Chapter Five

The boarding house was full, so Nathan, Allie, and Gabriel had gotten the other row house cleaned up. Between what was stored there from the Grant and Thornton households, and the loan of some fancy linens from Rosemary Coulter, it was made tolerably habitable for the Thatchers. Nathan made sure there was wood for the stove and Elizabeth offered to prepare meals for them, but there was nothing they could do about the lack of indoor plumbing or the neighbor's rooster. Nathan, Allie, and Jack came over to make and eat breakfast with William each morning, and Elizabeth met them there on the way to school, eating her breakfast on the porch to avoid the cooking smells. When Grace and Julie woke up and got ready, they went into town to eat at the café, neither of them willing to risk cooking for themselves. The two usually stayed in town until lunchtime, meeting William at the café. Between calls to check in with his office back in Hamilton, Mr. Thatcher spent a great deal of his time getting to know the businesses in and around Hope Valley. He couldn't help but be impressed with the success, dedication, integrity, and ingenuity of the people running most of them.

There were two businesses that William made a point to avoid- the saloon and the oil office. Not that it mattered, as Lucas had left town again the very morning after his return to Hope Valley with the Thatchers. Incensed to have been made a fool of by Elizabeth and Nathan, he could only imagine the kinds of stories they had told her family about his doomed efforts at courtship. He knew Grace and William doted on their grandson, so the fact that he had never bothered to bond with the boy like Nathan had would likely be another mark in the Mountie's favor. Now that they knew he had not only lied about his relationship with Elizabeth but his business as well, Lucas thought it best he disappeared for a while. Gustave practically ran the saloon without him as it was, and Mike Hickam and Henry Gowan had brought more success to the oil business than he ever had. If asked, he could claim to be seeking out more investors, meeting clients, and looking for new products to serve; in reality, he had decided to wait things out in New Orleans or San Francisco, enjoying the profits without having to extend a great deal of effort into either business.

Even without speaking to Lucas himself, William was able to get a good idea of the man's character just by talking to the other business owners and people in town. They all agreed that Lucas's generous donation of the building for the library, as well as most of the books, had been a great benefit to the town. His buying into the oil company to keep it open had ensured the livelihoods of several local families. And the Christmas festival he arranged did bring a lot of attention and revenue into the town, as well as fostering the holiday spirits of its inhabitants. One thing that was clear, however, was that all those things were done with an ulterior motive. It wasn't out of the goodness of Lucas's heart, but rather in an effort to buy Elizabeth's affections.

On the other hand, everyone was happy to share their glowing praises of the town's Mountie. All of them spoke of his gentle kindness, quiet strength, and unwavering bravery. William heard about Nathan rescuing Elizabeth at the saloon (a feat Lucas had claimed as his own), getting her and the school children home safely in the windstorm, facing down a loaded rifle in an attempted prisoner break, chopping wood for a sick neighbor, adopting his niece, carrying groceries… There were countless tales of his new son-in-law's goodness. Even more surprising to William were the stories of just how long Nathan had been in love with Elizabeth.

As a rule, William tried to stay out of his daughters' love lives. He was far less concerned than his wife about whether they made society matches, and more that they were safe and content. He had seen for himself how Elizabeth had thrived under the affections of Jack Thornton; he and the young Mountie got off on the wrong foot in Hamilton, but there was no doubt in his mind when he came for their wedding- Elizabeth had found a man who would stand by her, provide, protect, and love her, and be a devoted father to any children they welcomed. When Jack died, William had joined Grace in encouraging their daughter to return to Hamilton, but other than a brief visit just after the funeral, Elizabeth was determined to raise her child in the town she and Jack had made their home. As time passed, she shared news of her son's birth, returning to teaching, events in and around her little town, and even the arrival of a new Mountie. In hindsight, William recalled mention of the man's daughter being one of her students. Grace had pointed out to him the unusual bond Elizabeth seemed to be forming with the girl, but they both attributed it to shared grief. Neither had anticipated Elizabeth falling for the girl's father.

The common theme in all the townspeople's stories was that their new Mountie seemed to have developed feelings for the beautiful schoolteacher almost at once. They chuckled recalling how tongue-tied and nervous he was when he spoke to her, sighed at his obvious guilt at being alive while Jack had to die, and grumbled at how he rarely fought back when Mr. Bouchard put him down or undermined his efforts to gain Elizabeth's attention. They had held their breath in anticipation when the two hugged in the street after the prisoner transfer disaster, certain that Elizabeth publicly flinging herself into his arms was a sign she had finally made the right decision. When Nathan went out of town for the trial and Lucas left for heaven only knew what reason, they watched Elizabeth retreat into herself, allowing her fears and doubts to take control. There had been a general sense of dismay when she began courting Lucas, and everyone went out of their way to support Nathan and Allie as they tried to make the best of things. They were all sure that Elizabeth was just acting out of fear. No one saw real attraction or affection between her and the saloon owner, and they groaned inwardly every time they saw the two together. It was especially hard knowing that young Jack was being left behind. Watching how Nathan continued to care for Elizabeth from afar and how he took every opportunity to talk and play with her son, everyone hoped the two would eventually work things out. The day they came home and announced their marriage, the entire town was ready to celebrate.

Still, William couldn't help but worry. It was the wife of the mercantile owner who put his concerns to rest. He had stopped to pick up some treats for Jack and Allie; the boisterous girl was quickly worming her way into his heart, and he could see how Elizabeth had grown to care for the child so quickly. As he stepped up to the counter to pay, the woman at the register offered her opinion.

"I know what some people are thinking," Florence Yost said confidentially. When William raised his brow in question, she glanced around the store before continuing. "There's been some talk," she explained. "There always is in a situation like this. A sudden marriage and then a baby on the way…" William's eyes narrowed as he prepared to defend his daughter, but Florence shook her head. "People are always going to talk, but it pays to listen to what they're saying. Sure, a few of them think that something might have happened that night in the cabin. Maybe it did, maybe it didn't. Who are any of us to judge? It doesn't change anything. Those two have been head over heels for each other for ages… it's a relief that they finally found their way together. If they say that new baby is another honeymoon present, then so be it. I've never seen Nathan so happy, and Elizabeth hasn't had that glow in her eyes since before Jack died. If they've made their peace with God over it, I see no reason for any of us to question them." She paused, beaming. "Besides, can you just imagine how beautiful that baby is going to be? For Nathan's sake, I hope it's a boy. He's already going to have his hands full when it's time for Allie to start courting. I'm not sure he'll be able to handle another little girl getting that kind of attention. Not that Jack won't break hearts when he's older, what with his Daddy's looks and his mother's charm. Oh, I just can't wait!"

To no one's surprise, the Thatchers did not stay in town long. Once William and Grace had assured themselves that their daughter was loved and happy, albeit not with the man they were expecting, they were more than ready to head home. Even Julie, who had at least been to Hope Valley for a couple of extended visits, was thrilled to be returning to the world of electricity in every home, paved roads, and indoor plumbing.

The Grants enjoyed a couple of weeks of peace before things took a turn.

Lucas returned, and instead of his over-the-top attempts at wooing Elizabeth, he was now determined to make their lives as miserable as possible. Snide comments if he passed Elizabeth on the street. Barely veiled insults directed at Nathan. He even threatened to close the library, citing a desire to use the building for something else. The latter was foiled when the town council offered to buy it from him, funded by a generous anonymous donation to the town funds. As his behavior started to keep customers out of the saloon and caused a few of the oil workers to quit, Lucas's bitterness turned to drinking.

It was late afternoon, and a small crowd was gathering around the front of the saloon. Unconcerned about the attention he was drawing, Lucas was pacing back and forth in front of the doors, whining about his lost revenue, and shouting insults at anyone who dared step too close. No one was surprised when his tirade turned on Elizabeth and Nathan.

"I'll bet that your perfect Mountie and your precious little schoolteacher have been carrying on their little affair for months!" Lucas slurred as he stumbled to one of the benches, the liquid sloshing over the side of his teacup far more potent than his usual orange pekoe. "I'll bet the only reason they came clean about it was because she got pregnant. Why, I bet she would have tried to pass their little bastard off as mine if I hadn't already ended things with her!"

There were lots of murmurs and grumbles amongst the crowd, and quite a few harsh glares aimed at the saloon owner, but none louder and more angry than Rosemary Coulter. The blonde woman stepped forward, slapping Lucas hard across the face. Taken by surprise, he dropped his teacup, spilling the remaining liquid on the boardwalk.

"Look what you made me do!" Lucas glowered, trying to get up, but Rosemary pushed him hard, forcing him back onto the bench. Bill and Lee stepped up on either side of her, their own glares daring him to try again.

"I'm just getting started!" Rosemary hissed. "How dare you make such ridiculous accusations against Elizabeth and Nathan! I might excuse your drunken behavior if you were actually heartbroken, but everyone knows your heart was never involved. At the moment, I'm not sure you even have one. Your pursuit of Elizabeth was a game, plain and simple. You just can't handle the fact that you lost."

Lucas continued to glare at Rosemary, but she was far from intimidated.

"I know that Elizabeth broke things off with you weeks ago, well before she started any sort of relationship with Nathan. Even if I hadn't heard it from Elizabeth, I witnessed it myself. I saw how you tried to buy her affections, but never listened to her. I watched you ignore young Jack, the most important thing in her world. Did you really expect that a mother, let alone a teacher, was going to choose to be with a man who doesn't like children?!" Rosemary's voice got higher and louder the longer she continued to yell, and Lucas cringed as her shrill tone echoed in his ears.

"And how could you ever suggest that Elizabeth would lie about the father of her child?!"

Lucas sat up straighter but didn't try to stand. "Wouldn't be the first time," he snarled. "Her son came "mysteriously" early, didn't he? I'll bet he was conceived before she and the sainted Jack Thornton made it down the aisle, too!"

This time it was Bill's hand that was raised to hit Lucas, but Lee stopped him. While he was holding Bill's arm, Rosemary ducked around them and slapped Lucas on the other cheek. "Why you…." Her eyes took on a deadly gleam.

Turning from Bill, Lee stood next to his wife, prepared to stop her if she went for Lucas again. Not that the man didn't deserve it… "I know you aren't trying to imply that Elizabeth managed to sneak up to the Northern Territories at night, through wilderness, bad weather, gun runners, and platoons of Mounted Police, to carry on an affair with Jack and make it home by breakfast," he pointed out matter-of-factly. "Even you can't be that foolish."

Lucas's alcohol-soaked brain refused to back down. "Who says the kid is really Jack's?" he sneered.

Rosemary laughed coldly, the sound harsh and out of place given the tone of the gathering. "I know you didn't pay much attention to the boy, but surely at least one of the times you were in her house you noticed the pictures of Jack Sr. His son is the spitting image of him!"

"Maybe, maybe not," Lucas tried to argue. "As I recall, the Jack in those pictures had dark hair, and obviously so does Elizabeth. So how do you explain her towheaded son?"

Rosemary smirked. "Oh, Jack was blonde when he was a boy, too."

"How would you know?" Lucas slurred.

"Our fathers served together. I've known the Thornton boys since I was a teenager. And I was engaged to Jack for a time. You don't think I've seen the family portraits and heard his mother's stories? Jack's hair didn't start to darken until he was about ten." Rosemary grinned smugly.

"So how do you explain Elizabeth having her baby so early then? She told me herself that he wasn't due for a few more weeks."

Faith stepped forward, taking a stand beside Rosemary. "Considering the stress she was under and the grief she was suffering, it's not surprising she delivered early. It's rather common, actually."

Lucas slunk down in his seat, out of arguments at the moment.

Bill stepped forward. When Lee looked at him with concern, he shook his head. "No fists, just words, I promise." Turning back to Lucas, he leaned over to stare the man in the eye. "It's one thing for you to be bitter about Elizabeth breaking things off, or to dislike Nathan for winning, but do you really have that little respect for her personal and professional reputation to suggest such things?"

Lucas lunged forward, trying to propel himself off the bench. When he made it to his feet, he lost his balance, stumbling towards Bill. The other man, seeing it as an attack, punched him. As Lucas slumped to the ground, everyone cheered and applauded, thanking Bill for silencing the ranting.

Unnoticed by the crowd, a girl watched from around the corner. When Lucas started making his accusations, she turned to run, tears streaming down her cheeks as she hurried across the street.

"Dad!" Allie exclaimed, slamming into his chest. She hugged him tightly, her tears soaking into his serge jacket as he stroked her hair. When she finally stepped back, she wiped her eyes and narrowed them into a glare. "You have to arrest Mr. Bouchard."

"Why?" Nathan asked, glancing quickly around to see what had made his daughter so upset. "What happened?"

"He's making a scene in front of the saloon," she explained. "He's telling people that you and Mama were having an affair while she was still courting him. He said the only reason you announced you were together is because she got pregnant." Nathan inhaled sharply and his cheeks paled slightly before turning red as his eyes narrowed.

"What else did he say?"

Allie huffed. "He called the baby a bastard and said Mama would have tried to pass it off as his if he hadn't broken things off with her."

Nathan steered Allie to one of the benches along the boardwalk. "Did anyone else say anything about Elizabeth?"

Allie shook her head. "Not that I heard. People sounded like they were mad at him. And I'm pretty sure Mrs. Coulter slapped him."

Nathan couldn't help but smile at that image. God bless Rosemary. The woman could be a lot more dramatic than he preferred, but she was nothing but loyal to the people she cared about, and she was a true friend to Elizabeth. Looking back at Allie, he pulled her to her feet. "Come on. Let's go for a walk. Unfortunately, I can't arrest Mr. Bouchard just for being rude." As they started walking, they heard cheers and applause down the street. "It sounds like Mrs. Coulter has things handled for now," he added, hugging his daughter to his side. "I doubt my presence would calm things."

Elizabeth would be at home with Jack, getting dinner started and spending time with her son, so Nathan didn't want to go there yet. He and Allie ended up walking out to their favorite fishing hole. Even without their treasured pastime, it was a peaceful, secluded spot where no one ever bothered them. Not even Elizabeth and Jack had been invited here yet.

Nathan was torn. On one hand, he had always been honest with Allie, so keeping the reason behind his hasty marriage to Elizabeth a secret had been weighing heavily on him. On the other hand, however, he didn't want to disappoint her. She had faced so many hardships in her life already, and too many people had let her down; he didn't want to be another name on that list. As they sat in silence for a while, he knew what he had to do.

"Allie," he said hesitantly, turning to face her. "There's something I have to tell you. Maybe I should have brought it up sooner, but you have been so happy the last few weeks, and we've been settling in as a real family, and I didn't want to disrupt that…"

Allie's eyes widened. She took a deep breath and sat up a little straighter. "We're moving again, aren't we?" she asked. "You've gotten a new assignment."

Nathan shook his head, taking her hand in his. "No, sweetheart, it's nothing like that. I promise. If and when I get another assignment, I will tell you about it right away. I won't make that mistake again."

"So, what's wrong?" she wondered.

"It's about me and Elizabeth," he started to explain. "What Mr. Bouchard said about us having an affair was untrue but…. he wasn't entirely wrong in his train of thought."

"What are you talking about?"

Nathan took a deep breath, holding it in for a few seconds before letting it out slowly. He looked down at his hands, unable to meet her eyes. "There is a chance that your baby brother or sister was conceived before we were married. Just barely," he hastened to add. "The night before. But that possibility is why we went to Union City to get married without telling anyone."

Allie was silent, and Nathan eventually looked up to meet her gaze. His eyes were filled with shame and his cheeks flushed with embarrassment, but his daughter was surprisingly calm. She smirked a bit before she answered. "I sort of figured it was something like that."

"You did?" he asked, truly shocked.

She laughed. "Dad, you never do anything impulsive. You think and overthink everything, and it fits you, especially in your job. When I heard that the two of you were alone in the storm, and then you ran off and got married…a part of me wondered."

"Did you tell anyone else your suspicions?"

"Of course not! I didn't know if I was right or not, and I kind of didn't want to know if I was…" Nathan's cheeks flushed again. "Besides, it is none of mine or anyone else's business. It's not like you two have been going around town bragging about it and making a scene. You got married, and now we're all happy. I wasn't going to risk ruining that."

Nathan sighed, a bit relieved and a bit in wonder at how mature and understanding his daughter was.

"You understand why we've kept it a secret, right?" Nathan asked.

"Because people would talk," Allie replied. "They would say the sort of things that Mr. Bouchard is saying."

Nathan nodded. "That's true, but I can handle the talking. And I would understand if people lost respect for me, and I had to earn their trust again. But Elizabeth… she would lose her job if the truth were to come out. As a teacher, she has a certain moral standard she is supposed to follow."

"They can't really fire her for having a baby, can they?" Allie asked, aghast.

"It's not the baby that's the problem, but rather when it might have been created. What happened between Elizabeth and I that night in the cabin… it shouldn't have. We got carried away and things went too far. If the Board of Education finds out, she could lose her teaching license."

"But you love each other!" Allie argued. "You've been in love with each other forever! Why would they punish her for that?"

"Because we should have been more responsible," Nathan explained patiently. "Do you understand now why I am so cautious about you going off alone with Robert and Harper? I know I can trust you to make good choices, but even the best of intentions sometimes fail. Sometimes our emotions get the better of us, and things happen that we never planned for. I know what a heavy burden this has been on me the last few months-not being able to be honest with everyone, worrying that Elizabeth is feeling that same weight, the judgement our child would be subjected to if anyone finds out, the things people might say to you and Jack… I never want you to have to face that." He sighed, squeezing her hand. "I'm sorry that I've placed this load on you now, too."

Allie leaned in, hugging him tightly. "We can help each other carry it," she vowed quietly. "We're a family. We're in this together. I love you."

"I love you, too, Alls," Nathan said, holding her just as tight. "Are we alright? Do you have anything you want to ask me, or say before we head home?" While he hoped that he'd explained things well enough that they could put this conversation behind them, he couldn't stand the idea of leaving her with more questions. Sharing his shame with her was enough of a burden. To his relief, she smiled and shook her head.

"What I really want to know is, when and where did you get the rings?" Allie teased as they started walking home. "Were they some family heirloom that you never told me about? Did you buy them when you got to Union City?"

Nathan chuckled, his eyes twinkling with happiness now. "A little bit of both, actually," he teased. When Allie rolled her eyes at him and pouted, he explained. "The ring I gave Elizabeth was your great grandmother's, my mother's mother. My mom gave it and my grandfather's to me when I left for the Academy, saying that they were small enough to travel with me as a reminder of home, as well as something of our family's past I could share with the woman I was going to spend my future with. They have journeyed with me to every post and every assignment."

"How did I not know about this?" Allie wondered in disbelief.

"First, because you were a child when you came to live with me, and we had other things to worry about. Second, until we came to Hope Valley, I never expected to need them. I thought they would stay that little piece of home for me, and I would pass them on to you someday. I came across them in my drawer the morning of the storm and took them with me to Buxton to have them cleaned. They were still in my pocket the next day when Elizabeth and I decided to get married. I offered to buy her something new, since I know she's used to fancier things, but she refused. She said she loved the sentiment behind my mother giving them to me, and wanted to honor her wishes. We had to buy a ring for me, though, because my fingers are bigger than my grandfather's."

They made it home just in time for supper. Elizabeth teased them about getting ready to send out a search party, making all of them laugh, but she noticed that Nathan's grin wasn't as wide as usual. She waited, hoping he would talk about whatever was bothering him once the kids were asleep, but he kept quiet, kissing her good-night and heading to bed himself. As she nestled in beside him, she pretended not to notice that he was feigning sleep.

The next day, Nathan was still struggling with his conscience. Bill had told him about Lucas's rant and accusations, as well as his own part in stopping them. Feeling it his duty, he approached Lucas to ask if he wanted to press charges against Rosemary or Bill, but the man just glared and ordered him out of his office. He set out on his rounds, hoping some time alone would help him get his thoughts in order.

"I've sure made a mess of things, haven't I, boy?" he said. He'd come to find that Newton was an excellent sounding board when he needed to talk things out. His loyal friend had heard plenty about Nathan's feelings of guilt and unrequited love for Elizabeth, as well as his concerns about Allie, worries about his father, and dreams of the future. While he couldn't give any answers, Newton always acknowledged Nathan's questions, and this time was no different. He tossed his head, seeming to glance back at his rider before plodding forward.

"I know I should feel guilty about what happened. That night with Elizabeth, not yesterday with Lucas and Bill," he hastened to add. "I know what we did was wrong, both in the eyes of the church and society's standards, and I should be ashamed. I shouldn't feel this good. I don't deserve to be this happy." He sighed, unable to stop the smile that spread across his face. "That night brought me some of the best things in my life though- a wife that I adore, a son I already love like my own, my daughter happier than I've ever seen her because she has a mother to help her with all those "girl things" she doesn't want to talk to me about, a new baby to love…" His face fell and he stared unseeing into the distance for a moment. "If word gets out about what we did, I will lose people's respect, but Elizabeth could lose her job. She loves being a teacher, almost as much as she loves being a mother. What if that is taken away from her? But if we keep quiet… it feels like we're lying to everyone. Is that my penance- having to live with being dishonest with almost everyone we know? CAN I live with that?"

Newton shook his head again, whinnying softly. Nathan closed his eyes for a moment, then opened and raised them skyward. "I know you've been listening," he said quietly. "I don't know if it's right for me to ask your help with this. I know you are forgiving, Lord, but do I have the right to ask your forgiveness when I'm not even sure that I'm sorry? I regret when Elizabeth and I made love, and certainly where, but I can't bring myself to call what happened between us a mistake. Our child is not a mistake. He or she is already so treasured… and the act of making him or her pushed Elizabeth and I onto our path forward together. It was the wrong time and place, but it was an act of love. How can that be wrong?"

Newton stopped suddenly and Nathan started at the sound of a twig snapping under someone's foot as they approached. They both relaxed as Elizabeth stepped out of the trees.

"Allie and I talked this afternoon," she said, stopping next to them. "She told me I would probably find you out here."

Nathan looked around. He had unconsciously ridden out to the land Elizabeth inherited from Jack. She had paid off the deed long before he and Allie arrived in town, making it officially hers, and they had drawn up plans for a house of their own. The foundation had been set and the house itself was starting to take shape.

"So, this is how my big, brave Mountie spends his time. Should I be insulted that you'd rather talk to a horse than your wife?" she teased, rubbing Newton's head and smirking at her husband.

Nathan grinned, jumping easily down from the horse and drawing her into his arms. After a quick kiss, he led both of them towards the house. Tying Newton loosely to a tree so he could graze, Nathan pulled Elizabeth to what would eventually be their front step, helping her to sit beside him.

"Actually, I was talking to God just then, not to Newton," he explained. He couldn't stop himself from reaching out and running his fingers through her hair as it was ruffled by the breeze. She grasped his other hand, weaving their fingers together and holding it tight.

"What were you talking about?" When Nathan shrugged and said nothing, Elizabeth squeezed his hand again. "Allie told me about Lucas. She also said you told her the truth about us." He nodded but remained silent. "Is that what you're doing out here alone?" Newton huffed and stomped his foot, making her laugh softly. "Sorry, boy. Almost alone, confessing to a horse? Are you still feeling guilty?"

"Aren't you?" Nathan asked. "Doesn't it bother you that we found so much happiness out of doing something wrong?"

Elizabeth shook her head. She let go of his hand to run her fingers over his stubbled cheek, waiting until his solemn blue eyes finally met hers. "I have put that behind me. I acknowledged my part in what happened and asked God's forgiveness. He has given it. God is not vengeful or spiteful. He isn't waiting to punish us for what we did. In fact, I think he had a part in that night."

Nathan inhaled sharply, his eyes wide in disbelief.

"Not that part," she clarified. "But I think he gave us that storm. We had already missed so many chances… that day in the library with the book, after the windstorm, our hug when I thought you'd died in the prisoner transfer, that morning at my house when I warmed your jacket. We let so many opportunities slip away, so he gave us that storm. He forced us together and gave us the time to work through all our anger and doubts." She paused, her cheeks flushing. "I'm sure He didn't plan on us taking things as far as we did, but I truly believe he forgives us."

Nathan studied her for a moment. Her eyes were crystal clear, and it was obvious her heart was light. "What about our friends?" he asked. "Are you alright with lying to everyone for the rest of our lives?"

Elizabeth shook her head. "I don't think of it as lying to them. The two people who have asked outright, we've told the truth. Am I hoping no one else asks? Of course. Do I think we need to announce it to the whole town? Definitely not. But this… lie of omission. It isn't hurting anyone. I think more people would be hurt by the consequences of the truth, so to answer your question- yes, I can live with it."

She waited, giving him a moment to digest her words before getting to her feet. She leaned down to give him a quick kiss and then gestured towards the path to town. "I'll leave you to your thoughts and prayers. I hope you can figure out how to make peace with this. It hurts me to see you struggling when I know there are great things ahead for us." She paused to pet Newton, then offered another wave before disappearing into the trees.

Please help him, she prayed, glancing back to see Nathan still sitting in quiet contemplation. Please grant him the patience and acceptance he needs to look past what we've done and see all that we are going to be.

"She is something else, isn't she?" Nathan smiled softly, hoping God was still listening. "I don't know if I'll ever deserve her and our kids, but I promise to try every day to be the best husband and father to them. I will teach our children to learn from our mistakes, and with Elizabeth beside me, lead them by example. Please guide me to see as she does, that we are not to be damned for one error in judgement. Please help me forgive myself, so that I can accept your forgiveness."

Elizabeth was waiting on the front step when he got home. She didn't say anything, just stood and wrapped her arms around him, grateful to see the light back in his eyes and the weight off his shoulders. As their lips met in a sweet kiss, she knew he had found his answers.

"Come on," she said, beaming as they went up the stairs. "The kids already ate, but I kept dinner warm for us."

Thank you, he prayed silently as he followed her inside. Thank you for blessing our family and the life we are building here.

A/N- This one was hard for me. I struggled from the start with actually going ahead with this story idea, because it is quite a break from the usual portrayal of our Mountie and teacher. Obviously, I decided to put it out there, but I have worried the entire time that readers would think I am excusing their behavior, that I believe what happened between them in that cabin was "okay". It wasn't. By the standards and morals of that era, they were wrong. But at the same time, it happened. We've all heard of shotgun weddings. So, while we all want to keep Nathan as this "perfect" gentleman and make it seem that he can do no wrong, he is human. He too can get lost in the moment and give in to his emotions, and I've given him a lot- anger, passion, love, regret, guilt... I HOPE I have also managed to redeem him. (It seems the recreation of Elizabeth's character on the show has allowed many of us to already see her as imperfect, but I hope she comes off adequately contrite as well.)

I will be the first to admit that I do not have a strong sense of faith myself, so thank you to Jenn for her guidance in the God and prayer portions. Thanks to Lynn/nebula2 for beta reading this chapter, as well as the ongoing encouragement; I'm still not sure if you're just trying to send the pitchforks after me so that you can leave us crying or hanging off a cliff though... ;-) I don't anticipate this story going more than another chapter or two, but I never know where the muse is going to lead me.

Thanks for reading!

:-) Katie

PS- Guest reader Karen Martin- Hello! Thank you for all of the reviews on I think EVERY chapter of my stories. :-)