Elizabeth stared at the piece of paper in the typewriter before her. Though words covered roughly half the length of the paper, nothing new had been added since yesterday afternoon. She just couldn't seem to concentrate on her novel. Given the state of her thoughts, she doubted she'd be able to concentrate on exam papers either. Luckily, she had done most of them already and the few she still had left she could hopefully finish up this evening, after she had talked to Nathan.
She had been hoping to talk to him earlier, hoping to catch him after church. However, Nathan had made an appearance this morning though Ally had come with Opal and her family. When Elizabeth had asked Ally about her uncle, the little girl had informed her that her uncle was working, tying up loose ends with the fire from the night before.
Elizabeth had nodded, as Ally headed off with Opal. Feeling disappointed she had then had walked home with Rosemary and Lee. She couldn't even recall the conversation she had with them. She only hoped she had said appropriate things, though the fact that Rosemary had yet showed up at her house meant that she probably had.
After eating her midday meal, Elizabeth had stood in her doorway, holding Little Jack. The little boy had looked upon the outside world with fascination. While standing there, she had noticed Nathan and Allie heading toward the pond fishing poles in hand.
The sight brought a smile to Elizabeth's face. She was glad Allie was getting the fishing time with her uncle that yesterday's weather had cancelled. Allie had mentioned Nathan's promise to her about making up the cancelled trip at the first opportunity. It was nice to see him fulfilling that promise.
Elizabeth remembered seeing the annoyance in Nathan's eyes when she had told him that children needed stability in their life. She had known instantly that he thought she was criticizing his job and the moves it had necessitated for the two of them. It hadn't been what she had meant and she had hurried on hoping to keep him from walking out. She had quickly learned just how much of a stabilizing force Nathan was in his niece's life despite his job. Today was just another example of that.
Not wanting to take away from Allie's time with her uncle, Elizabeth had gotten her son interested with some toys in his crib and then sat down in front of her typewriter. Jack had abandoned his toys and fallen asleep but Elizabeth still hadn't found any words.
A soft cry from the crib, brought Elizabeth's attention away from the typewriter. Little Jack was rubbing his eyes as he woke up from his nap. Getting to her feet, Elizabeth went over to him.
"Hi my sweet little boy," Elizabeth said, smiling down at her son. "Did you enjoy your nap?"
Little Jack gave a giggle and held his arms up to her. Laughing, Elizabeth reached down and picked her son up. She spent the next twenty minutes or so fussing over her son. Once that was done, she felt restless again. Looking toward the window, the sunshine seemed to call to her.
Elizabeth looked back at Jack. The little boy smiled back at her. "Maybe what mama needs is a walk to clear her head," Elizabeth told her son. "Let's see if Auntie Rosemary can watch you for a little while so you don't wear mama's arms out."
Little Jack reached out and patted Elizabeth on the cheek. She took that as Little Jack's approval of the plan.
A few minutes later, Elizabeth was wandering away from the little row of houses, Little Jack lighting up Rosemary's home for a little while. Elizabeth was so grateful to have Rosemary and Lee right next door. Her friends had been a godsend on more than one occasion.
Without consciously thinking about her destination, Elizabeth's feet were taking her in the direction of the pond. Though she wasn't sure if Nathan and Allie would still be there, there was no denying that she was hoping to cross paths with Nathan. They still needed to talk about the night before and she knew the longer it was put off the easier it would be to keep putting off.
Approaching the pond, Elizabeth spotted Nathan sitting alone at the edge of the pond. Looking around she spotted Allie a bit further away, engaged in some activity. Hoping she wouldn't be intruding too much, Elizabeth walked toward Nathan. He was lounging on a blanket, propped up on one elbow as he read from a book.
"Reading anything interesting?" Elizabeth asked, as she stopped a short distance away.
Nathan looked up at her question. "Walden, actually. I read it as a teenager but I came across a copy in the library while Allie was picking out a book and I thought I reread it."
"I'd say I was surprised, but given that you can quote Emerson I'm not that surprised at all," Elizabeth admitted. "Were the fish not biting?" she asked glancing over at Ally, who she could now tell was gathering flowers.
"Ah, no," Nathan said, closing the book and sitting up. "We actually caught more than enough for supper already," he said, pointing to a post near the bank edge with a string attached to it that disappeared into the pond. "Ally just didn't want to head home yet."
There was a pause and then Nathan asked. "Where's Little Jack?"
"With Rosemary, actually. She likes spending time with him and if I'm honest, he gets heavy when I try carrying him too long these days. I wasn't sure how long I would be out."
"It is a beautiful day for a walk."
"It is," Elizabeth agreed. "Although, if I'm completely honest, part of me was hoping I'd find you. I've been wanting to talk to you about last night."
Nathan nodded, his face growing serious. He patted the empty part of the blanket next to him.
Elizabeth sat down on the blanket. Now that she had found Nathan, she found that she wasn't quite sure how to start the conversation. Surprisingly, it was Nathan who finally broke the silence.
"About last night Elizabeth, I know that in tense situations people may do things or say things that they wouldn't normally do otherwise. So, if you'd like to forget last night happened, we could do that."
Elizabeth shook her head. "No, I don't want to be let off the hook, so to say. Maybe my emotional display wasn't the most appropriate," she added, feeling the heat rise in her cheeks. Though Rosemary was too good of a friend to bring the subject up, she was sure other townsfolk were talking about her actions last night out of hearing. "The emotions were genuine. When I heard you and Lucas were still in the building, all I could think of was that you had to make it out. That I wanted a chance to tell you how I feel about you. My feelings for you are why I've never been able to consider Lucas' attention seriously. I didn't want to admit that before, but it's been there for a while."
Elizabeth looked over at Nathan. His expression was neutral as he stared out over the sparkling waters of the pond. Across the water the little schoolhouse stood. The Jack Thornton School. The tangible part of the legacy that Jack had left in this little town.
"So, I guess my question is, how do you feel about me?" Elizabeth asked hesitantly. Not long ago, she would have never dreamed of asking such a direct question of a man, even in private, but that was before she had gotten to know Nathan. His reserved nature made such questions necessary.
"To be honest, when I first met you, I felt a need to protect you. You were the widow of a fellow Mountie. I felt it was my duty to look out for you and your son," Nathan admitted. "The more I got to know you though, those feelings changed. I found myself falling for you. You were so open, upbeat, and generous despite the loss that you had gone through. I quickly learned that you really didn't need a man to protect you."
Elizabeth smiled. She had Jack had shared quite a few disagreements over that particular topic. "It doesn't mean I don't need a man to lean on at times," she said softly.
Nathan finally smiled though still didn't look over at her. "I realized that my feelings for you went beyond just looking out for a fellow Mountie's widow when I realized that what I was feeling when I saw you and Lucas together was jealousy."
"Lucas has always only been a friend to me," Elizabeth said.
"Is that why you chose him to dance with at the Founder's Day Dance? You were just being friendly?"
"He was standing alone and I didn't see you. At least not until I was already dancing with Lucas. Then you left."
"I couldn't stand seeing you with Lucas," Nathan told her. He shrugged as he continued to look across the water. "A noble profession or not, I guess I'm just as guilty of not so flattering feelings as the next guy."
"Even Mounties are just people with human emotions."
"Thanks," Nathan told her, finally looking over at Elizabeth. "Sometimes it feels like my job puts a barrier between me and everyone else. In some ways its necessary, as you can't let your emotions get in the way of your duty."
"But it can also be lonely," Elizabeth supplied.
Nathan nodded his agreement. "That it can but Hope Valley is different somehow. Despite the shadow I lived in when first getting here, I feel like I'm actually part of the community. And Ally," Nathan paused, looking over at his niece. "Ally is a different person here. I've never seen her so happy. When I saw how upset, the thought of leaving was making her at the Christmas Eve concert, I knew I couldn't leave. No matter what it cost me."
"You mean the job promotion."
Nathan shook his head. "The job promotion didn't bother me so much," he told Elizabeth looking from his niece to Elizabeth. "It's not the first time I refused an assignment because of Ally, though for the most part Headquarters has been understanding the past six years since I've had Ally with me. They've avoided given me some of the more remote postings and even made sure I stayed assigned to a Fort during the conflict in the Northwest Territory. At least then, even when I was out on assignment, I knew Ally was safe and would be looked after should something happened to me."
"What I really meant though, was I knew it would be hard to keep seeing you and Lucas together. Especially if you decided that you like his attention. I had fallen for you even then."
"But you didn't say anything."
"I thought about it quite a few times, but then I'd convince myself that it wouldn't be fair to you."
"Fair to me?"
"You already lost one husband to the service, Elizabeth. I can't help but feel like it's selfish to ask you to take that risk again."
"Don't you think that's my choice to make?"
"Probably," Nathan admitted with a nod. "Forgive me?" he asked, giving her a sheepish smile.
"There is nothing to forgive," she told him. "It's sweet and if I'm honest I've struggled with that myself. I think its why I fought admitting my feelings for you even to myself. The night before her wedding though, I had told Clara that even knowing how things had ended with Jack, I'd do it over again. That I didn't regret the time we did have together and I know I wouldn't regret the time I've had with you either. I also told her that she couldn't live her life by what if's and last night, watching the smoke coming out of the saloon, all I could think of was what if something happened to you and you didn't know how I felt about you."
Tentatively, Elizabeth reached out and placed her hand over top of Nathan's. "I should probably follow my own advice, don't you think?" shed asked.
Nathan turned his hand over so that he could grasp Elizabeth's hand. "Might be a good idea. Wouldn't want people thinking you're a hypocrite now would you?"
"No, I definitely wouldn't want that."
"So where does that leave us?" Nathan asked. "If you haven't noticed, I'm not exactly good at expressing my feelings so needless to say I don't exactly have a lot of experience with this type of relationship."
"Are you telling me you've never courted a woman before?" Elizabeth asked, not completely sure she believed him. Then again, this was Nathan.
"I've been to a dance twice before with a lady. The first time, my sister asked the girl I liked to the dance for me."
"She did," Nathan said, "When I walked her home that night I couldn't find the courage to ask if I could see her again."
Elizabeth laughed, knowing she probably shouldn't. "I'm sorry. I probably shouldn't be laughing."
"No, it's fine. Colleen teased me about it for weeks."
"And the second time?"
"A fellow Mountie had an eye on a young lady and wanted to take her to the Mountie's Ball. However, she had a sister who was visiting her and she refused to leave the sister alone even for an evening. He talked me to escorting her to the Ball. It was the only time I ever attended the Mountie's Ball."
"How did that one end?"
"She left with another Mountie," Nathan replied. "Told her sister that apparently I was a boring conversationalist. Edward spent the next two weeks apologizing. I told him that as long as he and Rebecca were happy, then it was worth it. I was his best man a year later when he married her."
"Edward," Elizabeth said softly, thinking of her childhood friend. The friend who had escorted her to Coal Valley despite her protests. She never would have gotten here without him. Nor would she have still had her father's compass.
"Elizabeth?" Nathan asked, as he took in her faraway look. "Are you okay?"
"What?" Elizabeth asked shaking herself out of her thoughts. She saw the concern in Nathan's eyes. "I'm fine," she said. "It's just, remember the friend I mentioned that retrieved the compass I gave you."
"Yes. You told me it was a story for another time."
"Well, that friend was a Mountie, which wasn't his choice but after going through the training he had changed his mind. His name was Edward though I'm sure there is more than one Mountie with the first name of Edward. I'm sure it was someone else."
"You're right about it being a common name. This Edward's last name was Montclair," Nathan said, watching Elizabeth's face for her reaction. "From your expression I'd say we're talking about the same Edward."
"Yeah, I think we are. I haven't heard from him in years. We wrote a few letters back and forth but then we lost touch."
"So do I get the rest of the story of the compass?"
"Well, my father had asked him to see me here, tough it was Coal Valley then, on the way to his first posting. Edward and I didn't get along to well as kids. I thought he was irresponsible and a pest. My sister thought he was fun and claimed he liked me."
"Not hard to imagine," Nathan commented, enjoying watching Elizabeth's cheeks turn pink.
"Anyway, I wasn't thrilled to find out that he had been asked to escort me. I gave him a hard time at first. Then our stage coach was robbed. Among other things, they took the compass. I was mad at Edward at first though looking back, he did the right thing. There were three of them and only one of them. Letting them take what they wanted was for the best. After, they left, we continued on our way by foot. I never would have made it through that, without Edward. I got to see how much he had been changed by his training. And he was right. That ordeal was providence. It prepared me for what I had to face here."
"Edward actually caught sight of the robbers after we got here. He went after them and was able to apprehend them. He didn't recover all of what was stolen but he was able to retrieve the compass. He returned it and then went on to his posting. It's been a few years since I had heard anything about him. I'm glad to hear he's happily married."
"He's very happy. Rebecca is a wonderful woman. The last I heard from him they had just welcomed a little girl that they named Elizabeth, after a friend he said he admired. I guess I know who that friend is now."
Elizabeth looked down at the blanket they were sitting on, sure her face was bright red.
"Edward's posted at Coldwater Lake if you're interested in writing to him?"
"I may just do that," Elizabeth said, looking up from the blanket but looking in the direction Ally was in instead of at Nathan.
Ally was heading in their direction, a bouquet of wild flowers clasped in one hand.
"These will brighten up the table, Uncle Nathan," the girl declared.
"That they will," Nathan agreed.
Elizabeth waited for Nathan to pull his hand out of her grasp. They may have admitted how they felt to one another but she wasn't sure if he was ready for his Niece to know yet. However, though he loosened his grip on her hand, he didn't pull away. Figuring Nathan was silently telling her that he was okay with her taking her hand away. She gave his hand a reassuring squeeze instead. Loving Nathan meant loving Ally. She had known that all along and she was okay with that. There was no point in trying to hide anything from her.
"They're beautiful, Ally," Elizabeth said.
"Thanks Mrs. Thornton," Ally said before addressing her Uncle again. "I need to get home and put them in water."
"Okay," Nathan told her. "Grab the fish and I'll gather the rest of our stuff and be along."
"You can take your time," Ally said, giving her uncle a wink as she retrieved the string of fish from the pond.
Elizabeth laughed as the girl's remark. She laughed even harder when she looked at Nathan and found that his face was now red.
"Sorry. She has a habit of saying what's on her mind. She gets it from her mother," Nathan told her as he got to his feet.
"Well, she definitely doesn't get it from you," Elizabeth teased, allowing herself to be helped up by Nathan.
As Nathan grabbed the two fishing poles, Elizabeth picked up the blanket they had been siting on. Folding it up, she draped it over her left arm. As she and Nathan headed toward the row of houses, Nathan reached out with his left hand to take her right. As they walked in silence, Elizabeth thought that it felt natural to be holding hands with Nathan.
"When I asked Ally where you were this morning she said you were tying up loose ends from last night. Does that mean you know how the fire started?"
"I do. I had a good idea last night. One kid ran out when I was approaching the saloon. Harper was still inside when I first went out trying to put out the fire. Apparently he and Timmy had got a hold of a pipe and were experimenting. The fire got started by accident."
"What's happening with Harper and Timmy?" Elizabeth asked, concerned about her two students.
"Well, I can't say what punishment they're facing at home. That's up to their parents. I lectured them both for about a half hour. I talked with Lucas, and he agreed not to press charges. There is no need for those two boys to have any kind of record for something like this. They will be helping Lucas fix the damage to the store room and then do some other community service. I'm not sure what, but I'll think of something."
"That sounds fair."
"Ah, you may also have a couple more candidates for your Book Club."
"I may have suggested to them at some point during my lecture that if they needed help finding constructive activities on a Saturday evening that they might consider asking their teacher if they could still join the Book Club."
Elizabeth smiled. "If they come to me, I'd be happy to let them join in."
They were now about halfway to the little row of house, and though the sun remained out, a few raindrops fell from the sky. Looking up, they spotted one little stray dark cloud that happened to be up above them. Elizabeth looked over and up at Nathan to see him gazing down at her.
"You know my mother use to tell me that when it rained while the sun was out, it meant that someone in heaven was crying happy tears for you."
Elizabeth smiled. "I like that idea," she told him. "And I think Jack would be very happy for me right now."
"So would Colleen," Nathan commented.
A couple hours later, Elizabeth was sitting with Allie on the settee in the girl's home. Nathan had asked her to join him and her niece for supper before they parted. Rosemary had insisted on keeping Little Jack until after supper when she had heard about the invitation. Though she would have liked to have Jack with her, Elizabeth also knew how much Rosemary liked having the little boy while she longed for a child of her own.
While Nathan was trying the fish, Allie was showing her teacher some of her drawings. As Allie handed her the last one the little girl asked, "are you and Uncle Nathan courting now?"
Elizabeth glanced in Nathan's direction wondering if he had heard the question. As he seemed absorbed in his task, she looked back over at Allie.
"Have you asked your Uncle that question?"
"Yeah. He turned red and asked me about the Book Club, which we already talked about while fishing this morning."
Elizabeth bit back her laugh, totally being able to see that reaction in her mind. Knowing that Allie would keep asking questions and that she deserved to know what was going on as it affected her as well, Elizabeth thought about how to answer the question.
"Your Uncle and I do have feelings for one another but we're in the early stages. We're not sure where it will go."
"So he finally admitted he likes you?"
"He did." Elizabeth said. "How do you feel about this? Are you okay sharing your uncle with someone? I know it's just been you and him for a long time now."
Allie nodded without hesitation. "I want Uncle Nathan to be happy and you make him happy, Mrs. Thornton. It doesn't hurt that I like you as well."
"I think you're pretty great yourself, Ally," Elizabeth told her, putting her arm around the girl's shoulders and giving her a hug.
"Uncle Nathan might not be good with words Mrs. Thornton, but he really is a good guy."
"I am aware of that," Elizabeth told her.
"Should I be concerned that the two of you are over here whispering?" Nathan asked.
Looking up, Elizabeth ad Ally found Nathan standing nearby looking in their direction.
"No," Elizabeth told him easily.
Nathan nodded, not looking at all convinced. "Well, dinner is ready," he told them.
"It was nice not to have to cook something for a change," Elizabeth commented as she handing the drawings back to Ally and got to her feet.
"As long as he keeps it simple, Uncle Nathan isn't that bad a cook," Ally interjected getting up. She placed her drawings on her Uncle's desk before following the two adults to the table.
"I'm going to choose to take that as a compliment," Nathan said as he pulled out a chair for Elizabeth.
"Thank-you," Elizabeth said softly as she sat down.
As the three of them began their dinner together, Elizabeth thought that she could easily get use to this. All that was missing was Little Jack and she knew her little boy would fit in easily to their little group. She had already seen how good Nathan was with Jack and Ally seemed to enjoy the little boy as well.
Yes, she decided, she could easily picture her future with this man and his niece when she had never even considered what a future with Lucas would look like. There would be things that they would need to figure out as they went. She knew she would need to be patient with Nathan as he learned to open himself up to someone but she was ready for those challenges.