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Monday Puzzler > 18 November--An Unusual Proposal

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message 1: by Manda (last edited Nov 18, 2013 08:26AM) (new)

Manda Collins (manda_collins) | 1895 comments Mod
This is an oldie but a goodie, and has one of the most awkward proposals I've read. And things don't go quite the way the hero planned. I love a marriage of convenience stories and this one with its Christmas setting is a favorite of mine.

To achieve anything, he needed to keep her in conversation. Presumably the easiest opening would be the dear departed. "If I may be so bold," he said, "I assume you to be related to Mr. Dead Husband, the poet."

"That is so," she said without particular warmth, most of her attention on her children, who were walking ahead. "I am his widow."

"A sad loss. Please accept my condolences."

"Thank you."

She was clearly not thrilled by this conversation. The children had run off to investigate the shallows of the river, and she moved to follow them.

Hero went along. It was refreshing that she wasn't blushing and simpering at first acquaintance, but he found that for once in his life he was struggling for something to say. "This is a beautiful churchyard in which to take his final rest."

She glanced at him. "It is indeed a charming spot, my lord, though I can see no reason, sentimental or spiritual, why the dead should be supposed to care."

As she walked on, Hero realized he was making a fool of himself. Clearly, no matter how deep her grief, the widow was not to be reached by the sentimental route. For a moment he was annoyed by the absurd situation in which he found himself, but then he smiled and adjusted the tilt of his elegant beaver.

By her cool behavior the lady had passed the last test. There was nothing about her he found objectionable.

The wisest course now would be to seek some conventional way of courting her, but that could be difficult. Beth had told him the Widow took no part in County life, and had little free time. He wanted all this settled so he could get on with his plans. He couldn't spend months hanging around Surrey.

Why shouldn't he just press his suit? He was, after all, the one who had managed to pacify the Duke of Brunswick after he had been insulted by one of the minor Bourbons and was flirting with the idea of throwing his state behind Napoleon. Persuading a penniless widow to become a countess should be child's play.

Still, he hesitated.

He hesitated, he realized, because he cared about the outcome. There was something about this composed woman which made him want to know her better, and ease her way in life. He was attracted to her children.

Good God, he actually wanted to marry her!

She stopped her stroll and glanced back at him, clearly wondering about his actions. A slight smile tugged at her lips. "Should I apologize, my lord? I fear I shocked you."

There was the faintest hint of dimples.

She was referring to her comment about the dead. He walked to join her. "No," he said, "but I fear I am about to shock you." A flicker of wariness passed over her face and she glanced once at her children, made a move toward them.

"Please," he said quickly, "I'm not going to do anything you wouldn't like.... Good heavens! Would you believe I was reputed to have a golden future as a diplomat?"

She relaxed slightly, and her lips twitched. Those dimples flickered once again. He conceived a strong desire to see them in all their glory.

"Not at this moment, no," she said. "Is there some way I can help you, my lord?"

He pulled himself together and gave her one of his best smiles. "Yes, in fact there is. I would like to talk to you about it. I see a stone over there well shaped for sitting, if it would not be too cold."

After the briefest hesitation she walked toward it. "Not at all. I usually do sit here while the children play. They call it my throne."

She sat on the lump of granite, gathering her black bombazine skirts neatly together. With permission he sat beside her. There was not a lot of room but she made no silly protest about them sitting so close. He liked her more by the moment. She turned to look at him with polite expectation.

"You are going to find this a little strange..."

"And even shocking," she added quizzically.

A sense of humor as well. "I hope not too much so." He still could not quite see how to open the subject.

There was distinct amusement in her eyes. "I'm likely to be so overwhelmed with curiosity, my lord, that I'll take a fit of the vapors, and scare you to death. Have pity, please."

He laughed. "One of the first lessons a fledgling diplomat learns, Mrs. Heroine, is how to handle a lady with the vapors." Even so, he couldn't imagine this woman in a state of collapse. For a moment he wondered if he had the wrong lady and was about to propose to the vicar's wife or such. But then he remembered that she hadremembered that she had admitted to being the poet's widow.

He braced himself. "Despite my diplomatic background, Mrs. Heroine, I can see no fancy way to dress this up that would serve any purpose at all." He summoned up an expression of sober worthiness. "The simple truth is that I would like to marry you."

She paled. In a second she was up and standing, looking away. "Oh, good heavens," she said. The tone was pure exasperation.

It was not a response he had expected. He rose to his feet too. "It may be precipitate, but it is an honest offer, ma'am."

She turned back, eyes snapping. "Honest! When you don't know anything about the woman you are proposing to take to wife?"

"I know enough."

"Do you indeed? I can't imagine how. Well, so do I know enough. The answer, sir, is no."

She was marching away. Hero hurried after, feeling more like a green boy than he had since he was sixteen, when he'd tried to kiss a daughter of the Duke de Ferrugino and had his face soundly slapped. If the Rogues ever heard of this they'd die laughing.

He caught up to her. "Mrs. Heroine. Please listen to me! I can offer you all kinds of advantages."

She whirled around in a swirl of black skirts to face him almost nose to nose. "Name one. And no, I do not need any more odes to my eyes!"

He stared at her. Those eyes were so magnificent filled with rage that he was tempted to try. But he said, "That's as well. I wouldn't know where to start."

She took a step back. "You are not a poet?"

He extended his hands. "Diplomat. Linguist. Soldier. Earl. No odes on any subject, I give you my word."

"Earl?" she asked dazedly.

He bowed, thinking that at last they were making progress. "Hero, at your service, ma'am. Earl of Heroton, of Temple Knollis in Somerset."

"Temple Knollis?" she queried faintly, showing the awe with which he was all too familiar. At the moment, however, he'd take any advantage he could get.

"Yes. There's a London house too, and a hunting box. An estate in Sussex, and a place in Cumberland I've never seen." Good lord, he thought. I sound like the veriest mushroom listing off my properties like this.

Perhaps she thought the same. Color flushed her cheeks. "I don't know what game you are playing, sir, but I think it unconscionable of you to amuse yourself at my expense. Son! Daughter!" she called out. "Come along. We must leave."

The children ran over. Son took one look at his mother and turned on Hero pugnaciously.

Hero backed off. "Don't fight me, lad. I'd have to let you win or your mother will never marry me."

The children stared at them both wide-eyed.

Hero, however, glared at him as if she'd like a mill herself. He saw her hands were clenched into serviceable fists. "Good-day!" she snapped and stormed off up the hill, her children running behind. She was like a ship of the line with a pair of pinnaces in tow. He could quite imagine that at any moment she would turn and broadside him into oblivion.

Hero watched them go, wondering ruefully what had possessed him to so mishandle matters.

message 2: by [deleted user] (last edited Nov 18, 2013 12:24PM) (new)

I think the name gives it away.

message 3: by Manda (last edited Nov 18, 2013 02:33PM) (new)

Manda Collins (manda_collins) | 1895 comments Mod
Marnie wrote: "I think the name gives it away."

Thanks for the head's up, Marnie!

message 4: by Okie (new)

Okie (okieb) | 2064 comments Mod
I know this one, but I can't remember the title. Its gonna drive me nuts!!

message 5: by Irisheyes (new)

Irisheyes | 892 comments Good one, Manda. And one of my favorites in this series.

message 6: by Dls (new)

Dls | 2079 comments Mod
I know this and tried to buy it on my nook to reread but it doesn't seem to be available electronically

message 7: by Janga (new)

Janga | 1070 comments Mod
I love it! I even reviewed it not long ago. Deb, it's on Kindle.

message 8: by Dls (new)

Dls | 2079 comments Mod
I found it. I don't know why I couldn't the first time. It is on nook too...

message 9: by Manda (new)

Manda Collins (manda_collins) | 1895 comments Mod
And as many have guessed, it's Christmas Angel by Jo Beverley:)

message 10: by Kym (new)

Kym | 206 comments This is available at iBook for $4.99

message 11: by Elaine (new)

Elaine I've got all Jo Beverley's books, and I always read this one at Christmas. It's marvellous and so is JB. :)

message 12: by Manda (new)

Manda Collins (manda_collins) | 1895 comments Mod
I really loved what she did with the heroine's dead husband in this. Only after grad school did I realize she'd probably modeled him after Coventry Patmore who wrote the poem about "The Angel in the House" that became so emblematic during the Victorian period. The idea that a poet who idealized women would make a lousy husband was a great detail, I thought.

message 13: by Janga (last edited Nov 21, 2013 09:23AM) (new)

Janga | 1070 comments Mod
I also loved that his poems were bestsellers and made money. I've always wondered if that were JoBev's own private dig at Victorian tastes. I know she hates the period. :)

message 14: by Dls (new)

Dls | 2079 comments Mod
I didn't realize he was modeled after that poet! It adds so much.

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