Full Surrender

By: Joanne Rock

1



THE USS BRADY cruised into Norfolk, Virginia, at 10:00 a.m. EST, right on schedule. The navy destroyer ship had been deployed for six months, but for Stephanie Rosen, the homecoming had taken five long years.

A military marching band played at the front of the pier, near the ship’s ramp. Flags and banners fluttered in the late summer breeze while overexcited kids crowded the gate for a first glimpse of their arriving moms or dads. A refreshment tent overflowed with reuniting couples and families. But Stephanie had yet to spot the man she’d been waiting for. The man who had no idea she’d be here today.

“I’ve been crying all morning,” a woman next to her confided, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. Smiling through the tears, the older lady searched for her grown son, a fact Stephanie had discovered during the long wait for the sailors. “It’s crazy to cry, but I’m so happy I can hardly stand it.”

Touched, Stephanie squeezed the woman’s arm. She felt more comfortable waiting with a mom than with some of the wives who were dressed in their sexy best despite the early hour. It was apparent a lot of the reuniting couples had seduction on their minds.

“Happy tears are the best tears.” There had been a time when Stephanie hadn’t been able to cry at all, her emotions closed off after a long, mind-numbing ordeal. These days, she was grateful for the return of her emotions.

Now it was time for the return of her snoozing sensuality, the final phase of her recovery from that dark time five years ago. And there was only one man she trusted with the job. A man who’d been honorable and courageous well before his navy days.

Daniel Murphy.

“Oh, my God, there’s my son!” the woman next to her shouted, her voice hoarse with emotion as she launched toward a handsome seaman in dress whites.

Leaving the pair to their reunion  , Stephanie stepped closer to the front of the pier as the crowd thinned just a little. She’d noticed that, while some families lingered to enjoy the festivities, most hastened to their cars to catch up privately at home. She had an exit strategy to combat the traffic just in case she could convince Danny to come home with her.

Nervousness fluttered in her belly at the insane plan. She hadn’t spoken with him in years. She wouldn’t even have known his status now—still single, thank you, God—except that she’d gathered her courage to call his mom in Cape Cod for an update, begging Colleen Murphy’s discretion about her inquiry. But his mom had been totally gracious, saying she was grateful that someone would be on hand to greet Danny when he docked in Virginia while his family prepared a reunion   for him back home in Massachusetts.

Adjusting the red hibiscus in her hair, she lifted a hand to shade her eyes and scanned the faces of the last few officers exiting the ramp. She didn’t expect an overly joyful reunion   with a man she’d only known for all of five days before she went overseas for her former career as a camerawoman. After all, she and Danny had agreed their relationship would be short-term from the moment they’d met. He’d probably wonder what on earth she was doing here.

“Danny, where are you?” Stephanie asked herself, wandering aimlessly through the happy crowd, the full skirt of her polka-dot dress swishing around bare calves. Her outfit was a nod to Donna Reed in From Here to Eternity, the fifties film that was the extent of her navy knowledge.

And then, just when she decided he must have flown back separately, Stephanie saw him.

She didn’t need to see the details of his face even though he stood almost two stories above her on the ship deck. An officer in dress whites moved to the top of the ramp, possibly the last man off the USS Brady. White wheel cap on his head and ribbons on his chest, he walked with more power and purpose than the laid-back guitarist she’d met five years ago at a house party. And yet she somehow recognized the way he moved.

Or maybe she simply recognized a bolt of lightning when it hit her, just as it had so long ago. Her skin tingled. Her body froze in place. She doubted her ability to speak.

It was him.

The man—or the memory of him—who had gotten her through hell and back even though he didn’t know it. Now, she just needed one more favor from Danny Murphy, and it promised to be the most awkward request of her life.

* * *

DRESS SHOES CLACKING on the steel bow ramp, Danny Murphy barely saw the crowd of people still milling around the pier below. He’d waited to disembark in the hope of avoiding the worst of the scene. Most of his buddies were hooking up within an hour of arriving back home, the sprint to their women almost laughable if it wasn’t so damn relatable. Imposed celibacy was a drag, but right now Danny told himself he was most interested in sleeping for seventy-two hours straight. His family knew he liked a few days to himself to acclimate to life on land before he had to be social, and for the first time in his naval career they’d respected his wish.

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