They rode on in silence, until Aaron’s horse stopped, and he said, quite suddenly, as if he’d only just thought of it: ‘My dearest Beatrix, you must know by now how absolutely I adore and admire you, and how much pain it causes me to leave your presence even for an instant. I love you, Cousin!’
‘My Lord!’ Beatrix reigned her horse to a halt, turning to face him. ‘I beg you to stop this familiar talk at once!’
‘My tongue says nothing but what my heart compels it to.’ Aaron leaped nimbly from his horse and offered Beatrix his hand to dismount. ‘I beg you to hear what it has to say. I cannot remain silent any longer.’
Her first reaction was to spur her horse in the other direction, leaving Aaron here in this clearing, all alone. But then she remembered her uncle – how he had spoken to her of her cousin’s love, and how he had urged her to contemplate marriage to Aaron. Indecisiveness crept into her heart, and for a moment she knew not what to do. Then, finally, she made her decision.
Beatrix nodded stiffly once, and, ignoring his offered hand, dismounted.
‘Beatrix,’ Aaron began again, leading her away from the horses. ‘You know you are the most beautiful woman in the world.’ They stopped, and he gazed into her eyes with nothing but adoration and tender love showing upon his face. Gently, he leaned forwards and brushed a strand of hair from her exposed collarbone. She shrank from his touch.
He moved his hand away slowly. ‘You know I would never place you in a position that compromised you,’ he whispered. ‘I love you so much, Beatrix. You could make me so happy.’
Could she? Could she make him happy? And would he make her happy? Did a marriage need to be based on love, or merely respect and mutual friendship? Would that be enough for her?
‘My dearest Cousin,’ he murmured into her ear, his lips brushing her throat, his hands caressing her face. ‘I love you. I need you. I... want you.’
He drew back from her, bent down onto one knee, a ring materialising between his fingers. ‘Will you marry me?’