Elizabeth rang the cowbell, dismissing the students for the day. Sure enough, as soon as she had mentioned the Hope Valley Theater, all of the boys and girls had gotten very excited about the prospective of their artwork on the walls. They were still talking about it as the exited the schoolhouse. Elizabeth smiled at their excitement. Her smile grew larger as she noticed Nathan coming inside.

"Hi," Elizabeth said softly. "I'm glad to see you."

Nathan kissed Elizabeth gently, bringing her into a tight embrace. "Not half as glad as I am to see you."

"What's wrong?" Elizabeth pulled away. She caught a tightness in Nathan's voice that had not been there in quite a long time. Not since they had begun courting.

"I learned something today," Nathan looked deep into Elizabeth's eyes. Seeing the slight fear and trepidation, Nathan brought his hand to her cheek, cupping it and rubbing with his thumb. "It is nothing bad, at least I do not think it is. But I want us going into marriage with nothing hidden from each other. This is one of those times." He felt Elizabeth lean into his hand. "Take a walk with me?"

"Always," Elizabeth smiled. "Let me grab my coat and we can go around the pond."

"Our spot," Nathan smiled. "But anywhere with you is my favorite spot, Lizabeth."

Nathan felt Elizabeth shivering against him. He knew only part of it was from the cold. Indeed, with the sun shining and reflecting off the snow, some might say the weather felt springlike. However, for as strong as she was, Nathan knew Elizabeth was struggling with the mysterious air he had given off. The last thing he wanted was to keep his darling fiancée in distress.

"I found out Hope Valley was not the town's original name," Nathan began. So much for any easing into the conversation.

Elizabeth laughed. "Is that all?" She playfully smacked Nathan's shoulder. "Hope Valley's name is what got me so alarmed?"

"No, you did that on your own," Nathan kissed her temple.

"Yes, Hope Valley had a different name when I first came here. It was Coal Valley, inspired by the coal mining that dominated the town. We renamed it Hope Valley after some time had gone by. When everyone was feeling more hopeful, new infrastructure came in with Lee and the sawmill. It was a good change."

Nathan swallowed hard. "I wonder what I would have thought. If my posting had gone through and I had been here."

Elizabeth stopped in her tracks. "Your posting? What are you talking about?"

Nathan met Elizabeth's gaze. "I was supposed to come to Coal Valley nine years ago."

Elizabeth stared. "No, Jack came to Coal Valley…"

Nathan interrupted Elizabeth. "He came instead of me. Instead of arriving here, I went home to take care of Ally instead. I later found out the posting had been filled."

Elizabeth did not know what to say. Nathan should have been the one to be in Coal Valley all those years ago? Her meeting Jack only happened because Nathan had turned down the posting? Everything that had been her life's story for so many years could have had an entirely different outcome.

"Lizabeth," Nathan's voice filled the quiet air. "Please say something."

"You didn't know?"

Nathan gave into a look of exasperation. "No, of course I didn't know. I didn't know that the woman I love with all my heart could have been in my life so long ago. That this town could have been my home for a lot longer." As he rambled on, Nathan found himself smiling as well. "But I cannot dwell on that, Elizabeth, I cannot. I fulfilled another duty—that of being a brother. I took care of Ally when she had no one. I do not regret my actions for one single moment. Yet if you think I would have hidden something from you for fear of what you would think…."

Elizabeth rushed over to Nathan and embraced him, much like she did that day of the shooting. "I am sorry. I never meant to imply that you would hide something from me." She stopped speaking so she could hear Nathan's heart beating, in tandem with hers. Even then they were in sync. "I must admit, it's a lot to take in, knowing that you could have been here years ago. My guess is that when you turned down the posting, my father got wind of it and insisted another Mountie be brought in instead."

"Jack." Nathan replied.

"Yes," Elizabeth said simply. "Jack." Elizabeth closed her eyes and for a moment went back in time. Back to her first meeting with Jack and how he very much wanted to leave Hope Valley. But he did not and instead, Elizabeth and he had had a wonderful love story. A story that had been crucial for one very important piece—Little Jack.

Elizabeth opened her eyes and looked at the man staring in front of her. As always, he was communicating with his eyes. Love, concern, compassion were all intermingled. In so many ways, Nathan Grant knew Elizabeth better than Jack had. In their years of courtship, Jack had been gone for months at a time on assignment. Nathan was always in Hope Valley. Jack had known the naïve girl; Nathan knew the confident woman who had been touched by love and loss—much like he had himself.

Elizabeth raised her lips to Nathan and gave him a kiss, doing her best to communicate her feelings. "You have always been so understanding and supportive about my memories of Jack. I could choose to be sad because you didn't come to Hope Valley but I will not. I am who I am today because of Jack Thornton and because of my son. Nathan, we get to be a blended family because of the paths we have taken. It has all been for a reason."

Nathan took Elizabeth in his arms and kissed her more deeply, more passionately, than before. Never had there been a woman who understood him quite like Elizabeth. How he was ready to marry this woman!

"You took that a lot better than I anticipated." Nathan spoke into her hair.

"Bill once told you I'm stronger than I look," Elizabeth giggled. "Besides, if I can handle you being a Mountie, I most definitely can handle a piece of news like that. Especially when circumstances were out of either of ours control."

"I want to tell you about Colleen," Nathan remarked. "You have never asked me about how she died."

"I figured that you would tell me when you wanted to. Talking about grief is difficult and not everyone understands that pain."

Now it was Nathan's turn to go back in time, back to what took him home. "I want to tell you now."

"Remember that day in the woods and I was upset with you for going after Emily?" Nathan took Elizabeth's hand and started to walk once more. Walking helped him process his emotions.

"You showed a passion I had never seen in you," Elizabeth admitted. "I was a little taken aback with how you spoke so strongly about how we both could have died."

"I felt that way because of Colleen," Nathan looked straight ahead, towards the woody horizon. "Ally and Colleen were visiting my mom and apparently, Jesse Walker decided to make an appearance."

"Ally's biological father," Elizabeth shook her head as she remembered that horrible man. She said a quick prayer of thanksgiving that Nathan had been awarded custody and parental rights to Ally.

"He hadn't seen my sister in three months which apparently, my mom later told me, was normal. If only I had known."

"You cannot blame yourself," Elizabeth stated emphatically.

"You sound like Colleen," Nathan sighed. "You and she would have been as thick as thieves." Nathan continued on with his story. "Jesse came back in search of a hot meal and my sister's bed, only this time, my mother refused to let Jesse near Colleen. But on that day, Colleen insisted upon speaking with Jesse. Apparently, it did not go well and Jesse took off on his horse, Satan, into the woods around my mother's house."

"Colleen went after him, even though there was a storm coming up. You know as well as anyone, my dear Lizabeth, how quickly storms can come up." Nathan could not resist the playful jab at Elizabeth. "There was a dead tree in the forest and with a gust of wind, it came down. On Colleen."

"Oh Nathan!" Elizabeth gasped in horror. "How awful!"

"I will be forever grateful that Ally was down for a nap as the following occurred." Nathan let a tear run down his face. "Colleen was able to wiggle free from underneath the tree enough so my mother could drag her into the house. A neighbor had seen the tree come down and helped bring her inside to her room."

"Where was Jesse?" Elizabeth asked, already knowing the answer.

"Oh he was long gone," Nathan spat out. "I don't know if he witnessed the tree coming down and chose to ignore it or if he spirited away on Satan. I just know he wasn't there."

"After the neighbor got Colleen settled into the house, he ran out for the doctor. My mother did her best to make her comfortable with what she had but Colleen absolutely needed a doctor's care. Initially, my mother only thought there was head trauma. Once the doctor arrived, though, it was revealed to be otherwise. You see, apparently Colleen was pregnant and was trying to tell Jesse about the baby when he left."

"She was pregnant?" Elizabeth could hardly believe the words.

"The doctor heard no heartbeat. I guess the blunt force trauma caused a miscarriage and she bled a lot. She also had a massive concussion that was soon causing her to drift in and out of consciousness." Nathan paused for a moment. "It was then that the doctor advised my mom to send for me."

"So you came," Elizabeth said simply. "I can imagine you doing it without a second thought."

"Honestly, Lizabeth, I remember that day like yesterday. I was actually packing for Coal Valley when I got the wire. I immediately grabbed my bags and travelled day and night until I got home. I prayed so many prayers that I would make it home in time. And I did. Ally did not understand what was going on with her mother. I remember her saying "Momma has a boo boo" and begging me to read her Squirrel Nutkin."

Nathan could not contain his emotions any longer. He turned to Elizabeth and hugged her, allowing the tears to fall onto her hair. He had never relived this time so in depth with any person before. It was cathartic that someone knew the heartbreak he was carrying and had been carrying for so long.

"My sister hung on while I read to Ally, as I played with Ally. I took Ally in my arms before I put her to sleep and had her give Colleen a kiss. Colleen kept her forehead on Ally's for so long; I know she was saying goodbye. After Ally went to bed, both my mother and I stayed at Colleen's bedside. I hadn't shaved in my two day's journey. I had not even thought of eating. I just held my sister's hand. It was then that she asked me to take care of Ally for her, to love her and protect her from all harm. After that, Colleen pointed to the guitar my mother always kept in the corner of the house and silently asked me to play. So I did. I played Danny Boy, my mother and her's favorite song."

"You played Danny Boy?" Elizabeth stopped dead in her tracks, realizing yet another instance her life and Nathan's life were forever entwined. "The day Jack went to the Northern Territories, the students had a music recital and I almost did not sing myself. I had promised I would but I was too overcome with sadness. Yet I channeled it into my singing and "Danny Boy" was the song I sang."

Nathan could not say anything for a moment. "I haven't sung that song since that day," he admitted. "I watched my sister close her eyes and never open them again."

"How did you tell Ally that Colleen had died?"

"When Ally woke up," Nathan continued, "the first thing she did was ask to see her mom. I took her in my lap and said that Mommy had gone to Heaven and would be an angel looking over her. Ally cried, went over to kiss Colleen's cheek, and then came running into my arms. The rest of the day she refused to let go and it was then, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that coming home was the right decision."

Nathan turned to face Elizabeth once more. "That's the story. No. That's my story."

"Thank you," Elizabeth said simply. "Thank you for sharing that with me. Every future time we speak of it, please, my dear Nathan, remember that in the midst of the pain, there is joy. You have a beautiful daughter. Colleen would be proud."

"Thanks," Nathan said. "I sure hope so. I can tell you that by talking this out, by sharing every part of me, I feel able to do something I haven't done in nine long years."

"What's that?" Elizabeth smiled, thankful that she could be a source of Nathan's strength.

"Wait and see."

The evening had been fairly subdued. Nathan and Elizabeth were both lost in thought over the course of the day. Ally seemed to know something was different over dinner. Her dad had not noticed how horribly oversalted the soup she had made was. Or if he did he did not say anything.

"Are you alright, Dad?" Ally questioned.

"I am fine," Nathan smiled. "I have just been thinking about life and the crazy twists and turns it can take sometimes."

"When we are a family," Ally smiled at the thought, "will we ever have the twist and turn of leaving Hope Valley?"

Before Elizabeth could interject, Nathan immediately remembered the news that had taken him to Bill's office in the first place. "No," Nathan walked over to retrieve the wire from his jacket. "As a matter of fact, I have received permanent placement orders from Headquarters. Until I say otherwise, Hope Valley is home. There is work for me to do here."

Ally and Elizabeth rushed to wrap their arms around Nathan. Little Jack followed suit, even though he had no idea what everyone was hugging about. Ally had hoped marriage would mean stability and Elizabeth hadn't even thought about moving. She had taken for granted Nathan's desire to settle down in Hope Valley with her meant the whole town.

"What about your career, Dad?" Ally asked. "You have worked so hard and you have already turned down a promotion once."

"Sometimes," Nathan looked to each member of his family, both current and future, "you let go of a dream because there is an even better one lying around the corner. You all are my dream." Nathan then walked over to the guitar. "You, Ally, helped create one of the greatest chapters of my life. Today, I was reminded of how no moment in life is wasted—painful ones included. For a long time, I didn't play this song because it hurt too much, but now, I want to remember to be thankful for the pain. It brought me here. It brought you here."

Nathan proceeded to play the opening notes of Danny Boy. A knowing look passed between himself and Elizabeth. "Would you sing with me?"

Elizabeth nodded. "I can't promise that I will make it through. You see, Ally, this song is a special one for me too."

Ally sat back, nodding, realizing she was in the middle of an almost sacred moment. She held Little Jack close and rocked him as Nathan and Elizabeth harmonized.

Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side.
The summer's gone, and all the roses falling,
It's you, it's you must go and I must bide.

But come ye back when summer's in the meadow,
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow,
It's I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow,
Oh, Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so!

But when ye come, and all the flowers are dying,
If I am dead, as dead I well may be,
You'll come and find the place where I am lying,
And kneel and say an Ave there for me.
And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me,
And all my grave will warmer, sweeter be,
For you will bend and tell me that you love me,
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me!