AN: This story is part of the Common Starting Point Fanfic Challenge for October. 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.

Standing at the window, Nathan took in the view outside. Brilliant leaves rustled softly in the breeze. The bright sunshine seemed only to enhance the red, yellow and oranges of the leaves. Not an artist himself, Nathan could still appreciate nature's artwork. To an artist eye, like Allie's, he was sure that joy would be much greater.

Yes, Allie, Nathan thought to himself. I understand now why you wanted to get married in this season.

Continuing to watch out the window, Nathan was glad Mother Nature was cooperating with more than just the colorful backdrop for the day. Instead of getting ready in town at the selected venue, Allie had insisted on getting ready at home and walking to the venue with him. Her reasoning was that she wanted one last walk with him while she was just his daughter and not his daughter as well as someone's wife. While he knew he would be thankful for these last precious moments with his daughter, Nathan had been worried about the autumn weather's cooperation. Rain would have dampened their plans, both now and if it had rained beforehand. Walking in the mud could have spoiled the dress. If it had been too dry, the walk could have been dusty which still would not have done the dress any favors.

But Mother Nature had cooperated. The rain of a couple days ago had settled the dust while allowing time for the ground to dry to a nice walking surface. Only a few puffy white clouds marred the blue sky. They would have good weather to enjoy their walk into town. Nathan knew he would still be mindful of Allie's attire as they walked. As bittersweet as it was, he still wanted nothing to mar his little girl's day.

Ever aware of his surroundings since becoming a Mountie, Nathan heard footsteps in the upstairs hallway and turned from the window. Facing the stairs, Nathan was watching as Allie stepped onto the first step. On her head was a wreath of red, orange and yellow flowers that matched the leaves outside. Her cream-colored satin dress was the same one Colleen had worn for her wedding. The fitted bodice, covered in lace with a rose pattern on it, flared out to a full skirt in a U-shaped waistline. Allie looked every bit as pretty in it as his sister had. Nathan just hoped Allie's marriage was happier than Colleen's had turned out to be.

"You should probably breathe," Allie commented as she made her way down the steps, making Nathan realize he was holding his breath.

Nathan took a breath and gave a nervous chuckle. Allie was apparently more relaxed than he was today. He reached out a hand to her as Allie approached the bottom of the stairs. Slipping her hand in his, Allie allowed him to help her down the last few steps.

"You look so much like your mother," Nathan told her. "It seems like only yesterday I was walking her down the aisle. I wish she could be here with us."

Leaning in, Allie pressed a kiss to Nathan's cheek. "She is, in spirit," she told him.

Nathan simply nodded, not trusting his voice right then. Reaching for Allie's shawl, he carefully draped it over her shoulders before offering her his arm. Allie slipped her arm through his and Nathan led her from the house and toward her future.

They passed a few people as they got closer to town, and while everyone waved or called a greeting, no one stopped the pair as they strolled leisurely towards the church. They spoke some, admiring the leaves and expressing their thanks that Nathan hadn't been pulled out of town for any extended investigations; both of them knew there was always the possibility. Allie assured him she would have rescheduled rather than not have him there to walk her down the aisle.

They also spent a good portion of the walk in silence. Allie was dreaming of her future in a new town with her new husband, and starting her job as a teacher, as well as dreading saying goodbye to her father, family, and friends in Hope Valley. Nathan was enjoying these last moments with "his" girl. He approved whole-heartedly of the marriage and knew that Robert would respect and adore Allie and any children they welcomed into their lives, but the day was bittersweet. A couple of hours from now, he would have to share her with another man.

"You know I'm just going to be a short drive away, right?" Allie said, breaking the silence and studying her dad carefully. "I can come home whenever you need me."

Nathan smiled and shrugged. "I'm always going to need you, Allie, but you have your own life now. I'll be alright here."

Allie was quiet for a moment. "But I can still come home whenever I want to, right?" she asked quietly. "You're not going to give my room away, or anything?"

Nathan stopped, pulling her carefully into a hug. "You will always have a place in my house, Allie. No matter what happens, no matter where you go or how long you're away, you will always be my family."

"And you won't be too lonely here without me?"

Nathan laughed now. "I survived your years away at college, didn't I?"

"Barely," she teased back. "I seem to recall stories of burnt dinners and no clean laundry."

"Hey, that dinner was the fault of the new stove, and I was called away on an assignment before I could get to the laundry," he defended. "It got done."

Allie joined his laughter before adding, "You have a phone at the house now, so we can still talk every day." Nathan could sense that she too was struggling with the idea of them being apart. From the day he'd become her guardian, it had always been the two of them. Others had come and gone from their lives, but they had remained each other's constant.

Until now.

Allie stopped as they came to the path up to the church. "This is it," she said softly.

"Are you ready?" Nathan asked. Part of him wanted her to say 'no', to say that she didn't want to leave him, didn't want things to change. But the logical part of him knew that this day was inevitable, and that it was for the best. Allie had grown into a beautiful, intelligent, incredible young woman, and it was time to share her with the rest of the world.

Even if it broke his heart.

The ceremony itself was simple but beautiful. Allie was still not one for frills and formality, so the church was decorated modestly with colorful leaves and bright autumn flowers. She had threatened harm to anyone who hung lace or bows. The entire town turned out to see two of its favorite children pledge their love and start their life together. Robert stood, awestruck, at the end of the aisle, and Nathan felt Allie's hand on his arm shake a bit as they drew closer to him, but he had never seen her face glow so brightly. Then he was placing her hand in Robert's and stepping aside, taking his seat in the front row. Keeping things simple, Allie had Robert's younger sister as her only attendant, and Cody Stanton stood beside Robert. Their vows were heartfelt and brief, Joseph Canfield blessed their union and led prayers for their continued joy and happiness, they kissed, and it was over.

Nathan's little girl was now someone's wife.

They had decided to have the reception in the meadow surrounding Allie's favorite fishing spot. Not only was it a peaceful, beautiful site, but it was also where she and Robert had shared their first kiss. Allie couldn't think of a more special place to celebrate the start of their life together and would have had the wedding itself there if her dad hadn't insisted on the church. They had made alternate arrangements to use the saloon if Mother Nature had been less than cooperative, but luck was on their side. The logistics of getting food, beverages, benches, chairs, and tables out to meadow was a challenge, but with Rosemary leading the planning it was quickly worked out. Nathan, Lee, Jesse, and most of the men in town had spent the previous day moving every available seat and table. Bill, Abigail, and Minnie organized an enormous picnic-like meal, with food and drinks that would travel well and could be enjoyed hot or cold. There was room to dance, and Rosemary had volunteered her record player for music. It would be simple and sweet, exactly what the new couple wanted.

Robert had, in Allie's teenage words, "like liked" Anna for a few years, but they broke up shortly after he left for the academy. Since he and Allie had remained friends, they continued to correspond. She knew about Mountie life and understood much of what he was feeling, since her dad had shared his emotions and experiences with her. They developed real, lasting feelings for one another while she was away at college, and when he was home on leave before his first assignment he had proposed.

Allie and Robert were, at Rosemary's insistence, to be driven as close as possible to the meadow, to avoid any damage to her dress. Some of the families chose to drive wagons or ride out, while Nathan led the group walking there. Everyone enjoyed Mother Nature's fall splendor.

Nathan felt the familiar tug at his heart as he watched Elizabeth walk slowly into the meadow on Lucas's arm. His eyes narrowed as he watched the other man help her over a stone in the path, her heavily pregnant belly making it difficult for her to navigate the uneven ground. The two children dashing back and forth excitedly in front of them didn't help. Cries of "Mom! Come see this!" and "Mama, huwwee!" echoed across the glade.

"Thatcher, you be careful! I don't want you to fall into the pond. The fish and all the little creatures will still be there tomorrow, when you aren't wearing your best suit. And Collette, sweetheart, Mama is moving as fast as she can, but your little brother or sister is making it difficult." She paused, looking around the meadow until she met Nathan's eyes.

The children followed her gaze and turned, running gleefully to hug him as if they hadn't seen him in days instead of just the time it took Lucas to drive them and Elizabeth out from town. "Daddy!"

Collette had been very unhappy that she wasn't allowed to accompany Allie and Nathan on their walk to the church. Jack hadn't been much better, but he was old enough to understand that as much as Allie and Nathan loved him, that time was just for them. Elizabeth tried to make the car rides into town with Lee and Rosemary and then out to the meadow with Lucas into something special for the younger children. Thatcher had thoroughly enjoyed himself, and Collette warmed up to the idea. Jack had been fine with the Coulters, but refused to ride with Mr. Bouchard, choosing instead to walk. He still remembered the feelings of being left behind during his mother's brief courtship with Lucas. Nathan, on the other hand, he adored. As far back as he could remember, the tall man in red serge had always cared for him, stopping to talk or play and often bringing small gifts like carved toys and interesting rocks, even before he and Elizabeth started courting. When they married, Jack was thrilled, and before he started school asked if he could take his new father's name. He was proud to be Jack Thornton Grant.

Lucas had agreed to attend the Grant-Wolf nuptials mostly because everyone else in Hope Valley was. And because, no matter how he felt about her father, he had a soft spot for Allie, still seeing the mischievous girl who hid in the saloon and used card tricks to try to win over the children at school. Now, watching Elizabeth and Nathan kiss each other in greeting before turning to form a receiving line with Allie, Robert, Jack, and the children, he wondered why he'd bothered.

He had made peace with the fact that Elizabeth had chosen Nathan. While he didn't like to lose, there was only so much he could do. Eventually, he had even begun courting someone else. When that ended abruptly and badly, he had retreated back to his old habit of taunting Nathan, flaunting wealth and opportunities that the Mountie would never be able to offer his family. Perhaps it was childish and petty, but it gave him something to focus on besides how broken his heart and spirit were.

But such comments were definitely out of place at Allie Grant's wedding reception, a fact he realized a few seconds too late.

The laughter and gaiety of the celebration was broken by the sound of a hard slap and a loud splash. Everyone turned to see Lucas flailing around in the pond until he finally managed to pull himself onto a log.

"Aren't you going to help me?" he exclaimed, glaring expectantly at the town's Mountie. Robert stepped closer, prepared to enter the water himself rather than allowing his father-in-law to ruin his suit, but Nathan waved him back.

"Of course," Nathan replied, stepping closer but staying far enough away to keep his shoes dry. "Put your feet down."

"What!" Lucas sputtered, the log bobbing underneath him.

Jack stepped up beside his father. "It's only about two or three feet deep there. Just stand up."

Lucas scowled as he did as instructed, trudging bitterly towards the shore, his face flushed with embarrassment and pond weeds clinging to his suit, hair, and ascot.

"Perhaps that will teach you a little respect," Julie Thatcher hissed, glaring at him for several seconds before turning with a huff and going to sit beside her sister on one of the benches. Lucas stared after her for a moment, torn between defending himself and beating a hasty retreat.

"Careful," Jesse Flynn warned as he handed Lucas a blanket to wrap up in as he squished and squelched his way back to his car. "She looks angry enough to push you in again. What did you say to her anyway?"

Lucas's scowl deepened. "It's nothing."

Jesse stared back at him, eyebrows raised in curiosity. "It was clearly something," he stated. "Weren't the two of you courting? What happened there?"

Lucas grumbled under his breath and got into his car. Jesse, not one to be ignored, called after him. "That's alright! I can just ask her myself!" Chuckling, he turned and headed back to his own wife and son.

"What happened?" Elizabeth asked sympathetically.

Julie had stormed over and sat beside her and Collette in a dramatic huff. While her daughter giggled with amusement, Elizabeth worried there was more to that little scene than just Lucas's comment about Nathan. In the last few years, she and Nathan had grown accustomed to Lucas's comments and digs, all insinuating that Nathan had done something underhanded to win her love. In reality, he had done nothing but be himself—caring, compassionate, patient, and steadfast. He had given her the time and space she needed to work through her grief over Jack, never pushing her into 'pretend dates' or trying to buy her affection with a library, festivals, and book readings. That he and Allie had forgiven her for all the things she'd said and done while her heart was being controlled by grief and confusion was a miracle, and she thanked God for them every day. Watching their eldest daughter get married, their sons chasing each other around the meadow, their younger daughter dozing at her side, and feeling their baby kick inside her were greater gifts than any trip or jewel. And until recently, Lucas's comments had held less bitterness and more of a teasing note, leading them to believe he had finally moved on from his infatuation.

Julie reached over, tickling her niece where she lay with her head on what was left of her mother's lap. They giggled and played for a few minutes before Julie finally met her sister's gaze. "I thought he liked me," she admitted. "But he was just trying to get your attention."

Elizabeth studied her sister carefully. Her ever-bright cheer was gone and the sparkle in her eyes had dimmed. "And do you like him?" she asked gently, still uncertain where her sister's affections lie.

Julie frowned. "I thought I did. He can be so charming and charismatic, and he has money, even if it's not as much as Father. We talked about the places we've traveled to and places we still want to see. Did you know he's actually been to India? Father went there once when we were children, but he refused to let Mother and us go with him. And Lucas has such a way with words! I know you find Nathan's quiet and simple ways attractive, but I like flair and grand gestures!"

Elizabeth could recall a few dramatic gestures Lucas had aimed at her younger sister, from turning the saloon into a winter palace when he found out she loved snow to candlelight dinners in a private dining room decorated as a French bistro. Everyone, from their own parents to Elizabeth's students, had expected a proposal. Instead, the two had broken up suddenly just after Allie's engagement was announced, and no amount of coaxing could get either of them to reveal why. Julie had retreated back to Hamilton, and Lucas left for New Orleans.

Julie watched her niece, who had fallen asleep while they talked, a hazy spot of sun lighting her cheek as she dreamed. When she looked back at Elizabeth, there were tears in her eyes. "He said 'I love you, Elizabeth'," she admitted sadly. "We were kissing, and it was wonderful, and then he whispered in my ear that he loves you!"

Elizabeth cringed. A part of her thought that it must have been just a slip, that he really had meant to say Julie's name, but she had to wonder- was it a sign that things weren't as resolved as she'd thought? Was Lucas still after her? Was his courtship with Julie just a ploy to get her attention?

Whatever she might have said in response was interrupted by Rosemary's call for the dancing to begin. First up were Allie and Nathan, and Elizabeth watched both her husband and daughter tear up as they glided smoothly around the grassy floor. Next were Robert and his mother, who were less coordinated but equally emotional. Then the song changed again, and Robert took Allie into his arms for their first dance as husband and wife. Nathan came to stand beside Elizabeth, almost leaning on her as he smiled sadly.

"She will always be your little girl," Elizabeth assured him, placing her hand over his on her shoulder. Nathan smiled, bending to place a soft kiss on her head.

As the song was coming to an end, he came around to stand in front of his wife and sister-in-law. "Do you mind?" he asked, gesturing towards the child asleep between them. Julie grinned and shook her head, reaching to carefully turn the little girl into her arms while Nathan helped Elizabeth to her feet.

"Ugh," Elizabeth grumbled as she wobbled a bit before catching her balance. "It's going to take a horse to move me soon."

Nathan chuckled, wrapping her in his arms and swaying gently to the music. "Are you impugning my strength?" he teased. "I seem to recall literally carrying you up the stairs when you were in labor with Collette," he reminded her. "Trust me."

Elizabeth smiled and sighed, leaning as far as she could into her husband's warm embrace. "I remember," she assured him. "You didn't falter or stumble once. And you stayed beside me that whole night, even when I nearly broke your hand."

Nathan grinned as he too remembered the night their daughter was born. Considering how quickly he had been told her labors with Jack and Thatcher had been, their daughter took her time entering the world. Elizabeth had labored most of the day and into the night, Collette finally being born just before two in the morning. "A small price to pay to witness such a miracle," he assured her. "And I promise, no more out of town assignments. I already warned headquarters that I am not missing this one's birth, either."

Elizabeth sighed happily, shifting to sink ever so slightly closer to him. The baby kicked and pushed between them, almost as if to join their dance.

When the song ended, Julie waved them away, content to cuddle with her sleeping niece while Nathan and Elizabeth made a slow progression around the meadow to talk to their friends and family. Thatcher and Jack joined her, each enjoying a large slice of cake. When Collette awoke and saw their desserts, she scrambled off to get a piece of her own, Thatcher following to help.

Jack, who considered himself almost grown now that he was nearly ten, took advantage of his younger siblings' absence to ask the question that had been burning in his mind. "Why did you push Mr. Bouchard into the pond?"

Julie flushed, refusing to meet her nephew's eyes. Though she knew it was the answer children hated most, she didn't think it was a topic appropriate to discuss, at least not until she'd cleared it with Nathan and Elizabeth. "I'll explain it when you're older."

Jack pouted, clearly put out by her vague answer, but they were soon rejoined by Thatcher and Collette.

"Wook, Aunt Juwee!"

"We brought you a piece of cake, too!"

Thatcher presented her with a plate holding a rather flattened piece of chocolate cake, the frosting oozing over the side and the unmistakable imprint of small fingers in the side. Julie accepted it with a smile, thanking them for remembering her love of chocolate and praising them for their kindness. "Come on, let's dig in!" she urged, laughing.

There was the typical teasing and well wishes as Allie and Robert prepared to leave. Their friends and family gathered, creating an aisle to the car and showering them with birdseed and dried flower petals. Nathan, Elizabeth, and the children waited at the end, happy and sad to say their good-byes. Thatcher gave his sister a brief hug, and Jack's was a bit longer. Collette burst into tears when she realized Allie wasn't coming home with them. Her sister picked her up and hugged her closely, promising to call in a few days and to visit soon. Robert shook Nathan, Jack, and Thatcher's hands, vowing again to take the best care of Allie. He hugged Elizabeth gingerly, eyeing her belly nervously, and offered her the same assurance. When he turned to Collette, he offered a small stuffed bear.

"You keep him with you for now. Tell him all the stories you want to tell Allie and me. The next time we visit, we'll take him with us, so we can do the same. He will go back and forth between us, a reminder that we will always be there for each other, no matter where we go." Collette clutched the bear, then all but dove into Robert's arms to hug him as well.

The newlyweds got into Lee's waiting car. He was driving them to a cottage outside of town for their wedding night, decorated and stocked by Rosemary. They would leave the next day for Robert's new assignment.

Once the children were in bed, Nathan and Elizabeth settled down in front of the fire.

"So, what did Julie say about Lucas?" Nathan asked.

Elizabeth was quiet for a moment, unsure how to respond. She didn't want to reignite friction between the two men, but she also didn't like keeping things from her husband. In the end, she told him the truth.

Nathan was silent, contemplating what Elizabeth had revealed. He thought Lucas had finally gotten past his obsession with her. As much as he disliked the man, it was hard to believe he would sink so low as to actually court her sister in order to garner her attention. "Do you think he meant it?"

"I don't know," she replied honestly. Facing Nathan, she reached up to tame his hair, set array when he ran his fingers through it in frustration, and then caressed his cheek. "I want to believe it was just a slip, but…"

"But after all he's said and done to try to gain your affection…" Nathan trailed off, equally uncertain. "So, what are we going to do about it?"

Elizabeth pouted. "As much as I want to fix things, especially for Julie, I think we need to let them work it out themselves."

"This from the woman who wants everyone to find their 'happily ever after' so badly she actually writes it for them…" her husband teased.

She scowled briefly then laughed. "Can I help it that I am so in love that I want the rest of the world to feel the same happiness?"

"Well, I won't argue with you there," he replied, leaning in to brush gentle kisses along her cheek and neck. "That brings us back to, what are we going to do about it?"

Elizabeth smiled, grateful for his loving support. She pressed a kiss on his cheek and then settled down, leaning once more against his side. "I'll talk to Julie tomorrow, after Allie and Robert leave. And who knows? Maybe Rosemary will get something out of her tonight."

Julie had chosen to stay at the Coulters for this visit. The Grants had plenty of room for her, but she had insisted that between wedding preparations, three kids, and being pregnant, Elizabeth had enough to do without looking after her as well. Rosemary and Lee were more than happy to host her, and Julie doted on their son just as much as she did her actual nieces and nephews.

Nathan and Elizabeth sat in comfortable silence for a while, each recalling their favorite moments of the day. Elizabeth wished someone had captured a photo of Nathan walking Allie down the aisle, their faces filled with joy, sorrow, and love. Nathan was glad that Rosemary had insisted they take a 'family picture' at the reception. Allie and Robert stood in the middle, with Nathan and Elizabeth next to Allie and Jack and Thatcher beside Robert. Collette had placed herself front and center, holding her sister's bouquet. It was a picture he knew he would treasure for the rest of his life.

Out of blue, Elizabeth chuckled. At Nathan's inquiring look, she explained. "You do realize that by the time they visit, they could be making us grandparents?"

Nathan froze. While he didn't want to think about that part of his daughter's wedding night and honeymoon, he knew it was a part of married life, and that with it came certain consequences. Considering that Allie, Jack, and Thatcher were all the products of their parents' honeymoons, and that there was less than two years between Thatcher and Collette, and she and the new baby, it was not outside the realm of possibilities that Allie would get pregnant quickly.

Elizabeth giggled as she absently ran her hand back and forth across his chest. "And given the…attraction…between us, there is also a chance that we could end up with a grandchild or two older than our own children."

"Won't that be fun to explain." As odd as the situation sounded, Nathan couldn't help but hope it came true.

"Let's just take this one baby at a time," his wife pleaded, seeing the look in his eyes. They both wanted a large family, but as she was well into the uncomfortable stage of pregnancy, contemplating another baby right now was rather daunting.

He hugged her closer, reaching to place his other hand atop her belly. "We've got two boys and two girls, so this one is the tiebreaker. If we want an even split, we need one more," Nathan tried to logic.

"Until that 'one more' splits the count even further. "What happens then?"

Nathan wrapped both arms around her, resting his chin on top of her head so she couldn't see his smirk. "One more?"

Elizabeth sat up quickly, turning to glare at him. He hastily drew her into a kiss, and after a few minutes, neither one of them could remember what they were disagreeing about. He helped her to her feet, and they made their way up to bed, still wrapped around one another. His arm around her middle, feeling their baby kick and push around beneath his hand, Nathan gave a silent prayer of thanks for this perfect day and his perfect life.

"Are you in love with my wife?"

Lucas looked up, startled by the unexpected words. Seeing the glower on Nathan's face, on top of the red serge, made the question even more menacing.

"Feeling a little inadequate, Constable?" he sneered back, refusing to be intimidated.

Nathan smirked, resisting the urge to correct his rank. "A little sad about Allie leaving, but I have no complaints as far as my relationship with Elizabeth," he replied confidently. Then his eyes narrowed. "Except one. My wife is concerned about her sister, and that sister is upset over something you said, which means you are interfering in our relationship. Again. Care to explain yourself?"

Lucas flushed, looking away from Nathan's icy gaze. He had been trying for months to make things right with Julie, but she refused to answer any of his calls or letters. He had even prepared to travel to Hamilton and confront her in person, until he found out she was coming back to Hope Valley for her niece's wedding. He arranged dinners and flowers, well prepared to grovel at her feet in order to get back into her good graces, all for naught.

His slip that day had been just that, a slip. A mistake. Perhaps the biggest mistake of his life. Seeing Nathan and Elizabeth married and starting a family, he had finally understood how futile his attempts to woo her had been. Elizabeth may have been raised in luxury and wealth, but she clearly didn't need those things to be happy. Julie Thatcher, on the other hand, was a lady who still enjoyed and expected the finest things in life. She appreciated candlelit dinners and gifts, while her sister had shied away. Julie wanted to travel and seemed at home as the center of attention. She was the kind of woman Lucas always imagined himself sharing his life with. Not settling down, by any means. The world was full of opportunities, and he wanted to experience them all—with her.

To this day, he didn't know how or why Elizabeth's name had come out instead of Julie's. His feelings for Elizabeth were nothing more than friendship at most, though even that was strained given their history. And while he wouldn't admit it aloud, he knew that was almost entirely his own doing. Elizabeth had told and shown him over and over that she wasn't ready to move on, was still grieving her first husband, but he ignored her. He was confident that, with enough influence, he could woo her to his side. He had seen the way she looked at the Constable; everyone in town could see the sparks between them. He knew that their courtship was entirely one-sided. Every touch, every attempted kiss, was at his instigation, and he had to coerce her into most of them. The few times she tried to encourage affection, it felt forced and awkward. When he broke things off with her that night on her porch, it was really an ultimatum- him or Nathan. She chose Nathan. He had been surprised and appalled by her decision, thus his frequent and admittedly unkind comments about Nathan stealing her away. But then Julie breezed into town, coming to help Elizabeth in the classroom and to prepare for the Grant's new baby while Nathan was away on an assignment. Lucas was smitten at once, and only fell further with each interaction. When she agreed to a date, he was the happiest he'd ever been. By their third, he knew he wanted to marry her, and even the idea of having Nathan Grant as a brother-in-law couldn't steer him away from the dream.

Lucas shook himself from his thoughts, turning to see Nathan still waiting for a response. Rising to his full height so he was eye to eye with the other man, he resigned himself to seeking Nathan's help to win Julie back.

"I am in love with Julie," he vowed determinedly. "My feelings for Elizabeth are nothing more than friendship, and perhaps with time, brotherly."

Nathan stared at Lucas, unconvinced. "And yet, when given the opportunity with Julie…"

Lucas rolled his eyes but fought back the urge to goad Nathan further. He needed all the help he could get. "It was a MISTAKE. I don't know why or how I said what I did! I have tried everything I can think of to convince Julie to listen to me, to let me explain, but she won't give me the chance!"

Nathan was quiet, contemplating Lucas's revelations. He wanted to believe it was the truth, if for no other reason than it would make his own life simpler. He loved his sister-in-law, and knew she and Elizabeth were incredibly close, but he found Julie's boundless enthusiasm and big dreams to be exhausting. She and Lucas were quite suited for each other; they both wanted to find "more" in life, while he and Elizabeth were content to nurture what they had now.

He sighed, realizing that the best thing for everyone was to put his own misgivings aside. Elizabeth would be more at ease with her sister happy, and hopefully the digs and insults from Lucas would stop if he had better things to think about.

"You know she's planning to leave on tomorrow's train, right?"

Elizabeth watched her sister gather her things, throwing them with uncharacteristic neglect into her suitcases and trunk. It was clear that, no matter what she said, Julie was not "fine".

"Are you going to tell me, or do I have to drag it out of you?"

Julie looked at her sister in surprise. Across the room, Rosemary was equally startled by Elizabeth's stern words, but given the circumstances and time restraint they were working under, it was understandable. Elizabeth waited, her foot tapping impatiently.

Julie sighed, sinking down onto the bed, one of her dresses seemingly forgotten and now bunched in her hands. "I don't know what to do about Lucas."

"Do you love him?" Rosemary asked. It had been clear from the way the young woman had avoided him her entire visit that the saloon owner was the cause of her troubles. After a moment of silence, Julie nodded.

"Do you want him back?" Elizabeth pushed. "Or would you rather just go home and start over with someone new in Hamilton?"

Julie's eyes narrowed as she glared at her sister. "Do you really think I am so shallow that I would just forget about him and move on to someone else?"

Elizabeth shrugged, resuming her rocking in the chair. "You have been very closed mouthed this whole trip," she pointed out. "And until yesterday never offered any explanation for your behavior. One minute, you were courting Lucas and hoping for a proposal, the next you were on a train back to Hamilton. Mother and Father have both asked me what happened, so I know you didn't explain things to them. And I know that Lucas has made several attempts to contact you; I watched him mail at least two letters myself and Father said he called you multiple times. You have refused all his advances. How are any of us supposed to know what you're thinking?"

Sighing heavily, Julie resumed her packing. "I want to be with Lucas, but I don't know how to get past what he said. How am I ever going to know if it's you or me that he's kissing?"

Elizabeth laughed. "Well since Lucas and I kissed maybe twice during our disastrous courtship, and neither of them were what you can call long and passionate…" She shuddered at the memory, reminded of how disgusted she was with herself for the way she had acted. She knew she had led Lucas on while she tried to hide from her feelings for Nathan, and it was made all the clearer when he tried to kiss her. While there was nothing but revulsion and regret when Lucas's lips touched hers, the very brush of both Jack and Nathan's lit her entire body up. Fighting those fires had been futile. "It's simple. Do you want to fight for him or not?"

Rosemary came to stand beside Julie, taking the shoes she was clutching and laying them gently in her trunk. Pulling the younger woman's hands into hers and squeezing them, she waited for Julie to meet her eyes. "What do you want to do?"

"Are you sure about this?" Elizabeth asked again as she brushed her sister's hair back and pinned her veil in place.

It had been a whirlwind few days. With Rosemary and Nathan's help, Elizabeth had forced Julie and Lucas to talk. What had started as dinner quickly escalated into a reconciliation, and then to everyone's surprise, an engagement.

When he proposed, Lucas had intended for them to take their time planning the wedding, allow them the chance to put all their mistakes and misunderstandings to rest and for him to travel to Hamilton to approach her father. Julie refused to wait. To her reasoning, they had already lost enough time and given more, would likely find some other reason to fight and break up again. If they were married, on the other hand, they would be forced to work things out rather than running away.

William and Grace Thatcher boarded the first train heading west and had arrived two days earlier. Rosemary had been prepared to alter Elizabeth's wedding dress to fit her sister, knowing she couldn't get the materials to make a new dress in time, but the Thatchers arrived with a new couture gown from Hamilton. Thankfully, the designer already had Julie's measurements, so only slight alterations were needed. Viola Thatcher Pendleton was still in London and unable to make the trip in time but sent her regards and promised a gift would follow as soon as shipping allowed. Helen and Vincent Bouchard were out of the country, but the newlyweds planned to stop and see them upon their return.

Instead of a simple honeymoon, Lucas and Julie were planning to travel. With his business and her family in Hope Valley, they would return at some point, but for now planned to go wherever the winds and whims took them.

"I am one hundred percent certain," Julie replied, her face radiating happiness.

Elizabeth stepped back, taking a deep breath as she leaned heavily on the back of a chair. Grace hurried forward, studying her carefully. "Are you alright, dear?" she asked, concerned about the strain written across her daughter's face.

"I'm fine," Elizabeth insisted after a moment. "Just the baby making their presence known."

Rosemary and Grace both watched carefully, but Elizabeth merely smiled and straightened up. "Come on," she said a little too cheerfully. "We have a wedding to get to."

Even with only a few days' notice, Hope Valley had gone all out to prepare for another wedding. The church was once again filled with flowers, though this time there were plenty of bows and lace to adorn the pews and windows. The saloon had been thoroughly scrubbed and polished, and more autumn flowers topped the tables and lined the staircase. Rosemary had even managed to make a matron of honor dress for Elizabeth, while Nathan in his serge stood up for Lucas. No one was expecting the two men to become close friends, but as Lucas had no family there and they were about to be related by marriage, he had extended the olive branch.

Nathan grinned as Collette and Thatcher came down the aisle together as ringbearer and flower girl. His daughter, pleased to be the center of attention, was twirling and dancing as she threw her basket of petals, while her brother tried his best to keep them moving forward. Everyone enjoyed their little show. When Elizabeth entered the church and started down the aisle, Nathan's breath stopped. Whether it was her pregnancy or joy for the occasion, her face was glowing. A closer look, however, revealed a pained look in her eyes. When she paused to take a deep breath, pressing her hand into her belly, Nathan started to step forward. Elizabeth quickly shook her head and smiled, resuming her walk to the front of the church. While everyone else was admiring Julie as she floated down the aisle on William's arm, Nathan watched his wife.

Elizabeth took another deep breath, hoping to disguise her wince as a grin. Glancing to the side, she knew her husband wasn't fooled. While everyone else was watching Julie and Lucas say their vows, Nathan was studying her intently. To everyone else, it appeared as though the lovestruck man couldn't take his eyes off his beloved. Only he, Grace, and Faith had picked up on Elizabeth's discomfort.

When Joseph declared them husband and wife and bid Lucas to kiss his bride, everyone cheered. As the happy couple made their exit, Nathan hastened to Elizabeth's side, his arm around her back as another contraction hit. As they moved slowly down the aisle, he leaned down, hiding his whispered question with a kiss on the top of her head. "Home or the infirmary?"

"Hush," Elizabeth insisted. "Let's at least see them over to the saloon to start the reception."

Nathan glared at her but before he could argue further, she let out an involuntary cry, dropping her bouquet and clutching her stomach. Then her eyes went wide as liquid pooled at her feet.

"Home or infirmary?" he demanded again, lifting her into his arms and hurrying towards Lee's car. "Faith! We need some help here!"

Dr. Carter quickly assessed the situation, instructing Lee to drive to the infirmary. "It's closer, and I don't think this little one wants to wait much longer."

"The children," Elizabeth said, leaning against Nathan and fighting the urge to cry. At the moment, she was grateful Jack, Thatcher, and Collette were riding to the reception with the bride and groom.

"They'll be fine," Grace insisted, reaching through the car's window to squeeze her daughter's hand. "Your father and I are perfectly capable of taking care of our grandchildren while you concentrate on bringing this next one safely into the world." She gave Nathan's shoulder a squeeze and then stepped back. As soon as Faith was settled in the front seat, Lee ran around to the driver's side and started the car, trying to drive as quickly and smoothly as possible.

"You know Julie is going to be furious with you for stealing her spotlight," Nathan teased, trying to distract Elizabeth from the pain. She managed a short smile in return before she winced again, breathing deeply as another contraction began.

Lee came to a sudden stop outside the infirmary, shrugging apologetically at Nathan's glare. Between the two of them, they got Elizabeth out of the car, and then Nathan lifted her into his arms again, hurriedly following the doctor inside.

"You don't have to stay for this," Faith offered Nathan. "I know most fathers prefer to wait this part out with their cigars and brandy."

Nathan shook his head, unbuttoning his serge and dropping it over the back of a chair before taking his place at Elizabeth's side. "I'm staying," he insisted. Looking down at his wife, he smiled softly. "I promised not to miss a moment."

Elizabeth sat up, crying out as she was hit with the strongest contraction yet.

Faith quickly checked her progress. Directing Nathan to help support Elizabeth, she settled on a stool at the end of the bed. "Alright, Mom and Dad. Let's have a baby!"

Nathan couldn't remember ever feeling happier.

After what had seemed like an eternity but in reality was merely a couple of hours, Elizabeth was propped up in bed, holding their babies.


The count was still tied, now with three boys and three girls.

Elizabeth looked up, her face glowing even in exhaustion. "Can you believe it?" she said in wonder, looking once again at the small bundles in her arms.

Nathan sat carefully beside her, leaning down to kiss both downy little heads before pressing a longer, deeper kiss against her lips. Stretching his legs out on the bed, he gathered Elizabeth and the babies into his arms. "Just when I think life can't get any better," he said quietly. "You manage to give me the greatest gifts."

"Have you decided on names?" Faith asked, standing in the doorway. Once she'd cleared away the afterbirth and gotten Elizabeth cleaned up and on fresh linens, she had retreated out to her desk, allowing the new parents time to bond with the babies. She knew everyone would go crazy as soon as they heard there were two new Grants to dote on.

Elizabeth and Nathan looked at each other and then back at the babies. "This is Grayson Alexander," Elizabeth declared, pulling the blanket away from their son's face.

"And here we have Natalie Eliza," Nathan announced, lifting their daughter as she started to fuss. Natalie quieted at once, nestling into her father's chest and going back to sleep.

"I wouldn't count on that lasting for long," Faith admonished, gesturing towards the sleeping babies. "Let me know if you need help getting them started nursing. I suggest you try that before your hordes of visitors descend on us," she added, her tone teasing but her advice serious.

As Elizabeth adjusted her nightgown to offer Grayson her breast, Nathan stood to pace slowly around the room with Natalie, trying to wake her. When their son was finished nursing, they switched babies and Elizabeth placed their daughter on her other side, watching in wonder as she latched and fed, her little fingers grasping gently at her mother's breast.

"I don't think I'll ever tire of this," Elizabeth said softly. "I know I complain about how much it hurts when I get engorged or when the baby starts biting me, but this connection, this feeling…. there's nothing like it."

Nathan watched, mesmerized as he always was by the sight of his wife nourishing their child. It wasn't something they talked about in regular conversation, but Lee had shared Rosemary's struggles to breastfeed their son, Patrick. They had been forced to use formula and bottles, as she was never able to produce enough milk. While they had been disappointed, Rosemary wanting to experience every part of motherhood, Elizabeth and Nathan were both quick to assure them that a healthy, well-fed baby was the most important thing. Their son was now a tall, healthy five-year-old, clearly flourishing.

When Natalie was finished, Elizabeth settled back against the pillows, watching Nathan fuss over the babies in the crib Faith had brought in. "You're going to have to work fast to make another one of those at home," she teased.

The babies settled and asleep, Nathan returned to sit beside Elizabeth on the bed. "I'll get started tomorrow," he promised.

When Faith peeked in a few minutes later, she found all four Grants asleep. Sighing happily, she dimmed the lights, allowing them to rest now while they could.

Hope Valley was full of excitement. Not only was everyone still in a celebratory spirit after the wedding, but word of Elizabeth's surprise delivery, and that she'd given birth to twins, spread quickly. William and Grace brought the children to meet their new siblings first thing after breakfast, so they would be able to go to the train station to see their aunt and new uncle off. Jack and Thatcher admitted the babies were cute, but Collette was ecstatic. She asked to hold them, so with Nathan holding her in his lap, she snuggled Natalie and Grayson in turn.

Julie and Lucas stopped at the infirmary before heading to the station themselves. Lucas was clearly uncomfortable but congratulated Nathan and Elizabeth on their newest additions. Julie was a little upset when they arrived, as annoyed as Nathan had predicted that her sister had stolen some of the attention, but one look at her newest niece and nephew and all was forgotten.

While everyone else was seeing the newlyweds off, Henry drove Nathan, Elizabeth, and the babies out to their house. They arrived to find the nursery completed, with two sets of everything laid out and a second crib waiting for them. Until you have time to make another one was scrawled on the attached note, in Lee's writing.

While Elizabeth took a well-deserved nap, Nathan sat down to call Allie.

"Dad!" He never tired of hearing her exuberant greetings, even now that she was grown. "How was the wedding? I still can't believe Mr. Bouchard asked you to be his best man!"

Nathan laughed. "To be honest, I don't remember much of the ceremony. I was too busy watching your mom."

"You are so gone for her. You wouldn't know the two of you have been married for years already," Allie teased. "Did you even notice what Aunt Julie was wearing?"

"Not really. Mrs. Coulter was going to alter your mom's dress for her, but your Grandma Grace arrived with a dress from Hamilton. Apparently, it is "the" style this season."

"Ooooooo. I bet Aunt Julie was happy about that," Allie replied. Even after several years, she was still a little intimidated by the Thatchers' wealth and awed by Grace and Julie's sense of fashion. Not that Allie would ever consider wearing such things, but she did admire them. "And how was the reception? What kind of music did they play? Did you dance with Aunt Julie? Do I have to call Mr. Bouchard Uncle Lucas now?"

"Whoa," Nathan interrupted. "If you slow down, I might be able to answer a question or two."

"Sorry." Allie's laugh, even through the phone, warmed his heart.

"And to answer your first question, we didn't make it to the reception. It turns out your mom was trying to hide the fact that she was in labor. That's why I was watching her so closely. I knew there was something off, I just didn't realize it was that."

"Mom had the baby?!" Allie exclaimed. Her voice faded a bit as she obviously turned to share the news with Robert. "My mom had the baby!" Then she was back on the line and throwing more questions at Nathan. "Do I have another brother or a sister? Are they okay? How's mom?"

Nathan smirked, shaking his head. "Again, with the million questions… Yes, your mom had the babies yesterday."

Allie continued to chatter, throwing more questions and repeating some of her earlier ones, without giving her father a chance to answer. Then she paused. "Hold on…you said babies. As in more than one?"

"I wondered how long it would take you to catch that," Nathan chuckled. "Twins. A boy and a girl, so we're still tied."

Allie shouted again, this time into the phone. Nathan held the receiver away for a moment, his face splitting into a huge grin.

"Okay, what are their names? So far, you've honored your dads with Thatcher Archibald and your sisters with Collette Julia. I'm guessing one of them is named after your moms?"

"Your brother, Grayson Alexander. We decided with Grandma Alexandra and you, we didn't want another Alex."

"And my new little sister?"

"Natalie Eliza. I wanted to name one of our children after Elizabeth, and she wanted to name one after me. Obviously, Jack is a "Jr", but your mom and I agreed it might get confusing having two of us in the house with the same name, so we decided to flip and combine them."

"And what does this do to your 'one more' plan?" Allie snickered.

Nathan smirked. "Don't let your mom hear you ask that question. She was already feeling overwhelmed at the idea of another baby. She told me just last week that we were to take this one baby at a time, so now that we got two at once…"

"She can handle it," Allie said confidently. "And before you start to worry, so can you, Dad."

"Thanks, Allie," he replied seriously. "You know you're the one who taught me all this parenting stuff, right? If it weren't for you, I don't think Elizabeth or any of this would have happened to me."

"And look at you now!" his daughter teased. "Nathan Grant- father, husband, Mountie, friend… You're pretty much everyone's hero!"

"I don't know about that," Nathan said, his cheeks flushing. "I think Elizabeth is much braver than I am. Leaving everyone and everything she knew behind to start a new life here, having her world turned upside down with her husband's death, raising Jack by herself, taking the chance and starting over with me and growing our family… And don't get me started on how amazing she is for going through childbirth…"

Allie was obviously grinning through the phone when she replied. "Like I said before. You are so gone for her."

Nathan's response was cut off by the sound of first one cry and then a second. "I'm sorry, Allie. I have to go. The babies just woke up, so they're going to need to be fed and changed. We'll talk again soon, alright?"

"Of course!" Allie assured him. "I can't wait to meet them! Maybe we can come for dinner next Sunday?"

"Sounds perfect," Nathan said. "I love you, sweetheart."

"I love you, Dad."

Author's Note: Not exactly what you expected from me, is it? Just to be clear, I still despise Lucas's character and I stand by every horrible, petty, insulting thing I have ever said and written about him. I didn't WANT to write him any sort of happy ending, but this story just took that turn. I am appeasing myself with the knowledge that I am making Julie happy, which in turn makes Elizabeth and therefore Nathan happy, and that's the most important part, right?

I left some things open to potential expansion, but that will be down the road. I have enough trouble juggling the three stories I already have ongoing, and don't think adding a fourth will make things any better. At the moment, it is a "hopefully, maybe" situation.