the hard work in the summer sun had turned Nicholas from boy to man, and his physical appearance was not one to go unnoticed. She knew a few of the girls her age because she had attended almost a year of school at the little red brick schoolhouse after her family moved to town. Jealousy crept in when these same girls looked at Nick. It was all she could do to stop herself from putting a possessive hand on his arm. He must have sensed something was amiss because he reached down and took her hand, placing it on his arm just below the elbow as any gentleman would do when escorting a lady through town. Her heart fluttered and she sincerely hoped that her palm wouldn’t start sweating through the sleeve of his shirt. That would be mortifying. The young pair finished their errands and returned to the wagon. The journey back to the Goodwin home was filled with pleasant conversation about nothing of great importance, but something had changed in the air, and there was longing in every word they spoke to each other. The trip came to a close too quickly in both of their minds. Nick reached up to help Sophia down from the wagon and let her hand linger in his longer than necessary, giving it a little squeeze before he released it. From that moment on she knew that her heart could never belong to anyone else as long as she lived.
CHAPTER 9 Winter of 1887-1888 Virginia
T he day of the Mist Seeker’s departure was upon them and Sophia held back tears as they prepared to say their goodbyes. It would be at least a few months before she saw Nick or her father again. Even though the goodbyes were imminent, the morning chores still had to be done and Sophia found herself down at the family well once again filling the water buckets. The air was crisp and she could see her breath as she worked to haul the buckets up from the icy trough, trying desperately to keep her shawl from falling off her shoulders as she did so. “ You really should let me do that for you.” Surprised, she turned to find Nick standing behind her at the well. Even though she was used to his startling beauty, the sight of him there made her breath catch in her throat. He took a step toward her and took her hand in his. Her legs wobbled and she didn’t know if she would be able to remain standing. “ Sophia,” he said in the gentlest of ways. “I wanted you to have something. I know your birthday will be next week after we are gone, so I have no choice but to give you your present early.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a beautiful gold chain with a small rose-shaped pendant. Her heart fluttered as his fingers slowly glided around her neck to fasten the necklace in back. “ This was my mother’s and I want you to have it, Sophia.” “ Oh, Nick. I can’t accept this. You should keep it. I’m sure you don’t have many mementos of your mother left.” “ Maybe, but I want to give you something that will assure you will still be here when I get back.” Sophia couldn’t believe her ears. Even in her wildest dreams she hadn’t dared to believe that Nick might feel the way about her that she did about him. He cupped his hands around her face, caressing her cheeks, and slowly lowered his head nearer to hers. She could feel his warm breath on her and just when she thought she couldn’t stand it any longer, he softly touched his lips to hers for the briefest of seconds. Then he turned, picked up the water yoke, and quickly walked away. It was a long time before Sophia could compose herself. She couldn’t seem to stop the silent tears of joy from streaming down her face.
Just as Sophia had expected, her mother kept her busy with chores while the Mist Seeker was at sea. She usually would have dreaded not having time to herself, but Sophia was actually a little grateful. She was afraid if she didn’t stay busy she would fall apart from the pain of missing Nick. Her birthday came and went and she found that being seventeen