Today I'm giving you the proposal scene--only it's the heroine, Rose, proposing to the hero, because the previous night she was attacked by a soldier who'd heard a rumor that she was hiding a treasure. (Which she is. The story takes place in Spain in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Vitoria in 1813, when the British army plundered the French baggage train, which contained not only the army's equipment and payroll, but assorted treasures either belonging to Joseph Bonaparte and his court or looted by them from Madrid. Rose's first husband died just after obtaining a spectacular ruby necklace, which he entrusted to the hero, Elijah, to give to her.)
Rose knows her only protection is a husband she can trust, and she can think of no one better than Elijah, who's one of her dearest friends AND is physically imposing enough to scare or fight off anyone who'd harm her. (He's 6'4", so he'd still be imposing in 2013. Among the common soldiers of the British army in 1813, who tended to come from the lowest, most malnourished end of society, he's almost a foot above average.) The only problem is, he knows very well she hadn't intended to remarry before the rumors about the rubies got out...
“What do you need?” he asked when she did not immediately speak.
“I—” She bit her lip, closed her eyes and then opened them, wide and gray and imploring. “I don’t know the right way to say this but—will you marry me?”
His heart pounded. If not for what she’d said last night, this would be a dream come true. But it wasn’t her dream, so he couldn’t let it be his. “Marry you?” His voice rose in disbelief. “But—I thought you didn’t want to marry anyone, at least not now.”
“I didn’t, but—even with what Luisa did, people are going to keep coming after me, with these rumors of a treasure, and even if I left for home, I wouldn’t be safe. You’re almost the only one I trust.” Her words tumbled out in such haste Elijah couldn’t get a reply in edgewise. “I know it’s not right. You deserve better, a woman who loves you, but I—I do like you, ever so much, and I’d try to be a good wife to you. Luisa thinks my leg will be almost healed in a week, and—”
He held up a hand. “Rose. Don’t worry. I’ll marry you.” She was right. She wasn’t safe now, and what else could he do but be her protector? He couldn’t fulfill his promise to Sam that he’d give the rubies to her, only to walk away and let them be her shackles instead of the price of her freedom. It might be a sad mockery of a marriage, but he cared too much for her to deny her what she needed.
She blinked in astonishment. “You will?”
“Yes. Don’t worry,” he hastened to assure her, “I know it’s not what you wanted. We can make—what would Lieutenant Farlow call it?—a marriage of convenience. Once the war is over and we’re back in England with that thing safely sold—” he flicked a glance at the spot on her leg where the necklace lay hidden, “—we’ll go our separate ways, and you can do as you like and marry someone you fancy better someday.”
He’d meant to make her smile, but her face stayed solemn. “That’s not how marriages of convenience work. They’re as permanent as any other kind.”
“For the quality, they are. But for us, if we go back to England, and you go to your village, present yourself as the widow you are and buy your inn, who’s to know, or care, if there’s more to the tale than that?”
She cocked her head to one side, considering this. “Anyone in this regiment, for a start. Probably all the Light Division. You’re memorable, Elijah.”
His mouth twisted. “I know. But that’s all the more reason for no one to be surprised if you walk away from me, once you have what you need.”
“Is that what you want?” She stared at him, her eyes wide and anxious.
Why did she look so baffled and sad, when he’d meant to ease her mind? She couldn’t possibly want a true marriage with anyone, especially not with him. “I want to do what it takes to keep you and Jake safe,” he said. “Because I promised Sam, and because you…you’re my friend. I can’t stand by and watch you be prey for men like Yonge.”
She nodded. “I see. Very well. And—thank you, Elijah.”