Romance Fiction posted December 28, 2017


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A proposal of marriage.

An Unwelcome Proposal

by Margaret Snowdon

Marriage Proposal Contest Winner 

 
Eleanor Shergold could seduce a man at twenty paces without even showing her flesh, making him believe he was the only man in the universe that mattered to her. She had learnt well. Monsieur Bellington was vain and she played up to it.

     Drawn to her like a moth to a flame, Carter Bellington thought up numerous excuses for seeking her out. His pleasure in her body was increased by the exploration of her mind. She stirred his senses, keeping him from the boredom with which most women affected him once the initial excitement had worn off. He was enchanted with the soft cadences of her voice, found her conversation humorous and witty, and her vitality immense. He delighted in her audacious disregard for Society’s conventions, while intimate association with her every mood was a voluptuous experience of which he never tired. He had not dreamed he would find all this in one woman.

     They made ardent love regularly into the early hours of the morning. The sensations of unbelievable delight that she awakened in him were almost more than he could bear. His mind vibrated with the memory. Such rapture! His admiration for her had grown over the months and he had to admit she was the perfect choice. She would be the perfect hostess, an adornment and an asset to him. He wanted her more than he had ever wanted any woman in his life, but for himself, not to share with any other. She had to be his … his alone. And there was only one way to guarantee that happiness - he would marry her.

     She looked quite exquisite in a day dress of corn-coloured brocade that fitted snugly about her impeccably formed breasts. It was trimmed with a froth of white lace at the neck. Her golden hair was cleverly drawn up under  a fashionable hat that matched the colour of her dress, with a single white ostrich feather to one side, giving an air of confidence about her. She was certainly sure of herself and knew that she attracted the stares of more than just the man who accompanied her. She had the looks to attract men in swarms; the composure to deal casually with their panting pursuit, and it was obvious she enjoyed every single moment of the attention.

     Eleanor met his steady gaze across the table. She noticed his tanned, strikingly handsome face had taken on a softer look. This man who had come into her life at a time when her spirits had been low, had lifted her up, showering her with the attention she so enjoyed. But tonight, she sensed something intent about him that made her feel uneasy. 

     'What is it, Mon amour?' she asked quietly.

     'Oh, I was just thinking how happy you make me,' Carter replied.

     'I know.'

     'How do you know?'

     'It's the way you look at me.'

     Carter smiled. 'And just how do I look at you?'

     'With a kind of hungry longing in your eyes.'

     'Do you know what I like best about you?'

     'Everything,' she said, with a confident smile on her rosy lips.

     'Conceited hussy. I'm trying to be serious,' he said with a lop-sided grin.

     'Then tell me what's on your mind.'

     ‘I like your beautiful smile, but mostly I like the way you move.’

     The next question he asked, a question that broke the enchantment, came as no surprise.  

     ‘Will you do me the honour of marrying me?’

     Deep down Eleanor had expected it, yet it was several minutes before she could bring herself to reply. 'Are you sure that is what you want, Monsieur?'

     'Yes, I'm sure,' he replied self-assuredly.

     Eleanor thought carefully before she spoke. She did not want to marry him or anyone else for that matter, but, neither did she want to lose him and knew she must choose her words with care. 'I am most flattered by your proposal, Mon amour...’ she started, fluttering long, golden lashes, ‘...but must refuse, of course. As I must surely have mentioned, it's not what I want.' She saw surprise spark in his dark eyes.

     'I felt certain you would welcome a commitment. After all, we suit each other. Don't I make you happy?'   

     She reached across the table, resting a warm, perfectly manicured hand on his. 'Of course you do, my darling man, but it's just not what I want ... not now.'

     'Not now?' His eyebrows rose quizzically. ‘When then?'

     She saw a brooding dolefulness in his expression, but it did not detract from the perfection of that supremely masculine face. She withdrew her hand, looking deep into his dark eyes without embarrassment. Eleanor Shergold was not at all shy. She was an adult woman who knew what she wanted and just how to get it. Her late husband had left her all she needed in the way of comforts: a beautiful home in Paris, a small fortune, a collection of valuable, exquisite jewellery that had once belonged to his grandmother and, on top of all that, she had her freedom; something most women did not have. She had the freedom to do as she pleased, when she pleased, discreetly of course.

     As a high-class courtesan she was in demand and could command vast fees, representing the epitome of sexual excess: through her profession, of course, enabling men of a certain class to satisfy their illicit sexual passions, acting out their fantasies. A person in her own right, she lived entirely on the "wages of sin"; was it any wonder she questioned the necessity of marriage?    

     'Well, I mean...' she hesitated, '...I scarcely know what to say.'

     Marriage was the last thing on her mind. She valued her independence above all else, and was perfectly happy with the arrangement as it stood. Carter treated her well, wining and dining her in the most elegant of places, showering her with expensive gifts, paying for her clothes and anything else she longed for and, best of all, he was an excellent lover - one of the best. He was generous and giving in his love-making, always aiming to please and had come to know what she enjoyed to bring her to the peak of pleasure. Why would she want to change all that?

     'Well?' Carter asked impatiently.

     'Surely there are a number of quality ladies who would leap at the chance of becoming the next Madame Bellington, mistress of Brantwood? Someone who would fit into the country-way of life perfectly.'

     'I can name several, but women of that kind are mostly empty-headed,’ he replied with arrogance. ‘Not to mention afraid of physical contact.'

     She tilted her head gracefully to one side and smiled. 'Physical contact! That's a novel way of putting it.'

     'I quite thought you would jump at the chance of marrying again.'

     'I think you men in general take too much for granted. I could not endure being locked away in the middle of nowhere.'

     'You don't like the country? But I thought you enjoyed your visit.'

     'I couldn't sleep on account of the birds.' Life in the country for Eleanor Shergold was no life at all.  She was a real city madam.

     'You would soon become accustomed to the different sounds. Think of the fresh air and long country walks.'

     Eleanor exaggerated a shudder. ‘I hate country walks. I much prefer the parks. There's nothing like time in the country to make one appreciate the city. I would be bored out of my mind without the distractions of London. Besides which, I have all I want here. I’ve become deeply attached to the refinements of London life, particularly indoor plumbing.'

     'Then we can make our home here, where you are happiest,' he suggested keenly.

     That wasn't what she had meant at all. He was beginning to annoy her. 'Carter, you are not listening to me. What I’m saying is I’m perfectly happy as things stand. I enjoy the life I lead. The freedom that I have.'

     'But I naturally assumed you would feel the same. That you wanted marriage, like most other women.'

     'Then you assumed wrongly,' she said fervently. 'It would never work. Besides which, I'm not like most other women.'

     'I'm quite aware of that. I wouldn't be asking you to marry me, if you were.'

     Eleanor sighed in exasperation. She wanted to drop the subject, but he was making it impossible. 'You want the kind of woman I could never be.'

     'Are you telling me, you wouldn't mind if I married another?'

     She shrugged and raised her hands in expression. 'Why on earth should I mind?’ She objected to being questioned in such a manner. Could he not take no for an answer?  ‘This is no sudden decision on my part, after what I went through with my first husband. I was assailed by doubts as to the wisdom of my choice as early as the first night of our honeymoon, when I discovered his weaknesses. Getting married altered our relationship forever.'

     By marriage the very being or legal existence of a woman was suspended, every wife except a queen regnant was under the legal authority of her husband and so was her movable property. She could not alienate anything without her husband's consent. Her very necessary apparel, by law, was not hers in property. The rule was that on marriage, the husband acquired power over the person of his wife.

     'I vowed never to marry again, but there is no reason why I cannot offer you the finer things in life, which we so enjoy together.' She smiled wickedly.

     'We would be a perfect match, you and I,' Carter went on stubbornly.

     She raised fine eyebrows quizzically. 'A perfect match for what? What could you possibly offer me that I do not already have?'

     'Wealth for one thing.'

     'I have money already. Not a fortune, I admit, but I have enough.'

     'Then we could double … triple it,' he suggested eagerly.

     'You mean you could triple it. As a husband, my fortune, small as it is, would legally become yours.'

     Carter shrugged. 'What difference does that make? You wouldn't want for anything.'

     'It makes a great deal of difference to me,’ she told him passionately. ‘And as for getting what I want, I don't go without.'

     'Children then? Do you not want children?'

     'I have a child already. What need have I of another?'

     'You have?' Carter asked with obvious surprise. 'You kept that a closely guarded secret. Why have you waited until now to tell me?'

     'Now seems appropriate, don't you think?'

     'A son?'  A spark of interest showed in his eyes.

     'Yes. He is just six.'

     'And where are you hiding this son of yours?'

     'I am not hiding him anywhere. He is in Paris where he belongs, with his French grandparents.'

     'So that explains your trips to France?'

     'Yes. I like to see him from time to time.'

     'You don’t want more children?'

     'Most definitely not!' she declared with certainty. 'As it was, it took me months to get my figure back into shape. Besides, I have never been the maternal type.' 

     Carter didn’t take rejection well. 'Then if you had no thought of marriage, why did you use all your seductive charms to play me along?'

     She looked genuinely surprised. 'I was not aware that I had. I thought you were the one who seduced me,' she replied flippantly.

     His patience had worn thin. 'Don't be clever! You knew all along I was planning to marry again.'

     'I knew no such thing,' she retorted indignantly. ‘And even if I had, what has that to do with me? I thought we both wanted the same from each other … companionship, pleasure. Can you deny that?'

     'No, I can’t deny that but it’s not becoming for a woman to deliberately go after a man as you did. Parading yourself at the Season’s ball.'

     ‘Why on earth not? It seems to me there's a double standard of behaviour; there’s one rule for the male population and another for females. What is acceptable for men is apparently not considered acceptable for women, which, in my opinion, is most unfair.'

     Resentment flooded him in a wave of indignation. That she should reject and with such cold-hearted resistance, the offer of himself in marriage. 'Well, you can be proud of your efforts, Madam. Your skills do you credit. You certainly gave me the wrong impression.'

     Her fine brows raised in amazement. 'What are you getting so upset about? You knew what I was right from the beginning.'

     'If you're not interested in my proposal, I'll take it elsewhere,' he informed her abruptly.

     'And here was I thinking you were offering undying love,' she crooned softly, but not without sarcasm.  

     'Love is for fools.'

     'Exactly my sentiments,' she replied with an exaggerated sigh. ‘But please, do tell me, I'm curious. Have you someone else in mind?'

     'For what?'

     'Marriage.'

     'I might have.’  

     'Why am I not surprised?' She was amused by his preening arrogance.   

     'I was prepared to forget your past escapades. I intended taking you away from this life and making an honest woman of you.'

     Eleanor closed her eyes briefly. Oh, the vanity of the man! The monumental egotism!  She opened her eyes slowly, meeting his gaze through long gold-tipped lashes. 'Am I expected to be grateful for that?' she said tartly. 'You have such a high opinion of yourself, expecting every woman to swoon at your feet. Well, I am not one of your naive little country girls. No doubt, your first wife came willingly, as quietly and trusting as a kitten, only to be locked away in the middle of nowhere until it was time for you to replace her.'

     Carter bristled, his male ego badly damaged. 'You've given your answer. There's no need to be insulting. My wife died in child-birth.'

     ‘Yes, you told me, and I’m sorry, but what life did she have? Is it any wonder I prefer a courtesan’s freedom to a wife’s obedience? I learned long ago never to trust a man, any man,' she stated ardently.

     He wanted to tell her how disappointed he was at her rejection, promise her anything her heart desired if she would only consent to marry him, but checked himself, remembering to hold his emotions under restraint. He felt an inward bruising as if he had been spiritually flogged. As a man of the world, he was far too proud and resolute to seem to bow beneath feeling, particularly to one who was utterly incapacitated from giving him any consideration in return.

     'How could I have been such a fool, so utterly mistaken in my estimate of a woman? At least now I know just where I stand in your affections. It's clear I've been wasting your time as well as my own.' He got up to leave. 'You need not concern yourself with the bill. I'll settle it on the way out. Consider it payment for services rendered. After all, you’ve earned it.’

    Eleanor flushed with resentment and was angry with herself for doing so. The plain fact that she was paid for her favours, that her dispensations were to be bought, had seldom been mentioned.

     ‘Save your blushes, Madam. They don’t sit well with the bluntness of your tongue. If ever we should meet again, it will be on different terms.' His voice was implacable and as cold as steel ... as cold as his dark, piercing eyes. 'I never make the same mistake twice.'

 


Marriage Proposal
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Word count: 2587
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© Copyright 2018. Margaret Snowdon All rights reserved.
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