Title: Pearl of Destiny Part Three

Author: Jaya

Rating: FRAO 

Classification: Nathan and Kristin romance NC-17

Archive:  tayryn’s tower

Disclaimer:  They belong to Amblin.  I’m just borrowing them for a while.  They will be returned much happier

Summary: An alternate reality where Nathan Bridger and Kristin Westphalen meet in the December days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 1941. 

 

Notes: This story picks up just a few months after Part two ended and completes the story.

 

~*~*~*~*~

 

Nathan dropped his duffel bag and deftly snagged the football that came floating his way, his mind briefly touching on a previous football game.  A smile lit up his face as he remembered the way his wife’s body felt beneath his when he accidentally tackled her.  Of course Kristin hadn’t been his wife then…

 

Several loud shouts broke his brief remembrance and he saw his goddaughter Ginny’s fiancée racing toward him, yelling for him to throw the ball.  Nathan surveyed the scene briefly then, with a wink at the young man bearing down on him, threw a long but perfect pass to the older man standing behind the young mob heading toward him, howling all the way.  Bill Noyce grabbed the ball neatly and took off toward the designated goal line, in the opposite direction from most of the other players.  The mob howled louder and turned, pouring on the speed to run the man down but Bill had too much of a head start and crossed the line to score.

 

Nathan grabbed his bag and moved to the railing of the back porch, hoisting himself over as Bill extended his hands in the classic touchdown sign.  A slight scream escaped Janet’s mouth before she realized who her unexpected visitor was and she rushed to greet him.  They shared a hug as young David huffed his way over to the deck.

 

“Captain!  Why didn’t you throw the ball to me?  I was standing right there!”

 

“Rank before youth, my friend.  You don’t have the power to bust me.  The Admiral does.  I didn’t like being an ensign.”

 

“I always knew you had a modicum of intelligence buried somewhere inside that thick skull covered by all that unnecessary hair.” Bill sputtered as he fell into a chair and grabbed a glass of lemonade.

 

“Hey!  Am I not the guy who just saved your ass?  Show a little respect please!” Nathan replied as his eyes scanned the porch in search of one certain person.

 

“Captain.  It’s good to have you home.”  Nathan was distracted by the greeting from his new stepson-in-law.

 

“You don’t know how glad I am to be home, Ben.  And we’re off duty… its Nathan.  Are Cynthia and Teddy here?”

 

“They’ve gone shopping with Ginny.  They will be back later.  Teddy will be thrilled to see you.”

 

“I’m betting that Teddy’s grandma will be even more thrilled.  Speaking of that lovely lady…”

 

“I guess your mail is probably being delivered right now… so you haven’t gotten your letter.”

 

“Letter… what letter?  Is something wrong?”

 

Janet smiled.  “You know that we would have gotten in contact if something was wrong.  The letter tells you that Kristin isn’t staying with us anymore.  She boug…”

 

“Where the hell is she?  She doesn’t need to be on her own.  She’s almost eight months pregnant for god’s sake!”

 

“Nathan!  Kristin isn’t stupid and she isn’t on her own.  The Rutledges next door were transferred so Kristin took their house.  She’s only a few feet away if she needs us but the two of you have a little more privacy and we have a little less noise in the middle of the night.  I’ve been helping her paint the nursery.”

 

“She took… she moved?  Isn’t that a decision we should have made together?”

 

Janet raised an eyebrow at him.  “You weren’t exactly available to consult and she had to make a decision very quickly.  She and Bill discussed it… Bill thought it was a sound idea so Kristin asked and was rewarded.  She said that if you didn’t like the house the two of you could always find something else when you were back to stay.  Don’t you dare be angry with her!

 

Nathan held his hands out appeasingly.  “I’m not angry.  I’m just surprised.  I was always the one who had to take care of things like that… before.”

 

“I think that she’s taking a nap at the moment.  She worked the early shift at the hospital and she needs a lot of rest now.  She’s going to come join us for dinner but I do happen to know that she left the back door unlocked.”

 

Nathan grinned and bent to grab his bag.

 

“Leave it here.  I’ll take care of your clothes.  Go see your wife… but she needs her rest…”

 

“Yes, ma’am!” Nathan executed a smart salute to Janet before leaping over the porch rail and taking off at a run.

 

“Don’t you dare wake her up!” Janet’s voice echoed after him.

 

Nathan tested the back door carefully, pushing it open and peering around the facing into the strange kitchen.  He’d visited the home once while the Rutledges lived there and he struggled to recall the floor plan as he explored.

 

The house wasn’t as large as Bill and Janet’s but it was spacious and airy.  He eyed the strange furniture and decided that the previous owners must have left most of their larger pieces. Then his eyes came to rest on the brown ceramic teapot sitting on the stove, Kristin’s favorite.

 

“Kristin?  Honey?” Nathan called softly but received no answer.

 

He climbed the stairs and began venturing into the bedrooms on the upper floor.  One bedroom was obviously intended to be the guestroom from the nice yet generic décor.  The next room, the nursery, brought a smile to Nathan’s face.  Kristin’s touch was obvious.  A colorful mural had been painted on one wall and Nathan recognized the scene as the lagoon from the island they spent over a month marooned on. A crib stood ready and waiting for occupation and various toys were sprinkled around the room.  He wrinkled his nose at the large pile of bright white diapers on the shelf of the changing table.

 

The next few doors revealed the upstairs bathroom, a storage closet and the stairs to what Nathan presumed was the attic.  Finally he reached the last door and turned the knob gently.

 

This bedroom was larger than the others and also showed signs of Kristin’s special touch.  The walls were painted a pale green and the drapes and bedspread were a deeper shade of the same color.  Pictures of Nathan, Cynthia and Teddy were scattered around the room.  But best of all to Nathan was the sight of Kristin sleeping peacefully in the middle of the bed.  He crossed the room and knelt by her side, his eyes carefully scanning every inch of her rounded body beneath the light sheet covering her.

 

“…so beautiful…” he whispered as he watched her breathe slowly.  One hand reached out to brush soft auburn curls from her face.  Kristin smiled and rubbed her face against his palm, seeming to sense her husband’s presence, even in her sleep.

 

Nathan glanced out of the bedroom window and saw that he was facing the side of the Noyce home.  He craned his neck slightly around the edge and caught a glimpse of the football game that had resumed in the back yard.  ‘They won’t be expecting us for a while… Good!’

 

His hands moved to the buttons of his uniform top and within moments he’d stripped down to his boxers.  He surveyed the bed a moment before lifting the sheet and climbing in behind Kristin.  She immediately snuggled back into him and Nathan wrapped his arms and legs carefully around her.  He buried his face in her long hair and was asleep in minutes.

 

*~*~*~*

 

Kristin woke with a smile on her face and immediately realized why.  Her husband was home and in bed with her.  Nathan’s left arm had worked its way beneath her body and was curled possessively across her rounded abdomen while his right hand cupped her breast.

 

“Darling?  Are you awake?”  Nathan’s gentle snore answered her quiet query. 

 

Kristin carefully shifted her somewhat bulky body until she was lying on her back; Nathan’s arms still locked around her.  She moaned slightly as she realized the heat from Nathan’s body was causing a definite response in her own.  She could feel her nipples pressing against the soft silk of the slip that she wore as they hardened.  Nathan’s response was obvious as well, his arousal pressing firmly into her hip.

 

Kristin tilted her head and pressed her lips to the hollow of Nathan’s throat, taking a moment to inhale his unique scent before tasting his salty skin. Her eyes closed as she feasted on his tanned flesh, working her lips slowly across his chest to play with one flat male nipple then the other.

 

The rolling of her body toward Nathan as he tightened his embrace told Kristin that he was awake and she opened her eyes to meet his gaze.

 

“Welcome home, my love.” She whispered.

 

Nathan returned her greeting with a touch of his lips against hers, the light kiss quickly turning into something much more intense as Kristin slid her tongue into his open lips.  Nathan returned her kiss hungrily and by the time Kristin freed his mouth he was panting.

 

“Now that’s what I call a welcome home!” Nathan rolled to his side to face her as his hands began to wander up and down her body.

 

“There’s more where that came from, Sailor!” Kristin smiled, her joy at having Nathan home bubbling out in her voice.

 

Nathan tried to pull his wife closer but found his efforts stymied by her gravid belly. 

 

“I think that someone has grown just a little bit since I snuck home for Christmas.” His hands settled over her abdomen.

 

“That was almost two months ago.  Baby Bridger has grown a great deal since then.  He probably weighs over five pounds by now.”

 

“All of this for five pounds?” Nathan grinned as he kidded her.

 

“Just wait.  I’m only going to get bigger over the last month.”

 

“You are only going to get more beautiful you mean.”

 

The smile that graced Kristin’s face was one that few people seldom saw.  “You say the sweetest things.”

 

“I say the truth.  Every time I see you I am amazed at how beautiful you are.  And seeing you like this… our baby growing here… you are the most beautiful sight in the world to me.”

 

She knew that Nathan’s words weren’t spoken out of politeness, that he really meant them.  She was amazed at how much he loved to touch her, caressing and talking to her taut womb.

 

Kristin moved in for another kiss and Nathan met her halfway.  They nibbled and teased, content for the moment to enjoy being together after so long apart.  Eventually the kisses grew more heated, the caresses freer.  Nathan’s hands slipped beneath the straps of Kristin’s thin slip and pulled, breaking one of them in his haste to remove it. 

 

She sighed when he finally succeeded in freeing her breasts from the silky fabric and encased them with his hands. 

 

“Have I mentioned how very much I’ve missed you?”  Kristin whispered as she arched slightly into Nathan’s touch.

 

“Oh, Mrs. Bridger… you couldn’t have missed me half as much as I missed you.”  Nathan sought her lips again while his thumbs worked across the soft peaks in his palms.  Immediately they began to stiffen. 

 

One feminine hand held Nathan’s head while the other slipped down his side and beneath the waistband of his cotton boxers to stroke the straining erection there.  Nathan broke the kiss and pulled his head up.

 

“Kris… we can’t…”

 

Kristin smiled as she continued to fondle him.  “Of course we can.”

 

“But the baby…”

 

“We might have to be a little… inventive… to maneuver around your son but as long as I’m comfortable we can still be together.  I want you to love me… need you to love me… unless… you don’t want… I know that I’m not very attractive right now… ”

 

Nathan laid a finger over her lips to silence her.  “Of course I want to.  You have never looked more beautiful to me and I’ve never wanted anything more than to love you right this minute but I don’t want to hurt either of you.  We are due back at Bill’s any minute.  Why don’t we wait until we get home and we’ll figure something out.

 

Kristin nodded but Nathan could see the disappointment in her eyes as she shifted away from him.  His own erection protested vehemently at the removal of her hand.  He jumped up and moved around the bed to help her stand. 

 

Kristin swung her feet off the edge of the bed to touch the floor then paused to rest a moment.  As Nathan moved in front of her he glanced down to see that her slip had inched up her legs.  His mouth went dry at the thought of what lay just beneath the hem and his arousal leapt.

 

“Down boy!” Kristin laughed at the straining bulge in front of her as she reached out to caress Nathan through his shorts.  A wicked grin crossed her face as her fingers popped the button and pulled the fabric down.  He jumped back as his erection sprang free, narrowly avoiding her seeking hands.

 

A pout crossed Kristin’s lips as she slid a bit closer to the edge of the bed, forcing her garment even further up her hips. The movements drew Nathan’s eyes back to her hips and the glistening cleft between her parted legs.

 

“What do you need to be comfortable?” Nathan bit out.

 

“What?  Oh… I need for my back to be supported… I can’t take your weight pressing down on me… as much as I would like to.”

 

Nathan moved a little closer and reached out, grabbing a plump pillow from the head of the bed and tossing it behind Kristin.  He placed his hands on her shoulders and gently lowered her back onto the cushion. 

 

Kristin watched with anticipation as Nathan moved to the chair in the corner and grabbed the matching footstool.  He dropped it on the floor beside the bed and knelt between her legs, one hand grasping his hard length as he ran the head lightly up and down Kristin’s moist folds.

 

He grabbed her hips to brace himself as he thrust slowly forward, sliding inch by inch into her warm depths.  Once he was completely sheathed he stopped, staring at her smiling face as their bodies adjusted to their joining.

 

After a few moments Nathan pressed forward slightly then pulled back slowly until just the head of his erection was trapped between her engorged labia.  Just as slowly he reentered her.  Kristin nodded her approval at his gentleness but then urged him to pick up the pace.

 

They rocked against each other lightly, allowing their pleasure to build slowly until they both realized the end was within reach. 

 

“Now…” Kristin gasped. 

 

Nathan moved his hands to the bed beside her hips and laid his palms flat on the mattress.  One foot slid off the bench to the floor to help him increase his leverage as he increased the strength and pace of his thrusts.  Kristin’s hips raised to meet him as her hands gripped the sheet above her head.  She came with a loud cry, her condition making orgasm easier.  Nathan quickly followed, his two months of abstinence making holding back impossible.

 

Nathan began to fall, flinging his body sideways at the last moment so that he landed beside her.  “Oh, Kristin…”

 

Kristin’s eyes were closed and she was struggling to control her breathing.  A huge grin was plastered across her face.  “Thank you!” She gasped.

 

Nathan began to chuckle as he nuzzled her neck.  “There was no way we were gonna get out of this room without making love was there?”

 

“Not a chance in hell.  You didn’t really think I was going to wait after being without you for two months, did you?”

 

“I can’t imagine what came over me that I could even contemplate such a thing!  What’s wrong?”

 

Nathan sat up as Kristin struggled to pull her bulky body off the bed.  “Your child is jumping up and down on my bladder.  This is the fun part of pregnancy.  Now help me up.”

 

Nathan jumped up and wrapped his arms around Kristin, carefully lifting her to her feet.

 

“I guess we need to make an appearance downstairs so now is as good a time as any.  Your baby is hungry and we need to keep our strength up.” Kristin paused and turned to run her eyes slowly up and down Nathan’s tanned naked form.  By the time her eyes finally returned to his face he was flushed with desire.  She gave him a quick wink as her tongue gleefully licked her lips.  “Later,” she promised as she disappeared behind the bathroom door.

 

*~*~*~*

 

Janet glanced down at her watch as the Bridgers slowly approached her back porch.  “I’m not sure whether to ask where you’ve been all this time or express surprise that you actually showed up at all.  Come sit down, Kristin.”

 

The mother-to-be settled into a comfortable chair and propped her feet up on the stool that Janet kept nearby.  “I had a wonderful nap and waking up to find my husband asleep beside me was a fabulous surprise.  Thank you for pointing him in the right direction.”

 

Janet raised an eyebrow but didn’t comment further; her smile telling Kristin that she knew exactly what the couple had been up to.

 

“Hey, Cap… Nathan.  You want to run a few scrimmages with us?” Ben asked as he tossed the football up and down.

 

Nathan looked down from his perch on the arm of Kristin’s chair.  She smiled and placed a hand on his knee, giving it a little shove. 

 

“Go ahead.  I’ll be fine right here.”

 

“You sure?  It’s just after being cooped up on the sub so long…”

 

“I understand.  Go… run… play.  Just don’t get hurt… and don’t exhaust yourself.  Save some energy for later.”  Kristin was rewarded with a hard kiss from her husband.

 

Janet shook her head as Nathan ran down the porch steps.  “You two… you do remember that you are eight months pregnant don’t you?”

 

Kristin laughed.  “I also have a lot of catching up to do.  My hormones must be doing back flips because all I can think about is going home and climbing back into bed and…”

 

“I get it.” Janet interrupted.  “I’ll tell Bill to make sure he closes the bedroom window tonight.”

 

“Won’t that be stuffy?” Ginny asked as she exited the house.  “Why would you want to close the window?  Aunt Kristin, you look like you are about to pop.  Hey!  Uncle Nathan is home!  Is he going to be able to stay for the wedding?”  Ginny took off down the steps without waiting for an answer.

 

“So what’s the answer… will Nathan be here for the wedding?”

 

“I don’t know… I didn’t ask how long… we were busy!” Kristin answered defensively at Janet’s mocking smile.  “I wonder where Cyn is…”

 

“She is right here!” Kristin’s daughter appeared in the doorway.  “Sorry.  Teddy fell asleep on the ride home so I put him on a blanket on the sofa.  Did I hear that Nathan is home?”

 

Janet and Cynthia sat down at the table with Kristin and when Ginny joined them a few minutes later the talk quickly turned to wedding plans.

 

Janet had been serious when, upon their return from Australia, she’d enlisted Kristin’s help in planning her youngest child’s wedding.  They all liked David Palmer, the young navy surgeon who had won Ginny’s heart and hand and had welcomed him into their extended family with open arms.  The familial tie would be formalized in a week when David and Ginny took their formal vows.

 

Ginny could not keep her eyes off David, her mother having to call her attention back to the conversation several times.  When a question directed at Kristin went unanswered after being asked twice the other ladies looked up to find Kristin’s gaze riveted on her husband as well.  They all began to laugh.

 

“You can certainly tell who the newlywed and the bride to be are in this group!  Perhaps it’s time to start dinner.  Bill!”

 

Noyce looked up at the sound of his wife’s voice and dutifully trotted over to the side of the porch in answer to her gesture.  “Please say it’s time for me to fire up the grill.  I’m getting too old to try and keep up with these young guys.”

 

Janet bent her head down and brushed a kiss across her husband’s balding head.  “I am happy to be your excuse and say yes, it is time to fire up the grill.”

 

A grateful grin crossed Bill’s face.  “I’m gonna go wash up.  You are the best, honey!”

 

Ginny and Kristin looked at each other and began to giggle as Janet stared intently at her retreating spouse’s backside.  Janet shot an evil look at both of them, which just made them laugh harder.  She rolled her eyes.

 

“I’m going to get started on dinner.”

 

“I’ll help, mom… no, Cyn… you stay and keep your mom company.”  Ginny followed her mother into the house.

 

“So, how are you feeling today?” Cynthia asked her mother once they were alone.

 

Kristin smiled, her hands drifting down to rub her belly.  “I was exhausted when I got back from the hospital but I had a long nap.  Waking up to find Nathan there did me a world of good as well.  I always find more energy when he’s around.”

 

“You mean… you can’t… Mother!  You’re eight months pregnant.  You don’t mean that you and Nathan are still… that you…” Cynthia turned bright red as her voice tapered off.

 

Kristin was slightly embarrassed as well.  It’s okay, Cyn.  We’ve been apart for so long and it won’t hurt the baby.  Didn’t you and Ben…” This time Kristin’s voice tapered off as she stared at her daughter’s face. 

 

Cynthia stood and nervously paced the length of the porch several times before returning to the table.  “Mom… we don’t… Ben never touched me until after Teddy was born… since then, well… it’s been sporadic… and I don’t really… is there something wrong with me?”

 

“Sweetheart!  Of course nothing is wrong.  Can I ask… why you don’t?  Does Ben not… express any interest… or is it you who isn’t interested… do you not enjoy lovemaking?”

 

“I don’t know!  The first time, with Robert… it was so special… it hurt in the beginning… but I loved him so much.   Ben was gentle… he still is… but I can’t help but think about…”

 

Kristin sighed as she got a real glimpse into the problem that Nathan had already sensed in her daughter’s marriage.  “I know how very much you loved Robert… we all did; you in a very special way.  But you have to accept that Robert is gone.  Your memories of him will always be precious to you, just as those of your father, your real father, will be precious to me.  But you have to put them in perspective.  If you choose to live your life around those memories you are doing your self a disservice, not to mention your husband and son.”

 

“I know that and I really have tried.  But it isn’t just Robert… How can you do it, mom?  How can you trust a man… any man… how can you let any man touch you after what daddy did…”

 

Kristin paled as she realized what her daughter was referring to.  “How? Oh, God!  Cynthia, I never wanted you to know…”

 

Cynthia bowed her head.  “I heard your dreams… after… I always knew that things were different after we went back but I never thought that he was hurting you.  Not until after he died and you began having the nightmares.  I saw the bruises on your body that day… Mrs. Noyce tried to prevent it but I caught a glimpse of them.  I didn’t understand at first but after I heard you…  Nathan and I talked a little about it the day of your party.”

 

“Nathan knows that you know?  He didn’t tell me?”

 

“It wasn’t really his place.  I finally realized… that horrible day… you weren’t sick because you were upset about daddy.  Nathan told me how he found you… bruised and beaten.  Jack hurt you that night because I wasn’t there.”

 

“He would have found a way, darling, whether you were there or not.  Jack was very inventive in ways to torture me… but I really don’t want to talk about that.  I’ve worked so hard to put all of that behind me and you should as well.”

 

“But I trusted him… I loved him… and he did that to you.  Every time Ben touches me I think about that… and Robert.”

 

Kristin ran her fingers through her hair.  “Oh, Cyn… I loved your father.  I loved Alex more than I can describe to you and when he died I thought my life was over, just as you did when Robert died.  I made a mistake with Jack, a very big mistake.  But I’ve been given a second chance with Nathan.  He’s an extraordinary man.  As much as I loved Alex, the love I feel for Nathan is even greater.  When he… touches me… I forget everything else.  What we share together is so… special… so beautiful.  Being intimate with someone you love is an amazing thing.”

 

Cynthia nodded but didn’t look convinced.  “It must be, the way that you and Nathan are always touching each other… the way that Ginny looks at David… why can’t it be that way with Ben and me?”

 

Kristin thought a moment before she answered.  “That is a question only you can answer… but I think that the first thing you have to decide is how you really feel about Ben.  I know why you married him but sometimes feelings can grow.  The question you have to ask yourself… is that what you want?  If it isn’t then end the marriage before any of you get hurt.”

 

“But I don’t know what I want and I don’t know how to figure that out.  I’m so confused.”

 

“Do you and Teddy want to come stay with Nathan and I for a while?  We have plenty of room if you need to get away.”

 

Cynthia shook her head.  “Maybe… not yet.  The wedding is next weekend and it would make things very awkward for Ginny since Ben and I are both attendants.  Maybe later…”

 

“Hi!  Am I interrupting?  Mrs. Noyce said to come on out.”  Katie Hitchcock appeared in the doorway, a big grin on her face.

 

“Of course you aren’t interrupting, dear.  Come sit down and join us.”

 

At that moment Ben jogged over to the railing.  “Where did the Admiral go?  We are short one player.”

 

“I think that Bill got commandeered by his commander in chief to start dinner.”

 

“But we need him.  Come on, Cyn… you can play for the Admiral.”

 

“I’m enjoying my visit with mom.”

 

“I’ll play, Lieutenant… if that’s okay.”

 

Ben grinned at Katie.  “Sure…you know anything about football?”

 

“Do I know football?  I do have four brothers…” Katie’s voice trailed off as she followed Ben out into the yard.

 

After just two plays David executed a perfect pass right into Katie’s waiting arms and she sprinted down the yard with the opposing team in hot pursuit.  Ben finally managed to tag her back just yards from the goal line.

 

“Okay, you guys… Bill is firing up the grill so we’ll be eating before long.  You all need to think about getting cooled down and cleaned up!”  Janet called from the porch.

 

“Just a little while longer, Janet.” Nathan responded then flashed a toothy grin at his smiling wife. 

 

The two teams quickly lined up again and the ball was snapped.  David handed off to Katie who ran a feint around the right side but Ben was ready for her.  She side stepped to elude him and before anyone realized what had happened both of them were on the ground tangled in each others limbs.  The ball flew from Katie’s hands but David was there to grab the fumble and continue the trek to the goal.

 

A touchdown was the inevitable outcome and was followed by celebration from David’s team while Ben’s fellow players stood around the goal and grumbled.  No one noticed that the two downed players hadn’t moved until Kristin called out.

 

“Nathan!  Go check on them!  Do I need to come out there?”  She struggled to her feet.

 

Nathan dutifully trotted over to the couple and knelt beside them, speaking quietly to first one and then the other before motioning for Kristin to sit back down.  Ben rolled over onto the grass and Nathan held out a hand to hoist him up.  Katie quickly followed.

 

“Mom… they could have been hurt!  Why are you laughing so hard?” Cynthia asked.

 

“I’m laughing because they weren’t hurt and I’m also laughing because you might recall that the same think once happened to Nathan and I.  It was quite an experience…” Kristin’s voice trailed off as she leaned closer to the rail and peered at Ben and Katie as they moved slowly toward the porch.  Her laughter died.

 

Cynthia followed her mother’s gaze and her eyes narrowed as she observed the obvious effect of the couple’s tumble in the grass.  She quickly turned back to her mother.

 

“Is THAT why it was quite an experience?” She bit out then turned and stalked into the house.

 

Kristin once again stood when Ben and Katie climbed the stairs and moved toward her.  She surveyed them both with a critical eye. 

 

“Are you both sure you are okay?  No sprains?  No broken bones?  I know that you know what to look for, Katie, but what about you, Ben?  Don’t try and be macho and hide your pain…”

 

“We’re fine, Doctor Bridger.  We both just got the wind knocked out of us.” Katie replied.

 

“Where did Cynthia go?” Ben’s eyes searched for his wife.

 

“She went inside to check on the baby.  He’s asleep in the den.”

 

“I think I’ll go…” Teddy’s cry to his father cut off Ben’s words.  Ben took the boy from Cynthia’s arms and tossed him in the air.  “Hey there, tiger!  Did you have a good nap?”

 

Teddy giggled.  “More daddy!”

 

Ben tossed him again, catching him tightly on the way down and hugging him to his chest.  Teddy wrapped his arms around Ben’s neck and squeezed tightly. 

 

“Oh… oh no!  I think you’ve broken my neck!”  Ben staggered around the floor while Teddy continued to hug and squeal.  Finally Ben fell into a chair and let his head and arms fall back as he feigned unconsciousness.  Teddy released his hold and moved his fingers to his father’s side and began to tickle.  Ben roared and began to tickle back.

 

Kristin watched with delight as the game continued, each tickling the other until Nathan walked onto the porch.

 

“Gampa!” Teddy squealed and held his arms out to Nathan.

 

Nathan swung the boy into his arms and settled into the chair next to Kristin.  “How’s it going, little man?”  Teddy grinned and gave Nathan a thumbs up, just as Nathan had taught him to do at Christmas.

 

“Hey, you remembered!” He hugged the child close for a moment.  “I wonder if gramma had anything to do with that?” Nathan mused as Teddy played on his lap.

 

“I might have reminded him of it a time or two.  Teddy, tell Grampa what this is!” Kristin laid her hands on her abdomen. 

 

“Baby!” Teddy exclaimed.  He leaned across the chair railing and gently patted Kristin’s bulging tummy.

 

“What kind of baby?” Kristin asked.

 

“Baby boy!” Teddy laughed and clapped his hands.

 

Nathan struggled to keep the grin off his face.  “Now that’s sinking to a new level, Mrs. Bridger.  Corrupting a child like that!”

 

“I did no such thing.  Teddy is just naturally intelligent and he recognizes that he is going to have an uncle.”

 

“Aunt!”

 

“Uncle!”

 

“Will you two knock it off?  We’ll know in less than a month so just try and be a little patient!” Janet interjected, an exasperated look on her face.

 

“Pax?” Nathan held out his hand.

 

“Pax.” Kristin agreed placing her hand in his.

 

They shook soundly then leaned in to share a kiss.

 

*~*~*~*

 

“I can’t believe how much Teddy has changed in just two months.” Nathan said as he stripped his shirt off.

 

Kristin’s head appeared around the corner of the bathroom.  “Babies have a tendency to do that.  He’ll be putting words together before long.  You saw how well he is walking now.”

 

“Running you mean.  He moves so quickly!  But Cynni seemed to anticipate his every move.  It was amazing how she knew just when to grab him or cut him off.”  Nathan tugged his shoes and socks off then moved to unfasten his belt.

 

“Mother’s intuition.  You can’t take your eyes off of him for an instant.”

 

“Cynthia seemed very quiet tonight.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but I know that something is wrong there."

 

Kristin appeared in the door of the bathroom and flicked off the light before moving toward the bed, a short button-up robe covering her body, her nightgown in her hand.

 

“Why didn’t you ever tell me that Cynthia knew what the bastard had done to me?” She asked as she sat down on the side of the mattress.

 

“She told you?  I wasn’t really trying to keep it from you… I just thought that it was something that the two of you would have to deal with when the time was right.  I guess that time was this evening?”

 

Kristin nodded.  “I know that she isn’t very happy.  Sometimes I hardly recognize her as the daughter I once had… the child who was always laughing and smiling.  I tried to talk to her about Ben… her marriage.  She’s very confused, Nathan.”

 

“I’ve also talked to her.  Nothing in depth… just let her know that we would stand beside her no matter what she tried to do.  I want her to know that I care about what happens to her too.  I don’t want her to feel alienated from you because we got married or because of the baby on the way.”

 

Kristin held her hand out to Nathan as he moved to sit beside her, clad only in his white cotton boxers.

 

“Thank you for that.  She still misses Robert so much…” Kristin paused as a look of sadness crossed Nathan’s face and she moved her hand to caress his cheek.  “…And she is haunted by what she heard me say in my dreams.  I don’t think that she and Ben are… I don’t think that they sleep together.  I don’t think that Cynthia really enjoys… sex.”

 

Nathan looked thoughtful.  “I can’t believe that… not if she’s your daughter.  Maybe she just… she’s young… they both are.  Perhaps they just have to find their own way.  It can’t be easy for Ben to make a move toward her… not knowing that she’s thinking about someone else.  I’d also lay odds that she’s never told him what she discovered about the bastard.”

 

“Probably not… I’m just so worried about her, Nathan.”

 

Nathan turned slightly to kiss the palm of the hand on his cheek.  “I know you are, sweetheart, but they will find the way.  And if things don’t work out… Cynthia and Teddy will always have a home with us.”

 

“Have I told you today how much I love you?”

 

“Several times but I never tire of hearing it.  Now do you think we could shut the world out for a while?  I’d love to show my wife how much I’ve missed her.”

 

“I think that could be arranged.” Kristin brushed a quick kiss across Nathan’s lips then turned and slid to the head of the bed.  “Just give me one more minute.”

 

“How come you aren’t wearing your nightgown?  Figuring on saving me the trouble of having to take it off?” Nathan playfully leered at her.

 

Kristin’s fingers moved to the buttons of her robe as she smiled.  “I normally wait for the lotion to dry before I put the gown on…that way it doesn’t stick.”  She deftly opened the buttons in the middle, revealing her naked stomach.

 

“Lotion?  What’s that for?”

 

“The baby is growing so fast now that my skin can’t keep up and it’s stretching.  I put lotion on it several times a day to help increase the elasticity and to keep it from itching.  The cream won’t prevent the marks completely but it will help minimize them.”

 

Nathan looked down at the small red marks streaking along the bottom swell of Kristin’s belly.  He ran a finger lightly across them as she reached into the top drawer of the bedside table and pulled out a bottle.

 

“May I?” Nathan asked as Kristin unscrewed the top. 

 

She looked surprised as she handed him the bottle.  Nathan poured a generous amount of the lavender scented balm on his hands and held them together for a moment, letting the lotion warm before he placed both palms on Kristin’s belly button and began to rub gently, moving outward in a circular motion.

 

Kristin sighed and laid back against the headboard, her eyes closed as she enjoyed the feel of Nathan’s fingers gently stroking her taut skin.  Nathan worked slowly but thoroughly, making sure that he covered every inch of exposed flesh with the lotion before stopping to pour another generous dollop then repeating the entire pattern again.

 

“I think he likes his daddy’s touch.” She murmured as the baby moved against the light pressure of Nathan’s hand.

 

Nathan was amazed at how quickly Kristin’s skin absorbed the lotion and he reached for the bottle a third time.  Kristin simply sighed and snuggled deeper into the pillows as he continued his caresses. 

 

“That feels so wonderful… so much nicer than when I do it myself.”  Nathan smiled at the thin thread of arousal he heard in his wife’s voice and carefully popped another button on the robe so that his hand could expand its coverage.  When she didn’t protest he undid a second and then a third.  Soon the bottom half of her robe lay open.  His fingers strayed to the waistband of her panties, pushed low by the curve of her stomach.  Her smile grew.

 

“Nathan?” Kristin protested when she felt Nathan’s weight leave the bed.

 

“I’ll be right back.” He promised as he headed toward the bathroom, returning moments later with a large absorbent towel.

 

“What’s that for?” She asked as she watched him approach.

 

“Shift over a little.”

 

Kristin did as he requested and Nathan spread the towel over the bed then motioned for her to roll back on it. 

 

Her eyes softened as she realized what he planned.  “That’s very sweet of you, darling, but I can’t lay on my stomach for a massage.”

 

“I know.” Nathan answered as his hands moved to the remaining buttons at the top of her robe.  “You can lay on your side though.  Let me pamper you a little."  He slid the robe off her shoulders, pleased to hear her gasp slightly as his thumbs brushed the sides of her breasts.

 

Kristin rolled to her side while Nathan pulled the robe completely away from her body and tossed it to the floor.  He then moved up on the bed behind her and planted a kiss on her naked shoulder.

 

“Let’s get rid of these too, why don’t we?” Nathan’s fingers pulled at the fabric surrounding Kristin’s hips, tugging the garment down until he could pull it free and leave her completely bare.

 

“This doesn’t seem fair,” Kristin murmured.  “I’m lying here exposed to the world and you’ve still got your boxers on.”

 

A moment later that garment was being dangled in front of her face before it was also sent flying across the room.  Nathan reached over her to grab the lotion bottle, pausing only to bend low and kiss her. 

 

Kristin closed her eyes as Nathan’s fingers gently massaged her scalp, sending ripples of pleasure through her body.  He carefully gathered up her long auburn hair and twisted it around his hand before draping it over the top of the pillow.

 

“Are you comfortable?” He asked.

 

“Mmhmm…” Kristin murmured in agreement.  “That feels wonderful.”

 

Nathan spread warm lotion on her bare shoulders and went to work diligently.  His fingers stroked the knots in her neck until he felt Kristin relax into his touch, giving herself over completely to his hands.  Low sighs of contentment began to escape from her lips as Nathan slowly worked down her spine.

 

“Oh… right there… yes…” Kristin moaned when Nathan reached the small of her back.

 

“Does your back still bother you?” He asked, knowing the answer to his question by the way she was reacting to his hands.

 

“Uhm… it’s not bad but I always have a dull ache there.  Oh… Nathan!”

 

Nathan laughed as he glanced at the open window.  “Shh… the neighbors will think we are up to something.  Janet has already warned me that I’m not to keep you up all night.”

 

Kristin obediently muffled her moans but Nathan could still discern her nearly breathless murmuring as his hands moved lower to massage the twin globes of her bottom.

 

“Did you have a good time tonight?” Nathan asked, seeking to distract Kristin.

 

“Wonderful… except for Cynni.  Ginny and David make a lovely couple.  It’s a good thing that he likes football.  Bill probably wouldn’t let Ginny marry him otherwise.”

 

“That was some game, wasn’t it?  Hitchcock is an excellent player.  She’ll go in the first pick at the next game.”  Nathan felt Kristin stiffen slightly.  “What’s wrong?  Did I hit a sensitive spot?”

 

“No… no, that’s just lovely.  I was thinking about what happened during the football game.”

 

“What happened?  David’s team beat the pants off us.  We want a rematch!”

 

“I am talking about what happened when Ben tackled Katie.”

 

“Oh… that was a fabulous tackle.  The ball flying into David’s hands was just dumb luck.”

 

Kristin raised her head slightly to stare at her husband and shook her head.  “You didn’t notice… of course, you wouldn’t… but then I would have thought that you might have considering that you once…”

 

“You are talking in riddles, hon.  What didn’t I notice?”

 

“Do you remember that game a couple of years ago when you and I ended up in a similar position?”

 

Nathan grinned.  “How could I forget?  It was the first time I really touched you… and you felt so damned good that I instantly got a raging har...” He stopped speaking abruptly as realization began to form.

 

“And what happened to you, that reaction that you said I was the cause of… the same thing happened to Ben tonight with Katie.”

 

“No… not Ben!”  Nathan released Kristin’s ankle and sat back on his heels.  “That could only complicate things between he and Cyn even more.”

 

“I know, darling, and what’s worse is that Cynthia noted his reaction as well.”

 

“Now that could be a good thing.”

 

Kristin looked at Nathan as if he’d gone crazy.  “A good thing?”

 

Nathan shrugged as his fingers began to work between Kristin’s toes.  “I would guess that Ben is a reasonably good looking guy to women.  Maybe Cynthia needs to be reminded of that.  A little jealousy can be a good thing.  If she’s jealous then we know that she feels something for him.”

 

“That’s true.” Kristin conceded but continued to look skeptical.  “If Ben’s reaction wasn’t just an aberration, if there is something more between he and Katie… that can’t be good.  A lot of people could end up getting hurt.”

 

“I agree but we have to stay out of it.  No meddling.”

 

Kristin nodded.  “I know… mmmm… your hands are magic.”

 

“Let’s forget about everyone else for tonight.  Just lay back and relax, okay?”

 

Kristin lowered her head back to the pillow at Nathan’s urging and sighed.  “If you keep that up, Mr. Bridger, I may just have to keep you around for a while.”

 

“Oh, I can keep it up, Mrs. Bridger.  That doesn’t seem to be a problem when I’m around you.”  Kristin felt the evidence of Nathan’s arousal press against her sole as his fingers massaged her calf muscles.  She arched her foot to stroke his hard length.

 

Nathan caught her foot in his hand and gently shifted it away.  “If you keep that up I won’t be able to finish your massage… and I’m just getting to the most interesting parts.”  His hands slid past her knees and began to stroke her thighs.

 

Kristin’s breathing became ragged as Nathan’s fingers slowly kneaded the muscles of her upper thighs, working closer and closer to her wet center.  She unconsciously tried to push her hips toward his hands.  Nathan finally gave in and lightly massaged her mound as he slid back up behind her.

 

Kristin whimpered when Nathan removed his hands yet again but he filled them with one last portion of lotion and then lay back down.  At his whispered direction she lifted slightly so that he could slide one arm beneath her then both hands closed in on her full breasts.

 

A loud gasp escaped her lips when strong fingers finally fingered her pebbled nipples.  Her hands moved to cover his, pushing them into closer contact with her heavy mounds.

His fingers danced across her silken skin as he worked the lotion into her body.  His hips began to undulate against her back, his rock hard erection trapped between them.

 

“Nathan… please… please touch me.  I need to feel you!” Kristin’s head fell back against his shoulder, her lips parted as she gasped.

 

Strong fingers slipped easily through damp curls to find the center of her heat as Nathan’s lips closed over hers.  He swallowed her first scream as she pulled her right leg up to allow him easier access.

 

Kristin began to struggle to shift herself into Nathan’s embrace, her body craving closer contact.  He gritted his teeth as the first telltale drops of moisture popped from his rigid member. 

 

“Honey… wait…” Nathan moved back briefly then returned to press himself against Kristin’s back, his straining erection firmly in hand.  He placed the head along Kristin’s folds and groaned as she pushed back into him.

 

Her wetness coated him as his fingers slipped inside to stroke her, readying her for his entrance.  Nathan lubricated his member with her wetness then slid into his wife’s welcoming body carefully until he was fully seated.

 

“Is that okay, sweetheart?” He questioned, not wanting to make Kristin uncomfortable in any way.  She nodded frantically, too far gone to speak coherently.

 

Nathan shifted over and kissed her as his lower body began to slide back and forth within her warm passage.  The position didn’t allow him to penetrate deeply but the feeling of Kristin’s heated flesh locked around his own was almost overwhelming.

 

Kristin grabbed his right hand and pulled it back to the juncture of her thighs, craving his touch at her core.  Nathan’s moans mingled with hers as his fingers dipped into her wetness around his thrusting member then slid back to her swollen clit.  He circled the engorged bud lightly and Kristin’s groans grew louder.  He rubbed the pearl firmly, increasing the pace of his strokes and felt a gush of moisture wash over him.  Kristin began to keen as she sought release.

 

Nathan’s limbs moved in tandem, the fingers of his right hand pinching the swollen bundle of nerves beneath them while his left hand did the same to the nipple clasped.  His teeth lightly nipped her neck and Kristin came with an ear-piercing scream of his name. 

 

Nathan continued to thrust slowly as Kristin’s inner muscles quivered around him.  Her first climax had barely begun to wane when an even deeper one took hold.  She writhed against him as his fingers and his throbbing tumescence pushed her higher, through one orgasm and into another.  Finally her body fell limp against him and a sated smile crossed her lips.

 

Nathan massaged her body lightly until the last tremor died then once again leaned forward to gently kiss Kristin.  She opened her eyes and stared up dreamily at him.

 

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you look more beautiful than you look at this very moment.” Nathan whispered.

 

Kristin smiled.  “Thank you, Nathan Bridger. Thank you for this precious life you created in me. Thank you for loving me.”

 

“Always, my love.  I’ll always love you.”

 

A light sound of protest rose in Kristin’s throat when Nathan’s still rigid erection slipped from her body.  “Darling?”

 

“It’s okay, honey.  I just… I don’t think it’s going to work that way for me.”

 

Kristin rolled to her back and pushed her self into a sitting position.  She reached out and stroked the silky flesh standing at attention between Nathan’s legs.  “Then let’s see what will work for you.”

 

“It’s okay, honey.  I know your back…”

 

Kristin’s hands moved to his shoulders and pushed him down to the bed.  “My back is fine.”  A wicked smile crossed her face.  “Do you remember the first time we did this?”  She asked as she twisted and straddled him.

 

“The night we found Darwin… on the beach.  You were so shocked at the mere suggestion…” Nathan words broke into a moan as Kristin took him in hand.

 

“I’d never made love like that… or any way except the traditional way.  You showed me how fantastic loving is.”  Kristin positioned his erection at her entrance and slowly impaled her warmth on Nathan’s hard shaft.

 

“Ride ‘em cowgirl!” Nathan gasped as Kristin began to rock her hips.  His hands moved to her shoulders and slowly trailed down her flushed body.

 

“Better?” She asked, clenching her inner muscles around him.  A low growl escaped from deep in his throat.  Kristin shifted forward as she rocked so that the bottom of her belly rested lightly against Nathan’s abdomen.  Nathan’s fingers slid from her heavy breasts down to splay across her womb as she began to move up and down on him.

 

It was Kristin’s turn to moan as her movements rubbed Nathan’s hardness across the swollen bundle of her desire.  Her own arousal began to once again escalate.  Nathan sensed this and struggled to hold back until she could join him but his body had other ideas.  He thrust up into her.

 

One of his large hands moved over to cup her hip, fingers supporting the underswell of her stomach.  His other hand slid beneath the bulge to find her center.  His index finger quickly found the engorged knot of nerves there and brushed across it.

 

Kristin’s movements faltered briefly as she gasped at the sensations shooting through her body but she quickly recovered and increased the pace of her up and down motion.  Nathan pushed his finger forcefully into her sensitive sex.  Kristin arched and moaned loudly at the contact then began to bob up and down even faster.

 

“No you don’t, Bridger…” she gasped, a determined look in her eye.  Nathan’s finger began to move in tight circles.  Kristin clenched her inner muscles repeatedly around his straining erection.

 

“God… Kris… baby…” Nathan’s hips left the mattress as he pushed deeper into his wife’s warmth.  His free hand raked upward across her damp skin until he reached a swollen breast.  He grabbed an erect nipple and twisted it between his fingers.

 

“Dam… NATHAN!” Kristin came hard, her juices flowing down Nathan’s arousal as she spasmed around him.  Nathan continued to thrust, her inner contractions drawing him closer and closer to his own release.

 

Kristin’s hand left his chest before he realized it, her body arching as she moved the hand behind her back and between his legs to gently massage his swollen sacs.  Nathan screamed as he emptied himself inside her.  She continued to ride him, milking his erection of every drop of fluid possible before finally collapsing on top of him.

 

Nathan rolled them until they were laying side by side, bodies still locked together as they rode out the last shudders of their climax. 

 

Once the shaking had stilled, Kristin opened her eyes to find herself staring into deep blue pools.  She smiled and lightly brushed her lips across Nathan’s.

 

“That was supposed to be for you.” She murmured as his lips brushed hers back.

 

“That was for me.  You are always beautiful… but watching your face when that happens… knowing that I was able to do that to you… to give you that much pleasure… I’ve never seen anything more beautiful.”

 

“Only you, darling.  I’ve never felt anything like this with anyone but you.”

 

“I know… and that makes it all the more special.  I’ve never… it was never like this before… never this intense… I feel like I’ve found the other half of myself in you, Kristin.”

 

“And I in you, my love.”  Kristin cuddled into Nathan as close as their child would allow, finally asking the question she most dreaded the answer to.  “How… how long do we have this time?”

 

Nathan knew she was referring to his time in port.  “I honestly don’t know, sweetheart.  I suspect that we’ll be here a week or more.  Who knows?  Maybe this time the promotion will come through.  I don’t want to leave you alone again… especially with the princess due so soon.”

 

Kristin turned her head into the pillow to capture the tear forming in the corner of her eye.  “I know and we both want you here for the big event… but if you have to go we’ll be all right.  Janet will make sure of that.”

 

Nathan’s own eyes were pooled with tears.  “I know… but I want to be here.  I want to join all of the other expectant dads pacing in the waiting room… I want to be passing out the cigars and getting plastered at the O club with all of the other expectant fathers.”

 

Fire sparked in Kristin’s eyes.  “If you think that I am going to go through labor alone while you drink at the O club you’d better think again.  You are going to have your gorgeous ass firmly planted in a waiting room chair for the entire experience… and I do mean entire.”

 

Nathan laughed.  “I wouldn’t be any place else, my love.”

 

“Oh…” Kristin shifted, an uncomfortable grimace crossing her face.  Nathan tensed and sat up instantly.

 

“Is it the baby?  Are you in labor?”

 

Kristin waved him back down.  “No, I’m not in labor.  It’s just difficult to get comfortable for very long.”

 

“Turn however you need to.”

 

“But I want to be close to you.”

 

“How about like we were earlier?”

 

Kristin nodded.  Nathan helped her turn over then spooned up behind her, pulling the sheet up to cover them both.  At a nudge from his knee she parted her legs and Nathan’s top leg slid between them.  She sighed as she sank back into his embrace.

 

“This is nice.  I just hope I don’t keep you up all night with my twisting and turning.”  Kristin tried to hide the yawn that punctuated her words but didn’t succeed.

 

“Don’t worry about me.  You just get some rest.  I love you, sweetheart.”

 

“I love you too.”

 

*~*~*~*~*

 

Nathan tried to stifle a yawn as the navy chaplain’s voice droned through the Sunday morning sermon but he wasn’t entirely successful.  He felt Kristin’s elbow dig sharply into his ribs.  He turned his head and peeked beneath the brim of her hat to grin at her.

 

Kristin glared at him and shook her head.  “No yawning,” she mouthed.

 

Thankfully the chaplain chose that moment to wind down and a prayer and a hymn later found them getting ready to depart.  Nathan’s hands fell to Kristin’s waist as they waited for the sea of people to move in front of them.

 

“Nathan!” she hissed as she pushed at his hands.  “You can’t touch me like that here.  Let me take your arm.”

 

Nathan’s fingers dug in resolutely.  “You’re my wife and I’ll touch you however I want whenever I want.”

 

Kristin shook her head but she didn’t try to move his hands again.  “You are going to make us the talk of the base again.  I’ve only just begun to live down the circumstances of our wedding and the news of my pregnancy.  Then you yawned in church!”

 

Nathan lowered his lips to her ear.  “And just whose fault is that?  I’ve barely had three hours sleep in the thirty-six hours that I’ve been home.”

 

“I didn’t notice you complaining!” Kristin fired back as her skin flushed bright pink.

 

“What have you done now, Nathan?”

 

Nathan grinned at the couple that moved to join them.  “Janet… why do you always assume that I’ve done something?  Why is it always my fault?  It just so happens that in this case Kristin is equally responsible.”

 

“For the yawn?  He has you there, Kristin.  You two really need to remember to close your window.”  Bill responded with a smile.

 

“But then we’d be having all the fun and you wouldn’t be having any.” Nathan retorted.

 

“William Noyce!”

 

“Nathan! We are in church!”  Both women’s voices sounded together.

 

Bill looked at Nathan.  “Just because we aren’t newlyweds doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten how to have fun.  And we’re still pretty damned good at it if I do say so myself.”

 

Janet rolled her eyes as the heel of her shoe came down on Bill’s foot… hard.  “Kristin, perhaps we should move away from these two degenerates before the lightning bolt strikes.”

 

The two women started down the aisle, their husband’s chuckles following close behind. 

 

“You just wait until the kid comes and you are cut off for a while.  You can listen to our screams then.”  Bill spoke low but Janet still overheard him and shook her head. 

 

“That man is in SO much trouble… if he only knew… Kristin!”  Janet grabbed Kristin’s shoulder as the pregnant woman’s gloved hand grabbed and clenched the back of the seat beside her.  A low moan escaped her lips.

 

Nathan was at Kristin’s side instantly.  He tried to lower her into the bench but she waved him back as she struggled to catch her breath.

 

“I’ll get the car.”  Janet was the only one who heard Bill’s muttered words as he flew by them.

 

After several moments Kristin’s breathing became more regular and she let out a long sigh as she slowly straightened.  Tears sprang to her eyes at the effort.

 

“Honey?  We’ll go to the hospital, okay?”  Nathan was trying to remain calm but his voice was trembling.

 

Kristin shook her head.  “No… I don’t need the hospital.”

 

“But you just had a contraction!”

 

“No… it wasn’t a contraction… just a very bad back spasm.”

 

Nathan eyed her skeptically so Kristin grabbed his hand and pushed it toward her back.  He carefully touched the spot she indicated and felt the tightly knotted muscle beneath her dress.

 

“She’s had these before.”  Janet reassured him.  “It will work itself out in a little while.  Let’s get her to the car then you can rub her back on the way home.”

 

This time Kristin didn’t protest when Nathan wrapped his arms around her body to support her as they moved slowly toward the front of the chapel and down the stairs.  The running car was parked at the bottom of the steps, Bill peering anxiously out of the front window.  Janet ran ahead to reassure him while Nathan eased Kristin down the last few steps and through the back door that Janet had opened. 

 

Kristin sat sideways on the seat, leaning into it heavily as her breath labored.  Nathan climbed in the other side and moved to face her, slamming the door behind him before placing his fingers on the base of her back and beginning a gentle massage.

 

“Are you certain we don’t need to go to the hospital, baby?” He whispered.

 

Kristin leaned back into him and sighed as his fingers began to soothe her constricted muscles.  “No… it’s already easing off.”  She glanced up and saw the frightened look on her husband’s face.  “I promise.  In a few hours my back won’t even know that it was hurting.”

 

“If you promise me that we’ll go to the hospital if you don’t feel better soon.”

 

“I promise.”

 

Nathan shrugged his shoulders at Bill’s inquiring look.  “I guess we go home.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

Bill was snoring quietly on the sofa, deep in the throes of his regular Sunday afternoon nap, when Janet heard the back door quietly squeak open.  She dropped her book to her lap and looked toward the door expectantly.  In a few moments Nathan’s face popped around the frame.

 

Janet stood and moved into the hallway to join him. 

 

“How’s Kristin?”

 

“She’s still sleeping at the moment.  I put her to bed when we got home and gave her back a good rub.  She said it felt much better before she nodded off.  I just wanted to let you know.”

 

“Come on,” Janet moved toward the kitchen, motioning for him to follow.  She pulled two plates out of the cupboard and began piling them with food left over from lunch.

 

“I didn’t come to scrounge a meal.”

 

“Of course you did.  You know that I love Kristin like a sister but we both know that she doesn’t cook much under the best of circumstances.  You must be starving.”

 

Nathan smiled.  “Do you feed her all the time when I’m not here?”

 

“I make sure that both your wife and child eat, yes.  She’s been over here almost every night helping me with wedding plans anyway.  Feeding her is the least I can do.”

 

“How often does her back act that way?”

 

Janet had to smother her smile at the fierce look on Nathan’s face.  “Occasionally… two or three times before today.  And it always goes away in a few hours.  Kristin is a small woman and she’s gotten quite bulky over the last few months.”

 

“Do you… do you think she’s in any danger?  Will she be able to have the baby okay?  I couldn’t stand to lose… for anything to happen to her.”

 

A comforting hand found its way to Nathan’s cheek. 

 

“She’ll be fine.  Kristin didn’t have any problems with Cynthia.  She’ll be just fine.”

 

Nathan nodded his thanks.  “It’s just…”

 

“I know, Nathan.”  Janet moved away to tuck a hand towel over each plate.  “Kristin will be hungry when she wakes up.  Go home… take a nap your self.  You need the rest, too.”

 

Nathan gathered up both plates and moved toward the back door.  “You are the greatest, Janet.” He told her as he bent to kiss her cheek.

 

“Hey, go home to your own wife!” Bill appeared in the kitchen door and moved to wrap his arms around his wife, a big grin on his face.

 

“Can I help it if I’m completely irresistible to all women everywhere?” Nathan ducked through the door as Bill made a mock lunge toward him.

 

“Call me later and let me know how Kristin feels!” Janet called as the door closed.

 

Nathan trod gingerly down the steps, carefully balancing a plate in each hand.  He jumped slightly at the sound of a loud “Bill!” issuing from the Noyce’s kitchen but recovered before any major damage was done.  He quickly shifted the plates so that he was holding them more firmly, a huge grin crossing his face as Janet’s voice floated through the air again…”Oh GOD, Bill!”

 

*~*~*~*

 

The warmth of the early morning sunlight extending its tendrils across the room claimed Nathan from his peaceful sleep.  A glance at the clock told him he still had several hours before he had to report for duty and the warm naked body cuddled next to him made him extremely glad for that fact.

 

He slid his hands carefully over Kristin’s abdomen, his fingers following the movements of the child moving there, marveling at the miracle he and Kristin had created.  The child seemed to move into his touch.

 

“Good morning, my princess.” Nathan shifted to kiss the curve of Kristin’s gravid belly.

 

“I don’t believe you asked for permission to kiss royalty.” A soft voice murmured.

 

Nathan glanced up into smoky brown eyes smiling at him.  “Well, your majesty, I most humbly request permission to kiss you good morning.”

 

“Permission granted, my brave knight.”

 

Nathan shimmied up Kristin’s body to touch his lips to hers.

 

“Good morning, my love.”  He smoothed deep red curls away from her face.  “You look radiant this morning!”

 

A laugh bubbled from Kristin’s lips.  “You are so full of blarney but I love you for it.”

 

He settled down on his side and propped his head on his elbow so that he could stare into her face as she lay beside him.

 

“How does your back feel?” He absently fingered a strand of her hair as he waited for her answer.

 

“Just as it usually does… a bit tight but no pain at all.”

 

“Perhaps you should have Dr. Levin take a look at it when you get to the hospital this morning.”

 

“Nathan… you are such a worrier.  Pregnant women have back pain.  I just had a very bad spasm yesterday.  Spending the afternoon lying flat on my backside in bed fixed that problem.”

 

“I… I can’t help but worry about you, Kristin.” Nathan shrugged.  “I love you.”

 

“That’s obvious.” Kristin shifted her thigh against the bulge pressed into it by Nathan hips.

 

A naughty smile crossed Nathan’s face.  “So her majesty is in the mood to play a little this morning, hmm?”

 

“Well it certainly feels like my knight is ready for the joust judging by the lance I feel against my leg.  I don’t have to be at the hospital for several hours and I don’t really feel like going back to sleep.”

 

“Are you sure this is still okay, honey?  You’re getting very close to your due date.”

 

Kristin’s hand crept down his thigh.  “We have almost a month before the baby comes.  Then we have to wait a while… about six weeks.  You wouldn’t want to deprive me before we have to would you?”  Nathan gasped as she took him in hand.

 

“Never, my love.” He leaned forward to kiss her softly once again.  Her hand slid behind his neck to hold him close as she deepened the kiss, her tongue running across his lips demanding entrance.

 

Their lips continued to taste as their hands began to move over each other’s bodies.  Nathan caressed Kristin’s breasts lovingly before moving lower to find the bud of her desire and stroke it tenderly, his fingers probing and finding moisture from her core to lubricate his movements.  Kristin wrapped both hands around his hard length and worked them up and down, her thumbs pausing to circle the rapidly engorging head until Nathan began to moan.

 

“Honey… I don’t want to hurt you… your back…”  He mumbled into her mouth

 

“Pillow…” Kristin gasped before resuming the kiss.

 

Nathan reached above his head, his hand clawing for the pillow lying there.  Once his fingers finally closed around it he yanked the bolster over both of them and shoved it behind Kristin’s back before rolling her onto it.

 

Kristin protested as Nathan pulled his lips from hers and sat up.

 

“Hang on, honey.”  He slid down the bed until he was kneeling between her legs.

 

“Have I told you how beautiful you look this morning?” Nathan asked as he leaned over to plant a sloppy kiss below Kristin’s distended belly button.  Her answer was lost in a low moan as his full lips traveled lower, down the swell of her body and lower still until his mouth was tangled in her nest of red curls.  The pillow supporting her back allowed Nathan greater access to her most sensitive areas and he teased her with his lips and fingers until she was straining against his mouth.

 

“Oh… darling… there…” Kristin moaned as Nathan slid a finger into her wet sheath, carefully stroking her from within.  “That feels so… I want you… please…” The pleading note in her voice conveyed her need to Nathan.

 

He slipped his hands beneath her legs and straightened his back, his knees sliding up the bed to cradle her hips.

 

“Okay?” He asked solicitously.

 

“Mmm…” Kristin murmured, her hips pushing into Nathan’s probing erection. 

 

Nathan smiled at her impatience and dropped one hand to push his hard member toward the entrance to her cleft.  Once he was in position the hand slid back beneath Kristin’s thigh then moved to join its mate resting on Kristin’s abdomen, her slightly bent legs draped across his forearms.

 

Kristin’s hands moved to join his, their fingers intertwining over her tight skin as he slowly sank into her.  A brilliant smile encouraged him to continue and he set a slow but steady pace, seeking to bring them both back to the pinnacle of desire.

 

“Oh, honey, I wish I could kiss you right now.”

 

Kristin’s eyes were closed as she concentrated on the delicious feelings building within her but her smile grew at Nathan’s words.  He bent his head as far as he could, lifting her hand until he could suckle the tender flesh of her palm.

 

“Faster… please!”  Her voice cried out.

 

Nathan quickly obliged her, punching his hips back and forth, his hands continuing to massage her distended belly as their child moved beneath his fingers.

 

“Nat… ohgodohgodohgod… NATHAN!” Kristin’s hands gripped Nathan’s wrists tightly as her pleasure peaked.  Nathan grunted and stilled, wanting to watch the bliss in Kristin’s face as she came.  The rippling of her inner muscles soon coaxed him to thrust again and he quickly found his release, emptying his essence into her.

 

Nathan slumped forward, his head coming to rest atop Kristin’s rounded stomach, his breathing ragged.  Her hands slipped into his hair, fingers lovingly caressing the nape of his neck while his lips brushed across her skin.

 

“Ouch!”  Nathan’s head popped up, his eyes boring a hole into Kristin’s belly.

 

Kristin pushed her torso up on her elbows.  “What’s wrong?”

 

“She kicked me in the forehead!  My daughter kicked me!”

 

“Well… it’s possible that the baby is moving into the birthing position and if that’s the case she might have just been paying you back!”

 

“Huh?”

 

Kristin pushed up a little further and with a wink and a loving look down to where their bodies were still joined, she lifted a hand to rhythmically tap Nathan on the forehead.

 

“Oh!” Nathan’s quizzical look changed to a smile.  “Is it time for her to do that?”

 

Kristin had been amazed at Nathan’s interest in every facet of her pregnancy from the moment they had become aware of it.  “Probably not for a few more weeks… but he’s thinking about it.”

 

Nathan sat up and began to tenderly stroke the curves of Kristin’s belly.  “You do realize that you said she a few minutes ago…”

 

“Slip of the tongue, my love.  I’m sure that our son will forgive me.” Kristin wrinkled her nose at Nathan as they fell into an easy banter over the sex of their baby once again.

 

“You don’t fool me.  You know we are having a daughter.” Nathan stated with smug satisfaction.  “You just enjoy arguing with me.”

 

The corners of Kristin’s mouth twitched.  “Darling… do you think you could let my legs down?”

 

Nathan did as she asked but continued to smile.  “Change the subject.  I know and you know that I know… so what are we gonna name her?”

 

“Nathan Junior?”

 

“That’s gonna get her teased big time the first day of school.”

 

Kristin made a face at her husband.  “So what’s your suggestion?”

 

“If… and let me stress IF we have a son he will NOT be named junior.  I refuse.  No way, no how.  How about we name the baby Chris?  That way we are covered either way, boy or girl.”

 

“Ha ha.  Besides things would get too confusing with two Kris’s in the family.  I really like your name… we could compromise… how about Nathan Christopher?  We could call him Nate?”

 

“That is an acceptable compromise but… only if the name is Christopher Nathan and we call him Chris.  I’m the only one who shortens your name frequently… and most of the time only when I’m too out of breathe to complete it.  Anyway… it’s all a moot point because SHE is gonna be a GIRL!  So what about a little girls’ name for our princess?”

 

“If… and let me stress IF we have a daughter… which we aren’t going to… I was thinking that maybe we could name her after someone we know… how do you like the name Charlotte?”

 

Nathan grinned.  “I like that name… and I think that Janet would be very pleased that we name our daughter after her.”

 

“Janet has been a wonderful friend to me… to us both.”

 

Nathan nodded in agreement.  “That she has been.  How about Elizabeth for a middle name?”

 

“You are determined to work one of my names in aren’t you?  How about… Eleanor?”

 

“I think our daughter could do worse than to be named after the first lady.  Charlotte Eleanor Bridger… I like it.” Nathan bent his head back to Kristin’s swollen belly.  “Hello Charlotte.  Your daddy loves you very much.”

 

The child in Kristin’s womb answered with a fierce kick.  Kristin gasped and Nathan’s eyes widened in surprise at the large bulge created by the baby’s foot.

 

“Does that hurt?”  His hand cupped the protrusion.

 

“It isn’t excruciating but it isn’t exactly a walk in the park either.”

 

Charlotte knows her name, that’s for sure.”  Nathan placed one more kiss on Kristin’s belly button before pulling back, his semi-erect member sliding out of her body.  He shifted back to his side of the bed and stretched out beside his wife, pulling the covers up over them when he saw Kristin shiver slightly.

 

“So what are you doing today?” He asked, a smile on his face as she shifted closer to him.

 

“Hospital… I’m taking rounds for Doctor Levin today.  I should be home mid afternoon.  I can’t miss my nap you know.”

 

Nathan grinned.  “I just wish I could join you for that… nap… but I’m gonna be tied up all afternoon with the installation of this new device.  How about I take you out to dinner tonight?”

 

“That would be nice.  Can we wait and see how I feel this evening?  If I get off early enough Janet and I might try to ride into town.  I need to find a cradle or bassinet to go in here so that we can keep the baby close for the first few months.”

 

Nathan’s fingers trailed back over her abdomen.  “It’s really going to happen, isn’t it?  In just a few weeks we are going to have a beautiful little baby… another little human being.”

 

“A little human being that we made… the two of us together.  I love you for so many things, Nathan Bridger, but this little life and our life together is at the top of the list.  You’ve given me so much.”

 

“Whatever I’ve given you can’t compare to what you give me every single day.  I love you so much, Kristin.  Happy Valentine’s day.” Nathan held his closed hand up to her and opened it, revealing a small box.

 

“Nathan! I hadn’t realized… what did you get me?” Surprise shown on Kristin’s features but Nathan could tell she was pleased at his thoughtfulness.

 

“Open it and find out.” Nathan pushed the box into her hands.

 

Kristin took the box and flipped the lid up to unveil a stunning emerald and diamond pendant on a gold chain.  The age of the piece was obvious by its delicate craftsmanship. Her eyes grew wide as she lifted the necklace from its velvet bed.

 

“Nathan!  This is gorgeous… but it’s too much!  Where did you find it?”

 

“I saw it at an antique store in town and I thought it might go well with the dress you are wearing to the wedding this weekend.  I love the way that emeralds look with your hair.”  He carefully wiped away the single tear running slowly down Kristin’s cheek.

 

“I love you, my darling”

 

Their lips met for a gentle kiss as they cuddled together, sharing a quiet moment with the dawning of a new day.

 

*~*~*~*

 

Kristin sank into the sofa in the Noyce living room, smiling gratefully at Janet as the other woman shoved a pillow behind her back then moved around to push a stool up so that Kristin could prop her swollen feet.

 

“You know, Kristin, you are really going to have to think about giving up work for a while.  The swelling is getting worse every day.”

 

Kristin sighed.  “I know… this week has just been so busy and I want to help all that I can for as long as I can.  I’m off tomorrow for the rehearsal so I’ll talk to Admiral Lansdowne on Monday about working less hours.  I’ve got to have an afternoon next week at least.  If I don’t find some time to search for a cradle the baby is going to have to sleep in a dresser drawer.”

 

Janet laughed.  “We were so poor when Bill Jr. was born that he did sleep in the dresser drawer.  Luckily we were able to buy a crib for Barbara and Ginny.”

 

“Cynthia slept in her father’s crib.  It was a massive piece of furniture with yards and yards of silk and netting draping down from the ceiling.  She looked so tiny in this huge bed.  I hated it!  But my mother-in-law insisted and Alex didn’t want to cause any friction.  I was too young to realize that I could fight back.  I couldn’t do anything well enough to please the dragon lady.”

 

“Sounds like you had a wonderful relationship.” Janet replied wryly, intrigued at these few snippets of information about Kristin’s seldom-discussed first marriage.

 

“Alex was over twenty years old than I.  Anytime that I complained about his mother’s controlling tendencies he put it down to my immaturity.  I never won an argument about Cynthia’s upbringing while he was alive.  I didn’t learn to fight until the old biddy tried to take Cynthia away from me after Alex’s death.  I think that is why I try so hard not to interfere in Cynthia’s marriage or the way she raises Teddy.”

 

Janet caught the hint of sadness in Kristin’s voice and tried to reassure her.  “Cynthia is doing a fantastic job with Teddy… because of your example.  I know that sometimes newlyweds have some rocky patches but maybe… she and Ben love that little boy so much.  Surely that is a good starting point.”

 

“But do they love each other, Janet?  I stayed in a horrible marriage to protect my child.  I don’t want her to follow my example in that respect.  I don’t believe that Ben is a monster like Jack was but… staying in a loveless marriage isn’t good for either of them and especially not for Teddy.  I want Cynthia to have what I’ve found with Nathan.”  A tear slipped down Kristin’s cheek.

 

Janet sighed as she sat down beside Kristin.  “We do the best we can raising our kids but ultimately they have to make their own way.  All we can do is offer advice when asked and worry a great deal.”

 

Kristin’s head fell back against the cushions, a small smile trembling on her lips.  “You are right, I know that.  At least I’ve got a few years before I have to worry about this one falling in love.” Her hands patted her belly.  “So, what do I need to help you do tonight?”

 

“Not a thing.  Tonight you get to go home and spend time with your husband.”

 

“Janet, the wedding is on Saturday… two days away… surely there are last minute details I can help you with?”

 

Janet shook her head.  “No, everything is done.  All you have to do now is show up for the rehearsal tomorrow night.  I am so glad that Nathan is in port.  I do wish that Billy and Barbara could have been here though.”

 

Kristin knew how desperately Janet missed her two older children.  Bill Jr. was a navy pilot stationed on a carrier in service in the European theater while Barbara was living stateside with her husband, also a navy pilot.  The Noyces had never seen their first grandchild, Barbara’s twenty-month-old son, and Janet felt the loss keenly.

 

Kristin draped an arm around her friend’s shoulder.  “Just think of the reunion that all of you will have once this damned war is over.”

 

“Honey… you okay?” The women glanced up to find Bill standing in the doorway, a worried look on his face.

 

“The mother of the bride is entitled to a few pre-wedding jitters along with the bride.  I’m fine.” Janet stood and moved to his side, giving him a reassuring kiss as she embraced him. 

 

Bill didn’t look convinced but he let the matter drop.  “I’ve been sent to escort Kristin home.  Your husband has a surprise for you, Mrs. Bridger.”

 

Kristin exhaled and slowly levered her bulky body off of the sofa.  “I must admit I am looking forward to being able to get up somewhat gracefully again.” She muttered as Janet moved to help her stand.  “So what is this surprise?”

 

“Are you kidding?  If I told you Nathan would fire me out of a torpedo tube!  My instructions are simply to bring you back to your house.  No other information is to be provided.”

 

“Janet would never forgive me if Nathan damaged you so I guess I’d better go.  Won’t you give me even a little hint?”

 

Bill just laughed as he guided Kristin and Janet out of the door.

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Nathan, we’re back!” Bill yelled just as soon as the group stepped over the threshold of the Bridger residence.

 

“You can bring her up.  Everything is ready!”

 

Bill gestured toward the stairs with a little bow.  Kristin smiled and began to climb slowly, Janet following close behind.  When they reached the top of the stairs Nathan was standing in the door of their bedroom waiting.

 

“In here, milady.”  Nathan stepped into the hallway and swept his arms toward the opening.

 

A naughty grin crossed Kristin’s lips and she inclined her head slightly at Bill and Janet. 

 

“Stop that!” Nathan couldn’t help but laugh at his wife’s obvious lascivious thoughts.

 

Bill and Janet looked at each other in confusion as Nathan waved them forward.  When Kristin reached the door Nathan moved behind her and slipped his hands over her eyes.

 

“Trust me.” He whispered.

 

“With my life.” She answered.

 

Nathan moved forward slowly, Kristin moving just in front of him, guided by the pressure of his arms and elbows.  Once they were in the room he turned her carefully.

 

“Ready?”

 

At her nod Nathan dropped his hands.

 

Kristin gasped at the cradle in the corner, unable to speak.  Janet moved in behind her, squeezing her arm.  “What a thoughtful gift!” She murmured in Kristin’s ear.

 

Kristin nodded slowly as her eyes took in the piece of furniture.  Only Janet understood why Kristin was so stunned; the cradle before them was very similar to the one Kristin had described to her earlier.

 

“Honey?  Don’t you like it?  I know it’s old, but it’s in excellent shape.  It’s solid mahogany.  Our great grandchildren will sleep in this someday.  I didn’t have time to get rid of all this cloth… let me do that and then you’ll see how beautiful it is!”

 

Kristin finally found her voice.  “The cloth… you don’t like it?”

 

Nathan gazed at her quizzically.  “Well… we’ve got to have some mosquito netting I guess, but all that other stuff is just way to over the top.  I want her to be able to see the sunshine… unless you like it… if you like it then…”

 

“NO!  No… I don’t want the fabric.”  Kristin moved to the cradle as Nathan and Bill worked to release the lever holding the overhead arm.  They pulled the overhang away, taking all of the cloth with it.

 

Kristin ran her palm over the smooth wood, feeling it warm to her touch. On closer inspection the cradle was smaller than Cynthia’s had been and not nearly as ornate.  A small foot pedal stuck out near the rocking chair so Kristin sat down and placed her foot on it.  She smiled as the baby bed swayed gently, a tear coming to her eye.

 

“Honey?” Nathan knelt at her feet, his hand moving up to wipe the tear away.  “I’ll take it back if you don’t like it.  I just thought…”

 

Kristin propelled her self into his arms.  “I love it!  It’s the most wonderful crib I’ve ever seen and I love you for getting it.”  She began to rain kisses across his face.  Nathan captured her lips and held them as he was holding her, close but gently.

 

Janet breathed a quiet sigh of relief and tucked her arm into Bill’s.  “Let’s leave them alone.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“So… are you going to tell me what was wrong earlier?” Nathan buried his face in Kristin’s hair, inhaling the musky scent of both of their bodies, made damp by their recent exertions. 

 

“Nothing… it’s silly.  Just for a second I had a flashback to this monstrous cradle that belonged to Alex… my mother-in-law insisted that we use it for Cynthia.  I HATED it.  Having to fight my way through all of that netting and cloth when my baby was crying… but then you said that you didn’t like it either…”

 

“I meant what I said… we can take it back if you don’t like it.  I had to run into town to the hardware store and I saw that through the window of the antique shop next door, the same place that I got your pendant.  The workmanship is really exquisite.  The shopkeeper said that it was probably a hundred years old or more… brought by early settlers here.”

 

“I can see the quality of the work and I really do love the cradle.  Once you stripped away the covering… it’s the perfect size for that corner and the design is so simple but elegant.  I really do love it, Nathan.  You are a wonderful husband and you are a wonderful father.”  Nathan heard the sincerity in her words.

 

“And you are a wonderful wife and mother, Mrs. Bridger.”  He leaned over to kiss her gently then snuggled back up against her.

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Who gives this woman to be wed?”

 

“Her mother and I.”

 

Kristin tried to lean toward the pew in front of where she and Nathan were sitting but she couldn’t get enough leverage.  She nudged Nathan and waved the handkerchief at him, inclining her head toward the sniffing mother of the bride.  Her husband nodded in understanding, took the handkerchief and passed it forward to Janet as Bill lifted Ginny’s veil and kissed her then placed her hand in David’s.  

 

Ginny looked lovely in her mother’s wedding gown of ivory satin, David equally handsome in his dress blues.  Their attendants flanked the happy couple on either side, Ben Kreig, two of David’s navy buddies, Cynthia Kreig, Katie Hitchcock and Admiral Smith’s daughter, Wendy.  The walls of the base chapel were banked with exotic flowers spreading their heady perfume through the air.  Dappled sunlight shone through the windows joining the celebration.

 

Bill moved to join his wife, wiping a tear away as he did so.

 

“I, David, take thee, Virginia, to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward…”

 

Nathan took Kristin’s hand in his and gave it a gentle squeeze.  She turned to look at him with a smile on her face as she squeezed back.

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to present Dr. and Mrs. David Palmer.”

 

The newly married couple looked at each other adoringly for a moment before walking down the aisle to the sound of applause.  As the congregation stood Nathan helped Kristin to her feet then wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her back toward him.

 

“This is what you should have had.”

 

Kristin laughed.  “I did have this… nearly twenty years ago in a massive cathedral in England.  I didn’t feel half as married then as I did the instant we spoke our vows.”

 

“In a dinky little army chapel on a military base in Australia.”

 

“Under a waterfall, the sunlight glinting off the water, on a deserted island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.”  Kristin felt Nathan’s smile at her words.

 

“Does this mean I have to buy you two anniversary presents?”

 

She turned to look at him.  “At least.” She grinned.

 

“Uh-oh.” At the sound of Nathan’s expletive, Kristin followed his eyes to where the wedding attendants were making their way down the isle in pairs.  The couple who had just passed them happened to be Ben and Cynthia.  They were barely touching and their faces were frozen into inane smiles.  “I’m sensing more trouble in paradise.”

 

Kristin leaned back against Nathan’s shoulder.  “I can’t stand to see her so unhappy… but I don’t know what to do to make it better.  I’ve invited her and Teddy to come stay with us for a while… just so that she can have some space until she can sort things out in her own mind but I can’t force her.”

 

“Maybe I should have a talk with Ben.”

 

“Nathan, I don’t want them to think we’re interfering…”

 

“I won’t come across that way.  I’ll just ask a few questions… basically let him know that he can talk to me if he wants.  Maybe we can get a moment at the reception.”

 

“Speaking of the reception, we should get there as quickly as possible.  They are going to be tied up here taking pictures for a few minutes and I promised Janet that I’d make sure everything was in place.”

 

Ben had returned to escort Janet back down the aisle; Bill following close behind so Nathan released his hold.  “I’ll go get the car and bring it to the door for you.”

 

Kristin’s hand trailed down his arm as he moved away, gripping his fingers to halt him momentarily.  “I would have liked to marry you while you were in your dress blues… not that you weren’t handsome in your weather beaten uniform.”

 

“In case I haven’t said it today… I love you, Mrs. Bridger.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“So, is everything perfect?” Kristin jumped at Nathan’s voice as he wrapped his arms around her just beneath her breasts. 

 

“As perfect as one pregnant lady can get it.  Do you need to go back and pick up Ben and Cindy?”

 

“The weather is so nice that the wedding party decided to walk here from the church… well, except for the bride and groom of course.  They are coming in that dilapidated old carriage that Ginny dug up from somewhere.”

 

“Nathan!” Kristin chided her husband gently.  “The carriage looks beautiful and the whole idea is very romantic.  You should be grateful that Ginny is too busy today to be taking the pictures herself.  Her Uncle Nathan is her favorite subject.”

 

“You’ve got a point… although I wouldn’t mind having my picture taken with you.”

 

“Not a chance in hell, sailor… not until this belly goes back to its pre-pregnancy size.”

 

“Honey, you look gorgeous.  I look at you like this and I have to stop and catch my breath.  You should always wear green… if you have to wear clothes at all.”

 

Kristin wore a dress of deep emerald green, the empire waist perfect for her expanded figure.  A low neckline showcased the delicate emerald pendant nestled at the upper most point of her cleavage.  Her hair was upswept as she usually wore it when she was in public, but the style was more elaborate with delicate tendrils allowed to curl around her face and to her shoulders.

 

“And you, my love, should always wear blue.”

 

Nathan did look especially dashing, the dark blue of his dress uniform bringing his eyes out even more vividly than usual.  Together they made a striking couple.

 

“So… is your dance card full yet, my lady?  Or might you have room for one dance with your husband?”

 

A short laugh escaped Kristin’s lips.  “I can see me trying to dance.  My partner wouldn’t be able to get anywhere near me.”

 

“You will dance with me, won’t you?”

 

Kristin couldn’t resist his teasing tone.  “I’ll dance with you… but I have a chair staked out in the corner for the most part.  Janet even brought a footstool over for me to prop my feet up and we have permission to leave whenever I get tired.”

 

“I know how you hate to miss your afternoon… nap.” Nathan pushed his hips against her rear, allowing her to feel the bulge forming there.

 

Kristin turned back to stare at him, a smile gracing her lovely face.  “If you don’t mind leaving early… I suspect this party will continue into the early hours of the morning and I don’t think I’ll be able to last that long.  Besides, I’ve gotten used to my nap.”

 

Nathan swooped down to capture her lips, the kiss holding a promise of things to come.  “I kind of like those naps myself,” he whispered as their lips parted.

 

Any further conversation was cut off by the arrival of a horse drawn carriage covered in flowers at the entrance to the hall.  The bride and groom were ushered into the room by the crowd of guests as the orchestra struck up a stirring tune.

 

*~*~*~*  

 

The cake had been cut, the toasts had been made, the photographer had managed to snap a picture of Nathan and Kristin and the band was once again in full swing when Nathan went in search of Ben.  Once he’d left Kristin’s side Cynthia appeared almost immediately.

 

“Sit down beside me, honey.  I’ve missed you this week.”

 

Cynthia smiled wryly.  “I’m sure that I’ve been the top thing on your mind all week long.  From what I hear you and Nathan have spent every free moment you’ve had together… most of them in bed.”

 

“Janet Noyce confides too much in her daughter.  Yes, I have been enjoying my time with Nathan but I never want you to feel cut off from me.  You can always come to me… anytime.”

 

“I know that, Mummy.  I just… I haven’t made any decisions yet.  I’ve thought… but I don’t know what to do.  Ben is so busy… I don’t know how to approach him… how to talk to him.  We had a horrible fight this morning…”

 

“Your posture during the ceremony told me that.  Do you want to tell me what you fought about?”

 

“I… it’s so silly, really… I accused Ben… he’s been spending an awful lot of time with Katherine Hitchcock lately.”

 

“Katie is a member of the wedding party.  You’ve all been attending the same functions the last few weeks.”

 

“But Ben always finds some excuse to talk with her… or dance with her.  He’s attracted to her, Mummy, I just know it!”

 

“My sweet child… men are always attracted to beautiful women.  That doesn’t mean that they act on that attraction.  I’m sure that Ben talked to other girls at those parties, danced with them?”

 

“Yes… but you saw what happened last weekend during the football game…”

 

“I saw… and I remember when Nathan once had the same reaction to me.  We weren’t involved then… Carol was still alive and Nathan was committed to her, but his body reacted in a very natural way.  The same thing happened to Ben.  The fact that it was Katie doesn’t necessarily mean anything.”

 

Skepticism showed on Cynthia’s face.  “Maybe… I just don’t know.  How do I know… if he is interested in Katie… what will I do?  Can I forgive him if something has happened?  Do I have any right to be angry if something happened?  It’s not as if I am keeping him satisfied at home.”

 

Kristin closed her eyes for a long moment then opened them to lock her gaze with her daughters.  “My darling child, I would give anything to be able to fix this for you, to give you all the right answers… but I can’t do that.  You have to decide what is best for you.”

 

“Dad… Jack cheated on you, didn’t he?”

 

“My situation was completely different from yours and if I thought there was any chance at all of you ending up in a relationship like that I’d take you away myself.  Don’t use me as your example.  If Ben were involved with Katie… would you care?  Because I didn’t… at least not in the end.”

 

“Of course I would care!  He’s my husband.  He’s Teddy’s father.  He shouldn’t be running around with another woman!”

 

“Because… you love him?”

 

“I… I don’t know.  Yes… I do love Ben.  He’s been so wonderful to me but… I feel like there is something more… that I’m missing something.  I want what David and Ginny have, what you and Nathan have.  When I’ve been married thirty years I want my husband to look at me the way the Admiral still looks at Mrs. Noyce.”

 

“So you just have to decide if you want Ben to be that husband.  If the answer is yes then you have to put a very real effort into saving your marriage.  Marriage is hard work, my love.  Bill and Janet don’t live in some fairy tale.  Nearly thirty years of loving and fighting, of good and bad have gone into that relationship.  Perhaps, in the long run, some time apart might be beneficial to both of you.  Have you given any thought to staying with Nathan and I for a few weeks?”

 

“I couldn’t… not now… the two of you need to spend time together… and the baby will be here soon.  I don’t want to intrude.”

 

“You are my daughter.  You always have a place with me.  Nathan feels the same way.  Promise me that you’ll always talk to me if you need to.  I’ll always be your mother and I’ll always love you.  Nathan and this baby don’t change that.”

 

Cynthia threw her arms around her mother’s neck.  “I love you, Mummy”

 

A clearing throat pulled them apart.  The women looked up to find David’s friend standing nearby.  “Excuse me for interrupting but… would you like to dance?”

 

Kristin gave a slight nod at Cynthia’s glance.  “I’m fine.  Go have fun.  No worries for the rest of the day.”

 

The band struck up a lively Glenn Miller tune as Cynthia departed with the handsome young man.  Kristin’s eyes swept the crowd searching for Nathan but couldn’t see him.  She did see a good looking young sailor in a neatly pressed uniform making his way toward her.

 

“Would you like to dance, Mrs. Bridger?” Lucas asked politely.

 

Kristin smiled at the boy.  “I would love to dance with you, Lucas, but I’m afraid that it would be too awkward for me right now.  How about I promise you a dance at the first function we are at together after the little one comes?"

 

“That would be great.  How are you feeling?”

 

“Like I’m ready to be thin again.  Have you by any chance seen the captain?”  Lucas shook his head and turned to scan the room.

 

“I saw him go out on the balcony a few minutes ago.”  Janet collapsed into the chair beside her friend.  Lucas gave a little wave and headed back into the crowd.

 

“Damn!  I can’t believe he went out there without me.” Kristin said once the boy was out of hearing range.

 

“It’s four o’clock in the afternoon.  The sun is still shining.  If the two of you did what you normally do on that balcony you’d be arrested.”

 

Kristin grinned at her friend.  “You are a fine one to talk, Janet Noyce.  I don’t think that Nathan and I were the only… OH…” Janet turned quickly at Kristin’s sharp gasp.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

Kristin’s face was clenched as she nodded.  Janet gripped her hand until, after a few seconds, she slowly began to relax.  “Was that a contraction?”

 

Kristin shook her head.  “This little one has been fairly still the last few days but he just kicked the bejeezus out of me.  God, that hurt.”

 

“How’s your back?”

 

“Tight, but then it always is.  I was hoping that I might talk my handsome husband out of one dance and then, if you don’t mind, ask him to take me home for my afternoon nap.”

 

Janet eyed Kristin skeptically.  “Well, if you are tired…”

 

Kristin couldn’t help but smile.  “That too  and heaven knows how long this party will go on.”

 

“For hours, I suspect… Ginny makes a beautiful bride, doesn’t she?  I know that I’m biased but…”

 

“But you are right.  Ginny is a beautiful young woman but I’ve never seen her look lovelier than she does today.  Your gown suits her perfectly.”

 

“I cried when she told me she wanted to wear it.  I know that silk is at a premium right now but I would have moved heaven and earth to find her whatever she wanted… and she wanted my dress.” A tear slid from the corner of Janet’s eye.  “I’m sorry… I’m not usually so emotional…”

 

“You’re entitled… mother of the bride’s prerogative.  You’ve had a lot going on the last few weeks… the last few months.  Between planning Ginny’s wedding and keeping the crazy English lady from going crazy missing her husband, I’m surprised you haven’t cried a lot more lately.”

 

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me this last week.  I never cry but I just feel so out of sorts.”

 

“Once the happy couple heads out for their honeymoon you need to take some time for yourself.”

 

“I’m going to sleep for a week at least… and there’s your handsome husband heading toward us now.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Bill, have you seen Ben anywhere?”

 

“Umm… I think I might have seen him go out on the balcony a few minutes ago.”  Bill couldn’t tear his eyes off of his daughter dancing with her new husband.

 

“Thanks, Dad.” Nathan slapped Bill’s back and took off through the French doors.  He scanned the porch in search of his son-in-law but didn’t immediately see Ben.  Several people had taken momentary refuge outside so Nathan began working his way through them from one end to the other.

 

The scene that greeted him as he cleared the sea of people at the opposite end of the balcony stopped him in his tracks, stunned.  Ben was locked in a passionate embrace, the woman’s brunette hair quickly identifying her as someone other than his wife.  Nathan wanted to scream as the couple kissed passionately but no sound would come.

 

As the kiss broke Ben raised his head and found him self staring into the furious eyes of his father-in-law.  He quickly released the young woman from the circle of his arms.  Nathan’s breath caught as Katie Hitchcock turned and saw him.

 

“Sir…” Ben called as he moved toward Nathan.  Ben’s movement freed Nathan from his own paralysis and he quickly turned and moved away, unwilling to speak to his son-in-law until he had his anger under control. 

 

Nathan was aware that Ben was following him as he pushed his way across the dance floor to where Kristin was seated chatting with Janet Noyce.  He dropped to his knees beside her, one hand moving to rest on her abdomen.

 

“How are you and the princess doing?”

 

“Actually, I think that your son and his mother would love to dance with you… if you are willing?”

 

“Ready, willing and able, honey… any excuse to hold you in my arms.”

 

“So why don’t we have a dance or two and then you take me home for my afternoon nap?” Her hand fell to her side; her dress shielding the movement as her fingertips lightly brushed his inner thigh.

 

“My pleasure, my love.” Nathan stood and held his hand out, helping her to stand.  “Wait just a second.”

 

He left her standing there and moved to the bandstand to speak briefly with the leader before returning.  He took her hand and led her to the floor, pulling her as close as their child allowed, as the band began to play his request. 

 

I’ll be loving you always
With a love that’s true always.
When the things you’ve planned
Need a helping hand,
I will understand always.

Always.

Days may not be fair always,
That’s when I’ll be there always.
Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day,
Not for just a year,
But always.

I’ll be loving you, oh always
With a love that’s true always.
When the things you’ve planned
Need a helping hand,
I will understand always.

Always.

Days may not be fair always,
That’s when I’ll be there always.
Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day,
Not for just a year,
But always.

Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day,
Not for just a year,
But always.

 

A tear came to Kristin’s eye as she heard the words to the song Nathan requested to be played for them.  She leaned her head into Nathan’s cheek as they continued to sway to the music.  Once the song ended she pulled away and stared into his face. 

 

“Take me home, husband, and let me show you just how much I love you.”

 

Nathan winked.  “Your wish is my command, my love.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

Nathan stared at the overcast sky as he waited to help Kristin out of the car. 

 

“Looks like rain.” He made small talk with the young navy ensign assigned to drive them home while Kristin carefully maneuvered her bulk to the edge of the seat.

 

“Yes sir, it does, sir.  But then it rains somewhere on the island everyday.”

 

Nathan smiled as the young man kept his eyes held at rigid attention on the road in front of him, avoiding the rear view mirror at all cost as Kristin bent to push her body up, her abundant cleavage threatening to spill over the low neckline of her dress. 

 

They waved at the young driver and then turned to the front walk of their house, their arms wrapped around each other.

 

“I’m sorry for all the trouble.  I didn’t think about this when we picked up Ben and Cynni.  Maybe Ben could have run us home then gone back to the party.”

 

Nathan’s mouth tightened.  “I didn’t mind calling on the motor pool.  Cynthia was having a good time and I didn’t want to spoil her fun.  This way she has a car to go home whenever she decides to leave.”

 

“She and Ben… you spoke to him?  What happened?”

 

“I didn’t get a chance to talk to him.  I don’t really want to talk about that.  Right now I want to get you inside and comfortable.”  Nathan glanced up and down the street.  “You realize that everyone in a three block radius is at the reception, don’t you?”

 

Kristin nodded, her brow furrowed as she watched Nathan unlock the front door.  “Probably even further.  I think Janet invited everyone on the base.  But why…?”

 

A lascivious grin crossed Nathan’s face as he closed the door with a resounding thud.  “Everyone at the reception means that we can be as loud as we damn well please without having to worry about what the neighbors think.  Especially those pesky Noyces next door.”

 

Understanding crossed Kristin’s face and she laughed.  “Well then, Mr. Bridger, I suggest that we go upstairs and take care of business.”  Her face grew serious.  “I want you to make love to me, Nathan.”

 

Nathan stood at the bottom of the stairs and watched as Kristin slowly climbed, marveling at how thin she looked from the back, all of her bulk centered ahead of her. 

 

Kristin stopped at the landing and looked down at her husband, lost in his own lustful little world.  “You coming?”

 

Nathan’s attention jerked back to the present.  “Oh yeah, I can guarantee that.  You will be too.”  He grinned as he ran up the stairs to join her.

 

“I’ll be with you in just a few minutes.” She told him when they reached the bedroom, her pace carrying her toward the bathroom.  “Make yourself comfortable.”

 

Nathan smiled as he stripped down to his shorts and carefully hung up his uniform, humming the melody they had just danced to softly as he did so.  ‘Thank you, God, that she is still so…’  His thoughts broke off as he heard the door open.

 

Kristin smiled almost shyly at him as she moved to the closet and hung up the dress she had been wearing.  Nathan’s eyes drank in the way the light lavender slip she wore clung to her bountiful curves.

 

He held his hand out to her.  “Come here.”

 

She moved into his arms and they shared a tender kiss.  “I am so glad that you are my wife.”

 

“Nathan… I wish I could tell you… I love you so much for what you’ve done for me… but, darling, the way you worry about my daughter… words just can’t…”

 

He silenced her with another kiss.  “Cynny is part of you.  How could I help but love her?”

 

Kristin was surprised to feel Nathan maneuvering her body around until she stood with her back to him; their lips still locked in a fervent kiss.  His hands wrapped around her, his arms cradling her breasts as his hands rubbed her abdomen.

 

“I want to dance with you.  I couldn’t hold you close enough earlier.”  He reached out to the dresser and turned the knob on the radio.  Soft music filtered into the room as they began to sway together.

 

Kristin lay her head back on Nathan’s shoulder and tilted her head to stare at him, one hand coming up to wrap around the back of his neck.  He bent to meet her and their tongues tangled furiously as their bodies rubbed against each other.

 

Her loud moan vibrated through both of them when Nathan’s hands slid up to cup her breasts, thumb and forefinger tweaking the already peaked nipples.  She circled her rear against the growing evidence of his desire pushing into her.

 

Her breathing was ragged when Nathan released her lips and tugged her arm down.  His nimble fingers loosened the straps of the slip until they fell down her arms.  She moaned again as his fingers slid beneath the lacy neckline to cup her swollen breasts without the impediment of cloth between them.

 

“Oh… please… I need you… please touch me…” Kristin’s hands moved to cover Nathan’s as they caressed her aching breasts.  “Make love to me… oh please love me.”

 

“Always.”

 

Nathan’s lips slipped down the curve of her neck as his hands worked the material over her abdomen and hips.  The silk slid down her legs to pool at her feet as one hand slid between her legs to tease her curls. 

 

Incomprehensible gasps and moans began to escape Kristin’s lips as she pushed against Nathan’s fingers, begging him to touch her more intimately.  Her hand crept between them to rub his erection through his cotton shorts.  Her fingers found the button and popped it open then crept inside and took him in hand.

 

“Honey… I’m not gonna last long…”

 

“I need you now.  I’m so ready.”

 

His fingers probed between her legs and found her words were true.  She was wet with desire.  He found her swollen clitoris and rubbed gently, causing a cry to escape her lips.

 

“Don’t tease… oh darling…”

 

Nathan grabbed at his shorts with his free hand and yanked them down, stepping out of them as he pulled Kristin toward the bed.

 

“I’m not teasing… now… how…?”

 

They kissed ravenously, Nathan supporting Kristin as she climbed on to the bed and knelt in front of him, their hands rubbing frantically across each other’s bodies.  Kristin cried out again as Nathan’s fingers pushed against her sex.

 

“Nathan… I need to feel you… oh my love, I want you deep inside of me…”

 

“Kris… I don’t want to hurt… oh, God!” Nathan groaned as strong fingers wrapped around his erection and began to rub gently. 

 

“You won’t…”  

 

Nathan broke the kiss to rest her forehead against hers.  “How can we?”

 

Kristin blushed.  “There is a way… Janet told me…” She was too embarrassed to continue.

 

Nathan touched her lips lightly with his.  “I’m game to try anything.  Tell me… then show me.”

 

He lifted a knee to the mattress as Kristin backed up and leaned over to stack the pillows.  She gave Nathan another glance and at his encouraging nod, turned her back to him and bent over to grasp the pile she had made.

 

Kristin clung to the pillow with her eyes closed as she waited to see what Nathan would do.  A tiny tear slipped free when she felt him shift behind her, his hands moving beneath her to rub her breasts as he leaned over and kiss her shoulder.

 

“I love you so much, baby… you tell me… at any time… if you get uncomfortable you stop me…”

 

Kristin nodded into the pillow, still too embarrassed to look Nathan in the face.

 

‘You are such a lady, my love.’ He grasped his erection and rubbed it along the swollen pink folds of her sheath.  She moaned and pushed back against him.  Nathan smiled at her impatience and grasped her hips with both hands as he slowly sank into her warmth.

 

The breath rushed from his chest as her muscles clenched around him and he sank even further into her, enjoying the deepest penetration that they’d experienced in months.

 

“Is that okay?” He finally bit out.

 

“Yes… oh, yes…”

 

“Guide me.”

 

“Move… slowly, I want to feel you…”

 

Nathan pulled back until only the very tip of his shaft touched her lower lips before sliding slowly back in.  Kristin sighed with contentment and rocked back against him as he pushed forward, intensifying the sensations for both of them.  After several minutes of this he felt her inner muscles clench around him. 

 

“I need more now…”

 

Nathan increased the speed and force of his thrusts, fighting desperately to hold back his own release while he sought to fulfil Kristin’s request.  He slid one hand around her hip to caress the lower swell of her abdomen while the other hand made its way to the top of her sheath to lightly brush her.

 

The pillows absorbed Kristin’s screams as she came with overwhelming force, her body going rigid as she climaxed, then sagging limply into the cushions.  The warmth of her juices washing over him spurred Nathan to thrust even harder and when he felt his erection brush the tip of her womb his own release washed over him in tidal waves. 

 

He fell forward onto her back and rested there for a moment before rolling to his side, pulling her with him as he went.

 

“Remind me to thank Janet for suggesting that.”

 

Kristin struggled against his embrace until she lay on her back looking at him.  “If you dare mention anything to Janet, or anyone else, I will hurt you dreadfully.” 

 

Nathan laughed as he watched the blush rising in her cheeks.  He leaned up and grabbed a pillow then pushed it under Kristin’s head before propping on his elbow to stare at her.  His free hand brushed a russet curl from her cheek before settling against her neck in a gentle caress.

 

“You have nothing to be embarrassed about, my love.  I would never say anything to Janet… but I love that you are willing to be a little adventurous.”

 

Kristin’s blush grew even deeper.  “It’s not very… ladylike.”

 

“There is nothing wrong with trying something besides the missionary position.  I know that Victorian upbringing of yours taught you differently… but as long as we are both comfortable with what we do in the privacy of our own bedroom, I don’t see a problem.  Did you enjoy what just happened… the way that we made love?”

 

Kristin bit her lower lip then nodded slightly.  “It was incredible… and you are right.”

 

“When I think back to how shy you were just eight months ago… the night we made this little one… you couldn’t even look at me naked… I love that you’ve gotten so comfortable with me… that you can tell me what you want… how you want me to touch you.”

 

“I trust you, Nathan.  I know that you will never hurt me.”

 

They both jumped as a bolt of lightning pierced the twilight, a booming clap of thunder following immediately in its wake.

 

“I guess you were right about the rain.”

 

Nathan hooked the blanket at the end of the bed with his foot and dragged it toward them until he could cover them both.  “Rain on the roof, you in my arms… the perfect ingredients for a nap.”

 

Kristin nodded in agreement as she rolled so that Nathan could spoon against her back.  They fell asleep, content in each other’s arms, as the storm began in earnest around them.

 

*~*~*~*

 

Nathan opened one eye warily; knowing that something was wrong but unable to put his finger on it.  Then he realized that it was quiet outside, the storm had passed.  He also realized that he was alone in the bed.

 

“Kristin?” When she didn’t answer Nathan reached for the lamp by the bed and flipped the switch.  Nothing happened.

 

“Shit!” He threw the covers back and climbed out of the bed, running his foot along the floor in search of his underwear.  He’d just finished pulling his briefs on when he saw a gleam of light in the hallway.

 

Kristin appeared in the door, clad in her nightgown, carrying a brightly blazing oil lamp, which she sat down on the dresser.

 

“Why didn’t you wake me?” Nathan asked as he moved to grab some candles out of the drawer of his dresser.

 

“I’ve only been awake about ten minutes.  When I realized the power was gone I went to get the lamp and a few other things.”  She sat a bundle down on the dresser.  “How long were we asleep?”

 

Nathan glanced at his watch.  “Almost four hours… it’s after eight thirty.  You must be hungry.  Let me go see if I can find us something to eat.”

 

“Nathan, I don’t really want anything to eat but maybe you could go find some more lights.”

 

“Sure… I like the way you look in the lamp light though.”

 

A smile trembled on Kristin’s lips as her hands rubbed her abdomen.  “The phone is out as well.”

 

“They’ll have it fixed soon.  It’s not like we need it right now anyway…” Nathan’s voice trailed off, a suspicion forming in his mind. “Kris?”

 

She smiled wryly.  “My water broke just as soon as I stood up.”

 

“Oh God… we should get you to the hospital.”

 

“How?”

 

“How?  In the… we don’t have the car… and we don’t have a phone.”  Nathan took a deep breath.  “I’ll get dressed and walk to a neighbor’s house.”

 

“You don’t know how long it would take you to find someone at home.  They are all at the reception, remember.  I’d rather you stay here with me.  I need for you to go find some more light and then get back here as quickly as you can.  I don’t really want to be alone right now…” Nathan moved to her side to support her as her face clenched with the force of her first strong contraction.

 

Kristin pressed her face into Nathan’s chest, her hand gripping his shoulder tightly as she struggled through the pain.  Nathan followed his instincts and massaged her abdomen gently with one hand while holding her back with the other until she could breathe normally again.  He moved her to the side of the bed and pushed her into a sitting position.

 

“I’ve got to go find a doctor, Kristin.  I can’t deliver this baby.”

 

“You won’t be delivering it.  I will.  Your job is to sit there and catch.”

 

“Kristin!  This isn’t funny!”

 

“Nathan, my love, I’m not laughing.  I can do this with your help… but I’m afraid if you leave me… I must have gone into labor soon after we fell asleep… and it’s progressed quite rapidly.  I don’t think we have a lot of time before our baby is born.”

 

As her words sank in Nathan realized the seriousness of the situation, calmness overtaking him.  “I won’t leave… I’m going to get to see our baby born… I wouldn’t miss that for the world.”

 

Kristin smiled gratefully at him.

 

“So I need to find more light… anything else?”

 

“Bring my medicine bag, a bottle of whisky, any towels you can find… and gather any water that you can from the cistern.  Put it on the stove to boil… I hope the gas line is still working.  You’re going to need to wash your hands in very hot water… we’ll have to have sterile water to wash the baby in once it comes as well.”  Her breath caught as another contraction took hold.  Nath…an!”

 

He gripped her again as she rode through the waves of pain.

 

“That one was worse, wasn’t it?” He asked once her muscles finally relaxed.

 

Kristin nodded.  “It was stronger… and very close to the earlier one… the closer they get, the sooner the baby will be here.”

 

“Oh shit!”  He took off running toward the door, disappearing around the frame before jerking back.  “Are you going to be okay while I get the stuff?”

 

“We have a few minutes.  I’m just going to fix the bed… put down towels… but please hurry.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

A collective groan rose from the dance floor when the lights flickered and then went out but brightly burning candles on all of the dining tables saved the reception room from going completely black.  Someone managed to turn up several camping lanterns for the band and the food was still plentiful so the party continued unabated.

 

Bill found Janet staring up at the clearing sky with concern on her face.  “What’s wrong, dear?”

 

“I don’t know,” she replied as a beam of moonlight broke through the clouds.  “I just feel like something is wrong.  Ginny’s reception was supposed to be perfect.”

 

“And it is perfect.  Look around.  Everyone is having a fabulous time.  A little power outage can’t change that.  I know that you miss the kids but Billy and Barb are here in spirit.  Almost everyone we love is in this room.”

 

Janet turned to stare at Bill, her eyes wide.  “Almost everyone… the baby… Go get the car, Bill.  We’ve got to get home.  I just feel it.”

 

Bill started to protest but, remembering how accurate his wife’s hunches had been in the past, he shut his mouth and took off toward the door at a run.  Janet searched through the shadows until she found Joshua Levin. 

 

“Come with me,” Janet grabbed his arm and dragged him away from his companion, Admiral Wendell Smith’s daughter.

 

Their departure didn’t go unnoticed.

 

*~*~*~*

 

Nathan ran into the room and sat three oil lamps on the dresser before turning to run back out.  “One more trip,” he called as he exited.

 

“Where did you get the extra lamps?” Kristin called after him as she moved to add the lanterns to the four already blazing around the room.

 

“I broke into Bill’s garage.” She heard his voice from halfway down the stairs. 

 

Kristin shook her head as she placed one more thick towel over the stripped down bed and turned to check her instruments, which she had soaking in alcohol in a basin on the nightstand.

 

“Oh, God!” She grabbed the iron post on the headboard as another contraction stabbed through her body.  Nathan found her in this same position when he returned a minute later; her hands clenched around the metal, sweat beading on her forehead as she struggled to breath. 

 

He dropped everything he had in his hands and stared at the rippling muscles clearly visible through the nightgown pulled tightly across Kristin’s abdomen.  As the pain dissipated Kristin saw him standing there.  She moved to stand in front of him and placing her arms on his shoulders, she shook him as hard as she could.

 

“Don’t you dare faint on me, Nathan Bridger!  I need you right now.  Don’t you let me down!

 

Her voice snapped Nathan back into focus.  “I’m here. I won’t let you down.  What do we need to do now?”

 

Kristin moved the dresser and grabbed the bottle of whisky, popped the cork and poured a stiff shot.  She handed it to Nathan.  “Drink this; you are going to need it.  But one is all that you get.”

 

Nathan stared at the glass in his hand, the amount of alcohol in it closer to a double than a single.  “You sure?”

 

“Giving birth isn’t exactly pretty, sweetheart.  There will be some blood… perhaps a lot of it.  You are going to have to tie off the cord and cut it.”

 

Nathan processed her words, stared at the glass for a moment then downed it with one gulp.  “You need to explain everything to me beforehand… I’ve never seen a human baby born and I really don’t want to mess this up.”

 

“What kind of baby have you seen born?”

 

“Uhm… cows, horses… back on my dad’s farm.”

 

Kristin took the glass from his hand and poured another albeit smaller shot then lifted it to her lips and gulped it down.

 

“I need to move around… come walk down the hall with me while I explain things.”

 

By the time Kristin had explained everything she could think of to Nathan they had traversed the length of the hall four times and Kristin had suffered through three more contractions.  The fourth one hit as they were entering the bedroom. Kristin gripped the doorframe and screamed as the pain sliced through her.

 

Kristin, that was less than two minutes since the last one.”

 

“I realize that…” she bit out through clenched teeth.  “I think it’s time to get ready.”

 

“What do I need to do?”

 

“Help me get my nightgown off and get into bed.  Then you are going to have to check the baby’s position.”

 

“Check?  How do I do that?”

 

Kristin gave him a hard stare.  “You’re very talented in touching that area.  You’ll figure it out.”

 

Nathan grinned as he grabbed the hem of her nightgown and pulled it over her head.  He helped her settle into the pillows and spread a sheet over her before moving to her feet.

 

“So I uhm…”

 

“Lift the sheet and look!” Kristin commanded as she parted her legs beneath the cover.

 

Nathan tentatively lifted the sheet with one hand and peered down.  His eyes grew wide as he dropped the sheet at her waist and sat down quickly, his finger probing between her legs.

 

“I can feel something… is that the baby?”

 

“Of course it’s the baby…” Kristin bit down as another contraction racked her body.  Nathan grabbed her hands, wincing as she gripped them tightly.  When the pain finally passed Nathan grabbed a washcloth and dipped it into one of the pans of water she’d prepared then moved back to wash her face.

 

Kristin smiled up weakly at him.  “I’m sorry, honey, but I’m going to have to push.  I can’t believe how quickly I’ve progressed.  I didn’t mean for you to have to do this.”

 

“I’m glad I’m here, really.  I’m going to get to deliver… catch my own child.  Was Cynthia born this quickly?”

 

“Uhm… I contracted for hours with Cynny… I’ve had very few contractions now… but they’ve been very bad ones.  I probably had mild ones while I was asleep.”

 

“Were you in labor before… when we made love?”

 

Kristin gripped his hand.  “I was probably in the very early stages but our love making didn’t harm anything.  I can’t believe how fast this has progressed.  I… OH!”

 

“Okay, honey, push.”

 

“I… am… pushing!” Kristin panted as she struggled through the pain.  “Get… down… there… and check!”

 

Nathan maneuvered back to her feet; his hand still locked in her death grip.  “Oh my God!  It’s the head, Kris.  I can see our baby’s head!”

 

Kristin fell back against the pillows. “I know I shouldn’t be complaining since I haven’t had hours of this but it hurts like the devil.”

 

“Just a few more pushes and Charlotte will be here, right?  So on the next one give it all you’ve got!”

 

“It isn’t football, Nathan!” Kristin smiled.  “Oh… again.”

 

She leaned forward and grabbed her knees, bearing down with all her might.

 

“The head is moving down… keep pushing, sweetheart.” 

 

Kristin fell back against the pillows and gasped for air.  “A few more pushes… you have to be ready.”

 

“Just hold on a second while I run get my catcher’s mitt.”

 

The expletive that Kristin uttered shocked Nathan but he didn’t have time to think on it as she grabbed her knees and began to push again.  He watched wide-eyed as the baby’s head slipped clear of her body and into his waiting hands.

 

“The head… oh my God… I’m holding our baby’s head!”

 

Kristin tightened her grasp on her knees as she panted through her pain.  “Remember… support the neck… help the shoulder… ooooooh…”

 

Her scream echoed through the night air.

 

*~*~*~*

 

“What the hell!?!?!  Somebody broke into our garage!”

 

Bill slammed on the brakes, bringing the car to a screeching halt in his driveway.  At that instant lights up and down the road sprang to life.

 

Janet jumped out of the car and raced across the grass toward the Bridger’s front door, Dr. Levin close at her heels. Bill took off after them at a trot. 

 

When she reached the entrance Janet grabbed the knocker and pounded, calling out both Nathan and Kristin’s name.  Her hand fell to the knob.  She was surprised when it turned beneath her fingers.  The door flew open with her push and after a quick glance around the ground floor she raced up the stairs towards the tiny glimmer of light at the top.  Once again the men had no choice but to follow.

 

“Kristin?” Janet called as she made her way down the hall and to the open doorway of the couple’s room, wanting to alert them to her presence, just in case.  She froze in the doorway, a stunned smile on her face at the scene she encountered.

 

Nathan sat against the headboard with Kristin leaning back against him, a sheet thrown across both of their lower bodies.  Their arms cradled a small bundle wrapped in a soft blanket from which quiet mewling sounds could be heard.  A tiny hand waved in the air.

 

“Janet… come meet our daughter.” Nathan smiled as he pulled the sheet up around Kristin’s torso. 

 

Janet moved slowly towards the bed as she stared at the new family there.  Happiness poured from both parents as they gazed at their tiny daughter with wonder and adoration.

 

“Geez, Janet! You know better than to bust in on those two…” Bill’s words trailed off as he and Levin reached the door and heard the baby’s cry. 

 

Janet stopped at the edge of the bed and bent over, her hand gently touching the dark sticky down on the infant’s head.  “She’s beautiful!”

 

“Isn’t she just gorgeous?” Kristin observed, her happiness bubbling over in her words.

 

A clearing throat caught Nathan’s attention and, with a quick glance to make sure that Kristin was covered, he waved the men in the doorway over.

 

Bill was beyond words as he stared at the tiny life in his friend’s hands but the doctor in Levin quickly took over.

 

“How long has it been since she was born?”

 

“She came about five minutes ago.  There weren’t any problems.  She cried and pinked up just as soon as Nathan cleared her mouth.” 

 

“Why didn’t you tell me you were in labor before you left the reception?’

 

“I wasn’t in labor… at least not that I knew.  My back was sore but it’s been sore for the last four months.  I only had contractions for about half an hour and then pushed for five or six min…” Kristin closed her eyes and swallowed hard as a ripple of pain shot through her.

 

“Afterbirth?” Levin asked.

 

Kristin nodded.

 

“Okay… Mrs. Noyce, why don’t you and the Admiral take the baby into the bathroom or the nursery and get her all cleaned up while her mother and I take care of a few last minute details?  Captain, you can go or stay as you please.”

 

Nathan looked torn as Kristin carefully transferred the baby into Janet’s arms and told her where the water and supplies were.  Her face clenched again as she turned back to Nathan.  “You can go with the baby.”

 

“Do you want me to leave?”

 

“I…it’s okay if you go with the baby.”

 

Nathan nodded slightly at Janet to go ahead without him.  He carefully slid out from beneath Kristin and moved around the bed to stand by her side.  “They’ll be okay with her.  I want to see this through to the end with you.”

 

Kristin smiled wearily as another contraction gripped her.

 

*~*~*~*

 

Bill hovered by the side of the changing table as Janet carefully washed the squirming baby.  “She’s so tiny… none of our babies were that small… were they?”

 

Janet couldn’t help but smile.  “Perhaps not quite as tiny… all of our children were late and this one is three weeks early.”  They both leapt as a small cry escaped the tiny bundle they were washing.

 

Once Janet had cleansed the mucous and blood away from the baby’s hair they were pleased to see thick auburn down covering the rounded head.  “You can tell that Kristin wasn’t in labor very long.”

 

“How?” Bill asked curiously.

 

“The little princess doesn’t have a pointed head.  See how well shaped it is?”

 

Bill nodded indulgently although he’d never noticed any baby’s head to begin with.  He responded to Janet’s directive to retrieve a diaper and a tiny gown and soon Janet had the baby dressed and wrapped in a blanket.

 

“Would you like to hold her?” Janet asked, laughing at his vehement headshake.  “She won’t break.”  She didn’t give him a chance to say no again as she carefully placed the child in his arms.

 

“She doesn’t weigh anything!  Oh… what’s she doing, Janet?”  The baby had managed to find her mouth with her flailing fist.

 

“She’s hungry.  Perhaps we’d better take her back to her mama.”

 

Bill walked slowly down the hallway, every step measured as he spoke softly to the murmuring baby.  “You are such a beauty, princess.  Your daddy is so proud of you… and so is your Uncle Bill.”

 

Janet stuck her head around the doorframe and checked then motioned Bill forward.  Joshua Levin was putting the finishing touches on a freshly made bed; Nathan and Kristin were no where in sight.

 

“Is everything okay, doctor?”

 

Levin looked up and smiled.  “Everything is fine.  Dr. Westphalen actually had a very easy delivery although I don’t think she would agree with that statement at the moment.  The Captain is just helping her get cleaned up.” He inclined his head toward the bathroom where the sound of running water could be heard.  “I should probably give this little one a look over while we wait.”

 

Levin was wrapping the blanket back around the baby when Nathan came through the doorway; Kristin cradled in his arms.  She wore a fresh white nightgown and her hair had been combed and pinned back.  Nathan placed Kristin in the middle of the bed then tucked the blankets around her carefully before sitting down beside her.

 

“She’s healthy, isn’t she?” Kristin asked Joshua anxiously as he approached them, the baby in his arms.

 

“She’s perfect… ten fingers, ten toes… well developed lungs, especially to be several weeks early… and gifted with a healthy appetite as well, judging by how she’s going to town on that fist.”

 

Kristin nodded as she took the baby in her arms.  “Could you get me another blanket, Nathan?”

 

Nathan reached for the covering at the foot of the bed, stopping at Janet’s snicker. 

 

“I’ll go get one, Kristin.” Janet left the room, returning moments later with several soft baby blankets and a stack of diapers and pins.  She took the top blanket and draped it over Kristin’s shoulder while the new mother untied the bow at the front of her scooped nightgown and loosened it.  Bill and Joshua suddenly became interested in a spot somewhere outside the bedroom window but Nathan stared in fascination as Kristin freed her breast from the neckline of her gown.  He reached over and grasped a tiny wrist, pulling the fist from the baby’s suckling mouth.  She cried out instantly but quickly latched on to the nipple her mother guided into her mouth.

 

Kristin gasped as the baby began to pull on her hungrily.  “A very healthy appetite, I’d say.”

 

Charlotte’s first meal…” Nathan murmured as Janet leaned over to arrange the blanket to cover Kristin’s exposed breast even more. 

 

“Char…” Janet’s hands fell away as her face showed surprise.

 

“We’d like to name her Charlotte, if you don’t mind?  After her honorary aunt… after the most wonderful friend… the most wonderful sister that we have.” Nathan questioned with a grin on his face.

 

Janet’s hand flew to her mouth as she struggled not to cry.  “I’d be… honored.”

 

Nathan turned to Bill who’d heard the announcement and walked over to join his wife.  “I tried to get Kristin to go for Wilheminia but she refused.”

 

Janet sat on the end of the bed.  “So what did you go for, Kristin?  Not that I blame you for rejecting Wilheminia…”

 

“Her full name is Charlotte Eleanor Bridger.”

 

“Mrs. Roosevelt will be pleased.”

 

“If you’d like to write the first lady a note I’ll make sure it gets sent in the next packet.” Bill offered.

 

“Uh-oh, folks.  It looks like you are about to have company.” Joshua was leaning out the window staring toward the front of the house. 

 

Nathan turned back to Kristin, his eyebrows raised.  She shrugged her shoulders, one hand moving to pull the blanket more securely over her exposed breast.  “Who is it?”

 

“I see the bride and groom, your daughter and Lieutenant Kreig… and most of the crew of the Dolphin.”

 

“Most?” Kristin asked.  “Um… sweetheart… I don’t think…” She glanced down at the nursing baby.

 

“Why don’t I go down and run interference?  I’m sure that your crew won’t expect to come up here… they just want to know that everything is okay.” Bill squeezed Janet’s shoulder and moved to exit the room.

 

“Let the children come up, Bill.  Give my crew the news and tell them that I’ll be passing out the cigars soon.”

 

Nathan turned back to his wife at her small chuckle.  “See, I told you that you wouldn’t be drinking in the O club and passing out cigars when our baby was born.”  She told him.

 

“So you did, wife.  And you know something?  There is no other place I would have rather been than right where I was… having Dr. Levin there too would have been appreciated but otherwise…”

 

The baby turned loose of Kristin with a resounding smack and began to coo contentedly as she nuzzled her mother’s breast.  Nathan’s finger hovered above her hand.

 

“You can touch her, Nathan.  She won’t break.  I think Charlotte wants her daddy to hold her.” 

 

Nathan stationed his back against the headboard as Kristin laid the baby in his arms.  Pounding on the stairs signaled the eminent arrival of their guests so Kristin quickly readjusted her neckline and tightened the bow.  Nathan rested the baby against his chest before freeing one arm and slipping it around Kristin’s shoulders as she bent to pull away the blanket, to see her daughter.  Charlotte opened her eyes and stared at her mother and father.

 

“She has your eyes.  They are the same color blue as yours.”

 

“I thought all babies had blue eyes.”  Nathan’s forefinger stroked tiny fingers as they tried to grab hold.

 

“You won.  You got your baby girl.  At least let me think she has your eyes.” Kristin smiled bemusedly at her husband.

 

“Just as long as everything else looks like her mama.” Nathan planted a light kiss on Kristin’s nose.

 

“Mummy?” The sound of Cynthia’s voice pulled them apart.  A huge grin broke across Cynthia’s face as she and the others moved to the bed to admire the gurgling baby.

 

*~*~*~*

 

“You’ll call if you need anything?  Just tell Nathan to lean out the window and yell.”  Janet asked one last time.

 

“If things get too bad you will probably hear Charlotte yelling.  We’ll call, Janet.”  Kristin answered.  A look of understanding passed between the two women before Janet left the doorway, following her husband home.

 

“Alone at last!” Nathan announced dramatically as the sound of the front door closing behind their next door neighbors reached them.

 

“It’s been quite a day, hasn’t it?”

 

“You can say that again.  Do you want for me to take Charlotte for a while?”

 

Kristin shook her head and patted the bed beside her.  “I’m going to see if she wants to eat again, try the other side.”

 

Nathan closed the door and turned off the lights, leaving only the dim glow of the lamp on his bedside table to provide illumination.  He dropped his pants and kicked them into the corner before sitting down on the side of the bed.

 

Kristin had freed her chest and the baby was suckling contentedly by the time Nathan joined them.

 

“I think that you’ve never looked lovelier than you do right this minute.” He whispered to her.

 

Kristin blushed slightly.  “Come get into bed.  I want to feel your arms around me.”

 

“Is it okay?  I can sleep in the guestroom…”

 

Kristin’s face fell.  “If you want to…”

 

“Of course I don’t want to but I don’t want to do anything to hurt you.”

 

“Then come to bed.  Just because we can’t make love doesn’t mean that I don’t want you to hold me.”

 

Nathan’s face gleamed as he pulled the covers back and climbed into the bed, pulling Kristin and Charlotte into a careful embrace.  “Janet warned me… you might not want me to touch you… for a while.”

 

“That happens sometimes,” Kristin agreed.  “But I don’t really think that it’s going to happen with us.  I love being close to you.  I think Charlotte likes it as well.”

 

Charlotte had stopped suckling and lay quietly, her blue eyes staring intensely at her father.  Nathan bent close to brush his lips across her tiny cheek.  “Welcome to the world, my angel.”  The baby responded to her father’s voice by flailing a tiny arm at him, her small fist striking him in the forehead several times. 

 

Nathan’s eyes met Kristin’s, a stunned look in their blue depths.  “Do you think… is she paying me back?’

 

Kristin began to giggle.  “Oh, my darling husband… I love you.”

 

They fell silent as they both watched and marveled at the tiny miracle their love had created.  Nathan felt Kristin’s head fall to his chest and he brushed his lips across the top.  “Thank you, my love… Kristin?”

 

When she didn’t respond he lifted her face and found that she had fallen asleep.

 

Nathan climbed out of bed and detached the now sleeping baby from Kristin’s arms.  He carried her over to the cradle that Janet had prepared before leaving.

 

“You sleep now, baby girl.  Daddy’s right here watching over you.” He whispered to her as his lips brushed across the red curls.  Charlotte squirmed for just a moment when he laid her in the bed but quickly settled down to rest, as exhausted as her mother at the day’s events.  Nathan pulled a blanket over her then made his way back to the bed where he climbed in, wrapped Kristin in his arms, and promptly joined his wife and daughter in sleep.

 

*~*~*~*

 

Something indefinable pulled Kristin slowly from slumber, a mother’s instinct that her child was awake perhaps.  Her eyes popped open, searching for her baby.  Her gaze fell on the cradle but was drawn away by movement in the corner.

 

Nathan sat in the rocking chair; Charlotte cradled softly in his arms as he spoke quietly to her.  “…And then the beautiful princess lived happily ever after…”

 

Charlotte abruptly hiccuped. 

 

Kristin pulled herself up on one elbow, suppressing a small moan as her muscles protested.  “My grandmother used to tell me that having the hiccups meant you were growing.”

 

Nathan grinned and stood.  “We were just getting to know each other better while we waited for you to wake up.  I don’t want her to be growing just yet.  She’s perfect just the way she is.”

 

“You’re just worried about boys.”

 

“Nope… I told you before, she’s never dating.  I’m calling the convent tomorrow.  I do think she might be hungry again, though.  She keeps trying to put her entire fist in her mouth.”

 

Kristin once again loosened her nightgown, letting the top fall completely off her shoulders to her waist.  Nathan’s eyes sparked as he bent to place Charlotte in her arms.  In a move that completely surprised Kristin, Nathan moved his hand to cup her breast, holding it in place as she moved the baby to her nipple. 

 

“She’s a good eater.  Look at the way she goes after…” Nathan broke off his sentence and blushed.

 

“Similar to the way her father does.  Wait until my milk comes in.” Kristin’s eyes twinkled.

 

“This is Charlotte’s second meal of the night.  Would her mother like anything to eat?”

 

“I’ll go get something after she’s done.”

 

“You’ll… you’ll go?  I’ll go get whatever you want.  You aren’t stepping foot out of this bed for at least a week.”

 

“Nathan, you don’t have to wait on me.” Kristin protested but Nathan could tell that his protectiveness pleased her. 

 

“Just try me lady.  Bill is going to arrange some leave for me so that I can stay home with you for a few days at least.  So one foot out of that bed and…”

 

“And what?”

 

“I’ll tie you down.”

 

A wicked smile crossed Kristin’s face.  “That sounds interesting.  Unfortunately we can’t… not for a while… but save that thought.”

 

Nathan almost choked at Kristin’s response to his playful suggestion.  He had definitely unleashed a monster in his bedroom and he couldn’t be happier but the thought of weeks without loving her was already driving him crazy.  “Food… we were talking about food.  What would you like to eat?”

 

“Surprise me.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

The Wednesday afternoon football game was in full force when Janet appeared at the sideline, calling a halt to the play.

 

“Honey, we’re just about to score.  You’ll break our momentum!” Bill griped.

 

“Says you… Sir.” Ben interjected.

 

“We are about to have company and I will not have that ball or one of you burly guys accidentally hitting the baby.”

 

“Nathan is going to let them leave the house?” Bill asked incredulously.  Except for very short visits by Janet and Cynthia, plus a follow up check-up by Joshua Levin, no one had seen Nathan or Kristin since the night of the baby’s birth.

 

“He’s just being cautious.  They needed time to bond as a family.  So shut up and play nice!”

 

“I always play nice… now don’t I?” Bill whispered as he stepped behind Janet, his hand playing over the softness of her rear.

 

“Behave yourself, William Noyce!” Janet hissed at him.

 

“Only if you promise we can leave the window open tonight and make a little noise.  I think it’s time that I get to torment Nathan a little.”

 

A cheer went up from the teams, consisting mainly of crewmen from the Dolphin plus various hospital personnel, when Cynthia appeared on the back steps of the Bridger house, a large basket in her arms.  Nathan followed close behind with Kristin cradled in his arms.

 

Janet guided Nathan to a comfortable chair and ottoman on the porch.  “I thought you might enjoy the fresh air.”

 

Kristin nodded gratefully.  “I am going a little stir crazy locked in the bedroom… especially when we can’t do anything.”

 

“MOM!”

 

Nathan and Kristin grinned at each other at Cynthia’s shocked explanation.  “So where’s my grandson?  I’ve missed him the last few days.”

 

“He’s sleeping in the living room.  I should go check on him.”

 

Nathan took the basket from her arms and set it on the floor in the sheltered space between his chair and Kristin’s.

 

“Cap! Come play with us!” Lucas’ voice called.

 

Nathan ruffled the boy’s hair as he draped his lanky body over the railing.  “Not today, Lucas.  You’re going to have to whip the Admiral’s butt without me.”

 

“Like we stand a chance of doing that without David.  Hey… she’s… small… and wrinkled…” Lucas stared at the baby as Kristin lifted her out of the basket.  “And really really beautiful.” He finished in response to Nathan’s pointed stare.

 

“She’ll fill out, Lucas.  Give her a few more days.” Kristin laughed.

 

Lucas nodded, his face still skeptical, then trotted back to the game.

 

“Is this too much for you?  Do you want to go home?  Is it too cool for Charlotte?”

 

“Honey, I’m fine, Charlotte is fine.  Why don’t you go find me something to drink?”

 

“Driving you crazy, huh?” Janet leaned and whispered as Nathan disappeared into the house.

 

Kristin laughed again.  “No… not really.  He’s just so… different from what I am used to.  He wants to be involved in every aspect of Charlotte’s care.  When Cynthia was a baby Alex would come into the nursery at bedtime and pat her on the head.  When she was hungry the nanny came and tapped on the door and I got up and went to the nursery to feed her.  I have yet to wake up and find Charlotte in her cradle.  Nathan is always holding her, comforting her, waiting until I wake up.  The few times that she refused to be pacified… he brings her to the bed and holds both of us while she eats.  I don’t really even have to wake up.”

 

“But… the true test… does he change diapers?”

 

“Constantly… even the really bad ones.  He’s even been doing the laundry, including those diapers.”

 

Janet rolled her eyes.  “It must be love.  Bill never changed a dirty diaper in his life… at least not yet.  Maybe with the grandchildren…”

 

“He can practice on Charlotte.”

 

“The hell he can.  Bill would probably drop her.” Nathan protested vehemently as he handed Kristin a glass of juice.  “See, he can’t even hang on to the football!”

 

A roar went up from Ben’s players as the football slipped from Bill’s hands into Lucas’.  The boy was slippery as an eel and wriggled through the advancing line to score.  Once the extra point had been score both teams trooped over to the porch for halftime refreshments.  They lounged around on the stairs and the floor drinking lemonade and discussing football plays while also offering congratulations to the new parents.  Charlotte simply lay in her mother’s arms and stared at them one by one.

 

“She’s beautiful, Dr. Bridger, absolutely beautiful.”

 

“Thank you, Katie.  Would you like to hold… Kristin was startled when Nathan leaned over and took the baby from her arms. 

 

“I think Charlotte wants her daddy right now.”  He turned back to his conversation with Bill.

 

“I think… I’ll go help Mrs. Noyce with dinner until it’s time to play again.” Kristin noticed Katie’s nervousness and watched with interest as she retreated toward the house.  Just as Katie reached the door Cynthia stepped out, a sleepy Teddy in her arms.  The two women eyed each other warily for a moment before Ben approached, his arms held out to Teddy.  A look passed between the three adults.

 

Kristin reached a hand out and touched Nathan’s back to get his attention.  “What do you make of that?” She asked when he turned.  Nathan didn’t respond.

 

Kristin was about to question Nathan further when Ben turned and headed toward them with Teddy.

 

“Gramma! Teddy propelled his body forward, Ben barely catching him before he fell into Kristin’s lap.  He lowered the boy gently to the chair and Kristin pulled him forward into her embrace.

 

“I’ve missed you the last few days, my little man.”

 

“Gramma… tummy?”  The little boy gently patted Kristin’s greatly reduced stomach.

 

“You don’t miss anything, do you?  Come sit here by grandma and see what Grandpa is holding.”

 

Nathan lowered his arms and pulled the blanket aside so that Teddy could see clearly.  The boy stared at the baby with a puzzled look on his face.  “Baby… baby boy.” He announced finally.

 

Kristin glared at Nathan as he hooted with laughter.  “Baby girl, Teddy.  This is your Aunt Charlotte.

 

Teddy continued to stare, one eyebrow raised as he took stock of the cooing bundle in his grandpa’s arms.  “Cha… chawie.”

 

“Her name is Charlotte, Teddy.” Kristin spoke the name very slowly again. “Charlotte.  Can you say that?”

 

“Chawie.” Teddy said again, this time more clearly.

 

“Charlie… I like that.  What do you think princess?  You like the name Charlie?”

 

Charlotte stared up at her father… and smiled.

 

“I think that’s a yes.”

 

“Nathan Bridger, you are not calling my daughter Charlie.  She’s a girl, she needs a girls’ name.”

 

“Baby boy… Chawie!” Teddy announced even more emphatically.

 

Nathan gestured at the boy.  “You are the one who convinced him that we were having a boy.  You get to convince him now.  While you are doing that, Charlie and I are going inside to change her diaper.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Sir, can I please talk to you for a moment?” Nathan’s jaw flinched when he heard Ben’s voice behind him.

 

“This isn’t a good time.”

 

A nervous laugh escaped Ben’s throat.  “I know.  Diaper changes can be adventures in and of themselves.  But I need to speak with you privately.”

 

“Ben…” Nathan closed his eyes and cursed beneath his breath, then out loud as he jabbed his thumb with the diaper pin.  “Talk.”

 

“Thank you, sir.  I wanted to speak to you about what you saw the day of the wedding… on the balcony… Katie Hitchcock and I…”

 

“I am fully aware of what I saw, Ben.  I don’t need you to remind me.”

 

“I’m sorry, sir.  I don’t intend to offer any excuse but I want you to understand.  Things haven’t been very good with Cynthia and I lately.  Hell, things have never been good between Cynthia and I.  Katie is a beautiful woman and I… well, I let my attraction to her get out of hand but that’s over.  I told Cynthia what happened and that it will never happen again.  I am totally committed to her and to Teddy.”

 

Nathan carefully finished pinning the diaper.  “Put the wet one in the pail, will you?”  He picked the baby up and turned to face Ben before he spoke.  “I admire that you were honest with Cynthia.  I admire your commitment to my daughter, because she is mine now, and to my grandson.  But think about your words, son… I am committed… what about love?  I know why you married Cynthia, I know how you feel about Teddy… but the two of you have to face some cold hard truths.  If you don’t love each other then walk away before both of you get hurt.”

 

Nathan softened slightly at the stricken look on Ben’s face.  “You can always come talk to me, Ben.  I know what it’s like to be attracted to one woman while you are married to another… but is the price you would pay worth it?  Things might not be so great between you and Cyn right now but… if Cynthia is anything like her mother then she’s worth fighting for.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Why didn’t you answer me earlier?”

 

Nathan made sure the door to the parlor was securely closed before moving around the sofa to sit by Kristin.  His eyes fell to the baby at her bared breast.

 

Charlotte is such a long name for a such a little girl.  Do you really hate it when I call her Charlie?”

 

Kristin’s face softened.  “No… I don’t mind.  Charlie is growing on me.  Besides, I couldn’t convince Teddy to change his mind, either.”

 

Nathan wrapped his arm around Kristin’s shoulders and pulled her back against his chest, his lips brushing her hair.  “I love you.”

 

“I love you too… but changing the subject isn’t going to distract me.  Why didn’t you answer my question earlier?  I know that you saw the children… felt the tension in the air… what aren’t you telling me?”

 

Nathan’s forehead fell forward to the back of her hair.  “It wasn’t a case of not telling you… we’ve just been busy the last few days.”

 

“You’ve been short with Ben… you were rude to Katie tonight… what happened?”

 

“I went to find Ben at the reception, to talk to him like we discussed.  I found him on the balcony… with Katie.”

 

“And?” Kristin prompted.

 

“What do we always end up doing on that balcony?”

 

“Oh God!  Cynthia saw them as well?”

 

Nathan shook his head.  “I didn’t see her outside but… I talked with Ben for a few minutes earlier.  He told me that he confessed the kiss to Cynthia.”

 

“She suspected that there was an attraction between Ben and Katie.  She just doesn’t know what she wants to do about it.  What if she’s waited too late?”

 

“Hold on, honey.  A kiss doesn’t mean that Ben is ready to throw everything away and run off with Katie.  I did have to talk to him.  I just needed time to calm down and then Charlie was born…”

 

“How do you sit back and let your children live their lives without interfering?  I just want to protect her.”

 

“Of course you do.  Mothers protect their children.  It doesn’t matter if they are Charlie’s age or Cynthia’s age.  What’s wrong?” Nathan asked, alarm in his voice as he felt Kristin flinch in his arms.

 

“My milk just came in.”  Nathan looked over Kristin’s shoulder and down her chest to see a dark circle spreading over her covered breast.

 

*~*~*~*

 

Nathan stood in the dark hallway, his shoulder propped against the door jam, watching his wife in silence.  Kristin was seated at her vanity preparing for bed.  She wore a white cotton sleeveless nightgown, her white robe with lavender ribbon over it.  One hand was stretched above her head, the wide sleeve falling back to reveal the tender flesh of her arm as she brushed her long hair.

 

The brush stroked through silky strands of auburn falling nearly to her waist, over and over as she completed her nightly ritual.  Suddenly Nathan couldn’t stay still; he was overcome with the desire to touch the shimmering sheet of red.  He moved into the room to stand behind her.

 

“I didn’t hear you come in.  You must have had a rough day.” Kristin’s reflection smiled at him in the mirror.

 

“I’ve definitely had better days, that’s for sure.  But now I’m home with you and Charlie.”  Nathan took the brush from her outstretched hand and began to work it through her hair carefully.

 

“Did you look in on her?” Kristin was practically purring in contentment at Nathan’s ministrations.

 

“She’s sleeping.”

 

“She was a bit fussy tonight… missing her daddy I suspect.  I just got her down a little while ago.”

 

“Her daddy missed her too… and he missed her mommy.”

 

“Do you want something to eat?  I could fix something.”

 

Nathan shook his head as he worked through the ends of her hair.  “I grabbed a sandwich earlier.  All I want to do now is crawl into bed and hold you tight all night long.”

 

Kristin caught the tone of his voice though he tried to hide it and stared intently at his face in her mirror.

 

“When?” She finally whispered.

 

“Tomorrow… by noon at the latest.” Nathan’s voice cracked as he answered her.

 

Hot tears rushed into her eyes but she quickly willed them back, silently reminding herself that she would never make Nathan feel bad for doing his duty.  Nathan saw the tears and bent low to drag his lips over the top of her head.  Her hand came up to hold the back of his neck as he stayed there, blinking back his own tears.

 

Finally he straightened and once again began to smooth her hair.

 

“Have I ever told you how much I love it when you brush my hair?”

 

The brush clattered to the floor as his arms stretched around her body to cup her milk heavy breasts.  She turned her head to meet his lips as they came toward her, seeking solace in her kiss.

 

All too soon the kiss changed, deepening as their ardor rose.  One of Nathan’s hands slid down to her waist as he twisted and slid an arm between her knees.  Kristin twined her arms around his neck as he lifted her easily and carried her to the bed.  They fell to the sheets together, a tinge of desperation haunting their embrace.

 

“Hold me, darling.  Don’t ever let go.” Kristin begged as her hands attacked the buttons of his uniform.

 

“Never.” Nathan shrugged out of the shirt and threw it to the floor then pulled Kristin tightly to him.  “Kris, honey… don’t…” Nathan groaned as Kristin slipped a hand between their bodies to caress his rapidly growing erection, sliding the zipper of his trousers down and slipping her fingers inside.  “Levin said six weeks…”

 

“For me, but that doesn’t mean you…”

 

A piercing cry cut off her words.

 

Kristin’s head fell to Nathan’s chest.  “As usual, your daughter has impeccable timing.”

 

“How come she’s my daughter when she interrupts something?  I’ll go get her.”  Nathan climbed off the bed then quickly fell face first onto the floor as his trousers slid to the ground and wrapped around his feet.

 

Kristin giggled as Nathan’s head rose above the mattress to stare at her while he disentangled his legs.  “I didn’t realize you managed to get them undone.  Although if I broke a leg I probably wouldn’t have to go…”

 

A bittersweet smile crossed Kristin’s features as Nathan stood, tossed his pants across the room and headed toward the sounds of crying.

 

He returned with a hungry Charlie in his arms to find Kristin in the rocking chair, her nightgown down around her waist, her robe thrown across the back of the chair.  His eyes darkened with desire as he passed their daughter into her arms and knelt before her.  His fingers stroked the full swell of her breast then held it steady as the hungry baby latched on and began to suckle.

 

His fingers slid to the opposite breast to caress its fullness.  “I love watching the two of you together, watching her nurse.  I envy her.”

 

“It won’t be… oh… how long will you be gone?”

 

“Not long, I hope… but any time spent away from you and the princess here is too long.  I should be back in a month or so.  We are going out on a training mission… to test some new equipment the orders say.  We won’t be in enemy territory.”

 

The forced smile that crossed her face tugged at Nathan’s heart and he stretched his head up to capture her lips with his.  Kristin wrapped her free arm around his neck and pulled him closer until his bare chest was pressed against her naked breast.  His hands fell to her waist, one slipping lower to splay across her bottom while the other began to trail up and down her spine bringing her closer still.

 

A soft moan filled the air, neither one of them aware who made it, as the kiss took on an almost desperate quality, tongues tangling frantically.

 

A soft kick to Nathan’s chest reminded both of them of the small child wedged halfway between them.  He pulled back reluctantly.

 

“I’m sorry, princess, but your mama is much too tempting.”  Nathan’s hand trailed slowly down Kristin’s body as he regretfully pulled away then stood.  “I think I’ll just go over here before we end up squishing our baby.”

 

Kristin nodded, frustration clearly written on her features as Nathan moved to the bed and flopped down on top of it, his feet lying on the pillows.  He turned to his side and propped up on an elbow, watching intently as Kristin moved the baby from one breast to the other.  A tuneless lullaby fell from her lips as she rocked leisurely to and fro.

 

Charlie soon finished and after rewarding her mother with a large burp, fell quickly asleep.

 

“You want me…?” Nathan whispered but Kristin shook her head as she stood.

 

“Don’t move.  I’ll be right back.” Kristin’s loosened nightgown fell low on her waist.  She gave her hips a small shake as she tugged and the gown slid to the floor with a quiet whisper.

 

Nathan groaned as her body was revealed to him, her only covering a tiny pair of panties. He fell to his back as she left the room, his hand moving down to absently stroke his rampant erection.  He wasn’t aware that Kristin had returned until he felt her weight on the bed beside him.  He opened his eyes to find her sitting beside his head and smiled up at her.

 

“I’m happy to report that your daughter is full, dry and asleep and should stay that way for several hours.”

 

Nathan tried to sit but Kristin laid a hand on his chest and shook her head.  “Stay there.”  Delicate fingers reached down to unfasten his shorts, his erection springing free to point toward the ceiling.  Her fist closed around it.

 

“Kristin, we can’t!”  He protested half-heartedly.

 

She shushed him as she stretched out down his body, both hands closing around his arousal as she lay beside him.  “Just enjoy, sweetheart.”

 

Nathan’s head fell back, eyes closed, as pleasurable sensations began to spiral out from his groin.  Kristin’s hands worked his member expertly, alternately pulling and pumping as his desire built.

 

A small smile crossed his face when he felt Kristin’s lips brush lightly over the tip but his breath flew from his body when he felt her warmth engulf his swollen head.  His hips jerked involuntarily toward her and she took even more of him into her wet mouth.  He tried to pull back but Kristin refused to release him.

 

Nathan stared down his body to the sight of his wife caressing him with her hands and for the first time, her mouth.  “Kristin… you don’t have to.”

 

She released him and looked up to meet his gaze.  “I know I don’t have to… but I want to try.  Don’t you like it?”

 

“Oh God, of course.  The feel of your mouth is wonderful but you’ve never…” His words trailed off as Kristin flicked her tongue across the sensitive opening in the tip of his rock hard erection.

 

Nathan fought to control himself and found a distraction in the sway of Kristin’s hips lying just in front of his face.  He reached a hand out to caress her waist.  “Honey… could I?”

 

Uhmmm.” She answered as she filled her mouth with him once more, the vibration of her sound sending shock waves through Nathan’s body.  Nathan grasped the sides of her panties and yanked them down her legs as far as he could.  A few gentle kicks from Kristin sent them sailing to the floor.

 

Nathan pulled her hips toward him, lifting her leg up and over his shoulders as he moved forward and inhaled deeply.  The scent of her arousal washed over him.  He carefully parted her glistening folds and flicked his tongue out to taste her.  Soon that wasn’t enough and he moved in closer, latching on to her swollen sex and sucking it forcefully into his mouth.

 

Kristin’s moan sent a new tingling rolling through his nerves and he realized that he couldn’t hold out much longer.  He pulled even harder at the bud of her desire, laving it with his tongue as one finger carefully ran up and down her wet slit.  He pressed down slightly and his finger slid into her dripping sheath, her muscles clamping down around the long digit.  Nathan wiggled experimentally, knowing by the jerk of Kristin’s body when he hit that special spot deep inside her. 

 

Five weeks of abstinence had left them both anxious and Kristin’s body reacted almost immediately to Nathan’s presence, her juices flowing over his finger and out to coat his hand.  She released him from her mouth and buried her face in his hip to smother her scream as she came in a tidal wave of sensation.

 

Nathan pulled his finger away to lap her juices from it as Kristin struggled to control her breathing.  He continued to kiss and caress her hips and thighs as she finally recovered and took him back into her mouth with renewed vigor. 

 

Her teeth nipped ever so lightly at his hard flesh while her hands massaged his full sacs.  Nathan felt a telltale tingle in his spine and fell to his back, eyes closed as wave after wave of pleasure washed over him.  His hand moved to Kristin’s hair, twining his fingers through the auburn silk as he gave it a gentle tug, letting her know that his time was near.

 

Her mouth left him and he felt her shift, both hands wrapping around his length to pump him as the first drops of precum left his body.  “Kris… I’m going to… Oh God… NO!”

 

Nathan’s eyes flew open, protest on his lips as he felt the warmth of her tight channel close around him.  Kristin had straddled him and impaled her self on his body, taking him into her willing depths until there was nothing left to take.

 

He shook his head in protest, even as his hips surged upward, heavy ropes of semen shooting out into her core as he emptied himself.

 

Kristin slumped to Nathan’s chest, his arms wrapping around her instinctively as the aftershocks of his orgasm continued to wash over him.  Finally he spoke.

 

“Kristin… honey… why did you do that?  Levin said we should wait…”

 

“Six weeks.  Well you won’t be here when the six weeks are up and I wanted you now.  I’m a doctor, Nathan, and I know my own body.  I had an easy delivery.  I was ready… I am ready.” She flexed her hips against him, his semi-erect member leaping within her.  “Love me, Nathan.  Give me something to keep me warm for the next month.”

 

Nathan rolled his wife to her back and bent to feast at her breasts, feeding with relish on the milk that gushed into his mouth, as his hips rocked within her.

 

*~*~*~*

 

A quiet knock on the door of the captain’s quarters pulled Nathan and Kristin’s lips apart although their bodies remained locked together in a fervent embrace.

 

“What is it?” He called.

 

“Chief Crocker asked me to tell you that we are ready to leave, Sir.” Young Wolenczak’s voice came through the locked door.

 

Nathan sighed.  “Tell the Chief I will be topside in just a few minutes.”  He turned back to his wife.  “I don’t want to leave you, darling.  Bill has promised that this will be the very last time.”

 

“We knew this from the beginning.  I will miss you and so will Charlie but I want you to do your job knowing we will be waiting when you get home.  You are my life, Nathan Bridger.  The love I feel for you is indescribable.”

 

“I feel the same way, Kristin Bridger.  Knowing that you are here waiting for me will always bring me home, I promise. I love you.” 

 

They embraced once more, sharing a tender kiss, then together they moved to the bunk to gather up their sleeping daughter.

 

“I’ve had some lovely dreams about you in this bunk.  Mostly about that morning when you woke up just as I came out of the head.”

 

Kristin smiled at the memory.  “I wanted you so desperately and when I saw you standing there… I thought I was dreaming.”

 

“I am so glad you did.  That was when I really believed that we had a shot… that I could help you get over the hell you lived through.  That was the first time that you came to me.”

 

“Then I’m glad it was here.  When ever you climb in that bunk you think about me.” Kristin pulled playfully at his uniform buttons.

 

“Every single time… you in that skimpy slip…” Nathan’s hand slipped from her waist to cup her rear.

 

“And now you have another woman in your bed.”

 

Laughter burst from Nathan’s lips as he looked down and saw his daughter staring up at him.  He scooped her into his arms.  “You better be good for your mommy while I’m gone.  No keeping her up all night and go easy on the diapers, okay?”  Blue eyes so like his own surveyed him curiously.

 

Nathan stared at Kristin; his free hand rising to brush a stray lock of hair away from her cheek and back into the bun it had escaped from.  “Four weeks… it’s only four weeks.”

 

She nodded.  “You’ll be home before you know it.”

 

They walked slowly down the corridor; Nathan’s crew respectfully absent until they reached the hatchway.  Jonathan Ford’s face peered down from above.  When Kristin reached the top of the ladder he carefully helped her onto the deck then bent back to take the baby from Nathan so he could finish his climb.  Nathan walked his family down the gangplank to the dock where Bill and Janet stood waiting along with Ben and Cynthia.

 

Nathan didn’t have to say a word to Bill and Janet, their eyes conveying understanding as they all glanced at Kristin and Charlie.  He shook Bill’s hand and hugged Janet before moving to the younger couple.

 

“Look after my grandson, okay?” He said then moved to embrace Cynthia.  “And look after yourself too.” He whispered in her ear.

 

“I will… and thank you.”

 

Nathan chucked her chin then moved on to his most important good-byes.  He took Charlie from her mother’s arms and placed her on his shoulder, his hands spread across her head and back in a gentle embrace.  He brushed his lips across her silky curls then handed her to her big sister.

 

“Now you…” he smiled as he pulled Kristin into his embrace.  “Take care of yourself.  Remember that you had a baby just five weeks ago.”

 

Kristin winked.  “I was there.  I am not likely to forget.  You take care of yourself.”

 

“Promise.” Nathan whispered as he bent his head to hers, locking them in an embrace much too passionate for public viewing.

 

The kiss left them breathless as they broke apart, their hands trailing deliberately down each other’s arms as they parted.  Nathan retreated slowly up the gangplank then moved to the sub’s railing just across from Kristin.  They didn’t speak verbally but their eyes stayed locked as the submersible slid gracefully away from its mooring and into open water.

 

When the sub was no longer visible Kristin turned to retrieve her younger child.  “Come on, Charlie.  Let’s go home.”  She turned to walk toward the car, Bill and Janet falling in on either side of her.

 

“I’ll drop you off at the house before I go back to the office.” Ben told Cynthia as they followed behind.

 

“Ben… I need to tell you something.  Ginny is coming over this afternoon…”

 

“To bring Teddy home…”

 

“To pick me up and take me to mother’s house.  I think that we need to spend some time apart… I’m not saying I want a divorce.  I just need to have some time to decide what I want to do… maybe you need some time as well.  With Nathan gone this is the perfect opportunity.  Mother will need some help so Teddy and I are going to stay with her for a while.”

 

“I really wish you wouldn’t.  I’ll… I’ll miss you.  But I guess I understand why you feel you have to do this.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Janet?  It’s Kristin!” The closing of the front door reverberated through the house as Kristin entered the house.

 

“We’re up here.” The sound of Janet’s voice directed Kristin toward the stairs and she quickly climbed to the top, finding Janet and Charlie in the makeshift nursery Janet had installed in her spare room.

 

“Please tell me she’s hungry.” Kristin gave the room a quick glance to make sure they were alone before her fingers began to pull at the buttons of her blouse.

 

“I knew that you’d be in a bad fix so I didn’t give her a bottle.  I’ve been putting her off for half an hour so she’s bound to be starving.”

 

“Oh, bless you.  Admiral Lansdowne got called out for a meeting and I had to wait until his replacement could get free to cover the emergency room.  Come on, honey, eat like a good girl… that’s it.” Kristin sighed as Charlie’s hungry pull began to relieve some of the pressure in her breast.

 

“Are you sure that you aren’t taking on too much?  I know that you are needed at the hospital but Charlie is only eight weeks old.  You were gone almost six hours.  No wonder you are so uncomfortable.”

 

“It wasn’t too bad, not until the last half hour at least.  How was Charlie today?”

 

“She’s been an angel, just as she always is.  She had a nice nap and we went for a long walk around the neighborhood.  I really enjoy spending time with her, having a little one around the house again.  Do you want to stay for dinner?  I don’t think you are eating properly.  You’re smaller now than you were when you got pregnant.  Kristin?”  Janet turned to find that her friend was nodding in the chair.  She jerked back to attention at the sound of her name.

 

“I’m sorry, Janet.  I… I didn’t get much sleep last night.  Charlie woke up about two and I couldn’t get her back to sleep.”

 

“You’ve been awake since two?  I know it was after ten when you went to sleep.”

 

“It’s hard to sleep without Nathan in the bed beside me.”

 

Janet laughed.  “Yes, I know exactly how much ‘sleep’ you get when Nathan is in the bed beside you.” She said wryly and nodded toward the bed.  “Go lay down.  When Charlie gets through eating I’ll come and get her while you take a nap.  She can help me finish dinner.”

 

Kristin noticed the look that passed across Janet’s face.  “Are you all right?  You don’t feel good, do you?  I’ve noticed you looking green the past few days.  I hope you haven’t contracted that nasty virus going around.  Maybe I could cook dinner for everyone tonight.”

 

“I don’t have any virus… I’m just a little tired.  Bill is going to barbecue so all I have to do is prepare a salad and desert.  I guess that I miss having Ginny around as well… she comes by almost everyday but it just isn’t the same as having her here all the time.”

 

Kristin climbed into the bed.  “I’ve got an idea.  You go take a nap too and we get Bill to watch Charlie.”

 

“He’d be very happy to watch her, until the first diaper had to be changed.  Speak of the devil…” Janet giggled as her husband bellowed her name from the first floor.  “I’ll come back up in a few minutes to check on the two of you.”

 

When Janet returned ten minutes later both mother and daughter were fast asleep.

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Hi, mom.  What’s for dinner?” Janet swatted her daughter’s hand as Ginny dived into the cookie platter.  “What!  It’s for Teddy!”

 

“Uhm… and where is that young man?”

 

“He’s outside with daddy.”

 

Janet laughed.  “So what have you girls been up to?”

 

“We were decorating the hall for a USO show.  I was dropping Cyn off at her mom’s so I thought I’d drop by and see you, since I was in the neighborhood.”

 

“I’ve missed you too, honey.  Your mom is upstairs fast asleep, Cyn.  Your baby sister kept her up most of the night and she worked six hours at the hospital today.”

 

Cynthia glanced upward with a worried look on her face.  “I hope she isn’t doing too much.  I had my hands full with Teddy in the beginning without having to worry about a job too.  Keeping up with the diaper washing alone was exhausting.”

 

“And Charlie definitely excels in the diaper department.  I’ve offered to help but Kristin won’t let me.  She says that keeping the baby for her while she works is more than enough.”

 

“And I’ve offered as well.  Mother helped me so much with Teddy… but she won’t let me get up at night with the baby.  She keeps Charlie in the cradle right by her bed so I seldom hear her cry.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

Smoke filled every nook and cranny of the confined space of the submarine.  Alarms and sirens clogged the air with their almost unbearable shrieking.  Little movement was discernable through the fog; most of the crew lay unconscious on the floor.  One body moved slightly, an undamaged arm pulling the rest towards the radio station.  A hand reached up to grip the microphone and pull it forward.  Static was the only sound that could be heard.  He fell back to the floor a single word on his lips.

 

“Kristin.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

 

The glass in Ginny’s hand hit the floor but the sound of shattering glass wasn’t audible over the ear-wrenching scream that suddenly echoed through the house.

 

“Charlie?” Cynthia mouthed.

 

“No, Kristin!” Janet took off toward the stairs at a run, the girls close behind.

 

Kristin sat in the middle of the bed, thrashing against the blanket Janet had thrown over her, sable eyes dark with fear and confusion.  She screamed her husband’s name over and over.

 

Janet tried to grab her shoulders but Kristin recoiled from her touch.  She fought her way to the edge of the bed, lurching forward and falling as her foot entangled in the sheet.  Ginny and Cynni reached the door just as Kristin freed herself and began to crawl toward it, still screaming Nathan’s name.

 

“Mother.” Cynthia tried to reach the hysterical woman, keeping her voice low and calm but Kristin pulled away from her daughter as well.  Janet took the opportunity to move in behind Kristin, falling to her knees and wrapping her in her arms as she yelled her name.

 

Kristin turned to look at Janet, the wildness fading from her eyes as she realized where she was.

 

“Nathan…” she murmured once then fainted dead away.

 

*~*~*~*

 

A tender smile lit Janet’s face as she stared at her husband stretched out in his favorite chair, Charlie asleep on one shoulder, Teddy on the other.  She whispered his name as she gently touched his hand.

 

Bill’s eyes flew open.  “How is she?”

 

“Dr. Levin had to sedate her.  She keeps insisting that something is wrong with Nathan.  Even the sedative hasn’t relaxed her completely.  Cynthia is sitting with her.  Bill… could she be right?  Could something have happened to the Dolphin?”

 

Bill shook his head.  “They are a thousand miles from a combat zone.  None of the equipment we are testing could have damaged or disabled the ship.  We left all the normal systems in as backup.  It isn’t impossible but it’s damned unlikely.”

 

“Can you… do anything?  Check in any way?”

 

“The Dolphin is due back in port in the next six to ten days.  I’ve already called command and asked that all ships between here and where they should be keep an eye out… radio back at any contact.  They think I’m crazy for making a request like that based on a woman’s hunch but…”

 

“But what?”

 

“But… You had a hunch that this baby was being born and she was.  You had a hunch that Nathan and Kristin were going to end up together when they were both still married to other people and you were right.  I’ve learned to trust your hunches so I’m willing to give Kristin the benefit of the doubt as well.”

 

“I never told you that I thought that about Nathan and Kristin.  I never said a word to anyone!  How did you know?”

 

“That night we saw them on the balcony, the night Nathan told her that he was falling in love with her and they kissed, I knew then.  After they left you looked at me… I saw it in that look.  You didn’t want me to say anything to Nathan about what we’d seen because you knew that eventually the two of them would end up together.”

 

“I didn’t know… but at the same time I knew that it would be very difficult for them not to be together eventually.  The love was too strong.  He’s got to be all right, Bill.  I don’t know if Kristin can cope if something happens to Nathan.”

 

“She’ll cope if she has to, but I pray that she won’t.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

The sound of coughing greeted his ears as consciousness slowly returned.  He tried to raise himself upright but agonizing pain shot through his body and he sank back down to the floor.

 

‘I want to go home.’

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Kristin! Where are you going?” Janet heard the creak of the stairs and whirled to see Kristin coming down then, one arm clutching her baby while the other kept a death grip on the banister.

 

“I’m going home.  I need to go home.”

 

Janet yelled for Bill as she moved up the steps to hold Kristin upright, the tranquilizer obviously still very much present in her friend’s system.  “Stay with us.  There is no need for you to go home.”

 

“Yes… I need to be there… I have to feel close to him, Janet.  I need to be in our home… sleep in our bed.  Oh God, Janet!  What will I do?”

 

Bill reached the stairs just in time to catch a sagging Kristin.  Janet plucked the crying baby from her arms as Bill scooped her up and started back up the stairs.  Janet stopped him.

 

“She wants to go home so let’s take her home.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Cap, can you hear me?  Come on, Cap.  Try and open your eyes.” Lucas’ voice sounded insistently in Nathan’s ear.

 

“Leave me ‘lone.” Nathan muttered but the voice persisted.

 

Finally Nathan gave in and opened his eyes, blinking in the strong sunlight.  “What happened… where are we?”

 

“Our wake set off an old underwater mine.  The concussion from the blast knocked the sub off kilter, blew a small hole in one of our ballast tanks.  We managed to sail her into this lagoon and put in for repairs.”

 

Nathan followed the direction of Lucas’ gesture and saw the very top of the Dolphin’s tower rising above the water in the distance.

 

“The crew?”

 

“Ten dead, sir.  Most of the others have injuries of one kind or another.  Chief Crocker has a broken leg, Lieutenant O’Neill a broken arm.  You had a dislocated shoulder and you’ve been in and out of consciousness for almost five days.”

 

“Five!” Nathan struggled to sit up, dropping his head into his hands as he did so.  “My shoulder… it’s fixed.”

 

“Seaman Ford, sir.  He put your shoulder back in place and has pretty much been directing the recovery effort.”

“He isn’t hurt?”

 

“Cracked a few ribs but he just bound them up and went to work.  I don’t know what we would have done…”

 

“When will help be here?”

 

Lucas looked abashed.  “The radio went out, Captain.  We haven’t been able to contact anyone.”

 

“So we’re due back at Pearl any day and stuck here.  Oh, Kris… Help me up, Lucas.  I need to talk to Ford.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

Kristin didn’t want to see anyone, especially after command finally acknowledged that contact had been lost with the Dolphin.  She’d listened to Bill’s heartbroken sobs the night before when he’d admitted to her that the absence of contact with the Dolphin for well over a week was genuine cause for alarm.  He also passed on a fact to Janet that Kristin hadn’t been told… a search and rescue ship had discovered floating debris near the Dolphin’s last known location; debris that had the sub’s name stamped on it along with evidence of a mine explosion.

 

Janet and Cynthia were taking turns caring for Kristin and Charlie; Janet pulling most of the day shifts while Cynthia took evenings and nights.  Kristin had barely stepped foot out of bed since they’d brought her home, spending most of her time clinging to Nathan’s pillow with a forlorn look on her face.  She answered when they spoke to her and ate when they told her to but Charlie’s cry was the only thing she really responded to.  Most of the baby’s waking moments were spent cuddled in her mother’s arms.

 

Joshua Levin came every afternoon to check on his patient but even he was at a loss as to how to help Kristin.  “She will get better when she knows, one way or the other,” he’d shake his head and sigh.

 

The firm knock at the door surprised Janet.  She hurried to the front of the house, Charlie on her shoulder, before the noise could wake Kristin from the light sleep she’d finally fallen into out of pure exhaustion.

 

“Admiral Lansdowne… I’m sorry but Kristin doesn’t want to see anyone.”

 

“Please, Mrs. Noyce.  I just wanted to check on her… on the baby.  Won’t you at least tell me how she’s doing?”

 

“She’s going to be fine.” Janet stated vehemently.  “She just needs some time.  Kristin will be strong for her child.”

 

“But right now?”

 

“Right now… she’s barely sleeping… she only responds to the baby… she cries a lot.”

 

“This shouldn’t have happened.”  Lansdowne’s fist struck his open palm.

 

“No, it shouldn’t have but we are fighting a war.  We’ve all lost people we love.”

 

“Nathan Bridger shouldn’t have been on that sub.  His promotion should have already come through.  His promotion would have come through… if I hadn’t held the medical papers.” Malcolm confessed.

 

“You BASTARD!” Kristin appeared in the doorway, her hair tangled wildly, a robe tied haphazardly around her body, her eyes flashing furiously.  “Why?  Why would you stop Nathan’s promotion from going through?”

 

Malcolm swallowed hard, unsure of how to deal with this angry woman before him.  “I didn’t… I guess I was still angry.  If Bridger was home then you might not want to work as much… and I’d miss you.”

 

“You son of a bitch!  You’d stop his promotion… a promotion that he has more than earned… just to keep me at the hospital.  I wouldn’t walk away… not because of you but because those hurt soldiers need my skills.  But I swear, if anything has happened to Nathan, I will never forgive you!”

 

Her arm lashed out without warning, fist clenched as it made contact with Lansdowne’s right cheek.  He staggered back. Kristin pulled the baby from Janet’s arms then turned and stalked back into the house.  Lansdowne tried to follow but Janet stopped him.

 

“I need to talk to her, to explain.” He stammered out.

 

“I don’t think there can be any explanation for what you’ve done.  She won’t listen to you now anyway.  You need to leave, Admiral.  Go put some ice on your jaw.”  She shut the door firmly in his face.

 

Kristin was pacing the floor, patting Charlie’s back furiously, when Janet reached the bedroom. 

 

“That bastard! How dare he?”  She ranted over and over.

 

“Kristin, you know as well as I that even if Nathan’s promotion had come through he probably would have still been on the Dolphin.  I’m not excusing Lansdowne’s actions but…”

 

“I know that, Janet.  I know that Nathan has a duty to fulfill and he would never shirk that.  I have a job as well and I think that it’s time I stopped moping and got back to it.  Charlie needs a mother who doesn’t cry all the time.  Could you watch her just a little while longer while I shower and wash my hair?”

 

Janet took the baby, staring in amazement as a newly motivated Kristin gathered her things and disappeared into the bath.

 

*~*~*~*

 

“It was the damnedest thing, Cynthia.  Suddenly she became superwoman.” Janet shared with the younger woman as they stared out the kitchen window at Kristin hanging diapers on the clothesline.  “I think it’s good for her to get out of bed but this shift is so drastic… it worries me.”

 

Cynthia signed.  “Either way, she can’t keep going.  I don’t know when she’s slept… never more than a few hours and not very often.  Dr. Levin has tried to medicate her but it doesn’t seem to work.  She’s too agitated.”

 

A quick rap sounded at the back door just before Ben appeared, Teddy tucked securely on his hip.  “Look who I found wandering in the back yard with grandma.  It’s good to see her out of bed.”

 

Cynthia smiled shyly as she took a bag from Ben’s hand.  “Thank you for going to the market for me.”

 

“No problem.  I couldn’t let Teddy go without his broccoli now could I?”  Ben laughed as his son made a face at him.  “Why don’t you let me cook those chops on the grill?  I know you are tired and I bought plenty.”

 

“I… that would be great.  Janet, would you and the Admiral join us?”

 

“Bill has a late meeting so he’s going to be eating on base.  I’ll just grab something…”

 

“Nonsense.  Let us feed you for a change.” Cynthia answered. 

 

“Well…”

 

“Mother isn’t cooking so now would be the perfect time.” 

 

Janet conceded with a nod and a laugh.

 

“That’s settled.” Ben stripped off his uniform jacket as he spoke.  “Come on, little man, come help your old dad fire up the grill.”  Ben swung Teddy back onto his hip and took the implements Cynthia held out to him.  “I’ll come back for the meat when I’m ready… oh, I’m sure the Admiral will tell you when he gets home but the navy has dispatched two more ships to search for the Dolphin.”

 

“Thank you, Ben.” Cynthia beamed at her husband as he exited.

 

Janet watched the couple curiously until the door closed then turned to face Cynthia.  “Ben’s been around quite a bit the last few days, hasn’t he?”

 

“I don’t know what I would have done without him. He’s kept Teddy and helped with Charlie… he’s even gotten a smile or two out of mother with his stupid jokes.  He calls when he’s on duty to see how we are doing… if I need anything.  He’s handled the brass, all the well wishers… he’s been almost as vocal as the Admiral has about sending out a rescue mission.  He’s been just marvelous.”

 

“He’s a good man.”

 

“Yes, he is.  I don’t know why I haven’t seen it before…” Cynthia’s voice trailed off as she watched Ben through the open window, laughing softly as she listened to the seriousness in his voice as he explained the mechanics of barbecuing to Teddy. 

 

“If we don’t hear something soon Ben and Bill will probably hijack a ship and go searching themselves.”

 

“With mother and Charlie at the helm.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“What’s wrong?” Janet noticed Kristin flinch as Charlie pulled hungrily at her breast.

 

“I don’t think… dammit, I’m not making enough milk for her.  I think I’m drying up.”

 

Janet laid a sympathetic hand on Kristin’s shoulder.  “You knew this would probably happen.  With all the stress that you’ve been under the last week and a half, well, Dr. Levin did warn you.”

 

“I know… I hoped…”

 

“That’s what motivated you to get out of bed today.  You realized this was happening.”

 

“I shouldn’t have let this affect Charlotte.”

 

“It isn’t the end of the world, Kristin.  A lot of babies are bottle fed nowadays.”

 

Kristin looked up at Janet with a small tear in her eye.  “I know… Janet… there is something different about you.”

 

“I’m just a little tired.  I haven’t been sleeping well lately either.”

 

Kristin shook her head.  “No, this isn’t tiredness.  I don’t mean to pry but…”

 

“You have too much on your plate right now.”

 

“After everything you’ve done for me?  I am always here for you.”

 

“Oh Kristin…” A sob caught in Janet’s throat.  “I guess I should tell you.  After all, it’s all your fault… yours and Nathan’s.”

 

Kristin’s eyebrow raised.  “Our fault?”

 

“Well, I guess that Bill and I have to take some of the responsibility as well… that night that Nathan came home… you left your window up.  I told you how… inspired… Bill gets.  Well, he was particularly inspired that night.”

 

“So was Nathan as I recall.” Kristin grinned at the memory.

 

“I got caught up in the moment.”

 

“That’s very easy to do.  I don’t really see any problem with that.”

 

“It wasn’t a good time for me, Kristin!”

 

“Oh come on, sound travels both ways. I’ve heard you and Bill.  You always seem to enjoy yoursel… time… as in time of the month… oh, Janet.”

 

The older woman nodded miserably.  “I think I’m pregnant.  I haven’t had a cycle since then… Food makes me nauseous… I’m forty-five years old and Bill is nearly fifty.  We can’t be parents again!  I’m a grandmother!”

 

A peal of laughter came from Kristin’s lips.  “Being a grandmother is not a recognized contraceptive in the medical community.  Might I remind you that I am also a grandmother?” Kristin glanced down at Charlie, then grew serious.  “What does Bill think?”

 

“I haven’t told him.  I can see it now.  ‘Honey, I know that all we’ve talked about for the last few years is retiring and traveling since the kids are all gone but…’  He’ll have a heart attack or something.”

 

“Janet… there is another possibility.  You could be experiencing the beginning of menopause.”

 

“And that is a better alternative?  What am I going to do, Kristin?”

 

“First we are going to see Joshua Levin.  You will have an exam and lab work.  If you are pregnant then you talk to Bill.  I think that, given a bit of time to absorb the news, he would be very happy.  And Charlie will have a playmate her own age!”

 

A glimmer of joy shown amidst the sadness in Kristin’s eyes.  “And Nathan… Nathan will have a ball teasing Bill.”

 

Janet wrapped her arms around Kristin.  “He will, indeed.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

Cynthia placed the coffee tray on the table then sat down beside Ben on the sofa and started to pour.  “Did you have any problem getting Teddy to sleep?”

 

Ben smiled.  “I told him the story about the three bears and he was out like a light.  We played pretty hard this evening.  Where are the ladies?”

 

“Mama went upstairs to feed Charlie and Janet went with her.” She handed Ben his cup.  “I wanted to say… you’ve been just wonderful during all of this.  I don’t know how I would have managed without you.”

 

“Nathan is my family, too.  I’m glad that I can be here… do what I can.”

 

Cynthia reached out to caress his cheek.  “It… You being here means a lot to me.”

 

Ben stared at his wife for a long moment and started to speak then stopped. 

 

Cynthia prompted him.  “Go on…”

 

“Well, I was wondering… I’m not trying to take advantage of the situation… but I thought that maybe… if you wanted… once things are settled… maybe we could go to dinner… or a movie… we could go on a… date?”  Ben stumbled through his invitation nervously.

 

“Maybe… once mother is better… I’d like that.”

 

Without warning Cynthia bent forward and brushed her lips lightly across Ben’s, the first time she’d ever initiated a kiss with her husband.  Ben answered back by lifting his hand to her neck and applying light pressure, bringing her lips more fully in contact with his.  His eyes flew open in surprise when her tongue swiped across the crease of his mouth and he opened to admit her.

 

“Ben…” The couple pulled apart in embarrassment as Janet’s voice floated into the room.  Seconds later she appeared at the door, hiding her smile as the obviously flustered couple quickly separated.  “I’m sorry to bother you but I think that exhaustion has finally won.  Kristin fell asleep in the rocker and I can’t wake her.  Could you help me get her to the bedroom?”

 

“Of course, Mrs. Noyce.” Ben got to his feet and followed, pausing just for a moment to share a special smile with Cynthia.

 

*~*~*~*

 

Nathan stared into the night sky, the stars twinkling above like long lost friends and wondered if Kristin was staring at the same sight.  He stood in the prow of the boat, remembering the time he’d stood there with Kristin.  The water rushed by barely a foot below his feet as the Dolphin slowly limped its way toward Pearl. 

 

Jonathan Ford had led a remarkable effort to repair as much damage to the boat as possible.  By rights the sub shouldn’t even be afloat but the able bodied members of the crew had worked round the clock to bail as much water as they could and patch as many holes as possible. The result was a submarine that couldn’t submerge, couldn’t completely surface and would only run at a quarter of its normal power.  But she would run.  Nathan intended to make sure the young man received a commendation and a promotion.

 

“Kristin,” Nathan whispered into the night sky, “I’m on my way home to you, Baby, to you and Charlie.  Don’t give up on me, my love.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

Kristin sat up in the bed, somewhat disoriented, trying to decide what had woken her up.  A quick glance at the cradle pulled up next to the bed showed that Charlie was still sleeping soundly.  The house was quiet.  Slowly she climbed out of bed and grabbed the top blanket to wrap around her body.  She moved toward the window, drawn by some unknown force, stopping only when her face was pressed against the glass.

 

The sky was a sea of black velvet dotted with a million pinpoints of flickering light.  Kristin was mesmerized by the show above her and sank slowly to the floor; her eyes still glued to the heavens above her.

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Mother… mother!”

 

Kristin’s eyes fluttered open at Cynthia’s insistent voice.  “I hear you… what do you want?”

 

“Are you okay?  Why are you on the floor?”

 

Kristin came fully awake as she realized that she was lying on the floor beneath her bedroom window wrapped in a blanket.  Cynthia helped her into an upright position.

 

“Did you sleep here all night?  Ben put you in the bed.  Did you sleep walk?”

 

“No… I got up.  I needed to look… I needed to see the stars.  I had to look at the stars because Nathan was looking at them and thinking about me!  He’s alive, Cynny.  Oh God, he’s alive and he’s on his way back home to me!”

 

Kristin threw her arms around her daughter, locking her in a hard embrace for just a moment, then released her and struggled to her feet.

 

“Mom… where are you going?”

 

“I’m going to take a shower and get dressed.  I’ve got a lot to do before Nathan gets home.”

 

“Mother?”

 

“He’s coming home to me, Cynthia.  I know it sounds strange but I feel it.  Nathan is on his way back to us.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Kristin? What are you Oh…” Janet turned and took off at a run, leaving Kristin standing at the wide-open back door.

 

‘Oh, dear.’  Kristin shut the door behind her and moved off after Janet, finding her in the downstairs bath.  She held her friend’s hair and rubbed her back sympathetically until Janet’s sick spell was over, then helped her stand and rinse her mouth before moving back into the kitchen.

 

Janet sobbed quietly at the table while Kristin quickly put water on to boil and made a cup of very weak tea.

 

“Drink this.  It helps sometimes.”

 

Janet stared at the cup with a disgusted look on her face but finally took a tiny sip.

 

“Perhaps I should make arrangements for you to see Joshua today.” Kristin observed.

 

“Could… couldn’t you do it, Kristin?  I would rather not bring anyone else into this until I know for sure.”

 

“Well… I guess I could… if I still have privileges at the hospital.  After I belted Malcolm yesterday he may have fired me.  That’s one of the things I have to check on today.”

 

“Kristin… what’s happened?”

 

Kristin sighed heavily.  “If I tell you are you going to think I’m as loony as my daughter thinks I am?  Last night… I woke up suddenly.  I was compelled to get up and look at the stars… because Nathan was looking at them and thinking about me.  I know that sounds silly but I know that my love is okay and on his way home to me.”

 

Janet smiled tentatively.  “Who am I to disbelieve you?  You and Nathan share a very special connection.  I knew that the first time you met.  And I’m glad that you are… feeling better.”

 

“I’ve got a lot to do before I go back to work… and first on that list is finding out what is wrong with you.  So when you feel better you get dressed then we go to the hospital for a lab test and an exam.”

 

“I can get dressed.” Janet stood, swayed slightly and quickly sat back in the chair.  “In a little while.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Mom… are you sure you’re okay with this?  We don’t have to go out tonight.” Cynthia wrung her hands nervously as she watched her mother lean over the cradle and lift her baby sister out.

 

“Cynthia Ann McCallister Kreig!  Go to the movie.  I will be fine.  Teddy will be fine.  We are going over to Janet and Bill’s for a while anyway.  You don’t want to miss Clark Gable!”

 

“But…”

 

Cynni… I know that you are concerned about me… and that I gave you cause to be… but I’m fine now.  I am perfectly capable of taking care of both my daughter and my grandson.  I am beginning to think that you are trying to get out of this date.  You’re scared.”

 

“I’m not scared… I’m petrified.  I haven’t been on a date in… I don’t guess I’ve ever been on a real date.  Daddy would never let me go out and Robert and I snuck around… what do I do, Mom?”

 

“You have a good time.  You talk to Ben about something besides diapers and sniffles.  Try to connect as adults, not as parents.  Talk about politics, talk about the movie, talk about the weather… anything but your problems.  Leave those for another time.”

 

“I can do that… I think.  Then what?”

 

“Then… climb in the backseat of the car and fog up the windows.”

 

“Mother!”

 

“Cyn… being intimate with a man is a very natural thing… and if it’s done right it can be a very pleasurable thing.  I’ve run the gamut in that area… you can’t let what you know about my relationship with Jack continue to influence your relationship with Ben.  You have to give him a chance… without the ghosts.”

 

Cynthia heard her mother’s stress on the plural and nodded her head, knowing that she was referring not only to her father but to Robert Bridger as well.  “You really… enjoy it?”

 

Kristin’s eyes sparkled with laughter.  “Enjoy doesn’t even begin to describe what I feel when I’m with Nathan.  I know that you’ve discussed this with Ginny.  What does she say?”

 

“The same thing that you do.  But what if Ben decides that he wants Katie?  I mean… he only married me because of Teddy.”

 

“Life is full of ‘what ifs’.  What if we hadn’t been in Hawaii on December seventh?  What if you hadn’t spent the night with Ginny that last night?  What if… your real father hadn’t died?  We can’t second-guess why things happened the way they did.  Ben didn’t have to marry you… he chose to marry you… the same way that you chose to marry him.  Accept now for what it is and move forward.”

 

Cynthia nodded.  “You’re very wise sometimes.”

 

Kristin finished wrapping a light blanket around the baby.  “Grab her bag for me and get ready to face your date.”

 

Ben was waiting in the parlor playing with Teddy.  The women stopped in the doorway, fighting to hold in their laughter as father and son crawled around the floor amongst the furniture, racing miniature cars and making engine noises.  Ben zipped around the back of the sofa in pursuit of Teddy and suddenly found himself staring at a long pair of nylon clad legs.  His eyes rose slowly upward.

 

“You look… gorgeous.” A huge smile slowly rose on Ben’s face as he stood. 

 

“Daddy!  Vroooom!” Teddy protested the loss of his playmate.

 

Kristin watched the way Ben looked Cynthia over with admiration.  ‘This could be a very interesting date.’

 

“You two go… have a good time.  Come, young Theodore… let’s go visit Uncle Bill and Aunt Janet.  Cynthia… the bag if you please.” 

 

Kristin took the bag on her shoulder and tucked Charlie securely into one arm before reaching down to take Teddy’s hand and leading him toward the door.

 

“I’ll probably be in bed by the time you get home so I’ll talk to you in the morning.”  Kristin glanced at the couple trailing behind her as she helped Teddy down the steps.  “You don’t have to wake me up… and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

 

Cynthia glared at her mother’s back as the little group headed across the lawn.

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Look at him… isn’t he great with Teddy?” Janet whispered to Kristin as they watched Bill and Teddy wrestling on the floor.

 

“A man who loves children… have you told him that he’s going to be a father again yet?”

 

“Oh… no… not yet.”

 

“Janet…you are almost eleven weeks… you’ve don’t have that much time before you start showing … you need to tell him.”

 

“I know!” Janet practically hissed back.

 

“Hey, what are you two ladies whispering about?”

 

They were saved from answering by a wail from the sleeping baby upstairs. 

 

“I’ll get her!” They both volunteered and left the room together.

 

Bill looked down at Teddy.  “Take my advice, young man.  Don’t ever try to understand a woman… and two together?  Don’t even ask.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Do you know that your daughter has an impeccable sense of timing?”

 

Kristin stared at Janet through hooded lids, remembering the night before Nathan’s departure.  “That’s a matter of opinion.  Sometimes her timing leaves a hell of a lot to be desired.”

 

“What… she couldn’t have interrupted anything important before Kristin!?!  You didn’t!  It hadn’t been…”

 

She trailed off at Kristin’s furious blush. “…You DID!”

 

“Don’t you need to go talk to your husband!?” Kristin flopped down in the rocking chair and shoved a bottle into Charlie’s birdlike mouth.  The baby grunted contentedly and snuggled into her mother’s breast as she pulled on the rubber nipple.

 

“Charlie seems to like the bottle.”

 

“I think that Charlie just likes to eat.  It’s her bedtime and she has to have a bottle to fall asleep.  Once she gets done I’ll take the children home.  Hopefully Ben and Cynni will be out very late.”

 

“Do you think that dating will work for them?”

 

“Judging by the look Ben was giving Cynthia… let’s just say that I have high hopes.”

 

The conversation broke off at the sound of footsteps on the stairs and they turned to the door.  Moments later Bill appeared carrying a yawning Teddy.

 

“I think this little one needs to go to bed.  You want me to put him in the spare room?”

 

Janet looked at Kristin for approval.  “I’ll come help you.  You can carry him home for Kristin once Charlie gets through eating.”

 

Bill let out a low whistle of approval as Janet moved ahead of him into the guestroom.  He laid Teddy on the bed and the boy immediately curled up and fell into a deep sleep.  Janet quietly pulled a blanket from the closet and laid it over the sleeping child.

 

Bill stepped behind his wife and wrapped his arms around her, his hands moving to cup her breasts.  “So once they go home… shall we call it a night?”

 

“Look at him, Bill.  Isn’t he so sweet?”

 

“A veritable angel.” One of Bill’s hands slipped inside the blouse he’d managed to undo as his lips slipped down to nibble her neck.

 

“Do you ever miss having little ones around the house?”

 

“We have little ones… Teddy and Charlotte.”  Bill increased his oral efforts as a small moan slipped through Janet’s lips.  He found the strap of her bra and tugged, loosening the cup until he could slip his hand in to caress bare flesh.  “And the way Nathan and Kristin go at it I’m sure that there will be more little ones very soon.”

 

“I meant a little one of our own… a baby.”

 

Bill’s hand froze at the same moment as his lips.  The hand resting at Janet’s waist moved over her abdomen.

 

“Are you trying to tell me… what I think you are trying to tell me?”

 

A tiny tear formed in the corner of Janet’s eye as she heard the tinge of panic in Bill’s voice.  She swallowed hard but couldn’t find her voice.  The tear lost its hold and began a slow trail down her cheek.

 

“I’m sorry,” she finally managed to gasp out.  “I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

 

Bill’s eyes grew wide and he dropped to the edge of the bed, pulling Janet toward him as he did so.

 

“When?”

 

“About ten weeks ago… the week before Ginny’s wedding… I was so busy… I guess I lost track of the time.”

 

“THAT night… I should castrate Nathan Bridger… or give him a damned medal.  That was certainly some night.”  Bill smiled at the memory.

 

“In more ways than one.” Janet shifted to stand in front of Bill, her hands on his shoulders.

 

“You are sure?”

 

Janet nodded.  “I went to the hospital yesterday.  Kristin did the tests and gave me an exam.  Bill… I know we didn’t plan on this… but… are you really very upset?”

 

“Upset?  The word I would use is stunned.   A baby?  At our age?”

 

“We aren’t that much older than Nathan and Kristin.  Look at how much joy Charlie has brought to their lives.”

 

Bill slowly leaned forward, burying his face against Janet’s stomach.  “You know… I am never gonna hear the end of this from Nathan.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“So Bill is okay with the whole baby idea?”  Kristin asked over her cup of coffee.

 

“It isn’t like he has much choice… but he’s handling it well.  You might even say that he’s been… inspired.” A giggle tinged Janet’s voice as her face went red.  “How did the date go?”

 

“I haven’t seen Cynthia this morning so I don’t know.  She was still asleep when I left to bring Charlie and Teddy over.”

 

Janet just looked at Kristin, eyebrows raised.

 

“Okay… I was just putting Charlie back to bed after her two o’clock feeding when I heard the front door open.  I snuck down to the first landing for a little peek.”

 

“And?”

 

“Cynthia had no lipstick left… but Ben certainly did.  I think it is a safe guess that an interesting time was had by all.”

 

Both women turned toward the kitchen door as the loud clamor of the telephone ringing reached them.  Janet started to stand but paused at the heavy tread of footsteps on the stairs.

 

“I’ll get it, honey.” Bill bellowed.

 

Kristin raised an eyebrow at Janet.  “Bill sleeping in this morning?  He’s normally long gone by now.  Perhaps a good time was had by more than one couple last night.”

 

Janet blushed again, this time to a bright red tinge.  “We were up late… we had a lot to talk about.”

 

“Talking… is that what you were doing?” Kristin laughed.

 

Both women jumped as a loud shout rang through the house.  Seconds later Bill came barreling into the kitchen and grabbed Kristin, swinging her around.

 

“One of the rescue ships found the Dolphin!  They are okay.  Nathan is alive!”

 

Kristin’s arms wrapped around Bill’s neck as she buried her face in his shoulder.  Janet threw her arms around both of them.

 

After several minutes Bill finally set Kristin back on her feet and the three of them gathered around the table.

 

“Command called as soon as they got word.  The Hake spotted our sub yesterday afternoon.  She’s riding low in the water and obviously damaged but limping back towards Pearl.  They took a concussion hit off of an old mine and had to stop over at some deserted island for almost a week making repairs.”

 

“Is he hurt?  Is Nathan hurt?”

 

“The reports are still very sketchy but the Hake did say that they had spoken with Nathan.  That means he’s okay.”

 

“What about Lucas?  Crocker?  What about the rest of the crew?”

 

Bill’s face fell.  “There were a lot of injuries… and ten fatalities.  I don’t have any names.”

 

“Oh God!” Kristin stood and began to pace.  “Ten… Nathan must be devastated.  So am I… but he’s alive.  How can I help but be happy?  Nathan is coming home to us.”

 

“I should have a more detailed report by this afternoon, tomorrow at the latest.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

Kristin read through the report anxiously, heartbroken by the names of the casualties, yet elated that those nearest and dearest to her heart weren’t on that list.  Then she began to read through the injured list.

 

“Chief Crocker is probably a bear with a broken leg.  I hope they were able to set it correctly.  O’Neill’s arm… but Nathan… dislocated shoulder… this says that his men set it.  Oh Bill, he was unconscious… for five days!  That isn’t good.”

 

Bill laid a comforting hand on her shoulder.  “He was in and out of consciousness.  He may have just been asleep some of that time.  They didn’t really have a trained medic with them.  All reports say that he is just fine now.  He isn’t even complaining of headaches.”

 

“I wish… but Nathan would never leave his men.  He has to come in with the sub.  How long do you think it will be?”

 

“With the damage they sustained, probably another week at least.”

 

Kristin sighed.  “Then he’ll only be two weeks late getting home.  As long as I know that he’s okay…”

 

*~*~*~*

 

The Dolphin slowly nosed her way into the berth, metal scraping metal as she came to rest, beaten but not broken by her journey.  Nathan stood at the prow, water lapping over the deck onto his shoes, but he didn’t care, because Kristin and Charlie were standing on the dock waiting.  There were other people, of course – Bill and Janet, Cynthia, Ben and Teddy, a host of brass, medical teams… but Nathan only had eyes for his wife.

 

Nathan moved to the entryway as two of the Dolphin’s healthier crewmen slid the gangplank into place and stepped back.  Kristin and Charlie were up the ramp and locked in Nathan’s embrace in a flash.  Bill and Janet were close behind. 

 

They kept their distance while Nathan and Kristin embraced, Bill seeing the question in Nathan’s eyes and answering with a discreet nod and a silently mouthed ‘she’s okay’.

A well-placed kick by Charlotte finally forced them slightly apart.

 

Nathan scooped her out of Kristin’s embrace and, grasping her beneath her arms, lifted her to face him.  “There’s my Charlie girl.  I can’t believe how much you’ve grown.  Have you missed your daddy, honey?”

 

Charlie answered the question with a coo and a wide toothless grin.

 

“Grampa, grampa!” The medical teams had all boarded leaving the way open for the Kreig family and Teddy took advantage of the lull to race to his grandfather and wrap his arms around Nathan’s legs.

 

Kristin brushed a light kiss across Nathan’s lips before moving away to check the first of the injured men being wheeled out.  Nathan’s eyes stayed glued to her slender form as he picked his grandson up with his free arm.

 

Bill followed his friend’s gaze.  “She’s okay, Nathan.  It was the strangest thing… Kristin knew that you were in trouble… days before we really knew anything, she knew.  And then one morning she woke up in the middle of the floor.  She said she’d been compelled to look at the stars in the middle of the night… and she knew you were okay.  A few days later we found out that she was right.  She had a rough few days but she rallied brilliantly.”

 

“Bill… is there any chance…” Nathan stammered and then halted when Bill held up his hand.

 

“Done.  I’ve got the official notification waiting at home for you… Admiral Bridger.”

 

Nathan breathed a heavy sigh of relief.  “It’s just… I know that I can’t give up the sea… but I hate worrying her.”

 

“Your wife accepts your job, Nathan, in a way that Carol never did.  But I understand how you feel.  Besides, I don’t think the Dolphin is going anywhere for a while.  She looks pretty beat up.”

 

“We are lucky she made it back.  Jonathan Ford did a fantastic job getting her into shallow water and bailed out before she could sink and bury us all.  If he hadn’t taken charge…”

 

Bill nodded thoughtfully.  “Perhaps… in time, you might find a place for Mr. Ford with your design team.”

 

“I want to go home, Bill.” Nathan abruptly changed the subject.  “I am so damned tired.  I want to go home and climb into bed with my wife and daughter and hold them forever.”

 

“I’ve put your debriefings off until tomorrow afternoon but they are going to want you to get checked out at the hospital.”

 

“Kristin can check me out… medically, Bill.” Nathan clarified as Bill rolled his eyes.  “Once my men are settled… I want to go home.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

Nathan got his wish although it took over four hours and a trip to the hospital to appease the brass before he was able to do so.  He sighed in relief when Bill pulled the car around to the front of the hospital and climbed into the rear door of the car, his head thrown back against the seat.  Kristin finished her hurried conversation with Janet and Cynthia and joined him moments later, handing him Charlie to hold while she climbed in.

 

Nathan threw an arm around her shoulders and she cuddled into his side as Bill slowly eased the car forward.

 

“I think she still remembers me.”

 

“Of course Charlie knows her daddy.  She doesn’t smile like that for any one but you.”

 

“I can’t believe how much she’s changed in the last five weeks.  Her hair is coming out.”

 

“Babies often lose their birth hair.  Before you know it she’ll have a head full of curls.”

 

“Red curls.”

 

“Brown… or maybe auburn curls.” Kristin conceded at the look on Nathan’s face.  “And eyes as blue as the ocean… just like her daddy’s.”

 

Nathan grinned at Kristin.  “Was there ever a more perfect child?”

 

Kristin glanced toward the front seat, her eyes meeting Janet’s then giggled.  “Never.”

 

“I noticed that Ben and Cynthia were at the dock together… has there been a reconciliation?”

 

“Cyn is still staying with me… but I think that the truce talks might be underway.  Ben has been very wonderful during your absence… looking after all of us.  He and Cynni have been… dating.”

 

“Steaming up the back of the car.” The muttered pronouncement drifted back from the front seat.

 

Nathan raised his eyebrows.  “Will they be at the house?”

 

Kristin smiled mysteriously and shook her head.  “Tonight they are having a family night out.  We are having a night in.”

 

“That sounds like heaven.”

 

A peal of laughter rang out from the front seat.

 

“Bill, keep your hands on the wheel.” Nathan barked out with a twinkle in his eye.

 

“It’s too late for that advice, my friend.” Bill chuckled, the tears streaming out of his laughing eyes visible in the rear view mirror.

 

*~*~*~*

 

Nathan thought they would never get home but soon Bill was pulling into the drive of his house. 

 

“Thanks for the lift.” Nathan shifted Charlie into one arm and held his hand out to Bill.  To his astonishment Janet deftly plucked the child out of his grasp and took off toward her house.  Kristin grabbed his outstretched hand and began to tug insistently in the opposite direction.

 

“Honey… the baby?”

 

“Janet is going to look after Charlie for a while.  You can spend all day tomorrow with her.  Will you open the door?”

 

Nathan stared at his wife as if she’d gone mad then fumbled with the front lock.  Finally the tumbler turned and he stepped inside.  “I want to spend tonight with my dau…”

 

Nathan’s back hit the door solidly; the intense force knocking it closed behind him.  “Kri…”  His words were strangled as Kristin launched herself at him, shoving her tongue into his mouth to ravage the interior.  He felt her hands clawing at his abdomen, the tails of his shirt yanked from his trousers… buttons clattering across the floor as Kristin ripped the shirt apart and yanked it down his arms.  Nathan tried to grasp her shoulders but found his arms tangled in his undershirt as she frantically urged it upward. 

 

Kristin’s mouth broke with his briefly so that his tee shirt could slip over his head.  Nathan took advantage of the break to wrap his arms around her and press them closer together, effectively trapping her.

 

“Kristin… honey?”

 

Beautifully manicured nails clawed at his shoulders as her teeth nipped his neck.  “I need you… now!” She hissed against his neck as her hands pushed her way between their bodies to attack the clasp of his trousers.

 

“I want you too, sweetheart… let’s go upstairs.” Nathan pulled away from her and holding tightly to her hand, began to lead her toward the stairs.  He made it up the first step before he felt her resistance.

 

He turned back to find Kristin frantically unbuttoning her dress with her free hand.  His breath caught as the parting material revealed flashes of bare flesh beneath.

 

“Now!” Kristin demanded as she launched herself back at him.  Nathan sat down heavily on the stairs as Kristin’s body met his, their hands wrapped around each other as their bodies fell against the stairs beneath them.

 

Nathan gave up fighting his very aroused wife and grabbed the back of her dress, wrenching it down her body, capturing her arms in the process.  He rolled her to her back and loomed over her, his eyes ogling the luscious curves peeking out over her black bra and the long expanse of bare leg extending from her black panties.

 

“You have missed me, haven’t you…? Shit!” Nathan barked as Kristin’s head shot forward, her teeth grabbing the tender point of one of his flat male nipples.  Her leg hooked over his calf as she thrust her body toward him, her hips rubbing his suddenly hard member enticingly.

 

“What the hell!” Nathan muttered and rolled Kristin so that he could finish pulling the dress from her body.  Kristin released her hold on his chest to move her lips back to his, wrapping her fingers into his hair.  He pulled a knee up over her body until he could reach the laces of his boot and began to loosen them, kicking first one shoe then the other down the stairs, Kristin’s black pumps thudding down beside them.

 

Nathan swore into Kristin’s mouth as the treads of the stairs began to sink into his flesh but she continued her ravenous assault.  He pulled himself up into a sitting position then stood; Kristin still wrapped in his arms, and began to stagger up the stairs.  He made it to the landing before his trousers fell to his ankles, causing him to fall against the wall.

 

“Kris…” Nathan groaned her name as her fingers released the button on his boxers and slid in to release him.  He pulled back to stare at her, awed by the depth of need he saw in her eyes.  He popped the catch on the back of her bra and tossed it away as they slid down the wall, his lips wrapped firmly around one of the dusky rose nipples he’d just revealed. 

 

By the time they reached the floor Kristin’s panties had followed her bra and Nathan’s boxers were pooled at his ankles.  He kicked them off impatiently as Kristin lay flat and opened herself to him.  She whimpered at his first glancing touch of her swollen sex, his fingers running lightly up and down her glistening slit then returning to coat the sensitive bud with her moisture.  She grabbed his erection and yanked, not hard enough to hurt him but firmly enough for Nathan to interpret her need.  He slipped between her legs and thrust into her silky cleft, sinking to the base of his manhood on the first push.  She screamed out in pleasure as he filled her, one hand snaking out to grab a spindle on the banister above her head.

 

There was very little gentleness in their joining; it was more an explosion of raw desire. They worked each other’s bodies relentlessly with mouths and hands, fingers and teeth, as they sought relief.  Five weeks apart, along with the force of their passion and the joy of their reunion, meant that they both peaked quickly, the house echoing with the screams of their release.

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Now that is what I call a welcome home.”  Nathan fell back panting against his pillow and turned his head to stare at his equally breathless wife, having just deposited her there after carrying her up the stairs.

 

A sultry grin touched Kristin’s lips.  “I just wanted to let you know that you were missed.”

 

“Obviously… oh honey… that was fantastic!  I can’t believe that you were so… you couldn’t even wait to get upstairs.”

 

“I waited for four hours when all I wanted to do when I saw you on that boat was throw you down on the deck and climb on top of you and… well… you know.”

 

Somehow Nathan found the strength to roll to his side.

 

“To make love to me… to ride me… to screw me.” Nathan was trying to embarrass Kristin and he succeeded.  “How can you blush about those words, not the crudest I could use by a long shot, yet still be able to strip me and love me on the stairs?”

 

“They are… a little rough.”

 

“Oh, my little lady.  Whatever we do, we do with love.  What happened just a few minutes ago wasn’t love making… that was pure unbridled lustful sex… but the love is always there.  You absolutely amaze me.  You enthrall me.  What happened to that shy inhibited woman I first enticed into my bed a year ago?”

 

Kristin smiled and stretched out her hand to caress Nathan’s face.  “You released my inhibitions.  You taught me how wonderful this can be.  When you are gone… I think about you all the time… not being in bed necessarily, but just being with you.  When you aren’t here I feel like my other half is gone.”

 

“The promotion came through…. you don’t seem surprised.  Bill told you first!?!”

 

“No… I just… heard… that some of the hold ups had been removed.”

 

“What hold up… Kristin’s tongue being thrust into his mouth cut off Nathan’s words.  She rolled her body on top of his, caressing his full length with her own.  Nathan’s hands slipped up to cup her rear as he responded to her invasion.

 

“So, what’s your pleasure, wife?” Nathan asked when they broke apart.  “Tell me what you want.”

 

“I just want you.” Kristin whispered, her skin pinking prettily.

 

“And I you, my love.  Trust me?”

 

“Always.”

 

“Then come here.”

 

Nathan’s hands directed her movements, guiding her torso up then grasping her rear and pulling her forward.

 

“Nathan… this… we can’t… oh… GOD!”

 

Nathan had positioned Kristin straddled over his face and then pressed her hips down until his lips sank into her swollen folds just above him.  She gripped the top of the headboard and held on as wave after wave of pleasure rolled from her core through her body.

 

Nathan worked his tongue along Kristin’s feminine cleft, teasing and tasting, until the desire for more overwhelmed him.  He sank deeper into her femininity, his nose rubbing her enlarged clitoris as his tongue sank deep inside her.

 

The headboard shook beneath Kristin’s grip as her body bucked both into and away from Nathan’s teasing orifice.  When he felt the first gush of her release, Nathan tightened his hold on her hips and pulled her even closer, consuming her juices as she peaked.  The bed shook as Kristin came in ever cresting waves, shrieking over and over as her body twisted in the throes of her climax.

 

When Nathan had taken everything she had to give he allowed her to slip back to the bed, exhausted but sated.  He rubbed her trembling body until the shaking finally stopped, his lips lightly caressing her face the entire time.

 

*~*~*~*

 

Janet pushed the door open carefully and called inside.  “Kristin?  Nathan?”

 

“This isn’t a good idea.” Bill hissed behind her back as he juggled Charlie on his shoulder.

 

“What am I supposed to do?  Wrap her in a dishtowel?  I didn’t know we were so low on diapers.  I don’t hear anything… they are probably asleep.”

 

“Exhausted…” Bill groused quietly behind his wife.

 

Janet pushed the door further in and they stepped inside as she called out again.  Bill found the light switch by the entrance and hit it, flooding the dim foyer with light.

 

“I vote for the dishtowel.” He commented as their eyes scanned the room.  Clothing littered the floor and stairs.  A black pump dangled over the edge of the steps, hung on a spindle by its heel.  A pair of men’s briefs dangled from the stairpost on the landing and a black lacy bra hung from the light fixture on the landing wall.

 

“Perhaps you’re right.” Janet turned to beat a hasty retreat.

 

“Janet?  Is something wrong with Charlie?”  Kristin appeared at the top of the stairs hastily tying a robe around her waist.

 

“Um… we ran out of diapers.  We’re sorry to bother you…”

 

 “That’s okay.  We were just… sleeping.” Kristin made it to the landing and reached up to snatch her bra off the light fixture as she spoke.  As she moved further down the stairs her hand casually brushed Nathan’s briefs off the post onto the floor beside her. 

 

“Sleeping… right.” Bill said, his eyes falling briefly on the expanse of creamy flesh visible through the deep vee of Kristin’s robe.  “We’ll just get those diapers and let you get back to… sleeping.”

 

Kristin pulled her robe together self-consciously.  “Why don’t you just leave her here?  Nathan has missed her so much.  He’ll be happy to see his baby… when he wakes up.”

 

Janet raised an eyebrow, a half smile tickling the corners of her lips.  “Are you sure?  We don’t mind keeping her for the night.  Bill needs practice; all the practice he can get with midnight feedings again.”

 

“Excuse me?  I’m dreaming… right?”  Turning toward the voice, they saw Nathan standing at the top of the stairs wrapped in a robe.  “Midnight feedings… Kristin, is there something that I should know?”

 

Kristin held her hands up and laughed.  “You are talking to the wrong person, my love.”  She inclined her head toward Bill and Janet as she took her squirming daughter out of Bill’s hands.

 

Nathan’s face broke into a grin.  “Ginny’s pregnant!  You’re gonna be a granddad again!”  He rushed down the stairs to grab Bill’s hand but the look on Kristin’s face stopped him as he hit the last stair.  She shook her head gently.

 

“Guess again.”

 

Nathan looked bewildered as Kristin glared at him.  She cut her eyes towards Janet and he finally clued in, his facial expression changing to one of shock then playfulness.

 

“Janet?  Bill… you knocked your wife up?  You old dog!  I didn’t think you still had it in you!”

 

“Hey!  Who are you calling old?  You aren’t that far behind me on the calendar!”  The two men fell to the ground in a mock tussle as their wives looked at each other and rolled their eyes.

 

“Knock it off, you two.” Janet punched them with her foot, laughter punctuating her words.

 

“I’m going to take this young lady upstairs and change her diaper.  Nathan, when you and Bill get through would you bring a bottle up for Charlie?”

 

Nathan stopped fighting immediately, his head popping up to stare at Kristin.  “Bottle?  But you’re brea…”

 

“Come on, you old dog.  I think it’s time for you to take your wife home.  There is a bottle ready in the bag, Kristin.” Janet prompted Bill to get up as she shrugged the small bag off her shoulder. 

 

“Thank you, Janet.  We’ll see you tomorrow.” Kristin called after the departing couple.  She reached down and picked up Charlie’s bag then began to climb the stairs.  Nathan secured the door then followed close behind.

 

He didn’t speak again until Kristin was settled in the rocker, rocking Charlie as she sucked on her bottle contentedly.

 

“Kristin?  Are you going to talk to me? Please?”  He knelt on the floor beside the rocker, one hand caressing her knee gently.

 

“It’s nothing… nothing serious.  When I realized that something was wrong… I was… my milk dried up.  Now we have to feed Charlotte with a bottle.  Fortunately she isn’t too picky.”

 

Nathan knew immediately that Kristin was downplaying her disappointment.  “I’m so sorry, honey.”

 

Kristin pulled his hand to her cheek and kissed his palm lightly.  “You are home with us now.  That’s all that matters.”

 

Nathan caressed her cheek tenderly then stood and slipped an arm beneath her legs.

 

“Nathan… what are you…” Nathan lifted her into his arms, baby and all and turned to sit in the chair.  He settled Kristin into his lap and embraced his wife and daughter.  Charlie eyed her father curiously, never giving up her grip on her bottle.

 

*~*~*~*

 

“And what time did you get in this morning, young lady?  Do I need to have a talk with young Mr. Kreig?”  Nathan winked at Cynthia as he queried her over the breakfast table.  Nathan was the picture of paternalism; Charlie cradled in one arm, that hand bent back to hold her bottle fast, while the other arm guarded the little boy sitting on his knee.

 

“Nathan… don’t tease her.” Kristin admonished lightly as she sat down a plate of bacon and eggs in front of each of them then grabbed her own plate and joined them. 

 

“Food of the Gods.   The first meal that your mother ever cooked for me was bacon and eggs.  And I think you were wearing that very same robe, weren’t you, honey?”

 

Kristin choked slightly on her food and gave Nathan a warning look, a hint of a smile crossing her face at the memory of what they had shared after that first meal. 

 

“I believe that I might have been… in the beginning.” She replied with a pointed look at the baby in Nathan’s arms.

 

“Oh geez!  Maybe I should take the kids and go eat in the den!”  Cynthia rolled her eyes at her parents’ word play.

 

“But then I wouldn’t get to hear whether or not Ben behaved himself.” Nathan responded, his fork halfway to his mouth.  “You’ve been out at least four nights a week every week since I’ve been home.  That’s over twenty dates.  And if you aren’t on a date Ben is over here mooching off me.  It’s time I knew this young man’s intentions toward my daughter.” 

 

Nathan breath caught as he realized what he’d said, scared that perhaps he’d gone too far, but Cynthia smiled her mother’s brilliant smile at him as she laid her hand on his arm.  “I’m very pleased that you care… Dad.”

 

“I do care… very much… So when are you and Lieutenant Kreig going out again?”

 

Cynthia grinned.  “Ben is coming to the football game tonight, of course, so I’ll see him there.  He has to work tomorrow evening but we might go see a movie on Friday, provided we can find babysitters.”

 

“Nathan, I think you’ve teased Cynny enough.  Finish your breakfast.  Feed your grandson.”  A quick glance down showed that Teddy had grown tired of waiting for his grandfather to share and was using his hands to shove scrambled eggs into his mouth.

 

Nathan couldn’t help but laugh.  “That’s okay, tiger.  I wasn’t that hungry anyway.  I think that Charlie is done as well.”  He carefully shifted Teddy to the bench beside him and popped his daughter to his shoulder.  A few pats later he was rewarded with a loud burp.

 

“Nathan!  You know that I don’t burp Charlotte at the table.  We are trying to teach the boy table manners.”

 

“I’m sorry, gramma.”  Nathan tried to look contrite but with Kristin glaring at him he couldn’t help but grin.

 

Kristin stood, grabbed her plate from the table and stalked toward the sink where she banged the dish loudly.  Cynthia looked at Nathan with eyebrows raised but he shrugged his shoulders and shook his head in bewilderment.

 

At that moment the phone rang.

 

“I’ll get it.” Nathan stood and unceremoniously shoved the gurgling baby into Kristin’s arms as she passed by.  He took off toward the front of the house as Kristin stood glaring at his retreating form.

 

“Mother… you seem to be in a… not so good mood this morning.”

 

“The man is teaching Theodore bad habits.  He needs to… oh shit!  She’s wet!  Dammit!  I knew I should have stayed in bed today.”  Kristin stormed out of the room, a dark stain spreading across the front of her black robe.

 

*~*~*~*

 

The Krieg family breezed across the yard and onto the Noyce’s back porch, a relieved smile on each of the adult’s faces.  Ben’s arm was casually draped around Cynthia’s shoulder; Teddy perched on the opposite hip.

 

Ben was quickly dragged into the choosing of teams so Cynthia joined Janet and Ginny at the porch table.  Teddy ran around among the crowd of young men gathered on the lawn, the group including many of Nathan’s crew plus some of David’s friends.

 

“So, where are your parents?” Janet queried.

 

“Still at home, thank God… although I’m sure that Dad is trying desperately to escape.”

 

Janet noticed Cynthia’s new name for Nathan but didn’t comment on that.  “Something wrong?”

 

“Mother.  I’ve never seen her so… crabby.  She obviously woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.  She was barely even speaking by the time they left this morning and she’s been criticizing Dad every second since they got home.  He can’t do anything right.”

 

“Perhaps Nathan deserves it.”

 

“For burping Charlie in front of Teddy?  For going to answer the telephone just as my baby sister decided to wet her diaper?  It doesn’t seem that way to me.”

 

“A word of advice, my dear.  Stay out of it.  They will work it out for themselves.  Then have a ball making up if I know those two.”

 

“Speaking of those two…” Cynthia inclined her head in the direction of her parents house and Janet turned to watch the couple make their way across the lawn.  They were separated by at least three feet, Kristin holding the baby, seemingly shielding her from her father.

 

“Oh boy!” Janet muttered.  “She is angry!”

 

Nathan veered off to join the men while Kristin marched onto the porch and flopped down in a vacant chair.

 

“Good to see you, Kristin.  And how’s my Charlie girl?” Janet pulled the fussy baby from her mother’s arms and moved away, leaving a very unhappy woman scowling on the porch.

 

*~*~*~*

 

Nathan took a long drag from his beer and stared out into the crashing surf, the fiery orange sun hugging the horizon in the distance.  He sensed rather than saw someone approaching but maintained his silence until Ben stood beside him.

 

“That’s an awe inspiring scene isn’t it, sir?” The younger man finally spoke.

 

“Pretty spectacular.”  Nathan retreated back into silence for several minutes before finally speaking again.  “I guess someone sent you to find me?”

 

“Mrs. Noyce wanted me to tell you that dinner will be ready in about fifteen minutes.”

 

“Mrs. Noyce… not my wife.”

 

“No, sir.”

 

Nathan took another lengthy pull from his bottle.  “Women are irrational creatures, son.  You think you know them completely and then… wham!  They knock you for a loop again.”

 

“I’m learning that, sir.”

 

“Nathan… call me Nathan.  Cynthia showing a bit of kinship to her mother, huh?”

 

“No not… well… I just don’t know what she wants.  I think I know… then she changes course again.  I’m just really confused.”

 

“Welcome to the fraternity of the confused husband.  I’m the current president.  What is Cynthia confusing you about?”

 

“I thought that dating would be a good thing… give us a chance to get to know each other that we never had.  Cynthia seems to enjoy going out with me.  I was even thinking that we were… growing closer.  She seems to enjoy my kisses… my touch… sometimes she even gets a bit… adventurous.  I think she wants to take things further… but she always pulls back.  Sometimes she waits until it’s really really hard to stop, then she seems to get scared of me.  I would never hurt her but she seems to think… I guess that I’m just not the man she wants.”  Ben sighed, the dejected look on his face telling Nathan who the young man thought his wife was thinking of.

 

Nathan debated with himself mentally for a moment then came to a decision.  “I’m going to tell you something, Ben, something that very few people know.  I’m telling you because I hope that maybe it will help you understand, at least partially, why Cynthia acts the way she does.”

 

“I’m listening, sir… Nathan.”

 

“What was your impression of Senator John McCallister?”

 

Ben’s eyebrows knit together, Nathan’s question taking him totally off guard.  “He… seemed like a nice man.  He obviously loved his wife and his daughter.  But there was… something… I’ve just never been a big fan of politicians, I guess.”

 

“I was attracted to Kristin the instant our eyes met… I fell totally, completely head over heels in love with her.  I was married… I would have said happily… and I’d like to believe that I would have never betrayed my vows, but that doesn’t negate the fact that for the two of us… it was love at first sight.”

 

“No sir… You aren’t that kind of man.  You’re word is your bond.”

 

Nathan grinned crookedly.  “The reason I’m telling you this… the morning of the attack… Kristin and I were together.  No… not in an intimate sense.  She needed to get away from the base and I drove her to one of my favorite spots, a secluded lookout over the ocean.  We watched the sun come up then headed back to base.  As I helped her off the rock ledge my hand gripped her waist and she screamed.  I made her show me… her entire body was covered in bruises.”

 

“Bru… she’d fallen?”

 

“She’d been beaten… and raped… by her own husband.  And it wasn’t the first time.  He hurt her regularly… for years.  She hid it from Cynthia… from everyone, but I saw the bruises on her body.  Had the bastard not been killed in the air raid I would have killed him.”

 

“Cynthia grew up in that atmosphere?  Does she…?”

 

“Afterwards, while they were staying with the Noyce’s, Kristin began to have nightmares.  They tried to shield her but Cynthia inevitably overheard.  She found out what kind of man her father was.  I think that, subconsciously at least, she may feel guilty that her mother stayed with McCallister… that she didn’t protect her.  She’s also scared to trust a man.  Cynthia trusted her father and he betrayed her by his treatment of her mother.”

 

Ben’s head had fallen toward his chest and Nathan noticed the glimmer of tears on the young man’s cheek.  “I’m going to ask you to keep this to yourself.  Cynthia will reveal it to you when she’s ready.  You can’t push her.”

 

“Sir… does Kristin… I mean you just had a baby so you’ve obviously… does she like… oh, never mind.” Ben turned and made a move toward the house.

 

“Ben,” Nathan waited until the younger man turned back to face him.  “Kristin does… very much.  I said this to you once and I’ll say it again.  If Cynthia is anything like her mother… she’s worth the effort.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

Kristin sat on one side of the porch, arms folded across her chest, scowling at Nathan as he sat on the other side of the deck holding his sleeping daughter.  He’d had to wait all night to get hold of Charlie and he wasn’t about to let her go, even to sleep. 

 

Janet and Cynthia stood in the center of the porch and eyed them both. 

 

“Okay, this has gone on too long.  We are going to have to try something.” Janet whispered to her partner in crime.

 

“Sure… but what?”

 

Janet thought a minute then responded.  “I have no idea.  Uh oh, we have movement.”

 

Nathan stood and moved over to the bucket of iced down beer in the corner and pulled out one.  He popped the cap on the bottle opener and took a drink as he moved back to his chair.  Charlie never made a sound.

 

Kristin slammed her hands down on the arms of her chair as she propelled her body upward.  Nathan eyed her warily as she moved toward him, her arms outstretched. 

 

“I’m going to take my daughter home.  Give her to me.”

 

“She’s comfortable where she is.”

 

“Until you get so drunk that you drop her.”

 

“Okay… THAT”S IT!  I’ve put up with your attitude all day but for you to even imply that I would do anything to hurt… Kristin!  God damn it, come back here!”

 

Nathan shoved Charlotte into Janet’s hands and took off into the dark after his wife.

 

A soft mist covered the ground and the sky was overcast but Nathan knew that Kristin would be headed toward the beach.  He caught up with her just as she reached the sand.

 

“Stop and talk to me, dammit!”

 

“Go to hell!”  She took off down the beach at a run.  Nathan stood watching, stunned by her words, until she finally had to stop and throw her shoes off.  Her actions spurred him on and he kicked his shoes away and took off after her. 

 

When Kristin realized that Nathan was in pursuit once again she increased her pace but soon found her path cut off by the water.  She stared at him for a long moment then moved back into the pounding surf to her knees.  With scant regard for his dry clothes Nathan continued after her.

 

He caught her arm and pulled, bringing her toward him.  Kristin fought back, pounding at his chest until he held her so close that her punches had no force.

 

“Now you are going to talk to me.” Nathan loosened his hold slightly… a big mistake.  Kristin threw her full body into Nathan causing him to stagger back and fall into the water.  He sputtered as he surfaced, staring at Kristin as if he didn’t know her.

 

Kristin returned his stare, standing unmoving as the surf brushed the bottom of her shirt.  Nathan stood slowly and held out his hand, stretching the dripping fingertips until they barely brushed her cheek.

 

“What’s going on in that beautiful brain of yours, my love?  Please talk to me.”  The pleading tone in Nathan’s voice finally reached Kristin and she began to sob.  Nathan moved to take her into his arms but she turned her back to him.  He wrapped his arms around her anyway.

 

“Honey… I thought we could share anything.” 

 

“I can’t… I promised you… I can’t… I won’t be like Carol!”

 

Comprehension dawned as Nathan tried to turn Kristin to face him but she refused to be budged so he whispered in her ear.  “Don’t shut me out.  You can tell me anything.  Is this about what happened?  Are you mad at me, Kristin?”

 

“Of course I’m mad at you, dammit!  I thought you were dead!  I couldn’t… I couldn’t feel you anymore.  I hated that.  I hated that damned boat and the damned navy and the Japanese.  I hit Malcolm Lansdowne when I found out he had blocked your promotion.  Me… the pacifist… I actually hit him!”  A gut wrenching wail emerged from Kristin’s throat as she fell to her knees; Nathan falling with her as he kept her locked in his arms.

 

“I hate… oh, Nathan!  I don’t hate you.  I love you so much!  I thought I’d lost you… I couldn’t function… and now you’re going to hate me for becoming like her… for trying to tie you down.  I don’t want to do that, I swear… I just… how could I live if I lost you?”

 

“You would survive… you’d be strong for our daughter.  But I’m right here, Kristin and I am not going to leave you.  I made it back.  I’ll always come back to you.”  Nathan was now sobbing along with his wife.

 

“I hate myself for feeling like this.  I’ve tried to stop the feelings… not let you know how upset I was… but I can’t… they just keep coming back.”

 

“You know that isn’t good.  You have to let your feelings out.  I’m sorry that I caused you so much pain but I wouldn’t expect you to not feel anything.  I’m not glad that you hurt but I am glad that you missed me.”

 

“You hate me… I can’t keep my promise… I want this damned war to be over!”

 

Nathan tightened his grip, pulling her even closer.  “I could never hate you.  Listen to what you are saying, Kristin.  You aren’t saying you want me off the sub… that you want me stuck at a desk somewhere in the middle of Iowa.  You are saying that you hate the danger this conflict puts me in… puts everyone in.  That’s a very human reaction.   You are upset because I was hurt… possibly dead.  That’s a very wifely reaction.”

 

Kristin didn’t reply but Nathan felt her nod against his chest.

 

“So… do I put in for a transfer to Iowa?”  Nathan slipped a hand beneath her chin and pulled her face up to meet his eyes.  “If that’s what you want I will do it.  Right now… and not one single regret.”

 

With a few simple words Nathan revealed the depth of his love to Kristin, as he never had before.  He would give up everything; she had only to say the word.  She wrapped her arms around her husband’s neck and kissed him… a kiss full of passion and yet amazingly tender.  Nathan responded in kind.

 

The rolling surf pushed them gently toward the shore as the kiss became more heated, lips parting to allow tongues to join, hands moving over buttons to reveal the hidden treasures beneath.

 

A large wave rolled over them, threatening to knock them down.  Nathan pulled his head up and smiled, relieved to see Kristin return that grin with one of her own.

 

“I want you.”

 

Kristin nodded.  “I want you.  Let’s go back to the house.”

 

Nathan staggered to his feet and with his arms locked beneath her shoulders, pulled her up the beach until they cleared the water.  He then fell back to his knees and lowered her to sit in the sand, his hands continuing their downward trek on her dress. 

 

“Now.  I want you right here.”

 

Kristin glanced up and down the beach and found it deserted.  The darkness shrouded them as well.  “Someone could see…”

 

“At the moment I don’t give a damn.” Nathan pushed the dry cloth from her shoulders and down her arms.  Kristin pulled her hands free and returned the favor, removing Nathan’s shirt and tee.  Nathan grabbed the garments and spread them behind her then pushed her torso onto the sand, deft fingers releasing the snap of her bra just before she made contact with the damp surface of the beach.

 

The undergarment flew over his shoulder as he buried his face in her chest, his tongue laving one rosy peak.  Kristin cried out as she arched her body into his suckling mouth.  His hips responded with a strong thrust, his bulging erection straining against his zipper.

 

“Honey… please… I can’t hold…”

 

Understanding the depth of need in Nathan’s voice, Kristin pushed his torso up until he was kneeling between her legs then pulled apart the wet folds of her skirt.  Nathan’s hands skimmed her panties from beneath her raised hips and down her legs, gently pulling first one knee up and then the other until the garment swung free in his hand.  Kristin’s hands move to the waist of his trousers and carefully pulled his zipper down, her fingers undoing the button of his briefs as it was revealed.

 

Nathan delved his fingers into her curls, sighing at the extent of her arousal as he pressed harder.  Kristin worked his pants down to his knees and took his steely length in her hands.  She circled the top with her fingers and began to rub lightly but Nathan pulled his hand away from her cleft to stop her. 

 

With an answering nod to the question in Nathan’s eyes, Kristin tilted her pelvis up and Nathan fell forward, his hand guiding his erection as he drove deep into her.  A soft scream burst from her lips as his full length settled inside of her, and then they were rocking back in forth in unison, nothing mattering but the waves of pleasure coursing through their bodies.

 

They came together, the pounding of the surf masking their loud screams as their souls joined for that instant.  Before the first tremors had subsided they were climbing the peaks again, their lips mating while their hands pulled and caressed heated skin. 

 

A warm wave washed over them, the water bathing them to their hips as they thrust together.  Nathan felt Kristin’s body go rigid for a few seconds then she began to thrash wildly beneath him, her body sinking further into the sand as she clenched him tightly.  He emptied himself into her body with a loud cry of her name then collapsed on top of her.

 

They shifted to their sides; their bodies still locked together, feet lying in the rolling waves.  Light kisses punctuated their loving whispers as they remembered once again the feelings that bound them together.

 

“You know the military police are probably going to come along any minute and find us laying here stark naked.” Kristin whispered as Nathan’s hands increased the pressure of their grip on her curvaceous bottom.

 

“Bill will vouch for us.”  Nathan buried his head in her neck.

 

“Bill is out to get you.  He blames you for Janet’s pregnancy.”

 

“I never touched the woman.  I can barely satisfy the red head in my own bed.”

 

Starlight twinkled in Kristin’s eyes.  “I think you did a damn fine job of satisfying her just now.”

 

“So now you know… this is the second time that this has happened.  You pushing me into water gets me so turned on that I have to have you immediately.  The first time on the island was next to a body of water as well, wasn’t it?”

 

“What can I say?  You caught me on a very bad day.”

 

“Umm… as I recall you were exceptionally horny that day… and the fact that your hormones were raging with pregnancy might have had something…” Nathan’s voice trailed off as his mind began to whirl.

 

Kristin laughed and continued speaking, not noticing Nathan’s hands slipping around her body to explore the contours of her abdomen.  “You were being a perfect jack-ass that day.  You deserved everything that you got.”

 

“And I enjoyed everything I got that day.  After all, I got you, didn’t I?”

 

“And I got you, my love.”  Kristin lifted her head for a kiss.  Nathan responded but Kristin felt the hesitancy in his kiss.  “What’s wrong, Nathan?  Have I done something?”

 

Nathan shook his head as he pulled his body up.  Once he was standing he held his hand out to her.  She put her hand in his and rose to stand beside him, a puzzled look in her face.  “I thought we’d worked things…”

 

His lips cut off her words as he touched them to hers, pulling her closer into his embrace.  His hands moved over hers, guiding them down to rest on her abdomen, fingers splayed out, his then hers.

 

“Honey… we made love eleven weeks ago… the night before I left.” He whispered.

 

“I was there.  I remember it well.” She smiled seductively at him.

 

“Have you had a monthly cycle since then?” Nathan blurted out bluntly.

 

“Of course… I must have… but I don’t remember… it must have been the stress of you being missing…” Kristin’s mouth dropped open as she realized where Nathan’s question was leading.  “NO!  I am not pregnant… I was breast feeding… I couldn’t be… not again!”

 

Nathan’s hands continued to lead hers in lazy circles over the discernable swell of her abdomen as she continued to talk.

 

“It isn’t possible… Charlotte is barely four months old… YOU GOD-DAMNED SON OF A BITCH!  You’ve gotten me pregnant again!  Dammit Nathan!  This is not funny!”

 

Nathan had erupted into belly shaking laughter at Kristin’s reaction, knowing that it was born more of shock than of ire.  She punched his shoulder angrily then reached down to grab her dress and pull it on, her fingers deftly closing the buttons over her chest before she moved on to her wet skirt.

 

By the time Kristin had finally managed to shake out the wet fabric and wrap it around her body Nathan’s laughter had died down and he realized that she hadn’t spoken again.  He grabbed his pants and yanked them on, grimacing at the sandy wet legs.

 

“Kristin… are you really mad?” He tried to wrap his arms around her but she stepped away

 

Kristin turned to stare at the ocean.  “No,” she finally stammered.  “It’s just… I’ve just gotten my shape back… regained my center of gravity.  I want nothing more than a house full of your children… I just would have liked to wait a while.  How am I going to be able to work and raise two babies in diapers?”

 

“Getting you pregnant again this quickly was never my intent.  Hell, after watching the pain you went through giving birth to Charlie I’d never ask you to go through that again.  It seems so inadequate to say but I’m sorry.”

 

A desperate giggle escaped Kristin’s lips.  “Oh darling, truth be told I can’t really blame this on you now can I?  I’m the one who seduced you.  Perhaps we are jumping the gun.  I might not be pregnant at all.  I’ll do a test at the hospital tomorrow.”

 

Nathan moved to embrace her and this time Kristin didn’t resist.  Do the test… but I know you are.  I can feel it in your breasts… in your body.  And you won’t be alone in this.  I’ll be there to help you.  I promise I’ll do my fair share.  You won’t have to quit working.”

 

“You do realize that Bill is going to be paying you back in spades, don’t you?  But Janet and I will be pregnant together.  That will be nice.”

 

Nathan bent and scooped up his shirt then gave Kristin a quick peck on her temple.  “Why don’t we go back to the house, prove to everyone that we are both still alive, then go home and mess around some more?”

 

*~*~*~*

 

Nathan literally bounced down the halls of the hospital, a spring in his step as he made his way toward Kristin’s office.  She had told him that she should have an answer by two and he’d waited as long as he could.  When the hands of his watch reached one o’clock Nathan gave in, leaving Ford in charge of the repair team.  His ten-minute trip to the base hospital broke all the speed limits but he wanted to be there when Kristin heard the news.

 

“Captain Bridger… or should I say Admiral… it’s good to see you.”

 

Nathan halted his brisk pace and turned to see Malcolm Lansdowne approaching.  Nathan returned his salute smartly.  “Admiral is a bit premature.  The ceremony isn’t until tomorrow afternoon.”

 

“Just a formality.  My congratulations.” Malcolm proffered his hand and Nathan shook it.  “I guess you would be looking for your wife.  I believe that she may be in her office.”

 

“I’ll just go check.  Thank you, Admiral.” 

 

Nathan turned to go but Malcolm stopped him.  “Nathan… I’ve been wanting to talk to you… to apologize for that little… mix-up.  I know that it was wrong of me to hold your papers, to delay the promotion… but I had no way of knowing what was going to happen to your ship.  I really am very sorry.  I hope that you can forgive me even though I know that Kri… Dr. Bridger won’t but frankly, I have no desire to ever get with in reach of her fist again.  That woman has a hell of a right hook.”

 

Well-shaped lips pressed tightly together as Nathan struggled to process the information he was receiving.  ‘So this is why she decked Malcolm.’  “Let me get this straight. You delayed my promotion… out of spite?”

 

Malcolm’s face fell.  “I just assumed that Dr. Bridger would have… yes.  I was jealous… and angry.  I delayed the medical approval.”

 

“And Kristin found out about this delay?”

 

“I told her, accidentally.”

 

“And my tiny, feminine, demure wife… decked you?”  Nathan was enjoying making Malcolm admit that Kristin had hit him.

 

“I had a black eye for a week.”

 

‘That’s my girl!’  A quirky grin crossed Nathan’s face but he quickly erased it.  “My wife is… very…”

 

Malcolm held up his hand.  “You don’t have to say anything.  I deserved that and a hell of a lot more.  I just hope that one day she will forgive me.  Now, if you will excuse me, I’m late for a staff meeting.”

 

“Is Kristin…?”

 

“No, different staff.  I’m sure you will find her in her office.”

 

With a smile, Nathan resumed his trek down the hall, pausing in front of Kristin’s door to take a deep breath before knocking.  His pulse jumped at her sultry ‘Come in’ and he turned the knob and stepped in, closing the door firmly behind him.

 

Kristin was obviously ready for his arrival.  A box of cigars sat on one corner of her desk, a bottle of champagne in the middle, and Kristin perched on the other corner, legs crossed with a mysterious smile on her face.

 

“Honey?” Nathan questioned, a smile slowly erupting on his face.  Kristin lifted her hand and tossed its contents at Nathan’s chest.  He caught the piece of fabric and held it up, letting the bulk fall to reveal Kristin’s brassiere.

 

“That won’t be fitting for much longer.”

 

Nathan threw the garment over his shoulder and moved to the desk, scooping Kristin into his arms and swinging her around while they shared a celebratory kiss.  When they were both too dizzy to stand Nathan returned Kristin to the desk corner and leaned in around her to rest on his hands.  She lifted her legs to wrap around his waist while her arms locked around his neck.

 

“So… are you okay with this?” Nathan stared her in the eye, wanting her true reaction.

 

“I’m fantastic with this.”  He knew by the glint in her eyes that she was speaking the truth. 

 

“So… when do we have to tell people?”

 

“I thought you’d be bursting at the seams to tell.” Kristin laughed.

 

“I would… but Bill is gonna give me so much hell!”

 

“You deserve it after the trouble you’ve given him the last few weeks.  Besides, I am eleven weeks along.  My muscles haven’t recovered from Charlie so this pregnancy is going to be very obvious very soon.  I’m amazed that I hadn’t already noticed the difference.”

 

“I did.” Nathan’s hands slid to the gentle swell between them.  “So I just have to grin and bear it!”

 

Kristin nodded solemnly at him.  “You’re a big boy.  You can handle it.”

 

“Oh honey… I can definitely handle it.”  His hands slid up to cup her breasts, fondling the pert tips through her blouse.  “Judging by my gift… I’m guessing that you aren’t wearing a bra.”

 

“No, I am not wearing a bra.”  Kristin leaned close and whispered in his ear.  “And I’m not wearing panties either.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

Ben pulled the car unto the deserted bluff overlooking a sea of lights from the naval base and killed the engine.  He glanced at his wife nervously before carefully stretching an arm across the back of the seat, his hand coming to rest lightly on her shoulder.  Cynthia smiled and moved a little closer to him.

 

“This is very pretty… all the lights and the blackness of the ocean as a backdrop.  Thank you for bringing me here.”

 

“I thought you might like it.  I come up here a lot when I need to think.  I wanted to talk to you about something.”

 

“Ben, are you nervous?” Cynthia ventured a shy smile at him.

 

“Kind of.  I had a long talk with Nathan yesterday afternoon.  He really loves you… like he was your real father.”

 

“Did he give you a lecture?  He was threatening to yesterday morning but I thought he was teasing.  Unless mother’s bad mood put him in one as well.”

 

“At least they got that one all worked out.” They both smiled at the memory of Nathan and Kristin’s appearance upon their return from the beach and their hasty retreat home after picking up the baby. 

 

“So what did the two of you talk about?”

 

“Nathan talked to me about… being patient… about some things being worth waiting for… about honesty and fidelity.  We talked a little about patience.”

 

Cynthia’s smile faltered a little.  “You’ve been very patient, Ben.  I couldn’t ask for more.”

 

“Honey, I’ll be as patient as you need me to be.  I don’t ever want to rush you or hurt you.”

 

Cynthia quickly turned away to stare out the side window.

 

“Hey,” Ben rubbed her arm casually.  “Did I say something wrong?”

 

Cynthia shook her head tightly.  “No… not really.”

 

“I must have done for you to tense up like that.  Can’t you talk to me?”

 

When she turned back to Ben a tiny tear hung in her eye.  “If I tell you something… I don’t know if I can… but I’d like to try.”

 

“Anything.” Ben waited quietly until Cynthia was ready to speak again.

 

“My dad… Jack McCallister… I thought he was so great.”

 

“All little girls think that their daddy’s are the most wonderful person in the world.”

 

“He was so loving.  He gave me anything I ever wanted.  But I never really knew him… he hurt mummy, Ben.  He hit her… and he made her do things…  How could he do that?  How could he be so wonderful to me and hurt my mother?”

 

Ben gathered Cynthia into his embrace.  “I don’t know, Cynthia.  I wish I knew the answer but I don’t.  What I do know is that your mother is a very strong woman.  She’s made a new life with a man who is obviously insanely in love with her.  And you know what?  She’s got a very strong daughter as well.”

 

“I wonder.  I try not to dwell on what he did but sometimes it just seems to overwhelm me.”

 

“When I touch you?”

 

Cynthia shifted to look into Ben’s eyes.  “Sometimes… most of the time.” She admitted honestly.  “It isn’t you,” she quickly reassured him.  “I think it would be that way with any man.”

 

“So you need time to work through this.  Maybe, when you are ready, I could help you work through it.”

 

“I think I’m ready.” Her shy smile returned then faltered.  “You don’t seem very surprised by this, Ben.”

 

Ben weighed his next words.  He didn’t want to violate Nathan’s confidence but the captain had only said to let Cynthia tell him first.  “Nathan and I have talked a lot lately.  He told me some things about your father… nothing in detail… but enough so that I’d understand how hard this is for you.  He is very concerned about you but he wanted you to tell me first, before I said anything.”

 

Cynthia’s face tightened.  “He had no right.”

 

“I think maybe he did.  He lives with the effects of that bastard’s actions everyday… and so do you.  He didn’t tell me to be cruel… he wanted me to understand.  And I do understand, honey.  I just wanted you to know that I know… and I can be patient.  I would never want you to feel pressured into anything.  But I also want you to know that I am not like that.  I would never ever hurt you.  I love you, Cyn.”

 

Cynthia gasped at Ben’s words; the first time she’d ever heard him use them.  As she stared into his dark eyes she realized that she felt the same way.

 

“Ben… we didn’t exactly get off to a wonderful start in our marriage, did we?  But I want you to know… the way that you love Teddy… everything you did for mother and for me while Nathan was missing… we wouldn’t have made it through without your support.  It’s like I’m getting to know you all over again… see this wonderful side of you that few people know about.  I love you too, Ben.”

 

A smile broke out on Ben’s lips but it was quickly lost as Cynthia pressed her mouth to his in a gentle kiss.  Ben let his wife set the pace, not wanting to frighten her, so he was surprised when he felt her tongue caress his lips.

 

“Cyn?” He pulled back, startled.

 

Cynthia smiled up at him.  “You know, I missed so many things… I’ve never made out in the back seat of a car.  Do you think that… maybe?”

 

Ben was happy to oblige.

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Shhh… you’ll wake the house up.” Cynthia held her hand over her lips as Ben lowered his laughing voice and softly closed the front door behind them.  His hands slid over Cynthia’s hips, pulling her close to him as their lips met.  Cynthia’s hand reached out behind him to flip the lock.

 

“You are going to stay… aren’t you?”

 

“Well… I don’t know… what about your parents?” Ben cast a nervous look up the stairs.

 

Cynthia giggled.  “It’s not like we aren’t married.  Besides, my bed upstairs is bound to be a lot more conducive than the back seat of the car.”

 

A silly grin appeared on Ben’s face.  “But it was still pretty amazing.  We’ve got to try that again sometime.”

 

“Mmm…” Cynthia wrapped an arm around his neck.  “How about right now?”  She pressed her lips into his hungrily.

 

They jerked apart, eyes wide at the loud noise that echoed down the stairs.  Ben moved toward the door but Cynthia stopped him.  They stood still for a moment then, when the sound didn’t repeat itself, resumed kissing.

 

“Shit!” Ben jerked back as the deep tone was heard again.

 

“Oh geez, I hope that’s snoring.” Cynthia cast a worried look at the ceiling above them.

 

“You mean… they…”

 

The deep tone took form this time, the word ‘Kristin’ cried out as if it were being dragged from the speaker’s lips by torture.  A decidedly feminine cry followed it.

 

Ben swallowed hard and turned toward the door.  “Maybe I should be going… we can always…”

 

“Benjamin…” Ben turned back toward the sound of Cynthia’s voice, his mouth falling open as he watched he watched her fingers slowly free the buttons of her bodice.  Cynthia stepped backwards onto the first step and crooked a finger at him.  Ben obligingly stepped forward.  Cynthia went up another step as another button fell loose.

 

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay?”

 

“Oh Cyn… What the hell?  Let’s give them a run for their money!”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Dam…” Nathan muttered at the loud clang that jerked him from sleep.  He shifted into the warm body wrapped around him and buried his head beneath her shoulder.

 

“Whazzt?” She murmured, cuddling deeper into his embrace.

 

“Damn… pipes.”  His head pushed further into her smooth flesh.

 

Kristin lifted her head slightly and cracked on eye.  “Sun’s up… we should get up soon.”

 

“Already up…” Nathan’s mouth latched onto the nipple he had burrowed to find.  His hand grabbed the edge of the sheet and yanked it up over their heads.

 

*~*~*~*

 

“This time we really do need to get up.” Nathan murmured to Kristin as she lay dozing in his arms.  “I have too much to get done at the Dolphin before that damned ceremony.  Why can’t they just say ‘you’re an admiral’ and be done with it?”

 

“Then we could stay in bed all day.” Kristin’s lips began to nibble at his neck.

 

“I’ve created a monster.” He whispered to her as he rolled onto top of her and began to seriously kiss her.  The touches were just beginning to grow bolder when a loud cry from the bassinet pulled them apart.

 

“Your daughter has horrendous timing!” Kristin muttered as she sat and rolled her legs to the side of the bed.  Nathan laughed and climbed out of the other side to pull his pajama pants on.

 

“How come she’s always my daughter when she interrupts us?  I’ll go fix the bottle if you change the diaper.  Can I bring you anything?” Nathan asked.

 

Kristin eyed him with a lecherous look.  “Just hurry back, lover.”

 

Nathan answered with a nod and a smile then dashed out into the hall and down the stairs.  He was just a few steps from the kitchen door when he heard the rumble of a low voice then a higher cry. ‘Cynthia!’  He rushed into the kitchen screaming, “Get your hands off…”

 

A dumbfounded look stuck on Nathan’s face as he stared at his stepdaughter frantically pulling her nightgown back into place, and her husband, all decked out in Cynthia’s frilly pink bath robe.

 

“Well…” Nathan finally broke the silence.  “I guess I can be grateful that the pipes aren’t going bad.”

 

Cynthia blushed scarlet.  “Dad!  We thought you were still asleep.”

 

“Obviously,” Nathan observed wryly as he moved to the refrigerator and pulled out the milk.  “Your little sister had other ideas… but then so did your mother.”

 

Silence reigned though the kitchen as Nathan put water on to heat, filled a bottle and placed it in the water.  Finally he turned back to the couple who stood together, Ben’s arms wrapped around Cynthia’s waist.

 

“So, Lieutenant… does this mean that there has been a reconciliation of sorts or do I need to beat your ass?”

 

“Daddy!” Cynthia was too indignant to notice the smile that crossed Nathan’s face at her endearment.  “I… I asked Ben to stay.”

 

“That true, Ben?”  Nathan asked seriously.

 

“Yes, sir.” Ben nodded gravely.  “Couldn’t let you be the only one having fun, sir.”

 

“Ben!” Cynthia dug her elbow into Ben’s ribs as Nathan’s skin colored.

 

“Yes… well… I guess this is warm enough.  Charlie is probably starving by now.”  Nathan grabbed the bottle in a towel and took off toward the door.  He stopped just as he reached it and turned back to the couple with a smile.  “Carry on.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

A small group of their closest friends joined the Bridgers at their home following the ceremony formally investing Nathan with the rank of Admiral.  Cynthia and Ginny took over hostess duties, passing out the champagne so that Kristin could visit with their guests. 

 

Once everyone had a glass Bill made a lovely toast of congratulation before passing the floor to the new Admiral.

 

Nathan laughed and scratched his head then beckoned to Kristin and wrapped his arm around her waist.

 

“At the ceremony today I was reminded about the sense of duty and tradition the navy embodies and about the tragedy that we all experienced two and a half years ago.  Those are sobering thoughts.  But when I look around this room right now, filled with the people that I hold most dear, I am filled with gratitude at your friendship and your support.  So first I offer a toast to each of you.”

 

They all lifted their glasses and sipped. 

 

“Many of my crew are here… members of the best damned crew a captain could ask for.  You’ve given me your best and then some.  You pulled together under the most adverse conditions; you saved my life and the lives of your fellow crewmen.  It looks like we will all be going our separate ways soon but I want you to know that I am damned proud to have served with you.  I lift my glass to the crew of the Dolphin.”

 

The crowd drank then waited for Nathan to continue.  “Today is a very good day for many different reasons.  The promotion is important to me, but mainly because it allows me work in an area that I love and be home with my family at the same time.  I thought that I had lost everything on that day in December but life had a few surprises in store for me.

 

The word family means so much more than just a blood relationship.  Bill and Janet Noyce, you are our family, as are your children.  Ginny, your love for David made him part of our family.  And as many of you have already noticed I’m sure… the Noyce family will be expanding by one more member in five months.”

 

A murmur went through the small crowd at this public confirmation of what had been suspected for several weeks.

 

“It’s a good thing I knew you were going to say that, Nathan Bridger, or you would be in so much trouble!” Janet laughed as her hand slid to her burgeoning belly.  At sixteen weeks, her pregnancy had become almost impossible to hide.

 

Nathan flashed her his most endearing grin.  “All I can say is… way to go, Bill!”

 

“Behave yourself, my love.  Remember paybacks…” Kristin muttered out of the side of her mouth.

 

“I think every father’s wish is to see his children happy.  I was rewarded today with the renewal of my daughter’s happiness.  Ben… Cynthia… let me say how happy I am that you’ve finally discovered each other.  I wish you as much joy as I’ve found with Kristin.  And might I say, Ben… pink is definitely your color.”

 

Ben rolled his eyes in embarrassment as Cynthia smothered a laugh.  “Moving right along, sir…”

 

Nathan turned his head to smile down at Kristin.  “I saved the best for last.  This woman… what can I say about her?  You brought me joy when I thought that life had none left for me.  You’ve loved me though all of my stubborn pig-headed moments.  Because of you I have a larger family than I ever dreamed of… my grandson… and that adorable little monster napping upstairs.  Plus…” Nathan’s hand fell casually to her abdomen and at Kristin’s little nod and smile he continued, “another new baby to look forward to.”

 

Silence dominated the room for a full half-minute before Janet finally broke it.  “Kristin, You’re… we’re going to have our babies together!” She quickly moved to embrace her friend as people began to chatter around them.  Nathan took one look at Bill’s face and took off across the room, his friend in hot pursuit.

 

“Well, not quite together,” Kristin laughed once she was freed.  “My baby should come about five weeks after yours.”  She could see the wheels turning in Janet’s head.

 

“I KNEW IT!  You didn’t wait like the doctor told you.”

 

“I’m a doctor, Janet, and I knew that everything was all right.  I needed to love my husband and let him love me before he left.  Admittedly, this little one was not part of my plan… but I can’t really say I’m sorry.”  Kristin’s hand drifted over her abdomen.

 

Janet began to laugh.

 

“I’m glad you find my condition so amusing.” Kristin said.

 

“I was just thinking… every time you’ve been intimate with Nathan and you haven’t been pregnant you’ve gotten pregnant.  I wonder how many kids you’ll end up with?

 

Kristin glared at her friend.  “I don’t find that amusing.  There will definitely be a break after this one.  Trust me.”

 

“I’ll believe that when I see it.  Short of having Nathan sleep in a different house, the two of you will never be able to keep your hands off of each other.”

 

“I didn’t say we wouldn’t… just that we’ll wait a while before we have another baby.  There are ways. You and Bill managed to go twenty years.”

 

At that moment Nathan flew by, pausing just long enough to run his hand across his newest child’s resting place as he spoke.  “You didn’t see me.”  He pounded up the stairs three at a time disappearing from sight just as Bill appeared in the kitchen entrance.

 

“Did you see him?” He puffed.

 

Kristin simply grinned, unwilling to rat out her husband even though she knew he deserved it, but Janet had no such problem.  She didn’t say a word, just raised her eyes toward the second floor.  Bill took off up the stairs with a grin.

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Nathan, I want you to do me a favor…”

 

“After that? Anything!”

 

Kristin snuggled closer to her husband, intending to enjoy all the close contact she could before her pregnancy began to interfere again.

 

“I want you to talk to Ben.”

 

“What am I going to talk to Ben about?”

 

“Birth control.”

 

Nathan was flabbergasted.  “You want me to talk to him about what?  That isn’t a topic that just pops up in conversation, darling.” His hand slid to the slight bulge of her abdomen.  “And with Charlie asleep in the crib and this one over a fourth of the way here, he’d probably laugh in my face.”

 

Kristin lifted her head to stare at Nathan.  “I’m serious.  I know that he and Cynthia have reconciled… and she’s… well… enjoying herself a bit more… but she is still only nineteen.  I think that they should have time together before they have another baby.”

 

“We didn’t have time together… are you sorry about that?”

 

Kristin laid her palm on her husband’s cheek and brushed her lips lightly across his.  “No.  I’m not in the least bit sorry.  Realistically speaking, neither one of us is getting any younger.  If I want a house full of your children then they are going to be born fairly close together.”

 

“Kristin, I love you.  I love Charlie and I love this little baby… but if we didn’t have them… if we don’t have any more children… nothing changes how I feel about you.”

 

“I know that and I feel the same way.  But I thought that I couldn’t have children for so long… and to be able to have them with you is the most wonderful gift.  I really do want to have more kids.”

 

“But you don’t want Cynthia to?”

 

“I don’t think that Cynni should have any more right now.  Ultimately it’s their decision.  I don’t want to be an interfering mother… or mother-in-law.  But she’s barely nineteen… she was a mother at seventeen.  I just want Ben to think about it.”

 

“And are you going to have this same talk with Cynthia?”

 

“Are you kidding?  With a four-month old baby and twelve weeks pregnant? And you think that Ben would laugh at you.”

 

“So it’s okay for me to get laughed at but not you?” Nathan asked, a hint of mirth in his voice.

 

Kristin laid her lips over his once more, her lips nibbling seductively at his.  “I’ll make it up to you… I promise.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Mom, can I talk to you for a minute?”  Kristin looked up from her desk to see Cynthia’s head stuck through her office door.

 

“Of course, darling.  I’m just finishing up.”

 

Cynthia closed the door and sat down across from her mother.

 

“So… you’ve been busy.”

 

“What do you mean sweetheart?”

 

“You got dad to talk to Ben didn’t you.”

 

Kristin’s face remained passive but Cynthia caught the slight twitch in her mother’s eye.  “I might have made a suggestion.  I didn’t mean to interfere… I just want… I just want you to think about it… be ready before you become parents.”

 

“The way that you and dad thought about it?  I can add, Mother.”

 

Kristin blushed.  “Okay… I didn’t follow the advice I’m so freely passing along to you.  But you are young, my darling daughter.  You need to have a chance to be young.  Nathan and I… Neither of our babies was planned but I am not as young as you are either.”

 

“You know that I should be mad at you… but in this case I actually agree with you.  I do love Ben and I love my son but I don’t want to be a mother again just yet.  It’s just…”

 

“Cynthia?” Kristin grew concerned as her daughter stopped speaking and lowered her head to stare at her hands.  “What is it? Is Ben pressuring you?”

 

“No… I’m just worried… we’ve already… Ben and I have been… close… a few times and we didn’t…”

 

“Ben didn’t use protection.” Kristin sighed.  “Then you could very well be pregnant.  But that isn’t an absolute.  Do you have any symptoms?  Would you like for me to do a test?”

 

Cynthia nodded, still refusing to meet her mother’s eyes.  “I don’t feel pregnant but…”

 

Kristin stood and moved to her daughter’s side, patting her on the shoulder.  “You need to have your mind put at ease.  Let me get my case and I’ll draw a blood sample.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Damn, I wish that I could play.” Kristin muttered as she and Janet sat on the Noyce’s back porch watching the weekly Wednesday night football game.  “But then I wish that I could stand up without needing a hoist.”

 

Janet laughed as her hands played over her bulging abdomen.  “Then think how I must feel.  You’re only five months along.  I’m well over six and about twice as big as you are.”

 

“You are not!  You’re just taller than I am.  You have more room for your baby to expand.”

 

“Yes… that’s it! I think it’s time to call the crew in for dinner, don’t you?” Janet pushed against the arms of her chair and rose awkwardly.  “Hey, you guys!  Second quarter is over…”

 

Looking back, no one knew exactly what happened… how the ball became airborne… why it headed for the porch… but it did.  Janet screamed as the projectile hit her forcefully in her stomach and staggered back before slipping to the deck, her arms clutching her midriff.

 

Kristin slid out of her seat to her knees and crawled the few feet that separated her from her sobbing friend.  Bill reached his wife at almost exactly the same moment.  Kristin stopped him from gathering Janet into his arms and pushed him away.

 

“Where does it hurt?  What does the pain feel like?  Is it sharp or dull?  Janet!  Talk to me, dammit!  You have to help me.”

 

Janet continued to sob hysterically, paying no heed to Kristin’s questions.  Finally Kristin grabbed her friend’s shoulders and shook her sharply. 

 

“What the hell are you doing?” Bill made to push Kristin away but Nathan grabbed him.

 

“Shut up, Bill, and let Kristin help.”  He kept a firm grip on Bill as Kristin continued to try and reach Janet.

 

“Ginny!  Go get pillows, blankets… Cynthia, go get my medical bag.”

 

After one more try to reach Janet verbally, Kristin drew her hand back and with a cringe of her mouth, slapped Janet soundly.  Nathan threw all his weight on Bill to hold him down when his friend jumped instinctively at his wife.

 

The slap stunned Janet and the sobbing stopped as she stared at Kristin, stunned. 

 

“I’m sorry, dear.  You have to relax.  Now tell me about the pain.”

 

Janet gulped.  “It’s sharp… like a knife being twisted…”

 

“Show me where…”

 

Janet shifted her hands to the top left side of her swelled belly.  Kristin probed gently and nodded to herself. 

 

“Are you having contractions?”

 

“I… I don’t know… the pain is sharp but steady… I don’t think I am.”

 

“Good.  Ginny, drape the blanket over your mother.  Nathan, would you clear everyone away?  Janet, I need to check you before we attempt to move you.”

 

“Here?”

 

“I’m sorry but yes.  Bill, do you have any brandy in the house?  Go pour a small glass… it will help Janet calm down.”

 

Kristin glanced around the back yard, a small smile touching her face as she watched Nathan herd the contrite group of young man to the very back of the yard.  She looked up as a shadow fell over her.

 

“Can I help, Dr. Bridger?” Katie Hitchcock asked sincerely.

 

Kristin spared a glance at her daughter as she approached with Kristin’s black medical bag but then turned back to Katie and nodded.  “Thank you, Katie.  I could use your help.”

 

Nurse Hitchcock held Janet’s knees and spoke in a calming tone to the patient while Kristin carefully checked for any signs of bleeding.  She swore softly as her fingertips came back tinged with red.

 

“Oh God!” Janet’s voice cracked with hysteria, knowing that Kristin’s curse meant bad news.

 

“No!  Do NOT get hysterical!” Kristin commanded as she pulled a towel over her hand and wiped it.  “You are only spotting a little.  That doesn’t necessarily mean anything bad.  I’d be surprised if you weren’t spotting.”

 

Bill appeared at that moment with a glass of brandy in his hand.  At Kristin’s nod he bent down and offered it to his wife, holding the glass along with her as she drank.

 

“Okay… we are going to move you upstairs to your bed now.  If you feel any change at any moment you tell me.”

 

Bill moved in to slip his arms beneath Janet, Nathan running over to join him in response to Kristin’s quick motion to come help.  Together they lifted Janet and maneuvered her through the house.  Nathan stepped away at the stairs letting Bill continue on.

 

Kristin and Katie soon had Janet settled comfortably into her bed then Kristin performed a more thorough examination before telling Katie to let Bill back in the room and requesting that she phone Joshua Levin at the hospital.

 

Katie paused as she was leaving the room. “Thank you, Dr. Bridger.”

 

Kristin looked surprised.  “Thank you for helping me, Katie.”

 

“No… thank you for letting me… for not turning me away when you have every reason to…”

 

Kristin smiled understandingly.  “You are an excellent nurse, Katie, but more important, you’ve been a good friend to both me and to Janet.”

 

“I’ve been wanting to tell you that I’m sorry about… I don’t know why I let my attraction to Ben get out of hand… but that’s over now.”

 

Kristin gently gripped Katie’s forearm in a comforting gesture.  “I know that you didn’t intend… the kids had some problems they had to work out and you got caught in between.  Believe me, I understand what it’s like to be attracted to someone who is… unavailable.  But this isn’t really the time or place for this discussion.  Go do as I asked now.  We’ll talk more later.”

 

Katie nodded and quickly left the room.

 

Kristin sat down on the edge of the bed by Janet and clasped her friend’s hand as her fingers moved to brush Janet’s tears away.

 

“Please don’t let me lose my baby, Kristin.  I… please!”

 

Sssh…” Kristin gently soothed her.  “You are going to have to stay in bed for a while… maybe the rest of your pregnancy… but if you will listen to your doctor I think you have a very good chance of carrying to term.  I’ve asked Katie to call Dr. Levin to examine you as well.”

 

“But I trust you.”

 

“I know you do, Janet, but you are my dearest friend.  I don’t want my emotions to cloud my medical judgement.  Let Levin help.”

 

A slight tap on the door dragged both women’s gazes to the entryway to see Bill standing there with a terrified look on his face.  “Can I come in?” He whispered.

 

Kristin stood and moved to join him.  “If Janet can remain calm and keep off her feet I think there is a good chance that she can carry for five or six more weeks, perhaps even full term.   But you cannot let her get upset.”

 

Bill nodded.  “I understand.”

 

Kristin watched as he moved to the side of the bed and knelt on the floor, taking Janet’s hand in his and kissing her palm.  She moved quietly away.

 

*~*~*~*

 

“How is she?” Nathan asked as he wrapped his arms around Kristin and hugged her as tightly as her expanding girth would allow.

 

“Okay…” Kristin whispered.  “But… I was so scared, Nathan.”

 

She sobbed against his shoulder as she felt Nathan’s lips brush her hair.  “I know, baby.  I was too.  All I could think about was how I would feel if it had been you.  Bill was so upset.  He’s feeling very guilty because he wasn’t very excited about the baby in the beginning… but now he’s terrified of losing it.  I can understand that feeling.  He cried, Kristin.  I can’t remember the last time I saw Bill Noyce shed tears.”

 

Kristin pulled her head up to stare at her husband.  “I remember.  He cried when we thought that we’d lost you.  But you came home to us and I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure that Janet doesn’t lose this baby.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Mom… are you awake?” Cynthia’s soft voice filtered through Kristin’s dreams and slowly pulled her toward consciousness.

 

“Mmm… I’m up…” She muttered and stretched, her eyes flying open at Cynthia’s gasp. 

 

Kristin grabbed the sheet from around her waist, yanking it up over her bare chest.

 

“Sorry… you can turn around now.” She told the back that Cynthia was presenting her.

 

Cynthia turned cautiously.  “I didn’t mean to… Dad asked me to check in on you.  He told me that you had a rough night.  Is Aunt Janet okay?”

 

Kristin tucked the bed sheet securely around her chest, noting her daughter’s blush yet again.  “Janet is fine.  She was having contractions but they were only Braxton-Hicks, the false kind and they stopped after a few hours.  I stayed until Ginny arrived this morning but Nathan insisted that I get some more sleep so I came back to bed.”

 

“Sleep… yeah.”  Cynthia popped an eyebrow at her mother’s naked shoulders.

 

Kristin shrugged.  “I was too wound up to go back to sleep right away.  Nathan helped me… relax.  Where is he, by the way?”

 

“Dad got called into the office so he asked me to come over and watch Charlie while you slept.”

 

Kristin glanced at the clock by the bed.  “One o’clock!  Oh Lord!  Why did you let me sleep so late?”

 

“Dad said you were tired.  I thought it was from staying up with Mrs. Noyce.”

 

Kristin stuck her tongue out at her daughter playfully.  “Where are the children?”

 

“Afternoon naps.”

 

“Good.” Kristin patted the bed beside her.  “Come sit and talk to me then.  We don’t have enough mother daughter time anymore.”

 

Cynthia smiled.  “Little ones take up a lot of our day.  Thank God that you are the only one with another little one on the way.”

 

Kristin laughed, knowing how relieved her daughter had been to discover that she wasn’t pregnant from her initial reconciliation with Ben.  Her hands fell to her belly, her hands brushing lightly over the sheet.

 

“I’m glad as well. You have plenty of time for babies.  Once this damned fighting is over I want you to consider continuing your education.  You wanted to go to college… there is no reason why you can’t still go.”

 

“I’m a navy wife now.  My job is to follow the fleet.” Cynthia replied flippantly.

 

Kristin sat up and glared at her daughter.  “Don’t give me that.  You are a bright girl.  Alex left you very well provided for.  You can always hire someone to help with Teddy while you are at classes.”

 

“Married women don’t go to university, mom.  Society frowns on it.”

 

“To hell with society.”

 

“Mother!” Cynthia was shocked. 

 

“Let’s face it.  I threw convention to the wind the night I chose to sleep with Nathan Bridger without being married to him.  I didn’t expect to get pregnant when I made that choice but I’m certainly not sorry that I did it.  Live your life for you, my daughter.  Don’t try to please the world because you will never succeed.  Now… there is one other thing I want to talk to you about.”

 

“Katie Hitchcock.” Cynthia stated matter of factly.

 

“How did you know?”

 

“I saw the look you gave me before you let her help you with Aunt Janet.  It’s okay, mom.  I like Katie… I really do.  Ben told me that nothing more than that single kiss happened between them and I believe him.  Ben chose me.  I don’t expect that Katie and I will ever be close friends but she is a part of the group.  I can certainly socialize with her. I’m glad that Katie was there to help you.  Besides, I think that Katie’s true feelings lay elsewhere… that perhaps Ben was an attempt on her part to deny those feelings.”

 

“I think that my little girl is becoming very mature.” Kristin reached a hand out to touch her daughter’s cheek.

 

“And I think that my mother’s sheet is slipping.”

 

Kristin grabbed the sliding cover.

 

“It’s nice to know that when I do get pregnant again I won’t have to give up… certain activities.” Cynthia continued, enjoying the slight blush on her mother’s skin.  “So, how long can Ben and I keep… doing that?”

 

“You could hand me my nightgown.” Kristin muttered.  “If we’re going to have a clinical discussion on sex I’d prefer to have at least one piece of clothing on.”

 

Cynthia turned and glanced over the floor of the room then stood and bent to peer under the bed.  “I would be glad to if I knew where it was.”

 

“Maybe I could help with that.” The women turned to find Nathan standing in the doorway, a huge smile on his face.

 

“What did you do with it?” Kristin asked as he sauntered into the room.

 

“What did I do?” Nathan asked innocently.  “I pulled into the driveway and just happened to notice a very interesting banner flying from the side of the house.”  He reached a hand over to the windowsill and unhooked a silk strap from the corner then pulled the lacy black garment back inside.

 

Kristin pushed up to her knees grabbing at the sheet to wrap it around her as she did so.  She reached for the garment but Nathan pulled it back just out of her reach.

 

“Give me my nightgown, Bridger.” Kristin demanded.

 

“Come and get it.” Nathan challenged.

 

“Obviously at least into the fifth month.” Both Nathan and Kristin’s heads snapped around to look at the spot Cynthia had just vacated; her words lingering in the air as she quickly disappeared.

 

“You embarrassed her.” Kristin charged.

 

“I embarrassed her?  I’m not the one kneeling in the middle of the bed without a stitch of clothing on.”  Kristin glared at her husband as she tightened the sheet around her body.

 

Nathan kicked the door shut then moved to the side of the bed, one knee sinking into the mattress as he dangled Kristin’s nightgown teasingly in front of her face.  Kristin made a grab for the garment and he popped it quickly behind his back, his eyes drinking in the flesh that was bared as the sheet slipped an inch or two.

 

“Oh… I see… So that’s your game, Bridger.  Give me my nightgown or pay the consequences.”  A wicked gleam flickered in Kristin’s eyes.

 

“You aren’t really in a position to be making threats, my love.”

 

Kristin licked her lips as her eyes gleamed.  “Mmm… you really think so?”

 

Nathan’s mouth went dry as Kristin lay back in the bed and stared at him, her hands stretching above her head sensuously.  As her back arched the bedding slipped lower until the very top of one pebbled rosy nipple became visible.

 

“You’re not playing fair.” He gasped, an anticipatory smile slowly springing to his lips.

 

“Who said anything about fair?”

 

Nathan gulped as Kristin slid her hands beneath the sheet.  He watched her every move as Kristin cupped her breasts and grazed over her nipples with her thumbs.  After teasing the dark peaks fully erect her palms flattened against her belly and slid lower, around the swell and then beneath.

 

Nathan’s gaze was fastened on the slow movements of Kristin’s hands beneath the sheet and he missed seeing her foot slide out the side of the covering.  He gasped when her toes pressed firmly against the tremendous bulge then began to roll.

 

Black silk flew over Nathan’s shoulder as he tossed the garment away and grabbed the cotton cloth covering Kristin and yanked it away just in time to see her fingers slide into her auburn curls.

 

Nathan fell to his hands and knees and crawled forward but Kristin’s outstretched hand, fingers glistening in the sun with her own dampness, stopped him before he could press himself down to her. She slid to the right then rolled to her side and placing a hand on Nathan’s shoulder, she gently pushed until he fell on his side facing her.

 

“Take off your shirt.” Nathan grinned at his wife’s command and quickly slid the shirt buttons from their moorings.  He sat up to strip the shirt away then dropped it to the mattress and pulled his white tee shirt over his head.

 

“Now the shoes.” Nathan obliged, his shoes hitting the floor with loud thumps, his socks following quickly after.

 

“On your back, sailor.”

 

A knowing grin crossed Nathan’s rugged features as he stacked the pillows together then lay back in the middle of the bed and held his arms out to Kristin.

 

“Mmm…” Kristin ignored his outstretched limbs for a moment while her fingers lightly traced the bulge beneath his trouser zipper.  She stretched again as she shifted to face Nathan then moved to straddle his hips. 

 

Nathan’s hands immediately began to close in on her waist but Kristin caught his hands in her own and held them away from her body.

 

“Baby…?” Nathan watched with questioning eyes as Kristin rocked forward on her knees, pushing his arms up over his head.  She wrapped his fingers around the iron railings and leaned low to kiss him.

 

Nathan groaned as Kristin’s tongue laved his mouth, teasing and tangling with his tongue, while the pointed tips of her heavy breasts brushed through his chest hair.  He tried to pull free, desperate to touch her, but her hands locked his in place around the bar.  Kristin broke the kiss and trailed wet lips across his cheek to lick his ear.

 

“Don’t let go… promise…” She whispered then bit down lightly on his ear lobe.

 

Nathan nodded and tightened his grip on the rail, anxious to receive whatever attentions that Kristin wished to bestow.  She didn’t disappoint him.

 

Soft lips trailed down Nathan’s long throat then lovingly feasted on his collar bone while her hands drew patterns in the light covering of grey across his chest.  Angular hips shot sharply off the bed as Kristin’s teeth closed over a pert male nipple and began to suckle.

 

“Kristin… please…” He begged, frantic to touch her in return.  Kristin lifted her head and stared at his loosening hands.  At the look in her eye, Nathan once again tightened his grip. 

 

“Not letting go.” He promised.

 

Kristin nodded and licked her lips as she lowered her head back to his chest, moving to the opposite peak.  This time she lowered her body as well, gyrating her hips against his thighs as her pregnant belly pressed into his arousal.

 

Kristin continued to tease and torment her husband as she slowly slid down his body, tasting him every inch of the way.  When she reached the waistband of his trousers Kristin stopped and propped her torso up on her elbows as she raised her head to stare at her husband.  She shifted her weight to one side and lifted her hand, bringing one finger down lightly on his zipper.

 

Nathan gasped and pushed up against her palm, bringing an airy chuckle to her lips. 

 

“Now what was that about me being in no position to make threats?”  She whispered sultrily as her fingers wrapped around the trouser button and… paused.

 

“Uncle,” Nathan gasped in surrender then sighed deeply when his fly was slowly released, allowing his monumental erection to push out, straining his cotton boxers to their maximum tolerance.

 

Kristin pushed up to her knees.  “Lift!” She commanded, her tone allowing no refusal.

 

Nathan planted his feet on the bed and pushed up, propelling his hips into the air so that Kristin could  yank his pants and underwear down to his knees.  His erection sprang free and rose from dark curls to point proudly toward the ceiling.  Kristin licked her lips and lowered her head. 

 

Warm breath washing over Nathan’s skin felt so good that he had to bite his lips to keep from crying out.  His head fell back, his eyes closing, as the slow current continued to caress his aching member for several minutes.

 

A loud groan escaped from deep in Nathan’s throat as he felt the tip of Kristin’s tongue touch the vein along the bottom of his erection and languidly trace it upward.  Her hands wrapped around him and squeezed firmly as she flicked her lips across the purplish head before finally engulfing him in her warm mouth.

 

Nathan didn’t realize he’d let go of the bed frame until his free hand found itself tangled in the fiery curls bobbing between his legs.  Kristin freed him quickly, her head popping up to stare at him.

 

“I’m sorry… I didn’t mean…”

 

“That’s okay, my love.  I need to go say goodbye to Cynthia anyway.”  Kristin smiled, an evil twinkle in her eye as she rocked up and wriggled toward the side of the bed.

 

“You tease!” Nathan laughed as he lunged forward and and grabbed her around the waist, dragging her back into his lap.  Kristin’s bottom settled into the cradle of Nathan’s hips as she struggled half-heartedly to get away, giggling madly all the while.  He drew his knees up between her splayed legs, effectively capturing her against his body as his hands moved to palm her breasts.

 

“Now about those threats…” Nathan whispered in her ear as his tongue laved the pink shell.  Kristin wiggled desperately against the hard rod pressed into the small of her back as she once again tried to escape.

 

Nathan wrapped an arm around her torso just below her breasts and locked her in place as he scooted his butt back up the bed until his back rested against the pillowed headboard.  Along the way he managed to kick his pants and boxers free so that he was as naked as she was.

 

Kristin laughed and made one last attempt to escape, pushing away suddenly and catching Nathan off guard.  He rocked forward to stymie her attempt, his hand reaching between them and pushing his erection down before he settled her back against his hips.

 

Kristin gasped as she felt Nathan’s arousal press into the blossoming folds of her damp sheath.  Desire suddenly overrode her desire to tease and she rocked forward, propping her hands on the bed in front of her as she shifted her hips upward.

 

“Please…” she whimpered.

 

Nathan understood and took himself in hand.  He pulled his engorged tip across the bud center of her desire, stabbing up and down against it until she whimpered again then moved to the entrance of her passage and pressed slowly up.  His free hand moved to her waist and guided her back down until he was fully embedded within her body.

 

“Nathan! That feels so…”

 

“… incredible… oh God, honey…” He flexed his hips up again and was rewarded with yet another moan from Kristin.  She rocked against him, her inner muscles clenching tightly as she did so, her body begging for more.

 

Shh…” Nathan soothed her gently, his face buried in her hair as he pulled the sheet up over their lower bodies.  “Relax… are you uncomfortable?

 

“No… I’m fine.” She shifted slightly and turned her head to look at him.  “We’re both fine.”

 

Nathan’s hands slid reverently over the swell of her abdomen, pleased to feel slight flutters as the baby moved as well.  His lips brushed over hers then returned to share a gentle kiss.  Kristin’s arm came up to wrap around his neck, her fingers sliding into his hair.  They stayed locked together for several long minutes, sharing wet sloppy kisses as their hands lovingly caressed each other’s body.  The baby within joined in as well, kicking wherever Nathan placed his hands.

 

After one particularly sharp kick Kristin gasped and pushed Nathan’s hands down to her thighs.  “I think that’s enough of that.” She murmured against his lips.

 

“Mmm… well, how about this?” Nathan locked his mouth over hers as his right hand slid down so that his fingers could stroke her distended clit.  “Or is that enough?” He drew his hand away but Kristin quickly captured it and pulled it back. 

 

The room was soon filled with soft sighs and moans as they gave in to their bodies’ demands and loosed the reins on their desire.  Nathan began to rock slowly; Kristin’s arms falling behind her, strong fingers locking into his hard butt cheeks as she moved in counterpoint.

 

“…close…” Kristin could barely gasp the word she was panting so hard.

 

“…come…” The pressure of Nathan’s fingers increased.

 

“… together…” Kristin pulled a hand away from Nathan’s butt and dropped it between their legs and worked it beneath his hand to stroke his tight sacs. 

 

Kristin’s mouth muffled the shout that flew from Nathan’s throat as his semen rose up and burst forth into her warmth, the hot pulse against the entrance to her womb along with the tight press of Nathan’s fingers sending her over the edge along with him. 

 

Their hips continued to undulate together, their mutual climax stretching over several levels and long minutes before they finally crested.  Nathan sagged back against the pillows, Kristin cradled on top of him as they gradually regained control of their breathing and their senses.

 

“That was...” Kristin pressed a kiss into Nathan’s neck.

 

“…exquisite!” He finished the thought for her.

 

“God knows what my daughter must think.” Kristin smiled as her head fell back so that she could stare into Nathan’s eyes.

 

“She’s probably thinking that her mother is one damned lucky woman!”

 

“Has anyone ever told you that you are very arrogant, Admiral Bridger?’

 

“Just self assured, Doctor Bridger.  Your lovely response to my touch tends to boost my ego.”

 

A small sigh of disappointment escaped Kristin’s lips as Nathan’s satisfied member slipped from her body.  She rolled and cuddled up closely at his side, his arms wrapping around her.

 

“I should go check on Janet.”

 

“Later… just stay here for a little while longer.  I want to enjoy holding you close for as long as I possibly can.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Janet, you’ve outdone yourself.  This years’ Christmas dinner was the best ever.” Nathan announced as he shoved his chair away from the table and patted his full belly.

 

“I can’t take the credit this year.  Ginny and Cynni did all of the work.” Janet struggled to lift her bulky body out of the chair but only succeeded when Bill moved to help her.  “I had very little to do with the preparations this time.  Why don’t we move into the den?  I think that Kristin and I might both be more comfortable there.”

 

Ginny and Cynthia quickly took over cleanup duties while their husbands took Teddy out into the back yard.  Their other guests, Katherine Hitchcock, Joshua Levin, Malcolm Lansdowne and various members of Nathan’s design team followed them out.  Nathan helped Kristin stand and together the men walked their very pregnant wives slowly toward the sitting area.

 

Bill moved Janet toward the sofa and she sighed heavily as she sank into the cushions, her hands rubbing her huge belly.  Kristin moved to the chair across from Janet and sat while Nathan pulled a footstool into place.

 

A loud cry came floating down the stairs at that moment, alerting them to the fact that nine-month-old Charlie was awake from her nap. 

 

“That’s my girl,” Nathan muttered, “right on time for a feeding and diaper change.  I’ll go get her.”

 

“I’ll come, too.  Will you be okay, honey?” Bill asked Janet.  “I want to get in some more practice… just in case our baby ever decides to be born.”

 

“Go.” Janet waved him away as she swung her feet up onto the couch.

 

“So…” Kristin began once the men were out of the room, “you haven’t told Bill that you are in labor?”

 

“No… how did you know?”

 

“You are almost two weeks late so I’ve been expecting it any time.  Plus I’ve seen the way you hold your belly, the way you close your eyes and catch your breath.  How long have you been having contractions?”

 

“Since I woke up this morning.  At first I was afraid to believe that it might finally be happening after two false alarms.  And I didn’t want to ruin Christmas.  All three of my children took over twenty-four hours to be born.”

 

“How far apart are your contractions?”

 

“About fifteen minutes.  They’ve been that way for hours.  Please don’t say anything to Bill yet.  He’ll want to load me up and take me to the hospital and I don’t think that it’s time yet.”

 

“If they increase in intensity or shorten in length you will tell me?  Then I won’t say anything to Bill.”

 

Footsteps rumbling on the stairs alerted the ladies to the imminent return of their spouses.  Moments later Nathan’s voice could be heard.

 

“Let’s go see mama, princess.”  He appeared at the doorway, his back hunched over as he held his hands down for Charlie to hang on to his fingers as she tottered unsteadily across the floor.

 

“Mama!” The baby pronounced with glee and tried to increase her pace.  Nathan kept a careful hold on her as she struggled to her mother’s chair then he swung her up and placed her in Kristin’s arms.

 

“Hello, my little love, did you have a good sleep?”  Kristin cooed to the little girl.

 

Charlie’s deep blue eyes gleamed.  “Baba?” She babbled in her sweet baby voice.

 

“One bottle coming up.” Bill appeared at the doorway, bottle in hand.

 

“Why don’t I feed her?” Nathan said and plucked the little girl into his arms.  “She’ll be more comfortable and so will you.”

 

“She doesn’t fit in my arms as well as she used to.” Kristin laughed as she rubbed the top of her swollen belly.  “Her baby brother has seen to that.”

 

“Sister…” Nathan muttered with a wink at his wife. 

 

“Hey Nathan!” Ben’s head appeared around the door facing.  “We’re gonna play a game.  You two in?”

 

Both women smiled as their husbands shook their heads.  “Go play, Bill.  You’ve been hovering over me for a month.  You could do with some fun.”

 

Kristin echoed Janet’s sentiments.  “Take Bill and go play.  We’ll just stay here and talk.”

 

“Cyn said she would watch Charlie.” Ben joined in.

 

Finally both men consented and with a kiss to their wives they departed.

 

“So… what do we do now?”

 

“We sleep!” Janet exclaimed.

 

*~*~*~*

 

“Kristin… Kris…” The sound of her name finally pulled Kristin from the deep sleep she’d fallen in to.  She stretched and opened her eyes to see Janet bent over the sofa, her hands clutching the arm.

 

“What’s wrong?” Kristin heaved her body out of the chair and moved to Janet’s side.  “Have the contractions gotten stronger?”

 

“Mmm…” Janet couldn’t speak and Kristin realized that she was in the throes of a labor pain.  She moved to rub her friend’s back.

 

“Oh God… That one was bad.”

 

“I think that it’s time to call Bill and take you to the hospital.”

 

“No… I don’t want to go to the hospital, not if I don’t have to.  I can have the baby here.”

 

Kristin looked skeptical.  “What if something goes wrong?”

 

“Women have been having babies at home for years.  The naval hospital isn’t really set up to handle maternity cases anyway.  Plus you are here.”

 

“Have you discussed this with Bill?”

 

“No, but… oh please… “

 

“Why don’t we go upstairs and let me check you then we’ll talk about this.”

 

Janet nodded and moved slowly toward the doorway.  They were halfway up the stairs when another contraction hit.  Janet clamped down on her bottom lip to keep from crying out as she gripped the banister with white-knuckled hands. 

 

Kristin glanced at her watch as she helped support Janet until the pain passed.  “That was only a couple of minutes since the last one.  Let’s get you upstairs.”

 

Janet heaved a sigh of relief as she sank down to the side of the bed.  She’d barely turned her body into the cushions when she felt a gush of warmth rush from her womb.  “My water…”

 

Kristin grabbed Bill’s toweled robe from the end of the bed and thrust it beneath Janet to absorb the worst of the water then she carefully lifted the hem of Janet’s dress to check on the baby’s progress.

 

“Okay, no hospital.  At this point you’d probably deliver on the way there.  Let me call Bill and get Nathan to get my bag then we will get you ready.”

 

Janet nodded and lay back in the pillow as Kristin moved to the window and stuck her head out.

 

“Nathan!” Within seconds Nathan appeared at the side of the house.  “Could you go get my medical bag… quickly?  And tell Bill he needs to get up here… and maybe Joshua and Katie as well.”

 

A grin broke across Nathan’s face as he nodded and ran toward the back yard.  Seconds later they heard the heavy tread of Bill’s footsteps on the stairs.

 

He burst through the door panting.  “Hospital… we’ve got to get to the hospital…”

 

“It may be too late for that, Bill.  Would you give me your opinion, Joshua?” Kristin asked her colleague, who’d just appeared at the door.

 

Bill moved to the side of the bed to clutch Janet’s hand while Joshua performed a quick second check.

 

“I agree.  The baby is probably in the birth canal.  I think we’ve got a little time but the trip might do more harm than good.  Maybe we should prepare things here.”

 

A knock on the doorframe caught their attention and they turned to see Nathan standing there, one hand holding out Kristin’s bag and the other plastered over his eyes.  Kristin carefully covered Janet before moving toward her husband. 

 

“It’s okay.  You can look now.” Kristin took the bag.  “Why don’t you take Bill downstairs?”

 

“No… No… I’m not leaving.  No way.”  Bill gripped his wife’s hand and glared at the other people in the room.

 

“We need to gather up some things for the doctors and I’m not sure where you keep things.  Come help me.” Nathan cajoled.

 

“Go ahead, honey.  That will give Kristin and Dr. Levin a chance to get everything ready.”

 

“Okay…” Bill reluctantly agreed.  “So, what do we need?”

 

Nathan slipped an arm casually around Bill’s shoulders and led him toward the door.  “Hot water, some sheets and towels, diapers and baby blankets…”

 

“Nathan!” Kristin called after him and made a little tilting up motion with her hand when he looked back.  He smiled and nodded.

 

“Oh yes and a big bottle of whisky!”

 

*~*~*~*

 

Bill stopped pacing, his head jerking up to stare at the ceiling as a labored cry rent the air.  “It’s been almost four hours. How much more can she take?”

 

Nathan placed a reassuring arm on his shoulder.  “Women have been having babies for centuries.  She’s in the best of hands.”

 

“I should be with her.”  Bill moved toward the doorway only to be blocked by his daughter. 

 

“You would pass out, daddy.” Ginny told him bluntly.

 

“I would not!  Nathan delivered his own kid and he didn’t pass out.”

 

Ginny rolled her eyes.  “Sure, dad.”

 

Footsteps sounded on the landing and a few seconds later Katie Hitchcock stuck her head in the door.  “It won’t be too much longer now, Admiral.  Mrs. Noyce is ready to push.  She sent me down to ask if you’d like to be present.”

Bill gulped.  “Me… in there… when… oh lord!  I’d faint!”  He turned toward his daughter and his friend.  “What do I do?”

 

Nathan grinned.  “It’s an experience not to be missed, my friend.” He encouraged quietly.

 

Bill nodded and took off after Katie, a worried grin on his face.

 

Ginny turned to glare at her godfather.  “He’s going to faint.”

 

“Probably.  Why don’t you go give the footballers an update?”

 

*~*~*~*

 

Kristin dug the heels of her hands into the small of her back and stretched as she stared out the window into the afternoon glow. 

 

“You okay?” She started at Levin’s voice then smiled at him as he moved up beside her.

 

“Okay… my back is very tight.  I haven’t stood up this long in quite a while.”

 

“You could go rest.” He suggested gently.

 

Kristin shook her head.  “I promised Janet that I was going to deliver her baby and I am going to keep that promise.  It shouldn’t be too much longer now.”

 

“We thought that four hours ago and little Noyce decided to be contrary.”

 

“But the baby is in the birth canal.  She’s going to have to push soon or we are going to have to use the forceps.”

 

“Doctor!” Katie called to them as she entered the room, Bill right behind her.

 

“Bill, you go to the side of the bed and hold Janet’s hand.  I’ll let you see as much as possible but you have to stay out of our way.”  Kristin told him.

 

Bill nodded in agreement and did as he was told; his hand reaching out to grab his wife’s as he settled on the small stool beside her.  “You hanging in there, sweetheart?” He whispered as he carefully smoothed Janet’s brown locks away from her forehead.

 

She nodded and started to speak but the sound came out as a small cry, the muscles on her abdomen tightening again.

 

“Okay, Janet. You need to push… just like we talked about… that’s it…” Kristin moved to the end of the bed and moved back the sheet covering Janet’s legs, offering encouragement all the while.  Bill did the same, catching Janet’s gaze with his own and hold her locked in a stare.

 

Finally the contraction began to fade and Janet fell back to the pillows with a gasp.  “I changed my mind.  I don’t want to have another baby!”

 

Kristin laughed at Bill’s devastated look.  “It’s just the pain talking, I promise.”

 

The next contraction started moments later.  After just a few more contractions the baby’s head was visible.

 

Katie was the only person who saw Kristin wince and grab her back, her teeth biting down in an effort not to scream.  She started to speak but Kristin, realizing that Katie had seen, shook her head, her mouth forming a silent ‘please’.

 

“The baby’s head should be out on the next push so I want you to give it all you can.”   Janet nodded and bore down as the next contraction rippled through her body.  “That’s it… you can do it… okay, the head is out… stop pushing…” Kristin quickly cleaned the mucous from the baby’s mouth, her hands carefully supporting its head.  “Now on the next contraction give just a little more… and you’ll be holding your baby.”

 

Janet managed a weak smile for her friend then exhaled sharply as another pain began.  Bill helped her back into position and slipped his arm behind her, his hand pressing firmly on her lower back.  “That’s it, sweetheart.  You can do it!”

 

Kristin carefully rotated the baby’s shoulders as they emerged and the entire body slipped into her waiting hands.  A quiet whimper emerged from the infant’s mouth to be quickly followed by a loud scream.

 

“You have a son.” Kristin announced happily as Bill and Janet craned their necks for a view.  “Joshua, could you take over here?”

 

Levin and Katie moved into place as Kristin moved to Janet’s side.  “You have a beautiful baby boy.  He’s absolutely gorgeous.”

 

“Thank you, Kristin.” Both Bill and Janet reached to take her hand.

 

“I’m going to go downstairs and deliver the happy news if that’s all right.  I need to sit down for a little while.  I’ll be back a bit later.”

 

“Of course… are you…” Katie moved to place the messy baby in Janet’s arms and mother and father were immediately oblivious to everything else around them.  Kristin smiled and moved toward the door.  Katie stopped her just before she left the room.

 

“Doctor Bridger?” her eyes held worry.

 

Kristin nodded shortly. “Once things are taken care of here would you send Dr. Levin next door?  I’m going to have Nathan take me home.  But not a word until things are wrapped up here.”

 

Kristin made her way down the hallway, reaching the top of the stairs before another sharp pain hit her. 

 

“You do realize that you should stay in there for four more weeks, don’t you?” She gently scolded the baby struggling to get out of her womb.  “Just as impatient as your sister, aren’t you?  Or are you caught up in your daddy’s competition with Uncle Bill?”

 

Once the pain eased Kristin made her way slowly to the front room where Nathan, Ginny and the rest of the Christmas guests were waiting; most of them covered with dirt and grass.

 

“Your mother is just fine, Ginny, and so is your new baby brother.”  Ginny clapped her hands and hugged her husband enthusiastically.

 

“How long did Bill last before he fainted?” Nathan asked.

 

“Fainted… Bill didn’t faint.  He was wonderful with Janet.”

 

“Damn!” Nathan muttered as Ginny moved in to hug Kristin then Nathan.

 

“Katie will come get you when you can see your mother.  Nathan, could I talk to you?” Kristin inclined her head toward the kitchen.

 

They moved away from the group and down the hall into the kitchen.  Nathan stopped in surprise as Kristin kept moving out the back door.

 

“Kristin, what’s wrong?”

 

“I just need to go home.”

 

“Okay… Let me get the baby and…”

 

Kristin shook her head as she slowly moved down the back steps.  “Leave Charlie with Cynthia.”

 

When Kristin didn’t stop Nathan quickly moved to catch up with her.  He’d just laid a hand on her shoulder when she stopped and gasped, her hands clutching her abdomen.

 

Nathan moved into position without even thinking about it, his hands moving to support her back as she leaned into his chest.  Then he felt the rush of wetness against his pant legs.

 

“Oh shit…” he muttered as he stared down at the stains made when Kristin’s water broke.  “Levin… I’ve got to…”

 

“Katie is going to send him to our house as soon as he gets done with Janet.  I only hope… that isn’t long.  I don’t think that our second child is going to wait any longer than our first to appear.”

 

“But Levin…”

 

“I want our baby born in our bed, Nathan, just like Charlotte.  I can’t stand much longer… Please?”

 

Nathan swooped his wife into his arms and took off across the expanse of yard toward their home.

 

*~*~*~*

 

Kristin eased back onto the mattress of the prepared bed and lay against the pillows while Nathan draped a sheet over the lower half of her body.  He then reached out and grabbed the whisky bottle, pouring a glass for each of them.  He handed Kristin her glass and they smiled as they toasted the imminent birth of their child.

 

“You look so sexy wearing my shirts.” Nathan told her, pleased to see a grin form on her face.  “I remember that day on the island when you stole mine…”

 

Kristin fingered the lapel of the manly shirt she had slipped on over her torso.  “The day you found Darwin.  That was a wonde… OOOOH!”  The contraction ripped through Kristin’s body, her face and hands clenching as she struggled against the pain.  Nathan grabbed her and held her until the agony eased.

 

“How come Janet takes all day to have a baby and you can do it in an hour?” Nathan teased, trying to make Kristin laugh.  He was pleased when she did so, albeit a bit breathlessly.

 

“I have no idea.  Cynthia took all day to be born as well but Charlie and this one… It’s been less than twenty minutes since I experienced anything other than lower back discomfort and I’ll be very surprised if I last forty more minutes.”

 

“Your instruments… we need your instruments.” Nathan felt a touch of panic when he realized that his hasty preparations had left out that step.

 

Kristin grabbed his hand.  “Katie knows.  I’m sure she is busy cleaning and disinfecting them this instant to bring over.  Everything else is ready.  Come sit and talk to me.  We haven’t agreed on a name for this little one yet.”

 

Nathan chuckled.  “We haven’t agreed on a sex for this little one so a name would be pretty hard agree on.  How about Elizabeth?”

 

“How about Nathan?”

 

“Oh no… we aren’t starting that again.  No junior.  Besides, it’s going to be a girl.”

Kristin made a face at her husband.  “You are so determined to get your way.  It might be a boy.  Just think, our baby and Bill and Janet’s son will have the same birthday.  Isn’t that funny?”

 

“And both of those birthdays will be December twenty-fifth.  That is going to make birthday parties and present giving interesting.  If we have a son we’ll use the name we agreed on last time, Christopher.  That is kind of Christmas sounding.”

 

“Christopher Hale Bridger, I like that.”  Kristin smiled as she absently rubbed her belly; her breathing increasing as a new contraction took hold.

 

“We have to pick a girls name.” Nathan reminded her once the contraction was done.

 

“What is your mother’s name?” Kristin asked.  “We could name a daughter after her.”

 

“My mother’s name was Lillian and I don’t think so.  She didn’t even like the name.  How about your mother?”

 

“My mother’s name is Georgiana Victoria.”

 

“Hey, I like that name, Georgiana… Charlie and Georgie… that has a certain ring to it.  Georgiana Elizabeth Bridger.  What do you think?”

 

Kristin rolled her eyes.  “I think that my mother will be pleased.  But why don’t we pick something Christmas sounding for a girl as well.”

 

Nathan nodded.  “What did you have in mind?”

 

“How about Noel?  Georgiana Noel.”

 

Nathan rolled the name over his tongue a few times.  “I like that.” His hand moved up to rub Kristin’s abdomen.  “We’re ready whenever you are, Georgie.”

 

“OOOOOH!” Kristin screamed as she sat up and gripped Nathan’s hands.  “She’s taking you literally.  I’ve… oh Nath… I’ve got to push.”

 

Nathan’s eyes grew wide as he held Kristin through the worst of the pain before moving down to check beneath the sheet.  “I can feel the head.”  He stood and ran to the window, throwing it open and leaning out.  “LEVIN!  LEVIN!”

 

The doctor’s head appeared in the Noyce’s open bedroom window a few moments later.

 

“She has to push.  I know I’ve done this once but… could you please get your ass over here…  NOW!”

 

Joshua Levin made it to the Bridger home within three minutes, just in time to see Nathan catch his second daughter as she slid from her mother’s body.

 

*~*~*~*

 

Charlotte Bridger eyed the squirming bundle in her mother’s arms curiously before leaning over to take a peek.  She wrinkled her nose.  “Ba… baba…”

 

“She’s trying to say baby.” Nathan interpreted.

 

“It’s the same as when she’s trying to say bottle, sweetheart.”  Kristin lay propped against the pillows with her three-hour-old daughter in her arms.  “And speaking of bottles, I think that Georgiana might be trying to tell me something.”

 

The baby lay passively trying to shove her entire fist into her mouth as she sucked on it furiously.  Kristin carefully loosened the ribbon at the neck of her gown and shrugged the material aside to allow her daughter access.  Charlie wiggled in closer as her baby sister latched on to their mother’s nipple and began to suck.  She reached a hand out to push the strange object away from her mommy.

 

Nathan laughed as he caught Charlie’s hand and swung her back into his arms.  “No, no, princess.  You must be gentle with your baby sister.  Can you say Georgie?”

 

“Gaga…”

 

“She’s trying to say it.” Nathan exclaimed.

 

“She’s muttering nonsense syllables.  I know that you think Charlotte is a prodigy but she is not ten months old yet.”

 

Nathan smiled and sat down on the side of the bed.  “Georgie’s appetite is as healthy as Charlie’s was.”

 

“Mmm… Perhaps I’ll be able to feed her longer than her sister.”

 

“Kris…” She looked up at the serious tone in Nathan’s voice.  “I… Thank you.”  A tiny tear clung to the corner of Nathan’s eye as he carefully brushed a downy curl on the newborn infant’s head.

 

“You’re welcome, my love.  Now why don’t the two of you come up here and cuddle with us?”

 

Nathan scooted to the head of the bed and wrapped one arm around Kristin as she leaned against his shoulder.  Charlie lay her head against his chest and stuck her thumb in her mouth, quietly surveying her new baby sister.

 

*~*~*~*

 

Bill knocked at the door to Nathan’s office then stumbled inside to find his friend slumped over his desk, fast asleep.  A snort escaped Bill’s lips as he walked to the desk and clapped a hand onto Nathan’s shoulder.

 

“Huh… What?   I’ll get her…” Nathan’s head popped up and he stared around the room, disoriented.

 

Bill plopped down in a chair in front of the desk.  “If I don’t get to sleep, neither do you.”

 

Nathan noticed that his friend also had dark circles under his eyes.  “That isn’t fair. You only have one baby to deal with.  I have two.”

 

“And whose fault is that?  I just dropped by to see how the work is going.”

 

Nathan pushed his body upright as he tried without success to stifle a yawn.  “It’s going.  We’re ready to implement some of the medbay design changes that Kristin recommended and the mock up of the new bridge design is almost ready for presentation.”  Another yawn escaped his lips.

 

“I want to talk to you about something.” Bill interrupted him.

 

“Something about the job?”

 

“Yes, but not this one.  I want to talk to you about our jobs at home.  We are both obviously exhausted and our wives are as well.  I know that the hospital is trying to lure Kristin back to work part-time.  I think that we need to hire some one to help out.”

 

Nathan stared at Bill for a moment.  “And you are expecting me to disagree?  My only question is who do we hire?”

 

“I’ve put some feelers out and found an older Hawaiian lady who has a good reputation and needs the work.  The only problem is how do we convince our wives?”

 

“Between Charlie and Georgie I don’t think we’ve slept more than an hour at one time in seven weeks, much less anything else  Convincing Kristin won’t be a problem.”

 

“Nicholas sleeps three or four hours at a pop but trying to get him full… that child is always hungry!”

 

“So we convince the wives then we hire this lady to help them out.  I know that Kristin wants to go back to work but there is no way that Janet can handle three babies by herself.”  Nathan sat back in his chair, a small chuckle escaping his lips.  “Who would have thought three years ago that we’d be in this position again, my friend?”

 

Bill joined in the laughter.  “You have a point.”

 

Both men looked up at the sharp rap on the door.

 

“Come in.” Nathan called.

 

The door swung open to reveal an officer in full dress uniform; an officer very familiar to Nathan.  The man standing at the door was Major General Lionel Westphalen, Kristin’s father.

 

“General Westphalen… we didn’t expect you, sir.  Come in, please.”

 

Westphalen entered the room warily; he and Nathan hadn’t gotten off to the best start on their previous meeting.  “I wasn’t sure when I would arrive or how long I would be here so I couldn’t let you know.  I’ve been on the move so much the past year, travelling with the Royal Navy.  I haven’t heard a word from you since my grandchild was born so I decided that perhaps I should take a little time to meet him or her… and my great grandson as well.”

 

Nathan’s eyes cut to Bill and he shook his head furtively.  “Kristin will be so excited to see you and I’m sure that Cynthia will as well.  I’m done for the day so why don’t we get your things and head back to the house.”

 

Westphalen huffed a bit.  “I left my gear at the officer’s quarters… I wasn’t sure…”

 

“If you’d rather stay there, sir… but Kristin and I both would love to have you at the house.  You’d get to spend more time with the babies that way.”

 

“Well… if you are sure?  I wouldn’t want to intrude.”

 

“We’ll stop by and get your things on the way home.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“You realize that we are going to have to find some help.” Kristin told Janet as she lifted Georgie to her bared chest. 

 

Janet murmured in agreement, soothing a fussy Nicholas until he settled back down to suckle as well.  “But how do we convince the men of that?  Or how do we convince Bill?  He thinks I have plenty of time.”

 

Kristin chuckled.  “I suspect that neither one of our husbands will be hard to persuade.  You have your hands full with Nicky.  You can’t watch one of my girls while I work much less both of them.  Katie gave me the name of a native lady who has experience and needs work.  I’ve called and set up an appointment for her to come by tomorrow.”

 

Janet sighed.  “That would be wonderful.  I now know why young women should have babies.”

 

“Stop that.  You are wonderful with Nicky and with my girls.  Three children are just too many to handle.”

 

“And you and Nathan are making sure that it won’t soon be four?”

 

Kristin laughed.  “With the two of them getting up at all hours of the night?  No chance.  Even if we could find a time when they are both asleep we are too exhausted.”

 

“You mean that you haven’t… since Georgie was born?”

 

Kristin grimaced.  Well… not really… not like we used to.  I want to and I know Nathan does but… I just…”

 

“You’re afraid of getting pregnant again.” Janet read between the lines.

 

“No… Maybe… We’ve talked about it… we are going to take precautions.  I want another baby but not just yet.”

 

The sound of a car door slamming caught their attention.  “I wonder if that’s your husband or mine…or both?” Janet said, her eyebrow raising at the sound of a second slam.

 

Georgie chose that moment to release her hold with a loud pop.  Kristin quickly rebuttoned her blouse while she juggled the infant on her shoulder.

 

“She’s done already?  Nick has been feeding twice as long and he’s still going strong.”

 

Kristin sighed.  “She will only take one breast per feeding.  She just nurses every hour.  I’m afraid she isn’t eating enough but she’s putting on a little weight.  I guess I’m just over producing.  She should do better as she gets older.”

 

A knock sounded on the front door.  Kristin laid Georgie in her basket and with a quick check to make sure that Charlie was still sleeping on her pallet, moved toward the hallway.  “I’ll get it.  You finish up with the human siphon there.”

 

She was still laughing when she swung the door open to reveal her husband.  “Nathan!” She moved into his arms, raising her lips to receive his kiss.  “Since when do you knock?”

 

“Since I never know if Nick is hungry.  I’ve got a surprise for you.”

 

He covered Kristin’s eyes with his hands and turned her in his embrace until her back was to him.  “You can look now.” He whispered as he took his hand away.

 

“DADDY!” Kristin ran the short distance across the porch to her father’s embrace.

 

“Krissy,” Lionel Westphalen murmured into his daughter’s hair, the tiniest of tears forming in his eye before he brushed it away.  As the embrace loosened he pushed Kristin away from him, his hands still gripping her arms, and looked her up and down.

 

“Well… you are a bit thinner than the last time I saw you.  You look well, daughter… tired, but well.”

 

“When did you get here, daddy?  How long can you stay?”

 

“I arrived yesterday.  Now… I didn’t want to call until I finished my meetings so I could spend some time with you and my grandchildren.  I stopped by Bridger’s office and he drove me out.”

 

Kristin smiled gratefully at her husband.

 

“We have your father’s kit in the car.  I invited him to stay with us.”

 

Her eyes thanked her husband before she turned back to her father.  “You might regret that decision.  We haven’t had a full night’s sleep at our house in months.”

 

“The baby isn’t sleeping through the night?  It must be getting close to a year old by now.  What is it, by the way?  Do I have a grandson or a granddaughter?”

 

Kristin glanced at Nathan and he shook his head tightly.  “Didn’t you get any of my letters, Daddy?”

 

“I received a couple in Australia but I’ve been traveling with the fleet for almost a year now so they are probably piled up on some desk somewhere waiting for me to land.  You didn’t answer my question.  Did you have a boy or a girl?”

 

“Umm… girl.” Kristin answered.

 

“A granddaughter… I can’t wait to meet her.”

 

Nathan shrugged his shoulders behind Westphalen’s back as Kristin led him toward the house.  She answered with a small shrug of her own.

 

Kristin, is everything… General Westphalen!  So nice to see you again!” Janet stood in the doorway; Nick cradled in her arms.

 

“Lovely to see you, Mrs. Noyce.” Kristin saw him stare at the baby and quickly introduced him.

 

“This is Janet and Admiral Noyce’s new son, Nicholas.  He was born on Christmas Day.”

 

“He looks like a healthy one.  My congratulations to both of you.”

 

“Thank you, general.  Kristin, Charlie is awake.” Janet gestured toward the den.  At that moment a tiny head of russet curls appeared in the doorway.

 

“Dada!” Charlie spotted her father through the crowd at the front door and took off at a fast toddle.

 

Janet moved aside and Kristin caught the little girl in her arms but Charlie wanted nothing to do with her mother and strained toward her father.  Nathan took her with a loving smile at his wife.

 

“How’s daddy’s princess?” He tossed Charlie gently above his head, delighted as she squealed and giggled.  “Have you been a good girl today?”

 

“Charlie?  My granddaughter is named… Charlie?” A thundercloud crossed Lionel Westphalen’s face.

 

“Her name is Charlotte… Charlotte Eleanor Bridger, but when she was born Teddy couldn’t say Charlotte.  He improvised Charlie and the name stuck.”

 

Nathan bounced the baby into his arms.  “Charlie, this is your grandpa.  Can you say grandpa?"

 

“Gapa.” Charlie gurgled.

 

Nathan beamed as he looked at Kristin.  “See?  She’s trying to say grandpa!”

 

Kristin smiled indulgently.  “It certainly sounds that way.”  She turned to her father.  “Nathan thinks his daughter is a genius.”

 

Westphalen huffed.  “Of course she is.  She’s a Westphalen!”

 

“Why don’t you all come inside?” Janet said as she motioned them into the hallway.

 

“Would you like to hold your granddaughter, General?” Nathan asked then transferred Charlie to Westphalen’s arms when he nodded yes.  Charlie stared at her grandfather quizzically for a moment then reached up to stroke his full moustache.

 

“I think she likes you.” Kristin told her father quietly.  “There is something else that we should tell you.”

 

“Mmm… what?” Lionel was vaguely aware of Kristin but his full attention was focused on the little girl in his arms.

 

“Daddy, you need to listen to me for a minute.  I need to tell you about Georgie.”

 

At that moment a loud cry emerged from the door they were standing by.  Nathan moved into the room as Westphalen drug his attention away from Charlie to stare at a quiet Nicholas.

 

“Georgie?  Who is Georgie?”

 

Kristin’s skin took on a slightly pink hue.  “Georgie is your granddaughter, too.”

 

“You had twins?” The older man was obviously puzzled as Nathan approached with a newborn in his arms.

 

Charlotte was born the end of February.  Georgiana was born on Christmas Day.”

 

Kristin’s father turned to glare at Nathan as he mentally did the calculations.  Nathan smiled and turned the whimpering Georgie so that her grandfather could see her.  The sight of his newest granddaughter’s face melted Lionel’s anger, at least for the moment, and he shifted Charlie to one arm so that he could gently stroke Georgie’s cheek.

 

“Georgiana… your mother will be so pleased, Kristin.  I can’t wait…” Lionel’s voice caught and Kristin moved to lay her head on his shoulder.

 

“We’ll see mummy again soon, I just know it.  Things have turned around in Europe.”

 

Lionel nodded, quickly shaking away the small tear in his eye. 

 

“Let’s go sit down.  I’ll make some tea.” Janet offered.

 

“I’ll help with Nick.  Why don’t the two of you go and sit down?”  Kristin quickly followed Janet down the hall; a small grin tickling her mouth at the glare Nathan was shooting her. 

 

Silence dominated the room for several minutes before Nathan attempted to break it.  “Kristin is probably on the phone right now calling Cynthia to bring Teddy over.”

 

Westphalen gave Nathan no acknowledgement, just continued to coo over Charlie while she patted his cheeks and pulled his moustache.  After several more minutes Nathan decided to try again.

 

“Would you like to swap? I’ll take Charlie if you want to hold Georgie.”

 

Westphalen turned to glare at his son-in-law again.  “You couldn’t leave her alone, could you?  You barely let this one get born before you were pawing her again.  Didn’t you give any thought to her health?  She shouldn’t be having babies so close together at her age.”

 

“FATHER!” Lionel cringed at his daughter’s enraged voice.  Kristin entered the room in a frenzy and stood before him.  “Don’t you dare talk to my husband that way.  And just for the record, Georgie is my fault.  I seduced him.  Now apologize!”

 

“Sweetheart, I don’t think your father really needs those details.” Nathan murmured.

 

She turned to glare at him.  “Shut up, Nathan.  I’m waiting, father.”

 

Judging by the look on Westphalen’s face, Nathan guessed the man had forgotten how forceful his daughter could be when she was angry. 

 

“I’m sorry, Bridger.” The General bit out.

 

“Now say it like you mean it.  And my husband has a name, father.  It’s Nathan.”

 

“I have no right to meddle in your business.  I am sorry… Nathan.” This time the apology sounded more genuine and Kristin nodded in satisfaction. 

 

“That’s better.”  Kristin smiled happily.  “I’ve called Cynni and she is on her way over with Teddy.  I didn’t tell her why.  We’ll be back with the tea in just a minute.”  She tossed over her shoulder as she exited the room.

 

Westphalen turned to look at Bridger with an indulgent smile on his face.  “She’s got a temper just like her mother, that one.”  He said, his love for his wife obvious in his voice.

 

“Then I know I’m going to love my mother-in-law as well.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“I can’t believe that both of the girls are asleep at the same time.” Kristin murmured to Nathan while carefully pulling a light blanket over Georgie as she lay sleeping in the cradle.

 

“Your father played with them so hard that he wore them both out… Teddy too.  Charlie is out like a light.” Nathan closed the door to the bedroom quietly behind him then moved to meet his wife at the bed.  “We might even manage a few hours uninterrupted sleep.”

 

“Mmm… Georgie nursed longer even though she still only took one side.”

 

“I can see that.” Nathan ran a hand lightly over Kristin’s milk-swollen left breast.  She flinched slightly.

 

“I should go pump…oooh!” Her words ended with a gasp of delight as Nathan bent and closed his mouth over the silk covered peak.  Her hands slipped into his hair.

 

“Let me help.” He murmured as his tongue lightly caressed the swollen tip.  “I’ll be so much more gentle than that stupid contraption.”  The pull of his mouth increased and Kristin felt her milk begin to rise through her nipple.

 

“Nathan… we can’t…” Her breathing was growing labored as Nathan slipped the straps of her thin nightgown off her shoulders and down her arms.  “Daddy is just down the hall…”

 

“He already knows what we do in our bedroom.  You told him this afternoon, remember?”  Nathan released her breast and tugged her hands away from his head so that he could ease the bodice of the nightgown completely down.  “Besides, he’s seen the proof.”  He pushed the nightgown over her hips then eased her back onto the mattress.  “Don’t you want to?”

 

“Yes… oh yes… I just don’t know about the timing…”

 

“Trust me, sweetheart.  I won’t get you pregnant, I promise.”  Nathan stretched out on the bed beside Kristin and bent his head back to her breast.

 

A low moan escaped before Kristin could stop it as Nathan’s mouth returned to her full breast, his lips teasing her milk up and into his hungry mouth.  She arched into him, pressing her body more fully against his as desire rose between them.

 

Nathan seemed to know instinctively when he reached the point where Kristin was once again comfortable and he moved his lips away from the nipple to lick his way down her generous swell.

 

“Thank you, my love.” Nathan glanced up to see Kristin smiling at him.  Her lips puckered slightly, calling out to him and he answered, yanking his head up to meet her mouth with his.  Kristin’s arms slipped into his robe and wrapped around his back as their tongues tangled madly in a fight for dominance.

 

“I want you.” Kristin whispered as she pushed the cloth from Nathan’s shoulders.  He lifted slightly and yanked the knotted sash open before shrugging the garment away.  Her hands moved to his boxers, releasing the button and pushing them away before clasping him greedily.

 

“I’m not going to last long if you keep doing that, my love,” Nathan muttered into her neck, his senses reeling at the feel of her hands working his stiff erection.

 

“Now… please?  Before one of the babies wakes up.”

 

“Am I ever going to get to love you slowly again?” Nathan sighed.  “We have a little time.  Let me…”

 

He pushed back and slipped his hands beneath the waistband of Kristin’s panties, yanking them down her legs and flinging them across the floor.  His knee slid between Kristin’s legs and he pressed his thigh into her damp curls as his hands captured hers and pushed them above her head.

 

Kristin’s breath caught as her body arched up, knowing what he was going to do.  Nathan rolled into the cradle of Kristin’s hips and he kissed her lips lovingly before moving down her body, his lips briskly caressing her body as he moved in a zig zag pattern down her torso and over the flat plane of her stomach.

 

As he nibbled the tender flesh of her hips, Nathan shifted his shoulders until they were beneath her thighs and pushed up slightly, opening her center to his gaze.  He trailed a single finger lightly along the glistening flesh, causing her to bloom even more.

 

Kristin shoved her hand into her mouth to muffle her scream when Nathan’s fingers pulled at the sensitive area around her desire and he touched his tongue to it.  Her free hand moved to the back of his head, urging him on.

 

He loved her thoroughly with his mouth, his lips and tongue caressing her hot flesh as she writhed beneath him.  Two long fingers slid into her sex, teasing the wet opening then sliding in as far as possible.

 

Kristin moaned against the back of her hand, fighting the urge to scream as Nathan worked his magic on her, his fingers pumping a steady tempo in and out of her body while his lips worked over her swollen bud.

 

“Nathan… oh please…” she finally managed to gasp out. 

 

A third finger joined the other two, filling her more completely.  Nathan pressed his middle finger tightly against the inner wall of her sheath while continuing to move the other two around it.  He nibbled lightly on her clitoris.

 

Kristin bit down on the back of her hand, muting but not stopping the scream that ripped from her throat as release overtook her, but Nathan didn’t stop.  He continued working his fingers and mouth against her until she’d come twice more.  He stopped only when her hands pulled him away then crawled slowly up, his lips trailing over her damp skin.

 

“Welcome back.” He whispered as her eyes slowly began to clear.  Kristin smiled languidly, her hands sliding slowly up Nathan’s naked back.

 

“Mmm… that was won… der… ful!” Her hands pressed on his shoulders to pull him down to meet her kiss.  His mouth ravaged hers as his hands continued to caress her body, working over her heated flesh.  He groaned loudly as he felt Kristin’s legs slide over his hips and lock around his waist.

 

Nathan ground his hips against hers, his iron rod trapped between their bodies.  “I need… oh, my lover… I need you…”

 

“Love me, Nathan,” she whispered pleadingly.

 

Nathan shifted and plunged into her wildly, his body desperate to find release.  Kristin met him head on, matching his movements in the same frenzied manner.  Her already sensitized flesh reacted quickly, clinging tightly to his erection with every thrust.

 

This time Nathan’s mouth smothered Kristin’s scream as she climaxed yet again, her fingernails digging into his shoulders as her body convulsed beneath him. 

 

Nathan felt his climax begin, his juices rising from heavy sacs into his erection.  He whimpered as he quickly withdrew from her body and pressed his erection into her stomach as he continued to thrust. 

 

Within moments Nathan was bathing Kristin’s abdomen with his essence while she clung to him, still caught in the throes of her own release.  He collapsed onto her and she held his trembling body tightly, her tongue laving over his neck and shoulder.

 

Once his body stopped quivering Nathan shifted and ran a hand down the side of the bed until his fingers touched his robe.  He pulled it up and carefully cleaned Kristin’s body then his own before tossing it away and lying down beside her.

 

Kristin turned on her side to face him, their bodies pressed close together.  She closed the space between their lips and kissed him lovingly, her hand caressing his cheek. 

 

“I love you,” she whispered as the kiss broke, “but I don’t like that.”

 

Nathan knew she was referring to his sudden departure.  “I don’t like it either but we have to be careful.”

 

“What about the…” Kristin’s eyes darted over Nathan’s shoulder toward his nightstand where he had stashed a box of prophylactics. 

 

“I should have used one… but I needed to feel you around me.  I’ve missed you so much.”

 

Kristin ran her fingers through his hair.  “Maybe… I would like another baby…”

 

Nathan laughed as he rolled to his back pulling her over with him.  She snuggled into his side and began to trace lazy patterns in his chest hair.  “Just because we make love doesn’t mean that I will get pregnant.”

 

His laughter grew even louder.  “With our track record I could probably just think lustful thoughts about you and get you pregnant.  We will try for another baby if you want one… but the girls need to be a little older first.  You need a little recovery time as well.  Maybe we could at least get Charlie out of diapers, hmm?”

 

“Diapers… a few less diapers around here would certainly be welcome.  Nathan… I was thinking…”

 

“I’ve been thinking as well…”

 

“I think we need some extra help around here.” They spoke together then laughed as they realized what they had done.

 

“You agree?  I was afraid you wouldn’t want anyone else looking after the girls.” Nathan admitted.

 

“I love our daughters but I think I’d go crazy if I had to stay at home all the time.  I enjoy my work.  I trained very hard to become a doctor and I know that I’ve been useful working at the hospital…”

 

“Kris… you don’t have to justify yourself to me.  I’m on your side.  I know that you adore Charlie and Georgie as much as I do.  I’m also very proud of your work.  There is no reason why we can’t hire someone to come in and help.  I’m sure that Janet would welcome some help as well.”

 

“Mmm… I know that she misses her charity work.  The USO has been calling almost every day asking her when she will be able to come back.”

 

“So we find some one to help you both out.  You can’t work full shifts anyway as long as you are breast-feeding.  Unless you want me to drop by every few hours and help you out…” Nathan grinned as he bent his head to rub his lips across her peaked nipple.

 

“I thought our goal was to keep me from getting pregnant.” Kristin answered, slightly breathless as she arched into his touch.

 

“Only for a little while… if you are sure you want another child.” He nibbled his way back up her body to the hollow of her neck.

 

“Oh… yes, I want… I want… oh, God… Nathan!”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“So we were all thinking the same thing and thought the others wouldn’t like it?” Bill laughed.

 

“It’s all straightened out now.  Mrs. Kuoha seems like a lovely lady and she was very good with the children.” Janet answered.

 

“I’m glad she can start to work immediately.  While she is watching the girls I can make arrangements for a little birthday party for Charlie.  I can’t believe our baby girl will be a year old in a few days.”

 

“Neither can I.” Nathan caressed his wife’s knee with one hand, his other arm draped around the back of her shoulders.  “And your father will be here to celebrate with us.”

 

As if he’d heard his name mentioned, Lionel Westphalen appeared in the door at that moment, a granddaughter in each arm.  “I think they need some attention.” He told his daughter as he handed off one to each parent.

 

Kristin chuckled.  “Even Bill has learned to change dirty diapers.  Come my lovelies.  Did you give Grandfather a present?”

 

Janet stood and held out her arms to Charlie.  The little girl pouted as Nathan handed her off.  “I’ll help you change them, Kristin.”

 

Westphalen watched Nathan’s face thoughtfully as Nathan gazed lovingly at his wife’s departing figure.  He cleared his throat and began to pace the room.

 

“I want to say something to you, Bridger.  I’m a hard man… unforgiving… I’ve had to be to hold the position that I do.  But I can admit when I’m wrong… and I was wrong about you.  I’ve kept my eye on you… investigated your service record… and I’ve watched you with my daughter and my granddaughters over the past week.  You are an excellent sailor but you are also a caring husband and father.  Your affection for my daughter is most obvious… and I’m glad that she has you in her life.”

 

Nathan sat quietly for a moment, contemplating the effort it must have taken Westphalen to say those words.  “Your daughter is my life, General… Kristin and those kids.  I promise you that I’ll always do my best to protect all of them.”

 

Westphalen nodded then turned and slowly approached Nathan, his hand extended.  Nathan met it unhesitatingly and they shared a firm shake.

 

“Well, I don’t know about you two but I could use a drink.  Whisky anyone?” Bill grinned.

 

“That sounds like a capital idea!  Oh, Bridger… Nathan, I’ve been meaning to mention to you… you should really get the plumbing in your house looked at.  Your pipes make some very strange noises in the middle of the night.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“You know, I’m really beginning to hate docks and ships.  It seems I’m always saying good-bye to someone I love.” A watery smile crossed Kristin’s face as she hugged her father.

 

Lionel pulled back and wiped a tear from his daughter’s face.  “What you said when I arrived was true, you know.  I don’t think that the Germans can hold out much longer.  Once the European war is finished and we can all turn our attention toward the pacific theater… Well, one day soon perhaps all of our family will be together again.”

 

“I hope so, daddy.  I can’t wait for mummy to see the girls and Teddy.”

 

“Excuse me, General, but we have to go if we are going to catch the current.” A young sailor reminded him.

 

Westphalen pulled Kristin into one last hug.  “You’ve married a good man, Krissy, and you have a fine family.  Be happy.”  He broke away and hurried up the gangplank, looking back to wave only when he reached the top.

 

Nathan moved in behind Kristin and wrapped his arms around her waist, offering what comfort he could as she waved to her father, tears streaming down her face.

 

*~*~*~*

 

“I’m amazed.  Georgie is four months old and there is no sign of another sibling.” Janet laughed as she laid Nicholas down on the floor pallet beside Georgie.  Charlie played quietly at Kristin’s feet, the carpet her imaginary ocean as she pushed her toy submarine across the surface.  “Unless there is something you aren’t telling me…”

 

Kristin chuckled.  “I can assure you that I am not pregnant.  I’ve got the cramps to prove it.  Nathan doesn’t quite know how to deal with a wife who actually gets cranky once a month.”

 

“As opposed to a wife who got very hormonal every time she got pregnant?”

 

Kristin stuck her tongue out at her friend as she handed Janet a cup of tea.  “I seem to remember a few mood swings from you, my friend.”

 

Janet sank back into a chair as she continued to laugh.  “You have me there.  Of course Bill doesn’t think I was any different while I was pregnant than I am normally.  I must admit that having Mrs. Kuoha around has made all the difference.”

 

Kristin nodded in agreement.  “I’ve been able to work a great deal more since she started helping… and Georgie decided to eat, of course.”

 

“Mmm… she is packing on the pounds now, isn’t she?”  Both women smiled as the chubby little girl reached a hand out to the baby boy beside her.  “And she’s already flirting, too!”

 

Kristin jumped up at the sound of the front door opening and closing, knowing that Nathan wasn’t due to arrive home for several more hours.  She moved toward the hallway, reaching the door just as Nathan appeared.  He held his arms out to her and she moved into his embrace.

 

“I didn’t expect you until later.” She raised her lips to meet his.  Nathan responded to her kiss intensely, pulling her closer as his tongue captured hers.

 

Kristin pulled back sharply.  “What’s wrong?  You have to go out again?  When?”

 

Although she tried to hide it, the fear in Kristin’s voice was evident.  Nathan quickly reassured her.  “No, darling, I don’t have to go out.  You are stuck with me.”

 

A sigh of relief crossed her lips as she leaned into Nathan’s chest.  “Thank God… but… something is wrong.  I can tell.”  She pulled back to look at him, seeing the truth in his eyes.  “Cynthia?”

 

“Come sit down, sweetheart.”

 

“Tell me, Nathan.”

 

Nathan took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.  “We just received word at headquarters about a kamikaze attack in the Ryukyu Islands a few weeks ago.  The US suffered heavy losses, along with the British Pacific Fleet.  One of the ships hit was the “Illustrious”.”

 

Kristin began to tremble beneath Nathan’s hands.  “The Illustrious… that’s the ship that daddy is on.  Was it severely damaged?”

 

“The ship itself wasn’t sunk but there were casualties.  One of the names listed was Major General Lionel Francis Westphalen.”

 

It was good that Nathan had retained Kristin in his embrace because she sagged into his arms as her eyes fluttered and she lost consciousness.

 

*~*~*~*

 

“I’m worried about her, Janet.  She hasn’t dealt with her father’s death.  I try to get her to talk about it but she cuts me off or changes the subject.  She spends every waking moment clinging to the girls.”

 

Janet patted Nathan’s hand sympathetically as they stood on her back porch, watching Kristin and the children.  Kristin sat on a blanket with Georgie in her arms while Nick cooed beside her.  Teddy and Charlie toddled nearby.

 

“She will come out of it.  I think that this is how Kristin deals with things.  She’ll talk to you when she is ready.”

 

“But what if she doesn’t?”

 

“She will,” Janet stated positively.  “This is exactly how she reacted when you were missing.  First she withdrew into herself then she emersed herself in Charlie and finally she began to talk about.”

 

“But she knew that I was coming home, Janet.  Her father never will.”

 

“Kristin is one of the strongest women I’ve ever known.  Just give her a little time.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

Two weeks passed and Nathan grew even more worried.  Any casual acquaintance wouldn’t have noticed any difference in his wife but he did.  Something just wasn’t right.  Janet knew it and so did Cynthia.

 

Finally after a long discussion with his wife, Bill came to Nathan’s office for a talk.

 

“Look, Nathan… we all know that Kristin hasn’t faced her father’s death.  Janet and I were talking and we thought that perhaps some time away might help.”

 

“Away?  In case you haven’t noticed, Admiral Noyce, there is a war on?” Nathan knew he was being flippant but he was tired and irritable.

 

Bill forgave his friend because he also recognized this.  “I’m not talking about weeks and weeks… but two or three days should be possible.  You can go to our cabin; the one Kristin took you to after… before.  We’ve had a little work done on it so it’s in better shape and you could spend some quiet time together.  Janet and I would keep the girls.  Cynthia has agreed to help and Mrs. Kuoha will be there as well.

 

Nathan sat thoughtfully for a minute.  “It’s not a bad idea… She could probably do with some down time.  But we’d probably have to take Georgie… the whole eating thing.”

 

“At least let us keep Charlie.  You can handle Georgie on her own and she’s a lot easier to contain since she isn’t mobile yet.”

 

“I don’t know if Kristin will go for it.”

 

Bill sighed.  “Sometimes we have to do things that might get us in trouble in the beginning… until our wives see the wisdom of our actions.”

 

“You’re talking about…”

 

“Kidnapping… yes.  We go for a drive, we don’t tell her, and Janet and I leave you there.  We’d provision the place before hand and you could smuggle out a few clothes without Kristin knowing.”

 

“I would be in so much trouble… but if it helps… let’s do it.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“The renovations look wonderful, Janet.  You won’t have any problems renting the cottage out now, or selling it if that is what you decide.”  Kristin wandered around the small family room, juggling Georgie in her arms.

 

“The local carpenters really did an excellent job.  We will probably try to rent it again for the moment but Bill seems to think that once the fighting is done he might be transferred back stateside.  If that happens we will probably sell this place and our house.”

 

Kristin’s eyes clouded a moment.  “I suppose we might be transferred as well.  It will seem strange… you no longer being right next door.”

 

Janet moved to hug her friend.  “We’ll visit back and forth, often.  And we will always be there for each other.  Let’s not get sad… it hasn’t happened yet and probably won’t for a very long time if I know Navy paperwork.”

 

“… foundation looks solid…” Nathan’s voice drifted up from the back porch as he and Bill entered through the double doors.

 

“Well… I guess we’d better be heading back… only a few hours of daylight left.  Bill shot Nathan a look as he and Janet turned toward the door.

 

Kristin moved to follow but Nathan stepped behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist, effectively holding her captive as the other couple gave a friendly wave and exited.

 

“What… Nathan, we have to… they are going to leave us.” Kristin tried to break his hold.

 

“Yes, they are leaving us.  That was the plan.” He whispered in her ear.

 

“Plan?  You arranged all of this?  We can’t… what about Charlie?”

 

“Cynthia and Janet are going to look after Charlie.  I made arrangements for three days leave and Malcolm is graciously covering your hospital shifts.  The pantry is well stocked and we have a few changes of clothes in the bedroom, along with a small basket for Georgie to sleep in and mountains of clean diapers.”

 

Kristin yanked away from his hold as the sound of a car driving away reached them.  “You arrogant son of a bitch!  How dare you!  You had no right… no right at all.”

 

“Well,” Nathan muttered as she stalked toward the back of the house, Georgie wailing in her arms at her mother’s tone.  “This is going better than I expected.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

Nathan knocked quietly on the bedroom door pushed it open.  Kristin was sitting in the middle of the bed, her back resting on the headboard as Georgie sucked at her breast greedily.  She glared at her husband but didn’t say anything.  Nathan took that to be a good sign and moved toward the bed, sitting down on a bottom corner.

 

“She’s certainly eating much better, isn’t she?” He asked quietly with a nod at his daughter.

 

Kristin huffed and rolled her eyes.  “She’s taking both breasts now.  In fact, she’s become quite the little pig.”  She tried to hold back the small smile threatening the corners of her mouth as she gazed at her daughter but failed.

 

“I’m sorry that you are angry but I was only trying to help.  I just thought that you could use some time away from everyone.  You haven’t had a break in so long.  We had to bring Georgie because of the…” he nodded at her chest, “but I’ll look after her otherwise.”

 

“It’s just…  I’ve never been away from Charlotte.  What if she misses me?  Or if something happens?  I should have had time to prepare her.”

 

“If anything goes wrong then they will come and get us.  But Charlie will be fine.  It’s you that I’m worried about.  You need to talk about your father, Kristin.  You need to mourn…”

 

Nathan stopped talking as he felt Kristin close herself off from his words.  He sighed and stood.  “Why don’t you get some rest?  Call me if Georgie doesn’t fall asleep and I’ll come get her so you can nap.  Meanwhile I’ll take a look at the pantry and see what I can rustle up for dinner.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

Nathan heard Kristin moving down the hallway and caught her exit onto the back porch out of the corner of his eye.  He finished chopping vegetables and added them to the pot of stew bubbling slowly on the stove then moved to the icebox and pulled out a bottle of white wine.  He uncorked the bottle, grabbed two glasses and headed toward the deck.

 

A trail of wavering orange led across the water from the sand to the sinking sun on the horizon.  Kristin leaned against the rail, her eyes riveted to the beauty before her.  Nathan sat the glasses on the small table then poured two glasses.

 

He moved to stand beside her, holding the glass in front of her but taking care not to touch her.  She accepted it without comment and raised it to her lips to take a sip.  They stood in silence as the sun slowly disappeared, giving way to twilight.

 

“Georgie went right to sleep once her tummy was full.” Kristin finally said in a low tone.

 

Nathan smiled; recognizing that in her own way Kristin was trying to make peace but still letting him know that she thought he was wrong.

 

“I’m sorry, sweetheart.  I thought I was… I was only trying to help.”

 

Kristin turned to look at her husband, her heart softening at the sad look on his face.

 

“It was a lovely thought and I am sorry that I reacted badly.  I just wish I’d had time to prepare Charlie… and I’m sure you forgot a dozen things that Georgie will need.”

 

“I’ve got diapers and you’ve got food.  We can fake the rest, can’t we?” Nathan gave her his best little boy grin.

 

Kristin couldn’t help but laugh as she moved to embrace her husband.  Nathan took her glass and set it on the table with his own before wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her closer.  He lowered his lips to brush hers in the gentlest of kisses, unwilling to push her any further than she was ready.  She responded instantly, her arms tightening around his neck as her hands worked into his hair to hold him close. 

 

Kristin sighed, her warm breath rushing across Nathan’s lips as she opened her lips and pressed forward again.  He slipped his tongue out to caress hers as his hands slid down to cup her rear.  They maintained this pose for long minutes, their mouths continuing to work together lovingly. 

 

The hard ridge pressing with increasing force against her mound caused a low moan to escape Kristin’s lips.  Her head fell back as Nathan’s mouth moved to trail over her jaw and down her neck into her open blouse.

 

“Mmm… Nathan… sweetheart… something is burning…”

 

Nathan swore as he pulled away from Kristin and ran back into the house to find his stew bubbling over the top of the pot.  He grabbed a towel and yanked the pan to a cold burner.  He flipped the eye off and wet his rag and began to scrub at the mess.  As he worked a sound filtered through to him, a sound he hadn’t heard in quite a while; Kristin was laughing.  He scooped the last of the stew into the towel and turned to stare at her.

 

“I know that you aren’t laughing at me.”  The twinkle in his eye told Kristin that he was teasing her.

 

“Who? Me? No, I would never do that!”

 

Nathan grabbed a fresh towel and moved menacingly towards her.  Kristin backed slowly away.  “You wouldn’t dare… Don’t you even think about it, Bridger!

 

Nathan moved his hands to each end of the towel and began to twist one end in ever tightening circles.  Kristin yelped and leapt toward the hall with Nathan in hot pursuit.  She was almost there when he let the towel fly, the wrapped end popping her bottom with a loud smack.

 

She whirled around to face him, her hands rubbing her stinging bottom.  “Oh, Bridger, you are so going to pay for that.”

 

Nathan nodded.  “I know… and I’m ready for my punishment.”  He held his hands out to her with a large grin.

 

“Good.  To begin with… I’m starving.  Go finish dinner.”

 

Nathan’s face fell but he chuckled at the satisfied look in Kristin’s eyes.  “Not exactly what I thought you were going to demand but… I’ll have it ready in just a few minutes.”

 

“Good.  I’ll go check on Georgie.  Oh… and you do realize that this is just the beginning of your punishment.”  Kristin winked at him and walked sassily down the hall.

 

*~*~*~*

 

“That was delicious.” Kristin dabbed her napkin at the corners of her mouth and leaned back in her chair.  “You are an excellent cook.”  She leaned forward conspiratorially.  “That’s why I married you, you know.”

 

“I’d begun to suspect that.”  Nathan leaned forward as well until their mouths were only inches apart.  Their breath mingled for a moment before a giggle from Georgie caused them both to lean back and stare at the baby playing in her basket by the table.

 

“You know… we do pretty damned good work… making babies, I mean.  Both of our girls are gorgeous.  But with you as their mama how could they be anything else?”

 

Kristin smiled.  “Thank you… but I am glad they have your eyes.  Maybe the next one will look more like you… maybe the next one will be a son.”

 

“Kris… If we have a son, that’s great. But I don’t give a damn what sex any of our children are as long as they are healthy.

 

“I was wondering…” Kristin’s finger began to trace the rim of her wineglass lightly.  “If we did have a son… would you want to name him after Robert?”

 

Nathan’s brow furrowed and he finally shook his head.  “No… I love you for the thought… but I don’t think that…”

 

Kristin nodded in understanding.  “Do you think… if we do have a son… could we name him after my father?”

 

“Hmm… Lionel Bridger… that has an interesting ring to it.  I think that would be a fine idea.”

 

Kristin laughed.  “Well, maybe as a second name… I just…”

 

Nathan waited expectantly as Kristin stumbled over her words then stopped.  “I’ll clean up the kitchen,” she finished.

 

At that moment Georgie let out a hungry murmur.  “I can clean the kitchen but I can’t feed her.  Why don’t you try and get her settled while I take care of this?  Then I’ll light a fire and we can listen to the radio.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“I think that your daughter was starving!  She emptied me out and would have taken more.” Kristin shared as she sat down on the sofa beside Nathan and cuddled into his embrace.

 

“Do you think she’ll sleep for a while now?  I would dearly love a little time alone with her mother.”  Nathan flipped the switch on the lamp beside the sofa so that the only light in the room came from the fire crackling in front of them.  Soft instrumental music from the radio on the table filled the air.

 

“Mmm… she’s probably out for most of the night.   Nathan… I know that I was really bitchy earlier… but I want to say thank you.  This is one of the nicest things you’ve ever done for me… and you’ve done some really nice things.”

 

“I know you love the girls to distraction, honey.  I do too.  But we can’t get so wrapped up in them that we lose all sight of us, of you and me.”

 

Kristin nodded her agreement then laid her head down on Nathan’s shoulder.  They stared into the fireplace contentedly, their hands lightly stroking each other through the thin material of their pajamas.

 

Their heads tilted in as their lips moved slowly toward each other, almost touching when a wail emerged from the radio.

 

“We interrupt our regularly scheduled program to bring you the following news announcement.  At two forty one this morning General Alfred Jodl signed for the unconditional surrender of all German forces on all fronts.  This surrender is due to take effect at eleven oh one tomorrow afternoon.  British Prime Minister Winston Churchill has declared tomorrow a national holiday in Great Britain to celebrate the victory in Europe.”

 

Nathan felt Kristin’s muscles vibrate beneath his hands as her body tensed with each word the radio news announcer spoke.  He leaned over and turned the volume down.

 

“Kristin… sweetheart… talk to me, please?  Kris?”

 

Kristin threw off his hands as she jumped from the sofa, pain contorting her face.  “God damn it!”  She screamed and ran out of the double doors onto the back porch.  With a quick glance down the hall and a double check of the fire, Nathan ran after her. 

 

He caught her just as she reached the waters edge, moonlight streaming off of her hair as she fell to her knees in the pounding surf and began to beat the sand furiously.  He knelt to join her, wrapping his arms around her as broken sobs erupted from her body.

 

“Two weeks!  Only two damned weeks!  He could have gone home… seen my mother.  Oh God, Nathan, WHY?”

 

Nathan realized how wet they were getting and tried to pick Kristin up but when he did she began to kick and scream in his arms, giving vent to all the grief she had kept bottled inside over her father’s death.  He managed to drag them to the edge of the surf before letting her sink back into the sand. 

 

How long they stayed there, Nathan couldn’t guess.  He held his wife as she cried, heedless of the damp beginning to seep through their wet clothes.  Finally Kristin’s sobs dwindled away as her grip on Nathan’s neck tightened.  He scooped her into his arms and headed back toward the house as she hiccuped against his shoulder.

 

She didn’t say a word when Nathan stood her in front of the fire, her flimsy nightgown made almost sheer from the dampness.  He kissed her forehead roughly.

 

“I’ll go get some towels and dry clothes.”

 

Kristin shivered in front of the fire as her mind slowly began to recover from its numb state.  She heard Nathan fumble around in the bathroom then move much more quietly around the bedroom before coming back up the hall.  Her hands moved to the thin straps of her nightgown.

 

“Okay, sweetheart, let’s get you dried off and…” Nathan’s voice trailed away as he entered the room to find Kristin standing in front of the fire, her body completely bared to his gaze.  He moved quickly toward her, towel in hand.  Kristin stood silently as Nathan moved the cloth over her lower body, removing every trace of the seawater from her.  He stifled a groan when her hand moved to thread into his hair, pressing his face closer to her mound.  He allowed his forehead to rest on her belly for just a moment as he inhaled her unique fragrance before standing.

 

“I brought you a shirt…” He turned toward the chair he’d dropped the dry clothing in but then Kristin’s arms were around him, pulling him back to her.  Her hands slid down his muscular back to the waistband of his wet pajama bottoms.  Her gaze caught his and held it as she yanked the material down over his hips and thighs.

 

“Kristin?” Nathan breathed her name, the question in his voice obvious.

 

“Love me, Nathan.  I need… I need to feel alive… I need to feel joy... I need you.”

 

Protests died on Nathan’s lips as one of Kristin’s strong hands moved to the back of his head to pull his mouth down to hers.  The other reached between them and grabbed his semi-erect member.  Kristin squeezed tightly for just a few seconds then began to tease his shaft with her fingers, her thumb dancing lightly over the rapidly growing head.  His hands moved to her breasts of their own volition, palms cupping the heavy globes while fingers teased the rosy peaks.

 

“Are you sure?” Nathan found enough common sense to ask just once before he gave in to the tide of passion threatening to sweep them both away.

 

Kristin answered by slowly bending her knees, her grip on his head and his rod insuring that he followed.  Nathan took over and lowered them both carefully to their knees.  Kristin released Nathan abruptly and stared at him, her tongue darting across her lips as she rocked back to sit then lay before him.  Her knees fell apart as she moved her feet around his hips, leaving her completely open to his gaze.

 

Breathing suddenly became difficult as Kristin stretched catlike before him, her arms rising above her head then reaching out to beckon him toward her.  Nathan leaned forward and placed his fingertips on her shoulders then slowly began to trace them over her desire flushed skin.  Her back arched as he reached her breasts and she moaned as he paused to tease them for a few moments before continuing their downward trek.

 

She whimpered in disappointment as his hands bypassed her lower curls to continue down her thighs and calves.  He reached behind his back to massage her feet; his eyes riveted to her center as her lower lips dampened and bloomed before him.

 

“Please!” She begged as he climbed over her, his body propped on his hands and knees.  Kristin lifted her arms to his shoulders and pulled, trying to bring his body in contact with hers.  Nathan lowered his head to her face and gently began to kiss her cheeks, his lips and tongue cleaning the salty tear stains from her skin before moving to touch each closed eye lid.  When every trace of grief was gone he kissed her lips, the first touch barely more than a whisper.

 

“I love you, Kristin.” Nathan whispered into her mouth then thrust his tongue against her barely parted lips.  She opened to him immediately, pulling his tongue inside to mate with hers.

 

Kristin wanted to feel life and joy so Nathan was determined that she be pleasured as much as he could manage.  She protested when his lips left hers but he pressed them to her neck in a soothing manner.  His mouth worked slowly down her body, duplicating the path of his fingertips minutes earlier. 

 

Nathan loved her breasts thoroughly, teasing the large rosy centers until they puckered proudly before moving lower.  His hands moved after him, keeping her well-loved nipples pert and distended.  His tongue reamed her navel, eliciting a gasp from her lips as her hips began to rock.

 

“Oh… yesss!” Kristin panted as Nathan approached her needy center.  He intended to bypass her sex and taste her legs but the scent of her arousal was so overwhelming that he moved straight in.  His tongue lightly brushed the swollen bud of her desire blossoming before him.  Kristin’s hips flew off the floor toward his face and he gave in, burying his face in her folds.  His tongue stroked and lapped up her juices before delving deeper into her hot sheath.

 

Nathan yanked his hands down her body and thrust one beneath her thighs and around her waist, pulling her more securely against his mouth as he continued to taste her.  His tongue moved back up to lave her clitoris before he sucked it into his warm mouth and rolled it around his lips.  His free hand moved into the nest of curls below his chin, a long finger seeking and finding the entrance to her tight sheath.  He slid that digit in to the first knuckle and waited.  Her inner muscles clenched around the invader and pulled, drawing him deeper inside.

 

A second finger soon joined the first and Nathan began thrusting the two in earnest, Kristin’s pants and sighs conveying her rising pleasure.  The thrust of her hips became stronger against his touch as her breathing grew more ragged. 

 

“Come, my love,” Nathan whispered against her swollen pearl.  “Let me taste you, darling.”  His teeth closed over the swollen flesh, abrading it lightly.

 

His name flew from her lips, announcing her arrival as her body went rigid and her juices flowed over Nathan’s fingers and palm.  He quickly swapped his mouth and fingers, his tongue feasting on her while his fingers continued to massage her clitoris.  Kristin hadn’t recovered from her first climax when a second one shook her frame.  Nathan continued moving inside her with fingers and tongue, refusing to let her down for a moment.  He lost track of the number of times that she peaked as one orgasm stretched into another, no beginning and no end.

 

His name tore from her lips again in a scream so loud he was sure that the baby would wake but Georgie kept right on sleeping as her mother melted to the floor, her body unable to take any more.  With one final caress to her sensitive sex, Nathan moved back and sat up.  His hands worked lightly over Kristin’s trembling body, his touch meant to soothe more than arouse.  His hands warmed her damp skin as her shudders slowly faded away and she came back to herself.

 

Sable eyes fluttered and opened, immediately filled with the sight of midnight blue and a brilliant smile.  Kristin lifted a heavy hand up to caress Nathan’s cheek.  A sated smile graced her lips as her hand slipped to his neck and pulled him forward.  This time Nathan followed, allowing his body to cover hers as their lips met in a tender kiss.

 

“Thank you, my love.” Kristin shifted her head to nuzzle Nathan’s neck as she pushed her knees up to clasp his hips.  He felt her feet slide over his calves and he moaned, unintentionally thrusting his unbearably hard erection against her belly.

 

Kristin slid her hands down the firm muscles of Nathan’s side, one moving to rub his firm rear while the other insinuated itself between their bodies to stroke his arousal.  A contented yet wanting sigh escaped his lips.

 

“I want you inside me,” she whispered into his ear as she lightly nipped the lobe.

 

“I want… just give me a few minutes… let me get some control.”

 

“Mmm… lift your hips just a little…”

 

Nathan knew that he was heavy so he levered his body up on his hands and knees slightly to give Kristin some breathing room.  She sighed contentedly again and raised her lips for his kiss.

 

“Oh… GOD!” The cry tore from Nathan’s throat as Kristin grasped his shaft and pushed it back until the swollen head rested against her sex.  She began to rock her hips against him, her moisture coating his erection while her muscles pulled at it.

 

Nathan plunged forward, sheathing himself in one smooth thrust, almost crying with joy at finally being inside her, no barrier between them.  Kristin’s hands clamped on his butt, her nails biting into his flesh as she rocked against him.  Wildness overtook them both as they bucked and strained against each other in an effort to heighten the pleasurable sensations and bring an end to the almost unbearable desire.

 

The tightening of Kristin’s fingernails, a casual brush along the bottom of his aching sacs and Nathan lost what control he had left.  With a roar he slammed his hips into Kristin’s, his essence rising and spurting forth again in an overwhelming climax.  He barely registered the clench of Kristin’s inner muscles and the cry of completion that escaped her lips as he fell on top of her, no longer able to support his own weight.

 

Nathan lay cradled in her embrace for a long moment as he struggled to catch his breath, then rolled them both to their sides.

 

“… love you… so much…” He punctuated his words with kisses and Kristin responded in kind until gradually exhaustion overtook them and they fell asleep in each others arms.

 

*~*~*~*

 

The warm pocket next to him beckoned Nathan and he rolled into it, his half-conscious body expecting to find his wife snuggled there.  One eye popped open when all he found was empty sheets.  He ran his hand along the fabric, feeling her warmth and knowing that she hadn’t been gone long.

 

A smattering of dim light crept through the slatted windows told Nathan that the sun was just beginning to rise above the horizon.  He shivered slightly as he rose naked from the bed and moved to the basket where Georgie slept peacefully. 

 

“Thanks for giving your mama and me a night off.  I’m glad our noisiness didn’t disturb you.” He caressed his daughter’s cheek, a smile touching his lips as he remembered his and Kristin’s activities a few hours previously.

 

He’d woken to find himself flat on his back before the smoldering ashes of the burnt out fire.  Kristin was draped over him, sleeping peacefully, both of them stark naked.  He’d maneuvered out from under her and shielded the fire before gathering her into his arms and carrying her down the hall.  By the time he’d reached the bedroom Kristin had stirred and drowsily begun to bite his neck.  Their subsequent lovemaking had been as slow and tender, as their first round had been wild and untamed.  They laughed and giggled as they tried to keep quiet but Georgie hadn’t been bothered.

 

As if to prove her point, the baby snuffled in her sleep and tucked her thumb into her mouth.  With a smile Nathan bent and brushed his lips across his daughter’s curls before he went in search of her mother.

 

He found Kristin standing on the back deck, a blanket draped around her shoulders, her bare feet sticking out beneath.  Her hair glowed orange with the first kiss of the sun’s rays.

 

Kristin seemed to sense his presence even though he made no noise.  She didn’t turn as he approached but shrugged her blanket off one shoulder and reached back toward him.  Nathan moved in behind her and pulled the blanket tightly around them both. 

 

“I missed you,” he whispered into her ear.

 

Kristin laid her head back on his shoulder and turned her face to nuzzle his stubbly chin.  “I knew you’d find me.  I wanted to watch the sunrise.”

 

“The sunrise is behind us.” He grasped the ends of the blanket with one hand and moved the other to cup a full breast.

 

Kristin giggled.  “But I can still watch the dark gave way to the light.  How unromantic of you, Admiral Bridger.”

 

Nathan stared into Kristin’s eyes, please to see that the vacantness that had recently filled them was gone.  “I’ve missed you, sweetheart.”

 

Her lips touched his briefly.  “Thank you for being patient… giving me room and time to work this out for myself.”

 

“Your father loved you very much.  As long as you remember him he isn’t really gone.”

 

Kristin turned in Nathan’s embrace and slipped her arms around his back as she rubbed her hips against him.  He groaned lightly at the feel of her curls trailing over his morning erection.

 

“Hon… Kris… you don’t need to… Whoa!” Nathan released his hold on the blanket to grab at her hips as she wrapped a leg around his thigh.  Cool morning air rushed over their naked bodies.

 

“You don’t want to?” Kristin pouted sexily as she thrust her hips forward.

 

“Of course I do… but…” Nathan’s breath was coming in ragged gasps as Kristin tightened her leg hold and began rotating her hips in circles over his.  “Let’s go back to the bedroom.”

 

“Here.” Kristin bit his earlobe.  “No one is around.”

 

“We… can’t…” Nathan tried to fight off his own rising passion but the things that Kristin was doing to his body felt too good.  “I don’t have… Oh, sweetheart… I’m so sorry… last night… last night I didn’t pull out.  You felt so good and I just couldn’t.  Let’s go to the bedroom… I’ll get a rub…”

 

“Last night was wonderful.  I’ve missed that… you and I completely together… nothing between us.  What’s done is done so if there are consequences… we’ll deal with them. Let’s just enjoy the rest of the weekend… please?”  Kristin sank to her knees, pulling Nathan along with her.

 

“But… you’ll get splinters.” His mind offered one final protest even though his body was already lost, his hips rubbing frantically against hers.

 

“Not me, lover.” Kristin grabbed his shoulders and pushed him to the wooden deck then straddled him, her hands pulling his erection into position.  She gasped as she took him within her tight channel, sinking slowly down until she consumed him completely.

 

Nathan smiled as he planted his feet firmly against the first step and pushed his hips up.  Kristin gasped as he drove even deeper inside her while lifting them both.  She fell forward toward his chest as he grabbed the corner of the discarded blanket and yanked it beneath his hips.

 

“Do you worst, baby.” He told her as his hands raked her sides on their way to cup and tease her breasts.

 

Kristin grinned wickedly as she clamped her inner muscles around him.  “Just remember… you asked for it.  And if you’ve gotten me pregnant again… you are in SO much trouble!”

 

*~*~*~*

 

“You… are in… SO… much… trouble!” Kristin glared at Nathan as she fell back into the pillows panting for air, the contraction slowly releasing its grip on her.  Nathan just grinned as he wiped her forehead with a damp cloth.

 

“You’re doing great, sweetheart.” He encouraged her.

 

“Do NOT patronize me!  I am not doing great.  I am in pain and I want this baby out… NOW!”

 

Joshua Levin chuckled from the doorway of the hospital room.  “I guess your last two deliveries spoiled you… from first contraction to delivery in less than an hour.  You forgot that most women give birth only after hours of laboring.”

 

“It’s been days.” Kristin bit out through clenched teeth.

 

“It’s been six hours.”

 

“Then let me go home.  Maybe he wants to be born in his parent’s bed just like his sisters.”

 

“You’ve given this one almost two extra weeks to put in an appearance, unless you miscalculated the conception date.”

 

Kristin glanced at Nathan.  “No… I didn’t miscalculate.”

 

“Then baby Bridger here is ten days overdue so odds are that he is going to be a pretty big baby.  Since you are not a large woman I think that the hospital is the best place for you to be right now.  Why don’t I check you and see if there has been any progress?”

 

Nathan shifted so that he was facing Kristin and squeezed the hand he was holding.  “It won’t be long before we are holding our new baby.  Just hang in there.”

 

Kristin shook her head.  “I don’t know if I can.  It hurts so bad, Nathan.  There is no way in hell that you are ever touching me again.”  Her eyes closed as her head fell back

 

Nathan laid a hand on her stomach and rubbed soothingly.  “Hey… how do you think Charlie and Georgie will react to their new baby sister?”

 

One sable eye popped open.  “Brother… you got two girls.  This one is going to be a boy.  And I think they will be very curious, knowing our two girls.”

 

Nathan felt Kristin’s abdominal muscles clench beneath his hand seconds before Kristin pushed up off the bed grabbing for her knees as a cry ripped from her lips.

 

“Joshua?” Nathan questioned the doctor as he moved behind his wife to support her back.

 

“The baby is in the birth canal.  That’s it, Kristin… just breathe through the pain.  Let’s get this one over with and then get ready to push, okay?”

 

Nathan gently lowered Kristin back as the pain lessened then bent to brush a kiss across her forehead.  She pushed him away but grabbed his hand as she did so.

 

“What’s wrong, Joshua?”

 

The younger doctor was in a deep whispered conversation with Katie Hitchcock and another nurse.  He jumped; startled at Kristin’s question and Nathan felt his blood chill.

 

“Something’s wrong?”

 

“No… everything is progressing normally.  It’s just that… as I said a few minutes ago… you aren’t a large woman but from what I can tell you are having a rather large baby.”