A proposal mixed up in a proposition

Here’s the scene I’ve been working on; the one where my hero and heroine confront their differences and realise that they do not have a future. I was trying for an irresistible force and immovable object thing. Disclaimer: this is first draft, unedited, and not proofread.

Just to set the scene, it starts as Rede and Elizabeth leave church on Sunday morning. Rain has stopped the birthday picnic, and so Rede has been commissioned to keep Elizabeth away from the house while the other members of the house party prepare a party for her.

Edmund_Blair_Leighton_-_A_Wet_Sunday_Morning

A grinning Willie Bush had the chaise ready for them in the lane, and Rede handed her up into it. He slid in beside her, took up the reins, and told Willie, “Stand away, Bush, and thank you.”

Anne was silent while he guided the horses through the home-going crowd. They passed the gates to the Squire’s house, and turned right into River Road.

Rede had planned this. She should have realised earlier that morning, when she saw his two prize bays hitched to the chaise for the under groom to drive. She was torn between annoyance and a certain pleasure at his persistence.

He broke the silence. “You have been avoiding me, Anne.”

“I have,” she acknowledged, deciding that confrontation was safer than conciliation. “You do not seem to have taken the meaning I intended, however.”

He let out an impatient huff of air. “Should I take silence as an answer? No. I need you to say the words.”

They were silent as he coaxed the horses onto the bridge, then turned to pass the mill.

“I have been told to keep you from the house for one hour,” he said, “so I thought we would drive past the Roman fort, and then back across the bridge at the far end of the estate.”

An hour! How could she bear it, with his long warm thigh pressing against hers under the waterproof cover. She shifted, moving slightly to the left.

“You don’t need to be afraid of me,” Rede told her. “I will never do anything you did not want.”

“And yet, here I am,” she replied, tartly.

He shifted too, withdrawing slightly so that they no longer touched. Perversely, she missed the comfort, and had to fight the urge to follow.

“I won’t deny that I want you,” he said. “I think about you constantly. I dream of you at night. I imagine caressing every inch of you, kissing you, tasting you, completing what we began the other night. If you are honest, Anne, you will acknowledge that you want me, too.”

“What I want or do not want does not matter.” Anne sat up straighter. “All that matters is what my family needs.”

“Can you not have both?” he coaxed. “Can you not meet your family’s needs and your own?”

She shook her head. “If we make one slip, it will be all over the countryside, from here to Bath, that I am your mistress. Already people are talking about us, because I accepted your invitation to stay at the Court. We cannot give them more fuel for the fire. And scandal will destroy Kitty’s chances.”

“If you came to me at night, in the Long Gallery, no-one would know,” he insisted. “I have waited for you every night, thinking of you in the bedroom below me, thinking…”

“No, Rede,” she interrupted firmly. “There can be nothing between us. I will not put my family at risk for the sake of a passing lust.”

He turned towards her, jerking sharply on the reins and setting the horses shying nervously on the narrow hill road. Then, for a few moments, he was occupied with calming them. He was clearly calmer himself when he glanced back at her.

“Do you think it a passing lust then? Not for me, it isn’t. I have never before felt this overwhelming compulsion to be with someone. I don’t just want to make love to every inch of your body. I want to talk to you, spend time with you, meet you at dinner, sweep you into the dance, dress you in clothes that set off your beauty and—yes—and then remove them from you one layer at a time.”

Anne felt the heat of his words setting fire to her core. But she shook her head. It had to be a passing lust. She could not bear to love him. Given her history, there could be no future for them.

Uncomfortable with the direction of her thoughts, she lashed out. “How did you feel about your wife, then?”

She could feel Rede stiffen. Then, as if reaching a decision, he relaxed again. “She came with a trade agreement,” he said. “I would not have chosen to take a wife if I had not needed the agreement. And I would have taken any woman they offered for the sake of the deal. I was lucky that she was comely; and yes, I desired her. But I did not ever want her the way I want you.”

Anne regarded him intently. “But you loved her,” she said. “You had three children by her. When you spoke of her, I heard your grief.”

Rede nodded. “Yes, we had children. She was my wife. We were married by the Catholic priest in her village, and again in the Church of England chapel at St Johns. She was a warm body in my sleeping bag at night, and I am not a castrate. And,” his voice softened, “I grew to respect and admire her. She was not, precisely, a lovable woman. But I loved her in a way.”

“How did she die?” Elizabeth had been wondering this for a while.

Rede gave her the bare brutal facts, spoken in a level monotone. “She was raped and killed by renegades in the pay of an English company that wanted to destroy my own company. They attacked ten winter stations, and killed everyone they found: men, women, children.”

“Oh, Rede.” Impulsively, she moved closer, and clasped his arm, resting her head on his shoulder. He slid his arm out of hers and instead, put it around her, pulling her tight against his body.

When Rede spoke again, his voice was tight with suppressed emotion. “John and I were out checking the trapping lines. We should have been back when they arrived, but I stopped to investigate a valley that I thought might be a good spot for beavers. We saw the smoke from the fire as we came in. By the time we arrived, the wolves and the hawks…” he broke off.

Anne cuddled as close as she could, trying to give comfort without words.

“We couldn’t stay there; they’d had carried off anything portable and burned or broken the rest. So we cut trees and burned them till we had thawed enough ground to bury my wife and my babies. And then I swore on the grave that I would hunt the killers down and give my family justice.

“We followed them for days. For days, we were too late at house after house. But then we caught up.

“They had become careless, or they were fools, or they were drunk. John and I picked them off one at a time, until only three were left. Then…

“You don’t need to hear about that. We caught them, we questioned them, and we took them into St Johns for the military to deal with them.”

He fell silent again, driving with one hand and holding her against him with the other, her head tucked under his chin.

“So you got justice for your family,” Anne said.

“We got the renegades, but those who paid them? We didn’t have enough information to track them down, and the authorities were not interested. One idiot had the nerve to tell me ‘if you want a half-breed wife, go and get another one.’ ”

Anne was shocked. “How could he say such a thing to a grieving widower!”

“He realised he had been unwise,” Rede commented, and smiled, grimly.

Anne thought of asking what happened to the foolish official, but decided she didn’t want to know.

He bent his head to reach under her bonnet and give her a tender kiss. “Thank you, darling Anne.”

“For what?”

“For caring. You do care, don’t you?”

Anne wriggled, putting more distance between them.

“I cannot care. We have no future, Rede.”

“Future,” Rede repeated. They crested the hill, and he needed to turn his attention and both hands to the horses, as they shied restively in the sudden wind. Through the drizzly rain, Anne could see the even shapes of the Roman fort groundworks, softened by centuries of weather.

“I cannot promise you a future. I don’t break my promises, and I already have a promise to keep. Until I have given my family justice… I’m close, Anne, but they know I’m after them.”

Anne immediately understood. “The accidents. You think your family’s killers are trying to kill you.”

“I think the people that ordered the murders are behind at least some of the accidents. I think I am unlikely to survive these next few weeks.” He sounded calm, so matter of fact. How could he say such a thing as if he was announcing what he had for dinner last night?

“I cannot promise you a future,” he said again. “But I could give you my name. And I will, if that’s what it will take to get you into my bed. Marry me, Anne. Make me happy in the last weeks of my life.”

Suddenly, she was furious. “How dare you. How dare you offer me a few weeks of your life.  You talk about caring, but you would upend my life—yes, and the lives of my family—and then leave us.”

“Think of what you could do for your family as my countess,” he pleaded.

He held the horses tightly in hand, as the road descended rapidly to the river in a series of switchbacks.

“Not your countess. Your widow!”

“Yes. Probably. Darling Anne, I’m being honest with you. I’ve always been honest with you.”

“You do not understand, Rede.”

“You’re right. I don’t understand. My dearest Anne, what we could have together is incredible. I don’t understand how you can just ignore it.”

“If it is so incredible, how can you plan to just throw it away? How can I let myself love you if I know I am going to lose you?”

He repeated the word. “Love.” She felt him go still beside her, and he was silent for a while, seemingly concentrating on turning the horses onto the approach to the small bridge that connected the north end of the Longford Court estate with the road to Niddberrow.

“You are right,” he said at last. “Loving me would be a mistake. Even if I survive…” He broke off again.

After a time she prompted, “If you survive, what?”

“I have never loved the way you mean the word. Perhaps I could have learned to do so before my family was killed. But for these past years I have lived to destroy their killers. I don’t know if I have room in me for love. I only know that I want you past all reason.”

They were across the river now, and entering the woods that could be seen from the North face of the house.

She wanted to take him in her arms and kiss away the bleak look he wore. But so many reasons held her still. “I am not fit to be your countess. My past…”

He stopped the horses, and set the brake. “I knew George. I have seen Daisy. None of it matters, Anne.”

“There would be gossip.”

Rede was dismissive. “There will be always be gossip. We can ignore it.”

“If you are dead there will be no ‘we’. You cannot expect me to face the ton alone.”

He pushed down the waterproof so that he could take both of her hands. “You cannot hide in Longford forever. What of Kitty? What of Daisy when she comes of age?”

She had no answer.

He stretched his head around to look under her bonnet. “You’re crying.”

“I am angry,” she said, swiping at her cheek with her gloved hand. “Why can you not just let the past go? I do not want you to die, Rede.”

“I made a promise,” he repeated. “And even if I hadn’t… I have to go on, now, Anne. I told you that I’m close. I’ve found the men I’m hunting, and I have the means to bring them down.”

She felt hope, like a warmth rising within her. “Then you will be safe.”

Rede shook his head. “They have a backer; a powerful man who commands them. We need to find out who he is. Until we find him and stop him, we… I won’t be safe.”

Anne was quick to hear what he almost said. “He might go after your family.” It was a statement, not a question.

To his credit, Rede answered her immediately. “I believe he will.”

“That is why you have servants patrolling the grounds, and escorting Kitty and Mia when they go out.”

“It is.”

Anne talked her thoughts out loud as fast as they occurred to her. “Ever since we moved to Longford Court, you have sent escorts with us, too. Even into the grounds. You think he may be after us, too.”

“If he guesses how important you are to me.” Rede followed the words with a deep sigh of resignation. “That finishes it, doesn’t it. You won’t trust me to keep you safe?”

He answered his own question before she could speak. “Of course not. I didn’t keep Marie-Josephe safe, or the children. Why should you trust me?”

Impulsively, she kissed him, a brief peck on the cheek. “If it was only me, Rede… But I cannot risk Daisy. I cannot choose my own wants over the safety of my family.”

Rede turned his face and touched his lips to hers, and then wrapped his arms around Anne to pull her closer. “One more kiss,” he murmured, almost against her mouth, and then their lips touched and her world narrowed and exploded all at the same time. She lost all sense of the woods, the rain, the chaise, the horses. She was aware only of Rede, only of his lips, and tongue, and teeth exploring hers, coaxing her to explore him in turn; only of his hands—one holding her firmly and the other lightly roaming and caressing, setting her body aflame.

Anne did not know how much time passed before he pulled away.

He smiled, ruefully. “They will be expecting us at the house,” he said.

She nodded, unable to speak, still lost in a sensual haze.

“We had better go.”

She nodded again.

“You might want to…” he gestured to her head. She realised that her bonnet was hanging from her neck, and her hair was half down.

Between them, they found enough hair pins to restore some sort of order, and Rede set the horses walking. They did not speak again until he turned into the driveway in front of the Court, where Willie Bush was waiting to hand Rede an umbrella and take the horses.

Then, as they walked up the stairs to the front door, Rede bent down so that his mouth was close to Anne’s ear. “This isn’t over,” he said, as Cole opened the door and they entered to be grabbed by laughing children and ushered upstairs to the party.

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