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

 

“And the rest of the crew?”

 

“Three men have contracted the fever thus far but not nearly as severe as the lad.” Crocker nodded toward the window where Lucas sat in a chair reading aloud to Kristin.  “We’ve quarantined them in one section and treated them as Lady Westphalen directed.  We may have a couple more men showing early symptoms but I’ve ordered them confined as well.”

 

“That sounds good, Gator.  Thanks to quick thinking and some excellent direction from our guest we may have staved off a major epidemic.”

 

Kristin looked up and smiled warmly at the captain.  Nathan returned the grin and their gazes locked and held.  Crocker whistled softly, amazed at how the emotion the two shared was almost tangible in the air between them.

 

“I’ll tell the men to continue what they have been doing.”

 

“Good,” Nathan nodded.  “If Lucas continues to improve this afternoon he will go back to his own bunk tonight.”

 

Crocker turned to Kristin, smiling to see her still clad in the captain’s britches and shirt.  “The men wanted me to pass their gratitude along to you as well, ma’am.”

 

Kristin stood and moved toward them.  “I didn’t do much but I am glad that my suggestions could help alleviate their suffering somewhat.  Please tell them that they are very welc…” Kristin broke off as she staggered slightly.

 

Nathan saw the glassy look in her eye and dove toward her, catching her as she sank to the floor in a dead faint.

 

“Dammit, she’s burning up!  Crocker, water!”  Nathan shouted as he struggled to stand, Kristin a dead weight in his arms.  He laid her in the freshly made bed and waved Lucas away when the boy would have come closer.

 

“Lucas, go back to your bunk.  You are still weak and I don’t want you getting reinfected.  I’ll send word, son… I promise.”  The look of fear on Lucas’ face broke Nathan’s heart and he could see the protest in Lucas’ eyes but instead of voicing it the boy picked up his book and slowly exited the room. 

 

Crocker sloshed half a bowl of water over the floor in his haste to get it to the bedside.  “Sir?  Is it…?”

 

Nathan nodded, his own face mirroring his despair.  “She was fine just moments ago.  You saw her.  But now…” Nathan’s hands fell to the buttons of Kristin’s shirt and began to unfasten them.

 

“Should I get Miss Hitchcock to help you?”

 

“NO!”  Nathan glared at his first mate.  “I will look after the countess… no one but me.  Bring me cold water and alcohol.  Station someone outside to carry out my orders but no one comes in without my say so.”

 

Crocker recognized the tone in his friend’s voice and knew there would be no dissuading him.  “Yes, sir.”  He turned to leave but Nathan’s voice halted him.

 

“Gator… look after Lucas, please?”

 

Once his friend had nodded and departed Nathan turned back to Kristin, surprised to find her staring up at him.  She grinned weakly.

 

“I guess we aren’t quite out of the woods yet,” she whispered.

 

“You are going to be fine.  I’m going to take very good care of you.”

 

“You should let Katie… It isn’t proper for you to…” her husky voice faded away as a wave of dizziness washed over her.

 

She clung to Nathan as he pulled her upright and slipped his shirt down her shoulders then tossed it away from them.  “I won’t look.”

 

Nathan’s comment drew a small smile from her as he moved to untie the knot in her rope belt.  Kristin tried to help him as he stripped the trousers from her legs but her strength was disappearing very quickly.  She soon faded back into unconsciousness.  Nathan tucked the blanket around her then ran a damp cloth over her forehead.  “You will be all right, my lady.  I am not going to lose you now.”

 

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

 

“Mmm… wa…” Nathan’s head jerked up off the mattress as Kristin mumbled in her troubled sleep.  He levered himself up from the floor he was sitting on, shaking his numb leg furiously as needle darts of sensation shot through it. 

 

Kristin had kicked the blankets away, in her delirium.  Her hair and chemise were dripping wet and plastered to her.

 

“Wa… pls… wt…” she mumbled again through thick lips. 

 

Nathan dipped his fingers in the cup of water by the bed and ran them over Kristin’s dry mouth.   Her lips pursed weakly as she tried to suck the moisture from his hand.  He continued this motion until she no longer responded to the wet stimulus. 

 

He laid a hand on her forehead and groaned, sure that her temperature had gone up several more degrees. 

 

“Don’t give up, Kristin.  You have to keep fighting… for me.”

 

Nathan took up the alcohol soaked rag from the basin and began washing her face and limbs as he’d seen her do for Lucas.  “And you don’t like strong spirits…” he murmured to her as he bathed her in rum.  “You smell like a distillery right now.  If you were awake I am sure you would be arguing to high heaven with me… ‘you can’t touch me like that, Captain Rogue… it isn’t proper’.  And yet you haven’t protested once about me getting rid of your corset.”  He kept up a steady stream of dialogue, hoping that somehow she could hear his voice and be comforted by it.

 

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

 

Kristin’s fever burned strong throughout the next day, not increasing as far as Nathan could tell, but never decreasing either.  Katie came to offer her services as nurse but the distraught captain turned her away, unwilling to leave the lady’s side even for an instant.  He did accept the two mended chemises from Katie and after changing Kristin into a dry one, allowed the young woman to take the sweat dampened garment away to launder.

 

Midnight was approaching when the chills started, the clattering of her teeth bringing Nathan at a run from his hammock.  Her chemise was once again soaked through although now her body was cold and clammy to the touch.  After waging a debate with himself, common sense finally won out over proper manners and Nathan pulled her up and stripped the wet garment over her head.  He spread a dry blanket out beneath her then laid her back and piled extra blankets on top of her.

 

‘In for a penny in for a pound.’  Nathan toed his boots off then lifted the edge of the covers and climbed in with her.  He gathered Kristin into his arms and stroked her hair as he murmured soothing words against her temple.

 

Kristin muttered under her breath and despite her fever and the trembling of her body, she instinctively nestled deeper into his embrace, seeking his warmth.

 

“That’s it… rest, my lady,” Nathan told her softly rubbing her back through the thin blanket covering her body.  “Rest and get better.”

 

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

 

“Ca… tnrg…”

 

Nathan’s eyes snapped open and he shook himself out of the light doze he had fallen into.  He looked down at the woman in his arms to see her eyes moving wildly beneath her lids, her hand clenching and releasing the silk of his shirt as her body continued to shiver.

 

“Ca…”

 

“Ssh…”

 

Kristin shook her head, moaning softly.  “Noo… wa… cappls…”

 

Understanding dawned and Nathan shifted them in the bed so that he could reach over her to the bowl on the table beside the bed.  He dipped his fingers in the water then placed them on her lips as he’d done earlier.  ‘Or was that the day before?’   He asked himself, worry heavy on his mind as the last few days blurred together.

 

After several passes of his fingers against her swollen lips, Nathan settled them back against the bed and continued to rub her back gently.  He dipped his head, pressing his lips against her ear.  “Nathan…” he whispered.  “My name is Nathan…”

 

He closed his eyes as he shifted and nuzzled her temple, missing the soft smile that flittered across Kristin’s lips as she fell back into a deep sleep.

 

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

 

A soft rapping on the door woke Nathan up.  He glanced down at the woman in his arms then reached out and cupped her cheek.  He smiled.

 

“I do believe your fever has finally broken, my lady,” Nathan said and brushed his lips against her forehead before he slipped out from under the blankets and off the bed then answered the door.

 

“Mornin’, Cap,” Crocker greeted Nathan in a soft voice.  “I brought you some breakfast,” he said and held up a tray.

 

“Thanks, Gator… but…”

 

Crocker pushed past him and moved into the cabin, carrying the tray over to the table.  “You’ve barely eaten the last few days, Cap and you look like hell.”

 

“Thanks,” Nathan couldn’t help the crooked smile that tugged at the corner of his mouth as he followed his first mate to the table and sat down.

 

“Besides, you need to keep your strength up or you’ll be of no use to the countess,” Crocker told him then glanced over at the sleeping form in the bed.  “Speaking of… how is she?”

 

“Her fever broke during the night,” Nathan answered around a mouthful of porridge.

 

“Glad to hear it,” Crocker said as he moved to leave the cabin.  “Shall I let the crew know?”

 

Nathan nodded.  “But, I don’t want anyone dropping by until I say so.  She’s not completely recovered yet.”

 

“Aye, Cap.”  Crocker nodded then left.

 

Nathan quickly finished up his food and as he stood he caught sight of himself in the small mirror hanging on the wall.  He moved to stand in front of it and shook his head.  “What a sight you are, Bridger,” he muttered to himself as he ran his fingers through the mess of what used to be a neatly trimmed beard.  He glanced over at the bed and assured that Kristin was still sleeping, Nathan stripped off his shirt and set about washing up and trimming his beard.

 

A short while later, Nathan opened the window and tossed the used water outside then returned the bowl to the credenza, deciding to leave the window open to let some fresh air into the cabin.

 

Humming softly to himself, he opened his trunk and pulled out two shirts.  He slipped one on then moved over to the bed.  Nathan sat on the edge of the bunk and reached out a hand to cup her cheek.  He smiled then wrinkled his nose.  “I think we’d better clean you up before you wake up, milady,” he told her sleeping form as the scent of sweat and rum reached his nostrils.

 

He stood and moved to the door.  “Ortiz,” he called to the young man standing guard against the opposite wall.  “Get Crocker and Miss Hitchcock for me immediately.”

 

“Yes, Captain,” Ortiz replied and took off to do as ordered.

 

Nathan closed the door and walked back to the bed.  He pushed a number of blankets off of Kristin then wrapped her in a couple of the lighter ones, making sure to cover her completely from head to toe. 

 

“Come in,” he called quietly at the knock on the door.

 

“You wanted to see us, Cap?”  Crocker asked as he and Katherine entered the room.

 

“Yes,” Nathan nodded.  “If I pick the countess up, will you two change the linens on the bed?  I’d like for her to wake up to clean bedclothes.”

 

“Of course, Captain,” Katherine said with a glance at Crocker to see him nodding as well.

 

“Thank you,” Nathan replied then turned back to Kristin and carefully lifted her from the bed.  He carried her over to the table, sat in one of the chairs and cradled her in his arms.  He gazed down at her, relieved to see some of the colour back in Kristin’s cheeks.

 

“Cap?”

 

Nathan pulled his eyes away from the woman in his arms and looked up to see Crocker smiling knowingly at him.  “Yes, Gator?”

 

“We’re all done,” Crocker told him.

 

“Thank you,” Nathan said as he stood and slowly carried Kristin back to his bed.  He laid her back on the mattress and pulled a clean blanket over her then turned to the two people standing behind him.

 

“Would you like me to stay with Lady Westphalen, Captain?  It would give you a chance to go up deck and get some fresh air,” Katherine volunteered.

 

“Thank you, but no,” Nathan answered with a smile.  He turned to Crocker.  “How is everyone else?”

 

“The three who were ill have all recuperated…”

 

“And those men who were showing symptoms?”

 

“The early treatment helped, they’ve not gotten extremely ill.”

 

“Glad to hear it,” Nathan nodded then moved to the door and opened it.  “Thank you both again.  I’ll let you know when she wakes up.”

 

Nodding, Crocker and Katherine left.  Nathan shut the door behind them then moved over to the credenza and poured some fresh water in the bowl, tossing in a clean cloth as well.  He carried the bowl over to the bed and placed it on the small table there then quickly retrieved the second shirt from on top of the trunk and returned to the bed.

 

“Okay, Countess… time to clean you up and get you into some clothes,” Nathan told her as he slowly removed all but one blanket.  He slipped a hand beneath her and sat her up to slip her arms into his shirt then laid her back down, careful to pull the ends of the shirt down so that she was completely covered.  Only then did he remove the thin blanket.

 

“Now… to clean you up,” he murmured, looking back and forth between her and the bowl.  “I know I’ve already seen… but I promised I wouldn’t look.  So how…”

 

Nathan shrugged his shoulders and slowly began to unbutton her shirt, taking care to make sure the material didn’t separate and reveal any of her body to him.  When he reached her waist, Nathan stopped and reached for the wet cloth.  He wrung it out then began to wash her, starting with her face.

 

He dipped the cloth back into the bowl then once he’d twisted the water out of it, he turned back to Kristin and paused.  ‘Here goes,’ he thought as he slipped his hand beneath the shirt to bathe her chest.

 

“Mmnnooo…” Kristin murmured as she weakly swatted at his hand.  “Dntch…”

 

“Ssh…” Nathan soothed her as her eyes fluttered open and she looked up at him.  “It’s okay.  There’s no funny business going on here…” he smiled down at her.  “I’m just washing you up.”

 

Kristin smiled softly and drifted back to sleep, murmuring quietly.  “Lkthflyurhnds…”

 

Nathan’s grin grew and he quickly finished his task.  He buttoned the shirt back up then pulled a warm blanket over her.  He took a moment then and simply looked at her.  ‘You are so beautiful,’ he thought as he traced the line of her jaw with his finger.  ‘Gator was right… I was enchanted with you from the moment I first laid eyes on you.’

 

“Sleep well, my lady,” Nathan told her softly as he leaned over to brush a gentle kiss against her forehead.

 

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

 

The sound of a deep breath being drawn followed by a low murmur caught Nathan’s attention.  He put the book he’d been attempting to read down on the table then rose and made his way to the bed.  He sat on the edge of the mattress and watched as Kristin slowly worked her way towards consciousness.

 

“…Na… than…” Kristin’s eyes fluttered open as she whispered his name on a breath and smiled when she saw him sitting on the bed beside her.  “…Hello…”

 

Nathan smiled down at her.  “Hello,” he reached out to brush a stray lock of auburn hair off her cheek.  “Welcome back.”

 

“Thank you,” she replied as she gave in to the urge to stretch.  When she finished, Kristin settled back against the pillows and looked up at him  “You look tired,” she said in a quiet voice as she reached up to touch his cheek with the tips of her fingers.

 

“I’m fine,” Nathan told her, a shiver running down his body as her hand completely cupped the side of his face.  “You’re the one we’ve all been worried about.”

 

“We?”

 

“Yes, we,” Nathan answered.  “The entire ship was concerned about you.  In fact… the first morning,” a smile formed on his face.  “I found Lucas camped out in front of my door again in case you needed anything.”

 

“That sweet child…” Kristin murmured then pushed up on her elbows.  “Camped out!?  But he wasn’t completely well… he shouldn’t have…”

 

“I made him go back to his bunk,” Nathan told her.  “And I had Crocker looking after him.”

 

“Good,” Kristin relaxed back against the pillows.  “So… the crew was worried about me?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Including her captain?”  Kristin asked in a soft voice.

 

“Especially her captain,” Nathan replied in an equally quiet voice as he held her gaze.

 

Kristin felt her heart begin to pound in her chest as Nathan slowly leaned closer until his face was just mere inches away from hers.

 

“And I am very glad that you are better, my lady,” Nathan continued in the soft voice then lowered his lips to hers in gentle kiss.

 

“…Nathan…” Kristin whispered his name against his mouth and immediately parted her lips to his seeking tongue.  She moaned at the taste of him and slid her hand up into his hair, holding him to her and deepening the kiss.

 

Nathan groaned softly as their tongues moved against and around each other, curling and tangling in a passionate dance back and forth in each other’s mouths.  He slid a hand beneath her head, threading his fingers in her thick hair as he shifted closer.

 

A sudden knock on the door stopped the kiss before it could explode into something more.  They pulled out of the kiss, both breathless and rested their foreheads against each other.

 

“Lucas…” they murmured together then smiled.

 

“I’d better…”

 

“Mmhmm…”

 

Neither one moved.

 

Another knock sounded.

 

Nathan groaned softly then brushed a quick kiss over her lips before he stood and made his way to the door.  With a glance at Kristin to make sure she was ready, Nathan opened the door.

 

“I… uh… I thought you might like something to eat,” Lucas said, holding up a tray.  “And I was sorta hoping…”

 

Nathan nodded.  “She’d like to see you too, son.”

 

Lucas beamed and moved into the room when Nathan stepped aside.  “Countess!”

 

“Hello, Lucas,” Kristin smiled at the boy as she slowly sat up, pulling the pillows behind her to support her back.  “How are you feeling?”

 

“Isn’t that supposed to be my question?”

 

Kristin chuckled softly.  “Yes, but answer it anyway.”

 

“I’m fine.  I feel much better,” he told her.  “Now… how about you?”

 

“Better.  Still tired, but better.”

 

“That’s ‘cause the cap here took such good care of you,” Lucas told her.  “Wouldn’t let anyone else… insisted that he be the only one…” The sound of a throat clearing behind him stopped Lucas from continuing.  He blushed refusing to look back at the captain.  “Anyway, Mister Crocker took care of me…”

 

As Lucas continued to talk, Nathan picked at the food he’d brought in.  A glance at Kristin a short while later, showed she was tiring, so he stood and moved over to the bed.

 

“I think it’s time to let the countess rest, Lucas,” Nathan told him.  “She’s not completely recovered yet.”

 

“Okay,” Lucas nodded.

 

“Will you take the tray with you please?”

 

“Yes, sir,” Lucas said as he stood.  He paused as if uncertain then leaned closer and brushed a quick kiss against Kristin’s cheek.  “I’m glad you’re better, milady.”

 

“Thank you, Lucas,” Kristin replied as she reached out and ruffled his hair.  “I am glad you are feeling better as well.”

 

The youth blushed and quickly shuffled over to the table; grabbed the tray and left.

 

Nathan slid the bolt on the door in place and then moved back to the bed.  He sat down on the edge and reached out a hand to cup her cheek then slid it up to rest on her forehead.  A smile formed on his lips.  “Yes, I truly believe the fever is gone.”

 

Kristin smiled.  “I think so too.”

 

“You should try to sleep.”

 

“That’s all I have been…”

 

“Restful sleep, Kristin,” Nathan said then stopped when he saw her eyes widen.  “What?”

 

“You called me Kristin,” she pointed out.

 

“I… yeah, I did.”

 

Kristin smiled shyly at him.  “I… I like the way you say it.”

 

Nathan cupped her cheek again, his thumb rubbing softly over her bottom lip as he smiled down at her.  “Get some sleep.  Tomorrow, if you’re feeling up to it, I will take you up on deck for some fresh air.”

 

“I’d like that,” Kristin said.

 

“Good,” Nathan said as he removed his hand from Kristin’s face then moved to stand.  He was stopped by Kristin’s hand on his arm.  “What?”

 

“Would you… would you sit and talk to me… until I fall asleep?”

 

Nathan nodded.  “Move over,” he told her and when she’d shifted over enough, Nathan rose, turned and sat back down on the bed then rested back against the pillows.  “So, what would you like me to talk about?”

 

Kristin shifted closer but didn’t touch him and curled her arms around her pillow.  She gazed up at him.  “Tell me… more about Lucas…”

 

“Lucas, eh?  Hmm… let’s see…”

 

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

 

Kristin’s eyes flickered open, slightly disoriented in the moonlit cabin, not sure of what had woken her until a deep raspy sound resonated through the room again.  The strong arms wrapped around her body reassured her and she snuggled deeper into Nathan’s embrace, realizing only then that the sound was coming from him.  She lifted her head and the cool air washing across her cheek told her that something was seriously wrong.

 

Kristin tugged Nathan’s shirt apart and laid a hand on his chest, almost weeping at the heat that seared her palm.

 

“Nathan!”  She shook his shoulder.  “Wake up!”

 

Nathan responded as well as he was able, his eyes squinting open to stare at her.  “Mmm… sleep,” his arms tightened, attempting to pull her back to his chest.

 

“Nathan, you are sick.  You have the fever.”

 

He snuggled deeper into the bed.  “Jusstrd.”

 

Kristin laid a hand on the sleeping captain’s cheek.  “You exhausted yourself looking after me and lowered your resistance.”  She worked her legs out from beneath the bedclothes then reached to the foot and grabbed a blanket.  She spread it out over Nathan and carefully tucked it in around him before attempting to climb over him and exit the bed.

 

By the time Kristin managed to get her feet to the floor what little strength she had regained was gone and she sank to her knees, clinging to the side of the bed to support herself.

 

“I’m sorry.  I want to take care of you like you did for me…” she stroked his cheek again.  Nathan turned his head into her gentle caress, his dry lips brushing her palm. 

 

With a superhuman effort Kristin managed to pull herself back to her feet and grab a second spare blanket.  She worked her way down the side of the bed toward the door, hanging on as far as she could then launching herself toward the opposite wall.  She held the blanket out in front of her as she slid the bolt back and pulled the door open.

 

“Is anyone there?”  She called out, hoping that the guard Nathan had placed on the door might still be in place.  She breathed a sigh of relief as Crocker stepped into the faint moonlight.

 

“Countess?”  He questioned then jumped to support her as she sagged against the doorframe.

 

Kristin clung to the solidly built man for a minute to regain her equilibrium then pushed back and grabbed the wall again.  “Nathan… he has the fever.  He’s burning up.  Can you bring me water?”  Her knees buckled slightly and Crocker moved forward but Kristin quickly recovered and backed away.  “No… I don’t want you getting sick as well.  We have to stop this infection before it affects the entire crew.  I will care for him if you can bring me supplies.”

 

A sympathetic look crossed Crocker’s face.  “You aren’t well enough, milady.  You haven’t completely recovered from your own illness.  You must let me help you.”

 

“Tomorrow… if he isn’t better…” Crocker recognized that Kristin was in no mood or shape to argue with so he nodded.  “I’ll get the water. You go rest.”

 

Kristin nodded and backed up, conscious of the fact that she held the blanket in front of her but hadn’t wrapped it around her entire body.  Crocker quickly understood and moved back into the darkness, giving Kristin some privacy to maneuver the door closed. 

 

She moved to the water crock and dipped a cupful then headed slowly back toward the bed. Halfway there she dropped the blanket to the floor and used both hands to hold the sloshing glass.  Kristin tried to perch on the edge of the bed but Nathan had rolled very close to the edge so eventually she gave up and sat the cup on the small table then climbed over him back into the bed.

 

Nathan rolled toward her as she sat and reached for the cup, snuggling his head into the curve of her waist as one strong arm wrapped around her hip.  Kristin smiled and carefully maneuvered his head into her lap.  She flipped the spare blanket up to cover her naked legs then dipped her fingers in the water and wet Nathan’s parched lips.

 

He sucked thirstily at the wetness, his tongue flicking out to lap her fingers in search of more.  Kristin patiently fed him over and over but it didn’t seem to be enough.  Finally a solution occurred to her.  She shifted Nathan’s head a little and pulled his mouth open then took a sip of water, filling her mouth.  Kristin bent over and laid her lips over his, forming a seal as she let the water trickle into his mouth.

 

Crocker watched from the shadows as Kristin repeated the action, knowing that the lady wasn’t aware of his presence since the latch on the door hadn’t caught when she closed it.  The fact that Kristin Westphalen now knew his captain’s first name hadn’t been lost on him either.  He allowed himself a brief gloating smile.  ‘Not in love with her, my ass!’

 

“Ahem…” Kristin broke her connection with the captain hurriedly, water trickling down both of their chins as she looked up to find Crocker entering the room.  She quickly wiped the water away and tugged her blanket up to her chest.

 

“Don’t get too close,” she cautioned.

 

Crocker ignored her warning and moved to the edge of the bed, swearing softly at the sight of his fever-ravaged friend.

 

“If you could help me remove his shirt and put a blanket beneath him, I can bathe him better.  Then you must wash your hands thoroughly with plenty of soap.”

 

“You can’t do this by yourself, milady.”  Crocker protested again as he did as she bid.

 

“He needs rest tonight… sleep.  I can keep him cooled off until tomorrow morning then I’ll rest.”

 

“While I watch the captain.”

 

“Agreed.”  Kristin nodded a bit self-consciously, suddenly realizing where she was sitting and what she was wearing.  “Don’t forget to wash your hands,” she reminded Crocker as he moved toward the door.

 

“I will and I will post someone outside.  If you need anything… anything at all, just call out.”

 

Nathan had remained quiet through much of their verbal exchange but as soon as his friend had left the room he moaned softly.  Kristin quickly touched his chest and knew that his fever had risen.  She reached toward the bowl of water that the first mate had left at the bedside but was too weak to lift it.

 

With a determined shrug Kristin did the only thing she could think of; she climbed on top of Nathan, straddling his waist so that she could reach the water and towel.

 

‘What would those society cows think of you now, Countess?’ Kristin asked herself with a laugh as she slowly ran the towel over Nathan’s hard chest.

 

She bathed him until he settled back into a restful sleep then dropped the towel back into the bowl and rolled back to the mattress, exhausted.  Sleep overtook her quickly; she never felt the man next to her snuggling into her side.

 

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

 

Kristin stirred at the sound of knocking, her eyes flying open wide as she realized she was trapped.  Sometime in the night she had rolled to her back and Nathan had spooned up against her, one strong leg tangling with hers.  His hand had worked its way between the loose buttons of the shirt she wore to possessively cup her naked breast.  The heat still generating from his skin let her know that he hadn’t done it intentionally but her body reacted anyway, that wonderful feeling shooting straight from her hardened nipple to her very core.

 

“Just a moment,” she called as she reluctantly struggled to free herself from his grasp.  Nathan protested, a fevered mumble emerging from his lips as she slid away from him and grabbed the blanket.

 

Crocker swung the door open and entered; having waited what he supposed was a decent amount of time.  His surprise at seeing Kristin still in the bed with Nathan was evident.

 

“I’m sorry, Countess.  I should have made other arrangements for you… I didn’t think…”

 

“That’s all right… I intended to try the hammock but… I guess I was so tired… I fell asleep.  Could you turn around so that I can climb out?”

 

Crocker managed to hide his threatening smile until his back was to the lady.  “Did you have a rough night?”

 

Kristin moved over to one of Nathan’s sturdy oak chests and pulled out the trousers that she had worn on deck.  She quickly pulled them on as she answered.  “I bathed him several times but he seemed to rest fairly well.  Do you think that you could bring some more cool water?”

 

“I’m having some drawn right now.  Lucas is bringing you some breakfast as well.  You have to eat,” he quickly shot down her murmured protest.  “You aren’t well yourself, Countess, and the captain will string me from the highest yardarm if you fall ill again.”

 

Kristin glanced down, checking her appearance.  At the sight of her still peaked nipples pressing against the blue silk she swore silently and grabbed another shirt to slide over the first one.  “Thank you, Mr. Crocker.”

 

“The captain calls me Gator, ma’am… a childhood nickname but if you’d like…”

 

Kristin beamed at Crocker.  “Thank you… and I will try to eat something.”  She wandered back to the side of the bed and wet her fingers then offered them to Nathan.  “I wonder if I could get him to take some willow bark tea…”

 

“I’ll have some steeped.  I am sure you can think of someway to get it into him.”  Kristin glanced at Crocker suspiciously but his face held a totally innocent look. 

 

Lucas soon arrived with a tray containing both a bowl of porridge and a bowl of broth.  Crocker left to check on Kristin’s requests while she ate, keeping a mindful eye on the man in the bed while the boy sat on the floor a few feet away.

 

“He is going to get well, isn’t he?”

 

“Of course he is,” Kristin reassured Lucas between bites.  “You got well and so did I.”

 

“I was so worried about you… and the captain… he’s the closest thing to a fath… I don’t know what I would do if anything happened to him.”

 

“The captain is going to be just fine, Lucas, but I want you to know that you can always come to me… you will always have a home.”

 

The boy quickly brushed away the tear that formed in his eye.

 

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

 

Kristin dozed fitfully on the pallet she’d prepared on the floor near the window.  Crocker watched her toss and turn from a chair at the table, only his promise to look out for Nathan convincing her to rest at all.

 

Bridger lay in the bunk fighting the blankets piled on top of him as his fever began to rise again.  Crocker knew that soon the captain would begin to call out for the countess and she would wake and go to him.

 

He stood and moved to his friend’s side, dipping his hand into the cool water to find the strip of cloth then turning back the blankets to run it across his parched skin.  ‘I saw the sparks between the two of you but I never dreamed…’ Crocker thought as he continued the soothing rub, ‘that beautiful woman is just as much in love with you as you are with her.  What I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall when the two of you finally realize it… but then, you are coming to realize, aren’t you, Nathan?’

 

Without warning Nathan began to shiver violently.  Crocker reached to the end of the bed for more blankets but turned back at the strangling noise to see his friend convulsing.  He cursed loudly as he struggled to hold Nathan against the bed.

 

Suddenly he felt soft hands tugging at his arms.  “Let him go, Gator.  Don’t try to restrain him.  Just make sure he doesn’t hurt himself.”  Kristin grabbed a piece of balled up cotton and shoved it between Nathan’s lips.  “He’s burning up!” She exclaimed as she ran her palms over his chest.  “We’ve got to bring his fever down quickly.”

 

“How?”

 

“Ice!  But we don’t have any… Alcohol is the best thing… if only we could submerge him in cool water.”

 

Crocker grabbed the pitcher of whiskey and dumped it in a bowl then headed toward the door with a muttered, “be right back”.  Seconds later Lucas appeared at Kristin’s side.  Without a word he grabbed another cloth and went to work on Nathan’s feet and calves.

 

By the time that Crocker returned with Kreig, O’Neill, Ford, Ortiz and a few other crewmembers the convulsion had passed but Nathan’s fever was still dangerously high.  Kristin stared as the men began to construct a wooden frame, although she didn’t stop what she was doing.  Once the men were done Crocker and Kreig moved to the bed and gently pushed Kristin out of the way.

 

She watched with interest as the two men gently picked Nathan up and placed him in the middle of the oilskin that the other crewmembers had spread over the frame.  Each man took his place and grabbed hold of a section of canvas to hold it in place.

 

“Get it moving!”  Crocker yelled. 

 

A man Kristin didn’t recognize appeared at the door with a bucket, running to dump its contents in the tarp.  Before he had finished another man was moving into place to follow him.  This pattern continued until Nathan was submerged to the neck in cool seawater, Crocker and Ben each bent low over the makeshift tub to hold him down.

 

Kristin smiled as she worked her way between the men at the head of the tub and bent to carefully wash Nathan’s face.

 

“This is brilliant, Mr. Crocker.  But the water won’t stay cool very long.  His body heat will warm it.”

 

“We’ve thought of that too, ma’am.  Lucas!”

 

Kristin hadn’t noticed the slender lad holding a bottom corner of the oilskin until he stood, the small basin they’d been using for water empty in his hands.  He dipped it into the tub and filled it then moved to the now open window close behind him and threw the contents back into the sea.

 

“Lucas will slowly draw the hot water off the top and when the level gets too low we refill it with cold.”

 

Nathan lay in the bath for twenty minutes before Kristin decided that his temperature had come down to a safe level again.  Crocker and Kreig once again lifted Nathan and held him while Kristin dried him as best she could.  The other men hoisted the tarp and moved to the window, dropping a corner outside to let the water drain away.

 

Kristin spread a folded towel on the bunk for the men to lay Nathan on, her face showing her worry as she stared at Nathan’s wet trousers.

 

“He doesn’t need to stay in those, Gator.  Do you think you could…” her face flamed as she gestured toward the wet black fabric.

 

“The captain would kill me if…” Crocker snapped his fingers and hurried to the credenza.  He rifled through several compartments, finally emerging with a pair of knee-length cotton drawers.

 

“That would be perfect.”  Kristin told him as she moved to the window and stared pointedly at the retreating ocean.  She watched the reflection in the glass with interest as Crocker stripped Nathan and redressed him then covered him with blankets.

 

“I’m done now, milady,” Crocker finally told her, knowing full well that she had been watching him work. 

 

Kristin turned and smiled as she moved back toward the bed.  “Thank you, Gator.  I think that we could all do with some rest now.  The last two days have been very taxing on everyone but I am hopeful that the bath will do the trick and Nathan’s fever will break tonight.  Why don’t you get some rest?”

 

“Only if you promise to as well.  But I’ll be back say around midnight to take over for you.”

 

Kristin nodded in agreement; knowing that to disagree would lead to Gator’s obstinate refusal to rest at all.

 

Lucas lingered longer than the rest of the men but finally agreed to turn in for the night, leaving Kristin all alone with the captain.  She propped herself on the edge of the bed and tenderly brushed his graying hair back from his forehead.

 

“You must get better, Captain Rogue,” she whispered softly.  “Your men would be lost without you… I would be lost…”

 

Nathan shivered slightly and without a thought at all Kristin stripped away her top shirt then lifted the blankets and climbed in beside him.

 

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

 

Crocker was startled when he returned to the Captain’s quarters and found the pallet empty.  ‘Where!?!’  Then he looked at the bunk.  A low whistle left his lips at the sight of the captain and the countess sleeping together, wrapped tightly in each other’s embrace.  Although he had found them in the same bed before they’d never been positioned as intimately as they obviously were now.

 

He leaned over and carefully touched Nathan’s cheek, relieved to find it cool to the touch.  Knowing that the captain’s fever had broken, Crocker decided not to wake Lady Westphalen.  He paused at the door and shook his head, another huge grin splitting his face.

 

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

 

“Chief!  We have a visitor,” Ortiz called out to Crocker, his head inclined toward the lower deck exit.  Kristin had just stepped out onto the deck, garbed in Nathan’s clothes as usual, her hair bound in a tight ponytail. 

 

“Without an escort?  The captain’s going to kill me,” he mumbled as he moved toward her.

 

Kristin met him halfway across deck.  “You shouldn’t have come topside alone,” Crocker told her reproachfully.  “You know what happened last time.”

 

“McLeary is safely locked up, is he not?  Besides your captain taught me a defense maneuver that he assured me would bring any man to his knees.”

 

“Never the less… is the captain all right?”

 

Kristin nodded.  “Do you mind if we walk?  I really need to stretch my legs and the fresh air is lovely.”  She lifted her face into the balmy breeze.  “We’ve sailed much farther south than we were when I came on board, haven’t we?”

 

“We are in Caribbean waters now.  The captain?”  He gently prodded.

 

“Nathan is sleeping peacefully; all trace of his fever is gone.  Lucas is sitting with him… I think the boy wanted a little time…”

 

“Cap thinks the world of that boy.  Lucas kept him sane after…”

 

Kristin paused in the bow of the ship, stretching her upper body out over the railing.  Crocker’s mind drifted back to a conversation he’d had with Bridger in this very spot just a few days before.

 

“Lucas kept him sane after Robert died.”  Kristin observed quietly.

 

“You know about Robert?”  Crocker was genuinely surprised.  Nathan Bridger seldom talked about his son, even to his closest friends.

 

“I was looking for a cloth and found a picture… pictures of Carol and Robert.  The young man looked so much like the captain.  He was obviously Nathan’s son.  When Lucas was sick… Nathan and I talked about our children… he told me stories about his son after muttering something about having already lost one… and there was always a hint of sadness in his voice.  Will you tell me what happened?”

 

“It isn’t really my place, ma’am…”

 

“Please, Gator.  Somehow I know that Robert’s death must be tied up in the reasons why the captain hates me… hates the English.”

 

Crocker contemplated what the countess was asking for then spoke hesitantly.  “Bobby joined the U.S. navy against his mother’s wishes.  That trip was his first as second mate.  A British naval vessel came up along side and boarded the boat illegally.  They claimed that Bobby was one of theirs… took him.  He died before the cap could get him back.”

 

“Oh God…” Crocker barely heard her sigh.  “Those damned press gangs!”  Kristin suddenly exploded.  “I’ve been hounding my father for years to speak out against them in Parliament.  They sweep through my estates two or three times a year and try to steal my worker’s sons.  We’ve managed to work out a series of signals and hiding places… but my neighbors haven’t been as lucky.  No wonder Nathan detests me so much.”

 

“I don’t think that is true anymore, Countess.”

 

“How can he help it?  The thought of that young man cut down in the prime of his life.  I know that he must have been… Nathan told me a story about the first time he took Robert on a trip with him.  He must have been so full of life and energy to climb to the crow’s nest…”

 

“Bobby was a rascal all right.”  Crocker chuckled deeply, his shoulders shaking at the memory.  “I must have chased him up and down that ship two hundred times.  He was always climbing up onto the ships railing, searching… he so wanted to run into a pirate ship…” he stopped abruptly, hoping the lady hadn’t picked up on his slip.

 

“It’s all right, Gator.  I don’t pretend to understand what this is all about… but I do know that things are not what they seem.  Perhaps someday Nathan will trust me enough to explain everything to me,” she said enigmatically.  “I think that I should return to the cabin now.  Thank you for the walk… and the information.”  With a grateful smile she walked away.

 

Crocker watched her go.  ‘You just think that you are fooling the lady, captain… but I think that you may have underestimated her.’

 

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

 

Nathan stared with disdain at the bowl of weak broth Kristin held in her hand.  “I want some real food.”

 

“Your fever hasn’t been gone twelve full hours yet.  You need to start easy.  Now eat your broth.”  She dipped a spoonful out and held it to his lips.

 

Blue eyes glared as he reluctantly took the utensil into his mouth.  “I get stew for dinner.”

 

“Tomorrow perhaps.”

 

“Today.”  Kristin took advantage of his open mouth to shove the spoon in again.

 

“Captain, we are approaching Port San Luis and we are getting low on vital stores…” Crocker interrupted their banter.

 

“We’ll put in.  There are some things that we need to take care of… some… cargo… we need to offload,” Nathan answered between sips of broth.

 

“There is a problem, sir.  If the port authorities get wind of the illness we’ve had on board…”

 

“Everyone is well, aren’t they?”

 

“Everyone but you, Captain Rogue.  You need several more days rest.  The seizures that your fever caused have left you very weak,” Kristin told him. “But fresh air and sunshine would probably do you a world of good.”

 

“Monito Island is nearby, sir.  We could… leave you there overnight… and the countess as well.  If she were discovered on board…  there could be complications…” Crocker stared at the floor, unwilling to meet Kristin’s gaze.

 

A wave of fear washed over Kristin at the thought that she might never be freed but strangely, it faded quickly, an ache at the thought of leaving quickly taking its place.  “That sounds like an excellent idea, Gator.  Is there fresh fruit on the island?  If not then you should try to get some in port.  We might all benefit from the added vitamins.”

 

“Cap?”  Crocker turned to look at Bridger.  “What do you think?  Would you like a few days rest on a deserted island?

 

“It sounds like I don’t have any choice in the matter,” Nathan grumbled but a smile lit his eyes.  “I’ll need for you to do a few things for me while you’re in port.”

 

“We can drop you at the island tomorrow morning then be in San Luis by midday.  We’ll arrange for stores to be delivered overnight then pick you up the following afternoon.”

 

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

 

“You sure you’re gonna be okay here, Cap?”  Crocker asked, glancing around the lush tropical island.

 

“Uhm… yeah, Gator,” Nathan replied distractedly.  “I’ll be… we’ll be fine.”

 

Crocker turned back to his friend to see him watching the countess intently as she checked over their supplies.  A slow smile filled his face.  ‘Oh, you got it bad, Cap.’  He chuckled softly then hurriedly bit back his smile when Nathan turned to look at him.

 

“I don’t want to hear it,” Nathan said, knowing what his friend was thinking.

 

“I wasn’t going to say anything.”

 

“Sure,” Nathan replied.  “Now, you know what to do?”

 

“Aye, Cap,” Crocker answered.  “We hit port, get some supplies…”

 

“And get that bastard McLeary off my ship,” Nathan told him forcefully. 

 

“Yes, sir… we’ll make sure he’s gone.”

 

“Good,” Nathan said.  “Thanks, Manny.”

 

“Yes, thank you, Gator.”  Nathan glanced over his shoulder to see Kristin approaching.  He couldn’t help but smile at her.

 

Crocker watched the two people before him and couldn’t help the smile that once again came to his face.  ‘And the countess has it bad for you too.’

 

“You’re welcome, Countess,” Crocker said.  “Now, I think we’d better get underway,” he said as he turned then began to walk back towards the shore and the rowboat waiting to take him back to the ship.  “I don’t want either of you thinking about anything other than taking it easy.  You’re still not one hundred percent.”

 

“We will, Gator,” Nathan said as they walked with him.

 

“Right, Cap.  We’ll see you tomorrow then,” Crocker said as he pushed the boat off the sand into the water then jumped in.  “Get some rest!”

 

Nathan waved his friend off, he and Kristin remaining on the shore of the beach until Crocker reached the ship.  Nathan turned to Kristin.  “Ready?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Good.  Come on.”

 

Kristin followed him over to the supplies, surprised when he began gather the few items up in his arms.  “What are you…?”

 

“We’re staying further inland,” Nathan told her.  “It’s too open here and…” a smile formed on his lips and his eyes twinkled.  “Wait till you see what I’ve got to show you.”

 

“What?”

 

“Ah… it’s a surprise,” he told her.  “Grab something and let’s go.”

 

“Yes, Captain Rogue,” Kristin replied and was rewarded with a brilliant smile from the man before her, a smile that sent sparks of feelings shooting through her body.

 

“Come on, my lady,” Nathan called over his shoulder as he moved deeper into the island; his hands and arms full.

 

Kristin picked up the few remaining items and jogged after him, following him into the line of trees.

 

“Oh… my… God…” she gasped as they walked into a clearing.  “Oh, it’s beautiful!”

 

Nathan smiled at her reaction then turned his gaze to the little paradise he’d brought her to.

 

A lagoon lay several feet in front of them, fed by a waterfall from the small mountain before them.  Everything was lush and vibrant.

 

“Nathan, it’s…” Kristin turned to look at him and immediately dashed to his side when she saw that he was sitting on the grass, leaning up against their supplies; his face flushed and sweaty.  “Why didn’t you say something?”  She admonished as she wiped the moisture from his brow.  “I could have carried more…”

 

“I’m all right, Kristin,” Nathan told her in a breathless voice.  He grabbed her hands.  “I’m all right,” he repeated.  “Honest.”

 

Kristin shook her head.  “You’re not fully recovered yet.  You shouldn’t push yourself.”

 

“I’m not pushing it.  I know what I am and am not capable of, thank you very much,” Nathan said in a rough voice.

 

“Well, excuse me,” Kristin retorted and climbed to her feet.  “Pass out then!  See if I care!”

 

With that, Kristin stormed off towards the lagoon. 

 

Nathan watched her drop to her knees at the waters edge and hung his head.  “Stupid, stupid, stupid,” he muttered to himself.  Deciding that a few moments apart would be the best thing for both of them, Nathan slowly got to his feet and set about fixing up a small lean-to just inside the line of trees.

 

He pushed their few other supplies back into the shade of the tree line and then turned to see that Kristin was still sitting by the edge of the lagoon.  Taking a small detour by the wild flowers growing along the edge of the hot spring, Nathan selected the largest bloom, plucked it from the ground then slowly made his way over to her.

 

Kristin heard him approach but refused to acknowledge his presence.  Suddenly a large blue flower appeared before her.  She reached out to trace the silky petals, her anger melting away.

 

“I’m sorry,” they said together.

 

Kristin turned to look at him as she took the flower from him, a shiver running through her body as their fingers touched.

 

Their eyes met.

 

“I have a frightful temper,” Kristin said in a soft voice.  “My father always said it was one of my worst qualities.  Even my husband had a difficult time dealing with it.”

 

“I like that you stand up for yourself and for what you think,” Nathan told her.  “Besides, I’ve been told I have a hell of a temper myself.”

 

A small smile pulled at the corners of Kristin’s mouth.  “You don’t say?”

 

Nathan chuckled.  “Well… that’s what I’ve been told.”

 

Kristin shook her head in amusement.

 

“So… what is on the agenda?”  She asked a few moments later.

 

“Not a thing,” Nathan answered.  “We are to do nothing but relax and recuperate.”

 

“I’ve never been one for that sort of leisure… to just doing nothing…” Kristin looked around at her surroundings then met his eyes, a smile on her face.  “But I think… I could give it a try.”

 

Nathan smiled back.

 

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

 

Kristin stared at the rough lean-to Nathan had pieced together with branches and a heavy tarp.

 

“It’s in case it rains during the night and to keep the sun off in the morning,” Nathan explained.

 

“Oh.”

 

“If it makes you feel more comfortable, I will sleep out here,” Nathan told her.

 

Kristin felt an odd mixture of relief and disappointment wash over her at his words.  She looked up at him and shook her head.  “No… it’s all right,” she told him quietly.  “There looks to be enough room for both of us.”

 

Nathan nodded.  “Well then…” he pointed over to the trees on his left.  “I’m going to…”

 

“Uhm… right, I’ll be over here,” Kristin gestured to the trees on her right.

 

“Okay.”

 

Kristin moved into the trees and took care of business then after stopping by the lagoon to wash; she made her way back to the lean-to.  She quickly stripped off the shirt and britches she wore, leaving her clad only in her chemise then settled beneath the blanket on one of the pallets.  She curled up on her side, facing the empty pallet nearby and waited for Nathan to return.  Several minutes later, she saw him leave the line of trees and head for the lagoon.

 

She watched as he pulled his shirt off, slipped to his knees and dunked the upper half of his body into the cool water of the lagoon.  He slowly got to his feet, drying his face and hair with his shirt before running the damp silk haphazardly over his chest as he approached the lean-to.

 

Kristin swallowed hard and bit her lower lip at the sudden wave of heat that suffused her body at the sight of his bare chest glistening in the evening sun.  She closed her eyes and willed the strange feeling to go away as he crawled under the lean-to and lay down on the pallet beside her. 

 

“Remind me… there’s something I want to show you tomorrow,” Nathan told her.

 

“What?”

 

“It’s a surprise,” he said with a grin as she turned to look at him.  “But it’s one I think you’ll like.”

 

Kristin smiled and nodded as she pulled the blanket up to her chin.  “Good night, Nathan.”

 

“Sleep well, Kristin,” Nathan replied in a soft voice.

 

Several minutes passed when she heard him call her name.  She opened her eyes to see him lying on his side facing her.

 

“Yes?”  Kristin asked.

 

“I…” Nathan paused to take a deep breath.  “A few weeks ago you asked me what I’d done with your crew.”

 

Kristin’s jaw clenched and she nodded.

 

“I let you believe that I killed them.”

 

Kristin nodded again.

 

“I want you to know… I didn’t… they’re all fine,” Nathan said.  “Each and every one of them is alive.”

 

Kristin closed her eyes and felt a wave of relief wash over her at his words; both for the fact that her crew was still alive and that Nathan was indeed the decent man her heart was telling her he was.

 

“What did you… do with them?”

 

“We took them to a deserted island then damaged the hull of your ship enough so that it would take them several weeks to fix it,” Nathan answered.  “We left them food and water, but in such a way so that it looked like they had to forage for more.”

 

“Why did you attack my ship in the first place?”  Kristin asked.

 

“It was a mistake,” Nathan told her.  “We were looking for a certain British Naval ship,” he admitted quietly then paused to wait for the explosion.  When it didn’t come, he met her eyes and was shocked to see understanding there instead of disgust.  “Unfortunately we couldn’t just let the crew go… and I took you and Katie aboard my ship because you were injured.”

 

“Who was taken?”

 

Nathan’s surprise at her question showed on his face.  “Pardon me?”

 

“From little things I’ve overheard here and there, I’m guessing that someone you care a great deal about was taken by a bloody press gang,” she said.  “You’re looking for him.”

 

“Will.  William Noyce Junior.  My oldest friend’s son,” Nathan answered.  “He was taken just over six months ago.”

 

“I am so sorry,” Kristin told him, reaching out a hand towards him.

 

“It’s… it’s not your fault,” Nathan told her in a quiet voice, finally realizing that while Kristin was British, she wasn’t responsible for what had happened to Will and also to his son.  And from what he could see, she wasn’t happy with the press gangs either.  “I… I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to understand that.”

 

Kristin smiled softly as Nathan stretched out his arm and took her hand in his.  “I understand your… feelings,” she told him.  “I…”

 

Nathan watched as her eyes closed, surprised when he saw a of couple tears slip out from beneath her lids.  He squeezed her hand gently.  “Kris…?”

 

“I… I told you part of it…”

 

“That your husband was killed by pirates.”

 

“Yes,” Kristin nodded.  “My… my brother… was killed by pirates too,” Kristin told him a voice barely above a whisper.

 

“Oh God!”  Nathan gasped and shifted closer as he tugged on her hand and pulled her into his arms.  “I am so sorry… I…”

 

Kristin rolled into his arms willingly and burrowed her face into his chest.  “It’s not your fault…” she muttered against his skin as she relished the feel of his arms wrapped around her; taking comfort in his embrace and the feel of his hands rubbing her back and stroking her hair.  “It happened so long ago… but it still… hurts.”

 

‘Raising my daughter alone for the last fifteen years.’  Her words from an earlier conversation flashed through his mind.  “I know it does,” Nathan spoke softly against the top of her head.  “I know… do you…”

 

Kristin shifted in Nathan’s arms and laid her cheek against his chest.  “Oliver, my husband, had taken a new boat out,” she began in a quiet voice.  “My brother James went with him.  On the fourth day of their voyage, they were attacked and the crew was slaughtered.”

 

Nathan tightened his arms around her when he felt her tremble in his arms.  “Ssh… you don’t have to tell me anymore.”

 

“I want to…” Kristin told him and at the feel of his nod against her head she continued.  “One of the men managed to escape… but not before he saw the leader of the pirates kill both James and Oliver… run them through with his sword…” she shuddered again.  “The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life was tell my eight year old daughter that her daddy wasn’t coming back.”

 

“I had to do the same with my wife,” Nathan told her quietly.  “Tell her that our son was dead.”

 

“Gator told me…”

 

“Told you what?”

 

“That Robert was taken by a press gang… I… I asked him,” Kristin admitted quietly,  “the other day, just after your fever broke.  I went up on deck to get some air and stretch my legs…” she paused and continued in an even softer voice.  “I wanted to know why you hate me…”

 

“And he told you?”

 

“Yes…”

 

Nathan nodded.

 

“How did you… find out that your son had been…”

 

“Killed?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“When he and Ben were taken…”

 

“Ben Kreig?”

 

“Yes,” Nathan nodded.  “He and Bobby grew up together.  They were the best of friends.  Those two boys did everything together.  Anyway, when they were taken, I vowed that I would get them back or die trying,” Nathan told her.  “The men on my ship… they all swore to help me.  It took us a few months, but we finally found the ship that had taken the boys.  When the fighting was over and we’d finally gotten the upper hand, I searched the ship till I found…”

 

Kristin slid her hand across his chest in silent support as his voice broke and waited for him to continue.

 

“I found Ben… he was very sick… a fever along with severe malnutrition,” Nathan continued in a soft voice.  “He came to long enough to tell me that Bobby…” his voice faltered,  “that my little boy had passed away two weeks earlier.  He’d gotten sick… and…”

 

Kristin shifted in his arms and wrapped hers around him.  “You don’t have to tell me anymore…”

 

“I went ballistic,” Nathan told her as if he hadn’t heard her.  “Went on a rampage… I hunted down every damned British ship I could find.  But despite how angry I was; I couldn’t bring myself to kill the bastards…  so I simply freed any of the men who’d been pressed into service then badly damaged the ships,” he paused.  “Less than a year later… I lost my wife.”

 

“I’m sorry…”

 

“Thank you…” Nathan said and tightened his arms around her, pulling her closer.  “And now… you know the true story of the Blue Rogue.”

 

“Thank you for telling me,” Kristin told him after several minutes.  “I… I’m grateful.”

 

Nathan nodded and then his tugged his blanket over them both.  “Sleep now, my lady.”

 

“Aye, Captain Rogue,” Kristin replied with a yawn.  She snuggled closer to him as sleep slowly claimed her.

 

“Pleasant dreams… Kristin…” he told her softly.  “And for the record… I don’t hate you…”

 

“Mmm…” Kristin sighed happily.

 

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

 

Warm rays of sunlight tickled Kristin’s feet, bringing a smile to her face as she woke to find her body still locked in the rogue captain’s strong embrace.  She stretched as well as his hold would allow then settled down to stare at Nathan’s rugged face as he slept on.

 

“You know,” she whispered as she gently cupped his cheek, “I could get used to waking up like this.”

 

‘But you can’t let yourself.’  Her subconscious answered.  Kristin sighed and carefully attempted to loosen Nathan’s hold on her but he wasn’t letting go willingly.  She did manage to turn so that he was spooned against her back and snuggled into him, smiling at the sudden and strange thoughts the bulge pressed against her bottom were producing.

 

To drag her mind back into safer waters she ran her eyes over the paradise they slept in, deeply inhaling the fragrant perfume of the brightly color flowers and enjoying the morning chorus of the birds as they welcomed the dawn.

 

“Good morning.”  She felt Nathan’s lips move against her ears but he made no move to release her.

 

“Good morning, Captain Rogue,” she answered back, continuing to lie in his arms without protest.

 

Finally Nathan shifted his lower arm from beneath her and propped his head up on his elbow.  He wasn’t surprised to see that Kristin had kicked the blankets away from her legs in the night but he was surprised that she hadn’t covered them before he woke up.

 

‘She’s growing more comfortable with me.’ A pleased smile touched his lips.

 

“What is the name of that flower?”  Kristin gestured in the direction of a clump of blossoms matching the one he had given her the previous day.

 

They lay contently for over half an hour, Kristin asking the names of various plants and birds; Nathan supplying the answers as best he could.  He was pleased with the interest she showed in their tropical paradise.

 

Finally Kristin sat up, carefully pulling her chemise down over her thighs as she did so.  “I don’t know about you but I am a bit hungry.  Perhaps I should see to some breakfast.”

 

Nathan rocked up to his knees.  “Let’s do a little exploring.  I’ll show you around the island and scout up some breakfast at the same time.”

 

Kristin laughed excitedly as she stood and grabbed her britches.  Nathan turned away gallantly as she pulled them on then slid her arms into the blue shirt. 

 

Nathan stopped in the midst of pulling on his boots to eye her delicate slippers critically.  “We’d better keep to the beaches.  The rocks will slice those to shreds.  I should have had Crocker pick you up a pair of sturdy boots.”

 

“So, no mountain climbing.”  Kristin laughed as Nathan held out his hand to her.  She laid her fingers in his palm and followed as he led her down the path toward the shoreline.  They wandered along the beach enjoying the warmth of the sun and each other’s company for almost an hour before Nathan led Kristin to a rock outcropping and lifted her up to sit on it. 

 

He pulled off his boots and waded into the water.  After eyeing the area critically he settled on a spot and stood stark still, his hands hanging in the water as he waited for the ripples from his movements to settle.  Kristin watched with interest as he patiently waited until the right moment then grabbed a passing fish and flung it toward the beach.

 

Kristin clapped excitedly as he waded to shore then placed his hands on her waist and lowered her back to the sand.

 

“That was amazing!  How did you do it?”

 

“It just takes patience.  Could you gather me two plantain leaves?”  He pointed toward a large tree just beyond the sand as he handed her his knife.

 

“Of course.  What are you going to do?”

 

“Cook lunch!”  Nathan grinned.

 

“We have supplies.  Why…?”

 

“It’s all part of the island experience.”  Nathan grinned.

 

By the time Kristin returned with the leaves Nathan had dug a hole in the sand and gathered a small pile of driftwood.  He stood and walked down to the water with the fish; Kristin followed with the leaves.  Nathan carefully washed the sand from the fish as he cleaned it.  After dipping the leaves into the salty water he wrapped the fish tightly then returned to the beach and placed it in the hole, covered it with wood layered with sand then built a small fire over the opening.  Once the flames had died away to embers he stood.

 

“We leave this here for a few hours then we come back and have a wonderful meal of baked fish.”

 

“That’s brilliant.  How ever did you learn the technique?”

 

“I spent a lot of time sailing around these islands as a young man.  You have to learn to be self-sufficient.  Now let’s see about breakfast.”

 

After a bit more walking Nathan found a bundle of ripe bananas and cut it down.  He handed several to Kristin then tied the rest back in the tree for safekeeping.  He continued to point out interesting plants and geologic formations as they wandered and ate.

 

“There is a legend that the famous pirate, Stede Bonnet, used this island as a hideaway.  There may even be buried treasure here.”

 

“Do you believe that?”  Kristin asked, skepticism in her eyes.

 

Nathan shrugged.  “Not really.  It’s possible I guess… but there are many legends in this part of the world of the pirates that roamed over a hundred years ago.  Hundreds of years from now some treasure seekers will probably find a huge stash here and the joke will be on me… if the volcano doesn’t blow the entire island apart first.”

 

“Volcano?”

 

“The mountain is actually a volcano.  Didn’t I mention that?”

 

“You know you didn’t, you swine.”  Kristin popped him playfully on the arm.

 

“Don’t worry.  It’s dormant.”  He laughed as he reassured her.

 

“You seem to know a great deal about this island.”  Kristin observed.

 

“I… I’ve spent time here before.  It’s one of my favorite places.  I’ll show you why later.”

 

“The surprise you wanted me to see?”

 

Nathan nodded.  “But we will save that for this afternoon I think, after the sun begins to work its way down.  It’s a little warm now.”

 

“Warm… won’t you give me a little hint?”  Kristin teased.

 

“Not another word.  You have to wait until later, minx.”

 

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

 

“Keep your eyes closed.  It’s just a little bit further,” Nathan cautioned as he led Kristin around the lagoon toward a natural rock ledge.

 

Kristin held tight to his hands.  “Can I open them now?”  She asked a few moments later, impatient for her surprise.

 

“Just a few more steps and…” Nathan released her hands,  “now you can look.” 

 

Kristin’s eyes flew open and she exclaimed with delight as she surveyed the pool of clear water, the steam rising from the surface.

 

“I thought that you might like to swim.  It’s an amazing experience… first you get in the hot springs and let the warm water relax you then you jump out and run to the cold pool.  The experience is exhilarating.”

 

Kristin eyed him a bit skeptically.  “That sounds like quite a shock to the system.”

 

“It’s a wonderful shock, I promise.  Would you like to give it a try?”

 

“Well… I guess… if you are…”

 

Nathan grinned and stripped away his shirt then sat down on the ledge and pulled his boots off.  “Well?”  He gestured at her clothes.

 

Kristin scanned the sheltered glade then turned her back to Nathan and toed her shoes off.  With a glance over her shoulder she finally worked up the courage to drop her shirt.

 

A loud splash told her that Nathan had entered the pool and she turned around just in time to see his wet trousers land on the rock beside her with a loud smack.  Kristin’s eyes widened and she felt her skin flush when she realized he was naked.  She swallowed and lifted her gaze to his.

 

“I’m not expecting you to strip naked,” Nathan told her.

 

“Thank you.”

 

Nathan smiled.  “Whatever you are comfortable with…”

 

Kristin pushed the blue shirt off her shoulders, then quickly released the knot in the rope holding her pants up and let the britches slip down her legs so that only the thin cotton of her chemise covered her.

 

Nathan watched as Kristin slowly kneeled down on the edge of the pool, swung her legs over the side and carefully slipped into the warm water.

 

“Oooh… oh this is heavenly,” Kristin sighed as she lowered her body into the heated liquid until just her head was visible, her hair fanning out behind her.

 

“Didn’t I tell you?”

 

Kristin smiled over at him.  “I haven’t felt clean… you’ve been wonderful providing water for me to wash with but… there is something about being able to submerge completely…”

 

“I understand.  Perhaps one day travel by boat will include some of the little amenities that make life pleasant… like bathtubs.  Until then just settle back and enjoy.”

 

Kristin found a seat on a ledge across from Nathan and sat, allowing the warm bubbling water to wash away her tension.  She found herself glancing into the water, wondering if she could see Nathan beneath the surface but the bubbles effectively hid her view.

 

She was so relaxed that she didn’t realize Nathan had moved until he was standing beside her.  He held out his hand to reveal a bar of soap; obviously expensive and smelling like sandalwood. 

 

The grin on Kristin’s face was worth the trouble Nathan had taken to hide the soap near the pool.  He settled back to watch as Kristin eagerly accepted the soap and began to rub it over her body.  Nathan felt his body respond as Kristin turned her back to him, obviously loosening the neck of the chemise because it drifted down her back to her elbows.

 

Once she was done with her bath she pulled the chemise back up, struggling due to the soap in her hand.  “Could you…?” she held her arm back behind her, her hand offering the soap to him.

 

“Of course.”  Nathan moved up behind her and took the cleanser, freeing her hands to finish securing her clothing.  Kristin tried to move back to her seat, surprised beyond words when her body met with that of the man standing behind her.

 

She gulped as his hands lightly grasped her waist and maneuvered her back between his legs.

 

“Dunk your head,” he commanded and Kristin quickly complied, unsure of what was going to happen next.

 

Nathan’s breath caught as she emerged, her hair a shining sheet of fire flowing behind her.  He gripped the length of her shining tresses in one hand and used the other to rub soap into the strands.  Once bubbles began to form he laid the bar to the side and slowly began to work his fingers through the heavy weight, carefully washing away weeks of dirt, grime and dried blood left from her head wound.

 

Kristin couldn’t help the moan that echoed through the glade at the feel of Nathan’s strong fingers massaging her scalp.  “That feels… oh… oh, Nathan…”  Pleasurable sensations shot through her body, pooling between her legs.

 

He had her submerge again to rinse the soap away then lathered up her hair again and repeated the process.  He used the soap to his advantage, running his fingers through her waist-length tresses again and again to smooth away weeks worth of knots and tangles.  Finally the digits slid freely through the dark auburn curtain without encountering any barrier.

 

“Lean back so that I can rinse again,” he murmured, pleased that she did so without complaint, her entire body relaxed from his ministrations.  Kristin bent her knees and allowed her head to fall back into the water; her hair fanning out behind her while Nathan carefully rinsed away the suds.  One strong hand moved to support her back while the other scooped water up over her forehead, cleansing away the final residue.

 

“How does that feel…?” Nathan’s voice tapered away as he glanced down Kristin’s floating body then stopped to stare.  Her simple cotton chemise had become so transparent in the water that she may as well not have been wearing it at all.  Hard dusky nipples were clearly visible beneath the light cotton covering as was the patch of dark curls at the juncture of her partially spread thighs.

 

In spite of the hot water Nathan felt his body spring to life.  “I think that I’m going to go cool down now,” he announced as he loosened his grip and moved toward the side of the pool.  “Come join me when you are ready.”

 

Kristin dropped her feet to the bottom of the basin and turned just in time to see Nathan’s naked rear as he levered his body out of the water.  Her mouth went dry as tingling sensations shot through her core.  She blushed but couldn’t have removed her eyes from his bottom at that instant on the threat of death. 

 

Nathan ran across the short expanse between the hot spring and the lagoon, cannon balling into the cool water with a loud yell.  Kristin followed at a slower pace, moving as if in a trance.  Nathan surfaced with another yell, throwing his head back to push the hair and water out of his face.  He wiped away the residual liquid then gulped as his vision cleared to the image of Kristin slowly approaching the pool, her body revealed to him by the transparent shift and the afternoon sun.

 

Time seemed to stop as Kristin walked into the pool and moved toward him, her course never deviating.  She stopped scant inches away from him and stood silently, her eyes seeking his.  Nathan could see the need pooling in her sable depths and was sure that his own blue orbs mirrored that need.  At that moment he knew he could no more deny her than he could deny himself.

 

“Kristin…” he murmured as he grasped her face in his hands and lowered his mouth to hers in a hungry kiss.

 

Kristin moaned and slid her hands along his waist to wrap her arms around his back as she shuffled nearer, closing the distance between their bodies.  She gasped into his mouth as she realized the cool water of the lagoon had done very little to abate Nathan’s more than obvious arousal.

 

Nathan released her face and dropped his hands to Kristin’s shoulders then trailed them down over her back to cup her bottom and pull her even closer; a low groan escaping his lips when she wriggled against him, the friction from the wet cotton of her chemise on his straining erection almost too much for him.

 

Slowly, Nathan walked them out of the water, taking care to keep his mouth on hers.  When they neared the edge of the lagoon, he brought his hands up between them to tug on the neckline of her chemise then pushed the garment off her shoulders.

 

Kristin felt the wet material slide down off her body and stepped over it as Nathan continued to walk her backwards several more feet then slowly lowered her to the warm grass and covered her body with his.  She moaned at the feel of Nathan’s body pressed fully against hers then cried out softly as he dipped his head and pulled one of her nipples into the hot recesses of his mouth.

 

Nathan suckled hard at the rosy tip and smiled around her nipple as Kristin arched beneath him, trying to push more of her breast into his mouth.  He swirled his tongue over the hardened peak and nipped it gently with his teeth before kissing his way over to her other breast and repeating the bittersweet torture.

 

“Kris…” she heard him whisper against her breasts as he continued to feast on them.  She closed her eyes when his hands swept down her body; caressing and stroking her soft skin until Kristin thought she would go mad from the unbearable ache she could feel building inside her.

 

“Nathan… I need…” her voice trailed off and she gasped when she felt his hand slip between their bodies; his fingers combing through the auburn curls between her thighs.

 

“Oh God… you’re already so wet…” Nathan moaned as he nipped and kissed his way back up to her mouth then rained soft kisses all over her face while he stroked his fingers through her folds.

 

Kristin felt her face flame at his words and reached down to try and pull his hand away from her sex.  “Ooh… mmm…” she moaned at the sudden shaft of pleasure that arrowed through her body and gripped tightly to his wrist as his long digits continued to move against her.

 

Nathan felt Kristin tremble under him as he circled her clitoris and felt his erection throb in response.  He shifted above her as he removed his hand from between her thighs and grasped his length.

 

Kristin’s eyes widened when Nathan began to stroke the head of his shaft through her swollen folds, whimpering, as the ache in her body grew even stronger.  She arched beneath him, trying to increase the contact between them and ease the throbbing need.

 

“…please…”

 

Nathan heard the need in Kristin’s voice and felt his control falter when she arched up against him again.  With one last pass through her slick folds, Nathan placed the head of his erection at her tender opening and then slowly began to ease into her.

 

Kristin inhaled sharply and clutched at his shoulders at the feel of Nathan’s hard length pressing into her; stretching and filling her in a way she was unprepared for and her body tightened against his intrusion.

 

Nathan felt Kristin tense and pulled back slightly to thrust gently in and out a few times before he finally thrust harder and seated himself fully inside her.  He groaned and buried his face in her neck at the feel of her tight, hot flesh quivering around him, trying to accommodate his girth.

 

Kristin’s nails bit into the flesh of Nathan’s shoulders at the sudden pressure and she willed her body to relax when she felt him brush a gentle kiss to her neck and begin to thrust into her.  She moaned his name as the movement sent a shiver of pleasure through her body.

 

At Kristin’s soft utterance, Nathan groaned her name and began to move with surer strokes trying hard to hang onto his control but feeling it slip with every plunge of his length into her; six years of abstinence leaving him with little control.  Nathan felt the first wave of his release wash over him and before he could stop himself, he began to drive into her frantically.

 

Feeling suddenly unsure, Kristin clung to him, wrapping her arms around his upper body as Nathan slid his arms beneath her and grasped her shoulders then started to move his hips faster and faster against her.  She felt the tension rise in Nathan’s body seconds before the first hot splash of his seed erupted against her womb.

 

Nathan grunted her name and his hips jerked uncontrollably against hers before he collapsed on top of her, once again burying his face in Kristin’s neck as his body continued to tremble.  Moments later, he slipped out of her and rolled off her to lie on his back, his arm flung over his eyes as he sought to catch his breath.

 

Kristin lay stunned beside him for several minutes before she scrambled to her feet and moved back to the lagoon.  She dropped to her knees in the shallows of the water as tears sprang to her eyes, the ache within her body continuing unabated.

 

Nathan slowly opened his eyes and reached out for Kristin.  He sat up quickly and looked around for her when his hand encountered warm grass.  Spotting her sitting in the water, Nathan climbed to his feet and made his way over to her.

 

“I’m sorry,” Nathan said in a soft voice as he knelt down beside her.  “I’ll… next time I’ll make it better for you…” his voice trailed off when he heard a soft sob escape her.  “Kristin?”  Nathan reached out to cup Kristin’s chin and lift and turn her face.  The tears he saw streaming down her face piercing his heart.  “What’s wrong?  Did I hurt you?  I’m sorry I… what can I do?”

 

“I want you to make this feeling go away…this ache I feel vibrating within me,” Kristin replied in a soft, teary voice.  “It starts every time you touch me and just keeps growing… and I thought that if I… if we… that it might go away… but it hasn’t and I don’t know what to do.”

 

Nathan pulled Kristin into his arms.  “Kristin… haven’t you ever… found release?”

 

Kristin lifted her head off his shoulder and met his eyes, confusion evident in her sable depths.  She shook her head.  “I don’t know what you me…”

 

“When we were together, before I emptied myself in you,” Nathan explained despite the growing blush he could see creeping up her chest and face,  “there was a buildup of pressure… of sensations that peaked when I found my release… when I came,” he told her.  “That’s one term for it… coming, reaching the pinnacle, climax; having an orgasm…”

 

Kristin shook her head furiously.  “Oh no… no… wives aren’t supposed to enjoy intercourse… only mistresses and whores…”

 

“That is such utter bullshit,” Nathan stated then smiled at her as he brought his hand up to stroke her cheek.  “When a man and woman make love… it should be enjoyable for both.”  At the disbelieving look she gave him, Nathan chuckled softly and stroked his thumb across her lower lip.  “I know I rushed things a bit… it’s been so long since I’ve been with a woman… let me show you… give me another chance… please…”

 

“Nathan…” she gasped when his hand suddenly drifted down to cup one of her breasts, his thumb circling her nipple.

 

“Please, Kris… let me love you… let me… ease the ache.”

 

Kristin bit her lower lip, moaning softly as he continued to lightly tweak her nipple between his thumb and finger.  “I…” she whimpered when Nathan pulled his hand away and dropped it back to his lap.

 

“How long has it been for you?”  Nathan asked her quietly.

 

“More than fifteen years,” Kristin admitted in soft voice then looked up at him with a shy smile on her face.  “Well… it had been that long until just a short while ago.”

 

Nathan grinned then once again reached out to cup her cheek.  “It’s your call, my lady.  I will not push you nor force my attentions on you.”

 

Kristin gazed at him as he caressed her face and felt the ache within her start to grow again.  “Will you… will you promise to make this… ache… this need go away?”

 

“I promise… to take the ache away and replace it with such pleasure,” Nathan replied as he dropped his hand to her shoulder.  “But the need… I… can’t promise to make that go away… I can only try…”

 

“Please…” Kristin pleaded softly and leaned towards him.  “Please try…”

 

Nathan met her halfway and captured her lips in an ardent kiss, his hand on her shoulder slipping down to her back to pull her closer as he deepened the oral connection.

 

Kristin moved willingly into his arms, moaning softly as her breasts once again pressed against his hair-roughened chest.  As the kiss grew more passionate, Kristin found herself rubbing her chest against Nathan’s, trying to ease the ache in her peaked nipples.

 

Several minutes later, Nathan broke off the kiss.

 

“…Nathan…?”

 

Nathan smiled tenderly at the glazed look in her eyes.  “Trust me…” he told her quietly as he got to his feet and held his hand out to her.

 

Kristin placed her hand in his and allowed him to pull her up.  “I do trust you.”

 

Nathan nodded and leaned down to brush a soft kiss over her lips before he bent and scooped Kristin into his arms then slowly made his way out of the lagoon.

 

Kristin buried her face in Nathan’s neck, peppering the tan flesh with small kisses as he carried her across the soft grass to the lean-to.  Nathan knelt and gently laid her out on the pallet.

 

“I want you to relax,” Nathan told her in a husky voice as he reached out to once again cup her cheek.  “Relax and know that I will take care of you…” he trailed his fingers over her lips before tracing them down her neck to circle her right breast, smiling as he watched the already taut nipple grow even harder.  “I promise… you will know nothing but pleasure…”

 

Kristin nodded then moaned softly as his fingers moved back up to trace her slightly parted lips once more then back down to her breast where he cupped the large mound in his hand, rubbing his thumb gently over the hardened peak.

 

Nathan leaned over her and brushed his lips over hers before he leisurely began to kiss his way down over her throat to her breasts, where he paused to take each rosy tip into his mouth in turn.

 

At the feel of his tongue swirling around her nipple, Kristin whispered his name and arched beneath him, trying to push more of her aching flesh into his talented mouth.  She whimpered his name when he suddenly released her nipple and left her breasts to kiss and lick his way down her torso, covering every inch of her smooth flesh with little nips and licks, ringing her navel with his tongue.  Kristin moaned softly and felt him smile against her skin as he continued to move lower.

 

Nathan slid his hands ahead of him to stroke and caress her flesh before following the same path with his lips.  He slowly worked his way over her thighs and inhaled deeply as he passed the auburn curls at her center, pleased by the scent of her arousal reaching his nostrils.  His hands massaged their way down Kristin’s long, smooth legs and when he reached her feet, he moved so that he was kneeling just between her spread limbs.

 

A soft giggle escaped her lips when he began to knead to her feet.  She smiled shyly at his amused look.  “It tickles,” Kristin answered in a soft voice.

 

“I’ll have to remember that,” Nathan replied as he pressed his lips against the soles of her feet, smiling as she released another small laugh, followed by a low moan as his mouth moved down over her calf to flick at the sensitive skin behind her knee.  Nathan smiled as he watched Kristin’s eyes flutter closed and repeated the same touches to her other leg, slowly working his way up along her inner thighs.

 

Kristin gasped at the first fleeting touch of his fingers in the soft hair covering her center then moaned when they returned in firmer strokes and slipped between her folds.  “Na… than…” she murmured breathlessly as a sudden and unexpected rush of pleasure shot through her body.

 

“Relax, Kristin… relax and enjoy,” Nathan told her quietly as his fingers found and circled her clit.

 

Her hands clenched in the blanket beneath her as his fingers continued to tease and fondle her swollen flesh. 

 

“You are so beautiful,” Kristin heard him murmur then inhaled sharply when she felt his fingers pull her open.  Her eyes flew open in time to see him bend his head low and she cried out as his mouth closed over her. 

 

“Nathan!”  She moaned at the feel of his tongue moving against her and reached down to clutch at his head.  Kristin tugged on his hair in an effort to pull him away.  “Nathan… you…”

 

Nathan pulled his mouth from her and met her eyes, not surprised to see her face flushed bright red.  “It’s all right, Kristin…”

 

“No…” Kristin shook her head then moaned softly as his fingers continued to stroke her.  “This is… you can’t… it isn’t nor… proper… mmm…. I’m not that kind…”

 

“You are beautiful and passionate and still very much a lady,” Nathan told her in a husky voice.  “And you will still be all those even if I do this…” he lowered his lips back to her, kissing her sex with the same passion and thoroughness as he kissed her mouth.  “There is nothing wrong with me loving you in this manner,” Nathan murmured against her slick folds.  “This is not wrong, Kristin.  It’s not dirty, or immoral…” he worked his tongue around her clit, pleased when she arched beneath him.  “It is… a beautiful thing between a man and a woman…”

 

“Oohmmm…” Kristin moaned softly as Nathan continued to work his lips and tongue against her then cried out when she felt him slide a thick finger inside her.  Her hand clenched in his hair but she didn’t stop him as he slowly began to work the long digit in and out of her before adding a second finger.  “Oh God…”

 

Nathan smiled around her clit as he swirled his tongue over the hard bundle, moaning softly when he felt her inner walls start to quiver around his thrusting fingers.

 

“I… no…” Kristin rolled her head from side to side at the sensations radiating out from her center, almost overwhelming her with their severity.  “No… too much… Nathan please…”

 

“Relax, Kris… let go…” Nathan urged her in between licks to her sex.  “Go with the feeling,” he thrust his fingers deep inside her as he lightly nipped her clit.  “Come for me, Kristin…”

 

“…Nathan…”

 

“Come…”

 

“I…” Kristin felt the tension in her body coil.  “I… oh… Nathan…”

 

“Let it happen, Kristin…” Nathan told her.  “Trust me… trust me…”

 

Kristin struggled for breath as wave after wave of intense sensation began to roll over her with every plunge of his fingers.  “N… Na…”

 

“Come, my lady…” Nathan hummed against her clit as he angled his fingers just right within her.

 

“NAATHAN!!” 

 

Kristin’s scream echoed throughout the glade as she came hard.  Her body writhed as the powerful vibrations and feelings coursed through her.  She barely heard the low groan of approval come from the man between her thighs at the surge of moisture that flowed over his hand.

 

Nathan pulled his fingers out of her quivering sheath and replaced them with his mouth, his tongue lapping at and consuming her essence as she continued to writhe beneath him.  His fingers moved up to the swollen bud his mouth had just left and continued to tease it, alternately brushing lightly over and pressing strongly against it.  Kristin barely had her breath back before her passion once again began spiraling upward.  She begged him to stop… then begged him never to stop as he tormented her already overwhelmed senses to the point of a second release.

 

Kristin was almost weeping as her third climax slammed through her, her arms rigid as her fingers clawed then clutched the blanket they lay on.  This time Nathan allowed her to come down, raising his head to watch her face as she came then kissing his way back up her body to embrace her as she slowly returned to earth.

 

Kristin finally opened her eyes to stare at him, the dark orbs full of wonder.  Nathan stroked her hair as he slid on top of her and lowered his mouth down to hers.  Kristin gasped at the taste of his lips, his unique essence mingled with her own special flavour.  She was surprised to feel need stirring within her core once again.

 

Nathan didn’t rush her.  Instead he took his time, his hands stroking from shoulder to cheek then back over and over as he memorized the contours of her mouth.  At first Kristin lay limply beneath him, only her mouth involved in their actions but as his hands began to roam further afield she raised her arms to wrap around him.

 

A careful nip to her lower lip saw her nails digging into his shoulder blades.  A series of breathy kisses trailed down her jaw left her gasping.  A hard suck of the sensitive flesh just behind her ear caused her to grab his head and pull his mouth back to hers. 

 

Nathan knew Kristin wasn’t even aware of the way her body was arching beneath him, seeking their joining.  She only knew that the need was already back in full force and she wanted him to assuage it.  He pressed a knee between her legs and she parted eagerly, one smooth calf looping up and over his thighs.  He rose up and pushed his steely member down, releasing a gasp of his own as his arousal settled against the tangle of auburn curls.

 

Several more long passionate kisses and a series of small thrusts found him settled fully between her blooming lower lips, her moisture lubricating him in preparation for their joining.  His hand slipped down her thigh and caught the back of her knee, pulling her leg up as he repositioned her hips and slid smoothly into her. 

 

Kristin’s arms fell to her sides, only her hands resting on Nathan’s shoulders as he rose to his elbows and set a slow but satisfying pace.  She held herself rigid beneath him but a small smile touched her lips this time.

 

For a moment Nathan thought that he was doing something wrong but then he realized that Kristin was simply behaving as she always had before.  He stopped, still buried deep within her and dropped his head to kiss her thoroughly.

 

She threw herself fully into the kiss, her arms creeping back around him as her body began to undulate against him.  He broke the kiss.

 

“Like that… just keeping moving like that, my lady.”  He saw a spark of uncertainty in her eyes.  “Trust me, Kris… doesn’t it feel nice?”

 

She nodded, the pleasure visible in her face telling him that it did.  Kristin continued to move as he asked, somewhat awkwardly in the beginning but she quickly picked up the rhythm.  Soon they were meeting each other thrust for thrust.

 

Thanks to his earlier release, Nathan was able to hold back until he was sure that Kristin could join him.  He could tell that she once again didn’t really understand what was happening but she knew that he had reached the end of his endurance once again.

 

Nathan slid his arms beneath her shoulders and gripped them tightly as he began to piston frantically into her wet depths.  Kristin grabbed his bottom as she thrust even harder, wanting to help him find his pleasure.

 

A loud keen tore from her throat as she realized that the ache was once again going to go away… the release was approaching.  The sound was too much for Nathan and with two then three heavy thrusts he felt his climax begin.  In that same instant Kristin’s inner muscles clenched, another scream escaping her lips as she joined him.

 

Nathan’s arms gave way and he pressed down on her with a loud grunt before rolling to his side, making sure to carry her with him. He nuzzled into her hair as waves of delight continued to wash over them both.

 

“So, my lady… did I keep my promise?  Is the ache gone?”  He pulled back to stare at her face.

 

Her eyes were closed but a sated smile covered her classic features.  “Mmm… that was… oh god, Nathan… that was exquisite.  Is it always… well… like that?”

 

“It should be… it will be with us.  You are so beautiful, Kristin.  The way your body reacts to my touch…”

 

Kristin sat up quickly as realization hit, pressing her knees together as her arms flew up to cover her chest.  She glanced around the glade frantically.

 

Nathan moved upright.  “Kristin?  What’s wrong?”

 

“I… my chemise… where… I’m naked,” her face flamed bright red again as she whispered the last words.

 

“So am I.  You have nothing to be ashamed of.  You are perfect… every inch of you.  Let me look at you, please?”

 

Kristin slowly dropped her arms; her eyes clenched shut as she swallowed hard.  Nathan drew her back into his embrace then lay back down.  When she didn’t relax he reached a hand out to the other pallet and grabbed a blanket, pulling it haphazardly over their legs and hips.

 

Finally her rigid muscles began to soften.  “It’s just that…” she whispered softly, “no one… no man… has ever seen me unclothed.”

 

Nathan was surprised by her admission.  “But your husband?”

 

Her face fell to his chest, her mouth buried in his graying curls.  “Oliver never… he always came to my room after I had retired.  He never… he just pushed my nightrail up and… well…”

 

Nathan rolled Kristin to her back and loomed over her, his face incredulous.  “He never undressed you… caressed your breasts…?  Did he ever touch you intimately at all?”

 

“Not the way that you do… he would sometimes… rub me… just a few times so that it didn’t hurt so bad when he penetrated… He didn’t like for me to reveal myself.  When Cynthia was born he wanted me to hire a wet nurse.  That was one of the few arguments I ever won but he couldn’t tolerate being around if I was feeding her.”

 

Nathan swore.  “Pardon me for saying so but your husband was a damned fool.  To have a woman as passionate as you… and to never know.”

 

“Oliver was older… Although I came to care a great deal for him I knew that he married me because I was young and well positioned in society.  He needed an heir and it was my place to breed them.”

 

“He was an idiot,” Nathan muttered as he pulled her even closer.  His hands continued to caress her as they fell into an easy silence, simply enjoying the feeling of lying next to each other.

 

“Nathan…” Kristin whispered shyly.

 

“Mmm?”  He nuzzled her neck.

 

“Can we… will we do that again sometime?”

 

She felt his smile grow against her skin.  “Oh, Countess… give me another hour or so to recuperate and we will definitely do that again.”

 

“An hour?”

 

Nathan lifted his head and propped up on his elbow, his free hand moving to caress the line of her jaw.  “I am not eighteen any more.  As randy as you make me… and God knows you make me randy… I do need a little while to recuperate.  Give me an hour and I will make it worth your while.”

 

Kristin’s skin pinked again.  “I didn’t mean that… my husband… he never came to my room more than two or three times a month.”

 

Nathan chuckled.  “So would you like to wait a week or so before we make love again?”

 

“NO!”  Kristin cast her eyes down in embarrassment at her vehement response.

 

Nathan laughed out loud as he rolled on top of her.  “You know, my lady.  Forget what I said… I don’t think I need that hour after all.”

 

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

 

“Oh my god!”  Nathan fell to his back beside Kristin with a loud moan, both of them panting heavily.

 

Kristin rolled into his side as her hand searched for the discarded blanket.

 

“Kris…” Nathan started but she laid a finger over his lips.

 

“The temperature is dropping.  Body heat, remember?”

 

“I am feeling a bit cold.  My fever might be coming back.  Why don’t you snuggle up really close to keep me warm until morning?”  Nathan teased.

 

“Morning… Nathan, wasn’t the boat supposed to be back for us this evening?”  Kristin asked, her voice rife with worry.  “The sun is already gone.”

 

“They were probably delayed in port but they will be here.  As a matter of fact, Gator probably has the ship anchored at the entrance to the harbor.  He won’t risk moving closer in the dark.”

 

“So we get to spend another night here.”

 

“That we do.  Why don’t we eat the rest of the fish we had for our noon meal and maybe a few bananas?  After that we can turn in… see what develops.”  Kristin giggled as Nathan waggled his eyebrows at her. 

 

Kristin’s eyes remained riveted to Nathan’s nude form as he slipped from beneath the blanket and moved toward the water.  The moonlight caressed the hard muscles, light and shadow rippling over his skin.  He washed quickly then returned, pausing to bend down and pick up her chemise.

 

“You might feel more comfortable with this on while we eat.  It’s still slightly damp but I think it will be all right,” he told her in an understanding tone.

 

Kristin smiled her thanks as she slipped the garment over her head and down her body.

 

“But once we go back to bed…” he warned with a lustful grin.

 

“It goes.”

 

“Yes, but only because it will be in the way.”

 

Kristin felt herself flush, both from embarrassment and anticipation.

 

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

 

The sound of a squawking bird and the feel of a warm, naked body pressed against and laying half over his pulled Nathan out of the light sleep he was in.  He grinned at the blanket of fiery copper hair covering his chest and reached a hand out to stroke a lock of the silky length.

 

The grin on his face grew bigger as the actions of the last several hours drifted through his mind.  Somehow he’d known with their first argument that she would as passionate in every other aspect of her life as well.

 

Slowly and carefully, he eased Kristin’s body up and over his so that she was lying completely on top of him.  He brushed her hair out of her face and then proceeded to softly run his hands up and down her back, occasionally slipping down to cup the firm globes of her rear.

 

Nathan felt Kristin shift slightly against him, moaning softly as her curls brushed against his morning erection, the hard organ trapped between the close press of their bodies.  He held his breath as she began to stretch, her body tightening over his as she woke.  He groaned as she burrowed her face into his neck, her lips moving against his tan flesh.

 

“Good morning, my lady,” he said in a quiet voice as he nuzzled her temple.

 

“Good morning, my rogue,” Kristin replied in a sleepy voice as she shifted against him then gasped at the feel of his arousal pressed against her center.  She lifted her head from his chest and gazed down at him.  “Are you…?   How can you…?”

 

“Didn’t your husband ever…”

 

“No…” Kristin shook her head vehemently.  “Oliver never… that is… we slept in separate rooms… and he only came to me at night…” her voice trailed off as she blushed and buried her face back against his neck.

 

Nathan smiled and rubbed her back.  “It’s okay, Kris… there is nothing to be embarrassed about.”

 

“I feel like a virginal maiden all over again,” she told him in a soft voice.  “It was never like this… I wasn’t raised…” Kristin shook her head.  “It’s just… all so new to me.”

 

“I know,” Nathan told her as he threaded his fingers in her auburn tresses and brought her face up and over his.  “And it’s okay…” he pulled her face down closer to his and brushed his lips against hers.  “Not all men are concerned with the woman’s pleasure; they are worried only about their own.  But for me…” Nathan kissed her gently again.  “For me, knowing that you’ve found pleasure in what we do… in our joining… that gives me pleasure and makes our lovemaking more enjoyable.”

 

“Well, you’ve certainly given me pleasure,” Kristin told him even as she blushed furiously. 

 

“You are so beautiful when you blush,” Nathan told her, causing her to blush even more and swat his chest.  He chuckled softly and brought her mouth back down to his for a gentle kiss that quickly grew more passionate.

 

Kristin moaned into his mouth as she tangled her tongue with his, her body unconsciously moving against his. 

 

Nathan groaned as her gentle movement teased his already stiff member and he let his caresses grow bolder; his hands gliding over her bottom to slip down between her thighs and pull her legs wider over his hips.  “Sit up…” he commanded in a firm but soft voice against her lips.

 

“Nathan?”

 

“Trust me,” Nathan said as he brought one hand up to gently push on her shoulder.  “Sit up.”

 

Kristin slowly complied with his request and pushed herself up on him, moaning as the change in position pressed her cleft more firmly against his erection.

 

“Now… lift yourself up onto your knees,” Nathan told her.

 

Doing as he instructed, Kristin rose up onto her knees over him and then her eyes grew wide when she felt his hands slid up her thighs, one staying in place on her hip while the other continued on to comb through her curls.  “Nathan!”

 

“Trust me…” Nathan repeated as he slipped a finger between her folds, smiling at the moisture he felt then left her to wrap his hand around his shaft.  He ran the broad head up along her moist cleft then down again to position himself at her opening.  “Now… slowly lower yourself back down.”

 

Kristin shook her head uncertainly.  “Nathan?”

 

“Kristin…” his grip on her hip tightened as he urged her to sink down on him.

 

“Will it… hurt?”

 

“No,” Nathan shook his head.  “It won’t hurt either of us.  In fact, it will be just the opposite.  It’s going to feel exquisite… and you, my lady, get to control just how… fast I enter you.”

 

Kristin smile shyly down at him as she began to slowly lower herself on him, moaning at the feel of his rigid member pressing inside her, inch by inch until she’d taken him completely within her.  “Oh god…” she moaned loudly at the feel of him pulsing inside her from a different angle.  “Oh, Nathan…”

 

Nathan smiled up at her as a low groan escaped his lips, finding himself unable to speak, the sight of Kristin above him stealing his ability for rational thought.  He knew in that moment that his heart was utterly and truly lost to the temptress currently straddling him.

 

“…move…” he uttered softly, gently thrusting beneath her.  “…please…”

 

“Move?”

 

“Rock your hips… follow your instincts…” Nathan told her then moaned as Kristin rocked slightly against him.  “Oh yes… like that…”

 

Kristin repeated the action then languidly circled her hips, a low moan bubbling up from within her as the movement sent fissures of sensations shooting up her body.  She gasped when Nathan reached up and suddenly cupped her breasts, his fingers teasing and tormenting her nipples into hard, distended peaks.

 

“Faster… Kristin… move faster,” Nathan asked her in a breathless voice as he kneaded her breasts.

 

Kristin closed her eyes and bit her lower lip in concentration as she moved a little faster, rising up slightly then sinking back down on him.  She continued her slow movements until she opened her eyes to see him staring up at her with dark eyes.  “Nathan… I…” Kristin shook her head as she stopped moving, colour suffusing her face.

 

Nathan sat up quickly beneath Kristin and wrapped his arms around her as he caught her mouth in an ardent kiss.  “It’s all right,” he murmured against her lips as he slid his hands down her back and grasped her legs.  “Wrap your legs around me…”

 

With his help, Kristin wound her legs around him and locked her ankles against the small of his back, moaning as the feelings of yet another new position worked their way up through her body.  She kissed him hungrily as he carefully maneuvered them so that she was lying on her back on the pallet.

 

Kristin gasped out of the kiss as the change in position allowed Nathan to sink deeper inside her.  She instinctively tightened her legs around him and thrust her hips up against him, wanting more.

 

Nathan smiled down at her as he propped himself up on his elbows and began to move leisurely inside her then dipped his head to catch a dusky nipple between his lips and suckled hard; smiling around the taut peak at the low moan that slipped past her lips.

 

Kristin’s eyes closed as the intense sensations caused by Nathan’s touch washed over her, the now familiar ache he roused in her spiraling out of control.  She clutched at his shoulders as she moved with him, finding and matching Nathan’s rhythm with ease.

 

“Ooh…” she panted, as the feelings grew stronger.  “I… Nath… I… please…”

 

Hearing the need in Kristin’s voice, Nathan released her nipple and lifted his head to gaze down at her; pleased beyond measure to see the blissful grimace on her face as she neared release.  “Kris…” he whispered her name, suddenly wanting and needing to look into her eyes.

 

At his soft call of her name, Kristin opened her eyes to stare up at him, inhaling sharply at the pure, unadulterated lust and need she could see swimming in Nathan’s dark sapphire eyes, shadowed by… something else that she couldn’t quite make out.

 

“Nathan…  please… I… I need…”

 

Nathan nodded knowingly.  “I know…”

 

Kristin felt him slide a hand between their bodies then cried out moments later when she felt his fingers make contact and begin stroking to the sensitive flesh at her center.  “Oh god!”  She arched beneath him as his circling fingers sent even more intense vibrations shooting through her body.  “Nathan!”

 

“That’s it, Kristin,” Nathan told her in a breathless voice as he caressed her clit in time with the thrust of his throbbing member inside her.  “Give in to it…”

 

“Na… Nathan…” her legs tightened around him, telling him without words what she needed then moaned in approval when he began to drive into her faster and harder, his fingers on her matching the same pace.  “Yes… I… oooh…”

 

Nathan groaned at the flood of moisture he felt followed by the unmistakable clenching of her inner walls around his plunging member as her orgasm washed over her and with a few more thrusts, he joined her; his seed leaving him in long spurts to splash against her womb.

 

Kristin sighed as Nathan collapsed on top of her, their bodies trembling in the aftermath of their orgasms.  As residual tremors passed through them, Kristin slowly unwrapped her legs from his back and eased them down to tangle with his, surprised when Nathan released a satisfied breath and nestled deeper into her arms.

 

After several minutes, Nathan kissed his way up to her mouth for a loving kiss before he slipped out of her, pausing when he heard a soft whimper escape her lips.  “Kristin?”

 

Kristin shook her head.  “I…” she shrugged her shoulders.

 

Nathan rolled off her then stretched out beside her, laying his hand across her flat stomach and simply gazed down at her; a smile on his lips at the satisfied look on her face.

 

“What are you looking at?”  Kristin asked after several minutes.

 

“You.”

 

“Me?”

 

“You.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Don’t you know how beautiful you are?”

 

“I’m not…”

 

“Oh, but you are,” Nathan stopped her protest.  “You have a gorgeous body,” he circled his fingers around Kristin’s breasts, smiling as her nipples bloomed and her skin flushed at the same time.  “And on top of that, you are intelligent, witty, strong-willed, stubborn as a mule…” Nathan chuckled as she reached out and slapped his chest.

 

“I am not stubborn,” Kristin responded with a gentle laugh.  “If anyone is stubborn, it would be you, Captain Rogue.”

 

Nathan grinned as he leaned down and brushed a quick kiss over her lips.  “Okay… we’re both stubborn.”

 

Kristin smiled up at him then suddenly gave into the urge to stretch.  She groaned softly as her muscles protested.

 

“I thought you might be sore after so long and it just so happens, I know the thing to help,” Nathan told her before she could utter a word as she settled back against him.  He shifted away from her and climbed to his feet then reached down to pull her up beside him and into his arms.

 

Kristin looped her arms around his neck as he carried her across the meadow to the hot spring.  “Nathan… what if Gator and your men should see us?”

 

“Oh, don’t worry,” Nathan said as he carefully climbed into the pool.  “If I know Gator, he’ll be making a great deal of noise.  Probably singing at the top of his lungs.”

 

“You mean he… he thinks we’re…” Kristin’s face turned beet red and she buried it in Nathan’s neck as he sank down in the bubbling water and submerged their bodies.  “How am I supposed to face him… face any of your men… and what about Lucas?”

 

“Crocker figured out there was something between us before we did,” Nathan told her.  “And as for my men… you earned their loyalty and devotion when you cared for them during the illness.  They consider you family, so you have their respect as well.”

 

“And Lucas?”  She asked, moaning softly as the hot water surrounded and began to ease the newly used muscles in her body.  “What will Lucas think about me now?”

 

“Lucas loves you,” Nathan told her as he reached out for the soap still sitting on the edge of the spring.  He worked up a rich lather then began to run his soapy hands over her body.  “He thinks of you as a mother… and I think that as long as you’re happy, he’ll be happy.”

 

“He… his mother?”  Kristin turned to face him with tears in her eyes.  “You’re mak… you’re serious!?”

 

“I’m serious,” Nathan nodded.  “He was terribly upset when you were attacked and then when you got sick… he was very worried then too.”

 

“He was worried about you as well.”  Kristin told him.  “You’re all he really has…”

 

Nathan nodded.  “I know,” he said quietly as he continued to wash her body.  “And I love that kid as if he were my own son.”

 

Kristin smiled and covered his hands as they paused on her stomach.  “I know you do.”

 

“So,” Nathan said after a moment.  “No more worrying about what my crew thinks.  They love you.”

 

Kristin nodded and leaned back against him.  “All right.”

 

“Good,” Nathan nuzzled her temple.  “Want me to wash your hair?”

 

“Only if you promise that you won’t take off to the lagoon immediately after you finish,” Kristin answered with a hint of humour in her voice.

 

“Oh…” Nathan slipped his hands up to cup her breasts and shifted beneath her.  “I can guarantee it this time.”

 

Kristin whipped her head to the side to face him.  “You mean… you ran… because of me?”

 

“Yes,” Nathan grinned as her face flushed.  He laughed softly and leaned in to brush a loving kiss to her lips.  “Come on, my lady… let me wash your hair and then we’ll go see if our ship awaits.”

 

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

 

“Where… where is it?”

 

“I don’t know,” Nathan said as he scanned the small natural harbour. 

 

“Do you… do you think something happened to them?”  Kristin asked, worry in her voice.

 

“No… well, at least not what you’re thinking.  Crocker would have gotten me word.”

 

“How?”

 

“We have a… messenger…” Nathan answered.  “No… I’m thinking that they just got delayed in port.”

 

“For what reason?”

 

“Possibly the cargo I had Gator offload.”

 

“McLeary,” Kristin whispered then shuddered.

 

Nathan pulled her into his arms.  “Yes.  McLeary.  I told Gator to take him to the port officials and let them deal with him.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“I told you… I won’t ever let him hurt you again,” Nathan told her and gave her a gentle kiss.

 

“So…” Kristin laid her head on his chest as she wrapped her arm around his back.  “What do we do now?”

 

“We wait,” Nathan replied.  “If the ship doesn’t show up within the next couple of days… then I’ll send a message to a friend.”

 

“Message?  How?”

 

“By a special courier,” Nathan told her cryptically.

 

Kristin opened her mouth to probe deeper but changed her mind.  “So,” she pulled back and smiled at him.  “I repeat my earlier question… what do we do now?”

 

Nathan grinned at her as he moved out of her embrace, grasped her hands and backed towards the tree line, pulling her with him.  “Oh… I’m sure we’ll be able to think of something to keep ourselves occupied.”

 

Kristin laughed, even as she once again blushed.

 

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

 

“I never had any desire to get married but my father insisted, told me that it was my duty to continue the family name,” Nathan told her as they lay wrapped in each other’s arms after an invigorating lovemaking session on the top of the extinct volcano.  “So, after I finally acquiesced, he proceeded to arrange everything… including my bride.”

 

“Carol?”

 

“Mmhmm,” Nathan murmured.  “Carol and I met at our engagement party, a month before we were married in a ridiculously large wedding with all the trimmings.”

 

“She was quite beautiful,” Kristin said, remembering the portrait she’d seen.

 

“Yes… I suppose she was,” Nathan replied quietly.

 

Kristin lifted her head from his chest and gave him a questioning look.

 

“There is more to beauty than just looks,” Nathan told her and at her continuing stare look he began to explain.  “Carol… Carol was a very sweet person, and over the years of our marriage, I grew to care about her… even love her.”

 

“And she never shared your love of the ocean?”  Kristin said, remembering their conversation when Lucas was ill as she drew random patterns on his bare chest.  “I don’t understand how people can dislike the water.”

 

“Neither do I,” Nathan replied.  “Bobby loved it.  I can’t say how pleased… how proud I was the day he was born…”

 

“I know the feeling,” Kristin smiled against his chest.  “I felt the same way when Cynni was born.”

 

“There is nothing more satisfying then watching your child grow, is there?”

 

“No.”

 

“Their first words…”

 

“Crawling…”

 

“First steps…”

 

“First tooth…”

 

“Talking in sentences…”

 

“Learning to swim…”

 

They smiled as they spoke the last sentence together.

 

“Carol would get very upset every time I took Robert down to the beach,” Nathan told her.  “I could understand part of her anger… as he wasn’t even a year old, but I was insistent that my son know how to swim.  And I’ll be damned if my boy wasn’t swimming before he was walking.”

 

Kristin grinned at the pride evident in his voice.

 

“How old was Cynthia when she learned to swim?”

 

“Five,” Kristin answered.  “I’d actually wanted to teach her when she was younger, but Oliver refused to let me.  He was angry enough as it was that I taught her when I did… but I don’t regret having done it.”

 

Nathan smiled.  “Something tells me that young Miss Westphalen is as much of a spitfire as her mother.”

 

“I’m not…” she stated indignantly but with a smile on her face.

 

“Oh yes you are!”  Nathan retorted as he suddenly flipped them and covered her body with his.  “But did I mention, that I like spitfires?”

 

Kristin giggled softly.  “No you didn’t.”

 

Nathan smiled down at her as he lowered his head and grazed her lips with his.  “I do like spitfires… and I like that you have a mind of your own and aren’t afraid to use it.  I find intelligence to be a very…” he thrust gently against her,  “arousing quality.”

 

Kristin shifted beneath him and wrapped a long leg behind his knee as she slid her hands up his chest.

 

They jumped as a low rumble sounded.

 

Nathan rose up on his arms and looked down between their bodies.  “I think someone’s hungry,” he commented with an amused chuckle.  He looked back up to see that Kristin’s face was bright red.  “Nothing to be embarrassed about,” Nathan told her as he stroked her cheek.

 

Kristin shook her head and he chuckled again.

 

“So, what would my lady like for lunch today?  We have fish and bananas or perhaps bananas and fish.”

 

Kristin laughed softly as she looked thoughtful.  “Hmm… I think I should like to try the fish and bananas.”

 

“Excellent choice,” Nathan replied and gave her a quick kiss.  “And then after lunch…” he rocked his hips against hers.

 

Kristin moaned softly in anticipation as Nathan helped her to her feet and handed her the chemise that he had tossed away earlier.

 

“Come on, Countess…” Nathan grasped her hands after she’d slipped the thin cotton covering over her body.  “Your meal awaits.”

 

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

 

sail ahead...