~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
“Mother…” Wendy held
tight to Lexie’s shoulders as the older woman worked to draw air into her
lungs. “Mother are you all right?”
“Yes… I am fine,” Lexie
shook off Wendy’s arms as she straightened up.
Janet followed Lexie’s gaze
across the room and swore silently to herself at the sight of Kristin dancing
with Frank Thomas. ‘I’m sorry,
Kristin…’ she thought, noting the stiffness in her friend’s back even from
this distance. She was brought out
of her thoughts as Lexie turned to face her, an evil glint in her eyes.
“Nathan must have married
her for her money,” Lexie said snidely. “As
it was more than obvious that he did not need to marry her to get into her
Catherine Adams’ eyes grew
wide and Wendy smirked beside her mother as Alexandra continued.
“And once he gained control
of her estates, he shipped her back here to England,” Lexie smiled cruelly and
cackled. “I will wager she never
sets eyes on Nathan again.”
“That is a wager that you
A large smile appeared on
Janet’s face at the familiar male voice behind her.
She spun around to find her husband grinning before her and moved quickly
into his arms.
“Hi, honey… I’m
home,” Bill quipped as he enfolded his wife in his embrace.
Too overcome to speak at that
moment, Janet simply tightened her arms around his neck and sought his lips with
hers for a quick, but passionate kiss. “Welcome
home, dear,” she whispered against his lips before she pulled back to smile at
“Thank you,” Bill said
with a slight nod, his eyes answering the unasked question in his wife’s eyes.
“Where?” Janet asked as she glanced around the ballroom, noting the
others were doing the same.
“He came in before us,” he told her quietly.
Janet’s eyes found Kristin,
still ensnared within Thomas’ embrace. “She
knows,” Janet said softly as she watched Kristin’s posture change, watched
her friend become more alert and slowly glance around.
“She knows what?”
Catherine asked as she too spotted Kristin dancing with Thomas but
“Kristin knows her husband
is near,” Janet answered the ambassador’s wife.
She snuggled back in her husband’s embrace but spoke to the seething
women next to her. “Watch, you
two… watch and finally understand that neither of you ever stood a chance of
coming between Nathan and Kristin…”
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
“He’s certainly a
handsome young man, and so polite. I
wish my Henry was as conscientious as your Lucas.”
Kristin beamed at the praise
Lady Aldridge was giving Lucas as he danced with her young daughter.
“Thank you. I am quite
proud of him.”
“It is a wonderful thing
you’re doing… adopting him as you are.”
“Forgive me for
interrupting, however, Lady Aldridge, your husband is looking for you.”
“Thank you, General,”
Aldridge smiled at the bald man then turned back to Kristin.
“If you’ll excuse me, Countess.
We’ll have to get together for tea soon.”
“I’d like that,”
Kristin smiled at her old friend then watched her leave.
“General,” Kristin moved to pass the large man but found he’d
clamped a hand around her wrist.
“Leaving so soon… but
we’ve not shared a dance yet, my dear,” Thomas said.
“I’ve no wish to dance
with you, General. Now or any other
time, so please remove your hand immediately!”
“Come, Kristin… let’s
not make a scene,” the general replied. “Think
of your parents’ reputations…”
Kristin glared at the man
then glanced around.
“And I wouldn’t look for
one of your friends or that sniveling brat you call a son to come rescue you,”
Thomas chuckled. “They are all
otherwise occupied,” he told her as he led her out onto the dance floor.
Kristin held her body rigid
as Thomas pulled her into his arms, grimacing at the uncomfortable heat she
could feel through the silk of her dress from his hand on her waist.
“Relax, Kristin… this is
only the first of many dances we’ll be sharing over our lifetimes,” Thomas
told her as he flexed his fingers against her.
“So I would get used to this.”
“This is the first and only dance we will be sharing,
‘General’,” she told him.
“But that is where you are
wrong, ‘Countess’,” Thomas spoke her title with the same contempt that she
had voiced his. “In a little less
than twenty-five minutes, your father is going to announce our engagement.”
“Our… our engagement?!”
Kristin stuttered then shook her head.
“I am not marrying you.”
“Oh but you are…”
“I am already married.”
“A fact you’ve been
unable to prove since your return home,” Thomas said.
“It is well known you were taken by pirates, and you are a very
beautiful women, so you cannot tell me those men did not…” he paused and let
his eyes drift down to stare at her bountiful cleavage,
“partake of your charms…”
Kristin swallowed the sudden
nausea that rose in her throat at the lust she could see in Thomas’ eyes as he
finally dragged his gaze away from her chest.
“Because of what those
brigands did to you… you are damaged goods.
No one wanted you. Add to
that the rumour that one of them got you into trouble,” Thomas grinned as he
once again glanced down to where her dress barely covered her gravid condition.
“A rumour we both know to be quite true… but none of that matters to
me. I will have you and I am even
willing to give the little bastard you’re carrying my name.”
“My child already has a
name,” Kristin hissed at him.
“Again, something you are
unable to prove,” Thomas chuckled. “Face
it, Countess, you have no choice. You,
your lands… will all be mine.”
“If it is my money you’re interested in, you’ve picked the wrong
countess. The Carruthers monies,
estates and business belong to Cynthia, not me.”
“Ah, but she is not of age
yet, nor is she married, so control of all that would come to me upon our
“Which will never
“Lower your voice,
Countess. You do not want to make a
scene,” Thomas told her in a low voice. “And
I think you’ve caused enough embarrassment to your family already.”
Kristin glared at him.
“I’ve wanted you from the
first moment I saw you all those months ago… even before you went on that
silly test voyage,” the general said, his eyes dark and filled with
undisguised lust. “Your
kidnapping put a slight… delay in my plans, but now… now you are going to be
Kristin shuddered and once
again felt the bile rise in her throat at the desire and almost obsessive timbre
she could hear in Thomas’ voice. It
reminded her of Zellar and suddenly more than anything else, she wanted to get
far away from the general. “I
will never be yours.”
“Oh, but you will. You see, I’ve left nothing to chance,” he told her.
“I’ve made your father my friend, and I know enough about you to know
that you have too much respect for your family… too much respect for your
father to make a scene when he announces our engagement.”
“You bastard,” Kristin
swore at him.
The general grinned at her.
“And don’t think it will be a long engagement.
Oh no… then once that bastard you’re carrying is born… you’ll be
warming my bed,” Thomas licked his lips at the thought.
“And by the looks of things, I may even get you with child…”
Kristin tuned him out as a
sudden and very familiar tingle began to dance across the back of her neck.
Her back straightened and she glanced around the ballroom.
“I thought we’d already
established that no one would be coming to your rescue…” Thomas said as he
watched her continue to look about the room.
Kristin ignored the general
and once again glanced around the room, trying peer through the throng of
dancing couples. ‘He’s here,’
she thought anxiously. ‘Oh,
Thomas opened his mouth to
speak when he heard Kristin inhale sharply and saw a brief smile flit across her
“Excuse me… but may I cut
Thomas looked over
Kristin’s shoulder and frowned. “Hello,
“Thomas,” Nathan replied
in kind as he stepped up beside the couple, effectively stopping them from
continuing to dance. He felt a wave
of happiness and love roll over him as Kristin looked up at him, her sable eyes
shining brightly at him, and whispered his name.
“What can I do for you,
Bridger?” Thomas asked
impatiently, his hand still on Kristin’s waist.
“I thought I’d already
stated that… Frank,” Nathan answered. “I’m
here to cut in… to dance with the countess.”
“Really, Captain… I would
have thought your mother had taught you better manners,” Thomas said as he
tightened his grip on Kristin and pulled her closer against him. “However… I’m afraid you made the trip across the dance
floor for nothing. Lady Westphalen
will only be dancing with one man for the rest of this night and possibly from
“How right you are,”
Nathan nodded with a glance at Kristin.
“I’m glad you agree,”
Thomas smiled then started when Nathan stepped smoothly between him and the
countess and pulled her into his arms.
“She will be dancing with
“Now wait just a damn
minute there, ‘Captain’!” Thomas
grabbed Nathan’s arm. “You
forget yourself. I outrank
“I beg your pardon?”
“I retired, Thomas.
Six years ago. I am a civilian now.”
“Thank you,” Bridger
grinned then pulled Kristin closer. “Now,
if you’ll excuse me, I would really like to dance with my wife.”
“Your… your wife?”
Thomas stammered. “She… you… you’re…”
“Her husband, yes,”
Nathan nodded as he glanced down at Kristin to see her beaming up at him then
turned back to Thomas, “as a
matter of fact… I am.”
Thomas looked back and forth
between the two. “No… this
“Oh… it is,” Kristin
said as she laid her left hand on Nathan’s chest, the sapphire ring on her
finger sparking in the light, then rose up on her toes to press a quick but
passionate kiss to Nathan’s lips. “I
told you… I am already married.”
“Have a good evening…
Frank,” Nathan said as he shifted Kristin in his arms and danced her off into
the crowd, leaving a stunned Thomas behind.
“Hello, my love…”
Kristin said in a husky voice as Nathan twirled her around the floor.
“Hello, my life…”
Nathan replied and pulled her just a little closer.
Kristin smiled up at him then
reached up to cup his cheek. “I
really need to kiss you properly,” she told him, her desire evident in her
“I need that too…”
Nathan replied and glanced around. “But
all these people…”
“Dance us towards the
doors…” Kristin told him with a slight nod towards the large French doors
leading to the main hall.
“With pleasure, Mrs.
Bridger. With pleasure.”
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
“That’s my boy,” Bill
grinned against the side of Janet’s head as they watched Nathan claim his
bride and waltz off with her into the crowd.
“Taught him everything he knows.”
“Sure you did, dear,”
Janet chuckled and patted her husband’s hands where they lay on her stomach.
“That was Lady
Westphalen’s husband?” Catherine
“Yes,” Cynthia answered
with a bright smile. “That was my
“He’s quite handsome.”
Lucas came rushing up to the small group, Clarissa’s hand gripped
tightly in his as he pulled her along with him.
“Did you see…” he asked breathlessly,
“did you? Dad’s here!
He just… hi, Uncle Bill! Dad
just swept mama away from that snaky general.”
“We saw, Lucas,” Janet
Lucas grinned then noticed
the Smith women. He frowned.
“What are you two doing here?”
“Lucas!” Cynthia hushed her brother.
“What?” The youth asked with an innocent look as Lexie and Wendy
stormed off in the direction of the garden.
“And there they go,”
William said with a grin.
“Didn’t take them
long,” Bill laughed softly as he and the small group around him watched the
reunited couple slip out of the ballroom.
“Cynthia, Lucas,” Janet
began. “I think it best if the
two of you spend the night at our house,” she turned her head and met
Cynthia’s eyes. “And you, my
dear, are sleeping in Clarissa’s room.”
Will and Cynthia shared an
amused look, while Bill simply looked confused.
“What is that about?”
“I’ll tell you later,
dear,” Janet told her husband.
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
Clearing the French doors,
Nathan led Kristin down the hall and around a corner then suddenly found himself
pressed up against the wall, Kristin’s mouth hot and hard on his.
He groaned and opened his mouth to her seeking tongue as he wrapped his
arms around her and pulled her closer.
moaned as his hands slid down to cup her bottom.
“Nathan… take me home…”
“Take me home… now…
please,” Kristin murmured against his lips.
“I need to be with you…”
“And I you,” Nathan
replied as he covered her mouth again, his tongue tangling madly with his.
He broke off the kiss with a gasp then gently eased Kristin away from him
and grasped her hands. “Come
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
A sea of stars twinkled down
from the clear night sky as Nathan and Kristin ran out the front door and down
the steps hand in hand. The hired
coach that had brought Nathan and his friends was waiting just as he asked and
he quickly tugged Kristin toward it.
“Where are we going?”
Nathan asked as he handed Kristin up into the carriage.
involuntarily in the cool night air as she gave him her address so Nathan
quickly stripped off his coat and wrapped it around her shoulders as he gave
instruction to the coachman.
“And double your fee if you
get us there quickly.” The man grinned at Nathan’s words and took up his
whip as Nathan leapt into the carriage and slammed the door closed.
Kristin launched herself at
Nathan immediately, knocking him back against the seat as she grasped at him,
trying to find his lips.
The kiss they shared was
savage, each trying to consume the other as Nathan pulled Kristin up into his
lap. The carriage lurched forward,
pressing them even closer together as their tongues continued to tangle in a
wild dance. Their lips finally
parted as they gasped for breath then Nathan’s mouth fell to Kristin’s neck,
still desperate to taste her.
Kristin’s fingers clawed at
his hair. Nathan had reached her
collarbone when he felt her shoulders shaking and realized that she was crying.
“It is okay to cry, my
love. Let it out.”
With a loud hiccup the silent
sobs suddenly poured forth; tears of sorrow and of joy mixing together and
running down Nathan’s neck as Kristin buried her head there. He wasn’t surprised to realize that his own eyes were
“I’m so sorry, my
darling. I swear that I came to you
as soon as I could.” He murmured over and over, his tears falling to rest on
her fiery hair. Finally the words
seemed to penetrate Kristin’s consciousness and the crying lessened.
“Where… I’ve been
expecting you for so long. Where
have you been? What happened?” She raised her head to look at him with tear brimmed eyes.
“I am here and that bastard
will never be able to threaten us again. I
will tell you everything but right now please just let me hold you.
Let me love you. Thoughts of you are all that kept me going these long lonely
Kristin stared deeply into
Nathan’s eyes, searching for the truth and finding it, then sought his mouth
The carriage rolled to a
halt, a tap from the driver on the roof telling them that they had arrived at
their destination. They broke apart
reluctantly, their breath coming in heavy gasps.
Nathan carefully set Kristin on the opposite seat then climbed out of the
carriage and offered her his hand. Once
she had touched the ground he flipped several coins to the grinning driver.
Kristin gathered the edges of
Nathan’s coat in one hand, her skirt in the other then grinned at him and took
off up the walkway at a run. Laughing
with the sheer joy of the moment, Nathan sprinted after her, catching up with
her at the marble staircase leading up to the front door.
He scooped her into his arms and kissed her passionately as he took the
stairs two at a time. Nathan’s
coat fell to the top step unheeded.
Kristin groped for the knob
with one hand; her other arm clinging desperately to Nathan’s neck as the kiss
continued. Finally she found it and
pushed the door open so that Nathan could step through and kick it shut.
shocked voice echoed through the front hall as he entered from the back hallway,
struggling to thrust his arms into his coat.
“Go to bed, Stephens,”
Kristin ordered between kisses. “I
will introduce you to my husband tomorrow.”
Nathan slowly lowered
Kristin’s feet to the floor but didn’t release her from his embrace.
“Everything is all right
now, Stephens.” Nathan didn’t
look at the man as he spoke, his eyes focused fully on his bride, but his voice
was strong and steady. “I won’t
hurt her, I promise.”
The love that the man felt
for Lady Westphalen was so evident in his gaze that Stephens was taken back for
a moment. “Very good, sir.” He
spoke slowly then turned and exited the foyer.
“Your rooms?” Nathan
“Up the stairs, third door
on the right.”
Suddenly Kristin was wrapped
in Nathan’s arms again, both of them moving toward the staircase. Their passion could no longer be contained as they kissed and
caressed while climbing the steps.
One blue slipper stayed on
the second step and the other bounced on the fifth.
Kristin locked her elbows over Nathan’s shoulders and skimmed first one
then the other long blue glove from her arms, letting them flutter free.
Their mouths dueled through the entire climb, lips never releasing lips
for more than an instant. On the
top third of the stairs Nathan’s artfully tied neck cloth fell free.
By the time they reached the
top of the stairs Nathan had managed to release most of the tapes holding
Kristin’s dress closed. Kristin
pulled at the buttons of Nathan’s shirt, ripping away the ones that didn’t
slide easily from the holes. He was
forced to give up his hold on the final closure of Kristin’s dress as she
dragged the open shirt down his arms and tossed it away.
Kristin licked her lips at
the sight of Nathan’s bare chest then lunged forward, her teeth closing over
his flat nipple while her hands pulled at his waist.
She had the placard of his trousers undone before Nathan realized what
He pulled her hands away and
backed her down the hallway toward her room using his mouth to distract her
roaming hands. By the time that
they actually stood in front of her doorway, Kristin’s dress was hanging at
her waist. When they stepped into
the room the dress stayed in the hallway, a pool of bright blue silk, declaring
Kristin’s rooms off limits while her petticoats fell to the floor on the
opposite side of the closed door.
Kristin had dismissed Lizzie
before departing, knowing that she would be very late but the maid had left a
lantern burning and a low fire banked in the fireplace. Nathan felt the chill of the room on his bare skin and saw
Kristin shiver slightly so he pulled back and moved toward the fireplace.
He quickly stirred the fire and added coal then turned back to see
Kristin standing in the middle of the room waiting for him.
“Take off your boots,
sailor.” She grinned saucily at him and Nathan felt his already rock hard
erection lurch forward, the bright red head poking through the opening of his
Nathan fell onto the bench of
Kristin’s vanity and tugged frantically at the black leather, swearing softly
as the second boot refused to give. Once
his foot came free he tossed the offending item away and beckoned to his wife.
Kristin approached slowly,
stopping several feet in front of Nathan. He
slipped off the bench to his knees and reached for her, his fingers sliding
beneath the hem of her chemise to find the top of her almost sheer stockings.
His finger slipped through the garter and both items slid easily down
Kristin’s leg. She rested a hand
on his shoulder for support as she carefully stepped out of the garment then
Nathan repeated the action with the other leg.
This time when Kristin lifted her foot, she moved it forward slightly,
allowing her toes to rub down Nathan’s iron length.
“I need you to love me,”
“With all my heart,”
Nathan answered, his fingers reaching up to the blue ribbon at the neckline of
Kristin’s low cut chemise. One
tug released the closure and the silky fabric slid down.
“Nathan, there is something
I need to tell you…” Kristin began as he tugged the chemise lower but her
words faded as the garment slipped free and she stood nude before him.
Nathan’s hands rose to
carefully caress the obvious swell of her belly, his face leaning in to press
against her taut skin as his lips kissed his child’s haven.
“Hello, my precious little
one,” he whispered brokenly.
Kristin felt the dampness of
Nathan’s tears against her belly and dropped her hands to his head as he
continued to nuzzle. The child
within responded to its father’s touch in much the same manner as it did to
the mention of his name and Nathan yelped slightly as he jerked back and stared.
Kristin laughed with joy as
Nathan carefully ran his fingers over the rippling skin, his face filled with
“Is that?” He finally
“That is your child, my
love, welcoming his daddy home.”
“I didn’t realize… does
it hurt?” Nathan couldn’t drag
his gaze away from the continuing motion just beneath Kristin’s skin.
“It doesn’t hurt at all;
it just feels… different. I’ve
been feeling the babe move for a month or more within but he waited for you to
make his presence known without.”
“He… is it a boy?”
Kristin laughed again.
“I don’t know, my rogue. If
you listen to Lucas, yes… but Cynthia is positive that she is having a baby
sister. I hope that we have a son
if that is what you want…”
“It doesn’t matter.
I don’t want anything except for our baby and its mother to be healthy
and happy.” Nathan placed one
final tender kiss against Kristin’s belly and slowly pushed to his feet,
trailing his lips up the midline of her body as he did so.
“And you… I want you.”
“Then have me, my love.
I’ve been waiting so long.” Nathan
swept Kristin into his arms and moved swiftly to the bed then dumped Kristin in
the center. She fell to her back and raised her arms to him.
Nathan levered his body over
Kristin’s, making sure that he held his weight on his arms instead of resting
it on her body. She tugged
insistently at his hips.
“Are you sure… is it okay
for us to… I don’t want to endanger you or the baby in any way.”
“I am sure. Our child has survived walking the plank and falling off the
side of a cliff. Having his parents
love each other will be a walk in the park.
We Bridgers are made of strong stuff.
I need to feel you, Nathan… with me… inside me, on top of me…
around me… totally and completely.”
Nathan could no longer resist
the look in Kristin’s eyes or the lure of her body.
He sank down against her and captured her mouth in a passionate kiss as
his hands moved to bracket her breasts.
He tried to keep the kiss
gentle, fighting the urge to rush their joining but Kristin would have none of
that. Her hands actively rubbed and
enticed as she coaxed him into a frenzy.
“Kris…” he gasped as
she wrapped both hands around his length. “I
want to love you slowly.”
Kristin gave him a sloe-eyed
glance. “No you don’t and
neither do I. I am ready for you,
my rogue. I’ve been ready from
the second I sensed you enter the ballroom.
Next time we can go slow… next time…”
“Are you certain?”
“Oh yes,” Kristin replied
in a husky voice and tightened her grip for emphasis.
Nathan grinned at her then
dropped his lips to hers for a hungry kiss; his tongue slipping past her lips to
tangle with her tongue. He pulled
his mouth from Kristin’s with a groan and kissed a wet trail down her throat
to her breasts.
bigger…” he murmured as he licked and kissed around the entire swell. “And your nipples…” Nathan flicked his tongue out
against the hard peak, “oh god…
they’re…” he kissed the tip. “They’ve
gotten darker…” he groaned happily as he closed his mouth over the wanting
“And more sensitive,”
Kristin gasped out as she arched beneath him.
She grabbed at Nathan’s head as she tried to push more of her breast
into his mouth. “Na… oh god,
Nathan smiled around the
turgid tip he was suckling then let it slip from his lips as he kissed his way
over to her other nipple and pulled it into the hot cavern of his mouth while he
brought his hand up to cup and play with the breast not receiving oral
“Mmm…” Kristin moaned
as his tongue curled around her nipple and slid her hands down his back to
clutch at his rear. “Nathan…”
she called to him as she tugged on the waist of his trousers.
“Nathan… your pants…”
Nathan released her breast
with an audible pop and raised his head to look at her.
“Your pants, love…”
He nodded and with a quick
kiss to the hard point of each breast, Nathan levered his body off Kristin’s
and stood beside the bed. He made
quick work of his britches and within moments was standing gloriously naked
Kristin, propped up on her
elbows to watch him, licked her lips at the sight of his erection standing tall
and proud against his belly. She
smiled at him. “What are you
waiting for, sailor?”
Nathan grinned then knelt on
the bed at her feet and ran his hands slowly up her legs. “You are so beautiful…” he murmured as he caressed her
smooth skin. “So utterly
Kristin felt her skin flush
at his words and at his urging drew her legs up and bent her knees, then
expecting him to stretch out over her, she was surprised when he instead buried
his head between her thighs. “Ooh…
oh god, Nathan!”
Nathan smiled inwardly as he
sucked hard on her clit, stroking the sensitive bundle with his tongue.
He brought his hands up and began to stroke through her folds, coating
his fingers with her moisture before he pressed first one then two long digits
moaned his name on a deep exhale as he began to stroke them in and out of her.
She clenched at the bedclothes as the sensations flowed from her center
to touch every part of her body.
Nathan glanced up and was
surprised to see Kristin’s right hand on her breast, her fingers working the
nipple in time with the thrusts of his fingers.
He groaned at the sight and pulled a little harder on her clit.
“Na…” Kristin gasped as
she realized that she was already on the verge of orgasm.
“Oh, Nath… close…”
Nathan grinned as he felt the
grab of her inner muscles around his thrusting fingers and began to drive them
into her faster. “Come,
Kris…” he hummed against her flesh. “Come…”
“Ooh… oh yes…”
Kristin began to writhe beneath him as her release washed over her in hot waves.
Nathan pulled his fingers out
of her and replaced them with his mouth as he moved his thumb up to continue
stimulating her clitoris. He
groaned low in his throat as he coaxed more of her juices to flow into his
waiting mouth, consuming her essence with relish.
He was shocked when her felt her suddenly peak again without warning, his
name a hoarse shout on her lips as she arched beneath him.
Kristin’s body continued to
shudder as she felt Nathan press one last deep kiss against her sex then crawl
up over her. She grasped his head
with both hands and pulled his mouth down to hers for a voracious kiss.
“Be with me…” Kristin whispered against his lips as the kiss gave
way to a series of breathy ones. “Please,
Nathan nodded then shifted
against her as he rose up on his elbows, settling his hips in the cradle of her
legs. He reached between them to
grasp his member and brought it to her waiting entrance.
pleaded as he drew the head of his shaft up and down her slick folds. “Please…”
Nathan smiled and holding her
gaze, he slowly sank down into her. When
he was fully seated within her, he blinked away the sudden tears in his eyes and
looked down to see Kristin doing the same.
“Welcome home, my
rogue…” she whispered in a husky, emotional voice.
Nathan brushed her tears away
with his thumbs. “I love
“I love you too…”
He leaned down to brush a
soft kiss over her lips and even as he began to slowly move against her, Nathan
knew he would not be able to hold back; being buried deep inside her still
quivering sheath after so long an absence taxing all this control.
“Kris…” he groaned
“Love me, Nathan… love
“Always…” Nathan said
and having secured her permission, began to thrust heavily into her.
Their bodies rocked together,
thrusting and driving each other higher and higher as they strove to reach the
pinnacle; desperate to find that moment of ultimate joy and peace within each
“Na… oh yes…
Nathan…” Kristin panted as the sensations humming through her body began to
“Kris… I… oh god…”
Nathan groaned at the feel of Kristin’s inner walls beginning to spasm around
his plunging member and began to drive himself harder and faster into her; her
groan of approval spurring him on.
“Ooh… oh… Na… NAATHAN!”
“Kris… oh yes…
The large bedchamber echoed
with simultaneous shouts of completion as their mutual orgasms consumed them,
leaving them swirling in the waves of intense, blissful pleasure.
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
“You will talk with
Lionel looked at his wife as
they re-entered the ballroom and nodded. “Yes.
I will talk with Kristin.”
“Good,” Millicent smiled
up at him. “I really do not like
the two of you argu…” her voice trailed off as she realized that her
husband’s attention was elsewhere. She
followed his gaze to see a flustered Frank Thomas making his way angrily towards
them. “He doesn’t look
“No he doesn’t,” Lionel
agreed then chuckled softly. “I
wonder if Frank fell victim to the Westphalen temper?”
“Something tells me you may
be right,” Millicent replied just as Thomas stopped before them. “General… having a good evening, I trust.”
A red-faced Thomas looked at
Stonevale then huffed. “She…
“What? Who’s gone?”
Lionel’s face clouded over.
“What do you mean she’s gone? Where
“I don’t know…”
“You don’t know!?”
“We were dancing when this
old Navy captain cut in and whisked her away,” Thomas answered.
“He claimed to be her husband, but I know this man, and he is a
hermit… so there is no way he could be this husband she claims to have…”
“What are you saying,
“I am saying that those
people,” Thomas pointed across the room to where Janet, Bill and their
children, along with Cynthia and Lucas were standing and laughing, “put this man up to this… to claim to be her husband.”
“To prevent her from
marrying me,” Thomas replied as if it should have been obvious.
“When did this happen?”
Lionel didn’t wait for
Thomas to finish before he was striding across the room towards the French doors
leading into the main hallway; Millicent keeping pace with him and Thomas on
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
doesn’t look happy,” Cynthia remarked as they watched Thomas follow the duke
and duchess out of the ballroom.
“Who wants to wager that
Thomas totally twisted everything that happened out there on the dance floor…
to put him in a better light!”
“What do you think is
happening?” Lucas asked
“I don’t know…” Bill
said. “But if I were in
Stonevale’s shoes… I would be going after my daughter.”
“You don’t think…”
Janet began then looked between Bill and Clarissa then over to Cynthia.
“I think Bill is right… I think your grandfather is going to go after
Nathan and your mother.”
The small group all looked at
each other for a moment and then they turned as one and made their way towards
the French doors.
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
“Perkins!” Westphalen called out once he was away from the ballroom.
The old butler came running.
“Yes, my lord?”
“Have you seen my
“Yes, my lord.”
“About twenty minutes
ago,” Perkins answered. “She
was running towards the door, hand in hand with a gray-haired gentleman…”
I told you!” Thomas spoke
Stonevale glared at him then
turned back to Perkins. “Have my
carriage made ready! Now!”
“Yes, my lord,” Perkins
nodded his head then hurried off to do as ordered.
“Lionel… what are you
doing?” Millicent asked.
“I’m going over
“To our daughter’s house,
as that is most likely where this… this person has taken Kristin,”
“I don’t think…”
“I’ll not fail in
protecting my daughter for a second time,” Lionel said as he moved away from
his wife and walked quickly down the hall towards the front doors.
“And proceed to get her
even angrier with you,” Millicent muttered under her breath as she hurried
after her husband.
“Your carriage will be
brought around momentarily, my lord,” Perkins said as Stonevale met him at the
door, the duke’s greatcoat and walking stick in his hands.
“Thank you, Perkins,”
Westphalen replied as he pulled on the heavy outerwear and grabbed his cane.
“Perkins… would you
kindly fetch my wrap for me please,” Millicent asked the butler.
Perkins smiled at the duchess
and held up the garment in question. “I’ve
taken the liberty of already grabbing it, milady,” the butler said.
“I had a feeling you would want it.”
Millicent smiled as she
reached for the wrapper. “Thank
“What do you think you’re
doing?” Lionel whipped around to
face his wife.
“I’m going with you.”
“No you are not!”
“Oh yes, I am!”
Millicent replied. “Someone has to keep you from making an ass of yourself
with your daughter,” she told him then moved out the door.
Stonevale glanced at Thomas
then shook his head as he followed after his wife; mumbling under his breath
down every step.
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
“Think we should follow
“Without a doubt.”
“I know I don’t want to
“Grandfather did look
“Anyone see where Lucas
went off to?”
Six heads looked around where
they were standing in the hall beside the front entrance.
“Where on Earth has that
boy gotten off to?” Janet asked
then looked at her daughter. “I
thought he was right beside you?”
“He was,” Clarissa
answered, as confused as everyone else. “I
She was cut off by the sound
of a carriage pulling up in front of the house.
“Well, don’t just stand
there,” Lucas called in to the small group and waved them over.
“Smart kid,” Bill quipped
with a grin then glanced around at everyone.
“Come on, people…”
“I wish I could…”
Five sets of eyes turned to
look at the ambassador’s wife.
“I… it would be…”
Catherine shrugged. “I’ll say a
prayer for Lady Westphalen that everything works out.”
Janet smiled at Catherine
then quickly embraced her. “We’ll
Janet nodded then she and
Bill hurried off to the coach.
“How are we all going to
fit?” Malcolm asked.
“Very easily,” Bill said
as he helped Janet climb in then followed her.
He sat on the bench then pulled his wife into his lap. “We’re just going to have to get a little closer.”
William grinned and helped
Cynthia into the carriage, followed her then sat across from his parents and
pulled Cynthia into his lap. “I
like this idea.”
Malcolm, Clarissa and Lucas
quickly climbed in, Malcolm taking the seat next to Janet and Bill while Lucas
and Clarissa sat opposite him.
Cynthia reached up and tapped
on the ceiling of the carriage. “Home
please, Evans! As fast as you
“Yes, milady,” came the
reply followed by a crack of a whip and then the carriage was moving.
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
Kristin sighed and settled
back against the mound of pillows at the head of her bed, her legs wrapped
loosely around Nathan’s torso as he lay on his stomach, his head level with
her belly. For his part, Nathan
couldn’t tear his eyes or his hands away from Kristin.
He was fascinated with the glow that seemed to emanate from her skin and
the way that her belly rippled as the child within moved about.
“Are you happy?” He asked
then looked surprised that he had actually voiced the question.
“Of course I am happy.”
Kristin cupped his cheek. “I have
my husband home with me.”
“Are you happy about the
baby? We never really spoke about
“I don’t think that
either of us thought that a child was possible.
I certainly didn’t. If
someone had told me six months ago that I would become a mother again at my age
I would have laughed in their face. But
my answer is yes. I am very happy
to be carrying your child. Are you
“My beautiful wife who I
love more than life is carrying my child. Six
months ago I was a lonely sailor living a barren life.
Today I have you; I have a son and daughter and another child on the way.
I have a family. I am in the
one place where I always want to be… your arms.
How could I not be happy?”
“I’ve been so empty
without you.” Sadness tinged
Kristin’s voice. “I’ve read
your letters over and over. You
seemed so lonely…”
“I missed you so much…
both you and Lucas.”
“Tell me what happened.
Tell me about the scar.”
Nathan hadn’t realized that
Kristin had noticed the angry pucker of red flesh across his left side and hip.
“I notice everything about
you, my husband.” Kristin read his thoughts.
She stretched her hand down so that her fingers could lightly caress the
mark, her other hand reaching out to touch the lock of her hair still tied
around his wrist. “Everything.”
“I’ve not taken it off since you tied it there.”
“Did it… did it help?”
“It did,” Nathan replied.
“It did indeed.”
“I’m glad,” Kristin
smiled softly then once again danced her fingers over the raised flesh. “Tell me…”
Nathan haltingly began to
talk, both what he said and what he didn’t say telling Kristin of his
heartache. His words became surer
as he moved into a narrative of the approach to Zellar’s home and the
confrontation there. Kristin knew
that he was glossing over the details of the battle but she let him, knowing
that she could coax the full details out of Crocker later.
Quickly masked relief flooded through her when he told of Bill’s
arrival and how his friend prevented him from killing Zellar outright.
“Bill gripped my arm and I
remember staring at him, hearing his words as if they were coming down a tunnel.
I stepped back. I remember watching my men drag Zellar away and then…
nothing. Everything went black.”
“I knew that something was
wrong. One day just after we’d
finished eating lunch I suddenly felt a sharp pain and a few minutes later I
fainted. I knew…”
“You were with me,”
Nathan lifted a hand from her belly to stroke her cheek.
“In my unconscious haze, you were always there.”
Kristin took his hand and gently kissed the palm.
“This next bit comes from
Bill because I don’t remember any of it.
Zellar scored a deep hit, the severity of which I wasn’t aware of until
after I had him pinned. Everyone
around me realized when I fainted from blood loss.
They bandaged my wound and carried me to Bill’s ship. Crocker stayed with me, trying all of the remedies he saw you
use on Will’s infection. A court
martial tribunal was convened at once and Zellar was found guilty of piracy.
He was sentenced to hang and the order was carried out immediately.
Once the situation on the island was taken care of Bill gave orders to
sail for my island. He thought
that, in your absence, Bess was the logical person to take care of me.”
“I thought I detected a
faint tinge of green around your scar.” Kristin chuckled.
“The ointment was applied
liberally, yes.” Nathan agreed. “The
shading compliments the ragged stitch marks where Crocker sewed me up.”
“I am going to have to
inspect this wound more closely, I can see… I’m glad that Bill took you to
“I think at that point that
Bill was going to write to you about my condition but Bess stopped him.
She said that the outcome would be decided long before you got any letter
and there wasn’t any point in worrying you needlessly.”
“I would still have rather
“I lay unconscious for
days, mostly from the pain I guess. Some
infection did develop but nothing to the extent of Will’s.”
“You were receiving better
care than he did when he was first wounded.”
“Once the fever broke and I came back to myself I insisted on leaving
immediately for London. Bill tried to reason with me but I wouldn’t hear it.
The next day we were sailing for England.”
“On your insistence?”
“Oh yes. I knew that I could continue to heal on the trip and I
didn’t want to waste one more hour away from you.
We landed late yesterday so Bill and I hired horses and rode all night to
“All night? You must be exhausted… okay; a normal man would be
exhausted. You arrived just before
“Actually we arrived about
Kristin leaned forward and
caught Nathan’s chin. “You have
been in London for the entire afternoon and you waited until tonight to find
me?” Anger flashed briefly in her
eyes as Nathan tilted his head down to kiss her palm.
“There were reasons.
First I had to find you, which meant that Bill had to stop at the embassy
to find Janet. While we were there
I ran into an old friend of mine… a friend who has become a great admirer of
yours I might add.”
Kristin looked properly
chastised. “That would be Malcolm
“It would indeed. Malcolm accompanied us to Bill’s and while there he
unknowingly filled me in on everything that you have been going through during
my absence. He also told us about
the party and that you and Janet would be helping with the preparations.
Once I found out about Thomas I knew that there were a few things that I
needed to take care of.”
“Such as?” Kristin asked with a raised eyebrow, although Nathan could
tell that she was teasing him.
He bent low again and dragged
his lips across her belly. “Don’t
worry, little one. Daddy just has
to get something to show mommy. I
will be right back. I promise.”
Kristin chuckled as the child
kicked in answer. “I hope this
isn’t going to be a permanent thing between the two of you, otherwise my
insides are going to be black and blue.”
Nathan’s hands trailed down
her thighs in a loving caress as he pushed himself up and slid off of the bed.
He glanced around the room then swore softly when he remembered that he
had given Kristin his coat.
“What is it, Nathan?”
He grinned sheepishly at her.
“Do you remember exactly where we lost my coat?
Did we leave it in the hack?”
Kristin thought a moment.
“I don’t believe so. I
think that it dropped away just outside the front door.
I can ring for Stephens to go collect it if you’d like.”
Nathan shook his head.
“That isn’t necessary. I’ll
slip downstairs and get it. I
should probably gather up the rest of our things as well.
Unless you want all of your servants to guess what happened…”
“I am sure that there will
be little guessing involved. Do we
need to go right now or will whatever you want to show me keep?” Kristin’s gaze fell to Nathan’s semi-erect member framed
by a nest of dark curls and she licked her lips slowly.
Nathan felt his arousal
spring to life as he surveyed his wife stretched out nude on the bed before him.
“No… I don’t have to go right now…”
“Then why don’t you come
back and join me?” Kristin patted the mattress beside her.
Nathan quickly climbed onto
the bed and moved to Kristin’s side. She
sat up to meet him and they came together to share a passionate kiss.
The next moment Nathan found
himself flat on his back, Kristin’s hands holding his shoulders down as she
“Stay.” She commanded.
Nathan settled back against
the pillows and grinned as Kristin slid back down his legs and settled on his
knees. Her gentle fingers carefully
probed the scarred flesh that marred his side.
“You are very lucky.” She
murmured as she traced the path of the cut from his left side down across his
hipbone to its end just at the beginning of the deep vee of dark curls.
“You could have easily bled to death.”
Kristin shuddered at the thought.
Nathan stretched his hands
out to grasp her forearms and pull her forward.
“I could have but I didn’t. Bill,
Gator and Bess took excellent care of me. They
knew that I couldn’t leave you. I
couldn’t leave this little one.” One
hand slipped to the top swell of her gravid stomach.
Kristin slowly worked her
knees forward. “They didn’t
know about this little one.”
“You did not know, Nathan
Bridger. I didn’t know so how
“I admit that I was stunned
when Malcolm mentioned the rumours but then I had a… moment of something… I
don’t know for sure that it was a memory exactly but I know that while I was
feverish I dreamed of you often. In
every dream I was calling for you, desperate to find you and I knew that you
were looking for me but if I ever caught a glimpse you disappeared.”
“That is so strange.
I had the same dream. I
searched and searched. I heard you
call my name and I answered but I could never find you.”
Nathan nodded, not doubting
that they had shared the same dream. “Then
one night we did find each other. We
were together on the ship…”
“Then on the volcano on
Monito…” Kristin chimed in as she bent her face lower over his.
“And then in the grotto!”
They finished together.
Nathan reached up and
fingered her hair. “We made love.
Perhaps I sensed the baby then… When did you realize?”
Kristin leaned into his
touch. “There were some problems
when we arrived and I had to rush to the country…”
“To rescue Cynthia from
being forced to marry a pansy her grandmother picked out… Malcolm talked.”
“You probably know more
about it than I do then. We stayed
in the country for two weeks before returning to London.
When we returned my dressmaker came to measure me for a new corset…
don’t look at me that way. I
won’t wear one all the time but some formal gowns require one. Anyway, my measurements were wrong and then Madame Dussault
pulled my chemise tight and I looked down… it just made sense.
That was about six weeks ago… the thirteenth of September it was.”
“September thir… the day
my fever broke. Do you think…?”
“After everything else that
has happened between us, I’m sure of it.”
Kristin flattened her torso against Nathan’s chest as she stretched to
touch his lips with hers. “I wish
that you had been the first person that knew after me but Janet was in the room
and then… why are you shaking your head?”
“Because you weren’t the
first person to know.”
Kristin popped back up on her
elbows. “Of course I was.”
“You will have to argue
that with Bess. She told me this
afternoon that she knew you had conceived before you left the island.”
“How the hell did she
Nathan’s hands moved to cup
Kristin’s heavy breasts. “I
have no idea. You can ask her when
you see her… whenever I decide to let you out of bed.”
Kristin trembled at the feel
of Nathan’s fingertips locking over the pebbled ends of her rosy centers,
tugging and twisting in a way designed to arouse her.
“If I decide to let you out
of bed, you mean…” Kristin rocked her hips against the rigid organ pressing
into her mound.
“My god, woman! It hasn’t been twenty minutes since I spent myself and
already you’ve got me so hard that I’m aching.”
Kristin purred as she rocked
back and forth. “I think that
this means my husband has missed me while we’ve been apart.”
Nathan grabbed Kristin’s
hips. “I thought I would die from
missing you.” He levered her to
her knees, a needy look on his face.
Suddenly Kristin didn’t
want to tease anymore. She shifted
her hips into position and easily took Nathan inside her body as he slowly
lowered her down.
Finally they were fully
joined, each holding motionless as they simply enjoyed the feel of their joining
for a long moment.
“Never again…” Nathan
whispered so quietly that Kristin heard the words more in her heart than her
Kristin laid two fingers
across Nathan’s lips and gently caressed them as she repeated his words then
with a soft glint in her eye; she rose up on her knees and thrust back down
Nathan gasped at the surge of
passion that flared through him and gripped her hips tightly as Kristin set a
steady rhythm. He was so caught up
in the moment that he didn’t fully understand the bright flash he caught out
of the corner of his eye.
Instinct taking over, Nathan
rolled Kristin to one side and launched himself in the opposite direction, his
body already moving into a defensive posture… until his foot caught in the
corner of the bedclothes and he landed on the floor flat on his rear, legs
splayed before him.
His eyes quickly took in the
scene; an elderly bearded man was screaming and drawing back a polished cane
with a golden knob for another pass. Kristin
was screaming back as she scrambled frantically for the sheet and pulled it over
her naked body. Nathan stared at
the mature woman who stepped up to wrestle the man for the cane and realized
that he was seeing his wife in twenty-five years.
“No, Lionel!” The woman
was yelling as she held tightly to the walking stick.
Kristin’s voice joined the din.
“Let go!” Lionel yanked at the cane, trying to free it from his
Nathan rocked to his heels
then to his feet, unmindful of his nakedness as he bellowed. “Everybody shut the hell up!”
The room went quiet as all
eyes turned to him.
Nathan stared at Kristin’s
parents blandly, daring Lord Westphalen to try and swing the stick again.
After a few moments it fell to the old man’s side.
He then turned his gaze to Kristin’s mother and realized she was
staring at him with unabashed admiration; or more specifically, gazing at his
still rampant erection. Nathan
reached out and grabbed the edge of the blanket, yanking it up and over his
“This certainly isn’t the
way that I imagined meeting my new in-laws for the first time. Lord Westphalen, if you would be so kind as to give your lady
wife the weapon?”
Millicent smiled as she
yanked the cane away. “Wise
man,” she murmured.
“How dare you take
advantage of my daughter, you scoundrel!? Whatever
plan those people came up with, it won’t work!
I don’t care how much they paid you!”
“You don’t know what you
are talking about, Daddy. Nathan is
my husband!” Kristin yelled back.
“Stop it!” Nathan yelled again. Everyone
fell quiet. “Okay, Lord and Lady
Westphalen, I can understand that you might have some concerns.
However, they will not be discussed here.
You will return to the downstairs parlour now and Kristin and I will
dress and join you in approximately twenty minutes.”
“Now see here…” Lionel
“Your only other option,
Lord Westphalen, is for me to bodily eject you from this room and secure the
door. Then you can wait until hell
freezes over.” The icy look in
Nathan’s eyes let Lionel know that he meant business.
Millicent pulled at her
husband’s arm gently. “Come,
Lionel. Let’s go downstairs.”
“But…” Suddenly all the
fight left Lionel and his shoulders slumped as he allowed Millicent to lead him
from the room. Nathan couldn’t
resist a grin as his mother-in-law reached back to grasp the doorknob, giving
him one last raking appraisal as she closed the door solidly behind her.
“I don’t think that you
have to worry about winning my mother’s favor.” Kristin observed wryly.
Nathan turned back to his
wife and dropped the blanket. “So…
do we get dressed now or do we finish what we started then get dressed?”
He waggled an eyebrow at her.
Kristin reached out and ran
the tip of her finger down his length. “As
badly as I want to continue, let’s get this scene taken care of.
Then we can come back here and lock the world away.
Unless you will be too uncomfortable…”
“I’ll survive… unless
you keep doing that, my lady… oh God!” Nathan groaned, one arm snaking out
to wrap around the nearest bedpost as Kristin shifted in front of him and
replaced her finger with the tip of her tongue.
Nathan’s free hand swung up
to grab the frame of the bed’s canopy, his gaze riveted down to the point
where Kristin’s hands were wrapped around his still growing length, ruby red
lips rubbing over the shaft before opening wide to consume the purple plum on
“Kris… you don’t
have… oh, darling…” The sounds issuing from Nathan’s lips were no longer
coherent as Kristin began to work her mouth up and down.
The sight mesmerized him and he felt his juices rising quickly.
He tried to pull his hips back but Kristin wrapped her hands around his
buttocks and held him steady.
“Krs… Gn… a…” His
control completely gone, Nathan erupted into his wife’s mouth in a single long
stream. When Kristin would have
continued her movement, intent on milking him dry, he dropped a hand to her hair
to stop her.
“It’s enough for now,”
he quietly told her, his entire body still trembling.
“But…” She would have
protested but Nathan laid his fingers over her shiny lips.
“You’ve taken the edge
off, my love, but I have no desire to see your father burst through our bedroom
door with his cane swinging a second time.
Besides once we get through with this I intend for us to return to this
room where I am going to love you slowly and thoroughly.”
A sensual smile touched
Kristin’s lips as Nathan’s strong hands helped her up and out of the bed.
Once her feet were firmly on the ground he pulled her body fully into
contact with his and kissed her gently.
“Thank you, my love,” he
murmured against her lips then slowly fell to his knees before her.
His lips pressed quick kisses across her belly then he paused and pressed
his forehead to it.
“Mama and I have to go
downstairs and have a long talk with your grandpa Westphalen.
There might be some things said that you don’t need to hear so I want
you to be good and go to sleep. I
promise that we will talk later.”
Kristin ruffled Nathan’s
hair as he placed one final kiss then rose to his feet.
“Are you ready?
I can do this alone if you don’t feel up to it.”
Kristin grabbed his hand and
clenched it tightly. “We are in
this together, right?”
“Always. I just don’t want you getting overly upset.
I don’t want to take any chances with you or our baby.
You are more important than anyone or anything.”
“We are both fine.”
She raised their hands then opened his and kissed his palm.
“As long as we are all together…”
Nathan nodded then after a
long moment reluctantly moved away to gather his pants and pull them on.
His boots followed. He
returned to the vanity bench to tug them on, his eyes never leaving Kristin as
she moved to her dressing room. Once
his boots were in place he stood and followed her.
“Need some help?” He
asked as she pulled a long chemise and a quilted blue dressing gown from their
Kristin smiled as she held
the chemise out. Nathan took the
garment and slid it over her head and down her body, smoothing the fabric as he
went. Once it was in place around
her knees he held the robe for her to slip into.
“Respectable enough?” She
asked as she fastened the four closures and tied the belt loosely beneath her
“It is a good thing that
you have a husband, my love, because it is more than obvious that you are
Kristin quickly grabbed a
slipper from the shelf next to her and lobbed it at Nathan.
“Let’s go face the lions.”
“Let me grab my shirt…
Where is my shirt?” Nathan moved
back into the main room in search of the missing garment.
“I think it is probably
somewhere on the staircase.”
“I can hardly face your
father again without being properly clothed.
It had better be.”
Nathan gave Kristin a wry
smile as he swung the door open. To
his surprise a neat pile of folded clothing lay in front of the entryway.
“Stephens?” He asked as
he picked the pile up and carried it into the room.
“Remind me to thank him.”
“He would be shocked and
mortified if you mentioned this evening to him.”
“I don’t know why. It’s been a hell of a good evening so far.”
He shrugged into his shirt and quickly fastened it then held his arm out
With one last kiss they
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~
“Where the hell are they?
It’s been twenty minutes at least.
In one more minute I am going back there.
Where did you put my cane, Mils?”
Nathan paused at the bottom
of the stairs as Lionel’s enraged voice came drifting through the hallway.
“I don’t think that he has calmed down any.”
“Not bloody likely,”
Kristin whispered back. “Once my
father gets a notion in his head… Maybe we could make a run for the front
“Lionel! Will you please put your watch up and sit down?
You are not going anywhere. You’ve
already made an ass of yourself and I would prefer if you didn’t continue that
trend.” Nathan and Kristin shared a smile at her mother’s words but
the grin faded as she continued. “And
I don’t understand why you are still here, General Thomas.
Your presence is neither wanted or warranted in this situation.”
“That bastard Bridger is in
cahoots with the Noyce woman to try and rob me of my bride. They won’t succeed.”
Nathan saw Kristin shudder at
the sound of Thomas’ voice. “Did
he ever hurt you, Kristin?”
“No,” she reassured him.
“He was never improper in any way… not until the dance that you
interrupted. But something about
him makes my skin crawl. It has
from the first moment that I met him.”
“This will be the last
time… I’ll go throw him out now if you like.”
Kristin shook her head.
“Let him see us together, know that we are truly husband and wife.
Then throw him out.”
“Have I ever told you how
much I like your style, Mrs. Bridger?” Nathan
left the staircase then turned and lifted Kristin from the bottom step to his
“Thank you, Captain
At that moment the door to
the parlour swung open wide and they stopped enroute to a kiss to find Lionel
glaring at them. He didn’t say a
word but crossed his arms and tapped his foot, letting the couple know that he
wasn’t going anywhere. Kristin
slid her arm through Nathan’s and the couple moved calmly toward him.
There you are. I’ve rung for tea. I
hope you don’t mind…” The twinkle in Millicent’s eye belied the calm façade
that she displayed.
“Of course not, Mummy.”
Kristin answered as she settled on the sofa, Nathan sitting down right
Millicent noted the way the
couple’s hands linked between them and nodded slightly in approval.
“So, Nathan… tell us something about yourself.”
“He’s a black-hearted
thief who is attempting to steal my bride.”
“MY bride, Frank.”
Nathan’s voice was steely with anger. “Kristin
was never in danger of marrying you, no matter what you contrived.”
“I don’t know why you are
doing this. You don’t need the
money so it must be a favor to your friends but it isn’t going to work.
You haven’t been seen in polite company in years.
How could you have met an English countess?”
Nathan sighed then turned to
Kristin, his hand squeezing hers. “Excuse
me for just a moment, love.” He
Once he stood and faced off
against Thomas and Lionel the tender demeanor was gone. “I am getting so damned tired… pardon me, Lady
Westphalen… so DAMNED tired of everyone doubting my word and the word of my
wife. I don’t believe that either
of us could be accused of being liars but suddenly the two of you seem to be
“You can bluff all you want
but it won’t work. I have a
special license in my pocket and Kristin Westphalen and I will be married
“Then you obtained the
license under false pretences. Under
British law a woman cannot have two husbands.”
“At the moment she
doesn’t have any.” Thomas sneered.
“I am getting sick of
listening to you, Frank, and I owe you no explanations so shut up.”
Nathan turned his back on Thomas, his full attention focused on his
father-in-law. “Lord Westphalen,
I realize that the circumstances are a bit strange but I am married to
your daughter. We were married at
my home in the Caribbean almost three months ago.”
“By a local witch doctor,
no doubt.” Thomas muttered.
“That does it!” Nathan
whirled on Thomas. “You are
“And who is going to make
me? You?” Thomas scoffed.
“I’d like to see you try.”
“I have no doubt that
Nathan could do it on his own but we wouldn’t want him straining himself on
his first night with his wife in several months so I would be happy to take care
of that job for him.” Bill Noyce
stepped into the room through a hidden panel in the wall.
“I should have known you
were there, my troublesome child.” Kristin laughed as Cynthia followed Bill
“We wanted to see what was
happening but we weren’t sure that you would let us in so…” Cynthia
shrugged her shoulders as Will moved up behind her.
“How many of you were in
there?” Nathan looked around Bill to watch as Janet emerged from the door
followed by Lucas and Clarissa. Malcolm
brought up the rear.
“Hi ya, Frank,” Lansdowne
gave the angry man a little wave and a cheeky grin.
Thomas turned back to Lionel.
“Their presence here proves this hoax.
They set this entire thing up. For
some reason they are trying to destroy me.
Nathan Bridger and your daughter are not married.”
Lionel folded his arms.
“After what we walked in on upstairs if they aren’t married now they
damned well will be just as soon as it can be arranged.” He turned his head to
glare at Nathan.
“Lionel, we had this all
settled,” Thomas pleaded. “I am
still willing to marry your daughter. We
will forget this night ever happened. We
can call a minister right now then leave for the country immediately after we
speak our vows.”
“Why are you so anxious to
marry my wife?” Nathan interjected.
“He is anxious because he
needs a quick fall back plan. His
little house of cards at the embassy is about to crumble around his ears.”
Bill spoke up.
Thomas turned to snarl at
him. “You don’t know what you
are talking about.”
“As a matter of fact I do.
Relieving you of your post and arranging your escort and transport back
to Washington to face charges for embezzlement and professional misconduct is
the reason that I am in London. You’ve
been under investigation for several months, Thomas.
I think you realized that you were being watched, which is why you are so
desperate to marry money and position. You
were hoping that being the son-in-law of a duke would save you from charges.”
“We had a deal, Stonevale.
I won’t let you out of it.” Thomas
frantically made one last desperate attempt.
“If I go then your grandchild will be a bastard.”
“I am getting so damned
tired of people calling my child that. My
apologies again, Lady Westphalen.” Nathan apologized for his swearing.
“I think that under the
circumstances I can overlook your language, Nathan.
I am married to Lionel… there isn’t much that you could say that
would shock me.” Millicent beamed
at her son-in-law.
“Sit down and shut up,
Thomas. Your military escort will
be arriving momentarily. And if you
are of a mind to try anything…” Bill gestured at Will, Lucas and Malcolm,
“…I would not recommend it.”
Lucas looked absolutely
thrilled at the idea that he might get a shot at the man who had been tormenting
“So… as I was saying…
Kristin and I married about three months ago and…”
“Did we miss anything?”
Ben and Katie burst into the room, interrupting Nathan’s explanation.
“We saw the captain arrive at the party and then leave with Kristin and
the next thing we knew everyone was gone.”
Nathan rolled his eyes as he
shook the hand Ben offered and kissed Katie on the cheek. “I am trying to explain how Kristin and I came to be
married so if you don’t mind…” He gestured toward two chairs.
“That’s a story that I
would be very interested in hearing myself.”
Nathan eyed the elderly woman who appeared behind Ben and Katie with
interest, wondering who she was.
“Lavinia!” Kristin leapt
to her feet only to find Nathan immediately behind her, his hands holding her
waist to lend moral support. “What
“This young couple needed a
ride and I must admit that I was curious to see the outcome of the farce that
nasty little man orchestrated.” She gestured toward Thomas.
“You knew?” Kristin’s
surprise was evident.
Lavinia wrinkled her nose in
Thomas’ direction. “That odious
troll approached me at the Wakefield gala.
Made it clear that if I didn’t oppose his plans he would be favorable
to my taking control of Cynthia. Didn’t
trust him for a minute, although I let him think that I did.”
“How could you…?”
Kristin started but Cynthia cut her off.
“Grandmother told me
tonight what was being planned. I
went to grandfather’s study to confront him and overheard he and Thomas
talking. I know that you are upset
with grandfather, Mummy, and you have every right to be but Thomas lied to him.
He let grandfather think that you had agreed to his suite.”
Kristin’s head was spinning
as she held up her hand. “Wait…
Lavinia… warned you?” She turned to her mother-in-law.
“Why would you do that? I
would have thought that seeing me miserable would make you happy.”
Lavinia was unabashedly
ashamed as she moved closer to Kristin. “You
said something to me at that same fete, daughter, something about not ever
knowing true love. That isn’t
true. I did know how to love, once
upon a time but when it was lost, I locked my heart away so that it could never
be hurt again. Your words reminded
me of that and I realized that I wanted the same for my granddaughter... and the
same for you.”
“Lavinia… I don’t know
what to say…” Kristin was truly stunned at the old woman’s words.
“There isn’t anything
that you need to say. I’ve
wronged you greatly over the years and I only hope that you might someday find
it in your heart to forgive me.”
“How damned touching.
I’m not listening to anymore of this nonsense.”
Thomas moved determinedly toward the door.
A quick jerk of the Bill’s head had Ben moving to block his path.
Stephens appeared in the
doorway pushing a trolley laden with tea and assorted finger foods.
“I took the liberty of adding some refreshments, my lady.”
The sight of fifteen people in the small room didn’t seem to phase him
at all. “By the way, Admiral, I
believe that there is a military escort converging on the front garden at this
very moment. I am sure that the
gardener would appreciate it if you could ask them to stay away from his prize
“Ben, if you wouldn’t
mind escorting the general?” Bill asked as he made toward the door.
Thomas tried to shrug off
Ben’s hold but the younger man had too tight a grip so the general was forced
to follow Bill out into the hallway.
Lionel moved to the only
empty chair in the room and sat down hard an astounded look on his face.
“He was using me to get my daughter?
But how… we’d only met just before Krissy was taken… and she’d
never met him… why… I don’t understand.”
Millicent moved to her
husband’s side and clasped his hand. “I
am sure that initially Thomas was just what he professed to be but after Kristin
returned… when the opportunity to exploit her condition arose, he couldn’t
resist taking advantage.”
“And I almost made a
“But you didn’t, sir.”
At the sound of Nathan’s
voice some of Lionel’s fury returned. He
rose out of the chair shaking a finger at his new target.
“Just because I mistrusted once don’t you dare think that I am about
to make the same mistake again! I
want to know about this farce of a marriage and I want to know now!”
“I’d hardly call it a
farce, Daddy.” Kristin interjected, her hands resting on her belly drawing
even more attention to her circumstance. “As
Nathan tried to tell you, we were married several months ago at his home in the
“I would like a little more
back story.” Lionel answered. “Exactly
what happened after you were taken off of your ship, Kristin.
You’ve hardly told me anything.”
“That would have been
difficult to do when I wasn’t speaking to you because you weren’t listening
to me.” Kristin’s eyebrows rose
as she stared at her father defiantly. After
a few moments he relaxed just a bit and sank back into the chair.
“I am ready to listen
Kristin and Nathan shared a
glance then at a nod from his wife Nathan began.
“Kristin’s ship was
attacked and she and Katherine were taken by pirates.
The pirate ship made the mistake of attacking the ship that I was sailing
on but they hadn’t fully recovered and we were able to defeat them.
I found the ladies on board and brought them over to my ship with the
help of my mate, Ben Kreig.”
Lionel’s eyes narrowed.
“Is this true, Katie? I’ve
known you all of your life and I know that you wouldn’t lie to me.”
“It is fairly accurate. The
captain is leaving out the part about his sword fight with the head pirate.
He was very brave.”
Lionel looked skeptical.
Nathan gestured to the sofa
and helped Kristin sit then joined her. “Unfortunately
we weren’t able to deal conclusively with the ship but we managed to get away.
I had business that had to be dealt with but I agreed to bring Kristin
and Katherine back to England once my business was completed.”
“So you just sailed away
with a complete stranger? That
doesn’t sound like you, Kristin.”
“He saved me and he saved
Katie. Nathan didn’t have to do
that. I trusted him and he was a
Lionel barked at that remark.
“Perfect gentleman… then how did you end up two months more pregnant
than married? If he is the
Nathan felt his temper
rising. “Let’s get a few things
straight before we go on. I am
Kristin’s husband. I am the
father of the child that she is carrying. Yes,
we anticipated our wedding vows but there isn’t exactly a priest on every
corner in the islands. When we
arrived at my island I sent one of my men for a clergyman immediately.
We married the day after he arrived.”
“At least you did the
decent thing by marrying Kristin after you ruined her.”
Nathan felt as if he was
bashing his head against the wall and he dearly wanted to bash his fist as well.
Kristin clamped both hands over his clenched fingers.
“I didn’t ruin your daughter. We
married because we fell in love. Neither
one of us gave any consideration to the thought that there might be a child of
our love. Kristin didn’t think
that she could conceive and it wasn’t important to me.”
“You didn’t want a child
of your own?”
“I had a child of my own
and I lost him,” Nathan told Westphalen, not surprised to see a sympathetic
flash in the older man’s eyes. “Now
I have Lucas, who we both love as if he were our own, and I have Cynthia, who I
already admire tremendously. They
are more than sufficient. Our baby
is just icing on the cake.”
“If you love Kristin and
the boy so much why did you send them back to England and stay gone so long?
Didn’t you care that they were suffering?”
“More than I can say.”
Nathan and Kristin looked longingly at each other as she raised her hand to his
cheek. “But there was
something… I needed to take care of.”
Dark blue eyes questioned
deep brown ones. Kristin was the
first to break their contact.
“Cynthia, would you run
upstairs to our bedroom and look in the drawer of my vanity. There is a small wooden jewelry box there.
Bring it back to me, please?”
“Are you sure, love?”
Nathan whispered. “You don’t
“It’s all right.
They deserve to know.”
“What the hell are you two
muttering about? I won’t have any
collaboration of stories.”
“Shut up, Father!”
Kristin’s shout stunned everyone. “Stop
making the snide comments and be quiet until you hear the rest of what we have
Cynthia reentered the room
before Lionel could respond. She
quietly handed her mother the plain box then resumed her seat.
Kristin nervously fingered the lid a moment before continuing.
“The pirate was named
Zellar.” She shuddered, her eyes
clenched tightly as she struggled to clamp down on a wave of nausea.
“I thought that the Blue
Rogue took you. Peterson said he
saw the blue sails.” Lionel’s comment was barely a whisper.
“A ruse to throw us off as
to his true identity.” Kristin snapped. Lionel
didn’t say anything more.
“When I regained
consciousness I was in his cabin. He
was there and he was intent on… misusing me.
I was able to hold him off, and when he left for a time I searched his
cabin. I found some things…”
Trembling fingers slowly
pulled the box lid open and reached inside.
Nathan reached out to hold the box as Kristin drew the contents out.
“In one of the desk drawers I found something that I recognized… and
I think that you will too. Lucas…”
The boy stood up from his
perch at Clarissa’s feet and moved to his mother’s side. He took the object she had in her hand and at her nod, moved
to Lionel and laid it in his then returned to his place.
Lionel opened his fingers
slowly and stared at the ring, carefully turning it over and over.
“Oh God!” He breathed. Tears
came to Millicent’s eyes as she recognized the piece as well.
I’d know it anywhere… how… this pirate… He’s the one who killed
Kristin held up her other
hand to reveal the gold watch dangling from its chain.
“Zellar killed James and Oliver. The
ship… the ship was Oliver’s ship. He’d
taken it and kept it, just as he kept these things… as some sort of
“That bastard!” Lionel
swore. “I’ll contact the
Admiralty tomorrow. We’ll hunt
the brigand down no matter what it takes…” He trailed off at the shake of
“Zellar came back and tried
again to seduce me, then force me. During
the course of his advances he revealed an obsession with me… an obsession with
the image of me on the portrait inside the watch.
He’d spent fifteen years spinning fantasies…” Kristin turned and
buried her face in Nathan’s shoulder, unable to continue.
No one in the room, not even
Lionel, could doubt the love between the couple as Nathan gently rubbed
Kristin’s back and crooned soothing words to her.
She responded to the sound of his voice and the feel of his touch, the
shaking of her shoulders finally slowing as she clung to him.
Once she had regained control
Kristin lifted her head and looked up at Nathan.
“Why don’t I finish… if
you are okay?”
Kristin smiled weakly at him
and settled her head back into the crook of his neck although this time she
didn’t hide her face. Nathan kept
his arms wrapped loosely around her as he continued the narrative.
“Zellar wasn’t able to
take Kristin against her will. She
fought him and when she couldn’t fight anymore she emptied the contents of her
stomach on him.”
“That’s my girl.” An
appreciative gleam twinkled in Lionel’s eye.
“She was very brave,”
Nathan agreed. “We were able to
escape and get back to my ship but we couldn’t hold the pirate vessel.
That is when I decided to take the ladies with me.
After everything that they had been through they needed to take some time
to rest. Kristin sent a note to Cynthia to let her know what had
happened but I guess that it didn’t arrive.”
Kristin noticed the sheepish,
almost embarrassed look that flitted across Lavinia’s features but didn’t
“I was attracted to Kristin
the first moment that I saw her and on the voyage we spent a great deal of time
together. I watched her help Lucas
learn to read, the tender care that she took with him when he became ill and the
way she cared for me during the same illness a week later.
I hadn’t thought about becoming involved with another woman since my
wife died but I couldn’t help myself. I
fell in love with Kristin and to my great amazement, she fell in love with me
“I can see that,” Lionel
was amazed at the depth of feeling between his daughter and this stranger.
“But why did you leave her?”
“Sending Kristin and Lucas
to England without me was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done in my
life but it was necessary. I had
men posted in the busiest ports… I had a feeling and I was right. Zellar was looking for Kristin.
He wasn’t able to let go of his fantasy. I hoped that if we stayed to ourselves for a while he would
give up but then one of his men actually came to my island looking for her.
I knew then that she wouldn’t be safe as long as he lived.”
Lionel’s eyes grew wide as
Nathan’s words sunk in. “You
went after him?”
“I had no other choice.
He was a threat to my wife. I
couldn’t let her be hurt. So I
sent Kristin and Lucas back to you along with Katie and Ben.
I made my plans and I went after Zellar.”
“Did you get him?”
“I wouldn’t be here if I
hadn’t. I came as quickly as I
could once Zellar had been dealt with.”
“You murdered him.”
“Let me fill in a few
blanks for you, Lord Stonevale.” Everyone
had been so engrossed in the story that they hadn’t realized when Bill and Ben
returned. Now Bill spoke up to
defend his friend. “Nathan
tracked Zellar, disarmed his band of cutthroats and challenged the pirate to a
fair fight. Nathan even ordered his men to release Zellar if he killed
Nathan, to let him go… but only if he never bothered Kristin.
“Zellar used every
underhanded trick that he could think of to disconcert Nathan but he didn’t
succeed. Nathan drew first blood
then Zellar got a very solid hit in. He
got too cocky and Nathan had him pinned within minutes… but Nathan didn’t
“So my son’s murderer
Reuben Zellar was duly tried by a military tribunal consisting of
American and British naval officers. He
was convicted of piracy on the high seas and hung. Both of your son’s murders have been avenged.”
Bill told the Westphalens and Lavinia.
Cynthia stood and moved to her grandmother’s side, hugging the old
woman tightly as she wept copious tears at this news.
“Oh my son!” Lionel
clenched the ring tightly in his fist as he slid out of his chair to his knees.
His body instinctively turned toward his wife’s and he buried his head
in Millicent’s lap. She bent low over her husband, wrapping her arms around his
torso as both of them sobbed.
The room fell silent as the
long moment of mourning continued, all of the couples moving together to take
comfort in each other’s presence. Finally
Lionel lifted his head and with tear-filled eyes, quietly spoke.
“I owe you a debt of
Bill shook his head.
“You owe Nathan Bridger, sir. If
he hadn’t tracked Zellar down then we would never have known where to find
Lionel looked toward Nathan
and stared a moment then cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Captain Bridger, I…”
“OH!” Nathan interrupted
him. “There is one more
thing…” His hands reached to his breast and he realized that he only had on
a shirt. “My coat… I need to
find my coat.”
“Your coat, sir.”
Stephens appeared at the door to the parlour with Nathan’s formal
jacket, freshly pressed. “Everything
is in order.”
“How does he do that?”
Nathan asked Kristin once the butler had departed.
He dug in the inner pocket of the garment and emerged with a sheaf of
papers, which he then held out to Stonevale.
“When I arrived and learned of the controversy over our marriage I
thought that I had better have everything in hand when I presented myself.
Here is our marriage license and the documentation where I registered the
Lionel quickly thumbed
through the papers, his brow furrowing in disbelief at each turn. “This is signed… by the Archbishop of Canterbury
Nathan looked at Malcolm.
“I have a friend who knows some important people.”
“His grace owed me a favor.
He’s a lousy poker player.” Malcolm
Realizing that he was hardly
authoritative while kneeling on the floor, Lionel struggled to his feet.
“So it is true. You did marry my daughter.” He continued to rifle through
the papers as if searching for any flaw at all.
“Everything is legal, sir.
Every I dotted, every T crossed. As
luck would have it, the Archbishop was actually a friend of our Reverend Law’s
father when they were both young vicars. Archbishop
Sutton was pleased to see evidence of the young man’s work in the islands.”
“And you’ve obviously
consummated the match…”
Kristin’s hand flew to her
mouth as she tried to stifle the rising giggle.
Nathan’s hand splayed over
her belly. “Obviously…” he
“Well… at least I don’t
have to force you to marry her.” Lionel
observed then turned to Kristin. “This
marriage is what you want? You
would be willing to leave England, leave your family, give up everything that
you have to live on a deserted island with this man?”
There was no hesitation in
Kristin’s answer. “This very
moment if he asked me to. I love
you and mummy. You know that. But I am Nathan’s wife.
My place is beside him no matter where that might be.
I want this marriage.”
Lionel thought on her answer
a moment then addressed Nathan. “Are
you going to take our daughter away from us?
Away from her daughter?”
Nathan could see that beneath
his gruff exterior the old man was fearful of his answer. “Taking Kristin away is not my intent but I must be honest
and say that my business interests will require that we spend at least part of
the year in America, either at my family home in Boston or on my island.
We both hope that Cynthia will chose to travel with us, at least some of
the time. You and your lady are
also welcome to visit at any time. And
when my business allows it we will come back to England.”
“Will you promise me that
you will spend at least six months out of every year here?”
I can’t make that promise because we might not be able to keep it.
However, I can promise that we will do our utmost best to spend at least
two or three months a year here.”
Lionel frowned although
within he grudgingly admired the honesty of this strange man… his new
“She has a fierce
“Yes, sir. I’ve been on the receiving end of that temper quite a few
times over the last six months.”
“This is an all or nothing
deal. If you get tired of her or
fed up with her you can’t give her back.”
“I would never even dream
of that.” Nathan recognized that
Lionel’s resistance was cracking slightly.
“But if you ever hurt her
by God, I will make sure that you rue the day.”
“I didn’t track a crazed
pirate across the islands to protect her just to return home and hurt her
myself. I will always keep her
Finally Lionel gave a short
nod. “I will arrange to have an
announcement posted in the Times tomorrow.
I expect a detailed biography of you on my desk no later than seven in
Nathan glanced at Kristin, a
panicked look on his face.
“I think the Times
announcement can wait another day, Father.
Nathan is going to be too busy this evening to write his life story, even
in condensed form.”
Lionel looked as if he would
like to protest but Millicent gently called him down.
“Dear, the children have been apart for several months.
Leave them be. After all, everyone at our party saw their public reunion so
I suspect that the news is all over London by now.”
“Everyone except us…”
“Yes… what were you and
grandmother doing in the garden for so long, Grandfather?” Cynthia asked.
“We were having a
discussion, girl, so wipe that smirk off of your face.”
Millicent grabbed Lionel’s
hand and tugged him toward her. “Your
grandfather was very concerned that he may have made a mistake in his judgment
of Frank Thomas and his lack of judgment with your mother.
He needed to talk his confusion out so I listened.
We were coming in to find Thomas and tell him that no announcement would
Kristin smiled at her
mother’s words. “So you finally
came to your senses and decided to trust your daughter.”
Lionel looked at Kristin
sheepishly. “Can you ever forgive
me, my dear? I am afraid that I let
my fears overrule my common sense. But
I only acted out of concern for you…”
“I realize that now.
Nathan is home and you accept the truth so we should both work to put the
past few months dissention behind us.”
Nathan graciously stepped to
the side as Lionel moved up to Kristin; father and daughter embraced.
When they broke apart Lionel took Kristin’s hand and held it gently for
a moment then placed it in Nathan’s.
“For better or worse…”
“Nathan and Kristin had a
lovely wedding.” Janet told Millicent. “She
wore the same gown that she wore tonight and she was beautiful.”
Kristin laughed as she and
Nathan settled back down on the sofa. “I
don’t guess I looked too bad considering I’d spent the previous evening
hanging off the face of a cliff in a thunderstorm.”
“What?!” Lionel and
Millicent echoed together.
“It was an accident.
I didn’t know the ground was unstable and there had been a lot of rain.
I just happened to be standing on the edge when it sheared away.
Nathan found me and climbed down to hold on to me until help arrived.”
“I already knew that I
wanted to marry Kristin but after seeing her in danger I didn’t want to wait
one minute longer. Crocker, my
first mate, had arrived with the vicar the day before so we got married.”
“Would you like to see,
Lady Westphalen? I mean…” Will
stammered a bit over his words. “I
brought something over several days ago. Cynthia
has been keeping it in her room until the right time to present it and…
it’s meant to be a wedding present for Uncle Nathan and Aunt
“I’d love to see your
gift, William.” Millicent answered graciously.
“I’ll just go and get
it…” The door swung open before William could finish his sentence. Stephens stepped into the room with a large frame in his
hand, covered by a linen cloth.
“Your gift, Master
William.” The butler popped a
wooden easel from beneath one arm and snapped it open in front of the
semi-circle of people then place the portrait on it and left.
Nathan turned to Kristin.
“Now I am getting scared.”
Kristin simply shrugged.
“Stephens is the best butler I’ve ever employed.”
William moved to the
painting, his hands fluttering nervously. “I
hope you like it. Maybe I
shouldn’t have presumed but I thought that you might like something… and
since I was an eye witness.”
“Will,” Kristin said
softly. “You are very talented
and I know that we will love your gift no matter what it portrays.”
“It’s your wedding
day.” Will threw back the cloth
covering to reveal his work.
Everyone in the room gasped
as they stared at the work of art. Nathan
and Kristin were the focal point of the picture, their arms embracing as they
gazed at each other, their bodies shown from the waist up in their wedding
finery. Around the central couple
were face and shoulder portraits of many of the guests. The brush strokes and muted colors of these only served to
enhance the striking couple in the center.
The color blue in every hue dominated the canvas.
“Oh, Will… it’s so
beautiful… it’s brilliant!” Kristin breathed.
“I knew from the sketch that you were talented but this…” As words
escaped her, Kristin stood and moved to embrace the blushing artist. “Thank you so much for such a wonderful reminder…”
“I don’t know much about
art but this looks pretty damned good to me.” Nathan said gruffly, trying to
hide the emotion in his voice as he pumped Will’s hand and beat on his
At the couple’s words all
of the other people in the room gathered round to admire and comment on the
portrait. It was only as Lavinia
was touching the doorknob that Kristin noticed her silent departure. She quickly detached herself from the group and moved toward
“Where are you going,
Lavinia?” She asked gently.
Startled, Lavinia dropped her
hand. “I think it is time for me
to leave. This is your time to
celebrate… with your family.”
“You are part of my family,
Lavinia. You always will be.
My marriage to Nathan doesn’t negate the fact that I was married to
your son… that I loved your son… or that you are my daughter’s
grandmother. I know that we
haven’t always gotten along very well but perhaps we could change that?”
Lavinia offered a trembling
smile. “I would like that.
But your new husband… He seems like a very decent man.
He went through hell to protect you and I will always be grateful to him
for avenging my son’s death. I
wouldn’t want to make him feel uncomfortable.”
“You don’t make me feel
uncomfortable at all, Lady Carruthers.” Nathan
moved up to join the two ladies. “Please
don’t rush away.”
“Well… if you are
sure…” Lavinia slowly fell victim to Nathan’s blue eyes.
As Nathan escorted Lavinia
back to a chair Kristin became aware of the chain still clutched in her fist.
She glanced down at the dangling watch and made a decision.
began as soon as she reached her mother-in-law’s side, “I would like for you
to have this…” She held out Oliver’s watch to his mother.
The metal was cold in
Lavinia’s hands as she carefully wrapped them around the timepiece and held it
close for a moment. Her fingers
shook as they fingered the clasp and the cover swung open.
“I remember when Oliver had
this painted.” Her eyes misted over as her mind traveled back in time.
“He was so proud of both of his girls.”
“Perhaps you could have a
copy of Oliver’s portrait done in miniature to fit in the cover along with
Cynthia’s. Will could do it for
you.” Kristin suggested.
Lavinia slowly closed the
watch then shook her head. “I
have a better idea. With your
permission, Kristin…” She tapped her cane on the floor to draw Cynthia’s
attention then beckoned her over.
“Tell me child… What we
talked about earlier… Are you sure? No
doubt at all?”
Nathan and Kristin were
puzzled but Cynthia apparently understood because she nodded. “Absolutely no doubt at all.”
“Call your young man over.”
“Will!” Cynthia motioned
to him while Nathan looked quizzically at Kristin.
‘Your young man’ he mouthed, eyebrows raised.
“Ssh!” Kristin hushed him
as Will kindly knelt in front of Lavinia so she wouldn’t have to stretch her
neck to look up at him.
“Lady Carruthers, what may
I do for you?”
“So…” Lavinia began to
speak with an imperious air, only William being able to see the twinkle in her
eye. “You want to marry my
“Yes, your grace.
I want very much to marry Cynthia.”
Will heard the gasp from his father and the duke behind him but resisted
the urge to chuckle.
“And what makes you think
that I would ever give you permission, an American… a would be painter with no
visible means of supporting my girl? You
must be crazy.”
“You can say that again.”
Lionel snarled behind them.
Lavinia glared at Westphalen
until he was quiet then returned her attention to the young man at her feet.
“What do you have to say
for yourself, William Noyce?”
“I am crazy… crazy in
love with Cynthia. I want to marry
her and spend the rest of our lives doing my best to make her happy.
I know that I don’t have much to offer in the way of material
possessions, certainly not what she is used to having, but I will get a job and
work to provide for her.”
“And her money?
Her lands? Her title?”
“Are exactly that… hers.
I will sign away any rights to them.
I want Cynthia, not her wealth.”
“And if I tell you that you
will not marry my granddaughter, what then?”
“Lavinia! That isn’t your place to say…” Kristin spoke up;
confused at the continual reversal of personality her mother-in-law was
exhibiting. The dowager countess
turned and glowered at her.
“I wasn’t speaking to
you, Kristin. Answer my question,
“If you and the duke
don’t give your blessing… Cynthia and I will marry anyway.
We don’t wish to hurt you in any way but we are in love and we don’t
intend to let your disapproval ruin the rest of our lives.
We will just have to hope and pray that someday you come to see how much
we love each other.”
“I can see that,
William.” The steely edge left Lavinia’s voice.
“I wish that I had had your courage… but that was another time.” She held out her hand to Will.
He reached out to her and felt the press of cold metal in his palm as she
laid her hand over his. “I want
you to have this. Perhaps someday
you will have a daughter as beautiful as the little girl on the portrait inside.
Welcome to the family.”
“Thank you, milady.”
Will stood and embraced Lavinia; Cynthia quickly joined in.
“Call me grandmother.”
She commanded as the young couple straightened; their arms still around each
“What the hell is going on
around here!?!? Have you all gone
mad!?!” Lionel exploded.
“Will someone please tell
me what is going on?” Bill implored simultaneously as chaos erupted in the
Nathan was amused at the
entire scene, watching intently as Ben and Katie moved in to congratulate the
couple, Lucas and Clarissa close behind. Lionel
continued to bluster and Nathan zeroed in to listen as Millicent grabbed her
husband’s arm and dragged him into the corner.
“Lionel! Get a hold of yourself this instant!”
“But Mils! He isn’t good enough for Cynni!”
“After everything that has
happened I think that you should keep quiet and trust the children.” Millicent told Lionel softly but firmly.
“But…” Nathan could
tell that it wasn’t in his new father-in-law’s nature to back down easily.
“Do you want to alienate
your daughter after you’ve just begun to repair the damage you’ve done to
your relationship? Do you want to
lose Cynthia as well? And what
about the new baby? And that fine
young man who I am sure would enjoy going hiking and fishing with you. We could lose them all, Lionel.
I don’t want to lose my family.” Millicent begged softly.
“But… He…” Lionel
gave one last protest.
“Cynthia loves Will.
Kristin loves Nathan. Please…”
Under Nathan’s watchful eye Lionel nodded gently and pulled his wife into his
Nathan nudged Kristin and inclined his head toward her parents.
“Mmhmm… That is tame
compared to what I caught them doing right after I returned.”
“Your parents?” He murmured in disbelief.
“At their age?”
Did you think that there was an age limit?”
“Well not for us but…”
“Come, love. I think someone is waiting…”
She wrapped her arm around
his waist and drew him toward Will and Cynthia, who were waiting nervously.
When they reached the couple Nathan held out a hand to Cynthia who took
it gladly then moved into his embrace.
“Thank you for saving
mother.” She whispered.
Nathan pulled back with a
grin on his face. “Trust me,
Cynthia. Thomas was the one in that
twosome that was in any danger and it wasn’t from me.
Your mother can be very formidable, you know.”
“I have noticed.” Cynthia
“But I am glad that I
arrived tonight… that I was here for your announcement.”
“We wouldn’t have made
the announcement until you arrived. Will
and I wouldn’t have met if you hadn’t attack…” Cynthia stopped abruptly
and glanced around to see if anyone was listening.
“If you hadn’t saved mother…”
Nathan glanced at Kristin,
his eyes asking for confirmation that Cynthia knew the truth. Kristin nodded slightly, her own brown orbs reassuring Nathan
that his secret was safe with her daughter.
“So you met Will when Janet
came to find Kristin?” He noted
the way that Cynthia and Will looked at each other.
“Actually we met just
outside a bookshop one afternoon then ran into each other again in the park.
We enjoyed each other’s company so we started meeting there in the
afternoons. I didn’t even realize
that Cynthia Carruthers was Aunt Kristin’s daughter until after we’d
admitted our feelings for each other. I
hadn’t been to visit Aunt Kristin and Lucas…”
“Cynthia and his art were
occupying all of his time.” Kristin
stepped in when Will faltered briefly. She’d
known why the boy was staying away and didn’t want him embarrassed for his
brief infatuation even though Nathan had been aware of it as well.
“Then it doesn’t sound
like I had anything to do with the two of you falling in love. You were fated to meet… just as Kristin was destined to be
on that boat.”
“So, Uncle Nathan, is it
agreeable to you that I marry your stepdaughter?”
“I already have to put up
with you as a godson and now I’m going to have to put up with you as a
son-in-law as well? I think that is
too much to ask.”
Will laughed and embraced his
uncle. “Thank you, Uncle
“Cynthia is the only one
who has to be agreeable for the marriage to take place.
I can’t believe I’ve barely met my new daughter and she’s getting
ready to leave the fold. I… I’m sorry, Cynthia,” Nathan realized what he
had said. “I don’t mean to
Cynthia hugged Nathan again.
“Just because I am going to be married doesn’t mean that I don’t
intend to get to know my new father as well.
You must be a fantastic man, Nathan Bridger, because my mother loves you
so deeply. That is how I know that
I will love you too.”
“Be careful, Cynthia.
Nathan’s head is already big enough without you adding to it.
Now, is someone going to formally introduce me to my daughter-in-law to
be?” Bill beamed at the pretty
girl at his son’s side.
“Sweetheart, I’m sure
that you’ve already figured out that this is my father.” Will paused as
Cynthia launched herself into Bill’s arms.
“Thank you so much for
everything you’ve done for mummy and Nathan.
I am so proud to be gaining such wonderful parents by marrying Will.”
Bill was initially startled
by Cynthia’s hug but he quickly returned it.
“Your mother spoke of you so often that I feel as if I already know
you. I can see that you make my son
very happy. Welcome to our family,
“I think there are too many
people for a group hug.” Janet observed.
“And some of you might enjoy it too much.” She eyed Lucas and
The rattle of the trolley
wheels pulled their attention to the door and to Stephens, who was standing
there with a cart of glasses and several bottles of wine.
“This is getting
strange.” Nathan hissed into Kristin’s ear.
“Thank you, Stephens.
Would you pour, please?”
“Does this mean that we get
to try champagne?” Lucas asked, including Clarissa in his question.
Nathan held up his hands.
“That is up to your mothers.”
Kristin looked at Janet.
“Perhaps a little taste wouldn’t be remiss.
It is a very special occasion after all.”
Janet nodded her agreement
and Kristin turned to tell Stephens, only to find him already offering a tray to
the children, each flute only half filled with the bubbly wine.
“You are a very good
butler, Stephens.” Nathan observed as he took a glass from the tray.
“Thank you, sir,” was
Stephen’s reply as he continued to move around the room.
“Someone should toast the
happy couple. Shall we wrestle for
the honour, Bill?” Nathan
“I think that as
Cynthia’s grandfather the first toast should be mine.”
No one had noticed Lionel and Millicent move into the group.
voice carried a warning tone.
“I am still head of this
Nathan wanted to ask Kristin
why the tips of her ears were turning red but he couldn’t because Lionel began
to speak again.
“I’ve loved you from the
instant you were born, Cynthia. Your
grandmother and I have watched you grow, shared your joys and shared your
sorrows and all we have ever wanted for you is happiness.
I must admit that the rapidness of your engagement has taken us both by
surprise but…” Lionel paused and swallowed hard, “the depth of your
commitment is obvious.
In a different but no less
meaningful way, your feelings for my daughter are equally as obvious, Nathan
Bridger. Kristin has chosen a brave
man to be her husband. I am a
cantankerous old goat, I freely admit that, but I love all of the women of my
family to distraction. Perhaps
I’ve been the only male in the family for so long that I don’t know how to
react to Nathan and Will’s intrusion into my territory… but if you will be
patient with me I will do my very best to learn.
I lift my glass to you, Nathan and Kristin, and to you, William and
Cynthia, to both of our happy couples.”
The room was filled with the
sound of clinking glasses and everyone drank then the low hum of chatter resumed
once more. Nathan maneuvered
Kristin away from the others then bent close to her ear.
“Have we discussed everything? All
the deep dark secrets revealed?”
“I think so.” Kristin
looked puzzled. “Nothing else
springs to mind. Why?”
“Because if everything is
said and done I want all of these people to leave so that we can go back to
Kristin almost choked on her
champagne. Nathan quickly grabbed
the glass and patted her back as she coughed.
Finally she regained her breath and looked back at him with a twinkle in
“You are insatiable!”
“I’ve missed my wife and
I suspect that my wife has missed me as well.” He shifted his body to block
the view of the others in the room as his hand trailed down the vee of her robe.
Kristin’s breath caught in
her throat. “I’ll send them
“We don’t want to be
impolite.” His hand drifted across the swell of her breast.
“I don’t give a damn.”
“My goodness, will you look
at the time?” Janet had been watching the couple from the corner of her eye
and had a very good idea of the topic of their quiet discussion. “I know that it has been an exciting evening but I think
that it is time for us to go home.”
Millicent quickly picked up
Janet’s thread. “Janet is
right, Stonevale. We have a house
full of guests that we abandoned hours ago.
We should get back.”
“To hell with the guests.
All a bunch of nosy gossips, anyway.” Lionel waved his hand
“But think, my lord
husband. Everyone will be dying to
find out about your new son-in-law. Who
he is, what he does…?”
Lionel turned to Nathan with
a furrowed brow. “What the hell
do you do?”
“Shipping and shipbuilding.
The Bridger yard out of Boston. Some
farming on the side as well.”
Lionel’s weathered face
suddenly broke into a wide smile. “Bridger
shipping? Hell, son, that’s a
damned fine company. Build a
quality product, almost as good as Kristin’s yard.”
He turned to his wife. “Lets
go, Mils. We can come back tomorrow
“Children, go upstairs and
gather your things.” Janet told
Cynthia and Lucas. She turned back
to Kristin as the children left the room. “We
are taking them home with us. I am
sure that the two of you would like a little privacy tonight.”
“But, Janet…” Kristin
moved in closer to her friend and lowered her voice.
“You and Bill…?”
“Will manage. We are used to having to be creative with children in the
house. Enjoy your evening and we
will bring them back tomorrow.”
leaned in and whispered.
“Bill, go call the
carriage, dear. I have an idea.
Why don’t we all meet at our house tomorrow evening for a quiet family
“Go with him, Stonevale.
The children wish to be alone. And
see to Lavinia’s carriage as well.” Millicent ordered her husband then moved
nearer to Kristin and Nathan. “I
am so very happy that things have turned out this way.” She told them as she
grasped and held each of their hands. “The
love that you have for each other is very obvious.
“Thank you, Lady
“Call me Millicent.” She
lifted her lips and brushed a kiss across Nathan’s cheek.
“We are family now,” Millicent turned to Kristin as she continued,
“family who have overstayed their welcome.”
She pulled her daughter into an embrace and whispered,
“Judging from what I saw earlier I understand now why you enjoy your
new husband so much. You are a
lucky woman, daughter.”
Kristin pulled back, not
completely sure that she had heard her mother correctly, but the twinkle in
Millicent’s eye told her that she had.
Cynthia and Lucas returned
quickly, each with a small bag in their hands.
After a quick round of good-bye hugs Janet shooed them all into the
carriage. “We will expect you
around five. Have a good night.”
She gave Kristin a wink as Stephens closed the door behind her.
“We will go now as well.
Good night, sir. Good night, Kristin.” Ben and Katie, the last two guests
quickly made their excuses.
“But… don’t you stay
here?” Nathan asked.
“We are staying in the head
groom’s quarters above the carriage house so all we have to do is walk through
the garden. Good night.”
The couple departed hand in hand.
“I offered them rooms in
the house but I think that they prefer the privacy that the carriage house
offers them.” Kristin observed.
Nathan nodded in complete
“At least we are alone
now.” Kristin murmured as she slipped an arm around Nathan’s waist.
“Almost,” Nathan answered
then lifted his head to look over Kristin’s shoulder.
“Stephens, Mrs. Bridger and I are going to retire now.
If anyone, friend or foe, should try to enter these premises at any time
before three tomorrow afternoon…”
“The plank, sir.”
Stephens answered properly as he disappeared down the hallway deftly pushing
both trolleys before him.
Nathan could only stare.
“I don’t see how.
We don’t really even discuss the subject and we’ve been very
“I don’t know. Stephens is just extremely good at his job.
Now forget about the butler. Your
wife and your child are ready to go to bed.”
“Tired?” Nathan asked
“Not in the least.”
Kristin answered, her voice thick with desire.
“Good…” Nathan grinned
and tightened his grip on her waist as he led her up the stairs then down the
hall to her bedchamber. “After
you, my lady,” Nathan bowed and gestured for Kristin to precede him into her
“Thank you, my rogue…”
Kristin replied in a low voice and trailed her hand over his chest as she glided
past him into the room.
~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~