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Doctor Zoe Middleton of the United States Medical Corp dropped her mask, peeled off her rubber gloves, and dropped them into the waste basket. Like most wounded American soldiers, the man was brought in by chopper, dropped at the Da Nang airbase, and then transferred to the base hospital.
She assisted the surgeon for three hours to save the leg, despite the fact it looked like it had been put through a meat grinder and spit out. She took a deep breath. The surgery was successful and, it was over.
She stripped down as the soldier was wheeled out to a ward. "So much for my operating gown," she said wondering if she should toss it in with the gloves. Covered with bloodstains, there was little hope it could be salvaged.
She wiped her brow with a clean surgical rag. "Must be one hundred degrees in here."
"I'm needed in the general ward, Zoe," said the other nurse who'd assisted.
"Go ahead. I'll get rid of the soiled bandages and swabs but make sure the op room is scrubbed and the sheets are replaced tonight, will you?"
A slight breeze fanned her face when she stepped outside with the bag of waste. Oh what I wouldn't give for a cool shower and a change of clothing right now. A soldier stood several feet from her. Wearing a pair of shorts and running shoes, he was naked from the waist up. He bent down, touched his toes, and then repeated the process several times. Apparently, he had little to do other than to exercise in this outdoor sauna.
"Soldier," she said. "Come here."
He turned to face her. Over six feet tall, the muscles of his chest glistened in the afternoon sun. His biceps, not to mention his handsome face,were also covered in a fine bead of sweat. His dark hair was long and damp, his eyes dark blue and intense. He frowned as he walked forward.
She held out the bag. "Get rid of this at the waste dump."
"You have a broken leg or something?" he asked with a smirk.
She recognized his accent immediately. "You're Australian."
"Yeah, and you're a Pom. What's an English doctor doing in the American Medical Corp?"
Taken aback, she said, "Are you trying to insult me? Don't be insolent, soldier. I gave you an order. Now carry it out."
He looked her over.
"Come to attention." Hands on hip she challenged him. "Now get rid of the waste."
"Get rid of it yourself," he replied insolently. "I'm not your bloody lackey."
Her face turned red. She was tired. She clenched her fists and held them at her sides. "You're insubordinate, soldier. Are you going to obey or do I call the MP's?"
"Call whoever you bloody like, but I'm not taking your waste to the dump."
Zoe couldn't believe her ears. After almost twelve months in Viet Nam, not one soldier had dared speak to her like this, nor grin like he was on the winning side of a football match. When two MPs walked past Zoe called out to them.
"Yes ma'am?" one said noticing her anger.
"Arrest this solider; he refuses to obey my order."
"Do you obey orders, Doc?" The insolent man was still grinning.
"Unlike you," she said sarcastically, "I always obey orders from a superior officer." She turned to the MP's. "Now, take him in."
"I don't think you want to do this, Captain," said the MP.
"G'day, Norm." The soldier spoke to the MP as if he knew him.
"Hi, Nick," Norm replied, "Sorry about this."
"You know him?" she asked incredulously looking at the MP.
"Well arrest him anyway; he is insubordinate and insulting."
"Don't worry about it Norm," the solider said, then paused and added, "Carry on."
"Okay, Nick," Norm said before walking away.
Zoe was speechless. The soldier picked up his shirt from a pile of clothing and wiped his sweaty chest with a towel. When he put his shirt on, Zoe almost fainted. He was a Major!
"God, you're an officer," she said, her mouth open.
"Stand at attention, Captain," he shouted, although he was smirking.
Zoe came to attention, her eyes forward and straight. "I'm sorry, sir; I didn't know you were an officer."
"Don't speak unless asked." He circled her.
"What's you name, Captain?" His authoritative tone made her uncomfortable.
"Captain Zoe Middleton, sir." She said, still as a statue.
"Why did an English girl come to be in the American Medical Corp?"
"My father is a surgeon in the Boston Memorial Hospital, sir. He's American and my mother is English. I've been working at the hospital, joined up to gain experience."
"And you're here for a tour of duty?"
"My father said a Vietnam holiday." She swallowed hard. "He was joking, sir."
"He certainly was. This is a hell hole; I'm sure you're aware of that by now."
"It is, sir." She replied without blinking.
"Okay, stand easy."
Zoe relaxed and put her hands behind her back. Like before, he circled her, his face only a few inches from hers.
"I believe you said you always obey a superior officer, Captain, did you not?" He still held an authoritative tone, but it had softened somewhat when he looked into her eyes.
"Always sir," she said, unable to ignore the features of his face. Even though the man was aggressive, she liked what she saw.
"I see you've been in the op room."
"Do you have more operations scheduled for today, Captain?"
She wished he'd stop standing so close to her. She shook her head. "I'm not on duty until tomorrow, sir. That is, unless more casualties come in."
"Then I have another order for you Captain. I expect it to be obeyed."
"Yes sir," she said holding her breath. "What is it, sir?"
"You'll have dinner with me tonight in Da Nang." With little pause, he added, "I'll pick you up at nineteen hundred hours. Any objections?"
She knew she could refuse anything not having to do with military options, but how could she once she looked into his eyes? "Nineteen hundred hours will be fine, sir," she said with a smile.
"Good. By the way, I'm Nick Harper. You're dismissed, Zoe."
"Okay, Nick." She watched him walk away. Then she looked at the waste bag in her hand. Damn, guess I'll have to dispose of it myself.
At nineteen hundred hours she stood by the security gates dressed in civilian clothes. A soft swirling blue dress caught the attention of the sentries as she stood waiting.
"Going out Captain?" one asked. He seemed to have more than a passing interest.
"Just obeying an order, Sergeant." She smiled and noted his interest.
"I have to say, you look sensational."
"Thank you, Sergeant. If he's not here in two minutes then I'm back to my barracks."
Just then, a jeep raced down the road, pulled up and Nick stepped out. She ran her gaze over him as he did her. His clothes were casual but neat and tidy--fawn slacks with a thin silk shirt, polished shoes, and now he looked nothing like the sweaty soldier she had words with.
"Better than a Captain's uniform," he said with approval in his voice.
"Thank you, Major. Shall we go?"
The road in was filled with military truck and hundreds of bicycles as people went about their business. Little was said on the short trip in, but he was aware of her eyes watching him occasionally as if she expected him to start giving orders again. Nick halted the jeep outside a restaurant.
"What do you think?" he asked, helping her from the jeep.
She studied the outside of the restaurant and nodded. "Some of the nursing staff has been here. They said the food was great."
"Well I guess we're about to find out."
A waiter led them to a secluded table as Nick studied the room. The place was three quarters full with soldiers and officers, and everyone appeared to be content with the service. A familiar face nodded to Zoe as they passed by a table.
"You know her?" Nick asked once they were seated.
"Yes, she's a nurse, sir" she said with a smile. "The man with her is a doctor."
He threw his head back and laughed. "Let's cut out the sir crap. I'm Nick and you're Zoe, and we can talk about anything you want to discuss."
She raised an eyebrow. "Anything?"
"Anything except security secrets."
"Great." she replied, "For starters, how come an Australian is working for the Americans? I thought you guys went home some time ago."
"They have, but I've been seconded to the American army for a short time. It seems they like my skills."
"But you're a major? What sort of skills are we talking about?"
"I'm actually from counter intelligence." Nick took a sip of his wine.
Zoe frowned. "You mean you're a spy."
"Sort of. I go into the jungle and to find the Viet Cong. If or when I do, I radio in and the air force comes over. Nothing complicated about it."
"You do this alone?"
"Yeah, having someone accompany me complicates things. I'd have to watch over them too if something goes wrong."
"Sounds dangerous to me." She eyed him warily. "What were you doing when I saw you this morning?"
"I have to keep fit, so twice a week when I'm on base I do two laps around the airbase. It helps to keep my stamina up when I'm in the jungle."
"It's hard to for me to believe someone would actually volunteer for this job. Are you married?"
He smiled and it was delightful. "I was once ... almost. My fiancée decided she didn't like the idea of being married to a soldier, so she married an old friend while I was away."
"Ouch," said Zoe. "That must have stung."
"It did at the time but I'm over it. I get my kicks by ordering beautiful captains about."
She smiled. "Only females I hope."
"I can assure you," he said with a grin, "only females. Now, tell me about you."
"Is that an order?" she asked looking over her glass.
"No, it's a polite request. I think you're very attractive and I'd like to know more about you." He drummed his fingers on the table, waiting for her answer.
She drew a deep breath and began. "Okay, I told you my father was a surgeon in Boston, and my mother was English. They separated years ago and I was brought up in England. When I reached eighteen my father invited me to Boston for an extended visit. Since I'd already decided to go into medicine, he gave me a lengthy tour of his hospital, and," she paused, "then he invited me to do my internship at there. It was like a narcotic for me ... I wanted to learn more and more. I accepted his offer and became a doctor. I was particularly interested in surgery, so he suggested I join the Medical Corp." She shook her head. "He thought I'd learn more in a month there than I would after spending a year in Boston."
"And was he right?" asked Nick.
"Yes. I didn't expect to find the horror, but the experience I've gained can't be bought. When I return I'll be a better doctor for it."
"I'll ask a return question now. Are you married?" He leaned back in his chair, waiting patiently.
"No, I had a couple of flings but my occupation didn't allow me to get into a relationship."
"Good," he said smiling. "Maybe I can change that."
"I've only known you for a few hours; the odds aren't good."
There was something soothing about his laugh, and he was generous with it. "Okay, enough of the probing questions. Let's just enjoy ourselves."
They chatted about banal things for a while, and then Nick took her hand.
"What's this?" she asked.
"Another order. I want to dance with you."
"If it's an order, I guess I must," she replied with a smile.
Nick slipped his hand about her waist possessively as they hit the dance floor. He couldn't help the shudder as her warm hands moved lightly across his back as if she could feel every muscle through his light shirt. He rested his head against hers as they glided across the floor to a soft ballad, neither one speaking, but seemingly enjoying the close contact. When the music ended, they were the last ones to leave the dance floor. As the evening came to a close, they reluctantly left the restaurant and drove back to the hospital.
When Nick stopped the jeep one hundred yards from the gate, she asked, "You going to make me walk the rest of the way?"
"No, I didn't want to kiss you in front of the guards."
"Hmmm. Is that another order, Major?"
"No, it's another request."
She moved closer to him. "In that case, I think it's okay."
He pulled her to him and found her lips. It was a gentle, sweet kiss, one she seemed to enjoy, as did he. When she broke from the kiss, she caught his gaze for a moment, and then surprised him with another kiss, passionate and intense. Long minutes later, he started up the jeep again and headed toward the base.
"How about another date, Captain?" he said as she stepped down.
"Maybe that can be arranged. When do you suggest?"
"I'm going to be gone for a few days, away from the base, but how about when I return?"
She placed her hands on her hips. "I suppose that means you're going into the jungle again?"
"Can't talk about it," he said with a shake of his head, "but I'll call you, Zoe."
"Right," she said, "covert operations." She gave him a brilliant smile before walking towards the hospital.
The sentry ambled over to Nick and they both watched her pass through the gate. "The scenery sure is pretty here, isn't it Major." The man had a large grin on his face.
"I have to agree, Sergeant," Nick said with a nod of his head.
Then he started up the jeep and drove off, but not before Zoe disappeared from view.