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

 

Nathan grinned as he watched her move into the bedchamber, her dressing gown billowing around her legs.  He slowly moved into the room then shut and locked the door behind him.

 

Kristin turned at the sound of the lock sliding into place and arched an eyebrow at him.

 

“I’m not taking any chances on our being interrupted…”

 

Kristin giggled then felt a rush of heat suffuse her entire being as she watched Nathan move his eyes up and down her body.  “Are you planning on standing there and staring at me all night… or are you going come over here and make love to me?”

 

“Oh… I am going to make love to you all right,” Nathan told her in husky voice.  “Make no mistake about that.”  He pushed himself off the door and slowly walked towards her.  “Do you remember that night on the seaQuest… after our stop in Port San Luis?”

 

“Oh yes…”

 

“I am going to love you as thoroughly as I did that night…” Nathan said as he stopped within arms reach of her then lifted his hands to the sash on her dressing gown and slowed pulled it loose.  “I am going to,” his fingers moved up to the fasteners and began to undo them,  “make sure that you are…”

 

Kristin lowered her eyes to watch as the bottom stay on her dressing gown came apart.

 

“Completely…” the second fastener came undone.

 

Kristin could feel the heat of Nathan’s fingers through the thin layers of her clothing as he moved onto the next stay.

 

“Totally…” the third fastener released.

 

Kristin found herself holding her breath as Nathan paused in his chore to look up and meet her eyes.  She shuddered with anticipation at the intense desire and love she saw swimming in his cobalt depths.

 

“And utterly satisfied by the time you close your eyes to sleep…” the fourth and final stay fell free.

 

“…Nathan…” Kristin breathed his name with longing as he slipped his hands inside the dressing gown and cupped her breasts through her chemise, his thumbs playing over the hardening peaks.

 

“Then… I am going to hold you close and tight throughout the night until we wake in the morning…” a slow smile spread across his lips.  “And then I am going to do it all again.”

 

“Mmm… I certainly am not going to stop you…” Kristin murmured as she leaned into his caressing hands.  “In fact…” she lifted her hands to his shirt and began to release the buttons.  “I am going to make you the same promise.”

 

Nathan grinned.  “I love you, Mrs. Bridger.”

 

“And I love you, Mr. Bridger.”  She replied as one by one the buttons slipped out of their holes.  Kristin slid her hands under the silk shirt and ran her fingers through the soft curly hair on his chest.

 

Nathan moaned as she found and teased his nipples before moving her hands up to his shoulders.  She pushed his shirt down his arms and he reluctantly removed his hands from her breasts to let the shirt fall down his arms to pool at his feet.

 

“My turn…” he whispered and grasped the edges of her dressing gown, slowly pulled it open and down her arms.  It fell in a whisper to join his shirt on the floor.  “And this too,” Nathan smiled as he reached for the ties of her chemise and tugged.  Within seconds it too was on the floor in a puddle around her feet, leaving her, for the second time that night, with the exception of her jewelry, gloriously naked before him.  “Much better,” Nathan murmured.  “Much much better…”

 

Kristin inhaled sharply as Nathan once again cupped her breasts in his large hands, kneading the full mounds tenderly while he circled her nipples with his thumbs.  “Nath…” she swallowed as he gently pinched the distended tips and reached out to clutch his waist as a shockwave of pleasure vibrated through her body,  “…an…”

 

Nathan smiled and leaned in to brush a soft kiss against her lips but stopped before he made contact.  “Hold that thought…” he whispered then stepped away from her.

 

“Nathan?”  Kristin asked, confusion evident in her voice and on her face as she watched him move across the room and duck into her dressing room.  Seconds later he came back out carrying a small chair.  “What are you…?”

 

“Still not taking any chances…” Nathan said as he quickly moved over to the door and jammed the back of the chair under the doorknob,  “on us being interrupted again.”

 

“Nathan… except for Stephens and Elsie, we’re the only ones in the house… everyone else has the night off,” Kristin told him with an amused smile as he slowly made his way back towards her.  “And both Stephens and Elsie are way in the back of the house… and on the first floor…”

 

“Which is a damn good thing…” Nathan replied as he stopped before her.  “Otherwise, they would be sure to get quite an earful…”

 

Kristin blushed, the red hue spreading down from her face and over her breasts.

 

“It has been a while since I’ve seen you blush so fiercely, my wife…” Nathan grinned at her and reached out to trace a line over her collarbone and down between her breasts then back up to cup one of the full swells.  “I love that I am still able to make you do so.”

 

“Something tells me… that you will always be able to have that effect on me, my love,” Kristin replied with a smile as she pushed him down onto the seat of her vanity and slipped to her knees before him.  “One day though…” she grasped his left leg, and urged him to lift it then began to tug on his boot.  “I am going to surprise you, and make you blush.”

 

Nathan laughed.  “I look forward to that day.”

 

Kristin chuckled as she pulled off his boot and tossed it aside then moved to do the same with the other.  As Nathan wriggled his toes, Kristin slowly trailed her hands up his legs, caressing the sinewy muscles beneath the cotton.  She stopped when she came to the noticeable bulge then glanced up at him as she reached out to lightly outline his length with her finger.

 

Nathan moaned softly and watched as with a gleam in her eyes, Kristin returned her attention to removing his pants.  She quickly released the placard then paused with her fingers on the top button.

 

“I still find it hard to believe that I am here… like this,” she released the first button then glanced down at her naked body and the obvious swell of the child within.  “Pregnant with a pirate’s child,” Kristin looked back up and grinned at the amused smiled on Nathan’s lips then proceeded to undo the next two buttons,  “in the process of undressing said pirate…”

 

The last button slipped out of its hole and Kristin grasped the opening of his trousers then tugged them down over his hips to puddle at his feet.

 

“And thoroughly enjoying every moment of it,” she finished in a husky voice then licked her lips as his erection sprang free, the hard muscle pointing straight at her.  Kristin reached up, circled her fingers around his member and began to lightly stroke him.

 

Nathan groaned as a fissure of pleasure shot up through his body then he reached down to cup her cheek.  “And I am very glad you enjoy it…that you enjoy our loving.”

 

“Oh… I do,” she looked up at him.  “Thank you for showing me just how wonderful this could be.”

 

His thumb stroked over her bottom lip.  “You’re very welcome, my… ooh… oh god…”

 

Kristin smiled around him as she took the head of his shaft into her mouth and swirled her tongue around the sensitive tip.  Her hand slowly moved up and down his length, once again marveling at the silky-steel feel of him in her palm.

 

“Kris…” Nathan groaned as she continued to move him in and out of the hot cavern of her mouth.  His hand slid from her cheek to entangle in her hair.  He tugged on the fiery auburn mass and fought the urge to thrust against her lips.  “Kris…”

 

Kristin looked up at him, the hunger in his eyes sending a surge of moisture to her core.  With one final pull on his length, she allowed him to fall free of her mouth and with his assistance she stood before him; her body pressed tightly to his.

 

“I love you…” Nathan whispered against her lips before he took her mouth in a passionate kiss, his tongue pressing for immediate entrance.

 

A low moan sounded at the back of Kristin’s throat as she parted her lips and sucked Nathan’s tongue into her mouth to tangle with hers.  Her hands slid up his chest, over his shoulders then into his hair as the kiss continued and it was several moments before Kristin realized that Nathan had been slowly walking them back towards the bed.

 

Nathan’s hands moved to her waist and he lifted her off the floor, careful to keep their mouths together as he set her on the edge of the bed.  He felt her hands tighten in his hair as she slowly lay back on the mattress, pulling him with her so that his body was covering hers.

 

He rolled them onto their sides and entangled his legs with hers as, still kissing, their hands began to caress and explore each other’s bodies; relearning all that aroused and delighted their partner.

 

Kristin pulled her lips from her husband’s and slowly began to trail them along his jaw and down his throat, pausing for several minutes to nibble at a particularly sensitive spot on his neck.

 

“Kris…” Nathan moaned as she continued on her journey, her lips nipping their way across his shoulder then down to cover his nipple.  His hands tightened on her waist as she grazed her teeth over the tender point then slipped down to subject the other nipple to the same sweet torture. 

 

Kristin murmured his name as Nathan pulled back slightly and pushed her onto her back then loomed up over her.  She moaned as he reached out to trace the edges of the sapphire necklace where it rested just above the swell of her breasts.

 

“I love the way the sapphires look against your skin,” Nathan told her in a soft voice.  “But their beauty pales in comparison to the wearer,” he finished as his fingers slipped down to circle her breasts.

 

“Nathan…” Kristin gasped as his fingers finally made contact with her already hard nipples, alternately teasing each one until she arched into his touch, silently begging him to do more… to increase the pleasure.

 

Nathan smiled down at her then swooped down to take the nearest nipple into his mouth.

 

“Oh yes…” she moaned happily and brought her hand up to clench in his hair.  He suckled for long moments at her breast then kissed his way over to the other and pulled the dark, rosy nipple deep into his mouth.  When she was certain she could take no more, he released the throbbing tip, shifted on the bed beside her and began to kiss his way down her stomach.

 

Nathan’s lips lightly caressed the swell of her belly.  “Rest, little one,” he whispered against her skin as he felt the child within respond to his presence.  “Daddy is going to love mommy some more.”  He was answered with another flutter beneath his hand and then nothing more.  He looked up at Kristin and grinned.  “My little princess listens well.”

 

“Princess?”

 

“Mmhmm… I just had an image of a little girl with flaming red hair and dancing sable eyes…” he told her.  “Our daughter…”

 

“And I’ve had an image of a dark haired little boy with laughing blue eyes,” she replied.  “Our son…”

 

“Gee…” Nathan flashed her an impish grin as he shifted to lie between her legs,  “maybe we’re having both…”

 

“Twins?”  Kristin gasped as he trailed his fingers lightly through the copper curls covering her center then gently pulled her open.

 

“Twins,” Nathan’s eyes twinkled at her before he lowered his mouth to the quivering pink flesh and pulled the sensitive muscle into his mouth.

 

All thought left Kristin in that moment as Nathan’s tongue curled around her clit.  She arched off the bed and pressed herself against his mouth as the sensations shot through her body. 

 

“Na… than…” she moaned as he continued to move his tongue over her.  “Oh… yes…”

 

Nathan smiled against her slick flesh as Kristin once again arched beneath him and doubled his efforts.  He teased her tender opening with his finger, spreading her moisture over her folds before replacing his tongue with his thumb on her clit.  Nathan circled the hard bundle as he stroked his tongue in and out of her hot sheath.

 

“I love the way you taste,” he murmured in between dips of his tongue.  “So sweet…”

 

“Mmm…” Kristin gasped as the sensations began to grow.  “You… mmm, oh yes… you are much too skillful at that…” she felt Nathan chuckle, the sound reverberating up through her body; her already overloaded senses going into overdrive.  “I… ooh… Nath… please…”

 

Nathan could feel her inner walls beginning to spasm around his tongue and increased the pressure and speed of his thumb against her clit.  He delved his tongue as deep into her as he could then began to hum over her quivering flesh.

 

“Oh… Na… than!!”  Kristin cried out his name as her orgasm suddenly slammed through her.  She rocked up against him, panting for breath as wave after wave of pleasure coursed through her. 

 

Nathan pressed his mouth harder against her center as she came, lapping at and consuming her juices.  He groaned with delight as his thumb continued to stroke her pearl and moments later, she cried out his name again, another deluge of her essence flowing freely into his mouth.

 

Several minutes later, with only the occasional tremor shaking her body, Nathan gave her sex one last, lingering kiss then slowly crawled up over his wife’s body.  He settled his hips in the cradle of her legs, his member nestling against her wet, throbbing center and propped his torso up on his elbows as he waited for Kristin to open her eyes.

 

Kristin’s eyelids fluttered open to see Nathan gazing down at her with a smile on his face and smiled back.  “Hi…”

 

“Hi…” he replied in a soft voice as he stroked her shoulders with his thumbs.  “Have a nice trip?”

 

“Mmm… very nice,” she laughed softly as she reached up to cup his cheek.  “Care to join me on the next one?”

 

“And every one after that,” Nathan grinned then dipped his head down to catch her lips in a loving kiss.

 

“Nathan…” Kristin whispered against his lips as she slowly slid a hand into his hair then deepened the kiss.  They parted breathlessly several moments later and Kristin gazed up into his passion-darkened eyes.  “I love you,” she told him in a husky voice.  “So very much…” her hand slipped between the close press of their bodies and wrapped around his hardened length.  “…Nathan… I need you inside me…”

 

“Yes…” Nathan nodded then groaned as she guided him to her opening.  He shifted slightly then slowly sank into her until he was completely sheathed within the hot, wet cocoon of her body.  He groaned and buried his face in her neck at the feel of her inner walls quivering around his shaft.  “Kris…”

 

After several minutes of simply enjoying their joining, Nathan kissed his way along Kristin’s jaw to her lips; and as the sweet kiss grew more passionate, Nathan began to gently thrust his hips against her.

 

Kristin broke out of the kiss with a gasp and wrapped her legs around Nathan’s waist as she matched his rhythm, her hips thrusting up to meet his.  Her hands slid aimlessly up and down his back; one moment clutching his shoulders, the next moment clenching his flexing rear.

 

“I… oh god…” she moaned, shocked to feel the onset of her release coiling in the pit of her stomach.  “Nath… Nathan… I…”

 

“I know…” Nathan replied breathlessly as he continued to piston his shaft in and out of her.  “I know…” he repeated and slipped a hand between them; his fingers seeking out and finding her clit.  “Let go…” Nathan told her as he began to circle the hard, swollen bundle.  “Come for me, Kris…”

 

“…Nathan…”

 

“Come…” he thrust harder and deeper.

 

“Na…”

 

“Kris…” he grazed her clit with his fingernail.

 

“NATHAN!”

 

Nathan continued to drive into her as she shattered beneath him; her body writhing in pleasure as her orgasm consumed her.  He watched her face contort with obvious delight and felt a surge of manly pride that he was the one responsible for bringing her to this state.

 

Kristin slowly drifted back down from the high of her release to find Nathan still moving in and above her.  “Nathan…” she whispered with a satisfied smile.

 

“Welcome back,” Nathan grinned down at her as he slowed the speed of his thrusts.

 

“Mmm… thank you,” Kristin replied and trailed her hands up his back then slipped her fingers into Nathan’s hair as she lifted her head from the pillow to catch his mouth in a hungry kiss.

 

Nathan responded to his wife’s kiss with a soft growl as he tangled his tongue madly with hers.  He felt Kristin’s legs unwind from his waist and the next thing Nathan knew he was on his back with Kristin on top of him.

 

Kristin broke off the kiss and pushed herself up so that she was straddling him then moaned as the change in position allowed him to press deeper within her.

 

“You are so beautiful…” Nathan told her in a quiet voice filled with reverence.  He reached up to cup one of her cheeks.  “I love you so much…”

 

Kristin smiled down at him and laid her hands on his chest as she began to circle her hips over him.  At Nathan’s soft moan, she rose up on her knees until only the tip of his shaft remained within her body.

 

“Kris…” Nathan groaned as she slowly sank back down on him.  “Oh god…” he moaned again as Kristin repeated the movement.  “…that’s it… like that…” Nathan encouraged her and met her every thrust as she began to move faster on him.  “I’m close…”

 

Kristin’s smile grew as she felt the tension in his body add credence to his words and worked even harder to bring him over the edge.  Her fingers played with his nipples as she rode him, lightly pinching them with every thrust of their hips.

 

“Come for me, Nathan…” she encouraged him as ground herself against him and tightened her inner muscles around his shaft.  “Come…”

 

“Oh god… Kris… tin…” Nathan panted her name and planted his feet firmly on the mattress behind her so that he could thrust up harder into her.  “I…”

 

“Yes, my love…” Kristin urged breathlessly then reached behind her, between his legs to grasp and fondle his tight sacs.  “Nathan…”

 

At the feel of her hand fondling his balls, Nathan felt his juices rise up his shaft.  He reached out, grasped Kristin’s waist and pulled her down hard on him as he drove his length up into her.

 

“KRISTIN!”  Nathan yelled out her name as his orgasm rushed over him, his juices leaving his body in long, jetting ropes to wash against her womb; his hips pumping furiously into her as he strove to empty himself within her.

 

Kristin collapsed on top of Nathan, a soft moan on her lips as a small but intense orgasm rippled through her body; triggered by the warmth of Nathan’s seed bathing her insides.  She felt Nathan wrap his arms tightly around her, even as his body continued to shudder with the residual tremors of his release and slowly stretched her legs out alongside his; taking care to keep his softening member locked within her body.

 

Several minutes later, Nathan turned his face and nuzzled Kristin’s temple.  “You okay?”

 

“Mmhmm…” Kristin murmured against his neck.  “I… am wonderful.”

 

“Good…” a large grin split Nathan’s face at the extremely satisfied tone of his wife’s voice.  “And how is the princess?”

 

Kristin giggled against his skin then lifted her head to look down at him, her smile growing at the grin on his face.  “Junior is fine.  How about you?”

 

Nathan chuckled and slid a hand up to push her hair back out of her face.  “Better than I have been in months,” he replied as he pulled her lips down to his for a loving kiss.

 

“Mmm…” Kristin sighed as the kiss came to an end and she nestled back into his arms.

 

“So…” Nathan caressed her back.  “Do I need to have a serious talk with that godson of mine?”

 

Kristin shook her head.

 

“They looked rather… familiar,” Nathan gave her a pointed look.  “Are you certain they’ve not consummated their relationship?”

 

“Yes.  I had a long talk with Cynthia the night Will asked me for her hand.”

 

“And…”

 

Kristin smiled against his skin.  “Do you remember our first kiss?”

 

“Of course.  I’ll never forget that moment.  You mean that Will forced Cynthia to kiss him for the first time?”

 

“Not exactly.  Do you remember what happened… during that kiss?”

 

Nathan’s hands stopped moving.  “You mean they… he…”

 

Kristin started laughing.

 

“I’ll cut off his damned hands!”  Nathan exclaimed.  “I’ll… why are you laughing?  This is your daughter we’re talking about.”

 

Kristin lifted her head off his chest and smiled down at him.  “I know she’s my daughter… but after what we have done… who are we to criticize…”

 

“We’re her parents… and…”

 

“And they’ve both made the decision to wait until their wedding night to consummate their relationship…”

 

“But you said they…”

 

“They’ve kissed… they’ve touched…” Kristin told him as she settled her head back down on Nathan’s chest.  “And I’ve no doubt that my daughter has experienced her first orgasm…”

 

“One hand!?  Let me just cut off one hand!”

 

“Nathan!  We didn’t rescue him and work so hard to heal him just so you could maim him now…”

 

“Okay… okay…” he mumbled.

 

“If I know my daughter… she will want to get married very shortly, especially now that you’re here,” Kristin said then gently circled her hips against him and clenched her inner muscles around his soft length.  “Besides… would you really want to deny them this pleasure?”

 

Nathan groaned as he felt his member respond to her internal pressure and slid his hands down to still her hips.  “No…” he replied.  “I would not want to deny them this…”

 

“So… no more talk about maiming our future son-in-law,” Kristin murmured with a kiss to his throat.

 

“All right…” Nathan said as he resumed his caressing of her back.  “Now… that is one child taken care of.  What is the story between our son and Claire?”

 

Kristin laughed.  “Why do you ask?”

 

“I could not help but notice how attentive Lucas was to her, and it was more than apparent that Claire is smitten with him as well.”

 

“At the moment… they are interested in each other,” Kristin answered.  “However, they are both so young…”

 

“That they could change their minds a hundred times over the next few years.”

 

“Exactly.”

 

Nathan smiled.  “I remember those days…”

 

“And how many young girls’ hearts did you break, my rogue?”

 

“None actually… it was my heart that was repeatedly broken.”

 

Kristin laughed softly and pressed a kiss to his chest.  “Mmhmm… sure…”

 

“Really.  I was never popular with the ladies.”

 

Kristin shifted against him and pushed herself up so that she was once again straddling him.  “Now I find that hard to believe…”

 

“It’s true,” Nathan replied as he laid his hands on her thighs and began to softly stroke the smooth skin.  “I was never sophisticated enough or charming enough for the society debutants and their mothers,” he chuckled.  “And I was never good looking enough…”

 

Kristin arched an eyebrow.  “How could they not find you attractive?”

 

“Because of this,” he ran his finger down his nose.  “The result of a couple of fights with the local bully.”

 

“I like your nose,” Kristin told him as she reached out and traced the same line down the bridge as he’d just done.  “It has character.”

 

“You’re biased,” Nathan smiled up at her.  “You’re my wife… you…”

 

“Thought you were very handsome even when I thought you were nothing more than a heartless pirate,” Kristin interrupted with a smile.  “Your eyes…” she slid her finger from his nose to circle around his eyes,  “I was mesmerized by your eyes from the first moment I saw them…”

 

“Were you really?”  Nathan asked.

 

“Oh yes…” Kristin nodded.  “Your eyes are the bluest I’ve ever seen…” she said then frowned as she cupped his cheek.

 

“What is it?”

 

“I miss your beard,” she answered with a slight pout on her face.

 

Nathan reached up and stroked his bare chin.  “Do you really?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“What is it?”  Nathan asked as he watched a soft blush creep up his wife’s chest and face.

 

“Nothing,” Kristin shook her head.

 

“It’s obviously something, or why else would you be blushing?”  Nathan said with a curious smile.  “Come on… tell me…”

 

The red hue of Kristin’s skin darkened.  “I… was just thinking that I…” she shook her head.

 

“Kris… there is nothing you can’t tell me,” Nathan told her as he slid his hands up to grasp her waist.  “Especially when you’re straddling me and I am buried deep inside you…”

 

Kristin flushed even more as she felt his shaft slowly harden within her and slapped his chest.  “I miss the feel of your beard… the way it… tickles my thighs when you’re… when you love me down…” her voice trailed off as reached up to run her fingers over his lips.  “I noticed the difference tonight…”

 

Nathan chuckled and sat up beneath her then caught her lips in a ravenous kiss.  “God, I love you, my lady,” he spoke against her lips.

 

“I love you too,” Kristin replied breathlessly then moaned as he rocked his hips against hers.  “But I still miss the beard.”

 

“I’m finding it a little odd not having it myself,” Nathan told her.  “But a lot of why I had the beard no longer exists… my pirate days are over…”

 

“Is that why you shaved it off?”  Kristin asked as she shifted in his lap, her legs moving to wrap around him.

 

“Actually, I shaved it off before I left to confront Zellar… I figured it would give me a small advantage, and it did…”

 

“Because he was looking for a bearded man…”

 

“Right,” Nathan nodded.  “Gator… you sure you want to hear this?”

 

“Yes.  I’m sure.”

 

“Well… Gator blackened my hair with some shoe polish just before we went ashore to Zellar’s hideout…” he began then told her about the confrontation between himself and Zellar.  “…then I had him pinned, and that is when Bill showed up and stopped me.”

 

“How did Zellar manage to do this?”  Kristin reached down between them to trace her fingers over the angry scar on his hip.

 

“He… he was going on and on about you…” Nathan answered in a quiet voice.  “I knew what he was trying to do, and for the most part, I was able to ignore him… but then he…”

 

“He what?”  Kristin asked softly as she cupped his cheek.  “Tell me…”

 

Nathan sighed.  “Zellar said…” he shook his head.  “No… I can’t…”

 

“Tell me…”

 

“He… in as crude a way as possible, told me he’d bedded you.  And while I knew he hadn’t…”

 

“It enraged you.”

 

“Yes,” Nathan nodded.  “You’re my wife… and just the thought of you being subjected to… to that…”

 

Kristin laid her forehead against Nathan’s as his voice trailed off.

 

“My attention faltered for just a moment… but it was enough for the bastard to get in a good hit.  I didn’t feel it…”

 

“I did…”

 

A small smile touched his lips as he continued.  “I just kept fighting.  All I could think was that I had to protect you… that I couldn’t let him escape to try and find you…”

 

Kristin grasped Nathan’s face in her hands just as the first tears splashed on the top of her breasts.  “And you did…” she brushed her lips over his.  “You stopped him… you protected us…” Kristin dropped her hand between them to grasp his and laid it on her abdomen.  “You protected us both…”

 

Nathan nodded slowly as Kristin pressed a series of soft breathy kisses against his lips.  “I know…”

 

“He didn’t succeed, Nathan…” Kristin told him.  “He did not have his way with me… you are the only man I’ve been with since Oliver… and you are the only man I will ever be with again,” she moved her lips over his.  “You and only you…”

 

Nathan flexed the hand still lying on Kristin’s belly then deepened their kiss, his tongue tangling ravenously with hers.  He brought his hands up to cup her breasts and smiled against her lips at the low groan that sounded deep in Kristin’s throat as he moved his thumbs over her pebbled nipples.

 

“I want you again…” Nathan whispered against her lips.

 

“I want you too…” Kristin replied and tightened her legs around him.

 

Taking care to keep their bodies joined, Nathan wrapped his arms around her and slowly shifted onto his knees then gently lowered Kristin back onto the bed.  He pressed her into the mattress, his hips already thrusting against her.

 

“Need you… so much…” Nathan murmured as he pulled a rosy nipple into his mouth while he continued to move inside her.

 

“Mmm…” Kristin moaned and clutched at his shoulders as she moved her hips in concert with his.

 

“Kris…”

 

Kristin could hear the urgency… the almost desperate need in Nathan’s voice and tightened her legs around him.  “I’m here, Nathan…” she whispered to him.  “Love me…”

 

“Always…” Nathan vowed around her nipple.  “I will always love you…”

 

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

 

“Do you think anyone would mind if we tucked ourselves away in here for a little while?”

 

“How long is a little while?”

 

“A week… or two…”

 

A soft giggle floated throughout the room.

 

“What is so funny?”

 

“You are,” Kristin replied as she snuggled closer to Nathan, as they lay entangled upside down on the bed after their last round of lovemaking.

 

“Why?”  Nathan asked as he stroked her back.  “What is wrong with not wanting to face society just yet and hole up with my wife?”

 

“Not a thing, but I don’t think we would be able to do that up here.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Because everyone will want to meet my handsome husband if only to see that I wasn’t making you up.”

 

Nathan nodded his head.  “That makes sense… so, we have your parents throw another party… we circle the room, let everyone see us together then leave to come back here and shut the world away.”

 

“I like all that… however, instead of returning here, why don’t we head out to our country house…”

 

“Our?”

 

Kristin nodded against his chest.  “Our.  What’s mine is yours,” she told him.  “So, as I was saying, after the party we will have my parents throw… why don’t we head out to the country house?  All of us.  The children, Bill and Janet…”

 

“No Malcolm.”

 

“No Malcolm.”  Kristin giggled.  “Just family.  It will give us a chance to plan Cynthia’s wedding.”

 

“And we can also start to think about names for the princess,” Nathan interjected as he slipped a hand around to caress her swollen belly.

 

“Nathan Hale Bridger the second,” Kristin said matter of factly.  “That is what I want our son’s name to be.”

 

“Do you really?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“We’ll discuss it,” Nathan replied then grinned against her temple as he ran his hand down over her hip.  “And you can try to…” his hand curved around to cup her rear,  “convince me.”

 

“You’re terrible!”  Kristin exclaimed as she buried her face in his chest, her shoulders shaking with laughter.

 

“I try, my lady.  I try,” Nathan replied with a chuckle as he kicked the pillows at his feet.  “So… how big of a wedding is my new daughter planning on having?”

 

“Kris?”

 

There was no response.

 

“Sweetheart, are you asle…” just as he was asking the question, Nathan realized that he could still feel her shoulders shaking and at that moment, he felt the splash of hot tears against his skin.  His arms tightened around her instinctively as he realized she was crying.  “What is it, Kris?”

 

Kristin shook her head, too overcome with tears to even speak. 

 

“That’s all right… let it out…” Nathan said in a low, soothing voice as he stroked her hair and back.  “Let it out…”

 

Kristin nestled deeper into his arms as she began to openly sob, her tears soaking his chest as they flowed down off her cheeks.  After several long minutes, her tears finally tapered off, leaving her with only the occasional hiccup with each shakily indrawn breath.

 

“Can you tell me now what brought that on?”  Nathan asked in a soft voice.

 

“I… it just really hit me…” Kristin replied; her voice muffled against his throat.  “This isn’t a dream.  You’re here.  You are really here.”

 

“I’m here…” Nathan confirmed and pressed his lips to her temple.  “You know… I think a change of plans is in order.”

 

“How so?”  Kristin asked.

 

“I think you and I need some alone time.  Just the two of us,” Nathan told her.  “No one else… not Lucas nor Cynthia.  Not Bill, Janet and Will or your parents.  No servants.  Just us.  You and I.”

 

“But…”

 

“No buts.  We need this time, my lady.”  Nathan said.  “We need to reconnect…”

 

“I thought that is what we’ve been doing for the last few hours,” Kristin quipped as she sniffled against his chest.

 

Nathan chuckled.  “Mmm… we have been indeed.  But I think we need to reconnect on every level… physical, emotion, intellectual…  We need to get back to us.”

 

Kristin pulled her head from his chest to look down at him.  She smiled at him and nodded.  “You’re right… we do.”

 

“Well then… the day after tomorrow we’ll head out to the country house,” Nathan said.  “Lucas and Cynthia can stay with Bill and Janet… which I am more than certain both will have no problem with.”

 

Kristin chuckled.  “Bill and Janet might though.”

 

Nathan grinned.  “How many servants are on staff at your… our country home?”

 

“Fifteen…” Kristin answered and couldn’t help but smile at the slight frown that flitted across her husband’s face.  “However… there is the hunting lodge…”

 

“Hunting lodge?”

 

“Yes… a small cabin out in the forest,” Kristin replied.  “It’s kept well stocked, and is well away from the main house.”

 

“How far?”

 

“Far enough that we won’t be bothered by anyone, but near enough that should we need to get back… we can.”

 

A slow grin spread across Nathan’s face.  “Well then… we can still go with our original plan.  We’ll just alter it slightly.”

 

“Let everyone stay at the main house while you and I go hide ourselves away in the hunting lodge for a few days.”

 

“Exactly,” Nathan said.  “And we have the party when we return.”

 

“I like that idea,” Kristin replied then yawned.  “Oh…”

 

“I think someone needs to sleep…”

 

“No…” Kristin shook her head as she yawned again.

 

“Yes,” Nathan nodded.  “You’re tired.”

 

“But I don’t want… you just got home,” her voice trailed off and she bit her lip.

 

Nathan smiled and reached up to cup her cheek.  “And I am not going anywhere… and should I have to go anywhere at anytime in the future… you, Mrs. Bridger… are coming with me.”

 

A slow smile spread across Kristin’s face.

 

“We will never be apart again, my lady…” Nathan told her as he sat them up.  “There is no force on this Earth that can remove me from your side ever again.”  He grinned at her.  “I’m afraid, Countess of mine, that you are going to have to put up with me for the rest of your life.”

 

Kristin’s smile grew.  “Mmm… and I cannot tell you how happy that makes me,” she replied then yawned yet again.

 

Nathan chuckled as he leaned in to brush a soft kiss against her lips.

 

“It’s the pregnancy…” she told him as he carefully maneuvered them so that they were laying the right way on the bed, snagging the blankets as he went.

 

“Of course it is,” Nathan replied as he pulled the quilts up over them and settled back against the pillows.

 

“It is,” Kristin insisted as she snuggled into his arms, releasing a yawn against his chest.  “It is…”

 

“I know, love.  I know.”  Nathan said as he pressed a loving kiss to the top of her head.  “Good night, my lady.”

 

“Good night, my rogue…” Kristin replied sleepily.  “…lvyu…”

 

“I love you too…”

 

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

 

A smile slowly formed on Kristin’s face as she worked her way towards consciousness.  She stretched beneath the blankets and as she settled back against the pillows Kristin opened her eyes to find Nathan propped up on his elbow beside her, watching her.

 

“Good morning…” Kristin whispered.

 

Nathan leaned over and caught her lips in a gentle kiss.  “Now it is,” he whispered back then kissed her again.

 

Kristin moaned and reached up to thread her hand into Nathan’s hair as she turned her body into his then deepened the kiss.  “Mmm…” she sighed happily as the passionate kiss gave way to a series of breathless touches.  “So… how long have you been awake and watching me?”

 

“Since the sun came up…” Nathan replied with a grin then reached out to tuck a lock of her hair behind her ear.  “I’ve missed watching you sleep… watching the rise and fall of your chest, listening to the sound of your breathing…” his hand trailed down over her cheek and he traced her lips with his fingers.  “I’ve missed you.”

 

A low rumble beneath the sheets sounded before Kristin could reply causing Nathan to burst out laughing.  He eased her back against the pillows then flipped the blankets off her as he slipped down the bed.

 

“Good morning to you too, princess,” Nathan spoke against her swollen belly before he pressed a couple kisses to her skin.  “Are you trying to tell us you would like for mama to eat?”

 

“I think that is exactly what he’s telling us,” Kristin chuckled as her stomach growled again.  “And I think our child would really, really like some of Elsie’s rhubarb tarts.”

 

“Rhubarb tarts?”  Nathan repeated. 

 

“Mmhmm,” Kristin nodded.  “With some lemon curd…”

 

Nathan wrinkled his nose.  “I am going to assume this is a by-product of being pregnant as well?”

 

“Yes…” Kristin laughed then groaned.

 

“What is it?”  Nathan asked, alarm in his voice as he immediately moved back up the bed, his hands gripping her shoulders.  “Is it the baby?  Are you all right?”

 

Kristin reached out and cupped his cheek.  “I’m all right… the baby is all right,” she told him.  “He’s just sitting on my bladder… another by-product of being pregnant…”

 

Nathan flushed.  “Oh…”

 

Kristin grinned as she sat up.

 

“Well…” Nathan climbed out of the bed.  “Why don’t you go tend to the matter at hand while I get dressed and slip downstairs to get you your rhubarb tarts…”

 

“And lemon curd,” Kristin reminded him as she slipped out after him.

 

Nathan nodded.  “And lem… oh good god!”

 

“What?”

 

“I don’t think you’re going to be able to hide the princess’ existence any longer,” he answered as he splayed his hands over her gravid belly.

 

Kristin glanced down and her eyes widened.  “I… oh my… I’m…”

 

“You’re really pregnant,” Nathan said.  “I thought something was different when I was saying good morning to the baby… you seemed… bigger… but…” he looked up at her.  “Can… is this possible?”

 

“Yes,” Kristin answered.  “It is actually quite normal.  I just didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.  I am not as young as I used to be.  I guess my abdominal muscles just gave up and decided to give the baby more room.”

 

Nathan grinned and circled his hands over the smooth skin of her stomach.  “This is so… fascinating… I cannot wait to watch our child grow within you…”

 

“Well… you’ll have to wait a few minutes, because I can no longer wait…” With that, Kristin stepped away from him and padded across the room to the bathroom.

 

Nathan chuckled and looked around for his pants.  He spotted them on the floor close to the door and moved over to grab them.  He’d just finished fastening the last button on the placard when Kristin emerged from the small retiring room adjoining the bedroom.  A large grin spread across his face as he watched her climb back into the bed.

 

“What are you grinning about?”  Kristin asked as she propped the pillows up behind her then pulled the blanket up over her breasts.

 

“You…”

 

“What about me?”

 

“Six months ago you were absolutely horrified at the thought of me seeing you without your chemise,” Nathan told her.  “And now… you’re pregnant and walking around in your all together without even batting an eye.”

 

Kristin chuckled.  “You, my rogue are a bad influence.”

 

Nathan waggled his eyebrows at her.  “Yes I am,” he agreed with a sweeping bow.  “Now, I must go see about my lady’s breakfast.  I shall be back in a few minutes.”

 

“I will be here.”

 

Nathan grinned and walked over to the bedroom door.  He slid the lock back then opened the door and stopped.  “Does the man sleep?”

 

“What is it?”

 

“This…” Nathan bent over and lifted a covered tray.

 

Kristin giggled as he kicked the door shut and carried the tray over.  “I wouldn’t read too much into it, Nathan.  It is not unusual for Stephens or Elsie to leave me a breakfast tray.”

 

Nathan didn’t reply as he sat on the bed and placed the tray between them.  He pulled off the cloth cover and glanced down at the food.  “So, what did they bring us?”

 

Kristin bit her lower lip for a moment before answering.  “Rhubarb tarts, lemon curd…” she answered in a quiet voice as she reached for one of the small pastries.  “And… what looks like a bowl of porridge for you…”

 

Nathan shook his head in amazement.  “How does he do it?”

 

“I don’t know,” Kristin replied around a mouthful of tart as she reached out for a spoon then dipped it into the curd.  “This is… mmm…” she moaned happily as she slipped the spoon into her mouth.

 

Nathan groaned as reached for his bowl of porridge and took a spoonful.  “Hey…” he muttered in surprise as he quickly chewed and swallowed.  “This is great.  Just how I like it!”

 

Kristin smiled as she spread some of the lemon curd on her tart.

 

“Stephens would give Bess a run for her money,” Nathan quipped as he took another spoonful.

 

“I’m going to tell her you said that,” Kristin told him as she shoved the final bite of the tart in her mouth.

 

“No you’re not.”

 

“Oh yes I am.”

 

“No…”

 

“Yes…” The argument continued between bites of tart of porridge until they were nearly done.  “Bess will know as soon as I see her,” Kristin replied smartly as she swallowed the last bite of lemon-coated tart and licked her fingers with relish.

 

Nathan shook his head as he ate the last spoonful of porridge.  He returned the bowl to the tray then picked the tray up, carried it over to the vanity and put it down.

 

“Now…” he turned to face her.  “I believe we were discussing whether or not you will be telling Bess what I said about Stephens…”

 

Kristin laughed softly and shifted up onto her knees near the edge of the bed, facing him; the sheet clutched to her chest.  “I believe that we were.”

 

Nathan grinned as he slowly walked towards her.  “Good.  So shall I tell you why you will not be telling Bess?”

 

“Please do,” Kristin nodded and let her eyes wander down his body as he approached.  She licked her lips at the bulge she could see growing in his pants.

 

“It’s simple really…” Nathan told her as he stopped mere inches in front of her.  He traced his fingers up her bare arms until his hands were resting on her shoulders.  “All I have to do is keep your mouth occupied…”

 

“Really?”

 

“Mmhmm…” he murmured as he stepped closer and slid his hands down her bare back to cup the firm globes of her rear.  “And it is not like it would be a chore… because I could kiss you forever and a day…”

 

Kristin smiled and placed her hands on his chest, the sheet she held falling back to the bed as her fingers played through the graying hair.  “Mmm… me you too…”

 

Nathan grinned.  “Shall I demonstrate?”

 

“Please…” Kristin whispered and leaned in to meet his lips in a hungry kiss.

 

A loud shriek filled the air, pulling the two lovers apart.  Kristin quickly reached down for the fallen sheet and yanked it up as she turned to see an open-mouth Lizzie standing in the doorway.

 

“For heaven’s sake, Lizzie… shut the bloody door!”

 

Much to Nathan and Kristin’s amusement, Lizzie stepped into the room, closed the door behind her and continued to stare open-mouthed at them.

 

“It is all right, Lizzie…” Kristin began as she adjusted the sheet around her body.  “This is my husband… Captain Bridger.”

 

“C… c… captain,” Lizzie stammered then looked to Kristin.  “I’m so sorry for intruding, milady.  I did not know that you were… that you were not alone… I…”

 

“Lizzie,” Nathan interrupted the obviously flustered girl.  “It is all right.  It’s not your fault.”

 

“I should have knocked…”

 

“And I should have locked the door after I retrieved the tray,” Nathan replied.

 

“I’m normally here earlier… but with the party last night… I assumed the mistress would want to sleep later…”

 

Nathan and Kristin shared another amused look as Lizzie rambled on.

 

“Lizzie!”  Kristin called to the girl in a loud voice.  “It is all right… just… from now on, I think it best if you knock before entering.”

 

“Yes, milady,” Lizzie nodded.

 

“Good,” Kristin smiled at her.  “Now, would you please bring the breakfast tray back downstairs.”

 

“Yes, Countess,” Lizzie replied and moved quickly across the room to grab the tray.  “What time shall I return to help you dress?”

 

Nathan glanced at Kristin then moved over to the door and opened it for the young maid.  “The countess will not be needing your help today, Lizzie.”

 

Lizzie’s eyes grew wide and she stumbled.  “Milady?”

 

Kristin nodded.  “It’s all right… my husband will assist me this morning.”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Lizzie replied, shaking her head slightly as she left the room.  “Her husband will assist her,” she repeated under her breath.  “I wish I could find me a husband like that.”

 

Nathan shut the door and slid the lock into place.  He turned and slowly made his way back to the bed.  “So… where were we?”

 

“I believe…” Kristin dropped the sheet then laid back on the bed, her arms held out to him in invitation.  “You were demonstrating how easy it would be to kiss me all day.”

 

“Ah yes,” Nathan grinned as he quickly removed his pants and climbed into the bed beside her then pulled her into his arms.  He brushed his lips over hers as he smoothed his fingers through her hair.  “So… let the demonstration begin…”

 

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

 

“Oh my lord!” Janet’s eyes bulged as she stood in the open door, her eyes glued to Kristin’s swollen belly.  “I was teasing Malcolm when I said you were having twins but I swear that you look twice the size you did yesterday.”

 

“Thank you so much, Janet.” Kristin wryly answered as she stepped over the threshold and let Nathan take her cloak.

 

“I’m sorry… I didn’t mean…”

 

“It’s okay, Janet.  I realize that overnight my condition has become more than obvious.  It’s as if my baby decided that since daddy was home he could come out and be seen.”

 

“He certainly did.  I saw you in that dress last week and you weren’t noticeable at all.”

 

“I am going to have to call Madame Dussault and have some new gowns made before much longer.”

 

“Or we could just stay in bed for the next few months.” Nathan murmured and wrapped his arms around her waist.

 

“I’m amazed that you managed to get out of bed to make it to dinner this evening.” Janet retorted.

 

Nathan barked with laughter.  “I’m sure that the sleeping quarters of Admiral and Mistress Noyce saw quite a bit of loving last night as well.”

 

Janet blushed prettily as her eyes softened.  “Just because we have been married thirty years doesn’t mean that we aren’t happy to see each other when we’ve been apart… and that reminds me, Nathan Hale Bridger, I have something to discuss with you.”

 

Nathan recognized the tone in Janet’s voice and knew that he was in trouble.

 

“Of course, Janet, but I think that we should get Kristin to a chair.  She shouldn’t be standing this long in her condition.” 

 

Janet rolled her eyes at Nathan’s obvious diversion but gestured toward the parlour entrance.  “I won’t forget.” She hissed at him as he led Kristin by.

 

Bill and William rose to their feet as the Bridgers entered while Lucas rushed to take Kristin’s other arm.  She couldn’t help but smile at the solicitous way her son treated her.  Once she was seated Lucas pulled an overstuffed footstool in front of her and carefully lifted her ankles and propped them up.

 

“Thank you, my son.”  She ruffled his hair as he bent over for a hug.

 

“You’re welcome, Mama.  You look ever so much bigger today than you did yesterday.”

 

“Lucas!” Nathan snapped.  The boy looked up with confusion in his eyes.

 

“Dad?  Did I say something wrong?”

 

Kristin made a little motion toward Nathan.  “Why don’t you explain it to your son, my love?” 

 

Nathan nodded, knowing that Kristin was giving him the opportunity to spend a little time alone with the boy.  “Let’s go out into the garden and have a little talk, shall we, Lucas?”

 

As soon as the men departed Cynthia slid into the chair at her mother’s side.  “Lucas may be lacking in tact but I understand his meaning.  You do seem to have… expanded a bit in the night.”

 

Kristin slid her hands down her belly.  “Your baby brother is happy to have his father home.”

 

“Sister… and I think that her mummy is happy that her daddy is home as well.”

 

“Very happy, my dear, very happy indeed.”  Kristin’s hands clenched on her belly suddenly.

 

“Mummy?” Cynthia asked, alarmed.

 

Kristin grabbed her daughter’s hand and pressed it into the tight flesh of her abdomen, just as the babe within kicked.  In awe, Cynthia raised her other hand to join the first and carefully followed the ripples of movement. 

 

“Is that…?”

 

“Your baby brother or sister.” Kristin confirmed.  “He is very active this afternoon.  I promised that you would be the first one to feel him move after his father, didn’t I?”

 

Cynthia was fascinated at the way the baby reacted whenever she pressed one hand or the other firmly into her mother’s womb.  “So Nathan is happy about the baby?”

 

“Very happy… Although he had already heard the rumours, thanks to Malcolm Lansdowne.  Nathan is as fascinated as you are with this little one… and the way that the baby responds to his father’s voice is amazing.  He was jumping around last night while his papa was talking but then Nathan leaned close and asked the baby to go to sleep for a while… and he did.  Just like that,” Kristin snapped her fingers,  “the movement stopped.”

 

“There’s my lamb.” Kristin looked up at the sound of Bess’ voice, a wide smile on her face as she watched both Bess and Raleigh cross the room toward her.  To her surprise instead of speaking to her, Bess leaned low, her hands replacing Cynthia’s as she stroked the contours of Kristin’s belly over and over.  Finally she straightened and nodded.

 

“All happy and healthy.  I hoped that you’d finally started eating good.  You weren’t eating near enough before you went away.”

 

“Bess, I was eating like a horse.”  Kristin returned the old woman’s embrace as she held her hand out to Raleigh.  “Nathan tells me that you insist you knew about the baby before I left the island.  But I didn’t have a clue.  How could you have known?”

 

“I could see it of course.  You was growing rounder and you had that special glow that women who are carrying have.  I suspected from the time I first met you but I knew for sure the morning you got married when I watched you eating that biscuit.  Those weren’t wedding nerves.”

 

“Why didn’t you say anything to me?”

 

“You needed to find out on your own.  I almost did that last morning… but you and my boy was going through enough without adding that sorrow to the parting.”

 

“No, Nathan didn’t need another distraction while he was dealing with Zellar.  Perhaps it was best this way.”

 

“Everything is put right now,” Bess agreed.  “You and the boy are together.”

 

“Thanks in no small part to you.  Thank you for caring for him while I wasn’t there, Bess.”

 

“It wasn’t no easy task.  He’s stubborn.  Course he has been stubborn since I put his very first diaper on him.  But wanting so desperately to get back to you is what kept him going.  My heart almost broke listening to him calling for you, wondering if I had made a mistake by refusing to let the Admiral send a letter to you.”

 

“The wound was bad.  I could tell that from the amount of scar tissue.  He would have died if you and Bill hadn’t looked after him with so much care.”

 

“Not with you depending on him.  Nathan would have found his way back to you no matter what.  He made you a promise and he always keeps his word.  Besides, that house is meant to have a family in it.”

 

“I don’t think that will be a problem.  Our family is growing in leaps and bounds.”  Kristin nodded toward the corner where Cynthia had joined Will and the two were chatting quietly.

 

“It’s a good match.  I spent a long time talking to your girl this morning and she has a good head on her shoulders.  Young Will can sometimes be a bit of a dreamer.  She’ll steady him and he will help her loosen up a bit.”

 

“That is a very good characterization, Bess.  I think that you are right.  They are good for each other.”

 

“And their babies will join yours in filling our island with laughter.  Then someday Lucas’ babies will add to the joy.” Bess eyed Kristin closely for a moment then continued in a low voice.  “You have nothing to worry about, child.  I didn’t lie before.  Your babe is healthy.  I know.”

 

“I haven’t mentioned it to Nathan but I have been worried.  My age could lead to some complications but… I believe you, Bess.”

 

“Kristin, my dear.”  Millicent Westphalen moved in toward the chair that Cynthia had vacated.  “You have an air of happiness like an aura around you.  You look wonderfu… Did you pad your dress?”

 

“No, Mummy.  It’s all baby.”

 

Lionel moved in beside his wife, eyeing his daughter’s belly suspiciously.  “Thank God that man showed up here when he did.” He muttered.

 

“I feel the same way, daddy, although admittedly for a much different reason.  Have the two of you met Raleigh and Bess Young?  Bess was Nathan’s childhood nurse and now they run our home on Nathan’s island.”

 

“I keep hearing about this island.  What sort of crops do you grow?  Is there any profit in foodstuffs or do you grow cane for making rum?”  Lionel and Raleigh slowly drifted away from the women as they began a deep discussion.

 

“You know that my husband is pumping yours for information about our new son-in-law’s finances, don’t you?” Millicent asked Bess.

 

“I suspect that my man is doing some careful sizing up of your husband too if truth be told.” Bess responded in kind.

 

Kristin leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes as the conversation in the room drifted along without her.  She caught snatches here and there but nothing interested her enough to hold her attention.  Her eyes popped open briefly when she sensed that Nathan had returned and she smiled as he worked his way toward her.  Once he had taken up a protective position behind her chair, one hand draped over the back to lock with hers, she felt her lids grow heavy again.

 

“Well, you certainly blossomed overnight, daughter.”  Lavinia’s voice pulled Kristin out of the light doze she had slipped in to.  “Many a wager will be collected on the next time that you step out into society.”

 

“I am so glad that you changed your mind and decided to join us, Lavinia.” Kristin told her mother-in-law truthfully.  The elderly lady had sent a note round to Kristin’s house earlier begging off of the dinner with the excuse that she didn’t want to intrude on family time.  To Kristin’s delight Nathan had penned the reply and sent it with Ben and Katie, along with instructions that the young couple wasn’t to show up at the Noyce’s without the dowager countess.  “How much did you bet?”

 

Lavinia barked with laughter.  “Up near one hundred pounds, I expect.  I shall make it a gift to your child, who looks as if he is rather anxious to arrive.”

 

Kristin rubbed her hand over her belly.  “He has grown a great deal in a very short period of time.”

 

Nathan turned behind her and slid his hand down her arms to join hers in stroking her belly.  “We are very glad that you decided to attend, Lady Carruthers.”

 

“As if you gave me any choice.  You are a very persuasive young man, Nathan Bridger, and I thank you. Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to have a few words with my granddaughter and her young man.”

 

Kristin glanced up.  “What did you say to her?”  She asked as Lavinia’s cane tapped out her departure.

 

Nathan grinned.  “I just used that magical Bridger charm.”

 

Kristin brought Nathan’s hand to her mouth and brushed her lips lightly over his palm.  He smiled at her, his eyes full of love then turned back to his conversation, his hand sliding to rest on her shoulder.

 

Approximately half an hour passed before Janet had a whispered word with Beatrice then announced that dinner was ready.  Since the meal was informal she sent the children through first and the older adults followed. She sent Bill ahead, telling him that she would bring up the rear then turned to find Nathan standing in the middle of the room, staring at his sleeping wife.

 

Nathan turned back to Janet and shrugged, not really knowing what to do. 

 

“You should have let her get some sleep last night, Nathan.” Janet whispered as she moved to his side.

 

“She slept… perhaps not as much as she should have but she slept.  Do you think that she is okay?”

 

“Your woman is okay, my boy.” Bess told him as she moved in to join him.  “She is just weary.  You are gonna have to be extra careful with her.”

 

“She has had a very easy pregnancy thus far, Nathan, which is amazing if you consider all of the stress that she has been under.” Janet said.

 

“That doesn’t mean she will have an easy delivery.  Her age is against her in this,” Bess cautioned.

 

“What can I do to help, Bess?”

 

The look that Bess and Janet shared told Nathan that they had already been discussing this topic.  And he suspected that he knew why.

 

“The talk has already started?”

 

Janet nodded.  “The gossip isn’t necessarily bad.  Most people are thrilled with the romance of the story.  The two of you will be the toast of society.  Invitations will start pouring in.”

 

“But we won’t be around to accept any of them.” Nathan stated firmly.  “Kristin and I are leaving for her country home as soon as arrangements can be made.  We hope that all of you will join us there.  The estate is close enough to London that Bill could travel back and forth most of the time.”

 

Smiles of relief touched both women’s lips.  “That sounds wonderful.  I’ll speak with Bill tonight but I am sure that he will agree.  The children couldn’t stand to be apart at this stage and there are so many wedding plans to make.”

 

“I know that Kristin wants to be a part of those plans as well but we are going to spend the first few days alone at a hunting lodge on the property, just the two of us.  That may seem selfish and I do want to spend time with Lucas and get to know Cynni but…”

 

“Your children recognize that their parents need time alone together.  They will understand.”

 

“But, Nathan,” Bess cautioned.  “Please be careful with Miss Kristin.  She needs a lot of rest and good food, loving in moderation and only if it is comfortable for her.”

 

Nathan patted his old nurse’s arm.  “I know that, Bess.  I would never do anything to endanger Kristin or our baby.  I am going to pamper her until she yells at me to stop and then I am going to pamper her some more.”

 

Kristin’s eyes fluttered open as she flung her arms out and stretched.  She blinked rapidly as she looked around the room and realized that it was almost empty.

 

“Did I fall asleep?” She murmured as Nathan moved to her side.  “I’m sorry.”

 

“Nothing to be sorry about, my love.” Nathan gently smoothed the curls that had escaped her upswept hair.  “We all know that you need your rest.  Shall I call the carriage and take you home?”

 

“Nonsense.” Kristin accepted his help as she stood.  “I feel fine; very well rested after my little nap.”

 

“You could go upstairs and lay down if you need to?” Janet offered.

 

“Oh no you don’t!”  Kristin stopped cold, her fists resting on her hips.  “I will not be coddled by any of you. I know my limits.  I am perfectly capable of judging what I can and cannot do.  Trust me to recognize them.”

 

Nathan gave Kristin his best little boy grin.  “I will trust you if you will trust me.  If I think that you are doing too much I am going to tell you.”

 

“Very well.” Kristin agreed.

 

“And then I am going to tie you to the bed.” Nathan whispered into her ear.

 

“Promises, promises…” Kristin smiled seductively as she followed Janet and Bess out of the room.  Nathan quickly followed, a silly grin on his face.

 

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

 

The heavily laden carriage slowed and halted at the side of the busy street causing many strange looks passersby.  The handsome gray-haired man who emerged from the interior also garnered many glances, especially from the females meandering along the shopping row but any hopes they might have harbored were dashed when he helped an obviously pregnant wife from the coach.

 

“He has to have an ice right this moment?  He couldn’t wait?” Nathan grumbled.

 

“Yes, he does.” Kristin stopped and planted her hands on her hips.  “I don’t even like sweets that much.  This is entirely your child’s craving, not mine.  Besides, this is our last chance.  Ices are not to be found in great abundance in the country.”

 

Nathan grinned as he watched the stream of ripples flow through the material of Kristin’s gown just below the ribbon sash.  “Then my child shall have all the ices that his heart desires… and his mother as well.”  He glanced up at the driver.  “We shall be back soon.”

 

Kristin felt the eyes of society on her as they entered the posh ice shop but she ignored them all as Nathan led her to a small table in the corner and held her chair. 

 

“What flavor would my baby like?”

 

“Raspberry… no… lemon… Perhaps you could ask if they would blend the two?”

 

Nathan shuddered at the thought of a mixture of the two tart flavours but soon returned with the foul concoction in hand.  He was amazed at the enthusiasm with which Kristin dug into it.

 

“You know, I am beginning to worry about our child’s taste in food.”

 

“So am I.  You can’t know how badly I hope that these strange cravings don’t continue after the birth.”

 

“Well, well, well!  Isn’t this a cozy picture?”  Lexie’s shrill voice penetrated every corner of the small establishment.  “The happy couple on an outing.  I’m surprised that you could tear yourselves away from your bedchamber since that is obviously your favourite place to be.”

 

Nathan rose slowly to his feet.  “Curb your tongue, Mrs. Smith.”  His tone held an obvious warning but Lexie either didn’t notice or chose to ignore it.

 

“So formal now, Nathan.  But just a year ago you led us to believe that you would soon be part of our family.”

 

“You know that isn’t true.  Or have you started believing your own lies?  I never made any offer for your daughter.  I never even hinted at it.  Nothing could have induced me to make an offer for your daughter.”

 

“Nathan, I think that we should go.” Kristin rose to her feet.

 

Lexie’s eyes widened at the sight of Kristin’s protruding abdomen.  “You… you’re…” Her hand flew to her mouth as she began to comprehend.  “Lady Kristin Westphalen, Countess of Kilhairn… the same countess that was abducted by pirates.”  When Kristin would have moved around Lexie, the older woman moved into her path to stop her.  “That’s why he married you… to give your little bastard a name!  Do you even have any idea who the father is or did you give yourself to every brigand on your captor’s ship?”

 

“I would cease and desist your inane prattle immediately, Alexandra, or I promise you that you won’t like the consequences.” Nathan hissed as he moved to his wife’s side.  The way that Kristin grabbed his arm and the paleness of her skin worried him.

 

“Did she convince you that the child was yours?  She had to give her body to you so that you would believe she was carrying your baby.  Can’t you see that, Nathan?  She is much too far along for the bastard to have been whelped while she was on your island.”

 

“ENOUGH!” Nathan roared.  The entire room fell quiet immediately.

 

“Now you listen to me, you hard-hearted bitch, and listen well.  We don’t owe you any explanation but since you decided to drag your pathetic vendetta out into the public arena you will get one.  The pirate Zellar abducted Lady Westphalen for ransom.  I also rescued her that very day.  She was not mistreated in any way on the pirate ship.  We married soon after that, and to our great joy we have been blessed with a child.”

 

Lexie took a step back as Nathan moved in close to her, his eyes as threatening as his tone. 

 

“You will stop spreading your poisonous rumours or I will have you hauled before a magistrate and charged with trying to slander both my wife and my good name.  I don’t make idle threats. If I hear one more rumour… just one more tiny whisper… I will have you prosecuted and sent to Newgate.  Do you understand me, Mrs. Smith?”

 

Lexie nodded, speechless for one of the few times in her life.

 

Nathan turned back to Kristin and wrapped his arm around her waist.  “Come, my love.  We will find another place to buy ices for you.  I don’t care for the clientele in this establishment.”

 

Kristin managed to hang on to her composure until they exited the building but when they reached the street she sagged against Nathan as she dragged in great gulps of air.

 

“Are you all right?  Do we need to find a doctor?”  Nathan struggled to keep his fear out of his voice.

 

“No, I’m fine.  I just can’t believe that woman had the nerve…” The fresh air was reviving Kristin and her anger was rising.

 

“It’s over and done.  Wendell Smith will have to find new transport for his goods as of right now.  I want nothing more to do with any of them.  They are no longer welcome on our island and we will not attend any function where they are present.”

 

“But your friends in the islands…”

 

“Can’t stand Lexie either.  I think that we’ve all been waiting for someone to stand up to the witch.  Let me help you up and we can find another ice shop.”

 

“No,” Kristin smiled.  “I think that your child has had enough ice for now.  Let’s continue on our journey.”

 

Nathan handed Kristin into the coach as carefully as if she were delicate porcelain then followed.  He had one foot on the step and was just about to hoist himself up when he felt a tug on his jacket.  He turned then slowly lowered himself back to the pavement beside Wendy Smith.

 

“Please, Nathan,” she started when Nathan resumed his climb into the carriage.  “I just need a moment of your time, please.”

 

“If you think that I am going to stand here and listen to more of your venomous babble about me and my wife you are sadly mistaken, Miss Smith.”

 

“No… I don’t want to say anything bad.  I just wanted to know… what you said inside about never making an offer for me… am I so hideous?”

 

Nathan’s stance softened just a bit.  “You aren’t hideous at all, Wendy.  You are a very attractive woman.  You just aren’t the woman for me.”

 

“I understand.  You are married now… but you can’t find your wife attractive any longer… not as heavy with child as she is.  Perhaps I could be the woman for you yet.”

 

Nathan just stared, dumbfounded, unable to speak as Wendy continued.

 

“I know that you can’t marry me but I don’t mind that, really.  I’ve wanted you for so long… Your wife wouldn’t have to know.  You could set me up in a house somewhere.”  She moved in close to him and ran a finger down the fine linen of his shirt while gazing at him with open lust.

 

Nathan thrust Wendy away from him, repulsed by her lecherous gaze.  He opened his mouth to speak but was quickly cut off by a furious English accent.

 

“No he most certainly could not.  You are nothing but a bitch in heat, Wendy Smith, but my husband won’t be needing any woman but his wife.  I keep him very satisfied, in every way, and I intend to keep right on doing so. Go sniff somewhere else.”

 

The carriage rattled down the street as Nathan slammed the door behind him leaving Wendy standing alone on the curb.

 

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

 

The contact of the carriage wheel with a large hole in the road caused the occupants of the coach to bounce around the padded interior yet again.  Kristin moaned in her sleep as Nathan tightened his grasp on her, trying to keep her from the worst of the jolting.  Seconds later they hit another bump.

 

Kristin pushed out of Nathan’s embrace and shifted around in her seat.  “Do you think that we could stop again for a while?”

 

Nathan sighed and pounded on the top of the coach.  Moments later they came to a halt on a dusty country lane.

 

“The countess needs to walk again.” Nathan told the driver as he helped Kristin out. 

 

“Very good, sir.” The coachman nodded.

 

“How much longer do you think?” Nathan questioned as Kristin moved toward the hedgerow and bent, ostensibly to check a flower but Nathan knew that the move was meant to stretch her back.

 

“Not more than a few more miles now, sir.  We should arrive within the hour.”

 

“We are going straight to the hunting lodge.” Nathan checked once more.

 

“I’ll drop you and the countess there then take the bulk of your bags up to the manor.”  The driver confirmed.  “I’m sure that Lady Westphalen’s message arrived this morning so the lodge should be fully stocked by now.  Oh… sorry, sir.  Mistress Bridger, I meant.”

 

Nathan grimaced jokingly at the driver.  “That is quite all right.  I don’t expect habits of twenty-five years to change overnight.”  The conversation was cut short as Nathan saw Kristin stumble out of the corner of his eye.  He ran to her side, reaching her just in time to catch her.

 

Kristin smiled at him gratefully.  “I’m sorry.  One of my legs is slightly numb.  I think that your baby has been sitting on a nerve.”

 

“Perhaps we shouldn’t have undertaken this journey right now.  It is too much for you.”

 

“Nonsense.  I am fine, Nathan.  I just need to stretch my legs a bit more.”

 

“The driver says that we should be there soon,” Nathan glanced up at the dark clouds on the horizon.  “I hope we get there before the rain arrives.”

 

“We will,” Kristin reassured him.  “I am ready to go now.  I can walk more once we reach the lodge.”

 

Nathan didn’t argue, worry about the storm causing him to hurry Kristin back to the carriage and rush her inside. 

 

“Thank you for being so understanding,” she whispered once they were moving again.

 

Nathan wrapped his arms around her and she snuggled into his chest.

 

“It’s partially my fault that you are in this condition so I have to be understanding, don’t I?  Don’t I?  Kristin?” 

 

Her sleepy mumble made Nathan realize that his wife had fallen asleep again.

 

‘She needs a lot of rest’.

 

Bess’ words kept playing over in Nathan’s mind.

 

“I promise that you will get all the rest you need, my love.”  He murmured against her silky hair. “No matter what I have to do, I will keep the two of you safe.”

 

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

 

  sail ahead...