Granted, making rounds probably wasn't necessary tonight. Most people in the area were at the Queen of Hearts. On the other hand, with folks gathered in one place, it created an opportunity for the untrustworthy element to cause trouble. Not to mention, it gave him an opportunity to escape the town on Newton and enjoy some solitude.

Nathan wished Ally hadn't found that letter. Perhaps he should have left it in the desk drawer in his office. He hadn't wanted to ruin her Christmas, and despite her claiming that it was okay and she was use to moving, Nathan knew better. He could tell she was upset. He knew that she didn't want to leave Hope Valley.

Ally had blossomed here. She had made friends and enjoyed school. His niece was happier these last few months than he had ever seen her. She was more outgoing and Ally could never have been called shy.

As much as he wanted that promotion, Ally's happiness meant more to him. Nathan just wasn't sure that his heart could take staying Hope Valley.

Nathan knew he was falling in love with Elizabeth. That had been all to clear the night they had been decorating the tree. When she had turned around and looked up at him, for a fleeting moment he had considered kissing her. Given her reaction to the situation as it was, Nathan had a feeling that the action wouldn't have been well received.

Nathan wasn't sure when it had happened. He certainly hadn't intended for it to happen. She was a fellow Mountie's widow. His intention had been to look out for her and her son. To make sure she had what she needed, though the pension provided by the force would help her financially.

However, somewhere along the way, his feelings for her had changed. Perhaps it had been the way she had invested time in Ally despite the trouble his niece had caused when she had first arrived in Hope Valley. Maybe it was her inner strength and beauty. A strength, which had led her to welcome him to Hope Valley when most of the town had been skeptical of him. He had appreciated her hand of friendship, which had gone a long way to getting others to be more receptive of him. Or perhaps it was her compassion for everyone around her. When she saw a need, she offered her help. She had a natural ability to see the good in people even when others couldn't.

Even Lucas Bouchard.

Though if he were honest with himself, Lucas Bouchard probably wasn't all that bad a guy. As Elizabeth had pointed out, the trouble with Ally probably was a misguided attempt to help the girl fit in. There was nothing inherently wrong with a magic trick, provided that it was for entertainment and not a way to con people. If Ally hadn't used the trick to take things from the other children, the card trick could have been an innocent way to make connections with her new classmates.

However, Lucas Bouchard was also interested in Elizabeth. His interest in her had already put her in danger once. Nathan didn't want to see that happen again. Nor, frankly, did he want to see the two of them together. Seeing them dance together had felt like a knife piercing his heart. It was in that moment that he realized he had fallen for Elizabeth.

If Elizabeth had feelings for Lucas, who was he to stand in her way. Lucas could offer her much more than he ever could. She had already lost one husband to the duties of the force. Did he even have the right to take that chance again?

Even lost in his thoughts, lights rising to his left caught Nathan's attention. Pulling Newton to a stop, Nathan looked in that direction. From this distance, he wasn't sure what they were but he could tell they were above the area of Hope Valley. Chances were that they were part of Lucas' festivities. Another way to dazzle people. A way to dazzle Elizabeth.

Nathan had no doubt they were doing just that. He also had a feeling that Lucas was standing right next to Elizabeth as she watched the lights with wonder and joy in her eyes.

Maybe the promotion was fate's way of telling him that it was time to move on once again.

As he hung the chart on the wall, Nathan heard the door open and close behind him. However, no one said anything so when he turned he was surprised to find Elizabeth standing not far from the door. One look at her and Nathan knew that Elizabeth new about the promotion and what it meant. She knew, and he had a feeling that it had been Ally who had told her. Nathan knew he should have anticipated this. Ally had been upset last night. Elizabeth would have picked up on that. After all, she had been able to tell something had been bothering him the last couple of days. He had been able to barely dodge the question. Nathan knew he couldn't fault Ally for wanting to pour her heart out to a sympathetic ear.

"When were you going to tell me?" Elizabeth asked. There was no mistaking the hurt in her voice.

"I was going to wait until after Christmas," Nathan admitted. "Ally, she found out by accident," he told her, not sure that would change anything. He could tell Elizabeth was upset with him and he supposed she had reason. He had kept something important from her, though it was something that he hadn't been ready to share, not even with Ally.

"Nathan, I asked you, and you told me nothing was wrong."

Nathan knew he had to try to explain things to her, but he wasn't sure he could do that. How could he make her understand without telling her the real reason he hadn't said anything? Was he ready to admit his feelings for her? He was fairly certain that she wasn't ready to hear them. The ring on her left hand was a good indicator of that.

"Because . . . because nothing is wrong," Nathan finally told her, which was barely a partial truth. Quite a bit was wrong, even though getting a promotion should be a good thing. "I applied for that job a year ago and I didn't get it, and now that I did, it just doesn't seem like there is anything holding us back."

Nathan regretted the last words as soon as he said him. There was one thing that would definitely keep him here, however, he didn't think that thing was possible. As for Ally, well there were quite a few things that would keep her in Hope Valley even if she wouldn't tell him.

""What about all the friends Ally has made here? That you've made?" Elizabeth asked him.

Nathan could hear the hurt in her voice. It was a hurt that he would do anything to fix but he wasn't sure he could. He had a feeling that even the entire truth would upset her, but perhaps the truth was what she deserved whether it upset her or not.

"The truth is Elizabeth, I'm afraid that staying might hurt too much," Nathan told her, holding her gaze. He wanted to look away but knew that he shouldn't. As kind as Elizabeth had been to him and to Ally, she deserved to know the truth. "Because, somewhere along the way, I started falling in love with you and I realize that you're probably not at the point where you could return those feelings but I'm not sure I can stay and watch you fall for someone else either."

Nathan wasn't sure what Elizabeth's reaction would be to his confession. He couldn't say he was completely surprised when she turned and walked out of the office without saying anything. Part of him wanted to follow and make sure she was okay, but instead he stood there in the middle of the office, staring at the door that hadn't quite closed all the way behind Elizabeth.

Fleeing the office, the buildings of Hope Valley were blurry as Elizabeth struggling to keep the tears welling up in here eyes at bay. She couldn't say that Nathan's confession was a total shock to her. There had been times when she had suspected he might have feelings for her but he was right. She wasn't ready to return those feelings, though she'd be lying if she said that in different circumstances she couldn't see herself falling for Nathan. He was kind and compassionate. That was obvious in the way he cared for Ally. But he was also a Mountie. Every time she saw him in that uniform just drove that fact home to her more.

However, she didn't want him to leave.

Reaching the office of the judge, Elizabeth was relieved to find Bill alone. She headed across the room to him as he stood up in surprise to her entrance. Without saying anything, she fell into Bill's arms, wanting to feel safe in the older man's fatherly embrace. As Bill wrapped his arms around her, the tears finally fell.

Bill let her cry for a time. After a few minutes though he finally spoke.

"What's wrong, Elizabeth?" Bill asked, keeping his arms around her.

"Nathan . . ."

"What about, Nathan?" Bill prompted.

Elizabeth took a deep breath, and let it out slowly, still holding on to Bill. " I found out that Nathan got a promotion and might be leaving. When I confronted him about keeping it from me, he confessed that he had feelings for me."

"I can't say I'm totally surprised by that," Bill replied. "Though, I'm not sure why that has you so upset? Do you maybe feel something for him as well?"

"No!" Elizabeth replied immediately, her thoughts going instantly to Jack. She had promised to love him forever. Even though he was gone, she still loved him. How could she be untrue to that love by loving someone else? Except that Jack had told her that he had wanted her to open her heart to love again. "Maybe?" Elizabeth tried again.

Elizabeth finally pulled away from Bill. "I think I could in time," she told Bill as she looked down at the ring she still wore. "I'm not ready to let go of the past though yet. I still miss Jack. Everything I do with Little Jack, I wish Jack could be here to share it with me. If Nathan leaves, then I might miss out on the opportunity for love again that Jack wanted for me but what right do I have to keep Nathan from pursuing a dream on a possibility."

"If Nathan truly wants to take that promotion, nothing will keep him from taking it," Bill told her. "However, I think you owe it to both of you to at least tell him that you want him to stay."

Elizabeth let Bill's words sink in. She could hear the truth in them, she just wasn't sure if she had the courage to follow through on them.

The concert had gone well despite Ally still being upset about leaving. Elizabeth sympathized with the girl. She didn't want Nathan or Ally to leave. However, she hadn't found an opportunity to tell Nathan that. She didn't know if it would make a difference, but Bill was right, she owed it to all of them to at least be honest.

Looking around the Queen of Hearts, she saw Ally with Opal but there was no sign of Nathan. Walking in Ally's direction, Elizabeth decided to ask the girl about her uncle's whereabouts.

"Hi girls," Elizabeth said approaching the table the two girls were sitting at.

"Hi, Mrs. Thornton," both of the girls replied.

"I was looking for your uncle, Ally. Do you know where he is?"

"He said he had something to do and would meet me here. He headed toward the Mercantile with Mr. Yost."

"Thank-you," Elizabeth said, turning from the table.

Elizabeth found herself heading toward the entrance of the Queen of Hearts. The only thing she could think of that he would need Ned's help with was to send a wire? Was he sending his intention to take the promotion to Mountie Headquarters?

Without bothering to retrieve her coat, Elizabeth headed outside and started walking toward the Mercantile. She met Nathan halfway there.

"Elizabeth, where is your coat?" Nathan asked her. "Is something wrong?" he asked next, concerned that something had happened to cause her to come out in the cold without her coat.

"Yes," Elizabeth replied. "I don't want you to leave. I should have told you earlier but I was trying to figure out what to say and when to do it. I don't know exactly what my feelings are for you except that I consider you a friend. I care about you but you're right, my heart isn't ready to move on yet. However, Hope Valley wouldn't be the same without you and Ally."

"What about you and Lucas?"

The questioned confused Elizabeth. "Lucas is a friend, and nothing more."

"Does he know that?" Nathan asked.

"If he doesn't, it isn't my fault. I've tried to make it clear to him that we're just friends," Elizabeth said, wrapping her arms around herself as she started to realize just how cold it was without a coat.

Noticing the action, Nathan took off his own coat and put it around Elizabeth's shoulders. "Let's get you back inside," he said. "It's too cold for you to be out here without a coat."

Elizabeth let herself be led back to the saloon. "So, what are you going to do about the promotion?" she ventured, wanting, no needing, an answer.

"I just sent a wire to headquarters turning down the promotion," Nathan admitted. "Seeing Ally tonight I realized that no matter what pain I might have to endure, I can't take her away from Hope Valley. She's made friends here and she likes it here. I can't picture her anywhere else but here."

Elizabeth gave a sigh of relief. "I'm glad," she admitted, feeling the weight of Nathan's arm across her shoulders. She still wasn't sure where she was at with her feelings but she couldn't deny that it felt nice to be this close to Nathan. That his arm across her shoulders made her feel safe.

Nathan and Ally were staying in Hope Valley and that was one of the best Christmas gifts she could receive. She wasn't sure where her feelings would take them, but she knew how Nathan felt about her and now she had time to figure things out. Elizabeth had a feeling that Nathan wouldn't rush her for that answer for which she was grateful. In the meanwhile, she would enjoy the friendship that they had developed.

"Merry Christmas, Nathan," Elizabeth said as the walked up the steps to the entrance of the Queen of Hearts.

"Merry Christmas, Elizabeth," Nathan replied, leaning down to place a quick kiss on her cheek before leading her inside.