~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
“What about this one?”
“Uhm… no. I don’t like it. Too
Janet sighed and put the
bonnet back on the shelf then picked up a different one and held it up for her
daughter. “How’s this one?”
Clarissa wrinkled her nose
and shook her head.
“Claire…” Janet began
in an exasperated voice as she stared at her sixteen-year old daughter.
“Sorry, Mother,” Clarissa
replied. “But why do I need a
bonnet? They cause my head to
Janet looked thoughtful for a
moment then slowly smiled. “Well…
I guess you don’t really need to wear one if you don’t want to.”
“Oh thank you, Mother,”
honey,” Janet returned Clarissa’s smile.
“I suppose we should head for the luncheon now.
It wouldn’t hurt us to be a little early.”
“Or we could head over to
Aunt Kristin’s and leave for the luncheon with her,” Clarissa suggested.
“That’s a wonderful
idea,” Janet nodded. “Lord
knows she could use the support…”
“Is her father still trying
to marry her off?”
“Why doesn’t he believe
that she’s married to Uncle Nathan?”
“I don’t know, Claire.
I don’t know.”
“How does this one look?”
A nasal voice with a decidedly American twang echoed across the shop.
“Mother? What is it?” Clarissa
asked her mother at the frown that formed on her face.
“Oh no… please… it
can’t be,” Janet muttered.
Clarissa watched her mother
wince at the loud call of her name and looked over Janet’s shoulder to see a
tall, spindly woman with dark hair and stark features walking towards them; a
younger brunette trailing docilely behind her.
Janet sighed then pasted a
smile on her face before she turned to face the approaching women.
“I was telling Wendy that
is was you!” Lexie crowed as she
stopped in front Janet, Wendy stepping up beside her.
“What are you doing in London?”
“We’re living here… for
the time being,” Janet answered. “Bill
has been assigned to the embassy as a Naval attaché.”
“How… nice for you,”
Lexie replied then turned to Clarissa. “And
“Oh, forgive my manners,”
Janet said. “This is my daughter
Clarissa. Claire, this is Mrs.
Alexandra Smith and her daughter Wendy.”
Claire caught the hint of a
smirk on her mother’s face and could hear the slight disdain in her voice as
she made the introductions and took a moment to observe the two women standing
“Clarissa. What a lovely name,” Alexandra said, “for such a lovely young lady.”
“Oh, this is just
perfect,” Alexandra clapped her hands in delight.
“Wendy and I were going for lunch as soon as we purchased her a bonnet.
She freckles so easily in the sun you know and we just couldn’t resist
the opportunity to invest in the latest styles.
I’ve heard about this wonderful little restaurant not too far from
Clarissa looked over at her
mother and bit back the smile that threatened to form at the exasperated look in
her mother’s eyes as the elder Smith continued to prattle on.
“And then, after lunch, we
could do some more shopping…”
“Mother, we’re going to
be late. You know how much the
countess hates tardiness.”
It was Janet’s turn to bite
back a smile at the stunned look on Lexie’s face as Clarissa interrupted her.
“Oh… am I keeping you
from an appointment?” Lexie
“Actually, yes,” Janet
answered. “We are on our way to a
luncheon being held by the Baroness Wakefield.”
“But your daughter… she
mentioned something about a countess?”
“She did? Oh yes,” Janet smiled.
“The Countess of Kilhairn. We
are traveling to the luncheon together,” she replied then nodded her head
towards the Smiths. “Well, if
you’ll excuse us, Claire is correct… the countess really does hate to be
kept waiting and we are due at her home shortly.”
“Oh it is not a problem at
all… Wendy and I would love to join you,” Lexie said and looked at her
daughter. “Wouldn’t we,
“Of course, Mother.”
Wendy replied in a quiet voice.
“Uhm… well, the luncheon
is by invitation only,” Janet told Alexandra.
“I’m afraid it would be quite ill-mannered for me to presume to bring
you along. The baroness is quite
particular about her parties… otherwise, you know I would be more than happy
to have you join us.”
Lexie waved her hand about
and smiled at Janet. “Think
nothing of it, dear. I understand
completely. Perhaps we can get
together another day.”
“That would be fine,”
Janet nodded then turned to Clarissa. “Let
us be going.”
“Yes, Mother,” Clarissa
smiled at her mother; impressed with the smooth way she’d handled the
“Lexie. Wendy,” Janet inclined her head at the two women then
turned and walked away.
Clarissa, still smiling,
followed. Once they were outside
the hat shop and ensconced in a carriage, she began to laugh.
“What is so funny?”
“You are incredible!”
Clarissa managed between peals of laughter.
“I love how you handled that witch and her daughter.”
Janet grinned and began to
chuckle. “Thank you.”
“And just wait till Aunt
Kristin hears about this…”
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
“You’ll never guess who I
ran into today?” Janet teased as
she slid into a chair beside Kristin.
Kristin looked at her friend.
“Lexie Smith and her witch of a daughter.”
Janet’s mouth fell open.
“Claire told you!”
Kristin was stunned.
“You mean I’m right?”
“I wasn’t being serious,
“So… the Smiths really are here in London?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“I would have thought they
would be sailing back home by now.”
“Well… you know Lexie,”
Janet began with a smile on her face. “That
woman never knows when to go home.”
Kristin laughed softly then
“Kristin, are you all
right?” Janet asked reaching out
to lay her hand on Kristin’s arm.
“I was…” she answered
then gestured with her eyes to the opposite side of the room.
“Good heavens… is that
man following you?” Janet
remarked as her eyes fell on General Thomas standing against the far wall; his
attention focused solely on Kristin.
“I’m beginning to
wonder…” Kristin said.
“He’s been at every party
and luncheon we’ve been at for the last couple of weeks.
And he always seems to be watching you.”
“I know,” Kristin sighed
and stopped herself from laying her hands on her belly when she felt the child
within kick; knowing that her dress still hid her condition quite well and she
wasn’t ready to confirm the rumours.
Janet caught the note of
apprehension in her friend’s voice and turned back to her.
“Kristin… you don’t think Thomas is…”
“Yes,” Kristin nodded,
doing her best to ignore the American general.
“I do. He always seems to
find some reason to…” she shuddered.
“To what?” Janet asked then narrowed her eyes. “Kristin… he hasn’t… tried anything has he?”
Not what you’re thinking,” Kristin reassured her friend.
“He just… he makes my skin crawl… and when he kisses my hand in
greeting,” she gave a small shiver of revulsion.
Janet chuckled lightly.
“And like you pointed out,
he’s been at every event we have,” Kristin told her.
“You know… now that I
think about it… it does feel like more than a coincidence,” Janet said
thoughtfully. “Why do you suppose
“I don’t know,” Kristin
shook her head.
“The tone of your voice
makes me think that you do,” Janet told her.
“You think it’s your father, don’t you?”
Kristin nodded sadly.
“My father was the first person to introduce me to the general…”
she sighed. “I know he means
well… truly I do.”
“But you wish he would just
accept your word that you’re married?”
“Yes,” Kristin answered
as she began to twist the rings on her finger.
“He will be here,
Kristin,” Janet told her watching the sapphire turn around and around on
“I know, Janet… I
know,” Kristin smiled at her friend then gasped.
“It’s okay,” Kristin
said then continued in a whisper. “The
little one here tends to get active whenever Nathan is mentioned.”
Janet smiled then groaned.
“Thomas is heading this
“Follow my lead,” Janet
said in a low voice then turned looked up just as the general stopped before
“Good afternoon, ladies,”
Thomas smiled down at them.
inclined her head in acknowledgement of his presence.
“General,” Janet echoed.
“Countess,” Thomas began.
“I was wondering if I might have a word with you… in private?”
Janet began as she stood. “Lady
Westphalen and I were just about to retire to freshen up a bit before luncheon
“Perhaps later then?”
The general said.
“Perhaps,” Kristin said
as she stood as well.
Thomas smiled as the women
moved past him before he could say another word.
“Thank you,” Kristin
breathed a sigh of relief as they entered the ladies retiring room.
“You’re welcome,” Janet
replied as they moved to sit in the far corner of the room away from any traffic
moving in and out of the area.
Kristin leaned back against
the lounge she was seated on and closed her eyes as she finally allowed herself
to smooth her hands over her gravid stomach.
“Is it just me or have you
gotten bigger?” Janet asked.
Kristin smiled but kept her
eyes closed. “I’ve gotten
bigger,” she answered. “It’s
as if that now that I am aware he or she is in there, they want to make sure
they are noticed.”
“Pretty soon… even the new dresses Madame Dussault made for you will
not hide your condition.”
“I know,” Kristin nodded
then slowly opened her eyes. “I
pray that Nathan is here before that time.”
Janet reached out and patted
Kristin’s hand. “I’m sure he
Kristin smiled at her friend.
“So, tell me… why hasn’t that son of yours come to see me yet?”
Janet smiled and nodded at
the sudden topic change; knowing that while Kristin was certain that Nathan was
on his way to her, that she still missed him desperately and there were times
when those feelings of being separated from him were too much to bear and
talking about him just made his absence more acutely felt.
“Well… for the last
little while, he’s been spending most of his afternoons at the park,” Janet
“And what does he do in the
park all afternoon?”
“Sketch mostly,” Janet
Kristin asked. “I didn’t know that.”
“Oh yes… he draws, he
paints. He is really quite
talented,” Janet told her with obvious pride.
“Although… I think there is more to his afternoon romps in the park
than he is telling me.”
“I think he’s met
someone,” Janet said with a knowing smile.
“And from what I can tell, my son is quite smitten.”
“He’s met someone…”
Kristin’s voice trailed off as it dawned on her.
“Tell me about the young
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
“He is an artist.
His sketches are tiny masterpieces.
He can take any scene and reproduce it in the most exquisite detail.”
“Kristin? Kristin, are you all right?”
Kristin smiled as she focused
on Janet’s worried face. “Yes…
“You drifted off on me.
Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Oh yes,” Kristin
reassured her friend then began to chuckle.
“It must be the
pregnancy…” Janet muttered then gave Kristin a pointed stare.
“Want to share what is so amusing?”
“Did you know that Cynthia
has been spending a lot more time at the park recently?
I mean, she always has. She
adores the outdoors… but she’s been going to the park more and more these
“That’s nice,” Janet
said slowly as she gave Kristin a confused look.
Kristin bit back a smile,
knowing that Janet wasn’t catching what she was saying.
“Cynthia’s also told me recently that she’s met a young man… who
is an artist…” her voice trailed off as she watched understanding slowly
start to dawn on Janet’s features.
“You don’t think…”
“Yes I do.”
“I’m not certain.
Cynthia did not go into details,” Kristin said.
“But it makes sense if you think about it.
It’s too great of a coincidence for it not to be true.
Don’t you agree?”
“Yes… but wouldn’t they
have known when they’d introduced themselves?
I know you’ve told Cynthia about your time away, and about rescuing
Will… so surely she would know our last name.”
Kristin looked thoughtful.
“No… I never mentioned your last name to her… I probably used your
first names when I told her about my time away because that is how I speak of
“And I told her to call me
Janet…” Janet finished. “But
what about Cynthia? Surely Will
would have recognized her last name? How
many Cynthia Westphalens could there be in London?”
Kristin shook her head.
“She’s going by Carruthers again.
Something Lavinia insisted on when I was gone, and I guess it just came
out when they met.”
A large smile began to form
on Janet’s face. “So… without
our having to do anything, our children have met and fallen in love?”
“Do you think they’ve
figured it out yet?”
“If they are serious about
each other… and from what Cynthia has told me, they are…” Kristin began.
“Then yes… I think they’ve most likely worked out the
Janet laughed softly then
reached out to grasp Kristin’s hand. “If
they… then we’ll really be family won’t we?”
“Yes we will,” Kristin
replied with a large smile as she returned Janet’s squeeze of her hand.
“So… should we tell them
that we know what we know?”
“No,” Kristin grinned.
“Why don’t we wait and see how long it takes them to come to us.”
Janet laughed softly and
nodded. “So… while I know you
wouldn’t have any objections to my son asking for your daughter’s hand, what
do you think her grandparents will say about the prospective groom?”
Kristin looked thoughtful for
a moment. “My mother…” she
began. “We won’t have to worry
about my mother, she will be happy that Cynthia found love.
My father and Lavinia…” Kristin sighed.
“And more so Lavinia… will cause a scene and make trouble.”
“But they have no say in
who Cynthia marries,” Kristin grinned. “Technically,
until she reaches her majority, I have final choice of my daughter’s husband.
And you are right… I would have no objections to Cynthia and Will
The smile returned to
Janet’s face before she released a deep breath.
“Well… as much as I hate to say it…”
“I know,” Kristin sighed.
“We should return to the gathering.”
“Sorry… but if it helps, I will make sure that you are seated in
between Claire and I.”
Kristin chuckled as she got
to her feet. “Thank you.”
“What is family for?”
Janet responded with a large smile as she led Kristin out of the room.
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
“So… tell me, Countess,
have you ever thought of hiring out your studs?”
Kristin’s laughter floated
down the table to fall on the ears of a frowning Frank Thomas as he watched her
answer Lansdowne’s question. He’d
waited outside the ladies retiring room for the countess and Mrs. Noyce to
return for several minutes, wanting to talk privately with Kristin, only to have
Lansdowne to slip in and spirit the ladies away the moment they stepped out into
He’d been further
disappointed to find that he’d been seated too far away from the countess to
engage her in any decent form of conversation.
He took a small measure of peace in knowing that Lansdowne was not seated
next to her either, but rather across from her.
‘Damned lucky man!’
Thomas thought then his frown deepened as the countess once again laughed at
something Lansdowne said. ‘I have
got to get her alone,’ he said to himself.
‘But how?’ He took a
large drink of the wine in front of him and began to formulate a plan to corner
Lady Westphalen after the meal.
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
“Bloody hell,” Kristin
muttered under her breath as she looked up to see Frank Thomas walking towards
her. She pasted what she hoped was
a sincere smile on her face. “General.”
“I was wondering if we
might have that chance to talk privately now?”
Thomas asked as he caressed her fingers with his mouth.
“Oh… I’m sorry,
“Please, call me Frank,”
Thomas said with what Kristin assumed was supposed to be a charming smile.
“I couldn’t possibly,”
Kristin replied. “And as for our
talk, I’m afraid it will have to be delayed.
Mrs. Noyce is not feeling very well, so I am taking her home.”
“I am sorry to hear
that,” Thomas said. “I was
looking forward to talking alone with you.”
Something in the way he was
looking at her made Kristin’s stomach roll and she just kept herself from
visibly shuddering. “Sadly one
cannot control when a headache will appear.”
“Quite true. Well then, perhaps…”
“I’m sorry, Kristin,”
Janet’s voice cut off Thomas’ words as she appeared around the corner, one
hand on her temple, the other on Clarissa’s arm as if to steady herself.
“Nothing to apologize
for,” Kristin said. “It is not
your fault that the migraine picked now to start.”
“I just know how much you
were looking forward to this luncheon,” Janet said softly, her face showing
just how much pain she was in.
“Yes, well… there will be
other luncheons,” Kristin told her. “You
are the one I am concerned about,” she said as she moved to Janet’s side.
“Claire, be a dear and go tell my driver we are ready to depart.”
“Yes, Aunt Kristin,”
Clarissa replied then rushed past Thomas out the door.
“Come on, dear… let’s
get you home and in bed,” Kristin said softly to Janet as she guided her
towards the door. She inclined her
head in Thomas’ direction. “General.”
murmured. “Mrs. Noyce.”
The general watched as the
two women climbed into the waiting coach then swore loudly once it began to move
away. ‘Think, Frank…’ he
thought to himself. ‘There has to
be some way to get that woman alone…’
A slow smile began to form on
his lips as an idea came to him.
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
“Janet… you’ve missed
your calling!” Kristin told her
friend through peals of laughter. “You
should have been an actress! That
was an excellent performance!”
“Thank you,” Janet
replied though her own laughter. “Aren’t
you glad I overheard your conversation with Thomas?”
“Oh yes,” Kristin nodded
as her laughter faded away. “There
is something about that man that… discomfits me.
I can’t put my finger on it… but when he comes near me, my skin
begins to crawl.”
“Mine too,” Clarissa
commented as her mother nodded in agreement.
“So what happens now?”
“Your Aunt Kristin is going
to drop us off at home then head home herself and go to bed,” Janet answered
her daughter. “She’s tired.”
“Tired with having to try
and avoid that man…” Kristin remarked.
“I am glad however, that at least for today, I will not have to deal
with him any longer.”
“If he bothers you again,
Aunt Kristin… just get mother to put on yet another performance,” Clarissa
laughed. “She is getting rather
good at them. You should have seen
the way she handled the Smith witches this morning.”
“Ooh… do tell…”
Kristin leaned back in the coach. “This
I have to hear.”
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
“Welcome home, milady,”
Stephens held the door open for Kristin.
“Thank you, Stephens,”
she responded as she made her way towards the stairs.
“Are my children home?”
“Not yet, milady,”
Stephens replied as he closed the door then followed after her.
“Very well… I am going up
to my room to rest,” Kristin told him. “I
do not wish to be disturbed until dinner.”
“Yes, milady…” Stephens
Kristin turned to face him.
“There is a General Thomas
waiting for you in the library,” he said with an apologetic look. “I tried to tell him that you weren’t home, but he
insisted on waiting.”
“That man does not know when to give up,” she muttered then nodded.
“I will take care of him, Stephens.
And while I talk with the general, will you have Lizzie draw me a warm
“Yes, milady,” Stephens
nodded and left to do as his mistress bid.
Kristin walked over to the
library door and released another sigh before she opened the door and stepped
into the room. Thomas was seated in
one of the leather chairs in front of the fireplace, one of her books in one
hand, a snifter of brandy in the other. She
frowned; not liking the familiarity Thomas had taken.
“General Thomas,” she
called out as she moved into the room, taking care to leave the library door
Thomas looked up from the
book and smiled. “Ah, Countess,
you’re home,” he said as he closed the book, placed it and the brandy on the
small table next to the chair then stood. “I
hope you don’t mind that I helped myself, but your butler said he wasn’t
sure how long you would be.”
Kristin’s first impulse was
to tell him that yes she did mind; that she wanted him out of her house
immediately and to stay away from her but she held her tongue; knowing that she
if she gave voice to those thoughts, she would do so in a very un-ladylike
“Not at all,” she said in
a neutral voice.
“Good,” Thomas said and
slowly walked towards her. “Now,
I’ll wager you’re curious as to why I’m here.”
“The thought did cross my
“Well, as you know, I’ve been wanting to talk with you but something
or someone always seems to interfere with that, so I decided to call on you.
At least here I know we will be able to talk without interruption,” he
said and reached for her hands.
Kristin felt a shiver of
revulsion move over her as Thomas grasped her hands in his and squeezed them
“I know we don’t know
each other that well yet, and I am hoping that will change,” Thomas began.
“And with that in mind, I thought to jump ahead of the pack and ask you
now for you hand.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Kristin asked as she pulled her hands out of the general’s grasp.
“I know of your condition
from your father,” Thomas continued. “I
also know what happened to you when you were taken by the pirates… and I want
you to know that it does not matter to me.
I want to marry you, Kristin.”
She stared at him, her mouth
agape as he continued.
“Of course we’ll have to
see about finding a proper home for the child once it is born, and I won’t
make any demands on you physically until that time,” he said with a smile, the
lust evident in his eyes as his gaze roamed her body. “I will be a good husband to you, Kristin.”
A wave of nausea rolled over
her at his words and she finally found her voice.
“First thing, ‘General’, I did not give you leave to call me by my
given name. You will address me as
Countess or Lady Westphalen,” Kristin told him.
“Secondly, despite what my father thinks or has told you, I am indeed
married. Quite happily as a matter
of fact, and the child I am carrying is without a doubt my husband’s.”
“Your father warned me that you were a spitfire,” he chuckled.
“Yes, you will definitely make life interesting.”
“Did you not hear what I
just told you?”
“Yes, I did,” Thomas
replied. “And your father said
you would say as much. My coming
here is merely a formality really, as your father has already accepted my suite
for your hand.”
“He what!?” Kristin exclaimed.
“I have already asked your
father for your hand and he has given his approval,” Thomas repeated.
“My father has
accepted…” Kristin began then started to laugh.
“My father has no right and no say about what I do with my life,
General,” she told the bald man before her once she’d stopped laughing. “I will not be marrying you… I am not going to commit
“It is either marry me or
be shunned by society,” Thomas told her.
“I could care less about
society,” Kristin said.
“But you do care about your
family,” he said. “A woman in
your condition, not married… carrying a child that any number of brigands
could have fathered. It will be a
blight on your families name, not to mention what the scandal will do to your
daughter’s reputation, having an unmarried, pregnant mother.”
“My daughter’s reputation
will not be harmed in the least,” Kristin replied in a hard voice.
“I am married. There will be no scandal…”
“You do not have to hold to
that fantasy any longer, Kristin…” Thomas said as he moved to close the
distance between them. “I am
offering to marry you, despite your condition.
Hell, you can even keep the child for all I care…”
Kristin’s hand connecting
with his cheek stopped Thomas’ words. “Get
out! Leave my house immediately!”
“Yes… life with you is going to be quite interesting.”
Kristin stepped away from the
general and backed towards the open library door.
“Stephens!” She called
out for the butler. When he
appeared moments later, Kristin turned to him.
“Kindly show the general out.”
“Yes, milady,” Stephens
nodded then took a step towards Thomas. “If
you would so kind as to follow me, sir, I will show you to the door.”
Thomas nodded at the butler
then turned to give Kristin a lecherous smile.
“Countess,” he put an emphasis on the title. “Until next time.”
Kristin did not respond as
Thomas left the library, Stephens right behind him.
When she was certain he was gone, Kristin sank down onto the small sofa
against the wall and released a shaky breath.
“Are you all right,
Kristin looked up to see
Stephens standing over her with a concerned look on his face.
I’m fine, thank you,” she replied and reached out a hand to lay it on
his arm. “That man just…
“I am sorry, Countess,”
Stephens hung his head. “I should
not have allowed him in.”
“It’s all right,”
Kristin told the older man as she slowly stood.
“Just don’t let it happen again.”
Stephens smiled at the light
teasing tone of Kristin’s voice and nodded.
“Good,” Kristin said.
“Now… has Lizzie drawn that bath for me?”
“Then I will retire
upstairs as I had planned,” Kristin told him and walked out of the library.
When she reached the stairs, she stopped and turned back to the man.
“Oh, and Stephens… from now on, with the exception of my mother and
the Noyces, no one else is to be admitted into the house unless you have been
“Yes, Countess,” Stephens
“Thank you, Stephens,”
Kristin said then slowly made her way up the stairs.
Stephens watched his mistress
ascend the staircase with a sad smile on his face.
He knew of her condition, and believed her when she said that she had
gotten married while she was away.
“Whoever you are, Captain,
wherever you are…” Stephens said softly to the empty hall. “Please hurry. The
countess needs you.”
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
Lionel looked up from the
paper in his hand. “Yes,
“General Thomas is here to
Westphalen closed and folded
the newspaper and nodded. “Thank
you. Show him in.”
“Yes, my lord,” Perkins
Lionel got to his feet as he
heard his butler tell Thomas to proceed into the room.
“Frank! Good morning!”
I hope I am not calling too early?”
“Not at all,” Westphalen
shook his head. “I was just
enjoying my coffee with the morning paper while my wife heads out for some
“And how is your lovely
wife?” Thomas asked.
“Fine. Still upset with me, but fine,” Lionel answered then met
Thomas’ eyes. “Now that the
pleasantries are out of the way… how did your discussion with my daughter
“Better than I
anticipated,” Thomas replied and took the chair Lionel indicated.
“Really? What did she say? Did
she accept your suite?”
“Well, as you said she
would, she denied that anything had happened to her when she was aboard the
pirate ship, and insisted once again that she was already married,” Thomas
Westphalen shook his head.
“I don’t understand why she insists on clinging to that… that
farce,” he said then sat down opposite the general and leaned forward on his
knees. “So then what happened?”
“I told her that it
didn’t matter to me about what happened on the pirate ship… that I would be
very proud to have her as my wife,” Frank continued.
“And as much as I would prefer not to… she appears to have become
quite attached to the child she is carrying, so I would be willing to give the
child my name.”
“That is good of you,” he said.
“And did you tell her this?”
“Yes,” Thomas replied.
“And it seemed to put her at ease some.”
“Good,” Westphalen said.
“So… did she accept your offer of marriage?”
Thomas hesitated a moment
before answering. “She said she
would think on it.”
Westphalen chuckled and shook
his head. “That’s my Krissy…
stubborn to the last.”
“Maybe… a few words from
you or your wife, expressing your approval of the match,” Thomas began,
“would help her make her decision.”
“Perhaps,” Lionel nodded.
“However, if my daughter feels that she needs a day or two to think
about it then I will not rush her.”
“Does this mean…”
Lionel shook his head. “You
are still my first choice for husband for my daughter,” he said.
“But if I push her in anyway… no,” Lionel shook his head.
“It is better to let her come to the decision herself.
It will make things easier on you in the long run.”
“I will defer to your judgment…”
“But?” Lionel urged, hearing the hesitation in the other man’s
“I do not believe we should
wait too long. Not with your
daughter in her present condition. Time
is of the essence.”
“Yes, you’re right,”
Lionel sighed then looked thoughtful. “My
wife’s annual ball is coming up soon. If
Kristin has not decided by then, I will decide for her.
She won’t be happy with me for doing so, she’s gotten too used to
being on her own, but she will do as I tell her,” he said.
“Can you wait till then?”
A broad smile formed on
Thomas’ face and he nodded. “I
can and I will.”
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
The sound of quiet laughter
drifted in from the hallway causing Lucas to look toward the door to identify
the source. He so hoped that it was
his mother. Something was bothering
her, he was sure. Though she had
said nothing the last few days she had seemed so unhappy and withdrawn.
He knew that she needed more nourishment because of the baby but she
seemed to be picking at her food… and he’d heard her late at night, pacing
in her room when she should be sleeping.
Three ladies entered the
parlour moments later, Janet with laughter still bubbling from her lips, Kristin
with her lips curved slightly in a gentle smile and Clarissa… Lucas jerked his
gaze away when he realized that he was staring yet again at the lovely creature
that made his heart beat madly.
Kristin noticed the direction
of her son’s attentions and the look on his face when he realized what he had
been doing. ‘Give it a few years,
Lucas, and perhaps…’ She turned toward the other young man in the room with
a genuine smile on her face.
“Will! I was wondering when you were going to come visit me.”
She brushed aside the polite hand that Will held out and hugged him
Will hesitated for just a
moment before returning the hug with one of his own.
Kristin’s sharp eyes quickly picked up on the way that her daughter was
observing the embrace. After a few
moments she broke the clinch and swatted William’s arm playfully.
“You’ve been very naughty
not coming to see me before now.”
“I am so sorry, Aunt
Kristin. I wasn’t… mother has
been telling me…” Will stammered over his words as he struggled to come up
with a valid excuse. “You’ve
had a great deal going on and I didn’t want to intrude.”
“Your presence is never an
intrusion, Will. You are family.”
Kristin patted his hand maternally.
“I know that Lucas is ecstatic to see you as well… and you’ve met
She might have missed the
slight blush that touched Will’s cheeks if she hadn’t been looking for it
but there it was, confirming Kristin’s supposition about the young couple’s
“Oh… yes… Cynthia and I
were just sitting here talking… getting to know each other…”
Suddenly Kristin knew for
certain that Will and Cynthia had gotten to know each other… perhaps more than
she would have wished for her young unmarried daughter.
She glanced at Janet and knew the other mother was wondering the same
“You must stay to dinner,
all of you. Ben and Katie will be
joining us and I know they will be happy to see you as well.” Kristin settled down on the comfortable sofa and sighed as
her hands drifted to her belly.
Will caught himself staring
at the bulge beneath Kristin’s hands then quickly apologized.
“I’m sorry… mother told me about the baby but… I didn’t realize
that…you are… so…”
A genuine smile touched
Kristin’s face. “And getting
even more ‘so’ every day. I am
already having to be careful with the fall of my gowns when I sit down.
In a few more weeks my condition will be obvious to everyone.
I just hope…”
Will knelt in front of
Kristin and carefully touched her hand. “He’ll
be here, Aunt Kristin.”
“I know, Will.
I just… I am too impatient. It
has always been one of my worst faults. I
need Nathan here with me.”
Janet watched Kristin with
worry on her face. She was the only
person that knew of Thomas’ unexpected proposal and she was afraid that the
pressure was affecting Kristin’s health and that of her unborn child.
Janet resolved yet again to do everything she could to shield Kristin
from as much unpleasantness as possible.
“Will… I forgot to tell
you…” The young man looked up from his covert observation of Cynthia when
his mother spoke. “Guess who your
sister and I ran into several days ago at the millinery?”
Will looked puzzled.
“Someone we know from America? We
haven’t really met anyone here.”
“They are definitely
American but not from Boston and not people that I ever hoped to see again,
especially not so soon.”
Will glanced from Janet to
Kristin, trying to read the expressions on their faces.
“I am sure that I couldn’t even begin to think… no… it couldn’t
be… That would be too much of a coincidence.
Was it… was it them? The
Janet tried her best to give
Will a disapproving motherly look at his use of Nathan’s nickname for the
Smith women but the expression kept slipping to reveal the smile beneath.
Kristin didn’t even begin to try to hide her merriment.
Cynthia’s interest was
She looked around the room. “You
all seem to know except me… even Claire.”
“And you are the luckiest
one of all for never having met the horrible creatures, my dear.” Kristin told
her. “Alexandra and Gwendolyn
Smith are two of the most unpleasant females that I have ever met.”
“Smith… that was the
family who visited the island. I’ve
never known you to dislike anyone as much as I can see you dislike these Smiths.
What did they do to you, Mummy?”
Kristin hadn’t shared the
exact details of the Smith situation with Cynthia, not really wanting to get too
specific about the relationship she and Nathan had been sharing outside of
marriage. She glanced at Clarissa
and Lucas but they had moved to the game board in the corner and were heavily
involved in a game of chess.
“Without boring you with
all of the details, Lexie Smith had decided that Nathan and her daughter, Wendy,
were going to be married, with or without his consent. When she found out about our feelings for each other she was
outraged but undeterred. She
planned some horrible things including placing Nathan and Wendy in a
compromising position but Nathan saw through her and asked them to leave.”
“Not that they could have
expected to stay after Wendell made improper advances towards you.” Janet
murmured for Kristin’s ears alone.
“I can’t believe that you
let her get away with that, Mummy. Very
few people can stand up to you when you go into ‘countess’ mode.”
“I… Your reputation was
of paramount importance, Cynni. I
couldn’t let my actions reflect badly on you so as far as the Smiths were
concerned I was a poor widowed friend of Janet’s.”
“They didn’t know?”
Cynthia suddenly began to laugh. “How
I would love to see their faces when they find out!”
“That would be amusing,”
Kristin agreed, the fantasy of that event helping to pull her from her doldrums.
“Amusing is a vast
understatement! Why, I suspect
Lexie would have an attack of the vapors on the spot…” Janet’s voice
trailed off thoughtfully as she turned to stare directly at Kristin.
“No…” Kristin shook her
head but her eyes gleamed mischievously. “We
couldn’t… could we?”
“Why not? After everything that they tried to do to you?
And it isn’t as if we’d be lying… We would just be letting them in
on the truth! Besides, Lexie would
probably become so angry she’d make some fiery pronouncement about your
marriage to Nathan. She’d be
another witness to convince your father to ease up…”
Cynthia and Will exchanged
glances, knowing that to interrupt their mother’s at this point would be
“Even if that didn’t
happen I would love to see the look on her face… I know that is horrible of me
but after planning to trap Nathan… How could we do it?”
“I know the perfect
place… your mother’s annual ball!”
Kristin spoke these last
words at the same time as Janet.
“You could arrange for the
“But wouldn’t Lexie be
suspicious? Receiving an invitation
from someone she hasn’t met?”
Janet thought a moment then
shook her head. “Claire and I
mentioned we were having lunch with the ‘countess’.
I’ll let Lexie think that I went out of my way to arrange for them to
attend. Lexie hasn’t been well
received at the embassy teas and she is looking for an entryway. Attendance at a duchess’s ball would be a social coup.
She’s such a snob that she won’t question it at all.”
“I’ll speak with mother
tomorrow. If I have to attend the
damned thing then at least I should have something to look forward to. Once the gala is over I am thinking about returning to the
Janet was shocked.
“Leave London? But Nathan will come here first…”
Kristin’s head fell.
“I know… but I have to be realistic and this baby is the reality.
I won’t be able to hide its presence much longer and I refuse to let
the children suffer from hurtful comments.
In the country perhaps we will be left alone.”
Suddenly Janet realized that
Kristin was referring to Thomas and his intense campaign to obtain her hand and
“We can’t go back to the
country, Mummy!” Cynthia interjected.
“But you hate the city,
“I… You taught me not to
run away from a fight.”
Kristin smiled, knowing why
the capital now held such appeal for Cynthia.
“This is a little different but… let’s see how the next few weeks
go, shall we? Perhaps there won’t
be a need for us to retire at all. The
sun is shining beautifully today. Why
don’t you children take advantage of it?
A game of croquet in the garden should be very enjoyable.”
Cynthia sensed that Kristin
needed a few moments of solitude and with a quiet prompt to Lucas and Clarissa,
led the way out of the room, carefully securing the door behind them.
Once they were alone Kristin slumped back into the overstuffed cushions
and sighed as Janet moved to sit beside her.
“So… I think that we are
right about our children. Did you
see the looks that they were sharing?”
Janet grinned knowingly.
“Very obvious once we knew to look for them.
And remember, this is the first time that we have seen both of them in
the same room. I wonder why Will came to visit today?”
“I think it is because I
asked Cynthia to introduce her young man to me.
This way she is doing that yet still guarding her secret. After her awful experiences with that milksop of a man her
grandmother picked while I was away I can’t blame her for wanting to keep her
new romance to herself for a while longer.”
“How long do we pretend
that we don’t know?”
“I’m not sure,” Kristin
turned to stare Janet in the face, knowing that she could speak honestly to her
friend. “I don’t want my
daughter to ‘have’ to get married but I’m afraid that might happen.
Although they haven’t known each other very long their feelings seem
very strong. The young can be so
impudent,” Kristin paused and laughed slightly as she stared down at the
evidence of her own impulsiveness. “I
suspect that something has already happened between them… perhaps not full
intimacy but… certainly something outside the bounds of acceptable
“I think that perhaps you
“I need to speak to Cynthia
again… although I feel very embarrassed doing so when I have been guilty of
the same behavior.”
“I could try to speak to
Will…” Janet’s hand flew to the back of her neck, fingers working the
knots developing there. “I wish
that Bill would get here soon. This
is something a father should talk with his son about.”
A tear squeezed out of
Kristin’s eye. “And Nathan… I
suspect from the way that Lucas’ eyes follow your daughter that he needs a
similar talk… not that I think they would go beyond the bounds… they are so
young. And I am not sure of
Claire’s feelings but Lucas… he has a very powerful infatuation with your
“A gentle reminder might
not be remiss once Nathan arrives. While
Bill might slap Will on the back and offer sly winks, any impropriety concerning
his daughter would be a different story all together.”
“As my father continues to
“Have you spoken to your
father about Thomas’ outlandish claims?”
Kristin shook her head.
“There is no need. My father would never presume to think that he has control
over me any longer. That man was
lying. I just wish that he would
leave me in peace. Even when he
isn’t there… I feel like he is watching me.”
Janet was alarmed at
Kristin’s words. “Your
instincts are very good and if you feel that way… I don’t think that you
should leave the house without an escort. Thomas
may indeed be planning something sinister.”
Kristin sighed as sadness
slowly washed back into her features. “I
can handle Frank Thomas. I can
handle anything as long as… as… oh Janet, why isn’t Nathan here?
He’s trying to get to me, I KNOW he is… but I need him so much!
Our baby needs him…”
Janet placed her arms around
Kristin’s shoulders and pulled her close, sensing that her friend needed the
release that crying would bring. Kristin
was good at hiding her loneliness in front of her children but the pressures of
the last few days had been too much.
“That’s it, dear.
Let it out.” Janet soothed but inside she wept with Kristin, knowing that
each passing day only made her burden harder.
The rumours within society were growing in proportion to Kristin’s
belly and Janet didn’t know how much longer she could continue to shield
Kristin from the extent of the gossip. Clarissa
had told her the rumours of one fight narrowly averted, Lucas backing down from
the second son of a viscount who he played bowls with only because of the
promise he had made to his mother.
Your wife and your children need you so desperately.’
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
Lucas lowered his head and
backed away from the window, his brows knit with worry.
“She’s crying but Aunt
Janet is comforting her. She looks
so unhappy… I just wish I could do something…” he told the group gathered
Clarissa reached out and took
Lucas’ hand, guiding him over to the stone bench by the center fountain of the
lovely garden. Will and Cynthia
trailed behind them, their hands surreptitiously brushing each other’s as they
“Aunt Kristin is very
strong. I’m sure that
sometimes… she just needs a moment or two to let her emotions out.
I’m glad that she feels she can do that with mother.” Clarissa
“There is something…”
Lucas raised his head and stared at Cynthia.
“Mama has missed dad from the moment we left the island but the last
few days… something else is going on.”
Cynthia nodded from her perch
on the opposite bench. “I’ve
felt it too. She’s under added
pressure… and that can’t be good for her… not in her condition.”
“Your mother would never do
anything to endanger the baby.” Will gripped Cynthia’s hand.
“No,” Cynthia agreed.
“She is very protective of my baby sister.”
Cynthia grinned but didn’t
get into the usual verbal argument with Lucas.
“Her husband needs to come home. She
needs him so desperately.”
“If only you could have
seen them together, Cynthia… the way that they looked at each other.
Their love was almost overwhelming.
I know that he is on his way back to her.”
Will wanted to embrace Cynthia, offer her the comfort of his arms, but he
resisted because he knew that Lucas and Clarissa would immediately discern how
“That’s right, sis.
Mama doesn’t believe those stupid rumours about dad being killed and I
don’t believe them either. He
made it through… somehow he made it through and he is coming for her right
None of the children noticed
the old man standing in the back of the garden, a tear slipping from his eye as
he listened to their words.
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
“Oh god, Mils, what are we
going to do?” Lionel buried his
face in his wife’s lap, the touch of her soothing hands doing little to
Millicent had known the
instant that Lionel had entered the room that something horrible had happened.
The look on his deathly pale face had frightened her, as did the way that
he’d moved immediately to her side and fallen to his knees.
“Tell me, dear.
What are we going to do about what?
Did you see Kristin? Has
Lionel had gone that very
afternoon to visit Kristin at her behest, in an effort to try and work out the
hard feelings between them. Millicent
knew that Lionel had finally been willing to make first move for her, knowing
that the tension between her husband and daughter was causing her no end of
distress. She was prepared for him
to return in an uproar but not like this…
“Please, Lionel,” she
Finally her husband raised
his face from her lap to stare up at her. Millicent
was surprised to find his eyes red brimmed from crying.
“It’s such a mess… why
didn’t I put my foot down? Stop
her from going out on that ship?”
“You haven’t stopped your
daughter from doing something she put her mind to since she was five years old.
What happened wasn’t your fault.”
“But now… I was in the
garden and the children were there – Cynthia and the boy plus that Noyce
woman’s children. I overheard
“What did they say that
upset you so?”
Lionel sighed deeply.
“Cynthia said something about wanting the husband to show up and then
the boy said that he didn’t believe what they had heard, that he didn’t
believe his father was dead.”
Millicent’s eyes filled
with tears as her heart broke for her daughter.
“No, Lionel… it can’t be…”
“No one will believe that
she was married at all. Our
grandchild is going to be branded a bastard.
No one will want that stigma attached to their family so Cynthia has
little chance of making a good marriage. I
have to do something. I can’t let
“But what can you do,
darling? Anyone who matters will
know that Kristin is telling the truth.”
Even as she spoke the words they sounded hollow to Millicent’s ears. Although she had never doubted her daughter’s story most of
the ton knew through malicious gossip that Lionel had.
A resolute look locked onto
Lionel’s face as he thought back to the conversation he’d had with Frank
Thomas a few days earlier. “I’m
going to do what I have to do. I am
going to protect my family no matter what.”
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
Alexandra gritted her teeth
and sunk her face deeper into the book that she held, knowing that if Wendy
didn’t stop pacing soon she was going to go mad.
At yet another deep sigh from her daughter Lexie could take no more and,
slamming the book shut, she flung it at Wendy.
“Will you stop?” She
screamed as the book glanced off of Wendy’s shoulder.
Wendy stared at her mother, a
stunned look on her face. “I
can’t help it. I am bored sitting
at home every afternoon. Why
can’t we go out to the park? Or
to the shops?” She bent down
absently and picked up the book.
“We can’t go out because
the afternoon is when people come to call.
We must be in to receive our visitors.”
“But we have been here over
a week and no one has come to visit… not one single person.”
“We have met some very nice
people at the embassy tea parties we’ve attended.
I am sure that some of them will be coming to call soon… to welcome us
“But I thought that we were
here to see the sights, go to lots of balls and parties and meet the upper
crust. We haven’t met anyone
remotely aristocratic except one dried up old Lady something or other. Her dress was twenty years old and she was as deaf as a brick
Lexie was as frustrated as
Wendy. “We have to be patient.
Finding our niche in society will take a little time.”
“But we don’t have that
much time. Daddy is already in
negotiations with a new shipping company. How
am I going to meet and marry a man that outshines Nathan if we don’t get out
“Gwendolyn! Didn’t I just say that we had to be patient?”
A soft scratch at the door
halted their angry words but Wendy continued to glare at her mother as the older
woman turned away.
“Come!” She barked.
An ancient man in a rumpled
suit entered the room. “You have
a visitor, Madame.” He spoke slowly as if the act of speaking required more
effort than he had left in him. “A
Lexie’s disgruntled glare
faded. “My dear friend, Janet.
Show her in at once!” When
the old butler had shuffled from the room she turned back to Wendy.
“Be pleasant, dear. Janet
Noyce’s husband is going to have a very important position at the embassy.”
“But they are friend’s of
Nathan’s. They helped him betray
“Shut up, Wendy.” Lexie
growled as footsteps sounded just outside the doorway.
“Janet! How lovely to see
you! Please come in and join us.”
Janet moved to the chair that
Lexie indicated as she swallowed her disgust and faked a smile.
“I am only sorry that I’ve taken so long to call since we met in the
high street the other day. I’ve
been very busy with the countess.”
“Crabtree, please have Cook
send in a tea trolley.” Lexie commanded as she sank into her chair.
“I do understand about your other obligations.
Why today is the first afternoon that Wendy and I have actually been in
to receive callers. We’ve been so
busy attending teas and making the social rounds.”
Janet nodded understandingly,
knowing all the while that Lexie was lying.
While Janet had said nothing about the woman to the other embassy wives,
Lexie’s own personality had quickly put these women off.
It seemed no one wanted to spend a moment longer in Alexandra’s company
than they had to.
“Your lovely daughter
didn’t come with you? What a
shame. I know that she and Wendy
could be great friends.”
The giggle that rose in
Janet’s throat at this statement almost escaped.
She knew that Wendy and Clarissa had nothing in common, being separated
in age by over a decade. “Claire
had another engagement this afternoon. In
fact I can’t stay very long myself. I
apologize for my rudeness but the countess is helping her mother, the Duchess,
prepare for their annual family ball and I’ve offered my services as well.”
The opportunistic light that
popped into Lexie’s eyes at the mention of two ranking members of the ton was
obvious. “We understand, of
course. How nice that you are
available. I am sure they count
your help as invaluable.”
“I really don’t mind,”
Janet offered. “The countess and
I are such dear friends that I am glad to help her in any way that I can.”
“And when is this grand
extravaganza going to take place?”
“Next week. Time is running out and there is still so much left to do.
Oh, that reminds me why I called.”
“I hope that you don’t
feel as if you need a reason to call on us.
We’ve been such good friends for so long that you are welcome to drop
by any time.” Lexie reassured her guest.
“That is so kind of you,
Lexie. I was speaking to the
countess the other day, telling her of the remarkable coincidence of running
into you and she insisted that I extend her invitation to attend the ball.
Only if you have no other plans, of course, but it does promise to be the
social event of the season.”
Alexandra could barely
contain the gleam in her eye as Janet reached into her reticule and pulled out
the stiff envelope. She couldn’t
resist the impulse to hold the missive just out of Lexie’s reach for a moment
longer than necessary. But then
Wendy moved in from the side and neatly pulled the elegant paper free of her
Lexie nearly yanked the
envelope from her daughter’s hand and pulled it open, not even taking care to
slit the covering properly. “Such
elegant paper… and handwritten so neatly…” she observed as she pulled the
invitation free. “The Duke and
Duchess of Stonevale invite you… This is so very kind of you to think of us,
“How could I not after
running into you the other day? I
know that our parting wasn’t on the best of terms but…” Janet let her
words trail off, unwilling to lie that she was sorry about that parting.
weren’t the best,” Lexie agreed. “But
now we have another chance to renew our friendship.”
“Yes…” Janet agreed,
forcing enthusiasm into her voice. “How
long do you intend to be in London?”
“We haven’t really
decided yet but we shall most assuredly be here for several months. Wendell has extensive business to take care of and Wendy and
I are taking advantage of our stay to replenish and update our wardrobes.
What about you? How long is the Admiral’s posting going to be?”
“We aren’t sure,” Janet
accepted the cup of tea that Lexie offered her.
“We won’t have more information on our stay until Bill actually
“And when do you expect the
Admiral to arrive?”
Genuine worry touched
Janet’s face. “I’m not
sure… We expected him several weeks ago, actually.
But he will be here soon.”
The chatter continued for
several minutes but once Janet judged that she had stayed long enough to be
polite she quickly began to make her excuses.
“I hope to see you at the
gala.” She smiled as she stepped through the front door.
“We’ll have to check our
calendar, of course. We’ve had so
many invitations… but I’m sure that if we have a conflict we can resolve it.
Come again, please.”
With a last wave Janet
disappeared down the walk and into the waiting carriage that rolled up to the
Alexandra closed the door and
rested against it, a thoughtful look on her face.
“What was that all about,
Mother? That woman was horrible to
us on Nathan’s island and now she is pretending to be our friend?”
Lexie levered away from the
door and walked slowly back to the parlor, her brows furrowed in thought.
“Close the door, Wendy.
I don’t want anyone to overhear our conversation.”
Wendy dutifully shut the door
behind her then moved to sit beside Lexie.
“You have an idea?”
“I wonder where William
Noyce really is… He wouldn’t send his family ahead if there weren’t a very
good reason. I suspect that reason
might be… Nathan Bridger.”
“Nathan… I don’t
“Use your head, Gwendolyn.
Noyce risks his career by arriving late for an assignment… what other
reason could there be? He is with Nathan… helping Nathan… but helping him
what?” Lexie tapped her chin
thoughtfully. “It must be
“Maybe Nathan realized he
made a mistake and sent the trollop away.”
“That’s it! That harlot showed her true colors and broke Nathan’s
heart. The admiral has gone to help
Nathan. That has to be what
happened.” Lexie spoke excitedly. “Janet
Noyce realizes that Nathan will apologize to us for what happened… perhaps he
is rethinking marriage to you, Wendy. Wouldn’t
that be grand?”
“Do you really think so,
Lexie’s mind was whirling.
“It is a definite possibility. We
will be able to find out more once Admiral Noyce arrives but in order to hear
any gossip we are going to have to suffer through socializing with those odious
wives from the embassy.” She held
up her hand at Wendy’s protest. “Once
Noyce arrives we will know more about Nathan’s state of mind.
I’ll speak with your father and if the need arises we can be ready to
sail for home within a few days.”
Both women drifted back into
their cushions to indulge their own longings and fantasies.
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
“If that girl hits one more
wrong note I’m going to scream.”
Kristin bit her lip to keep
from laughing out loud at Janet’s whispered comment then leaned towards her
friend. “I know exactly what you
mean. Lucas can sing better than
this and he can’t carry a tune in a bucket.”
“Sssh!” An older lady turned around to shush them then turned back
around to face the young girl singing before them.
Janet and Kristin shared an
amused look and swallowed the laughter that threatened to spill forth.
“How much longer can this
last?” Janet leaned in towards
Kristin and spoke behind her hand.
“I hope not too long,”
Kristin replied. “Baby Bridger
has decided that my bladder is a good place to sit for this performance.”
The giggle escaped before
Janet could stop it and earned another scowl from the woman in front of her.
Kristin snickered into her
handkerchief. “You keep that up
and Lady Colby is going to pull a neck muscle.”
Janet grinned and shook her
head then turned back to watch Baroness Wakefield’s granddaughter sing an aria
from some opera Janet had never heard of. She
bit her lip as she caught Kristin fidgeting in her chair out of the corner of
“Finally!” Janet heard Kristin whisper in a pained voice as the young
girl finally finished singing. She
laughed softly then turned to see Kristin already making her way out of the hall
towards the retiring room and quickly followed.
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
“He’s watching me again,
“I would really like to
attend one of these functions and not have to worry about whether Frank Thomas
is going to be there or not.”
“I know. And you will… just as soon as Nathan gets here,” Janet
told her then grinned. “Well…
when the two of you finally emerge from your bed chamber.”
Kristin laughed softly.
“You know… I may never have to suffer through one of these again.”
The two women laughed then
“They will be here,
Kristin,” Janet said with conviction as she reached out to grab her friend’s
hand. “They will be here.”
“I know,” Kristin nodded.
“I know.” She took a
deep breath. “So… is he
“For the love of… I wish
he would just go away.”
“Wish who would go away?”
Kristin and Janet turned to
see Millicent Westphalen standing before them with a curious look on her face.
General Thomas,” Kristin answered with a visible shudder.
“What about him?”
Kristin hesitated, unsure of
whether or not to tell her mother about Thomas’ offer of marriage and his
claim that her father had agreed to the match.
“Has that man been
bothering you, Kristin?” Millicent
asked her daughter.
“Not in the way you think,
Mother,” Kristin answered. “It’s
just… he always seems to be at every party, luncheon or tea that I attend
lately, and he’s always,” she shuddered again.
“He’s always watching me…”
“Perhaps it is just
coincidence,” Millicent suggested then her eyes narrowed.
“And there is something else. What
Kristin glanced at Janet who
shrugged her shoulders. She sighed.
“A few days ago, after Baroness Ellingham’s luncheon… I arrived
back at the house from seeing Janet and her daughter home to find the general
waiting for me in my library…” Kristin paused.
“He didn’t… try
anything did he?”
“No, Mother,” Kristin
quickly reassured her. “He… he
asked for my hand, and despite my telling him repeatedly that I am already
married… he insisted that we would be wed…”
“He… he asked for your
“And since that day,”
Janet picked up the tale for Kristin, “he’s
been at every gathering we’ve been to. However,
he never does anything more than stand across the room and stare at your
Kristin said in a quiet voice.
“And I for one am worried
about the pressure and the stress it is putting Kristin under what with…”
Janet’s voice trailed off as her eyes gestured towards Kristin’s swollen
belly, still hidden by the skirt of her dress.
“The constant worry about what that man is going to do is not good for
“Perhaps if I had a word
with him… or even with your father?” Millicent
suggested but Kristin shook her head. “Why
on earth not?”
“Because it doesn’t
matter… Nathan will be here soon, and he will deal with the general.”
Kristin’s eyes widened at the hesitation she heard in her mother’s voice. “Please don’t tell me… don’t tell me you’re
starting to doubt me… that you’re beginning to believe that I made my
Of course not,” Millicent reached out to take one of Kristin’s hands
in hers. “I believe you when you
say you married… I… I just think that perhaps, your father may be right
about your husband deserting…”
Kristin pulled her hand away
from her mother and took a step back as she shook her head. “Nathan is coming… he is on his way as we speak and he
will be here.”
“No…” she held up her
hand and then with a slight scowl on her face, Kristin turned and fled the room.
Millicent moved to follow her
daughter but Janet’s hand on her arm stopped her.
“Give her a little time
alone…” Janet told the duchess.
“I didn’t mean to upset
her… really I didn’t.”
“I know, and Kristin knows
that too,” Janet replied. “A
lot of it is the pregnancy,” she said in a quiet voice,
“and the rest… she is worried about Nathan. Truth be told, I am too.
And I am worried about my husband… they should have been here by
“You don’t think
he’s…” Millicent began then stopped at the furious shaking of Janet’s
head. “How can you be sure?”
“Because I have known
Nathan for over thirty years,” Janet answered.
“And believe me when I tell you… he is madly in love with your
daughter. He will be
Millicent regarded Janet for
several minutes. Over the last
month she’d come to know the Noyce woman fairly well and was pleased that her
daughter had found such a trustworthy friend and confidant.
She nodded. “I believe
“It’s not me you need to
tell that too,” Janet said.
“I know,” Millicent
smiled. “Thank you, Janet.”
Duchess.” Janet replied and
smiled as she watched the older woman move off to find her daughter.
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
“Trouble within the family
Janet smiled as she turned,
recognizing the male voice behind her without seeing its owner.
“Mr. Lansdowne, so good to
see you again.”
Malcolm grinned his boyish
grin. “The pleasure is all mine,
Mrs. Noyce. Might I say that you
are looking lovelier than ever.”
laughed as Malcolm took her hand in his and bent low over it, being very careful
not to upset the pale yellow beverage he held in his other hand. “That doesn’t look like punch.”
Malcolm raised the glass
slightly in a toast. “Baron
Wakefield shares my dislike for punch and kindly opened the larder for something
a bit hardier. Not too loud
though,” Malcolm glanced furtively around the room, “or everyone will want
“You haven’t changed a
bit, have you, Mr. Lansdowne?”
“I certainly hope not. Have
you heard any news from the old sailor lately?
I’ve been stuck on this damp and dreary island over six months on
business and I can’t wait to get back to my warm and sunny little paradise.
Nathan sent a few letters in the beginning but for the last few months
I’ve heard nothing.”
Although Janet knew that
Malcolm and Nathan were very good friends she wasn’t sure if the former was
aware of Bridger’s alternate identity. “The
admiral and I were visiting the island just over three months ago. Our son hadn’t been well and we thought that the sun and
warmth might help him recuperate. Nathan
was fine when we left although he did mention something to Bill about a trip of
his own. He needed to take care of
some unfinished business, I believe.”
“Sounds like Nathan.
Just up and disappear at will with no explanation to anyone.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t become a hermit someday.”
An image of Nathan and
Kristin reciting their vows sprang to Janet’s mind.
“Nathan won’t become a hermit. He’s
improved a great deal. I think he
is ready to face the world again.”
Malcolm glanced toward the
exit door. “Is Lady Westphalen all right?
She didn’t look very happy when she left here.
I don’t mean to be forward,” he quickly explained.
“I’ve spoken with the lady several times and I find her to be jolly
good company. I shouldn’t like
for her to be unhappy.”
“I’ve seen you speaking
although I never managed to greet you myself.
Your concern for Kristin is most kind but she will be fine.
Her life is just a bit… unsettled at the moment.”
Malcolm nodded, his face
turning serious. “I’ve heard
the rumours. Are they true?”
Janet could tell he regretted
the question the moment it slipped from his lips.
Her eyes gleamed and she nodded. “Twins.”
Malcolm was stunned.
“As a matter of fact,”
she leaned in conspiratorially, “the doctor thinks it might even be
Droplets of ale flew as
Malcolm choked on his beverage.
Janet pulled her handkerchief
from the small silk bag at her wrist and offered it to Lansdowne but he waved it
away and pulled out a large linen square to mop his face and jacket.
“I guess that you are trying to tell me that I should not believe
everything that I hear?”
“Very perceptive of you,
Mr. Lansdowne. Kristin Westphalen
is a lovely lady and she has been through some very difficult times over the
past few months.” For just a
moment Janet was tempted to tell Malcolm that Kristin was the wife of one of his
dearest friends but in the end decided against it.
“You could do worse than to name the countess as a friend.”
“I would like very much to
be her friend. She is a very
beautiful and a very kind lady. If…
If she should ever need anything I would like for her to feel that she could
call on me… for anything.” Lansdowne emphasized once more.
“Would you tell her that?”
“I will,” Janet agreed,
her mind reeling as she realized just exactly what Malcolm Lansdowne was saying,
that he would be willing to claim Kristin’s child as his own. ‘What is this effect that you have on men, my friend?’
“Then I will bid you good
evening, Mrs. Noyce. Perhaps when
your husband arrives we could all dine together one evening?”
‘And what a meal that will
be!’ Janet couldn’t help but grin at the thought of Malcolm’s surprise
when he heard about Nathan’s wedding. “Take
care, Mr. Lansdowne, and guard your ale well.”
Malcolm raised his glass in a
silent toast as he walked away.
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
Cynthia didn’t notice the
sharp eyes that followed her every move as she accepted the punch glass from
Will but she did recognize the tap tap tap of Lavinia’s cane as her
grandmother approached with a speed that belied her age.
“Cynthia, I would have
thought that you would have made time to call on your grandmother while you’ve
been in London.” Lavinia accused.
“Grandmother, how nice to
see you,” Cynthia responded pleasantly. “Let
me introduce you. Lady Lavinia
Carruthers, Dowager Countess of Kilhairn, this is William Noyce of Boston.”
Lavinia barely acknowledged
the introduction, never taking her gaze off of her granddaughter.
“I expect you for tea tomorrow afternoon.
There are several things that we need to discuss.”
Cynthia smiled pleasantly.
“I am sorry, Grandmother. I
have other plans for tomorrow afternoon. Perhaps
we could arrange a day next week.”
Lavinia stamped her foot, as
a small child would do. “We
cannot arrange a day next week. If
the rumours that I have heard are true we must not delay.”
The old woman’s eyes cut across the room to her daughter-in-law
chatting with some brassy American woman. “Once
the gossip is confirmed you will have no chance of making an advantageous match.
I have several young men lined up for you to meet now.”
“Grandmother, I am not
going to be pushed into…”
Lavinia swept Cynthia’s
protests aside. “There is Lord
I’ll make the introduction now.”
Cynthia dug her heels in as
Lavinia tugged at her arm, staring at her grandmother, aghast.
Barrington was known as one of the most dissolute rakes of the ton and
his finances were known to be almost nonexistent.
Apparently Lavinia was still scheming on how she could regain control of
the Kilhairn fortune from Kristin.
“I am not interested in
meeting Lord Barrington or any other suitor that you might pick for me,
Grandmother.” Cynthia turned her
back on the old woman and noticed Kristin and her maternal grandmother enter the
room and make their way toward Janet. “Mr.
Noyce, would you be so kind as to escort me to my mother?”
“It would be my pleasure,
milady.” Will bowed slightly at
the waist then offered Cynthia his arm. “Delighted
to meet you, Lady Carruthers.”
“Impudent youth,” Lavinia
muttered as the young couple moved across the floor.
She sank into a chair against the wall and fumed as she watched her
granddaughter and daughter-in-law chat gaily with the small group of people
“Your granddaughter is very
Lavinia looked up at the
strange accent to find a solidly built balding man in an American military
uniform standing next to her.
“I don’t believe we have
been introduced, sir.” Her eyes
“I apologize for my
terrible breech of good manners but I couldn’t help noticing the way that you
are watching the girl.”
“And why should that
interest you, Mister…?”
“Thomas… General Francis
Thomas, currently attached to the American embassy here in London.
I do have a particular interest in that area… If I might speak in
After a few moments thought
Lavinia nodded her head sharply. “You
Thomas leaned in closer.
“I am sure that you have heard certain… rumours… about your
“Spiteful gossip, I can
“Or perhaps not.
I became acquainted with Lady Kristin through her father and I’ve come
to greatly admire her over the past month.
I have made an offer for her hand. I
realize that my pedigree is not so impressive as others of your acquaintance
but… under the present circumstances…”
Lavinia’s mind was already
whirling with the news. “You’d
raise Kristin’s bastard? Give it
“If it actually comes down
to that although I do have other plans in mind...
I have given the marriage a great deal of thought and I just wanted to
take the opportunity to assure you that once Lady Westphalen and I are married I
will give you my full support in any plans that you may have for your
“And has my daughter-in-law
actually accepted your offer?”
“Our engagement will be
announced at her parent’s annual ball next week.
I am arranging for a special license so that we can be married the day
after. Time is of the essence, you
understand. Once we are married we
will be retiring to the country for a long honeymoon so I am sure that you would
be happy to have your granddaughter living with you once again…”
Lavinia covered up the
instant loathing she felt for the stranger standing next to her as she raised
her eyes to meet his gaze. “My
granddaughter is always welcome in my home, General.
May I offer my congratulations on your impending nuptials…”
Thomas raised the lady’s
gloved hand to his lips. “Thank
you for your support, Lady Carruthers. I
would ask… until the time that the Duke announces our engagement we would like
for it to remain our little secret. Kristin
would be very upset if she knew that I spoke with you so if you could remain
‘Nasty little worm,’
Lavinia thought as she nodded in agreement.
‘But I would deal with the devil himself to get what I want.’
“Make your plans, General.
I will be ready for Cynthia to come to me once you are married.”
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
“Now that is an interesting
pairing. I would love to know what
those two are discussing.” Cynthia watched her grandmother and General Thomas
with narrowed eyes over the rim of her punch glass.
Kristin turned as she followed her daughter’s gaze.
“That is grandfather’s friend, isn’t it?
The one who you don’t care for?”
“Frank Thomas… yes that
is him. I wonder what they are
talking about as well.” Kristin
shuddered slightly as she thought of all the possibilities.
“They are certainly two of a kind.”
Cynthia cocked her eyebrows
at her mother. “Is there
something that you aren’t telling me about this General?”
Kristin paled visibly.
“Of course not… I just…” Suddenly she seemed to wilt before their
eyes. Janet quickly grabbed an
elbow to steady her.
Concerned voices tripped over
each other as each of them sought to help.
Kristin waved them away.
“I am fine, I promise…
just a bit weary.” Her eyes cut
briefly toward Thomas and Lavinia.
Janet saw the glance and took
over the conversation. “It’s no
wonder. The evening’s
entertainment is over. Let’s
plead another engagement and see you home.”
“That sounds wonderful.
But I’m not really sleepy; I just need to sit down in a quiet place.
Why don’t the two of you come back to the house with us?”
Both mothers noticed the look
that passed between their children and shared a subtle nod with each other.
“I’ll call for the
carriage.” Will offered then
Kristin glanced around the
room once again. “Let’s see if
we can do this discretely. I’d
like to make our getaway without anyone realizing that we are gone.”
Sadly it was not to be.
The women were almost clear of the room when a figure loomed before them.
“Leaving so soon?”
Lavinia cackled; her eyes narrowing as she stared at her daughter-in-law.
“Unfortunately we have
other obligations this evening. If
you will excuse us?” Kristin made
to move around the woman but Lavinia shifted in front of her again.
“I would speak with you,
Kristin sighed and turned to
Cynthia. “Go with Mrs. Noyce and
let William know that I’ve been detained for a few moments.
I will join you shortly.”
Cynthia’s reluctance to
leave was obvious. “Perhaps your
grandmother and I do have some unfinished words, although this is hardly the
place that I would have chosen for them. I
won’t be long. Now go.”
This time Cynthia did as her
mother asked and left with Janet, but only after a backwards glance of regret.
Once they were gone Kristin bowed her head slightly and gestured to
Lavinia to lead the way.
In a few moments they were
alone in a small room off the main corridor.
Lavinia sank into a chair and surveyed Kristin critically.
“I commend you on your
modiste. With that particular
pattern I can’t tell if the rumours are true or not, although I tend to
believe that they are.”
Kristin struggled to hold her
temper. “We are alone so speak
your peace, old woman.” The
address was a hard one for Kristin to use but she was tired and she had no
patience left with her mother-in-law.
“Do you think that I
don’t know what you are doing? I
have eyes. I can see the way that
Cynthia looks at that American boy and he feels the same.
You are encouraging them, knowing that he is a completely unsuitable
choice, just to spite me.”
“Lavinia! Will you please accept the fact that the entire world does not
revolve around you? William is a
very dear friend to my family as are his parents.
He is hard working and intelligent, a much more suitable match for my
daughter than that little worm you tried to force her to marry.
But when and if Cynthia marries it will be a man of her own choosing, not
of mine or of yours.”
“You would allow your
daughter to throw away her heritage?”
“I want my daughter to be
happy with whomever she chooses. I
want her to be in love! Haven’t
you ever felt that way, Lavinia? At
some point in your miserable, scheming life wasn’t there one person who you
would have done anything to be with? Who
could make you feel love and joy and happiness with a simple touch of his hand?
That is what I’ve found with my husband and that is what I want for my
daughter, be it with William Noyce or some other young man.”
“Poppycock… that is utter
rubbish!” Lavinia sputtered.
“No… it isn’t.
But I should have known that you wouldn’t understand.
If you ever did have a heart it shriveled up years ago.
But understand me, Lavinia. I
will not allow you to interfere with Cynthia again.
You are her grandmother and she loves you dearly.
Instead of manipulating her feelings why don’t you try to appreciate
them before you drive her away completely.”
Kristin turned and stalked
out of the room before Lavinia could muster a reply.
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
“Would you like me to have
cook fix a pot of tea?” Cynthia
asked her mother as she watched her slowly lower herself onto the sofa.
“That would be lovely,”
Kristin nodded to her daughter. “And
“Yes, Mother,” Cynthia
replied and moved towards the door.
“And I…” William pushed
himself off the wall. “Could you
please show me where the facilities are?”
Cynthia smiled and nodded.
“Of course, follow me,” she said then looked over at her mother.
“I will be right back.”
“So… how long do you
think, before they tell us?” Janet
asked once Will and Cynthia were out of the room.
“Soon… very soon,”
Kristin replied. “I think they
are getting tired of pretending that they have no feelings for each other.”
“Good,” Janet chuckled.
“I don’t know about you, but I am anxious to start planning a big
Kristin laughed and was about
to comment when the sound of muffled voices filtered into the room.
She shared a glance with Janet just as Will and Cynthia returned.
“Cook will bring the
trolley in a few minutes,” Cynthia informed her mother as she sat down beside
her mother on the couch.
“Very good,” Kristin
“Mother… how long until
Lucas and Clarissa return?” Cynthia
“Oh… a couple hours at
least. They are with the group of
local youths at the Vauxhall Gardens,” Kristin answered.
“For heaven’s sake,
William, would you please sit down,” Janet said to her son as he paced back
and forth behind the sofa. “You’re
making me dizzy.”
“Sorry, Mother,” Will
replied as he walked around the lounge. He
caught Cynthia’s gaze and the two shared a quick look. Will nodded imperceptibly and instead of sitting in the chair
beside his mother, he knelt on the floor before Kristin.
“I…” Will began then
stopped to look once again at Cynthia. “We
have a confession to make.”
Kristin arched her eyebrow as
she caught Janet’s gaze over William’s head.
“What sort of confession?”
“Your daughter and I did
not meet for the first time when you introduced us a few days ago,” he told
her. “We ran into each other
several weeks ago at a bookstore in town and since that day, we’ve been
meeting at the park every afternoon.”
“So you are the young man
my daughter told me about?” Kristin
asked and just managed to bite back her smile as Will glanced quickly at
“Yes, I am,” Will
answered then cleared his throat as he straightened his posture.
“Lady Westphalen,” he began in a serious voice.
“I am very much in love with your daughter, and as such, I am asking
you for her hand in marriage. I
promise you that I will be a good and faithful husband to her.
Also, should you give your permission, I would like your solicitors to
draw up legal documents to ensure that all Cynthia’s monies and estates stay
in her name.”
Kristin laid her hands on her
stomach as she made a show of considering William’s proposal and watched as he
surreptitiously snuck a look at Cynthia. She
turned to her daughter. “Do you
love this young man?”
Cynthia’s face broke out in
a huge smile as she nodded and reached out for Will’s hand. “Yes, Mother. I
love him very much, and I would like to marry him and spend the rest of my life
Kristin chanced a glance at
Janet to see her holding her handkerchief to her mouth and her eyes bright with
unshed tears then reached out and clasped Cynthia and Will’s joined hands as a
smile slowly spread across her face. She
nodded. “You have my permission
“Oh thank you, Mother!”
Cynthia exclaimed as she pulled her hand free and leaned over to embrace
Kristin. “Thank you so much.”
Will rose up on his knees and
joined the embrace. “Thank you,
Aunt Kristin.” A soft sob drew
his attention and he pulled back to see his mother crying.
He released Cynthia and Kristin then moved over to kneel before Janet.
“Mother? Are you… are
you okay with this?”
“Oh, my son…” Janet
reached out and cupped William’s cheek. “I
am very okay with this. I can think
of no one else I would love to have for my daughter-in-law.”
A large smile formed on
Will’s face to match the one on his mother’s as he leaned in to embrace her.
“Thank you, Mother,” he whispered against her ear then moved out of
her arms to sit on the other side of Cynthia on the sofa.
“Is it just me… the two
of you don’t really seem all that surprised by this,” Cynthia said with a
smile as Will laced his fingers with hers.
Janet and Kristin shared a
“We realized that the two
of you were… seeing each other, a few days ago.”
“Why didn’t you say
“We assumed you would tell
us when you were ready…”
“And we were right.”
The four laughed as a knock
came on the door, followed by a large gray-haired woman pushing a trolley with
tea and scones.
“Your tea, milady.”
“Thank you, Elsie,”
Kristin said with a smile.
The old woman returned her
smile then quickly left the room.
“So… should we have a big
wedding or…” Janet’s voice trailed off at the look that passed between
Cynthia and Will. “What is it?”
“We were talking,”
Cynthia began as she watched her mother pour the tea.
“And we know that
Cynthia’s grandmother Carruthers and your father,” Will looked at Kristin,
“will have a problem with us getting married…”
“So we thought that we
would simply elope to Gretna Green,” Cynthia finished.
“Oh no!” Kristin said as she handed Cynthia one of the cups.
“You my darling daughter deserve a grand wedding,” she paused with a
scone halfway to her mouth. “Unless
there is a need for haste?”
“Oh no! No! Oh no,
Kristin met Janet’s eyes as
she handed her a cup of tea, confirming that she too had noticed the blush creep
up both of their children’s faces.
“Cynthia and I have decided
to wait until we are wed before we consummate our relationship,” Will replied
with a gentle squeeze to his love’s hand.
Kristin and Janet smiled.
“We are glad to hear
that,” Janet said.
“Even if you didn’t wait
yourself, Mother?” William asked
with a cheeky smile.
Kristin covered her mouth
with her hand to keep from laughing out loud.
“William Edward Noyce
Junior!” Janet exclaimed even as
she felt her cheeks flame slightly. “How
did… when… where on earth did you hear that?”
“Several years ago, I
overheard dad and Uncle Nathan talking…” Will answered.
“Of course, at that time I had no idea what they meant…”
“Kristin,” Janet turned
to her friend. “When our husbands
arrive, you’d better hope you get Nathan away before I get my hands on him,
because I am going to hurt both of them.”
Kristin couldn’t hold it in
any longer and burst out laughing. “I’m
not saying a word,” she gasped as her laughter slowly faded away and patted
her gravid stomach. A wave of
sadness suddenly washed over her, but she fought to keep a smile on her face,
unwilling for the others to see.
Will turned to Cynthia, and
the two shared a silent conversation. After
a moment or two, Cynthia nodded then stood and without a word left the room.
“Where is she going?”
“To get a little
something…” Will answered with a smile at his mother and aunt.
“She won’t be long.”
As if to prove his point,
Cynthia breezed back into the room after a few moments and reclaimed her seat
between her mother and Will; whatever it was that she’d gone to get hidden in
the folds of her skirt.
“Mother… Will has a
little something he would like to give you,” she said.
“No, Cyn, you… you give
it to her.”
Cynthia shook her head and
pulled out what looked to Kristin like a small picture portfolio.
“No… you…” Will tried
to refuse what Cynthia was giving him.
“No, Will. You… you did it, you give it to her,” Cynthia told him
and thrust the wallet into his hands.
Will held the portfolio in
his hands for a moment then with a gentle nudge from Cynthia, he slowly opened
it and pulled out a thick white sheet of paper.
He glanced down at it then lifted his gaze to meet his mother’s and at
her knowing look and small nod he turned to face Kristin.
“Aunt Kristin, I… I uhm,
I drew this… as a test really,” Will began.
“I was trying to capture that look… to see if it was possible to get
it down on paper…” he sighed and reached across Cynthia to hold out the
stiff paper. “Here…”
Kristin took the paper from
William and slowly turned it over. She
gasped and her eyes filled with tears at the image before her.
“Oh, Nathan…” Kristin whispered, unmindful of the tears now
streaming down her cheeks as she traced her finger over the drawing of her
husband, amazed how real the sketch appeared.
“I’m sorry, Aunt Kristin.
It wasn’t my intention to upset you.
I just thought…”
“No, Will,” Kristin shook
her head then wiped away the tears with her free hand.
“You didn’t upset me… quite the opposite. This is incredible,” she looked up at the young man.
“Thank you so much. I
can’t tell you what this means to me.”
William smiled then glanced
at Cynthia when she squeezed his hand. She
leaned towards him and brushed a quick kiss over his cheek. “Thank you,” he heard her whisper against his skin.
“It’s so…” Kristin
continued in a quiet voice, her eyes again filled with unshed tears. She looked at Will. “When
did you do this?”
“On our way over from
Boston,” Will answered.
“You did this from
“Yes,” he replied.
“I was trying to capture the light in your eyes that you and Uncle
Nathan get when you look at each other…”
Kristin smiled and looked
back down at the drawing in her hand. Having
been used to only being on the receiving end of that look from Nathan… of
losing herself in the depths of his cerulean eyes and Nathan in hers; to the
point where everything and everyone else ceased to exist for them, Kristin was
amazed to see it captured on paper… to see what others saw when they looked at
“You captured it very
well…” Kristin told him as she continued to lightly trace Nathan’s image.
“Very well…” her voice trailed off to barely louder than a whisper.
“Oh my rogue…”
Janet watched her friend lose
herself in her memories and smiled. After
all the stress of the last few days, Janet decided to let Kristin be… to enjoy
the memories the picture invoked and turned to look at her son and his fiancée.
“So… when, where and how do we want to stage this wedding?”
Kristin smiled at the twin
responses to Janet’s question but made to move to join in the conversation…
instead she closed her eyes and thought of her husband.
‘Hurry home, my rogue… please hurry.’
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
“Come,” Kristin called
out at the soft knock on the door, not in the least bit surprised by the
tapping. She’d been expecting
“Am I bothering you?”
Cynthia whispered from the doorway.
“Of course not.
I’ve been waiting for you. Come
and sit with me.”
Cynthia floated across the
room and settled in the empty chair beside her mother.
“How did you know that I would come?”
“A mother knows,” Kristin
Cynthia’s gaze fell to
Kristin’s lap where her mother held the sketch that Will had given her earlier
that evening. “Your Nathan is
very striking… not exactly what I would call handsome in the classic sense of
the word but I can see why he caught your eye.”
“Will is very talented.”
Kristin’s finger ran across the line of Nathan’s strong jaw. “He has captured Nathan perfectly.”
“He captured you
perfectly… and the love that the two of you have for each other.
If I ever doubted that before I can’t after seeing this sketch.”
A tear glistened in the
corner of Kristin’s eye. “You
can’t know how much this means to me… to actually be able to see Nathan some
place other than in my mind’s eye.” After
another longing look Kristin lifted the sketch and laid it on the small table at
“But now let’s talk about
you…” At Cynthia’s gasp Kristin followed her daughter’s gaze down to her
abdomen, boldly outlined by the sash of her robe tied just above the protrusion.
“Mummy… I didn’t
Kristin’s hands fell to her
stomach. “My gowns do an
excellent job of hiding the extent of my condition, don’t they? Or at least they have done.
I suspect that in another few weeks all of the rumours will be
confirmed.” She rubbed the swell.
“The baby is growing by leaps and bounds.”
“I can’t be completely
sure of course but I suspect that I must be at least four, maybe close to five
months along. The baby should be
born sometime after the first of the year.”
“How… What does it feel
like, Mummy? Having another person
Kristin’s eyes closed and
she rested her head against the back of the chair as her hands drew slow circles
over her womb. “It is an amazing
feeling, knowing that this little life is there, depending on me to guard over
it. There are some not so pleasant
aspects of course, increased trips to the retiring room, swollen ankles… but
then I feel the tiniest little flutterings… the baby moving inside me… and I
am awed. Why… Cynthia!” Kristin’s eyes flew open as she leaned forward to stare at
her daughter. “Are you positive
that there is no need for a hasty wedding?”
Cynthia blushed furiously
under her mother’s intense gaze. “I’m
positive. Will and I would like to
get married as soon as possible but not because… I’m not expect… that is,
we haven’t…” Her head fell as she gave up trying to complete a sentence.
“You haven’t committed
the act which might make you pregnant?” Kristin
regretted causing Cynthia’s obvious discomfort but she needed to be positive.
“But you have done something?”
Cynthia shook her head.
“Just kissing… and touching… a lot of touching but not… Will used
Kristin wouldn’t have
believed that Cynthia could get any redder if she hadn’t seen it with her own
eyes. “You don’t have to be
specific with me, darling. I just
want… I realize that in my present condition I am the last person to be
cautioning you but… your wedding night will be even more special if you
“Did you and daddy…?”
Kristin wanted to laugh at
the thought of Oliver behaving outside the bounds of propriety. “We waited. Your
father was experienced, of course; but I was not.
Proper young ladies were raised to retain their virginity until the
wedding night and you know that your grandmother raised me to be a proper young
lady. Just as I raised you…”
Kristin gave Cynthia a hard look. “I’ve
tried to be honest with you about my relationship with Nathan; the joy in our
physical relationship that I learned from him but…”
Kristin slipped her hand into
Cynthia’s and squeezed tightly. “I
still believe that joy should be experienced within the bounds of marriage.”
Cynthia smiled at her mother
and nodded. “I know, Mother.
And as we told you this evening, Will and I have decided to wait until we
are married before we…” she began to blush again,
“go any further.”
“Good. I am pleased to hear that,” Kristin said then sat back in
her chair. She gasped softly as the
child within her womb kicked and splayed her hands over her swollen belly.
“There there, little one…”
“Do you think she hears
“I know she does,”
Kristin replied as she continued to gently circle her hands over her stomach.
“It was the same with you.”
“Really?” Cynthia asked with an almost hopeful smile.
“Yes,” Kristin answered.
“In fact… you were quite the active baby as I recall, and I knew that
you would be a handful growing up. That
you would be strong… and beautiful and smart…” she smiled at her daughter.
“And I was right. You are
very beautiful, very smart and very strong.
And I am very proud of you.”
Cynthia found herself
flushing under her mother’s praise. “Thank
you. I’ve had a good role
Kristin laughed and looked
down at her gravid belly. “I
don’t know about that…”
“I do,” Cynthia stated.
“Look at what you’ve done. When
daddy died… you learned all about shipbuilding in order to keep away all those
fortune hunters. You know about
healing…” she paused. “You
are the strong one, Mummy. And if
you say I am strong too, well… that is only because you are the one who taught
me to be.”
The two women shared a tender
smile and a moment of silence before Cynthia leaned forward in her chair.
“May I… may I feel the
baby kick?” She reached a hand
then paused at the look on her mother’s face.
“Unless it makes you too uncomfortable?”
“No, it doesn’t… I
just…” Kristin shrugged at her daughter.
“I would like for Nathan to be the first to feel the baby move.”
Cynthia smiled at her mother
as she sat back in the chair. “I
understand that. I can wait
Kristin gave her daughter a
grateful smile. “Thank you.”
“I’ll just have to make
sure I’m next in line.”
Kristin laughed softly.
“So… I heard you, Will and Janet discussing the wedding.
Does this mean you’ve set a date?”
“Not really,” Cynthia
replied as she looked down at her hands. “As
much as Will and I would like to hurry and get married, we would like to wait
for his father and Nathan to arrive,” she said then lifted her head to meet
her mother’s eyes. “Mummy, do
you… do you think my new stepfather would have an aversion to walking me down
Kristin’s eyes widened.
“You would want… not your grandfather?”
“I told you… seeing that sketch I can see the love between the two of
you, and if he loves you even half as much as is depicted in that picture…
then I know I will love him too…”
“Oh, Cynni… I have no
doubt that Nathan would be honoured to walk you down the aisle,” Kristin said
with unshed tears in her eyes. “Very
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
“Well? What do you think?”
Janet looked over at Kristin.
“Turn around, let me see.”
Kristin slowly twirled.
“I like it,” Janet told
her. “The colour is very
“But does it…?” Kristin
gestured to her stomach. “You
can’t really tell can you?”
Janet shook her head.
“No. It would be a tough
call either way.”
“Good,” Kristin breathed
a sigh of relief and moved to stand in front of the large cheval mirror in her
dressing room. She turned from side
to side to inspect the new dress she wore.
“You are happy with the
dress, Countess?” Madame Dussault
stepped over to Kristin and reached out to make a small adjustment on the drape
of the gown. “Oui?”
“Oui,” Kristin replied.
“You’ve done a wonderful job, Madame.”
“I do wish though… that
the colour was more of a sapphire shade,” Kristin admitted.
“This blue is nice, it’s just a little dark.”
“Ah, but the dark colour
helps detract from your condition, milady.”
“I know… I know…”
“But you like the lighter
colour better,” the modiste said with a smile.
“Yes,” Kristin nodded.
“It reminds me of my husband’s eyes.”
Janet smiled at her friend
through the mirror. “So, how did
you convince Lucas that he had to not only attend the ball but that he had to do
so in formal wear?”
“I told him Clarissa would
be there, and that she was sure to be a favourite among the young gentlemen
attending,” Kristin answered with a grin.
“He couldn’t wait to get to the tailor.”
The women in the room
“Ah, I can remember being
their age…” Madame Dussault began as she made a few minor alterations on
Kristin’s dress. “Falling in
love for the first time… walking hand in hand with the one you love sur les
banques de la Sienne… c’est magnifique.”
“I imagine it would be,”
Janet remarked with a glance at Kristin.
“It was…” Dussault
smiled then stepped back. “Is it
still tight across the bosom?”
Kristin shifted a little then
nodded. “Yes, a little.”
“Hmm…” the seamstress
looked thoughtful. “Excusez-moi…”
Janet walked over to stand
beside Kristin as Dussault headed across the room to her sewing kit.
“So what were you thinking when the madame was talking about strolling
along the Sienne?”
“That personally, I’d
take cuddling up in the crow’s nest,” Kristin replied in a quiet voice with
a smile on her face.
“I do so hope the boys pick out proper attire.”
“Oh, I am sure they will,
Janet and Kristin turned to
see their daughters and Katherine Kreig standing in the doorway.
“You look lovely, Aunt
Kristin,” Clarissa told her.
“Thank you, Claire,”
“And how can you be so
sure?” Janet asked Cynthia as the
girls entered the room.
“Because mummy sent a note
ahead to the tailor advising him of what she wanted for Lucas,” Cynthia
answered. “As well as for Will
Janet laughed again.
Kristin grinned at her.
“I thought so,” she replied as the seamstress reappeared and once
again began to make small changes on Kristin’s dress.
After a few more adjustments,
Dussault stepped back. “There…
how is that?”
Kristin once again shifted a
little then smiled. “Much
“Bien,” the modiste
smiled back. “The dress looks
wonderful on you, Countess. Trés
“Thank you,” Kristin
replied then stepped away from the mirror.
“I’m going to go take it off now.”
“Oh, Countess…” Madame
Dussault stopped her with a hand on her arm.
“I would like to apologize to you about Jeanette.”
“You have nothing to
apologize for,” Kristin told the slightly older woman.
“It was not your fault.”
“I’ve heard the rumours,
Countess. Jeanette told someone she
ought not have.”
“This is true, but again,
it is not your fault, Madame. I do
not hold you responsible.”
“Merci, Countess,” the
seamstress smiled gratefully at Kristin. “But
I want you to know, that I have terminated her employment.
I do not condone gossiping…”
“You did not need to do
that,” Kristin said.
“Oui, I did. My clients’ privacy is of utmost importance!”
Madame Dussault stated.
“Even so… has she found
“I do not know.”
“Perhaps you should hire
her back. She was quite talented,
as you yourself have said,” Kristin told her.
“Told a friend in
confidence, who no doubt betrayed her trust and so on and so forth,” Kristin
said. “We all gossip to some
extent, Madame. And I am sure
Jeanette did not mean for it to become the rumour it did.
The girl has probably learned a valuable lesson from this and will be
much more careful in the future.”
Dussault looked thoughtful.
“If you are sure?”
“I am,” Kristin smiled.
“Then I will contact her
tomorrow…” the seamstress said. “She
really is quite talented with a needle and thread… Come now, Mademoiselle
Cynthia… you are next.”
Kristin watched with a smile
as Madame Dussault helped Cynthia into the dress she would wear to the ball then
with a quick nod to Janet, she left the dressing room.
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~