Saturday, April 12, 2008

Fraternization by Cara North

"Do you mind if I sit here?" Scarlet King dumped her bag next to her feet and took the seat anyway.

"I guess not." He looked over the edge of his newspaper at her. Long, sandy blond hair and piercing blue eyes framed his rugged whiskered face. He popped the paper edge back into place and left her gawking.

Scarlet had spent the last thirteen years in the United States Marine Corps. She held the rank of Gunnery Sergeant and managed to remain single with her reputation as a ball buster still intact. So why, after all the years of fighting and yelling with some of the toughest men and women this country has to offer, was she suddenly a bit nervous? "So, uh, you're waiting on a flight?"

Without moving the newspaper, he replied deadpan, "It is an airport."

"Right." She nodded to herself, rolled her eyes, then took a deep breath. The breath was supposed to calm her, but instead she caught a whiff of his cologne. Nothing too harsh--he smelled woodsy and masculine, warm and spicy. What is wrong with you? Get a grip, for crying out loud! How long has it been? Hmmm. Okay, so how long has it been without batteries?

"Can I get another coffee?" He spoke to the server passing by. The woman stopped and smiled big as the sky when he folded the newspaper and looked directly at her. Scarlet was smiling, too, though for the life of her she did not know why. Then Mr. Blue Eyes smiled at her. "Would you like something to drink?"

"Coffee is wonderful, thank you." Now she had turned into her Aunt Thelma, the Miss Manners of the Midwest. He arched a brow and her insides turned to liquid heat. The server walked away. "I mean, I could really use some caffeine. I've been traveling all day and this fu ... flipping airport just delayed me again."

"Why don't you just get a room and fly to your destination tomorrow then?" He leaned forward and propped his chin on his fist, elbow casually on the table as if she was about to read him a story or some shit.

"Because, I need to get back to work." A guy like him could never understand the responsibilities of a woman like her. "Where are you headed? You seem very relaxed to be in a packed airport with flights delayed and cancelled. I hate the snow. I cannot wait to get back to North Carolina."

"Where in North Carolina?" he asked as he studied her. She could not mistake the man's blatant ogling.

"Am I entertaining you?" Her inner confidence reappeared. She was no longer Scarlet, sex-deprived woman on the verge of making a move on a stranger. Instead, she was Gunnery Sergeant King, who would kick this guy's ass if he thought he could be so openly disrespectful to her.

"Yes." He nodded. "You're beautiful, a little bossy I think, but your eyes are mesmerizing."

"Are you trying to con me?" Her blood pressure was rising. She bit her teeth together so as not to let it get the best of her, yet.

"No." He shook his head. "I've been away a while. But, I know a gorgeous woman when I see one. I am heading to North Carolina myself. I was thinking if your destination wasn't far from my destination, I might ask you out for dinner."

"What?" Not the response she had expected, so she kept up the bravado. "I don't even know you."

"Oh, right." He sat up straight then offered his hand over the table. "I'm Ezekiel Major, everyone calls me Zeke."

She took his hand and immediately noted the warm dry skin and every rough, callused patch. "Scarlet, Scarlet King."

"Nice name. It suits you." He let go of her hand. He looked left, then right, then leaned in over the table. He whispered, "So, Scarlet King. I don't think either of us will be getting to North Carolina tonight. What say we grab that dinner now instead?"

It had been entirely too long since she had been with a man. To keep her reputation intact she threw herself into her work, into the corps. Her star was on the rise, she could be a First Sergeant in the next year, her promotion package was tight, everything she needed to do had been done. If she were counseling a younger Marine she would say, "You don't hook up with strange men in an airport," but she was smarter, safer, and more experienced. "Okay."