Mary withdrew deeper into the cushioned windowsill of the upstairs hall, tucking herself away from the commotion downstairs.

Mother’s voice was shrill and grating as always. “Mr. Collins, I assure you she shall be brought to reason.”

The low, angry, broken response wasn’t loud enough for the words to be discernable. But Mary knew who had spoken.

Again, she felt the throbbing ache in her heart when she thought of that deep voice, those intelligent eyes, that gift for conversation. Swallowing an uncharacteristic gulp of emotion, Mary slipped down the stairs and out into the garden.

Without a word he reached out his kerchief and wiped her eyes.

Swinging her book, and scanning Jane’s flowers with aching eyes, Mary’s vision grew blurry. Tears. She prided herself on not indulging in that overused, womanly manipulation. With a hasty hand, she brushed her face dry, and threw herself onto an open spread of grass. Lifting her book to shield her eyes from the bright sky above, Mary coached herself back into the text. Yet the words blurred in her mind. Their usual sense, disordered.

Suddenly, a heavy body tripped over hers, and she found herself crushed by a cumbersome, unwieldy form. He fought to extricate himself, just as she fought to push her book aside and slip out from under the unwelcome pressure.

Their eyes met, and Mary’s mouth dropped open in wonder. Mr. Collins’s eyes were stormy and hurt. Mary felt her own fill with tears for him.

He sprawled in the grass beside her. “My apologies for my unpardonable clumsiness, Madam.”

Mary fought for words. His proximity, his open pain, his apologies—they all conspired against her composure.

Mr. Collins fell silent, staring at her as he never had before. Without a word he reached out his kerchief and wiped her eyes.

She reached up to take the kerchief from him. Their hands touched for a moment, and Mary’s trembled and fell back.

“I am so very sorry, Miss Mary. I hope I have not greatly hurt you.”

His proximity, his open pain, his apologies—they all conspired against her composure.

“No, no, I’m not hurt, I—I.” She forced her mouth closed, but her eyes spoke her suppressed emotions eloquently.

“Miss Mary? May I be of any assistance? Please, fear not to speak your mind to me.” Mr. Collins reached out a hand to help her.

She brushed it aside. “No one wants to hear my mind.”

Mr. Collins’s eyebrows leapt at the bitterness in her words.

She blushed deep red. “That was unpardonable of me, Sir. I beg your forgiveness for speaking so.”

His eyes softened. “What, pray, disturbs you, my dear child?”

Her heart rushed at his appellation, and her eyes glimmered with joy.

With a start, Mr. Collins pulled back. Then he leaned in and spoke, low and hesitant. “My dear?”

Mary’s heart leapt with a wild hope, and wordlessly.

He spoke again. “Could you? Might you possibly find my attentions welcome in your eyes?”

Mary grasped his outstretched hand, then just as quickly dropped it and cast her gaze back to the ground. “You can’t mean it.”

“Why, since the first moment I saw you, I honored you for your devotion to God’s word, your pursuit of her own betterment and education.” His face lit up with fondness, “And such a beautiful voice.”

Mary found courage to search his eager face.

His brow furrowed. “Nay, I never dreamed you’d consider marriage.”

“Neither did I.” She blushed again even as she spoke. “I mean I hadn’t until . . .” She faltered.

His brow furrowed. “Nay, I never dreamed you’d consider marriage.”

His eyes widened. “Can it be?”

She nodded, dropping her reddened face towards her lap.

“My darling.” He had moved from a sprawl to one knee. He waited for her eyes to find his. “Might I ask the extraordinary honor of your hand in marriage?”

“You won’t mind my endless reading, my dull tastes, my dislike of formal events and fancy dress? Will I not bore you?”

Both of his hands now clasped hers. “Never. Your sensibility makes you all the more my love!”

Mary gazed at him in wonder. “I never thought this possible.”

“Will you accept?” He pulled her gently towards himself.

“With all my heart.”

 

 

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Meet the Author

Stephanie is a professional editor at Quill Pen Editorial Services and a published author. Her upcoming debut novel features an amateur sleuth–a young mother whose work at the Mayor’s office is plagued by a series of troubling incidents that lead her deep into a world of deception and crime. In the meantime, Stephanie relishes writing short stories and finessing the words of other authors.