It's Been a Long Time
by Sarah Taplin and Wendy Snow-Lang

Chapter One
By Sarah Taplin

McKay screwed up the piece of paper, and threw it at the wall in front of him; it bounced off into the growing pile of rejects. He dipped the pen into the ink well and placed it on the paper as he began again. Who would have thought writing a letter would be so difficult? He wasn't even sure how to begin. Should he start it, Dear Lieutenant Peters or Mrs Peters or should he just address it to her husband instead and solve that problem only to be faced by another. McKay had only met Lieutenant Jack Peters once and that was when they were both entered for their lieutenant's exam. He thought back to that day, how he had been so nervous and had subconsciously wanted to get away from the place and so he had rushed out to buy some sweets for the Peters young son, Edward.

He paused for a while pondering, it wasn't even his idea to have this party. He was sure it was his grandfather's way of inviting guests round so the old Admiral could exert some of his influence and find McKay and Joseph -McKay's elder stepbrother- a placement on a vessel; something hard to find in this lull in conflict, a peace that couldn't last.
He turned his attention back to the letter. Dear...

***
McKay broke the seal and opened the letter that had arrived in the post that morning. He had sent out the invitations to the 'party' almost a week ago and had not expected any letters as he had given his grandfathers home as the return address. This letter however was addressed to McKay personally. He quickly skim read first then read through it a little more thoroughly the second time. It appeared that the Peters had received the invitation and would be pleased to come, but that they were in the area and wished to call upon McKay at his home if it was not an inconvenience. Looking at the return address it appeared they were staying at an inn nearby. It was the inn that his friend Commander Scarlett's parents owned. McKay immediately sat down at his desk and proceeded to put pen to paper in reply to the effect that he would be extremely pleased if they would take time to call on him and his family in their humble abode. For a moment he was tempted to hint to them that if they mentioned his name the landlord of the inn would give them a discount, but soon dismissed the notion. Lieutenant Mrs Peters belonged to a wealthy family and she would not appreciate him suggesting she should take money from others.

 

Chapter Two
By Wendy Snow-Lang

The coach and four rattled along the cobbled lanes of Hedingham. The fine, precisely turned out team of matched horses tossed their heads and trotted smartly, urged to their best paces by a driver made arrogant by the richness of his crimson and gold uniform, his white powdered wig brilliant in the early autumn sunshine. An equally opulently liveried footman clung to the trundle attached to the coach's rear.
Inside the sun-bathed compartment, the Peters' family of five sat at ease, ignoring the jostling caused by the uneven road.
Jack Peters held the youngest of the three children in his lap. His long fingers stroked the child's golden hair and he laid a couple of gentle kisses on the top of the child's head.
Young Thomas brushed at his hair where the kisses had landed, then tugged at the silver buttons adorning his stepfather's chartreuse waistcoat.
"Stop that, Thomas," Jack ordered.
Thomas pulled harder. "No!" he said.
Jack peeled Thomas' candy-sticky fingers from his waistcoat front.
"Leave my buttons alone!" Jack admonished.
Thomas screwed up his face. "No!" he reiterated.
Jack smirked. "Our host will not be pleased with your behaviour, Thomas. Mr. McKay will think you are a very bad boy."
"No!" shouted Thomas, sticking out his tongue.
Jack rolled his eyes at the dark-haired woman beside him. "Lila," he started.
She scowled at him. "You wanted to hold him!" She waved her slender, but rough fingers at the opposite bench. "Put him between his siblings and let them deal with him!"
"Mama!" The young girl, her hair as black and as unruly as her mother's, her white linen camisole rumpled and bunched up under her red velvet cape, her green eyes glittering, her satin-slippered feet kicking, crossed her arms indignantly over her chest. "I won't sit next to him!" Athena huffed.
Lila sniggered, one thick, shapely eyebrow raised. "A few months ago, you wouldn't leave him alone. He was like your personal doll. Now, you'll have little to do with him, the poor child." She leaned over and placed a firm kiss on Thomas' flushed cheek. "My little angel," she said.
Thomas tried to push her away. "No!" he yelled.
"Here, Mama, I'll take him," the fifth occupant of the coach spoke up. Edward, the eldest of the Peters' children, at eight years of age, pulled his little half-brother to him. "Sit here," he said, wagging a finger at the now-pouting child. "Thomas, look!" Edward pointed out the carriage window. "See what they are doing out there."
Thomas pressed his face to the window, squashing his nose against the glass. "Whu' 'at?"
Edward giggled behind his hand.
Jack looked at Lila, his expression smug. "See, dearest? Let the expert amuse him. Edward always knows what Thomas is about."
Edward pressed his face to the glass too, his giggling increasing.
"What the--?" Jack peered as well, then pushed the boys from the window, an oath escaping his lips.
"Jack! Watch your tongue!" Lila admonished.
Jack leaned to Edward, shook his finger in front of Edward's nose.
"You behave yourself, young man, or I'll have you flogged! Mr. McKay is going to be very displeased with the lot of you! He'll never invite us to his home again!"
"Jack?" Lila queried.
Jack narrowed his eyes at Edward then pressed his lips to Lila's ear.
He whispered an explanation.
Lila squelched a smile, struggled to maintain a stern expression.
"Boys will be boys," she whispered back. She laid a hand on the inside of Jack's thigh. "My big boy," she whispered. "What will the children think when we tell them the news?" she goaded.
"Watch that hand!" Jack admonished. "That's all I need-one more of
THEM." He pushed her fingers away, but pressed his lips against hers.
He entwined their fingers and grinned at her. "Mummy," he said.
Edward interrupted them, giggling still.
Jack scowled at him.
"Mama, do we HAVE to go there? To that man's house?" Athena asked.
"Why, you don't even know him, Athena, dear," Lila replied.
"He's a very nice fellow and he's very good to children. He hardly even knew Edward but bought him lemon drops anyway."
Athena sighed. "Are we there yet?"
Lila pulled at Jack's neck. "What think you our host will say when he meets the children and learns of our latest news?"
Athena tugged at Lila's skirts. "Mama are we there yet?"
"I hear Mr. McKay has been quite busy himself in that respect," Jack whispered.
Athena insisted. "ARE WE THERE YET?"
Edward and Thomas took up the chorus-"Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?" They bounced up and down on the carriage bench.
Jack thrust his chin at them, shouting. "AVAST that chatter! We have arrived!"
The driver turned the perfectly groomed and trained team through a massive iron gate, then pulled them to a halt before the door of Hedingham
Castle. A groomsman approached the coach and pointed further down the lane.
"Or maybe not," said Jack.
The lane narrowed and the hedgerows grew closer, then a small thatched cottage, smoke curling from its stocky chimney, came into view.
The carriage eased to a halt.
"Well, I guess we are, indeed, there now," Lila observed.
Jack shrugged. The children stared.
"'Tis rather quaint, isn't it?" Lila asked.


Chapter Three
By Sarah Taplin

McKay was sitting in his study, leafing through the sheets of paper that covered his desk. They were all bills. He was several months behind on most of them and the money left over from his prizes was dwindling.
It was out of this melancholy contemplation that McKay was abruptly jerked at the sound of a carriage coming down the gravel path towards the cottage. He got up quickly and hastily cleared up his desk pushing it all into one pile then left the room to meet his guests. As he entered the hall he heard a 'ding-, clang!" and remembered that he had not yet fixed the bell.
A grin crossed his face he could just imagine the look of surprise on the face of whoever pulled the bell chain as it came off in their hand. There was a pause then a firm rap on the door. At least the door was sturdy enough thought McKay as he straightened his cravat in front of the small mirror that adorned the entrance hall. Although the hall was barely wide enough for two people to stand side by side, let alone act as a reception.

Kate, McKay and Gabrielle's housekeeper, come nanny, come cook, come cleaner bustled past him on her way to answer the door, accidentally shoving him to one side. The rather round Scotswoman almost rolled down the hall her whole outline taking up the majority of the narrow entrance hall. She opened the door; her greeting could probably be heard from miles away.
"Ohh! Hello! Ye must be Mr and Mrs Peters. We have been expecting you. Oh! And look you brought the wee bairn's with you!"
He could hear the Lieutenant try to get a word in edgeways, but it was no use. Trying to stop Kate McCallum in full flow was like trying to sink a frigate with a pistol.
"Now what ye standing out there for? Come inside before you catch ye death of cold!"

In traipsed the Peters clan, squeezing with much effort past the beaming housekeeper. McKay was surprised at first, there were more children than he expected, but he was not an ungracious host and would find someway to accommodate them all. He smiled amenably at his guests, "Welcome to my humble abode. I'm afraid its not quite the lap of luxury, but I find it suites my needs," then as an afterthought added, "sir." He may be a lieutenant but Mrs Peters had several years' seniority over him and it was hard for McKay to break the habit of adding 'sir' on the end of every sentence.
"Why Mr McKay 'tis practically a palace compared a berth onboard a man of war," commented Mrs Peters taking the initiative. Her husband seemed a trifle reticent and the children all looked like they would rather be someplace else.
"Kate, why don't you take the older children and show them the swing that I put up the other day," he suggested hoping that it would keep them occupied for at least a while.
"Certainly, sir," said Kate as she bustled past and in her own tide like way washed the two siblings along with her towards the kitchen from which a door led to the back garden.
"Don't worry. Kate is very good with children-,"
He was interrupted by Gabrielle's voice calling down the stairs, "You should know you are the biggest child of them all."

Then the person that accompanied the voice came down the stairs. Gabrielle was carrying Amelia their eldest offspring in her arms. The two year old was going through a troublesome stage although it didn't immediately show. With her long brown hair tied neatly in silk bows you could almost think her harmless, but at the most inopportune moment she could come out with the worst things. McKay could see Amelia eyeing up the blonde hired boy that Mrs Peters held in her arms and the child seemed to be returning the complement.
"I do hope we have not discommoded you in anyway?"
"Of course not Monsieur et Madame Peters. My 'usband has told me of you and I am sure we will get on like, what do you say? Ah yes, an 'ouse on fire."
"Please come through to the front room," said McKay. He was felt nervous at the prospect of this visit, him, his family and his home being judged.

***
He sat down in his armchair, an item he had purchased with some of his prize money when they first moved here. The other rather Spartan furniture that adorned the front room were inferior in quality to his own seat, but with their meagre budget money could not be wasted on furniture when it was needed to feed his family and put a roof over their heads. The room was rather dim and it was quite chilly as it unfortunately faced north, but the fire was only lit for a short while each day as fuel for the fire cost money. McKay sighed inwardly he was becoming more of a miser than his father, penny pinching all the time. It was a frightening thought that he might be inheriting such traits.
"You are also in the navy, non?" asked Gabrielle, obviously trying to encourage a conversation.
"Yes-,"
"Do you like it?"
"I-," An ear-piercing cry went up. It came from upstairs. Gabrielle stood up suddenly.
" 'ow interesting, if you would excuse me I have to see to 'azel. Ashley, dear 'old Amelia for me will you?" she said distractedly placing the squirming child in McKay's lap and swiftly exiting the room.

He held Amelia so that she would not slip off his lap and she turned her gaze toward the Peters boy. Who, for want probably of anything better to do stuck his tongue out at her and she in return stuck her tongue out, put her thumb to her nose and wiggled her fingers in defiance.

Chapter Four
By Wendy Snow-Lang

"Zo, you are REALLY an officer in ze Navy?" queried Gabrielle, back down the stairs with the McKay's newest addition, Hazel, in her lap.
"WAS," stated Lila. Gabrielle was trying to be the "Ultimate Hostess," Lila realized, but the young thing's dishevelled appearance told the true tale. Gabrielle obviously had more to juggle than she had bargained for, what with the two children and McKay suddenly finding himself without a ship. Lila smiled, shrugged. "I mean, I still hold my commission, but this peace has cast us ALL ashore."
Gabrielle's eyes widen. "I could no' believe it posseebell," she continued, apparently unconvinced by Lila's affirmation. Lila brushed at Thomas' fair locks. He was seated at her satin-slippered feet, throwing puzzle pieces in the air as Amelia sat across from him and stared.
"They tried to oust me once," Lila said. "But I was too tenacious. I held on."
Jack, beside her, grinned. "She's VERY stubborn." He sipped his sherry. "Trust me on that."
McKay laughed. "I can imagine!" He stepped over and poured a drop more sherry into Jack's glass-a not very elegant, inexpertly made, blown-glass snifter, an equally inelegant sherry, and a very TINY drop.
Lila made a mental note to send a case of Mr. Harvey's finest Bristol Cream Sherry to the McKay's for Christmas.
McKay had to step around the two children on the floor as they played. "Playing" of course was hardly the word for what they were doing.
Thomas was hoarding all the toys and Amelia was whining and fussing and trying to liberate her things from Thomas' greedy hands. The word "No!" was heard often, from both little mouths.
Jack finally lost patience. "Thomas! Play nice!" He leaned back in his chair, caught himself before the rickety thing collapsed under him. "No child of MINE would ever act as impertinent!" he said, looking at Lila, one eyebrow raised.
McKay cleared his throat.
Gabrielle stated her reaction. "'E iz no' your chil'? I thought."
Lila inhaled then released her breath slowly. "He is MY baby, not Jack's." She turned to McKay. "Do you remember the Chronicle of five years ago, McKay?"
McKay shrugged.
Lila continued. "Jack was thought dead on Dutch New Guinea. He was abandoned there. I was expecting the birth of Athena then."
Amelia decided that then would be the best time to interrupt as she wailed her dissatisfaction with Thomas' behaviour.
Lila dismissed the children's noise. "I remarried. Thomas' father is-"
An excited shrieking and thumping of rushed footsteps interrupted Lila's revelation.
***
Kate McCallum rushed into the living room, her hands waving about and her face flushed. "Mister-rah!" she cried. "Mister-rah!" she gasped. "Mister-r-r-rah McKay!" she finally shouted. She came to a stop at McKay's arm, her copious chest heaving and sweat sprinkling from her brow. She boldly clutched McKay's elbow. "Sur-ruh! Y' must help 'em, sur-ruh!"
Lila felt panic rush to her breast but fought it down. "What have they done now?" she asked, as calmly as she could muster.
Kate wrung her hands. "Ooh! They taken the boot oot onto th' loch, ma'am! They haven't any oar-r-r-r-s! They'll be dr-r-r-rowned for-r-rh sure-eh!"

***
Chapter Five
By Sarah Taplin

McKay stood up immediately and addressed Kate, "How did they get down to the lake? You know that it's not a place for children to play in," he felt a hypocrite how many times in his youth had he slipped down to the lake without anyone noticing?
"Och no! I turned my back for a wee second and next thing I saw was them by the lake. I called out, but the wee bairns di'nay here me!"
McKay headed for the door everyone else was following him out. But before he crossed the threshold he turned to Gabrielle, "It would be a hindrance if we brought the younger children they should stay here-,"
"I will look after les enfant you go and help the others," she turned to Lila, "I will also look after Thomas. Now go see that your children are brought back safe!"
He could see a slight hesitation in the lieutenants manner, but she replied, "Yes, yes that will be fine," then she turned to the young boy, "Now be good for Mrs McKay and play NICE."

***
McKay reached the lake first ­ he had always been a fast runner- and to his amazement saw that the two Peters children were sitting in the small rowboat obviously oblivious to the trouble they had caused. They were even laughing. It was the ebony haired girl who spotted him first. She waved to him as if there were no danger at all. The rest of the group of concerned adults that had followed him arrived shortly after. Kate was looking rather flustered ­ she was obviously not used to such exertions ­ and the others weren't looking too pleased either.

He shouted to the two youngsters in the boat, "Ahoy there! You shouldn't be on the lake, not in that boat it's" his words faltered when he realised. The boat they were in was the one that leaked and as if to confirm his suspicion there was a startled cry from one of the boats occupants. He turned to where Mr and Mrs Peters were standing they had heard the cry too. McKay didn't know what to say, what to do, but he couldn't lose face he had to think of something.

"There's another boat! Can't we use that?" said Lila her voice barley betraying what must be fear and concern for her offspring's safety.
"YesYes we can!" He was already walking down the rather unsteady pontoon that jutted out into the lake towards where the boat was tied. He jumped expertly down into the boat no nerves or unsteadiness now unlike when he was a young midshipman. Both Mr and Mrs Peters joined him he tried to protest, but it was cut short by a curt reply, "They're my children Mr McKay, I want to do everything to help save them and if you do not respect that you will respect my seniority."
Lila gave him a stare to accompany her words and McKay found himself automatically saying, "Aye, sir."

***

They were now within a couple of inches of the other boat which was getting rather low in the water despite the two siblings best efforts at bailing the water out.
" 'vast rowing! Ship oars!" shouted Lila.

It was like McKay mused he was back at sea, part of a crew again. They pulled the oars in and he lent over the side of the boat stretching towards where their counterpart was rapidly sinking. The boat had almost disappeared under the water.

"Grab hold of my hand!" he shouted out urgently ­ he couldn't remember the girls name, but he could see the determination in her eyes she had obviously inherited a portion of her mothers traits ­ she reached out towards his waiting arms. As she lent forward he grabbed hold of her firmly and surprised at his own strength pulled her up into the boat. Next was the boy, Edward's turn. McKay reached out again this time to his horror the other boat had disappeared, Edward had drifted away from the boat and was splashing around trying to keep his head above the water. Mr Peters was already attempting to get hold of the boy's hand. McKay noticed that there was a coil of rope in the boats stern and picked it up. He tied a loop in the rope, "Catch hold of the rope!" he shouted and threw it towards the boy who caught it, knowingly making sure the loop was round him underneath his arms. McKay braced his feet against the side of the boat and pulled hard on the rope. There was a grunt of effort from Mr Peters as he helped pull the boy into the boat.

***
They were sitting on the bank of the lake. Edward and Athena were sitting there wrapped in blankets shivering. McKay addressed them angrily rather surprising himself with the ferocity of his tone of voice, "What did you think you were doing running off on your own like that! Not only are you trespassing on my grandfather's land; you put yourselves in danger by STEALING a boat and taking it out on the lake! You are fortunate enough that we got here in time-," he paused to let the words sink in just like his father would do to him.
He turned to their parents with a look that said it's your turn.

Chapter Six
By Wendy Snow-Lang

Lila was not happy. She was not happy about the behaviour of her two oldest children. She was unhappy that McKay's housekeeper had lost track of the children. She was especially not happy at McKay chastising Edward and Athena. That was HER job and Jack's. She remained quiet however and let Jack have his own say.
Jack folded his arms across his chest and stood in front of the children, his chin up and his face stern. "I have a mind to take you back to Seacrest Manor at this very instant! No party for you tonight at Mr. McKay's grandfather's! You will apologize at once to Mr. McKay for your rashness!"
"But, Daddy, we was only having a bit of fun-" Edward began.
"NO 'BUTS!'" Jack roared. He grabbed Edward by the ear and pulled the howling boy to his feet. "Tell Mr. McKay that you are sorry you sank his boat!"
Edward whimpered, but complied, ending his apology with a low, sweeping bow, his dripping locks brushing the ground.
McKay gravely shook Edward's hand. "Apology accepted, young sir!" he said.
Athena curtsied and gasped out a rushed "I'm sorry, Mr. McKay!"
McKay bowed and kissed the back of Athena's hand. She blushed and shyly smiled.
"Apology accepted, young lady," said McKay.
Edward retreated to his father's side, clutching Jack's hand. "Are we really going home, Daddy? Are we really not going to the party tonight?"
Athena grabbed Jack's other hand. "Can we go home, Daddy?"
Edward pushed her shoulder. "No, Athena! I WANT to go!" He looked up at Jack, tugging his arm. "Can we go to the party-PLEASE?"
Jack rolled his eyes, as McKay had seen him do several times this day, and said, "Let's ask Mummy!"
Lila crossed her arms across her chest and hung her head. She then reached out her hand to Jack. "Alright," she said. "Twist my arm!"
***
The small group made its way back to the cottage, to find chaos.
Gabrielle rushed to them, her hands clutched to her mouth, her hair wild.
"'Elp! Ashlee! 'Elp me!" She tugged at McKay's arm as soon as he had entered through the door.
He threw a glance at his guests entering behind and then allowed his wife to drag him into the Common Room.
He gasped at what he saw.

Chapter Seven
By Sarah Taplin

Amelia was pulling Thomas's blond hair, and he in return appeared to have the young girl in a headlock. McKay rushed in at once trying to pry the two combatants apart. Mr Peters also took a firm hold of Thomas wrenching him away from Amelia who was hissing and spitting like a cat, her eyes giving Thomas an evil stare. Gabrielle chose this point to speak to McKay in French so that she thought the guests wouldn't understand, "Le garnement. Il blasse ma petit ange!" she took Amelia from him and held the toddler in her arms comforting the child.
McKay noticed the change in Mrs Peters expression a look of indignation and barely concealed anger crossed her face. He suddenly realised that she must have understood Gabrielle's statement. He cringed and much to his embarrassment blushed guiltily. There was an awkward silence and McKay stood there not knowing quite what to do next.
"Erit seems to have been an eventful day today. Maybe after all the excitement we will all be too worn out to attend the party," he laughed nervously to show he was trying to make a humorous comment, but it seemed to be ignored, "Goodness me!" exclaimed McKay taking out his silver pocket watch and flicking it open, "It is almost time for lunch! No wonder the children were playing up. They're probably hungry."
It was Mr Peters who spoke first, "Indeed that is the most probable answer."
"What is for lunch then Mr McKay," asked Edward, wide eyed.
"Well let's see shall we," said McKay rocking back and forth playfully on the soles of his feet. He crouched down so he was at the boys level and whispered conspiritaly, "Mrs McKay here does some of the cooking and she's French. You might get frogs legs and snails for lunch if you're lucky."
"Eww!" exclaimed Edward turning to his mother, "Your not going to let them feed us frogs and snails are you?"
A playful smile appeared on Mrs Peters face. She remarked, "I don't know. After your time splashing in the lake I would think you would have an affinity with our amphibious friends."
"Anphi-, anphib-us, what?"
"Amphibious. It means they live both in the water and on land. A bit like sailors," remarked McKay, "and don't worry were having quite normal food for lunch. But when I was a prisoner in France I had rather terrible food."
"You got captured? Wow!" said Edward in awe, "Tell us what happened!"
"Now, now, Edward you can go around demanding things from your host. It's not polite."
"Oh, I don't mind, but let's have lunch first," replied McKay.

***
Chapter Eight
By Wendy Snow-Lang

"Mama," Edward speared the questionable animal limb on his plate with a fork whose akimbo tines had seen better days. "What is this?" He poked at the bit of animal carcass, expecting, perhaps, that it would rise up and bite him.

"No, Mrs. McKay," replied Lila. "I still hold my commission, praise be to God!" Lila sawed at the dry chicken breast on her plate, wrestled off a bit of meat and thrust it into her mouth. She chewed and chewed and chewed.

Kate McCallum was very likely an excellent cook, thought Lila, but she couldn't very well turn a sow's ear into a silk purse, or a skinny, country hen into a gourmet feast. It was obvious the McKay's had few resources and Lila felt guilt that she and her family were consuming the McKay's slight fortunes.

But how could she offer charity to Ashley McKay? She knew how proud McKay was, with all his faults. He still had his dignity. Perhaps through his children?

"How could ze crew take orders from you?" questioned Gabrielle. "You are a lady. A wealthy lady! Dey would per'aps laugh at you."

Lila smiled. "No more, perhaps, than they would take orders from a child, as many midshipmen are!" She looked over at McKay and winked, remembering his first experiences as an 'officer.'

Edward tugged at her chintz sleeve. "Mama."

"You are still an officer?" reiterated Gabrielle, not so easily convinced.

"Oui, yes," said Lila. "Except this 'peace' has turned us all ashore. I accept my half-pay, though I know of many officers who could use my share to better fortune, and I debate with Jack on a daily basis if taking a position with my father's merchant fleet would be as fulfilling as serving the king." She didn't want to come right out and mention that she'd be happy to give McKay her meager half-pay. Knowing that was all he had to support his growing family, except perhaps for charity from his grandfather. Maybe Ashley would take a hint from her comment. She shrugged. "Jack and I debate still."

Edward interrupted her thoughts. "Mama!"

"What, dear?"

"What is this?" He held up the questionable piece of animal flesh on the end of his tin fork.

Lila sniggered. "'Tis a chicken wing, dear boy."

Edward gasped. His brows knit. "Are you SURE, Mama?" He leaned in closer to her. "'Tis not a Frog Leg, is it, Mama?"

Lila looked at him. "Ye've never eaten a chicken wing, boy? Have we deprived you?" Lila knew the answer to her question before it left her lips. The boy was spoiled, to be sure; only the finest cuts of meat for him-white breast of plump, grain-fed chicken. But to mistake a chicken wing for a "frog leg?"

"Eat your turnips, son!" she countered. THAT would satisfy him.

"Mama, I don't LIKE turnips," he whined.

Lila rolled her eyes, then a devilish thought overcame her. She watched as Edward stirred his thin soup and plucked out a tiny pearl onion, pushing the vegetable into his mouth. "Oo," she said. "I didn't realize how much you liked snails!"

Edward sputtered. Out came the onion back into his bowl. He wiped at his mouth. "Mama!"

How to teach Edward about the need of others? He'd been aboard ship; he knew of the crew and their lack of privilege; he knew how lucky he was, to be born of the 'Upper Crust.'

"No fair, Mama!" Edward protested. "You're trying to stop Mr. McKay from telling his story!"

Lila intertwined her fingers. "What story is that, Edward? Our hostess asked for the story of Thomas's birth before you made your request."

"Oh, Mama. That's boring!" Edward stated.

"To you, because you know it, because you lived it. But I want to tell it," Lila insisted. "We must be polite, after all."

***

"So you see, I had little recourse but to marry again. For the sake of the children," Lila explained.

"But den you had another child, by your new 'usband?" queried Gabrielle. "Please 'elp me to unnerstand!"

"Jack was believed lost, so once I'd paid my 'widow's' dues to society, I chose a new husband." Lila continued. She glanced over at Edward, who was holding up his head with a greasy, tired fist.

Lila sighed. "I'm boring certain members of this party, I can see."

Gabrielle gasped. "PLEASE tell us about Thomas!" she pleaded.

Edward exhaled, his chin slipping from his prop of a fist. "Ma-ma."

"Perhaps," Lila said, "I should concede the floor to someone else who has a more interesting story?" She leaned in to Edward's face, puffed out her cheeks, stuck out her tongue, then slobbered kisses over his forehead. He used his greasy hands to push her away.

"Yuk! No kisses, Mama!" Edward squealed.

"'Tis Mr. McKay's turn!" declared Lila.

Chapter Nine
By Sarah Taplin

"Well," started McKay leaning in closer to the table and resting his chin in his hands, "Once upon a time in a land far, far away-,"
"Ashleey, stop messing around and tell 'em the story or I will," said Gabrielle.
"Alright here's what actually happened. I had been fortunate as to have the captain's favour and he had given me charge of the prize we had captured. The Pierre Tombale."
"The Tombstone," commented Mrs Peters, "Sounds ominous."
"It was. We had no chance with a small prize crew when the French Frigate that captured us appeared. We had to surrender the wind not being there for us. We were transported to a mainland prison-,"
"It was where we met. I was working as a how do you say? Err scullery maid. I gave the prisoners 'eir meals."
"You worked in a prison?" asked Mrs Peters, "Why? And how did you-,"
"That will be revealed in due time," said McKay enjoying having such a captive audience, "When I first arrived it was pretty cold and the food we were served was terrible. I learnt that a midshipman who had been on the Pierre Tombale with me, Mr Catt was in the cell next to mine. Now consider, in the months I was imprisoned there I was only able to talk with him a handful of times mainly because I offended the prison commandant."
"What did you do to offended him?" asked Mr Peters sternly.
"I told him that the food was inedible and the accommodation intolerable. He obviously didn't like being criticised."
There was a ripple of laughter from the guests. McKay smiled and continued his tale, "Well me and Gabrielle," he looked over at her and she smiled back lovingly, "We fell in love. She was the only ray of light in the miserable world I was living in."
"Yuk! Soppy lovey-dovey talk," commented Edward, creasing up his face in disgust.
"Edward don't be so rude to our host," said Mrs Peters sternly to the boy.
"But Mama I want to hear about the escape not all that soppy girly stuff."
"I'll get there in a minute, be patient," said McKay, "So Gabrielle and I concocted a plan. With her help I was able to escape and by some coincidence Mr Catt was able to join me in my bid for freedom."
McKay looked around checking that no one was going to interrupt him then continued, "It was all so quick at the time, but now I remember it like it was yesterday. It was summer by then and scorching hot"

***
I was in my cell waiting with barely concealed anticipation this was the day we had planned for the escape attempt. The first thing I heard was the familiar sound of Gabrielle and the guard talking, the jangling of keys and then the door swung open. In she walked. If we hadn't had discussed the plan before I would have thought nothing was different to any other day. She placed the tureen of soup and the basket of bread down on the floor. Then she continued to make idle chit chat as if nothing was going on. Gabrielle pulled out the dress, cap and wig from where they were hidden under the loaves of bread in the basket. She then stood in front of the small-bared slit in the door so that the guards view would be obstructed. I then took the clothes from her and put the dress on over my own clothes, and put the blond wig on making sure my face was disguised. I picked up the soup tureen and the basket; Gabrielle then called for the guard to open the door then she stepped back while I walked out of the door. I kept my head down as I walked past the guard letting the hair fall in front of my face so that my features would be obscured. All the time I was hoping and praying that the guard wouldn't notice the deception.

I walked along briskly as was possible without my walk turning into a run and as I turned the corner I looked back briefly to check that the guard wasn't looking and then legged it as fast as I could round the corner towards the main building. The thing was I knew from what Gabrielle had told me that there was a weak point that I could reach a secondary less well guarded set of gates by going through the kitchens.

I found the heavy oak door that led into the main building quickly enough, but as I opened the door I heard shouts coming from where my cell had been. I presumed at the time that they had discovered my little trick and decided that I had better dump the costume, as it would be more of a hindrance than help and it would certainly aid my identification. I went through the door and found myself in a long echoey corridor. On each side there were doors. Unfortunately I had neglected to ask which door I should take and so I decided that randomly opening doors would be my best option and this led to me finding out that most of them were actually storerooms. In one of the storerooms I dumped the dress and wig. After a couple of minutes of this search for the right door I became suspicious that I hadn't been apprehended yet. Not a single guard had walked through the door in all the time I had been trying the doors.

Just when I thought I would never find it I discovered the door to the kitchen. From inside I could hear the prison chef singing. I tentively and slowly opened the thick oak kitchen door, careful not to make a sound. I carefully peered round the door and noticed the chef standing over the other side of the kitchen by a large table on which was a chopping board with a headless fish resting on it. He was so engrossed in his 'cooking' that I thought he wouldn't notice me.
I could see the door over the opposite side of the kitchen and decided my best bet was to sneak along the back wall using the large central table as cover. I tried to keep low as I crawled along the filthy floor of the kitchen, but unfortunately I put his hand in some nasty substance and out of surprise suddenly sat up. My head hit one of the pans that were balanced on the edge of the table; the pan came crashing onto the floor with an almighty crash, its contents spilling onto the floor. The sound attracted the attention of the large chef who turned round to see me preparing to run. For a second I was momentarily frozen to the spot like a startled animal.
The portly chef cried out something, grabbed hold of a meat cleaver, and ran towards me. I could see the door and tried to make a dash for the exit, but the chef barring my escape cut me off from the door. He then proceeded to pursue me round the kitchen constantly swinging the meat cleaver around trying to hit me. When he aimed a blow with the cleaver I dodged it deftly. The blade embedded itself in the kitchen work surface and, while the he was occupied trying to pull the cleaver out of the table I made my getaway darting through the door.

After I came out of the door I found myself in a cobbled courtyard, and at the end of the courtyard was a stone archway. There were several piles of barrels each side of the archway. I was hot after all the exertion in the summer heat. I tentively approached the archway, but suddenly a guard appeared from behind the barrels and pointed a musket at me. For a moment I thought that that was the end, but to my surprise the 'guard' shouted out, "It's you, sir!"
Who else was it but Mr Catt? He had also escaped around the same time as me, which explained the noise and why I wasn't followed. We were able to dispatch the two men guarding the secondary gate and make good our escape.
We found a small fishing village, appropriated a vessel and some rations. Then set off across the channel. It was a miracle we made it back.

***
"I was surprised we didn't end up in the West Indies with my sense of direction," McKay paused for a second and noticed that Edward was sitting there his mouth agape, but Athena and Mr Peters didn't seem as impressed as the others.
"I'm sure Monsieur Catt would tell of it differently, but Hmm, Monsieur Peters do you 'ave a story to tell?" said Gabrielle her 'hostess' smile beaming.

***

Chapter Ten
By Wendy Snow-Lang

"I DO have a story, don't I, Missy Athena?" Jack leaned to Athena, winked at her and smiled.

She sat by his side and throughout the meal had watched his every move.
"Uh-huh! Daddy, tell it!" She showed her little peg-like baby teeth in a grin. "I like this story!"

Edward nodded. "My daddy tells the BEST stories!"

Lila tsk'ed. "And MY stories are boring, eh?"

Edward tucked in his chin, his eyes wide. "But, Mummy--!" he opined.

"Now, now, Edward," Jack wagged a finger at his son. "None of that.
I'll tell the story!" He leaned back in his seat, caught himself before the rickety chair tipped.

***

"Lila and I were serving aboard Captain Tremayne's ship ATHENA together."
He leaned over and placed a kiss on Athena's cherry cheek. "'Tis where we got the name for our lovely daughter. Athena." He laced his fingers together, exhaled. "We were assigned to the South Seas- the East Indies.
We laid over in New Guinea for fresh supplies when we ran into some bellicose natives." He tapped the worn tabletop with his fork. "I was left for dead." He glanced over at Lila, whose cheeks had flushed red.

"I would have sent the entire crew to find you," she exclaimed. "IF I had been the captain!"

Jack tipped his head. "I don't blame you, my love, not at all. I don't blame any man. I blame the Fates." He looked at McKay, then
Gabrielle, then back at McKay. "The People there, the tribe that took me in, they were cannibals..." He leaned to the other side, to confront Amelia. "Do you know what a cannibal is, Miss Amelia?"

Amelia ducked her head, her hands curled into tight fists. "No, sir," she whispered.

Jack leaned in closer to her. "Cannibals eat human flesh..." he said, glancing around at the adults in the room.

McKay and Gabrielle both sucked in breaths, shocked at Jack's graphic revelation. Lila exhaled and rolled her eyes.

Edward clapped his hands. "Tell 'em what you ate, Daddy!"

Jack poked a finger at Edward's chest. "Watch that tongue, young man!" He cleared his throat. "Edward exaggerates," he explained. "The People ate human flesh, but I--" he placed a spread hand to his chest.

Lila rolled her eyes again.

"It took me six months to learn their language, primitive though it was," Jack continued.

"Tell 'em what you wore for clothes," urged Edward.

Jack cleared his throat again. "I wore leaves, and little else, just like the rest of them. They accepted me unquestioningly. I was a former enemy, but once helpless against them, I was in their care." He gazed at the children arrayed around the rough table. He pointed at them. "Who here likes bugs?" he asked. Edward and Thomas waved their hands in the air. Athena wiggled her fingers. Amelia clapped her hand to her mouth.

"That island where I was stranded had bugs the length of my arm and what looked like tree branches, except they walked on their own!" He walked his fingers up the opposite arm in imitation of the 'bugs' habits.
"Beetles lived there, too! Some of them were the size of mice, with huge transparent wings that rattled like the dickens when they flew. Others were the most brilliant green you could imagine; like they had a candle lit inside them!"

Three of the children sat enraptured by Jack's tale, but one cowered, her face screwed up in disgust.

Jack sympathized. "Do you like butterflies, Amelia?"

She eagerly nodded her head.

"Can you imagine butterflies of brilliant blue and black? Of green so intense you think the sun lived inside its wings?"

Amelia vigorously nodded her head.

"And the birds, Amelia!" Jack continued. "The birds were the most dazzling! The Birds of Paradise sported huge, long, sweeping tail feathers. They had a booming call that carried for miles in the dense jungle. Lyrebirds, with curling tail feathers that resembled ancient Greek harps, bounced from branch to branch and called their mates. The bowerbirds built their little arch-roofed huts, using nothing but pliable, young saplings and instinctual birdbrains to construct their nuptial platforms of moss, flower, and berry! I named one particularly crafty bird Leonardo. Do you know who Leonardo was?" he asked.

Amelia shook her head again.

Jack shrugged. "You're a bit young yet."

Edward tugged at Jack's sleeve. "Tell 'em of the Killer Bird next,
Daddy!"

Gabrielle gasped. "Ze 'Killer Bird?'" she questioned.

Jack took a gulp of wine. "The island had no predators that I could see.
No dogs, or cats, or weasels," he said. "However, the giant horned bird of the South Seas was perfectly able to take the 'predator' name, if it so chose." He rubbed his chin, then continued. "They looked like over-tall geese. They had the long neck and stout body. But they were larger, MUCH larger, like the size of a Bull Mastiff, and twice the attitude. They even sported a horn. Their feet bore huge claws; swift to disembowel their prey."

Edward nodded, a smirk pressing his lips. "A killer!" he reiterated.

Jack hardly seemed to notice the Greek Choir. "The People called them 'Thunder Birds' for the sounds they made when they attacked. They were peaceable enough, unless you disturbed them. Which was easy to do, as they had the most foul temperament." He leaned to Amelia again, hooked his fingers like claws. "Then they'd kick at you with their nasty foot claws."
He swiped at Amelia's belly with three fingers displayed and hooked.
"They'd disembowel you quick as a wink!"

Amelia cringed and glared up at Jack, a frown creasing her velvet brow.

"Tell the Shark Story, Daddy," urged Edward, leaning closer to his father.

Jack sighed, grasped together his hands. "Very well, son." He straightened his back. "'Twas before Lil-Mrs. Peters and I were married. We had hardly proved our friendship. We found ourselves in the Belaric Sea, south of Spain, with a sinking ship and rescue several cable lengths away. Sharks swam about us in the blue-green water, and we climbed higher on the sinking bit of driftwood to which we clung. "I thought we were done for--" finished Jack.

"What about New Guinea," spouted Edward. "I want to hear the Shark
Story from New Guinea!"

Jack's eyebrows shot up. "THAT story? Very well!" He cleared his throat and crossed his arms in front of his chest. "The People's Chief had a daughter--she was quite appealing though she was very dark and had a broad nose and broader feet." He looked out the window at the misty distance, his expression one of distraction. "She went swimming one day in the lagoon. I sat and watched her. The day was peaceful and serene." Jack's face collapsed into an expression of pain. "I saw the black fin rise up and cut through the water. I KNEW Fala was in immediate danger, but I didn't care for my own safety. I plunged into the water and dragged us both out before the shark could take advantage."

Edward rolled his eyes.

Jack leaned into his face. "SO, m'boy! What else do y'want? I've told of the shark, both times, and the killer birds. What can I do for you?"

Edward hung his head. "Nuttin,' sur. Ye've told it all, as I can see."`

~~*~~

The Party
Chapter Eleven
By Sarah Taplin

The party was in the large ballroom that was at Admirals Dovedale's house. It was almost eight and most of the guests had or would be shortly arriving. The ballroom was filled with chattering people taking advantage of the Admirals hospitality and the wine was flowing freely as usual. The patio doors at one end of the room that led to the patio and the gardens had been left open to allow the guest to take some air if needed.
McKay had been there at the party since half seven, he had decided to come early so that he could leave early without seeming rude or ungrateful. He was wearing his Sunday best - which consisted of a fresh white shirt, silver cufflinks, a grey waistcoat complete with his pocket watch, a silver cravat, black frock coat and trousers - as he felt that in a time of peace, and the fact that he did not have a ship at the moment it would be inappropriate for him to wear his uniform. Gabrielle was also there dressed in a simple high waisted dress. It was plain white, but for images of small roses that gave it a pattern. She was holding Amelia in her arms ­they had decided to leave Hazel at home with Kate for the duration of the party- the young girl was trying her best to escape her mothers clutches no doubt to go 'exploring'.

McKay spied his friend Scarlett standing in the corner, with a glass of wine in one hand who as usual was surrounded by a gaggle of young ladies hanging on his every word, every word of which would be a lie or some outrageous story. Near the door stood his grandfather seemingly making it his mission to greet every guest personally. Neither his parents, sister or brother had turned up yet nor had there been any sign of the Peters clan at all. Maybe thought McKay the events of earlier today had put them off of coming.

***
It was around nine that they arrived all five of them, Mr and Mrs Peters and their children. McKay smiled and waved at them. After greeting his grandfather they made their way over to his position.

Chapter Twelve
By Wendy Snow-Lang

Lila could not keep the smile from her face. "Oh, Ashley!" she exclaimed.
"This is so exciting! Such a wonderful, invigorating group of people your grandfather has marshalled together!"

McKay ducked his head. "Why, thank you, sir. My grandfather has ever the social flair." Gabrielle, beside him, grinned proudly.
Jack, clutching young Thomas to him, leaned forward. "We hardly had the chance to greet your esteemed grandfather, McKay. Perhaps later we could have more of his time?"

McKay raised his chin, nodded, but hadn't the opportunity to reply. His grandfather took that from him. "Lieutenant Mrs. Peters!" he cried. "I hadn't the moment to properly greet, or congratulate you!" The old man rushed up to Lila and took her hands, grasping them excitedly. "Oh, to finally meet you face to face!" he expounded. "I had heard so much about you!" Lila noticed that he neglected to say from whence that hearing had come--young Mr. Ashley McKay, most likely!
"I must apologize, I was so busy greeting all my other guests. Oh, I am all a-flutter!" he gasped, his stout body fairly a-tremble as he held Lila's hand. "I hope that you will forgive my forwardness in that I had formerly thought your commissioning a terrible mistake. To think a woman could do the same things as a man! I tell you! But you have proven my reticence incorrect. You have the ability to command a ship as well as any man, I tell you!" His grin widened, his slitted-eyes all a-twinkle. He clutched her hand to his bloated chest. "Oh! I am like a young boy in a candy shop, your presence excites me so!"

Lila's brows rose and she tried to smile at the old man's solicitations. He was sweet, but rather nervous, she thought. She looked over at Jack. He scowled. His thoughts were clear about the old admiral. Dovedale was either pandering or rambling. Or drunk.
Dovedale looked at the young boy Jack clutched to him. The old admiral reached out, touched a finger to Thomas' cheek.
"Is this him?" Dovedale asked. "The admiral's son?" He clapped his hands.
"Oh! What an honour!" he exclaimed. "To be in the presence of such company! The Lady Lieutenant, and the Admiral's Son!"

McKay cleared his throat.

It was obvious; Lila thought that McKay was at a disadvantage. That his grandfather knew of Lila and her exploits, and also knew of Lila's youngest son. McKay was clueless. Lila let Dovedale ramble on.

"Ahh!" Dovedale exclaimed again. "Commander Scarlett! Come see who has graced my party!"

Scarlett sidled up to the group, clutched Jack's hand and bussed the back of Lila's. "The Lieutenants Peters, if I may," he stated suavely.

McKay's cheeks reddened. Even Scarlett knew of Lieutenant Mrs. Peters, it seemed!

"Mr. Peters. Mrs. Peters," Scarlett said, smug in knowing that he out-ranked even them; that he needn't debase himself by calling Lila "sir."
They had the peacetime lull to contend with; he didn't. He had been appointed Master and Commander in spite of it all.
But the boy! Such bloodlines! Like a champion steeplechaser, the boy was! Oh, to know him and his sire!

Scarlett shook the boy's tiny fist. Thomas pulled away and buried his face in his stepfather's shoulder. McKay fumed silently. Who WAS this boy?

Dovedale sputtered. "And how is the admiral? I have not seen him in a great while."

Lila smiled. "He retired from the navy and retreated to Scotland," she said. "He is ever sorry that the Peace has come about, but grateful all the same. He dislikes killing, unless it's Frogs!"

"But the boy," Dovedale stated. "What of him? Does not the admiral want possession of his own flesh and blood? How can he abandon him? I beg your pardon, Madam--" Dovedale added.
Lila curtsied. "No offence, Admiral, sir. The admiral visits him every couple of months and we have gone north to see his Lordship several times."
She dipped her chin. "He sees his boy often enough, but he will not let any other raise him save his real mother, sir."

Scarlett interrupted. "How noble. The admiral is always a source of inspiration," Scarlett said. "I have studied his every tactic of battle and read of his many exploits and conquests. To think that I am standing before the Lady Lieutenant herself and the Admiral's former wife and his only progeny--well! I am speechless!"

Jack scowled at Scarlett, squeezed Thomas closer to him. "The boy is but a boy, Scarlett!" he stated. "I have a son, too."
Scarlett looked up at Jack's six-foot-one-inch height, then cleared his throat. "Ah-hem. Of course, Mr. Peters, my humblest apologies."

McKay could stand no more. Curiosity had the better of him. "WHO IS THOMAS' FATHER?" he blurted out. Gabrielle's face brightened.

Lila looked at him, but said nothing. Jack stared, his brows together. Scarlett blubbered.

Dovedale answered, finally. "Why, Admiral of the Red, Edward, Lord Tremayne, of course!"
TREMAYNE, thought McKay? Lila's first captain? The old scoundrel; to move in on poor, helpless, mourning Mrs. Lila Peters once Jack was declared prematurely dead. How uncouth!

Lila laughed. "What else was I to do, once Jack was pronounced officially dead, but to seduce a new husband, one who had the means to care for my children?"

SEDUCE? MEANS? Had Lila been so mercenary in her second marriage? How revolting! How extreme! McKay's expression fell.

Lila caught his change of attitude. "Admiral Tremayne is a man of honour and rare fortitude, Mr. McKay. You know that. We had always held affection for each other and that is all that is necessary for a marriage to work."
She gazed up at Jack adoringly. "True Love comes but once a lifetime, methinks. And when Jack returned unscathed from his South Seas Adventures, Admiral Tremayne could do naught but the noble thing and step aside."

McKay opened his mouth to comment, but could not make a sound.

"Ashley!" A strident voice behind him caught everyone's attention.

"Mother!" exclaimed McKay.

***
Chapter Thirteen
By Sarah Taplin

McKay stood there mortified. This was one of the most embarrassing things of all. His mother always insisted on treating him like he was still ten years old. His grandfather had the good sense to leave the gathering while he still could, but McKay was left to face humiliation.
"Oh! Ashley my dear," exclaimed Mrs McKay, taking out a handkerchief, "Look at you. We can't have you looking like you've been dragged through a hedge backwards can we?" She then proceeded to try to wipe some piece of grime that no one else, but her seemed to notice off his face with the handkerchief.
McKay squirmed trying to escape, "Mother please not in public," he whispered urgently, "we have guests."
She abruptly pulled back and turned to those gathered, "Aren't you going to introduce me to your little friends?"
"Of course, mother. This is Mr and Mrs Lieutenant Peters and their children-,"
"Oh and aren't they such darlings!" she exclaimed as she noticed the Peters children who wisely shrunk away from her.
"Mother I-,"
"Don't interrupt me!" said Mrs McKay tersely, turning her attentions on the Peters, "Now you must be so proud of such fine children."
Lila started to speak, "Why 'tis-,"
But Mrs McKay interjected, "Of course your proud. Oh I do hope you have been nice to my Ashley. He never was good at making good friends," giving a warning glance towards Scarlett. "Always so shy."
"Mr McKay, shy? I doubt it."
"It is quite true I'm afraid. He was rather reticent and it was unfortunate that he fell in with such a playful crowd."
"Playful?" spluttered Scarlett, trying to suppress the urge to laugh.
"Does something amuse you young man?"
"Well as it happens-,"
"Ha-hm!"
McKay turned, his father was standing behind him a frown on his face, "My dear there are other people to speak to. You mustn't smother the boy." He held out his large hand and Mrs McKay placed her hand in that of her husband's.
"If you would excuse us." His father gave a knowing wink to the group as he led McKay's mother away.

He unconsciously let out a sigh of relief. "I'm so sorry about that-," he paused Mr and Mrs Peters both had a grin on their faces. They obviously found his predicament amusing.
"I hope all your family are this interesting," said Mrs Peters.
"Oh yeah there interesting all right, and some are nuts," blurted out Scarlett.
McKay nudged him gently hoping to curb his friend's tongue.

***

"Are you implying that I have a mental illness because if you are you are surely mistaken!" said a voice. Charlotte appeared beside McKay and startled him slightly.
"Ha-h'm, Charlotte how nice of you to join us," said McKay hoping that he could prevent a full scale war between her and Scarlett by changing the subject, "This is-,"
"Mr and Mrs Peters. I know," she turned to them, "It's nice to meet you."
"The feeling is mutual."
"I have read of your boldness at being made a lieutenant, Mrs Peters. It is an inspiration to us all."
"Why thank you."
"I also would like to go to sea. Life here is so terribly dull and I am fed up of being treated like I haven't got a thought in my head. I can outwit any of those sailors any day."
"I doubt it," said Scarlett offhandedly.
"Why, the local simpleton seems to think he is some kind of expert!" exclaimed Charlotte raising her voice.
"I think Miss McKay's enthusiasm is admirable," said Mr Peters solemnly, "as long as she is capable and willing to fight the frogs she is perfectly entitled to try her hand."
"But Miss McKay has a thing for frogs," said Scarlett.
"Not that again! Can't you let it drop?"
"Oh, but it's such fun to bring it up. Look your going crimson already."
"I shouldn't have helped you. I should have finished the job."
"I must confess I am in the dark as to what this disagreement is about," remarked Mrs Peters.
"It was a practical joke that went wrong, sir," said McKay, "It's a bit of a sore point."

***

"Ohhh! You are insufferable Christopher Scarlett. Completely and utterly insufferable!"
"And you are my hearts desire," exclaimed Scarlett, playfully striking a melodramatic pose.
McKay cringed he knew what was coming and knew that unless he could disrupt his sister all hell would brake loose. He gave a pleading look towards the Peters maybe the fact that they were relative strangers might make Charlotte more inclined to listen to them.

Chapter Fourteen
By Wendy Snow-Lang

Lila scowled slightly, but smiled at Charlotte. "I do not think that a "dull life" is a practical reason for trying to join the navy, Miss Charlotte. My reasons were much more complicated than that."
"And your ambitions much larger," added Jack, eyeing her.
Lila's left eyebrow rose. "Ambitions, smambitions, dear!" she said. "My ambitions are, as ever, to help protect our country. Our children must be secure in knowing that they can safely grow-up and live in the country of their birth and heritage, without a Frenchman breathing down their backs."

Jack tipped back on his heels, his hands clasped behind his back and his chin in the air. "They are a quarter French, m'dear."

"French CANADIAN, dear," she reminded.

Charlotte placed her fists on her hips, her chin jutting. "I could be in the navy, I could!" she insisted. "I could control sailors easily!"

Scarlett rolled his eyes. "I would not doubt it."

Lila shook her head. "'Tis not about controlling the crew. They follow orders or are punished. The Articles of War are clear." She looked beyond Charlotte's shoulder and grinned. "'Tis more about impressing fellows like your grandfather and that man who just entered the room." She rose on her toes and waved.

A tall, grey-haired man in an admiral's uniform noticed the wave, reciprocated and strolled up to them. "Why, 'tis the Lieutenants Peters," he said, his deep voice rolling from his lips like the roar of distant cannon fire.

Lila curtsied. Jack bowed. Then Lila flung her arms around the man and squeezed him tightly. He lifted her off her feet. "Lila, my dear niece!" he said.

"Uncle!" Lila squealed and clapped her hands gleefully once he had returned her to her feet. The children swarmed over him. "Uncle Joseph! Uncle Joseph!" they cried.

After he had hugged each of them and kissed all the offered cheeks, he rose and thrust out a long hand to Jack. Jack shook his hand vigorously.
"Admiral, sir!" Jack greeted. "How good to see you here, and what a surprise!"

Admiral MacHenry smiled; his white teeth gleaming like a predator's. "I wouldn't miss one of Dovedale's soirees for all the gems in the Crown Jewels." He looked around. "Where is the old fart--fellow?"

"Oh, he's here somewhere," said Lila. "May I present to you an old friend, sir?" She clutched McKay's elbow. "Lieutenant Ashley McKay, sir. And his lovely wife Gabrielle, their children Amelia and Hazel."

McKay soberly bowed. Admiral MacHenry! Admiral LORD MacHenry!
"Milord," said McKay, his voice trembling slightly. LORD MACHENRY!!

"Your grandfather trying to gain some influence for you, young McKay? I recognize the faces of many of my colleagues in attendance." He narrowed his eyes, his nostrils flaring minutely. "Wait a moment! I remember you, Lieutenant. I presided over your commissioning, didn't I? Yes, of course," he said, never allowing McKay to answer. "Very interesting."

McKay hadn't a chance to ask why MacHenry had such interest, or why it was that McKay's lieutenant's exam had been so memorable to the admiral.

"MacHenry!" Admiral Dovedale rushed across the room, his hand outstretched.

Admiral MacHenry clasped the old man's hand warmly. "Dovedale! How does this Peace go for you? Itching for a Frog fight yet?"

Dovedale laughed out loud. "As always, MacHenry!"

"I see we are not the only ones of the navy's finest here! Harwitch is over there at the buffet table, of course. Hood, Pellew, Birdsley, Mugton. Where's Nelson? I'd expect him here, if no one else."

Dovedale winked. "The night is young yet!"

Lila gasped. "Admiral Nelson has been invited?" She gazed at McKay. "Ashley! You never hinted!"

McKay shrugged, his eyes wide. "I had no idea." He looked at his grandfather.

Dovedale slapped him on the back, causing him to stagger. "Ah, my boy!" Dovedale roared. "We'll find you a ship yet! Your career in the navy isn't over yet, Peace or no Peace!"

MacHenry snorted. "If only, Dovedale. If only." He shrugged. "What need of we for a large navy now? The Frogs haven't the bollocks to start their squeaking again. Revolution, smevolution!" he grunted. He bowed to Gabrielle and Charlotte. "Beg pardon, madam, mademoiselle."

Charlotte stepped forward. "I would wish to serve the king in His Royal navy, milord!" Scarlet grabbed her elbow. Lila mouthed a "shh."

MacHenry laughed. "You've been talking to my niece, I see!" He shook his head. "No. Not again. One woman overstepping the boundaries of her sex is more than sufficient, I should think. Correct, Mr. Peters?"

Jack grinned, threw up his hands. "I cannot say, milord. SHE will not let me!"

Laughter circled the group, except for Charlotte, who scowled. She crossed her arms over her chest and huffed.

 

Chapter Fifteen
By Sarah Taplin

Charlotte didn't like being dismissed so easily. She glared at each one of the gathering in turn, hoping to convey her displeasure, but none of them reacted except Scarlett who raised a quizzical eyebrow as if to mock her. She was not interested in their trivial self-important tales of personal, often exaggerated bravery. Her concentration began to waver and on the edge of her hearing she overheard a conversation between two of the party guests
^^^^
'I hope Pellew's right Horatio, that coming to this party will help our chances of getting a ship. There certainly seems to be a lot of important people here.'
'Ha h'm. I hope so too William.'
'Didn't you say you played a game of Whist with our host?'
'Yes and lost,' he lowered his voice into a barley audible whisper, 'He cheated.'
^^^^
Charlotte smiled she knew her grandfather couldn't have such a good winning streak without a little dishonesty, the old hypocrite. She pondered on this snippet of information, as it may be something she could use in the future. A bargaining tool of sorts. She wondered if she should go over and speak with them.

***

"Charlotte?"
She heard someone saying her name she turned towards the source, bringing her thoughts back to reality.
"Excuse me? What did you say I didn't quite get it?"
"I said--, are we keeping you awake?"
"Oh, no, no. I just find your wittering extremely dull."
"It seems to me Miss McKay, that you find everything dull," said Mrs Peters.
"Well it seems with so many sailors around I am quite left out for I have no stories to exaggerate about my time at sea and I don't know how 'old so and so from the whatever' is."

Chapter Sixteen
By Wendy Snow-Lang

Lila clasped her hands behind her back, rocked on the balls of her feet, cleared her throat in a "Ha-h'm" sound that Charlotte had heard moments before from a far different source.

Did all navy personnel act and sound the same? Thought Charlotte.

"Miss McKay," Lila began. "You sell us short! Tell me, would you rather be speaking French right now?" Lila glanced over at Gabrielle. "No offence,
Madam McKay," she said. "I am half French too, you must remember, so I feel
I can speak freely when it comes to my Frog cousins and the mess the Revolution has made of the continent. The Americans, unfortunately, succeeded in breaking away from our king, and I hope they will live to regret their revolution."

McKay cleared his throat too, though not in the same manner as Charlotte had heard twice now in quick succession. His was more of a cough. "Mrs. Peters, your French half is AMERICAN French. You don't feel any sympathy with the former Colonies?"

Lila made that sound again. Charlotte winced. "The Colonies are ever profitable for my father's company, Ashley, whether they are loyal to the king or their own president. They LIKE English goods."

Jack touched Lila on the elbow. "Speaking of English goods, look who it is!" He nodded in the direction Charlotte had been gazing.

Lila gasped.

Little Edward squealed and ran to the man, surprising the officer by flinging himself at him. "Uncle 'Rayshio!" Edward hugged the man's legs. Athena followed, her own girlish giggling adding to the din. "Unca! Unca!" she jumped up and down, waiting impatiently for her own hugs.

Lila followed her children almost as quickly. She clasped her hands in front of her. "My God, look at you, man! How well you look!" she enthused. They hugged. "G' us a kiss, man," Lila insisted. He bussed her on the cheek. "Come on, you can do better than that!" she said. He glanced up at the approaching Jack, then placed a quick kiss on Lila's lips.

"It's been a long time," Horatio said.

"I've gotten all your letters," Lila replied. "I'm sorry that the Peace interrupted your career in such a rude fashion. If there is anything we can do to help."

"No, no," Horatio said. "I'm fine. William and I are here for the same reason many of the young officers I see here are present. Besides receiving an invitation, I mean."

Lila smiled. "As I said, anything we can do to help."

"You have no ship. Perhaps I could..." Horatio reiterated.

Lila shrugged. "I think the question is not whether WE have a ship, but whether there is a ship to have US!"

Jack stepped up beside Lila. "There's always your father's ships. They always need crew."

Lila clutched Jack's arm. "Yes, I can just see YOU as a mere crewman on a merchant ship. Up the ratlines you go, Crewman Peters! Shake out the mainbrace, Peters! Haul on the clewlines, Crewman!"

Jack rolled his eyes. "Yes, dear," he said. He thrust out a hand to the shorter man. "A pleasure as always, sir."

Horatio took his hand and shook it heartily. He presented his companion and Jack and William shook hands. Lila and William shared a stiff hug. The children stared up at William, their eyes wide and their hands behind their backs.

McKay stepped up to the group, Gabrielle, Charlotte, and Scarlett in tow. Introductions passed around, then Charlotte eyed William as he took her hand and kissed its back.

"Hello, sir. We meet again," she said, her cheeks reddening.

"It's been a long time, Miss Charlotte," William returned, his voice gruff. His blue eyes lit up.

Lila poked her elbow into Jack's ribs. "Look, you, at that," she whispered.

Jack grinned.

Horatio's eyes widened. "My stars and garters!" he exclaimed.

Charlotte cast her gaze to the wide-boarded floor. William clasped his hands behind him and scuffed the oak parkay with his heel.

Scarlett turned as red as his name and stepped up to William.

 

Chapter Sixteen taken from another perspective
By Greg Boop

The banquet room quickly filled with glimmering naval uniforms. Two officers huddled in a corner, the increasing array of gold epaulettes maintaining their full attention.

"William, is that not Lord Devonshire," the taller one queried.

"Indeed it is. I served with him as a middy," exclaimed the other officer with some excitement although dressed in a comparatively shabby uniform.

This was an important addition to the plan of the two officers, intent on getting a ship. Lord Devonshire had been recently been appointed to command of a squadron as Commodore. He had an open hand for appointing officers within his recently created fiefdom

Horatio nudged Bush slightly with his elbow, pressing him to approach his acquaintance. The lieutenant pressed forward and was quickly spotted by the Commodore.

"Sir Richard," he blurted out.

"Lieutenant Bush, is it not. Been a long time. How goes it with you?" queried Lord Devonshire. His impeccable uniform decorated by a large Star of the Bath. Lord Richard Devonshire obviously derived from a family with great wealth.

"It goes as well as it may, Sir Richard. It is good to see you again," stammered out Bush in an unnatural greeting, "This is my friend, Lieutenant Hornblower. He was recently appointed Commander before the Peace".

Sir Richard briefly shook hands with both officers, his attention wandering across the crowd.

"There are some fine morsels here tonight, and I'm not talking about the food trays," exclaimed Sir Richard eying a trio of ladies across the room, not caring to hear about the misery of two half-pay lieutenants due to the peace treaty.

Horatio glanced at his friend, Sir Richard had a reputation as a ladies man; one that enjoyed conquering in the ballroom just as much as winning at sea. The lord was of medium height but quite handsome. An attractive physique still established his youth and vigor despite being over thirty years of age.

"Would you two gentlemen like to assist me in a cutting out expedition that I plan to launch. I wish to meet the lady on the right without the interference of her chaperones," proposed Sir Richard.

Bush was acquainted with the ladies. Amanda, who was quite attractive, was clearly the designated target of the lord's intentions. Lila and Charlotte were the other ladies in the small clique.

Hornblower spoke up, "We were hoping to discuss the possibility of a real cutting out mission at sea with you, Sir Richard."

"You assist me in this operation, and I just may promise you anything that floats; Frigate, Sloop, or Packet," the Commodore exclaimed.

"Aye, then let's get in motion," exclaimed Bush pressing forward. His excitement growing as they approached Charlotte.

"Good evening, ladies, I am Sir Richard," commented the Commodore. Never shy, he always took the direct approach. "My companions are Mr. Bush, and Mr. Ahh"

"Hornblower," spoke up Horatio filling in the gap as Sir Richard fumbled the introduction.

Lila spoke up, "We have already have the pleasure of knowing Mr. Bush and Mr. Hornblower. I am Lieutenant Peters."

"Ah, the lady officer. I have heard of such, but it is a pleasure to finally meet you in person. Your companions look very lovely tonight, if I may say so, may I be honoured with an introduction," continued the Commodore, always smooth and relentless.

Sir Richard quickly kissed Amanda's hand as he was introduced, commenting that her dress looked quite lovely as a prelude to other flowery compliments. He quickly engaged her in solo conversation angling his back to shut out the others in the group.

Lt. Lila rolled her eyes in response to the Commodore who she viewed as an obvious rake; solely concerned with the bedroom for pleasure, but not the responsibility that came with it.

She turned and greeted both Bush and Hornblower warmly.

"I trust you are well," she greeted, genuine warmth apparent in her tone.

"Ha-m'm. It's been a long time," Horatio responded, "I hope you received my letters."

"I've gotten all your letters," Lila replied. "I'm sorry that the Peace interrupted your career in such a rude fashion. Is there anything we can do to help?"

"No, no," Horatio said. "I'm fine. William and I are here for the same reason many of the young officers I see here are present. Besides receiving an invitation, I mean."

"William, you remember Charlotte," Lila queried, aware that both were standing off and were in no way included in the conversation.

"Yes, yes, of course," responded Mr. Bush, pleasure beaming from his face.

Charlotte eyed William as he took her hand and kissed its back.

"Hello, sir. We meet again," she said, her cheeks reddening.

"It's been a long time, Miss Charlotte," William returned, his voice gruff. His blue eyes lit up, delight apparent across his face.

 

Chapter Seventeen
By Sarah Taplin

Scarlett turned as red as his name and stepped up to William.

Who raised his head, looked over at Charlotte and gave a playful wink, which she returned, much to Scarlett consternation.
McKay noticed that his sister was now gazing intently into William's piercing blue eyes and that Scarlett was showing his discomfort at the attention this interloper was receiving from Charlotte.

"Ha- h'm!" Scarlett coughed, but at seeing no reaction tried to place himself between Charlotte, and the object of her attentions. "Hello Lieutenant?"
"Bush, William Bush. And you are?"

"Captain Scarlett," he replied with a self-satisfied grin on his face. McKay presumed his friend would probably try to use his rank to intimidate his new rival for Charlotte's attentions. But the mention of rank didn't seem to distract William from his goal.

"Are you also a friend of Miss Charlotte'ssir?"

"For your information I-," Scarlett was caught in mid-sentence.

"He's more of a friend of my brothers," said Charlotte, giving Scarlett a warning look. "I just have to put up with his presenceno matter howtiresome."

Scarlett went to open his mouth in reply, but Mrs Peters interrupted, "You know each other then. How did you meet?"
McKay wondered whether Mrs Peters was reading his mind, asking the questions he wanted to ask, but felt he couldn't.

"We met in Portsmouth."

"He was very nice to me, a perfect gentleman," added Charlotte with a wry smile.

He heard his friend grumble under his breath, 'I should hope so.'

McKay smiled.

It seemed Scarlett was feeing protective and a trifle jealous.

In the background the musicians began playing a lively tune.

"Miss Charlotte it seems that a reel has started w-," but before Scarlett could answer William interrupted.
"May I have the next dance Ma'am?" he said with a bow.
"Why of course,"
"B-but-," Scarlett tried to protest.
"I am sure there are other young ladies in the room who would just die to dance with you. I am not one of them," she replied as William led her towards the dance floor leaving a fuming Scarlett behind.

McKay sniggered they had got one up on his friend and there was nothing he could do about it except maybe pick an argument then demand a duel, which would be foolish. That and he would end up having to second Scarlett, something he didn't want to do.

***
Chapter Nineteen
By Wendy Snow-Lang

Lila eyed Horatio. He looked at her, his eyes wide and innocent.
"Well?" she said.
He cleared his throat. "Aye, sir?"
Lila offered her elbow. "Will you not ask me to dance?"
Hornblower looked over at Jack, but received no discouragement or incentive. "I-I-" he muttered.
Lila pouted. "Now, now, Horatio. I would SO like to join William and Miss Charlotte in the reel."
Horatio sputtered and shuffled and looked nowhere but the floor. His cheeks reddened and he continually cleared his throat. "Ha-hum. Ha-hum," he said.
Lila's patience with his performance ended. She grabbed his arm and dragged him to the end of the line.
Horatio bowed awkwardly; Lila curtsied gracefully in reply. He held out his hand and she took it. They promenaded up the centre of the line, Lila with her chin high, Horatio with his head downcast and his feet tripping as he went. They motioned to each other again and Horatio nearly tumbled as he tried to mirror Lila's turn to the outside of the line. He fumbled his way down the line to the end, where he bowed once again to Lila.
She put a hand to her mouth and giggled. "Horatio, you are a card, sir! You are SO cute!"
Horatio's cheeks flared even redder.
Meanwhile, back by McKay and Jack, standing politely watching the dance, little Edward bowed clumsily to his sister. Athena curtsied in return.
Lila gripped Horatio's elbow. "Watch, you, the children!" she whispered.
Edward thrust out his elbow and Athena took it. They marched solemnly to an open corner near the line of adult dancers. Edward bowed again; Athena curtsied and they began a stiff and serious mimicry of the adults.
Lila giggled. "How sweet they are! Jack taught them."
Thomas tugged on his stepfather's sleeve, then rushed to Gabrielle and reached up to Amelia's tiny hand. "Me, me!" he exclaimed.
Gabrielle, giggling also, lowered Amelia to her feet. Thomas took the little girl's hand and Amelia followed him to Edward and Athena's position. The two littlest dancers couldn't quite match the skill of the older, so they just held hands and traipsed back and forth, following Edward and Athena.
The parents of the group of children laughed merrily at the sight of their offspring.
"So cute, they are," exclaimed Gabrielle.
"Edward needs more practice on his bow," criticised Jack.
"Oh, he is but a child. Let him be a child," Gabrielle admonished.
She turned her attention to the adult dancers, her grin increasing in size. "It appears Captain Scarlett has been blindsided, Ashley.
Charlotte seems much more interested in Lieutenant Bush."
McKay sighed. "Charlotte is of a strong mind, m'dear. She teases Scarlett, methinks."
Jack laughed, eyeing the symmetrical line of dancers and the way Charlotte and Bush smiled at each other between reels up the centre of the line. "I think she has little thought for Scarlett at this moment, McKay. Mr. Bush is taking up all her attention."
"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Gabrielle. "Here comes Scarlett to spoil the pudding!"
Scarlett stood by the side of the line. He waited until Bush and Charlotte again proceeded up the middle, then wheeled around the new lead partners and promenaded on either side of the outside to the back of the line.
Scarlett stepped in front of Bush just as William was stepping into place. Scarlett bowed. "May I cut in, Lieutenant?"
Bush's blue eyes widened, then narrowed. "Would that be an order, sir?"
Scarlett raised his chin. "Only if you insist, Lieutenant."
Bush lowered his voice to a dangerous whisper. "This is a social situation, sir, not a naval matter. I take umbrage at you pulling rank on me!"
Scarlett's voice rose in pitch. "And I, Lieutenant, take umbrage to you stepping past your bounds in your attentions to the young lady!"
By this time, the other dancers and the partygoers nearby had taken notice of the disruption. The gentleman next to them cleared his throat and caught their attention. "Gentlemen! If you please! You are interrupting the dance." He urged.
Scarlett puffed out his chest. "Perhaps we SHOULD take it outside."
Lila and Horatio were a couple of couples distant. Lila stabbed a finger at Horatio. "Go see to your friend, sir!" she ordered. "Before he starts something!"
Horatio cleared his throat (Yet again!) "Ha-humm. Methinks 'tis Captain Scarlett who is causing the trouble, sir. Perhaps McKay would be better suited in controlling HIS friend."
Lila sputtered. "Why-'tis clear that Bush is being obstinate! I would hate to see this dissolve into something more serious!"
Horatio ahemed again. "Perhaps 'tis up to the young lady to decide."
Lila clapped her hand over her mouth. "Horatio! You are the most LOGICAL of men! You see through the greatest difficulties with the greatest of ease! I commend you!"
Horatio shrugged, his hands clasped behind his back and renewed colour rising to his face. He scuffed at the floor with a worn shoe.
"'Tis nothing, sir, really."

Chapter Twenty
By Sarah Taplin

McKay stood on the sidelines stuck in indecision, torn between whether to intervene or not.
***

"Please you two you're making a scene," said Charlotte through gritted teeth. She flashed a placating smile at the rather annoyed looking dancers who didn't appreciate the situation.
Bush stood up straight emphasising his height. The two combatants were eye to eye with each other. Scarlett glared at the Lieutenant.
"It was his fault he started it," claimed Scarlett poking Bush in the chest.
"I protest! I did no such thing! You were the impertinent child who decided to make an issue of things."
"Methinks you should learn some respect for your superiors!"
"I am not the one overstepping the line when it comes to manners," replied Bush raising his voice in anger, "If Miss Charlotte does not wish to dance with you then that is that. Unless you wish to continue to force your presence onto the girl."
"I do not force anyone to do anything. I have known Miss Charlotte since she was twelve, unlike you, you, you cad!"
"Stop it! Stop it you two! Cease this childish squabbling at once. I will not be fought over like some possession. I do have free will you know. I make my own decisions," exclaimed Charlotte pushing her way in-between the two adversaries holding her arms outstretched to keep them apart.
"I'm apologise for my outburst Miss Charlotte," said Bush giving a neat nod of his head, "But I can not stand by while this fellow slanders and insults me in front of witnesses."
***

McKay approached Lila and asked in a hushed tone, "You know this fellow, do you think he will ask Scarlett forsatisfaction?"
"Why Mr McKay I only know him in passing 'tis Mr Hornblower that you should ask."
McKay turned to Horatio, "So what do you say Hornblower? Will it come down to a duel?"
"Mr Bush is a principled man. He will not stand by and let himself be dishonoured," replied Horatio a worried frown creasing his brow.
"Then we must hope that that Scarlett will apologise."
"Is that likely?" asked Lila in a concerned voice.
"Knowing him I very much doubt it. He can be damned stubborn sometimes."

***
"Will you retract your accusations, sir?" asked Bush holding out his hand in a gesture of friendship.
Scarlett looked down his nose at the gesture and replied haughtily, "I will not retract my earlier comments for I believe you to be unworthy of the lady in question."
"Oh I don't even get a name now. I'm just the lady in question," Charlotte huffed crossing her arms.
"I am sorry Miss Charlotte that this unfortunate oaf has had the audacity to upset you," said Bush looking deep into Charlotte eyes.
"Oh Lieutenant you always know the right things to say to a lady," sighed Charlotte, "and your observations of that oaf are so apt."
"Ha-h'm!" Scarlett half coughed half grunted in his attempt to catch Charlotte's attention.
"It seems sir that we have both said some slanderous things these past few minutes-,"
"Too right we did except my accusations are correct and appropriate!"
"That is it, sir! I demand that this quarrel be settled the only way it can be."
"A duel then, that is the only way to end this standoff."
"A duel."
***
A voice spoke from McKay's right, "I knew old Dovedale's parties were lively but this one takes the biscuit."
He turned to see the Commodore standing there, girl on one arm, sherry in hand, watching the scene.

***
Chapter Twenty one
By Wendy Snow-Lang

Horatio whispered something in Lila's ear. She lifted a dark eyebrow at the quiet comment, grinned and stepped up to Charlotte, whispering in turn in her ear. Charlotte nodded fiercely.

Charlotte jabbed her fists onto her hips, stomped up to William and Scarlett as they faced off. "Gentlemen!" she exclaimed. "I WILL not have you fighting over me! I will not have it!" She stamped her dainty foot. "I will dance with neither of you, if you are to make such a fuss!" She waved a finger under their noses. "How can you be so presumptuous, both of you, to think that I would be impressed with or obliged to either of you if you won such a silly thing as a duel?" She hiked her nose in the air and crossed her arms over her chest. "I'd sooner dance with the family dog than with either of you!" She ran her gaze around the room, over the horrified and scandalized faces of everyone in the ballroom who had gathered around to absorb the spectacle.

"In fact," said Charlotte, "I will dance with-with-" She looked around again, then stretching out her arm, sauntered up to Jack. "I will dance with Mr. Peters!"

Jack gaped at her, but took her arm. He cast a glance at Lila, then threw an evil smile at William and Scarlett. Charlotte stuck out her tongue at the two wide-eyed officers.

Jack gestured at the three piece string ensemble by the stairwell and they struck up a lively reel. Jack then bowed low to Charlotte and led her to the front of the dance line. Other couples formed up behind them.

William ha-rumphed, clasped his hands behind his back and gazed at Scarlett. Scarlett shrugged and, wordless, stuck out his hand. William accepted his silent apology and they wandered off together to find a drink.

Horatio laughed. "How amusing! Miss Charlotte could have asked me to dance, but that would have reflected well on William, as I am his friend. She could have asked her brother, but that would have been to Scarlett's advantage, as he is friends with her brother. But to ask Jack, in full view and acceptance of his wife, why, that's BRILLIANT!"

Lila nodded, grinning. "She is a clever girl, is Charlotte. Whomever she weds will have to be a very special fellow and will have his hands full."

Horatio raised an eyebrow. "Much, I suspect, as Mr. Peters has, hmm?"

Lila's eyes widened. "And just what is that supposed to mean?"

Horatio was spared from answering by Commodore Devonshire and Amanda.
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Hornblower," he said. "Mr. Bush is a friend of yours?"

"Yes, sir," Horatio said.

"Have him meet me tomorrow at 6 bells for breakfast. I have something to discuss with him. He displayed much spit and vinegar just then, to Scarlett. I like that in a man, and always knew Mr. Bush to have that quality. I realize 6 bells is late for the morning meal, but I suspect Mr. Bush may need to sleep in." He winked in the direction the two officers had disappeared. "If you get my meaning. Admiral Dovedale has a wonderful, old, VERY old, Scotch, made by the family. Your friend and Captain Scarlett have gone off to sample it, I assure you."

Horatio bowed. "I shall make sure that he is in attendance in the morning, sir."

Devonshire sidled up to him, whispered in his ear, nudging him in the ribs. "How about you, Hornblower?"

Horatio stiffened. Was he to be invited to breakfast too? Had he hopes of a posting by the Commodore?

"Got an eye on a companion for the evening?" Devonshire continued. "You've been enjoying your dance with the lady this evening."

Horatio scowled, shocked, his hopes dashed. "I beg your pardon, Sir! She is a married woman!"

Devonshire snickered, leaned in closer. "And your point, man?"

"I-you-I-" Horatio sputtered. "You have put me in a most uncomfortable position, sir!"

"Hopefully, she will put you in a more comfortable one later tonight, eh?" Devonshire ribbed his again. Horatio smelled the strong drink on the commodore's breath. It was probably the Admiral's special Scotch.

I am not having this conversation, thought Horatio. How can I politely tell him to shut up? If I am not careful, we could end up in much the same mess as William and Scarlett but a few minutes ago. I can't call out a superior officer!

But he was spared once again.

Lila interceded. "Commodore. Do you be looking for good officers to aid in your command?"

Devonshire smiled, Amanda all but forgotten once his attention was on Lila. "Do you be looking for an appointment, ahem, Lieutenant?"

Lila demurely clasped her hands behind her back. Her instinctive move, one born of many years in the navy, caused her bodice to thrust forward into Devonshire's field of view.

His eyes widened. "You would be welcomed aboard my flag ship at any time, m'lady!" Devonshire's voice was husky and he stared at her satin encased chest.

Horatio stood slightly behind Devonshire and directed hand movements at Lila, mouthing silent warnings and slashing a finger repeatedly across his throat.

Lila threw a scowl his way, then smiled sweetly at Devonshire. "M'lord, I was thinking not of myself, but of Lieutenant Hornblower here."

Devonshire turned to the formerly forgotten Horatio and spared him a glance.

Horatio had been in the process of another throat slash and hurriedly redirected his motion to sweeping his fingers through his dark curls.
"Ha-humm," he said.
"Hornblower?" Devonshire exclaimed. He scowled at Horatio. "Have you any one to recommend you, sir?"

Horatio wanted to look at the floor, anywhere but in Devonshire's face, but he forbear and stared the older man down. "Admiral Pellew, sir, would give me a good word, I am sure."

"Ah! Pellew! You're one of HIS young rogues!" Devonshire grumbled something neither Hornblower nor Lila could hear. He then turned back to Lila and she could see that Hornblower was quite forgotten once again, as seemed poor Amanda. Now that Devonshire's attention was on Lila, Amanda stood fidgeting to the side. Lila could see that the girl's expression wavered between flight and fight.

"Now then, Lieutenant Peters-you REALLY hold a commission, do you? Are you another one of Pellew's pups? Leave it to Sir Edward to think of such a cockamamie idea as making a woman a lieutenant."

Lila scowled. Cockamamie idea, indeed! "No, sir. 'Twas Admirals MacHenry and Tremayne who saw my way clear."

"Oh! Those two! Thick as thieves, they are! With your father too! He provides the deep pockets for their wild indulgences!" Devonshire swayed slightly, the drink he'd imbibed giving even more evidence to the lack of courtesy he was displaying.

"Commodore Devonshire! You are being most ungracious-" Lila began.

Hornblower bumped her arm and ha-hummed. "How are you enjoying Admiral Dovedale's party this evening, sir? Can I get you something to eat, or a chair, perhaps?"

"Here now, Lieutenant Mrs. Peters! You cannot deny the trio's influences in your career path!" Devonshire ignored Horatio completely.

"I deny nothing, sir! But you're implications-"

"I imply that a lady has no place wearing a uniform, Madam! I imply that your father, uncle and Admiral Tremayne have overstepped the boundaries of common decency!"

"I have done nothing to disgrace the navy or my own good name, sir! I have served with the utmost skill of which I am capable!" She crossed her arms over her chest, her indignation clear.

Devonshire snorted. "A lady's skill lies elsewhere than on the quarterdeck of a Man-O-War." He winked repeatedly. "If you understand my meaning."

Lila gasped. "I cannot believe it! How RUDE!" Her face glowed crimson.

Hornblower touched Devonshire on the sleeve. "Perhaps, Commodore, sir, you should come into the drawing room and sit down for a moment or two. Methinks the Devil Alcohol has had the best of you this evening." Horatio's touch turned to a full grab as Devonshire swayed.

The Commodore looked down at Hornblower's hand on his arm and his face reddened to match Lila's. "Unhand me, you oaf! How dare you!"

Hornblower opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted for the third time that evening.
McKay hurried over to them, his eyes wide, and fear bleaching his face. "Lila! Commodore, sir! Mr. Hornblower! You won't believe who's just arrived!" he blurted out.

Lila inhaled a deep breath, the colour lessening on her cheeks. "My goodness, Ashley! You are so excited! You'd think the King had just walked through the doors."

McKay grabbed her hands, terror on his face. "Worse than that, Lila! It's ADMIRAL NELSON!"

***
Chapter Twenty-Two
By Sarah Taplin

McKay was petrified. He could cope with embarrassment in front of a few superiors, but this was Nelson, a legend in the service.
He realised that his nervousness showed in his countenance when Lila, in a sympathetic voice, said, "Calm down, Mr McKay. 'tis only a mortal man under all those titles."
"Yes, sir," replied McKay, somewhat reassured by Lila's words.

***

The reel finished and Charlotte, making sure that her two admirers could see her, gave Lieutenant Peters a little peck on the cheek and whispered her thanks for his services. Jack, however, coloured and looked over towards his wife.
"Ha-h'm. Maybe we should re-join the others in our group, Miss Charlotte?"
"Why certainly, sir. I do hope I haven't put you in any discomfort by my actions?"
"No, no. 'tis quite all right. I would know by now if Lila had any objections," replied Lieutenant Peters, offering his arm. Charlotte took it and they strolled towards where Lila seemed to be having a frantic discussion with Commodore Devonshire.
"I believe Mr Peters that if you were not already spoken for I would choose you over those squabbling children that call themselves officers any day. For you, sir, are the only person here today that hasn't referred to me as some kind of possession," said Charlotte.
"Well-?"
"Do not worry. I will not steal you away or tell Mrs Peters of our little chat," replied Charlotte in a hushed tone.
"Ha-h'm."

***

"Did you enjoy your little dance, Miss Charlotte?" asked Lila.
"Why yes, Lieutenant, it seems to have quelled my two 'champions' spirits."
"Admiral Nelson is here," interrupted a rather pale looking McKay. Charlotte could see his hand shaking where he was holding his glass.
"And, so, therefore? You can be a right worrywart sometimes, Ashley. And maybe you aught to give me your glass before you spill it down yourself," replied Charlotte, taking McKay's glass from him.

***

As Nelson entered the room accompanied by Lady Hamilton the room fell into a hushed silence. All eyes were on the two notorious guests, everyone wanting to know who would take the initiative.

Admiral Dovedale was the first to approach his guests.
"Why Admiral Nelson, Lady Hamilton. I am honoured that you have chosen to grace my humble gathering."
"I wouldn't miss one of your bash's for anything, Dovedale. Now we're here the party can really get going."
Dovedale motioned to the quartet to start up again and the bubbling noise of a party in full flow resumed.

"I hear you invited the famous Lady Lieutenant, who seems to have overtaken me in notoriety. I would be most obliged if you could introduce me."
"Why, of course."
"Where is that spirited granddaughter of yours? She always gives us a little show," asked Lady Hamilton.
"She is here, although I fear you may have missed her little outburst. Charlotte had two officers willing to duel over who should be allowed to dance with her. I must say I was quite worried, but it was fortunately averted thanks to a timely intervention. Please come this way and I will introduce you to Mrs Peters."

***
Once Admiral Dovedale had finished making all the introductions, it was Lady Hamilton who spoke first.
"We have been informed that we missed quite a scene, Miss Charlotte. It's not everyday you get two men fighting over you."
"Ha h'm," Nelson gave a strange look at Lady Hamilton who returned it with a mischievous smile.
"They are merely like immature boys fighting over a toy to me," replied Charlotte.
"In my opinion Miss Charlotte's behaviour was intolerable. You should never interfere with a matter of honour, of pride," blustered Devonshire.
"Even if it prevents the loss of fine officers?" Asked Lila.
"Yes. And I must say the girl does not act like a lady. She may wear a dress, but her attitude is an affront. She speaks, purports herself, and assumes she has the same rights as a man."
McKay noticed Charlotte's grip tightening on the half empty glass and a determined frown spread across her face.
"And you 'Lieutenant' Peters," he said turning to Lila "are even worse. A woman in men's clothing. You should know your place and be grateful for it!"
"Lieutenant Peters, Miss Charlotte, I believe the Commodore has just sent a shot over your bows. Will you not respond?" asked Nelson, raising one eyebrow as is daring the women to do something. Which was exactly what happened, to McKay's horror and dismay.

Charlotte gave a cheeky wink in Nelson's direction, then stepped forward, drawing herself up equal in height to the commodore, "You, sir, are a rude, witless coward whose objections stem from the fear that we are better than you and that we can replace you. You, sir, are scared of losing, which will be your down fall," she said quite calmly and deliberately pouring the glass of wine over the Commodore's head. She brought her face close to his and spat out one word, "Pig!" Then stepped back, a smug smile on her face.
Commodore Devonshire stood there still as a statue in shock, his face flushed red and his hair soaked with the wine which, dripped onto his uniform.
Admiral Nelson clapped his hands in applause, "Well done, well done, my dear. I would have you as a captain on one of my ships any day. Someone never afraid to take risks and go straight for the jugular." He turned to the now fuming Commodore, "I believe after that devastating broadside you are quite sunk."
"I have never been so insulted in all my life!" Bellowed Devonshire, as he turned on his heels and bustled out in a trail of expletives.
"I never did like bullies," stated Nelson.
"Oh, dear. Shouldn't someone go after him?" asked Amanda, her voice quiet and concerned.
"I think it's better to let him cool off a bit, dear, before anyone tries to communicate with him," said Admiral Dovedale as he disappeared, probably to warn the guests of the tornado of fury that was set to pass them.

***
Athena, the Peters girl, approached the chatting group and pushed her way in.
"Mother!"
"What is it, Athena?"
"A nasty man came up to us and called us all horrid names and he said that Thomas was a Ba-,"
"I don't think you should repeat such language in company, darling," said Mr Peters.
"And he also said horrid things about Mrs MacKay and made her cry."
"I, I had better go in see um, er whether" stammered McKay.
"Of course."
McKay rushed off towards the double doors, which led to the next room.
"I think maybe we'd all better go," suggested Lila.

***
Chapter 23
By Greg Boop

Amanda was overwhelmed with the Commodore's Devonshire's singular attention, charmed by his powerful physique and obvious wealth. Reaching for words that did not seem to arrive, the best she could do was mutter, "Thank you, sir," quietly in response tohis long string of charming compliments after he kissed her hand. Just nineteen, she felt out of place in the vast social maze, and uncomfortable in her borrowed low cut dress.

The borrowed dress in many respects symbolized her situation, the fine material of the dress provided façade of prosperity, but she would not maintain possession of the finery after the party. Her family had a small estate; over years it had fallen into disrepair as the fields failed to produce, and the laborers moved to the cities for better prospects. They had continued to borrow money to maintain appearances, and now lived in fear of debt collectors. She intuitively understood that her family was on the brink of disaster; their only hope to salvage their sliding prospects was a successful marriage of the family's sole child, herself.

"This would be an excellent time for a drink from the Admiral's table. Wine for you, or would you prefer something stronger, my dear?" questioned the Commodore.

"Wine, would be fine, my lord" responded Amanda, taking sometime to collect her senses before responding.

Holding her arm, Devonshire gently steered her towards the bar. He ordered her wine, demanding that she be given the finest wine in the house, and boasting of his vineyards knowledge while making his selection. He took a large whiskey for himself.

The Commodore led her to a pair of chairs in the corner of the room, while massaging her arm while they strolled. He politely pulled the heavy chair over to give her room to clear a small table; this also had the affect of placing both chairs in close proximity.
"I hope that your accommodations are comfortable during your visit?" he queried after taking several sips of his drink, briefly laying his hand on her knee

"Yes, quite, my Lord, I am staying here at the Admiral's house. He is a friend of the family," she responded.

"I am lodged in the Minister's suite of the local inn, quite comfortable with a beautiful view from the windows. I wish that you could come visit it, it is quite spectacular,' Devonshire stated, his hand moving slowly caressing her thigh.

"I'm sure that it is, but it would be quite improper for me to visit you there. Being a lady," she parried his advance.

"My dear, it is perfectly safe when people are discreet. What folks don't find out about would never hurt. No harm would come to your reputation," the Commodore pushed. "I would be glad to spend time with you away from this large crowd,' he continued his hand waving to indicate the room full of people.

Music started. This provided Amanda the opportunity to derail the conversation. "Let's dance, my Lord" she announced while getting up and offering her hand to Devonshire.

The Commodore was an excellent dancer. He tended to press her close. She could feel the power of his hands, and the strength of his body. Several times, he spoke gentle compliments while almost nibbling her ear. She was both excited and concerned; the conflict leaving her disturbed as she spun through many different steps. In a world of her own she did not perceive the chatter around the room, as another small group argued over dancing partners.

Amanda was slowly pulled away from the dance floor; barely hearing Devonshire's compliments. Suddenly they came to a dead halt as several people argued. Detached she recognized Mr. Bush, Charlotte, and others involved in some confrontation. Devonshire made some quip regarding exciting parties that she could barely hear over the music, as he hooked her arm and steered her towards the door.

She stopped abruptly, leaving the Commodore with a puzzled look on his brow.

"I thought you would like to step outside for some fresh air after all of this dancing. You dance finely, may I say," Devonshire commented.

"No, No, let's stay inside. I am quite fine," she responded; concerned about his continuous advances and intentions. Amanda had never previously met a man that was so forward and demanding.

Devonshire dropped his smile, his face breaking out into a mask of frustration. "Surely you want to spend some time with me alone," he pressed. The endless charm dropped from his voice.

"I need to see what my friends are up," she responded weakly.

"You go do that," he shouted, "I'm getting a drink."

Amanda stood there stunned as she watched Devonshire stride off and quickly consume several generous shots of scotch at the bar. She edged over towards her friends wondering if she had made some tragic mistake.

After several minutes, Devonshire returned. No longer reaching for her arm, Amanda trailed him slightly as they approached Horatio and Lila.

Chapter Twenty-four
By Wendy Snow-Lang

Lila strode up to Devonshire as he stumbled from the side drawing room. She could clearly see over his shoulder Gabrielle clutching a sobbing Amelia and a caterwauling Thomas to her, tears wetting her own cheeks. Edward firmly ensconced in Gabrielle's skirts, hurled obscene hand-gestures and foul curses, sailor-like, at Devonshire's retreating back.
Lila barred Lord Devonshire's way, her fists on her silk-petticoated hips, her feet apart, as immoveable as Atlas holding up the world.
Devonshire stopped in front of her. He raised his chin and looked down the length of his nose at her. His drunken sway had increased since last he had confronted her some minutes ago.
"Ahh, here's th' wench what squeezed out those unshivilized and undishaplined whelps. They need a good whuppin', they does. Uppity, they is," Devonshire slurred.
Lila's eyes narrowed. "LORD Devonshire! You may make all the uncouth remarks to me that suit you. You may insult Miss Charlotte until you are blue in the face. You may even have your lecherous way with Miss Amanda if that is what floats your boat."
Quicker than the eye could follow, her open hand lashed out. The sound of her slap echoed throughout the ballroom. All dancing stopped as all eyes turned to see Commodore Lord Richard Devonshire, Commander of the Guernsey Squadron, spin and crash to the shiny oaken floor in an inglorious heap.
"But you may NOT turn your vitriol on innocent children!" Lila shook a finger at him. "Most especially not MY children!"
Ashley poked Jack, urging Jack to contribute to the defence.
Jack shook his head, his eyes wide. He twitched his brows at Ashley, said, "I would NEVER place myself between Lila and the object of her wrath, as I value my own life!"
The sound of applause started to Lila's left. One pair of hands generated the slow cadence, then another picked up and added to the first.
Lila looked up and saw that the instigator was Lord Nelson himself, a satisfied smirk on his long face. His companion in mirth was none other than Lila's own uncle, Joseph MacHenry, tall and cold-eyed, yet grimacing humour.
Jack added his own hand-clapping to the others, his smile broad and his blue eyes sparkling.
The applause rippled around the ballroom, until the chandeliers swayed and tinkled protest to the uproar of applause and cheering.
"I-I'll have you in irons," sputtered Devonshire, as he tottered to his feet. "I'll see you court-martialled for striking a superior officer!"
Lila turned on him and spit out, "No court in the land would find me guilty for defending my children, no matter my rank!" She drew herself up, towering above him, as he still had not steadied himself.
He pulled at his uniform jacket to straighten it. "I'll see you at dawn, then, Madam. Outside, at the place of your choosing." he began.
Lila laughed directly in his face. "I'll do no such thing, Your Lordship!" she stated. "I'll see an apology from YOU, sir!" she growled.
"Would y' have a champion, then," Devonshire spat back.
Jack stepped closer. He was clearly the tallest man in the room by a good two inches, and he hovered at Lila's shoulder, his sheer size casting a long shadow.
Devonshire looked up and up, his eyes widening, then narrowing, into Jack's dangerous gaze. Devonshire's swaying diminished. Perhaps the thought of duelling with Jack instead of a slim woman had sobered the commodore of a sudden.
Dovedale interrupted, pushing himself between the combatants.
"Now see here! I throw one small soiree and this is what I get for it! TWO duels, or nearly so! Gentlemen-and ladies! BEHAVE yourselves!" he thundered, his best quarterdeck voice shaking the chandeliers again.
The reactions of the gathered audience varied as much as the people themselves, some men in uniform, some in civilian clothes, the women in satins and silks of every colour of the rainbow. McKay looked as if he might choke; Horatio had turned red as a Christmas rose; Charlotte scowled, fury still evident on her face.
Nelson's reaction, however, was the most honest. He burst out into loud, seesawing laughter, and was soon clutching his side with his one arm. Admiral MacHenry joined in and slapped Nelson on the back, causing the smaller man to stagger. Even Lady Hamilton tittered behind her satin gloved hand.
Amanda, however, stared aghast. That they would make such merry at the commodore! She didn't like him, but she wasn't a stupid girl. She could clearly see the advantages to a continued liaison with Lord Devonshire for a girl of poor family such as she.
She stepped to his side and slipped her arm into his. He stiffened and gazed round-eyed at her.
A small smile spread across his face. "Ah! An ally hides behind the enemy battle line." He took her hand and led her from his adversaries. Before they had taken very many steps, however, Devonshire stopped and cast his gaze over his shoulder. "Mrs. Peters!" he called.
She raised her chin and looked down her nose at him. "Lord Devonshire!"
Devonshire turned and bowed low. "We shall meet again someday. Rest assured."
Lila scowled and ha-rumphed, then added, "Have a care, Miss Amanda!"
Amanda shrugged slightly. "I-I shall, Lila. I will be on the alert for enemy manoeuvres, always!"
The party returned to somewhat normalcy as Devonshire and Amanda headed for the side balcony. The chamber quartet resumed their reel and dancers once again trod the floor, while others grazed the buffet tables.
A new face entered from the main doors and McKay smiled.
"Have I missed the party?" the new person announced. "Have I missed anything exciting?"
McKay rushed up to him, his hand outstretched. "Joseph, my dear brother! How good of you to come! Let me introduce you around to my friends."
"Very good, McKay," the other said. "And where's that lovely girl Amanda?"

Chapter Twenty-five
By Sarah Taplin

"She's with 'Mr Drunk' out there," spat Charlotte, pointing angrily towards the balcony. Then added under her breath, "I would have taken him on in a duel, shown him who's the lady."
"Miss Amanda, with a drunk? That's not like her," replied Joseph, looking a little put out.
"She means Commodore Devonshire," replied McKay, and tried to steer the conversation to a more amiable subject, "ErmHave you met Mrs, Lieutenant Peters?"
"I don't believe I've had the pleasure," said Joseph, with an over the top bow, "Captain Joseph Matlock, at your service," he said, taking Lila's proffered hand and kissing it gently.
"Why thank you, sir," replied Lila, bobbing her head in a curtsy.
He looked around at those assembled and Mr Peters stepped forward.
"Lieutenant Peters, sir."
Joseph shot his cuffs, then shook Mr Peters hand, "Pleased to meet you. You must be proud of your wife's achievements."
"Yes, sir. I am indeed."
"All these children, they are yours?"
"Let me introduce them," said Lila, clapping her hands, "Come here children."
She indicated to each child in turn, "Our eldest, Athena, Edward and Thomas."
"My, My. Did you spend any time on watch?" asked Joseph, raising his eyebrows in mock surprise.
There was a ripple of laughter that spread through the assembled group. But the merriment was cut short when from the balcony came a woman's cry.

Joseph immediately took up his silver topped cane in one hand, and rushed outside, McKay, Charlotte, Lila and Jack close behind.

***
At first Amanda had been flattered by Devonshire's advances, but they were becoming a little too much for her sensibilities.
"Please, sir," protested Amanda, as once again the admiral's hand wandered a little too far, "I am not a serving wench. I have some principles."
"You are looking decidedly ravishing tonight. Why don't you forggetze about everyone else and show your love for meee," slurred the inebriated Devonshire.
He pulled Amanda towards him, his lips pursed ready to receive a kiss. She could smell the alcohol on is breath.
"No! Please, my lord!"
But he ignored her protests. So she screamed at the top of her voice.

***
Joseph burst out through the balcony doors, skidded to a halt in front of the couple and upon seeing the situation bellowed.
"Unhand her!"
"I'll do no such thing. She's mine get your own," declared Devonshire.
"The young lady clearly doesn't wish to be put upon by you, so unhand her at once!"
"Just you dare make me."
"You are clearly drunk, you fool," said Joseph, plucking the admirals hands from where they were holding Amanda, "Why don't you go and have a lie down and sleep it off?"
Devonshire rose rather shakily to his feet, and balled his hands into fists, "Just you try. You can't tell me what to do. I'm a Commodore don't you know!
"Well maybe you aught to act more like one, sir."
The admiral tried to throw a punch at Joseph, but he ducked deftly out of the way at the last moment.
"Stay still and fight like a manboth of you," bellowed Devonshire, wobbling precariously on his feet.
"I don't want to hurt you. Now if you just sit down and-," his sentence was cut short when Devonshire launched another attack.
Joseph ducked, grabbed hold of the wrist of the admirals outstretched hand, twisted it behind the large mans back, and placed his cane out so that it tripped up the admirals feet. Commodore Devonshire went sprawling on the floor, landing in an undignified heap.
"I suggest you leave, sir. You've caused enough trouble for one night," said Joseph, straightening his jacket, shooting his cuffs, then running his fingers through his loose, flowing, shoulder length, ebony hair.
The admiral groaned. Joseph called over some of the footmen and instructed them to escort Devonshire to his carriage.

***
"That's why he's a captain and you're still a lieutenant," commented Charlotte to McKay.

***
"Why, thank you. I didn't know what to do. He was-," Amanda's sentence ended in a sob.
Joseph stepped forward offering a helping hand. She stood up, but soon fell into the gallant captains arms tears of relief pouring down her face, which she buried in his shoulder. He stood there rather awkwardly not quite sure what to do.
"Now, now. There's no harm done," he replied, patting her tentively on the shoulder.

Crossover Ch 26
Wendy Snow-Lang

"Well, well, Admiral Dovedale," Admiral MacHenry addressed the older, red-faced man. "Looks as if you'll have to pick someone else to command your Channel squadron." One side of his mouth curled up into a satisfied smirk. "Devonshire has embarrassed himself out of a position, methinks."

Dovedale cleared his throat, sputtered. "My-my fault, MacHenry, my fault entirely. I had heard rumours of Devonshire's problem with the bottle, but chose to ignore them.

"Don't take it all on yourself, Dovedale," Nelson interjected. "Devonshire always talked a good talk, especially about himself."

MacHenry's brilliant blue eyes turned in Horatio's direction. "What of you, Mr. Hornblower?" he asked.

Horatio's eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. "M-milord! I am only a lieutenant! A commodore must, needs be of captain rank-"

"No, no, not YOU, Hornblower," MacHenry laughed. "Who would YOU suggest for commodore?"

"Oh! Oh, I beg your pardon, sir." Relief flushed Horatio's face red.
He gazed around the ballroom. "There seems to be a dearth of eligible officers present tonight, sir, save Captain Scarlett and Captain Matlock here. And Captain Scarlett may not be faring any better than Lord Devonshire this evening." He gazed pointedly to the far side of the room and the damask-upholstered divans arrayed there. Scarlett and William lay on adjoining couches, singing shanties and tipping whiskey bottles to each other's health.

Joseph, Amanda firmly clutching his arm, puffed out his chest and tapped the tip of his cane on the parquet floor. "If I were to be honoured with the position of commodore, I would first need a SHIP." He cleared his throat. "However, I would never presume to be considered. There are captains aplenty who are infinitely more qualified than I. Just because I am standing before you and those others are not does not prove my competence, just my social standing."

"Your humour alone stands you good stead, Matlock," MacHenry said, showing his teeth in a predatory smile. "If it were up to me, I would be honoured to offer the position to my lovely and talented niece, if it weren't for Jervis and his heel-dragging in allowing her posting to captain rank."

"Good show, MacHenry," Nelson agreed. "The ladies are always ready to order a man and tell him 'what for.'"

Emma's eyes widened.

It was Lila's turn to sputter. "W-why, thank you, kind sirs." She curtsied. "I am the one to be honoured for your faith in me."

"Your record is exemplary, dear girl," MacHenry replied. "Jervis is a boob, a narrow-minded boob."

"Stranger things have happened in this world than Lord Jervis changing his mind," Lila said. "He was supportive of me years ago when Pitt decided to withdraw my commission. Jervie even sent a letter of recommendation to Pitt, for my re-instatement."

Dovedale interrupted. "There are other officers' positions to be filled besides commodore, Lieutenant Mrs. Peters."

Lila smiled, regarded her toes. "Thank you, Admiral, for the encouragement. However," she placed a hand on her abdomen, looked over at McKay. "It was news Mr. Peters and I had wanted to present to you and Gabrielle, Mr. McKay, save for the excitement with the children at lunch." She winked at Joseph. "You were right, Captain Matlock, in your assessment of our time on watch, or lack thereof."

The group stared at her, confusion on their faces, except for Jack, who smiled broadly, a twinkle lighting her blue eyes.

"I would request, Admiral Dovedale, that I not be granted a posting for another, oh, eight or nine months." She smiled knowingly and took Jacks' hand. "You see, we are expecting another Peters' child, come autumn. With God's good graces, the child will be healthy and we will still be living at peace with France and the world."

The group raised their glasses and their hearty "Here, here!" tinkled the chandeliers above their heads.

 

The End