As soon as they spotted him they rolled from their swinging cots and filed up the steps.
The door to the cabin was unlatched. When Nathan went inside he spotted Sara at once. She was sound asleep in the center of his bed. She was holding his pillow against her chest. She'd left two candles burning in their glass globes on the desk, and the soft glow from the light played against the angles of her face like dancing shadows.
He'd have to have another talk with her about the worries of fire, he thought to himself. The woman was forever forgetting to douse the candle flame.
Nathan quietly shut the door, then leaned against it. He was so hungry for the sight of her, he stood there for a long while just watching her sleep until his panic finally dissipated and it didn't hurt so much to breathe.
Every now and again she let out a little hiccup, and Nathan realized she must have cried herself to sleep.
The sound made him feel as guilty as hell.
He couldn't imagine living his life without her by his side. God help him, he cared for her.
That acknowledgment wasn't nearly as painful as he'd imagined it would be. He didn't feel as though his soul had just been snatched away from him. Just as amazing as the admission itself, he hadn't been struck by lightning.
Caine had been right after all. He had been a fool. How could he have been so blind, so indifferent? Sara would never try to manipulate him. Sara was his partner, not his enemy. The thought of spending the rest of his life without getting to shout at her again was simply too monstrous to think about.
Her love gave him renewed strength. Together they could face any challenge, he knew, be it from the St. James camp or the Winchester den. As long as he had Sara by his side Nathan didn't think he could ever be defeated.
His thoughts moved on to ways he could please his wife. He was never going to raise his voice to her again. He'd start calling her by those ridiculous endearments he'd heard other men call their wives. Sara would probably like that.
He finally took his gaze away from her and looked around the room. There was clutter everywhere. Sara's dresses were hanging between his shirts on the hooks.
She'd made the cabin her home. Her possessions were everywhere. Her ivory brush and comb, along with a multitude of colored hairpins, littered his desktop. She'd washed out some of her feminine undergarments and had hung them up to dry on a rope she'd hooked from wall to wall across the room.
He had to dodge the damp clothing when he took his shirt off. He could think of nothing but finding the right words to use when he told her he was sorry. God, it was going to be difficult. He'd never apologized to anyone before, but he was determined not to muck it up.
He bent over to take off his boots and knocked the makeshift clothesline. One of Sara's silk chemises was jarred free. Nathan reached out to catch the garment before it fell to the floor and only then realized just what his wife had used for her rope.
"You used my whip for your clothesline?"
He really hadn't meant to shout. It had just caught him off guard. His bellow of outrage didn't wake her up, though. Sara muttered in her sleep, then flipped over on her stomach.
It only took him a minute to calm down. Then he was actually able to see the humor in the situation. He couldn't quite smile, but he wasn't grimacing any longer. Tomorrow, he decided, right after he talked to her about fire hazards, he'd mention his special attachment to his whip and ask her not to use it for such demeaning chores.
He stripped out of the rest of his clothes and stretched out next to Sara. She was exhausted from the heartache both he and her Winchester relatives had put her through. She needed her rest. She didn't even stir when he put his arm around her.
He didn't dare pull her close to him, knowing full well that as soon as she cuddled up against him he wouldn't be able to stop himself from making love to her.
His intentions were honorable. His frustration, however, soon became damned painful. Nathan considered it due penance for the agony he'd caused her. The only thought that got him through the long dark night was the promise he made to himself that as soon as morning arrived and Sara was awake he'd show her how much he cared for her.
Nathan didn't fall asleep until the sun was starting to rise. He awoke with a start several hours later, then rolled over to take his wife into his arms.
She wasn't there. Her clothes were gone, too. Nathan pulled on his pants and went up on deck to look for her.
He found Matthew first. "Where's Sara?" he demanded. "God, she isn't in the galley, is she?"
The seaman motioned toward the wharf. "Colin rowed out earlier with some papers for you to sign. Sara and Jimbo went back with him to the office."
"Why the hell didn't you wake me?"
"Sara wouldn't let us disturb you," Matthew explained. "She said you were sleeping like the dead."
"She was being… considerate," Nathan muttered. "I appreciate that."
Matthew shook his head. "She was bent on avoiding you, if you want my opinion," he said. "And after the way we each took a turn lighting into her yesterday when she came back to the wharf, well, we were all feeling a little guilty, and so we let her have her way today."
"What are you talking about?"
"As soon as Jimbo saw Sara climbing out of that hack he started in lecturing her about the dangers of the city for an innocent woman traveling alone."
"Then Colin had to have a turn," Matthew continued. "Next Chester gave her what for… or was it Ivan? I don't recall now. God's truth, Nathan, the men were all lined up waiting their turn to lecture her. It was a sight I thought I'd never see."
Nathan pictured the scene and couldn't help but smile. "The men are loyal to her," he announced. He started to turn back to the steps. He fully intended to go after his wife and bring her back. He paused suddenly and turned around. "Matthew? How was Sara feeling this morning?"
The seaman glared at Nathan. "She wasn't crying, if that's what you're wondering. Now, if you ask me how she was acting, I'd have to say she acted damned pitiful."
Nathan walked back over to his friend and stood by his side. "What the hell does that mean?"
"Defeated," Matthew muttered. "You've broken her heart, boy."
Nathan suddenly pictured Sara's mother in his mind. She was certainly a defeated woman, and Nathan knew that her husband, Winston, had been responsible for breaking her spirit. God help him, was he just as bad?
That thought terrified him. Matthew was watching Nathan's expression and was astonished to see the vulnerability there. "What the hell am I going to do?" Nathan muttered.
"You broke it," Matthew countered. "You fix it."
Nathan shook his head. "I doubt she'll believe anything I say. God, I can't blame her."
Matthew shook his head. "Do you still have so little faith in our Sara?"
That question gained a glare. "What are you saying?" Nathan asked.
"She's loved you for a heap of years, Nathan. I don't believe she can stop so suddenly, no matter what dastardly thing you've done to her. You've only got to let her know you have faith in her. If you stomp on a flower, you kill it. Our Sara's heart is like that flower, boy. You've hurt her, and that's a fact. Best find a way to show her you're caring. If you don't, you'll lose her for good. She asked me if she could accompany me back to Nora's island."
"She isn't leaving me."
"You don't need to shout, boy. I hear you fine." Matthew had to struggle to hide his smile. "She mentioned that you'd mind if she left."
"Then she realizes that I have begun to"—Nathan suddenly felt like an awkward schoolboy—"care."
Matthew snorted. "No, she hasn't recognized that," he said. "She's thinking you want the land and the treasure. She called herself the extra baggage that went along with the king's gift."
In the beginning that was all he'd been interested in, but it hadn't taken him long to realize that Sara was far more important to him.
And he was losing her. He had broken her heart, but God help him, he didn't know how to fix it.
He needed advice from an expert.
After ordering Matthew to take charge of the Seahawk for the day he finished dressing and went into London proper. He knew Sara would be safe with Jimbo and Colin looking after her, and so he went directly to his sister's house. He didn't want to see Sara until he knew exactly what he would say to her.
Jade answered the front door. "How did you find out so soon?" she asked her brother when he rushed past her.
"I've got to talk to Caine," Nathan announced. He looked inside the drawing room, saw that it was empty, and then turned back to his sister. "Where is he? Damn, he didn't go out, did he?"
"No, he's in the study," Jade answered. "Nathan, I've never seen you in such a state," she added. "Are you worried about Sara? She's all right. I just settled her in the guest chamber."
Nathan was halfway down the hallway before Jade had finished her explanation. He turned around then. "She's here? How did—"
"Colin dragged her back to us," Jade explained. "Nathan, please lower your voice. Olivia has just gone down for her afternoon rest, and I believe that if you wake her this time, Sterns will come after you with a hatchet."
That statement got a quick grin from Nathan. "Sorry," he whispered.
He started back toward Caine's study. Jade called out, "I've apologized to Sara because I shamelessly jumped to the wrong conclusion. Have you, Nathan?"
"Jumped to the wrong conclusion?" he asked.
She ran after him. "No," she snapped. "I want to know if you've apologized for finding her guilty of betrayal, brother. I know she couldn't have done it. She loves you, Nathan. She's set on leaving you, too."
"I'm not letting her go anywhere," Nathan bellowed.
Caine heard his brother-in-law's booming voice. He sat down behind his desk and pretended to be absorbed in reading the dailies.
Nathan didn't knock. He barged inside, then shut the door with a slam from the back of his boot. A baby's shrill cry followed that noise.
"I've got to talk to you."
Caine took his time folding his paper. He was trying to give Nathan a few moments to calm down. He motioned for him to sit. "Would you like some brandy?" he asked. "You look like you could use some."
Nathan declined the offer. He didn't sit down either. Caine leaned back in his chair and watched his brother-in-law pace until his patience ran out. "You said you wanted to talk to me?" he prodded.
Another good five minutes went by before Caine tried again. "Spit it out, Nathan."
"I've already gathered that much," Caine returned.
Nathan nodded, then resumed his pacing.
"Damn it, will you sit down? I'm getting dizzy watching you."
Nathan suddenly stopped. He stood in front of Caine's desk. His stance was rigid. Caine thought he looked ready to do battle.
"I need your help."
Caine wouldn't have been surprised if Nathan had lost his supper then and there. His brother-in-law's face had turned gray, and he looked like he was in acute pain.
"All right, Nathan," Caine said. "I'll help you any way I can. Tell me what you want."
Nathan looked incredulous. "You don't even know what I need, yet you immediately promise to help me. Why?"
Caine let out a long sigh. "You've never had to ask anyone for anything, have you, Nathan?"
"It's damned difficult for you, isn't it?"
Nathan shrugged. "I've learned not to depend on others, but I can't seem to think straight now."
"You've also learned never to trust anyone either, haven't you?"
"Sara says you expected her to betray you. Is she right?"
Nathan shrugged again.
"Look," Caine said. "When I married your sister, you became my brother. Of course I'll help you. It's what family's all about."
Nathan walked over to the window and stared outside. His hands were clasped behind his back. "I believe Sara might have lost some of her faith in me."
Caine thought that had to be the understatement of the year. "Then help her find it again," he suggested.
"Do you love her, Nathan?"
"I care for her," he answered. "I've come to realize that she isn't my enemy. She's my partner," he added in a brisk tone of voice. "She has my best interests at heart, just as I have her best interests at heart."
Caine rolled his eyes heavenward. "Colin's your partner, Nathan. Sara's your wife."
When Nathan didn't comment, Caine continued prodding him. "Do you want to spend the rest of your life with Sara? Or is she just a nuisance you have to put up with in order to receive the king's gift?"
"I cannot imagine living without her," Nathan said in a low, fervent voice.
"Sara's a little more than just a partner, then, isn't she?"
"Of course she is," Nathan muttered. "She's my wife, for God's sake. Colin's my partner."
The two men were silent for a moment.
"I had no idea this… caring thing could be so irritating. I've ruined everything, Caine. I've destroyed Sara's faith in me."
"Does she love you?"
"Of course she loves me," Nathan immediately answered. "Or at least she used to love me. She would tell me almost every day." He let out a sigh, then said, "Matthew was right. All this time Sara's given me her love without reservation. It's like a flower, and I've stomped on it."
Caine tried not to smile. "Like a flower, Nathan? God, you have taken a fall. You've become… eloquent."
Nathan wasn't paying him any attention. "She thinks of herself as extra baggage I have to put up with in order to get the land and the coins. That was true at first, but everything's changed now."
"Nathan, simply tell her how you feel."
"Sara's so delicate," Nathan announced. "She deserves better than me, but I'll be damned if I'll let anyone else touch her. I've got to fix this. I've stomped on her…"