They'd hit adverse winds shortly after leaving Port Mahon, winds that had dogged them all the way to Gibraltar and left them tacking about for two days trying to clear the Straits. Now, finally out in the Atlantic, they were able to catch a fair slant to make their northing, but the concern over the wind was replaced by concern over the weather, for the seas had grown much bigger, and the Commerce de Marseilles was exhibiting all the problems her officers had promised. She rolled obstinately in the swells, her massive bulk creaking as her timbers groaned, a cacophony of noises that had been absolutely terrifying the first night they'd been in the Atlantic.
The movement was so severe; her flexing was so extreme, that her seams came apart with disturbing speed. Granger had had to delegate one hundred of his crew to sit below deck and pick oakum to make new seams. Then they'd had to wait a day for the weather to moderate enough to melt pitch, and finally they'd been able to repair the damage the ship was causing herself. But the repairs had been short-lived. It seemed that no sooner had they repaired one seam than another sprung, and so it continued.
Between picking oakum, repairing the hull, and the normal activities of setting or taking in sail, the crew would be exhausted. But then there was work on the pumps. The pumps had to be manned and operated 20 of every 24 hours just to expel the water that the huge ship welcomed in. Two days ago Granger had brought some of the healthier passengers aboard from the other ships just to help on the pumps, swelling the complement of his ship to close to 600. Even that had required Herculean effort, maneuvering small boats through huge seas was never an easy task.
Granger put that aside and sat at his dining room table, eating with Michel. Granger wasn't sure what it was about the little waif that had endeared him to Granger, but he tended to credit Travers' hunch, that it was his latent parental instinct emerging. But even without that, Michel was such a neat young guy. Charming, precocious, and sharp as a tack. His English was incredible considering that he'd started learning less than a month ago.
“How long until we get to England?” Michel asked.
“Well,” Granger said. “We're just now making our northing. Spain is off to the starboard. If we get fair winds, it could be a week. If not, it could be a month.”
“Will it be this stormy the whole way?”
Granger smiled. “I hope not, but it is probable. It is winter here in the Atlantic, and storms are more common than not.”
“I do not like the storms, and I do not like the cold,” he complained.
“Neither do I,” Granger said. “But I think you will like London. And I know you will like Caroline.”
“What if she does not like me?” he asked.
“Who would not like you?” Granger said, smiling at him. “You are such a good little gentleman.” Michel smiled. There was a knock on the door and one of the French midshipmen entered, forcing himself to be calm and ignoring the water that poured from his tarpaulin.
“Mr. Jacquard's respects, sir, and he'd like to take in another reef in the mains,” he said.
“I will be up shortly,” Granger said, dismissing him. “You may have my pastry,” he said to Michel, getting a smile in return. Then Winkler was there with his coat, scarf, and oilskins. Duly bundled up, Granger headed out to the quarterdeck. The winds had increased dramatically, blowing around him, and heeling the Commerce hard over to the starboard. Granger eyed the gray sky, and the huge waves, then scanned his eyes across at the fleet. They were spread out, dispersed in front of the winds. He saw the nearest corvette laboring mightily in the seas and knew they couldn't maintain their course in these conditions.
Granger turned to find Bentley there, just as he should be. “Signal the fleet to heave to,” he screamed. The wind, and the creaking of the ship, was so noisy it was almost impossible to make yourself heard.
“Heave to, if you please,” Granger said to Jacquard. He restrained himself, his desire to do things himself, and let Jacquard give the orders. In the end, it was a clumsy maneuver, not because of Jacquard, but because the weather was so severe and the crew was so raw.
Now that she wasn't fighting the waves, now that she was yielding to them, the Commerce de Marseilles' motion eased, and the creaking got a little softer. Granger hoped the storm would blow itself out soon enough; otherwise he was worried that his massive ship might just drive herself under the waves.
January 17, 1794
The storm blew for three days, and then moderated enough for them to square away for England once again. Hove to, the Commerce didn't leak as much, or work as much, or toss about as much, so it was much less intense. But it also didn't get them any closer to England. So this morning, Granger had rounded up the stragglers and resumed their course.
“I was hoping for a break in the weather so we could check our position, sir” Poulin said to him.
“It would be nice,” Granger said. “It would be nice just to see the sun or the stars.” They hadn't been able to take an observation since they passed through the Straits of Gibraltar. They could be 50 miles from the Portuguese coast, or 500 for all he knew. Still, the course would be the same: North.
“Perle is signaling, sir,” Bentley called. “Sail off the larboard bow.” Perle was their lead ship, and it was her job to scout ahead for just that reason.
“Acknowledge,” ordered Granger. Bentley stared at him, so Granger humored him with an explanation. “There's no point in sending her off to investigate.”
“Aye aye sir,” Bentley said.
But the newcomer was not to be daunted. “Signal from Perle sir,” Bentley said. “The ship is British. She's relaying her number sir.” Bentley fumbled through his signal book. “She's the Reindeer sir, 20 guns, Commander Preston commanding.”
Granger smiled. Preston had been the First Lieutenant when Granger joined his first ship, the Barracuda. “Reindeer to flag,” Bentley said. “Interrogative.” That really made Granger smile. Preston was a good officer, and finding a French fleet flying British colors, he was determined to investigate.
“Make flag to Reindeer. Captain to repair on board,” Granger said. Well, if Preston was curious, he could get wet finding out what was going on. He turned to a French midshipman. “My compliments to Admiral Trogoff. Please advise him that Commander Preston will be coming aboard.” The midshipman scurried off to tell the admiral, while Granger watched Preston get soaked on his boat ride over.
They piped him aboard with the paltry honors due to a Commander, and Granger was there to meet him. “Mr. Granger,” Preston said, shaking Granger's hand. “What brings you out here in the middle of the Atlantic in a French First Rate?”
“Welcome aboard sir. I'm the acting-Captain of His Majesty's Ship Commerce de Marseilles. She was taken with the rest of this fleet during the siege of Toulon,” Granger said, grinning.
“Let me get this straight. You're commanding a First Rate?” Preston asked.
“Yes sir. And miraculously enough, we're still afloat,” Granger joked. But Preston was a bit dourer than that.
“Miraculously,” Preston said calmly. Granger took him to see Trogoff, who had nothing to say to him, and then Granger escorted him over the side so he could head back to his ship. It was an interesting interlude, but Preston had spent no time at court, and had no significant news. His whole visit was anti-climactic.
Granger paced the quarterdeck, his body tuned into the wind and waves around him, to the rigging and the trim of the sails, even as his mind whirled on. Preston had been his superior, someone Granger would consider to be a friend, but he had shown only one emotion that was distinguishable: jealousy. It started to dawn on Granger that as much as he longed for command, as much as he yearned to have his own ship, even if he could achieve promotion at this point, he'd be hated throughout the service for it. He'd have to be patient and bide his time. He'd have to go back to the Mediterranean and help Hood for the remainder of his commission. Maybe then, maybe when the old admiral hauled down his flag Granger would have his chance.
Granger lay in his bed alone that night, finally shedding himself of Bentley's presence. It would have been different if they were lovers, but since they weren't it was just frustrating. Granger had to make do with knowing he'd helped the lad recover from his trauma, at least enough to function normally. That would have to be reward enough.
There was a knock at his cabin door, unusual for this time of night. “Enter” he said. The door opened and Jeffers walked in, looking very nervous. Granger got a huge grin on his face, his body, deprived of attention since his tryst with Travers last month, responded immediately.
“I was wondering if it would be alright for me to stop by, sir,” Jeffers said respectfully. Granger rolled over onto his stomach and kicked the covers down, exposing his ass to Jeffers, inviting him in.
“It would be my pleasure, I'm hoping,” Granger said, smiling. He heard Jeffers' trousers hit the floor and felt his big body climb into the cot. Then Jeffers' hands were running up and down Grangers body, sliding down his crack and gently probing his ass.
“I've missed you,” Jeffers said as he lined his dick up to Granger's hole. “I've wanted you so bad.” Granger felt that big dick push against his ring, and he pushed back, opening up and letting Jeffers in. He stifled his moan.
Jeffers began to piston in and out of him, his calloused hands rubbing Granger's chest, his abdomen, and then one of them stroked his dick, bringing Granger off much sooner than he'd hoped. But Jeffers plowed on, determined to have his own nut too, and Granger encouraged him, gritting his teeth as the huge cock penetrated him again and again, until Jeffers finally blew his load too.
“Thank you sir,” Jeffers said, and then made to leave.
“Stay for a bit,” Granger said. He'd been without a lover, and he missed this time, this afterglow.
“Yes sir. My pleasure sir,” Jeffers said, grinning. “I wasn't sure if you'd mind me coming by or not. You've had company most of the voyage,” he said, a slight leer on his face.
“I have had company, but sadly it was not satisfying company, not like you. I slept with Mr. Bentley, fully clothed.”
“You didn't bugger him?” Jeffers asked. “Begging your pardon sir,” he added sheepishly.
“No. The poor lad's been traumatized by those bastards on the Berwick. Even if I wanted to, or he wanted to, I couldn't do that to him.”
“That's a bloody shame, sir,” Jeffers said. “And here I was, playing with myself, all jealous that you had a friend.”
“Well I have one now, don't I?” Granger said, and leaned forward to kiss Jeffers. He responded enthusiastically, and in no time their bodies were recharged and they coupled again, only this time Granger paced himself and came with Jeffers. Granger managed to stifle his cries of ecstasy as he came, but just barely.
February 5, 1793
The fleet had spent the evening hove too outside of Portsmouth, so as dawn broke, Granger got his first look at England, the first look in months. He saw the snow covered hills on the Isle of Wight, the cold, frigid seas that still battered at them, but as ugly as it was in the winter, it was England, and it was beautiful.
“Square away Mr. Poulin. We'll lead the fleet in,” Granger ordered. Poulin looked up sadly at the British colors flying over French. Granger had met with them yesterday and explained his reasoning, the need to do it for political effect, and that seemed to take some of the sting out of it, however they still entered port not as allies, but as conquered ships. Granger knew that if Hood's reputation was to be saved, their entry into Portsmouth had to be done with considerable fanfare, and lots of ostentation. He sent a midshipman down to inform Trogoff that they were entering the Solent.
Michel came up on deck then, along with Winkler and Lefavre. “It does not look very pretty,” Michel said.
“It is winter. It will look pretty in a few months. It is your home now,” Granger said. “You must keep a positive attitude.” The boy stared at Granger dubiously, but said nothing.
“Mr. Poulin, I'll need the barge ready to sway out as soon as we reach port,” Granger said. “You will take command in my absence.”
“Aye aye sir,” Poulin said. He was an excellent officer, and Granger was determined to find a place for him in the navy, one way or another. Poulin stood next to him, clearly wanting to say something, but obviously quite nervous.
“Was there something else Mr. Poulin?” Granger asked, trying to be as friendly as he could. His stomach was in knots, so eager was he to be home.
“Sir, some of the officers and I, we were trying to think of what we could do now,” Poulin said.
“What would you like to do?” Granger asked.
“Well, Meurice is a fledgling naval architect, so I figured he'd be commandeered by your Admiralty sir,” Poulin said. Granger had thought the same thing, and had made a point of it in his report. “The rest of us were thinking that we might still fight the revolutionaries, but as privateers.”
That was an interesting idea. “You plan to buy a small ship, or serve in one, and make a living as a privateer eh?” Granger said philosophically. “What kind of ship?”
“Well, we were thinking along the lines of one of the small corvettes or large brigs we brought with us. There are a few ships that we are partial to, if we could acquire one of them. The problem is money sir. We lost everything when we left France,” Poulin said. Now he was really nervous. Granger finally understood why. They wanted him to bankroll them.
“Well Mr. Poulin, I am not a businessman, I am a naval officer, but if you give me a proposal that makes sense, I would be happy to invest in your venture.”
“You would sir? That would be fantastic sir. We'll make you a fortune!” Poulin said enthusiastically.
“Mr. Poulin, I have been able to witness the skills and talents of the officers and men on this ship. You have a fine pool of talent to choose from, and your success is all but guaranteed,” Granger said. Poulin beamed at this compliment. “I will be traveling to London this day, as soon as I report to the Port Admiral I will be off with dispatches. You must come to London with your plan, and I will provide you with funds then.”
“Yes sir,” Poulin said nervously.
“Jeffers!” Granger called.
“Sir?” Jeffers asked.
“Mr. Poulin will need to travel to London in a few days. I'd like you to accompany him.” Poulin was a smart, resourceful man, but it would be much easier to get to London with an Englishman along to help out.
“Aye aye sir,” Jeffers said.
Granger took out his purse and handed Poulin plenty of money for the Portsmouth Coach, then slipped Jeffers a few guineas as well, just in case. Trogoff came up in his full dress uniform.
“I am planning to report to the Port Admiral sir, with your permission,” Granger said. “Were you planning to accompany me?”
“I think I will await his pleasure here on my flagship,” Trogoff said. Even now, he was unwilling to leave his precious command, his hallowed cabin.
“Yes sir,” Granger said. He saw his trunks being lowered over the side, and saw Winkler, Lefavre, and Michel going down into the boat. “Then I will take my leave of you. If you travel to London, you will find me at my father's home. You will be welcome there sir.”
“Go Mr. Granger,” Trogoff said. “I doubt I will make it to your London, but I thank you for your offer. And I thank you for your courtesy and your sensitivity to our situation. Lord Hood made a good choice.”
“Thank you sir,” Granger said, blushing. Then he nodded to them and turned to leave. As he descended into the boat he saw the men swarm into the shrouds, and then they cheered. They were cheering him. His crew, Englishmen and Frenchmen alike, were yelling themselves hoarse, showing their affection. Winkler grinned at him, as did the boat's crew, but he was nearer tears than anything. He took off his hat and waved it to them to say thank you, then focused on restraining his emotions. It was a touching moment, and it told Granger what he already knew. His first command of a fleet, such as it was, was a success.
They got to the jetty and there was a crowd there, curious, throwing questions at him, but there were also marines there, the familiar red coats were reassuring, to drive the mob back. “Winkler, I'll need a post chaise to London. Hire me one, one that has room for four people. It is too cold for you to sit outside, and I would hear Lefavre complaining about it for years to come if he had to.”
“Aye aye sir,” Winkler said. Lefavre pretended to give him a dirty look.
Granger turned to Michel. “I have to meet with the Admiral, and then we'll be off to London. You stay with Winkler.”
“Yes sir,” Michel said obediently.
He walked the brief distance to Admiralty House and found the Port Admiral waiting for him. A busy job, to be sure, and Sir Francis Beacham did not like to be busy.
“Lieutenant George Granger, sir,” Granger said, introducing himself crisply.
“Well Granger, what have you got here? The whole damn French fleet?” Beacham scowled.
“Yes sir. These are the ships we captured at Toulon. I took the liberty of drafting a list of the ships and their temporary commanders, along with a brief synopsis of their current condition.” Beacham eyed Granger's report with surprise. Evidently not many officers thought to be that prepared.
“I suppose Hood ordered you to London to explain things,” he said. His tone told Granger a lot about the common reaction here in England, and told him that Hood's fears were justified.
“Yes sir. With your permission sir,” Granger said politely.
“Suppose you'll want a warrant for a post chaise,” he groused, and then yelled for a lieutenant to draft it up. “So how badly did we botch things up in Toulon?”
“It was a great victory sir,” Granger said, spinning his prepared speech. “We captured or destroyed 12 French ships of the line, including their flagship, ten frigates, and eight corvettes.”
“You could have gotten the whole lot,” the admiral said.
“Not really, begging your pardon sir. The Spaniards failed to burn or capture their share of the fleet, so they left Toulon with but a single frigate.”
The admiral laughed at that. “Damned Dons. Can't even capture a surrendered fleet? We'll probably be fighting them again before this is over, so it probably makes no difference in the end. Here's your warrant. A safe passage to you Mr. Granger.”
“Thank you sir,” Granger said. He went outside to find Winkler standing next to a carriage. He handed the warrant to the postie, along with a few extra guineas for the coach, and they were off. Coachmen liked to make a big to do about leaving and entering Portsmouth, and this one was no different. They tore through the narrow streets at breakneck speeds, with intense noise and commotion. It certainly captured Michel's attention.
The four of them stared intently out the windows, all for different reasons. For Granger, he was worried about snow, and the delays that might cause. For Winkler, he was home, such as it was, and glad to be on dry land for a bit. But for Michel and Lefavre, they were staring at this forbidding landscape, marveling at their new home.
“So Lefavre, you want to go back to sea, or you want to stay here?” Granger asked.
“I am thinking that I will stay here with the boy,” he said, as if the decision was all his. Granger smiled at him. Lefavre had grown quite attached to Michel, and had done wonders teaching him English.
“Very well. But you should realize that once Mrs. Granger tastes your cooking, she may never allow you to go back to sea,” Granger joked.
“So the women rule the household in your country?” he asked impudently. Granger just laughed at him. Like that wasn't how it worked in France.
In the end, Granger's fears of snow never materialized. They'd grabbed food along the way, when they changed horses, so they weren't hungry when they reached London, but they were tired and not a little crabby. Especially Michel. It was after 8pm when the carriage pulled up to the Admiralty.
“Postie, take these three to Bridgemont House in Mayfair,” Granger ordered, and then tipped him well to make sure he did it. “It's in Grosvenor Square.”
“Right sir,” he said, and then a very nervous Michel, Winkler, and Lefavre were whisked off. Free of his retainers, Granger strode confidently into the small building. He introduced himself to the clerk and explained that he had dispatches from Lord Hood. The clerk led him down the hall and into a rather grand office. It wasn't Chatham's office, it wasn't quite that grand, but it was nice and tasteful, with an old world charm to it.
“Sir Phillip will see you shortly,” the clerk said. Sir Phillip? Granger blanched, and then dashed to a mirror to make sure his appearance was in order. Sir Phillip could only mean Sir Phillip Stephens, First Secretary of the Admiralty, the administrative head of the world's largest bureaucracy. Granger had met him a few times before at Court, but he was never at Carlton House.
The door opened and Sir Phillip entered. His suit seemed out of date in a stylish way, and he exuded an air of calmness, an air of cool control. It was very intimidating. “Well Granger, Hood saw fit to send you home, eh?”
“Yes sir. I arrived at Portsmouth this morning with the ships we captured from Toulon. The port was recaptured by the French Revolutionary forces, but we were able to sink eight ships of the line and capture four of them, along with ten frigates and eight corvettes.”
“You portray this as a victory then?” he asked.
“Yes sir. Over half the French Mediterranean fleet was destroyed or captured. We burned much of their dockyard facilities as well,” Granger asserted. He pulled out a copy of his report, along with the synopsis he'd been spouting since Toulon fell.
“You seem to have already written the article for The Times,” Sir Phillip said smoothly. “Putting a positive spin on it.”
“How could it be otherwise?” Granger asked.
“Well, there are those who will say we evacuated prematurely,” Sir Phillip said, holding up his hand to stop Granger from objecting. “Such observations are easily disproven. But they will assert that we could have captured the whole French fleet, not just a few ships. That is a bit tougher to argue with.”
“Not really, begging your pardon sir,” Granger said. “The decision to leave was quite precipitous, and until then, the ships were technically the property of King Louis XVII, under the terms of our occupation. When we evacuated, we were ordered to burn or capture half the fleet, while the Spaniards were to handle the other half. They were unable to complete their mission, which is why half the fleet remains in French hands.”
“So your observation would be that if we had succeeded, the French would be out ten to fifteen ships of the line, but the Dons would have them as their share of the booty?”
“Yes sir,” Granger replied. Sir Phillip smiled then, knowing exactly how he would play this, and how he would defend Hood, and by extension, the government.
“I will want to review Lord Hood's dispatches and your reports. I want to meet with you tomorrow to answer any questions I may have, or Lord Chatham may have. Be here at 9am.”
“Aye aye sir,” Granger said. He saluted and walked out of the Admiralty, pleased to see the familiar blue coach there, with the Bridgemont arms emblazoned on them. He climbed into the coach and reclined on its supple leather seats, a feeling of safety and security enveloping him. It was but a short ride to Mayfair, and then he was home, truly home, at last.
Footmen threw open the doors for him and he strode into the ornate foyer, dominated by that shade of Bridgemont blue that had colored the carriage. And there, waiting for him, were his parents, and Michel. Michel instinctively rushed over to Granger's side, clinging to the one person he knew in this sea of strangers.
“George!” said his mother as emotively as she could, and stepped forward to embrace him in her distant manner. Granger knew her so well, especially after they had gotten closer when he was wounded last year; he knew it would take her a little time to warm up again.
“It is so good to see you Mother. And you as well Father,” Granger said, turning to his father, the venerable Earl of Bridgemont.
“We've been reading all about you George,” he said. “I've saved the papers for you. You've made us very proud.”
Granger positively beamed at this rare praise from his father. To have the Earl say he was proud of him was the ultimate compliment. “Thank you father. I see you have met the Baron de Dardennes?”
His mother smiled gently. “Michel has already demonstrated his excellent English.”
“Where is Caroline?” Granger asked, concerned.
“She is in your room. She is too far advanced to handle stairs, I fear,” said the Countess. Granger had to restrain himself to avoid storming up the stairs to see her at that moment.
“I must go see her at once,” he said formally. “We may have some visitors over the next few weeks. I hope that is alright?”
“Your friends are most welcome, as always,” the Countess said smoothly. “Now go to Caroline. She will be waiting for you.”
Granger grabbed Michel's hand to drag him along, and then walked up the first flight of stairs deliberately. Once they'd gotten to the first floor though, Granger grinned at Michel and they ran up the second staircase to the top floor. He found Caroline in his old bed, their bed now. She was huge and looked most uncomfortable.
“George! What a wonderful surprise!” she exclaimed. He went to her and kissed her tenderly. “I could not wish for a better gift than to have you home.”
“I missed you terribly,” he said to her, and found that he meant it. “How are you? You are well?”
“I shall give birth soon, although I fear it is not soon enough. This past week has been agony, and the midwives insist that I remain in bed now.”
“I am sure they are right, dear,” he said lovingly. “While you are here having one child, I managed to have one on my own. This is Michel,” Granger said, motioning Michel over to her.
“My goodness, I hope my baby is not so big,” she teased. “It is good to meet you.”
“It is nice to meet you too, madam,” he said shyly.
“Michel, why don't you go explore” Granger told him. He nodded and smiled, anxious to see his new home. When he was gone, Granger told Caroline the story of how Michel's father had been killed, and how he'd adopted him.
“The poor boy. Well George, we will give him a good home.”
He stroked her hand softly and felt a surge of love for this woman who was becoming such a good partner. “Thanks. I knew you would accept him readily. I'm sorry I didn't have time to consult you first.”
“Nonsense,” she said. Granger climbed into bed with her and lay on his side, next to her, running his hand gently over her swollen belly. “George, you shouldn't be here like this. I'm not always in complete control of my bodily functions.”
He laughed at her, and then nuzzled her neck. “I was here when we conceived the baby, and you weren't in control of your bodily functions then either,” he teased.
“No I was not, and I wish I were in a position to repeat that performance,” she said, turning to her side to kiss him gently. “You made me feel things I never thought I'd experience.”
Granger felt himself blushing. “That's funny; I was thinking the same thing.”
“I was at tea with my mother and a few of her friends, and they were discussing married life and how one must endure it. Apparently not many of them relish coupling with their husbands like I do.” Granger laughed at that, at the visual of stodgy Lady Heathford and her dowdy friends talking about sex. “But Lady Crutchfield told them that her husband was quite skilled and made her toes curl.”
“Indeed?” Granger asked, laughing hysterically now. “I never would have seen old Lord Crutchfield as the definitive lover.”
“Well it seems he is. I told them that you did the same thing to me, so now you will have a similar reputation.” She stared at him and laughed. “You're blushing furiously now George.”
He regained control. “And what am I to do now when all the ladies want to sample my wares?”
“You must refuse them most definitively,” she said smiling. Then her hand moved to his groin, which responded readily to her touch. “I am sorry I cannot take care of you myself. I long to, you know. If you need to seek relief elsewhere, I will understand.”
Her hand had aroused him, fueled his desires. “If I need to, I will relieve myself, unless you want to help me out?”
She grinned at him as he pulled his trousers down, letting her stroke his exposed dick. “It is so hard and so soft, all at the same time. Move up so I can see it.”
Granger sat up against the headboard so her head was level with his dick, her hand gently fondling him. He took her hand and showed her how to stroke him, how to do it so it felt good, then leaned back and enjoyed her efforts. Her hands were so soft, so gentle. He felt his love for her surging with his climax. “Caroline, be careful, I'm going to cum.”
“I want you to. I want to see you,” she said, and picked up the pace. He moaned loudly, able to express himself without fear of being overheard, and felt his dick explode, spewing cum all over his shirt, but thankfully missing his coat.
She continued to stroke him until he'd become too sensitive and he stopped her. He looked at her nervously, but she just smiled at him. “I liked that,” she said. “A lot.”
“Me too,” he said, and moved down to kiss her lovingly and hold her gently in his arms.