Another Way to Serve
Part VI

Prologue

Horatio held little Abby in his arms and smiled. He couldn't get over how tiny she was.

"Goo chee goo chee goo!" he cooed softly as the baby made happy sounds.

Yesterday his best friend, Archie Kennedy, had been married and was now off with his new bride. His mind drifted as he rocked the little girl lovingly in his arms. He couldn't help but feel a bit left out. After all he was the only bachelor now. Sure, William had invited him for dinner, but Horatio had the feeling it was out of pity. But he didn't mind and he did enjoy William and Emily's company. Suddenly his heart ached and tears came to his eyes. Emily, who had been lounging next to her husband, noticed his sad expression. Quickly she crossed the small study to where he was standing, worried about her daughter.

"Horatio, what is it?" she questioned softly, taking the happy child from his arms. Horatio wiped the single tear that had fallen down his cheek.

"I'm sorry, Emily, I think I need some air," he replied and retreated outside.

William dropped the newspaper he had been so engrossed in reading and looked up.

"What was that all about?" he asked, going to his wife's side.

Emily shook her head as she swayed her baby in her arms.

"I have never seen him get upset like that before," she sighed.

William laughed as Abby sucked on his finger.

"Will," Emily said giving him a stern look.

"Yes dear, I'll go check on him."

With one last playful poke, he pecked Emily on the cheek and went after his friend. He didn't have to go far as he spotted Horatio in the garden, his thoughts definitely somewhere else.

Horatio stood contemplating the past as Bush came up behind him. Their rescue mission had been successful and now he couldn't help but reflect. All had gone so perfectly well.

"Archie and his masterful planning," Horatio thought with a smile.

He pulled a watch from his pocket and opened it, gazing longingly at the picture inside.

"A schilling for your thoughts?" A friendly voice said beside him.

William's blue eyes sparkled even in the dim night as he offered him a glass of spirits, which he'd procured from the kitchen on his way outside.

"Ever wonder what might have happened if you had never met Emily?" Horatio asked sipping the warm liquid.

Bush gave him an odd look.

"Well not really. Maybe I should have offered you a pound for you thoughts!" he joked but it did not lighten Horatio's mood.

"In case you hadn't noticed, I don't deal with death very well, William."

Bush snorted," Who does!"

Horatio sighed again and let William see the picture of the woman he had been admiring in his watch. She had a stunning beauty that Bush had never seen captured before in a picture.

"Who is she, if I may ask?" A slight smile crossed Horatio's lips as he settled himself on the garden bench.

"She is my savoir, Mr. Bush." Bush sat next to him, still taking in the picture. "Have you ever thought of killing yourself?"

That got William's full attention.

"No sir."

Horatio pressed on, taking the picture back and giving it a long hard look.

"Well I have. The first time was aboard Justinian, but the second time was when I thought Archie had died."

Quietly his mind remembered and he began to tell William his story.

Chapter 1

Frantically, he dried the grief-stricken tears that overflowed from his dark brown eyes. He cursed his lack of control and stepped closer to the edge. As he looked down, his fear of heights washed over him. Taking in a gulp of air to calm his nerves, he inched forward. Thoughts of Archie, still fresh in his mind, caused a sob to rack his body. His friend couldn't be dead, his mind screamed. But he was. There was no way he could accept Archie's gift. The water raged below, its sound almost drowning out his inner fight. He was ready to die. This wasn't the first time he had thought of suicide as memories of the Justinian sprang to his tortured soul and Archie was there yet again.

After leaving Kingston in command of the Retribution, he arrived in Portsmouth only to find peace declared and himself unemployed. With nothing to occupy his mind or days, he found himself wandering aimlessly, his thoughts still in the West Indies and on his dead friend. It had all led up to this, his suicide.

No one could comfort him over his loss. No one could understand the depth of his grief. And no one could reach him to save his life. Night surrounded him and he gazed up at the clear sky. A full moon illuminated his view, but he didn't see it. He watched his breath float away in the cold air. His jaw tightened and his nerve set. He leaned forward but suddenly stopped himself at the sound of footsteps. In fear he leaped away from the edge and back onto the safety of the bridge. Ducking behind some bushes, he waited.

A figure approached slowly. He gasped in surprise as his eyes settled on that of a woman.

"Why would a lady be here alone and at this hour?" his mind questioned, forgetting his own torment for the moment.

She stood at the bridge and stared into the darkness. The river was rushing below, and it roared in her ears. She pushed her self forward and looked down. The fall would kill her before she would drown, her mind said.

"Jump, just do it!" she whispered. "You have nothing to live for. Your life has been worthless. You are worthless."

The words stung as they escaped her lips, but the despair that they came from engulfed her entire being. A tear fell down her hollow cheek as she tried to convince herself to jump.

"Just let go! No one will miss you. This will show them! HA!" her voice cracked. "They will feel so bad knowing I killed myself because of them!" Her body started to shake. "You coward! I hate my life! I hate myself!"

Slowly, she sank to her knees as her body was racked by the uncontrollable cries. All she felt was utter hopelessness and total loneliness. She had only one friend in this horrible world and even she wasn't enough to save her. Finally she forced herself to her feet. Unable to bring herself to jump, she told herself she would be back.

Uncaringly, she plodded down the dark street past Horatio and his hiding spot. He watched her go and was curious as to what he had just witnessed. Nobody was out looking for her; no one worried as to her whereabouts.

A sigh escaped her as she kicked a pebble out of her way. Her life had been so happy. Growing up was a joyful time, until father had died. That day her happiness was stripped away by one person. Her mother, Mary Bellows.

Had five years really passed since then? The living hell she was in seemed to be an eternity. Her mother had dragged her and her sister away from their happy life in London to Portsmouth. Gone were all her friends and the beloved school that had meant so much to her. It had kept her going through her father's long illness. She did not fit in her new school and had not one single friend save her sister, Emma.

Being the odd girl, no one would even talk to her and only taunted and teased her mercilessly. As she rounded a corner, the lights of her small house came into view.

"God how I hate Mother," she hissed.

The venom in her voice was out of place. She wasn't like this. At least not five years ago she wasn't. But the hate inside her boiled. A light beamed from the front window of the tiny house.

"Home sweet home," she thought with disgust.

Suddenly her feet felt like lead. Her mind raced.

"What if I just stood here all night? Would she leave me alone?"

Her stomach tightened in fear as the door flung open to reveal an older woman glaring at her.

"Why didn't I jump! Why did I come back here?" her mind screamed.

"And just where do you think you are going, hmmm! You were supposed to be home hours ago!" The shrieks of the angry woman's words echoed into the cold night. "Do you hear me, Ann! Oh you just love seeing me like this don't you!"

Her mother had her hands on her hips as her face became more and more flushed with anger. The green eyes flared fire at Ann, who didn't know whether to run or stand her ground. Mary Bellows continued to scream at the top of her lungs, but Ann didn't care. She didn't care that the neighbors' lights were coming on, didn't care that her younger sister was watching from the upstairs window.

"Were you with a boy? God help me, I'll kill the bastard!"

"Just shut up!" Ann finally exploded causing her mother to fall silent in shock.

They both glared at each other in silence, the only sound coming from the light breeze blowing about them.

"Anna Mary Bellows," her mother finally growled in a low tone. "How dare you speak to me in such a manner. Get in this house now!"

Ann cringed at her middle name, hating to be named after her mother. Somehow she found the courage to hold her ground. Her mother's temper caught fire and it showed in her wild eyes.

"Did you not hear me young lady," her volume rising once more. "Get in here!"

"NO!" came the defiant reply.

Mary lunged from the house step trying in vain to grab her daughter and drag her inside, but Ann jerked free of her grip.

"I will not stay here any longer," Ann whispered, tears starting to flow. Mary made one last attempt at Ann's arm, this time digging her long red nails into the soft flesh.

"Ow! You're hurting me!" Ann cried in pain. They got as far as the doorframe when suddenly, Ann became desperate and tore herself from the grip, ripping her dress sleeve in the process.

"I hate you! I hate you!" she burst in anger, holding her bleeding arm.

Her mother reacted instantly, slapping her hard across the face. That was the last straw; Ann turned and fled into the darkness. Her sister's cries echoed after her, but she wasn't looking back. No, she had lost everything now. Her lasst reason to live mattered no more to her. Sure Emma would be sad over her death, but she would go on. Her sister had always been stronger than she was.

The bridge loomed in front of her. She silently approached; her mind and heart ready to perform her final task. Slowly she swung one leg over the rail, then the other. Closing her eyes, she sighed calmly as she heard the gushing sound of the river below. Crickets chirped all about her. If she wasn't about to kill herself, she could almost enjoy nature around her. With her hands holding the cold rail, she leaned forward, ready to let go when something stopped her. A noise. She glanced in the direction it had come. A tall shadow melted out of the night and came towards her. Ann froze. She was too frightened to say anything as the man got closer.

"Miss, are you all right?" he spoke softly.

She remained perfectly still, stunned by the beautiful face before her. As he took another step forward, she saw he wore a naval uniform.

"Please Miss, come back over the side before you hurt yourself."

Ann blinked forgetting why she was doing this. Who was this handsome stranger who seemed to care what happened to her? With one last step he was next to her, holding her hand and helping her climb back to safety. He took his blue coat off and wrapped it around her shaking shoulders.

"Allow me to introduce myself," he smiled sincerely, "Horatio Hornblower at your service."

Chapter 2

Horatio seemed to sense the girl didn't know what to do by the blank look on her face.

"Is there somewhere I can escort you?"

She only shook her head. As far as she was concerned, she no longer had any family.

"Then would you allow me the honor of escorting you back into town? There is a little pub where we can get something to warm us."

Ann nodded yes and took his offered arm. Slowly, they walked off the bridge side by side in silence as they made their way through the darkness. The full moon gave off plenty of light to guide them. Ann's mind was so full of questions, yet she dared not speak. Horatio kept glancing at her, equally curious.

"It's a lovely night, is it not?" he said nervously.

Ann decided she must speak.

"It is, thank you."

The smile that lit up his face nearly knocked her over.

"My God, how could anyone be so handsome?" she thought and returned his smile.

She tried not to look at him and concentrate on the road ahead, but she caught the sideways looks he gave her. Slowly they walked on, the first lights of town visible.

"Are you a sailor?" she asked timidly.

His eyes twinkled at the question. "Yes, I am."

"How long?"

He loved the sound of her voice. It was so sweet and soft.

"Over nine years now."

"But why were you out here and not on your ship?"

He stopped in his tracks, totally taken off guard by her question. She turned and faced him, worried by the sad look now on his face.

"I don't have a ship anymore."

"Oh," came her confused reply," Why not?"
Horatio chuckled. "My, you are full of questions!"

She blushed slightly at his tone and smiled, trying to hide it. He started to walk again, placing her hand on his arm.

"Well Miss," he suddenly realized he didn't know her name," Excuse me but I don't recall what
you said your name is."

Ann thought desperately. She did not want to give her real name in case her mother came looking.

"Ann, Ann Trueblood."

Inside she cringed, hating to lie to him.

"Well Miss Trueblood, peace has been declared and the Navy is too big."

Her eyes took in every movement he made, memorizing every inch of his face as he spoke.

"But now I am curious as to why you would be out here all on your own? Surely your family is worried about you."

This time she stopped and turned away from him.

"I have no family. They are all dead."

Her voice was suddenly cold and unfeeling. Horatio shuddered but told himself it was only the wind.

"I'm sorry to hear that. I, too, have no family."

Ann faced him, surprised at his remark.

"You are alone too?"

He nodded, pushing them forward once more.

"It must be nearly midnight!" Ann thought.

The town was long since deserted as they rounded a corner. The Anvil Pub loomed in front of the silent couple. Ann suddenly panicked upon reaching the door, refusing to go in. Horatio saw her face and the fright upon it.

"It's all right, Miss," he spoke softly, his voice releasing all her fears.

She allowed him to lead her inside, but a horrible memory played in her head. This was not her first time in a pub.
Horatio lead them to a corner table. No one was in the small room except the barkeep, snoozing in his chair at the bar. Horatio pulled her chair out and helped her into it. Then he sat next to her. With more light upon her, he noticed the red mark on her left cheek. Her dress was torn and stained with blood.

"I do believe you've been hurt, Miss," he said worried and reached out, taking her right hand.

Ann barely felt the pain, instead focusing on the man's deep brown eyes.

"I'll get something to clean this up," he smiled and disappeared up the stairs behind her.

"What are you doing? You can't be here!" she whispered, standing up to leave.

Stepping outside, the wind hit her sending the cold straight through her. She didn't know what to do. Ann panicked and began running blindly down the street; the terrifying memory chasing
after her.
Chapter 3

The memory had Ann in its grip and there was nothing she could do to stop it. Flooding her thoughts, she slumped against a cold brick wall, letting it come. It had happened not two months ago. She remembered it as if it was yesterday. Curiosity had pulled her inside. All the noise and laughter had made her feel alive. Her senses were focused on the dancing girls, spunky piano tune, and roaring men. But just as she was enjoying the sights, two hands grabbed her, touching, and groping her body roughly.

Even now in the dark and cold, she felt those hands on her. The strength of those hands were no match for her and despite her cries, she was in their power. All about her everyone only laughed and watched in amusement as the new girl was dragged upstairs. The man had her in his room before she knew what was happening. He closed the door and undressed her with his hungry eyes as Ann cringed in the corner. Slowly he closed on her, stripping himself of clothing with every step. Ann made a desperate dash over the bed but he tackled her, ripping at her clothes. Expert hands removed her undergarments with ease. All her kicking and screaming did no good against the huge man.

Trembling she was pinned against his body, then against the bed. Face down her cries became quiet and she shook, wondering what her attacker was doing as he paused. His hand held her down and she strained to watch him. He was totally naked now and preparing himself for her. Her eyes bulged as he worked himself. Suddenly he pressed down on her, forcing her legs apart. Ann shrieked out in pain, feeling his manhood forced unwillingly inside her. Again and again he repeated his violation. It seemed to go on forever as she felt his hot breath on her neck, his sweat dripping onto her damp skin, his muscles bulging against hers. Her body tightened with each thrust, the breath forced out of her.

He finally groaned in pleasure, satisfied of her usefulness. Climbing off her, he laughed and began to dress. Ann didn't dare move, overwhelmed by her helplessness and feelings of shame. After an eternity, the wretched man exited the room, chuckling down the hall. Slowly rising from the bed, she began to sob as she saw the proof of her virginity stained on the sheets. As her tears fell, she dressed and repaired her appearance as best she could. Ann flew out of the pub, swearing never to tell a soul of her horrible nightmare.

She sighed in guilt, pushed off the wall, and began walking down the empty street. The memory started to fade as she tried to banish it from her mind. An eerily familiar laughed echoed into the night. Ann froze in shear terror. Was she dreaming? In panic she began running down the street again. All the sights and sounds frightened her as she ran faster. The dark was her attacker, returning to have his way with her again. He became the shadows and was everywhere. Her heart pounded in her chest and she raced around a corner, flying full force into someone. She bounced off a muscular chest, falling to the ground. The figure loomed over her and she screamed before fainting dead away.
Chapter 4

Horatio came back down the stairs, lost in thought over this girl that he had so man question about and damn few answers. Reaching the table he stared in disbelief at her now empty chair. Quickly he ran outside, scanning frantically down both sides of the street.

"Miss! Ann!" he hollered in vain.

His voice echoed into the cold darkness, no other sound heard. Standing on the steps of the pub he debated on which direction to take. Suddenly his eye caught movement in the dark. Someone was carrying a girl. As they got closer Horatio immediately recognized Styles with Ann nestled safely in his arms.

His heart leapt to his throat as he shouted, "Styles, over here!"

Quickly he led them upstairs and to his room.

"What happened?" he asked as he pulled the thick quilt over the unconscious form.

"She plowed right into me sir. Acted like someone was after her."

Horatio only nodded and remained seated on the bed; his eyes fixed on Ann's soft face. The cute slightly stubby nose, the way her mouth moved with each breath she took, all had his full attention.

"Are you a'right, sir?" Styles asked, lowering his voice.

It was more than concern in his words. He was speaking of Archie's death and how difficult it was for all of them.

"Yes," Horatio answered, not looking him in the eye.

At once, he recalled what he had almost done at that bridge and felt shame over it.

"I'll be all right now Styles, thank you."

The big sailor gave him a look of worry before leaving the room. Horatio sat and contently watched Ann sleep. As daylight approached she began to regain her senses. Opening her eyes, that handsome face greeted her.

"What happened?" she whispered.

Horatio was sitting in a chair next to her bed and leaned forward.

"You ran out on me, Miss. One of my friends found you."

She looked wearily about the room. They were alone and she heard no other sounds.
"I'm sorry," she said turning away from him. "I got scared."

Horatio gave her a smile. A slight gasp escaped her at the pure joy of seeing him again. His eyes seemed so full of life. The sun dancing in the room making his brown eyes appear golden.

"It's all right. No one is going to hurt you." He paused before going on, watching her gaze at him. "Is there anyone I can contact for you?"

"No," she answered too quickly. "I mean, I have no family, like I told you last night. They are all dead."

Somehow she knew he didn't believe her. Why else would he ask her again?

"Oh that's right. It must have slipped my mind with all this excitement you caused."

He was teasing her as she looked deep into his caring eyes. How she could get lost in those eyes!

"Well Miss, I shall go get you something to eat."

"Thank you, Mister?"

He grinned as he reached the door. "Hornblower. Horatio Hornblower at your service."

He bowed to her, then flashed a 24-carat smile.

"I am indebted to you, Mr. Hornblower, thank you."

He nodded and left the room, leaving her alone to catch her breath.

She pulled the covers up to her chin.

"I wonder what Emma is doing?"

She couldn't help but think about her sister.

"I doubt if mother even cares where I am!"

Her arm ached and she moved the covers to examine her pain. She gasped at the sight of black and blue marks where the bandages didn't cover her arm.

"Oh God, what have I done?"

Her mother's angry face and words replayed in her mind as she closed her eyes and wished she were dead. Those feelings of worthlessness and guilt began to take over again.

Horatio quickly returned, interrupting her awful thoughts. Ann blinked at the tray of food he offered her.

"No thank you. I'm really not hungry."

Horatio took a piece of toast and began to munch on it.

"Are you sure?" he asked, his mouth full. "It's very good ­ for pub food!"

The aroma filled her nostrils and her stomach growled, making her cheeks blush in embarrassment. Gingerly she took the toast from his offered hand. It wasn't much but it was something to fill her empty stomach. Happily the pair ate the toast and leftover biscuits.

Suddenly, Ann didn't feel so good. She set her second piece of toast on the tray next to Horatio. He gave her a curious stare and leaned forward inspecting her green face.

"What is it?

"I think I'm going to be" She didn't finish as her toast came back up and all over the bed and herself.
Chapter 5

Horatio helped Ann out of the bed and directed her behind a screen that had been set up in the room for her privacy. Slowly she removed her nightgown, suddenly curious as to where Horatio had gotten it, and placed it at her feet. She could hear him removing the soiled sheets from the bed. Tears of embarrassment began to well up in her eyes. Any minute she was sure this man would start laughing at her, enjoying the look of hurt on her face. But instead his hand came around the screen, presenting her with a towel. She quickly wrapped it about her cold form and waited.

"I'll be right back! Just stay put for a moment!" he announced and she heard the door close.

Peeking from around the screen she spotted the bed, totally stripped of the bedding and not a drop of her mess anywhere. Was he really coming back? Cautiously she took a step closer to the bed, wanting to make sure all was clean. Just then, the door flew open and Ann whirled in shock to face Horatio, equally shocked to see her almost naked before him. He quickly turned his back but not before catching sight of her knees, shapely calves, and bare shoulders, glistening in the back light of the sun streaming through the window.

"I'm sorry, Miss. I brought you a tub."

He set the basin down and went back out the door, clearly embarrassed. Ann squirmed behind the screen; not sure what to think as to what had just occurred. This time a knock preceded his entrance into the room.

"I have hot water for you," he said and she heard him pouring it into the tub. "I'll bring you something to wear."

He turned to leave but paused at the door.

"Are you all right, Miss?"

Ann took a deep breath before she spoke.

"Yes. Thank you, Mr. Hornblower."

Satisfied, Horatio left, leaving Ann to herself once more. Dropping her towel by the tub she eased herself into the warm water, letting a sigh escape her. The heat felt good against her exhausted body and she leaned back, enjoying the soothing effect.

A gentle rap on the door shook Ann awake. She had fallen asleep and quickly scrambled from the tub, water splashing around her.

"One moment, please!" she said and draping the towel about her thin frame, she ducked behind the safety of the screen. "Come in!"

At her words Horatio entered. She heard him cross to the bed.

"I have clean sheets. Give me a minute and I'll make the bed for you."

Ann heard the rustle of fabric as he spread the layers over the bed.

"You really don't have to do all of this," she said hesitantly, still not sure of his motives.

A grunt escaped him as he yanked the sheet tight.

"It is my pleasure ma'am."

Ann giggled as she heard another grunt.

"Is everything all right?"

"Fine ­ thanks," came the somewhat agitated reply.

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

Horatio turned to look at the screen; suddenly embarrassed to think she was half-naked with only a towel on and still wet! She heard a barely audible curse as he left the room but quickly returned to stand before the screen.

"I'm so sorry, Miss," he apologized and held a clean nightgown out to her from the other side of the screen.

Cautiously she took it, dropping her towel in the process. Horatio stepped back and saw the wet towel now on the ground next to her bare feet. He didn't know how long he had been staring at her ankles when she called his name.

"Mr. Hornblower! I would be pleased if you'd call me Ann."

He cleared his throat and resumed making the bed.

"Yes ma'am. Thank you. I wouldn't mind if you called me Horatio. If that's all right with"

The words died in his throat as she stepped into view. Her hair hung damply about her shoulders, dark brown from her bath. There was a new glow about her that left him speechless.

"Yes Horatio, that is fine with me."

Her sly smile sent chills through his body as he saw her bare shoulders silhouetted in the sunlight.

"Um, please get back into bed Miss. . . . .I mean Ann."

He stammered and nearly tripped over his feet, kicking the tub.

Ann did as he said but watched him with renewed fascination.

"Why was he so different from the rest?" she wondered, smiling gratefully at him.

Grabbing the tub, he wrestled it out of the room and down the stairs, leaving a trail of water behind him. A yawn sprang to her lips and she felt weariness overtake her. He was back in no time, crossing the floor to her bed.

"Are you feeling any better?" he asked, concern evident in his dark eyes.

Ann stretched her tiny form and sighed in comfort. Her body was refreshed, she was warm, and the sheets were clean upon her.

"I am feeling much better. Thank you, Horatio."

"If it's all right Ann, I need to take care of a few things," he asked picking up the wet towel and moving it from one hand to the other.

Another yawn escaped her before she could answer. He smiled warmly at her.

"You take a nap and I'll return shortly."

She nodded and leaned back against her pillow, watching him go. Her last image was of him standing in the doorframe, a smile playing on his lips, those brown eyes twinkling at her in friendship.
Chapter 6

Horatio descended the stairs and made it into a chair; lost in thought while merriment rang about him. What were his feelings for this girl he barely knew? His intuition told him she was lying about her family and her name.

"What had happened to this girl ­ no woman," he corrected himself. "to make her flee her home?"

He shuddered to think of her jumping off that bridge, her small body breaking as it slammed into the water below. Once again he remembered his dear friend, Archie, and what he, too, had almost done. He could just hear Archie scolding him.

"Killing yourself is no solution, Horatio. Really!"

Shaking the image from his head, he climbed to his feet and walked out of the noisy pub. He had his lieutenant's half-pay to collect. Yet, as he stepped out into the cold morning air, he couldn't help but stop and stare up at the window to his room and wonder. He felt the weight of the world pressing down upon his shoulders yet again.

Ann fell into a deep sleep and began dreaming.

It was day and she was back on the bridge again. The day was gorgeous as she stood there admiring the water below. Soft fluffy clouds drifted lazily above her. She felt extremely happy and inhaled deeply smelling freshly cut hay fields. The birds chirped in harmony all around.

Suddenly a warm and loving hand took hold of her arm. She turned to see gentle brown eyes twinkling at her. Horatio kissed her hand ­ his touch soft and longing. His lips seemed to linger upon her skin forever. A giggle escaped her as he pulled her into his strong arms. His face was inches from hers. She inhaled deeply, the fresh hay mingling with his own musky scent. It sent chills down her spine. Her blues eyes glazed over as his brown eyes filled her vision. Gently his lips brushed against hers and she felt her body start to melt, but without warning, he was yanked violently from her.

She watched helplessly as her mother shoved him over the bridge, his scream ringing in her ears.

Then the evil laughter shrieked behind her and her blood ran cold. He was there; she felt his eyes burning into her back like a branding iron. Ann dare not turn around but her body did not listen and looked upon the face of her attacker.

A cry sprang from her throat and she jumped out of bed, regaining her senses. Shaking like a leaf, she made it to the window, her breathing starting to calm.
Chapter 8

The morning light brought Ann out of a fitful sleep. Opening her eyes, she noticed Horatio still holding her. He was asleep, his head resting on her shoulder, his breath tickling her neck and she felt a yearning for him. Her heart suddenly stirred as she reached up taking his face in her hands. His eyes fluttered slightly as she studied every detail of the boy so close to her. Yes, he was a boy when he slept. The bold nose, the wide alluring lips, that space under his lower lip that she just wanted to reach out and caress. The hint of sadness he usually had about him was gone, replaced by a look of peace and calm. All the weight of his world not pressing down on those strong shoulders.

Slowly gentle brown eyes met longing blue ones. Ann pulled his lips to hers, feeling the warmth of them. Horatio responded, pulling her tighter against him. His passion seemed to burst and he smothered her in kisses, trailing from her lips along her chin and down her neck. A sigh escaped Ann as she still held his head, her long finger running through his thick dark curls. She was on fire, ready to explode. Suddenly she felt his hands, exploring her body. They traveled from her back to her sides, lingering a moment, then onto her chest. As he took her firm breasts into his hungry hands, Ann felt another pair of hands on her. Not Horatio's soft, loving touch but rough, hurting hands, groping and tearing at her flesh. She suddenly pushed Horatio away, a cry coming from her.

"No, please don't hurt me!"

He stopped startled at her words.

"Ann, I would never hurt you."

She pushed farther away from him, climbing to her feet and going to the bed. She couldn't look at him, couldn't see the hurt on his face or the silent plea he gave her. Slowly he followed her, pausing before he sat next to her. Taking her hand in his, he had to know, had to find out.

"Ann, who did this to you?"

Closing her eyes, she sighed. She had to tell him, had to get it out of her before it killed her. It was the other reason she'd stood on that bridge and almost jumped. Tears began to fall as she spoke, her voice quivering.

"I don't know where to start. I guess two months ago when I. . . . ." she stopped, a sob strangling her words.

"It's all right Ann. You can tell me."

He gripped her hand and she forced herself to look at him. There was no mocking in his eyes, no sneer on his lips, and no hatred in his voice.

"I never meant for it to happen," she went on, holding his gaze. "I wanted to see what a pub looked like and I went inside."

Horatio could guess what she was about to say. All her reactions pointed to it.

"A man grabbed me, took me against my will to. . . . ." she gulped in air, ". . . . .his room. He forced me. IIcouldn't stop him!"

Her voice rose into sobs of shame. He put a comforting arm about her shaking body.

"I know, Ann. I know. It wasn't your fault."

She closed her eyes and felt his arms comforting her again. He had such power over her and her cries faded. Her soul seemed to ease, suddenly free of it's secret.

"You don't hate me?" Ann finally asked.

Horatio released her and took her chin in his strong hand.

"Ann, I could never hate you."

She gave him a smile and he rewarded her with his own dazzling grin.

"Horatio, I think I love you. I thing I have since the bridge when I first saw you."

God, had it really only been two days ago!?

"Oh really," he said an amused look now on his face. "We just met!"

"Have you never believed in love at first sight?" she asked needing to hear reassurance.

"Yes," he nodded and cleared his throat.

Ann decided to change the subject, "Horatio, I must know."

"What?"

"Something happened to you. I can see the sadness in your eyes and hear it in your voice. Please tell me."

He turned from her gaze and stood up. She had hit his weak spot and he was unsure if he was ready to tell anyone his darkest secret.

"You were not on the bridge for a stroll, were you?"

He went to the window and stared out, unseeing. She could read him like a book.

"Ann, I don't think. . . . ."

She stopped him, coming to stand at his side.

"Tell me Horatio. Whatever it is, I can see it tormenting you. Please."

He walked back to the bed and slumped onto it. His soul breaking with it's own burden.

"I was on that bridge to kill myself as well. But you stopped me."

Ann joined him, sitting close enough to barely touch his leg with hers. She waited, not pushing him. He would tell her in his own time ­ in his own way.

"My best friend died recently," he stated, his voice flat and emotionless, "and I am trying to adjust to life without him," he lied.

She grabbed his arm.

"I lost my father last week. I was coming from his funeral when I went to the bridge," Ann added, feeling Horatio had not told her all.

He caught the love in her blue eyes ­ heard it in her voice as listened to every word she spoke.

"I am having trouble myself ­ trying to live without him. He was the most decent, most caring, most HONORABLE man I have ever known! Next to you that is," she added.

But Horatio had ceased to listen ­ was, in fact, no longer in the same room with her. He was lost ­ lost in the world of his memories ­ lost in the world where Archie now lived.

"Horatio, you saved my life," she whispered, trying to bring him back to her. "In more ways than one. If not for you I would be dead, drowned in that river, my body probably out to sea never to be found. Or else I would be back at home ­ a prisoner under my mother's torment!"

She was right and he knew it.

"I see," he smiled.

"How did he die?" she questioned softly.

Hurt brown eyes gazed at her, unsure. Suddenly she was afraid. But he only shook his head.

"He died in battle. Excuse me, Miss, I shall get us dinner," he offered and quickly left, leaving Ann to sit and wonder.
Chapter 9

The morning sun gave a soft glow into the tiny room. Ann lay on the bed admiring Horatio who had fallen asleep in a chair next to her. They had eaten dinner quietly, then Ann fell promptly sleep, her bout with her mother exhausting her. She felt her burden eased, but she still had a problem. Slowly Horatio blinked and opened his eyes to find her studying him closely.

"Morning, Miss. How do you feel?" he said suppressing a yawn.

"Hungry," she replied simply.

But instead of getting the laugh she'd expected, Horatio froze, staring at her as if she were a ghost. Archie had said those same words ­ long ago ­ in a filthy Spanish prison!

"Horatio," she asked uncertainly, "are you all right?"

Quickly he recovered and nodded, "yes ­ fine."

"What will you do now?"

He rose and sat next to her on the bed.

"What do you mean?"

She reached over and took his hand, wanting to comfort him anyway she could. Gently she massaged it, feeling the rough blisters from his years at sea. He gazed upon her worried face.

"I mean with me."

Her blue eyes were clouded in fear as he released her hand.

"Don't worry Ann. I won't leave you to have this baby alone."

His voice was warm and caring but it didn't soothe her fears. She climbed out of the bed and stood looking out the window.

"I don't want it." She turned and faced him. "I hate what is inside me!"

Tears threatened as Horatio came to her side. He touched her shoulders, at a loss as to what else he could do. Words escaped him. He had no idea how to comfort her, so instead, he wrapped his arms about her ­ holding her close.

"I must leave you for a bit. Will you be all right here ­ alone?"

Looking up she smiled into his brown depths ­ seeing the love shining from them.

"Yes."

She watched him from the window, seeing him cross the street and give her a last glance before rounding the corner. Ann couldn't stay in that room and she wasn't all right either. In desperation she spotted a barmaid in the hall and begged her for some clothes. The woman grudgingly obliged, and Ann quickly dressed, admiring herself in the mirror when she'd finished. She didn't care and left the room, heading downstairs.

Stepping out into the late summer air, she sighed. It felt good to be outdoors again and feel the sun on her face. If only she could figure out a way to solve her problems. Her mother was still on her mind as Ann wandered aimlessly about Portsmouth. She found herself on the docks and gazed out at the many navy ships. With war declared they were all being paid off and men unemployed. The usual hustle and bustle was replaced by an almost eerie silence. Only a few men gathered about looking for employment with merchant vessels.

She spotted a wooden crate and sat down. Her walk had tired her and she needed to rest before she headed back to the pub. Spithead filled her vision as she watched the ships all tugging at their anchors. Putting her hands in her lap, they brushed against her stomach and she looked down at it. Placing a hand over her abdomen, she sighed. What was she going to do? She trusted Horatio but didn't want to burden him with such a thing as her unwanted child. What was she going to do with a child? No husband and nowhere to go. She was an outcast in society as well as her own family now. An unexpected sob escaped her and she put her shaking hand over her mouth.

Suddenly a concerned voice broke into her thoughts.

"Are ya' all right, Miss?"

Her gaze fell upon a pair of sailor shoes, tattered and well-worn. Slowly she followed the shoes up to a blue-striped shirt and then, to a caring face with soulful eyes. He held out a rough and experienced sailor's hand. She took it and stood to face him.

"Yes," she smiled and wiped her tears.

"Matthews, at your service, ma'am."

He bowed gracefully to her making her giggle. She knew he'd done it on purpose.

"Ann Bellows. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Matthews."

His smile brightened her dreary soul and she took his offered hand.

"Where may I escort you, m'lady."

Ann laughed again.

"To The Anvil if you please, sir."
Chapter 10

Ann walked side by side with Matthews. He smiled as he caught her sideways glance.

"You are a sailor, are you not?"

Matthews nodded as he answered, "Aye."

"Are you acquainted with a Mister Hornblower?"

Matthews' eyes lit up at the name.

"Why yes, Miss, I am! He been my commanding officer for many a year now."

"So you are good friends with Horatio?"

"Aye ma'am."

"He has many friends," Ann continued as they walked on.

"No, well. . . . ." Matthews was caught off guard. "Mr. 'ornblower keeps to himself, especially after. . . . ."

He stopped; not sure he should go on.

". . . . .after Mr. Kennedy died," she finished.

Startled gray eyes met gentle blue ones.

"Yes I know. He told me."

The Anvil loomed in front of them.

"Are you all right now, Miss?"

Ann sighed, "I am better, thank you, Mr. Matthews."

Walking into the pub, music and laughter greeted the pair. But despite the noise, Ann heard a distinct chuckle coming from the far corner. She froze, stopping Matthews next to her. Terror flooded her face as her eyes focused on a man she had seen before. There was no doubt in her mind who the man in the corner was. His face was forever etched into her memory as his gaze fell on her She stared at him, a leering grin lighting his hardened face.

"Dear God in heaven, don't let him come over here!" Ann whispered.

But the man stood and began to cross the room toward her. His laughter rang out louder and louder as he closed in on her.

"Miss? Miss?" Matthews said touching her shoulder.

Her attacker was upon her as he walked past, his shoulder brushing against hers. Their eyes locked for an instant, terror-filled blue eyes taking in lust-filled green ones. He remembered her and still wanted her, she felt it with every beat of her heart. Ann suddenly pitched forward, Matthews catching her in his safe arms. Gently he tried to wake her, as a big sailor came into his view. Styles carefully picked up her still form, carrying Ann upstairs.

Horatio burst in the room, his eyes taking in Ann not moving on the bed.

"Ann," he whispered and rushed to her side, not acknowledging Matthews and Styles.

"What happened?" he said, taking her hand.

She was alive, though her face was deathly pale.

"I don't know sir, she fainted in the pub."

Horatio didn't take his eyes from her as he spoke.

"Please get a doctor."

Styles quickly left the room, Matthews following him into the hall. Horatio was now alone with her.

"Ann, please wakeup," he pleaded, rubbing her hands with his.

As if she heard him, her blue eyes fluttered open.

"Horatio? Is that you?"

A relieved smile greeted her.

"Shhh, it's all right. I'm here," he soothed.

But she struggled to sit up.

"I saw him! He was here!" she whispered in fear.

"Who, what are you talking about?"

"The man who hurt me. He was here, in the pub, Horatio!"

Her voice was barely audible yet he heard every word.

"Stay here," he ordered, his voice suddenly cold and distant.

He strode to the door, Ann crying after him, "Please don't leave me! Don't leave me alone, Horatio!"

But her cries went unheard as he left the room, murder on his mind. It was the only thought that filled him as he stepped off the stairs into the pub. Styles met him coming in, a doctor in tow.

"Sir?" he asked unsettled by the look in his commander's eyes.

"Upstairs, doctor, second door on the left," he barked and stepped toward Matthews.

"Where's the man Ann just saw!" he demanded.

"He left sir," Matthews blurted as Horatio pulled him outside.

"I have to find him!" Horatio hissed.

Matthews was shocked to see the hatred in his friend's intense brown eyes. Never had he witnessed such rage before.

"Sir, maybe we should check on Miss Bellows, first?" he offered, trying to curb the bloodlust clearly visible in the young officer's eyes.

"No! You must point this man out to me!"

He pushed down the street, pausing for a moment as Matthews ran after him.

Ann couldn't stop sobbing as the doctor entered the room.

"He left me! Horatio, please come back!" she cried over and over.

Quickly the gray-haired man tended to his patient.

"It's all right, Miss," he soothed and made her drink some concoction.

Gradually her sobs eased until she closed her eyes, the medicine doing its job. The old doctor could do a proper examination now and proceeded to check her over.

Ann mumbled restlessly, still upset in her drug-induced sleep.

"Horatio, no. He left me," she whispered, turning her head from side to side.

Styles came into the room, standing behind the doctor.
"How is she?" he asked in concern.

"Well," the old man responded, covering Ann fully with the thick quilt. "Apart from the fact that she is with child, she's in good health."

The surprised look the sailor gave him, made the doctor continue, "you aren't the father are you?"

"No sir! I had no idea," Styles blurted, suddenly remembering Horatio.

No wonder he was so protective of the young woman. It was his child!

Horatio searched late into the night, Matthews silently following after him. Horatio's mind conjured up images of demons and devils in every man that passed him. Finally tired and exhausted, he found himself back at the pub. All was quiet as he entered, collapsing into a chair.

"I failed. I failed her, Matthews," he said dejectedly.

"No sir, you didn't," Matthews replied warmly, exhaustion on his face.

"Just as I failed Archie," he said, fighting the sob that threatened to overtake him.

His mask of duty and honor slipped, showing his vulnerable side, if only for an instant.

"You never did that, sir!" Matthews said soft yet stern.

The old sailor watched as Horatio quickly placed his mask back upon his face and nodded.

"Maybe you should go up and see her?" he offered, wisdom in his words.

Horatio sighed and nodded, feeling comfort from the old sailor. Rising from the chair he slowly climbed the stairs. Opening the door, a small candle lit the room. Ann was asleep in the bed, Styles snoozing in a chair. Carefully he went to her, sitting next to her. She began talking in her sleep.

"Horatio left me! No! Come back! Horatio!"

Guiltily he placed a hand on her forehead, trying to quiet her cries.

"I'm back Ann. I didn't leave you."

Slowly her blue eyes opened and focused on the man before her. Instantly she saw that weight back upon his shoulders just by the painful look in his weary brown eyes.

"Horatio!" her eyes grew wide in relief and surprise.

He grabbed her up into his arms, her tears staining the back of his uniform. Somehow he needed her as much as she needed him. Quietly Styles left the couple alone. They remained in their embrace, each one not wanting to let go.

"I would never leave you Ann. Nor would I ever let anyone hurt you. I would sacrifice my own life to protect you," he whispered softly.

Ann pulled back gazing into his tired eyes.

"Horatio, don't say that!" she pleaded. "My life could never compare to yours."

Her words stung him.

"Of course it does. Ann, you are not worthless!"

But his words couldn't penetrate the wall around her.

"You have no idea how worthless I am," she said, almost no feeling in her voice. "When someone
who is suppose to love you tells you daily what scum you are, eventually you begin to believe it."

"That's your mother talking!" Horatio stated, pulling her to him. "You are not worthless! Do you hear me?"

Ann finally smiled, reassuring him, "I hear you."

"Now, what did the doctor say?" he asked changing the subject.

Ann pulled the covers over her tiny frame.

"He said I was a bit too thin and suggested I eat more."

Horatio remained at her side, waiting for her to continue.

"Especially with the child I am carrying," she finished, avoiding his gaze.

There was more, he felt it. Gently he took her hand and caressed it with his.

"What else did he say?" he pressed.

Ann shifted uncomfortably on the bed not wanting to go on.

"Ann, please tell me."

She couldn't keep any secrets from him.

"He offered a solution to my unwanted baby," she answered, looking at her hand in his. "He can make it go away."

Horatio was shocked and let her hand fall from his.

"Kill your child! Ann, no!"

She turned sorrowfully away from him.

"You don't understand. I don't want it!"

He could barely hear her soft words.

"When I have a baby, I want his father to be someone I love, not a monster who forced himself on me!"

Now the shame and guilt surfaced on her face and she turned away, feeling unworthy to have him at her side. He cupped her chin in his hand, turning her gaze to him. His eyes were filled with warmth and as he spoke.

"Anna Bellows, whatever your decision, I will stand by you. Do you understand?"

Slowly she nodded, feeling his love push through her wall of fear.

"Oh Horatio," she cried and fell into his warm arms.
Chapter 11

A knock brought Horatio fully awake. He stood from the chair he had slept in once again and opened the door. A young girl greeted him.

"May I help you, Miss?"

The girl looked near to bolt with fright. He guessed she wasn't more than fifteen.

"I was informed I could find my sister here," she squeaked.

"Emma?" Ann called from the bed, their voices waking her.

Horatio stepped aside. Emma running past him to her sister. They embraced ­ both of them crying tears of joy.

"Oh Annie, I am so glad I found you!" Emma gushed, looking her sister over.

"Emm! Why have you come here?" Ann asked, her voice stern.

Quietly Horatio excused himself, leaving the sisters alone.

"I had to come! Especially after the way mother treated you."

Ann regarded her younger sister. She had her mother's looks where as Ann was certainly her father's daughter. Emma's blue eyes always made her jealous. They were darker then hers and Ann always made it a point to tell her so.

"I hate you!" she mocked and folded her arms over her chest.

"What!" Emma replied.

"You and those gorgeous blue eyes!" Emma laughed.

"Stop it!"

"And that perfect face with those freckles! I swear men will fall at your feet!"

Now both sisters laughed ­ then hugged, happy to be in each other's company. But Emma's smile faded as she slowly pulled free of her sister's grasp. She reached out, touching her sister's stomach before Ann could stop her. Her hands flew to her mouth as her eyes stared in shock at her sister's midsection.

"It can't be true?" she uttered in disbelief.

Hurt sprang across Ann's face as she reached out to comfort her sibling. But Emma jumped to her feet, evading her touch.

"It's not what you think Emm!" she pleaded.

"Mother told me but I swore I wouldn't believe her!" Emma continued.

"Let me explain!" Ann cried, tears falling.

"Then it is true." Emma stood staring at her sister. "You are with child."

Slowly Ann shook her head, afraid of losing her sister.

"Oh God Annie! How could you let this happen!"

Her tears flowed freely.

"I didn't let it happen! Emm, you have to believe me!"

But Emma's dark blue eyes clouded over with resentment and anger.

"I have to go," she simply replied and turned, opening the door.

Ann cringed inside, her heart breaking.

"Please Emma! Don't leave me like mother did!"

Emma paused briefly, her back to her sister.

"You have disgraced our family. Goodbye Ann."

Quickly she closed the door, Ann's sobs following her from the room.

Horatio came to attention taking his hat off as Emma passed him on the stairs. He didn't like the look on her face and hurried to Ann. Flinging open the door; his eyes scanned the empty bed. His heart leapt to his throat till he spotted her at the window. A sigh of relief escaped him as quietly he crossed over to her. Her face was wet from her tears. Stepping closer he saw Emma below giving her one last look before disappearing down the street.

"Now my family is truly dead to me," Ann shuddered.

Horatio placed a comforting hand on her shoulder but she stepped away, his hand falling to his side.

"I want to be alone right now."

"Ann. . . . ." he began to protest.

"Please Horatio," her soulful eyes penetrated him and he yielded to her request.

As he closed the door he sighed," Call me if you need anything."

Ann waited till his footsteps retreated down the hall before falling to the floor in grief.

"Oh Emma!" she sobbed, her heart broken.

How could her truest friend hurt her like that? She had always been close to Emma and now she was gone forever.





Chapter 12

Horatio found a seat in the quiet pub. It wasn't noon yet and no one was awake to serve him. He put his head down on the table and closed his eyes. What was he going to do? Archie would know, his mind told him.

"But Archie is dead," he replied to himself. "And nothings going to change that."

He let his mind drift, remembering when he had first met his best friend.

Archie's first words to him had been, "Welcome to Purgatory!"

He chuckled to himself reliving the memory. Leave it to Archie to be so melodramatic.
And then, their first steps aboard the Indy ­ that stupid grin on both their faces. Oh the joy ­ finally to be free of Simpson. And then the pain of losing Archie, only to find him alive in that Spanish prison. There were no words to describe the joy he felt. He had his best friend back! All the lonely months without Archie had suddenly vanished and nothing compared to that, nothing!

But Archie was gone forever this time and no one would ever fill his shoes. There would always be
a void in his life where Archie Kennedy had once stood. He couldn't suppress the single tear that fell on the table.

"Oh Archie, I pray I live up to your standards," he whispered.

"Sir?" a gentle voice greeted over him.

Wiping his eyes he smiled up at Matthews and Styles.

"Excuse me, please have a seat," he offered.

The sailor did, not sure exactly what to say. But Matthews had always been like a father to him and now was no different.

"Beggin your pardon sir, but we all miss 'em."

Horatio didn't have to ask whom he was talking about.

" 'e died serving his country an' 'e saved many lives. 'is memory always be honor'd, no matter wot sir."

Styles nodded in agreement. Horatio couldn't help but smile.

"Thank you, Matthews. You have always stood by me, no matter the circumstances."

His gaze fell on Styles sitting uncomfortably in his chair.

"Sir, I," he sputtered but Horatio raised his hand.

"You are a good man Styles and I trust you with my life. Both of you."

Silence engulfed the men as Horatio's words sunk in. His chair scuffing against the floor bringing them out of their own thoughts.

"If you will excuse me, I need some air. Would you look after Ann?"

Both men nodded as Horatio gave them a reassuring grin and left.

"Think he'll be all right?" Styles asked following Matthews upstairs.

"Mr. 'ornblower will pull through," Matthews answered with confidence.

The afternoon sky was gray and dismal as rain threatened. Horatio pulled his collar tighter about his neck and wished he'd had his peacoat, a cold wind whipping past him. Even after his talk with Matthews and Styles his mind returned to Archie.

He vividly recalled the first time he had lost Archie. Boarding the Papillion, Simpson had cut the rope that held his unconscious friend. He had grieved then, feeling a sense loss. But then, he found Archie ­ alive in that Spanish hellhole ­ El Ferrol.

"Simpson's dead Archie," he had comforted, trying to pull his friend back to the land of the living.

"I don't care," came the unfeeling response.

"If only I had stopped Simpson sooner or Clayton had not taken my place in that duel," Horatio said belittling himself.

"It's not your fault I am here, Horatio," Archie chided, laying half dead in the prison bed, the fire burning brightly against their dark faces. "I am the one who had the fit and you are the one who had to relieve me of my senses."

Horatio felt a tinge of guilt for that act.

"I am sorry, Archie," his brown eyes pleaded in sorrow, wishing he could make everything all better with the blink of an eye.

Archie caught his gaze and for an instant Horatio glimpsed his old friend.

"Let's just say I get a free whack!"

Both men had laughed in warmth and friendship as Horatio suddenly came to realize just how special Archie was to him. He was more than a friend. He was a brother and dammed if he was about to let Archie rot and die in that prison.
Horatio turned a corner on the streets of Portsmouth and smiled at the memory of escaping El Ferrol and then returning.

"Oh Archie, my dear friend," he sighed and pressed forward reaching the docks

Scanning the water he watched the storm as it blew the ships about their anchors.

Once freed from prison, he and Archie had only grown closer back aboard the Indy. It was almost as if they had never been apart. Yet Archie was not quite the same. A part of his innocence gone.

Horatio had asked him one night about his long prison stay. They were alone in the officers' wardroom, the ship preparing to take on a Major Edrington and his men. It was nearly midnight as Horatio and Archie shared a cup of grog.

"What kept you going Archie?"

His friend had been in mid-drink when his blue eyes caught Horatio's curious gaze.

"Honestly, I don't know," he answered, setting his cup on the table in front of him. "Thoughts of home ­ my sister, I guess."

Horatio sipped his drink then followed Archie setting it down too.

"I don't think I could have survived that."

"Oh please! The great Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower would have escaped like that!" he snapped his fingers for emphasis.

Horatio joined him in the laugh but fell silent.

"Seriously Archie, I doubt I could have gone through what you did and still be here today."

Archie grew somber. "No one should have to go through what I did. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy."

Suddenly his friendly tone grew deadly serious. "Be thankful Horatio."

Horatio cocked his head to one side.

"Be thankful for what?"

Archie looked him straight in the eye as he spoke. "Thankful you only endured Simpson for a few months."

Horatio had left it at that, never pressing his friend on that subject again.

A soft rain began to fall as Horatio stood on the dock reminiscing. Slowly he was getting wet, but he didn't care, lost in his thoughts and memories. Just as he was about to turn and leave, a hand touched his shoulder. He whirled about, half expecting to see Archie's ghost. Instead a familiar face stared back at him.

"Mr. Hobbs! What are you doing here?"
Chapter 13

Hobbs half smiled, looking completely uncomfortable.

"Well sir, I suspect I am here for the same reason you are."

"The Renown has docked then?" Horatio said, turning back to the harbor.

He didn't quite know how to feel. Hobbs had been Sawyer's crony as far as he was concerned. And yet at his trial he had spoken for him.

"Yes sir, in Plymouth," Hobbs answered.

Horatio faced the gunner again, his stern features softening.

"You may address me as Horatio. Being put on half pay I suppose I am only a half officer."

Hobbs only nodded, not laughing at the joke. "I see, sir, uh Horatio."

The name felt funny on his lips.

"Will you join me for dinner? I am staying at The Anvil."

"Certainly," Hobbs agreed and followed his ex-crewmate through the rain.

By the time they reached the pub, both were soaked. Not a word had passed between them on the journey back. Horatio passed it off as having to do with the foul weather.

Quietly they entered the tiny building ­ Hobbs at Horatio's heels to the fireplace. Taking his wet coat off Horatio draped it over the nearest chair, Hobbs doing the same.

"Nothing like a good fire," Horatio said trying to make conversation.

Hobbs only nodded, glancing about at the nearly empty establishment.

"Not much of a crowd is there," he answered.

Horatio smiled then caught sight of Styles dashing in from the rain.

"Sir!" he greeted the officer eagerly.

Then the friendly sailor turned cold as ice, his eyes glaring at Hobbs.

"What are you doing here!" he spat.

Horatio quickly jumped in front of the big man, stopping the fight he knew would happen.
"Styles! Mr. Hobbs is my guest."

The big sailor couldn't believe his ears.

"But sir. . . . ." he began to protest.

A stern look crossed Horatio's face as he placed a hand on Hobbs shoulder.

"That is the past Mister Styles and I think Hobbs has been punished enough."

Styles slowly nodded and lowered his gaze. The whole time Hobbs had remained at a careful distance; his stone faced expression in place.

"Thank you sir," he finally said in a neutral tone of voice.

"I have an invitation from Matthews sir," Styles said returning to his excitement.

"Yes?"

Horatio and Hobbs both gave him their undivided attention.

"Well Matty's home's close by and his wife has extended an offer to have you stay with her instead of this pub."

Horatio was momentarily speechless as he pictured Matthews married.

"Miss Ann has already accepted and been moved," Styles added, answering Horatio's next question.

"Very good," he smiled," Shall we Mr. Hobbs?"

The gunner stood uncertain.

"I don't think. . . . ." he tried but Horatio cut him off with a wave of his hand.

"Nonsense, come on!"

After a moment of hesitation Hobbs half smiled and followed them back out into the rain.
Chapter 14

The house that greeted them was not at all what Horatio expected. A brick two-story whitewashed building with roses garnishing one side and wiry green vines decorated the other stood on a hill over looking the sea. Although only half a mile from Portsmouth, it seemed to be in a world all its
own. Horatio could almost feel the love and warmth coming from the cottage. He couldn't quite explain the feeling as the door flung open to reveal Matthews. A smile of happiness and contentment lit the old sailor's face. Horatio had never seen him in that mood.

As he reached the doorway to shake the man's hand, three children suddenly scurried from behind the door all attacking him.

"Papa! Come back and play with us!" they all cheered clinging to the laughing sailor.

Matthews had no choice and scooped up two of them, one in each arm, the third hanging on to his leg.

"Matthews?" Horatio said, half smiling to himself.

"Come in gents! My home is your home!" he greeted and escorted the children off to another room, where they could be heard squealing with laughter.

"No wonder he has a big house," Styles chuckled, Hobbs and Hornblower waiting for him to finish. "To keep all his kids in!"

"How many does he have?" Horatio asked dumbfounded.

"Ten - I think," Styles answered, taking their coats and guiding them through the hall.

The aroma of bread baking filled the men's senses. All Horatio's discomforts eased away as they entered the kitchen, a robust woman flittering about.

"Now Liz, check that pie! Ya know how papa hates it overcooked!" the woman advised the smaller, younger replica of herself.

"Smells good Fanny!" Styles praised inhaling deeply and eyeing the meat pie cooling on a table in the middle of the room.

"Aye, of course it does!" she scolded and winked at the same time. "And who we got 'ere?" her thick Irish accent questioned.

"Horatio Hornblower and Mr. Hobbs," Horatio introduced himself with a bow, making Fanny giggle.

"Oh please! Ya'll make Matty jealous!"

Instantly Horatio felt as if he had come home as he sat and watched the Matthews family prepare dinner. Except, it wasn't like the home he had known. Growing up, his mother had died when he was barely eight years old. With no brothers and sisters to play with and only his father for company, he had grown up very fast. He'd helped his father as much as he could, accompanying the doctor as he made his daily house calls ­ seeing many things a young boy should not have had to see ­ amputations, bleedings, insanity, even death. Yes, he'd grown up a solitary boy, but it was nothing new. In fact, Archie Kennedy had been his first real friend.

"So quick to give, so slow to accept the simplest gift."

"Did you hear me sir?" Styles asked touching his shoulder.

"What?" he asked, startled out of his memories.

"Fanny said dinner is ready," The big sailor smiled.

It was obvious, through his easy banter that Styles was close, not only to Matthews, but his family as well. At that moment, two older children, a boy and a girl ­ about ten ­ Horatio guessed, entered the kitchen. They eyed Styles and giggled as if planning something.

"Good evening Mr. Styles," the little girl said quietly, hiding her smile behind her hand.

She curtsied before him and waited for him to do the same. But as he bowed the little boy wiped something on Styles red checkered shirt and laughed. Somehow the sailor knew what he was up to and snatched the boy, laughing right along with him.

"Why you little rascal!" he teased and began tickling him as the little girl joined in the fun.

Both children howled with delight as Horatio sat, chuckling to himself.
Chapter 15

Ann looked out the second story window, marveling at the view. The sea was absolutely stunning and it made her smile. She had seen it many times but only now did it give her comfort, watching the waves lap against the rocky coast. Sitting in a nook under the window she stretched out her legs, then bent them up and against her chest, hugging herself tight. Sounds of children laughing and people cooking greeted her ears. She had felt instantly welcome with Matthews and his wife, Fanny. Their home environment was like nothing she had experienced before. Love, respect, and nurturing were all present. Someone tapped lightly on the door making her jump.

"Yes?"

Slowly the door opened to reveal a tall, handsome, brown-eyed man smiling at her. Ann swung her legs off the seat but Horatio was at her side before she could stand up.

"How are you Ann?" he asked releasing her from his embrace.

"A bit weak but none the less any worse for wear."

His smile sent chills down her spine as she gazed deeply into his longing brown depths. Before she knew it, his lips were on hers, his passion sweeping her away. Oh how her heart had ached for him even though they had been apart barely a day! His lips were warm and full on hers. Again he held her tight and whispered in her ear.

"I'm so happy to see you."

She giggled and replied," Oh? I couldn't tell!"

Now he blushed as he studied every inch of her face, not wanting ever to forget it.

"Do you like your room?" he asked trying to hide his embarrassment.

Ann grinned and sighed in content. "I adore it."

She turned her gaze back at the sea, Horatio doing the same. Suddenly he felt a prang of guilt for being alive and happy. Ann caught his slight change of expression. The weight was pressing down on him again.

"What is it Horatio?"

He continued to watch the sea, thinking of Archie across the ocean buried far from his home.

"Oh hell!" he cursed under his breath and stood, pacing before her.

"Please tell me," Ann pleaded, her eyes worried.

"How can I be happy! My friend is dead, his good name tarnished, and I'm here doing nothing!"

He continued to pace in front of her as if a caged lion.

"Horatio," she said trying to calm him," You can't be miserable forever. I'm sure Archie wouldn't want that."

Her words made him stop and face her.

"You don't even know him! Are you trying to tell my to forget my best friend?"

Ann didn't know this angry man before her.

"Of course not."

But his brown eyes smoldered as he took it out on her.

"You have never been out there!" he pointed to the crashing waves. "You have never had a friend willing to die for you!"

Now she stood, her own anger rising.

"I thought I did. Obviously I was mistaken!" she burst into tears and ran from the room, leaving him alone.

Instantly he regretted everything he had just said. Why had he done that? He quickly ran after her, passing a worried Matthews and family about to sit down and eat.

"Did you see Ann?" he asked Matthews.

"She ran through here like a hurricane, sir."

Horatio nodded and raced out the door worried. Rain poured from the sky and lightening flashed, showing him a path leading to the shore. He spotted Ann not far ahead but she was dangerously close to the water. With adrenaline pumping he burst forward grabbing her from the water's edge.

"Ann, I'm sorry!" he shouted over the storm's fury.

"Let me be!" she screamed and broke free of his hold. "Why did you even come here! I don't need you! I don't need anybody!"

The wind whipped about them, waves spraying them both. Ann had a wild and frightened look in her eyes that Horatio had seen before. That night on the bridge replayed in his memory. She was going to jump, his mind warned.

"Ann, please listen to me!" his voice softened as he held out his hand to her.
"I don't want you, Horatio Hornblower!"

She lunged forward into the surf as he watched in horror. Suddenly Styles and Matthews were at his side, but he was unaware of their presence as he dove into the waves catching a glimpse of Ann's long auburn hair disappear underneath the black murkiness. The two sailors stood and watched helplessly from the shore. Slowly the seconds went by ­ then a minute. Styles looked at his friend, then back to the relentless water, pounding at their feet.

"There 'e is!" Matthews shouted in relief and rushed down the shore where the couple had washed up.

Horatio had his arms wrapped tightly about Ann's waist, as Matthews tried to pry him loose.

"Nooo!" he called out delirious.

"It's all right, sir," Styles comforted helping Horatio to his knees.

But the look on Matthews face was grave as panic welled up inside him. Ann was turning blue. Gently he reached over and caressed her cheek. It was icy cold even to his own frozen limb.

"She isn't breathing," Styles said, the wind howling about them.

In a rage full of despair and guilt Horatio grabbed her limp form by the shoulders and shook her violently. Matthews and Styles desperately tried to pull him off her when suddenly she coughed, seawater spewing out of her mouth.

The men dared not to move as Ann's eyes fluttered open. Horatio held her in his arms and smiled, relieved she was alive. Lovingly he touched her forehead and whispered in her ear.

"I'll always jump I after you, no matter what."

Ann gave him a weak smile and tried to speak. But he placed a hand to her lips.

"We need to get you warm. Save your strength," he ordered.

Wearily he took herr in his arms and strained to his feet. But the sea had robbed him of his strength as he fell to his knees, too weak to carry her. Before Styles and Matthews could help, someone else pushed past them. Hobbs quickly snatched Ann from Horatio's trembling arms as everyone stared in shock.

"Noooo!" Horatio cried out instinctively.

Styles grabbed him and slung him over his shoulder, following Hobbs through the rain.

As they reached the cottage Horatio fell silent, the cold overtaking him. Quickly Styles followed Matthews upstairs and set his commander on a bed.
"Dear Lord in heaven, wot happened?" Fanny said rushing into the room behind them.

"Miss Bellows fell in the water and he went in to save her," Styles said quietly, letting Fanny next to the bed.

"Get into town Matty, get Doctor Black," she urged, drying Horatio's face.

Matthews was gone in a flash knowing lives were depending on him.

"Styles," Fanny continued her orders. "Get him out of those wet clothes while I tend to Ann."

Styles nodded and did as he'd been told, watching as Fanny ran from the room.

Ann didn't move as Fanny came into her room, bushing past Hobbs kneeling at her bedside.

"Come on dear," she whispered to Hobbs, "I'll take care of 'er till the doc gets here."

At first the gunner didn't move, only held tight to Ann's tiny hand, praying she would open her eyes.

"I can't leave her," he replied, refusing to budge. "I did this to her."

Fanny wasn't sure what he was talking about but knew she had to warm the shivering girl and fast.

"It wasn't yer fault. Now let me help her."

Hobbs finally heard her plea and pushed to his feet. But before he left, he gently kissed Ann on the cheek and whispered into her ear words that Fanny would soon not forget.

"I love you Ann."
Chapter 16

Horatio bolted upright in bed calling out Ann's name. But she was nowhere in sight.

"Ann!" he yelled again, half-delirious with fever.

"Sir," Styles comforted at his side. "She's all right sir. Please lie back down."

But Horatio struggled against the big man, trying to get out of the bed even though he had no clothes on.

"Nooo, I must find her! Ann!" he continued.

Fanny rushed into the room, a candle in her hand.

"Hush 'im up Styles! He'll wake the 'ole household with that caterwauling!" she whispered. But

Horatio, however, wasn't about to quiet down and struggled against Styles. Left with no choice Styles raised his fist. Horatio fell back against the pillow; relieved of his senses by the big man's punch.

Horatio floated out of the room, watching as he sailed over Matthews's house and out to sea. Faster and faster he flew, the waves far below him. His subconscious had taken over and he was at its mercy. Suddenly he was in Kingston, standing at a grave ­ Archie's grave.

"Why am I here?" he asked no one in particular.

A breeze blew the hot air about him as the palm trees rustled above. He remembered the day he had buried his friend. He'd chosen the spot himself, thinking Archie would like it. But now, standing at his friend's final resting-place, he looked about, feeling cold and alone. Is this how Archie felt? Staring at the headstone, chills ran through his body and he couldn't help but see Archie a few feet below him.

"God, what have I done?" he cried and began frantically digging in the earth. "Archie! Oh God, forgive me!" he wailed, his hands covered in the muck.

Tears fell like rain as the sky suddenly turned black and threatening. But Horatio continued to dig, his fingers cut and bleeding. He felt the pain as rocks cut through his flesh, making him wince.

"How could I leave you here in this horrible place!" he sobbed.

Rain began to pour from the sky as thunder and lightening hit his senses. It made him stop and look upward. A hand reached out and touched his heaving shoulder. Horatio jumped and turned to see his dead friend smiling at him.

"Archie?" he whispered, suddenly afraid.
The ghostly figure only smiled and beckoned for him to follow. Horatio rose to his feet but didn't want to leave the grave. After all, Archie was in the grave not before him. The figure waved, trying to get Horatio to follow. Stubbornly he refused, turning his back on his friend.

Once again Horatio awoke, this time his fever and delirium gone. He immediately recognized the figure sleeping in the corner. For a split second he almost thought it was Archie.

"Styles?" he whispered hoarsely.

Sleepily the sailor rubbed his eyes, then focused on his commander.

"Sir! You're awake!" he greeted and jumped from the chair.

"Yes it would appear so," Horatio countered and smiled weakly, rubbing his sore jaw.

Quickly Styles ran from the room, in a hurry to tell all the good news. Glancing at the window, Horatio marveled at the bright sunlight that streamed through it. No trace of the storm could be seen as he wondered just how long he'd been unconscious.


Chapter 17

Doctor Black stood up; satisfied his patient was well on his way to recovery.

"I must say you gave us all quite a scare young man," he chided as he put his instruments away.

"Yes but how is Ann?" Horatio asked yet again.

He was becoming worried as no one had answered his question.

"Don't worry none, she is being well taken care of," the middle aged doctor replied.

But the doctor's response only increased Horatio's suspicions that something was not quite right. As he watched the man leave, Horatio could not help thinking that there was something unsettling about him. Sitting up he paused as his head spun, dizziness taking hold. Grabbing the bedpost for support he waited till it had passed. Easing himself up he found his clothes and began dressing. Voices in the hall slowly grew fainter and he gingerly opened the door, being careful as to not make a sound.

Ann was alone and almost lifeless in her bed as Horatio entered her room. Gently he sat next to her taking her hand in his. A gasp escaped him as he felt her icy skin. Reaching up he touched her cheek. It was hot, almost on fire. Quickly he began rubbing his hands over hers, his movement waking her.

"Horatio?" she whispered her pale blue eyes looking tired.

"Yes. Just be still and rest," he answered smiling down at her.

"Oh Horatio, I can't believe you saved me," she went on.

"Yes, of course I did."

She took his hand and placed it over her slightly bulging stomach.

"I've decided to love this child as I love you." Tears formed in her eyes and she beamed up at him. "Please say you will be its father?"

He couldn't refuse her. His love for her was true as he looked at her stomach and felt the new life inside her. He did want to be the father and somehow this eased his mind.

He could almost hear Archie's approval.

"Well Horatio, don't just sit there! Purpose to the girl!" Archie laughed in his mind.

Taking her hand he gazed deep into her eyes.

"Anna Mary Bellows, I think we should be married. Unless you don't want me," he teased.

A smile lit her weary face as tears of joy fell.

"What's going on in here!" Fanny scolded seeing Horatio on one knee next to Ann's bed.

"I'm going to get maarried!" Ann burst sitting up in bed.

But the excitement was too much for her, and she fell back against her pillow.

"Oh dear!" Horatio cried and stood fretting.

"Out! Out!" Fanny demanded as Horatio kissed his future wife's forehead.

"Please let him stay," Ann pleaded, the weariness evident in her voice.

Before Mrs. Matthews could answer Ann's eyes suddenly rolled into the back of head and she began convulsing.

"Just like Archie!" Horatio whispered and dove to her side. "Hold her as still as you can!" he grunted his hands trying to stop her head from shaking.

"Oh please Ann!" he whispered in quiet terror.

It was Archie all over again. It seemed, ever since he'd met her, he saw Archie in her every move, every word, every action. Finally her shaking stopped and she slept.

"I'll go get the doctor," Fanny said as she raced out of the room.

Horatio stayed at her side as long as he could until Dr Black arrived and forced everyone out,
except Fanny. He began pacing the hallway, Matthews watching him.

"Sir," he said gently. "It'll be a bit, why dunt ya' sit down."

Worried brown eyes took in the old sailor's warm and caring ones.

"You're right Matthews."

Slowly he went back into his room and sat on the bed. Lying down he let his heavy eyelids close telling himself he was only resting his eyes. Before he knew it he was asleep as Matthews lifted the covers over him. Softly he closed the door and went downstairs to keep vigil by the fire.

Styles greeted him with rather loud snores as he slept in a chair. Matthews smiled to himself and shook his head, having lived with that snore for too many years to count. Standing in front of the fire he warmed his hands. Styles stirred in his chair, yawning he climbed to his feet.

"How is she?"

Matthews continued to stand rubbing his cold hands together.

"Doc's still in there. Fanny said she's gone into labor."

Styles didn't speak, knowing that was bad.

Horatio's dream overtook him yet again. He stood at Archie's grave and peered at the hole in the
ground. But Archie's casket was not in it. Nothing was.

"Archie? Where are you!" he shouted as if that would bring him the answer.

All he heard was the thunder as lightening flashed, making him jump.

Slowly Archie began to appear before him as before. The figure floated away from the grave and once more beckoned for him to follow. But Horatio refused to budge and knelt next to the grave, staring into the dark hole.

"Archie! Please!" he cried and looked up at his friend's ghost smiling at him.

It seemed so real and made him long for his old friend.

"I can't leave," he pleaded to the ghost.

It hovered off the ground; it's sapphire eyes sparkling at him. It tried to speak but no sound came from the noiseless words its mouth formed.

"I don't understand, what do you want?" Horatio asked and stepped toward him. "Archie! Tell me!"

But suddenly the earth gave way beneath him and he was falling, falling into the grave and darkness.

Horatio bolted upright in bed and shook from the horrible dream.

"Where am I?" he wondered.

Lightening flashed outside his window only bringing to life his terrifying nightmare.

"Ann," he called out, pushing the image of Archie away.

Rushing into the hall he nearly fell over Matthews and Styles. The grim look on their faces told him something was horribly wrong.

"Oh God, NO!" he cried out thinking the worst.

"Ann's fine," Matthews comforted, placing a hand on his shoulder.

"She lost the baby sir," Styles explained.

Horatio's face went from joy to grief. For a few hours he had been happy at the thought of fatherhood. Actually he had thought of it over two weeks ago when he had first learned of Ann's unborn child.

"Can I see her?"

Matthews opened the door for him then gently shut it. For a few minutes he stood uncertain, watching Ann peacefully sleeping. Slowly her chest rose and fell with each breath. The rhyth reminded him of being at sea and the constant up and down. Carefully he eased himself on the bed, taking great pains not to wake her. A lone candle gave off the only light as he decided it was close to dawn. Glancing at the window he saw no hint of lightening. Yet the rain pounded against the glass as the wind howled. Ann touched his hand grabbing his attention.

"It was a boy," she whispered.

He shook his head in understanding.

"He needs a name if he's to get a proper burial."

Horatio answered without thinking. "Archie."

Slowly Ann smiled.

"Archie Bellows-Hornblower," she added.

He blinked in surprise at the mention of his name.

"I shall prepare the funeral."

Closing her eyes she took a deep breath and sighed. "Thank you."

"I'll let you rest now," he whispered and kissed her softly on the cheek.

"No, please stay!" she begged and clutched his hand.

She was clearly frightened after her ordeal.

"All right."

Carefully, he stretched out next to her, lying face-to-face.

"Hold me," she said simply.
Lovingly he reached over and pulled her close, Ann resting her head against his chest. She could hear his heart beating and the steady breathing. Inhaling, his scent filled her senses and made her own heart skip a beat.

"I never meant for this to happen," she said softly. "Maybe I should have jumped off that bridge."

Horatio took her chin and made her look him in the eye.

"Never say that," he urged. "If you had jumped, so would I."

Ann blinked, realizing he was right.

"Oh Horatio, I'm sorry."

Tears began to soak his once dry shirt.

He chuckled," Why are you sorry?"

Ann suddenly wondered and stopped crying.

"I don't know."

Her blue eyes met his and he gently kissed her. His lips were warm ad moist on hers. Eagerly she kissed him back. Uncontrollably she swallowed as Horatio drew back.

"Are you all right?"

She closed her eyes and sighed. "I will be now that you are here," she answered. "I'm just so very tired."

Her eyes remained closed as Horatio realized she had fallen asleep. He continued to hold her until tiny, soft snores greeted his ears, then ever so carefully he rose from the bed.

Chapter 18

It was first light as he entered the kitchen. A weary Matthews and Fanny greeted him.

"Have some coffee Horatio," Fanny offered as he smiled taking the warm cup in his cold hands.

Sitting down at the table he spotted Hobbs standing in the corner.

"Mr. Hobbs! Forgive me sir!" he apologized.

Hobbs only stared at him, confused.

"For what?"

Horatio had forgotten all about him as soon as he had seen Ann.

"For my manners. I asked you here then go off and leave you."

Hobbs smiled and looked down at the empty cup in is hand.

"Actually," Fanny interrupted, picking up the kettle and refilling the gunner's mug. "Mr. Hobbs is quite the babysitter."

Horatio looked at her in disbelief. Hobbs? Sawyer's right-hand man a babysitter?

"It's true," Matthews chuckled. "Tis a shame you have none of yer own."

"No," Hobbs agreed and took a sip of the hot liquid.

"He sure charmed the socks off our little ones!" Fanny laughed.

Horatio swallowed the last drop of his coffee and set it down, a look of seriousness on his face.

"Ann has asked me to prepare a funeral."

The room fell silent.

"I would like to take care of that, sir."

Horatio looked up in shock at hearing Hobbs make such an offer. And was that respect in his voice?

"Are you sure? You really don't know Ann," Horatio answered.

But Hobbs smiled sincerely at him.

"It would be an honor."

Fanny suddenly remembered the gunner's uttered words to Ann.

"Do you want a headstone?" Matthews asked.

"Yes," Horatio responded, "Ann would like Archie Bellows-Hornblower put on it."

Hobbs, who had been leaning causally against the wall, suddenly bristled at the name. Horatio instantly caught the change in the gunner's manner.

"Something the matter with that name?"

Hobbs half smiled, uncomfortable under the room's gaze.

"No sir," he said," Excuse me, I need some air."

And with that he left the room, all eyes following after him.

The rain had stopped as Hobbs stepped outside and gazed at the glowing red sky. Wrapping his coat tighter about him he tried to think of Archie Kennedy, but his minnd didn't listen. Sure he'd held a grudge against the Fourth Lieutenant at first. But in the end, he somehow felt responsible, as if he had shot Kennedy himself. He spit ­ the events of the Renown still leaving a bad taste in his mouth.

Fanny watched as Horatio silently followed after the gunner. The worried look on her face brought her husband to her side.

"Wot is it?" Matthews pressed, taking her hand in his.

Her dark green eyes were filled with worry as she spoke. "Oh Matty, I over'eard Hobbs say 'e was responsible fur Ann's predicament."

For a moment Matthews said nothing.

"He also said 'e loved her," she added.

The old sailor had to sit down.

"I think it best not to tell Mr. 'ornblower, at least right now."

Fanny nodded and stared at the doorway, hoping her husband wasn't thinking the same thing she was.

"May I have a word?" Horatio said, stepping out of the cottage.

"If you wish," Hobbs answered suddenly wary.

"We never really talked about that night," Horatio started, referring to the night Captain Sawyer had fallen into the hold.

"No we didn't. What was the point sir," Hobbs answered defensively.

"Mr. Kennedy's good name is tarnished and you helped to blacken it."

Emotions from that night flowed back into the men.

"I did not intend to do that," Hobbs defended himself.

"Then why did you let Archie take the blame at the trial!"

Hobbs suddenly looked away, ashamed to look the former Third Lieutenant in the face. He had heard Wellard's dying words and still cringed at the sound of them. It had taken every ounce of strength not damn Hornblower at the trial. If he had been a bit less honorable, Hobbs wouldn't have cared. But now, even though he wasn't officially an officer, Horatio treated him fairly and almost as a friend, despite all that had happened.

"I couldn't see the name of Captain Sawyer blackened either," Hobbs finally answered, his
gaze boring into Horatio's own piercing look.

"Is Archie any less of a man than Sawyer! We all regretted what happened to the Captain, but Archie deserved better ­ especially from you!" His words stung as Hobbs swallowed knowing that Horatio spoke the truth.

"We can't change the past, sir."

Horatio gave him a curious look at that statement.

"If you could, what would you have done?"

Hobbs blinked, taken off guard.

"For one thing, I would have told the truth at the trail."

"Which was?" Horatio pressed, leaning forward to hear every word.

"Kennedy didn't push Captain Sawyer, I always knew he couldn't."

Horatio waited anxiously for him to go on.

"Too soft, as Randall said," Hobbs chuckled to himself.

"And Mr. Wellard," he stopped and sighed, catching Horatio's eye, "he told me, with his dying breath who was guilty."

Horatio swallowed, suddenly realizing his mouth had gone dry.

"I should have told Commodore Pellew. Captain Sawyer wasn't pushed ­ he fell."

Horatio was too stunned to speak and only stared at the man before him. Finally he found his voice.

"Why did you let Archie take the blame? Why?!" he accused.

"He was more than just my captain, sir" the gunner replied. " He was. . . . ."

Horatio knew the answer.

". . . . .like a father," he whispered, feeling a connection with Hobbs.

How many times had Pellew helped him, guided him? And Archie as well? Yes Pellew had always been more than his captain since day one.

"Exactly," Hobbs agreed.

Horatio suddenly felt his dilemma. If it had been Pellew instead of Sawyer, would he have done the right thing?

"If you will excuse me sir, I'll be going to Portsmouth," Hobbs said and started off, the thick clouds hiding the sun.

Horatio didn't stop him ­ simply watched as he walked off. There was still too much pain in both their open wounds for further discussion. But sooner or later things would be set right no matter what they said.


Chapter 19

Horatio didn't know how long he had been standing, watching as Hobbs left for Portsmouth, but the cold wind which now penetrated his coat, brought him abruptly back to reality. Hobbs had
long since disappeared from his view, off to complete his sad task. As Horatio turned to go back inside, a sound greeted his ears.

"Hello!"

Doctor Black waved as he approached, bag in hand.

"Doctor," Horatio said nodding to the slightly older man.

His every instinct still warned him to be wary of this man.

"Come to check on my patient," he continued, too warmly for Horatio's liking, and went inside as the young man held the door open for him.

He called out greetings to the Matthews as he went upstairs, Horatio watching him closely the entire time. Going back into the kitchen he waited until Fanny was out of the room, up after the doctor herself.

"Matthews," he said quietly drawing the old sailor's complete attention. "What do you know of this Doctor Black?"

"Oh well," Matthews began, leaning back in a wooden rocker, his pipe lit up. "'e's the first one I found when I went to get help for Miss Ann."

Unconsciously Horatio rubbed his chin, thinking he needed to shave.

"So you don't know anything really about him?"

Matthews now leaned forward, curious as to what his friend was thinking.

"No, sir. As I said, 'e was just at the right place at the right time I suppose."

Before neither one could continue as Fanny rushed into the room, a look of fright on her face.

"I need more bandages," she ordered quietly grabbing a bin and rushing back out.

Horatio was on her heels.

"What is it?"

Reaching Ann's door she stopped, holding him back from entering.

"She's bleeding out, dear. Doc's tryin to help but. . . . ."

She didn't finish seeing the fear in his eyes.

"I have to see her," he stated determined.

Fanny nodded and let him go first. The doctor was wiping Ann's face when he burst in.

"I don't think it's good you being here!" he protested.

"She's my future wife!" Horatio argued, facing the now standing man.

Both men looked near to brawl.

"Just for a minute, Doctor," Fanny said standing next to him, her voice somehow bringing reason to them.

"Very well," he conceded in a low tone. "Five minutes."

Horatio watched him go, every ounce of his being telling him the man was evil. He turned and knelt next to the bed, taking Ann's cold hand in his.

"I thought that was you arguing as usual," she said and opened her eyes.

She inhaled sharply as his image came into focus.

"Oh how I adore your face. You were created by God, indeed, Horatio."

The corner of his mouth up turned slightly at such a compliment.

"Ann, you have a fever and are most certainly not in your right mind," he concluded.

This brought a laugh to her, but it turned into a fit of coughing.

"Oh Ann, please calm down!" he soothed, as her coughs finally stopped.

"Oh Horatio, I'm not going to die," she assured him weakly.

Setting his jaw he squeezed her hand.

"Of course you aren't!" he agreed.

Yet her blue eyes took on a far away look as she drew a ragged breath.

"But if I did for some reason I don't make it. . . . ."

"No," he said shaking his head not wanting to hear her words.

". . . . .know that I have loved you, always and forever. These few weeks we have had were the best of my entire life."

Tears began to well up in his eyes as he saw Archie before him.

"You saved me Horatio and for that, no words of thanks can ever be enough. So instead I say I love."

Her face was so pale and her voice so weak. Swallowing, he forced the tears back, running his hand through her hair.

"You won't die Ann, I forbid it," his voice cracked as he tried to make her smile.

"Aye aye sir," she replied as the door opened.

"My patient needs me now Mr. Hornblower, please," Black stated, Fanny behind him.

"I will see you in a bit Ann," he whispered," I love you."

She nodded and watched him go, pausing at the door before finally passing from her sight.

Solemnly Horatio sat next to Matthews. The kitchen now seemed like a tomb to him.

"She'll make it, sir," Matthews tried to comfort, sensing the fight had left him. "Never give up."

Dark, hollow eyes met his.

"Matthews, I don't think I can take this. It will be the death of me. First Archie and now. . . . ."

He couldn't finish as he broke down, the tears and sobs racking his body. His despair was taking over with every cry and tear that fell. Horatio Hornblower had hit bottom. Slowly the sailor put his hand on the young man's heaving shoulders.

"Mr. Hornblower, ya are the strongest man I have ever met and if I have learned one thing in all me years on 'tis earth, it is this. . . . ."

Horatio gathered himself enough to stop and stare into the kind gray eyes.

". . . . .we may die but 'tis not the end."

The young man stared at his friend not understanding.

"Not the end? He's dead. There cannot be anything more after death," he sniffed wiping his face.

But Matthews' old eyes twinkled with the wealth and knowledge of someone who has seen many things and lived a long, full life.

"Horatio, do ya not believe in God?"

"Well," he babbled, talking with his hands. "I was raised to believe there was a God. But why?"

Again his tears threatened. Mathews sat back against his rocker and puffed on his pipe once more.

"No one knows why. That's the great mystery of life ­ why . But I firmly believe this, death isn't
the end. You mark my words."

Somehow those small words brought the comfort and peace he had been seeking since he had lost his best friend.

"Mr. Kennedy will never die. 'e lives out on the sea. 'e's in the air you and I breathe. Why I spect 'e's even in the food we eat!"

This made him laugh, thinking of Archie in his food.

"I'll never eat porridge again without thinkin' of that Spanish prison and Mr. Kennedy. By the holy, I never saw a man make such a face at eatin' such food!"

Horatio laughed, remembering his friend and the unappealing gruel he had to feed him.

"Yes, I do recall Archie saying how much he hated that white fluff we were trying to poison him with."

As his tears began to dry Horatio took in a deep breath. The weight was gone ­ his shoulders free of the pain and guilt he had felt over Archie. But he still had so much to do for his departed friend.

"Right," Horatio said climbing to his feet and wiping the last of his tears. "I need your help Matthews."
Chapter 20

Horatio paced in the kitchen waiting for further word on his love. He had sent Matthews to town to gather what information he could on this Doctor Black. The feeling of deception would not
leave him. He had to find out about this man. Fanny wearily entered the room, her face tired and dark circles under her once bright and cheery features.

"Sorry son," she sighed and sat down, dead on her feet. "Ann is better for the moment. But the doctor wants to move her to town as soon as 'e can."

"What!" Horatio burst out. "No ­ I want her here."

Fanny did not understand his anger. "But 'e's already taken her."

Horatio raced from the room, not answering Fanny's calling cries. How could he let that man take her and why had he not heard them leave?

"Oh he was a devil," Horatio thought as he sprinted toward Portsmouth.

Nothing could stop him from finding Ann. It was now afternoon but the clouds still hung as gray shrouds over the town. Hardly a soul was out and about as he ran down the street.

"Sir!" a familiar voice rang out, stopping him. Matthews ran to his side.

"He's taken Ann," Horatio gasped to the stunned older man.

"What?!" Matthews said shaking his head. "Well no one in this town knows a Doctor Black."

This only made Horatio more fearful. What was this man and why had he taken his Ann?

"We have to find her Matthews. Get Styles ­ I'll find Hobbs."

"Yes sir," the sailor said and sprinted off on his new mission.

Gazing about him Horatio spotted the caretaker's sign at the end of the road. He raced to it, practically tearing the door off. A bell ring greeted his arrival but the shop was deathly quiet.

"Hello?" he called out only to hear his voice echoing.

No answer came. Slowly he made his way to the back.

"Hissssssss!" a cat cried as he stepped too close.

The sound made him jump back in shock. But it was the only creature there. Shaking his head he made it back through the coffin house and back to the street. Where would Hobbs be?

"The church," he answered and ran in its direction.

His mind flooded with worry. How long had it been since he had last seen Ann? Hours. Was she all right? Why had Black taken her and for what reason? Oh he would find her if he had to search heaven and hell.

"Help me Archie," he silently prayed as the church came into view.

But as he reached it he froze, seeing Mary Bellows standing on the steps, her cries of grief reaching his ears. Doctor Black held her trying to comfort the sobbing woman.

"What the hell is this!" he roared, feeling deception all about him.

"She's dead!" Mary wailed turning to face him.

"And you killed her!" she accused and lunged at Horatio.

"Dead?" he gasped in disbelief.

Two hands touched his shoulders from behind.

"It's true," Hobbs said quietly as Black restrained Mary.

"I want to see her," Horatio demanded.

This made Mary stop and smile.

"Well you can't! You will never see her again Mr. Hornblower," she spat.

"What have you done to her!" he lashed out, Hobbs now holding him back.

"I buried her!" Mary stated proudly.

"I don't believe you," he hissed in a low warning tone.

"Sir, it's true," Hobbs whispered," I saw her myself."

Slowly he turned giving the gunner a look of disbelief.

"Saw her?"

"She died on the trip back to town, I'm sorry," Black apologized, no remorse in his voice.

Hobbs let his grip go as Horatio slowly walked away, heading to the graveyard.

"I told you I would get her back!" Mary yelled to the sunken man.
"Mrs. Bellows, please!" Hobbs warned, watching Horatio go.

Ann opened her eyes but only darkness filled her vision. Where was she? Reaching out wood came to her touch over her head.

"Horatio?" she said softly, hoping she wasn't dreaming.

But the wood surrounded her on all sides.

"How did I get here?" she said aloud, trying to keep the panic out of her voice. "Stay calm Ann."

Reaching down she felt her stomach. It still bulged slightly. There was no pain as before and she felt strong ­ almost as if she had never been ill. Lifting her head she turned it from side to side.

Taking a huge breath she screamed with all her might, "Help! Somebody! Horatio where are you!"

He didn't feel the cold wind hit him as he read the gravestone.

Anna Mary Bellows and child.

It was true, he thought in shock. And he hadn't been there when she had died.

"No," he said stubbornly, "I refuse to believe it!"

Shoving his hat onto his head he turned on his heel and walked away. Yet as he did, he could have sworn that he heard Ann calling his name.
Chapter 21

"Where is she, Mother!"

Horatio heard an angry woman accusing as he came around to the front of the white church building. Emma stood on the steps, confronting her mother.

"And why is he here!" she jabbed the air, pointing at Hobbs.

Mary glanced at Horatio warily before giving her youngest daughter her full attention.

"This is neither the time nor the place to discuss such things. Besides, you should be happy to see your brother, Emma, or have you forgotten," Mary accused.

The girl glared at her shaking her head.

"Half brother," she spat.

Hobbs looked as uncomfortable as Horatio had ever seen him. But this new revelation. Hobbs was Ann's half brother.

"Emma, don't you dare talk to me like that!" Mary hissed, trying to quiet her daughter.

"NO! Annie is not dead. This is some plot you have created to take her away from yet another person she loves!"

Emma was not out of control, but her temper was afire. Horatio stood a few feet away and watched. Something inside told him everything Emma said was true.

"What do you mean by that!" Mary ranted, losing her cool.

Slowly Emma inched closer to Mary's face, not a hint of fear in her countenance.

"You were so jealous of Annie and father. Just because he loved her more than you!"

Horatio had to strain to her the accusation but he hear it he did. At first Mary only looked around at the others till finally she set her jaw.

<<Smack!>>

She slapped Emma with all her fury but Emma had seen it coming and took the blow, almost as if she'd willed it to happen.

"I love you too, Mother," she said calmly and turned and walked away, leaving Mary flustered on the steps.

"Emma! Come back here!"

But Emma kept walking, not looking back.

"Never," Horatio heard her whisper.

Slowly he followed after her, not quite sure she would listen to him. But as soon as they were out of sight of her mother he caught up to her.

"Excuse me, Miss?" he began.

But instead of the same brave fifteen year old girl who had just stood up to her mother, a scared child now faced him, tears flowing down her face. For an instant they stood staring at each other till finally Emma let him comfort her. Gently he held her, doing his best to ease her pain.

"Emma?" a voice called from behind them.

Both turned and stared at Hobbs, who stood, fidgeting with his hat. Emma instantly stopped crying and stood to face him.

"What do you want?"

"I don't know. It's just been so long since. . . . ." he began.

"Since you saw me?" Emma finished, fire in her dark blue eyes. "You never wrote ­ you never visited. You're a stranger to me now, Matt. Annie was all I had left," her last words were strangled in a sob.

She swallowed, forcing herself to go on.

"My last words to Annie were words of anger and now she's gone! Mother has hidden her somewhere and I will find her."

Stepping closer to her brother she glared up at him.

"And God help you if you had anything to do with it," she growled.

Her tears flowed as she turned away.

"Now go away," she whispered.

With dejection, Hobbs did as she bade him, walking back the way he'd come. Gently Horatio guided Emma to Matthews's house.

Ann closed her eyes and silently prayed. She didn't know how long she'd being do it, but a noise jolted her out of her chanting. Holding her breath she waited to see if she was dreaming.
<<Thump.>>

There it was again. God where was she and what was that sound? She was about to find out as suddenly bright light blinded her. The wood was being removed from around her and hands lifted her. Was she dead? Was this heaven? As she was set on something soft she held her hands over her eyes, afraid to look. And then a voice spoke to her. A voice she knew all too well.

"No," she whispered in fear, anger and disgust.

Opening her eyes, she beheld her mother ­ Mary Bellows smiling down at her.
Chapter 22

"Mother, what are you doing?" Ann whispered, her voice hoarse and weak.

Mary sat next to her and smiled sweetly, patting her daughter's hand.

"I am saving you," came the reply.

Ann closed her eyes, a wave of nausea overtaking her.

"I don't want you to save me. Where is Horatio?" she demanded swallowing to keep herself from getting sick.

"Well," Mary said smiling. "He won't be bothering you anymore, my dear."

"What!" Ann tried to sit up but was still too weak. "Where is he! What did you do to him!"

"Doctor Black, I think she needs something," Mary said urgently holding Ann against the bed.

Quickly the doctor was there, forcing something down her throat. The substance burned as it slid down. Slowly everything around her began to go dark until finally she was relieved of her senses. Mary smiled sweetly at her and pulled the thick patchwork quilt up to her daughter's chin.

"There, there," she whispered. "Everything will be perfect now."

Quietly she followed the doctor out of the room. But no one saw the stranger watching from the window. A smile lighting his face.

Emma held the warm coffee cup in her hand. She stared into the dark liquid not saying a word. Horatio silently sipped his, glancing at her.

"Please drink it, dear," Fanny urged.

Emma glanced at her then back at the cup. Slowly she took a sip, placing the cup back on the table. Fanny nodded to her husband as the pair left the kitchen to Horatio and Ann's sister.

"May I ask you something?" Horatio said unsure.

Emma turned her sorrowful eyes on him.

"As you wish," she replied, her voice barely a whisper.

"Why did you not believe your mother?"

She let out a long sigh.
"Because Mr. Hornblower," she began, a hint of anger in her voice, "My mother is the most despicable person I know. She would go to any lengths to prove she is right. And she seems to think she is always right."

Horatio hung on every word the girl said.

"She is evil sir and that is why I believe Annie is still alive. Mother has hidden her somewhere, I
just know it!"

Now it was his turn to gaze into his coffee, as if the answers he sought lay in it.

"But Mr. Hobbs said he saw her dead," he stated.

Emma snorted," Ha! My half brother is almost as bad as my mother!"

She had his full attention now as she continued.

"Two years ago he left us. Oh he had been on many voyages before that but this time was different. He stopped writing, he stopped visiting, and he stopped sending money. My father declared him dead, even though we never heard any official word from the Navy."

She took a gulp of her now lukewarm coffee before going on.

"We heard stories. Bad stories. At first Annie and I didn't believe them."

Horatio could guess as to what kind of tales had reached them. The same ones he had witnessed for himself on Renown.

"But mother would constantly praise his name. Her son could do no wrong. She drove father to his grave and Annie to run away. Annie," she sighed. "She would never give up on her older brother. Matt was her idol, although God knows why."

"I served with him, Miss," Horatio interrupted.

Emma's eyes grew wide at the revelation.

"You did? I can't believe it! That is why he is here, isn't it?"

He nodded, "I happened to bump into him on the docks and invited him here."

"Tell me Mr. Hornblower," Emma said a coldness in her voice. "Were those stories true?"

Horatio swallowed nervously.

"Some of them were, yes," he admitted under her watchful eye. "But you must know he has changed since I first met him."
"I don't believe it!" she laughed. "Matt could never change."

Horatio wondered if he should tell her all of the Renown ­ Hobbs and Randall ­ but most of all, of Archie. Slowly he met her deep blues eyes once again.

"I assure you, Miss, he is a different man since you last saw him. A few months ago he had the chance to see me hang at a trial for mutiny, but he didn't. In fact, he spoke for me, saving my life."

The young girl's mouth fell slightly open at his words.

"My brother did that?" She sat unbelieving. "He was always such an uncaring bastard," she whispered.

A knock on the door made them both jump. But Matthews answered it before either one could get up. Hobbs stood shivering in the rain, a look of pained regret etched on his face.
Chapter 23

"Come in Mr. Hobbs," Matthews said and swung the door fully open so the drenched gunner could to enter.

But Hobbs only took a step just inside the door and stood uncertain. Horatio thought for a moment that he had been crying. Emma slowly rose from her chair and walked over, staring at her half brother.

"Haven't you done enough damage for one day?" she accused.

No one dared to move yet all felt uncomfortable in the midst of a family feud.

"Emma, please listen to what I have to say." His voice was barely a whisper.

If Horatio hadn't known better, he would have sworn Hobbs was about to apologize.

"Well first ya better both just sit in the living room," Fanny ordered. "I won't have no arguing in here. Now get before I boot ya both in the hind parts."

Matthews turned away, hiding the smile that threatened. Emma turned on her heel and led her brother to the other room. Styles smiled as she entered but one look from her and he knew she was angrier than a nest of hornets. Quickly he exited, leaving Hobbs to his sister.

"Emma, please listen to me. . . . ." he begged again.

She had her back to him but whirled around, her eyes blazing.

"Listen?! All right, big brother, what do you want to tell me?"

He shuffled his feet and looked at the ground in guilt. Somehow she knew he had done something bad. Something so horrible she could not even imagine.

"Oh dear God, Matt, what have you done?" she whispered, bringing her hands over her mouth.

"I helped mother," he said simply.

She shook her head in shock.

"Ann is alive," he continued.

"No," Emma couldn't believe her ears, "you wouldn't do that to Annie."

She took a step forward, her hands clenching into fist of rage.

"She loved you! You bastard! She worshipped the ground you walked ­ how could you do this to her?!"

The gunner broke down, tears streaming down his face. He covered his eyes in shame.

"I know! I know! Please forgive me Emma!"

She turned away from him, his words hurting her more than she had ever been hurt before.

"I don't know what to say," she whispered, "But it's Annie you should apologize to, not me."

Composing himself he sniffed and wiped his face on his wet coat.

"I came to tell you Ann is in Plymouth with Doctor Black. Mother had her taken there. That's all I wanted to say."

Quickly he turned and left the room ­ Emma suddenly feeling guilty. She knew it had taken a lot of courage for him to come and face her and admit what he had done. Had he really changed? Her old brother would have never done that.

Voices from the hall told her he was leaving. Suddenly she couldn't let him go. Running into the room, she saw the door close behind him. She swung it open and ran out into the rain.

"Wait! Matt!" she called stopping him in his tracks.

Standing face to face, she took a deep breath before snatching his hand. Slowly she dragged him back inside and out of the miserable weather.

Ann tried to open her eyes but all her strength wasn't enough to force them open. Footsteps approached her bedside.

"Who is it?" her mind asked in fear.

She felt a hand touch her leg. Slowly it moved upward, over her knee and onto her thigh.

"Oh God!" she screamed inside.

She knew who it was, could tell by his touch. How had he found her? Why was he here? What was he going to do to her? But just as the assault had begun, it stopped. Heaving a sigh she suddenly heard her mother's voice.

"Who left this window open? Doctor! Get in here and check Ann. The wind must have pushed the
window open."

Now she felt her mother's hand on her forehead.

"Well at least her fever's gone."

"It's very strange, not being in control of one's senses," Ann thought.

She could hear everything but do nothing about it.

"She's fine, ma'am. The drug will be wearing off soon," Black replied now feeling Ann's stomach.

Why would he touch her there?

"And the baby?" Mary asked worried.

"Baby! But I lost it," Ann's mind told her.

"Just fine. In less than seven months you will be a grandmother," he stated and laughed.

A satisfied grunt came from her mother.

Ann screamed in her mind, "I hate you, Mother! Oh Horatio! Please save me! God, please!"
Chapter 24

Horatio helped Emma into the carriage that, somehow Mathews and Fanny had managed to procure. He dared not reject the gift as he watched Hobbs climb inside. Sitting next to his sister, he made sure she was comfortable.

"Thanks again Matthews," Horatio said shaking the old sailor's hand. "I don't know how I can ever repay you for all you have done. You and Fanny have been so very kind."

Matthews only smiled and shrugged his shoulders as if good deeds were a daily occurrence for him.

"Tis nothing sir. B'sides, we all want Ann back safe and sound."

Horatio nodded and waved to Fanny. But as he placed his foot on the step, he paused. Quickly he stepped over to Matthews' wife and grabbed her in a warm embrace.

"Thank you," he whispered in her ear, trying to hold his tears back.

She returned the hug then let him go.

"Stop it now! Ya'll make Matty jealous," she teased.

With one last smile he jumped in the carriage. The driver whipped the horses into motion and they were off.

Silence engulfed the passengers. Horatio could feel the tension between brother and sister. Oh how he wished he wasn't in the middle, yet he knew he was. He had to do something or this was going to be the longest ride of his life.

"Thank you for joining us Mr. Hobbs. I know how difficult it was for you do what you did last night."

Emma sat, arms crossed looking out the window.

"I only agreed to this because of you, Mr. Hornblower," he stated tight-lipped.

"I still don't think it was a good idea," Emma spoke up pretending to watch the passing scenery.

Silence took over once again. Horatio sighed heavily and decided to give up. Nestling into the cushion he pulled his hat over his eyes and tried to get some much-needed sleep. If his company wanted to continue their feud, he didn't care for the moment. All he wanted was Ann back safe and sound.

Ann! Oh how he missed her! The carriage bounced over the rocky road but somehow it was the ocean to Horatio as his eyes closed and sleep took over.

He found himself with Archie, as before, in his dreams. The sky was still dark and threatening as he looked down to see Archie's grave. Kneeling he bent down and touched the earth.

Suddenly Archie was before him, beckoning him away. At first he refused to leave the grave and his friend. But something pushed him forward and slowly, ever so slowly, he followed his friend's ghost. Across the island they traveled it seemed over a great distance. Looking up, Horatio realized the storm was gone, replaced by a bright sunny sky.

A smile came to his face as the sun's rays warmed his cold flesh. It felt good, and he closed his eyes, enjoying the sensation. His heart, as well as his soul, seemed lifted and warmed as well. Opening his eyes, Archie stood in front of him, that boyish grin on his face.

"Oh Archie," Horatio sighed, "how I miss you my dear, dear friend."

But as Archie turned away from him, he stopped and marveled at what the ghost was showing him. He stood on a hill overlooking a small bay. The Indy was at dock just below him, its sails being unfurled, and men at attention as if waiting.

"I'm suppose to go home, aren't I?" he whispered, finally understanding Archie's message.

Quickly he climbed to the dock and approached his old ship. With a youthful step he climbed aboard.

The carriage jolted, waking Horatio from his dream.

"Are we there yet?" he yawned and stretched his long limbs.

"No," Hobbs replied stifling his own yawn.

Emma too was sound asleep.

"I think we should stop for the night sir. We won't make it to Plymouth this evening," Hobbs advised.

Nodding his head, Horatio agreed and signaled the driver.

Ann moaned out loud, finally stirring from her drug induced state. Her eyes fluttered open but everything was a blur to her. Her body felt like lead as she tried to raise her hand.

"You still feel the effects of the medicine, Miss," a male voice stated next to her.

With great effort Ann managed to tilt her head so she could make out the fuzzy figure. Opening her mouth she spoke but no words formed.

"Now take it easy," he ordered and placed his hand behind her head, lifting her up.

Suddenly she felt something cold in her mouth and realized it was water. Thirstily she gulped down the liquid, a bit spilling down her chin.

"That should help to clear your head," the doctor replied and wiped her wet face before gently replacing her head on the pillow.

Ann had so many thoughts running through her head yet her brain wouldn't work. It was as if she had been asleep for a million years and had finally wakened from her long slumber.

"I saw him!" she barely forced out.

"Saw who, my dear? We are in Plymouth. I'm sure whomever you are referring to was all just the medicine playing tricks on you"

Heartbroken Ann cringed inside. No one would believe her, and Horatio would never find her here.

"Why?" her voice rasped.

"That you will have to ask your mother," he said and stood as Ann heard footsteps enter the room.

"Excuse me," Black announced and left the women alone.

Ann closed her eyes, not wanting to look at someone who was supposed to love her and protect her.

"Why you asked my dear daughter," Ann heard Mary answer sweetly.

The chair creaked next to her as Mary sat down.

"I'll not have my grandchild raised without me."

"Even if your daughter is a whore?" Ann said sarcastically. "That's what you called me or
don't you remember?"

Mary sighed before she spoke again. Ann knew it was taking all her strength not to get angry. Yet Ann was spoiling for a fight, especially after everything her mother had done to her.

"You are not that my dear, Ann, never." Her voice dripped with sickening sweetness which nearly drove Ann insane. "This child will be raised the right way ­ with its grandmother at its side."

Ann slowly turned her head, her eyes finally able to focus on her mother.

"I don't know who you are. You are not my mother and there is no way on this earth I will let you near my baby!" Ann threatened.

Mary's eyes burned with every word her daughter spoke.

"Well you don't have much choice in the matter do you!" Mary yelled angrily and stomped from the room.

Ann heard the sound of a key turning in the door. She was locked in.
Chapter 25

It was late afternoon the following day as the carriage pulled into Plymouth. Rubbing her sore neck Emma surveyed the town while her brother and Horatio chatted with the driver. This was her first time out of Portsmouth. Yet, as she looked about, it seemed no different than any other naval town.

"I suppose, if you've seen one," she thought to herself, "you've seen them all."

"He said there is a Doctor Black in this town, but he lives on the outskirts," she heard Horatio saying to Hobbs.

"Well let's go get Annie from him," Emma demanded, starting down the street.

"Wait a minute!" her brother said and grabbed her by the arm. "You can't just go charging off like that."

Emma's blue eyes flashed with anger.

"And why not! If Annie's here she needs me!"

Horatio stepped between them.

"He's right Miss Emma. We need to form a plan. We can't just barge in. What if Ann is not there or is hidden elsewhere?"

Emma paused a moment to consider. Scowling she glared at Matt.

"I guess you are right Mr. Hornblower. I don't want to endanger Annie," she sighed making sure Matt heard every word.

Ann stirred, rolling over to see out her window and the fading afternoon light. Closing her eyes she silently prayed.

"Dear God, please help me!"

"Praying again," someone laughed. "you always were the religious one!"

Ann inhaled before looking up to see the monster that was her mother standing over her.

"Well at least I know where you are going when you die, Mother," she growled.

Mary couldn't hide the shock and anger that spread across her face.

"Why you!" she raised her hand as if to strike her but another hand grabbed the threatening fist, holding back the blow.

Doctor Black pushed her out of his way, standing between mother and daughter.

"Please Mrs. Bellows! There is no need for that," he protested.

Mary only glared at him.

"Don't you dare do that again or I swear you will pay."

Ann swore the devil himself was before her as Mary bore her fiery eyes into the now cowering man.

"You really are a coward aren't you!" Mary burst out laughing as Black eased in front of her. "But my money didn't stop you from helping me hide her from that sailor did it!"

Suddenly Ann grew cold. She had been certain the whole experience had been a dream, something caused by the medicine. Her shoulders began to shake as she realized her mother had buried her alive in that graveyard.

"You truly are a monster," she whispered as Mary slowly stopped laughing.

"Don't you talk to your mother like that!" she hissed.

But Ann was exhausted and only rolled over, not wanting to let anyone see the tears flowing down her face.

"Please ma'am, she needs to rest," the doctor pleaded.

Mary stood glaring at her rebellious daughter a few moments more.

"Fine," she finally said, having regained her calm. "You rest now, Ann, and I'll bring your supper later."

With that, she turned and left Ann alone with Dr. Black.

Making sure she was out of earshot Black sat on the edge of the bed, placing a comforting hand on Ann's still shaking shoulder.

"Has she always been like that?"

Ann inhaled sharply not sure she'd heard his question correctly.

"Like what?"

She turned her head, her eyes boring into his.

"So unstable."
"Yes," Ann whispered, "Ever since father died. No wait."

She closed her eyes trying to remember.

"It was before that. Whenever father was away she would change, become almost angry all the time. But when he was home, she was normal."

Black looked over his shoulder making sure Mary hadn't returned.

"It sounds as if she has something mentally wrong. I want to help her," he offered quietly.

Ann narrowed her gaze on him still not trusting this man who had allowed her mother to do the awful things she had done.

"You know she sold my brother and wanted to sell me and my sister. And she did actually but father found us before we were shipped off." She sighed before going on, her gaze now on the locked window at her feet. "Poor Matt. Father tried with all his might to get to him in time but Mother made sure he didn't come back."

Black frowned, shaking his head in disbelief.

"What kind of woman does that to her children?"

"He may have only been my stepfather, but I loved him more than I ever did my own mother," Ann sighed, closing her eyes. "I never gave up on my brother. Never."

The doctor had to strain to hear Ann's whispered words.

"You rest now, Miss. I'm going to go talk to your mother."

Ann let her tears fall as she heard him leave, this time leaving the door unlocked.
Chapter 26

Emma sat restlessly at the table, her plate empty of its contents. The sun had finally set as the three ate their meal in silence while laughter and talking were all about them. Emma watched Matt eat slowly ­ almost as if he was forcing himself to partake of the meal.

"Is he ill?" she wondered patting her mouth with her napkin.

"Are you sure you don't want more, Miss?" Horatio offered, eating his second helping.

"No thank you, Mr. Hornblower. I just want to go and get my sister."

Horatio set his fork down hearing the annoyed tone of her voice.

"Very well. Mr. Hobbs, shall we?"

Emma jumped to her feet but froze at the look the two men gave her.

"I'm going with you!" she argued.

"Emma," Hobbs said softly taking her hand.

"No!" she yanked it from his grip. "She is my sister and I will not stay here! You can't make me!"

Horatio turned to Hobbs and shook his head.

"She's right," he admitted to Hobbs in defeat.

Emma smiled in victory and followed them out the door. But as she went out two hands reached out, holding her tightly from behind. Looking over her shoulder, she saw Styles giving her a frown.

"I'm sorry, Miss, but it ain't safe fur ya."

Horatio and Matt kept walking, not looking back to see the hurt on her face. She felt like cursing her lungs out but let it go, instead saying a silent pray that her sister would be with her very soon. Easing against the big sailor, letting him take her back inside to wait.

Ann awoke with a start. It was pitch black in the room and she heard no noise in the house.

"Mother?" she called out meekly.

Slowly she sat up and swung her feet to the cold floor. A wave of dizziness hit her and she closed her eyes, fighting the sensation. Creaking wood echoed downstairs sending a chill through her. Was that her mother? Why were all the lights out? Someone was down there ­ she could hear them.

With great effort she pulled herself to her feet using the bedpost for support. Her head was clearing and the dizziness eased as she took a step forward. Slowly she made it to the door.

"There must be a logical explanation," she thought.

But as she opened the door moonlight illuminated something on the floor at her feet. It took her a minute to recognize the dead body of Doctor Black before her. He lay in a pool of dark red ­ a gaping head wound still oozing blood.

"Oh God," Ann whispered over and over as she stepped backwards ­ back into the room and away from the horror her eyes had beheld.

What was going on? Had her mother done that? That's when she heard foot steps on the stairs. Someone was coming for her next.

With her back against the window she whirled around and tried in vain to open it. Her fingers fumbled with the lock as she heard the unknown stranger getting closer. The footfalls seemed so loud in her ears.

Finally the latch gave way and the window opened before her. A cold gust hit her as she stepped on the ledge and looked down. Even if she was only on the second floor, her fear of heights ran through her body. The footsteps reached the hall as she pulled herself out of the room. Her only escape was to the roof. Slowly her cold hands pulled her around the windowsill.

With only her nightgown on she began to shake in the cold night air. Safely on the roof she closed her eyes and tried to catch her labored breathing. Placing a hand on her stomach she vowed to protect her unborn child from who- or whatever was after her.

"I have to find a way down," she thought and climbed to her feet.

Suddenly another wave of dizziness hit her and she sat back on the wooden roof. Pulling her knees to her chest she closed her eyes and waited.
Chapter 27

Carefully Horatio and Hobbs made it to the front of the house. Both stared in surprise at the open door.

"Something's wrong here, sir," Hobbs whispered as they stared at the dark and eerily silent house.

"I agree," Horatio replied. "You go around to the back. I'm going to check the downstairs."

Hobbs nodded and quietly disappeared into the dark night.

Taking a deep breath Horatio made it to the open door. All his senses were on edge as he eased silently inside. Something was definitely wrong as he surveyed the over turned chairs and table. Stepping through the maze of debris he tried to calm his fears as to who might have done this and if Ann was involved. The sound of breaking glass beneath his foot jolted him from his thoughts. Staring down at it he recognized the remains of a plate.

Cautiously he continued forward going from room to room, finding nothing but more chaos. Taking one last look he sighed and navigated back outside to wait for Hobbs.

"Ann, if you are here, please give me a sign," he silently pleaded.

Ann opened her eyes again, her head clear. Slowly she pushed herself up and looked about. As far as she could tell there was no way off the roof. Her teeth began to chatter, as her whole body became numb with cold. Looking up she watched as her breath floated away into the cloudless, star-filled sky.

"I'm going to freeze to death," her mind said.

With great effort she pushed herself back onto her bare feet. Slowly she edged back toward the open window. Her heat pounded in her chest with her mind daring her to peek inside. Dare she go back inside?

Something moved in the dim light catching her attention. A black figure was climbing from her window the same way she had come.

"Oh my God, it's him!" she whispered in fear.

Her attacker had found her. Somehow, someway he was climbing toward her. He was too busy balancing on the edge to notice the girl flattened against the side. Standing so close to him, Ann realized she had two options. One, shove him from the roof ­ two, jump.

Closing her eyes she inhaled deeply. She had no time to think as he spotted her.

"Hello Ann."

"God how does he know my name?" she cried inside.

"No," she whispered and tried to turn away from him.

But he only laughed at her fruitless attempts, stepping to her side and wrenching her arm in his hand.

"So we meet again," he smiled.

Ann felt her heart go cold as all her emotions of hate and anger welled up inside.

"I hate you, you son of a bitch!" she hissed, somehow finding the courage to face him.

Her outburst caught him off guard, and Ann saw her chance. Violently she shoved him backwards and toward the edge. She didn't dare watch to see him fall, instead scrambling to the top of the roof. The thoughts racing through her mind screamed at her to get as far away as she could. But one of the wood shingles gave away underneath her foot causing her to stumble. Looking over her shoulder she saw him catch himself and dart after her.

The chase was on.


Chapter 28

He chuckled in the dark as he easily reached the top of the roof.

"I heard you were carrying my child," he said in pleasure.

Ann made it to the front of the house and stared down. It was a long drop and she knew the fall would probably kill her. Slowly she turned and faced the evil now slowly making his way toward her.

"Go to hell!" she yelled at the top of her lungs.

Horatio heard Ann cry out and bolted back inside without thinking. Charging up the stairs he fell over Doctor Black. Quickly he jumped back thinking the dead body was Ann. But his fear vanished when he recognized the doctor.

"Who did this?" he whispered.

Reaching down he realized it was too late to do anything for the doctor and stepped over him. Racing into Ann's room he paused in the doorway.

"Where are you?" he said aloud.

The bed was a mess but the rest of the room seemed normal, not strewn about as the house had been. Slowly he made it to the open window. As he looked out he spotted Hobbs staring up at the roof. He resisted the urge to call out to him.

"Ann's on the roof," he realized.

But Hobbs saw him in the window and waved. Ann was in trouble, and he had to think fast. He motioned for the gunner to head back to the front. Hobbs nodded in understanding and was off as though he'd been shot from a cannon.

Dashing around the building he immediately saw Ann, standing at the edge. But as he looked beyond her, he saw another figure ­ a man. Suddenly the figure laughed a long, loud devilish cry. The sound caused Hobbs skin to crawl. Ann's life was in danger and he had to save her!

His laugh sent chills through her body. It was the same sound that haunted her dreams every day and night. She heard it in every other person's laugh. The sound would never let her be. Slowly he stepped toward her.

"Shall we finish my sweet," he threatened once more.

Frantically Hobbs glanced about him for some way to help her. His eye spotted a huge dead vine growing on the side of the house and darted for it. The thing was as big as a tree, and he pulled himself expertly onto its long, dead roots. Quickly he climbed as if he was at sea and his life depended on it.

Ann hugged herself as she faced her attacker. She shivered in the cold as the wind began to blow.

"Ann!" Hobbs called as out pulled himself onto the roof.

She whirled about just in time to see her brother get to his feet. But her attacker saw his chance and grabbed her into his arms, a knife suddenly at her throat.

Horatio looked down at the ground and swallowed. His fear of heights seemed worse in the dark as he forced his foot out the window. Finding the ledge he placed his other next to it. With one last inhalation of breath, he was on the roof. Instantly his heart leapt to his throat as fear suddenly paralyzed him. He couldn't move. That's when he heard Hobbs cry for his sister.

"Ann," he whispered and shoved off, climbing the wood shingles until he reached the top.

The sight that greeted him chilled him even more than the freezing night air.

"Oh and who do we have here?" the man leered, pressing the knife harder against Ann's soft flesh.

Ann dared not move.

"Matt, help me," she whispered.

"Oh, know each other do you?" her attacker laughed.

"Well Ann is great in bed!" he jeered as the fire burned in Hobbs eyes.

"You'll die for that you worthless bastard!" Hobbs spit and pulled a knife from the sheath attached to his leg.

"I know you," he said narrowing his eyes.

His opponent only smiled. "Do ya now?"

"You're Johnny Stone ­ the little snot I used to beat up down the road!" Hobbs laughed coldly.

Horatio realized no one saw him as he inched toward Ann's attacker unnoticed. Suddenly Hobbs caught the movement out of the corner of his eye. He had to keep the man distracted long enough for Horatio to act.

"I recall kickin' your ass into the pond!" Hobbs laughed making Johnny shift his weight nervously.

"No, no. That weren't me," the man stammered, his tone losing some of its arrogance.

Slowly his grip on the knife was loosening against Ann's skin.

"Seems to me, kickin' your sorry arse was a weekly occurrence for me!" Hobbs roared frightening the man even more.

Horatio was close enough to reach out and touch Ann. But just as he was about to pounce, the wood cracked under his foot. Johnny whipped around seeing him. He reacted instantly shoving Ann forward and over the edge. She screamed as she felt her feet leave the roof. Hobbs dove after her, grabbing her wrist at the last possible second. Ann was totally helpless as she looked up at Matt holding her wrist with one hand. He was all that stood between life and death.

"Matt," she cried," don't let me fall!"

Hobbs grunted as he slowly began to slide off the roof, his other hand unable to grasp anything solid.
Chapter 29

Horatio tackled Johnny, and they both rolled toward the edge, fighting for the knife. In the back of his mind he somehow knew Hobbs had Ann as he punched the man in the ear. But Johnny was not about to give up and forced the knife into Horatio's arm. He cried out as he lost his grip on the slippery man. Johnny buried his fist deep into Horatio's stomach shoving him ever closer to the edge. Horatio could see the ground as his head hung over it. Looking up Johnny flashed him an evil grin and raised his foot. In that instant Horatio spotted Hobbs' knife lying next to him. With lightening speed he snatched it up and threw it without thinking.

Beads of sweat formed on Hobbs' face as Ann helplessly watched his efforts to save her. She realized he was losing his battle with gravity and at any moment they would both fall to their deaths.

"Matt," she quietly pleaded, "let me go, Matt!"

His eyes opened as stared into the blue depths of calm and love.

"Ann," he whispered," I can't!"

She looked down then back up at him.

"Matt. I don't want you to die. Let me go!"

He knew if he let go she would fall to her death.

"It's all right Matt. I'm ready to die," she said, calm and peace in her voice.

"No, Ann. I can't do it!" he said with a shake of his head.

His grip on the roof was loosening. Any moment now he would fall, taking Ann with him.

Johnny looked down at his chest and the blood that poured from it. Slowly he reached up and touched his wound as if it wasn't real. With a look of shock he tipped forward and into the dark night. Horatio didn't have time to enjoy the sound the body made as it hit the ground. Instead he saw Hobbs going over the edge.

"I love you Ann, and I am sorry," Matt said as he felt his hand give way.

They were falling. Ann closed her eyes and waited.

Sailing through the air Horatio slid across the wood just in time to grab Hobbs' free hand. Ann felt her body jerk and looked up to see Horatio standing over her. Hobbs gave his former commander a smile the likes of which he had never seen light the gunners' face. But an instant later, it was gone.

With a huge grunt Horatio pulled Hobbs upward enough so that he was able to get his weight back on the roof. Together they both pulled Ann to safety. For a moment she stood looking at the pair of them, almost as if she were in a dream. As her tears of relief and joy washed over her she stepped forward, hugging them both at the same time.
Chapter 30

Ann's body shook in her rescuers' arms as they released her.

"Let's get you inside," Hobbs said gently and helped her back toward the window.

Horatio followed after them, still in shock over what had just happened. Carefully Hobbs eased Ann inside and back to safety. Horatio stood and looked at him as he motioned him forward. He still remembered his commander's fear of heights and didn't want to leave him on the roof by himself.

"Let me help you, sir," he encouraged holding out his hand.

Their eyes locked and suddenly, with that one kind act, all the anger and bitterness between them melted away . Horatio took his hand and let Hobbs push him inside the warm room. Ann was waiting and took hold of his arm, pulling him safely inside. She instantly noticed the crimson that stained his shirtsleeve.

"You're hurt," she said and forced him on the bed.

Quickly she forgot all about herself as she tended to him. He didn't speak a word, only watching her in the moonlight.

"God, she's beautiful," he thought and reached out, caressing her forehead.

His touch made her stop, her eyes gazing deep into his.

"Oh Horatio," she whispered and embraced him tightly, letting her tears of relief and love overflow.

"I am so happy to see you alive Ann," he replied, then suddenly pitched forward.

She gasped in shock and pushed him onto the bed. Ripping at his shirt she saw the wound was worse than she had thought. Blood seemed to be everywhere as she grabbed the bed sheet and wrapped it about his bleeding arm.

"Don't you dare leave me Horatio, you hear me!" she said determinedly.

Frantically she looked back at the window but didn't see her brother.

"Matt!" she cried out but no response came.

Quickly she dashed over to it and peered out into the night.

"Matt!"

"Shhhh," he whispered, "I heard something."

Ann watched helplessly as he scrambled back over the rooftop.

"Where is he going?" she thought and ran back to Horatio's side.

His eyes fluttered as he fought to stay awake. Something inside him seemed at peace; all was right with the world again. Archie's ghost had eased his soul, Ann was safe, her attacker dead, and Hobbs was forgiven for what he had done to Archie.

Horatio let his eyes close and his labored breathing ease. He was saying goodbye. Worried Ann felt his forehead and rubbed his neck, trying desperately to bring him back to her.

"No you don't!" she ordered, her voice cracking with emotion.

"I love you Ann," he whispered but as he felt his body giving up, his hand brushed against Ann's stomach and the child she still carried.

It jolted him back to his senses.

Hobbs stood at the spot where Johnny Stone had fallen from the roof. Something didn't feel right as he tried in vain to see the ground below him and the man's dead body.

"He's dead, son," a cold voice spoke behind him.

Whirling about his gaze fell on Mary as she smiled at him.

"Mother? Why are you up here? Are you all right?" he stammered, almost afraid of her and the look she gave him.

It was the same one she had given him as he was sold to the Navy. He barely recognized the woman who had raised him.

"You killed someone Matt," she went on, no emotion in her voice whatsoever. "And for that you must die."

He shook his head and took a step toward her.

"Mother, what are you talking about?"

Suddenly, he became aware of the object in her hand. Johnny's knife shined against the moonbeams causing the insane woman to laugh.

"You know I was glad I sold you. You were such a worthless brat! I hated you and I hated your father for getting me pregnant with you!"

Her words hurt him ­ far worse than if she had stabbed him in the heart.

"You don't know what you are saying," he said trying to talk some sense into her.

She stepped toward him, forcing him back and at the edge.

"Oh yes I do. I killed that damn doctor. Trying to make me out to be a loony! Ha! I showed him," she laughed.

"Mother please!" Hobbs begged, glancing quickly behind him and at the ground below.

"And your stupid sister," Mary continued to rant. "I paid that Stone boy. I wanted a grandchild god damn it!"

Hobbs couldn't believe his ears.

"What kind of monster are you?" he whispered.

"I'm no monster," she hissed," I'm your mother!"

Hobbs shook his head, forcing his tears away.

"No Mary, you are not my mother. You never were."

His words seemed to push her over the brink as she lunged forward with the knife. But he sidestepped, and she teetered on the edge, losing her balance. As she went over the side, Hobbs reacted in the last second possible and grabbed her wrist. He was now in the same situation that he had been in with Ann. Mary looked up at him not with fear but with anger.

"You son of a bitch! You will burn in hell, boy!" she screamed at the top of her lungs.

"You first, Mother," he spat back.

Slowly he felt his grip slipping as she continued to curse at him. The woman before him was no longer his mother.

"Forgive me," he whispered as his hand loosened on hers.
Chapter 31

Emma paced in the now deserted pub, Styles watching her restlessly.

"I want to be there too, Miss," he said quietly, relaxing in an old brown chair before her.

She flashed angry dark blues eyes, silencing him instantly. Continuing to walk in front of the fireplace, she noticed the slowly dying flames. It had been hours since Horatio and her brother had gone off to find Ann. Where could they be?

"How did you get here anyway?" she asked changing the subject.

He gave her a slight smile, then quickly erased it.

"Mr. 'ornblower's plan, Miss. He thought I should get here first."

"Oh," she answered not hearing a word he said.

Her eyes fell on the clock that sat upon the dirty mantle. It ticked away, echoing in her ears as if telling her to do something. But instead she continued her pacing as Styles continued to watch her grow more agitated by the second.

"Please, Miss, won't you sit down?" he tried again.

Glancing at the empty chair next to him Emma sighed and gave in. They were the only souls left in the tiny pub as quiet engulfed the room. The orange flames flickered over tiny blackened pieces of wood.

"I should put another log on the fire," Styles commented to himself.

"Yes, why don't you do that," Emma replied sarcastically.

"Look here, little girl," the big sailor said finally letting his anger show. "I've had about enough of your smartass remarks. Now act like a lady and sit there with your mouth shut!"

Emma was so shocked by his outburst that she did as he said. But her lower lip began to tremble as the tears filled her eyes. With a grunt Styles tossed a huge gnarled log into the fireplace, giving the flames renewed life. As he turned back to the now silent girl she avoided his gaze, not able to stop the tears that rolled down her rosy cheeks. Swallowing, he suddenly felt guilty for what he had just said. After all, the poor girl had been through so much.

"I'm sorry, Miss Emma," he said quietly standing before her.

Turning her sad eyes back on him he expected a scolding. But instead she jumped up and flung her arms about him, letting all her emotions out and onto his chest. There was nothing he could do but to hug her and comfort the sobbing creature that had latched onto him.
"There, there, Miss," he whispered and ran his huge hand through the back of her long dark hair.

He couldn't resist inhaling the sweet scent of her hair as the touch of lavender filled his senses.

"Mr. 'ornblower will bring them back safe," he said with a smile causing Emma to gaze into his softened blue-green eyes.

Her mouth fell open a she was about to speak when the door burst open before them. She stepped back from him and stared in hope and fear.

At first only the wind swung the door gently back and forth. Emma was about to order Styles to close it when a dirty boot stepped forward. She gasped in joy and shock at the sight of her brother. As he stepped fully into their vision Styles bolted to his aid as Horatio had one arm over his shoulder.

"Where's Annie?" Emma whispered in fright.

But before anyone coould answer her question, Ann followed after Horatio, his other arm over her shoulder. The brother and sister had carried the injured sailor nearly a mile through the dark and cold night. Quickly Styles took the burden from Ann and disappeared upstairs with Hobbs, getting his commander to a bed.

Emma stared unbelieving at her sister as she closed the door and rubbed her numb hands together.

"Hello, Emma," she as if nothing had ever happened. "Mind if I warm myself by your fire?"

But instead of answering Emma ran to her sister and threw herself on her, sobbing in guilt and relief.

"I'm so sorry Annie!" she wailed.

But Ann, never one to hold a grudge, laughed at her little sister.

"Emm, everything will be fine now."

Slowly she looked up at her big sister and marveled.

"How do you know?"

Ann gave her a reassuring smile.

"I know. Trust me."
Chapter 32

Wearily Horatio opened his eyes and tried to figure out where he was. The last thing his fuzzy memory recalled was standing in the cold on a roof.

"Ann," he whispered and suddenly felt something next to him.

It was soft and warm and snuggled up against him as it slept. Turning his head he instantly felt a smile on his face as Ann filled his vision. She was sound asleep beside him just as if she had always belonged there. Her face had its color back and she looked more beautiful than he could remember. His strength had returned from his fitful night's sleep, and he examined the bandage covering the wound on his right arm. The stiffness told him no damage was done. It would be good as new again in no time. His slight movements disturbed Ann as she opened her turquoise eyes.

"Horatio, you're awake!" she said happily and couldn't help but wrap her arms around him.

"Yes," he laughed, pulling her tight against his bare chest.

Just then, he realized he was without his clothes. A slight blush rose on his cheeks as he tried to hide his embarrassment.

"I take it you are feeling better?" Ann said resting her head against him and running her hand over his chest hair.

"Um, yes. I am thank you," he stammered.

She kept one arm about him, not daring to let go.

"I hope you don't mind sharing your bed?" she teased, obviously reading his mind.

"Um, a no. Not at all. I mean yes."

Slowly she sat up and looked down at his now burning cheeks.

"I am eighteen now, Horatio. It's not like I haven't seen IT before."

He couldn't help but let his mouth fall open as it came to him she was teasing.

"Oh you!" he laughed and tickled her, causing tears of laughter to stream down her face.

"Mercy! Mercy!" she giggled till he finally stopped, pulling her against him yet again.

"Oh Ann, I love you," he whispered in her ear.

"I love you, too, Horatio," she whispered back.

Both fell into momentary silence as their minds drifted back to the night before.

"Is your sister all right?" he asked.

Ann nodded.

"Yes. Matt is taking care of her."

She sighed before going on.

"Mother is dead. Somehow she fell from the roof."

Horatio squeezed Ann's hand, reassuring her.

"Her body was found next to Stone's," she went on, needing to get it out. "I can't believe they are both dead."

Slowly Horatio moved his hand to her hair and stroked it, running his long fingers through it.

"You can live your life now in peace and with love," he offered.

At his words she pulled away, looking him uncertain.

"Do you still want me?"

Her voice quivered in fear, thinking he would reject her too, as all the rest of her family had at one time or another. Gently he took face in his hands and smiled.

"I have always wanted you."

Lovingly he pressed his lips against hers, making her heart skip a beat. Suddenly her passion came alive as she kissed him back.

"Make love to me Horatio," Ann murmured as he released her.

"Are you sure?" he said not wanting to force her.

With a smile she nodded and placed her hand on his stomach.

"Yes."

Hobbs yawned as he emerged into the quiet pub. Barely a soul greeted him as he found a table and slumped into the chair. The previous night's events still weighed heavy in his mind as he cradled his cup of hot coffee.

After getting Horatio and Ann safely back to town he had gone to find the constable, taking him back to Doctor Black's house to retrieve the bodies and to clear himself and Horatio of any wrongdoing.

"A penny for your thoughts?"

Matt jumped at the sound of Emma's voice, spilling his coffee on the table.

"You should know better than to sneak up on a person like that!" he scolded, angrier with himself than her.

"I didn't sneak up on you!" she spat back, "I was standing here for over five minutes waiting for you to invite me to sit down!"

She plopped into the empty chair next to him and sat watching him clean up the mess. Crossing her arms she looked away as he looked at her.

"I'm sorry," he apologized sitting back down. "It was a very bad night and I didn't get much sleep."

Slowly she turned and gazed at her big brother.

"Is Mother really dead?"

Her voice was barely audible as he nodded, staring at his hands on the dirty tabletop. He couldn't look her in the eye as she spoke.

"I can't believe it. I feel badly because I am so happy she is gone."

Gently she reached out and took his hand in hers.

"Matt, I misjudged you."

Finally he caught her gaze and began to shake. Fear crossed hher features as she stood and wrapped her arms about him.

"What is it, Matt?"

He let the tears fall as he felt his sister's love and acceptance. How could he tell her what
their mother had said or that it was he who had killed her? Slowly he stopped shaking and wiped his tears away.

"I am just happy to have my family back again," he lied.

Emma sat back down but not before giving him one last look. She knew he was lying and she was determined to find out why.
Chapter 33

They ate their breakfast in silence; Emma carefully watching her brother's every move. He felt her stare and tried to act as if he didn't notice. This was Emma's little game ­ one she'd played on him since she was tiny. For some strange reason it drove Matt insane, so any time she wanted to get him riled, all she had to do was stare at him.

Taking his coffee, he made sure to look into the cup as he drank, giving no indication he knew what Emma was doing. He remembered her game and was determined not to let her win as she always had. Chewing on his toast he looked about the little establishment and commented with his mouth full.

"Cor! This place looked better in the dark!"

But Emma didn't laugh, merely eating her toast in silence and continuing her stare. She knew he knew what she was up to, but she was going to win. The minutes went on as Matt began to squirm in his chair. He knew she knew that he knew what she was doing. Emma couldn't help the smile that was spreading across her face.

"All right! I give up! Please stop looking at me!" Matt blurted, causing a few of the patrons to give him curious stares.

"Ha! Thought you'd win this time, eh big brother?" she giggled.

Now it was his turn to stare at her. But it was with love and admiration. He really had missed his baby sister and wondered how he could have gone so long without visiting her. His guilt reared its ugly head and he knew he had to tell her.

"Emma, I killed Mother."

There he'd said it. He could never live his life in peace carrying such a dark secret with him.

"You what?" she whispered, somehow not surprised by his confession.

He leaned forward, gazing deep into her dark sapphire eyes.

"You know I had to," he pleaded as she looked away, contemplating what he was saying. "God, please don't hate me Emma!"

She gave him a reassuring smile and took his hand.

"I could never hate you. You are my brother."

Her voice was filled with quiet love. They both sat in momentary silence, their family bond renewed.

"Is this a private party or can anyone join in?"

"Mr. Hornblower!" Matt said getting to his feet and offering him a seat.

"Annie!" Emma squealed and jumped up to hug her sister.

She had a new glow about her that Emma had never seen before.

"You look different?" she whispered in her ear.

Ann only flashed her an all-knowing smile. She took a seat next to Horatio and wrapped her arm about his.

"I take it Styles is getting our transportation home?" Horatio asked squeezing Ann's arm.

Hobbs' face went blank as he raised his eyebrows at Emma.

"Don't look at me. I don't know where the big lug is," she replied.

Just then the big lug appeared in the door, spotting the group watching him.

"Sir!" he said excitedly and waved a letter in his hand.

Like a small child on Christmas morning he rushed to Horatio's side, shoving the letter in his face.

"From the Admiralty sir!"

Hobbs chuckled as Horatio gave Styles a stern look making him calm down.

"Thank you, Styles. Now, please take a seat," he offered setting the envelope on the table in front of him.

Everyone stared at it eagerly as Horatio seemed determined not to open it.

"Aren't you going to read it?" Ann finally spoke up as curious as the rest.

Glancing about at the staring faces he knew he was defeated and surrendered, Picking it up, he tore open the dispatch. His eyes darted back and forth as he read the words printed upon it.

"Whoever wrote this has beautiful penmanship," he thought.

All eyes were on him as he refolded the letter and placed it back in its envelope.

"Well?" Ann prodded.

"It says I am to report to Commodore Pellew aboard the Indefatigable as soon as possible for further orders."

Styles jumped to his feet as Hobbs did the same.

"This means you will get a ship!" Emma stated happily.

Horatio nodded, unable to hide his smile.

"Sir!" Hobbs called to the owner of the pub, "a bottle of your best wine to celebrate here!"

But not everyone who'd heard the good news was ready to celebrate.

Epilogue

Horatio paused in his story telling, gazing once again at Ann's picture in his hand. Darkness now surrounded the men as Bush sat waiting for him to go on. He had sat in silence taking in all his friend had told him. All this time, since Horatio had taken command of the Retribution, Bush knew Ann was in Horatio's thoughts as Emily had been in his. Gently he placed a supporting hand on his still silent friend's shoulder.

"Where is she now?" he asked softly.

Horatio sighed heavily, tucking the picture back in his uniform pocket and gazing up at the rising half moon.

"Time and distance can make strangers of people, who were once so close to each other. . . . ." he began.

Bush swore he saw tears brim his friend's dark brown eyes as he took up his tale once more.

Ann stared at the carriage waiting to leave.

"I can't believe you have to go so soon," she said more to herself than to him.

Slowly Horatio took her in his arms and hugged her.

"I will come back. I will always be thinking of you."

She held back her tears, not wanting to let him see her display of weakness.

"Well, I'm not going anywhere," she sighed in his ear.

Standing back, he gazed at her one last time.

"I know your brother will take care of you now. And I'll be back before you know it."

Ann nodded bravely and quickly brushed away a lone tear.

"Thank you for saving my life, Horatio," she said softly.

He gave her a sly grin and bowed gracefully before her.

"Twas my pleasure m'lady."

That did the trick as she giggled at his silliness. Longingly he kissed her hand, his warm lips tingling upon her delicate skin.

"I love you, too," she whispered as he released her.
"Sir, we have to go!" Styles blurted, interrupting the couple's goodbye.

With a smile, Horatio climbed into the coach, almost excited to be getting back to sea. With one last look, he waved goodbye as Emma stood waving next to Ann.

"Shall we, ladies?" Horatio heard Hobbs say as the carriage bolted forward.

With one final glance, he watched Ann disappear from sight.

"Something tells me I shall never see her again," he said aloud making Styles stare at him from his seat.

Was he talking to him?

"Of course you will sir," he offered cheerily.

But Horatio now looked on his friend with a twinge of sadness in his face.

"Thank you, Styles," he said giving him a half smile.

But Styles couldn't leave it at that as Horatio settled back in his seat and closed his eyes.

"Mr. 'ornblower," the big sailor said softly, "I know you love her."

At the sound of his name, Horatio opened his eyes and sat forward.

"Styles, I. . . . ." he began sounding like a tiny child talking his father, but Styles cut him off.

"You shouldn't say things like that. That's all I'm saying, sir."

A few awkward seconds passed between them as Horatio nodded and let a half smile cross his face. Satisfied Styles gazed out the window as Horatio closed hiss eyes, lost in the vision of Ann before him.

"So you've not seen her since?" Bush interrupted.

"No," Horatio answered wearily. "After that, I took command of
Retribution and you know the rest."

It was well into the evening now as Horatio rose to his feet and stretched his sore muscles.

"Shall we go inside Mr. Bush. I dare say Emily will think we have run off."

But Bush stopped him, not wanting to leave the story as it was.

"I suppose Ann is still in Plymouth?"
Horatio looked at the ground and sighed, "I suppose she is."

Bush, never one to see a good romance die, smiled in the darkness.

"We've a few days short leave ­ why not go see her?"

Slowly Horatio turned and faced him in the dim moonlight.

"I would like nothing better, William and trust me, my heart has yearned to see her but. . . . ." he paused, kicking the dirt at his feet.

"Hobbs informed me she has married since our last meeting and I just couldn't bring myself to accept it."

Now it is William's turn to be stunned and fall into silence.

"How does that saying go?" Horatio said more to himself than to his friend. "No good deed goes unpunished."

"Are you two still out there?" Emily called from the back door.

"Best get inside before she sends us to our room," Bush chuckled and patted his friend on the back.

But Horatio paused one last time, staring up at the star filled sky.

"I shall never forget you, Ann ­ nor that you saved my life as well."