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

 

“Is anyone else around?”

 

“I don’t think so but let me look to make sure.”

 

“Well?”

 

“No… no one there.”

 

“Oh good…”

 

“Lord, I’ve missed you,” Will said as he pulled Cynthia into his arms, his mouth swooping down to cover hers in a passionate kiss. 

 

Cynthia’s arms slipped up around Will’s head as the kiss deepened and molded her body to his.  “Mmm… I’ve missed you too,” she murmured against his lips as the kiss slowly tapered off.

 

“How much longer until our wedding?”  William asked as he sat on the small bench then pulled his fiancée into his lap, his hands caressing her sides through her dress.

 

“A week…” Cynthia replied as she slipped her head down to attack his neck with her lips.  “Then we can be alone… and…”

 

“And be together,” Will said as he reached up and slipped his fingers beneath her chin to lift her face.  “Are you sorry we’ve waited to… make love to each other?”

 

Cynthia gave William a brilliant smile and shook her head.  “No.  Waiting will only make our coming together that much sweeter,” she leaned in and brushed a soft kiss to his lips.  “Besides… it is not like we haven’t…” Cynthia blushed.  “We know some of what each other likes.”

 

Will grinned just as his hand came up to cup Cynthia’s cloth-covered breast.  “Yes we do,” he said as he teased her nipple to erection with his thumb.  “And just think of all we still have to learn.”

 

Cynthia shuddered in his arms.  “Oh… I cannot wait to find out.”

 

Will chuckled and lowered his mouth back to hers.  The two lost themselves in their kiss, enjoying their first stolen moment together since their wedding plans went into full swing three weeks earlier.  When the kiss threatened to grow into something more, Will broke it off and Cynthia buried her head in his shoulder.

 

“I am…” Cynthia began in a breathless voice.  “So grateful now… that Nathan kidnapped mother off her ship…”

 

“Why’s that?”

 

“If he hadn’t, you could have died after he’d rescued you from that ship,” Cynthia reached down with her hand to caress William’s leg through his pants.  “Then you wouldn’t have come here, and we would never have met and fallen in love…”

 

“Thank God for small miracles,” William said with a smile as he brushed his lips against her temple.  “So…” he began, his lips still moving against her hair.  “How long do you think we can hide out here before…”

 

“CYNTHIA!  WILLIAM!  You two get yourselves back in this house this instant!”

 

“Not long,” Cynthia answered with a chuckle then lifted her head off his shoulder to give him a wry smile.  “Just a week to go,” she told him as she leaned in and brushed a soft kiss to his lips.  “Seven days…”

 

“That are going to move slow as molasses,” Will said as he drew her back for another kiss.

 

“WILLIAM EDWARD NOYCE JUNIOR!”

 

“I think we better get back inside,” Cynthia told him.  “I would actually like for both of us to make it to our wedding intact.”

 

Will chuckled and nodded as Cynthia slid off his lap then quickly stood.  He pulled her into his arms.  “I love you, Cyn.”

 

“And I love you, Will.”

 

They shared a sweet, gentle kiss then left the gazebo hand in hand, neither one noticing the figure stepping out of the shadows; watching them.

 

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

 

Nathan and Kristin lay sated in each other’s arms.

 

“I really don’t think we need to worry about you not wanting to make love,” Nathan told his wife as he stroked her hair.

 

Kristin chuckled and snuggled closer… or as close as her expanding stomach would allow.  “No… so far it doesn’t seem to be a problem.”

 

Nathan laughed and slid his hand down beneath the quilt to caress the taut bulge.  “Not too active tonight,” he said. 

 

“That’s fine with me.”

 

“Does it hurt you when he kicks?”

 

“No… not really,” Kristin answered.  “It does feel odd… and sometimes it can be a little uncomfortable,” she said as she slipped her hand down to entwine her fingers with his on her belly.  “But all of that seems so insignificant when you realize that it is a little life growing there.”

 

“It is pretty amazing…” Nathan whispered then pressed a kiss into her hair,  You are pretty amazing!”

 

Kristin shook her head.

 

“Trust me… you are,” Nathan told her.  “And I love you more and more with each passing moment.”

 

“And I you,” Kristin replied as she snuggled a little closer.

 

“So… when are you going to tell me what’s on your mind?”

 

Kristin smiled against his chest.

 

“Well…?”

 

“I’ve been thinking…”

 

“About our leaving for the island.”

 

“Yes,” Kristin nodded. 

 

“You still want to do that?”

 

“Yes.  I want our baby born on the island… in our bed…” Kristin told him.

 

“All right then…” Nathan replied.  “I guess the first thing would be to ask where the seaQuest is docked.”

 

“At my yard in Cornwall,” Kristin told him.  “I had Shan sail her down there with a note to tell John to allow her moor there and finish her repairs.”

 

“Okay,” Nathan nodded and shifted Kristin away from him slightly so that she was on her back then rolled up onto his side so he could gaze down at her.  “So… now the decision is… do we send someone down to tell Shan to bring the seaQuest up, or do we take a carriage down?”

 

“I think we should we take a carriage,” Kristin told him.

 

“Are you sure?  It won’t be an easy ride, and you’re further along now then when we came here.”

 

“I know,” Kristin said.  “But I’m sure.  We can just pile some extra pillows in the carriage, and if you don’t mind, we can make a few extra stops.”

 

“Sweetheart… we can make all the stops you need.”

 

“Then we’ll leave just after the wedding?”  Kristin asked.

 

“Name the day.”

 

Kristin smiled up at him and reached out to cup his cheek.  “Thank you, my rogue.”

 

“I can deny you nothing, my lady.”  Nathan told her as he turned his lips into her palm.

 

“Is that so?”  Kristin asked coyly as she lifted an eyebrow.

 

Nathan grinned down at her then shifted over her; his hips settling in the cradle of Kristin’s thighs as he pushed himself up on his arms to keep his weight off her belly.  “It is…”

 

“So…” Kristin rubbed herself against his growing erection then wrapped her legs behind his knees as she slid her hands up his chest to his shoulders.  “If I told you that I wished to make love to you again… right now…”

 

“I would be helpless but to give you what you wanted.”

 

“Mmm… oh good…”

 

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

 

“Lionel…” Millicent frowned at her husband as he continued to drum his fingers on the top of his thigh.

 

“Sorry, Mils,” Stonevale murmured as he stilled his fingers.

 

Millicent sighed as within five minutes, he was doing it again.  “What on Earth is bothering you?  You’ve been fidgety all day… and come to think of it, you’ve been distracted all week.”

 

“I know… I’m sorry,” Lionel said.  “I’ve been working through something, and I think I’ve finally figured it out.”

 

“Figured what out, Father?”  Kristin asked as she lowered herself onto the couch before them.  “Thank you, my love,” she smiled up at Nathan as he placed her cup of tea on the end table beside the couch.

 

“You’re welcome,” Nathan replied then sat down next to her.

 

“You look tired, Nathan,” Millicent said.

 

“I am tired,” Nathan smiled at his mother-in-law.  “I never realized planning a wedding could be so tiring,” he reached out and grasped Kristin’s hand, lacing their fingers together.  “Ours was not nearly as complicated as this one.”

 

Kristin chuckled.  “Nathan had everything planned in one night.”

 

“Well, I’d been thinking about it when we were on Monito…”

 

“Monito?”  Millicent asked.

 

“A smaller island I own where we spent a few days,” Nathan answered.

 

“You didn’t tell me you owned Monito!”  Kristin said, turning shocked eyes on her husband.

 

“You didn’t ask,” Nathan smiled at her.

 

“Yes, I… no I didn’t,” Kristin finished with a blush.  “I guess I had other things on my mind…”

 

Millicent smiled at the pink hue on her daughter’s face and the growing grin on Nathan’s and chuckled softly to herself.  ‘I think I now know where my grandchild was conceived.’

 

“And once we arrived on our island, I sent my first mate off to dispose of some… unneeded cargo,” Nathan squeezed Kristin’s hand at the slight shudder he felt course through her body.  “He was also under orders to bring back a minister.  The day after Reverend Law arrived, Kristin and I were married.”

 

“You planned your whole wedding… yourself and in one night?”

 

“Yes.  I was quite anxious to marry this beautiful woman,” Nathan turned to smile at his wife.

 

“So…” Lionel spoke up suddenly.  “When did all this happen?  How long after Kristin was taken from the Spirit?”

 

Kristin and Nathan shared a look before they turned to face her father.  “About a month,” they answered in unison then grinned at each other.

 

“It was a month after I’d rescued her that we went to Monito,” Nathan said.  “And it was about a month after that, that we were married.”

 

“Ah,” Lionel nodded.

 

Kristin narrowed her eyes at her father.  “What is it, Father?  Does this have anything to do with whatever it was you said you’d finally figured out?”

 

Lionel pursed his lips as he brought his hand up to stroke his beard before he slowly nodded.

 

“Are you going to share it with us?”  Millicent asked her husband.

 

“Yes… I am planning to,” Lionel answered.  “I’m just trying to better organize my thoughts, and choose my words… I don’t want to upset anyone.”

 

“Tell us, Father,” Kristin implored.

 

“If I do, will you promise to not say a word, or interrupt me until I am finished?”  Lionel asked.

 

“Of course,” Kristin said with a glance at Nathan who nodded his agreement.

 

“That goes for the rest of you as well,” Lionel called out to the other occupants of the room.

 

Will and Cynthia who were playing cards with Ben and Katie in one corner of the room all nodded their agreement, as did Lucas and Clarissa who were playing a different game with Bill, Janet and the Youngs.

 

“Continue, Lionel,” Lavinia told the duke.

 

Lionel nodded in her direction, seated in an overstuffed chair beside the fireplace then with a small sip of the brandy in his hand he began.  “I have come to the conclusion that my new son-in-law is none other than the infamous Blue Rogue himself.”

 

“Father!”

 

“Sir!”

 

“Lionel!”

 

A chorus of voices rang out at the duke’s words, but he merely held his hands up in a bid for silence.  “You gave me your word… all of you,” Stonevale said,  “that you would let me have my say without interruption.”

 

Kristin and Nathan glanced at each other, worried confusion apparent in both their eyes.  Nathan squeezed Kristin’s hand reassuringly before they turned back to her father.  “Sorry…” they said together.

 

Lionel glanced about the room to see the others nodding their apologies as well then continued.  “As I was saying, I’ve concluded that Nathan is in fact the Blue Rogue, and it was he who kidnapped you,” he said as he looked directly at Kristin,  “from the Spirit not that other pirate…” Lionel stopped before saying Zellar’s name as he noticed her body stiffen and turn slightly into Nathan’s.

 

“After which, the two of you bonded over my new grandson,” Lionel glanced across the room to smile at Lucas, the two having bonded themselves over the last few weeks.  “First with his reading, and then I understand from Lucas that the two of you took care of him when he got sick with a fever… then you nursed each other.”

 

Millicent watched as both Nathan and Kristin flushed and shared small smiles.  ‘Must have been some nursing…’

 

“I’m not too sure on the order of facts here, but somewhere along the way, you found young Noyce, spent some time on that other island of yours,” Stonevale said then paused to take a sip of his brandy.  “And then I think you had a run in with that bastard… with Zellar, and somehow he managed to kidnap Krissy off the boat… possibly both of you and together you effected an escape before he was able to…” his voice trailed off and he gave Kristin an apologetic look as she buried her face in Nathan’s neck.

 

“It’s okay, my lady,” Nathan soothed his wife as he slipped his arms around her and pulled her as close as he could.  “The bastard is gone…”

 

The room grew very quiet as Nathan continued to whisper calm, loving words in Kristin’s ear, his hands gently rubbing her; one on her back, the other on her belly.  After several minutes, a sniffle was heard and then Kristin lifted her head from Nathan’s shoulder.

 

“Thank you…” Kristin murmured and tilted her head up to brush a soft kiss against his lips, not caring that the others were present.

 

“Anytime, my love,” Nathan whispered back as she shifted a little closer and laid her head on his shoulder.

 

Together they looked at her father, their eyes telling him to continue.

 

“I’m sorry,” Lionel told Kristin softly, relieved at the slight nod she gave him.  “After that, I believe it was as you’ve said… you went to the island, where within a couple weeks you were married and had a short honeymoon then you,” his eyes met Nathan’s,  “sent her back here and went after that son of a bitch.”

 

Silence filled the room as Stonevale finished speaking and rose to refill his glass then resumed his seat beside his wife.

 

“So is it true?”

 

All eyes turned to Lavinia; the first to finally speak up.

 

“Are you the Blue Rogue?”  Lavinia asked Nathan.

 

Nathan looked back at his wife.  The two had a silent conversation before Kristin smiled and nodded slightly.  Nathan turned back to face his in-laws and Lavinia.  “Yes… it’s true.  I am the Blue Rogue.”

 

Kristin squeezed Nathan’s hand as she shifted closer to her husband.

 

“You’re a pirate?”  Millicent’s voice was low and full of surprise.  She turned her gaze onto Kristin.  “You married a pirate?”

 

A slow smile filled Kristin’s face as she gazed up at Nathan and nodded.  “Yes.  I married a pirate.”

 

“Now that you know,” Nathan began as he met his father-in-law’s direct gaze,  “what are you going to do?”

 

“I honestly don’t know,” Lionel told him.  “I have been wrestling with that decision for the last couple of weeks.  You are a wanted man.  You’ve knowingly attacked a dozen or so British naval vessels; taken and killed some of His Majesty’s officers…”

 

“He has not!”  Kristin said vehemently as she lifted her head from Nathan’s shoulder.  “Nathan has never killed a man… except in self-defense!”

 

“Are you saying all those stories about the Blue Rogue taking men off the naval ships are lies?”

 

“No,” Nathan answered.  “I did take those men off the ships.  I liberated those men who had been pressed into service.  Men who did not ask to be part of the British navy but who had been forced into the navy.  Men who were not even British citizens.  And yes, every once in a while I would take a couple of the officers… however, I’ve never killed them.  In fact, every officer I’ve taken has cleverly managed to escape from my ship…”

 

“Escaped?”

 

“Because Nathan would let them…” Kristin told her father.  “He would take them as witnesses… so they would go back to the navy and tell them the other men he’d freed were dead.”

 

“Why?”  The question came from Lavinia.

 

“So that the navy would not hunt the men down as deserters,” Lionel answered.  “I take it you returned them to their homes?”

 

“If that is what they wanted… yes,” Nathan answered.

 

“If you were only attacking Naval vessels, why did you attack Kristin’s ship?”  Millicent asked.

 

“Mistaken identity,” Nathan said.  “One of my men mistook the Spirit for the ship we were looking for… the ship that Will had been pressed into service on.”

 

“Oh… I see.”

 

“So… I repeat, sir.”  Nathan looked at Stonevale.  “Now that you know, what are you going to do?”

 

“I should, by all rights, alert the authorities,” Stonevale said.  “Have you taken into custody.  You are a pirate after all.  And it was a pirate who is responsible for the death of my son…”

 

“And for mine as well,” Lavinia spoke up as she levered herself out of the chair and walked the small distance to the sofas.  “But I feel no malice for this man,” she gestured to Nathan.  “If anything, I feel a sense of gratitude that he was instrumental in bringing to justice the bastard who murdered our sons.”

 

“Father…”

 

Lionel turned to look at Kristin.

 

“Both Nathan and I would understand if you felt the need to call the authorities, however, Nathan would not be here by the time they arrived… and neither would I,” Kristin told him.  “And… we would never step foot in England again.”

 

“You would leave England… your home… for this man?”

 

“I told you on the night Nathan returned… if he asked me to, I would leave with him in a heartbeat,” Kristin answered.  “Not only is he the father of my child, your grandchild… Nathan is my home, and my place is by his side.”

 

Lionel looked thoughtful, his fingers once again stroking his beard.  “It has also come to my attention that there is a certain rumour still circulating among the ton,” he began.  “That the Blue Rogue is dead.  That he’d been caught and hung by the British navy.  I see no reason why that rumour should be corrected.”

 

A large smile found its way to Kristin’s lips.  “Thank you, Father.”

 

Lionel inclined his head.  “He makes you happy.  Happier than I have ever seen you,” he said then turned to Nathan.  “You are a good man, Bridger.  You would have to be for my daughter to fall in love with you.”

 

“Thank you, sir.”

 

“And I repeat my earlier warning… if you ever hurt her… by God, I will make sure that you rue the day,” Lionel growled.

 

“I could never hurt your daughter,” Nathan told Stonevale then turned to face Kristin as he continued.  “She is the other half of my soul… without her, I have no life.  And even the thought of her suffering in any way fills me with unspeakable pain.”

 

Kristin smiled at Nathan, her eyes bright with unshed tears and lifted her hand to cup his cheek.

 

“I love her…” Nathan said then turned back to his father-in-law.  “With all that I am, I love her.  I would give my life for her without hesitation.”

 

A slow smile filled Lionel’s face.  “I know you would, son.”  He said.  “Any fool can see how much you love my daughter… including me.”

 

“Thank you,” Nathan replied.

 

Lionel sat back and slipped his hand into his wife’s as he glanced at her.  “Well my dear… it appears that we have an outlaw for an in-law!”

 

The room erupted into laughter.

 

“I don’t know about the rest of you,” Kristin began as the laughter slowly died away,  “but I would really like a fresh cup of tea.”

 

“That sounds delightful,” Millicent nodded.

 

“Yes, it does,” Janet, said as the other women in the room nodded.

 

“We’ll go get it,” Cynthia said as she and Will stood and hurried, hand in hand, towards the door.

 

“And would you be so kind as to ask cook to prepare some sandwiches for your mother,” Nathan asked his step-daughter as she passed behind the sofa.

 

“Certainly,” Cynthia replied.

 

“How did you…?”

 

“Know that the princess was hungry?”  Nathan finished with a smile as he reached out to lay his hand on her gravid belly.

 

“Yes.”

 

“I just knew.”

 

Kristin smiled then leaned her head back and called out to her daughter.  “And know that I would like my tea to be hot!” 

 

“Yes, Mother,” Cynthia’s voice filtered back into the room.

 

“Smart kids,” Nathan leaned close and whispered in her ear.  “Wish I’d thought of it.”

 

Kristin blushed and swatted his knee.  “Behave…” she told him.  “My parents are sitting right in front of us.”

 

Nathan chuckled and chanced a quick glance at his in-laws, not surprised to find them watching he and Kristin with bemused smiles on their faces.  “I’ll bet they’re thinking the same thing I am.”

 

“It’s a bet you’d win,” Lionel commented softly then laughed heartily as both his wife and daughter reddened.

 

“See… told you,” Nathan said.

 

“Nathan, stop embarrassing your woman!”

 

Nathan turned to look at Bess.  “I wasn’t…”

 

Bess pinned a knowing look on him.

 

“How did you…?”

 

“It’s my job to know,” Bess said.

 

“And you thought Stephens was scary!”  Kristin whispered then chuckled at his vigorous nod.  At that moment, Cynthia and Will entered pushing the tea trolley.  “Where are the sandwiches?”

 

Cynthia laughed.  “Cook will be bringing them in as soon as she finishes making them.”

 

“So,” Millicent began as Cynthia poured then served the tea.  “Lavinia and I were talking earlier today… and we think after the wedding, once we’re all back in the city, that we should have a small party.”

 

“To show off that new husband of yours,” Lavinia finished with a smile.  “And we can also use this time to announce Cynthia and William’s marriage.”

 

Nathan and Kristin looked at each other, slight frowns marring their features.

 

“What is it?  Do you not want a party?”  Millicent asked.  “We thought it would be the easiest way to introduce Nathan to the peerage.”

 

Kristin nodded.  “It would be… however…” she glanced at Nathan.

 

“We won’t be here.”

 

“WHAT!?”

 

Kristin and Nathan met each other’s eyes again as the entire group erupted.

 

“What do you mean!?”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Where are you going?”

 

Nathan and Kristin merely sipped their tea while they waited for everyone to settle back down.

 

“Can we explain now?”  Kristin asked once they’d all quieted down.

 

“Please do!”  Lionel said with a sharp nod.

 

“Does this have anything to do with why you sent Ned off with that note a couple weeks back?”  Millicent asked.

 

Kristin once again looked at Nathan, the two having a silent conversation before she looked back to her mother and nodded.  “Yes it does.”

 

“Not the day after the wedding, but the day after that,” Nathan began.  “Kristin and I will be leaving for Cornwall.  Then after a few days rest, we will be sailing for our island.”

 

“Your island!?  Why?”

 

“In your condition?”

 

“Are you sure that is wise?”

 

“I don’t know if it wise or not,” Nathan answered.  “But that is what Kristin wants to do, and that is what we’re doing.”

 

“Krissy?”  At her pointed glare, Lionel corrected himself.  “Sorry… Kristin.”

 

“Is this true, Kristin?”  Millicent asked.

 

“Yes.”

 

“But why?”

 

“I can’t explain it,” Kristin answered.  “All I know is that I want… and need to have our baby on our island.  So, two days after the wedding, as Nathan has already told you, we will be heading for the estate in Cornwall and from there, sailing to the island.”

 

“That will be putting your arrival very close to your delivery time, won’t it?”  Lavinia asked.

 

“I should have about a month’s leeway,” Kristin answered.

 

“And what if you give birth on the ship?”  Lionel asked.  “What happens then?”

 

“Then I give birth on the ship,” Kristin answered then glanced over to where Bess and Raleigh were still seated.  “The Youngs will be us… so if I should go into labour while we’re sailing, Bess will there to deliver the baby.  However,” she smoothed her hands down over her belly,  “something tells me Junior will wait until we reach the island.”

 

“The princess had better,” Nathan said as he slipped his hand under hers and smiled when the child within kicked.

 

“You would let her do this?”  Lionel asked Nathan.  “Sail in her condition?  Knowing there is a chance she could go into labour on the ship?”

 

“Yes,” Nathan answered.  “I am her husband… not her keeper.  You’ve seen what happens when you try to tell her what to do.”

 

“You’re not worried?”

 

“I would be a fool not to be,” Nathan said.  “But I trust Kristin.  And if she says she is able to make the journey… then she is able.”

 

Cynthia moved to sit next to her mother, Will taking up position behind her.  “Mummy… are you really going to do this?”

 

“Yes, darling.  I am,” Kristin answered and reached for her daughter’s hand.  “I have to.  You and Will can join us later… after your honeymoon.”

 

“Well… after hearing about this island from you, Lucas and Will… I admit that I am quite anxious to see it,” Cynthia smiled then squeezed Kristin’s hand.

 

“You will love it,” Kristin told Cynthia.

 

“I’m sure I will.”

 

“So does this mean you’re all right with this?”

 

Cynthia nodded.  “I don’t like the fact that you will be so far away… but I understand that you feel this is the right thing to do.”

 

“Thank you,” Kristin smiled at her daughter.

 

“Are you certain about this, daughter?”  Lionel asked.

 

“Yes.”

 

“There is no changing your mind?”

 

“No.”

 

“Believe me, I’ve tried,” Nathan commented with a smile at his wife.  “But this is what Kristin wants to do.”

 

Lionel sighed softly but nodded.  “And she will not be happy otherwise.”

 

Nathan shook his head.  “And it is my desire to keep my wife happy at all times.  That above all else is paramount,” Nathan said as he turned to meet his wife’s eyes.  “She wants to have our child on our island…” he smiled at her,  “so on our island is where she shall be.”

 

Kristin smiled at Nathan and reached out to cup his cheek, rubbing her thumb over his lower lip in gratitude.

 

“Maybe…”

 

“Give it up, Lionel,” Millicent told her husband.  “Kristin is your daughter, and like you, she is as stubborn as any mule.”

 

“I am not stubborn!”  Lionel and Kristin stated at the same time then shared amused smiles.

 

Soft chuckles sounded throughout the room.

 

“Yes you both are,” Millicent said then looked at her husband.  “Kristin’s mind is made up… and nothing you say will convince her otherwise.  So I would suggest that you stop trying and enjoy the next few days.”

 

Lionel sighed and nodded.  “As long as you’re happy… and this is truly what you want… then I am happy for you, Kristin.”

 

“Thank you, Father,” Kristin smiled at him then glanced around towards the door of the parlour.  “Where is cook with the sandwiches?”

 

“I’m sure she is coming, sweetheart,” Nathan said as his hand circled over her belly.

 

“It’s not me… it’s your son who is the hungry one,” Kristin said and then as if to emphasize its mother’s thoughts, the baby kicked, rolling the front of Kristin’s dress.  “See…”

 

Nathan laughed then shifted and leaned down over her stomach as his hand slid around to cup where the baby’s foot seemed to be.  “Now now, Princess… stop kicking your mother.  The food is coming.”

 

“Does the baby really lis… I’ll be damned!”  Lionel remarked as his grandchild ceased kicking its mother.  “He… she… really does listen!”

 

Kristin smiled and laid her hand on top of Nathan’s.  “Yes.  Our child seems to love the sound of Nathan’s voice almost as much as I do.”

 

Anything else anyone was going to say was cut off by the cook entering the parlour carrying a tray loaded down with sandwiches which Kristin attacked voraciously; much to the amusement of her family.

 

“Hey!  I’m eating for two!”  She murmured before she took yet another bite of food.

 

“Yes you are, my love,” Nathan patted her belly.  “Yes you are.”

 

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

 

The clock struck one before Will decided that the household would be safely tucked away in bed.  He slid from the bed and quickly donned his dressing gown and slippers then quietly left his room and moved down the connecting corridor toward Cynthia’s room.  The tiny candle that he carried provided just enough illumination to keep him from stumbling over the plethora of small tables and knick-knacks lining the walls.

 

‘Today is my wedding day.’ He thought, a huge smile on his face.  Which was why he was skulking through a dark house at one in the morning.  Even though their wedding was supposed to be small it was going to be an elegant affair.  The details of the ceremony had kept Cynthia so occupied over the last week that he’d barely even seen her let alone had a chance to spend time with her without the prying eyes of other people.

 

Moonlight filtered through the occasional window, helping to light Will’s steps as he moved through the darkness.  ‘I just want to see my bride alone for a little while…’

 

Will yelped as he drew close to Cynthia’s door, caught off guard by the sudden movement as Nathan appeared in the shadowy edge of candlelight, arms folded and jaws locked.

 

“And just where do you think that you are going?”  Nathan was playing his role as father of the bride to the hilt.

 

“Uncle Nathan!  What are you doing here?  Is something wrong with Cynthia?” Will reached toward the doorknob but Nathan moved to block him.

 

“Cynthia is just fine.  She is asleep just like you should be.”

 

“Then why are you here… outside her door?”

 

Nathan snickered.  “Because you are here.  Kristin suspected that you might try to sneak into Cynthia’s room tonight.”

 

Will swore softly.  “I haven’t been alone with Cyn in days, Uncle Nathan.  Surely you understand how that makes me feel.”

 

“After you say your vows tomorrow you can be alone with her all you like.”

 

Will stared at Nathan dumbfounded.  “Surely you of all people aren’t going to lecture me about intimacy before marriage?  I didn’t come here to… I just wanted to talk to Cynthia.”

 

“I’m sure that is all that you intend… but given the nature of the beast, talking could easily turn into something else.  You’ve waited this long… you can wait one more day.  Just because Kristin and I… anticipated, it doesn’t give you and Cynthia license to do the same.  Yes we would love grandchildren… but there is no need to rush things.  Enjoy being married a while before you have children.”

 

“You do have a point.  Cynthia and I plan to wait a while to start a family.”

 

“That’s probably a good idea… Do you know how… do you need advice on contraception?”

 

“I’ve talked with dad about it.  Since there is a time frame of several years between my parents’ anniversary and my birth they were obviously experienced in that area whereas you…”

 

Nathan grinned wryly at his godson.  “Point taken.  But you still aren’t getting anywhere near my daughter until you meet her at the altar in the chapel tomorrow.”

 

Will held his hands up in defeat.  “Okay.  I’m going back to bed.  You should go as well.  We don’t want the father of the bride to be bleary eyed as he gives her away either.  Besides, Aunt Kristin is probably very lonely without you.”

 

“Nice try, young William, but even if you should succeed in getting past me I should warn you that my wife is waiting on the other side of that door.  If I were you I would just accept my advice and not even try.  Kristin is very emotional over her daughter’s marriage, a lot of which is due to her pregnancy.  If you persist in trying to get into that room you might not have to worry about consummating your marriage for quite a while.”

 

Will’s face fell as he slowly nodded then turned to trudge back down the hall.

 

“Will…” The young man halted at his godfather’s call.  “If it is any consolation… I believe that her mother is giving Cynthia some advice on the wedding night as well.  And Kristin’s advice is bound to be very… enlightening.”

 

A huge smile split Will’s face.  “Good night, Uncle Nathan.”

 

“Good night, son.”

 

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

 

Nathan murmured as the sunlight creeping across the room finally reached the bed and fell on his closed lids then he turned and snuggled into the warm body next to him.

 

“You’d better be my wife or I’m in big trouble,” he murmured into the silky hair as his hands slid around her bulky middle.

 

“That is an understatement.” Kristin answered as she squirmed back into her husband’s warm embrace.

 

“I thought you were going to stay the night with Cynthia…”

 

“I was but… I missed you and apparently your child did as well.”

 

“A bit over active?” Nathan ran his fingers soothingly over her abdomen.

 

“Turning somersaults by the dozen.  I couldn’t get comfortable and I was keeping Cynthia awake.  When I opened the door and saw that you had disappeared I thought I’d follow you.  Presumably you took care of Will?”

 

“He did try to visit and I dissuaded him.  He had the audacity to point out that I wasn’t the person he would want to ask about contraceptive methods.”

 

Kristin’s belly jiggled beneath Nathan’s hands as her body shook with laughter.  “William does have a point.  I didn’t dare broach that subject with my daughter.”

 

“You have been keeping Cynthia very busy.  Will has missed spending time with her the last few days.  I can hardly blame him because I understand his feelings.  I’ve missed you as well.  If I didn’t get to hold you every night…”

 

“Let’s just be grateful that they are getting married tomorrow.  I doubt they would last much longer.  I suspect that their petting has been getting quite heavy.”

 

“Actually… they are getting married today.  It’s almost four in the morning.”

 

“Oh, God.  I’m going to look awful at the ceremony.”

 

“You could never look anything but beautiful, my love.  Just settle back and rest… you too, my princess.”

 

“Can’t sleep long…” Kristin mumbled, sleep already encroaching, “too much to do…”

 

“I’ll wake you up, I promise.” Nathan’s words were greeted with silence as exhaustion won and Kristin drifted into dreamland.

 

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

 

Kristin bolted from the pillows, knowing instinctively that the morning was more than half gone.  Her eyes searched the room but it was empty so she threw the covers aside and slid down the thick mattress.

 

“Sleeping beauty awakes.”

 

The sound of the door opening and closing alerted Kristin to someone’s entrance and Nathan’s words confirmed it.

 

“You promised to wake me up!  I’m running terribly late!” Kristin wailed as she stood in the middle of the floor trying to get her arms into her dressing gown, not really sure of what to do first.

 

“Everything is under control.  It is only a few minutes after nine.  I’ve brought you a breakfast tray.”

 

“But the wedding is in two hours.  I have to help Cynni get ready… greet the guests… check the chapel…”

 

“The first thing that you have to do is sit down and eat.  I am sure that the princess is hungry.”

 

Kristin sniffed the air and the baby kicked at the smell of breakfast drifting through the room when Nathan uncovered the tray but she still hesitated.  “I don’t really have time…”

 

“You have to eat, Kristin.  Katie and Clarissa are already ensconced in Cynthia’s room helping her get ready.  You will be there for the final touches, I promise.  Lavinia and your mother are in charge of guest greeting.  Lizzie should have the water heated for your bath by the time that you finish eating”

 

“Bess has been giving cook some pointers, I see.” Kristin muttered around a mouthful of flaky biscuit.  “I hope there weren’t any fatalities.”

 

Nathan chuckled.  “I think that the two ladies have come to an understanding.  Bess simply suggested that perhaps cook might want to know some of mine and Lucas’ favorite foods for when we stay in England.”

 

“And biscuits top the list.” Kristin sighed contentedly then continued to eat.

 

A loud clatter from the small bathing room next door alerted them to the presence of footmen filling the bath with warm water.  A few minutes later Lizzie appeared in the adjoining door. 

 

“The bath is ready whenever milady is.”

 

Nathan held his hand out but Kristin hesitated.  “The princess isn’t full yet.”

 

At this pronouncement Nathan threw his head back and roared.  “Go see to my wife’s dress, Lizzie.  I will help her with her bath.”

 

Lizzie’s eyes grew wide but she dropped a quick curtsey and disappeared through the door leading into Kristin’s dressing room.

 

“You shouldn’t shock the girl like that, darling.  Husbands don’t help their wives bathe or share their beds in her world.”

 

“This husband does.  Lizzie is just going to have to get used to it.”  Nathan hauled Kristin to her feet.  “Go.”

 

After pausing momentarily to stick her tongue out at her husband, Kristin moved toward the bathing room, her robe falling to the floor just as she rounded the corner.

 

By the time that Nathan reached the room Kristin was already settled in the tub.  He picked up a small table with one hand and moved it to the side of the bath then sat down the cup of tea and plate of biscuits and ham that he had brought with him.

 

“Feed the princess and let me worry about doing the washing.”

 

Kristin eyed him lustily.  “We seem to get in trouble when you do that and I wouldn’t want to be late for my own daughter’s wedding.  It would be difficult to explain…”

 

“I’ll behave, I promise.” Nathan crossed his heart then dipped the soap in the water and began to lather his hands.

 

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

 

“Kristin, you look lovely!” Janet exclaimed as she approached the other woman in the hall outside Cynthia’s door. 

 

Madame Dussault had outdone herself once again with Kristin’s gown for the wedding.  The colour of the delicate silk was up for debate; the ecru fabric taking on a blue tinge in some light and lavender tinge in other.  Instead of hiding the wearer’s condition it enhanced it.  The soft color also emphasized the glow of Kristin’s skin as happiness emanated from her to wash over all those around.

 

“Thank you, Janet.  So do you.  You should wear yellow more often.”

 

Janet fingered the skirt of her new gown.  “Bill loves the color as well.” A light blush touched her cheeks.

 

“How is William?”

 

“Wearing out your expensive carpets.”

 

“Not having second thoughts, is he?”

 

Janet laughed.  “No second thoughts.  He is just very nervous.”

 

“Shall we check on the bride?”

 

“My thoughts exactly.”

 

Kristin tapped lightly at the door then turned the handle.  “It’s mother, dear.  May Janet and I come in?”

 

Cynthia was sitting at her vanity when they entered, smiling serenely as Katie and Clarissa put the finishing touches on her upswept strawberry curls.

 

“Mummy, what do you think?” Cynthia looked at her mother, her eyes questioning.

 

“I think… I think that you look absolutely perfect.”

 

“Will isn’t going to be able to take his eyes off of you.” Janet seconded Kristin.

 

“Perhaps just…” Kristin eyed the intricate pattern of Cynthia’s hair for just a moment then moved to a nearby table.  The bouquet of fragrant white and pink blossoms that Cynthia was going to carry stood in the vase waiting.  Kristin plucked a few of the tiniest blossoms from one side then moved in behind Cynthia and tucked them carefully into her hair.

 

“How is that?”

 

“I like them, Mummy.  I am so glad that we still have fresh flowers in the greenhouse.”

 

“I can’t believe… my baby is getting married!” The room was astonished when Kristin burst into tears.

 

Cynthia threw her arms around her mother.  Soon both of them were crying.

 

When Kristin felt her daughter’s tears on her hand she pulled back, horrified.  “No… you can’t cry.  Not today.  You don’t want your eyes to be all puffy.”  She dabbed at the drops on Cynthia’s face then lifted the lace handkerchief in her hand to her own cheeks.  “Turn around and let’s fix your face again.”

 

“What time is it?” Cynthia asked as Katie smoothed a light dusting of powder across her cheeks.

 

“You have about forty-five minutes until the ceremony.  I hope that my rugs can hold out that long.”

 

Cynthia looked confused as Kristin and Janet shared a laugh but her soon to be mother-in-law explained.  “William is doing quite a bit of pacing at the moment.  Perhaps that is tradition as well.  According to Bill,” Janet looked at Kristin,  “Nathan probably walked ten miles waiting for your ceremony to start.”

 

“Nathan?  He really paced that much?  He never let on that he was nervous.”

 

“Bill said that Nathan was terrified that you would change your mind.”

 

Kristin was incredulous.  “As if that would have ever happened.”

 

“Should I put on my dress now, Mummy?”

 

“I think so… just in case we need to make any last minute repairs or adjustments.”

 

“Bess did a wonderful job with the alterations.  I know that Madame Dussault was a bit put out that I already had a dress but I wanted to wear yours.  When I was a little girl I would sneak into your wardrobe and stare at it, imagining wearing it someday.”

 

Kristin smiled at the admission.  “I caught you doing that several times.  I never said anything to you… I didn’t want to interrupt your daydreams.  I hadn’t been able to wear it after you were born… I would have had to let it out in the bosom.  But I took very special care of it in hopes that you would wear it one day.”

 

“Were you happy the day you married my father, Mummy?”

 

Kristin’s eyes softened.  “I was very happy, my love.  Oliver was a wonderful man and I was very proud to be his wife.  I felt like a princess in this beautiful gown. I was a little nervous as I walked down the aisle on father’s arm but Oliver looked so handsome waiting at the altar for me.  He wore a gray suit with a russet waistcoat and I could see the chain of the watch I had given him hanging from his pocket.”

 

“Thank you for telling me, Mummy.”

 

Kristin chucked Cynthia beneath her chin.  “Why don’t you girls go and get the dress ready for Cynthia to put on?”

 

Janet gently herded Katie and Clarissa toward Cynthia’s small dressing room, recognizing that Kristin wanted a few moments with her daughter.

 

“We’ve had a lot of changes in our lives over the past few months, haven’t we?” Kristin asked as she perched on the small bench beside Cynthia.

 

“That is an understatement.”

 

“I just want you to know that nothing has changed between us and it won’t.  I’m not thrilled at the thought of living so far away from you for part of the year but I will always be here for you, no matter what.”

 

Cynthia squeezed her mother’s hand.  “Will and I will be coming to your island to visit so often that you will be fed up with us.  I have to make sure that my baby sister knows who I am and how much I love her.”

 

“And someday there will be tiny nieces and nephews for your sibling to play with.”

 

Cynthia blushed.  “Someday… I think we’d like to have some time together before we start having babies.  I hope you don’t mind.”

 

“Of course not.  But sometimes babies come even if you aren’t ready for them.  There are ways that I can tell you to prevent them…”

 

Cynthia blushed.  “Will has talked to his father and I’ve talked to… Katie.”

 

Kristin’s face fell.  “Oh… that’s all right then.”

 

“Mummy, I didn’t mean… I just couldn’t talk about… that… not to you.”

 

“I thought we could talk about anything.”  Kristin’s hurt was evident though she tried to hide it.

 

Cynthia looked uncomfortable.  “We can.  We have talked about certain aspects of a physical relationship but… I know that you and Nathan are very active in that part of your marriage but I don’t need to know any details and I don’t want to be thinking about the two of you…” she burst out without taking a breath.

 

A picture flashed in Kristin’s mind of her parents locked together when she’d visited them several months ago.

 

“I… think that I understand.  I would have been mortified to have that type of conversation with my mother on my wedding day as well.  Perhaps in a few years you might be more comfortable.  But Cynthia… if ever you do really need to speak with me… I am always here.  A little embarrassment won’t kill either of us.”

 

“I promise.” Cynthia leaned forward and brushed her lips across her mother’s cheek.  “We’ll only be at the hunting lodge tonight so if I should need to talk to you I won’t be far away.”

 

“If I might make a suggestion… try the bathtub.  I am sure you will need to relax tonight.”  Kristin gave Cynthia one last brilliant smile before standing.  “Now let’s get you dressed.”

 

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

 

The quiet chatter drifting from the upper floor alerted Nathan to the impending arrival of the wedding party and he gave a nod to Lucas who was standing watch at the door of the groom’s room.  Will and Bill appeared in the doorway, both wearing dark suits and a sprig of flower in their buttonhole.

 

Nathan inclined his head toward the stairs.  “I think that the bride is ready.  How about the groom?”

 

“Ready… I’m ready.” Will answered nervously.

 

The vicar of the local parish patted Will’s shoulder.  “Let’s head to the chapel, son.”

 

Will nodded.  “Uncle Nathan… tell Cynthia… tell her that I am waiting.”

 

“Go, son.  I’ll tell her.”

 

Once the front door had closed behind the groom’s party Nathan turned and called up the stairs.  “The coast is clear.  You can come down now.”

 

Katie and Clarissa appeared at the top of the stairs in their bridesmaid’s gowns and carefully descended.  Janet followed close behind.

 

“You look very handsome.” Janet ruffled Nathan’s hair as she passed him.  He laughed as he smoothed it down.

 

“Save your compliments for the bride and groom.”

 

“I’ve already complimented the bride.  The bride’s mother looks quite lovely as well.”

 

“The bride’s mother takes my breath away every time that I look at her.”

 

The sound of a carriage pulling up to the door drew their attention.  “I feel silly riding a few hundred yards to the chapel when we could just walk.”

 

“The ground is cold and wet.  You don’t want to ruin the hems of your dresses.”

 

Janet nodded as Kristin appeared at the top of the stairs.  “Come girls.  Get your cloaks and let’s go get in the carriage.”

 

Nathan took the stairs two at a time to Kristin’s side and held her arm and waist as she slowly moved down the steps.

 

“You look lovely… as beautiful as you did on our wedding day.”

 

Kristin laughed.  “I look pregnant.  When I walk into that chapel there will be no doubt.  I know that we didn’t invite that many people from the ton but there will be enough of them in attendance that all bets will be collected by this evening.”

 

“I should have asked Malcolm to place one for me.  Is the bride going to be joining us soon?”

 

“I’m right here.”

 

Nathan turned to find Cynthia standing halfway down the staircase.  He exhaled slowly.  “You look beautiful, Cynthia.  I never realized how much you favored your mother until now.”

 

A shy smile touched Cynthia’s face as she resumed her trek down.

 

“The carriage is waiting for me.  I shall see you at the church in a few moments time.”  Kristin’s eyes closed briefly and when she opened them a tear shimmered in the corner.  “I love you, Cynthia.”

 

“I love you, Mummy.” Cynthia and Kristin embraced one final time.  When they parted Nathan walked Kristin out the doorway and helped her into the carriage, his lips brushing hers as he handed her up.

 

Nathan retreated to the doorway as the carriage pulled away then walked back inside to escort Cynthia out as their ride pulled up.

 

“You are a breathtaking bride, my dear.  My godson is a very lucky man.”  Nathan said once they were settled across from each other in the coach.

 

“I am the lucky one.”

 

“Cynthia… just before we go, I wanted to speak to you a moment.”  Nathan hesitated for a second then forged on resolutely.  “I wanted to tell you how honored I am that you asked me to escort you down the aisle.  I know how much you loved your father and I would never try to take his place in your affections but… over this last month… I loved you before I ever met you because you were part of your mother and she loved you so much.  But getting to know you… I’ve come to love the real you as if you were my own.  I just want you to know that I will always be there for you, no matter what.”

 

Cynthia fanned her face furiously with one hand, her bouquet clenched in the other.  “You are going to make me cry again.”

 

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to…”

 

“Nathan, you are such a lovely lovely man.  My father will always hold a very special place in my heart but you’ve come to occupy a very special place too.  I am a very lucky girl to be given the gift of two wonderful fathers.”

 

The carriage lurched to a halt before Nathan could reply.  He swung the door open and stepped out then turned to lift Cynthia from the vehicle to the stone path leading toward the chapel.

 

“Are you ready, my dear?”

 

“Yes, I am ready.  Let’s go… Dad.”

 

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

 

“The service was beautiful, Lady Westphalen.  The strength with which both the bride and the groom spoke their vows… there was no hesitation from either of them.”

 

“Thank you so much, Mrs. Adams.  But I am no longer Lady Westphalen.  My title now is simply Mrs. Nathan Bridger and I couldn’t be happier.”

 

“Mr. Adams and I would like to offer you our congratulations on your marriage as well.  You were very naughty keeping your new husband a secret from us.”

 

Kristin laughed.  “Circumstances at the time made it easier for me to keep things quiet.  I didn’t intend to deceive anyone and we weren’t expecting Nathan to be delayed over two months.”

 

“Of course not.  The delay was regretful but… the reason is understandable and the outcome is greatly appreciated by the United States government.  No…” Catherine Adams hastily reassured Kristin.  “…it isn’t common knowledge by any means but my husband told me about the captain’s bravery.”

 

Kristin turned away to stare into the sea of couples dancing as she tried to compose her self.  “Captain Bridger was very brave,” she finally whispered.

 

“And he loves you very much.  That is obvious every time he looks at you.”

 

“Mrs. Bridger, may I offer my congratulations on your daughter’s marriage and on your own.”  Catherine Adams’ husband offered his hand as he joined the ladies.

 

“Thank you, Ambassador.”

 

“Would you mind terribly if I spirited my wife away for a dance before we have to set out for the city?”

 

“Of course not.  We are so pleased that you could join us today.”

 

“We shall see you in the city soon, shan’t we?  Or do you intend to remain in the country until your confinement is over?”  Kristin smiled at Catherine Adams’ question, as John Adams looked away, embarrassed at the mention of her condition.

 

“Actually this is goodbye for a while.  Captain Bridger and I are departing the day after tomorrow for my estate in Cornwall.  From there we sail home to our island in the Caribbean in a weeks time.”

 

The ambassador looked back, shocked.  “You are going to sail in your present condition?  Isn’t that dangerous?”

 

“No more dangerous than staying in England.  Both the captain and I feel that our child should be born on our island.”

 

“Admiral Noyce has been give two months leave to return home for the holiday season.  Surely you could wait two weeks and travel with your family?”

 

Kristin shook her head.  “I thank you for your concern but we’ve already set our plans.  Captain Bridger and I, along with our dear friends, Bess and Raleigh Young, are leaving next week.  The newlyweds will have a short honeymoon here on the estate while the Noyces return to London for the Admiral to finish his work.  They will all meet in Cornwall in two weeks time to follow us.”

 

The ambassador would have said more but his wife laid her hand in his.  “We wish you and the captain all the best, Mrs. Bridger, and we look forward to meeting the newest member of the family when you return to London.”

 

With a final nod the ambassador swept his wife into his arms and onto the dance floor.

 

“Hello, beautiful lady.”

 

Kristin turned to find a pair of sapphire blue eyes staring back at her.  “Hello, sailor.”

 

“Can you find it in your heart to spare a dance for a lonely old seadog?”

 

“No, but I would love to dance every dance with my handsome husband.  Have I mentioned how disgustingly gorgeous you look in your blue suit?  It makes your eyes even more vivid.”

 

“You are prejudiced, wife.  Don’t the children look wonderful dancing together?”

 

Cynthia and Will occupied the center of the dance floor, each having eyes only for the other.  As far as they were concerned the room might have been empty.

 

“They are going to want to leave very soon, you know.” Nathan whispered in Kristin’s ear.  “And I can’t blame them.  I would like to leave, too.”

 

Kristin leaned back against Nathan’s shoulder as he slipped his arms around her belly.  “The carriage will be waiting at the front of the house in about ten minutes.  Once the bride and groom depart the other guests will soon follow.”

 

“We should thank Lavinia again for agreeing to house most of the overnight guests in the dowager house.”

 

“You are right.  We wouldn’t have room for all of them here.  I also need to pen notes to our friends in the community that offered their homes to guests as well.”

 

“Do you feel like dancing?  Would you rather sit down?”

 

Kristin pulled out of Nathan’s embrace and took his hand, tugging him toward an arrangement of plants in the corner.  With a quick glance back into the ballroom she pushed through the heavy covering of leaves, dragging Nathan behind her.  They emerged into a small alcove.

 

“I wouldn’t have guessed that this was here.” Nathan laughed as he looked around the tiny room, taking note of the loveseat pushed against one end.

 

“We don’t normally cover the entrance but mother thought that I might need a quiet place to rest for a few minutes during the reception.  In here we have the privacy to dance without having to worry about keeping the proper distance.”

 

“That would be almost impossible, anyway.”  Nathan observed as he gathered Kristin into his arms.  “Has the princess been behaving herself?”

 

“For the most part.  She started doing somersaults during the prayer and she has been kicking up a storm since the music started.  This one is going to be a dancer.”

 

“Speaking of dancing…” Nathan placed one hand on Kristin’s waist and held out the other.  Kristin took the hand and Nathan twirled them gently around the room in time with the music.

 

“Okay, princess, do you think that you could curl up so I could hold mama a little tighter?” Nathan told Kristin’s belly after several failed attempts to pull her closer.

 

Kristin laughed.  “There isn’t much room in there for the baby to curl up. I am really amazed at how big I am getting.  I must have conceived the very first time we…” she blushed and let the sentence hang.

 

“Trust me,” Nathan murmured then turned Kristin in his arms so that her back was against his chest.  He laid one arm protectively over her stomach as they continued to sway in time to the music.  “I hope that it was the first time that we both found pleasure and not the first time that I…”

 

“Our child was conceived in love, Nathan, even if we hadn’t said the words we still felt them.”

 

Nathan’s free hand slid up to cup Kristin’s breast, the swollen mound spilling over the curve of his hands. “You are growing here as well.”

 

“I think that means that your child will have a very healthy appetite.”

 

“No wet nurse?”

 

Kristin turned her head back to glare at Nathan.  “I didn’t want one twenty-three years ago and I don’t intend to have one now.”

 

“I’m not complaining, my love.  I can’t imagine a more perfect picture than you in a rocking chair, our child feeding here.” His thumb slid across the dimpled fabric that covered an enflamed nipple.

 

Kristin sighed.  “You shouldn’t do that here.  Someone might see…”

 

“No one knows we are back here.  I find myself overcome with the desire to kiss you, my wife.  May I?”

 

Kristin scanned the covering of plants then pulled away from Nathan and beckoned him toward the small lover’s bench.  He sat then slid into the slight covering that the tall leafy bush offered. As Kristin moved to lower herself beside him he gently pulled her over until she was seated in his lap.

 

“That’s much better, isn’t it?” Nathan lifted his face up and Kristin lowered her lips to his.

 

“I love it when you kiss me like that,” Kristin sighed as their lips parted.

 

“Like what?”

 

“So soft and gentle, as if you could go on kissing me for hours.”

 

“Very easily, my wife.  You have a very kissable mouth.”  He pulled her back in for another buss.

 

Kristin started and pulled away when she felt her neckline loosen and slip but Nathan’s mouth simply slid over her chin to her neck.  “Not here… we can’t.”

 

“I know, love.  I just want to touch you…” Kristin moaned as Nathan’s hand slid beneath her gown and chemise to touch her bare skin.  Her nipple ruched tightly beneath his palm.

 

The sound of a clearing throat pulled them apart.  They looked up to find Millicent standing in the midst of the palms.

 

Kristin blushed, her head lowered as she tugged on Nathan’s wrist.  Once his initial shock had faded Nathan grinned at his mother-in-law and saucily gave Kristin’s breast one last squeeze before pulling his hand out and refastening the top of her gown.

 

Millicent simply raised her eyebrows at the couple.  “The children are getting ready to leave.  I thought you might wish to see them off.”

 

“Of course, Mother.” Kristin stammered as she tried to push her body up.

 

Nathan finally took pity on Kristin and helped her up then joined her.

 

“Fix your bodice, Kristin.” Millicent said in a mothering tone.

 

Kristin glanced down to see that her breasts were threatening to spill over the neckline.  She turned her back and quickly pushed them back into the confines of the dress.

 

“And you…” Millicent pointed her finger at Nathan’s face then slowly dropped it lower.  “Reposition your coat.”

 

This time Nathan did blush as he carefully pulled the edges of his jacket closed and smoothed the bottom down over his trousers.

 

“Ready?” He murmured to Kristin as she turned back around. With one last glance at her dress she nodded and Nathan gestured for her to go first.  Millicent flicked her wrists at him, urging him to follow his wife.

 

“Yes, my daughter… you are indeed a very lucky woman.” Millicent Westphalen smiled as she slipped back through the palms.

 

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

 

Although Kristin was lying completely still, Nathan knew that she was awake as soon as his eyes opened.  He pulled her tighter against him and buried his face in her hair.

 

“Is everything okay?”

 

“Fine,” Kristin cuddled back into him.  “The baby is just restless… and I am as well.”

 

Nathan’s hands moved to caress her belly, his fingers easily detecting the constant motion just beneath the surface.  “Settle down,” he commanded his child.  The motion slowed immediately.

 

“Much better.” Kristin sighted, her hands moving to join his.

 

“Now what can I do to make mama fill better?”

 

“You are already doing it.  The touch of your hands soothes me as well.”

 

“Are you apprehensive about leaving tomorrow morning?  We could always delay our departure or send for the seaQuest to sail to a closer port.”

 

“If I said that I was looking forward to three days in a carriage I would be lying and you would know that I was.  But sending a message and waiting for the ship could delay us by as much as a month.  We don’t have that kind of time.”

 

“We can make the time.  Your comfort is paramount.”

 

“I know, darling.  But I know that our child is supposed to be born on our island.  I’ll survive the journey to Cornwall and then we will be on our way home.  Just make sure we have plenty of extra pillows to support my back.”

 

“And I’ll support your front.”  Nathan’s hands slid up to her bosom.

 

“Anytime, my love.  John has had three weeks since receiving our note from Ned so I am sure that he has the seaQuest ready to sail by now.  We should be able to sail almost immediately.”

 

“You might want to spend a few days at your house in Cornwall… you are sure to be tired after we arrive.”

 

“I can rest anywhere just as long as you are with me.  I never had any problem sleeping in your bed on the seaQuest… at least not after you removed my corset that first night.”

 

“One of my more inspired ideas, if I do say so myself.  The way that your chest sprang free when I pulled that damned contraption away… I was afraid you would be able to see me sticking up over the edge of the hammock.”

 

“I knew that you were… that there was something between us… but I didn’t know it that early.  I thought you were toying with me until you gave me the books and saved me from choking.  But then you kissed me the first time… and touched me so intimately.  I knew then that you did want me… at least physically.”

 

“I kissed you that day to punish you for being so defiant.  But once I started I couldn’t stop… didn’t want to stop.  And you responded… you opened your mouth to me and I was lost.  If Crocker hadn’t interrupted us I might have taken you then and there.”

 

Kristin rubbed his hand.  “I know.  I wanted… I didn’t really understand why but my body was on fire for you.  After you left I…” Kristin turned her head into the pillow, “…I put my fingers where yours had been…”

 

“I know… I was watching.”

 

Had Nathan dreamed that his simple admission would cause such a response he might never have made it.  Kristin pulled out of his grasp as she pushed up into a sitting position.

 

“You did WHAT?  Oh my… that’s why you had my fingers in your mouth… I didn’t know why…”

 

Nathan quickly sat up beside her.  “Don’t be angry, love.  I kissed you to punish you but then I felt like a heel.  I also found out that I wanted more.  I wanted to taste you… to love you completely.  I was afraid that you would be furious with me so I sneaked a peek at you through a knothole in my office to see if you had calmed down.  When I saw what you were doing… that I had caused that… I was both ashamed and elated at the same time.  I could have given you your clothes at any time, you know.  I didn’t have to keep you practically naked in my bed.”

 

Kristin glared at her husband through his explanation and beyond but when he gave her his best little boy grin she couldn’t help but smile back.  “I can’t believe that you did that.  What else did you do accidentally on purpose?”

 

“I took advantage of the situation to grope you, but you already know that.  I was also rather fond, and still am, of looking down your cleavage and imagining…” Nathan’s hands lifted to cup the heavy globes, supporting them as his head lowered and his tongue teased the dusky tips.  “Forgive me?”

 

“Only if you keep doing that…” Kristin fell back to the bed, her hands clutched in Nathan’s hair pulling him with her as she went.

 

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

 

“You can still change your mind, Kristin.  This journey… in your condition… Autumn has set in.  The carriage will be cold.” Millicent fussed over Kristin as she checked the trunks in the front hall, waiting to be loaded on the coach.

 

“Nathan has piled so many blankets and pillows in the carriage that I will be surprised if there is room for me.  He has the kitchen heating at least a dozen bricks for my feet.  And if all else fails, my husband is very good at warming me up himself.”

 

“So I’ve noticed.” Millicent observed wryly.  “Why can’t you stay here, Kristin?” She burst out all at once.  “I want to be with you when the baby comes.”

 

“Mummy,” Kristin paused in her task and took her mother’s hand.  “I want you there as well but… I can’t explain it but I know that our baby is supposed to be born on our island.  We have to go.  We don’t have that much time.”

 

Millicent’s disappointment was obvious.  “A letter will take so long… and I will worry about you.  Worry that everything is all right.  Wonder if my new grandchild is a boy or a girl.”

 

Kristin grabbed both of her mother’s hands.  “Then don’t wonder.  Come to the island with Bill and Janet and the children.”

 

“What?”

 

“It makes sense, Mother.  You and father have nothing to tie you down.  The Wayfarer will have plenty of room for you.  Bring Lavinia as well.  We’ll have a fabulous family Christmas on the island.  The warmth would be good for your ankle.  I’ve seen the way that you flinch when you walk on damp days.  Why shouldn’t you spend the winter with us in a warmer climate?”

 

“I… I don’t know.  I would have to discuss it with your father.”

 

“Then do.  You have two weeks at least.  That is enough time for you to make arrangements.”

 

“But you and Nathan are still newlyweds… you can’t want your entire family descending on you en masse.”

 

“Christmas is for families.  Nathan’s home isn’t nearly as grand as yours but it is so wonderful, all light and air.  There are several cottages on the island as well.  You and father could have privacy if you wanted it.  I know that Will and Cynthia will want one.  One of Nathan’s ships can bring you home any time you like.  Nathan…” Kristin called out as she sensed her husband approach.  “Come convince mummy to come to the island with the others.”

 

“We would love to have you and Lord Westphalen come for the holidays.  I know that Kristin would like you there for the birth.  Bess and I will help her but there must be something about having your mother nearby.”

 

“Bess and… YOU?  You are going to be present during Kristin’s lying in?”  Millicent was shocked.  “You can’t be!  It isn’t done!”

 

“Maybe not but Kristin wants me there so I will be there.” Nathan brushed a kiss across Kristin’s forehead.  “I’d better see to getting these trunks loaded.”

 

“You have certainly married a most unconventional man, daughter.” 

 

“I have indeed.  But don’t let Nathan fool you.  He wants to be there to see our baby born as much as I want him to be there.”

 

“As you say… Why don’t you come sit in the parlour with me while the luggage is being loaded?”

 

“Actually I’d rather go back to the breakfast room.  The baby is hungry again and we have Bess’ biscuits this morning.”

 

“I think that she and cook have packed a rather large basket for you to take with you.”

 

“I hope so.  Good morning, my son.” Kristin entered the room and smiled to see Lucas digging in to a plate piled high with food.  She crossed and kissed the top of his head.  “I was wondering if you were going to get up in time to say goodbye to your parents.”

 

“Of course I was, Mama.  I was just grabbing a bite to eat while they load your dresses and stuff.”

 

Kristin pulled out the chair next to him and sat down, snatching a biscuit from Lucas’ plate as she did so.  “I am glad that you did.  Now you remember everything that your father and I spoke to you about last night…”

 

“I will behave myself.  I will continue my lessons.  I will obey Admiral and Mrs. Noyce no matter what.  I will not drive Will and Cynthia to distraction with my teasing.”

 

“I have another one for you.” Kristin glanced at her mother then continued.  “I want you to work on your grandfather.  Try to convince him that he and mummy should come to the island with you for a visit.”

 

Lucas grinned.  “That would be great.  I could show grandfather the grotto and the volcano.  We could go fishing… and sailing…”

 

Millicent raised her eyebrows at Kristin as Lucas droned on.  “I guess that we will be joining you for Christmas.”

 

“Speaking of Christmas… Lucas, I thought that you might take some time while you are in the city to pick up some Christmas gifts.”

 

Lucas stopped speaking and eyed Kristin curiously.  “For who?” he finally asked, sure that his mother was trying to force him to shop.

 

“For Crocker and Tim… for Miguel.  You might even want to pick up a few personal things.  Something nice for your grandfather perhaps?  And a certain young lady?”

 

The tips of Lucas’ ears turned bright pink.  “I could do that for you, I guess.”

 

“I thought so.”  She reached into her bag and pulled out a small envelope.  “Just to make sure you have enough.”

 

Lucas shoved the money in his pocket.  “Thanks, Mama.”

 

“Do you need me to do any shopping for you, Kristin?  Even if we don’t come I could send the items.”  Millicent asked.

 

“I’ve given Janet an absolutely horrendous list of things that we will need for the baby.  I am sure that if you have the time she would appreciate your help in purchasing the items.”

 

“I would be glad to help.” Millicent agreed, making a mental note to look at the list and add several more items to it.  It was her right as a grandparent after all.

 

“Good morning, everyone.” Janet entered the room with a smile on her face.  “I gather that you must have packed a great deal of luggage, Kristin.  The language coming from the front of the house would make a sailor turn blue.”

 

Kristin rolled her eyes.  “I didn’t pack that much.  Well… maybe I did.  But I have to have gowns to get me through the next few months and then I will need gowns a little smaller to wear once the baby is born.”

 

Janet simply smiled.  “Clarissa should be down in just a moment.  She wants to say good bye as well.”

 

“As do we.”  Everyone turned to see Cynthia and Will standing in the doorway smiling.

 

“Oh, Cynni!” Kristin was beaming, as her daughter moved to hug her while Will did the same to his mother.

 

“Hey! Look who came out of the woods!”

 

“Bill Noyce, you behave yourself!” Janet chastised her husband as Bill clapped his hand on Will’s shoulder and shook his hand vigorously.  Nathan stood close behind to take his place.

 

Amidst the rising chatter Kristin pulled Cynthia to the corner of the room.  “How are you, my dear?  Are you happy?  Is Will being good to you?”

 

Cynthia blushed prettily.  “Will has been wonderful… so gentle and loving.” She glanced around the room to make sure that no one was listening.  “It was fabulous, Mother… being so close to Will…  and your suggestion about the bathtub…” Cynthia stopped speaking as shyness overcame her.

 

Kristin hugged her daughter once more.  “I’m so glad, Cynni.  And thank you for interrupting your honeymoon to come say goodbye.  I know that we will see each other in a few months but… I’m glad to know before I leave that you are happy with your marriage.”

 

“Very happy, Mummy.  But Will and I wouldn’t have missed seeing you off.”

 

“I’m so glad that you did.  I am going to miss you.  We’ve never been apart before for any length of time and now this makes twice in a year… but you are a married lady now.”

 

“So are you.” Cynthia laughed.  “You are my mother and whether you are across the globe or in the next room, I love you and nothing will ever change that.”

 

“No hiding in the corner plotting against me.” Nathan pulled Cynthia into a hug as he joined them.  “How are you, my daughter?  Do I need to ask young Noyce to step outside?”

 

“Dad!” Cynthia once again blushed.

 

“Leave her alone, darling.”

 

“Yes, dear.  The luggage is all loaded so we are ready to leave whenever you are.”

 

Kristin sighed, obviously not looking forward to the long trip.  Nathan laid a hand on the small of her back and drew her to his side.

 

“You can still change your mind.  I won’t be angry if we stay here.”

 

Kristin smiled, grateful for her husband’s understanding.  “No, I’ve made my decision.  We go.  Let’s say our final good-byes and let the children get back to their honeymoon.”

 

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

 

Lionel kissed his daughter on the cheek then embraced her.  “Have a good journey, Krissy,” he said.

 

“We will, Father,” Kristin replied as she returned his embrace.  “Nathan will take care of me.”

 

Lionel smiled at her as he pulled back.  “I…” he grimaced slightly.  “I… I love you, daughter,” Lionel said then inclined his head towards his son-in-law.  “He’s a good man.”

 

A large smile spread over Kristin’s face.  “Yes he is.”

 

“I was wrong… before… the things I said to you the last time we were here… and since you’ve been home…”

 

“Father… you’ve already apologized,” Kristin told him.

 

“I know,” Lionel said.  “But I felt the need to do so again.  I wanted you to know… that I truly am sorry.”

 

“Thank you,” Kristin said then beamed.

 

Lionel turned, knowing by the look on his daughter’s face that Nathan was there.

 

“Are you all ready, my lady?”  Nathan asked.

 

“Absolutely, my rogue,” Kristin nodded.

 

“Nathan,” Lionel stuck his hand out to the younger man.  “Have a safe journey.”

 

“Thank you, sir,” Nathan replied as he shook his father-in-law’s hand.  “And you don’t even have to say it.  I will take very good care of her.”

 

Lionel nodded and grinned.  “I know you will.”

 

“You’ve said your good-byes to your mother?”  Nathan asked.

 

“Yes,” Kristin and her mother replied together then giggled.

 

“If we start to say good-bye again,” Millicent began.  “You may never leave.”

 

Nathan grinned then grasped Kristin’s elbow.  As he led her to the carriage, Lionel turned and walked down the driveway to the second carriage that Raleigh and Bess would be riding in; the sheer number of extra pillows in Nathan and Kristin’s carriage not allowing for more than two passengers.

 

“Mrs. Young,” Stonevale began as he stepped up to the Youngs.

 

Bess turned.  “Yes, your grace?”

 

“I was wondering if I might have a word with you before you leave?”

 

“Of course,” Bess nodded.

 

“I…” Lionel stepped closer and reached out to clasp her hand.  “Please… please look after my little girl.”

 

Bess covered his hand with her free one as she nodded.  “Rest assured, Lord Stonevale,” she said.  “I will look after her as if she were my own child.  Your daughter’s made my boy happier than he’s ever been and that means a lot to me.   I’ve come to love Miss Kristin dearly.  She is family and I always look after my family.”

 

Westphalen smiled then leaned in and pressed a quick kiss to Bess’ weathered cheek.  “Thank you, Mrs. Young.  You have my eternal gratitude.”

 

“Anytime, your lordship,” Bess returned his smile.  “Anytime.”

 

Lionel nodded as he then reached out to shake Raleigh’s hand.  “It was a pleasure to meet you both.  Have a safe and pleasant journey, and Godspeed.”

 

“Thank you,” Raleigh returned the handshake.  “It was a pleasure to meet you and your wife as well.”

 

With a nod, Stonevale turned and strolled over to his wife as Raleigh helped Bess into their carriage.  Lionel slipped his arm about Millicent’s waist.

 

“We’ll go for Christmas,” he said in a gruff but quiet voice.

 

Millicent sniffled and buried her face in his neck.  “Thank you.”

 

“You’re welcome, Mils…” Lionel nuzzled a kiss to her temple as they and the others waved and watched the carriages move down the drive then eventually disappear.

 

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

 

sail ahead...