A/N We are getting closer to the end of the story. I thank all of you for being patient with my delays. I have noticed that the days actually now coincide with the later chapters. It was purely coincidental.

Sunday December 22, 1918

They had discussed their conversation from the previous night as they lay in bed. Elizabeth was excited about their plans and assured them that Lillian and Grace would be as well. Both Thatchers agreed how wonderful it had been to be part of a community. Though not as a spectator but working side by side, providing acts of service for the orphans. They had been impressed by both the sisters and their charges.

Grace had also been proud watching how her daughter organized and carried out her plans with the help of the others. She had listened as the others told her and William about the Remembrance Weekend she had organized a few weeks ago. As she had been looking at the photos on the Wall of Heroes, people came up and told stories that went along with them. William and Grace had blanched a bit as they saw the pictures of their daughter, along with the widows who had gone inside the mine to save the widows from eviction.

Since the town would congregate for the potluck after church before their visitors headed home, it was decided to talk with the sister before church at breakfast. So that morning, the entire blended Grant, Thatcher, and Thornton family met at the Miners Haven for breakfast with the Brookfield visitors before service. It would allow William and Grace to have a private word with the sisters while the children were being looked after.

The sisters had tears in their eyes as William and Grace told them what they would like to provide.

"We would like to sponsor your work as the New Hope Orphanage benefactors with a yearly stipend for the upkeep and well-being of the children. We would also like to pay for renovation and necessary repairs that you would deem necessary to provide for them." William said.

"What you two provide for these children is wonderful and unique," Grace said. "Elizabeth and the others have spoken highly of you in the past, but we have seen for ourselves how wonderful the children are and how much you love them. That isn't something most orphanages even bother providing though I know some try." Grace said. "We also know that as some are older students and will age out, we want to provide a scholarship to any student seeking training or further education to get a job after they do so. So, any child, whether adopted or not, that comes from your facility can apply and receive the grant for further education upon your approval."

"Is that something that you wonderful ladies would be comfortable accepting?" William asked earnestly.

"Oh, Mr. and Mrs. Thatcher, that would be more than generous, and we would gratefully accept your offer," Lillian said. Grace just stood up and went around and hugged both Thatchers.

"I will arrange with Lee to arrange the repairs, and Elizabeth has spoken of taking us to visit Brookfield before we head back home. So maybe we can discuss what needs to be done at that time?" William asked.

Lillian nodded, unable to believe what had just happened.

"I also want to thank you for arranging such a wonderful wedding for Nathan and Elizabeth. From what Elizabeth said, it sounds like it was beautiful, and that warms my heart as her mother."

"It was our pleasure," Lillian said.

"Nathan and Elizabeth are very special to us," Grace added.

Not long after, the large group headed towards the service, and Elizabeth promised her parents a tour of the new school and library the next day. As they approached, they could hear the lone church bell welcoming everyone to the service. Grace noted that the simple, clear sound ringing through the valley was as beautiful and majestic as the multiple bells from their cathedral in Hamilton.

It was the first time that Grace had seen the interior of the church Jack had built for their daughter all those years ago after she taught in the saloon. It was so beautiful inside, and as the service went on, she was struck not only by the intimate feel of the building but by the intimate, heartfelt service as well. She couldn't help noticing the beautifully carved wooden nativity and manger prominently displayed. She made a mental note to ask them where they had purchased it. Pastor Canfield was a gifted speaker, and his message settled into the hearts of every person attending.

After a final prayer closing the service, they all began gravitating back towards the Miners Haven. They gathered one last time for a meal; the Orphans gave a special presentation thanking everyone for their wonderful time. Towards the end of the meal, Lee, Nathan, Chuck, and Sam helped load up the wagon and brought it out front. After Joseph led a group prayer over the travelers for travel mercies and safety, the children were loaded up and on the way home.

Once again, the groups decided to have a quiet rest of their day and went their separate ways. Nathan was looking forward to some more downtime with Elizabeth. She was still looking tired, and he was concerned that she had been doing too much.

To their surprise, Allie had asked to spend the night with Opal and Anna, while Jack and Sunny had been invited to spend the night with Nana Charlie. They briefly wondered if it had been pre-arranged but were unwilling to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Nathan and Elizabeth found themselves alone for the rest of the day and night for the first time since they were married. They decided to change into their nightclothes and get comfortable. Nathan had gotten changed first, and as he headed downstairs, he heard a knock. Opening the door, he was surprised to see a huge basket with a bottle of wine sticking out and covered, but no sign of who had dropped it off.

Bringing it inside, he set it on the table when Elizabeth came down. "What is that?" she asked.

"I don't know, but judging by the smells coming from it, I would say dinner. Someone left it on our steps just now." Nathan said.

When he removed the napkin covering it, Elizabeth picked up a note lying on top.

Elizabeth and Nathan,

We know that you haven't spent much time alone since your marriage, so we have given you a night to yourselves. You will find all the makings for a nice meal, along with dessert and a bottle of wine. Rosemary has included a new record that she thinks you would appreciate. The children will be cared for until tomorrow, so there is no need to worry. You will not be disturbed for the rest of the night and are ordered not to show your faces in town until lunchtime.

It had been signed by all their friends and family.

"Well, that answers our question about whether or not it was arranged. So, what do you want to do?" Nathan asked.

Elizabeth smirked and then went to get the chessboard. With a sultry smile, she said, "Are you ready for a rematch? Winner picks the prize?"

"Set up the board, Thornton," Nathan said huskily, already knowing what his prize would be.

"Don't you mean to set up the board, Grant?" She said, brow raised.

"Even better!" Nathan said, pulling her towards him and capturing her lips. After a few minutes, he pulled back to say, "Something tells me, though, I will win regardless of who wins the game."

He won both games handily before they called it quits. He had a feeling neither of their minds were on the game itself but on the prize after.

They put the game up, and Nathan poured them wine as Elizabeth laid their dinner out. They had dinner by candlelight and shared dessert afterward, taking turns feeding one another. Once they had cleaned up, they put on Rosemary's record and danced for a bit before they knew that it wasn't enough. Nathan banked the fire in the stove while Elizabeth made sure that other lights were out downstairs. He came and picked her up and carried her up the stairs laying her gently on the bed before lying beside her where the fire ignited quickly, and they grew impatient.

Later they lay there just holding each other, enjoying just being together. Recalling something that he had been wanting to ask Elizabeth, he pulled out a book of sonnets that he had heard Elizabeth read from once a few months ago when he happened to arrive early at school.

"Lizbeth, would you read to me from this book?" Nathan asked, vulnerability shining in his eyes. "I've marked one in particular that I wanted."

She took the book from him and turned to the page he had marked, and her heart swelled. She recalled that day he had come by the school as she had been reading it. He had a look in his eye that she now knew was one of passion. She realized that he had heard her reading it and had been moved by it. "of course, I will, my love," She kissed him deeply and then began to read. But as she did, he noticed that she was actually reciting it as she looked into his eyes, and he was enthralled by her voice and the cadence she used as she spoke the powerful words to his heart.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worths unknown, although his height be taken.

Loves not Times fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle's compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me prov'd,

I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd. (*1)

Then as she finished that one, she kissed him but not one of passion but more of adoration as she poured her love into the kiss. Then she pulled back and began to caress him gently and lovingly as she recited the words of another poem.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day's

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right.

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death. (*2)

As she finished the last verse, Nathan couldn't hold back anymore and captured her lips in a searing kiss because words failed him at the moment. The emotions stirred by those words and her actions as she spoke stirred his soul more than anything they had shared up to that point. It was clear that those words could have easily come from her heart, and he knew that she meant them. For the rest of the evening, no words were needed as they shared their hearts in words and deeds with each other. Before they finally drifted, they prayed together, thanking God for the gift he had given each of them by guiding them back to each other when they had wandered off the path he had intended for them. They also thanked him for the blessing of how their families were genuinely uniting as one in a deep abiding love. Finally, they thanked him for the gift of the fellowship they had experienced over the past few days and the wonders that had come from it.

*1 "Sonnet 116" by William Shakespeare. Public domain

*2 "Sonnet 43" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Public Domain