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

 

At Nathan’s side, Kristin stood as he carefully steered the seaQuest through the small inlet that led to a secluded cove in the middle of his island.

 

She couldn’t take her eyes off of him.  The blowing breeze off the bay touched and caressed him as she done mere hours ago; ruffling his hair and causing his sapphire shirt to billow and open, revealing his muscular chest. 

 

Kristin clenched her fists at her side, wanting nothing more than to step over to him and run her fingers through the downy curls smattered over his torso then follow the trail of hair lower and…

 

‘Oh…’ Kristin thought and moaned softly at the sudden image of herself on her knees before him as she… ‘Stop it, Kristin!’  She told herself firmly as she felt the low level of arousal that was always present when Nathan was around begin to flare slightly at the thought of tasting him as he’d tasted her.

 

“Kris?  Are you all right?”

 

Kristin turned to face him and felt her face flame as the image persisted.  “I… I’m fine.”

 

“You sure?”  Nathan asked.

 

“Mmhmm,” Kristin murmured.  “I’m sure.”

 

“Good,” Nathan said a slow smile formed on his lips.  “For a moment there, I thought you were undressing me with your eyes.”

 

“Nathan!” 

 

Nathan laughed as Kristin blushed even deeper.  “Ah!  So I was right!  You were removing my clothes in your mind.”

 

“I… I was not!  I was…” Kristin’s voice trailed off as the image of herself on her knees before him once again formed in her mind.  A sudden thought occurred to her and she stepped closer to him.  “If you must know,” Kristin began in a low voice.  “I was just imaging what it would be like to… to taste you.”

 

“Taste me?”  Nathan repeated in a voice that told her he had a very good idea of what she meant.

 

“Yes…” Kristin answered as she surreptitiously brushed her hand over the front of his pants to leave little doubt in Nathan’s mind as to what she was referring to.  “Taste you.”

 

“Oh god… Kristin…” Nathan moaned as his head was suddenly filled with images of Kristin working his straining member in and out of her hot mouth.

 

Kristin laughed softly then inhaled sharply at the sudden desire she saw darkening his blue eyes.  She swallowed hard when he reached out, grasped her hand and pulled her so that she was standing in front of him, his reaction to her words obvious from the pressure against her rear.

 

“Once we have docked,” Nathan spoke in a low voice against her ear,  “and the cargo has been offloaded, and the crew settled…” he nipped her earlobe.  “I am going to take you upstairs to our bedroom and make love to you…”

 

“I thought you were going to show me around your island?”  Kristin interrupted in a breathless voice.

 

“Oh, I will… I am,” Nathan said.  “But you see, right now, I have this overwhelming desire to be lying naked in your arms, your long legs wrapped tight around me…”

 

“…Nathan…” Kristin exhaled his name and leaned back against him as his words sent a fissure of heat through her body.

 

“Soon…” Nathan whispered as he reached a hand up to cup her cheek and tilt her face toward him.  “Very soon,” he murmured again and covered her mouth in a deep, longing kiss.

 

“Not soon enough,” Kristin moaned into his mouth as she returned the kiss.

 

Several moments later, Nathan broke off the kiss and eased her out of his arms to stand beside him.  “Now, if I don’t pay attention to what I’m doing, I may very well steer this boat into the rocks.”

 

Kristin merely smiled as she turned her gaze towards the front of the ship.

 

“Definitely not soon enough,” Nathan muttered.

 

Kristin giggled softly.

 

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

 

“And this…” Nathan gestured to the large, two story building in front of them.  “Is my home.”

 

Kristin glanced up at the light green house, admiring the simple elegance of the structure.  There was a wide, wrap around porch on the ground level and a smaller sectioned balcony around the upper level.  French doors dotted both levels and all were open, sheers billowing in the pleasant breeze that blew off the ocean.

 

“It’s wonderful,” Kristin told him just as a loud cry emerged from within the house.  “I like it.  It’s not too big, not too small.  Just right.”

 

“Do you really like it?”

 

“Yes,” Kristin nodded.  “I really do.”

 

At that moment, a happy shout sounded from the short, plump black woman that came rushing down off the porch.

 

“Bless me, it’s about time you made it home!”

 

“Hey, Bess!”

 

“Don’t you ‘hey’ me, young man!  What do you mean by being away so long?”

 

“I…”

 

“And you’ve probably got a whole pile of torn and dirty clothes for me to mend and clean…”

 

“Bess…”

 

“I’ll also bet you’ve brought back a whole new bunch of unruly men who’ll need to be told what’s what…”

 

“Bess!”  Nathan walked over to the older woman and gave her a big hug, cutting her off mid sentence.

 

“Welcome home, Nathan,” Bess said with a broad smile as she reached up to ruffle his hair.  “I’m happy to see you made it back in one piece.  Did you…”

 

A wide grin split Nathan’s face and he nodded.  “Yes we did!”

 

“Oh, that is wonderful news!”  Bess clapped her hands joyfully.  “Where is Master William?”

 

“Crocker’s bringing him in.”

 

“Is he hurt?”

 

“He was injured when we found him, but he’s all right now.”

 

“I’ll believe that when I see it with my own eyes,” Bess told him, glancing around him for a glimpse of the two men.  When she didn’t see them, she looked back to Nathan expectantly.

 

“They’re coming,” Nathan told her as he stepped back over to Kristin and grasped her hand.  “Bess, there’s someone I would like you to meet.  This is…”

 

“Kristin.  Kristin Westphalen,” Kristin interrupted Nathan and held her hand out to the older black woman in greeting.  “It’s nice to meet you.”

 

“Likewise,” Bess replied slowly as she carefully regarded the woman before her.  ‘She don’t look like a typical whore,’ Bess thought to herself.  ‘So, she’s his mistress.  Which would explain…’ She turned to look at Nathan.  “Oh, Nathan… the Wayfarer was in port the day before yesterday.”

 

A big smile lit Nathan’s face.  “Wonderful,” he said.  “Well, if you’ll excuse us, I’d like to show Kristin the house.”

 

Bess merely nodded and watched as Nathan slipped his around Kristin’s waist and led her up the steps and into the house.

 

“Well, ain’t you a sight for sore eyes!”

 

Bess turned at the voice, a bright smile filling her round face.  “Gator!  You ol’ sea-dog!  You get scruffier every time I sets my eyes on you.”

 

“And you, Bess my sweet, get lovelier each time I come home,” Crocker responded.

 

“You’re just saying that so I’ll make you some of my special fried chicken and dumplins.”

 

“And your biscuits, Bess… ain’t no one on this earth who makes’em as good as you do.”

 

“Flatterer!”  Bess laughed as Crocker finally got close enough to hug.  “Welcome home, Manny-boy.”

 

“Thank you, ma’am,” Crocker said as he released her.  “And as you can see, we finally found our errant young man.”

 

William flushed slightly as Crocker reached out to ruffle his hair.  “Hello, Bess.”

 

“Tis good to see you, Master William,” Bess said, gently embracing the young man.  “And why is you limping?”

 

“Saber wound,” William answered.  “But the countess cleaned and stitched me up…”

 

“Countess?”  Bess gave both men a questioning look.

 

“Lady Westphalen,” Crocker answered.  “Didn’t Nathan introduce…”

 

Bess nodded.  “Yes, he did… but he didn’t say nothing ‘bout her being a countess,” she said then shook her head.  “So… this ‘lady’, took care of you?”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” William answered.

 

“She’s been taking care of all of us,” Crocker told Bess.  “Lucas, the cap… they got the fever and she nursed them back to health, and helped stop it from getting really bad with everyone else.”

 

“Hmm…” Bess looked thoughtful.  ‘Gonna have to keep my eye on her.’

 

“But most important of all,” Crocker said.  “Nathan loves the lady.  He is absolutely crazy about her.”

 

“He’s what?”  Bess obviously didn’t believe what she was hearing.

 

Crocker lifted an eyebrow at her.  “Are you telling me that you didn’t notice the change in him?  He’s happier, he’s been smiling more…”

 

At that moment a deep male laugh floated down through the windows.

 

Crocker grinned.  “He’s laughing more,” he said and turned to Bess.  “Tell me… when was the last time you heard him laugh like that?”

 

“Not since young Master Bobby was alive,” Bess answered quietly.

 

“Lady Westphalen is the most unpretentious, honest person I have met in a very long time,” William spoke up.  “Her title is merely that… a title.  She doesn’t act like a stuffy aristocrat.  She doesn’t think that she is superior to anyone.”

 

“And more importantly… she loves Nathan as much as Nathan loves her,” Crocker told her.

 

Bess was stopped from commenting as Ben and Katherine approached.  She put her hands on her hips and fixed Kreig with a look.  “And what sort of trouble you been getting yourself into, young pup?”

 

“Not a one, Miss Bess,” Ben answered then glanced at Katie and smiled.  “Unless you count falling in love as trouble.”

 

“Course I do!”  Bess smiled.  “The best kind of trouble.”  She glanced up at the house.  ‘The best kind for sure,’ she thought.  ‘And I truly hope Nathan’s found it with his countess.’

 

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

 

“Oh my…” Kristin exhaled.  “It’s so… it looks so much bigger in here than it does from the outside,” she said as she stared down the long hall.  “And it’s so airy…”

 

Nathan watched as Kristin stepped out of his embrace, lifted her arms and twirled around the hall with a smile on her face.

 

“And smell that air!  That wonderful salty ocean air…” Kristin stopped spinning and gazed at Nathan.  “This is wonderful.”

 

“Wait until you see the rest of the house,” Nathan told her as he walked over to her and placed his hands on her waist.  “Especially the upstairs.”

 

Kristin raised an eyebrow at him.  “Your bedroom wouldn’t happen to be upstairs would it?”

 

“Why yes, it would,” Nathan smiled as he slowly walked her back towards the stairs in the middle of the hall.  “Fancy that.”

 

Kristin laughed softly.  “And you wouldn’t by some chance be trying to seduce me now, would you, Captain Rogue?”

 

A wolfish grin appeared on Nathan’s face as his eyes darkened.  “Most definitely!”

 

“Oh good.”

 

Nathan laughed heartily and scooped Kristin up into his arms.  “I love you!”

 

“I love you too,” Kristin replied and looped her arms around Nathan’s neck as he began to ascend the stairs. 

 

A soft moan made its way from Nathan’s lips as Kristin dipped her head and began to nibble lightly on his neck.  “Kris… that’s not helping…”

 

Kristin giggled.  “But you taste so good…” she murmured as she continued to nip and lick his salty skin.  She lifted her head when he reached the top of the stairs and looked straight in his eyes.  “One day…” a slow blush rose up her cheeks,  “one day I want to taste all of you.”

 

Nathan growled as he covered her mouth with his and strode unerringly down the hall into his bedroom.  He kicked the door closed behind him and leaned back against it as they continued to kiss passionately.

 

Slowly the kiss came to an end. 

 

“Welcome to our room,” Nathan said in a husky voice.

 

“…our room…” Kristin echoed in a quiet voice as she turned her head to look around. 

 

The room was large, with two sets of French doors set in two of the walls to catch a cross-breeze off the ocean.  The walls themselves were painted a pale blue and in the middle of the room was a very large bed, its sheer mosquito netting pulled back to reveal a silk comforter of sapphire blue, the material identical to that used for Nathan’s pirate shirts.

 

“What do you think?  Do you like it?”

 

“It’s very…” Kristin continued to look around the room.  ‘Our room,’ the words repeated in Kristin’s mind.  ‘You knew, the moment you gave yourself to him… the moment you ran after him when he set you free… the moment you fell in love with him… you knew this was inevitable… that you would be his…’

 

“Kris?”

 

“Sorry,” Kristin shook herself out of her thoughts and pushed away the sudden uneasy feeling as she smiled at him.  “It’s very nice.”

 

“Are you all right?”  He asked in a quiet voice sensing the change in Kristin’s demeanor.

 

Kristin’s smile grew affectionate at the concern she heard in Nathan’s voice.  “Yes, I’m fine.  I’m just a little…” she paused, and searched for the right word,  “overwhelmed.”

 

“You sure?”  Nathan asked, regarding her carefully.

 

Kristin reached up and cupped his cheek.  “Yes, I’m sure.”

 

Nathan smiled.  “Good.  You would tell me, wouldn’t you, if something was wrong or if anything was bothering you?”

 

“Yes, Nathan,” Kristin replied as he began to slowly move towards the bed.

 

“I’m serious,” Nathan told her as he laid her down on the thick mattress then stretched out beside her, propped up on his elbow.

 

“I know you are,” Kristin said as she reached up to slowly begin unbuttoning his shirt.

 

“Good…” Nathan moaned softly as Kristin slipped her hands inside his open shirt and began to caress his bare chest.  “Just as long as we’re clear about that.”

 

“Mmhmm…” Kristin murmured in agreement as she rolled towards him, her lips once again attacking his neck.  “…crystammm…” she hummed as she laved her tongue against his skin.

 

“Kris…”

 

“Ssh… no more talk,” Kristin whispered against his throat.  “Make love to me…”

 

“With pleasure,” Nathan answered softly as he rolled onto his back and pulled her on top of him, his fingers attacking the buttons of her dress.  “Kris… sweetheart, sit up…”

 

Kristin stopped her exploration of his neck to raise her head and look at him.  “What?”

 

“Sit up so I can,” he tugged on her dress,  “get this off.”

 

Kristin nodded and slowly pushed herself up then bent her knees so that she was straddling Nathan.  She moaned at the feel of his arousal hard and throbbing against her center and unconsciously rocked against him, gasping at the wave of pleasure that rushed up through her.  Kristin gazed down at him, watching his face as he worked the bodice down over her breasts and arms to pool at her waist.

 

“Come here…” Nathan grasped her upper arms and pulled her down on him so that their chests were pressed together.  “I love the feel of your breasts… your nipples hard and drilling into my chest,” he told her as he captured her lips in a hungry kiss.

 

Kristin moaned at his words and returned his kiss with a fervent desire as Nathan rolled them over, pressing her into the mattress with his hard body.  “Nath…an!”  Kristin cried out softly as his lips left hers to take a peaked nipple into the hot cavern of his mouth.

 

Nathan drew hard on the rosy tip for several long minutes before he released it and moved to bestow the same sweet torture on the other dusky point, smiling as Kristin lifted her chest to push more of her breast into his mouth.

 

“Nathan… please…” Kristin moaned as she trailed her hands down his back to tug at his britches.  “I need you…”

 

Nathan released her breast and pushed up on his arms to look down at her.  He smiled and dipped his head to brush his lips over hers.  “And I you…” he told her in a soft voice.  “What is your pleasure?  How would you like me to make love to you?”  Nathan rained gentle kisses over her face.  “Shall I start by kissing you below?”

 

“Oh yes…” Kristin replied breathlessly as Nathan rocked against her.

 

“Your wish is my command, my lady,” Nathan told her as with one final kiss to her mouth he inched his way down her body.  He settled himself on his knees between her legs and with her help, quickly removed her dress and petticoat.  The sight of her glistening curls brought a grin to his face and he reached out to comb his fingers through the damp auburn hair.  “I love how wet you get for me.”

 

Kristin blushed.  “I… I never… it’s…” the red stain on her face deepened and she shook her head as words escaped her.

 

“It’s wonderful…” Nathan told her.  “And nothing to be embarrassed about.  This…” he stroked his fingers between her folds then held up the glistening digits for Kristin to see.  “This just means that you’re aroused… that what I’m doing pleases you… and that,” Nathan smiled at her,  “pleases me.”

 

“You really…” Kristin began, her face once again flaming.  “You really like it when I… when I’m… wet?”  She finished in a whisper.

 

“Oh yes,” Nathan told her as he shifted so that he was stretched out on the bed, his face positioned between her creamy thighs.  “I love it when you’re wet for me…”

 

“Nathan!”  Kristin cried out as he lowered his mouth to her center.

 

Nathan grinned inwardly as he pulled her clit between his lips and teased the hard nub with his tongue while stroking her inner thighs with his hands.  “I love the way you taste,” he murmured against her as he moved lower and plunged his tongue into her core.

 

“Oh…” Kristin bucked beneath him as he brought his fingers in to continue stroking her swollen flesh.  “…Nath… an…”

 

Nathan felt a small tremor pass through Kristin’s body as he once again took her clitoris into his mouth and pressed two long fingers inside her tight sheath.  He stroked them in and out of her slowly and then without warning, quickened the pace.

 

“Ooh… oh yes!”  Kristin moaned and thrust herself against his face and fingers.  “Oh, Nathan… please…”

 

“Please what?”  Nathan murmured against her.

 

“Please… make me… oooh… make me come…”

 

“As you wish…” Nathan replied and pressed his mouth back to her.

 

“Ooh… oh… god… Nathan…” Kristin groaned at the feel of his tongue lapping and swirling around her clit.  “I… I… oh please…” she reached down and threaded her fingers in his hair.  “Nathan…”

 

“Kris…” Nathan hummed against her.  “Come… come for me, love…”

 

“NATHAN!”  The shimmering heat curling in the pit of her stomach exploded over her as she cried out his name.  “Oh… Nathan…” Kristin repeated his name over and over as the waves of pleasure continued to wash over her.

 

Nathan kept his mouth and fingers moving against her, prolonging her orgasm until she finally lay quiescent beneath him.  With one last lingering kiss to her quivering sex, Nathan slowly crawled up over Kristin and covered her body with his.

 

Kristin moaned and grasped his face in her hands then pulled his mouth to hers in a voracious kiss.  She drove her tongue past his lips to tangle madly with his as she pulled her knees higher to cradle him more fully against her.

 

Nathan groaned at the feel of her moisture soaking through the material of his britches to wet his hard shaft and thrust his hips against her as he deepened their oral connection.  His fingers itched to thread themselves in her long auburn hair, but the thick tresses were bound in a braid.

 

“Nathan…” Kristin broke off the kiss.  “Help me…” she tugged on the waistband of his pants.

 

Nathan rolled off her, made quick work of his britches and rolled back on top of her.  “Better?”  He asked in a husky voice as he rubbed his erection against her damp curls.

 

“Mmm… oh yes…” Kristin replied as she trailed her hands down his back to cup the bare cheeks of his rear and pull him closer.  “Much better.”

 

Nathan smiled then dipped his head to catch a dusky nipple between his teeth.  He nipped it gently then pulled more of her full breast into his mouth and swirled his tongue around the pointed tip.  As he continued to feast at her breasts, he could feel Kristin smoothing her hands over the firm muscles of his back.

 

“Oh… god…” Nathan groaned around the succulent flesh in his mouth when he felt her cool fingers wrap around his hard length and tentatively began to stroke him.  “Kristin…” he released her nipple and buried his face in between her breasts.

 

“Nathan…” Kristin called his name softly as she continued to move her hand up and down his member.

 

With a kiss to the side of each breast, Nathan lifted his head and gazed down at her.

 

“I want you…” she told him in a quiet voice.

 

Nathan smiled and pushed himself up onto his arms.  “Make us one, Kris…” he told her, thrusting gently into her hand.

 

Kristin nodded and brought the head of his shaft to her waiting entrance then moaned as Nathan pressed his length into her.  She held his eyes as she took him inch-by-inch into her willing body, marveling yet again at the incredible sensation of feeling him fill and stretch her.

 

“Oh… yes…” they moaned in chorus as their bodies joined together.

 

Nathan dropped back down to his elbows and caught Kristin’s mouth in a fervent kiss as he slowly began to thrust against her.  He smiled against her lips as she immediately wrapped her legs around him and arched beneath him.

 

“Nathan… please…” Kristin begged softly when he pulled his mouth from hers, pushed up on his arms once again and began to increase the pace of his strokes.

 

Nathan continued to move inside her, Kristin’s body answering; arching slowly into his movements.  They rocked together in perfect harmony, both striving to find the ultimate release within each other.

 

“Nath… an…” Kristin gasped as the sensations began to grow in intensity and tightened her legs around him.  “Ooh… ple… mmm…”

 

Nathan groaned as he felt his orgasm nearing and began to move faster, driving himself deeper inside her with every stroke.  “Kris…” he panted when she started to clench her muscles around him.  “Yes… just like… oh god…”

 

“…love… please…” Kristin moaned.  “I…”

 

Nathan slipped down onto his elbows and slipped a hand between them to find and stroke her clit.

 

“Nathan!”  Kristin cried out softly.  “Oh yes… yes…” her back arched beneath him, pressing her chest against his as her legs tightened around his waist.  “Yes… Na… than…”

 

“That’s it, Kris… let go…” Nathan pressed his fingers harder against the swollen bundle of nerves even as he quickened his thrusts into her.  “Come for me, Kris… come…”

 

“I…”

 

“Come…”

 

“NATHAN!”

 

Nathan smiled as Kristin screamed his name and her body writhed under his.  He thrust a few more times and with a coarse yell of her name, he joined her in her euphoria; the fierce spiking rapture pulsing upward in hot waves.

 

Nathan collapsed on top of her and buried his face in her neck.  Kristin wrapped her arms around him as the ripples from their orgasms continued to wash over them.

 

“I love you,” Nathan breathed against her damp skin, feeling her heart pounding wildly against his chest and knowing his was beating just as fiercely.  “I love you so much.”

 

“I love you too,” Kristin replied in a husky voice as she slowly eased her legs down from around his waist and entangled them with his long limbs.

 

Several minutes later, Nathan rolled them onto their sides, their bodies still joined and their legs still entwined.  He pushed the damp strands of hair off her forehead and smiled at the satisfied look on her face.

 

“It just gets better… just like you promised…” Kristin told him shyly as she traced her fingers through the hair on his chest.

 

Nathan grinned at the memory of his promise to her on the island.  “You make it easy to keep that promise,” he told her.  “So very easy…”

 

Kristin moaned softly as he leaned closer and caught her lips in a gentle kiss.

 

“Sadly though… as much as I would love to stay here in bed with you for the rest of the day… I do have some things I need to take care of.”

 

Kristin nodded.  “I understand.”

 

“But… I remember my other promise as well,” Nathan told her as he slipped out of her, pausing to hold her close at her soft whimper.

 

“What promise is that?”  Kristin asked a moment later and sat up as Nathan climbed out of the bed.

 

“That we are going to spend a week together in bed,” Nathan leered at her as he held up her chemise.

 

Kristin laughed and blushed as she took her slip and slid it over her head.

 

“And once I have attended to all the business that I need to… I will fulfill that promise,” Nathan told her as he pulled on his britches.

 

“I look forward to it,” Kristin replied and slipped off the bed to pick up her dress.  She shook out the garment then with Nathan’s help, pulled the dress on over her head.

 

“So do I,” Nathan said in a low voice as he slowly buttoned her up.  “So do I.”

 

They quickly finished dressing then headed downstairs.  Once they were in the large hall, Nathan turned to Kristin.

 

“The house is yours to explore as you will.  Every room is open to you, nothing is off limits,” Nathan told her.

 

“Thank you,” Kristin replied then with a quick glance around, she rose up on her toes and pressed a quick kiss to his lips.  “Go… do what you need to do.  I will wander.”

 

Nathan nodded and reached up to caress her cheek.  “Have fun, sweetheart.”

 

“You too,” Kristin winked at him then laughed softly at his low groan.  “Go…” she pushed gently on his chest.  “The sooner you go…”

 

“The sooner I get to come back and ravage you,” Nathan replied over his shoulder as he walked away.

 

Kristin couldn’t help but laugh again at Nathan’s parting words.  Once he was gone from view, she turned around slowly.  “Where to start…” she asked herself out loud.  “Might as well be at the beginning,” she said and headed for the front of the house.

 

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

 

The smell of food drifting through the hallway caused Kristin’s stomach to growl and she realized that she hadn’t eaten anything since early that morning on the ship.  She uncurled her legs from beneath her and stood, placing the book she was reading on the seat of the chair and followed the pleasant scent out of the room and into the corridor.

 

A short search through the back of the house led her to the dining room and from there she found a door leading to a small hallway.  She followed the wonderful aroma down the corridor and emerged in a large airy kitchen.

 

A row of long windows flooded the entire room with sunlight, including a small potted herb garden in one corner.  A large metal rack holding gleaming pots and pans hung over a square counter in the middle of the floor.  Bess stood over a massive cast iron stove stirring a large pot.

 

Soft footsteps on the stone floor alerted Bess to Kristin’s presence and she looked up to see who was invading her kitchen.  She glared at Kristin for a moment before asking, “What can I do for you, ma’am?”

 

Kristin was caught aback by the cold tone of the woman’s voice.  She smiled tentatively.  “I… I smelled something wonderful and I followed my nose.  I didn’t mean to intrude.  I’m sorry… I’ll go.”

 

“When was the last time you had a decent meal?”  Bess barked out.  “You look like you could use a little more meat on those bones.”

 

“I… I’ve been occupied the last week.  There hasn’t been a great deal of time for meals.”

 

“Sit.”  The tone of the old woman left no room for argument as she gestured at a stool tucked beneath one end of the island.  Kristin did as she was bid without argument.

 

“You look like a tea drinker to me.  Most of you English are.  Don’t understand it myself… Coffee… now there’s a drink,” Bess’ quick movements belied her advanced years as she filled a cup with steaming hot tea and placed it in front of Kristin. 

 

“I have missed tea these last few months,” Kristin admitted as she took a sip from the cup and sighed.

 

Bess didn’t comment but seconds later a plate piled high with fresh baked bread and thick sliced ham appeared in front of her.

 

“Eat.  I want that plate clean before you get up.”

 

Kristin’s eyes grew wide at the thought of consuming everything on her plate but the smell of the warm ham was so appealing… she began to eat.

 

“Thank you.  This smells wonderful… and having something besides shipboard stew will be such a treat.”  Kristin smiled tentatively at Bess but the old woman just snorted and turned back to her pot.  A tiny tear formed in the corner of Kristin’s eye as she gave up her attempt to engage in conversation and turned her attention to the food.

 

“Who are you?”  Kristin felt a tug at the skirt of her dress as the whispered question floated up.  She looked down to see a small dark-skinned girl of about six smiling up at her.  The child’s black hair was caught up in braids and her dark eyes gazed over Kristin curiously.

 

“My name is Kristin.  I am a… friend of Captain Nathan’s.  Who are you?”  She slipped from the stool and knelt so that she was on the little girl’s level. 

 

“My name is Sarah.  I came to see my grandma Bess.  You are pretty.”  The child’s hand reached up to stroke Kristin’s auburn hair.

 

“You are very pretty too, Sarah.  I like your braids.”  Kristin smiled at the little girl.

 

“You leave the lady alone so she can finish eating, Sarah.” Bess appeared, towering over both of them.

 

Kristin stood and returned to the stool as Bess led the reluctant little girl away.  She knew why Bess didn’t want the little girl around her and Kristin didn’t blame her.  What grandmother would want her grandchild exposed to her employer’s lehman?  The half-filled plate of food before her suddenly lost all of its appeal and though she tried to nibble a bit more, her stomach rumbled in rebellion.  Finally Kristin pushed the plate away.

 

At that same instant a child’s cry filled the air.  Kristin jumped up and hurried around the island to see Sarah sitting on the floor, a kitchen knife by her side.  Blood streamed from her hand. 

 

Kristin reached Sarah’s side seconds before Bess did, bending down and grabbing the hand to place pressure on the gushing cut.

 

“Sarah, you know better than to touch anything in here!”  Bess scolded the child who just cried all the more.

 

“I didn’t mean to touch it.  The handle was out and I knocked it off by accident.  I was trying to put it back.”

 

“You’ll get your dress all bloody, ma’am.  I’ll look after her.”

 

“I don’t care about the dress.  The cut needs pressure or it will begin to bleed again.  I suspect that it is deep enough that I am going to need to stitch it.  We’ll need some alcohol and boiling water plus a needle and thread.  Do you have a clean rag that I can try to wipe some of the blood away with?”

 

Bess pulled the towel hanging from her waist out and gave it to Kristin, amazed at the authoritative tone the lady had taken.  She watched for a few moments as Kristin gently cleaned the cut then, assured that Sarah was in good hands, she moved away to gather the supplies Kristin wanted. 

 

Sarah’s sobs faded to sniffles as Kristin wiped blood away from her hand, being very careful to keep the pressure on the cut while murmuring soothing words.  Following Kristin’s directions, Bess boiled the threaded needle and sat out all of the supplies on the counter by the windows.  When everything was prepared Kristin slipped her arms beneath the child and lifted her easily to the tabletop.

 

“Can you hold her please, Bess?  This is going to hurt a bit and I don’t want her to move suddenly.  Now Sarah, I’m going to have to put the needle in your finger to sew up the cut so that it won’t bleed anymore.  You are going to have to be a big girl and sit very still for me.  Can you do that?”

 

The girl nodded, her eyes wide as saucers.

 

“What I want you to do it look out the window at all of those pretty flowers.  Do you like flowers?  I thought you might.  I come from an island far away from here where it isn’t nearly so nice and warm so I don’t know the names of these blossoms.  While I work do you think that you could tell them to me?”

 

Bess stood silent, her arms wrapped around her granddaughter’s shoulders as Sarah began to speak.  “That bright orange flower is a hibiscus…”

 

Sarah flinched when Kristin coated the cut with alcohol then pushed the needle through for the first stitch but after a few moments she bravely continued her task.  Kristin commented on each flower that was named and before Sarah realized it the stitching was over.

 

Kristin doused the stitches with alcohol then tied the clean white bandage that Bess had provided around it.  “You must be very careful with your finger for the next few days, Sarah.  Come back and let me check it for infection tomorrow.  If it heals well we will take the stitches out in a week or so,” she told the child as she washed her hands with the water Bess provided.

 

“I’ll see to the child now, ma’am.  You can go back to the main house.”  Kristin recognized the dismissal in Bess’ voice and nodded sadly, knowing that now that the danger had passed the old woman didn’t want her granddaughter associating with a woman of Kristin’s ilk.

 

“Good-bye, Sarah.”  Kristin walked back toward the corridor entrance dejectedly.

 

“Ma’am… I thank you.”  A faint flicker of hope surged in Kristin as she heard Bess’ words of gratitude.

 

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

 

Kristin drifted back to the cozy study but the book she had been reading no longer held any appeal for her.  She had completely explored the downstairs portion of the house but Nathan had given her the run of the place so she decided to have a look at the upstairs.

 

The upper level of the house held four large bedrooms, each laid out similar to the one she had been in earlier with Nathan.  Light colors, large windows and open doors were present in all of them but they lacked any personal touch at all.  With nothing much to see in these rooms Kristin quickly made her way back to the largest room on the floor.

 

She ran her hand over the smooth coverlet, a smile touching her lips as she thought of the intimacy that she and Nathan had shared there a few hours earlier.  Bess had obviously found time to fix the bed linens, which brought a tinge of color to Kristin’s cheeks.

 

The heavy mahogany four-poster bed dominated the room.  A matching chest and wardrobe lined one wall while a delicately carved vanity sat on the other.  Double doors beside the vanity beckoned Kristin and she pulled them open, amazed to find a large closet full of beautiful gowns.

 

Kristin swallowed hard as she fingered the expensive cloth of one of the dresses, not quite succeeding in fighting back her jealousy of a woman long gone.  She pushed the doors closed resolutely.

 

‘Perhaps he just hasn’t had time to dispose of Carol’s clothing,’ Kristin argued with herself as she moved toward the dresser, hoping to find something of Nathan’s.  She pulled open one drawer after the other and quickly closed them again, not wanting to see the other woman’s intimate garments.

 

The last drawer caught and held her attention and the woman in Kristin couldn’t resist running her fingers over the almost transparent silk of the top garment.  She pulled it out of the drawer and let it fall open.  The daring nightdress was sleeveless and completely sheer except for a smattering of delicate embroidery around the scooped neckline.  Further searching revealed the most scandalous undergarments Kristin had ever seen.

 

The thought of wearing things like this for Nathan embarrassed Kristin even as they enflamed her passions.  ‘But he has seen these before,’ her subconscious reminded her,  ‘on his wife.’

 

She carefully refolded the garments and returned them to the drawer then slid it closed.  Feeling the need for some air, she moved in the direction of the side veranda.  As she passed the vanity something shiny glinted in the sunlight, catching her eye. 

 

An expensive silver hair set lay on a silver tray atop the carved vanity.  Kristin’s fingers fell to the handle of the brush, noting that this set was similar to the one that had caught her eye in the marketplace.  She lifted the brush, tempted to use it to brush her wind tangled locks but the thought that Nathan might be angry if she used his wife’s things crept in so she lay it back down.

 

Sadness overwhelmed her.  ‘He told me that he came to care for Carol.  Perhaps he loved her very deeply.  Can he ever let go?’

 

She wandered out onto the veranda, her mind in turmoil.

 

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

 

“Kris… are you here?”

 

Kristin quickly flicked the tears away from her eyes and plastered a smile on her face before she called out softly to Nathan, alerting him to her presence on the balcony.  She turned her head into his chest as he wrapped his arms around her torso and pulled her back against him.

 

“Did you miss me?”

 

“Terribly.”

 

“What did you do while I was gone?”

 

“I looked over your home.  It really is lovely, Nathan.  I wandered through the rooms and looked at a few books in the library then I came back up here.”

 

“What about the kitchen?”

 

“Oh… you talked to Bess.  Her granddaughter cut her finger and I happened to be near by so I helped get the bleeding stopped.”

 

“Bess was impressed.”

 

“She told you this?”

 

“She didn’t have to.  I have known her since I was in diapers.  I’ve learned to tell.”

 

“I was glad to help.  Sarah is a sweet child.”

 

“And I thank you for helping.  What did you do then?”

 

“I came back upstairs.”

 

“And did you wander any up here?”

 

“I did… Nathan… are you sure you want… I could sleep somewhere else if you wanted me to.  I would never want to intrude on your memories of Carol.”

 

“Carol… What are you talking about, Kris?  You sleep with me.  Carol was an important part of my life, just as Oliver was a part of yours.  I don’t think either of us would change our time with them but they are gone.  Now belongs to us.”

 

“But this room, Nathan.  You obviously have very deep sentiments attached… you’ve practically turned it in to a shrine to your late wife.”

 

Nathan turned Kristin in his arms to stare at her.  “A shrine… what the hell are you talking about?”

 

“Her things… her dresses are still hanging in the closet… her brush and comb… all her toiletries still on the vanity.  She’s still in this room.”

 

“She was never in this room.”

 

“Wha…?”

 

“Carol was never in this room.  She was never on this island.  The house was started before she died but she never wanted to visit.  Once she was gone there was nothing left in Boston for me so I came here to live.”

 

“But the clothes…?”

 

“Are yours… I bought them for you, Kristin… as a gift.  The dressmaker in Port San Luis took your measurements and made them up for you.”

 

“But… how did you know?”

 

Nathan cupped her cheek as he stared into her whisky eyes.  “I already knew deep inside that I was in love with you.  Not having said the words didn’t mean that I didn’t feel them.  I left most of your clothes behind and I wanted to replace them.”

 

“And the other things?”

 

“You admired the hair things.  You liked the cologne.  I sent Lucas back to get them for you.  Everything was delivered to the dressmaker.  When my supply ship was in port Madame Beaudoin had the things delivered to the docks and they were brought here.  Bess set them out.”

 

“But she didn’t know you were bringing me, did she?”

 

“No… but I know Bess.  She would understand that the clothing was coming for a reason and she would take care of it, just as she did.”  Nathan detected the dark cloud that crossed Kristin’s face so quickly that for a moment he thought he must have imagined it.

 

“You don’t like the gifts?”  His face fell.

 

“No… I love them.  You are so thoughtful… it’s just so much.  I was content with the dresses I have.  You didn’t need to have so many more made.  And then the combs and the perfumes… not to mention the other things…” A light pink blush crept into Kristin’s cheeks.

 

Nathan grinned.  “You mean the under things… the lingerie.  You will wear them for me, won’t you?”

 

Pink turned into red.  “Wear those?  I couldn’t… Nathan, they are sheer!  Those are the kinds of things a mis… No decent woman would wear garments like that.”

 

“How do you know?  How many decent women’s underwear have you seen?  All of your friends… Duchess Whosit and Baroness Whatsit could be wearing something even naughtier than this and no one would know but their husbands… or their lovers.”

 

Kristin’s head fell.  “I’ll… think about it.”

 

“Mmm… how would you like a bath?  It’s been much too long since we were on the island… able to submerse ourselves completely.  Would you like that?”

 

“That sounds heavenly.”

 

Nathan winked at her saucily.  “I thought you’d say that. I had Bess start the water heating before I left.  Come on.”

 

“Where… I don’t remember seeing a tub.”  Kristin asked as Nathan took her hand and pulled her into the room.

 

“Did you look here?”  His hand gestured at a narrow door.

 

“No… I thought that perhaps that was more of Carol’s things… I didn’t want to intrude.”

 

“Then come look.  I designed this room myself.”

 

Nathan opened the tiny door a crack and slid inside, dragging Kristin along behind him.  Steam blocked her vision for a few seconds but when it cleared she gasped as she stared around the enclosure.

 

The room wasn’t big; there was barely room for both of them to stand on the level they were at.  A ramp rose up before them leading to a ledge three feet above the floor level.  The narrow walkway around the top of the ledge was tiled in deep blue as was the tub sunk into the middle of it.  Lavender scented steam rose off the surface of the reservoir, which was clearly big enough for two people.

 

“How…?”  Kristin asked, her amazement evident in her voice.

 

“I have a cistern with an oven built beneath it.  We fill the cistern, heat the water then fill the tub.  Another vat provides cool water as a balance.  When we are done I pull the stopper and the water drains out through piping into an irrigation system for the garden.”  He loved the way that Kristin’s eyes lit up as she stared at the bath. 

 

“Would my lady like to enter?”  Nathan bowed and held his hand out to Kristin.

 

She chuckled as she dropped him a curtsey.  “Most certainly, my good man.”

 

Nathan quickly stripped away his shirt then sat down on the one small chair in the room to tug off his boots.  Kristin had her bodice half undone before he finished but he quickly moved to her to finish the job.  Once her dress was free he hung it carefully from a hook on the back of the door.

 

“I’ll never understand why ladies have to wear all of these trappings,” he mumbled as he struggled with the knot of her petticoat.  “I like it better when you only wear the chemise… you are much more accessible to me.”

 

“And to any other man who might want to look… or touch.”

 

“If another man dared to touch you I would kill him.”  The petticoat fell to the floor.  Nathan wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted Kristin a few inches off the floor so that she could kick her shoes away then sat her down at the beginning of the ramp so that their faces were even.  Kristin smiled as her fingers fell to the band of Nathan’s trouser and adroitly slid them open.

 

A quick wiggle of Nathan’s hips had the pants pooled on the floor and he kicked them away before leading Kristin up the ramp.

 

“I’ll check the temperature.”  He dipped a toe in carefully.  “Just right.” 

 

Kristin took a step back and bent to grab the hem of her chemise.   She quickly skimmed the garment off her body and threw it over her head, leaving both of them completely bare.  Nathan took a long slow look at his lover’s body, his finger reaching out to trace a trickle of moisture running down her breast as the steam coalesced on her body.

 

Without warning Nathan scooped Kristin up then stepped down the two narrow stair treads into the tub.  He sank down into the fragrant water, shifting Kristin so that as his back came to rest against the slanted end of the tub, she was resting against him, her back to his chest.

 

“How is that?”  He murmured.

 

“Wonderful,” Kristin sighed.  “This really does feel like heaven.”

 

Nathan cupped his hands in the water and brought them up so that tiny rivulets drained out over the swell of Kristin’s breasts bobbing above the water.  “We have had a rough few weeks.  You have to be exhausted… between the attack and the kidnapping… not to mention going days without sleep while you were taking care of William…”

 

“And a certain insatiable man…” Kristin wiggled her bottom against the hard muscle pressing into her cheeks. 

 

“That too… although I didn’t hear any complaints.”  Nathan pulled his knees out of the water, one sliding between Kristin’s floating legs as he did so.  Her hands fell to stroke his muscular thighs.

 

“No complaints at all.  I can’t… I don’t know how to thank you for making me feel this way… showing me these wonderful feelings.”

 

“They can’t compare to what you’ve given me, my love.”  Nathan buried his face in the auburn curls piled high atop her head for a moment.  Kristin gripped his thighs even harder in answer, no words needed.  They lay in this manner until the water began to cool, content just to stroke each other, enjoying touching and being touched, occasionally murmuring soft words of love.

 

Finally Nathan stirred.  “Why don’t you let me wash your hair before the water gets too cool?” 

 

Soon soft moans filled the tiled room as strong fingers carefully massaged scented soap through her burnished tresses, their touch arousing even as they stripped away two weeks of oil and dirt.

 

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

 

“You have the most beautiful hair I’ve ever seen,” Nathan murmured as he stroked the brush through Kristin’s damp tresses.

 

“It is a handful to deal with.”

 

“Don’t ever cut it.  I would be heartbroken.”

 

“And give up treatment like this?  Never.”

 

“I’ll brush it for you every night.”  Nathan’s fingers curled through the fiery strands as he continued to carefully smooth the tangles out of the Kristin’s hair.

 

A glance in the cheval mirror across the room showed Kristin sitting naked in the middle of the room’s huge bed, legs crossed.  Nathan sat behind her, his legs in a loose circle around hers.  A soft white sheet was pooled around their hips.  But what captivated Nathan was the look of contentment clearly evident on Kristin’s face.  Her eyes were closed and a peaceful smile adorned her lips as she arched her head back into his touch.

 

Nathan continued brushing until Kristin’s hair was almost dry and lay in a silky sheet down her back to her waist.  So intent was he that he barely noticed the faint knock at the door.

 

“Come,” he called absently as he worked on the last small tangle.  The sounds didn’t register with Kristin until the door began to swing open. 

 

Bess didn’t bat an eyelash at the sight that greeted her but a spark of approval showed in her eyes at the embarrassed flush tingeing the woman’s skin as she frantically grabbed for the sheet and dragged it over her nude torso.  Her head dropped in an effort to avoid Bess’ gaze.

 

‘She certainly isn’t brazen.’ Bess moved slowly toward the small table by one set of doors and sat down the laden tray she carried.

 

“You missed dinner and I thought you might have worked up an appetite.”  Nathan let out a hoot of laughter at Bess’ words but quickly quieted at the withering glare she gave him.  “I’ve fed the boys and sent them home.  Young Will is settled in Lucas’ bedroom downstairs resting comfortably.”

 

“Thank you, Bess.  I’ll bring the tray back to the kitchen tomorrow.”

 

“You’d better.  I’m too old to be climbing these stairs up and down all day long.  You have a good sleep, Countess.”

 

Bess nodded, as Kristin looked up stunned, then closed the door firmly behind her.

 

“How did she know…?”

 

“Gator.” They both answered Kristin’s question at the same time.

 

“I wish he hadn’t said anything.”  Nathan felt the tenseness in Kristin’s body.

 

“What’s wrong, my love?  I’m sure that Gator didn’t mean any harm.”  Nathan’s strong fingers began to massage her shoulders.

 

“Why did you call for her to enter, Nathan?  I’m not wearing any clothes and neither are you.  You know what she thinks that we’ve been doing.”

 

“Well she wouldn’t be wrong… only it was in the tub this last time.”  He began to chuckle but as Kristin pulled away from him he realized that she really was upset.  “I’m sorry, Kristin.  It was thoughtless of me.  Truth is that I am so used to Bess having the run of the house that I really didn’t think about it.  I’ll tell her not to disturb us again when we are alone in here.”

 

“No… I don’t need her censure.”  Nathan couldn’t quite make out the end of Kristin’s words as they tapered off into a mumble. “I’ll get enough of that from other people.”

 

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

 

Kristin stared through the gauzy mosquito netting draped around the bed at the billowing curtains, a soft night breeze causing them to dance elegantly about the room.  She sighed.  ‘I’m exhausted.  Why can’t I sleep?’

 

‘Because you haven’t fully accepted your situation.  Why are you even here?’ Her subconscious answered back.

 

‘I love him.  I want to be with him.  If this is the only way then so be it.’  Her hand whacked the fluffy pillow beneath her head.

 

Nathan’s arms immediately tightened around her waist as he pressed her back even more closely into his chest.  “Whzzzrong?”

 

“Nothing.  Go back to sleep,” she whispered soothingly.

 

Nathan’s head snuggled up to her hair as he yawned widely.  “Can’t you sleep?”

 

“No… but that’s no reason for you not to.”

 

“You know what it is, don’t you?  You miss the rocking of the boat.  I normally have the same problem.  It takes me several days to get used to the foundation not moving beneath me.”

 

Kristin snickered.  “You were sleeping like a baby.”

 

She felt Nathan’s smile against the crown of her head.  “That’s because someone exhausted me.  I obviously didn’t return the favor since you are still wide awake.”

 

“Perhaps I do miss the sound of the waves…”

 

“If you listen very closely you can still hear them.  You can even see the beach from the side balcony.”

 

“You have a lovely home, Nathan… a lovely island.  Tell me how you came to this place.”

 

Nathan wiggled a bit so that they were perfectly spooned together.  “It’s a long story.  Are you sure you want to hear it now?”

 

“Unless you are too tired.”

 

“Never.”  Nathan ran an arm lightly down Kristin’s bare arm, pausing at the end to lace his fingers into hers.  “I guess to tell the story properly I should start at the beginning… my birth.”

 

“That far back?”  He heard the amusement in Kristin’s voice.

 

“Mmm… my father, Richard, was from a very prim and proper puritan family dating back over a hundred years in Boston.  On a business trip to the southern colonies he made friends with a wild hellion named Lyman Hall from Georgia.  Lyman invited Richard to visit his family home, a lovely plantation called Idlewild.  He also introduced Richard to his beautiful sister, Amelia.

 

For whatever reasons the staid and stuffy man fell in love with the gorgeous southern bell, married her and took her north, back to Boston.  She was like a fish out of water but Amelia Hall wasn’t a quitter so she dug her heels in and made a life for herself in the cold city.  And by cold I am not necessarily referring to the climate.”

 

“I understand,” Kristin whispered, her heart going out to a young bride all alone.

 

“A year after the marriage a son was born.”

 

“And by any chance was that son named Nathan?”

 

“Actually no… that son was named Richard after my father and my older brother was just as pompous and stubborn as the old man ever thought of being.”

 

“So the two of you didn’t get along?”

 

“You are very perceptive, my love.  I appeared four years later, much to the dismay of my older brother who wanted all of the attention for himself.”

 

“Oh dear.”

 

“From the time I was small my mother brought us back to her family home every year in the spring for a long visit.  My grandfather passed away when I was ten and my Uncle Ly inherited the place.  I adored Uncle Ly.  We spent days and weeks tramping through the woods, fishing and hunting.  I learned a lot from him.  That is also where I met Gator.  His family worked a farm down the road from Idlewild.  A lot of the local landowners looked down on them because they worked in the fields themselves but I didn’t understand any of that.  Manny tagged along with Uncle Ly and me on our camping trips and such.  We had a grand time.”

 

“It sounds like it.  How did Mister Crocker receive his nickname?”

 

“That’s another story entirely but it did happen on one of our camping trips.  Anyway… as I aged I began spending more and more time in the south.  I loved the freedom of the plantation and I hated my father's restrictive rules.  Finally, when I was eighteen, I had all I could take.  I ran away to Uncle Ly and he arranged for me to work to pay for my passage on a cargo ship bound for the Orient.  I had been sailing all of my life so I was thrilled.”

 

“Of course… you belong on the ocean.”

 

“Gator went along as well.  That was a very educational trip.”  Nathan’s hand slipped beneath the sheet to caress her round bottom, leaving little doubt as to what he had been educated in. 

 

“We were gone for two years.   When we returned I found out that Uncle Lyman had died in my absence.  He had never married and in his will he left the plantation to me.  My brother had also contracted a fever and passed away, leaving me the only son.  My father decided that with so much responsibility I needed a steadying hand to keep me at home so I also found myself engaged to a lovely girl from a respectable Boston family.

 

During the voyage I had resolved to try and get along better with my father so I married Carol and we went south on our bridal trip to visit my inheritance.  I quickly discovered that I wasn’t meant to be a plantation owner.”

 

“Why ever not?”

 

“Slavery.  I find the institution abhorrent.  I remember trekking through the woods with Gator one day and coming out on our neighbor’s property.  Their overseer was whipping a slave.  It was inhuman.  Even though Uncle Lyman made sure that the slaves on Idelwild were well treated they were still slaves.  I didn’t want to be a slave owner… but what could I do?”

 

“You could have freed them,” Kristin whispered, glad in her heart to know that Nathan did not believe in so vile an institution.  She was surprised when he shook his head.

 

“To do what?  No one in the area would have used free labor from an ex-slave.  They would have starved.  I traveled back and forth between Georgia and Boston for several years trying to decide what to do.  Robert was born and I gradually assumed more responsibility for the family business as my father grew older so my time in the south became less and less. 

 

One day the answer came to me.  The plantation was profitable so I began to turn those profits back into the land and its workers, making sure that my people were taught marketable trades.  I called them together and told them that they would be freed in one year and they were welcome to take advantage of the training programs.  I also let them know that if any of them wished to stay on as paid workers they would be welcome.”

 

“I bet that made you very popular with your neighbors.”

 

“They loathed me.  It became too dangerous to bring Carol and Robert with me, not that Carol liked to come anyway.  She found the climate too hot and humid.  At the end of the year I paid every man a wage equal to a year’s work and gave him a choice.  Most of them decided to go and I couldn’t blame them.  Why would they want to stay where they had once had no freedom?  Those who left found that they couldn’t survive where they were so they mostly migrated north into the free states.  But several of them stayed on.”

 

“Including Bess?”

 

“Including Bess.  She took care of me when I was a baby, as I am sure she will share with you.  I wanted to build a house here and I knew that Bess would be the perfect person to run the house for me.

 

The plantation existed for several more years but it became increasingly obvious that it needed more workers and I couldn’t hire them.  More and more of the land fell fallow.  I didn’t have the time to oversee the land properly.  So I decided to sell.”

 

“Oh, Nathan… that must have hurt.”

 

“It did.  I spent the happiest days of my childhood there… but I could not in good conscience continue to be a part of that culture.  One day while I was sailing I found this island.   I liked it here so I bought it.  I sold the plantation and brought anyone who wanted to come out here.”

 

“So your people aren’t slaves?  I’m so relieved.  I wanted to ask about the young man on the boat but…”

 

“Jonathan?  His parents are here.  He didn’t like farming but he took to sailing immediately.  Everyone here is free.  We have community fields for growing cane and each man has his own small plot to do with as he sees fit.   The men provide the labor in the fields and I provide the land and the seeds.  We split the profits.  Fifty percent for me and fifty percent divided equally between the workers.  If they grow a crop on their own plot they keep everything.”

 

“You are an amazing man, my rogue.  I’m glad… I can’t abide slavery either.”

 

“I know.  I knew that about you immediately.  The way that your men spoke of you when I questioned them… the respect in their voices.  I knew then that you were a fair and good person… even if you were a little mouthy.”

 

Kristin twisted in his arms until she could see his face.  “Mouthy?  Me?”

 

Nathan chortled.  “Yes you.  Very mouthy as I recall… but what… a love… ly mouth… you… have…” he punctuated his words with loving kisses that quickly inspired a different kind of communication between them.

 

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

 

Kristin entered the kitchen door hesitantly, unsure of how she was going to face the old woman in charge.  Bess slowly straightened from the hot oven where she was checking on her baking bread to stare at the interloper.

 

“I don’t mean to intrude… that is to say, I brought back the dinner tray from last evening.”

 

“You can sit it there, Countess.  I will take care of it once my baking is done.”

 

Kristin inhaled deeply.  “That smells wonderful.  If you would… please don’t call me countess.  Couldn’t you just call me Kristin?”

 

Bess’ eyes narrowed as she observed the woman closely.  So far she had found little fault with the woman.  As Crocker and Will had assured her, Kristin was polite, respectful and unpretentious.  Bess decided to try a little experiment.

 

“That wouldn’t be right… ma’am.  I wanted to tell you I was sorry for walking in on you and the captain last night.”

 

Kristin blushed bright red, much to Bess’ approval.  “You have nothing to apologize for.  You knocked and Nathan bade you enter.  I’m sorry that you… that I…” she broke off as wave after wave of embarrassment overwhelmed her.  “How is Sarah this morning?”

 

Bess accepted the change of subject gracefully since she’d found out what she wanted to know.  “She’s trying to use that finger to get out of doing her work.”

 

“It was a deep cut.  Perhaps… where is Sarah?”

 

Bess smiled a toothy smile.  “She’s down at the beach playing.  I smeared her cut with some ointment and wrapped it clean then told her I’d tan her hide if she got it wet or dirty.”

 

“The ointment… your salve is nothing short of miraculous.  Nathan used it on my wrists when the ropes I was restrained with cut deep into my skin.  Your unguent stopped the pain and helped me heal very quickly without scarring.”

 

A thundercloud crossed the old woman’s face.  “Your ropes… That boy tied you up?  His mama and me raised him better than that.  Miss Amelia be spinnin’ in her grave… I’m gonna have a talk with Mister Nathan, yes sir… he ain’t too old for me to take a cane pole to his backside!”  Kristin was surprised at the change in Bess’ accent.  The normally soft southern drawl growing deeper and more colloquial as her anger intensified.

 

“Oh no… that was before we… when he first kidnapped me off my ship… before we got to know…” At the look in Bess’ eyes Kristin decided very quickly that she had better not say anything else or Nathan might be in mortal danger.  “Your ointment is a very good medicine.”

 

“You know about medicines?  Manny told me that you took care of Nathan and the young’un when they was sick.”

 

“I’ve spent some time learning about the medicinal properties of herbs.  I’ve also sewed up a few of my worker’s wounds when a doctor wasn’t available.  I wish I’d had some of your ointment then.”

 

Bess eyed Kristin thoughtfully.  “I need to mix up a new batch.  You got nothing to do while Nathan is off checking on his ship.  You want to help me ‘til your man gets back?”

 

Although Bess’ words made Kristin color she nodded eagerly, happy to have something to do to fill her free time.  “I would be glad to.”

 

Bess pointed toward a chopping block and a pile of greenery on the corner counter.  “All that rosemary needs to be stripped and chopped.”

 

Kristin rolled up the sleeves of her pretty new dress as she moved to the counter and immediately began to strip the stems.

 

‘She’s not afraid to work either.’  Bess added another positive point to her mental tally.

 

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

 

Nathan paused in the doorway of the kitchen to stare at Kristin as she worked diligently at the herb bench.  A large white apron was wrapped around her waist and curly tendrils of red had escaped her smooth chignon to frame her face.  His groin tightened at the sight of her.

 

“Unh uh… none of that, young man.  You need to git on out of my kitchen.”  Nathan turned to see Bess staring at him, gesturing with the large cleaver she held in her hand.

 

“I just thought that Kristin might like to see some of the island.” Nathan eyed the knife warily as he took a step back toward the door, the sound of Kristin’s gentle laughter filling the air.

 

Bess stared hard at Nathan.  “How you coming with that rosemary?”  She called out.

 

“Almost done.  I’m just chopping the last bit now.”

 

“Are you sure you want to go exploring with this rapscallion?”  Bess made note of the brilliant smile that appeared on Kristin’s face.

 

“I would love to… unless you need me here to help you?”

 

“Go on.  That needs to steep a day anyways.  You can come back tomorrow and help me some more.”

 

Kristin untied the apron around her waist and folded it carefully before laying it over a chair.  “Just let me wash my hands and I’ll be right with you,” she told Nathan before she ducked out the back door to the pump.

 

“You do remember that you are a grown man, don’t you?”  Bess asked Nathan.

 

“Of course, Bess.  Why?”  Nathan’s eyes had followed Kristin but at Bess’ question he turned back to her, relieved to see that the cleaver now lay on the table.

 

“Cause you’s acting like a randy teenager.”

 

If Kristin wondered why Nathan was howling with laughter as she returned she didn’t say.

 

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

 

“I do know how to ride you know,” Kristin spoke against Nathan’s ear.

 

“I know,” Nathan replied.  “But this is infinitely better than two separate horses don’t you agree?”

 

Kristin tightened her arms around his torso and slipped her hand into his open shirt to caress the bare chest beneath.  “Yes… much…” she agreed and laid her head on Nathan’s shoulder as he guided the stallion they were riding along the beach.

 

“It’s so beautiful here, Nathan,” Kristin said, taking in the lush scenery surrounding them as the horse continued to trot over the sand.  “I can see why you love this island so.”

 

Nathan reached up to cover her hands with one of his.  “I knew you would.”

 

They fell into a comfortable silence as Nathan steered the horse away from the beach and onto a verdant meadow.  He felt Kristin squeeze his chest in appreciation of the natural beauty and smiled.

 

Several minutes later, after passing through a line of trees, Nathan brought the stallion to a stop.  He dropped a hand down to Kristin’s knee and gave it a gentle squeeze.  “This is what I really wanted to show you.”

 

“Oh… oh, Nathan… it’s…” Kristin shook her head.  “Beautiful doesn’t seem to do it justice…”

 

“This is my favourite place on the island,” Nathan told her as he urged the horse to move a little deeper into the grotto.  “I come here often… when I need to be alone… to think…” he said quietly.  “It’s… my special place.”

 

“I can see why… thank you for showing it to me,” Kristin said as she let her gaze drift around the small secluded alcove nestled into the side of the island’s mountain range.  Her eyes followed a small waterfall spilling down from a ledge a few feet above the ground into a crystal clear pond.

 

Nathan stopped the horse, carefully dismounted then reached up to help Kristin down.  He kept his arms around her and drew her close as he lowered his lips to hers in a loving kiss.  They parted several minutes later and Nathan smiled down at her.  “I’ve been wanting to do that since I saw you in the kitchen.”

 

Kristin returned his smile and stretched up to press her lips to his.  “However did you hold out so long?”

 

“Heaven only knows,” Nathan told her as he caught her mouth again.  The kiss slowly gave way to a series of breathy touches and Nathan rested his forehead against hers.  “I could kiss you forever…”

 

“I certainly wouldn’t argue,” Kristin replied softly.  “I love the way you kiss me…”

 

Nathan smiled and lifted his head from hers.  He reached behind her and pulled a blanket from the saddlebag.  “Here,” he handed it to Kristin,  “why don’t you spread this out by the water?”

 

Kristin smiled and nodded then left the circle of his arms.

 

Nathan watched her walk away then tearing his eyes away from the sway of her hips, he turned back to remove a few more items from the saddlebag, staked the horse’s reins and turned to join Kristin.

 

The sight that greeted him caused his heart to skip a beat.  Kristin had removed her boots and stockings and was lying on her back on the blanket; her arms bent beneath her head.  As he approached, Nathan noticed that her eyes were closed, but by the sound of her breathing he knew that she wasn’t asleep.  He dropped down onto his knees beside Kristin and leaned over her, careful not to touch her in any way.

 

A soft smile formed on Kristin’s face but she didn’t open her eyes as she waited to ‘see’ what Nathan would do.

 

Nathan gazed down at her, memorizing every feature of her face… from the dark crescents her eyelashes made against the slightly tan skin of her cheeks and the faint smattering of freckles over her cheeks and nose to the full red lips just begging to be kissed.

 

Kristin gasped softly at the whisper like touch of his mouth against hers and waited for his lips to return and deepen the kiss.  When that didn’t happen, Kristin slowly opened her eyes to find Nathan leaning over her, his eyes dark with desire… ‘Softened by love,’ she thought to herself and felt her own heart swell with the same feeling.

 

“Nathan…” she whispered his name as she reached a hand up to cup his cheek.  “Kiss me…”

 

Nathan smiled and lowered his lips to hers.

 

The kiss was soft and gentle as Nathan moved his lips against hers.  His tongue darted out to trace the lines of her supple lips then slipped into her mouth when she opened to him.  Nathan explored the honeyed sweetness of her mouth; his tongue tangling with hers as the kiss quickly grew into a passionate embrace.

 

Kristin slipped her arms up around his neck and pulled Nathan’s body down to hers, moaning at the feel of his chest against hers.  Her hands slid over his shoulders and down his back to hold him closer.

 

A loud rustling in the trees saw Nathan pulling out of the kiss and pushing up on his arms to look around the small glen.

 

“Must’ve been a bird,” he said as he brushed a soft kiss against her lips then rolled over onto his back; smiling as Kristin immediately turned onto her side and snuggled against him.

 

“Tell me a story?”  Kristin asked in a quiet voice as her hand slipped into his open shirt to rub his chest.

 

“What kind of story?”

 

“A true one…” she answered.  “Tell me how Gator got his name.”

 

A large smile formed on Nathan’s face and he chuckled softly at the memory.  “How Gator became Gator…  okay.  Well, let’s see… we were about, oh… thirteen and fourteen years old at the time.  Uncle Ly took us camping down in southern Georgia for a few days over the summer,” Nathan began.  “On our second night… we were all asleep when out of nowhere, this big ol’ alligator comes strolling though our camp.  I mean he was big… well at the time to us kids he was big… I think we measured him at about six… six and a half feet.”

 

“Oh my!  What happened?”

 

“The ‘gator walked right past my uncle and was heading for me actually, when all of a sudden, Manny jumped to his feet and then onto the alligator’s back.”

 

“He didn’t!?”

 

“Oh yes he did,” Nathan replied with a laugh.  “That animal started thrashing about, trying to shake Manny loose… but that boy held on tight.  Wrapped his arms around the ‘gator’s neck and squeezed until the animal stopped moving.”

 

“You mean he… he killed it?”

 

“Only thing he could do…”

 

“With his bare hands?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Oh my,” Kristin gasped.  “Then what happened?”

 

“Well, once we were sure the alligator was dead, we tied it up then went back to sleep… hey!”  Nathan laughed as Kristin slapped his chest.  “You asked.”

 

Kristin rolled her eyes and shook her head against his chest.  “You’re right… I did.”

 

“The ‘gator was skinned, a nice thick hide with which Manny had some boots and a couple of belts made.  The rest of it was cut up and fried…”

 

“You don’t mean you…” Kristin lifted her head from his shoulder and looked down at him.  “You ate it?”

 

“Oh yes,” Nathan nodded.  “Alligator is actually quite tasty.  And Bess grills up a mean ‘gator.” 

 

Kristin didn’t look convinced and Nathan couldn’t help but laugh.

 

“Wait until you try it before you say you don’t like it,” he told her as she laid her head back down on his chest.  “And you have to try it… or you’ll insult Bess.”

 

Kristin laughed softly in defeat.  “All right… I’ll hold judgment until I’ve tried it.”

 

They fell into a comfortable silence, the sound of the birds in the trees and the waterfall splashing into the pond lulling the two lovers into a light doze.

 

“…Nathan…?”

 

Nathan opened his eyes at the soft utterance of his name and looked up at the blue, cloudless sky.  “Yes?”

 

“Are you… now that you’ve found William… are you finished being a pirate?”  Kristin asked him.

 

Nathan hesitated, knowing the answer he wanted to give her, but realizing he couldn’t.  Not yet.  “I honestly don’t know yet, Kris,” he told her.  “There… I may have one more thing to take care of before I can let the Blue Rogue disappear into obscurity.”

 

Kristin’s hand fisted in the material of his shirt and she gently nodded her head but didn’t say a word.  Fear and a strange sense of dread washed over her and she shuddered.

 

Nathan pulled her closer.  “What’s wrong?”

 

Kristin shook her head.  “Nothing.  Just a chill, that’s all.”

 

“You sure?”

 

“Yes,” she replied and snuggled closer.  “What do you expect when so much of me is exposed to the elements?”

 

Nathan laughed and rolled them over.  He covered her body with his and gazed down at her.  “And the fact that you are fully clothed…”

 

“Has no bearing,” Kristin replied with a saucy grin as she shifted beneath him and drew her right leg up to wrap around his.  “I could be in a winter’s dress with a fur-lined cloak over it, in the middle of the desert and still not be as warm as when I am in your arms.”

 

Nathan smiled.  “I love you,” he told her in a voice husky with emotion.

 

“I love you too, Nathan,” Kristin responded as she slid her hands up into his hair and pulled his face down to hers, their lips meeting in a loving kiss.  “Will you make love to me?”

 

“Here?”

 

Kristin nodded.

 

“You realize that anyone could walk up on us?”

 

Again Kristin nodded as her hands moved to stroke his chest.

 

“I really don’t like the idea of anyone else seeing you naked.”

 

Kristin smiled.  “I know,” she whispered.  “And I’ve no desire for anyone else to see me unclothed.”

 

A large smile spread across Nathan’s face and a gleam of desire filled his azure eyes as he brushed his lips over hers.  “I have… another idea that I think will be just as good,” he told her in a throaty voice as he began to inch his way down her body.

 

“What are you… ooh…” Kristin’s eyes widened in anticipation as Nathan moved between her legs.  At his touch, she bent her knees and opened herself to him then watched as he disappeared under her skirt.  She held her breath even as she felt his breath washing against her damp curls and then cried out when Nathan’s mouth finally made contact with her swollen flesh.

 

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

 

“NATHAN!!”

 

Two heads popped up over the tall grass then turned to look at each other with knowing grins.

 

“Guess we’re not the only two who’ve snuck out for a little peace and quiet.”

 

Katherine laughed as she and Ben settled back down on the blanket.  “That’s not all we’ve done,” she said as she stroked her hand over his bare chest.  “And I suspect that’s not all that Kristin and the captain are doing either.”

 

Ben laughed and pulled Katie closer, enjoying the feel of her naked body against his.  “I’m inclined to agree,” he said then shook his head.

 

“What?”

 

“I was just… it’s been a long time since the captain has been this happy,” Ben told her.  “And I don’t ever remember seeing him… quite so carefree.”

 

“He wasn’t like this before?  Not even with Robert’s mother?”

 

“Oh heaven’s no!”  Ben exclaimed.  “Mistress Bridger was… a very proper Boston matron.  She… she was nice, and I know Bobbie loved her dearly, but the cap… I don’t think he loved her as much as he loves Lady Westphalen right now.  Yes, he cared about her… even maybe grew to love her to some extent, but she was not the great love of his life.”

 

“I suspect the same is true with Kristin,” Katherine told him.  “Over the years… she’s told me bits and pieces about her life with her husband.  And while she did love him… I don’t think she was ‘in’ love with him… not the way she is with Captain Bridger.”

 

“I’m glad they found each other,” Ben said and rolled them over, pinning Katie beneath him.  “And I will also be forever grateful to Jackson for mis-spotting your ship… otherwise I would never have found you.”

 

Katherine smiled up him.  Ben wasn’t perfect by any means… was always working on some scheme or other, but he was honest.  And she knew, without any doubt, that he loved her.

 

“I love you, Katie,” Ben told her.

 

“I love you too, Ben,” she replied and reached up to cup his cheek.  “And you’re finished being a pirate now, right?”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Ben replied as he lowered his mouth to hers.  “I am most certainly finished in the pirate business.”

 

“Good…” Katie murmured against his mouth as the kiss deepened, cutting off any further conversation.

 

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

 

“Ooh… oh my… Nathan… that was incredible,” Kristin gasped breathlessly as her body continued to tremble from the intense orgasm she’d just experienced.

 

Nathan pulled his head out from beneath her skirt and crawled over her.  “I’m glad you enjoyed it,” he told her as he lowered his body to hers.

 

“I always enjoy it when you…” Kristin’s face flushed,  “do that…”

 

Nathan grinned at the red colouring Kristin’s face.  “And I enjoy doing it…” he told her as he captured her mouth in a deep kiss.

 

“What about you?”  Kristin asked as she pulled her lips from his and looked up questioningly at him.

 

“What do you…?” Nathan began to ask then stopped when she thrust her hips up against him.  “Oh…” he shook his head.  “Don’t worry about me.”

 

“But…”

 

“No buts…” Nathan placed his finger over her lips.  “It’s getting late and we should get back to the house.  But tonight…”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“Yes.”

 

Kristin smiled and reached a hand up to caress his cheek.  “Tonight…” she whispered.

 

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

 

“Good morning!”  Nathan called out as he walked into the kitchen carrying a tray loaded with empty dishes.  He placed it on the counter then leaned over to give Bess a kiss on the cheek.  “Thank you.”

 

Bess merely smiled and nodded as she continued to knead the dough on the counter in front of her.  “Did the countess like the grotto?”

 

Nathan just smiled, not even asking how Bess knew that’s where he had taken Kristin.  “Yes, as a matter of fact, she did.  She loved it.”

 

Bess nodded.  “She’s got the sea in her, that one does.”

 

“Yes… she does,” Nathan agreed reaching for one of the raw vegetables cut up on the counter, narrowly avoiding Bess’ flying hand.

 

“Is the countess still sleeping?”

 

“Yes, she is,” he answered.

 

“Is it any wonder when you can’t keep your hands off her.”  Bess told him, glancing over at Nathan to see a sheepish smile on his face.  “Gator and Master William tell me you’re in love with lady…” Bess said as she turned to face him, wiping her flour-covered hands on her apron.  “Is that true?”

 

A large, brilliant smile filled Nathan’s face and he nodded.  “Yes.  It’s true.”

 

“You love her?”

 

“With all my heart.”

 

Bess nodded.  “Make yourself useful and grab me the flour pot,” she waved her hand in the direction of the far kitchen wall.

 

“Aye aye, Captain,” Nathan saluted and moved across the kitchen.

 

“Don’t you be sassing me, boy!”

 

“Not me… never,” Nathan quipped with a chuckle.

 

“I was determined not to like your woman,” Bess told him.

 

“I know.”

 

“When Captain Keller brought them dresses and that frilly underwear, I knew that you’d either gotten yourself married or you’d actually found you some lightskirt…” Bess was saying as Nathan carried the flour pot over to her.  “And then when she got here… and I saw that you’d not put a ring on her finger,” she scooped some of the flour out onto her work surface and gestured for him to put the pot down,  “I was expectin’ her to be brazen… to flaunt her bein’ your mistress… try and take over things,” Bess punched the dough.  “But she wasn’t.”

 

Nathan crossed his arms and leaned against the counter, wincing every time Bess’ fists impacted the helpless dough.

 

“In fact, she is the opposite of what I was expectin’.  She was embarrassed when I walked into your room the other night and even apologized to me for it.  She’s not afraid of hard work… of gettin’ her hands dirty…”

 

Punch.

 

“She’s smart.”

 

Punch.

 

Wince.

 

“She’s not concerned with material things… got Sarah’s blood all over her new dress and didn’t bat an eye…”

 

Nathan smiled; knowing that had really impressed Bess and then winced again as her fist once again hit the flour mixture.  “And now?”

 

“I likes her.  She’s down to Earth and honest.”

 

Punch.  Punch.  Wince.  Knead.

 

“She’s got spirit.  There’s a fire in her that is just waiting to be allowed out,” Bess told him as she reached for the rolling pin lying on the counter and slapped it down onto the dough.  “I can tell by lookin’ at her that Mistress Kristin’s not had an easy life.  She’s not been loved like a woman should be…” Bess turned her chocolate eyes onto Nathan.  “Until now.”

 

Nathan smiled.  “I am not arguing with you at all, Bess.  Kristin is one hell of a woman.”

 

“Yes she is,” Bess agreed, her eyes still locked with his.  “So when you gonna do right by her?”

 

“I beg your pardon?”

 

“You heard me, child,” Bess said.  “You love her don’t you?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“An’ she loves you!  Any fool can see that…”

 

“Nathan… that is some beautiful woman you got there!”

 

“See, what’d I tell you?”  Bess said as she turned to face the owner of the gravely voice and saw a large, balding man entering her kitchen.  “You’d best wipe them feet!  I don’t want you draggin’ any mud in my clean kitchen.”

 

“I’m not draggin’ anything in your kitchen, old woman, quit your belly-aching.”

 

Nathan grinned as the man walked over to Bess and kissed her cheek.  “I can smell your bread clear across the island.”

 

“Sure you can,” Bess shook her head, even as a large smile split her face when the man kissed her cheek again.

 

“Best damn cook on or off the island,” he said and slapped her large bottom.  “That’s why I married her… for her cooking.”

 

Bess just harrumphed and went back to her dough.

 

“So, Raleigh, you were saying?”  Nathan said and watched in amusement as he moved over to the stove to lift the lids on the various pots.

 

Raleigh glanced back at Nathan thoughtfully then nodded.  “Oh yes, your woman.  Beautiful creature that Kristin is… and so…” his eyes grew large as he spotted something in one of the pots.

 

“Yes?”

 

“She’s simply delightful,” Raleigh said as he grabbed a fork and use it to lift a large fish from the pot.  “Can you eat this?”

 

Bess turned to see what he was holding up.  “Now there’s a thought.”

 

Raleigh smirked and dropped the fish back into the pot.

 

“Wait a moment,” Nathan said suddenly.  “Raleigh, you’ve not been here for the last two days.  When did you meet Kristin?  Where did you meet Kristin?”

 

“I met her just before I came in here… right out back,” Raleigh answered.  “She was with Sarah, checking her finger.  Sarah had to tell her Grandpa all about her accident and how the pretty lady fixed her hurt.”

 

“I thought you said she was sleeping,” Bess turned to Nathan.

 

“She was…” Nathan moved over to the large window in the kitchen and looked out.  Sure enough, sitting beneath a large tree was Kristin with Sarah cuddled happily in her lap.  A large smile formed on his face at the sight.

 

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that child sit still for more than five minutes…” Bess shook her head in amazement as she peered out the window beside Nathan.  “And yet with Mistress Kristin… she’s as quiet and content as a church mouse.”

 

“Kristin has that calming affect on a lot of people,” Nathan said.  “Especially me,” he finished in a whisper as he moved toward the kitchen door.

 

“So I repeat… when you gonna do right by that girl?”

 

Nathan paused in the doorway and looked back at her.  “Soon, Bess.  I swear.”

 

“You best, else I’m gonna tan your hide!”  Bess called after him as he left the kitchen.

 

Raleigh joined Bess at the window and the two watched as Nathan made his way across the grass and joined Kristin under the tree.

 

“He’s got it bad!”  Raleigh grinned as he slipped his arm around his wife’s shoulder and squeezed.

 

“Yes he does,” Bess agreed.  “And it’s about time.”

 

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

 

“Upon the ninth day of May, seventeen eleven, one James Welch came down to my cabbin; and said he had Orders from the Captain to set me ashore.  I ex… expos… expostulated with him, but in vain; neither…” Lucas stopped reading and looked up at William to find him staring across the yard.  He sighed and closed the book.

 

This was the third time in as many days that he’d found William’s attention wandering away from his reading lesson and judging from the dopey, wistful smile on his face, Lucas now knew the reason.

 

“She’s quite pretty, isn’t she?”

 

“Yes, she is.”

 

“Mister Kreig is a lucky man,” Lucas said.

 

“What?”  William shook his head and turned to look at the teen.

 

“Miss Hitchcock,” Lucas replied.  “She and Mister Kreig are going to be married.  That is who you were looking at, weren’t you?”

 

Will smiled then shook his head.  “Actually, no.”

 

Lucas looked back over to the women seated on the blanket then turned back to William.  “Who else could it be?”

 

William shook his head and didn’t answer.

 

Lucas turned back to the women.  His face suddenly screwed up.  “You don’t mean you… but… she’s…”

 

“She’s a very beautiful woman, Lucas,” William said.

 

“Yeah, I guess so… but she’s… she’s…” Lucas stammered.

 

“Beautiful, intelligent, funny, caring,” William stated then smiled, knowing exactly what Lucas was thinking.  “But I am nearly a decade older than you are.  You don’t see her like that do you?”

 

“Course I do,” Lucas said.  “I just…”

 

“Think and look at her as more of a mother than a woman,” William finished.

 

“Well… yeah,” Lucas nodded.

 

“And yet you look at Miss Hitchcock…”

 

“Oh hey, that’s different!”

 

“How?  They’re both women aren’t they?”

 

“Yes… well, Miss Hitchcock is… and Lady Westphalen… uhm… is… I suppose…” Lucas began to blush furiously.  “It’s just different.”

 

William laughed softly.

 

“It’s not funny!”  Lucas said angrily.

 

“Yes, it is,” Will replied.  “And one day, you’ll see that.”

 

“Tis the duty of every man to defend the honour of his mother.”

 

Both boys turned at the sound of Raleigh’s voice to see him standing on the porch with a smile on his face.  He slowly made his way over to the young men and handed each of them a tankard.  “Don’t say anything to anyone,” Raleigh told Lucas with a wink as he settled his girth into an empty chair.

 

Lucas took a drink, grimaced slightly at the bitter taste of the ale then smiled at Raleigh.  “I won’t… thank you.”

 

“So tell me, Raleigh,” William took a long swallow from his own tankard.  “What do you think of the countess and her friend, Miss Hitchcock?”

 

“Lovely women,” Raleigh answered.  “Of course, neither of them can hold a candle to my Bess… but they are both delightful.  Smart, beautiful… and both very much in love with their men, which is what makes them even more irresistible to others.”

 

“And knowing the woman you love is in love with you, seeing it in her eyes and hearing her say it as you hold her close…” the three men turned their heads to see Nathan standing beside them, his attention focused on Kristin,  “that is without a doubt, the most incredible feeling in the world.”

 

“Amen!”  Raleigh lifted his tankard and nodded his head in agreement then took a drink.

 

As if she sensed his eyes on her, Kristin turned from her conversation with Katie and met Nathan’s gaze head on.

 

The three men, without realizing it, held their breaths as they watched the silent communication pass between the two lovers.

 

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” Nathan spoke softly and pushed off the railing; not once taking his eyes off Kristin as he walked towards her.

 

“Damn!”

 

They weren’t sure who said it, but all three nodded in agreement and took a long, hard swallow of their ale.

 

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

 

“Good morning, Gator,”

 

Crocker turned and smiled.  “Morning, Cap!”

 

“How’s everything coming along?”

 

“Fine.  Repairs are a little slow going… but they’re getting done.”

 

“Good.  Glad to hear it,” Nathan said as he followed his first mate up the gangplank of the seaQuest.  “Tell me, have you been able to get anything out of McLeary?”

 

“No, sir.”

 

“Dammit!”  Nathan swore.

 

“Maybe he’ll be more… willing… if you have a talk with him,” Crocker suggested.

 

“I really didn’t want to have to see the man.  I am afraid of what I’d do to him…” Nathan’s voice trailed off as he clenched his fists.  “But I need that information.”

 

Crocker nodded.  “Don’t worry, Nathan… I won’t let you kill him,” he said as he followed Nathan below deck.  “Not only is he really not worth it… but you’d hate yourself afterwards and you know it.”

 

“You will let me get a few good hits in though, right?”

 

Crocker laughed and nodded.  “Of course.”

 

The two men grew silent as they made their way to the holding cell where Kristin’s attacker lay sprawled out on the wooden bench against the ship’s wall.

 

“Well well, if’n it ain’t our fearless cap’n,” McLeary drawled as he slowly climbed to his feet.  “How’s the little woman?  Does she ask ‘bout me at all?”

 

Nathan’s eyes narrowed but he refused to give in to McLeary’s taunts.  “I am only going to ask you this once,” Nathan stated as he walked steadily towards the man.  “And then I am going to beat it out of you.”  Nathan stopped mere inches from McLeary.  “Where is Zellar’s hide-out?”

 

“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ ‘bout,” McLeary said.  “And even if’n I knew… I wouldn’t tell ya.”

 

Crocker winced as he watched McLeary go flying back into the hard wood of the ship’s outer hull with a loud thud.

 

McLeary wiped the back of his hand over his lip, not surprised to see it come away stained with a streak of blood.  He slowly got to his feet.  “I’m gonna make you pay for that,” he said.  “Then I’m gonna go find that woman and finish what I…”

 

Nathan’s fist connected with McLeary’s face, once again knocking him back against the wall.  He waited, fists clenched at his sides, legs braced and eyes narrowed as the man before him straightened up and lunged at him again.

 

“Ouch, that’s gotta hurt,” Crocker muttered under his breath as the force of Nathan’s next blow flipped McLeary backwards so that he landed flat on his stomach.

 

“I’m gonna kill you,” McLeary told Nathan as he climbed to his feet, breathing hard.

 

Nathan didn’t reply.

 

Crocker leaned back against the cell door, arms crossed and watched as McLeary, rambling continually, repeatedly charged Nathan, only to meet the captain’s fists and be sent flying back into the wall.  After about ten minutes of this, Crocker could see that McLeary was getting tired.

 

“Say something!”  McLeary shouted as he took another swing at Nathan that was easily deflected.  “Why won’t you say…”

 

Nathan’s fist in his stomach prevented McLeary from finishing his sentence.

 

“All right…” McLeary cried out as he sank to the floor.  “I give up… I’ll tell you what you wanna know…”

 

Nathan glared down at the bruised and bloodied man and waited.

 

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

 

“Make sure he is turned over to the port authorities this time,” Nathan said with a nod towards a chained McLeary as he was being led up the gangplank of Nathan’s smaller ships.  “I never want to see him again.”

 

“Aye, Cap.”

 

“I hate to admit it,” Nathan flexed his hands,  “but it actually felt good to hit the bastard.”

 

“I bet it did,” Crocker nodded then gestured to Nathan’s hands.  “What’re you going to tell the countess about how you did that?”

 

“I dunno.  I haven’t even told her that we recaptured McLeary,” Nathan said then shrugged.  “I’ll figure something out.”

 

“More’s likely you’ll find someway to distract her,” Crocker said with a laugh.

 

Nathan just shook his head.

 

“So,” Crocker said as he folded the list of supplies Nathan had given him earlier.  “Anything else you want or need me to get?”

 

Nathan smiled.  “As a matter of fact… yes.”

 

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

 

“Sound the word out, Lucas… ex… plor… er.  That’s it!” Will encouraged the younger boy.  Lucas finished the sentence he was reading then folded the book closed. 

 

“I enjoy reading on the ship but studying is so hard when the sun is shining bright and the ocean is beckoning.” Lucas sighed as he stared down the lawn in front of the porch to the path that led to the beach. 

 

The air was hot and humid and Will agreed that a swim would be just the thing right now but he had promised Nathan that he would oversee Lucas’ reading lesson this afternoon and he didn’t intend to let his uncle down.

 

“There are only three more pages of this chapter to go.  Once you’ve finished maybe we can go swimming.”

 

Lucas grumbled beneath his breath as he opened the book and thumbed his way back to his place.  He was just about to start reading again when rustling from the lush foliage grabbed both boys’ attention.

 

“Someone’s coming.” Will remarked absently as he grabbed his sturdy cane and heaved his body out of the chair.  Lucas quickly jumped up to join him as they made their way slowly down the stairs.

 

Just as they reached the bottom a couple emerged from the trees.  The gentleman was tall and portly, balding with a fringe of long graying hair tied back neatly with a black satin ribbon.  His clothes were light but sturdy.  He was obviously familiar with the climate he was now in.  The man moved slowly as he helped a pretty brown-headed woman up the incline.  Her dress was also light and her head was covered with a straw hat.

 

“Mother… Father…” Lucas heard his companion breathe the words quietly before he yelled them out to the approaching couple.  Bill and Janet’s heads snapped up as they heard the voice they had despaired of ever hearing again.  Both mother and father began to run up the hill toward their son even as Will struggled with his cane to walk to his parents.

 

Bill reached his son first and grabbed him around the neck, hugging him tightly.  He only released the boy when Janet reached them and joined their embrace.  Tears flowed freely as all three tried to talk at once.  Lucas heard the words ‘thought I’d never see you again’ emerge from all three of them at almost the same time.  He chuckled as he turned and headed back to the house to alert Bess to the couple’s arrival.

 

Will finally broke away from his parents with a barely suppressed groan.  “I’m sorry.  I need to sit down.  My leg isn’t strong enough yet to support me for long periods of time.”

 

His parents immediately moved to each side of the boy and helped him move back towards the porch.  When they reached it Will sank down into a rocking chair with a relieved sigh.

 

“Tell us about your leg, son.  We didn’t know.” Bill encouraged as he squatted in front of his boy; Janet moving to take the chair that Lucas had been using at Will’s side.

 

“We had a battle with a pirate ship… Zeller I heard someone say.  The Brits fought them off but I received a saber cut to my thigh during the fight.”  Will gestured to his leg, the bandaged area very obvious beneath his snug trousers. 

 

“By the time that Uncle Nathan found me the cut was badly infected.  If he hadn’t come when he did… the limey doctor was going to amputate my leg.”

 

“Thank God that Nathan found you,” Will’s mother murmured as she brushed back her boy’s hair affectionately.

 

“I was still afraid that I was going to lose my leg but the countess promised me that I wouldn’t and she worked day and night to save it.”

 

“The countess?” Both Bill and Janet asked in unison. 

 

“Who is this countess?” Janet continued with a sheepish smile at her husband.

 

Will grinned.  “She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen… and the kindest.  Uncle Nathan took her off a ship they raided because she was accidentally hurt but I know she saved my leg.  She and Uncle Nathan slept by my bed for almost a week.  She burned out the infection in my leg and sewed it up then cleaned and bandaged it every hour for two days.”

 

“Nathan captured her… but she looked after you?  Why would she do that?”  Bill asked.

 

“Because she is a wonderful caring person.  It is so easy to see why Uncle Nathan fell in love with Kristin.”  The longing look in Will’s eye told his parents that their son had developed his own infatuation with the woman he was speaking of.

 

“Nathan… in love… You are telling your father and I that your sour grumpy uncle has actually fallen in love?  That’s a little hard to believe.” Janet observed.  “Nathan hasn’t had a happy moment since Robert died.”

 

“You are going to be so surprised when you see him.  He’s like the Uncle Nathan I remember as a child.  He laughs and grins… Kristin… Lady Westphalen has made him so happy.  I actually heard him singing this morning as he left the house to check on the boat repair.”

 

“Admiral!  Miss Janet!  It’s so good to see you!” Bess appeared at the front door of the house carrying a tray holding a lemonade pitcher and glasses. 

 

“Bess!  Let me help you with that.”  Bill quickly stood and took the tray as Janet held a hand out to the old woman.

 

“Come sit.” Bill pulled up another chair. 

 

“I believe I might sit just a few minutes.”  Bess sank into the chair gratefully.  “I spects’ you are glad to see your boy alive and well.”

 

“More than you could know, Bess,” Janet said with tears in her eyes as she gripped Will’s hand.  “He’s just been telling us about his rescue and the damage to his leg.”

 

“He’s gonna walk again without that cane.  That’s what’s most important.  We sure owe a lot to the countess for saving Master Will’s leg.”

 

“Will has been telling us about this countess as well.” Janet handed out the glasses of cool lemonade.  “Our son seems to think that Nathan is quite taken with the lady.”

 

Bess nodded.  “I was suspicious of the woman myself when she first showed up with Nathan but she’s changed my mind.  She’s not afraid of hard work and she makes my boy happy… happiest I’ve seen him… ever.”

 

The group broke off talking as three sailors approached the house with large trunks slung across their back.  “Where would you like your baggage, Mrs. Noyce?” Ben asked politely.

 

Janet looked at Bess who answered.  “Put them in the front room upstairs… the green room where the Admiral and his missus always stay.”

 

Ben nodded.  “Follow me, boys.”  The other two sailors trudged diligently after their leader.

 

“We don’t mind one of the smaller bedrooms, Bess.  We don’t want to put Nathan’s other guest out of her room.”

 

“You ain’t puttin’ her out now, dear.”  Pearly white teeth lit Bess’ dark face as she fixed Janet with a knowing look.

 

“Where is this countess?” Bill asked as he watched his wife, now deep in thought.

 

“Lady Westphalen and Uncle Nathan went on a picnic in the meadow.” Will volunteered.  “My leg is feeling better now.  Why don’t we walk out and let them know you are here?  I could make it if we walked slow.”

 

“Perhaps we should… Nathan might not appreciate us appearing out of nowhere… not with his company…”

 

“Nathan has been expecting you.  He knew that as soon as you got word that Master Will was here you’d be on your way.  He had me tidy up the front room several days ago, just waiting for your arrival.  You go on and meet him and the lady while I gets back to the kitchen.  How would you like some fried chicken and dumplins for dinner tonight?”  Bess’ toothy grin appeared again at the look of rapture on Bill’s face at her mention of the dinner menu.

 

“That sounds mighty fine, Bess… mighty fine.”

 

Bill hooked an arm around Will’s as they slowly moved off the porch and towards the path to the meadow.  Janet watched them until they were out of earshot then turned back to Bess.

 

“She’s sharing his room.”

 

“She is,” Bess answered the other woman straight.  “Sharing his bed, too… and she loves him like he has never been loved before… like he deserves to be loved.  I know what you must be thinking.  I thought it when he first brought her here… but that woman is no whore.  She’s a lady through and through.  She’s the one he’s been needing all of his life.”

 

Janet nodded thoughtfully, trusting Bess’ judgment but still curious to meet this woman who had enthralled both her dear friend and her young son.

 

“Are you coming, Mother?”  Janet turned to see that her two men had reached the path entrance and were waiting for her.

 

“I’m on my way,” she called back and with a quick good-bye to Bess, hurried over the lawn to catch up with them.

 

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

 

“O sweeter than the marriage-feast,
’Tis sweeter far to me,
To walk together to the kirk
With a goodly company!

To walk together to the kirk,
And all together pray,
While each to his great Father bends,
Old men, and babes, and loving friends
And youths and maidens gay!”

 

Eyes closed and head resting in Kristin’s lap, Nathan listened as her lyrical voice read the words of one of his favorite poems.  The shadow of the book she held fell over his face, as did the shade from her wide brimmed hat.  He’d been delighted when she had pulled the book of Coleridge prose from the picnic basket to read.

 

“Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.”

 

Nathan’s eyes popped open as she neared the end of the poem.  He couldn’t resist quoting the next stanza in unison with her.

 

“He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.”

 

Kristin shifted the book slightly to look down at Nathan, her face showing both surprise and happiness that he was familiar with the work.

 

“The Mariner, whose eye is bright,
Whose beard with age is hoar,
Is gone: and now the Wedding-Guest
Turned from the bridegroom's door.

He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.”

 

“I could listen to you read for hours.  You have a beautiful voice,” Nathan told her as he continued to gaze at her.  “I am very glad that you brought the book.”

 

“You are prejudiced, good sir.”  Kristin laughed as she closed the book to gaze at him.  “I am so pleased that you enjoy the works of Mr. Coleridge.  I thought that you would like ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ being a sailing man yourself.”

 

“It is one of my favorite poems,” Nathan admitted.  “But when I look at you… another poet comes to mind…”

 

“She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies:
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:”

 

“You know Byron?” Kristin grinned brightly as Nathan slowly sat up, his gaze never breaking with hers.

 

“Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies

One shade the more, one ray the less
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every fiery tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face:”

 

Kristin looked at Nathan suspiciously as he continued.

 

“Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!”

 

“That was lovely… but you misquoted a line.”

 

“I did not!”  Nathan stated emphatically.

 

“I am sorry but you did.  The line is ‘which waves in every raven tress’.”

 

“I did not misquote.  I merely improvised for the present situation.  Since I came to love you I always think the word fiery in that line.  Unless… you haven’t changed your hair color, have you?”

 

Nathan tugged impishly at the ribbons tied beneath Kristin’s chin and stripped her hat away, revealing auburn hair piled high atop her head.  “Do I see a bit of raven in your tresses, my lady?”

 

Kristin couldn’t help but laugh as she reached for her hat.  Nathan pulled it out of her reach.

 

“Give me my hat back, you imp!  You know that the sun causes me to freckle!”  She shifted to her knees and made another grab but Nathan quickly leapt to his feet.  

 

“You must pay a forfeit for your hat.  What shall I charge?  Should I charge… a kiss?”

 

“If a kiss is what you require I shall pay it gladly, my captain, if you will only return my chapeau.”

 

Nathan nodded and bent towards her.  Kristin pursed her lips in anticipation of the kiss.  Just as Nathan was about to make contact Kristin’s hands moved up behind him, grabbing the bonnet from him as she jumped away.

 

“Minx!”  Nathan exclaimed he took off in hot pursuit of a now fleeing Kristin.

 

They romped across the meadow, Nathan gaining on Kristin then Kristin increasing the distance between them.  Several times he grabbed for her, catching the back of her skirt or the tip of her fingers before she quickly freed herself and dashed away again.  Somewhere in the playful romp Kristin lost her grip on the straw hat and it fell to the grass unheeded as they continued their love play. 

 

The warmth of the day eventually caused a light sheen to spread over both of their bodies and their breath grew winded.  Nathan slowed and stopped, bending over with his hands on his knees. 

 

“Pax!”  He called out.

 

Kristin stopped at his call, secretly glad for a few moments to rest.  She came to rest just a few feet from Nathan, her hand lifting to smooth back the escaping curls from her twist.  The movement thrust her breasts forward, the peaked nipples pressing boldly through the thin silk.  A single drop of moisture broke loose from her collarbone and slowly descended, sliding languidly down the swell of her breast before disappearing into the shadowy valley beneath her neckline.

 

Nathan pounced without warning, grabbing Kristin around her waist and hauling her to him.  His mouth locked over hers in a ferocious kiss as his hands wrapped around her generous breasts, fingers kneading the tender flesh beneath her bodice.  Kristin responded instantly, her hands slipping into his half-opened shirt to caress his hard muscles.

 

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

 

The Noyce family approached the meadow slowly owing to Will’s inability to move quickly.  As the reached the clearing a beautifully accented feminine voice drifted through the air in a patterned tone.  They all immediately recognized the poem.  As the couple came in to view Janet held a hand out, halting the little party.

 

“What’s wrong?” Bill asked, only to be immediately shushed by his wife.

 

“I want to watch them for a few minutes… try to get my bearings about this woman.” Janet whispered.

 

“Dear…” Bill’s low voice held a warning tone.

 

Janet started to reply but was distracted by the sound of Nathan’s voice reciting a poem back to the lady sitting with him.  Even from the distance they were standing at Janet could see a look in Nathan’s eyes that she had never seen before.

 

Both Bill and Will chuckled as the woman chastised Nathan for misquoting Byron, enjoying seeing the normally in control captain on the receiving end of the lady’s rebuke.

 

A hoot of laughter filled the meadow, startling the watching party, as Nathan plucked the woman’s hat away and she tried to retrieve it.

 

Bill and Janet turned together, their eyes meeting in surprise.  “When was the last time…?” Janet started.

 

“We heard Nathan laugh like that?”  Bill finished.  “He hasn’t laughed so… deeply… freely… since we were young… on our voyage to the Orient.  Oh my God… I’d forgotten how much Nathan loved to laugh.”

 

A feminine shriek dragged their attention back to the field and they watched in wonder as Nathan chased Kristin around the field.

 

“Don’t do it… It’s a trick,” Bill muttered when he heard Nathan call pax.  Moments later the couple were in each other’s arms, the simple chase quickly turning into something a great deal more passionate and certainly more private.

 

With a nod from his wife, Bill called out Nathan’s name and the little group moved forward as if they had just appeared at the edge of the meadow.

 

Nathan lifted his head from Kristin’s with a muttered curse about gangplanks but his annoyance quickly gave way to pleasure when he saw who was hailing him.

 

“It’s Bill and Janet… Will’s parents.  Come on.  I can’t wait for them to meet you.”  Nathan moved forward, his arm around Kristin’s waist, pulling her along.

 

Kristin dug her heels in, halting their movements.  “What’s wro…” Nathan was surprised to see Kristin staring at him, a horrified expression on her face.

 

“Introduce me?  Nathan… You can’t introduce… “  Kristin realized that the threesome was closing in on them and with a sob she turned and ran across the meadow.

 

“Kris… KRISTIN!” Nathan yelled as his love disappeared into the trees, his face showing his confusion.  He took a step after her but quickly stopped, knowing that he had to greet his guests.

 

“What’s wrong, Nathan?” Janet asked as they reached their stunned friend.

 

“I don’t know,” he muttered as he returned Janet’s embrace and grasped Bill’s hand.  “I wanted to introduce you to her and she bolted.  I don’t know why.”

 

Janet’s eyes fell and she bit her lower lip as she marveled at Nathan’s naiveté. 

 

“I’ve been expecting you to show up anytime now.  Did Bess get you settled at the house?” Nathan asked distractedly, his eyes continually straying toward the patch of trees where Kristin had disappeared.

 

“She did indeed.  Lemonade on the porch and the promise of fried chicken for dinner.  But that is just icing on the cake compared to finding our boy sitting on the front porch as we approached the house.”  Bill beamed as he clamped a hand down on Will’s shoulder.

 

Janet noticed that Will also appeared to be disturbed by the lady’s disappearance, his gaze following Nathan’s to the copse of trees.  “I wonder what is wrong with Lady Westphalen.  Why wouldn’t she want to meet my parents?”

 

“I don’t know, Will,” Nathan answered.  “Maybe I should go after her…”

 

“Nathan… why don’t you let me go after your lady?  Perhaps she is just nervous about meeting friends who’ve known you for so long… who knew Carol as well.  She may feel that we might resent her taking Carol’s place.  Let me talk to her… reassure her.”

 

Nathan looked dubious but he could see the determination in Janet’s face.  “I don’t know…”

 

“I do.  Will is looking tired.  Why don’t you and Bill take him back to the house?  I’ll find… Kristin?”  Nathan nodded.  “I’ll find Kristin and we will join you there.”

 

Janet didn’t give Nathan any opportunity to answer before she turned and strode off across the meadow, following the same path as the fleeing woman.

 

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

 

Bent branches and broken twigs easily marked the course Kristin had taken although Janet had a fair idea of where she had gone.  Years of visiting the island had made her comfortably familiar with all of the major landmarks so she followed her instincts and the signs straight to the grotto.

 

Nathan’s woman knelt at the side of the water, her face buried in her hands as her shoulders shook with deep sobs.  Janet’s heart went out to her immediately.  She moved to her side and joined her on the grass, placing a comforting hand on the woman’s shoulder.

 

Kristin looked up at the unfamiliar touch and recoiled, falling onto her bottom as she tried to get away from the woman Nathan had identified as Mrs. Noyce.

 

“Please… don’t run away.  Why don’t you want to meet me?”  Janet held her hands out in supplication.

 

Kristin swiped her tears away.  “It isn’t proper… Nathan should have known better.  You are a married woman of some standing and I’m just…”

 

“Just a countess.  Your social standing is much greater than mine.”

 

“Not any more,” Kristin muttered.  “I’m a mistress… a kept woman.  I’m no better than a common whore.”

 

Janet’s fury rose.  “You saved my son’s life.  You’ve made a very dear friend happier than I’ve ever seen him.  William has been singing your praises ever since we arrived.  But even more telling to me is the fact that Bess did so as well.”

 

“She did?” Kristin sniffed.  “I didn’t think she liked me very much.”

 

Janet held out her hand in greeting.  “I’m Janet Noyce and believe me when I say how very pleased I am to meet you, Lady Westphalen.”

 

After a moment’s hesitation Kristin took the hand.  “My name is Kristin.  I would be very pleased if you would use it and I am very glad to meet you as well.  Will talks of you and his father incessantly… Bess really likes me?”

 

Janet laughed.  “The old dear hides it well but once you get to know her you will realize that she thinks very highly of you.  I remember the first time I met her… I was terrified.  It took me years to figure her out but we get along very well now.  You will see.  Just give it a little time.”

 

“I… I don’t know how much time I have,” Kristin muttered.

 

“You’re planning to leave?” Janet asked, confusion showing on her face.


“I will have to return to England sometime.  My daughter is there.  I… I don’t think that I am cut out for the courtesan life.  I’ve tried… but…  and yet I can’t imagine leaving him as long as he still wants me.”

 

Janet nodded knowingly.  “Are you in love with Nathan?”

 

“I love him more than my own life.” Kristin admitted honestly. 

 

“Nathan feels the same way about you.  The love that you have for each other is obvious… why do you call yourself a courtesan?”

 

“That’s the nicest thing that I can think of for what I am… a mistress… a whore.” Kristin whispered the last word, her face full of shame.  “Our relationship is improper.  I’m a kept woman.  He bought me a closet full of clothes… undergarments that are so… I can’t imagine wearing them but I will because he wants me to.  We share the same room… the same bed.”

 

“I can imagine Nathan showering you with gifts.  That is the kind of man he is.  As for the lingerie… you should try it.  You will be amazed at what it will do for a man’s desire.  Bill loves it when I surprise him with one of the new French styles of nightgown.”

 

Kristin looked shocked.  “You have… I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t ask that.”

 

“Of course you should.  We are going to be great friends, Kristin.  I am sure of that.  As to sharing a bed with Nathan… Bill and I have shared the same bed since we married.  I don’t think that makes me a loose woman.  It just means that I enjoy sleeping next to my husband.”

 

“But Nathan and I seldom sleep…” Kristin’s cheeks flushed a deep red.  “My husband never visited my rooms more than two or three times a month but Nathan gets… amorous two or three times a day!”

 

“And how do you feel about that?”

 

“I…” Kristin swallowed hard.  “I enjoy it… I want him even when he’s not around… I think about him all the time… wanting him to… I never felt that way about my husband.  I’ve never felt that way about anyone.”

 

Janet smiled.  “Then that is another reason that I am glad you and Nathan have found each other.  I am being completely truthful when I tell you that Bill and I have never seen Nathan so happy as he was those few moments with you in the meadow.”

 

“You were watching?” Kristin’s cheeks turned red again.

 

“Only for a few minutes.  I’m just sorry that we had to interrupt you.  Making love out of doors can be so wonderful.  Bill and I do it often.”

 

This statement turned Kristin’s entire face bright red. 

 

“I take it, you've already experienced love-making in the great outdoors,” Janet remarked with a knowing smile at the blush on Kristin's face.  “I remember the first time Bill and I were together outdoors.  Actually,” she continued with a confiding look on her face, “it was the first time we were ever together.  Bill had received notice that his ship would be leaving for a trip to the Orient and would probably be gone for a year or more.  We already knew that we were going to get married but I was only seventeen and my parents wanted us to wait until he returned.”

 

“You… you weren’t married?”  Kristin whispered questioningly.

 

Janet smiled.  “No.  We anticipated our marriage vows.  If I was going to spend the rest of my life with this man I wanted to make sure that we were compatible… that I was going to be well satisfied… and I was.  We had to be careful of course.  It wouldn’t do for me to turn up pregnant with Bill so far away and the vows not spoken… but it was an incredible experience.  When Bill returned the next year we got married… but not before we’d enjoyed each other many times during the planning stage.”

 

“I don’t have to worry about that, thank goodness.”

 

“I must admit that I was a bit surprised at your age.  No one said anything and I thought that you would be quite young… especially the way that my son was carrying on.  Not that you aren’t beautiful because you are…”

 

“I’m guess I am a bit old for a typical mistress.” Kristin observed.  

 

“You are a lovely woman and I can see how Nathan fell head over heels in love with you.  I adore Nathan so I can see how you fell in love with him.  I don’t think that Nathan sees you in the role of mistress.  I think he just sees you as the woman he loves.”

 

“No… Nathan doesn’t understand.  He wouldn’t have attempted to introduce me to you if he had.  You are a lovely understanding woman, Janet, but I know that others won’t be so nice.  I… I can’t allow my daughter to suffer because of my choices.  If word of my behavior ever got back to England… if it weren’t for Cynthia I would stay with Nathan as long as he wanted me.  Even now I don’t know how I will ever be able to leave him… I feel incomplete if he is away from me for just a few hours.  How will I cope when he doesn’t want me anymore?”

 

Janet wrapped her arms around her new friend’s shoulders in a comforting hug.  “If I have learned anything from this horrible experience with William it is to appreciate each and every day that you have.  Enjoy your time with Nathan.  Don’t worry about it ending.  I have a feeling that you aren’t going to remain a mistress for long.”

 

Kristin nodded, not quite sure how to take Janet’s words.

 

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

 

Janet sensed Kristin’s nervousness grow as they approached the house so she kept up an endless stream of chatter in an attempt to keep her distracted.  When they reached the French doors leading into the side parlor Kristin hesitated but Janet grabbed her hand and dragged her forward.

 

The men looked up as the ladies stepped into the room, Nathan’s questioning gaze seeing only Kristin and the distress in her eyes.  He stepped toward her but Janet slipped between them, not allowing Kristin a chance to flee again.

 

“Bill, come meet Kristin.  Kristin, this gorgeous fellow with the balding pate is my much adored husband, William Noyce, Sr. otherwise known as Bill.  My darling, this is Kristin Westphalen, Countess of somewhere… but don’t call her that.   She prefers Kristin.”

 

Bill smiled as he held out his hand.  When Kristin placed her palm in his, Bill lifted the back of her hand to his lips gallantly.  “I am very pleased to meet the wonderful, beautiful angel of mercy my son has been raving about.  I understand that we owe you a great debt.”

 

“Oh no… I was glad to help.”

 

“Janet and I value our son’s life very highly, Kristin.  Without you our son would have lost his leg at the very least but more probably his life.  Nathan admitted that no one else on the boat had the medical expertise to treat Will’s wound.”  Bill reached out and took his wife’s hand.  “You have our eternal gratitude.”

 

“Thank you, Admiral,” Kristin answered modestly, her face tinged pink at the praise she’d just received.

 

“I really mean it… Countess.”  Bill stared Kristin directly in the face as he popped an eyebrow up at her.  “Turnabout is fair play.”

 

“All right… Bill.”

 

“Good!  Now that is settled, would you ladies like a drink?  Perhaps a dry sherry?” 

 

Both women agreed and Janet tugged Bill toward the side bar as Nathan stepped to Kristin’s side.

 

“Are you all right?  Why did you run away from me?”  He whispered as he slipped a hand around her waist.  Kristin’s discomfort at his touch was immediately evident to Nathan.

 

“I’m fine… I promise.  I’ll… try to explain… later.”  She stepped away from his embrace as Bill and Janet rejoined them.

 

“I’d like to propose a toast,” Bill interjected as he handed Kristin a crystal glass filled with amber liquid.  “To happy homecomings and to good friends, both old and new.”

 

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

 

Nathan was confused.  The evening had passed by pleasantly enough.  Bess had outdone herself preparing dinner and the chicken was cooked to perfection, crispy golden brown batter encasing moist succulent meat.  The dumplings were as light as a feather and Bess had even broken in to her treasured store of pecans to prepare a pie in honor of the Noyce family reunion. 

 

Kristin seemed happy and gay, chatting wittily with Bill and Janet, teasing both Will and Lucas about girls… but something was wrong.  Nathan knew it deep inside.  She was pleasant enough to him but every time he tried to touch her she stiffened and moved away.

 

Will attempted to suppress a yawn but it rang out through the room, reminding the assembled company that the young man was still recovering from a grave wound.

 

“Time for bed for you, young man.”  Janet announced in her best motherly tone.

 

Will frowned.  “Mom!  I’m not ten years old any more.”

 

“Your mother is right, William.  Rest is the best medicine for your leg,” Kristin prodded gently.

 

“Come on, son.”  Bill moved to his son’s side and offered his arm.  “I’ll help you to bed.”

 

Janet moved to Will’s other side as Lucas opened the door.  “I’ll show you the way.  Will is bunking down in my cab… room.”

 

‘Finally!’ Nathan thought as the room cleared and he and Kristin were left alone.  He moved to her side and to his surprise she turned toward him and pressed her body against his.  His anger bubbled up as she reached to kiss him and he captured her lips hungrily, pressing her body back against the wall and driving his knee between her legs.

 

“Nat… what are you… stop!”  The aggressiveness in Nathan’s actions shocked Kristin.

 

Nathan’s hands immediately fell away.  “What the hell are you playing at, Kristin?  You haven’t let me within five feet of you all evening and all of a sudden you can’t wait?  I don’t like a tease!”

 

“I’m not teasing you!  I just… you can’t go around touching me anytime you damned well feel like it!”  Tears of frustration filled Kristin’s eyes.

 

Nathan’s anger rose.  “This is my home and I will do anything I damned well please including touching you whenever I want to!”  He pressed his lips down to hers in a feral kiss, one hand slipping beneath her neckline to pull at her breast.

 

Kristin’s lips parted beneath his as her body responded to his touch.  At the touch of her tongue on his Nathan jerked back, suddenly aware of what he was doing.

 

“No…” he whispered as he backed away.  “Not in anger… never in anger.”  The backs of his knees made contact with the elegant settee and he fell into the chair, his eyes locked with Kristin’s, pleading.  “Why… explain to me… what did I do to make you so angry you don’t want me to touch you?”

 

“Oh no, Nathan.”  Kristin moved to kneel in front of him, her hand coming to rest lightly on his knee.  “I’m not angry.  I’m just… uncomfortable.”

 

“Uncomfortable with my touch?”  Nathan asked, clearly befuddled.

 

“No… Nathan, can’t you please try to understand?  In England couples don’t display affection so openly.  I can’t imagine what your friends must think.”

 

“You aren’t in England, Kristin.  You are here… on MY island… and I enjoy touching you.  Bill touches Janet all the time.  Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed because I know that you have!”

 

“That’s different!” Kristin’s tone told Nathan that she was beginning to get exasperated with him but he couldn’t stop pushing.

 

“Why is it different?  They love each other and they aren’t afraid to show it.  It isn’t as if I was trying to strip your clothes off!  I just wanted to hold your hand… touch your waist.”

 

“Can’t you try to understand how I feel?  Bill and Janet are marr…” Kristin’s voice tapered off as Janet stuck her head back in the door. 

 

“Did I interrupt?  Lucas said that you wanted to change Will’s bandage this evening.”

 

Kristin yanked her hand back from Nathan’s knee as she stood and smoothed her skirt.  “Yes… I’m glad that he remembered.  I’ll get my bandages and go do that right now.”  She fled the room, obviously relieved to get away.

 

“What did you do to her?” Janet asked as she closed the door securely behind her.

 

“Hell, I wish I knew!  This is the second time today she has run from me and I still have no idea why.  She’s upset because I touched her!  I touch her all the time and she’s never been upset before.  Bill touches you all the time and you don’t get upset.  I’ll never understand women.”

 

Janet chuckled as she moved to the settee and settled down beside Nathan.  “Perhaps not… but you could understand this if you would just try.”

 

“Then help me, Janet… please?”

 

Janet thought a moment.  “Nathan, how do you see Kristin?”

 

Nathan was taken back for a moment.  “Kristin is beautiful… she’s funny, kind, generous, witty, loving, intelligent, passionate…”

 

“Let me ask the question in a different way.  What is Kristin’s role in your life?”

 

“That’s easy.  She’s the woman I love.”

 

Janet patted Nathan’s hand.  “That is so obvious… and I can’t tell you how very happy Bill and I are that you’ve found someone… someone who loves you so much in return.”

 

“I’m not so sure of that at the moment.”  Nathan observed skeptically.

 

“Yes you are.  Your lady’s feelings for you are more than obvious.  But Kristin is feeling uncomfortable with your situation.  Having Bill and I in the house… She hasn’t really been around any one except your crew since your liaison began.  This is your first venture into polite society.”

 

“Kristin is a countess, Janet.  She is used to mixing and mingling with total strangers.  You’ve already become a friend to her.”

 

“Yes… but Nathan, Kristin isn’t a countess here.  Her title means nothing.  How does Kristin view herself right now… in a social setting?”

 

Nathan’s brow furrowed.  “She’s the woman I love.  Janet, I don’t understand where all this is leading.”

 

“That is how you view Kristin and that isn’t what I asked you.  How do you think that others will view Kristin… the Smiths… the Robertsons… if they were to show up tomorrow what would Kristin’s role be?”

 

Nathan was really confused now.  “She’d be the woman I love.  That doesn’t change no matter who is around.”

 

Janet rolled her eyes in exasperation.  “It doesn’t change to you… but think about what other people’s perceptions will be.  To society as a whole Kristin is your mistress… your kept woman… your leman, Nathan.  She’s a countess, for God’s sake, and she’s trying to fit herself into this perception that she has of a fallen woman because that’s what she believes she is!”

 

“That’s ridiculous!”  Nathan exploded.  “She is none of those things!”

 

“But, Nathan…” Janet continued quietly.  “She is… she is all of those things.  Those are the names that people will give her… because she made the choice to stay with you… to love you.  They won’t care how much you love each other.  They will only see that you are not living under their prescribed set of acceptable behaviour.”

 

Her calm words finally sank in and Nathan fell back aghast as Janet continued.  “The reason that Kristin ran today is because it is definitely a social faux pas to introduce your mistress to a respectable married woman.  Kristin is trying to prepare herself… harden her skin against the insults that she knows will come.”

 

Nathan shook his head vehemently.  “They will NOT come!  I’ll run anyone through who dares to…”

 

“Then you will be running a great many people through… and most of them will be women.  Men will overlook your little affair, be amused by it.  Many of your male friends will probably try their hand at seducing your ‘whore’ away from you.  But their wives… women are mean, vicious, spiteful creatures.  Women will be the ones doing most of the insulting.”

 

A look as hard as steel appeared in Nathan’s eyes as he spoke, his voice low but hard.  “No one will ever offer an insult of any kind to my wife or they will have to deal with me.”

 

Janet did a double take then sat back, a look of pure satisfaction on her face.  “I thought so.  When did you decide to marry her?”

 

“Who knows… from the moment I saw her, perhaps.  Consciously, I made the decision while we were on Monito Island.  We spent a few days there while I was recovering from the fever.  Crocker took the boat to port and we were alone… that’s when I realized that I loved her… that I’d probably loved her from the very first time that she had the audacity to back talk me when I boarded her ship.”

 

“But you’ve apparently neglected to mention your intentions to Kristin?”

 

“I… what if she says no, Janet?  She’s an aristocrat… a peer!  Why would she ever consent to marry a rogue pirate captain like me?”

 

“Pirate…?  You haven’t told her?”

 

Nathan looked Janet square in the eye.  “No.  Well… I’ve told her little bits here and there but what good would it do?  If she loves me… if she wants to marry me… it’s for the person that I really am… the man inside.”

 

“When do you intend to ask her?  And do not tell me that she should know what you intend because I am guessing that you’ve given her absolutely no clue.”

 

“Soon.  As much as I’d love to hide away on the island forever… there are things that I have to do… things that have to be taken care of.  I’ve already sent Crocker to find a minister and bring him back here.  I thought that once the minister was here I would ask her.  If she says yes then I won’t give her a chance to change her mind.”

 

“She will say yes, Nathan.  I have no doubt of that.”

 

“I hope you are right, Janet.  I can’t imagine my life without Kristin in it.”

 

“You won’t have to.  Just try to be a bit more understanding of how she feels until you propose.  Kristin is in a place that she has never been before.  I suspect that her entire upbringing consisted of being trained to do the right thing… the proper thing.  It took a great deal of courage for her to ignore that.”  An impish grin crossed Janet’s mouth.  “You must satisfy the hell out of her.”

 

Nathan turned to Janet, aghast.  “Janet Noyce!  I can’t believe…”

 

“Please… I’m a sailor’s wife.  Nothing shocks me.  I’m also a woman with a husband who satisfies me very nicely.  I know what would make a countess turn her back on society’s rules and it isn’t a handshake.”

 

Nathan’s shoulders shook as he struggled to contain his laughter.  “I do my best,” he finally managed to say.

 

“Kristin has had more than enough time to change that bandage so I suspect that she might have fled upstairs rather than come back in here.  Why don’t you go find her and do your best again by way of an apology?”

 

Amused laughter spilled from Janet’s lips as Nathan’s eyes lit up at her suggestion and he nearly tripped over his own feet as he jumped up and ran from the room.

 

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

 

 

sail ahead...