Ronnie looked out over the splashing waves. Never in her life had she imagined she would ever be on a big ship like this one, traveling across the ocean to Italy. Andrew had been put in charge of a new factory for his father’s toy company. They would be living there for six months, just long enough to get the factory up and running.
She leaned over the railing, looking down at the deep blue water, unwillingly picturing herself plummeting into its depths after falling over the side. When she didn’t get sick or feel any real fear, she knew she wasn’t afraid of sailing. That was a good thing. She was so excited to travel to another country; she felt like she was in a different reality, a dream that she never wanted to wake up from.
The ship she was on was bigger than anything Ronnie had ever dreamt of. They weren’t the only ones traveling. The Talbots didn’t own a boat, so they were traveling commercially. The journey over would take three months. Once they got there and Andrew oversaw the development of the factory, they would travel back. All in all, they would be gone from Blue Star a year.
Because the trip was so long, and Ronnie would have nothing to do while Andrew was off working, Bunny had offered to join them.
It was two years since that Christmas that brought her into the family, a year and a half since she married her wonderful husband. In that time, she and Jonathan had sold Amos’s house and Jonathan had moved to Blue Star “to be near family”.
Ronnie remembered him saying that, a smile stretching across her face. The wind from the ocean lifted her hair, and she closed her eyes. She sighed contentedly, thinking about her cousin and Bunny and how close they’d become.
When Bunny offered to join them on the long journey, Jonathan said there was no way he would let her go all that way for a whole year without him being there with her. That was when the entire family realized Jonathan would soon be more than extended family. He would be immediate family. As soon as he asked Bunny to marry him.
That hadn’t happened yet, but as Andrew had said at least once, they were courting, and what other reason was there to court but to get married at the end?
It was inevitable. They all knew it.
Bunny and Jonathan were on another part of the ship, probably enjoying a cocktail or two to calm their nerves. Unlike Ronnie, Bunny was not comfortable on the ship and rarely went outside on the deck. She preferred to stay inside, having adjusted to the swaying under her feet but unwilling to see the vast ocean in every direction, nothing but the boat to keep them all from drowning.
Ronnie giggled and was glad Bunny wasn’t there to be hurt by it. It wasn’t funny, she told herself. But it was the dramatic way Bunny announced her sea sickness that amused Ronnie, not that she was suffering from it. Bunny made it seem like it was the end of her world.
“Enjoying the breeze?” She heard a voice behind her that wasn’t Andrew’s and turned to see Jonathan instead.
“I am,” she replied happily. “I’m surprised to see you out here, though. Where’s Bunny?”
Jonathan joined her in leaning over the railing, looking toward the horizon. “She’s taking a nap. The boat was swaying a lot, and she started feeling sick. The doc gave her something to make her sleep.”
“I hope she feels better soon. It will be awful if she’s like this for the whole trip. I’m a little surprised I don’t feel sick myself. I reckon I can just tolerate it more.”
Jonathan nodded, dropping his gaze to the splashing water as the boat rammed through it. “Three months is a really long time for her to be feeling bad, I know. She might have to sleep the whole time. I enjoy it. That’s why I’m out here. I want to spend most of my time with her, so she doesn’t feel alone or, well, guilty, you know, for not being able to come out on deck. So when she’s sleeping or distracted, you’ll find me taking walks out here. I think it’s just great.”
He crossed his arms on the railing and leaned comfortably on it.
Ronnie studied his profile for a moment, thinking how relaxed and happy he looked. She could still and would always be able to see his expression when they had first met, when she was so frightened of him and then not frightened at all.
At nineteen, Jonathan had grown into a young man with broad shoulders, muscles where they hadn’t been prominent when they met, and a firm, strong jawline, his face chiseled, his cheekbones high. He didn’t look like the scrawny, scared boy he’d been when he came to Blue Star.
“Where’s Andrew?” Jonathan asked.
“He’s getting some rest, too. I don’t know if he’s asleep. He just wanted to sit in the lounge and read a newspaper.”
“They’ve got newspapers?” Jonathan raised his eyebrows. “How are they getting to us?”
Ronnie grinned. “I’m sure they are old newspapers, Jonny.”
“Oh, of course.” Jonathan rolled his eyebrows. “What was I thinking?”
They were quiet for a moment, enjoying the lovely weather and the ship’s gentle movement.
“Are you as excited as I am about seeing Italy?” Jonathan queried, turning his sparkling eyes to her.
“I probably am,” Ronnie answered, humor in her voice. “I don’t know how excited you are, but I can safely say I’m almost over the moon. It’s hard to contain it. There will be so many amazing things to see there.”
“Yep,” Jonathan’s grin was wide as he answered. “And we’ll be seeing all that stuff while poor Andrew works.”
“There will be time,” Ronnie remarked softly. “I will make time for Andrew to see the sights with me. He won’t be working all day and night.”
“Nope. Just all day.” Jonathan’s grin widened.
Ronnie had to let out a giggle. “All right, yes, that’s true. But we’ll find the time. I know we will. I’ll make sure he doesn’t leave there without at least a jar of sand from the place.”
Jonathan laughed appreciatively.
That evening, they were gathered around a table in the dining room. It was one of a dozen tables and each one could seat eight. There were no other guests at the table the Talbots and Jonathan were sitting at. It was just them.
Bunny was looking a little better but only picked at her food. She was lively and energetic as usual, but Ronnie didn’t see her touch more than a few pieces of fruit on her plate.
As they talked in low tones about where they wanted to go when they got to Italy, the ship’s captain stopped at their table, giving them a bow as he introduced himself.
“Captain Cameron Smith at your service, ladies and gentlemen,” he greeted them. He shook the men’s hands and kissed the tops of the ladies, walking slowly around the table as he spoke. “I trust that your journey so far has been good?”
He stopped to take Bunny’s hand and kept his eyes on her as he kissed it. “I have heard that you are having some stomach trouble, Miss. This is a common thing for our passengers, and I would be glad to offer you any medicines or help that you might need.” He grinned at her, flipping his eyes to the rest of them briefly. “Not me personally, of course. But we do have an infirmary on board with a knowledgeable doctor who can help you with your troubles.”
Bunny nodded, giving the captain a kind smile. “I’ve already been to him, and he is very nice and helped me a lot. Thank you. Other than that, I’ve had a lovely time. What about you all?” She looked around at her companions. Ronnie smiled and nodded while the men mentioned they were having a good time, too.
“That’s good to hear.” The captain continued around the table until he had greeted them all personally. He stood by Andrew with his hands clasped behind his back in a military fashion. “If there is anything we can do to make your journey easier, any of you, please don’t hesitate to let us know. We’re just one ship now, but I’m sure if we treat our guests right, we will be a fleet someday.”
“That’s a good goal to have,” Andrew said appreciatively. “Do you own this ship?”
“I don’t,” the man replied, shaking his head. “I’m afraid I am only her captain, but I do know the owner very well, and I don’t think I’ll ever have another ship to run in my lifetime. He knows how attached I am to this one.”
“I imagine it would be like leaving your home behind forever if you were moved to a different ship.” It was Jonathan who made the remark, and the captain gave him an approving look.
“Yes, that is exactly how it would feel. I know every part of this girl, from the bow to the stern from up top to down below. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, believe you me.”
Andrew nodded, sweeping his eyes over the rest of them, settling them eventually on Ronnie. She felt a tingle of adoration for him in her chest. “Thank you for keeping us safe and keeping this boat moving. We still have a while to go before we get there, and it’s nice to know we’re being taken care of.”
“I don’t foresee any problems,” the captain replied, nodding back at Andrew. “The weather is looking clear.”
“We chose this time to travel because of the weather,” Andrew said. “It’s supposed to be a mild fall. We will get to Italy right before the holiday season.”
“Well, let me just say I hope you enjoy the rest of the journey, and if you do need anything, anything at all, just let me or one of the staff know. All right?”
They gave him short positive answers, nodding. He bowed again and, in fact, bowed several more times from the waist very quickly as he backed away. Finally, he spun around on his heel and headed for a table where other guests were sitting.
“What a nice man,” Bunny said, watching the captain smile and greet other guests, going around the table to shake and kiss hands.
Andrew laughed. “You don’t know that man, sister dear. He could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
“Andrew!” Bunny scolded him lightly.
“I’m joking with you, Buns,” Andrew replied with a laugh. I didn’t get a bad feeling from him. I agree with what you said.”
That evening, Ronnie and Andrew were getting ready to retire for the night. Bunny was seated at the dressing table in their deck room, looking at herself. Her cheeks were a little plumper. She was examining the smoothness of the skin on her face, wondering what she would look like in fifty years when Andrew came out of the washroom, a towel on his head and around his waist. He was brushing his wet hair with the towel vigorously.
“The washroom is open for you. I locked it from the other side so the other people can’t get in yet.”
Ronnie chuckled. “I’m sure they’re liking you very much right now. I don’t need to wash up. I will wait till the morning.”
“Okay.” Andrew disappeared back into the room he’d come out of and returned just a few seconds later, having unlocked the door to the suite on the other side. He locked the door and went to put on his night clothes. He spoke as he did so. “How are you feeling? Bunny has been so sick, but I haven’t felt bad at all, and I haven’t heard you complaining at all.”
“No, I’m not sick at all,” Ronnie answered him, pulling a brush through her hair. “Poor Bunny. I feel sorry for her. She doesn’t even have an excuse to be sick like I do.”
She continued brushing her hair, looking at Andrew in the reflection in the mirror. When she said the last part, he kept putting on his clothes and then sat on the edge of the bed, staring down at the floor.
Ronnie stopped brushing her hair, still watching him. He turned his head and looked at her, first the back of her head, then switching his gaze to catch hers in the mirror.
Ronnie almost burst out laughing. Her smile was wide as she kept looking at him in the mirror for a moment and then spun around in her chair. “I have an excuse to feel sick, but she doesn’t,” she repeated. “Do you know what I’m saying? Do you?”
The smile she was hoping for and expecting on his face grew slowly as he realized what she was saying.
“Are you sure?” he asked. “Are you very sure?”
“I’m sure. The doctor on board is the one who verified it for me. I’m actually almost halfway through. About three and a half months or four months along.”
Andrew’s eyes widened, his gaze dropping to her midsection, which was hidden by the chair she was sitting in. “That’s … that’s wonderful news, Ronnie!”
He shot off the bed and came toward her like a raging bull, except with laughter and tears of happiness. He lifted her out of the chair in a fluid motion and spun her around gently.
“That’s wonderful news! We’re going to have our very own little Talbot. Oh, Ronnie.”
He planted a long, warm kiss on her lips, making her heart pound like it still did, even after that long. When he pulled back, their eyes locked, and Ronnie felt herself drowning in his deep, dark eyes.
“I love you, Ronnie. If we have a girl, we have to name her after you.”
“No, that’s strange,” Ronnie replied, laughing softly. “If we have a girl, we’ll name her after your mother. If we have a boy, let’s name him Maxwell Amos. How does that sound?”
Andrew looked contemplative. “I think I like that,” he said with an approving nod. “Okay, yes, that sounds right.” He pulled in a deep breath, pulling her back to him so she was pressed against his chest. She closed her eyes and listened to the steady pounding of his heart. Her news had him reeling, if that heartbeat was any indication. He must have expected it to happen eventually.
And Ronnie was ready. She’d dreamed of this day since her wedding to her wonderful Andrew. The family that she’d always wanted was now hers. Not only did she have Jonathan, a real blood relative, but she had the Talbots, not just through marriage but through friendship. And now she and Andrew would start a family of their own. Their baby would be born around Christmastime or a little before.
“You know, I’ve been thinking,” she said softly when he released her so she could sit down again. He looked overjoyed and like sitting was the last thing he wanted to do, but he did anyway, bouncing on the edge of the bed happily.
“Oh? And what have you been thinking?”
“Well, if you count the months, our baby will be born around Christmas. And it was Christmas, that one two years ago before we got married that made all the difference. Before, when I had Christmases with you and your family, it was so nice, so very nice. But I knew the whole time that I wasn’t really family, and I know it shouldn’t have, but it did make things harder on me. I couldn’t let go of the fact that I had been cheated out of my own family. I wasn’t thinking at the time what Amos did, of course. I didn’t know about that. But the fire that took my parents, that was what I blamed. I felt that fire had cheated me for my entire life.”
She tilted her head to the side, running her fingers through the long strands.
“Everything has changed now,” she breathed in a happy tone. “Everything has changed.”
“For the better,” Andrew put in, scooting back against the headboard and stretching his long legs out in front of him as he sat against it. He folded his hands over his stomach and watched her as she smiled lovingly at him.
“You know, you didn’t say you loved me earlier.”
Ronnie pulled her eyebrows together, blinking at him. “What?”
“When I told you I loved you earlier. You didn’t say it back.”
She knew he was teasing. He was saying it all with a smile on his face.
“When was that?” she inquired. “I don’t remember that.”
He laughed. “Just a few moments ago. I told you I love you. You don’t remember? How hurtful.”
Ronnie let out a laugh, hopped up from the chair and climbed over the bed from the bottom to come up beside him. She placed her body against his, resting her head on his shoulder. He slipped one arm around her and squeezed.
“Do you know how much I love you really?” Ronnie asked, tracing an imaginary line on his shirt over his heart. “Do you know really?”
“I know, Ronnie. I think I’ve known for years but just didn’t acknowledge it. I think I’ve loved you for years without even thinking about it.”
“This is going to be the best Christmas of them all, I think. And that one two years ago was pretty good.”
“As long as we are together, Ronnie,” Andrew whispered, leaning down to kiss her lips, “every Christmas will be the best.”