, she chose a position at the Naval Academy that she was basically over-qualified for'.
Sitting here now, in the privacy of my bedroom, I recall Harm's surprisingly favorable disposition towards the idea of retirement during our ill-fated coffee date… maybe he plans to bow out so that they can put some serious heat under the Colonel's career. I'll make sure that doesn't happen, and it won't even be a challenge. Then I take a deep breath, remembering that the woman has evidence that she swears she'll use against me. She's smart, there's no doubt about that, and I'd be a fool to underestimate her. I'll have to tread carefully. What a wimp Harm's turned out to be, hiding behind his wife's dress skirts. Why do I still want him?
When I first worked with him all those years ago, the attraction I felt toward him was instant. He was gorgeous, intelligent, charming, confident and all kinds of sexy. He had a charisma that was both stirring and engaging. And he was JAG's golden boy. I knew instantly that if I could get him where I wanted him, I could quite easily kill two birds with one stone – I could advance my career goals and have a very pleasurable affair on the side. But he consistently shunned my advances, in ways that I have to admit hurt my pride.
Yes, he had "principles" and an inconveniently rigid code of honor, and of course I knew the rules, but I also knew, as he undoubtedly did, that people break the rules all the time and get away with it, if they're smart. Truth be told, I wasn't exactly sorry when our working relationship ended. I was getting tired of licking my wounds after each ego-bruising encounter with Harm. Sure, he almost always let me down gently, and never deliberately tried to hurt my pride – but somehow, that just made it worse. He didn't find me unattractive, I could tell... so why didn't he want me? Why didn't he ever let his guard down when I was around? For the first time in my life, I had come across a man who could challenge my confidence as a woman capable of attracting a man; and it was... uncomfortable. It made me feel vulnerable – and I hate feeling vulnerable.
I followed his career over the years. I was secretly gleeful when he stumbled, and chagrined when he inevitably bounced back. The one thing I've never been where Harm is concerned is indifferent – I've always cared what was going on with Harm; I've always wanted to know. And finally I had to admit the truth to myself – I still wanted him as much as ever; I still had to have him. And if he'd been able to resist me back then, when I was younger and more vulnerable, I didn't think he had a chance in hell of withstanding the woman I've become. Not to toot my own horn, but I still look as good as I ever did – I take good care of my body, and it's paid off. And of course over the years I've mellowed, learned new things, become much more experienced and self-aware.
I was shocked when he turned me down without a moment's hesitation. You see, I thought that over the years he would have changed too. I thought he would have become less idealistic, more practical, more... self-aware, like me. I thought he would finally have learned that you really can have everything you want if you play your cards right. I didn't understand why he turned me down, and why he's rejected or ignored all my messages since then.
Tonight I do. I finally get it. He is in love with his wife. He wants her, not me. As she faced me down tonight, every inch of her seemed to radiate, to speak volumes of her peaceful confidence in their relationship. And looking at her tonight, I finally understood... She and I are as different as chalk and cheese. If that's what he wants – that quiet steeliness, that… earthiness, that... for want of a better word, goodness... if he wants all these things that she is and I can never be, then he's never going to want me. I'll just have to find a way to live with that.
I can't believe I was planning to surprise him on his birthday... it would never have worked. He just doesn't want me. Now I have to remind myself of all the things I do have – a great career; a generous, caring companion in Frank; all the creature comforts I could ever want... So one man doesn't want me. So what?
I stiffen my shoulders and sit at my vanity to take off my make-up, ignoring the harsh burn of unshed tears behind my eyes. It's just tiredness, I tell myself. It's been a long night, and I'm absolutely exhausted. My phone rings... it's Frank. I sigh. I don't really want to talk tonight, but we haven't spoken all day.
'Hey baby,' he says, in that drawl that grates on my nerves sometimes.
'How are you doing? How was the ball tonight?'
'It was good. The CNO had a good evening, I think everyone did.'
'Did I what?'
'Have a good time? Because you sure don't sound like you did.'
A pause. 'I did. I'm just... I'm just a little tired. But enough about me... how are you doing?'
'I'm concerned about you, Alison,' he says softly. 'I've been concerned for a long time.'
'Why?' I ask, striving for brightness. 'Everything's great, at work and at home... I couldn't be happier.'
When he responds, there's a touch of anger in Frank's voice. 'Don't lie to me, Alison. You haven't been happy in a long time.'
'That's not true, Frank.'
His voice gentles again. 'It wasn't true when we first married, but in the last year or so, things have changed. I don't want to get into this on the phone, but when I come home, we need to talk.'
'We need to figure out what's gone wrong, and we have to make it right. I'm in this for the long haul, baby, you know that. When we got married, I told you this would be my last marriage. I'm getting old, and I'm not interested in the drama of a failed relationship. I need stability, predictability.'
'You know that's what I want too, Frank.
'You say that, but your heart hasn't been in it for a while. I think I deserve to know why. I'll admit it, I have my suspicions... is there someone else?'
'Frank! How could you even –'
'I apologize if it's just my insecurity speaking, but you're a very attractive woman, and I've seen the way men look at you…. But as I said, we'll talk when I come home. Just remember that we need to make this work. As you Navy folk like to say, "Don't give up the ship". What we have is special, Alison, and worth fighting for. We promised to stick with each other until the end, let's not forget that. Good night, sweetheart.'
After I disconnect the line, I toss the phone across the room. It bounces on the plush carpet harmlessly. I could scream in sheer frustration. That phone call only served to re-emphasize everything wrong with my life. I'm trapped in an unexciting, unfulfilling marriage to man I don't love, a man I could never go to bat for the way Harm's wife did for him tonight. My job is tedious, tiring and thankless – I've fallen short of achieving the prestige and stature I'd hoped to attain in the Navy. I've fallen short in every way. This is not how it was all supposed to turn out.
And then something deep within me seems to snap into place. I'm many things, but one thing I'm not is a quitter. My father, bless his soul, used to call me "his little tigress", because according to him, I "attack" life and I don't quit. Once I get that bit between my teeth, he would say, I clench down and see the race right through to the victorious end. Why should that change now? I realize suddenly, with the force of a strong wind, that I can't give up on Harm. Not now, not when everything else in my life is so unsatisfactory. He's more than just a man I feel a strong attraction for. He has become a symbol of everything in my life that needs to be fixed.
The words Frank quoted were aimed at making me fight for our marriage, but I have no intention of letting go of our marriage. I never have. I just need to get Harm out of my system, and then I can re-focus on the life I've made for myself. Once I have him, I can regain my self-confidence, and I can rediscover the empowerment, the ownership of my life on my terms, that I once had. Then I can knuckle down and face whatever the future brings.
I need this – I need to conquer Harm in order to prove to myself that I am still in control of my life. He may love his wife, but this really isn't about love, is it? It's all about lust, a physical impulse. I haven't met a man yet who could resist temptation presented in just the right way. And who am I kidding? I think about him all the time anyway... it's time to just scratch that itch and then move on. Finally.
I stare at myself in the mirror. I need a careful plan, a foolproof strategy, to win him over without risking my career. The sweetest revenge I could ever have for being humiliated the way I was tonight, would be for Harm to get involved with me – in spite of himself, and in spite of her. I need to figure out why my approach hasn't worked in the past, and I need to come up with a plan that can't fail. It may well turn out to be the biggest challenge of my entire life, but I know I can pull it off somehow. No way am I letting that bold, busty brunette have the last laugh. I can do this. I will do this.
A/N: So what do you think of Krennick's determination to achieve her goal? "Mission Krennick" is not over... there will definitely be another story soon to pick up where this one has left off. Thanks SO much to everyone who's taken the time to read and review this story - I appreciate it more than words can say. To the guest reviewers, whom I haven't been able to respond to personally, thank you very much.