6 min read
A Daring Sort of Proposal
H. M. Morrison
It’s ten in the evening before he returns. Late, considering his usual routine. I expected him an hour ago. Where has he been? Or rather, who has he been with? He strides into the room with all the confidence of a man of his breeding, which does nothing but fan the flame of my ire. Too familiar. Too possessive. He’s a guest in my grandfather’s townhome, yet he manages to move through the space as if it’s his own.
He mutters under his breath as he rips the cravat from his neck, exposing the tan skin of his throat. I’m particularly interested in that area tonight.
“Curse her stubbornness,” He flings his coat aside and storms to the desk. His broad shoulders block my view of carefully arranged quills and parchments, but when he stills I know he’s seen my little gift.
He picks up the crimson tulip and spins, but I’m faster. My dagger poised at his throat before he can pull the pistol I know is hidden in his pocket. His wide-eyes flash, but then his lids lower, lazy and back in control again.
“Hello, darling.” He cranes his neck away from the tip of the blade.
I press closer. “So familiar.” I tsk. “Always lacking in propriety aren’t you, Mr. Farrow?”
“Tulips have such a brief bloom,” he waves the flower, ignoring my question, “did you have to cut this one’s even shorter?”
“As if you care a wit for flowers.” I scoff, but my hand remains steady, the knife doesn’t waver.
“Where have you been? I’ve torn the city apart looking for you.” His eyes flicker from the flower to my face and down the severe lines of my mourning gown. “And for whom should I offer my condolences?”
“To my freedom. Being arranged in a match with a rake isn’t something I relish. I assure you, I am in deep mourning.” Heat flares in his eyes. If I didn’t know his character so well, I’d say the title caused him offense. But I spoke true. And to think, I once harbored a tender regard for him for a whole fortnight before I learned of his reputation.
“As for where I’ve been, Mr. Farrow, that’s for me to know and you to wonder about in your spare time.”
“I no longer have spare time. Not since meeting you, Miss Harding.”
“And this is my fault?”
“Arranging nuptials is a time consuming business. Especially when the bride is,” he tips his head a fraction, searching for a word, “obstinate.”
“Unwilling sounds better.”
He leans in only to prick himself against my blade and slowly pull back. “Do you mind?”
“I do, actually. It’s delightful to have you at my mercy.” I train my eyes on his. In the sunlight they’re amber, like grandfather’s favorite brandy, but in the dim light of this bedroom, the golden warmth is swallowed by darkness. His face cast in shadow makes his beauty more ethereal, like a statue in a darkened church. And I’d be lying if I said looking at him like this, while we trade verbal blows, doesn’t push against my resolve.
Noting my perusal, his full lips curve into an indulgent smirk.
“I’m impressed you managed to snag a flower from the queen’s garden unnoticed,” he said. “Even more impressed you managed to hide there all day since you stormed away from our meeting in your Grandfather’s study.”
I shrug. In truth, I hadn’t been hiding. I didn’t know he would search for me after my irate protest this morning.
Of course, I knew grandfather was in the process of arranging a match. Knew an announcement was imminent, but I never dreamed it would be with the likes of Evander Farrow. How foolish I’d been to assume the notorious bachelor was visiting Grandfather on matters of business. But once all was revealed and Grandfather declared his intentions, I had no choice but to flee.
“There are better ways to make your fortune, you know.” I press a little harder with the blade, lest he forget who has the upper hand here.
“My grandfather has endless opportunities where a gentleman such as yourself can double his coffers. Surely that would be more palatable than tying yourself to a harridan such as myself—”
He barks a laugh. “Harridan?”
“—who won’t allow you to gallivant through town gambling and fighting and carousing at alehouses. I will not be made a fool of. I have, however, no qualms making a fool of any wayward husband I might be shackled to.”
His laughter dies. He regards me for a long moment, dark eyes searching mine. I school my features. He will not intimidate me.
“You’re serious, aren’t you?”
I move the blade under his chin, forcing that unsettling gaze from mine. “What about this implies I’m not?”
He closes his eyes and releases a long sigh. “Oh, Rosemary.”
“Oh, Rosemary, wha—?”
He snatches my wrist, yanking the blade away from his chin and holds my arm well away from the both of us. He grabs hold of my other arm and pulls. I gasp. He’s suddenly much, much closer.
“If you think I’m marrying you for money, you’re more mad than I thought.”
“Then tell me why?” I’m breathless. “Why else would you ask Grandfather for my hand if not for my dowery?” I pull on the knife. His grip tightens and the blade slips from my trembling fingers and clatters to the floor. He kicks it away and grabs my face in both of his warm hands, bringing me so close our noses graze.
My heart thumps. His gaze is so deep I fear I’ll be lost in its depths. I can’t look away.
He speaks again, his voice low—a caress. I shiver. “You didn’t stay long enough to hear the rest of your grandfather’s speech. Or mine.”
“I heard enough.”
“Clearly you didn’t.” His eyes flash. The hair on my arms stand on end. “Your grandfather made me the same offer to invest. I declined. Wealth isn’t what I’m after.”
“Then what? What do you want?”
“You!” He shakes me a little. “I want you, Rose. I want the honor of calling you my wife. I want the privilege of being your husband.”
His words pull solid ground from under my feet. I tumble head over heels into a vast unknown. “I, you- you can’t possibly. You’re a rake! And I’m a lady.”
“I was. It shames me, but I won’t deny it. You reformed me, you infuriating, stubborn, beautiful woman! From the moment I laid eyes on you last summer I was bound and determined to make you mine.” He leans in close. So close our lips ghost across one another’s. I can’t breathe. “I love you, Rosemary. I’ve loved you since the night you turned your pert nose up at me and accepted Henry Brook’s invitation to dance over mine.”
“Well, he’d just returned from abroad and told me he learned a new dance—”
“No.” His hand slides into my hair, loosening some pins. “No more talk of Henry Brook’s travels.” I start to protest, but his lips press against mine.
His kiss sears me. I’m caught up in it, like a strong wind, it tangles and disorients me. I can do nothing but let it carry me away. My hand that held the blade now reaches up to… clasp him closer?
I should stop this, but his lips shift and I am lost again.
I don’t know how long we remain tangled in each other’s arms, illuminated by a shaft of moonlight. I lose seconds, maybe hours.
Inhaling, he suddenly pulls away. Leaning his forehead against my temple, he presses a kiss there before cradling me to his chest. His heart races against my cheek.
We stand in the quiet until a rumble of laughter moves through him. “I think this is the longest you’ve gone without speaking, my love.” He pulls back and peers into my eyes. “What have you to say?”
“Well, I…” My face flames. Memories of spurning him parade through my mind. It once gave me great satisfaction, but now, remembering how his expression fell each time, I feel something lurch inside.
My blush darkens further. “I suppose that’s alright then.” I murmur, dropping my eyes.
His grin is nothing short of triumphant. “Do you have a confession of your own, darling Rose? Perhaps some words of love, for I have been most unfairly treated. Wouldn’t you agree?”
I quirk my lips. “Now that would be telling, Mr. Farrow. Much too telling. A lady should never speak of such things to a man who isn’t her husband.” With that I push free from his arms and flounce toward the door.
He clears his throat behind me. “Forget something?”
I turn and he’s holding my dagger, wearing a devilish grin. I approach cautiously. Before I can reclaim it, he catches me once more and presses a kiss to my willing lips. I sigh and lean into him.
Another moment won’t do any harm.
After all, a shared kiss between a lady and her rake is only to be expected.