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

 

Janet sighed with relief as she stepped out of the stuffy millinery shop onto the clean sidewalk.  She turned her head into the breeze, allowing the wind to cool her face as she mentally shook off the polite conversations she’d been forced to engage in with the prim Boston matrons in the shop.

 

‘I miss Kristin.’ The thought leapt unbidden to her mind as she realized that she longed to have an open and honest conversation with her friend… a talk without boundaries where either could say whatever they wanted to without social constraint.

 

A movement through the window at her side caught Janet’s eye and she walked briskly away from the store front, not wanting to be entangled in another long-winded and obvious conversation.  Every Bostonian mother she ran into wanted information on Nathan and his interest in remarrying.  Janet guessed that the Bridger Company’s last voyage to the Orient must have netted a fantastic profit.

 

“Mrs. Noyce…” Janet’s step faltered at the sound of trembling voice calling out her name.  She glanced around the street and saw no one then noticed the carriage pulling up beside her.  She recognized the old man in the window immediately.

 

“Mr. Bridger, how lovely to see you.”  She offered graciously as she moved toward the outstretched hand.

 

“Allow me to offer you a ride home.  I am going that way.”

 

“I really don’t mind the walk…” Janet deferred but the old man was having none of that.

 

“I wish to speak with you… and I would prefer to do so in private.  Martin,” he called out to the footman, “open the door for the lady.”

 

Realizing that the only way to escape was to offend her friend’s father, she did as she was told and climbed into the door that the young servant was holding open for her.

 

“Thank you for joining me,” Richard told Janet as she settled into the seat opposite him and smoothed her skirts down.

 

Janet waited patiently until the old man was ready to speak.  “I understand that you and the Admiral have just returned from a visit… to the islands.  Your son was found and returned to you?”

 

Janet smiled.  “Will is back with us, thank God.  Your son risked his life to find our boy.  Words can’t describe our gratitude to him.”

 

“And my… Nathan… is he well?”  Janet could have sworn she heard a faint trembling in Richard’s voice.

 

“Nathan is very well… the best I’ve seen him in a very long time, in fact.”

 

“Being able to rescue your boy when he failed his own so miserably would serve to cheer him up.”

 

Janet bit back the sharp retort that sprang to her lips, knowing that voicing her opinion would do no good with the miserable old gentleman before her.

 

“I just needed to know his mood… I’ve decided to send Nathan a letter.  The time has come for him to return to Boston and rejoin polite society.  Once I receive his arrival date I am planning to host several grand gatherings.  Nathan will meet the daughters of Boston society and pick a new bride.”

 

“Nathan will never agree to that, Mr. Bridger.”  Janet’s ire was growing.

 

“This time he will be allowed to pick his own bride.  I would like for you to help me in this venture, Mrs. Noyce.  Surely you agree that Nathan has been alone for far too long.  The prescribed year of mourning has long passed.  The time has come for him to remarry and begin a new family.”

 

“So that the Bridger name continues…” she whispered bitterly.

 

“You have a son to carry on your husband’s name.  Is it such a crime for me to wish for my name to be continued as well?  Nathan has shirked his duty long enough.  He will not fight me in this.  I will not allow this.”

 

“Actually, Mr. Bridger… he will oppose you.  I am afraid that all of your grand plans are for naught.  My husband and I served as witnesses at Nathan’s marriage just two weeks ago.”

 

A brief look of pique crossed stern features but then a smile appeared.  “So he finally did it on his own.  At least now he can’t blame me if his choice was bad.  So long as he does his duty in the nursery why should I care how he chose his bride.  What is the woman like?”

 

“Kristin is a lovely person.  She is kind and intelligent and she has a generous heart.  She loves Nathan madly and he feels the same about her.”

 

Richard’s eyes narrowed.  “Good… good… what else?  What about her family?  Have they been in the islands long?”

 

“Actually Kristin isn’t from the Caribbean.  She is English.  Nathan… rescued her from a disabled ship and carried her with him while he searched for William.  When they found my son he was badly injured and Kristin tended his wounds.”

 

“My son married an English woman?  I find that difficult to believe.  Is she from a good family?”

 

“Kristin mentioned that her father managed an estate for a duke.  Her late husband was a shipbuilder.”

 

“Late… so the lady is a widow?  Any children?”

 

“A daughter… Cynthia.”

 

“Proven reliable breeding stock… Nathan did do well.  When is he planning to bring his bride to meet me?”

 

“I’m not quite sure, Mr. Bridger.  I believe that they intend for their first trip to be to England.  Kristin is quite anxious for Nathan to meet Cynthia.”

 

“Yes, yes… They will need to pick up the child.  I’ll have to make inquires into schooling for a young lady.  How old is the girl?”

 

“I believe that Cynthia is twenty-three.”

 

For a moment Janet thought that Richard Bridger was going to have an apoplectic fit right then and there.  His eyes bulged out and his face turned crimson.  She expected him to start frothing at the mouth at any moment.

 

“How… how old…?”  He managed to gasp.

 

“Kristin?  Cynthia was born just a few days before her twentieth birthday so that would make her forty-three.  She doesn’t look her age though.”

 

With these words the redness in Bridger’s face drained away until his skin was chalky white.  “How could he… he did this to get back at me… to punish me… ungrateful…”

 

Janet had taken all that she could.  “I am going to tell you a few things, Mr. Bridger and you are going to listen.  The most important fact that you need to accept is that you didn’t factor into Nathan’s decision at all.  He met the woman he was meant to spend the rest of his life with and he married her because he fell in love, plain and simple.  Nathan has no desire to punish you and he doesn’t hold anything against you.  Although you arranged his first marriage he was happy with Carol… not in the same way he is with Kristin… but then they are two different women.”

 

Richard started to speak but Janet glared at him.  He sank back into the cushions as she continued.  “Lastly… I have no concept of how you can call Nathan ungrateful.  He has done everything that you ever asked of him.  Once Nathan returned from the Orient the only time he ever disregarded your wishes is when he stayed in the navy but he made damned sure that your company was in the best possible hands.  I think that you are the ungrateful one, Richard Bridger, and you are very lucky that your son has anything to do with you at all!”

 

As the last fiery words left Janet’s mouth the carriage creaked to a halt in front of her home.  “Good day, Mr. Bridger.”  She bowed her head graciously at the stunned gentleman and swept regally from the carriage without a backward look.

 

Janet walked graciously up the front walk toward her home until she heard the coach drive away.  The last few yards of that distance were covered by heavy stomping as her anger finally got the better of her.

 

The windows rattled from the force of the slamming door as Janet entered the house, ripping her bonnet and shawl off as she did so.  “Damned society conventions… catty bitches… vicious old bastard…”

 

Donald, the butler, moved in from his hiding place to grab the crushed hat and wrap.  “The Admiral is waiting for you in his study, Madam,” he quickly stated then disappeared once again.

 

“The Admiral is waiting… well some of us have more important things to do than just sit on our asses in the study… he can just damned well wait…” Even as she muttered the words Janet regretted them, knowing that Bill wasn’t deserving of her anger.  She paused by the looking glass on the wall and quickly checked her appearance, pinching her cheeks and biting her lips to add color.

 

The moment she walked into the room she was glad that she had calmed down.  Bill sat in his large chair; his shoulders slumped as he stared aimlessly out the window.  Janet moved to the chair and sank down on the floor at his side, her hand resting on his knee.

 

“What is it, dear?  Is it bad news?”

 

“Well… I’m not really sure.  Part of it isn’t pleasant but… I’ve been given a new assignment.”  It was then that Janet noticed the sheaf of official looking papers in Bill’s hand.

 

“What kind of assignment?  Are you being sent on a long voyage?”

 

“No… well, yes… in a way.”  Bill smiled gently at his wife.  “How would you like to go see Kristin?”

 

“Back to the island?  So soon?”

 

“No… London.  I’ve been placed on detached duty with the embassy there as naval attaché.  We are to leave as soon as possible.”

 

Janet beamed but her smile quickly faded as she remembered Bill’s earlier words.  “You know that I would love to see Kristin and Nathan again so that is pleasant.  What isn’t?”

 

Bill sighed.  “I can’t really tell you… at least not any details… but there have been some accusations of misconduct… Officially I am the naval representative but unofficially I have been charged with investigating these complaints.”

 

Janet stretched a hand out to caress her husband’s cheek.  “I know that you detest this sort of thing but I can understand why they chose you.  You are the most honest, decent… the fairest man that I have ever known.  You will be thorough in your investigation and any evidence that you uncover will be interpreted fairly.”

 

Her words brought a half smile to Bill’s face.  “You have to say that.  You are my wife.”

 

“Funny… I don’t remember anywhere in the marriage vows where I promised to make up untruths to bolster your confidence.  I say these things because they are true.  Your superiors know this and that is why they chose you.”

 

Bill slid a hand beneath Janet’s arm and pulled her forward.  “Come here.”

 

Janet stood and slid into Bill’s lap, settling comfortably into a position they’d shared many times before, his arms around her waist, her arms around his neck, her head tucked into the curve of his shoulder.

 

“So… how long do I have to make arrangements?”

 

“The ministry would like for me to leave by the end of the week.”

 

Janet started.  “The end of the week?  Oh my Lord!  I can’t have everything done by then… I had better get started immediately.”  She tried to move off of Bill’s lap but he tightened his hold, pulling her back into place.

 

“Stay… a few more minutes won’t make that much difference.  Let’s enjoy this afternoon before everything gets hectic.”

 

Janet fought against her impulse to argue and settled back into the safe haven of Bill’s arms, knowing that he needed to be close to her right then.  “Just think… we’ll get to see Nathan and Kristin and meet Cynthia… I know Kristin would be glad to show us around London.  Oh… Oh dear…”

 

“That doesn’t sound promising.  What are you ‘oh dearing’ about?” Bill asked, laughter evident in his words.

 

“I was stopped on the street today… Old Mr. Bridger.”

 

“Now that is worth an ‘oh dear’ or two.”

 

“You don’t understand… I got… angry…”

 

“My wife… angry?  I can’t believe that.”

 

Janet couldn’t help but grin.  “Just a little… but when he started talking about parading all of Boston’s proper young maidens in front of Nathan so that he could pick a brood mare… I just couldn’t stand it.  I told…”

 

“You told him that Nathan had married.”  Bill finished the sentence with her.  “So what?  Nathan won’t care and the old bastard probably deserved your ire.  How did the old bastard react?”

 

“I thought he was going to have an attack of apoplexy right then and there.  He is definitely not happy.”

 

“Even though his new daughter-in-law is a countess?”

 

“I didn’t tell him that.  He wasn’t angry about the marriage.  He only got angry when I told him Kristin’s age.  He was counting on more grandchildren…”

 

Bill chuckled.  “I wish I had been there to see it.  I am sure you were magnificent, my darling.  Now… forget about it.  What’s done is done and you can’t change it.”

 

Janet sighed as she shifted closer into her husband’s warmth.

 

Will found them still curled up in this position a few hours later when he burst into the room, panting heavily.

 

“Dad… Dad… news…”

 

Both Bill and Janet raised their heads but they didn’t move out of each other’s arms. 

 

“Calm down, son.  Are you hurt?”

 

Will shook his head in response to his father’s query as he struggled to control his breathing.  “Ran from the harbor…”

 

“Take your time, son.”  Bill and Janet waited patiently while William walked slowly back and forth until his breathing was regulated.

 

“I was down at the Bridger office at the docks checking with Mr. Powell about the job Uncle Nathan offered me when a message came in… Uncle Nathan wants the small skiff, the Dolphin, sent to him immediately.  Mr. Powell told me to come tell you in case you want to send back any messages to Uncle Nathan or Aunt Kristin.  The men are working double time to get the boat ready.  She sails with the evening tide.”

 

“The skiff… they can’t sail the skiff to England… why?”  Janet turned to Bill with a questioning glance, not liking the look she saw in his face.

 

Bill quickly masked his features.  “Perhaps they have decided to spend a few weeks sailing among the islands first.  The skiff would be much better suited for short voyages.”

 

Janet wanted to believe him.  “That makes sense.  But that means that Nathan and Kristin won’t be in England… at least not when we get there.”

 

“England?” Will was lost at the sudden turn in conversation.

 

“If they aren’t there they will be soon.  Nathan isn’t going to keep Kristin away from her daughter any longer than he has to, I’m sure.”

 

“England?” Will asked again.

 

“You’re right of course.  It makes sense for Nathan to have the smaller boat down there since they will probably be spending most of the year on the island.”

 

“Excuse me… ENGLAND?”  Will interrupted loudly this time.  “Will someone please tell me what is going on?”

 

“I’ve been given a short term assignment in London.  Your mother and Clarissa are going with me and I would like for you to come as well, son.  I know that you are anxious to begin working for Nathan but I need a trustworthy assistant.  I’d like for that to be you.”

Will was stunned.  “I… England… I don’t know what to say.”

 

“Say that you will come with us.  We’ve just put our family back together.  We don’t want to leave you here when you just returned to us.”

 

Will thought a moment then nodded.  “I know that Uncle Nathan was making a position for me.  He won’t mind if I decide to go with you.  I’ll write him a letter and send it with the ship…” He glanced out the window and jumped up.  “I’d better get started.  The ship will sail in just a few hours.”

 

“Will…” the young man halted at the doorway when his mother called to him.  “I think I will write a letter as well.  Would you mind taking it with yours?”

 

“I’d be glad to, Mother.”

 

Janet started to settle back into Bill’s lap but her husband waved her back with a smile.  “Go… it will take you a little while to write everything you want… to ask Kristin all those questions I know you are dying to ask.  I think I’ll take the time to pen Nathan a little note as well.”

 

That indefinable look washed over Bill’s face again but he stood and moved away before Janet could question him.

 

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

 

Years of sleeping beside her husband had left Janet very attuned to his movements so she came awake instantly when he left the bed.  She kept her eyes closed but listened very carefully to his heavy sighs as he paced for a few minutes and then stopped.  She knew that he was looking at her.

 

Moments later she heard the knob on the door turn.  The hinges squeaked as Bill slipped through the door and closed it carefully.  After a few moments Janet crawled from beneath the covers, grabbed her dressing gown and followed him.

 

Janet found Bill exactly where she knew he would be… sitting in his chair staring out over the moonlight garden.  She moved to his side and without a word slid into his lap.  His arms moved around her immediately as she snuggled into his side.  She could feel the tension in his shoulders and began to rub them soothingly.

 

Then she felt the dampness, her forehead touching Bill’s cheek… the single tear trapped between them.  Teardrops sprang to the corners of her eyes as well.

 

“He’s going after Zellar… isn’t he?” Janet finally whispered.

 

Bill nodded.  “He’s going… and he’s going alone… or near enough.  The skiff can’t hold a fourth of the crew complement of the seaQuest.  The damned fool is going to do something extremely stupid… I just know it.  He’s going to try to go in by himself.”

 

“How can you be so sure?”

 

Bill laughed shortly.  “I know Nathan Bridger better than any person on earth… his own wife included.  Believe me when I say that he is intent on doing this and doing it alone.  He wouldn’t ask any of his men to endanger themselves for him… doing it for our son is fine but not for his own life.”

 

“Kristin… she wouldn’t let him endanger his life.  She’ll stop him or at least make him take an armed complement with him.”

 

“She would… if she was there.  Will didn’t say that the Wayfarer brought the message.  I suspect that is because Kristin is on the Wayfarer on her way back to England.  Nathan wouldn’t risk leaving her on the island… He promised me that he wouldn’t take off after Zellar… something must have happened to convince him that this was his only recourse.”

 

“Kristin wouldn’t go willingly… she must be devastated.”

 

“I’m sure that she is.  Which is why having you with her in London will mean a great deal to her.”

 

“Me… don’t you mean us?  Having both of us will help her… You aren’t going with us, are you?”

 

Bill had to smile at his wife’s intimate knowledge of his mind’s workings.  “No.  I will probably sink my career but I am not.  He’s the best friend that I have, Janet.  Look at what he risked for our son.  I will not let Nathan do this alone.”

 

“How will you get round the navy?”

 

“Tomorrow I am going to make arrangements to leave two days later.  I am going to use the excuse that I am going on ahead and you are going to close up the house and get the children ready then sail over on the official voyage.  While you head to England I will be headed toward the Caribbean.”

 

“But we will probably still arrive ahead of you…”

 

“Yes… but I’ll deal with any problems that arise after the fact.  I’ll explain everything to the Secretary of the Navy.  Jack is a friend of Nathan’s as well so I think he will understand that I have to do this, and if this is the end of my navy days then so be it.  Nathan’s life is worth it.”

 

“You won’t find him on the island.  He’ll be so anxious to be done and get back to Kristin that he will have everything ready when the skiff arrives.  That little boat is so quick that it could be there in a week…”

 

“I know that as well but… let’s just say I took out a little insurance policy in case something like this happened.  Can you keep this a secret until you sail?  While Jack might back me up, I doubt that he will be happy if my destination is common knowledge.”

 

Janet searched Bill’s eyes for a long moment before nodding.  “I can keep this secret.  But Bill…”

 

Bill knew that tone.  “Yes…?”  He questioned warily.

 

“Don’t ever forget that you have a wife who would be devastated if anything happens to you.  Please promise me that you will be careful.”

 

“I love you, Janet.”

 

“I love you too, Bill.”

 

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

 

“Captain Keller?”

 

Scott turned around to see Lucas standing a few feet away, a hesitant look on his face.  “Lucas.  What can I do for you?”

 

Lucas bit his lower lip and stepped closer.  “Uhm… do you think… can we contact the seaQuest?”

 

“What for?”

 

“I’m worried about my mother,” Lucas told him quietly.  “And I would like Miss Hitch… Mrs. Kreig to come check on her.”

 

Scott nodded in understanding.  “I’ll send Ben a note and we’ll see what we can do tonight about getting his wife over here to talk to the countess.”

 

“Thanks, Captain.”

 

Scott smiled.  “You’re welcome, Lucas.”

 

The teen smiled then took off for the front of the ship.

 

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

 

Lucas paced anxiously next to the railing as he watched the seaQuest glide up beside the Wayfarer.  He watched the ropes sail over the railing and the two crews work to lash the ships together.

 

Moments later, Katherine Kreig stepped onto the deck of the Wayfarer.  She saw Lucas and moved over to him.

 

“Oh, Miss… Mrs. Kreig thank you for coming,” Lucas said as he moved immediately to her side.

 

“You’re welcome, Lucas,” Katherine replied.  “So, what’s the problem?”

 

Lucas led her away from the railing as the two ships separated and the seaQuest once again fell behind.  “I’m worried about my mother,” he told her.

 

“Why?”

 

“She’s not been out of the cabin since we left the island,” Lucas told her.  “At night, when I’m in my room, I can hear her crying and I think I’ve heard her throwing up.”

 

“She misses the captain, Lucas,” she told him. 

 

“I miss him too,” Lucas said.

 

Katherine smiled indulgently.  “I know you do, but Kristin is heartsick, Lucas.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Heartsick,” Katie repeated.  “It’s been over two weeks since she’s been separated from your father and with a bond as strong as theirs is… being apart is very hard on them.”

 

“Oh… I understand,” Lucas said.  “And that would cause her to be sick sick?”

 

Katherine frowned.  “In some cases, yes.  But most likely, she’s probably just seasick and something she’s eaten is not agreeing with her.”

 

“She’d have to eat for that to happen.  And she’s not eaten much on this trip.”

 

A worried look flashed across Katherine’s face.  “She hasn’t?”

 

“No.  I take her trays for every meal but she sends most of them back untouched,” Lucas said.  “She’s got it bad, doesn’t she?”

 

“Yes, Lucas, she does,” Katie answered then noticed the furrow of his brow.  “Would it make you feel better if I talked with her?”

 

Lucas nodded.  “As a matter of fact… yes it would.”

 

“Well then, lead the way,” Katherine told him.

 

“Thank you, Mrs. Kreig,” Lucas smiled then turned.  “It’s this way.”

 

“You’re welcome, Lucas,” Katherine replied.  “And please, call me Katie.”

 

Lucas nodded.  “Okay.  Come on,” he said as he grabbed her arm and led her below deck.  “Her room is the first on the left.”

 

Katie nodded and moved down the hall towards Kristin’s room.

 

“Mrs. Kr… Katie…” Lucas called out to her.  “Thank you,” he said when she turned around.

 

“You’re welcome, Lucas.”

 

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

 

Curled up on a pile of cushions in the large window lining the cabin wall, Kristin stared out at the passing ocean, watching the moonlight play over the waves through the tears gathered in her troubled brown eyes.

 

“Come in,” she called out softly at the soft knock on the door and reached up to brush the tears away but made no move to leave the cushions.

 

“Hello, Kristin.”

 

Kristin turned away from the window, a small smile on her face for her unexpected visitor.  “Katherine!”

 

“How are you doing?”  Katherine replied as she closed the door behind her.

 

“As well as can be expected,” Kristin answered.  “Lucas sent for you, didn’t he?”

 

Katie nodded.  “He’s worried about you.”

 

Kristin smiled sardonically, then turned her gaze back out onto the passing ocean.  “I suppose I have given him every reason to worry.”

 

“He says you’ve not been eating…”

 

“I have not been hungry.”

 

“And that you’ve been getting sick,” Katherine said. 

 

“Just a little seasickness.”

 

“It’s not like you to get seasick.”

 

“I miss him, Katie,” Kristin said suddenly in a quiet voice.  “So very much.  I knew I would… and I knew it would hurt… but I didn’t expect this.”

 

Katie sat down on the chair next to the window and waited for Kristin to continue.

 

“There is this… ache in my heart.  I have never felt anything like it… not even when I lost Oliver and James.  I feel as if part of me is missing; like I’m no longer whole,” Kristin sighed and lowered her head as she clutched the pillow she was holding tighter,  “And I won’t be again until he’s back with me.”

 

“I understand that…”

 

“You can’t, Katie,” Kristin interrupted in a soft voice.  “Your husband is with you.  Mine is on his way to confront a killer.”  She closed her eyes as a shudder passed through her body.

 

“He’ll be fine, Kristin,” Katherine told her.  “You have to believe that.”

 

“I do… but it doesn’t stop me from worrying.”

 

“And holing up inside your cabin isn’t helping either,” Katie told her.  “Nor is not eating.  You know better than that.”

 

Kristin nodded.  “Yes, I do.”

 

“So, why don’t you come up on deck for a little bit?  It’s a beautiful night and the fresh air will do you wonders,” Katherine suggested.

 

“I don’t think…”

 

“The captain wouldn’t want you doing this to yourself,” Katie pointed out.

 

Kristin shot her an irritated look.

 

“You know he wouldn’t.”

 

Kristin sighed then after a moment or two, nodded slowly.  “But only for a few minutes.  I am quite tired.”

 

Katherine smiled, stood then moved towards the door and opened it.  “No time like the present…”

 

Kristin rose up off the cushions, tossed the pillow she’d been clutching aside then stretched slightly before she made her way across the room and out the door.

 

Lucas looked up and smiled when he saw Kristin walking towards him.  He climbed to his feet just as she reached him.  “Good evening, Mama.”

 

“Good evening, Lucas,” Kristin replied and pulled him into a hug.  “Thank you.”

 

“For what?”  Lucas asked as he pulled back.

 

“For being you,” Kristin answered then kissed him on the cheek.  “I am sorry I’ve worried you.”

 

“That’s okay,” Lucas told her.  “I know you’re missing dad.”

 

“Yes, I am… but that’s no excuse for not being here for you, and I apologize.  I know you miss him too.”

 

“Yes, I do, but I know you and dad share… a special bond…” he made a slight face, indicating that while he knew the bond existed that he didn’t quite understand it.  “Besides, you’ve been here when I’ve really needed you… and… Captain Keller’s been teaching me all about the stars while you’ve been in your cabin.”

 

Kristin smiled as she heard Nathan’s voice in her head, ‘now my friend, Scott… he can tell you everything you ever wanted to know and a lot of stuff you ‘never’ wanted to know about every constellation up there.’

 

“You haven’t been distracting him from his duties, have you?”

 

“No he hasn’t,” said a masculine voice from behind her.

 

Kristin released her son and turned to see Keller standing behind her with a smile on his face.  “Captain Keller,” she acknowledged the tall man.

 

“Countess,” Keller responded.  “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but no, Lucas hasn’t been distracting me.  It’s been my pleasure to answer all his questions.  I just hope my granddaughter is as interested in the stars as Lucas is when she gets older.”

 

“You’re married?”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Scott smiled.  “For twenty-eight happy years to the sweetest woman on this planet.  My dear Elizabeth.”

 

Kristin smiled.  “How old is your granddaughter?”

 

“Claire is five,” Keller answered.

 

“How many children do you have?”

 

“Just one.  A daughter… Marcia,” he replied.  “And you?  Do you have any other children?”

 

“A daughter.  Cynthia.”

 

“How long has it been since you’ve seen her?”

 

Kristin glanced at Katie.  “Two…?”

 

Katie shook her head.  “No… it’s been a little longer…”

 

“Three?”

 

Katie nodded.  “About that, yes.”

 

“Almost three months,” Kristin told Scott.

 

“You must be happy to be coming home then?”

 

A cloud passed over Kristin’s face before she could stop it.

 

“I’m sorry, Countess, did I say something wrong?”  Keller asked.

 

“No,” Kristin shook her head.  “Not really.  I am very happy that I will be seeing my daughter again.  I’ve missed her terribly.”

 

“But…”

 

A soft smile formed on Kristin’s face.  “My home is with Nathan.”

 

Scott nodded knowingly.  “I feel the same way about Elizabeth.”

 

“How much longer until we reach England?”  Kristin asked.

 

“A couple of more days,” Keller answered.  “Three at the most.”

 

Kristin nodded.  “Thank you.”

 

“You’re welcome,” Keller answered.  “Well, if you’ll excuse me.  I need to check in with the night watch then retire for the evening.”

 

Kristin nodded.  “Good evening, Captain.”

 

“Countess,” Scott inclined his head.  “Mrs. Kreig, Lucas.”

 

Katie and Lucas bid the captain good night and watched him walk away then turned to Kristin.

 

“I think Captain Keller has the right idea,” she said.  “I think we should call it a night…”

 

“But…” Lucas began.

 

“No buts.  It’s late, and we should get some sleep,” Kristin told him.  “Especially you, young man.  I know you’ve been staying up quite late these last couple weeks.”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Lucas replied sheepishly.

 

“Katherine, I trust you’re staying with us.”

 

“Until tomorrow night, yes,” Katherine answered.

 

“The captain’s set aside a cabin for her,” Lucas piped up.

 

“Very good,” Kristin said as she slipped her arm through Lucas’.  “And tomorrow, we get back to your lessons.”

 

Lucas sighed.

 

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

 

 

sail ahead...