Author's Note: This story is part of the Common Starting Point Fanfic Challenge. As the name implies, all stories in this challenge will have the same beginning. This common beginning text is in bold. As such the text in bold will appear in others stories. The bold text is used with permission of the original author and the text following the bold is the work of the author posting this story.

Inspector Nathan Grant rubbed the back of his neck as he made his way through Mountie Headquarters in Union City to his office. He had spent the last hour inspecting freight coming through Union City by railroad for one of his current open cases. This particular case involved the smuggling of stolen jewelry from stores in big cities in Eastern Canada to points out west. The operation had been discovered when a shipping crate for Thatcher Shipping Company had accidentally been dropped while moving it from one train to another. Two small canvas bags with several precious gemstone rings had come dislodged from the lid of the shipping crate. Nathan had been called in by the railroad, and two other crates in the shipment had been found to have jewelry hidden in crates of dishes and utensils.

Today, jewelry from a reported robbery in Halifax had been discovered in crates of food bound for Cape Fullerton. Having no reason to believe that William Thatcher himself was party to the smuggling operation, Nathan had been in contact with the shipping tycoon. Confiding in only his right-hand man about the incident, William Thatcher had not been able to turn up any indication that the stolen jewelry was being added to the crates at their origination in Hamilton. Unfortunately, that still did not rule out involvement by someone in the Thatcher Shipping Company organization entirely. The inside man could also be associated with the railroad or a third party altogether.

Reaching his office, Nathan hung his hat up on the hook inside the door as he walked over to his desk. He had left the contraband in the crates today. Picking up the phone, Nathan called and alerted the Mounties that were near the train's next stop. His plan was to keep tabs on the contraband and see where they disappeared.

After making the call, Nathan leaned back in his chair. He reached out for the lone photograph on his desk. The photograph was of him and Ally taken at Abigail's café just before they had left Hope Valley. While Bill had stayed quiet about the promotion until after Christmas as he had asked, once the fact became common knowledge that he would be leaving Hope Valley for Union City, Bill had set about organizing a going away party for him and Ally.

The fact that the town that had been slow to accept him when he first took the posting was now sad to see him leave had been touching. However, he didn't regret his choice. The Inspector job had been one that he had wanted. He found his new job responsibilities challenging. As for Ally, his niece seemed to have adjusted to life in the city.

Nathan placed the photograph back on his desk as the phone rang.

"Inspector Grant, I have William Thatcher for you."

William waited patiently for the Inspector to come on the line, using the time to study the file in front of him. He had little news to report on his end of the jewelry investigation, and hoped the police had more leads. Even just the threat of illegal activity could ruin the reputation of the company he had spent most of his life building, first under his father and then on his own. He had always planned to turn the reins over to his own son someday, but the Lord had given him daughters. If the world were a different place, he may have considered leaving it to Elizabeth or Julie, who were in turn practical and outrageous enough to succeed. He knew his eldest daughter, ever the proper society lady, would have been appalled at the offer. As it stood now, he was holding out hope of passing it on to Elizabeth's son someday, if the boy were raised properly.

Which brought him back to the reports on his desk. While he had been in frequent contact with Nathan Grant due to the ongoing investigation, William was genuinely interested in the younger man. Impressed even. He had not said anything to the Inspector, but he had been aware of the man's name and reputation even before their paths crossed in the investigation, as Elizabeth spoke and wrote of him frequently. William had been certain that she would choose the Mountie in that ridiculous feud for her affections, and while the prospect had worried him at first, now that he had worked with and spoken to the man on numerous occasions, he wished his usually reasonable daughter would admit her mistake and try to work things out. That Nathan Grant was the better man was abundantly clear.

Until now, William had held off on having his daughter's intended investigated. When he learned the man was officially courting Elizabeth, he had hoped for some sort of overture, but Lucas Bouchard never wrote or said a word, not even to introduce himself and ask for Elizabeth's hand. They had been engaged for a few weeks now, and still there had been no attempt to start forming even the slightest bond with his new family. William knew more about the man whose heart Elizabeth had broken than he did the one she had supposedly given hers to.

It was for her own good, and for the well-being and safety of his grandchild, that he was determined to learn more. He'd put a call into the NWMP to request some information, but also made arrangements for a trip to Hope Valley. While Elizabeth continued to excuse Lucas's silence as being "too busy", William was going to prove to the insolent man that there is always time. Thatcher Shipping, the largest transport company in the country, was far more important than a small town oil company and a saloon, but even it could wait. Family was more important than money.

"Mr. Thatcher," Nathan's voice finally came over the line. "How can I help you?"

"I was hoping you had some good news about my shipping crates," William replied.

Nathan shared a few details about the day's finds, on the chance that Mr. Thatcher would make some kind of connection between the jeweler in Halifax and the grocer in Cape Fullerton. When that didn't happen, they settled into conversation. Nathan was surprised to hear of Mr. Thatcher's plans to visit Hope Valley, though he agreed it would be good for Elizabeth and Jack to see him.

"Any chance you will be back to visit, too?" William asked. "It would be nice to put a face to the name."

Nathan sighed. "Not likely, sir. I am in the middle of the investigation and…"

"And you're not ready yet," William finished quietly. "You're not ready to see Elizabeth again." When the younger man said nothing, William continued. "I think I know more about your situation than you realize."

"Is that right, sir?"

It was William's turn to sigh. "I know that my daughter hurt you, badly."

Nathan ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. This wasn't a conversation he had planned to have, especially with Elizabeth's father, but he felt a surprisingly comfortable connection to the man. "It wasn't just me, Sir. If that were the case, I might understand. But the way she devastated my daughter…"

"Please explain."

Nathan took a deep breath and let it out slowly before he spoke. "Elizabeth is great with all of her students. It's clear to anyone who just walks past the classroom how much she cares for them. But she took a special interest in Allie. I know she believes she was helping, but Elizabeth intentionally made herself a mother figure to Allie and not just once or twice, but over and over again. Helping us find and decorate our Christmas tree. Making cupcakes together. Chaperoning a sleepover. Inviting Allie to stay with her when I had to go on an assignment. Offering to go for a family dinner at the café, all four of us. For nearly three years she put herself into my daughter's life beyond the usual limits of student and teacher. When Allie started to treat her like a mother, to expect her love and attention as a mother…. Suddenly all those things were just misdirected memories of her first husband. She saw me as only a shadow of Jack, and Allie became a casualty of her delusions. Then she started courting with Mr. Bouchard, kissing him on the street and in the classroom-"

"My daughter was kissing a man who was not her husband, in her classroom?! In front of the children?!" William was horrified.

"According to my daughter and her friends, yes, Sir. I didn't see that particular instance, but the kisses in the café, the library, the saloon, on the boardwalk… Elizabeth broke both of our hearts, then seemed to think that everything was normal, like she and I would be the best of friends and that Allie would still go to her as a maternal figure. To be completely honest, sir, Elizabeth is the reason we left Hope Valley. This promotion could not have come back up at a better time, and as long as she's there, I don't think we'll be returning."

William was silent for a moment, absorbing these new revelations. "As her father, I offer my sincerest apologies. I assure you, she was raised better than that. I'll let you get back to work, son."

"Good night, sir."


Elizabeth Thornton read the essay in front of her for the third time and was once again distracted before the end of the first paragraph. It wasn't Opal's essay that was causing Elizabeth to lose focus, but how it kept reminding her of the conversation she had overheard as Opal, Emily, and some of the other girls were leaving at the end of the day.

"I wish Allie were here," Opal sighed. "You know she would have loved this writing assignment."

"I wish she were here, too," Emily agreed. "You can bet that Timmy and Harper would have had a lot less fun chasing us with snowballs at recess today."

"Do you think she misses us?" Opal asked.

The door to the schoolhouse had closed behind them before Elizabeth could here Emily's answer, though she imagined Allie was missing her Hope Valley friends as much as they were her.

"At least the girls got the chance to say good-bye," Elizabeth grumbled. Neither Allie nor Na—her father had mentioned anything about another promotion offer and move to Union City. Elizabeth had left town right after Christmas for a brief book tour with Lucas and Helen Bouchard, and that's when the news broke back in Hope Valley. The Grants had departed before they returned. While Lucas had just shrugged it off, Elizabeth was crushed. Allie was one of her favorite students, and Na—Constable Grant had been one of her dearest friends.

Thankfully, her son had been able to attend the Grants' farewell party. She had left Jack with Lee and Rosemary, at Lucas's insistence. He had complained repeatedly that the boy would be in the way on the book tour, and rather than argue with him again, she reluctantly agreed to leave her son behind. She never imagined anything so major would happen in the week they were gone. Upon her return, Jack had told her sadly how 'Na-tan' had hugged him good-bye and told him he would miss him. He even gave the boy a stuffed horse, claiming it belonged with the Mountie toy he'd given him last year. Jack hadn't slept or gone anywhere without the horse since.

Lucas had laughed, stating that Nathan and Allie would have too much going on with their move and new assignment to think about anyone back in Hope Valley, causing Jack to burst into tears and run to his room. When Elizabeth followed him, disregarding Lucas's demand that she leave the boy alone, she found her son sobbing miserably into his pillow. "I know that Na-tan loves me! He will miss me! I want Na-tan and Allie to come back. I want him to be my new Daddy! I don't like Mr. Lucas!"

Elizabeth sighed, shaking herself out of the memory. She shifted Opal's essay to the bottom of the stack and started Timmy's. "It's for the best. I'm moving on with Lucas and Na—the Grants are making a new life in Union City. They deserve this promotion. They've earned it."

And apparently there's nothing holding them here in Hope Valley.

The next couple of weeks brought more tension in Elizabeth and Lucas's relationship.

Elizabeth was frustrated that Lucas had gone back to basically ignoring young Jack. He had included the boy in a few outings while they were courting, but once she accepted his proposal, had reverted back to pretending her son didn't exist. After much pleading, he had agreed to watch Jack while she was at Rosemary's baby shower. Elizabeth wanted her son to start developing a relationship with his new stepfather, hoping they'd grow closer. Lucas gave the boy lunch, just as she had instructed, but there was little interaction. He refused to get down on the floor to play, and Jack wasn't inclined to or capable of regular conversation. Lucas sat at the table reading the paper while Jack played with his food. He didn't even look up as he sternly told the child to be quiet and to go get cleaned up.

"You're not my Daddy!" Jack exclaimed, swinging his plate as he swept everything within reach off the table.

Lucas was caught completely off guard. The teacup he was lifting to his lips was struck by Jack's plate, smashing to pieces and spilling its contents all over his suit. Remnants of the boy's sandwich landed in Lucas' lap, and milk from his cup spread across the table and dripped on the floor.

"I want Mama!" Jack glared, remorseless and grumpy.

Lee heard the crash from outside, as well as Lucas's shouts, and let himself in. He volunteered to watch Jack and clean up both the boy and the kitchen, knowing that Lucas would be eager to change out of his soiled clothes. He explained everything to Elizabeth when she got home, then left to help Rosemary get all the gifts from their car into the house.

Things went from bad to worse when Elizabeth met Lucas at the saloon for dinner and he shared his plans for their future together.

"Bethie, darling, none of this will matter once we are settled in Union City." Personally, he hoped they saw a lot of their former Constable, so he could lord his victory over the man.

"Please don't call me 'Bethie'," Elizabeth pleaded. "And what is this about Union City? Our home is here in Hope Valley. My job, your businesses, our friends, they are all here."

"Don't be silly, Bethie," Lucas crooned, ignoring her request. "Once we're married, you won't have to teach anymore. You'll be too busy hosting all of our new friends, not to mention writing your next book. Mother has already told me what she wants you to do for that one."

Elizabeth glared. "First, do not call me 'Bethie'. I hate that nickname. Second, I am not going to move or stop teaching just because I get married. Jack never asked-"

"Forget about Jack!" Lucas shouted, losing his temper. "That part of your life is over. It's behind you. He's not an issue anymore. You don't ever need to think or speak of him again."

Elizabeth stared in disbelief and shock for a moment before rising to her feet. "Jack will always be a part of my life."

"Beth—Elizabeth, be reasonable," Lucas tried to soothe. "Moving to Union City will be fresh start, a new life, just the two of us."

"You mean the three of us," Elizabeth countered.

Lucas scoffed. "There are ways to prevent having babies. Perhaps sometime down the road we can consider having a child, but there won't be room in our life for them right now."

"Have you forgotten we already have a child?"

Lucas shook his head, his voice taking on a placating tone. "Of course, I have not forgotten about your son," he assured her. "Mother and I have already started making arrangements. There is an excellent boarding school in Hamilton that accepts children Jack's age and they've agreed to hold a place for him. Mother will take him to Stoneridge when you and I leave on our honeymoon."

"You really don't care about him at all, do you?' Elizabeth asked incredulously. "And you obviously don't care about me, or you wouldn't be making plans behind my back to send my child away to boarding school. How dare you?" She gathered her coat and started towards the door. "I can assure you, my son and I are staying right here in Hope Valley."

"Be reasonable, darling," Lucas replied, reaching for her hand. "You can't really expect me to just become the boy's father. And you and I need some time for ourselves."

Elizabeth snatched her hand away. "Funny thing. That's exactly what I was expecting. That the man I marry, a man who claims to love me, would love all of me, including the most important person in my world."

"I should be the most important person in your world!"

Elizabeth slammed the door behind her on the way out.

Things were still tense between them when they joined the Coulters for dinner a few days later, Laura having agreed to stay late and watch Jack. Lucas spent most of the evening paying more attention to the papers in front of him than his dining companions. Elizabeth and Rosemary were discussing the new Mountie that was due to arrive any day now when he briefly rejoined the conversation.

"He's a man in a red uniform, nothing special. One Mountie is the same as any other. I just hope this one knows his place better than his predecessor."

"How can you say that?" Elizabeth scolded.

Lucas merely raised a brow at her before standing to leave. "You said the same thing that day at the jail when you finally told Constable Grant he'd lost."

"I did no such thing!" Elizabeth argued. She glared after him and then turned to face her friends, certain they would come to her defense

"Actually, that is exactly what you said to Nathan," Rosemary pointed out cautiously. "You told him he was nothing more than a shadow of Jack, that you couldn't see him as his own man."

"That's not what I meant!" Elizabeth insisted. "I had to say something, anything, to protect myself."

"What did you need to protect yourself from?" Lee asked, confused. "Surely you weren't afraid of Nathan."

"Not of him," Elizabeth admitted. "I know Nathan would never deliberately hurt me. He's perfect, except for his job. A job that means he doesn't always have a say in where he goes and what he does. The Mounties could send him on a new assignment whenever they want. They did give him a new assignment."

"They offered him a promotion, not a new assignment," Rosemary pointed out. The Coulters were both silent for a moment before Rosemary added, "You told me yourself that he offered to quit the Mounties for you and Allie. By your logic, that would make Nathan perfect for you. But he's not the man you chose."