Margaret saw the disappointment and uncertainty as they guttered across his face, and she regretted her response as soon as it sprung from her lips. She had not meant to give the impression she was refusing him. Instead, Margaret wanted to suggest something else entirely – something much more in his favor. But in her eagerness to clarify her position, she had accomplished exactly the opposite.
"And what might that be, Miss Hale?" His voice came out gravelly as though he was struggling to hold back the tide of emotions coursing just beneath the surface, sending a tremor through Margaret.
Never before had she understood the power she held over him. The realization was both pleasing and dreadful, knowing she could enrich or destroy his very happiness by her words and actions alone. But like a crashing wave surging over her without warning, Margaret recognized a matching power in him. Any future contentment she hoped to find in life was entirely dependent on him, for he was the safekeeper of her heart. It took her very breath away.
Willing herself to remember her purpose, Margaret inhaled deeply several times to form her response. She grasped for every bit of boldness she possessed, aware of the peculiarity of what she was about to say.
"I see no particular reason to enter a courtship, Mr. Thornton. I have known you long enough to judge you a man of admirable character and have no doubts about my feelings. If it pleases you, I would much prefer an engagement. That is, if the offer I once rejected is still available?" Her next words tumbled out in a mumble, "You are not obligated to me in any way."
Her boldness took flight, abandoning her to the pitiful shelter of her lashes. What if he had no desire to rush things along this time as he did before? Would he insist on a courtship? Or, what if his purpose was to re-evaluate her character? As far as she was concerned, he was her match. What was the point of waiting?
When she continued to avoid his gaze, he lifted her chin with his finger. Searching her face, he replied, "But, I dare not believe such a woman – you – could care for me. Do you love me?"
"Yes," she breathed out, her body taut under the intensity of his gaze.
Lowering himself from the settee, he kneeled before her, their fingers still clasped. Raising their interlaced hands to his lips, he kissed her hand fervently as if she were the land he had sought after perpetuity on a perilous sea. "Nothing could bring me more joy, Margaret. If it is your wish to proceed with an engagement, I will not deny you." He leaned close enough to whisper in her ear, "I could deny you nothing, my love."
The desire radiating off him was intoxicating, the torrent of his sentiments sizzling between them like the charge of a lighting strike. He retreated slowly, just enough to bring his lips down upon hers with a gentle insistence that both surprised and smoldered. When Margaret was certain her body would combust from the thrill, his lips left hers, only to hover temptingly a breath away.
Mr. Thornton had lowered his guard, releasing such built up passion that his very being seemed more at ease than she had ever witnessed before, much like a prisoner released from a long and lonely confinement. Freedom looked good on him – enlivened, unreserved, and contented. He was being granted the professed desires of his heart, and with results like these, Margaret knew she would never again deny him whatever it was within her power to give.
Hearing footsteps approaching down the hall, Mr. Thornton promptly resumed his place on the settee at an acceptable distance from Margaret, immediately grieving the loss of her nearness. He had been like a man savoring water after an unrelenting thirst, a man enveloped in comforting warmth after too long in the cold. Had he known what was unspoken between them, John might have groveled at her feet to reconsider her rejection ages ago.
As Dixon entered the room, he tried to focus on anything but the pliability of Margaret's soft lips against his. It seemed an impossible task, so he turned to Dixon, knowing to do so would void any thoughts of romance. Indeed, the effect was immediate.
"Miss Margaret, it's getting late. Perhaps it would be best if your guest made his way home." The suggestion was tinged with scorn, but Mr. Thornton couldn't find it within himself to care – not on a night like this when he found himself engaged to the woman he loved.
However, he did not fail to notice the flash of annoyance in Margaret's blue eyes at her servant's impudence. As much as John wished to see the woman put in her place, he would rather end the evening positively.
Cutting in before Margaret could retort, he replied, "You are perfectly right, Dixon. I did not realize the hour was so late. Thank you for letting me know."
Giving a curt nod, the servant assumed her normal position in front of the door to the room, arms crossed in front and chin raised. Making no move to leave after a long minute, her foot tapping impatiently on the floor, Margaret relented and stood up irritably with John following close behind, amusement curling the corners of his mouth as he stifled a laugh.
Once out of the room, a grumpy Dixon abandoned them in the foyer to collect the tea things and return them to the kitchen. Not wasting what precious time they were allowed, John pulled Margaret close, drinking in her lingering scent and the softness of her form against him. Lowering his head to hers, their lips met again, more tentative and tender than before. Would each kiss be a new experience? Somehow, John knew nothing could ever grow dull or monotonous with the woman in his arms.
Releasing her lips, he spoke softly, his tone wistful. "Margaret, I am afraid to leave for fear I might wake up from a dream." He toyed with an escaping lock of her hair. "There is so much to speak of, so many plans to make."
"We have time, John." His name rolled off her tongue like the most pleasant melody to a man accustomed to silence, uplifting and exhilarating. It was the first time she had ever called him anything but Mr. Thornton, and he reveled in it, probably more than he should.
Letting the curl go reluctantly, John enfolded Margaret in his arms, placing his cheek on top of her head, loath to leave her. "Good night, my darling Margaret." A deep sigh escaped him as he backed away from her, donning his hat. Opening the door, he made his way out of the house and down the stairs.
Standing on the landing outside the front door, Margaret watched him go, unmindful of her surroundings. Look back. Look back at me, she pleaded internally as he approached the corner that would remove him from view.
Just as she was beginning to fear he would not heed her soundless call, he abruptly stopped in his tracks. Looking back at her with a brightening smile, he tipped his hat and resumed his walk, swallowed by the darkness of night.
Already, he remained true to his declaration, denying her nothing.
**I used several lines from the series in here, so I must give credit to the awesomeness that is the BBC version! I'm sure you recognize them, or at least parts of them, since I added a few edits here and there to fit the dialogue.
So, this time, we have Margaret's declaration. Thoughts? It's the furthest I have gone, as far as writing anything close to passion in my work, publicly or privately. I hope I did ok??? It was important to me that we get a taste of that before we move on to some showstoppers.
Hope all of you had a very Merry Christmas. Ours was wonderful. Only two of the kids' gifts turned out to be duds, so I guess me and Santa did ok.**
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Reputations - A North and South FanfictionFanfiction
Reputations, like the delicate petals of a Helstone rose, are fragile things indeed... Upon discovering Margaret in the arms of an unknown man, John intervenes. How will their story end when reputations are questioned? **This is a North and South fa...