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

 

Kristin’s eyes fluttered open as another knock sounded on her bedroom door pulled her from her dream of Nathan.  “Yes?”  She called out in a sleepy voice.

 

The door creaked open and Lizzie’s head popped in.  “Sorry to disturb you, milady… but there’s an American woman downstairs who says she’s expected,” she said.  “I tried to tell her that she had to be mistaken, that it was way too early to be calling…”

 

“It’s all right, Lizzie,” Kristin interrupted and bit back a smile at the exasperated tone in Lizzie’s voice.  “Please send her up right away.”

 

“Milady?”

 

“She’s a friend,” Kristin said.  “And she is expected.  Also, would you please have cook send up a breakfast tray for both of us.”

 

“Yes, milady,” Lizzie nodded then dropped a curtsey and left, closing the door behind her.

 

Kristin sank back against the pillows, closed her eyes and sighed her husband’s name.  She’d dreamt of him again last night.  The same dream she’d had the night before and the night before that.  Nathan calling to her… and her being unable to get to him.

 

“Oh… Nathan…” she whispered his name as she twisted her rings.  “Where are you, my rogue?”

 

“Knock knock…” Janet’s voice called out softly several minutes later as she opened the door and stepped into Kristin’s bedroom.  She stopped and smiled at the sight of Kristin still in bed.  “Sleeping in are we?”

 

Kristin laughed softly.  “Sorry… got lost in my thoughts,” she answered as she flipped the blankets aside and climbed out of the bed.

 

“Is that the new fashion in bedclothes these days?”  Janet asked with a grin at the sight of Kristin dressed in one of Nathan’s silk shirts.

 

Kristin blushed then with a grin, lifted her arms and slowly turned around.  “Think the ladies of the ton will go for it?”

 

“Not bloody likely,” Janet said in perfect imitation of Kristin’s accent.

 

The two women laughed as Kristin grabbed her dressing gown and pulled it over the shirt.  “Nathan slipped it into the bottom of my luggage,” she said.  “I found it my first night back in England… and have slept in it every night.  It makes me feel closer to him somehow…”

 

“I understand,” Janet told her.  “I do the same thing when Bill is off on a trip.”

 

Kristin nodded and led Janet over to the two stuffed chairs in the corner of her bedroom.  No sooner had they sat down then there was a knock on the door.  “That will be our breakfast,” Kristin said then called out.  “Come in.”

 

“Your breakfast, milady,” Lizzie said as she carried in a large tray and placed it on the table between the chairs.  “Is there anything else?”

 

“Not at the moment, Lizzie,” Kristin replied.  “I am expecting Madame Dussault in two hours.  When she arrives, please send her up to my dressing room.”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Lizzie said then left with a smile on her face; pleased that the dressmaker would be arriving that day to update the countess’ wardrobe.

 

Janet reached for the teapot and quickly poured them each a cup of the hot liquid then slathered a large piece of bread with some jam before she settled back in her chair.  “So… are you going to tell me about these dreams of yours or not?”

 

“They’re just dreams, Janet…” Kristin began.

 

“Kristin.  This is me you’re talking to,” Janet said.  “I can tell just by looking at you that they’re not ‘just dreams’.  There is more to them.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that they are about Nathan… but they’re upsetting you.”

 

“What makes you say that?”

 

“You look like hell,” Janet replied bluntly.  “Your eyes are tired and have bags under them, which makes me think that you’re not sleeping well.  You look too thin, so I’ll wager you’ve not been eating properly…”

 

“All right!  All right,” Kristin held her hand up.  “You’ve made your point.”

 

Janet gave her a small smile.

 

“Every night it is the same,” Kristin began then took a small sip of her tea.  “It starts out with Nathan and I together on the seaQuest… we’re happy and holding each other as we sail along then suddenly the scene changes and we’re separated,” she shuddered and gripped tightly to her cup.  “I can sense Nathan searching for me… calling out my name over and over… and I call back to him… but every time I get seem to get close… he’s pulled further and further away from me.”  Kristin paused and took a sip of her tea.  “Inevitably I wake up screaming out his name… then I have a hard time falling back asleep.  And when I do finally get back to sleep… it’s only to have the dreams start all over again.”

 

“Oh, Kristin…” Janet said softly.

 

“He’s… there’s something wrong, Janet,” Kristin said.  “Some reason he’s having trouble getting to me…”

 

“What makes you think that?”

 

“I can sense it,” Kristin answered in a whisper.  “He’s hurting…” her eyes filled with tears and her voice was choked when she continued.  “He’s hurting and I’m not there with him… oh god, Janet…”

 

Janet quickly placed her cup on the table and was up out of her chair and pulling Kristin into her arms in seconds.  She stroked her friend’s long auburn locks and felt tears stream down her face as Kristin once again sobbed in her arms.

 

“Nathan…” Kristin sobbed her husband’s name into Janet’s shoulder. “Oh, Janet… I miss him so much… I feel so incomplete without him…”

 

“I know… I know…” Janet said soothingly.

 

Nothing more was said as Kristin continued to cry into her friend’s shoulder.  Janet held Kristin tightly and said a silent prayer for Nathan’s safe and quick return to his wife.  When Kristin’s sobs subsided, Janet leaned back.  “Okay?”

 

Kristin nodded.

 

Janet smiled and moved back to her chair.

 

Kristin wiped the tears from her cheeks and eyes.  “I’m sorry.”

 

“Whatever for?”

 

“This is the second day in a row that I’ve broken down on you.”

 

Janet gave Kristin an affectionate smile.  “There is nothing to apologize for.  Tis what friends are for.”

 

Kristin returned her friend’s smile then reached for her tea and took a careful sip.  “Yes, you’re right… but I am not the only one whose husband is away… I shouldn’t be so selfish.”

 

“Kristin… you’re being human.  That’s allowed,” Janet said.  “Yes, Bill is out there too.  And yes, I am worried sick about him…” she said in a soft voice.  “I also know that you and Nathan have that special connection… so you are obviously very aware of any pain he is in…” her voice trailed off as Kristin reached out a hand and placed it protectively on her side at her hip.  “What aren’t you telling me?”

 

Kristin sighed.  “When I was at the country house, I got this sudden, very sharp pain in my side…”

 

“And you think…” Janet’s eyes widened as Kristin’s earlier words came back to her, ‘He’s hurting and I’m not there with him…’.  “You think that Nathan’s been hurt?”

 

“No,” Kristin shook her head.  “I ‘know’ he’s been hurt… hurt badly…” her voice trailed off as her eyes filled with tears once again.  “And I’m not with him… I should be there… taking care of him…” Kristin swiped at the tears on her face.  “But… he will be here.  Of that I have no doubt.  Nathan will be here.  He swore to me that he would be here.”

 

“And Nathan always keeps his promises,” Janet said with a slight smile.

 

A soft knock at the door prevented any further discussion.

 

“Yes?”

 

The door opened and Lizzie stuck her head into the room.  “Madame Dussault is here, milady.  I’ve shown her to the dressing room as you’ve requested.”

 

“Thank you, Lizzie,” Kristin replied.  “Please tell her we will be there in a few moments.”

 

“Yes, milady,” Lizzie said and ducked back out of the door.

 

“Well… I suppose I should change,” Kristin said as she placed her teacup on the table and stood.

 

“Oh… wear the shirt…” Janet grinned.  “Give the madame a shock.”

 

Kristin laughed as she moved across the room.

 

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

 

Janet laughed at the look on Kristin’s face as Madame Dussault’s young assistant pulled once again on the corset strings.

 

“Bloody hell!”  Kristin swore.  “Not so hard!”

 

“Sorry, Countess,” the girl responded and pulled again.  “I am just trying to get your corset on… but it will not… it appears to be too small.”

 

“What do you mean too small?”

 

“The corset… it is too small…” the young girl repeated.  “It does not go fully around you as it should…”

 

“That is not possible,” came the thickly accented voice of the seamstress as she walked over Kristin.  “I brought this with me from my shop.  It is your measurements…” Madame Dussault told Kristin.  “Of that you can be sure…”

 

“I believe you, Madame,” Kristin said with a grimace as the corset was given yet another tug.  “But I believe your assistant is correct,” she pulled the corset off.  “This… garment does not fit.”

 

“You couldn’t have gained any weight,” Janet spoke up,  “because you look entirely too thin to me.”

 

“Perhaps, Jeanette has grabbed the wrong corset,” Dussault said as she moved across the room to her kit and grabbed her measuring tape.  “But Madame Noyce is correct… you look too thin…”

 

“Then why won’t my corset fit?”

 

“Je ne sais pas,” the seamstress replied as she walked back to Kristin.  “I will take new measurements and compare them to the corset to be sure…”

 

Kristin nodded then lifted her arms as instructed and spared a glance at Janet.  She smiled at the amused look on her friend’s face.  “What?”

 

“I can’t believe you’re going to willingly go back to wearing a corset,” Janet answered.

 

“Only for the really formal occasions,” Kristin clarified.

 

“And I don’t think even for those,” Madame Dussault said in a quiet voice.   “Mon Dieu!”

 

“What is it?”  Kristin asked as she looked down to where the modiste was kneeling before her.

 

“I have figured out why your corset is not fitting you, Countess,” Dussault told her then pulled Kristin’s chemise flat against her stomach.

 

Kristin’s eyes widened and she gasped then before anyone could stop her, she stepped off the small stool and rushed out of the room.

 

Janet stood.  “Please… excuse us, Madame.  I…” she gestured after Kristin.  “Why don’t you help yourself to some tea…”

 

“Merci,” the seamstress nodded.

 

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

 

“Kristin…” Janet called out softly as she entered her friend’s bedroom.  She looked around and spotted her in the far corner, standing in front of a large cheval mirror.  She took a step then stopped, something telling her to give her friend a moment or two alone.  Instead, she leaned back against the now closed door and watched Kristin take in the obviously surprising news.

 

“I didn’t…” Kristin began in a quiet voice, as she stood sideways and looked at herself in the mirror; the chemise held tight against the now obvious bulge.  “I didn’t know you were there, little one… I didn’t think I could…” she ran her hands over her stomach.

 

“Oh, Nathan…” she whispered her husband’s name as she looked down to where their child was cocooned within her.  “Nathan…”

 

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

 

“Kristin!” 

 

Bill and Bess rushed to the bed as Nathan bolted upright.

 

“Hey!  Hey!  Easy there, pal,” Bill said as he caught his friend’s shoulders.

 

“Bill??  Wha…?”  Nathan looked around his room.  “Kristin… where’s Kristin?”

 

“She’s in England, Nathan,” Bill answered.

 

“Engl… no…” Nathan shook his head in confusion.  “I just… she called me…”

 

Bill glanced at Bess who was busy ringing out a cool damp cloth.  “Kristin is in England, Nathan.  Remember?  You sent her there to protect her.”

 

“I heard her, Bill…” Nathan muttered as he fell back against the pillows.  “I heard her…”

 

Bess laid her hand on Nathan’s forehead as he slipped back into a deep slumber.  “His fever’s broke… he’s gonna be fine now.”

 

“Thank God,” Bill said then looked up at the older black woman.  “Do you think he was hallucinating because of the fever about hearing Kristin?”

 

“I can’t say, Admiral,” Bess replied.  “But you knows my boy and his woman have a strong bond… maybe Miss Kristin really did call out to him.”

 

Bill nodded.  “Maybe.”

 

“Kris…” Nathan murmured his wife’s name.  “…mmmcmming…”

 

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

 

“Oh, Nathan…” Kristin whispered his name again as she continued to caress her belly.  “A baby… we’re having a baby, my love…”

 

“He is going to be very proud,” Janet said in a quiet voice as she slowly approached.

 

Kristin looked up at her friend, her eyes filled with tears and shining happily.  “Oh, Janet… I didn’t know… didn’t think it was possible.”

 

Janet smiled at the happiness she could see emanating from her friend.  “I am so happy for you, Kristin,” she said and leaned up against the window beside the mirror.  “Just for curiosities sake… were you still getting your cycle?”

 

“Yes…” Kristin nodded absently.

 

“Then why did you think… obviously it was still possible.”

 

“Because… Oliver and I tried for several years after Cynthia was born to have another baby,” Kristin told Janet.  “But I never conceived again… we just assumed that I couldn’t get pregnant again.”

 

“I would wager then, that it was Oliver’s problem and not yours,” Janet said then a smile grew on her face as she gestured to Kristin’s stomach.  “Baby Bridger there is proof of that.”

 

“Baby Bridger…” Kristin repeated with a smile and then a soft laugh suddenly escaped her lips.  “Janet!  I’m having a baby!”

 

Janet laughed then stepped over to Kristin and embraced her.  “Yes you are!  I am so happy for you!”

 

Kristin pulled out of Janet’s embrace to once again look at herself in the mirror.  She smoothed her hands down over her belly.  “A baby… Nathan’s baby…”

 

“When do you think it happened?”  Janet asked.

 

“I…” Kristin looked thoughtful as she caressed the bulge.  “I’m not…” a light blush crept up over her face.  “I’m not really sure.  Nathan and I have been quite… active… over the last several months.”

 

“You can say that again,” Janet quipped with a soft chuckle then laughed harder at the look Kristin gave her.  “Okay, so let me rephrase the question.  When was your last cycle?”

 

“About three or four months ago… I think… it’s been coming sporadically the last couple of years,” Kristin answered.  “Yes.  It would have to be then because I remember having my cycle just before I went out on the Spirit.  That… would mean…” a slow smile spread across her face.  “That would mean that baby Bridger was probably conceived when Nathan and I were on Monito.”

 

Janet smiled as she watched Kristin lose herself in the memories of her island adventure with Nathan; knowing it was there that Nathan had shown Kristin that sex between two people could be and was a wonderful experience that was meant to be shared and enjoyed.  That it was an incredibly fulfilling and joyful union between two people who loved one another.

 

“I can’t believe I didn’t notice it before,” Kristin said then looked over at Janet.  “Why… why wouldn’t I have realized…” she splayed her hands over her stomach,  “noticed this?”

 

“Well… you said yourself that you were under the impression that you couldn’t have any more children,” Janet answered.  “Couple that with your worrying about him the last month… it makes sense that you wouldn’t have noticed.”

 

“But why hasn’t anyone else noticed?”  Kristin asked.

 

“Probably because they’ve all been more focused on the fact that you’re home,” Janet answered.  “Your dresses are pretty full, so that will have hidden it too, and yes, there is your age…”

 

Kristin nodded then couldn’t help the small chuckle that bubbled out of her.  “So much for not having to worry about getting pregnant.”

 

Janet joined in the chuckling as she remembered their first conversation on the island.  “Well, on the bright side, you definitely can’t get pregnant now.  So when Nathan gets home, you two won’t have anything to worry about…” her voice trailed off.  “I’m sorry…”

 

“Nothing to be sorry about,” Kristin smiled at her friend.  “I know he will be here…” she paused.  “Janet would you mind… I… I could use a little more time to myself…”

 

Janet nodded.  “Oh, of course not!  Not a problem.  I understand completely.”

 

“You’re sure?”

 

“Absolutely,” Janet replied as she headed for the door.  “I will just go back and have Madame Dussault take my measurements…”

 

“Janet…” Kristin called out.  “Thank you,” she said when Janet paused.

 

“You’re welcome,” Janet smiled.  “Take your time.”

 

Once Janet had left, Kristin walked over to the door separating her room from her dressing room and slid the lock in place then made sure the main door was secured before she moved back to stand in front of the mirror.

 

After several moments of staring at her stomach in the reflection, Kristin felt a sudden urge to be close to her husband.  Abandoning the mirror, she made her way over to her bed and pulled Nathan’s shirt out from beneath her pillow.  She quickly loosened her chemise and let it fall to the floor then pulled on the shirt.

 

As the blue silk enveloped her, Kristin smiled as Nathan’s scent washed up over her.  She walked over to one of the chairs and curled up in it.

 

“Hello, little one,” she spoke down at her stomach while she caressed it.  “Your father is going to be so surprised when he gets here and finds out about you,” Kristin laughed softly,  “and I can’t wait to see his face.”

 

“You are truly a miracle,” she continued as her hand still moved over the bulge.  “I never thought… we never thought… oh, my rogue…” Kristin whispered and felt a wave of intense love wash over her.  “I am carrying your child.”

 

Kristin’s eyes closed and she focused all her energy and thoughts on Nathan; projecting all the love, desire and joy she felt for him across the water.  “Hurry back to us, Nathan…” she whispered as she opened her eyes to stare out at the clouds.  “Please… hurry…”

 

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

 

“Your Bill sounds like a wonderful man, Madame Noyce,” the seamstress said over her laughter as she wrapped her measuring tape around Janet’s waist.

 

Janet chuckled then smiled wistfully.  “He is.”

 

“Who is what?”  Kristin asked as she swept into the room.

 

“Madame Noyce was just telling us about her husband,” Dussault answered with a smile for the countess.

 

“Ah,” Kristin nodded with a smile as she sat down.  “And did she also mention that my new husband is her husband’s oldest friend?”

 

“Oui,” Dussault replied then smiled at Kristin.  “My congratulations, Countess.”

 

“Thank you,” Kristin returned the modiste’s smile.

 

“You are all finished, Madame,” Dussault said to Janet then turned to Kristin.  “I can measure you now, milady… if you still wish to have some dresses made.”

 

“I’m going to need them,” Kristin said with a small laugh as she placed her hands on her stomach.  The women chuckled as Kristin stepped up onto the stool just as Janet stepped down.  “Madame,” Kristin started as the seamstress began to measure her.  “I…”

 

“You don’t have to say it, milady,” Madame Dussault said.  “I will not breathe a word of your condition to anyone and neither will Jeanette.”

 

“Thank you,” Kristin smiled.  “I would like to be the one to tell my husband when he returns.”

 

“When are you expecting him?”

 

“Soon,” Kristin replied then thought to herself.  ‘I hope…’

 

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

 

“Good afternoon, Cyn.”

 

Cynthia smiled at the soft voice behind her and tilted her head back slightly.  “Hello, Will.”

 

“You look very nice today,” Will said as he moved around the bench and slid down to sit on the grass before it.

 

“Thank you,” Cynthia replied with a slight blush.  “You look rather fetching yourself.”

 

Will grinned up at her then opened his portfolio and pulled out his sketchpad and some charcoal.  “Pick something,” he said to Cynthia.

 

“Pardon?”

 

Will gestured out in front of them.  “Pick something… and I’ll sketch it.”

 

Cynthia looked around then pointed.  “That…”

 

“The rose bower?”

 

“Yes,” Cynthia nodded.  “Draw that… please.”

 

Will smiled.  “Okay.”

 

Cynthia laid her book aside and they talked quietly while Will sketched the leafy shelter.

 

“You were how old?”  William looked up from his drawing to look at her.

 

“Eight,” Cynthia answered quietly.

 

“That is young…” Will said.

 

Cynthia nodded.  “It is…”

 

“I can only imagine what it would have been like to lose a parent,” Will replied quietly.

 

“It was difficult,” Cynthia admitted.  “But it did draw mummy and I even closer together.”

 

“I’ll bet it did,” William said.

 

Suddenly the heavens seemed to open and before either of them knew what was happening, they were soaked in the downpour. 

 

“Quick!  To the bower!”  Cynthia called out through the rain as she helped Will gather up his things.

 

They ran, laughing, to the shelter and slipped beneath the leafy overhang.

 

“Are you all right?”  Will asked.

 

“Oh yes.  Are you?”  Cynthia questioned.

 

“Yes.  Just wet,” Will answered.

 

“And your sketchpad… is it?”

 

Will looked at the object in question.  “It’s fine,” he said.  “Nothing in here that I would be heartbroken over loosing.”

 

“Good,” Cynthia smiled at him then looked out at the park and watched the rain continue to fall.

 

“So does it do this often?  Downpour like that right out of the blue?”

 

“Actually… yes,” Cynthia answered.  “And in just a little bit, it will settle down into a soft, constant drizzle.”

 

Will followed her gaze out at the park but found his eyes drawn back to the auburn-haired beauty beside him.  ‘She is so beautiful,’ he thought to himself.

 

Cynthia could feel William’s eyes on her and couldn’t suppress the shiver that ran through her body.

 

“Where are my manners!?”  Will exclaimed suddenly when he saw her shudder and quickly stripped off his jacket then wrapped it around Cynthia’s shoulders.  “It’s gotten quite chilly,” he said as he rubbed her arms through the light jacket.

 

Cynthia tilted her head to face him and felt her heart begin to beat wildly in her chest as his hands stilled then tightened on her arms.  Her breath caught in her throat as Will slowly leaned towards her and brushed his lips softly over hers.

 

“Oh… I… I’m sorry, Cyn!”  Will said as he dropped his hands from her arms and straightened up, his eyes wide at his actions.  “I…”

 

“Should do that again,” Cynthia finished for him as she turned to face him fully then rose up on her toes and pressed her lips to his.

 

The kiss was slow and gentle, lips moving in a leisurely, loving caress against each other.  A soft moan sounded between them and suddenly the kiss exploded into a passionate exchange, tongues tangling and stroking the other until they parted breathlessly several minutes later.

 

“I…” Will began in a shaky voice.  “That was…”

 

Cynthia smiled and nodded.  “Yes… it was…”

 

“Can I… can we… do that again?”

 

“I would like that.”

 

“Can we… can we do it again now?”

 

Cynthia’s smile grew and she laughed softly as she nodded again.  “Oh yes…”

 

Their mouths came together again and they lost themselves in the sensations as the rain continued to fall around them.

 

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

 

“Lady Westphalen, might I say that you are looking lovely this fine afternoon.”

 

Kristin turned to find her father’s friend, General Frank Thomas, standing beside her.  He bent gallantly at the waist, his lips caressing the fingers of the hand he had captured.

 

Kristin repressed the shudder at his touch and smiled graciously.  “How nice to see you again, General.  I thought that I might encounter you here.”

 

“The Ambassador’s wife’s afternoon teas are required for all staff.  You would be amazed at how often valuable contacts are made here… valuable information gleaned.”

 

Kristin pulled back the hand that Thomas still held on to, disliking the lecherous gleam in his eye as his gaze wandered down her form.  She resisted the urge to rest her hands on her abdomen, knowing that the empire waistline of the new gown Madame Dussault had designed hid her burgeoning figure well.  Still, she couldn’t shake the suspicion that Thomas was… searching.

 

“What brings you here, Lady Westphalen?”

 

“I am here by the invitation of my dear friend Janet Noyce.  Her husband, Admiral William Noyce, is enroute here to begin his new posting.”

 

“I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Noyce but I’ve heard of the admiral, of course.  How did the two of you become friends?”

 

“Mrs. Noyce and I met while I was away from England recently.”

 

Thomas looked surprised.  “I heard that your family was told that you had been kidnapped by pirates.”

 

Kristin nodded.  “I was initially taken onboard a pirate ship but I was soon rescued by a very brave man… my new husband.  I met Admiral and Mrs. Noyce through him.”

 

“Your father told me your claim of recently remarrying.  How… convenient…”

 

“I beg your pardon?  Your remark is impertinent, General.  Explain yourself!”

 

Thomas was immediately contrite.  “My apologies, milady.  I was just…”

 

“You were repeating what you have heard my father say.  That is hardly your fault.  Please know, General, I am not ashamed of…”

 

Her words were interrupted as Janet descended on them with the Ambassador’s wife in tow.  Kristin generously introduced Thomas to Janet then breathed a sigh of relief as he made his excuses and left their conversation.  Soon the Ambassador’s wife was gone as well leaving the two women alone. 

 

“You looked very uncomfortable with Thomas so I decided to intervene.  Was I wrong?”

 

“Not at all.  You have my thanks.  I just… He was looking at me strangely.  Heaven only knows what my father has told him but he obviously doesn’t believe that I’ve remarried.”

 

“He is gone now so forget about him. I’ve been meaning to ask how you have been doing?  You seem to be better rested… more relaxed.”

 

“I have been sleeping much better since…” Kristin blushed as her hand brushed casually over her abdomen.  “Since I found out about this little one.  I feel more at peace… I think that Nathan must be doing better.”

 

“You are positively glowing.  Pregnancy obviously agrees with you.  I have to tell you that Mrs. Adams is quite pleased with your presence today.  I seem to have scored a major coup by having you attend with me.”

 

“Did you mention that Nathan is my husband?”

 

“No… I thought that I would leave that to you.  It is your news, after all.”

 

“I think that I would rather keep that news to myself for the moment.  My father is telling people that he has doubts.  Perhaps it will be easier not to have my marriage turned into gossip mill fodder until Nathan actually arrives.”

 

Janet squeezed Kristin’s hand.  “He will be here soon.”

 

Kristin smiled hopefully.  “He’d better be.  I’m not going to be able to hide the little one for too much longer.  In the few days since we discovered this little one I seem to have doubled in size.”

 

Janet laughed.  “I’m sure you are exaggerating.”

 

“Not really.  I can tell a small but noticeable difference every day.  I thought that Will might join us this afternoon.”

 

“I asked him but he is anxious to get in as much sketching as possible before Bill arrives and puts him to work.  He goes out every afternoon.  He might show up a bit later.”

 

“I hope… I think that Mrs. Adams is beckoning to you.”  Kristin inclined her head toward the group of ladies surrounding the hostess.

 

“She is trying to ensure that I meet everyone.  Do you mind?”

 

“Of course not.  I think I will make my way over to the punch bowl.”

 

Janet smiled her thanks as she moved off to meet yet another set of American wives.  Kristin moved slowly through the crowd, smiling to most of the guests, stopping to chat briefly with some of the English women she was acquainted with.  By the time she reached the punch bowl she was indeed thirsty.

 

After retrieving a cup of strawberry flavored liquid she sat down on a quiet bench at the garden’s periphery and sipped daintily at her cup as she watched the milling crowd.  She didn’t notice the tall figure backing toward her back until the bench lurched and punch slipped down her chest.

 

“Dammit!  I’m so sorry!  I was watching a bird and didn’t see you there.  Here, let me…”

The clumsy gentleman yanked a handkerchief from his pocket and plopped it down on Kristin’s neck, mopping up the strawberry spots from the top of her cleavage.

 

“Sir… Please!”  Kristin’s hands flew up to push his away from his improper position on her chest.  The handkerchief remained as the gentleman moved back, stammering another apology, so Kristin continued to dry the punch.

 

“Calm yourself, sir.  There is very little damage.  I’m sure that the spots will wash out.”  The few drops that had actually reached the bodice of her pretty day gown blended in nicely with the mauve coloring of the garment.

 

“I am very sorry miss…”

 

“Westphalen… Lady Kristin Westphalen, Countess of Kilhairn.”  Kristin introduced herself.

 

“Malcolm Lansdowne, American jack of all trades, at your service, milady.  I’ll be more than happy to pay for the gown if I’ve ruined it.”

 

“Not necessary, Mr. Lansdowne.”

 

“May I at least retrieve another cup of punch for you?”

 

Kristin nodded, recognizing that the man felt that he had to do something to make up for his mistake.  “That would be very kind of you, Mr. Lansdowne.”

 

Kristin chuckled to herself as she watched Lansdowne amble to the table and return at the same gait bearing two cups of punch.  She gestured to the bench beside her as she took the full cup.

 

Lansdowne sprawled over two-thirds of the bench and gulped down the cool liquid as Kristin observed him.  His clothing was nice but disheveled as was his hair; fine wisps of brown hair having escaped the ribbon holding the shoulder length tresses back from his face.

 

“So, Mr. Lansdowne, what kind of trades are you in?”

 

Lansdowne smiled and launched into a rambling tale of animal husbandry, farming and brewing strong spirits.  His affection for his work was obvious and Kristin was quite caught up in his stories.  They passed a delightful half-hour together before Kristin glimpsed Janet motioning to her.

 

“I’m afraid that I must be going, Mr. Lansdowne.  Thank you for an enjoyable conversation.” Kristin held her hand out and Lansdowne brushed the air above it with his lips.

 

“I hope to speak with you again, Lady Westphalen.  Perhaps we shall meet some evening at one of the many balls taking place.”

 

“Perhaps… Good-bye, Mr. Lansdowne.”

 

“I see you met Loony Lansdowne.” Janet said as Kristin approached.

 

Kristin frowned.  “He seemed like a very nice man.”

 

“He is quite harmless… just a bit eccentric.  However you might not say that if you had watched him watching you as you walked away.  I think he might be interested.”

 

“I’m not available, Janet.”

 

“Did you tell him that?  He would have believed you… He and Nathan are quite good friends.  He has his own island home just off of the coast of Spanish owned Florida.  Quite fascinated with dolphins as I understand.”

 

“I didn’t mention Nathan… I should have.  We could have talked about Darwin.”

 

“I am going to visit the ladies retiring room and I thought you might wish to accompany me.”

 

Kristin smiled gratefully.  “Definitely.  I had forgotten that particular aspect of my condition.”

 

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

 

Janet was still within the inner chamber when Kristin finished so she wandered out into the large waiting area and took a seat in a quiet corner to wait.  In the shaded area partially blocked from prying eyes, she finally allowed her hand to drift to the small bulge below her waist; her fingers rubbed gently as she mentally soothed the child within.  She closed her eyes and relaxed.

 

“Can you believe that the Noyce woman scored with a countess at her very first tea?  It is so unfair!  I’ve been working on a baroness for ages and then that woman just calmly strolls in with one of the most sought after peers in the city!”

 

Kristin’s eyes snapped open at the woman’s voice.  She knew that she should clear her throat, make her presence known but before she could the second female answered.

 

“It was a stroke of luck for Mrs. Noyce but I shouldn’t worry too much.  Now you know that I would never gossip…”

 

“Never…”

 

“I’ve heard rumours… She was supposedly kidnapped by pirates… the Blue Rogue, they say”

 

“That is old news, Ethel.  Everyone knows that.”

 

“But I’ve heard that she was… mistreated on the pirate ship… and that there were… consequences…”

 

“Consequences?  What kind of consequences?”

 

“Sometimes you can be so flighty, Lucy.  Consequences!  Of the nine month kind.  My maid told me that her niece’s dear friend works for Madame Dussault and the countess has recently ordered several dresses with a special design…”

 

“Oh… those kinds of consequences!  Time will tell, I guess.”

 

“And when it does perhaps Mrs. Noyce won’t be so much in favor anymore.”

 

“I guess that the poor countess can take comfort in the fact that the Blue Rogue is no more.  My husband just returned from the coast this morning and he was telling me that the news of the final battle is everywhere…”

 

Janet found Kristin alone in the room minutes later; a stunned expression on her face and tears streaming down her cheeks.

 

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

 

“Mummy!”  Cynthia called out in a singsong voice as she entered the house.  “Mummy, I’m home!”

 

“Your mother is outside, milady,” Stephens said as he entered the hall.  “She is in the gazebo with Mrs. Noyce, the Kriegs and your brother.”

 

“Oh… thank you, Stephens,” Cynthia smiled at the older butler.

 

“She asked me to have you join her as soon as you returned,” Stephens told her as she moved to pass him and head for the stairs.

 

Cynthia nodded and altered her path to head for the back of the house where the gazebo was located.  As she sailed across the yard, she wondered how long it would be before she would get a chance to talk with her mother alone.  Things had begun to heat up between her and Will since their first kiss a few days before, and she was now anxious to talk to Kristin about it.

 

“Good after…” she began as she stepped up into the gazebo and stopped.  Her mother was seated on the bench, her eyes focused out on a spot in the yard but Cynthia could see that her thoughts were elsewhere.  “What’s wrong?  Has something happened?”

 

Lucas turned swollen eyes onto his sister.  “Dad… dad’s…” he shook his head, unable to continue as Katherine pulled him into her arms.

 

Cynthia swallowed the lump that rose in her throat as she moved further into the gazebo and sat before her mother.  She reached out and took Kristin’s hand in between hers.  “Mum?”  When Kristin still didn’t answer, Cynthia looked at the people sitting around her.  “Will someone please tell me what is going on?  What happened?”

 

“Your mother overheard a rumour today at the tea Mrs. Adams was hosting,” Janet began.  “Two young girls were talking in the powder room.  They did not realize your mother was there…”

 

“And… what?”

 

Janet seemed to hesitate, not certain just how much Cynthia knew about her mother’s time away.

 

“It’s all right, Janet,” Kristin spoke up in a quiet voice.  “Cynthia knows.”

 

“Knows what?”

 

“That Nathan is the Blue Rogue,” Kristin answered as she met her daughter’s gaze.  “They were gossips, nothing more…”

 

Cynthia released an exasperated sigh.  “I gathered that!  But what were they talking about?  Why is everyone here acting like someone’s die… oh no!”  She shook her head at the sudden thought.  “Oh, Mother… no, please tell me…”

 

“That is the rumour,” Ben spoke up.  “I received word from one of the contacts I made on the coast while your mother was at the tea, that the Blue Rogue has been reported dead.”

 

“Oh God!”  Cynthia gasped and squeezed her mother’s hand.  “How?”

 

“The rumour is… that he was captured by the American Navy and hung,” Ben answered.

 

Cynthia turned back to her mother.  “Oh, Mummy… I’m so…” her voice trailed off at the tears she could see streaming down her mother’s cheeks.  “But I thought the two of you had this bond?  Surely you would be able to sense it if something…”

 

“I…” Kristin shook her head as she pulled in a shaky breath.

 

“He will be here, milady,” Ben said in a confident voice.  “The captain vowed to you that he would be here… that he would come back to you… and we all know that he is a man of his word.”

 

Kristin nodded.  “I know…”

 

“Kristin,” Janet spoke quietly to her friend.  “You have to calm down…” she said and reached out to lay her hand on Kristin’s shoulder.  “Relax… you’re not doing yourself or the little….” Her voice trailed off as she met Kristin’s eyes.

 

Ben, Katie, Cynthia and Lucas all exchanged confused looks at the sudden smile that filled Kristin’s face.

 

“Mama?  Are you all right?”  Lucas asked.

 

“Yes, Lucas…” Kristin answered then held her hand out to him.  “Come sit beside me.”

 

Lucas took his mother’s hand and moved over to sit next to her as she’d asked.

 

“I have something I need to tell you.  Both of you,” she said as she looked between Lucas and Cynthia.  “As well as you two,” Kristin told Ben and Katie.  She took a deep breath.  “Earlier this week… I discovered some wonderful news.”

 

“What is it, Mummy?”

 

Kristin pulled her hands away from her children and smoothed down the front of her dress.  “I am expecting a child.”

 

Janet bit back a chuckle at the wide-eyed, open-mouthed looks on the faces of the young people around them.  She caught Kristin’s eye again and the two shared amused smiles.

 

“Well?”  Kristin asked.

 

“Pregnant?”  Cynthia echoed then suddenly stood and walked across to the other end of the gazebo. 

 

Lucas moved to go after his sister but a touch from his mother’s hand stopped him.  He looked up at her.

 

“How do you feel about it, Lucas?”  Kristin asked him.

 

Lucas gazed her thoughtfully for a moment.  “Does this mean I’ll be an older brother?”

 

Kristin looked confused for a moment then realized what Lucas meant and nodded.  “Of course it does,” she reached out and cupped his cheek.  “This baby does not mean that we don’t want to adopt you, Lucas.”

 

“Are you sure?”  Lucas asked.  “It’s okay if you don’t want to anymore… I mean you and dad are going to have a baby of your own… so… I…”

 

Kristin laid her finger over Lucas’ lips to stop his rambling.  “Lucas, your father and I love you.  Our having this baby doesn’t change that.”

 

A slow smile filled Lucas’ face at that then he leaned in and hugged Kristin.  “I love you too, Mama,” he whispered then pulled back, the large smile still on his face.  “This is smashing!  A baby brother!”

 

Kristin laughed.

 

“Mummy?”

 

Kristin looked up from Lucas to see Cynthia walking back over to her with a broad smile on her face.  She felt tears well in her eyes when her daughter dropped to her knees before her and embraced her.

 

“Congratulations, Mummy,” Cynthia spoke softly against her mother’s ear.  “I am so happy for you.”

 

Kristin grabbed Cynthia’s shoulders and pushed her back slightly to look in her daughter’s eyes.  Seeing nothing but genuine happiness for her, Kristin smiled and pulled Cynthia back into her arms.  “Thank you, Cynni.”

 

“So… I guess it won’t be a stork bringing Baby Bridger to us… but a crow instead,” Ben quipped with a grin.  “Ouch!”  He exclaimed then clutched at his upper arm as Katherine swatted him.

 

“Serves you right,” Katie admonished her husband.

 

“You mean you and dad…” Lucas began then made a face.  “Oh… eeeew…”

 

“I knew you said you’d climbed the rigging… but, oh Mother!”  Cynthia blushed.

 

Kristin exchanged amused glances with Janet as everyone began to chatter around her; Cynthia and Lucas arguing playfully about the sex of the baby while Katherine and Ben quietly tried to pinpoint when during their trip the baby was conceived.

 

Janet watched as Kristin laid her hands on her belly and closed her eyes.  She could hear her breathing grow low and steady, and at the soft smile she saw form on Kristin’s face, Janet knew exactly what Kristin was doing.

 

Lucas turned to see Janet watching his mother intently and followed her gaze to see Kristin sitting quietly with her eyes closed and a smile on her face.

 

“He’s okay, isn’t he, Mama?”  Lucas asked her quietly.

 

“Yes,” Kristin replied and slowly opened her eyes.  “I can still feel him…” her voice dropped to almost a whisper as her eyes shone with happy tears.  “He’s alive…”

 

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

 

Kristin inhaled deeply, pulling as much of the fresh salty air into her lungs as she could.  “Mmm…” she sighed happily and let her gaze drift out over the ocean; still enamoured of the view from up high in the crow’s nest.

 

“Wonderful, isn’t it?”

 

“Oh yes…” Kristin replied and leaned back against her husband as he slipped his arms about her waist.  “I’ve missed this.”

 

“I’ve missed you,” Nathan spoke quietly against her ear.

 

Kristin smiled and let her gaze drift out over the calm water of the ocean.  “I’ve missed you too…”

 

“It won’t be too much longer, sweetheart,” Nathan told her.  “I promise.”

 

“Just the words I’ve wanted to hear,” Kristin said then turned in his arms and cupped his cheek.  “So… is this your dream or mine?”

 

Nathan chuckled and turned his face into her palm.  “Yours…”

 

“How do you know?”

 

“In my dreams, you wear considerably less.”

 

Kristin grinned then looked down.  “You don’t like my nightgown?”

 

“I didn’t say that,” Nathan replied as he let his eyes drift slowly over her body.  Kristin was wearing a light blue satin nightgown with a form-fitting bodice that encased and showed off her full and ample cleavage and an empire waist skirt that flowed around her legs and brushed the tops of her bare feet.  “As a matter of fact,” he looked her up and down once again.  “I quite like the gown… I like the mystery of it, especially knowing what it’s hiding.”

 

Kristin smiled at him.  “So…” she moved back into his arms.  “What do I wear in your dreams?”

 

“I told you…” Nathan slipped his arms around her,  “…less…”

 

Kristin stepped out of his arms when she felt a sudden breeze against her legs and looked down to find herself in one of Nathan’s blue silk shirts.  She lifted her eyes to meet his, amusement twinkling in her sable depths.  “This is what I wear in your dreams?”

 

“Oh yes…” Nathan grinned at her.

 

“Not one of those lacy, sheer nighties you bought me?”

 

Nathan shook his head.  “No.  Even though I love how you look in those… there is just something about seeing you in one of my shirts.”

 

Kristin smiled at him and reached out to run a hand down his chest, trailing her fingers through the curly hair.  “And I like seeing you out of yours…”

 

Nathan glanced down to see that he was no longer wearing his shirt or his boots.  He grinned; he was just in his britches.  He brought his eyes to hers and raised an eyebrow.

 

Kristin shrugged even as she blushed.  “I like you in your britches…” she told him then dropped a hand to his hip and around to caress his rear.  “Especially these…”

 

Nathan laughed then pulled her back into his arms to capture her mouth in a passionate kiss, moaning low in his throat as the familiar taste of his wife invaded his senses.  “It’s been too long since I’ve kissed you,” he murmured against her lips.  “Too long…”

 

“I know…”

 

“It won’t be too much longer,” he told her again.  “I am on my way to you…”

 

“I know, Nathan,” Kristin smiled at him then leaned up to kiss him again.

 

Several minutes later they parted and rested their foreheads together as they sought to catch their breaths.

 

“Walk with me…” Nathan asked gently as he stepped away from her, his hand sliding down her arm to grasp her hand.

 

Kristin smiled and nodded and let him lead her along the path that lead to the top of the extinct volcano.  “So… this is our dream?”

 

“I would say so,” Nathan replied as they came to a stop at the very top of the volcano, standing in the spot they’d made love in several months before.  “I can honestly say that it feels different from other dreams I’ve had.”

 

“For me too…” Kristin replied as she once again leaned back in his arms.  Her breath caught in her throat when his hands slipped up and cupped her breasts; his thumbs teasing her nipples through the silk of the shirt.  “Mmm…”

 

“I want to make love to you…” Nathan whispered against her ear then pulled her earlobe between his lips.  “I want to taste you again… be inside you…”

 

“…Nathan…”

 

“I want to feel you all around me, Kris…”

 

Kristin shivered when he began to slowly unbutton her shirt.  “I want you too…” she whispered back then reached between them to start releasing the placard on his pants.

 

Nathan turned Kristin around in his arms and covered her lips in a hungry kiss as he pushed the shirt down off her shoulders.  He moaned into her mouth at the feel of her now-naked breasts pressing softly against his chest and slid his hands down to cup her bare rear and pull her hard against his arousal.

 

Kristin gasped at the feel of him, hard and hot against her belly and pushed his pants down off his hips to pool on the grass at his feet.  She circled her hips against him and smiled at the low groan he emitted.

 

“You are a minx…” Nathan growled and bent to take a pebbled nipple into his mouth.

 

“I try…” Kristin laughed softly then moaned as Nathan curled his tongue around the sensitive nubbin.  “Nathan… please…”

 

Nathan released her breast and straightened up to gaze into her eyes.  He reached up to caress her cheek before he gently lowered her down onto the cool grass and covered her body with his; settling into the cradle between her thighs.

 

Kristin gazed up at Nathan, drowning in the azure depths of his eyes as she slid one hand down to his rear, the other grasping his shoulder.  “Make love to me, Nathan…”

 

“Always…” Nathan replied as he shifted against her and then with their eyes locked, he slowly eased his length inside her.

 

They gasped together as he buried himself deep within her in one smooth thrust and then they began to move against one another in time with the tempo beating from the grotto’s waterfall, which seemed to be flowing at half its normal speed.

 

The sensations built quickly between them and before they knew it they were both on the edge of orgasm.

 

Nathan held himself up on his elbows and slid his hands into her hair as he continued to thrust into her.  “I love you, my lady,” he told her in a husky voice.

 

“And I love you, my rogue,” Kristin replied, her throaty voice laced with passion.

 

“I will be with you soon…” Nathan said as he ran his thumbs over her cheeks, his hips still thrusting steadily against her.  “As soon as the ocean allows…”

 

“…Nath…”

 

 

“…an!”  Kristin’s eyes flew open as a wave of intense sensation washed over her and she felt the telltale moisture of her orgasm between her legs.

 

She closed her eyes as a residual tremor passed through her body and a slow smile spread across her face.  When the vibrations finally ebbed, Kristin opened her eyes and looked out across the room towards the window to see the sun just starting to peek over the trees and the rooftops in the distance.

 

She pushed aside the blankets and grabbed her dressing gown off the end of the bed then slipped it on as she slid from the bed and padded across the room to curl up in one of the chairs.

 

“Hurry, my rogue,” Kristin whispered to the lightening sky then gasped and looked down at the sudden flutter she felt within her womb.  She splayed her hands over her belly and smiled.  “Hello, little one…”

 

She was answered with another gentle movement.

 

“Yes… your daddy is going to very surprised and very pleased when he gets here and finds out about you,” Kristin told the child within her then laughed at yet another flutter.  “I can’t wait for him to get here either.”

 

She lifted her gaze back to the window.  “Please hurry, my love… we are both so anxious for you to get here…”

 

 ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Cynthia pushed open the door to the master suite gently, hoping that her mother had finally managed to fall sleep sometime in the night.  To her surprise she found her mother sitting in an overstuffed chair by the window, her legs curled up beneath her.

 

Kristin drew her gaze away from the loveliness of the morning light shining on the dewy garden to smile at her daughter as she drew closer.  Instead of sitting in the chair next to her, Cynthia sank to the floor in front of her mother’s chair and laid her hands on top of Kristin’s where they rested on her stomach.

 

“How are you doing this morning, Mummy?”

 

Kristin stretched out a hand to cup her daughter’s cheek.  “I am fine, my dear, I promise.  I had a dream last night… I’m at peace again.  I don’t know how that awful rumour started but I know it isn’t true.  Nathan wouldn’t leave me now.  He is coming home to me… to us.”

 

“And is my baby sister doing just as well?”  Cynthia ran her fingers across the hard pouch of her mother’s waist.

 

Kristin laughed softly.  “Lucas thinks that he is going to have a little brother.  But boy or girl… the baby is fine as well… all safe and snug and waiting for daddy to come home.”

 

“I’m very happy for you, Mummy.  I know that I reacted badly at first yesterday…”

 

“Ssh… you just needed a few moments to absorb the news.  I know that your joy when you returned to us was genuine.  I was just surprised that you found it so quickly.  I expected you to… I thought that it might take you a while longer to deal with the advent of another new sibling.”

 

Cynthia’s hands fell to her lap, her fingers making intricate patterns with each other as she stared at them.  “I was… shocked… but then I thought about how you must feel… how I would feel if I found out that I was carrying the child of the man I loved.”

 

“You will know that feeling someday, my sweet daughter.  Perhaps… sooner than I’ve been expecting?  Are you ready to tell me about your afternoons in the park yet or do you want to keep your privacy for a while longer?”

 

“How did you know?”  Cynthia was astounded.  “How could you…”

 

Kristin cupped Cynthia’s chin and lifted her face so that she could see her.  “I’m a mother.  We are supposed to know things.  I’ve suspected for several days that your interest in your afternoon reading amongst Mother Nature might be spurred by a motive other than learning.  Tell me about the young man.”

 

Cynthia’s eyes grew dreamy.  “William is wonderful.  He is so kind… such a gentleman.  He is handsome, Mummy… I’ve never seen a man as handsome as he is… tall… broad-shouldered… beautiful green eyes with golden flecks… and his hands.  His fingers are long and tapered but so skillful.”

 

“What does your young man do?”

 

“He is an artist.  His sketches are tiny masterpieces.  He can take any scene and reproduce it in the most exquisite detail.”

 

“Has he shown his work anywhere?”

 

“No… but he has real talent.  His work is as good or better than any I’ve seen in a museum.”

 

“But you are looking at it through the eyes of love… or infatuation at least.  I don’t mean to sound negative, my dear, but… you are a very rich woman and there are unscrupulous men…”

 

Cynthia shook her head resolutely.  “I’ve encountered men like that since the time I let my skirts down and attended my first ball.  My William isn’t like that.  Besides… he doesn’t know that I’m an heiress.  While you were gone grandmother insisted that I use the name Carruthers and I wasn’t really thinking when I told him my name so he doesn’t have any idea who I am.”

 

“But he will have to know someday…”

 

Cynthia’s face clouded and she pulled her hands away from her mother’s.  “I accepted your news.  I trust your judgment about this stranger that you married.  Why can’t you accept… why can’t you trust me?”

 

Kristin closed her eyes and bowed her head for a long moment.  When she opened them tears dampened her lashes.  “You are so young.  I just want to protect you.  When you have children of your own you will understand.”  She waved away Cynthia’s protest as she continued.  “But you are also right.  I raised you to be observant and make intelligent choices.”

 

Cynthia rose to her knees and clasped her mother’s hands again.  “Thank you, Mummy… I want… May I share something with you?”

 

“Of course.”

 

Cynthia reached into the pocket of her gown and pulled out a folded slip of heavy paper.  She opened it almost reverently and passed it to her mother.  “William drew this for me.”

 

The drawing on the paper portrayed an overgrown bower on the edge of a forest.  The silhouette of a couple embracing could just be made out in the entryway.  Kristin had to admit that the sketch showed real talent.

 

“This is beautiful.  But the couple within… is it meant to represent you and William?”

 

Cynthia flushed as she nodded her head.

 

“Have you allowed him certain liberties?”

 

“I allowed him to kiss me… I kissed him.  It was so wonderful, Mummy… the way he made me feel… I’ve never felt that way before.  My heart was racing and I was all tingly…”

 

“Is kissing all that you did?  Did he… touch you?”

 

“We embraced.  His hands held my waist.”

 

“And…” Kristin prompted, seeing in her daughter’s eyes that there was more.

 

“He… he touched my breast,” Cynthia stammered out then hurried to clarify her comment.  “But through my clothes… and I allowed it.”

 

Kristin sighed.  “Cynthia, I am certainly not one to lecture you; not when the child I am carrying was not conceived within the sanction of marriage.  But you must exercise a certain amount of caution.  You are an unmarried girl.  If you are caught in a compromising situation it would be your ruin.  Please make sure of your feelings before you allow things to get out of hand.”

 

Cynthia nodded solemnly.  “I promise, Mummy.”

 

“There are other consequences of intimacy besides a ruined reputation.” Kristin’s hands fell to her abdomen.  “As angry as I am at both your grandmother Carruthers and your grandfather Westphalen, I have no wish for them to expire at the announcement of your pregnancy.  Promise me that if things progress… you will talk to me.  Come talk to me anytime… any time at all.”

 

Cynthia stretched out and embraced her mother, murmuring her promise as she did so.

 

“One more thing…” Kristin told Cynthia as the hug broke.  “I would like very much to meet your young man when you are ready to introduce him to me.”

 

“I’ll speak to him this afternoon.”

 

“Good.  Now go and ring for Lizzie for me.  Your little sister or brother is telling me that food is required quickly.  Will you meet me in the dining room for breakfast?”

 

“I’ll be there.  I’ll even go and rouse Lucas so that we can have a family breakfast!”

 

“Good luck!  That child could sleep through cannon fire.”

 

Cynthia grinned.  “I was thinking a basin of cold water…” Kristin’s laughter trailed behind her as she shut the door and set out to surprise her brother.

 

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

 

Lucas was already making a large dent in his second plate of food when Kristin entered the breakfast room but he quickly dropped his fork and jumped up, moving to pull out his mother’s chair for her.

 

Cynthia waved her mother to the table and moved to the sideboard to fill a plate for her so Kristin sank into the chair with a smile for her son.

 

“Nicely done, Lucas.  Your manners were very nice to begin with but they are improving every day.”

 

“Thank you, Mama.  Would you like tea or coffee this morning?”

 

“Tea, I think.  Coffee doesn’t agree with our new family addition.”

 

Lucas laughed as he poured the warm liquid into a delicate cup and added milk and sugar. 

 

“Perfect!” Kristin pronounced after taking a sip, pleased that Lucas had made note of her preferences.  Cynthia also knew her mother well; the food she had chosen reflecting Kristin’s taste exactly.  She dove into the food with gusto.

 

“You seem in good spirits this morning, Mama.”

 

“I am, in very good spirits. I was with your father last night.  I dreamt of him… he and I together on the seaQuest and on his island.”

 

“Good.  Then he will be joining us soon.”  Lucas accepted Kristin’s dream as proof positive that his father was coming back to them without question.  He shoveled another fork full of eggs into his mouth.  “What do we do in the meantime?  Are we going to stay in London?  Do I have to keep taking dancing lessons?”

 

Kristin dropped her fork as she shook with barely contained laughter.  “Yes, my son.  You have to continue your dancing lessons.  I know that you don’t think so now but someday you will thank me.  Ladies like a gentleman who can partner them well on the dance floor.”

 

Lucas grimaced but argued no more as his attention returned to his plate.  “After the stupid lesson can I go to the museum again?  They have a really interesting stone there with several different languages on it.  I would like to have another look.”

 

“I think that would be permissible.  What about you, Cynthia?  What are your plans for the day?”

 

“I thought I might spend some time in the park this afternoon… reading.”  She blushed slightly, her eyes lowered to avoid her mother’s gaze.

 

“Very well.  Just promise me that you will consider what we talked about earlier.”

 

“Yes, Mummy.”

 

The sound of a slamming door rang through the house, bringing Kristin to her feet.  Angry shouts drifted through the door from the hallway; a harsh voice that Kristin recognized immediately.

 

Lionel Westphalen charged into the room like a bull, his face blood red with fury.  Millicent was right behind him, her efforts to calm her husband clearly ineffective.  He stopped at the opposite end of the long table from his daughter and stared, a vein in his forehead popping out as he struggled to breathe.

 

“My Lord, you must get hold of yourself.  Anger serves no purpose in this situation,” Millicent whispered as she clutched his elbow.

 

All at once Kristin remembered more of the conversation she had overheard in the retiring room the previous day and knew why her father had invaded her home.

 

“Children, return to your rooms.  I will send for you later.”

 

Both Cynthia and Lucas ignored their mother’s words completely, each standing and moving to flank her.

 

“Is it true?” The words rasped out of Lionel’s throat as if he could barely bring himself to speak them.

 

“Is what true, Father?  You will have to be more specific.  Although I don’t really understand why you are bothering to ask me anything.  My words mean nothing to you.”

 

“Don’t try to evade me, girl!  Answer me!”

 

“LIONEL!”  The soothing tone of Millicent’s voice was gone as she admonished her husband.  His head fell, momentarily chastised.

 

“I’m sorry, Kristin.  I tried to prevent him from rushing over but you know how headstrong your father can be… you should, you inherited that aspect of his personality.  Perhaps we could retire to the parlour and have a civilized conversation?  This fine young man must be my new grandson.  I want the opportunity to meet him properly.”  She beamed at Lucas who returned her smile.

 

Kristin sighed and moved from the end of the table toward the door.  “I don’t really think that we have anything to discuss, Father.  I believe that I have made my feelings clear; until you are ready to accept my marriage you are not welcome in my home.”

 

Lionel lunged at Kristin as she passed, brushing his wife’s restraining hand away as if she were a fly.  He grabbed the back of his daughter’s gown as she passed and whirled her around to face her mother as he wadded fabric up in his hands.  Within seconds the outline of Kristin’s abdomen was clearly visible beneath the fine material.

 

“Oh Kris…” Millicent wasn’t able to complete her words before Lucas slammed into Kristin’s father, knocking him away.  The boy immediately assumed a defensive posture between his mother and his grandfather.

 

“Get out of my way, boy.”  Lionel walked menacingly toward him.

 

Lucas stood his ground.  “No, sir.  No one treats my mother badly… not even her own father.”  He crossed his arms resolutely and stared pointedly at Lionel.

 

Kristin carefully smoothed her gown back down around her hips.  When she finally lifted her head to meet her mother’s gaze tears twinkled in her eyes.

 

Millicent quickly laid her arm around Kristin’s shoulder.  “Why don’t we move to the front room where we can have more privacy?” 

 

Lionel moved to follow his wife but once again Lucas blocked them.  He gave his grandfather another pointed stare before turning after the ladies, making sure to keep himself between them and the old man.

 

“Damned impertinent child!” Lionel muttered as he stalked down the hallway behind the group.  Cynthia had barely secured the door behind them when his temper blew again.

 

“Dammit, Kristin!  How could you think that you could hide this?  Why in the hell haven’t you told your mother and I your secret before now?  Did you think that this cock and bull story you concocted about a new husband would make things right?

 

Kristin whipped around to face her father.  “The fact is that I DID marry again… no matter what you might believe.”

 

“Okay… for the moment I’ll indulge your little fantasy.  You met this stranger and for whatever reason he married you.  What happens now?  If he hasn’t already abandoned you… he will when he comes home and finds his bride pregnant by another man.”

 

Kristin blanched.  “Another…” she staggered back and sank into a chair, her hands wrapped protectively around her waist.   “Oh God… what do you think of me?”

 

Lionel fell to his knees in front of his daughter and took her hands gently.  “I think that you were dreadfully hurt… that those horrible men did awful things to you… and one of them made you pregnant.  I understand now why you felt that you had to make up this fanciful story… you thought that you needed a husband to protect yourself and the child.  But that isn’t necessary… I’ll take care of things.  We can send you to the country for a while… you and Cynthia… say you aren’t feeling well.  Once the child is born we will foster it out to a good family.”

 

Kristin’s eyes grew wide.  “You are NOT taking my baby away from me.”

 

“Then I’ll make other arrangements.  We will find you a real husband.  No one will care if you anticipated the wedding a bit.  Let me take care of this for you, daughter.”

 

“NO!  I have a husband.  I don’t need for you to find me one.”

 

“You are overwrought, Kristin.  I can’t begin to imagine the horror that you lived through… but you survived.  Let me be strong for you now.”  Lionel stopped speaking as a strong hand clapped over his shoulder and pulled him back from Kristin.  He glanced up to find Lucas standing over him.

 

“I think that you should leave, sir.  You are upsetting my mother and that isn’t good for her or my little brother.”

 

Lionel drew himself up to challenge Lucas.  “You are getting on my nerves, boy.  This has nothing to do with you so kindly remove yourself from my presence.”

 

Lucas didn’t back down.  “It has everything to do with me, sir.  I will escort you to the front door now.  Your lady wife may stay if she chooses but you will leave.”

 

“And you will make me?” Lionel chuckled.

 

“If necessary, sir.”  With a strength that belied his age Lucas wrapped a strong hand around Lionel’s elbow and propelled him toward the door.

 

“Kristin,” Millicent began as Lionel’s protests drifted in from the hallway.  “Your father… he loves you.  He is only trying to protect you.  Perhaps he isn’t going about it in exactly the right way but his motives are good.”

 

“I am not lying, Mother.  Lucas was witness at my marriage.  My friend Janet was also present and she is here in London if you wish to talk to her.”

 

Millicent inhaled deeply, obviously not sure whom to believe.  “I told you about the time after James was killed.  Your father wandered the house unable to sleep.  The reason that he couldn’t sleep is because when he did he would have horrible nightmares about your brother on the pirate ship.  When Peterson came with the news of your capture those nightmares returned.”

 

“I appreciate that but…”

 

“He just wants to make things right.  He wants to try to erase the experience for you as best he can.  I know that you are angry with him but try to understand how he feels.  Give me a few days to talk with him… try and make him see…”

 

Kristin nodded.  “I’ll try… but I don’t want to see him anymore… not for a while.  I have to think of the health and safety of my child.”

 

Lucas came back through the door swiping his hands together.  “Milady Westphalen, your husband is waiting for you in your carriage.  He bid me to ask if you wish to stay or accompany him?”

 

Millicent stood.  “I’ll go with your father now… but may I return for a visit?”

 

“If you come alone.”

 

Cynthia stood and moved to escort her grandmother out.  The older lady stopped by the tall young man standing by the door.  She reached out to pat his cheek.  “You are very brave, Lucas.  Most adults fear standing up to Lionel when he is in a temper.  I am glad that I have such a courageous grandson… and so handsome…”

 

Lucas grinned.  “Thank you, milady.”

 

“Grandmother… call me grandmother.”

 

“Thank you, Grandmother.”

 

“Are you all right, Mama?” Lucas waited until they were alone to move to Kristin’s side.

 

“I’m fine, son… just a little upset.  My father isn’t going to make this any easier on me, is he?”

 

“He will come around… and if he doesn’t I won’t let him bother you.”

 

“Thank you… but you aren’t familiar with the ways of society, Lucas.  Father heard about the baby from someone outside of this house, which means that the news is common knowledge.  You must prepare yourself.  People can say unkind things… mean things.  Promise me that you won’t pay attention to other people’s words.  Don’t challenge them… or even acknowledge them.  Can you do this?”

 

Lucas looked troubled.  “That won’t be easy for me,” but at the worried look on Kristin’s face he quickly promised.  “I will do my very best, Mama.”

 

“As will I.” Cynthia spoke from the entrance.  “I spoke with Grandfather… He is very sorry that he upset you but he still refuses to believe… I let him know that you have my full support.”

 

“Bless you, my dearest girl.”  Kristin’s lips wavered in a half smile.  “Now, if the two of you don’t mind… I think that I might go back to bed for a while.  I am feeling very tired.”

 

“Should I call in the doctor, Mummy?”

 

“No, dear.  I just need a little quiet time to collect my thoughts.  I’ll join you for lunch, I promise.”

 

Both Lucas and Cynthia followed Kristin into the hallway, watching their mother with worried eyes as she slowly climbed the grand staircase.

 

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

 

Cynthia was in a foul temper by the time that she reached the park and Will could tell by the way that she was striding toward him that something was wrong.  He moved toward her as she approached and immediately pulled her into his arms and brushed a kiss across the top of her hair.  Cynthia burst into angry tears at his touch, all of her frustrations bubbling to the surface.

 

Will led her to the bower where he had stowed his sketching supplies and lowered them both to sit on the comfortable blanket he had spread there, his hands never breaking their hold.  He rocked her gently back and forth until the tears were spent.

 

“Can you tell me about it, my love?”

 

Cynthia sniffled and gratefully accepted the sturdy handkerchief Will offered, carefully wiping the tears from her eyes.  “I don’t really know where to begin.  I am just so frustrated with… everything!”

 

“Even with me, dearest?”

 

“Not you,” Cynthia hurriedly clarified.  “You are the most wonderful thing in my life.  Meeting you here every afternoon is a wonderful interlude in my otherwise frantic world.  I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have you…”

 

Will gently pulled Cynthia closer.  “I’m glad you feel that way.”  He leaned forward rubbed his lips gently against her, his kiss seeking to comfort.

 

“You make everything seem so much better.” Cynthia cuddled into Will’s neck as the kiss broke.

 

“I try to… that’s what you do when you love someone…”

 

Cynthia pulled back to stare incredulously.  “You… what did you say?”

 

Will hung his head sheepishly.  “I… I love you.  I know that we haven’t known each other that long and we don’t know that much about each other but from the moment I met you I felt this connection that…”

 

Cynthia laid her fingers over his lips.  “I love you, too, Will.”

 

This kiss wasn’t gentle, both of them pouring out their feelings for each other in the hungry joining.  Cynthia dragged Will’s hat from his head and laced her fingers through his hair while he tugged at her bonnet ribbons.  Somehow Will found his hands cupping Cynthia’s breasts, his thumbs working the stiff peaks through the soft fabric.

 

Cynthia moaned and yanked Will’s tie free, dropping it to the ground beside them then returning to tug at the studs of his shirt.

 

The bodice of Cynthia’s dress fell, her corset cupped breasts pushed high beneath the low neckline of her chemise.  Will fingers delved beneath the thin cotton and brought her assets into the open air then crushed her bare chest against his as they fell back against the blanket.

 

Cynthia moaned with wonder at the feelings coursing through her body as Will bent his head low and feasted on her firm breasts.  She’d never been pleased with the size of her chest, feeling very small in comparison with her well-endowed mother but the attention that Will paid to her chest made her feel perfect.  She arched up into his mouth.

 

“Oh God… Will… I feel so… so… I need…” Cynthia mumbled as she rubbed her leg against the hardness throbbing against her thigh.  “Please…”

 

At the feel of Cynthia’s hand groping for his manhood Will jerked his hips back and released his hold on her breasts, pulling his head up to rest against her shoulder.  Cynthia moaned in protest.

 

“Don’t stop… please…”

 

“We have to, sweetheart.  This isn’t…”

 

Cynthia pulled away and sat up with her back to Will, tears streaming down her face as she struggled to right her clothes.  “You don’t want me.” She accused.

 

“Nothing could be further from the truth and you damn well know it.” Will answered.  “But you are a well brought up young lady, not some doxy to be tumbled in the park.  I want our first time to be special.”

 

Cynthia sniffled as she turned to find Will sitting and gazing at her, his eyes full of emotion.  “This would be special.”

 

“Any time spent with you is special but… I don’t have anything to protect you with.  You’re innocent, aren’t you?  You’ve never been with a man?”

 

“No… of course not.”

 

Will cupped Cynthia’s cheek.  “And I’ve never been with a woman, Cyn.  Oh I’ve kissed many… got as far as groping a few… but you’re different… you are special.”  He kissed her gently one last time then pushed back a few feet.  “May I draw you, my love?  I want to capture you just as you look right now… your lips swollen from my kisses, your eyes bright with love.”

 

Cynthia nodded and curled her knees beneath her, spreading her skirts out around her as Will laid his portfolio out on the ground between them and took up his sketch pad.

 

“Won’t you tell me why you were so upset?” Will asked as he studied Cynthia intently then made a bold mark with his charcoal pencil.

 

Cynthia sighed.  “My mother has been out of the country.  When she returned she told us that she had remarried and that her new husband would be joining her soon.  That was over a month ago and he still hasn’t arrived.  We recently heard a rumour that my stepfather may have been killed.  As it turns out, my mother is… in a delicate condition and her father… my grandfather believes that she made up the whole marriage as a way of avoiding censure.  He is livid and mummy is upset and they fight…”

 

“Do you believe your mother?”

 

“Yes… I want to.  The way that she talks about this man… I know that he exists.  But I can’t help but wonder if grandfather is right… if he might not return because of the child.”

 

“Wouldn’t that make him more likely to return?  I would think that he would be happy about having a child.  I know that I would be.”

 

Cynthia smiled at the comment, a picture of she and Will cooing over their newborn baby leaping into her mind.  “If he is the man that mummy truly believes he is… but there is the possibility that the child might not… that he isn’t the father.”

 

Will’s brows furrowed, the question in his face obvious but he didn’t ask it.  Instead he said, “Do you trust your mother’s judgment?”

 

Cynthia nodded.  “I’ve never had any reason not to.  Mummy is an excellent judge of character.”

 

“Then give this husband of hers a chance.  He could be traveling to England even as we speak.  If the rumour isn’t true… about your stepfather being killed?” He added at the blank look on Cynthia’s face.

 

“Mummy says that he isn’t dead.  My new brother says that the two of them share some sort of bond… they can sense things about each other.”

 

Will nodded.  “I’ve seen it.  My godfather and his new wife have that same sort of bond.  One knows when the other enters the room without looking… that sort of thing.  It is really quite amazing.”

 

Cynthia had been idly flipping through the loose sheets of sketches in the portfolio admiring Will’s work.  Suddenly she stopped and stared at a page then pulled it into her hands to gaze at it closely.  The sketch showed the faces and shoulders of a mature man and woman, their gazes locked together in love.

 

“How...?” She shifted closer to Will and held the drawing out.  “This picture…”

 

“Do you like it?”  Will asked, not really understanding Cynthia’s reaction.  “I’m very proud of it.  I was trying to capture the look in their eyes… the way that they stare at each other.  It isn’t exactly right but I think that I got very close.”

 

“But this couple… this woman…”

 

“That is my godfather, Nathan Bridger.  The woman is his new wife, Kristin.  I drew this from memory but this particular moment was on their wedding day, just moments after the minister finished the ceremony.”

 

“You were there…” Cynthia breathed as she continued to stare at the picture. 

 

“Of course I was there.  I could hardly have drawn the picture from memory otherwise.  I’m working on a larger version, full figure with some of the wedding guests.  I’m doing that one in oils as a wedding gift for them.  My love?  What’s wrong?”

 

Cynthia held out the picture to Will.  “Will… this woman… this Kristin… she is my mother.”

 

“Your… Aunt Kristin spoke of a daughter named Cynthia… but her name was Westphalen.  You told me your name was Carruthers!”

 

“When I was a little girl, after my father was killed, my grandfather had mother’s and my name changed back to Westphalen.  They weren’t exactly sure of the circumstances of daddy’s death and he thought that might protect us.  I’ve always gone by Westphalen but when mummy disappeared my grandmother Carruthers obtained guardianship over me and insisted that I use that name.  I guess I grew used to it and that’s the name that came out when we first met.”

 

“I can’t believe… your mother saved my life, darling.”

 

Understanding continued to dawn.  “You are the William who was taken by a press gang… the one with the horribly infected cut that mother disinfected and closed.  Oh my God… this is wonderful!  Mummy was saying this morning that she would like to meet you but she already knows you and adores you!”

 

Will’s face fell.  “But… if you are Kristin’s daughter then you are a peer… a countess.  A match between you and a poor sailor with an artistic bent would never be allowed.”

 

“A match… Will?  Do you want to marry me?”  Cynthia grasped his hands.

 

“Of course I do… I thought I should wait a little longer before I spoke for your hand… but now… oh my love… how can I give you up?”

 

“Give me up?  If you love me as you say, aren’t I worth fighting for?”

 

“I would fight to my last breath for you, but I’ve learned how your society operates over the last few months.”

 

“I’ve never been very conventional and neither has my mother.  She has just married an American sea captain after all.  Why do you think that she would deny us?  All she wants is for me to be happy in my choice and you would make me happy.”

 

“Are you saying that you would welcome my attentions?”

 

Cynthia raised a hand to stroke Will’s cheek.  “Why don’t you ask me properly?”

 

William rose up on one knee.  “My dearest Cynthia, would you do me the honour of consenting to be my wife?”

 

“I would be pleased to be your wife, William Noyce.”

 

The kiss that they shared quickly threatened to rush out of control again before Will rocked back.  “I pray that Aunt Kristin will welcome my suite.  We need to marry quickly and there are many details to work out.”

 

“What sort of details?”

 

“Your fortune.  We need to meet with solicitors and have legal documents drawn up.”

 

“Why would we need that?” Cynthia asked warily.

 

“To make sure that your monies and estates remain intact and in your control.  I will not have it said that I pursued you for your fortune.  I will find a job of some sort until… perhaps one day my painting may be able to support us.”

 

“Will…” Cynthia’s face turned serious.  “I would like to keep our relationship secret for a while longer, if you don’t mind… Only because of the conflict between my mother and grandfather.  He is so angry and upset right now that I know he would react badly to the news of our engagement.  I will talk to mother when the time is right but I don’t wish to put any more stress on her at the moment and I know grandfather…”

 

William nodded, knowing that Cynthia was looking out for her mother.  Kristin certainly didn’t need any more stress in her life at the moment and Will also worried about the baby’s health.  “I agree, my love.  I will trust your judgment in this matter.”

 

“It won’t be for long.  I can counter my grandfather’s moves because I have evidence that he doesn’t.  I have another witness to mother and Nathan’s wedding.  Once he arrives in England things will calm down and we can make our plans.”

 

“Why don’t you take the sketch?  You can give it to Aunt Kristin when you decide to tell her… perhaps it will help a little.”

 

Cynthia glanced at the drawing again.  “My new father appears to be a fine looking man.  I can see why mother would be attracted to him.  And the way he is looking at her…”

 

Will pondered his next words, unsure of how much Cynthia actually knew, but he wasn’t going to start lying to her now.  “Earlier you said something about the baby… about not knowing who the father was…”

 

“Mother was taken by pirates.  She told me that Nathan was… in charge of the ship.  But grandfather seems to think that she may have been violated by many of the ship’s crew.”

 

“It didn’t happen, Cynthia.  Uncle Nathan was the only man on that ship that ever touched your mother.  Another sailor tried once… he was whipped within an inch of his life.  But the rest of the men, the ones who always sail with Uncle Nathan, are all trustworthy men and would never have laid a hand on your mother.”

 

“Lucas said as much but he is so protective of mother…”

 

“The kid is here as well?  I should have been accepting mother’s gentle prodding to visit.  We would have known about our connection long before now.”

 

“Why didn’t you?  I thought that you liked my mother.”

 

Will looked sheepish.  “I guess I should confess something to you.  When your mother took care of me, I developed an… infatuation with her.  I knew that she belonged to Uncle Nathan and I never even thought or tried but… she saved my life and she was like some beautiful angel of mercy to me.”

 

“Do you still feel the same?” Cynthia asked warily.

 

“No, of course not.  It was a passing fancy.  I just… I know that Aunt Kristin knew how I felt and I guess I was too embarrassed to see her just yet.”

 

“Are you sure?  I don’t…” Will’s mouth covering hers cut off the remainder of Cynthia’s sentence.

 

“I’m sure.” He whispered against her lips before kissing her again.  “I love you… only you.”

 

Cynthia groped the ground behind her and pushed the folder containing Will’s drawings out of the way then wrapped her arms around his neck.  Will slowly lowered her until her back touched the blanket beneath them then pressed his chest to hers, the tenor of their kisses growing more passionate with each passing second.

 

“Love me, Will… please?” Cynthia begged as his lips left hers to trail down her throat.

 

“I… I can’t, sweetheart.”  In spite of his words Will tugged the loosened bodice of her gown away again to expose her peaked rosy tips to his hungry mouth.

 

Cynthia arched beneath his touch, moaning as wave after wave of previously unfelt sensation flowed through every nerve.  Her fingers threaded into his thick hair as she urged him on, desperate to find an end point to the overwhelming ache building inside her.

 

A crash of thunder overhead pulled them apart momentarily as they both turned their heads to stare out of the arbor into the park beyond.  Dark clouds obscured the sun and dimmed the light as water poured from the heavens in thick sheets.  A flash of lightening illuminated the area briefly before darkness took over once again, wrapping the couple in their own world.

 

Cynthia took advantage of the moment to push Will’s open shirt from his shoulders, baring his torso completely.  She then shrugged out of the sleeves of her gown and reached for Will.

 

“We can’t, Cynthia.  I won’t risk… I won’t compromise your reputation.”  Will struggled against the pull of her deep brown eyes.

 

“This is what my mother spoke of, isn’t it?  This feeling… all of these sensations… This is why she looks so happy when she talks about her Nathan… Please, Will.  I want to know.  I want you to teach me.”  She grasped Will’s arms and pulled him toward her.

 

“I want to… I want you so badly…” Will gave in to the tug of her hands and pressed his torso down to hers, one knee pushing against her cloth covered legs.  “But we can’t risk…” He moaned as Cynthia nipped at his neck.

 

“Please…” she begged again.

 

Will rolled to his side, taking Cynthia with him, their bodies still locked together.  The need in her eyes overwhelmed him.  “I… Trust me?”

 

Cynthia nodded as he moved toward her, gasping as his lips caressed the swell of her breast and burned a trail of fire up the slope.  Her arousal grew with every touch, the swirl of sensation centering in the tips of her breasts and the juncture of her legs.  She was so caught up in the feeling that she didn’t feel Will’s hand beneath her skirt until his fingers slipped through the slit of her satin drawers and brushed across her curls.

 

She gasped as he probed lightly, his fingers stroking slowly in a coaxing manner. 

 

“Will?”

 

“Slip your leg over mine.”

 

“Are we going to...?”

 

“In a way… but in a way that we won’t have to worry about a child… I won’t do that to you… not until we are married.”

 

Cynthia nodded then slowly raised her right knee, slipping the leg over Will’s.  Her head fell back and she sighed as the tips of his fingers sank deeper between her legs.

 

Will fought back his own arousal, not an easy feat when Cynthia continued to unconsciously grind her hips against him.  He soothed her with his mouth while continuing to enflame her with his fingers, stroking over and over until Cynthia was whimpering and bucking against his moisture coated digits.

 

Will released his hold on one perfect nipple and raised his lips to her ear.  “It’s all right, sweetheart.  Just let go.  I will hold on to you.”

 

A few more quick strokes had Cynthia at the edge of her release.  Will swallowed her scream of completion as she peaked then fell, her body shuddering wildly beneath his touch.

 

Once her tremors had ceased, Will released his hold on Cynthia and rolled away.  She opened her eyes to find Will’s back to her, his shoulder shaking with the rapid movement of his arm. 

 

Cynthia had been raised around horses and had seen enough to have a good idea of what was happening.  She moved over and pressed her chest against Will’s back, her fingers lightly brushing over his thigh as she moved her hand around.

 

Will groaned at the feel of Cynthia’s fingers brushing across the bottom of his manhood, burrowing into the open placard of his trousers to find and caress his swollen sacs.  He came immediately, filling the air with a loud moan as he emptied himself onto the ground in front of him.

 

The light brush of her kisses across his back quickly brought Will back to his senses and he gently removed Cynthia’s hand and brought it to his lips to kiss it lightly then laid it on his chest.  He carefully adjusted himself and refastened his trousers before settling on his back and pulling Cynthia into his arms.

 

“Isn’t it strange…” Cynthia murmured, “Mummy raised me to understand that this was my duty but then she met your godfather…  I am so very glad that they met and married, otherwise I might have been forced to marry Percy and I would have never known… Thank you, my love.”

 

Will brushed the single teardrops from each cheek.  “Thank you, my heart.  Once we are married we will do this properly.  We will learn together.”

 

Cynthia brushed her lips across Will’s chest as she settled her head into the curve of his neck.  “I hope that Nathan Bridger arrives quickly, mostly for my mother’s sake but… now for ours as well.  I want to marry you soon, William Noyce.”

 

“And I want the same, Cynthia Westphalen.”

 

They cuddled together and watched the rainfall around them until the skies began to clear.

 

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

 

  sail ahead...