The Mystery at Falconbridge Hall(93)

By: Maggi Andersen

She flushed. “Because of my inexperience?”

He nodded. “That, and other…considerations.”

“Am I not desirable enough for a mistress?”

“You are most desirable. If we were not in plain sight, I could show you how much. I might still…” He leaned forward and kissed her. The noise of people enjoying the sunny day beyond the shrubbery receded as her pulse pounded in her ears. She breathed him in, the smell of clean male overlaid by his fresh cologne. How quickly he’d become familiar to her. It was a restrained kiss, but her blood still sang through her veins.

He edged a respectable distance away. “Say yes. Or I’ll kiss you again, and this time, your reputation may well suffer.”

Laura almost shivered at his threat. It was vexing how unsophisticated he made her feel. She could throw caution to the wind here on this blanket in broad daylight, but he was quite controlled. She admitted to being hopelessly beguiled. It appeared that marriage would be her only choice if she wanted him in her life. And she did. “I’ll marry you, Nathaniel.”

His gray eyes sparkled, and he raised her hand to his lips. “Darling, I promise you will never come to regret it.”

She realized in that moment that he’d been confident of her answer. Was she so easy to read?

He sat back, and a corner of his mouth twitched. “I have to ask. You’re not marrying me just to escape your mother, are you?”

Laura gave a gurgle of laughter. “A little perhaps.” She studied his face, the strong chin, his sensual mouth, and lustrous black hair. She wanted to ask him if he believed in love at first sight, but she feared he would accuse her of youthful romanticism. “I like the idea of standing by your side, aiding you in your endeavors.”

He raised his eyebrows, a grin tugging at his lips. “I like that too.”

“And should I wish to do more,” she continued, testing the waters. “You would permit it?”

He leaned forward and kissed her nose. “Providing you don’t go off on your own to study art in some foreign city or take a lover.”

There was a steely note beneath his words. Laura felt confident she would never wish for another lover; the man before her would fulfil all her dreams of love. But she had inherited her determination from her father. And one day she would take up the suffrage cause again, when the time was right.

Nathaniel jumped to his feet. He leaned down to take her hands and drew her to her feet. “Now I must do the proper thing and ask your father for your hand.”

His servants appeared and began to pack things away. There was so much food uneaten. “Could the food be given to the poor?” she asked. “Or a children’s orphanage?”

He smiled. “It will be done.”

They walked back to the carriage hand in hand. Her parents would be pleased. Her mother especially. While she could never take the place of Eliza, perhaps distance would improve their uneasy relationship. Her pulse thudded as life blossomed like a rose opening to the sun. Admittedly, Nathaniel had wooed and enticed her to accept him. But she no longer feared landing herself in a dreary marriage in a remote part of England. No place where Nathaniel was could ever be dreary. And she looked forward to a chance to become fully herself; to immerse herself in a new world where her energy and need to be useful could make a difference, and with a husband she was already half in love with.