Charlotte heard the door knocker and Gerald’s footsteps in the hall, and she put down her book on the parlor table. However, preparing herself for an unexpected late-night visitor and suddenly seeing Reed, without a coat, his hair soaking wet, standing in the doorway was another matter.
There was no preparation for the feeling that started deep inside her, for the quickening pace of her heartbeat.
What on earth was she waiting for? This man wanted to marry her! She stood up and nearly leaped into his arms.
Gerald discreetly bowed out, closing the door behind him.
“Reed, what is it? You look as if . . .,” she trailed off, unable to say what his expression meant for she’d never seen it before, not on Reed’s face nor on any man’s. “Has something happened?”
“Charlotte,” he cut in, closing the space between them and taking her in his arms, mindless of the damp state of his clothes. He dropped a kiss on her parted lips, “Won’t you marry the man who loves you most in this world?”
She was thunderstruck. “You love me?” Her voice was little more than a whisper.
He looked equally shocked at her words. He’d finally guessed at the problem but couldn’t believe that was all there was to it. Still, here was his proof that she hadn’t known how he felt. “Of course I love you.”
“You never said it,” she told him, sagging with relief and feeling she would disgrace herself any minute by outright weeping. He loved her. She could marry him. She sniffed loudly.
He pressed her close against him, understanding finally that the only obstruction had been his inability to recognize and speak the love he felt. Charlotte had let him into her heart and then waited bravely, even refusing his proposal. And he’d nearly let a shadowy memory stand like a giant in his path.
“I didn’t think I needed to say it,” he murmured, taking her face in his hands. “In truth, I resisted saying it, thinking I could save a small part of myself from being completely in your power. It hasn’t worked. But I honestly didn’t realize that was why you were refusing my proposal. I thought I stated my case from all angles.”
“Like a lawyer!” she exclaimed, pushing away from his chest and searching for a handkerchief in her sleeve.
“But I am a lawyer,” he said exasperatedly, handing her a linen square from his own soggy pocket. She took it, dabbing at her eyes before scrunching it tightly under white knuckles.
“But I am a writer, and I deal in words, and I need to have them spelled out for me—precisely,” she added, sniffing again. “I was beginning to think you could never love me because of Celia.”
Reed looked surprised. “You’re a smarter woman than I deserve.” Then he lifted her chin, looking directly at her, his cobalt eyes ablaze with dark emotions. “Let me be precise. Charlotte Sanborn, I love you with all my heart.”
She felt a tear slip down her cheek. “And I’ll need to hear those words a lot, not just once,” she told him feeling a lump in her throat.
He smiled at her tears and her sniffles, and he pulled her to him again. “Is this my independent lady writer, brought to crying by a few words?”
“Not just any words, Reed, the words I’ve waited all my life to hear.”
He sobered, gazing down into her glittering green eyes. “The words I’ve waited all my life to say,” he assured her. “And I’ll tell you often, I love you.”
She reached up and kissed him. It was a long moment later when he lifted his head.
“Not that I wouldn’t mind hearing them myself,” he added, the hint of a smile on his lips.
She beamed at him, feeling the bliss of being encircled in his arms and for the first time knowing she was also surrounded by his love. “I love you Reed Malloy, and yes, I will marry you.”