His Impassioned Proposal
The wounded hero comes home.
Six years she has waited for the man she hopes to marry to return from war and propose to her. When he finally does, he is so far in his cups as to not remember the event the next morning! Miss Jane Marwick can't decide if she has wasted her heart on the wrong man or if he just needs some time to recover from too many life-changing events.
Stephen Lumley isn't sure he's capable of being a good husband to any woman, but he only has a few months to convince himself and Jane he is worthy of her love, or she'll be off to London to find a man who is. He's not certain what his future will bring, only that he needs Jane in it.
Stephen Lumley sat in the blessed darkness of the library at Bridgethorpe Manor, a snifter in one hand, the empty brandy decanter in the other. His uncle, the Earl of Bridgethorpe, would complain about the waste of good liquor-or he would if he were of a mind to notice. But the earl was no longer the man he was when Stephen had last visited, and he was unlikely to notice the empty vessel before Dankworth, his butler, refilled it.
After swallowing the last of the liquid in his glass, Stephen contemplated switching to whiskey. He wasn't yet drunk enough. He could tell, because he was still all too aware of his circumstances. His left eye saw the same blackness with or without the eye-patch, and his left ear still rang loud enough to wake an entire cemetery. The burned, scarred skin on his cheek still felt as though someone were tearing it in two.
And his parents were undeniably dead.
Yes, another bottle was called for. He pushed back the chair from the massive desk. As he rose, he caught the toe of his boot on the chair leg and stumbled, falling hard against the glass doors of the bookshelf behind him. "Steady, man. Best foot forward."
He righted himself and swayed, then the room took a turn and he grabbed the back of the chair. Drawing in a deep breath, he lurched toward the liquor cabinet. Since he had failed to light a candle, he had only the moon glow from the window to help him navigate.
When the maid had entered the room earlier to light the fire, he'd scared her off. Warm, cozy and cheerful-that's what a fire was. The furthest thing from how Stephen felt, and how he wanted to continue to feel-cold, lost, and empty. He raised his glass in mock salute. "Welcome home, Captain Lumley."
The two remaining crystal decanters danced in front of him, taunting him to choose. Port? Whiskey? If the blasted bottles would stand still long enough he could tell which was which by the shape. Deciding he didn't really care, he grabbed the first one his fist closed around.
The doorknob rattled and the door opened, spilling in the sounds of the assembly abovestairs, and just as quickly it closed. Stephen spun, the bottle slipping from his grip and crashing to the floor.
A woman gasped. "Who is there?"
"No one," he answered. "No one of any con…sequence." His tongue wasn't following orders.
"Captain? Is that you?"
He recognized Jane Marwick's sweet, musical voice. His Jane. At least, she'd been thus six years ago. "Has so much changed, then? I used to be Stephen."
"In a manner of speaking." He waved a hand to indicate the glass at his feet. "But not as drunk as I planned to be."
"Let me call Dankworth. He'll have someone clean that up."
"Don't bother. It's all soaked into the carpet by now. 'Sides, he's busy with the houseguests in the large parlor, which is where you should be."
Jane glided slowly into the room, her steps soundless. "Better the carpet is soaked than your stomach. Perhaps you should go to your chamber and lie down. Shall I help you or would you prefer a footman?"
"I would prefer to keep drinking. If you'll leave me, I shall get back to it."
She stood so close he could make out the worry line between her brows. He should have known she'd be at the party tonight. Her father's property abutted Bridgethorpe's estate and the families were close.
Had he known there was a house party being held, he wouldn't have stopped here on his way home. He would have gone straight to see his parents. But the fates must have been looking kindly on him to guide him here, since he had no home to return to.
Gingerly stepping through the glass, Jane took his hand. "At least come sit, Stephen."
How he'd missed her voice. Her laughter, even more. He followed her to the two upholstered chairs placed in front of the cold fireplace. "Yes, I shall sit. And tell you tales to make you laugh. I need your laughter, dearest Jane."
"You need a good night's sleep, more like. But if you won't go abovestairs, I would feel safer if you were sitting." She helped him into the first chair.
He kept his grip on her hand and tugged, pulling her quite ungracefully onto his lap. She squawked, but didn't fight him. After rearranging her slender form on his lap, he wrapped his arms around her and inhaled deeply of her honeysuckle scent, his nose buried in her upswept hair. "My sweet, sweet, Jane."
"I shouldn't be sitting thusly," she whispered, but she didn't move to rise.
"You shouldn't be in this room with a drunken soldier, either."