An American Encounter, Part Three
by Skihee

 

Ch 8 Death and Life Are Never Easy

 

Hornblower stood in the doorway to his cabin, staring back at his bunk. Pamela was sleeping. Her face shone like that of an angel, he thought. Lingering, he admired the woman he loved. Sighing sadly, he quietly closed the door.

Stepping lightly on the wood planking he arrived at McMasters cabin. The door was ajar.

"How is it going, Archie?" he asked.

"It is a hateful task, Horatio," he commented. "I feel like a vulture."

Hornblower frowned agreeing. "I know. But someone has to do it. His family will appreciate the care you give his possessions."

"But I am to have his cabin."

Sighing Hornblower said, "If it had been you, Archie, and it were McMasters taking your cabin, how would you feel?"

Staring at the floor, Archie lifted his eyes to his friend. "I would want him to have it."

Hornblower sighed and nodded knowingly.

"The captain said to put his chest in the hold. He believes when we get back to Portsmouth...his family will come to collect it. McMasters has a brother that plans to follow him into the service."

Hornblower nodded. "Yes, he told me about him." Hornblower hung his head. "You know, it could have been me. You feel guilty taking his cabin...I feel guilty that it was him killed and ...not me." Hornblower reddened, not saying the sentence in his mind that he was thankful it had been McMasters and not him. He had something to live for, two somethings, and it increased the level of depression over his selfishness.

Archie stood and placed a hand on Horatio's shoulder. "But it was not you. It is not your time. You have so much to live for, Horatio." He moved his hand to grab the back of Hornblower's neck and squeezed. "If I am not permitted to feel badly about taking his cabin, you must not feel guilty about surviving today."

In sharing their hearts, the two men took comfort from one another.

"He was a good man, Archie, a fine officer."

"We will not forget him," said Archie thoughtfully. "We should write his brother. If I were him, I would want to know how my brother was perceived by his shipmates."

"Yes," answered Hornblower vaguely.

"Pellew will read the words over him and Cartwright in the morning."

"Cartwright was a good seaman, an excellent gunner," stated Hornblower.

Styles arrived and saluted. "Is it ready, Mr. Kennedy?"

"Yes, Styles."

The two officers moved out of the way for him to enter. The burly seaman hoisted the chest and nodded as he removed it from the cabin. Kennedy looked around his new quarters. Paper, an ink bottle, and quill were all that was left on the table next to a book, Clark's Seamanship. He grabbed it.

"Styles! Wait!" Trotting to the sailor, he said. "I forgot to put this in. His brother may have need of it."

"Do you need any help, Mr. Kennedy, ... getting situated, I mean?" asked Hornblower.

"Thank you, Mr. Hornblower, but Oldroyd is giving me a hand." Kennedy locked McMasters chest a final time.

Styles departed and Kennedy came nearer his friend who stood lost in thought.

"Where is Pamela?"

"She is sleeping. I am going topside for a while. I need some air."

"Would you like me to come with you?"

"No. No, I want to be alone for a while."

Kennedy watched him disappear up the companion, and pressed his lips together. "Do not feel guilty, my friend," he said under his breath. "But I know you do."

Stepping into the dark of night on the deck of Indefatigable, Hornblower spied Rampling on watch. The two men nodded acknowledgment. Strolling to the side, Hornblower could see Patriot's Dream sailing off the larboard bow, a black shadow on the starry sea. Lights atop her two masts, and the stern lantern, gave definition. She rode low in the water. Dawson must have a full load of some cargo. Was that why the pirates wanted her so desperately, something to sell? Breathing deeply, he left the observation point and climbed to the forecastle. A whiff of smoke met his nostrils. A darkened figure turned.

"Dr. Sebastian. Good evening, sir."

"Mr. Hornblower," he nodded. "Fine looking merchant ship." He motioned to the brig.

"Yes." Hesitating, not wanting anyone to know where he was going, he said, "Excuse me, sir." He thought Sebastian would respect his desire for solitude.

"Certainly." Sebastian watched him step to the side and climb the shrouds to the fighting top. He gazed skyward, sucking on his cheroot. He could see through the slats that Hornblower went no farther.

The entire ship seemed quiet tonight. None of the men were skylarking. No songs came from below. Being a nation at war, men died, men were injured. Sebastian looked back towards the fighting top. Indeed, men were injured. With a sigh, he vacated the forecastle and went to care for the physically wounded ones. The others would come later, if the wounds did not heal on their own.

Sebastian flicked the remainder of his cheroot over the side and walked down the stairs. Seeing movement down the officer's corridor, he stepped that direction.

"Mr. Kennedy, how goes the move?"

"McMaster's things have been taken to the hold. It will not take me long to settle in, sir," he said as he gave the sea chest a shove and Oldroyd pulled.

"I just saw Mr. Hornblower go to the fore top."

"Did he?"

"He...is all right?"

A crookedly sad smile formed over Kennedy's lips. "You know him, Doctor. He can always find a way to blame himself for something. If he is not back down by six bells, I will see about him."

"Let me know if I am needed, Archie."

"I will, sir."

Sebastian went foreward to the sick bay, Archie gave the chest a final shove into the new abode, and the crack in Hornblower's door opened wider, allowing Pamela to slip out quietly.

Hornblower sat on the foretop slats, knees bent, arms resting on them, and his head low. He felt so guilty. How could he be glad of another man's death? Glad he was not the one taken. He covered his face with his hands. He was wretched.

Then, there was Pamela's uncle. The man was curious. When he came aboard, he clearly lived up to Pamela's description, but when he saw her, it was like the man collapsed into himself. *How would I feel if it were my niece married to a man from a country I despised? I haven't got a niece. I haven't even got a brother. Does the prospect of our baby make that big a difference? I know, if Pamela is expecting, she should have a husband. Even if it's one that cannot provide. Dawson seemed to ...acquiesce. What does he mean he wants to talk to us in Gibraltar? I will not let her go back to America. She will NOT go back to America. When she said she was home, I thought I would burst! I love her. My love is so fierce it frightens me sometimes. How can I love her as much as I do? Love is a curious thing. I do not understand it.*

Movement of the shrouds caught his eye and he frowned. *I do not need companionship, Dr. Sebastian. I just want some time to think,* he thought. He rose. Maybe he could tell him before he got any further up the shrouds not to bother. He looked down at the figure. It was not large enough to be Sebastian. In the darkness, he could not tell who it was. He looked up to the topgallant yard. There was no man posted, perhaps Rampling had sent a lookout.

He watched the person laboring in the ascent and he wondered who Rampling could have sent that would have this much difficulty climbing. "Are you all right?" he finally asked.

The face turning a grin shocked him. "Pamela! Have you lost all sense?"

She took a few more steps upward, flagged on by his voice. He slipped over on the shrouds and grabbed her arm, helping her onto the decking. Stepping onto the slats, he clutched her in his arms.

"God! Pamela! You're in a skirt?" He was shaking with fright for her safety. Holding her arms, he looked at her sternly. "I ought to have you over my knee! What on earth do you think you are doing?" He pulled her back to his chest and squeezed. "God!"

"Horatio!" she panted. "I'm out of breath! That was foolish of me. I do not have any men's cloths. It is too late to disturb anyone and I doubted they would get them for me, much less let me climb up here. Whew! I did not think it would be that difficult. I have put on a bit of weight and the blasted skirt..."

"A bit of weight?" He held her chin and saw her face beaming with love. "Pamela...!" He drew her against him again, swaying as he held her, feeling the press of her belly between them. "What would I have done if you'd fallen?"

"I did not fall, darling."

"You could have!"

"I hate this war. I love you, Horatio."

"Death take me, if you should fall!"

"I have thanked God repeatedly for not taking you!"

He released the tight hold. "Do not change the subject. You should not have been climbing the shrouds." His voice broke. Her beautiful lips begged kissing by their very nature. His mouth covered hers and he ravished with a kiss. He was alive. A living, breathing man with a wife ...and a child in the offing. Her mouth was warm and sweet. Her body soft in his muscled arms. He wanted her. He wanted her now. He felt her fingers undoing the buttons of his trousers.

"What are you doing?" He asked, breaking the kiss. The way their minds connected never ceased to surprise him.

"Make love to me, Horatio!"

She wanted him as much as he did her. He kissed her until he felt her hand on him. He dragged his lips to her cheek, panting a breath. "God, Pamela!" His eyes rolled to the top of his head and he closed them. The intense desire demanded. He pushed her against the mast and holding her head with both hands kissed her again.

"Wait!" She pushed him away enough to pull up her skirt.

He looked down and saw her white thigh revealed. She wrapped her other leg around him. Flexing his knees, he lowered, keeping his eyes on her face the entire time. She guided him and he watched the pleasure and expectation as they joined. He closed his eyes, his senses overwhelmed, then, opened them. This close, he had no problems seeing her face.

"You're shameless," he panted.

"I'll be shameless. You be amazing," she breathed.

His hot breath on her cheek, he whispered, "I could stay like this forever."

"I love how you fill me."

She caressed the back of his neck with her fingertips. He moved slowly.

"I'm not going to last," he moaned.

"Horatio?"

He panted a reply, "Yes?"

"Tell me you love me."

"I love you."

"Tell me you will come back to me."

"I will come back to you. Time nor tide will keep me away." Brushing his lips over her cheek he said, "Pamela?"

"Yes, darling?" Hot lips pressed his hairline.

A sudden flash of body heat circled them. The physical ecstasy exploded into their senses like rockets on the Fourth of July!

Fingers entwined his hair. She griped it tightly and let her teeth sink into his neck above the stock. The briefest thought that the love bite would show entered her fevered brain, but in the end, she did not care. The scent of his heated brow, so familiar during their love making, filled her olfactory senses.

His hands were wrapped around the lines of the mast and an odd thought flashed through his mind that he was making love to Indefatigable. It all made sense, though it seemed confused, logical and illogical all in a moment. Had not Pamela told him she had three rivals, the service, the sea, and the ship? Had Indefatigable somehow managed this moment of ecstasy? To merge all four of them into the body of the woman he loved and adored. Pamela never tried to be their rival, never demanded what he could not give. She always let him go. Did they know and accept her? He would never be able to look at the foremast or the foretop in the same way. What would Pamela say if she knew? But, he knew, from that night in the boat, when she fell overboard and they waited for her to come get them, for Indefatigable to come get them, that Pamela loved the ship, too. He loved both and the life Indefatigable represented. The love expanded within his being and he had to tell her.

"My angel, my lady, my love ... my impetuous American wife...I love you."

"So many names?"

"I could fill an encyclopedia," he mouthed against her cheek. Finding her lips, he pressed them, heat for heat, then moved to the opposite cheek, until his head rested over her shoulder.

Kissing each other lightly, she stroked his curls, and he rubbed the side of her neck with the backs of his fingers.

"Being pregnant seems to heighten ...desire..."she said softly, recovering her wind.

He grinned, chest rising to replace oxygen. "When have you not?"

"It's you, my amazing husband."

With a breath, they separated. The skirts fell to her ankles and he stayed close until his clothing was adjusted.

She let herself sink onto the decking and stretched out to look at the stars. He lay down beside her and gazed heavenward.

"Beautiful," she sighed.

Rolling onto his side, he propped his head so he could see her, and grinned sadly. "You are."

Turning to him, she smiled. "I remember another time like this. You would not make love to me."

"We were not married."

"We are now."

"Yes..."

She inhaled deeply, her chest rising, gazing at the stars above. "Thank you."

"Are you thanking God?"

"And you." She stared him in the eye. "Thank you for living today. Thank you for loving me."

"I cannot help but love you."

She touched his cheek and he turned to kiss her palm. A tear rolled towards her hairline.

"Tears?"

"You kissing my hand that way...that night...our first kiss. What were you thinking, then, Horatio?"

His brow twitched slightly. "You ...confused me. Your very presence confounded me. I was happily living my life as an officer in his majesty's navy and you came into my life to complicate it."

"Tell me more."

He breathed in. "You...were so distraught ... in the beginning." He searched her face. Would this be too much to remind her of her father? "At first, you were another duty. I felt responsible for you. I did not know how to help you. You did not speak though I surmised you did come to understand my speech. I wished Captain Pellew or your American ship would appear on the horizon to relieve me of the duty." Hair blew across her cheek. Leaning, he pushed it back behind her ear. "Something happened. Somehow you ... you took residence, in my mind, and ... in my heart. It frightened me, how quickly...but you became part of my duty and then, ...you became something else. I did not know love could come so fast. I thought it was something one grew into." He recalled the age difference between his mother and father, and the conversation with his mother one afternoon, when she told him she married his father feeling admiration and regard, that love had followed as they lived their life together, telling him he was a sign of the great love she had for his father, as time went by. "With you, it was like having Dolphin rammed by ...Victory!" he chuckled. His face softened. "Now, I cannot imagine life without you."

"You made me ask for that first kiss."

"I was trying to maintain the aspect of a gentleman, as best I could. Being with you in such a compromised fashion... wrought by circumstances, I... "

"Could not, without my permission?" she said finishing his halted sentence.

"Yes. Was I gentleman enough?"

"You were, but you made me think the less of myself afterwards. I wondered what you could have thought of me for asking you to kiss me."

"But, I took the blame, if you will recall." Taking a strand of her hair, he rubbed it between his fingers. "That was nothing compared to the next night we were alone. Would you have let me make love to you that night?"

She hesitated and turned away before answering. "Yes."

A finger on her chin turned her face to his. "We are married now, Pamela. What would you have done if I had made love to you then and we were not married?"

"I would be back in America by now."

"But what if I did not want you to go?"

"I would have had to go."

"Why?"

"Because...if you had made love to me, I could never be ... I could never be sure you really loved me... for me. I would have felt I was only ...for your pleasure ...and mine. But, I would have consoled myself that I had saved your life by not being your wife."

He sighed. "Back to that again, are we? Only time will convince you of how foolish such thoughts are. I survived today's action, did I not?" Sadness filled his features

"Do not feel guilty because you lived." She knew he was brooding over the events of the day. "How close were you when he was hit?"

"He was less than ten feet away, by the number three gun forward. The cannon smoke was so thick, I did not see him fall. Only when I realized he was no longer shouting commands did I look for him." Horatio let his head lower. She lifted it with a finger.

"Kiss me."

He smiled sadly.

"Why must I always ask you? You..."

He silenced her, meeting her request, allowing his chest to lightly rest upon hers. Completing the kiss, he rested over her right shoulder, and sniffed.

"Horatio?"

"Forgive me, Pamela."

"Darling." She pressed her cheek to the side of his head. Reaching, she felt the stubble and a slight dampness on his cheek. "Sweetheart."

"There is too much death." He laughed momentarily. "Listen to the foolishness coming out of my own mouth!"

"It isn't foolish."

"McMasters, Cartwright, your father, your uncle's brother, Drake's mother, mine. The loss, the pain of losing those you love..."

"I know, Horatio, I know."

"I know you know." He raised his anguished face to see hers. "I do not want you climbing the shrouds."

She laughed beneath him.

"Why are you laughing?"

"This was a long convoluted conversation for you to return to being angry with me for climbing up here."

He grinned. "I am angry that you climbed up here. And, in a dress no less. It is ridiculous enough that you would do it men's clothes, but to do it in a skirt, and when you are five months pregnant! I..."

He was stirring himself up. She thought it best to stop it and lifted to kiss him

"Oh!" she cried and held her abdomen.
"What? What have you done?"

"My stomach muscles are not quite what they used to be." She winced and rubbed the side of her belly.

"God, Pamela, how am I going to get you down from here?"

"Horatio, relax. You will have yourself in a lather! I can climb down." She tried to sit up and found it necessary to roll onto her side to rise. She felt a little off balance standing. He pushed her back against the mast.

"Careful! I don't want to see you pitching head first off of here!"

"Hm," she sighed. "This mast against my back has taken hold in my memory."

"Pamela." He shook his head.

She kissed his cheek, working her way over to his ear. Breathing warm air onto it, she took his lobe between her teeth.

"You are trying to distract me," he stated, enjoying the sensation.

"Am I succeeding?"

"No ...and yes....but no." He leaned back but kept her pressed against the mast. Grabbing a line, he looped it around her and the mast. "Hold onto this and don't move." Leaning over the edge, he looked about the deck. Rampling was still on watch. Kennedy appeared from the dark reaches of the quarter-deck. "Mr. Kennedy!"

Archie and Rampling looked foreward, then Kennedy headed towards the forecastle. Arriving he looked up towards his friend.

"Horatio?"

Hornblower motioned for him to come up.

As Archie reached the fighting top deck, he grinned seeing her lashed to the mast. "What the devil are you doing up here, Mrs. Hornblower? You didn't climb up here in that ...? You did." He looked at Horatio.

"I've got to get her down."

"I can CLIMB down. Tell him, Archie."

"I ..." Archie looked quizzical. "Me?"

"Any suggestions? I was thinking the chair rigged to the next yard."

"Oh! Horatio!" She let go of the line and pulled on the ropes to release herself from the mast. "This is very sweet, darling, but ..."

"Don't move!" he said firmly.

"You are not going to rig a swing for me to get down at this time of night. I will not have it!" she said.

"Pamela, I can understand his concern," intervened Kennedy. The three of them stood silently.

"Really, I will be all right," she said softly.

"What about putting a ...a...a safety line on her, Horatio? That might work. You can steady her down, and I will hold the line taut."

Horatio sighed. "Very well." He removed his coat and dressed her in it. "This will keep the line from chaffing you." He pulled the coat around the front and realized it would not close as he watched his tugs shift her breasts. Staring at them, he raised his eyes to her mirthful ones.

"It won't close," she said.

"I can see that," he smirked, cupping one and giving a final test tug of the coat.

She gasped at the bold move. "Mr. Hornblower!"
Kennedy eyed the two of them. "Behave yourselves, now. Remember, I am a bachelor!"

Hornblower prepared the looped line around the yard above them and tied it off at the mast. Forming a slip knot, he pulled it down over her, then up under each arm.

"This is ridiculous, Archie," she whispered while Horatio was double checking the line.

"It will keep him happy, Pamela," Archie replied lowly.

"Yes, by all means, keep me happy," stated Hornblower.

"There is nothing wrong with his hearing," muttered Kennedy.

"Nor any other part, Archie," confided Pamela.

Archie laughed and Hornblower ignored the two of them.

"I will go first. Help her over, Archie, then take the line."

"Aye, aye, Leftenant Hornblower," answered Archie.

Hornblower smirked. "Enough, Mr. Kennedy." Horatio swung onto the shrouds.

Pamela lifted the skirt above her knees and tied the hem in a fat knot at her hip, revealing some thigh.

Archie was taken aback as he watched. "I am thankful you chose to do this under the cover of darkness," he remarked, trying not to look. He held onto her arm as she lowered onto the ratlines. "What in God's name made you climb up here in your condition?" asked Kennedy quietly.

She smiled back at her husband's friend. "Love." Lowering a few rungs, she felt a hand come down against her bottom. "Ow!" she yelped, though it was more surprise than pain. Coming level with her husband, she asked. "Do I deserve that?"

"Yes, you do...and more. Be thankful I am letting you off lightly. What have you done?" He motioned at her bare legs.

She sighed in exasperation. "I have attempted to remove a flowing impediment that my lower appendages might progress unhampered."

Horatio laughed deep and hearty, then chuckled the rest of the way to the deck. Standing, safely on the forecastle, he lifted the rope off of her and gave Archie the all clear. Pamela released the knot of skirting and it fell to her ankles.

Dodging to see if anyone might observe, he pulled her over to the forecastle mast and kissed her. "I love you."

"Then, you're not angry with me anymore?"

"Not too much," he grinned. "No more climbing. That is a direct order."

She tapped his lower lip with her finger, and swam into the dark pools of his chocolate brown eyes. "Aye, aye, Captain," she whispered.

**********

Five days later, the British warship, preceded by an American merchant ship, sailed into the harbor of Gibraltar Bay. Indefatigable maneuvered within the mole between two seventy-fours, Windsor Castle and, oddly enough, Vanguard, Nelson's old ship. From the quarter-deck of Indefatigable, the officers and a lady viewed the mooring companions.

"Horatio! Vanguard! Captain Brown made it this far with her!" grinned Archie.

"What's this, darling?" asked Pamela, leaning back against her husband.

"Captain Brown was in charge of Foudroyant, Pamela. When Lt. Dodd came down with appendicitis, he asked Captain Pellew for the use of Dr. Sebastian. He was short handed. That is how Archie and I came to sail with Foudroyant to Palermo. Once Admiral Nelson shifted his flag to Foudroyant, Captain Brown was given the task of sailing Vanguard back to England. Looks like he did not quite make it. Lt. Thompson said she was leaking pretty badly." Inhaling deeply, he added, "She is a fine ship and has seen a lot of action."

Pamela glanced back admiringly at her husband.

"What?" he inquired.

"You love them. You love them all."

He leaned closer to her ear. "I love you," he whispered.

Captain Pellew stepped to stand beside his senior officers. "Vanguard. There's a piece of history for you."

"Because she was Nelson's ship, Captain?" asked Pamela.

"Yes, that and the action at the Nile." Pellew gazed at the neighboring vessel thoughtfully. He stared at the battered sides and the fading paint. "She needs a rest and a refit. If she's made it this far she's worth saving." Turning quickly, he said, "Mr. Bracegirdle, ready the launch. Mrs. Hornblower will need the chair."

"Aye, aye, Captain."

"Mrs. Hornblower," he sighed, "it has been a delight having you aboard my ship, ma'am." He bowed, "I am forever in your debt."

"Captain Pellew, I am in yours," she said quietly. "Thank you. Thank you for giving us the time together these two months. It has meant the world to me."

He nodded, glancing at Hornblower. "It seemed the least I could do. You seem no worse for wear. Safe journey, madam." He touched his hat. "Mr. Hornblower, you may not have much time ashore. I go to the port admiral to verify our status. Be ready should I send for you."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Pellew stepped down the quarter-deck ladder. His eyebrow rose at the sight there in the waist, his young charge. His trousers were dark blue and stopped well above his ankles. The shirt was white, short above the wrists as was the little topcoat. His blonde curls were pulled back in a pony tail, though the shorter ones still escaped the lashing and bounced about his head in the breezes. Bright blue eyes stared as the captain approached and he saluted the officer. Pellew returned the salute.

"Master Drake, I perceive you have grown, sir."

Drake looked down at his clothing. "Yes, sir, a mite."

Pellew put his hands on his hips and twisted his mouth. "I see there is shopping to be done. What have you got in your kit?"

Drake lifted the draw string bag. "My clothes, sir."

"Do they fit better than those?"

"Well, they do for summer, sir."

"Hm." Pellew called back to the quarter-deck. "Mr. Kennedy!"

"Excuse me," said Kennedy, stepping around the Hornblowers and down the ladder. "Yes, Captain?"

"I need you to perform a task in town. Master Drake is in need of proper clothing."

Kennedy looked at the boy and grinned. "He does seem to have lengthened since he joined us, sir."

"Come with me, I will give you the funds necessary."

Hornblower went down the ladder ahead of Pamela. She held onto his shoulders as she descended. Drake watched the two. Pamela smiled when she saw him.

"Drake!"

He touched his head. "Ma'am."

"Oh my, we are formal, aren't we?" she commented, grinning.

Hornblower rested his hand on the small of her back, finding it difficult not to maintain a physical link with the one who completed his being. He nodded to Drake approvingly.

"Drake!" Kennedy called, sauntering up to the trio. "The Captain wants you."

"Yes, Mr. Kennedy."

Pamela turned to Hornblower, resting her hand on his arm. "He's so little! Will it be hard for Captain Pellew to let him go?"

Hornblower and Kennedy exchanged wondering glances. The thought had not occurred to either one. Crew came and went, one way or another, all the time.

The question set Hornblower to anxiously consider Drake's going with Pamela from yet another vantage. He gained Pellew's permission to ask the boy, but had not pondered the consequences to Pellew. Assuming the captain would be glad the child were out of harms way, he did not think about Pellew missing the boy. How often did Drake visit Pellew? Only recently did he learn Pellew was his guardian, and from Drake, that he was his god-father.

Drake's small form disappeared into the corridor leading to Pellew's cabin.

The captain was staring out the stern windows when Drake entered. "Shut the door, Robin."

"Yes, sir."

Pellew stared at the child and thought. "I think you have chosen well, lad. I know Mr. Hornblower will be glad that you can look after Mrs. Hornblower for him."

"Yes, sir."

Pellew sighed. "I will expect to see you when next I am in Gibraltar."

"Yes, sir."

"I know you will do the service proud in your conduct."

"I will do my best, Captain."

"I expect nothing less. Mrs. Hornblower is a woman AND an American. You must deport yourself as a gentleman."

Standing straighter and taller, Drake replied. "I will, sir!"

"Hm." stated Pellew brusquely. He walked to the far stern window and stared at the blue ocean, twitching his hands behind his back. Glancing at Drake, he admitted, "I shall miss you, boy."

"I will miss you, too, god-father."

With a sigh, Pellew sat down on the window seat. Drake stepped closer. Pellew reached and lifted him onto his lap. "You like Horatio and Pamela?" Gazing intently at the boys face and taking into account the two young people to whom he was about to entrust his charge, he thought Drake might never come back to the service. Most likely Hornblower's navy connections would influence the child to return to the sea. But why was he worrying? Drake could make his own decisions. If the service could ask him to risk his life as a powder monkey, Pellew could let him make his own choices. Besides, Drake was a little man in a boy's body.

Drake looked at him quizzically. "I've never heard you call Mr. Hornblower Horatio before, sir."

Pellew cleared his throat. "Well, it is his name."

Thinking, he answered the question. "Yes, sir, I do."

"Good....good."

Drake put his arms around Pellew's neck and hugged him. Pellew closed his eyes and warmly returned it.

"I'm sort of like your grandson, aren't I god-father?"

"Yes, very much so, Robin."

"Mr. Hornblower is like a son, then, isn't he?"

"Drake I..." he started to protest, but gave in to the child's query. "Yes, I suppose you could say that."

"And Miss Pamela is like a daughter."

"Ahem, ...well,... if that were true then she and Mr. Hornblower could not be man and wife." Noting mild confusion, Pellew added, "Pamela would be my daughter-in-LAW, if Mr. Hornblower were my son."

"Oh, right, I've heard of that. So, I will be like...their son....and I am going to have a brother. Miss Pamela says they are going to have a son."

Pellew nodded non-committally, feeling a tug at his heart that the boy would need this essence of a family. Following his instincts was spot on. Drake needed this at this juncture in his short life, on the heels of the death of his mother. He found himself thankful for Pamela in yet another instance. It could not be easy comforting the boy when thoughts of his mother came like heavy seas.

"I ...I will miss you, god-father, you, the Indy, and ...and everyone."

"As we will you, Robin."

Drake studied the craggy face. "Be careful, sir. Take care of our ship."

Pellew smiled crookedly. "I will do my best, boy."

"God-father?"

"Yes?"

Drake hesitated then said, "Miss Pamela said I should tell you something....but... I'm not sure..."

Pellew inclined his head, and peered at the child. "What does she want you to tell me?"

Drake huffed a breath. "I mean, it's my idea, but ... I wasn't sure, but ...she said it would be okay," he said worriedly.

"You can tell me, whatever it is," he assured, maintaining patience.

"Yes, sir."

The boy hesitated.

"I ... I love you."

Pellew blinked, taken aback, then said, "I love you, too, son."

Drake embraced Pellew again and sniffed.

"Here now, here now. I shall have to give Mr. Kennedy another shilling for linen."

The boy released him and Pellew gave him the handkerchief from his inner pocket. He wanted to ask the child if he were having second thoughts but bit his lip instead. "Keep it."

"Thank you, god-father." He sniffed and wiped his nose with the handkerchief.

"Here," sliding the boy onto the cushion, he went to a stack of drawers. Opening one, he retrieved two more handkerchiefs. Stuffing one inside his own coat, he handed Drake the other. "You will need this for Mrs. Hornblower. She never has one. Put it inside your inner pocket, there." The boy did as told. "Now, the moment you see she has need of it, give it to her. Do not give her that one, however!" indicating the one Drake was using.

"I'll remember, sir, thank you, sir." He shoved that one into his trouser pocket. "She will think I am very much a gentleman!"

"Indeed, she shall. We best be going. They will be waiting for us."

"Yes, sir."

Pellew took Drake's hand and walked back into the waist. Bracegirdle smiled when he saw them. Drake let go his hand and ran to the side.

"Ready and waiting, Captain," notified Bracegirdle.

"Come 'ere, boy!" grinned Styles. Styles lifted him over the side, passed him to Matthews halfway down the steps, who then passed him to Oldroyd. Pamela smiled at the child and patted the seat for him to sit next to her.

"Did you tell him?" she whispered.

Drake grinned and nodded.

"Good!" she patted his leg.

"Secrets already?" asked Hornblower, taking a seat on the other side of Pamela and putting his arm around her waist. She gave a winning smile and leaned against him slightly at an angle.

Styles stepped over the chests to take a place at the oars. "Make way for Styles!" he grinned. The sailor took a place opposite Matthews and winked at Drake.

The pipes trilled and Pellew came down the side, taking a seat next to Kennedy and Sebastian. Digging in his pocket, he handed Kennedy another coin. "Drake knows, Mr. Kennedy."

"Aye, aye, Captain," he grinned.

"Medical supplies, Doctor?" asked Pellew.

"Aye, Captain."

The men pushed away from Indefatigable and leaned into the oars. Pamela looked over the lines of Indefatigable, saw where cannonball from the set-to with the pirates had grazed her and the patches from the shipwrights. She felt Hornblower squeeze her waist.

"She's a fine ship, Captain," stated Pamela.

"Aye, she is," answered Pellew.

Pamela looked out over the occupants of the launch. Matthews, Oldroyd, Styles, Hardy, Bailey, Harkins, Bradley, Wiliams, Barkley, and Billings, rowing, every man crew from Dolphin. Lasky manned the tiller. In the stern sheets opposite them sat Pellew, Kennedy, and Sebastian, all watching the approach to the dock. On either side of Pamela sat Hornblower and Drake. They were her family, and she was going to leave them. Feeling the tears well, she sniffed.

Drake glimpsed Pellew's raised eyebrow and smirked knowingly. Pulling the fresh cloth from the inside pocket, he passed it to Pamela.

Taking it, she caught a glimpse of Drake nodding to the captain. Looking at Pellew, she assumed the conversation between him and Drake and it made her giggle. "Thank you, Drake."

Pellew let his eyes meet hers, knowing the twinkle in his own and seeing it reflected back. *You should not stare at me so long, lady,* he thought. *You will make Mr. Hornblower... wonder. And, do wipe that smirk off your face. My men, if you please!* He set a scowl on his expression and heard another titter from the female passenger. Staring at the men rowing, he could see the questioning expressions and stolen glances at the passengers, including himself. This would not do! He frowned at Drake and the boy immediately mimicked him. He heard Matthews snort a laugh and saw him dip his head into his chest. Some of Hornblower's men were forcing back grins and some were looking out seaward to avoid looking at Pellew and Drake. He heard a snicker behind him. Kennedy. Glimpsing the leftenant and the doctor, he found a quickly stowed grin on his leftenant and an open faced one on the physician. Inhaling, he fixed a frowning look of dismay on Hornblower who seemed at a loss to know what was happening.

"What amuses you?" Hornblower asked his wife. She laughed aloud and Drake turned giving Hornblower a look at the fixed mask on his visage. Hornblower recognized it immediately and felt his face redden. Drake was doing a perfect imitation of Pellew at his stormiest. Mouth ajar, he looked at Pellew, lowered his head behind Pamela and snorted.

Sebastian and Pellew started laughing at the same time, Kennedy followed along with Pamela and the men. Hornblower reached around and grabbed Drake's side, causing him to stop the scowl and laugh.

Curious faces peered down at them from the ships they were passing. The officer laden boat, with accompanying hilarity from every occupant, must have mystified.

"AHEM!" Pellew cleared his throat and the laughter died to snickers. Pellew looked at Drake askance and shook his head minutely. The boy became serious once more and Pellew thought, oh no, no, and gave him a blank expression. Drake nodded and went blank, too. Pellew squinted at Matthews and Styles who watched the exchange.

"Mrs. Hornblower," said Pellew shaking his head. "How you manage to do what you do without doing anything astounds me."

"Me, Captain?"

"How did you ever maintain discipline on Dolphin, Mr. Hornblower?" He did not expect an answer, it was thinking out loud.

Pamela leaned towards Pellew and pulled him over so she could whisper in his ear. "They love him, like your men do you, sir," and she slipped off the seat onto the floor of the boat.

"Pamela!"

"Mrs. Hornblower!"

Hornblower and Pellew helped her back onto the seat.

"Are you all right?" asked her husband.

Glimpsing Sebastian, she answered, "I must be in clumsy mode today."

"Hold onto her, Mr. Hornblower," stated Pellew.

Smiling, he said softly, "With pleasure, sir."

Pamela saw Matthews and Styles' light-hearted faces and she returned the view. It was good to see these men smiling. Drake turned and she tweaked his chin evoking a grin from the boy.

The passengers of the boat disembarked onto the wharf. Hornblower gave Lasky orders concerning the launch while Matthews and Styles removed the small cases containing the clothes belonging to Pamela. Drake stood with his draw string bag slung over his shoulder. Pellew motioned Drake over. Sebastian was speaking with Oldroyd and Hardy and Pamela was standing at the dock edge looking seaward. The shore parties sorted, Pellew spoke.

"Dr. Sebastian, Mr. Kennedy, I expect a rendezvous of sorts is in order. Let us plan to meet for dinner at the Admiral's Arms. If something should prevent me from coming, I will send word."

"Aye, aye, sir," said Kennedy.

"As you wish, Captain," answered Sebastian.

"Mr. Hornblower, I will send for you." He sought Pamela and saw her at the dock edge staring at the moored ships. It was not Indefatigable she gazed at but Patriot's Dream. Returning his gaze to Hornblower, he nodded and set off for the naval offices.

"Drake and I are going clothes shopping, Mr. Hornblower. I will bring him to the townhouse when we finish."

"Aye, Mr. Kennedy. Give me your bag, Drake," ordered Hornblower.

The little boy stared up and Hornblower knelt so the child could see him easier.

"Everything all right?" asked Hornblower.

"Yes, sir," his answer hesitant.

Hornblower glanced at Kennedy. "Mr. Kennedy is a good man. He will see you safely to our home. Do not fear. He knows where it is."

"Yes, sir." Drake looked uneasily at Pamela and whispered. "Is she all right, sir?"

"Let me worry about her. She will be all right," he assured again.

Kennedy took Drake's hand. "Come, Master Drake. See you later, Mr. Hornblower."

Hornblower watched them walk away. Drake looked back over his shoulder. Hornblower smiled and nodded.

Sebastian arrived next to Hornblower. "Mr. Hornblower, would you give my regards to Senora Orrego? Indeed, if she would permit me, I would like to invite her to dinner with us at the Admiral's Arms."

"I will give her the message, Doctor."

"Should we procure the supplies I seek, and there is time, may I come to your home?"

"Of course, Doctor. We would be delighted."

Sebastian eyed Pamela still looking at the ships. "This cannot be easy for either of you." His gaze returned to Hornblower.

Hornblower glimpsed her nervously, letting his eyes focus on the ship of her uncle. He had no reply for Sebastian. "Oldroyd and Hardy are going with you, sir?"

"Yes. We best be on our way. The day does not get longer. See you later, Leftenant."

"Yes, Doctor." Hornblower motioned to Styles and Matthews to follow. Stepping near Pamela, he took her hand. "Come on," he said softly.

He leaned to see her face. Tracks of tears ran down each cheek of her bowed head. She wiped them with the cloth Drake had given her.

"Where is Drake?" she asked anxiously.

"Kennedy has taken him shopping. The Captain wants to supply him with proper fitting clothing."

"That is sweet of the Captain and Archie," she said vacantly.

"Matthews," nodded Hornblower, "...that cab."

"Aye, sir." Matthews and Styles approached the carriage and arranged its rental for the Hornblowers. The men put her cases in the floor. "All set, sir."

"Thank you, Matthews."

Pamela gazed sadly at the old sailor. "Mr. Matthews. I am forever telling you good-bye."
"No, need, Miss. You will see me again. I turn up like a bad penny," he said softly, glancing at his officer.

She leaned to give him a kiss on the cheek and whispered in his ear. "Take care of him for me."

"I will, Miss," he answered lowly.

"Mr. Styles. "Thank you."

"It's been me pleasure, ma'am," he nodded. "Ye've kept us right entertained with them Indians o'yours."

She laughed and looked heavenward. "Don't remind me! I certainly never intended to set the Indy afire!"

"No, ma'am," he smiled.

She leaned to kiss him and made the same request.

"Aye, ma'am. I'll do me best. You take care of that little 'un, eh?"

"Drake?"

"Oh! Him, too, Miss!" grinned Styles.
She laughed. "Come and see him when he is born, both of you."

"We will, Mrs. Hornblower," stated Matthews.

"You can lay bets on that, ma'am," answered Styles with a glimpse at the officer.

Hornblower took her elbow to help her up into the carriage.

"Thank you, men." Hornblower climbed in beside her, then looked back at Styles and Matthews.

"Sir," they saluted.

He nodded, then gave the cabby the go ahead. He put his arm around her shoulders and she leaned against his chest. Neither spoke as the carriage traveled. Finally, Hornblower said haltingly, "I will not leave until the Captain calls me."

"Horatio?"

"Yes, my love?"

"I...I don't know if I can do this."

"God, Pamela, neither do I."

Meanwhile, another pair was in company within the town proper. The square was beside them as Kennedy and Drake passed the store fronts of Gibraltar, Kennedy reading the names of various placards and windows. "Well, Sir Drake, I guess it best to storm the first likely place we see," grinned Archie.

Drake looked at him quizzically. "I'm not a knight, sir."

"But you should be! Rescuing damsels in distress is the work of knights, is it not?"

Drake knit his eyebrows. He had not spent a great deal of time with Kennedy. "What do you mean?"

"Mrs. Hornblower. Are you not to be her protector?"

Drake continued deep in thought. "But I'm not a knight."

Kennedy stared at the boy, releasing his hand. "Follow me." He led him onto the grass of the square into the shade of a tree. "Kneel," he commanded imperiously.

Drake twisted his mouth and scrunched his nose and thought. *We're playing a game!* He knelt and looked back at Kennedy who seemed even farther away from this low point.

"No...er...genuflect, sir," altered Kennedy.

Drake placed one foot on the ground. Kennedy pulled his sword from its scabbard slowly, letting the sound last for moments, raising a brow. He rested the sword on Drake's right shoulder. "I dub thee, Sir Robin Drake, knight of ... the order of..." Kennedy's eyes roamed the buildings nearby. The Laughing Dolphin was across the way. He grinned. "I dub thee, Sir Robin Drake, Knight of the Order of the Royal Dolphin." He lifted the sword over Drake's head to rest on the opposite shoulder, then reversed the action. "It is your duty, sir, to serve and protect Lady Pamela Hornblower until ... until Sir Horatio retracts your commission. Rise, Sir Drake," he said nobly with a lift of his chin.

Drake stood straight and tall. "I will need a sword, Lord Kennedy. A knight should have a sword, sir."

Kennedy smiled crookedly at the address. "Yes. We shall get you a sword. I think Mrs. Hornblower has some as a matter of fact, if memory serves." He replaced the sword and extended a hand. "Come, Sir Drake. To the tailor!"

Drake grinned, holding the hand of Kennedy and marching to enter the nearby establishment. The bell rang when the door opened, announcing their arrival. Kennedy pulled the hat from his head, tucking it under his arm, and observed the wares of the store.

"I'll be with you in a moment," came a call from a back room.

Kennedy examined the cloth of a stack of boys shirts. A woman emerged into a doorway with a tape measure around her shoulders.

"Oh! It's you!" she smiled. "How may I help you?"

Kennedy stared at her, taken aback. What did she mean, 'oh, it's you'? He assessed her quickly, not imagining how he might know her, but since he had run into his old friend Benny Godwin the last time they were in port he wondered if she were someone from his past, as well. She appeared to be older than he by a few years. Was she a friend of his brothers? She was not thin, not plump either, round in all the right areas from what he could tell, her eyes a bright twinkling blue, her hair auburn, with a strand having escaped near the ear where a pencil was hastily stored. He could not help the squint at the oddity, and she removed the pencil and shoved the errant hair behind her ear with a blush and proceeded to pull the tape from around her neck. She had a lovely smile

"Forgive me, sir. I was working..." she stopped the explanation. "How may I help you?" she said, blushing under his continued gaze.

He stammered, "I...I...it's me? You know me?"

"Oh!" she laughed. "I'm sorry, sir! Is that why you stared so long?" She placed a hand on her chest in relief. "I thought something was wrong!" She smiled quickly. "Forgive me, I have been watching for a customer to return and I saw you in the square just now playing with your son!"

It was Kennedy's turn to redden. That anyone would have taken the time to observe them had not entered his mind. That she would think Drake was his son was a further amusement and he smiled at the boy whose face wore that quizzical look that Kennedy was seeing more and more of late. He lay his hand on Drake's head and pulled him over to his side.

"We were having a bit of fun. Right, Sir Drake?"

"Yes, Mr. Kennedy."

He caught the look of surprise. "He ...is my charge, at the moment, not my son, ma'am. In fact it is on his behalf that I am here. As you can see, he is in dire need of proper habiliments."

She turned the blue eyes on Drake, seeing the clothes he wore stopping short of reaching the lengths to which he had grown.

"My, yes. Well, you have come to the right place, sir." She took Drake by the shoulders and studied him, forceful fingers turning him where he stood. "You can understand why I thought he was your son, the blue eyes and blonde hair." She looked at Kennedy standing beside her, becoming startled that he stood so close to her. She smiled, nervously, momentarily caught by the sapphire blue of Kennedy's eyes. "Here." Walking to a table, she searched through a pile of trousers. Pulling a pair, she stooped, held them up to Drake, and observed how the waist fit to his. Running a hand down his leg, she looked at the hem. "If I were you, I would choose long ones that can be hemmed and let out if he grows more. How old are you, Sir Drake?"

"Ei....seven, ma'am," he looked askance at Kennedy. A knight would not fib, even about his age.

"On second thought, maybe the exact size would be best. He may not grow for a while if he's just had a spurt." She pulled another pair of trousers from the stack and held them to the boy. These were more his size. "What would you like to do, sir?" She looked up from where she knelt seeing Kennedy's view avert from her chest to her eyes. Biting her lower lip, she rose and backed away shyly.

"Forgive me, ma'am," he blushed.

She dipped her chin briefly. "You are a sailor, sir. I should have been more mindful."

"But, a gentleman... forgive me." He turned away.

"Don't fret yourself, sir. What else did you wish for the boy?"

Kennedy stepped towards the counter. "Trousers, shirts, stockings, a coat, surely, with winter coming, small clothes, I should think. What was the shilling for Drake?"

"Handkerchiefs, sir."

"Handkerchiefs," he stated.

"A night shirt, too?" She blushed when she said it.

Kennedy grinned. "Yes. He should have KNIGHT wear." He winked at Drake.

"Ha ha ha," laughed the boy.

The woman laughed with them, catching the joke.

Kennedy was taken by the warmth of her laugh and continued to smile at her, forgetting his indiscretion. "I have no idea of the cost of children's clothes. Will twenty pounds cover what he needs?"

She gasped. "Lord, we can dress him in velvet for that much, sir! Is he the son of a gentleman?"

"He ..."

"I haven't got a da," said Drake.

The woman looked at Kennedy, then Drake. "I .... Then, there is certainly someone that cares for you very much that would be willing to spend twenty pounds on clothing for you."

"My god-father."

"Your god-father. He must love you very much indeed," she added.

Drake's visage was down cast and the woman saw it.

"Mr. Kennedy, I hope I have not spoken out of turn," she asked.

His brow twitched. She was quick, remembering his name. "You know my name, ma'am, but I am at a loss to know yours."

"Holly is my name, Mr. Kennedy, Mrs. Holly."

"Mrs. Holly," he bowed, letting his eyes find her left hand. There was no ring on her finger. "Drake is leaving our ship to live with the wife of one of our officers here in Gibraltar."

"Oh, I see." She lowered in front of Drake. "Not too sure about the change, Sir Drake?"

He shook his head.

"I bet your ship's captain would be glad to have you back, if you've changed your mind."

"Miss Pamela needs me."

"I can see she would, a brave boy like you."

Drake squinted at her. "Why do you think I'm brave?"

"Well, it's obvious. You've chosen to come to an unknown place, give up your shipmates for her benefit. You are very brave. I can see why Mr. Kennedy conferred upon you a knighthood."

Drake studied her a moment, then took her left hand. "Where is your ring?"

"My ring?"

"Yes, you said you were Mrs., that means you're married, but you have no ring."

The woman looked at him strangely. "I perceive you are a detective as well as a knight, Sir Drake. I am a widow."

Drake looked over his shoulder at Kennedy. "She isn't really married."

Kennedy felt his face blush.

Standing, she commented, "He's quite precocious, isn't he, Mr. Kennedy?"

"And perceptive, it would seem." His eyes rested upon hers. "I fear we are both being forward. It would be best if we concluded our business as quickly as possible."

"As you wish. Well, Sir Drake, let's see what we can find for you."

A quick conclusion to acquiring boys clothing was as far from happening as peace between England and France. The boy exhibited extreme patience for the first twenty minutes of trying on various ensembles, then became mildly cranky. Kennedy frustrated with the boy's refusals found it necessary to discuss how the Captain would react to Drake's fidgeting and refusals and that got the boy back to the task at hand.

Then, he asked "Why do I need all these clothes?"

Kennedy explained the necessity of church clothes, town clothes, everyday clothes, winter clothes, summer clothes, night clothes. That Captain Pellew and Mrs. Hornblower would expect him properly attired, and that he, Kennedy, had been give the task. Kennedy expressed that he did not intend to fail in the assignment given him. The boy sighed with exasperation and resigned himself to Kennedy's wishes... for about another ten minutes.

"I do not NEED all these clothes, Mr. Kennedy!"

The two of them engaged in a tug of war over something Kennedy wanted him to remove and Drake did not. Mrs. Holly intervened using logic and praise, and Kennedy gazed gratefully upon her person.

The worst was when it was decided to purchase Drake two pair of trousers that were too long. While Mrs. Holly was pinning the bottom of each leg for hemming, Kennedy had to bring up the gunner's daughter in the conversation. In the middle of this set-to, Mrs. Holly's expected customer returned.

Drake and Kennedy sat on the floor of the changing room waiting for her and scowling at each other. Finally, Kennedy peeked around the corner to watch the elderly lady be measured by the seamstress. Drake crawled to peer with him. Holly caught the two of them staring and shook her head clandestinely. Grinning, Kennedy placed his hands over Drake's eyes and mouth and pulled him back. Kennedy pushed the boy down against a pile of clothes on the floor. Drake lay still and Kennedy threw his head back against the wall with a sigh.

Finally, he heard the door's bell ring. Not a moment later, Mrs. Holly stood over them.

"You are very kind to be so patient."

"Not too hard at this point." He tilted his head toward Drake. The boy was fast asleep.

With a groan, Kennedy came to his feet. "Oh dear! I've been sitting too long," he grinned.

The bell sounded.

"Excuse me, Mr. Kennedy."

Kennedy walked out into the store proper. Mrs. Holly was paying a boy and accepting a basket from him.

"Are you hungry?" she asked. "It is past lunch time. Please, do you like chicken sandwiches? I hope you do. I have one for you and Sir Drake. I thought it the least I could do since you were so nice to wait while Mrs. Culpepper completed her fitting. There's a table in the back room. Will you join me? I'm famished!"

"I love chicken sandwiches," said Kennedy.

He followed her to the back room table staring at the nape of her neck. The strand of hair tucked earlier flowed wispily upon her shoulder. The tape was draped around her neck again, and Kennedy smiled at the embellishment.

She stopped and turned suddenly and the two nearly collided, both of them saying "Sorry!" at the same moment and laughing.

"Did you want to waken the boy?" she was close enough to have to tilt her head back to speak to him. Archie was not a tall man but he was at least four inches taller than her.

"No. Let's let him sleep," he voiced lowly. "It isn't often I am able to luncheon with such a beautiful woman as yourself, Mrs. Holly. Besides, perhaps he will be less difficult and of a more compliant nature after a nap. He is a child after all." Kennedy was amazed at the proximity of the lady and that she did not back from him. Smiling softly, he took the pencil from behind her ear and gently put the loose strand of hair back behind it.

"Why did you do that?" she asked.

"I...thought you might have forgotten it was there." Tugging on the end of the tape measure, it glided off her shoulders. Neither one spoke as it was removed. "You...you should do away with the trappings of work when you ...dine....aids the digestion...to put work aside....for a time."

Her lips parted to speak but she said nothing. Archie was mesmerized by them and leaned towards her.

"You have...a lovely smile."

"Are you...are you going to kiss me?"

"Would you allow it?"

"Yes."

With an intake of air, he closed his eyes and leaned until their lips touched. They were soft and inviting. He leaned back Her eyes were closed. Leaning again, he kissed her, lifting a hand to hold her cheek. Her skin was warm and smooth. His fingers slipped into the luxurious auburn hair, found hairpins and removed them. His other hand slid along the white neck, feeling the rapid pulse beneath his fingertips, and into her hair. He altered the cant of his head and continued the kiss, the last few hairpins dropped to the floor, and her hair fell upon her back. He lay his cheek along side hers.

"Your hair is beautiful." He nuzzled next to her ear and posed the question in his mind, then, said it, "Why are you letting me do this?"

"Do not ask questions," she breathed and kissed his cheek. "Does your ship leave soon?"

"Yes,... most anytime,... possibly even tonight."

"Do you want me?" she asked boldly.

He gazed into the languid blue pools, feeling a heat in his cheeks. Embarrassment at the question? His response? Desire? Did the reason matter for the flush in his features? It was all of them.

"Yes, I want you. Since you said, oh it's you, I've wanted you. To think that someone knew me. Expected me. Was waiting for me. Fantasy thoughts. The stuff of dreams."

"Come upstairs."

She lay the basket on the table, took his hand, and pulled him behind her, up a back staircase. He stopped midway.

"Why are you doing this?" Reason was taking hold.

She turned and gazed at him for a long moment. "Because I've wanted you since I saw you on the green. I'm a widow, Mr. Kennedy. Do you know what that means?"

He swallowed. "I cannot take advantage of you."

"I thought you wanted me?"

"I do, but..."

She turned and pulled him behind her.

"I do not even know your first name," he exclaimed chuckling. "Am I to call you Mrs. Holly as I make love to you?"

"I do not care what you call me." She stopped once more on the stairs. "Amelia. My name is Amelia." She tossed her head, causing the long soft auburn tresses to fall over her shoulders.

Inhaling the fragrance of the loosened hair, recalling the silky feel over his fingertips, that his lips had touched the warm skin so near, was enough of a final inducement for Kennedy. "My friends call me Archie."

She quirked a shy smile. "Come, Archie...and for today, be my love."