How could she answer him? Yesterday she would have welcomed his suit. But now, her duty as a daughter took precedence. “Please I don’t think you understand. If could marry, I would. There’s no other for me.”
“Nor for me.” Then, as if what she had been trying to say registered with him, he stepped back. “What do you mean? If you could marry? Why can’t you marry?”
“My father needs me.”
“You can’t sacrifice your happiness for an ageing parent!”
“He needs me now!”
“And I need you too, Miss Richmond, more than any woman I’ve ever known. There must be some way we can resolve this. I could make Witton my home if that’s what you want, as long as I can be with you.”
“Even if we lived at Witton, what will happen when you go back to sea?” Her hand flew to her mouth, as if to hide the words she had just spoken, but it was too late. The real question had been asked.
He took another step back. “This is nothing to do with your father, is it?”
The tension spread from her shoulders the length of her spine. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t speak, she could barely breathe.
“You’re terrified of being left alone, aren’t you? Is it something to do with your mother? Did she detest the months, or was it years, she had to wait alone for her husband’s return?”
Bella stiffened, as if a huge spring inside her wound up tighter and tighter. He had discovered her secret fear. And the ease with which he had been able to uncover her vulnerability shook her to her very core. An only child, she had constantly been at her mother’s side throughout her formative years. She had been loved, indulged, and pampered, while her mother had grieved silently for her absent husband. Now years later, her inner fear exposed, helplessness swept over her, and left her drained of emotion.
Quentin looked into her eyes. “You may be content to bury what’s between us somewhere deep in your memory, but I’m not. I want you to be my wife. I can’t promise I will never return to the sea. As an admiral’s daughter, you know you cannot expect a sailor to make such a vow. My feelings for you, Miss Richmond are genuine, but do not ask me to choose between you and the sea. My love for both is inseparable. I asked you to share my life because I thought you understood me. I am but an honest sailor with salt in his veins and true love in his heart.”
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