~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

“Mama!”

 

“Mummy, wake up, please!”

 

“Nathnnn…” Kristin cried out for her husband as she slowly fought her way back toward consciousness.  Her cry struck fear in Lucas’ heart.

 

“Not dad… oh, please not dad…”

 

Cynthia eyed Lucas curiously.  “What about your father?”

 

Lucas bit his lip.  “I know this sounds strange but… they are connected somehow, dad and mama.  They sense that the other is near even if they haven’t seen each other.  When one is in danger the other one knows about it.  I know that sounds far fetched but I’ve seen it.  The bond is so strong… what if her pain and the fainting is because something has happened to dad?”

 

“No.” Both children looked down to see their mother struggling to open her eyes.  “Nothing has happened to him.  I refuse to accept that.”  Kristin tried to sit up but the room began to spin again and she sank back to the floor.

 

“Let’s see if we can move her to the settee.  Mummy, put your arms around Lucas’ neck.”

 

Kristin did as she was bid and together Cynthia and Lucas lifted her from the floor and laid her on the comfortable cushions.

 

“I really think that we should send for Doctor Burgess, Mummy.” 

 

“I don’t need that quack to examine me.  I just need to rest.  Once the dizziness goes away I will return to my bedchamber for the afternoon.  Cynthia, why don’t you ring for some tea?”

 

Worry lined Cynthia’s face as she did her mother’s bidding.  Lucas hovered nearby, his concern showing as well.  Kristin was extremely pale and he knew that she wasn’t being honest with him.

 

“Lucas, I want you to get Ben.  Tell him that I need to see him immediately.”

 

The boy’s face fell.  “Something did happen to dad?” He whispered.

 

“No… Maybe… I felt… something.  But we are so far away, Lucas.  I can’t be sure.  Please go get Ben.”

 

As soon as Cynthia returned Lucas departed in search of Ben.  The young sailor had shown great interest in how the estate was run so Kristin was letting him work with the manager to learn all that he could.  The acreage was vast and Ben could be anywhere on it but Kristin knew that Lucas would find him as quickly as possible.

 

“The tea will be here in a moment, Mother.”  Cynthia smiled as Kristin tucked her feet up and patted the edge of the sofa.  She came and sat.  “So… Lucas tells me that you have some sort of mystical bond with this new husband of yours.”

 

“Sarcasm doesn’t become you, my dear daughter.”  Cynthia’s face fell at her mother’s gentle rebuke.  “I know that it sounds strange but… sometimes… Nathan and I can sense things about each other.  I know when he is near even if I can’t see him.  I know when he is in danger and he can feel the same about me.”

 

“But he is the one who put you in danger.”   Cynthia’s pretty features hardened.

 

“Cynthia… It could be argued that I put myself in danger by insisting on sailing out with John and the other men on that voyage.  Things happen because they are supposed to.  Fate intended for Nathan and I to come together.  Nathan never endangered me intentionally.  He risked his own life time and again to save me.  He is risking his life now to protect me… and you.”

 

“Protect… what do you mean?”

 

Kristin sighed.  “The pirate… Zellar… he developed a sort of… obsession with me… with his image of me, at least.”  Her hand dipped into her pocket and pulled out the pocket watch that she had been waiting to show her daughter.  “I told you I found your father’s watch… do you remember?”

 

Cynthia reached toward the proffered timepiece with a trembling hand.  She smiled as she lifted it and felt the weight.  “Daddy used to let me sit on his lap and play with it sometimes.  Funny… it seems so much lighter than I remember.”

 

“You are a bit bigger than you were the last time you held it.  Look inside.”

 

A bubbly laugh escaped Cynthia’s lips as she popped the cover open and saw the tiny portrait of her mother and herself at age eight.  “I remember sitting for this.  Daddy said he wanted to always be able to look at us, even when he had to be away.  But… I don’t understand… why would that horrid man keep this?  It didn’t mean anything to him.”

 

“Unfortunately, that isn’t true.  Zellar keep the picture because he seems to have developed some sort of tendre for me… or at least for the woman that he imagined from that portrait.  He saw me while we were in port and gave chase.  I am the reason he attacked Nathan’s ship.”

 

“He recognized you after all this time?”

 

“I haven’t changed so very much, now have I?” Kristin winked at her daughter then grew serious again.  “He didn’t know in the beginning that the woman and I were one and the same.  I concocted a story about being a poor widow working as a governess who was traveling with her employers to America.  He didn’t care.  He wanted his fantasy woman so badly that he was willing to make me be her.”

 

“Mummy, did he… did he hurt you?”  Cynthia looked as if she was going to be sick.

 

“He was very charming at first but later… when I didn’t go along with his plans… he tried to…” Kristin’s eyes closed as she went pale at the memory.  Cynthia leaned forward and grabbed her mother’s hands.

 

“It’s okay, Mummy.  You don’t have to…”

 

Kristin opened her eyes.  “He didn’t listen to me.  I told him that I was going to be sick and he didn’t pay attention until I lost my tea all over him.”

 

Cynthia clapped her free hand over her mother to hold back her giggle.  “You didn’t!”

 

“I did.  Zellar decided that I might be more amenable to his attentions if Nathan were no longer around so he made him walk the plank.  I managed to break loose from his grip and went into the ocean after Nathan… but not before I’d lost my temper and revealed who I really was.”

 

“You?  Lose your temper?  Surely not!”

 

Kristin raised her eyebrows at her daughter but chose to let the comment pass.  “That is why Nathan isn’t here with me.  He went after Zellar… to stop him from trying to come after me… or you.”

 

Cynthia looked as if she wanted to say more but at that moment Lucas burst into the room dragging Ben along with him.  “I found him, Mama.”

 

“You wanted to see me, milady?”  Ben whipped his hat off of his head respectfully.

 

“Sit down, Ben.” Kristin gestured at the chair across from her.  “Cynthia, would you mind pouring Ben a cup of tea?  Thank you, my dear.  Now why don’t you go get Lucas started on his lessons while I have a talk with Ben.”

 

Both of the children glared at their mother, unhappy at being dismissed, but they did as they were bid.  Kristin waited until the door was closed before she turned back to Ben.

 

“What did Lucas tell you?”

 

“He told me that you collapsed, first from some sort of pain and then a few minutes later you fainted.  He seems to think that you were reacting to something happening to the captain.  Were you?”

 

Tears rushed to Kristin’s eyes and she fought to drive them back.  “I… I don’t know, Ben.  I think that perhaps I was.  I’ve been sitting here trying to ‘find’ Nathan but I can’t just make it happen because I will it.  I have to know if something has happened to him, Ben.”

 

“What do you want me to do, milady?”

 

“Kristin, Ben… you used to call me Kristin.  Stop behaving like all of them,” she made an inclusive gesture at the house.  “I really need a friend right now.”

 

“You know that Katie and I are always here for you, mil… Kristin.  I can make arrangements for passage back to the Caribbean and try to find the captain or I can travel to Cornwall and get the seaQuest…”

 

Kristin shook her head.  “I know that Nathan ordered you to stay with me until he came and I won’t ask you to defy his orders or to leave your new bride.  But I have to know…”

 

“I could ride back to Dover… to the other ports in the area.  Sailors are great gossips.  If there is any news to be had I am sure that I could pick it up there.”

 

“Good… that is quite a good plan.” Kristin agreed.  “Take Ned from the stables with you.  He spent some time in the navy before joining us.  He may have contacts and he can act as your guide as well.  If you don’t find out anything perhaps you could pay someone to keep you informed.”

 

“I’ll go find Ned now.  We’ll make arrangements to leave at first light… sooner if you’d prefer.”

 

“Tomorrow will be fine.  Ben… thank you.”

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Cynthia knocked softly on the parlor door but received no reply.  She placed an ear to the crack but heard nothing so she decided to chance an entry.  The room was empty except for her mother who was sleeping soundly on the sofa.

 

Cynthia tiptoed across the room and carefully loosened Kristin’s grasp on the teacup she still held in her hand then placed it back on the trolley.  The cup clattered against the saucer and Kristin came awake instantly.

 

“Wha…” She sat up, her gaze disoriented as it lit on Cynthia.  “Oh… I must have… I didn’t mean to sleep.  I was dreaming… it was so dark and I was trying to fight my way toward the light…”

 

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

 

“No… that is quite all right.  I don’t need to be sleeping my afternoon away.  Did you need me for something?” Kristin gestured to the envelope Cynthia held clasped in her hand.

 

Cynthia held the letter out to her mother.  “This just arrived by messenger from London.  It’s from grandfather.  I thought that you might want to read it.”

 

Kristin glared at the paper as if it were actually her father.  “I am not at all sure that I do… want to read it, I mean.”

 

“Grandfather is just concerned about you, Mummy.  He doesn’t understand… I don’t really either… but we are trying.  Why don’t I leave this here and you can think about it?”

 

Cynthia laid the envelope on the table near her mother and swiftly left the room, leaving Kristin staring after her.  Finally she picked up the missive and after another minute’s hesitation, tore it open.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Katie and Cynthia were sipping tea when Kristin finally joined them on the terrace.  She scanned for Lucas, smiling when she found him spread out on a blanket on the lawn, his school books scattered around him as he worked equally hard on conjugating his Latin verbs and stuffing cakes into his mouth.

 

“Katie, dear,” Kristin bent over to kiss her cheek as she took her seat.  “I’m so glad you could join us.  You aren’t terribly put out with me, are you?”

 

Katie smiled wanly.  “No… I don’t want Ben to go, of course, but I understand why he needs to.”

 

“Perhaps you could go with him?”

 

Katie shook her head.  “He couldn’t travel as fast with me along.  He told me that he spoke with Ned and they can travel the distances needed in about a week.”

 

“Oh… let Ben know that I need to speak with him again before he leaves.  Circumstances dictate that we depart for London in the next few days so he might want to plan to meet us there.”

 

“London?  Why would we go there?” Cynthia interjected, a touch of fear in her eyes.

 

“The letter from your grandfather… it seems that your grandmother is anxious to see with her own eyes that I am alive and well but she has a touch of a cold and isn’t feeling up to traveling.”

 

“But… I don’t want to go to London.  Everyone there will be talking about me… about the wedding…”

 

“Nonsense!  You have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, Cynthia.  That entire debacle was your grandmother’s fault.  You’ve never cared a fig about society anyway.  What has changed?”

 

“Nothing… I just… I don’t really care anything about making the party round and grandmother made me…”

 

“Lavinia made you attend… I guess she didn’t mourn my supposed passing long.  Cynni, you don’t have to go to a single function that you don’t want to.  I have little desire to be out in society myself.  We’ll go into town for a few weeks, visit with your grandmother, and then come back here.  With any luck Nathan will be joining us by then.”

 

“And Grandfather?  Are you going to be seeing him?”

 

Kristin closed her eyes and swallowed hard.  “What your grandfather did… allowing that woman to try and force you into marriage… He should have protected you during my absence.”

 

Cynthia reached out and clasped her mother’s hand.  “Grandfather did try.  He just couldn’t… Once grandmother Carruthers gained control of the estate he couldn’t seem to stop her.  He knew that she was pushing a match between Percy and me but she didn’t inform him about the wedding.  If he had known… you know that he would have risked everything to rescue me.”

 

“Father never should have allowed things to reach that point.”

 

Cynthia sighed.  “Promise me that you will at least speak with grandfather again.  Try to be more understanding of his position.”

 

“I’ll… I’ll think about it.  But right now we have to make travel plans.”

 

“Could I stay here?” Cynthia blurted out.

 

“Unchaperoned?  Cynni, I don’t think… if you really don’t want to go to London then I will write mother and tell her that we won’t be coming in.”

 

“No… I know grandmother wants to see you… may I be excused, Mother?”  At Kristin’s nod, Cynthia pushed her chair back and fled down the terrace steps and over the lawn toward the forest.

 

Kristin rose up in her chair.  “I should go after her.  She is upset…”

 

Lucas’ head popped up over the terrace railing.  “I wasn’t eavesdropping but I couldn’t help hearing… let me go after her, Mama.”

 

Kristin gave her assent and settled back in the chair as she watched Lucas scurry after Cynthia.  “At least she seems to be accepting Lucas.  That is something.”

 

“Is Cynthia having trouble with your marriage?”

 

“Sometimes… she seems to be all right with it and then other times she seems almost… angry.  I am hoping that actually meeting Nathan will help.  He wants Cynthia to like him and I think she would benefit from a father figure in her life as well.”

 

“She’ll come around, Kristin.  Everyone likes Captain Bridger.”

 

“I hope so, Katie.  I was so sure that Cynthia would be happy for me.  She seems so different since I returned home, though…”

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Lucas found his new sister sitting in a small glade sobbing into her hands.  He dropped down on the grass beside her and pulled the clean handkerchief his mother insisted he always have out of his pocket and tucked it between her fingers but didn’t say anything.

 

Cynthia blew her nose noisily then looked over at him.  “Why did you follow me?”

 

Lucas shrugged.  “Because you looked upset and I thought maybe I could help.”

 

“How could you help?  How could you possibly understand how I feel?”

 

“Well…” Lucas shifted until he was sitting cross-legged in front of Cynthia and propped his elbows on his knees.  “I have sort of been thrust into an unfamiliar environment and I really don’t fit in very well.  It’s awkward for me here just like you feel awkward at those parties and things.”

 

“But… have we made you feel unwelcome?”

 

“Of course not.  It isn’t a matter of being welcome or not… it’s just having to get used to new surroundings… having to adapt.  I’m trying really hard to remember to be polite and to carry a handkerchief and things like that but… you know what really bothers me the most?”

 

Cynthia dabbed away the last of her tears as she shook her head.  “What?”

 

“Shoes… I don’t like to wear shoes.  I could climb the ship’s rigging in my bare feet but now I can feel the soles going soft.”

 

A light tinkling sound bubbled from Cynthia’s lips.  “I feel the same way about bonnets.  I don’t mind a hat when I go riding but all those frilly concoctions they expect you to wear when you make calls in town?  I loathe them.”

 

“Then why do you wear them?  I mean, I can understand why I have to wear shoes… sometimes… but if you don’t like the fancy hats then wear a simple one.”

 

“But the style is…”

 

“Create a new style.  Create your own style.  You are a countess, aren’t you?  You don’t have to do what other people tell you.  Well, except mama of course.  She’s scary when crossed.  The fights that she and dad used to have…”

 

“They fought?  I thought that they were madly in love with each other.”

 

“They are.  Dad told me once that fighting is just another form of loving, at least between them.  They both have very strong personalities and they don’t always agree… I know that you are having some trouble… with mama and dad getting married, I mean… but they really are great together.  I can’t wait for you to see them.”

 

Cynthia’s face fell.  “It’s just… I can still remember my father, Lucas.  I’m not ready to forget him.”

 

Lucas made a face.  “Well that’s just silly.  Why would you think you would forget him?  You are lucky.  You were old enough to know your father.  Mine died when I was just a little kid.  But I remember my mother… my real mother.  Just because I have a new mama now doesn’t mean that I have to forget her.”

 

A look of regret crossed Cynthia’s face.  She hadn’t been told much about Lucas’ background and she hadn’t bothered to ask.  “Tell me… do you mind?  How did you end up here?”

 

“Sure… it’s the best story.  The beginning isn’t so great but the ending… amazing.  I only remember mama and me.  She was so pretty when I was a little boy… but she worked hard and then she got sick.  When she couldn’t work we didn’t have any money… and she just got sicker and sicker.  I tried to help… doing odd jobs for people, sweeping out the tavern floors in the mornings… but it wasn’t enough.  Sometimes they wouldn’t pay me after they’d promised.  I was just a kid, after all.  Then I met this chap who taught me how to nick a purse real easy like.”

 

“You robbed people?”

 

Lucas nodded honestly.  “I didn’t want to but… I did a few times.  One night I was down at the docks and I was really desperate.  This fellow comes out of the pub and he looks like an easy mark so I go after him.  I got hold of the wallet and was making a break for it when he grabs me and shakes me.  It was the captain… dad.  I thought he was gonna turn me over to the watch but instead he gets me to tell him about my mom and then he goes home with me.  He called a doctor in but nothing could be done.  My mother died a few days later… but she had a doctor there to help ease her pain.  When she was gone the cap told me to pack my things and come with him.”

 

“Just like that… he just took you with him?”

 

“Just like that.  I’ve been with him ever since, almost five years now.  He taught me how to read and do maths and all about sailing.  Then your mother came on board and they fell in love.”  Lucas was trying hard to hide the tears in his eyes.  “The day they got married they asked if I would let them adopt me… if I wanted them to be my new parents.  Well, a guy would be a fool to turn down an offer like that.  I even got a pretty new sister in the bargain.”

 

“And I got a handsome younger brother.  I always wanted a brother or sister… someone to play with…  It’s just a bit difficult to comprehend.  Mummy is dead and then mummy isn’t dead and then I have a new stepfather and a new brother as well…”

 

“Things change.  You just need a little time to get used to it.  Promise me something, Cynni… when dad gets here… don’t be closed-minded.  Give him a chance.  I swear you won’t regret it.”

 

Cynthia looked skeptical but finally she nodded.  “I’ll think about it, Lucas.  I promise.”

 

Lucas stood and held his hand out to Cynthia.  “Perhaps we should get back.  Mama will be worried about us.”

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

“No luck?” Will asked his mother as she blew into the library with a loud huff and collapsed in a chair. 

 

“None.  I did get an answer at the door today but all that damned butler would tell me is that ‘Madame is in the country and her return has not been announced’.”  Janet was fuming as she relayed her latest attempts to get in touch with Kristin.

 

“Did you ask for her address in the country?”

 

“I wasn’t given a chance.  The butler dismissed me without any further conversation.”

 

Will tried to hide his amusement at his mother’s fury because he knew she wouldn’t appreciate it. 

 

They had arrived in London nearly a week ago and one of Janet’s first questions to the American ambassador’s wife had been a request for information on getting in touch with Kristin.  A note was quickly dispatched but when several days had gone by without an answer, Janet called for the carriage and went to the house herself.  She had been back twice more before finally getting an answer to her knocks today.

 

“And then the bastard had the audacity to shut the door in my face!”

 

“Why don’t you ask the ambassador’s wife for Aunt Kristin’s address in the country?”

 

“I suppose I could… it isn’t as if we have that many friends here.  It will take me a few weeks to build an information network.  And I’m worried about Kristin.  She must be feeling terribly alone without Nathan… what are you working on?”

 

Janet moved to stand behind her son, peering over Will’s shoulder at the sketchpad in his lap.  “Oh, son… that is beautiful!  Are you going to do it in oils?”

 

“I… I thought that I would do a more formal portrait as a gift to Uncle Nathan and Aunt Kristin… perhaps have Lucas and some of the guests in it as well.  This one… I was just wondering if I could capture that look… the way that their eyes shine when they look at each other.”

 

“I think you’ve done a very good job of it.  This is a magnificent sketch.  You are so talented.”

 

Will shrugged but Janet could tell that he appreciated her praise.  “It’s just a hobby…”

 

“You should take advantage of your surroundings until your father gets here.  London has many beautiful parks and buildings that you could practice on.  Promise me that you will go out every afternoon and see something new.”

 

“We have to much to do here…”

 

“The servants are hired.  Mrs. Gordan will have the house whipped into shape in no time.  Your sister is already begging me for new dresses so I suspect that I am going to be doing a great deal of shopping… at least until your father gets here and sees the bills.  Go out… enjoy yourself.”  Janet ruffled her son’s hair affectionately.

 

“What about Aunt Kristin?”

 

“I am going to continue to pound on the door of her home every day until I get some answers… and I might ask the ambassador’s wife if she can find out the location of Kristin’s country home.”  Janet grinned saucily at her son as she moved toward the door.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Cynthia moved silently down the corridor, the candle in her hand shaking along with her body at each clap of thunder or bolt of lightning.  Finally she reached her mother’s door and paused, wondering if she should wake her.

 

The next roar of thunder shook the house and sent Cynthia scurrying into the safety of her mother’s room.  A cozy fire still flickered in the grate, giving off just enough light for Cynthia to see that the bed was empty.  She quickly searched the room.

 

Kristin looked back from her perch on the cushioned window seat to find Cynthia staring at her.  She smiled as she stood and moved back towards the bed, motioning for Cynthia to follow.

 

Cynthia stared at her mother in shock as Kristin shed her dressing gown and climbed into the bed, clothed only in a deep blue… man’s shirt….  Cynthia blinked hard but the image didn’t go away.  Before she could comment on Kristin’s bared legs they disappeared beneath the comforter.  Kristin leaned back into the pile of pillows at the head of the bed and patted the mattress beside her.  Cynthia quickly shed her own wrapper and climbed under the covers with her mother.

 

Kristin wrapped her arms around Cynthia’s shoulders as her daughter cuddled into her side.

 

“It’s been quite some time since you’ve admitted to being afraid of thunderstorms.  Too much turmoil in other aspects of your life, maybe?”

 

Cynthia laughed.  “Maybe I’ve grown up enough to realize that I’m not so grown up.  When we thought you were… I’d lay awake during storms and realize that I’d never be able to do this again…”

 

“And now here you are.”  Kristin tightened her hold briefly. 

 

“But possibly for the last time.  I’m sure that your new husband won’t appreciate me creeping in here.  Daddy never did.”

 

Kristin softly rubbed her daughter’s hair.  “Your father adored you.  He just wasn’t expecting to find you in here that night.  He regretted his anger later.”

 

“So if your Nathan came in to visit you and found me here he wouldn’t be angry?”

 

“Only if you didn’t knock first.  Nathan doesn’t visit me, my dear.  We sleep together, always.”

 

“You… oh… but most couples don’t…”

 

“Nathan and I aren’t most couples.  We sleep better in each other’s arms.  I can honestly say that I wish nothing more for you than a husband who enjoys holding you all night long.”

 

“This thing you are wearing… it’s his, isn’t it?”

 

Kristin knew she had shocked her daughter.  “Nathan slipped one of his shirts into my luggage and I enjoy sleeping in it.  I feel closer to him.  I wore one of these shirts so often on the ship that I am more comfortable in it than in dresses.”

 

“You wore… his clothes… on his ship?  But you told me you didn’t get married until…” Cynthia’s voice trailed off and her eyes widened as she realized where her thoughts were going.

 

Kristin sighed.  “Nathan and I became… intimate… before we were married, it’s true.  But the relationship wasn’t forced on either one of us and it didn’t happen for almost a month after… As a widow I do have a certain degree of latitude as long as I behave with discretion.”

 

“But grandmother said… ‘that’ is something every proper lady had to endure so that she could have children.  Even you told me that.  Why would you choose to be… that way… with the man before you had to?”

 

“I taught you as I had been taught… but I was wrong.  Nathan has taught me so much about the physical side of loving and it can be wonderful, Cynni.  Enjoying sexual congress with my husband doesn’t make me a bad person or an immoral woman.  It simply enhances all the other aspects of our lives together.  I want the same thing for you and the man that you fall in love with.”

 

“But grandmother…”

 

“Was wrong.  Maybe if Lavinia had enjoyed sleeping with her husband, she wouldn’t be the sour old biddy she is today.”

 

Cynthia giggled.  “I don’t think she means to be cruel.  She really thought that she was doing the best thing by forcing me to marry Percy.”

 

“Percy?  I would like grandchildren to spoil, my dear, and I don’t think that Percy was capable of siring them.”

 

“But your captain obviously is?”

 

“Oh very capa… Oh no you don’t.  Some aspects of my married life are going to remain private.”

 

“Tell me about your husband.  What makes him so very wonderful?”

 

Kristin smiled broadly.  “Where do I begin?  When we first met we fought like cats and dogs.  He blamed the British for his son’s death and I blamed all pirates for your father and Uncle James’ deaths.  But as time went by we reached a happy medium.  Then Lucas got sick and I saw the man behind the pirate mask.”

 

“The real ‘Blue Rogue’?”

 

“No, the real Nathan Bridger.  He cares so much… so deeply… about pain and injustice.  But he makes me laugh as well.  He took me up to the crow’s nest of his ship once.  The view was absolutely breathtaking and he wanted to share that with me.”

 

“You climbed the rigging?  How did you manage that?”

 

“I wore a pair of Nathan’s breeches.”

 

“Mummy!”

 

“You don’t have a license on being unconventional, my dear.  I wore men’s trousers and climbed the rigging and had a ball doing it.  It wasn’t all fun and games, though.  There were several battles.  I was locked below deck during those but Zellar managed to find me during the last one…”

 

“What about my new stepfather’s island?  Is it beautiful?”  Cynthia felt her mother’s body tense when she mentioned the pirate and wanted to draw her attention away.

 

“The island is lovely.  Nathan has the most wonderful home, lots of doors and windows to catch the breezes and you can see the ocean from the upstairs balconies.  The kitchen is ruled with an iron hand by his housekeeper, a wonderful old lady named Bess.  She was Nathan’s nurse and she’s stayed with him all these years.  After a bit of a rocky start there she taught me how to make her secret ointment.”

 

Cynthia laughed.  “I knew that you would get back around to healing somehow.  But back to Nathan… what is he like?  What does he look like?”

 

“His eyes are bluer than the ocean.  That’s the very first thing that I noticed about him.”

 

“And…” Cynthia prompted, more than a little amused by the dreamy quality in her mother’s voice and eyes.

 

“Nathan’s hair is gray… with a little brown still sprinkled in.  He’s taller than I am but not too tall… lean… he has a long face with a strong jaw and long wonderful fingers.” Kristin sighed.  “His voice is deep and resonant… I love listening to him read poetry to me or telling a story.”

 

“He reads you poetry?”

 

“Coleridge is his favorite poet.  We had a picnic in a meadow one afternoon and after we’d eaten we read poetry aloud.  It was a wonderful afternoon… a wonderful day, in fact, because that is the day that Bill and Janet arrived.”

 

“The boy you rescued… his parents?”

 

“William is hardly a boy, Cynthia.  I know I tend to speak of him as if he were a child but he is your age… a very nice young man with wonderful parents.  Bill and Nathan have been dear friends since their youth.  Janet and I became very close in a very short time.”

 

“You sound… so happy, Mummy.  Happier than I’ve heard you sound in a very long time.  If your… husband… makes you feel this way than I am happy too.”

 

Kristin smoothed Cynthia’s hair, knowing what it had cost her daughter to utter those words.  “Nathan makes me very happy, so happy that I’m very miserable right now with missing him.  Being with you is the only thing keeping me sane.  I did miss you so much, Cynthia.  If I’d known that you thought I was dead…”

 

“But you are here.  That’s what is important.”

 

“Cynni…” Kristin hesitated, “I haven’t pushed you but… would you tell me what happened while I was gone?  If you can…”

 

A deep sigh escaped Cynthia’s lips and Kristin felt her daughter’s grip tighten then finally she began to speak.

 

“We weren’t worried that much at first… I think you were about a week overdue when grandfather began to be concerned that he hadn’t heard from you.  But I know how you can be when you are working on a new ship design so I thought that perhaps you found a problem that you were studying or that you were just having a marvelous time.

 

“We were planning to turn back to port the next morning, but that afternoon Nathan’s ship came.”

 

“As the weeks went by we began to worry more and more.  I went out riding one morning with just Ned as groom.  I wanted some time to myself. When I got home…”

  

Cynthia raced across the meadow at a breakneck pace, enjoying the freedom that she felt as the wind raced through her hair.  For a few moments she was able to put her worry for her mother behind her. 

 

The hedge was coming up quickly and Cynthia leaned low over Diablo’s neck, her hands gripping the reins tightly as she urged him forward.  She felt the horse’s muscles clench tightly seconds before he launched himself up and over the high brush. 

 

Diablo landed perfectly and continued his trot without a single missed step, racing across the large expanse of lawn toward the front of her grandfather’s country manor.  A slight tug on the reins brought the stallion up just in front of the entrance stairway and Cynthia slid gracefully off of his back, a smile on her face.  She was so happy that she even ignored Ned’s chastising look as she handed Diablo over to him.

 

Ned simply shook his head, knowing that cautioning Lady Cynthia about the danger of her jump would do no good.  She was known to be just as hardheaded as her mother.

 

Cynthia ran up the stairs, anxious to share her happy mood with her grandparents.  They needed cheering up.  She approached the library with a song on her lips, knocking lightly then pushing the door open.

 

“The weather is so wonderful today, Grandmother…” Her voice trailed off as she realized that another man shared the room with her grandparents.  “Excuse me, I didn’t mean to interrupt…”

 

Her eyes grew wide as the slump shouldered man stepped into the light and she identified him.  “Captain Peterson!  You’re back!  This is wonderful!  Is mummy upstairs?”  She turned to search for her mother but a broken voice held her back.

 

“No… your mother isn’t upstairs.”

 

“Then where… Where is mummy?” A touch of hysteria tinged her voice as she fought against her rising panic. 

 

“She isn’t here, child.” Lionel Westphalen’s face was drawn, his features heavy with sorrow. 

 

“Where is she…?  Grandfather?”  When no answer was forthcoming Cynthia turned toward her grandmother but Millicent lowered her face into a delicate lace handkerchief to hide her tears.  “Grandmother…?  Someone tell me where my mother is!”

 

John Peterson stepped forward, his hands gripping the brim of his battered hat tightly.  “We had a spot of trouble, miss… Ran into a pirate ship.”

 

“No…” Cynthia’s lips formed the word but she hadn’t the voice to say it.

 

“Your mama, she was a real trouper.  She wouldn’t let the crew fight… could see immediately that we hadn’t a prayer in armed combat so she tried to negotiate with the Rogue to get us released.  Stood up to him real good, she did.  He didn’t hurt none of us… just ran us aground and damaged the ship… but he took your ma and Miss Hitchcock with him on his ship.”

 

“Took… pirates kidnapped my mother?”

 

“Yessum… Thing is… your mother was hurt… not from the pirate, mind you, but because she slipped and hit her head but she was bleeding something fierce and… Pirates don’t release their prisoners real often.  I was hopin’ that maybe your grandfather had got a ransom note but after all this time…” John’s eyes spoke the words he couldn’t voice.

 

“NO!  NO!  My mother is NOT DEAD!!!”

 

Lionel moved toward his granddaughter.  “I don’t want to believe it either, child, but we must consider the possibility…”

 

“I WON’T!” Cynthia wheeled and ran from the room, through the front entryway and out the door…

 

 

“I hid all day, crying and praying… I am ashamed at how my behavior worried grandmother and grandfather…”

 

“Ssh…” Kristin soothed Cynthia.  “They understood.”

 

“Grandfather sent out search parties but after weeks went by… no one could find a trace of you… we all began to give up hope.  About two months after your disappearance grandmother Carruthers came driving up in your carriage and told me to pack my things.  Grandfather tried to argue with her but she had arranged to take complete control of the Kilhairn estates.  Grandfather told her that he would continue to provide for me but she would have none of it.”

 

“Two months… somehow Lavinia must have intercepted my letter telling you that I was alive and well.  She realized that I would be coming home soon and she had to act quickly if she wanted to have you in her power.”

 

“She certainly did that.  Before nightfall I found myself ensconced in her London townhouse, being fitted for ‘proper gowns’ by her modiste and given the first of many stern lectures about doing my duty for the Kilhairn line.”

 

“My dear, I am so sorry.  If I’d had any idea she would behave like this I would have made more detailed plans.  But you are a grown woman.  How could she expect to control you?”

 

“She didn’t and I think that made her even madder.  She kept throwing the money and the title up in my face but I couldn’t give a tinker’s damn about those.”

 

Kristin bit her lip to keep from smiling as she did the motherly thing and gently chastised Cynthia for her language.

 

“But it’s the truth, Mummy.  She thought that she was going to use the threat of losing everything to force me to marry that horrid man.  Percy showed up at the first ball she forced me to attend.  I didn’t want to go.  I told her that I was in mourning but she said that until your death was official I could still socialize.”

 

“Lavinia certainly didn’t miss a trick, did she?”

 

“A few weeks ago grandmother Carruthers came to me and told me that Percy had asked for my hand and that she had accepted on my behalf.  I refused to go through with the wedding but she kept picking at me.  She locked me in my room and took my books away.  I wasn’t allowed to speak to any of my friends or to attend any of the academic lectures at the museums.  The servants brought my food on trays but they weren’t allowed to speak to me either.”

 

Pure unadulterated rage boiled through Kristin as she listened to the way her daughter had been mistreated.  “Never again, my baby… never again.”

 

“Grandmother told me that if I didn’t agree to marry Percy she would arrange for him to compromise me so that we would have to marry.” Dampness seeped through the blue silk shirt as Cynthia’s tears stained it.  “I’m so glad that you got home in time, Mummy.  I didn’t want to marry him.  He was so horrible.  He tried to kiss me once… it was awful… like kissing a dead fish.”

 

“As soon as we return to the city I will be making some changes to the estate.  Your father left your care to his mother should anything happen to me but I am going to change that.  Your maturity is such that I think you are capable of handling your own finances.  I can’t change the age at which you reach your majority but I can arrange for a different guardian and I will go over all of the estate accounts with you.”

 

Cynthia groaned.  “That sounds like so much fun.”

 

“Now you sound like your brother.” Kristin chided Cynthia gently. “I know it isn’t the most exciting stuff but it is necessary.”

 

“Mummy?”

 

“Hmm?”

 

“Do you think… will I ever…?”

 

“What is it, darling?”

 

“After kissing Percy I couldn’t stand the thought of having to share a bed with him, much less being married to him for the rest of my life.  Do you think that I will ever find someone?  Someone who makes me feel like your Nathan makes you feel?”

Kristin eyes glowed as she nodded determinedly.  “There is someone very special waiting out there for you, Cynthia.  I know that.  You will find him when the time is right.”

 

Both women giggled as they yawned in unison.  “I guess I should go back to bed…” Cynthia stared across the dark room at the window, watching the receding thunderstorm.

 

Kristin slipped down further into the bed beside her daughter.  “Why?  You can stay here with me… no one will be bursting in tonight.”

 

Cynthia laughed softly as she snuggled into a deep pillow.  She was asleep in seconds.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

“I am sorry, missus but it just won’t fasten.  I am pulling as tight as I can but it needs another two inches.”

 

“Dammit!” Kristin’s anger softened when she saw the look of horror on her young maid’s face.  “I’m sorry, Lizzie.  I’m not angry with you.  I just don’t understand why my clothes don’t fit any longer.  I haven’t gained weight in twenty years and now I do?”

 

Lizzie lowered her head.  “Begging your pardon, ma’am…”

 

“What is it, Lizzie?” Kristin encouraged the girl to speak, taking care to keep her voice low and calm.

 

“The gowns, milady… they don’t fit anymore because they was made to be worn with a corset.”

 

Kristin’s face fell as realization struck.  “No… I will not go back to wearing that infernal straitjacket!  You’re right, Lizzie.  I’ll have to wear one of my dresses that I brought back from the Caribbean.  They were measured without corsets.”

 

“But what about all your other lovely dresses?  You won’t have anything fine enough to wear in London!”  Kristin knew that the other ladies of the ton would judge Lizzie’s worth as a maid by the finery that her lady wore.  She sighed.  “I’ll contact my dressmaker as soon as we get to London and order a new corset or two… along with several new dresses that can be worn without the damned thing.”

 

“You’d appear in public without the proper foundation garments?” Lizzie was mortified.

 

“I will wear a corset only when I absolutely have to.  Bring me the pale blue gown.  I can wear my navy cloak with it in the carriage if I need the added warmth.”

 

Lizzie bobbed a quick curtsey and moved to the wardrobe to pull out the dress just as a knock sounded on the door.  Kristin grabbed her dressing gown and wrapped it around her before calling for the person to enter.

 

Cynthia popped her head in the door, a less than happy look on her face.  “May I come in, Mummy?”

 

Kristin nodded.  “Close the door firmly behind you, please.  I don’t need Lucas bursting in just yet.”

 

Cynthia made sure the door was latched before joining her mother in the center of the room.  She made herself comfortable, pouring a cup of tea and stealing a biscuit from her mother’s breakfast tray while Lizzie helped Kristin into a lovely light blue day dress.

 

“I haven’t seen that gown before.  It’s very pretty.”

 

Kristin’s head appeared through the scooped neckline.  “Nathan had several gowns done up for me… part of my wedding trousseau.  This is one of them.  Apparently I am going to have to have a new corset made so that I can wear my old gowns and Lizzie won’t be ashamed to have me seen in public.”

 

“What happened to all of your corsets?” Cynthia mumbled, her mouth full of cookie.

 

An impish smile touched Kristin’s lips.  “One was lost at sea and a couple are still at the manor in Cornwall.  The one that I was wearing was… destroyed.”

 

A quick glance at Lizzie settling the blue skirt over Kristin’s petticoats stopped Cynthia from asking the question that she wanted to but Kristin could tell that her daughter wouldn’t soon forget the subject.

 

“How is that, Lizzie?”

 

“Fastens up real lovely, milady.  No problem at all.”

 

“Thank you, Lizzie.  I’m just going to braid my hair for the journey so I won’t need you to dress it.  Why don’t you get a bit to eat and then check on the trunks.  We should be ready to pull out in about an hour I should think.”

 

“Very good, ma’am.”  Lizzie dropped another curtsey then left the room.

 

“So…” Kristin dropped into the chair opposite Cynthia and picked up her teacup.  “Why the long face?”

 

“I’m sorry, Mummy.  I’m just not terribly excited about going back.  Everyone will be talking about my aborted wedding and I don’t know how I’ll face…”

 

Kristin sat the cup down and leaned forward.  “You’ll face them with a straight back and a proud look.  You were not at fault, Cynthia.  I won’t let you act as if you were.  I don’t intend for us to attend every social event on the calendar but we will make an appearance at several well-chosen events.  I won’t let you bury yourself away over this.”

 

“I wish I had your courage, Mother.”

 

“You have plenty of courage of your own, my sweet girl.  Come now… isn’t there anything good about going to London?  Can’t you think of just one thing?”

 

Cynthia laughed at her mother’s tone of voice.  She remembered it well from her childhood.  “I guess… I will love being able to buy some new books.  I’ve missed all of the latest novels.”

 

“Then you shall go to the bookstore this very afternoon.”

 

“What about me?  Do I have to go to the bookstore as well?”  The women looked up to see Lucas lounging in the doorway.

 

Kristin held her arms out to her son.  “You are going to have to learn to knock, Lucas.”

 

“I saw Lizzie in the hall.  She said you were decent.”

 

“That isn’t the point, young man.” Kristin told him sternly as she hugged him.  “We could have been speaking privately.  Have you eaten breakfast?”

 

“Twice.  And I’ve been to the stables and helped load the coach.  When we get to London can I go to Vauxhall Gardens?  And I’d really like to see the British Museum, too.”

 

“We will be there for several weeks so you will have time to see all of the sights, my son.”

 

“Maybe dad will be here before much longer!  He could take me to Tattersall’s to see the horses… I’m sorry, Mama.”

 

Kristin flicked away the tear in the corner of her eye.  “I miss Nathan too, Lucas.  It would be wonderful if he arrives soon.”

 

“London will be the first place that he will look for you, won’t it?” Cynthia asked.  “Then why don’t we make haste to get there?”  She linked arms with her mother and her brother and dragged them towards the door with a laugh.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Cynthia breathed a sigh of relief as she stepped out of the carriage in front of her favorite bookseller. Cynthia knew her grandmother Carruthers had dismissed most of the staff at her mother’s London townhouse, claiming the expense was unnecessary when Cynthia would be staying with her while in London.  Her mother had been livid when Cynthia told her this and had dispatched a letter to Stephens posthaste, authorizing him to rehire any servant who wished his position back.  All of the staff had returned, down to the last man.

 

Her mother had been true to her word and as soon as the coach had been unloaded she had bade Cynthia to go on her way while she dealt with the unpacking.  Although she was growing fond of the boy, Cynthia was glad that Lucas had opted to stay at the house.  The last few weeks had been so overwhelming that she welcomed some time alone among her beloved books.

 

After selecting several new gothic mysteries and the latest treatise on Egyptian history, Cynthia paid for her selections and stepped out onto the sidewalk, intent on reaching the park and settling down on her favorite bench to read for a while.  She was so focused on her goal that she didn’t see the large shape looming up in front of her until it was too late.

 

Books scattered along the pavement as strong male hands grabbed her torso to prevent her from falling into the muddy street.

 

“I’m so sorry, Miss… I didn’t see you coming out of the door.  Please forgive my clumsiness.  Are you hurt?”

 

Unfamiliar hands worked across her chest and arms, checking for injuries.  Cynthia blushed and stepped back out of the man’s reach. 

 

“I’m fine, sir… really…” her voice trailed off as she found herself captivated by beautiful hazel eyes flecked with green and gold.  “No damage was done to my person.”

 

“Your books, however…” The man bent over and quickly picked up the books, brushing away the water spots as he did so.  Only one title was damaged beyond repair.

 

“I ruined your book.   I am so very sorry.  Please let me buy you another to replace it, Miss…”

 

“Carruthers.” Cynthia automatically gave her birth name, the name that her grandmother had insisted she use once her mother disappeared.  “It isn’t necessary, Mister…”

 

“Noyce, William Noyce.”  Will doffed his hat and bent over Cynthia’s hand to brush his lips across her fingers.  “I’m very pleased to meet you, Miss Carruthers, although I am sorry that I had to plow into you to do so.”

 

“The fault is equally mine, Mr. Noyce.  Please don’t feel that you have to replace the book.  I should have been paying more attention.  I was in a hurry to get to the park.  I like to go there in the afternoons and read.”

 

“What a coincidence!  I was headed that way as well.  In the few weeks that I’ve been in London, I’ve been going there to sketch.  I found a lovely little spot with a bench, right beside the duck pond…”

 

“With a beautiful rose bower nearby?” Cynthia smiled with delight.  “Perhaps we were fated to meet, if not here then certainly there.”

 

“That is the spot where you read?  I’ve never noticed you there before.”

 

“I’ve only just returned to London.  I’ve been in the country with my family for a long visit.  How long will you be staying in England?”

 

“I am not really sure.  My father is to be attached to the American embassy here and I escorted my mother and younger sister over to set up the household.  Once my father arrives I am to act as his attaché, at least for a time.  We aren’t sure how long his assignment will be.”

 

William Noyce smiled brilliantly at the lovely woman before him and Cynthia’s heart flipped.  Shyness suddenly overcame her.  “I really must be going… It was very nice to meet you.”

 

“Pleased to make your acquaintance as well, Miss Carruthers.  Perhaps… I might see you in the park some afternoon.”

 

Cynthia didn’t really understand why that thought gave her so much pleasure but she returned his smile.  “Perhaps, Mr. Noyce.  I must be getting home now, though.  I didn’t realize how late it was.  Goodbye, sir.”

 

“Goodbye, Miss Carruth… oh… your books.”  Will carefully returned the bundle to Cynthia’s arms.  “Good day, miss.”

 

The young man with the beautiful eyes stood on the sidewalk and watched Cynthia until she disappeared into the back of her carriage.  She chanced a peek out of the window as the coach pulled away and noted with pleasure that he was still watching.

 

A happy sigh escaped her lips as she thought of William Noyce and made plans to slip away to the park the next afternoon.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

A sigh of relief escaped Kristin’s lips as she finally closed the door to her bedroom, determined not to open it again until morning.  She had dismissed Lizzie earlier, wanting nothing more than to be alone for a while, so she worked at the fastenings of her dress as she moved toward her small desk.

 

The house was in shambles when they arrived, Lavinia having dismissed most of the staff.  Kristin knew that Stephens and Elsie had done their best to keep everything up but the house was too large for two people to clean.  Both of her servants had been genuinely pleased to see her and had done her bidding without hesitation.  Stephens had immediately set out to contact members of the dismissed staff when Kristin had notified him of their impending arrival but several of the returning employees had to work out notices and hadn’t yet returned.  Stephens was aghast when Kristin had rolled up her sleeves and started cleaning bedrooms but the hard work had been good for her and helped to keep her mind occupied.

 

Now, alone in her room, her thoughts once again returned to her husband in full force; the emptiness left by his absence nearly causing her to fall to her knees and weep.

 

Kristin fought against the tears as she stepped out of the dress and draped it over a nearby chair then dropped her petticoats to the floor.  She grabbed the silky dressing gown that Lizzie had left laid across the foot of the bed and wrapped it around her then sank into a chair and stared at the pile of mail covering every square inch of the desk’s surface.

 

‘I don’t want to do this right now.’ Kristin reluctantly picked up the top envelope and ripped into it, grimacing at the invitation to Lord and Lady Carrington’s ball.  Without a qualm she dropped the elegantly printed vellum into the trash receptacle. 

 

Several more invitations quickly followed before Kristin finally tucked one to the side, thinking that a small gathering would be much more pleasant than a large crush.  She had little desire to socialize at all but remaining reclusive would lead to more talk about Cynthia's aborted wedding.

 

‘Anything for my children.’ Kristin also tucked back a few payment requests from various vendors, amazed that Elsie and Stephens had been able to feed themselves on so little money.  Her anger at Lavinia flared again but she quickly stamped it down, determining to do her best to reward her servant’s loyalty herself.

 

Most of the mail had been sorted when she reached the thick packet near the bottom.  Her hand brushed across the outer wrapping and Kristin knew… She grabbed the string and ripped it away from the letters then frantically opened the top one…

 

My dearest love,

 

You’ve been gone from me for less than an hour and already I am bereft without your sweet presence.  At this moment I doubt my very sanity.  How could I have sent you away from me?  How can I live without your gentle laugh?  Your sweet kiss?  The need to keep you safe must be paramount but to be without you… I no longer feel alive…

 

Tears streamed down Kristin’s face as she read Nathan’s letter, felt the anguish he felt at her parting just as acutely as she’d felt her own that day.  Once she had read the letter through twice she laid it carefully aside and moved on to the next missive in the stack.  It was dated the day after their parting and like the first, appeared to have been written over the length of the entire day.

 

There were fourteen letters in all, one for each day that Nathan had remained on the island after she had departed.  The letters were lengthy, full of news about everyone on the island.  Nathan dutifully reported new ‘Bessisms’ along with daily greetings sent from Sarah and even an occasion hello from Crocker.

 

He reported all the reconnaissance that he received about Zellar although Kristin could tell he did so reluctantly.  Every detail of his plan was recorded for her along with his daily movements about the island.  Interspersed with these ramblings were sudden bursts of feeling, declarations of love that made Kristin weep.

 

Near the end of the stack she found two letters that weren’t for her.  One had the name Lucas followed by the words my son, written in Nathan’s strong hand and the other simply said Cynthia.  Kristin was tempted to open the notes and read them anyway, hungry for every word from her husband but in the end she refrained.

 

Kristin hesitated for a moment as she picked up the last letter, wanting to devour it but also wanting to make it last.  Finally she carefully slid the flap open and unfolded the sheaf of papers.  Trapped in the folds of the top page was a pressed flower of blue; the same type of blossom that Nathan had gifted her with their first morning on Monito island. 

 

Kristin imagined Nathan picking the bloom, pressing it carefully between the pages of a book then tucking it into the letter as a special gift for her.  She pulled open a drawer of the secretary and removed the journal that she had kept sporadically since she was a teenager.  The book fell open to the back page and Kristin gently transferred the flower there for safekeeping.

 

Once the page was clear Kristin pulled her feet up beneath her in the chair and sank back to read about Nathan’s last day at their home.

 

The day started as all the rest had.  He woke at sunrise, her name on his lips.  He dutifully ate the large breakfast that Bess insisted he consume but that he had no appetite for then made his way down to the sloop.  He and Crocker had carefully gone over the supplies, checking yet again to make sure that they would have everything they might possibly need to confront the pirate.

 

Once this was done Nathan had called the men who had volunteered to accompany him together and explained the final plan.  Then he had given those men a chance to back out with honor; had encouraged them to do so.  There was no reason for any of them to risk their lives he had told them.  Not a single man had taken him up on his offer.

 

Tomorrow I sail away from this place where we have found such happiness to confront the threat to our joy.  If love alone can defeat this evil then we have already won because the love that I have for you, my darling wife, continues to grow day by day. Should the worst happen and for some reason I am unable to return please believe that my love will never leave you.  I shall always be with you just as you are with me.

 

Forever yours,

 

Nathan

 

And then, just below Nathan’s name, the letter continued.

 

When I signed my name I had thought this letter done but I now see that was foolish of me.  A few hours ago I climbed into our bed alone, wrapped my arms around your pillow as I have done every night for the last two weeks, and laid my cheek on one of your chemises… the one you were wearing the night I cut your corset away.  It is my favorite… you have probably guessed that I kept it back when Bess packed your luggage.  I hope that you found my shirt.  I like to picture you wearing it, thinking of me as I think of you.

 

Sleep was elusive tonight, as it has been since you departed.  I am amazed at how quickly I grew used to sharing my bed and now I find that I can’t sleep alone.  My heartbeat sounds so lonely without yours beating in unison.  Are you thinking of me right now, I wonder?  Do you miss feeling me curled up next to you?  Do you long for the touch of my hand as I long for yours?

 

If I could have thought of any other way to keep you safe and with me at the same time I would have done so.  Even now my mind races trying to think of any alternative but I cannot.  Please try to understand and forgive me; your safety is paramount.  I have to protect you no matter what the cost.  You mean that much to me; and so much more, my love.

 

The supplies are packed, the ship has been made ready and the men are resting in anticipation of our departure at first light.  I am sending out the packet for mailing tomorrow in hopes that my notes will find you.  I do not know when I will be able to send more letters although I will be writing to you every day.  God willing, I shall deliver those letters to your hand personally and very very soon, my precious wife.

 

I’ve enclosed notes for both Lucas and Cynthia.  I hope that your daughter is taking the news of our marriage well.  Let both children give you comfort during this time that we are apart.  Promise me that you will keep yourself safe and well.  Try not to be too sad or to neglect your health.  You will need all of your energy when we see each other again, I promise you.

 

The first rays of sun are just beginning their slow journey across the water as I stare out the window and imagine you standing on the balcony as you were our last night together, silver streaks of moonlight caressing your hair and your naked body…  A gentle breeze washes over me, tinged with the sound of your voice calling out my name, your sweet sighs and moans as we loved each other in the moonlight.  The scent of you touches my nostrils, lavender and vanilla, salt and sun, and your own special perfume, that sweet special essence that is uniquely Kristin.

 

After cautioning my men so strongly I dare not be late myself so I must not tarry even though I would write you an epic if I had time to do so.  Some nights, in my sleeplessness, I lay in our bed and read, imagining your voice once again reciting those memorable lines from Coleridge as you did in the meadow.  I happened across a verse that spoke to me particularly and long to share them with you.

 

Love
by: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

 

And in Life’s noisiest hour,
There whispers still the ceaseless Love of Thee,
The heart's Self-solace and soliloquy.
You mould my Hopes, you fashion me within;
And to the leading Love-throb in the Heart
Thro’ all my Being, thro’ my pulse's beat;
You lie in all my many Thoughts, like Light,
Like the fair light of Dawn, or summer Eve
On rippling Stream, or cloud-reflecting Lake.
And looking to the Heaven, that bends above you,
How oft! I bless the Lot that made me love you.

 

I close with these final words.  You are my love.  You are my life.  My soul was not complete until we met, until we loved.  It shan’t be complete again until we are together.  I will remove this threat from our lives and I will return to you as soon as possible.  Hold fast to our love until we are together again, my heart.

 

I love you,

 

Nathan.

 

The letter slipped and fell from Kristin’s fingers, floating slowly to the floor as she wrapped her arms around her torso and sobbed uncontrollably.

 

 ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Kristin muttered a sailor’s curse as the sunlight filtered in through her window, pulling her from the restless slumber that she had finally managed to fall in to just before dawn.

 

“Go away!” She yelled at the gentle scratch at the door, then immediately regretted her grumpiness.  “Come in, Lizzie.”

 

The maid entered timidly with a tray in her hands.  “I brought your morning tea, milady.”

 

Kristin nodded and waved her hand at the bedside table.  “Just put it there, Lizzie.  I’m a bit out of sorts this morning… a headache.  I think I will lie in for another half hour.”

 

“I could bring you a dose of laudanum if you like.”

 

Kristin shook her head.  “I think resting my eyes for a few more minutes and a sip or two of the tea will help.  Could you come back in three-quarters of an hour?”

 

“Yes, milady.”

 

Cursing silently once again, Kristin yanked a pillow over her face.

 

‘Oh, Nathan!  Where are you?’  The man she loved had invaded her dreams as he did most nights, only this time he was searching for her, crying out her name.  She could hear him but she couldn’t find him.  Every time she got near he seemed to move further away.  She woke in the night screaming out to him and each time she managed to fall back asleep the dream returned, only to end the same way.

 

‘I need you so desperately, my love.  Please come to me as quickly as you can.’

 

Kristin tried to distract herself with thoughts of her family but that didn’t work either.  She dreaded the visit to her father’s home that she would have to make this morning, pleased at the thought of seeing her mother but knowing that her father would be there as well. 

 

‘I don’t want to be angry with you, Father, but I can’t help it!  Why can’t you trust me?’  There was sure to be another confrontation.

 

At least Cynthia’s dismay at having to return to the city seemed to have lifted.  She had returned from her outing to the bookstore the previous afternoon in fine spirits.

 

A slight tap pulled Kristin from her musings.  ‘Has it been almost an hour already?’  She threw the pillow away and pulled up in the bed as she called out for her visitor to enter. 

 

Kristin was expecting Lizzie but the face that appeared in the door way belonged to Katie. 

“Katherine, what are you… is something wrong?”  Kristin jerked up into a sitting position and gasped, her eyes clenching shut as the room began to spin and the pain in her head sharpened.

 

Katie was at her side instantly, easing her back down into the pillows.  She rubbed Kristin’s temples soothingly until her eyes finally opened.

 

“You look like hell, milady.  When was the last time you had a decent night’s sleep?”

 

“I’m fine.  I just have a bit of a headache.”

 

“And very dark circles under your eyes… and very little color in your cheeks.”

 

“Did you want something, Katherine, or did you just come in to tell me how awful I look?”  Kristin snapped.

 

“I’m sorry, Kristin.  I am just worried about you.  The captain wouldn’t want you to neglect your own health worrying over him.”

 

Kristin’s countenance softened.  “I am sorry as well.  My head really is pounding.  I thank you for your concern… but why the early morning visit?”

 

“I thought you would want to know that Ben is back.”

 

Kristin bolted upright again, one hand grabbing the bedpost to steady herself.  “Where is he?”

 

“He’s in the hallway.  I didn’t know that you weren’t feeling well and I thought you would want to see him immediately.  I’ll have him wait in the breakfast room.”

 

“No,” Kristin clutched Katie’s arm to prevent her from leaving.  “I do want to see him now.  Will you hand me my dressing gown?”

 

Katie held the wrapper while Kristin thrust her arms into the sleeves then went to beckon her husband in as Kristin pulled the bedclothes up modestly to her neck.

 

Ben hurried into the room and moved without hesitation toward Kristin, taking her outstretched hands in his as he sat down beside her on the edge of the bed.  Katie moved in beside him and he dropped one hand to wrap his arm around his wife’s waist.

 

“What did…?” Kristin swallowed hard as she struggled to continue.  “Did you find out anything?”

 

Ben’s look was sad as he shook his head.  “Nothing, milady… Kristin.  Not one single word.  Ned and I scoured every port and heard nothing.”

 

Kristin mumbled something nearly intelligible as relief flooded her face but worry quickly replaced it again.  “But shouldn’t there be some news?  Either way?”

 

Ben tightened his grip on her hand.  “Not necessarily.  We don’t know how long it took the captain to get ready for his trip.  We don’t even know if the actual confrontation has taken place yet.”

 

Kristin remembered the unexplained pain she had suffered the morning she sent Ben on his mission.  “They’ve met.  I know they have even though I can’t really explain how I know.  It sounds crazy but…”

 

“Kristin… we’ve all seen this bond between you and the captain.  If you say that the captain and Zellar met then I believe they have.  But news takes time… the captain wouldn’t take time to write a letter.  He’ll bring it himself.”

 

These words brought a bit of a smile to Kristin’s lips.  “You are right.  I know you are right.  I just need him so desperately…”

 

Both Ben and Katie were amazed as they watched Kristin struggle for a few moments with her emotions then seemingly pull herself together and give them a bright smile.  “I’m sure that Nathan is on his way to me even as we speak.  Did you make arrangements for any information to be sent to us, Ben?”

 

“Ned’s connections and some freely spread coin came in very handy.  We will know within hours if any news comes in.”

 

Kristin clasped Ben’s hand with both of hers.  “Thank you so much for taking on this task for me, Ben.  Now go spend some time with your wife.  I know that she has missed you this last week.”

 

“You’ll be all right, Kristin?”

 

“I’m fine, Katie.  My headache is much better.  I was hoping to use it as an excuse to delay another confrontation with my father but I guess that isn’t to be.”  She smiled as she gently encouraged the couple to go enjoy their reunion.

 

Once she was alone in the room Kristin cuddled back into the pillow and sighed Nathan’s name as a single tear escaped and ran down her cheek.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Kristin plastered a large smile on her face as she listened to her parent’s butler announce her arrival, something that had never happened before.  In the past she’d never felt the need for such formality in the home she had grown up in.

 

At the servant’s gesture, Kristin entered the room and breathed a sigh of relief to find her mother there alone.  A small cry of joy spilled from Millicent Westphalen’s lips as she held out her arms to the daughter she’d never thought to see again.

 

Kristin flew to her mother’s embrace, falling to her knees beside Millicent’s chair and burying her head in her mother’s chest.  Tears flowed freely down Millicent’s cheeks.

 

“Oh my darling girl!  I never thought… I couldn’t bear to lose another child.  I prayed and prayed and God brought you back to me.”

 

Kristin looked up and carefully wiped away her mother’s tears.  “I would never have distressed you like this intentionally… I swear that I sent Cynthia word but apparently she never got it.”

 

“You think Lavinia took it?”

 

“She must have, Mummy.”

 

“You and Lavinia Carruthers have never gotten along…” Millicent paused and patted the ottoman near her feet.  “Come sit and tell me…”

 

Kristin dutifully shifted to the seat, her mother still clasping her hands tightly.  “I am sorry that I took so long to get back to London to see you.”

 

Her mother shushed her.  “I know that you needed to spend time with Cynthia and I also know that you and your father had a falling out.  I was a bit afraid that you wouldn’t come at all.”

 

“I couldn’t stay away from you but… I wasn’t sure that I would be welcome.  The words that father and I spoke were quite harsh.”

 

“He told me about your argument… and the reasons behind it.  Kristin, the thought of losing you almost destroyed your father.  He barely slept… never more than a few hours a night… and that sleep was troubled.  He tortured himself with images of what might be happening to you… feeling guilty because he never tried to stop you from going out on your short voyages… I am not saying that he was right… but try to understand his point of view.”

 

“Not only does he not protect my daughter while I’m gone but he is treating me as if I don’t know my own mind, Mother.”

 

“We did everything we could to protect Cynthia but yes, we were derelict when it came to Lavinia.  She is the child’s grandmother.  When she came to take her for a visit we thought that it might be good for Cynni.  She needed to be away from all the sorrow in our home.  We had no idea that Lavinia was intending to force her into an unwanted marriage.”

 

“I understand but… she’s my child.  The thought that she might have been condemned to spend the rest of her life with that pale imitation of a man…” A shudder shook Kristin’s shoulders.  “I guess that I always looked up to father as my protector and he let me down horribly in this.”

 

“He feels that too, daughter.  Have you thought about that?”

 

“He said that I had been raising Cynthia wrong… that I should force her to marry.”

 

“Did he?  Or did he say that it was time that she thought about marriage?  We all want a good match for our girl… but a happy match as well.  Is your match happy, my love?”

 

Kristin smiled.  “Father told you about Nathan?”

 

“He told me that you married your rescuer, an American captain… so his name is Nathan?  I like that.  Tell me about him.”

 

“Nathan…” Millicent’s eyes narrowed as she observed Kristin’s face when she spoke her husband’s name.  “Nathan is handsome and strong and brave… kind and loving… He is so wonderful to me.”

 

“This man is in love with you?”

 

Kristin nodded.  “And I am in love with him.”  She observed her mother in turn.  “Do you believe me?”

 

Millicent chuckled ruefully.  “It is a mother’s curse to be caught between her husband and her child.  I want to believe you, Kristin, so until I have proof to the contrary I will believe you.  I just wish that this wonderful man who has captured your heart would show himself very soon.”

 

“You can’t wish it anymore fervently than I do, Mummy.  I miss him so…”

 

“How can you have let this man fool you so completely?  You aren’t that stupid, Krissy!” Lionel Westphalen’s voice exploded from the doorway.  “Over a week has passed.  Where is this ‘wonderful’ man?  I thought he was following you… couldn’t bear to be parted from you…”

 

Kristin leapt to her feet and turned slowly, her eyes icy with anger.  “I am not stupid and Nathan has done nothing except show me what true love really is.  He will be here soon.  Thank God that I am not required to explain his actions or mine to you.”

 

“STOP IT!  Both of you!”  Millicent’s voice cut through the thick wall of tension between father and daughter.  “Lionel, sit down and be quiet.  You have already made your views well known.  There is no reason for you to continue to berate Kristin.”

 

“But Mils… she’s behaving irresponsibly.”

 

“Our daughter is a grown woman who no longer needs our permission for anything that she chooses to do.  She is here today by my invitation and you will treat her with respect.  Do you understand me, Lionel?”

 

Kristin’s father threw his body down onto the settee, folded his arms and glared at his wife, his lips poking out in an obvious pout.  Millicent stood.

 

“Kristin, would you call for tea please?”

 

“Of course, Mummy… and my name is Kristin!” She bit out at her father as she moved toward the door, sensing her mother move to her father’s side as she did so.

 

Her parent’s butler was absent in the front hall so Kristin walked to the kitchen and spoke with the cook herself.  After being assured that tea would soon be served she filched a tart and walked slowly back toward the parlor, enjoying her sticky treat while steeling herself to face her father once more.

 

Kristin pushed the door open and took a step into the room, coming up suddenly as she stared at the scene before her.  Millicent was sitting in Lionel’s lap, locked in his arms.  The kiss they shared was anything but chaste.  Her eyes grew wide as she watched her father’s hand slide down her mother’s back to firmly cup her bottom. 

 

Face flushing, Kristin stepped back into the hallway and swallowed hard, patting her enflamed cheeks as she tried to comprehend what she had just seen.  Millicent had raised Kristin as she had been raised; affection in a marriage was welcome but physical contact was a wife’s duty.  Based on what she had just witnessed, Kristin realized that her parent’s had obviously found more together, just as she had found with Nathan.

 

The tea trolley rattled behind her as the downstairs maid pushed it carefully towards the parlour, breaking Kristin’s reverie.  She tapped loudly on the door twice before pushing it open again. 

 

Millicent was back in her chair, not a hair out of place.  Lionel was still on the settee but his countenance had improved slightly.  Kristin would have doubted what she herself had seen except for the small smile touching both of her parent’s lips.  ‘When did this happen?’

 

This time Kristin took her seat in an empty chair as her mother poured the tea and passed it around.  Finally Lionel spoke in a conversational tone.

 

“The young man… Lucas?  May I ask what your plans are for him?”

 

Kristin felt her hackles rising but she fought the urge and answered pleasantly.  “We plan to adopt him… make him legally the son he already is in both our hearts.”

 

“He seems very polite… and very protective of you.” Lionel was also struggling to keep his promise to his wife not to yell anymore.

 

“He is.  Lucas is also quite brilliant.  His skills in mathematics and science are phenomenal for someone with little formal schooling.  Once we’ve settled in I am going to hire a tutor to continue his studies.  When he is ready he will go to university.”

 

Silence fell for a few moments before being broken by a tap on the door.  Lionel looked vastly relieved when the butler announced a visitor for him and he made his excuses as he stood and left the room.

 

“Thank you, Kristin,” Millicent told her daughter once they were alone again.  “I appreciate you making the effort to be polite.  I worked hard to persuade your father to do the same.”

 

“I saw how you persuaded…” Kristin stopped, not believing that she’d spoken the words aloud.  “I’m sorry.  I wasn’t spying.”

 

“You saw your father and I?”

 

“Yes, I did… May I ask you a question, Mother?”

 

Millicent inclined her head in consent.

 

“When did this… I never remember you and father being so… affectionate… You enjoyed… you were encouraging… but you told me… you don’t still… do you?”  Kristin shivered at the thought of the question she couldn’t give voice to.

 

To her great surprise, Millicent laughed.  “Yes we do.  And yes, we still enjoy it.  The nature of the relationship between your father and I has changed vastly over the years.”

 

“Obviously.” Kristin muttered.

 

“Our marriage was brokered amongst the socials and parties of the ton but we were lucky.  We grew to care for each other.  I had hoped for the same with you and Oliver.”

 

“Oliver and I did care for each other… love each other… but never like what I saw…”

 

“When we knew that your brother was lost your father went to pieces.  He stopped sleeping and would spend the nights pacing through the house.  Many of those nights he finally found some measure of peace with me, holding me… loving me.  We reached out to each other in our grief and found a new dimension to our married life.  We’ve not spent a night apart since then.”

 

Kristin’s eyes widened in shock once again.  “You and daddy share a room… a bed? At your age?”

 

Millicent eyed her daughter shrewdly.  “Yes.  Losing the ability to conceive children only seemed to enhance our physical joining.  Aren’t you glad to know that part of a relationship doesn’t have to stop with the onset of old age?”

 

“What?” Kristin’s mind was still reeling and she didn’t fully comprehend her mother’s question.

 

“Aren’t you glad to know that the physical aspects of loving your husband can continue for years to come?  Because you do enjoy your new husband, don’t you?  You’ve found great happiness with him… in many ways.”  The astute look was back in Millicent’s eye. 

 

Kristin blushed but answered her mother with a small nod.  “Nathan makes me very happy,” she whispered.

 

Before Kristin could ask any more questions Millicent changed the subject.  “Now tell me, what are your plans while you are in town?  Everyone is going to want you to attend their functions.  Your adventures have been the talk of the town…”

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

“I’ll be back to visit soon, Mummy.”  Kristin pressed a kiss to her mother’s cheek.

 

“And you will bring my new grandson?  I am anxious to meet young Lucas.” 

 

Kristin artfully tied the bow of her simple but becoming bonnet beneath her chin.  “He is chafing to meet you as well.  Once you are feeling up to being out you must come to the house to visit.”

 

Millicent patted her gown above the leg with the sprained ankle.  “That won’t be much longer.  I can walk short distances and stand for short periods of time with no problem.”  She impulsively embraced her daughter again.  “Thank God for bringing you home to me.” Kristin heard her murmur.

 

The women pulled apart at the sound of a clearing throat to find Lionel approaching them with a middle-aged man that Kristin didn’t recognize.

 

“Let me introduce you to my daughter.  Kris… tin… this is General Francis Thomas, of Connecticut, currently attached to the American Embassy.  General Thomas, my daughter, Lady Kristin Westphalen, Countess of Kilhairn.”

 

“Countess, I am pleased to make your acquaintance.  I’ve heard so much about you from your father.  I must confess that Lord Westphalen’s description did not do your beauty justice.”  Thomas bent low over Kristin’s hand, his lips actually touching her fingers.

 

Kristin shuddered inwardly, her skin crawling from the man’s much too familiar caress.  “Thank you, General.  If you will excuse me… I must be going.”

 

“The general is headed back towards Mayfair as well, Kristin.  Could you offer him a lift?”

 

“I… of course.”  Kristin inclined her head graciously, too mannerly to refuse.  “My carriage is waiting outside, General.”

 

She moved rapidly through the front door, her quickness sparing her the necessity of taking the general’s arm.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Kristin stepped down from the carriage in front of her town house gladly, relieved that the morning’s events were done.  Her time with her parents had exhausted what little emotional reserve she had left and all she wanted was to climb back into her bed and rest.

 

“I won’t require your services again today.” Kristin told the coachman as he helped her to the pavement.  “I’m not sure about the others… Miss Cynthia might want another trip to the bookshops.”

 

“I’ll just rest the horses but keep the carriage ready just in case, milady.”

 

Kristin smiled then moved up the front walkway.  Before she reached the first step the door flew open and both of her children descended.

 

“Lucas wants to get out of the house for a while so I thought that if you approved, we might visit the museum across from the park.  He could do some exploring and I could sit in the park with my book.  Katie wants to bring Ben along as well.”

 

Thoughts of a quiet house made Kristin agree instantly.  “Just as long as you don’t abandon him.  Lucas doesn’t know his way around.”  She turned back to the carriage.  “John, can you have the carriage ready for the children in half an hour?”

 

“Of course, milady.”

 

“Good.”  She turned back to the children.  “Lucas, you cannot go out in public in those horrible boots.  Why don’t you wear the ones that Nathan bought you in Port San Luis?”

 

Lucas grimaced.  “They don’t fit as well as these do.”

 

“That is because you never wear them.  Go put them on… and comb your hair as well.”

 

“Yes, Mama.”  Lucas hesitated a minute.  “Would you like to go to the museum with us, Mama?”

 

“I would like very much to go with you but perhaps the next time, hmm?  I didn’t sleep very well last night and this morning has been… emotionally intensive.  I think I might nap a bit before tea.”

 

“Did you and grandfather have another confrontation?”  Cynthia wrapped her arm around her mother’s waist sympathetically as they slowly climbed the stairs.

 

“Not really… the potential was there but your grandmother diffused it very quickly.  Things remained a bit tense, however.  Then your grandfather put me in the position of offering an acquaintance of his a ride, an American general named Francis Thomas.”

 

“Was he rude to you, Mama?” Lucas saw something in his mother’s eyes.

 

“No, he was actually very polite… but there was just something about him that made me uncomfortable… the way he kept looking at me, perhaps.”

 

“Then you won’t be put in that position again.  I’ll speak to your father about it,” Lucas said.

 

Kristin clamped down her chuckle, knowing that Lucas was taking Nathan’s admonishment to look after her very seriously.  “Very well, my son, but right now I want you and your sister to get ready, go to the museum and have a lovely afternoon out with your friends.”

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

“Are you sure that you won’t be needing me, milady?” Lizzie asked worriedly as she helped Kristin pull her dress over her head. 

 

“I’m very sure, Lizzie.  All I want to do right now is rest a bit.  We will be staying in this evening so I won’t need changing again.  Go out and enjoy an afternoon with your young man.”

 

Lizzie blushed.  “Thank you, ma’am… but dinner?  Won’t you be needing me to help you?”

 

Kristin shook her head as she slipped a loose emerald green sheath over her head then loosed the ties of her petticoat.  “I wouldn’t wear this in company but for the children and the Kreig’s… They won’t mind if I am informal.” 

 

She stepped out of her undergarments and Lizzie gathered them into her arms to put away.  “If you really don’t need me…”

 

Kristin put her hands on her hips.  “Go!” She commanded in a mock angry tone.

 

Once Lizzie vacated the room Kristin pulled the draperies closed to block most of the light and climbed into her large lonely bed to sleep and dream once more of Nathan.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

“Kristin!  Kristin, where are you?”  The sound of her name pulled Kristin’s slumbering conscious back to wakefulness.

 

“Nathan?  Are you there, darling?”  She called out groggily as her hands flew up to rub her eyes.

 

The voice that called her name again didn’t belong to Nathan but Kristin suddenly realized that it did belong to someone she knew.  She slid down the side of the bed and grabbed her dressing gown then flew into the hallway.

 

Kristin had managed to get her arms through the sleeves and was in the process of belting the wrapper when she reached the top of the stairs and looked down at the melee taking place in her front hall.

 

Stephens, ever the dutiful butler, was physically blocking the path of the determined looking woman trying to reach the stairs.  In response to the obstacle Janet Noyce was calling for Kristin at the top of her lungs.

 

“Oh, Janet,” Kristin breathed the words at the same instant that Janet looked up and saw her standing there.  “Oh god, Janet!” 

 

Kristin was halfway down the winding staircase before the scream came and Stephens barely had time to step out of the way before his mistress came barreling past him and into the embrace of their intruder.

 

Janet wrapped her arms tightly around Kristin, who immediately began to sob.  Janet murmured comforting words to her friend as she clung to Janet and broke down completely.

 

Stephens was stunned at Lady Westphalen’s reaction to the annoying woman who had been calling every day for over two weeks but he was also glad that the woman was there to deal with it.  He cleared his throat slightly to get the woman’s attention then motioned her toward the front parlor.  She gave him a grateful smile and slowly led Kristin toward the open door.

 

Once the women were inside Stephens closed the door firmly behind them.  Janet led Kristin to the settee and sat them both down, never breaking her hold on her distraught friend.  She simply held Kristin and let her cry until the tears had run their course.

 

When Kristin finally pulled back a bit, Janet dug one hand into her reticule and came out with a handkerchief and started wiping tears away.  Kristin couldn’t help but laugh as she took the lace square and dabbed it at her eyes.

 

“I’m sorry… I’m just so very glad to see you.  I’ve missed you… I’ve been so lonely to talk to you… and suddenly here you are!”

 

“I’ve been here for several weeks, visiting this house, annoying your very proper butler, trying to get word to you.  When I arrived today I could tell that something was different… there was more activity.  I asked for you and was told that your maid had left word that you weren’t to be disturbed.  Knowing you were right here in the house… I don’t know what came over me but I wanted to see you so badly.  I shouldn’t have created such a scene though.”

 

“I am so happy you did!  Stephens will get over his pique.”  Kristin gripped her friend’s hands tightly as the colour slowly drained from her face.  “But… what are you doing here?  Do you have word of Nathan?”

 

“No, no… I don’t have bad news… unfortunately I don’t have any news at all and I’m beginning to feel a little desperate myself.”

 

Kristin’s eyes widened but she held her tongue as Janet continued.  “Bill has temporarily been assigned to the American embassy staff here in London.  Having just gotten Will back we couldn’t bear to leave the children so soon so Bill arranged for Will to be assigned as his attaché.  We found this out not long after we arrived back in Boston.”

 

“So Bill and your children are here as well?”

 

“Will and Clarissa are here with me.  We came ahead to find lodging and get settled.  Bill had other business to attend to before he could join us here.”

 

“He’s gone after Nathan.”  Kristin didn’t need Janet’s confirming nod to know the answer to her statement.  “How long had Nathan been planning this?”

 

“Nathan and Bill had talked about the consequences of Zellar finding out that the two of you had survived and Nathan promised Bill that as long as the pirate left you alone he wouldn’t go after him.  We guessed that something must have changed…”

 

“One of Zellar’s men came to the island.  He didn’t see us but his words and actions made it very clear that the bastard wasn’t giving up.  Nathan felt that he had no choice.”

 

“He loves you and he wants the two of you to have a peaceful life together.  That couldn’t happen as long as Zellar was stalking you.”

 

“How did Bill know?”

 

“Nathan sent to his Boston shipyard for a smaller boat.  Will heard about it and brought the news to us.  Bill knew immediately what the request meant.  He also knew that Nathan would get you as far from danger as possible… back to England.”

 

“Nathan insisted.  He wouldn’t even allow Lucas and me to stay on the island.”

 

“Bill knew.  He couldn’t allow Nathan to go it alone so he went after him.  A few days ago I finally received a letter from my husband.  He had it posted when he stopped at Nathan’s island.  Nathan wasn’t there.  He’d been gone just a few days.  Bill had some idea of the location of Zellar’s hideout so he was going to follow him.”

 

“Dammit, dammit, dammit!  Why did they have to do this?  I’ve been back in England over two weeks.  There were letters here from Nathan while he was still on the island but once he left to track that bastard… nothing!  Why haven’t I heard from Nathan?”  Kristin pounded her knee as she cursed.

 

“You will hear from him, Kristin.  You’ll hear from him soon, I just know it.”

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

“I’ll just be on the bench by the pond with my book.  Katie knows the place.  Enjoy your game.” Cynthia told Ben and Lucas as they stripped off their jackets and waistcoats, having been invited by a group of young men playing bowls in the park to join them.

 

“I could come with you.” Katie offered tentatively but Cynthia knew that she really wanted to stay and enjoy the sport.

 

“There is no need.  I sit on the bench nearly every afternoon.  No one will harm me and I will have a little peace and quiet to read my book.  Someone must stay here and cheer for the fellows, don’t you think?”

 

“If you are sure…”

 

“I’m positive.  I will see all of you in a bit.”  Cynthia picked up her skirts and with a friendly wave headed toward the pond.

 

The outing to the museum with Lucas had been quite an adventure and even though Cynthia was becoming more and more enchanted with her new brother every day his rowdy ways did shock her sometimes.  He’d been the picture of a perfect gentleman while in the museum but once they’d entered the park he became positively wild.  Katie had explained that Lucas was used to wide opened spaces and bare feet but Cynthia still relished the idea of a little quiet time.

 

Her favorite bench was empty and as she settled onto it she scanned the area, unconsciously looking for the tall young man she had met the previous day.  Cynthia was surprised at the disappointment she felt when she didn’t find him.

 

‘Perhaps another day…’ she shrugged her shoulders and bent to her book.  She was quickly absorbed by the perils of the beautiful heroine, so much so that she didn’t notice anyone approaching until a shadow fell across her book.

 

“Miss Carruthers.” 

 

Cynthia’s heart flipped as she stared up into those same fascinating eyes that she had first noticed the previous afternoon.  “Mr. Noyce.  How lovely to see you!” 

 

Will bent low over Cynthia’s offered fingers then, at the gesture of her hand, sat down beside her.  “I was hoping to run into you today.  I had actually packed up and headed toward the exit when I looked back and saw you just sitting down.”  He gestured toward the small black portfolio at his feet.

 

“I visited the museum this afternoon with my younger brother so I was late in arriving.”

 

“Is your brother here?”  Will quickly scanned the area.

 

“He is just over the rise there, playing a rousing game of bowls.  I was taking advantage of his interest to have some quiet time.”

 

“I don’t mean to intrude…” Will made to stand but Cynthia laid a hand on his arm to keep him in place then just as quickly pulled it back when she realized the impropriety of the gesture.

 

“Your presence isn’t an intrusion.  I was hoping… well, you said that you came here sometimes in the afternoons.”

 

Will leaned over and pulled a plain wrapped package out of this bag.  “I hope you don’t think me too forward but I bought this for you today.”

 

Cynthia took the bundle without hesitation and tore the paper away to find a new unblemished copy of the book she had dropped in the puddle the day before.

 

“This is very thoughtful of you, Mr. Noyce, but you didn’t have to…”

 

“I wanted to.  I know that I may be too forward speaking for your liking but couldn’t you call me Will?  Mr. Noyce is my father.”

 

“I shouldn’t…” Cynthia relented when Will’s face fell.  “But here in the park… when no one is around… I shall call you Will… and you will call me Cyn?”

 

“I’d like that…Cyn.”

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Janet was grateful for the calmness that slowly came over Kristin throughout their long conversation even though she knew it was mostly a façade.  She suspected that Kristin had bottled everything in for so long that she seldom let it out, unwilling to let her children know how deeply she was hurting.

 

They’d spent the last half hour talking about the whims of society; Janet encouraging Kristin’s ramblings in an attempt to keep her mind occupied for a while.

 

“And tomorrow morning my dress maker is coming.  None of my clothes fit properly without a corset so I’m having some new gowns made.  In a concession to my maid I am also going to get a new corset but I will only wear it when I absolutely have to.”

 

“I’m going to have to arrange for some new gowns soon as well.  We’ve already had to attend a few small functions at the embassy but there are some larger ones coming up and I’m afraid that my wardrobe is a little out of date.  Fashion trends travel slowly to America.”

 

Kristin set her cup down, a smile on her face.  “Why don’t you come over tomorrow morning?  Madame Dussault is an excellent modiste… one of the best in London.  I’m sure that she would be willing to take you on as a client.  She could do your measurements while she does mine.”

 

“That would be the ideal solution…” Janet knew from rumor that the dressmaker in question was indeed the best in the city.  “But I wouldn’t dare to presume on our friendship…”

 

“Janet Noyce!  You know damn well there is no presumption involved!  I’ll send a note round to the lady this afternoon informing her that you will be here as well.  You can come early!  We’ll have breakfast together before she arrives.  Please say yes, Janet.  I’ve missed you so very much and I desperately need you…  Now I am the one who is presuming.  I’m sure you have other things to do besides baby me…”

 

Janet reached out and grabbed Kristin’s hand, clenching it tightly.  “Stop that.  I am here for you always… we are here for each other.  There is no place in London that I would rather be than with you.”

 

“Until Bill comes home, that is…” Kristin smiled saucily and winked at her friend.

 

“Until Bill comes home.” Janet confirmed.  “And brings Nathan with him.”

 

A clatter in the hallway heralded the swinging of the door and Lucas burst into the room, his eyes zeroed in on the generous platter of pastries that cook had provided with the tea.  He didn’t even notice that his mother wasn’t alone until he was almost on the ladies.

 

“Aunt Janet!” Lucas rushed to Janet’s side and threw his arms around her, genuinely delighted to see her.  “What are you doing here?”

 

“I’m visiting with your mother.  Uncle Bill has been sent to a post here for a few months so I came ahead to set up the household.”

 

Lucas knew without asking why Bill had been delayed and seeing the cautionary look on Janet’s face he didn’t pursue it.

 

Kristin beckoned to the lovely young woman standing in the doorway watching the scene with interest.  “Cynthia, come meet my dear friend Janet.  I told you about her… how kind she was to me while I was staying on the island.”

 

Cynthia moved forward graciously to take Janet’s hand.  “Mother has spoken so much about you that I feel like I know you already.  Welcome to England.  I know that mother is delighted to have you so close.”

 

Janet surprised Cynthia by pulling her forward and hugging her.  She resisted just an instant before returning the hug.  Janet laughed as she released the young girl.  “I’m sorry.  I just couldn’t help myself.  Kristin told me so much about you that I feel as if I’ve known you forever.  There is something about you… not looks so much, although you do resemble your mother… but… you carry yourself like your mother does.  I would have picked you as her daughter.”

 

“She’s just as stubborn as mama is, too.” Lucas mumbled through a mouthful of tarts.  “She wouldn’t even play bowls with us in the park today.  She wanted to go ‘read’… can you imagine?”

 

Kristin noted the pretty blush that touched Cynthia’s cheeks at Lucas’ words and resolved to ask her daughter about her afternoon trips to the park when they were alone.  Meanwhile, she was glad that brother and sister had grown close enough to tease without hurt feelings.

 

“Some people enjoy things besides games and calculations, Lucas.  Don’t think I couldn’t see your brain whirling as your figured out the best speed and trajectory for your ball.  How much money did you win from your opponents?”

 

Lucas hurled a pillow at Cynthia, which she deftly caught and tossed back.  “It was just a friendly game… a few sovereigns…” He finally admitted at his mother’s pointed stare.

 

“Lucas…” 

 

“It was just a few and we won them fairly, Ben and I.  There was no scam involved.”

 

“I’m glad that you had a nice afternoon, then.  Janet, you will stay to supper, won’t you?”

 

Janet glanced down at the watch pinned to her gown and started.  “I would love to but I am already committed to another engagement this evening.  I could break it…”

 

“No, no.  Don’t do that.  You will be here in the morning and we can continue our chat then.  Lucas, would you go ask John to pull the coach around and drive Janet home?”

 

“No, really… I can catch a hack on the street.  I really do need to get home.  I hadn’t realized the time and the children will be worried…”

 

“Why don’t I escort Aunt Janet home, Mama?”

 

“You aren’t familiar enough with the streets, Lucas…” Kristin relented at the eager look in the boy’s face.  “Why don’t you ask Ned to go with you?  He can show you how to hail a cab and help you get a lay of the city.”

 

Janet leaned over and embraced Kristin, whispering a few words of encouragement in her ear before rising.  “Don’t get up, dear.  I shall see you in the morning.  Try to get some rest this evening.”

 

“Come about half eight.  Janet… thank you for not giving up.”

 

Janet offered one last understanding smile before she followed Lucas out of the room, Cynthia following them.

 

“I am so very pleased to meet you, Mrs…?”

 

“Call me Janet, please?”

 

“All right then, Janet.  Your visit has done wonders for mummy’s spirits, I can tell.  She tries to hide her sadness from us but I can still sense it…”

 

“Kristin is desperately lonely without Nathan, even though she is ecstatic to be with you again.  We shall have to work together to try and keep her spirits up.”

 

Cynthia chatted with Janet just inside the doorway until Lucas returned with Ned.  After one last wave when the group reached the street she closed the door and returned to the parlor.

 

Kristin was still curled up in the chair, her eyes closed as she rested her head against the cushioned back.  For a moment Cynthia thought that her mother was asleep but then Kristin stirred, sensing her daughter’s presence.

 

“Did you have a nice time at the park, lovey?”

 

“We had a wonderful time, Mummy.  Lucas and Ben really enjoyed the exercise.  I think that we should see about getting Lucas a horse of his own.”

 

“That wasn’t what I meant and you know it.” Kristin gently scolded.  “Did YOU have a nice time at the park?”

 

Cynthia blushed again.  “I always enjoy sitting on my bench reading… Ben could help Lucas pick out a mount, don’t you think?”

 

Kristin let the subject drop, knowing that Cynthia would talk to her about what was making her blush whenever she was ready.  “I’m glad.  You deserve a break from all the mayhem of the last few months.”

 

“Having Janet here has certainly improved your spirits.  You’ve been keeping to yourself so much since you returned home.  Even when you are in the same room with us you seem to be somewhere else.”

 

Kristin didn’t realize that her daughter had seen through her façade and knew that if Cynthia had then Lucas had as well.  “I’m worried about Nathan.  I can’t help but think about him… I think that something may have happened to him… that he might be hurt.”

 

“That is why you sent Ben and Ned… to see if they could find anything.”

 

“Yes… I truly am happy to be here with you, my sweet daughter.  Please don’t think otherwise.  I just miss…” Kristin shook her head then smiled softly.  “I promise that I shall try to improve my spirits.”

 

Cynthia squeezed her mother’s hand.  “I just… I want you to be happy, Mother.  If this Nathan makes you happy then I hope he arrives very soon.”

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

sail ahead...