Author’s Note: So I like to take advantage of moments when characters are unconscious or asleep for flashbacks. Of course, it was Robert who was unconscious, so it should be one of his, but I didn’t have one of his that could aid the story. This one of Violet’s is important for more than one reason.
“Violet, I must marry you.”
She blinked, looking up from her flowers. “I do not understand. Are you trying to play some sort of joke upon me, Mr. Winston? I assure you, it is not funny.”
“That was a most sincere statement.”
“It was a most unflattering statement. You sound as though you have no choice. You must marry me or perish, and there is no one with a weapon to force your compliance. We have not sinned, and we will not, so you needn’t feel yourself under obligation to me. You don’t have to marry me.”
He laughed, kneeling down beside her. “You always manage to find a way to twist what I say into the worst possible interpretation. Should I blame that on your aunt, is that it?”
“I was raised by her as well as by my mother. I cannot claim that she has had no influence on me. Still, it is not my fault that you say unfortunate things. You cannot be charming all the time, no, and it is not fair to blame me for the moments when you are not. Those are your choice—not simply my interpretation of them,” she said, still annoyed by his latest comparison of her to a garden nymph. She swore if she had been able to use magic, she’d have turned him into a toad just for that, but then she might have had to kiss him to get him back, and there was no way she’d do that.
So it was a very fortunate thing that she did not have magic, that she did not truly believe in it.
“Put aside her bitterness, please. I did mean what I said—I must marry you.”
“Is someone else asking you and you need me to save you from that fate? Is that it? Will your father cut you off if you do not marry?”
“Then quit saying that you must. You don’t have to, and you don’t want to.”
“I am saying I must because I want to. Because you are all I think about and all I want. You are the one woman I want to spend my life with, and that is what I mean by must. I must have that life with you. I need you. Marry me.”
She frowned. “Do not be absurd. You have known me only a few weeks, and all that time, my aunt has been present to ensure no lapse of judgment or morals happens. You do not know me, nor I you, and I think it is best that we do not carry this foolishness further.”
She had to smile. “A moment ago, you asked if I was influenced by my aunt. My aunt considers all love foolishness. Not that this is love. It isn’t.”
“Tell me what it is, then. I want to know. I am desperate to be with you, think of you with every breath and dream of you at night—”
He grinned. “Not all of my thoughts are ungentlemanly, though, I swear. I want to do the right thing, Violet, and I love you. Why should I not ask you for your hand? Marry me. You shall make an honest man of me.”
“Oh?” She could not help the thoughts that came to her when he said that. “Have you been lying to me all this time? Is that it? Will you tell me the truth if I marry you?”
“Is that what it would take for you to say yes?”
She shook her head. “Do not make a joke of this, Winston. If you have lied to me, then I no longer want to see you again. I do not want to marry a man I do not know and cannot trust. I don’t care how charming you are or how I thought I felt about you. I will not do it.”
“Then you feel something for me?”
“I… I like hearing your stories, and I enjoy your company, but beyond that I cannot say, and I just told you—I won’t marry you if you’ve lied to me.”
“Everything I told you about Robert Winston is true.”
“It had better be.”