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Christmas at Steel Beach

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Blurb

-a Night Stalkers and the Navy romance-

NAME: Gail Miller

RANK: Chief Steward

MISSION: To win the Admiral Ney Culinary Award for Best Navy Mess

NAME: Sly Stowell

RANK: Chief Petty Officer & hovercraft pilot

MISSION: To honor the Navy he loves

Gail Miller cares only about cooking the very best food for those who choose to serve. When assigned to the USS Peleliu, the Navy serves her far more than she bargained for.

Sly Stowell’s home aboard the USS Peleliu comes under threat of a changing Navy. He must decide if he can change with it.

When the Night Stalkers take over the ship and international crises call, their commitment and their hearts are tested to the limit.

Will they still be there when the time comes to spend Christmas at Steel Beach?

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Chapter 1-1

Chapter 1

U.S. Navy Chief Steward Gail Miller held on for dear life as the small boat raced across the warm seas off West Africa.

The six Marines driving the high-speed small unit riverine boat appeared to think that scaring the daylights out of her was a good sport. It was like a Zodiac rubber dinghy’s big brother. It was a dozen meters long with large machine guns mounted fore and aft. The massive twin diesels sent it jumping off every wave, even though the rollers in the Gulf of Guinea were less than a meter high today.

Gail wondered if they were making the ride extra rough just for her or were they always like this; she suspected the latter. Still she wanted to shout at them like Bones from Star Trek: I’m a chef, not a soldier, dammit. But being a good girl from South Carolina, she instead kept her mouth shut and stared at her fast-approaching new billet.

The USS Peleliu was an LHA, a Landing Helicopter Assault ship. She could deliver an entire Marine Expeditionary Unit with her helicopters and amphibious craft. Twenty-five hundred Navy and Marines personnel aboard and it would be her job to feed them. All the nerves she’d been feeling for the last five days about her new posting had finally subsided, buried beneath the tidal wave of wondering if she was going to survive to even reach the Peleliu.

At first, the ship started out as black blot on the ocean, silhouetted by the setting sun that was turning the sky from a golden orange over to more of a dark rose color.

Then the ship got bigger.

And bigger.

In a dozen years in the Navy she’d been aboard an aircraft carrier only once, and it lay twenty minutes behind her. She’d been there less than a half hour from when the E-2 Hawkeye had trapped on the deck. They’d shipped her to the Peleliu so fast she wanted to check herself and see if she was radioactive.

It didn’t matter though; she was almost there. From down in the little riverine speed boat, her new ship looked huge. The second largest ships in the whole Navy, after the aircraft carriers, were the helicopter carriers.

Gail knew that the Peleliu was the last of her class, all of her sister ships already replaced by newer and better vessels, but even six months or a year aboard before her decommissioning would be a fantastic opportunity for a Chief Steward. Maybe that’s why they’d assigned Gail to this ship, someone to fill in before the decommissioning.

Fine with her.

She was still unsure how she’d actually landed the assignment. She’d spent a half-dozen years working on the Perry Class frigates as a CS, a culinary specialist. Her first Chief Steward billet had been at SUBASE Bangor in Washington state feeding submariners while ashore until she thought she’d go mad. She missed the ship’s galleys and the life aboard.

Then she’d applied for a transfer, never in her life expecting to land Chief Steward on an LHA. After the aircraft carriers, they were the premier of Navy messes. Chefs vied for years to get these slots and she’d somehow walked into this one.

No, girl! You’ve cooked Navy food like a demon for over a decade to earn this posting. Her brain’s strong insistence that she’d earned this did little to convince her.

And she hadn’t walked into this, she’d flown. It had taken three days: Seattle, New York, London, Madrid, and Dakar, each with at least six hours on the ground, but never enough to get a room and sleep. And then an eyeblink on the aircraft carrier.

It didn’t matter. It was hers now for whatever reason and she couldn’t wait.

The LHA really did look like an aircraft carrier. She knew it was shorter and narrower, but from down here on the waves, it loomed and towered. One heck of an impressive place to land, girl. She could feel the “new posting” nerves fighting back against the “near death” nerves of her method of transit over the waves.

The flattop upper deck didn’t overhang as much as an aircraft carrier, but that was the only obvious difference. Like a carrier, the Flight Deck was ruled over by a multi-story communications tower superstructure and its gaggle of antennas above.

On the deck she could see at least a half-dozen helicopters and people working on them, probably putting them away for the end of the day. It seemed odd to Gail that they were operating so far from the carrier group. It had taken an hour even at the riverine’s high speed to reach the Peleliu and she appeared to be out here alone; not another ship in sight.

In the fading sunset, the ship’s lights were showing more and more as long rows of bright pinpricks. The flattop was at least five stories above the water.

The riverine boat circled past the bow and rocketed toward the stern. Gail had departed the aircraft carrier down a ladder on the outside of the hull amidships. But here they approached the stern.

That was the big difference with the LHAs; they had a massive Well Deck right inside the rear of the ship. She’d seen pictures, but when her orders came, they’d been for “Immediate departure.” No time to read up on the Peleliu. So, she’d learn on the job.

A massive stern ramp was being lowered down even as they circled the boat. It was as if the entire cliff-like stern of the boat was opening like a giant mailbox, the door hinging down to make a steel beach in the water.

Also like a mailbox, it revealed a massive cavern inside. Fifteen meters wide, nearly as tall, and a football field deep; it penetrated into the ship at sea level. Landing craft could be driven right inside the ship’s belly, loaded with vehicles from the internal garages or Marines from the barracks, and then floated back out.

The last of the fast equatorial sunset was fading from the sky as the riverine whipped around the stern at full-speed in a turn she was half sure would toss her overboard into the darkness, and roared up to the steel beach.

Inside the cavern of the Well Deck, dim red lights suggested shapes and activities she couldn’t quite make out.

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