Authors: Ella J. Quince
“There damn well better be
,” the duke rumbled. “This is the rest of your life, Chance—and the rest of her life. This isn’t a business arrangement for the sake of property or lineage. I love her like a daughter, and you, my son, are the best man for her. This I know in my bones. No one see’s her the way you and I do. No one could love her like you and I do.”
Chance was caught off guard by his father’s words. “I... I don’t love her.”
“Not the way you ought to, no. But in time, you will. In time, you will love her so much the sun will rise and set with her, and your every happiness will depend on hers, mark my words.”
“Father...” Chance didn’t know what to say. His father looked very determined
, his brow set in that intimidating scowl that could stop a taproom brawl.
“I didn’t choose you for her simply because you are my son. I chose you because it is meant to be.”
“And what if she refuses?”
“She won’t refuse
,” the duke said with certainty.
For the first time, Chance felt like he knew Obedience better than his father. He was certain Obedience would refuse, at first anyway. But he was confident he could be very convincing. “I’m agreeing to marry because I care for her too,
Father. I believe we will suit each other.”
The duke harrumphed. “Still sounds rather cold.”
“What would you like me to say? That I’m madly in love with her and seduced her last night? That she is carrying my child?”
“That would be splendid.” The duke chuckled. “When should we share the happy news? I shall send for a special license immediately.”
“Perhaps I should propose first?” Chance said sarcastically. “I invited her to tea today and thought I could speak to her then.”
. I can’t wait to hear her response.” The duke smiled.
“I should think that we should be alone when I propose. Shouldn’t it be romantic or something?”
“Or something.” The duke chuckled again.
Chance shook his head in exasperation. “I’m not negotiating this. I will speak to her alone.”
He frowned with disappointment. “Do as you wish, but I will be the one to inform her family. After the debacle of last night, I don’t want her mother and sister getting in the way of things. If I had it within my power, I’d have them banished to the Outer Hebrides.” The duke opened his paper again and resumed reading.
Chance smiled. He finished his breakfast and left his father to his morning routine. He had his own plans to make, and his own duties to attend.
After having lunch with his father’s secretary to go over crops and tenants that needed attention, he grew impatient and decided to ride over to Obedience’s home to see if she might like to go for a ride. There was no better privacy than open country miles away from prying eyes and ears.
Picking one of his father’s thoroughbreds, a muscular dappled grey, he rode
toward Obedience’s home enjoying the freedom of riding at full gallop over hills and meadows. It had been so long since he had ridden with such freedom, he almost forgot how exhilarating it could be. Cresting the hillside, he was surprised to find a rider on the other side going full tilt right at him. He cut to the side, cursing the rider, and circled around to give chase.
The rider slowed at the top of the hill, looked back to see him gaining on him, and kicked his horse into motion again. Chance chased the rider over the hill and into the meadow. Chance bellowed to the rider to halt, but his shouts went unheard. It was up to him to ride him to the ground. He picked up speed, cursing the rider for his reckless cutting and darting across the meadow. The rider
curved to the right and headed toward more open land dissected by low walls and hedges. Chance continued to gain on him, but the rider kept his lead as they approached the first hedge. He wore a wide brimmed hat, white shirt, and blue breeches tucked into top boots. He had to be a boy given his size, and a reckless one at that, most likely a stable hand. He approached the first hedge, and without slowing, soared over it with ease. Chance followed, landing with a grunt as the boy put more distance between them. It had been years since Chance had done any jumping. He was going to feel it later.
The boy looked back briefly, and Chance saw an arrogant smile. The rest of his face was shadowed by the hat. Then the boy came off his rear, leaning over the neck of the horse, and urging it faster. Chance began to do the same, but something caught his eye. It was the breeches, specifically, the curve of the derriere in the breeches, that caught his eye.
“Damn it to hell.” He tried to see the legs of the horse, but they moved so quickly he couldn’t identify the markings. They were approaching a low wall. It looked like a relatively easy jump but if the rider in front of him was whom he suspected it to be, he was going to have a heart attack the moment she jumped it. Her head whipped back toward him again and this time she gave him a teasing smile, and he was positive it was she. He waved at her to face forward. God damn it, but she rode like a hellion, and in breeches no less.
She faced forward, coming at the wall again without slowing, and leaped over it in a graceful arc. Chance almost exhaled in relief before she hit the ground, but suddenly
, she jerked to the side and dove off her horse.
in his horse, skidding to a stop just before the wall. He leaped from his horse and vaulted over the wall. “Obedience!” he shouted. Her horse was sliding through the mud, frantically trying to find footing.
,” she said breathlessly.
He turned and found her on her side lying in thick dark mud. He ran to her, skidding to kneel beside her. “Are you hurt? Tell me where it hurts?” His hands cradled her head.
“I’m fine, I think.” She tried to sit up.
,” he urged.
,” Obedience assured him. “Lost my breath a little at first, but really, I’m fine, and this mud smells terrible.” She tried to sit up again, and he let her, his arm sliding behind her back.
“You’re lucky you didn’t break your neck, you careless minx. You ride like a madman.”
“I didn’t know the mud would be here. Had it not, my jump would have been flawless.”
Chance scowled. “Flawless or not, you nearly killed yourself.”
“I knew what to do. I chose to jump to save Tulip and me from injury.” Obedience looked at her hands in disgust. She was soaked in mud along her right side from shoulder to boot. Chance remained silent as she moved her limbs, checking for injuries. She wiggled her fingers at him. “See, I’m fine.”
“And the breeches?”
he said without a trace of humor.
Obedience looked down at her muddied legs. “Nothing a good washing won’t fix.”
Chance cursed and stood, offering a hand to help her up. “That is not what I meant. What in the bloody blazes are you doing wearing breeches in the first place?”
“I’ve noticed you curse rather openly and frequently in front of me
,” Obedience observed.
He brought his face close to hers. “What do you expect? You’re either jumping into creeks in nothing but a shift or leaping walls in breeches. You drive a sane man to curse.”
Obedience laughed. It wasn’t a compliment by any means, but for some reason she felt pleased. “I had no idea I had such power over you.”
“I fail to see the humor in this situation. If we are to marry, you can’t be so reckless
,” Chance said angrily.
Obedience stepped back in surprise. “I beg your pardon?”
Chance frowned. “I didn’t mean it to come out like that.”
“Like what exactly? How else does one say the words: if we are to marry?”
she said incredulously.
“What I meant was—ah hell.” He turned and walked away. He stopped by her mare, and resting his hand on her neck, he looked out over the field.
Obedience stared after him in a stupor, standing in ankle deep mud, and unable to look at anything but him. He was covered in mud from the knee down, his hands muddy, and yet somehow he still looked impeccable. Tulip, her mare, nuzzled his shoulder and he patted her nose. It was then that Obedience noticed she was favoring her right foreleg. She walked over to them and bent to examine it.
“I think she sprained it
,” she said without looking at him.
Chance bent down and palpated the leg. Tulip nickered and nudged him. “Easy, girl.” He soothed her. He finally looked up at Obedience. “I agree. She can't bear a rider now.” He put his hands on his hips in agitation. His face was set, his eyes far more serious than she was used to. “I wanted this moment to be different—better, but the heart of the matter is
… I think we should marry.”
Obedience felt her heart thumping heavily in her chest. She wondered if this is what it felt like before one fainted. She placed her hand on tulips neck to ground herself. “Because of the kiss?”
Chance looked away again, his eyes scanning their surroundings. “Yes and no. We should marry because I need a wife, and you deserve to be treated better than your family treats you. The kiss only affirmed that we would suit each other.”
As proposals went, it was god awful, even for someone as practical and unromantic as Obedience. She never day dreamed about falling in love and getting married the way other girls
did. She had never given it much thought, except she did think about Chance, and she did dream about being in love with him, though she would never admit it to anyone. This moment was not a dream come true. It was a blow to her heart.
“That we would
suit...” she murmured, more to herself than to him.
“It’s why I kissed you last night. I wanted to see if there could be any passion between us.”
She looked up at that. “You mean like an experiment? You kissed me as an experiment?” She turned and walked away, pulling Tulip by the reins behind her. She didn’t want to hear anything more, or she might do something embarrassing like cry. She could already feel her cheeks burning in humiliation.
“Obedience, wait.” Chance caught up with her and pulled her to face him. “I’m more charming than this I swear, ask anyone in town.
I’m still trying to ask you to marry me, I’m failing miserably, but I’m still trying.”
“I have yet to hear you actually ask
,” Obedience said in distress.
“I’m sorry.” He stepped in front of her so she couldn’t take another step. “I really meant this to be to be special, but I guess, well
—” He went down on one knee before her, still holding her hand.
He looked ridiculous, they both did, and Obedience was tempted to laugh except...
there was something earnest in his eyes, so she didn’t.
“Obedience, will you marry me?”
Her heart thumped excitedly. She would love to say yes, except he hadn’t said anything that convinced her she should. “No.” He didn’t look surprised that she refused. He knew her so well. He stood and let go of her hand.
“May I ask why?”
“You may.” She smiled. She was actually relieved that they got it over and done with.
He scowled at her. “Why won’t you marry me?”
“You don’t love me, not that way at least. Why on earth would we marry?” She could see his jaw clench.
“That is precisely why I kissed you last night, to prove that despite our not being in love
, we could have a satisfying marriage and learn to love each other.”
“A marriage of convenience, you mean?” She eyed him skeptically.
“There would be nothing convenient about being married to you,” he quipped.
“I still don’t see a good reason
for us to marry, apart from you thinking we might suit each other because of one kiss, but that doesn’t necessitate we marry. Why do you suddenly wish to marry me?”
He stepped closer. “It’s true, there is no
for us to marry, not immediately, but there is one thing that you should know.” He hesitated. He obviously did not like what he was about to say. “My father wants to see us both happy, and he believes that if we marry, we will be.”
Obedience still didn't understand. “Why?”
“Because he loves us, and he thinks that we are a good match.”
“And you agree with him?”
“After last night, I do.” He raised his hand as if to touch her cheek, saw it was covered in mud, and let it drop. “That kiss showed me that not only do I find you beautiful and engaging, but that we can share passion between us, and that will only grow.”
“Oh...” Obedience felt her cheeks flushing again. She had never considered passion. Was that the reason she enjoyed his kisses so much?
“Can I kiss you again?” He stepped even closer, this time touching her shoulder.
She was at a loss for words. Tulip nudged her back pushing her into him, and she stumbled and clung to him. He looked down at her and smiled. “Tulip is on my side. You’re running out of allies.” He dipped his head and caught her lips. She had no choice but to cling to him and accept his kiss. He took advantage of her surprise and slipped his tongue into her mouth, claiming her.