Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 49

She laughed then, covering his hands with her own and touching her forehead to his. "But I've made things so much more difficult--"

"We've been in worse spots," he said against her temple.

"Not by much," she muttered.

"I knew you'd come."

She frowned at him. "Did you now?"

"Boots," said Nathaniel softly. "I never doubted you for a moment."

She sighed then, and let herself collapse forward, her head finding the hollow of his shoulder. His arms came around her and she felt the knot of anxiety that had fueled her forward movement for all these weeks begin to unravel.

"We'll manage," Nathaniel whispered. "We can manage anything, you and me. Look at those babies, after all."

As if she had heard her name called, Lily's curly head rose over the edge of the basket. She blinked at them, and then the small button of a face began to collapse in on itself, tears springing into the blue eyes.

Nathaniel was across the room before Elizabeth could move, lifting Lily into the crook of his arm and crooning in the same tone she had had from him just moments ago. Elizabeth could not quite put a name to his expression, half worry and half relief. Her throat tightened with tears and she swallowed them down, determined not to weep.

An indignant squawk pulled her out of her trance. Nathaniel passed Lily to Elizabeth and scooped Daniel up, all flailing arms and legs and a furious expression that settled suddenly at the sight of this strange man. The two of them regarded each other for a long moment and then Daniel sputtered a hello in his father's face.

There was a knock on the door, and a murmuring of familiar voices: Hannah, breathless and happy, Runs-from-Bears, Robbie and Hawkeye. She had last seen Hawkeye on a hot August night, walking away from Lake in the Clouds. Leaving his home and kin because he had come up against laws that made no sense to him, white laws that did not fit the world as he understood it, a world that for him would forever be red. She had feared that she would never see him again, but here he was. He seemed unchanged by his long months in Montréal's gaol, standing tall in the open door, as lean as leather. Under the mane of hair his gaze was as keen as it had ever been. He had one arm around Hannah, and with the other he pulled Elizabeth to him and looked hard at her.

"I see you've brought me my grandchildren, daughter." He kissed her cheek and bent down to look at Lily.

"Hello, little girl," he said.

Then Nathaniel crossed the room and put Daniel in his grandfather's arms, and Elizabeth watched Hawkeye change before her eyes.

11

It was full dark, the night tempered only with the vague light of a reluctant moon. Coming up on deck, Elizabeth could just make out the pale shapes of the mainsails, and the outlines of human forms at the rail: Hawkeye, Runs-from-Bears, and Robbie, deep in hushed conversation. But before she could join them, Captain Pickering had appeared at her side.

"Madam. May I inquire, is all to your satisfaction?"

She nodded. "Yes, very much so, Captain."

"It is a very small vessel for so many, but I hope it will still serve."

Elizabeth assured him that it would serve very well.

Even in the kind light of the moon his face was not easy to look at, but his manner was sincere as he leaned toward her. "I hope you have forgiven me for my little performance on the dock at Sorel. I could not speak of your husband openly, but it did grieve me to deceive you. Your cousin the viscount did send his very best wishes for your safe delivery."

She smiled. "Please, Captain Pickering. There is no need to speak of deception, or forgiveness. I admit that I have never been so surprised in all my life as when I found Nathaniel here, but nothing could have given me greater happiness. I am not sure what we have done to merit all the trouble you have taken for our sakes--"

He waved her thankfulness away with a gloved hand. "Had you heard that I am shortly to be married?"

Elizabeth did know; she had had the whole story of Giselle Somerville's dinner party, and its repercussions, from Hawkeye and Robbie. It was a strange set of circumstances, but she wished Pickering joy as if there were nothing unusual at all in the way he had come to his bride, or the party games the bride had chosen to play with other men while she was unattached.

"I hope that we do not cause a rift between yourself and your new father-in-law," she finished.

"The lieutenant governor does not concern me," said Pickering. "I offered my assistance not to thwart him, but to serve justice and to please his daughter." His tone was cool, and it reminded Elizabeth that he might be a gentleman of good breeding, but Pickering was also an accomplished merchant commander and highly successful in his business pursuits.

Elizabeth glanced at Hawkeye, but the men were still turned away from them and deep in conversation. "You surprise me, sir. I thought it was Mr. Moncrieff who had interceded to ask for your assistance."

There was a slight hesitation. "It was Miss Somerville who brought Mr. Moncrieff's concerns to me. And a bridegroom can rarely deny his bride when she asks a favor, especially one with such merit. I do not believe that these men are spies, Mrs. Bonner, and I should have been very sorry to see them hang."

The words sent a small shower of gooseflesh up Elizabeth's back. "Was there truly danger of that, sir?"

He glanced up into the riggings. "I fear so. If Somerville had had his way. He is a man of strong passions--" He hesitated again. "And not easily put off his course. He is the kind who might well start a new war simply to ease his own wounded pride."

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