The Cottage Proposal

Lord David Redman, the Earl of Redman Manor stood at his study window watching his daughter canter up on one of her many prized horses. He loved her like only a devoted father could love their daughter, but Elisa was a hoyden child. Her hair was a long a long shade of silver blonde, her eyes a fantastic sharp baby blue, with high aristocratic cheekbones, and full pink lips. She was beautiful, just as her mother had been. Even as fair as she looked, his daughter was nothing short of a handful. She was always speaking her mind and running off to her precious stables. Never was she found sitting nice and ladylike in a parlor at tea time. He was truly at his wit’s end on handling this child of his! His late wife had been kind and very sweet, a real people pleasing person. When their daughter was only eight years old, she’d died of a lung ailment leaving him alone to raise their daughter.

He supposed Elisa’s behavior was his own doing. He frowned as he watched her dismount. He turned back to the only man who’d stepped forward to ask for her hand in marriage this season. Darian Bradshaw was a fine catch with a handsome title and rather deep pockets. There were many women in Elisa’s circle infatuated with him. David cleared his throat as he sat back down behind his desk.

“You wish to marry my daughter?”

“Yes, my lord, I would very much like to marry your daughter.” Darian hid his irritation as he answered that same question for the third time. He was certain the man wasn’t daft or deaf.

“I feel I must be frank and ask you out right if you have spent very much time in her company this past season, Lord Bradshaw?” David fought cringing as he awaited the answer to his last question.

Darian didn’t bother to hide his grin. He understood what the man was trying to ask without coming out and asking it direct. He sat forward, his large frame making the small chair grown in protest, “Lord Redman your daughter is a strong-willed, stubborn, bold speaking, marvelous woman and I am very fond of all of those qualities.”

David laughed, he couldn’t help himself. For a man to still desire a woman even after she goes out of her way to be disagreeable had to prove there were underlining feelings of tenderness, “Really?”

“She has made an annoying effort to thwart every single attempt I’ve made to gain her attention and I still find her splendid,” Darian smiled and added “your daughter is exactly the type of woman to hold the kind of man I am happy. She has strength and vitality that few people possess, male or female.”

“I accept your proposal to marry my daughter. Elisa won’t be thrilled at this. I expect you already know that.” David already knew Elisa’s response to this man’s marriage proposal. It aggrieved him to see in this man’s eyes the same flicker he saw in his daughters knowing she would still protest their joining.

“I would like to have our wedding done by January nineteenth I plan to take her off to my West Indies plantation for a nice honeymoon. I have a ship already planning a trip there at that time.” Darian was relieved he’d come and settled all he needed in order to have his reluctant bride. He had everything well at hand. Feeling just a little cocky he sat back in the chair and reflected back.

He’d mentioned his idea of courtship to Elisa back in London but she’d flat out refused to even consider the idea. She was brazen but he didn’t mind that. In fact he loved that she was so honest when so many woman he knew went to great links to hide even little things. He detested being trapped in London as much as Elisa did. They were compatible in many ways but she wouldn’t hear any of that. She’d tossed his reputation in his face and stormed off. She’d left him grinning after her retreating back unabashed. Her resistance only bolstered his desire to make her his own.

Elisa Redman smoothed the front of her dark blue riding habit as she stood beside her best mare, Checkers. She was prepared to go inside her father’s study to demand he listen. She planned to insist he except her reasons for refusing Lord Darian Bradshaw’s offer of marriage. She was livid he’d come to her country home. It was the one place in the entire world she felt untouchable. Redman Manor was where she let herself be carefree. She had no doubts Darian would approach her father with his request to marry her. Taking long even strides she walked the entire way there and put her hand on the doorknob not intending to knock. She went still when she heard the two voices speaking with in. it was the very man she was planning on refusing! She recognized his sultry voice. Curiosity drove her to place her ear against the oak door and try to hear what they were discussing in detail.

It was no easy task trying to decipher their conversation through the thick wood. She caught but nuances. She heard her name and other more horrifying words like wedding and January! It was now October nearing the middle of her coming out season and already she was to be wed. She withdrew from the closed-door and went straight to her bedroom where she paced the large elegant bedroom.

It was full of expensive silks and artfully handcrafted porcelain. There were all the trimmings a girl like herself was supposed to swoon over, but Elisa wasn’t like the other girls of her station. She was an outsider within their midst. She preferred fresh air and the feeling of the sun beaming on her back as she rode her beloved horses as fast as she dared run them. She hated their London estate without the room to ride with abandon. She loathed all the prying eyes watching her and always disapproving. She couldn’t stand idle and allow her life to be decided for her. She needed a plan, a very good plan that would set her free of all this madness once and for all.

Many ideas went through her mind, but only one had any real potential. She would have to run for her freedom. Soon her father would be relocating them back to London where she wouldn’t be able to find time to slip away. Not with the many dinner parties and ballroom affairs she was expected to attend. She was lucky they’d come to their country seat to have a hunting party. Being here gave her everything she needed to make good her escape.

If she remained under her father’s rule she would have to give over to him at some point. She would be forced into a marriage that would only serve to further either his already overbearing political agenda or vast landholdings. She stopped walking pointlessly about her bedroom and looked out her window. The sun was setting behind the red-gold horizon taking its warmth and plentiful light with it. She grabbed a large satchel from her wardrobe and stuffed everything she could think of inside it. She took the heavy gold brooch her father had bought her for Christmas and the thick silver candle holders from the mantle of her fireplace. Her intentions were to use them to get the money she would need to leave England and start anew someplace far away. All she had to do was remember her way back to London and find passage aboard an outgoing vessel. It seemed simple to her as she snuck without making a sound from the back of the large manor. She ran to the stables where she took her favorite horse and rode off into the coming night.

Darian Bradshaw the future earl of Blackstone Castle was tall and lean. He had short thick black hair, with dark brown penetrating eyes that appeared almost black surrounded by long lashes that swept his high cheekbones. His voice was deep and husky making the woman around him sigh and cling to every word he said. His looks had been one of the reasons Elisa had given for her lack of interest in him. She’d laughed rudely and called him pretty. She’d enjoyed pointing out how all the silly females turned to mush about him. He had to admit that her words had offended him, but even he found some woman’s reaction to him a tad too much. He didn’t think he was pretty. Only women were pretty, rather he found his looks to be acceptable and very man like. He scowled at the memory. He was still a little miffed at her callousness to his ego.

He sat in the billiard room smoking a cheroot. He felt like a victor standing before his spoils as he waited for the dinner announcement. Elisa’s father appeared and motioned from the doorway for him to follow. He could tell by the older man’s expression he wasn’t going to like this. He remained silent and continued to follow him out of the room and down the long corridor. He was led to the study he’d been in not two hours before discussing his upcoming nuptials and was handed a glass of brandy, “what has happened?”

“My daughter it would seem, is gone my boy.” David drank his brandy straight down. He looked at the darkly handsome man that he would give his only child to wed, his mind still running wild with worry he continued, “She’s left on horseback and heading only god knows where, but I highly suspect London knowing my Elisa.”

Darian sat his full glass down on the desk. Drinking wasn’t a habit he claimed to, “we have to search for her! Have you arranged a search party already?”

“I still have quests Darian! I cannot sound an alarm like that! Can you imagine what the ton would say or how that might affect my standing in the house of lords?!” the man was red-faced and his hands shook he was nearing a full-fledged panic now, “I must arrange something very quiet and discreet for dawn so that none of my guests still in attendance become aware of my plight.”

Darian could feel his anger welling up in his chest for the older man; calm and collected he adjusted his shirt collar before he spoke, “I can’t wait until dawn to find your daughter my lord. I will leave now.”

“Good idea young man, I knew you were the right choice.” David was relieved. He watched Darian quit the room and poured himself another full glass of brandy. He drank it straight down and poured another glass. Damn the fool girl and her refusal to conform. He tried to calm his worry but it was cold outside and pitch black. The stable lad had claimed to smell rain in the air.

Elisa was cold and wet. The fall rain had drizzled than turned to a torrential down pour. It drenched every solid inch of her body. She shivered as she fought to keep warm on top of her mare. There was nothing for shelter out here in the woods. Somehow she’d strayed from the road and now blindly rode dead ahead into oblivion. She wished she’d stayed home and not been so hasty to run off. Try as she may she couldn’t blame her father for this one.

Even with his rigid stance on what was proper and what was not his intentions were always good. She was reckless at times and now she may pay a heavy toll for it. She knew now her father was right. She did too many things without thinking it through. All the times he’d lectured her on behaving like a young lady echoed in her mind making her slump her shoulders. She cried softly into her coat. She’d really done it this time. If she didn’t find shelter soon she wouldn’t survive the night. Not with her clothing soaked and nothing to banish the chill from her bones.

Time was creeping by. The cold began teasing her without relent as she grew tired and felt her stomach growl. She’d decided against taking the time to secure food to take with her for fear of being caught. She now she suffered the effects of her hunger and careless planning. Compiled with the cold and miserable hunger in her stomach, she was spooked. Every so often she thought she heard the echoing sound of a horse and rider behind her. As she trekked through the mud and muck beneath her she got the sensation she wasn’t alone. Fear energizing her she picked up her pace and to her absolute delight a small abandoned cottage came into few. She nudged the horse toward it and dismounted.

She tethered the mare and stroked her long snout, “don’t fret Checkers it’ll be dawn soon.”

The cottage was old and the floor creaked beneath her weight as she opened the door and slowly walked inside. There was nothing but a small armchair tattered from age and neglect in the front room near the cracked and cold hearth. She didn’t care to explore the rest of the rooms where she imagined every kind of foul thing hid in the corners ready to pounce on her. Spent she sat down in the chair and gave over to less frightening thoughts. She thought of Darian.

The man with such a terrible reputation of preferring the company of young widows. He’d gone from some handsome stranger to a constant bothersome shadow over the past three months. He’d tried to gain her favor but she’d ignored him on purpose every time. He’d changed suddenly, trying to speak with her about a courtship and marriage. She wouldn’t admit, even to herself how much he got under her skin. When he came close and she could sense him she felt the excitement within herself grow. Her unbridled excitement threatened to expose her real feelings for that rogue of a man.

Elisa had danced with him just that one time and hadn’t liked how he’d made her feel. His touch was intoxicating. It her forget herself and her desires to remain a free woman. That dance had sparked a desire from him more than just a simple dance. She told herself a man like Darian didn’t behave like a dotting husband. Instead they pacified themselves with the keeping of a mistress and she couldn’t abide that sort of thing. Regardless of how attracted she was to Lord Bradshaw she refused to become the traditional gentry’ wife. She wanted, nay she needed more than becoming the lady of a manor who did nothing but knit fancy kerchiefs, plan dinner parties, and the annual ball in hopes to outdo all the other balls of the season. She wanted blue skies and open fields to run her horses. She wanted to feel alive for all her days. If she settled on a marriage void of true affection she would never really feel alive. All these things made Darian untouchable for her.

Darian wasn’t the typical English gent. He was rather fond of outdoor living. He could ride an untamed horse with ease like no other man could and hunt any wild beast in any English woods. Her tracks hadn’t been hard to find. They paralleled with the main road back to London. He’d been amused at first. Then the rain had started and the wind picked up icing him down to his bones. He was cold and his discomfort wiped all traces of amusement from his face. Now as he followed her tracks he assuaged his annoyance with thoughts like shaking her until her teeth rattled in her head. He needed to be calm right now as his frustration faded to concern.

He saw that her tracks drifted to the left taking her away from the road. She was lost out here in the dark and likely as cold and soaked as he was. She was probably scared and wishing by now she was still safe at home in her bed. He assumed by the groundskeepers testimony of when he’d seen her ride off that she had at least an hour’s head start on him. He could only hope she was riding at a slow pace. His anger at her father’s decision to wait for dawn was renewed and he quickened his own pace.

Darian couldn’t fathom how a father would choose to wait until dawn to locate his missing daughter just to save face with a few lingering house guests. He put little stock in the opinion of his peers. They were a fickle lot and loved nothing more than a juicy scandal or the next big fad. When he wasn’t on one of his many horses he was on the high seas captaining his own merchant ship to and from the West Indies. He rarely bothered to rub elbows with the tons elite. He saw life as an opportunity for adventure and ever since the day he’d watched Elisa ride like the fires of hell chased behind her he was mad to marry her. To have a woman with as much grit and longing to live as he had. That was the driving factor to make him chase his catty young wife to be.

That single dance they’d shared back in London had nearly done him in. She’d given herself away that night. Her eyes glazing at his touch and her tell-tale shiver at being so close to him. He knew in that moment what she felt because he felt the very same thing for her. She was a woman full of untapped desire. A woman he could spend all his days with. He pictured them sailing together on his ship or riding side by side on their horses chasing the wildest winds about his castle grounds. She ignited his heart like a match to dry paper.

Worried and tired he pushed ahead. Every step of the way he searched for any sign she’d stopped to rest or been thrown from her horse. His worry kept mounting making each second more agonizing then the one before. He was at the end of his emotional rope when he saw the tiny abandoned cottage with the light brown and white speckled mare tethered to its rotted porch. He recognized her mount. It was the one she rode at least once a day since their arrival for the hunt a week ago.

He rushed ahead tethering his own black stallion beside the mare. He patted its sturdy side to settle its nerves. He reached the cottage door and heard the soft snores through the thin wooden door. He opened the door then and saw her slumped in the chair. Her head was tilted back and her hair cascaded in long silver waves over the arm. It was long and almost touched the dirty floor. The pale light of the moon lit her in a soft angelic glow. He went to her and stared hard at her. With his fingertips he touched her smooth jaw line causing her to stir. He smiled wide into her sleep filled eyes. His earlier anger gone and replaced by his longing to hold this woman.

“Hello my dear hell of a night out there to try to ride back to London.”

Elisa blinked several times. Her confusion setting in. She sat up quickly realization hitting her, “how can you be here?”

“Your father took note of your absence and I set out to find you.” He wanted to kiss her soft pink lips but he held himself back. He wanted to end her resistance here and now, once and for all, “why do you run from me?”

“I did not run from you I ran from being a slave wife!” she bounded from the chair and glared up at him her chest heaving in her wrath, “I cannot spend my life planning dinner parties and making fancy kerchiefs! I want to ride horses and run free in the day light! Not rot away in a parlor with a bunch of giggling woman. Why do not understand me?!”

He blinked down at her. He tossed his head back and laughed at her narrowed eyed expression, “I dear heart detest dinner parties, I have never in all my days carried a fancy kerchief, and I do not, nor have I ever entertained any bunches of giggling woman.”

“I see.”

He snatched her hand pulling her hard to his chest and smiled down at her. He fought to control his need of this woman as he explained, “furthermore I would never ask my wife to stop riding our horses and running alongside me in the day light.”

She gave him a sidelong look not wanting to trust his husky spoken words or his dark consuming eyes. His presence pushed the tidal wave of emotion inside her heart all the way to the edge, “I want so badly to believe all those things about you.”

“Pray tell love, what kind of man is it you believe that I am?”

She felt her face turn pink and couldn’t stop the laughter that bubbled up from her chest, “let me see Lord Bradshaw, which rumor would you like for me to relay to you first? The rumor that you like to have a verity of beautiful woman in your company that are not your wife, the rumor that has you spending long hours drinking brandy at your club, or better still the rumor of how you are a self-professed renowned lover of wild and often far off places?”

It was his turn to laugh again, “Before I met you my flaxen-haired beauty I did enjoy the company of woman, I do rather like to sail off on my ship The Seeker. It’s a most lovely ship after all. Just so you know I detest brandy and social clubs such as whites.”

“That is only two rumors you can shoot down my lord, what of your fondness for sailing off on your beloved Seeker? Will you leave me alone then, within your castle to whittle away my time all alone?” she wanted him to kiss her. She tried but she couldn’t stop her own raging desire.

“Why would I leave such a magnificent creature such as yourself alone? Mayhap I would take you with me to sail off on our beloved Seeker.” His defenses were crumbling he couldn’t stop his finger from tracing her soft lips. He noticed she didn’t pull away this time.

“I would love to sail away on a grand vessel and ride my horses with my husband by my side.” She could feel her heart speed up when he touched her lips. She was crumbling in his arms and all her reasons to remain alone and in control of her own life were dying at his touch.

“Marry me woman. Be my wife and let me show you how great it will be. Come away with me and have real adventures. Forever more just you and me.” He moved his head closer to hers. She smelled sweet like jasmine.

“You are proposing to me now rather than just negotiating details with my father?” thinking straight thoughts with him in such close proximity wasn’t working out for her. All she could think about was how firm his lips looked, how very inviting they were, and how much she wanted to feel them against her own lips, “kiss me you fool.”

He did kiss her then. She tasted sweet like wild honey. She made his body come to life. She’d gave him a merry ole chase to a sweet end. He knew spending all his days keeping this animated woman in his arms would keep him on his toes and it sounded like frolicking in heaven to him. She made his blood boil with every emotion a man could ever hope to feel when she was close to him. He pulled away from her and looked down into her beguiling eyes. He knew every day she would be like fleeting wind. She was the perfect woman for him. A woman who would never keep him bound by traditional trappings.

Elisa had spent three months avoiding this very thing. She’d painted him with the same colors she’d painted every other Englishman. She saw him now. He was dark and sensuous with an air of danger and excitement. He would never smother her with rigidity and rules she couldn’t abide by. He was perfect in his feckless behavior. She saw how they were kindred in spirit. Her father had never understood her riding in a plain saddle in fitting trousers. He’d never liked how she let her hair bellow behind her free of its coif. This man wouldn’t mind her fitting pants or her free-falling hair. She could see him, eyeing her and smiling his approval. She felt daring. She tested these new feelings about him as she grabbed his face and yanked his mouth to hers for another kiss. He let her kiss him, just as she knew he would.

They both turned in time to see David rush through the cottage door with a crashing bang. His great-coat dripping wet from the cold rain and his cheeks blotchy red from the cold wind, “I should throttle you child!”

Elisa ran to her father and wrapped her arms around him. She smiled up at his pinched expression, “did you sneak from the manor so all those guests wouldn’t spot you?”

“To hell with all those guests! I left from my front door and rode like mad to find you. I take it you have accepted this fine man’s offer?” David almost crossed his fingers. He’d seen them embracing real hope flaring inside his chest that his wayward daughter had found her true match.

“Yes I have, Father.  I am going to be wed with Darien. No longer will I be at home underfoot. What do you say to that?”

David smiled, his obvious relief spreading across his face, and said to his beloved daughter, “Thank the heavens child.”

[A short story written by:  Kristy J. Speer and only recently edited]