by Georgette Heyer

He was no longer jesting. He stood with a hand in his pocket, staring hungrily down at her. "I hate marriage," he repeated. "I hate all Forms and Rules and Restrictions. But I believe in Love. And I love you." This was said jerkily, and almost fiercely; he did not move from where he stood.

Helen was taken by surprise, and sat looking up at him blankly. "L-love me?" she repeated. Her hands closed on the arms of her chair. "Look here -- after all you've said -- what do you mean?"

"Love is understanding," Ralph said. He gave a little nervous laugh. "I'm not a fool; I know you. And so I mean marriage."

"I --I see," Helen answered, and got up, pulling her scarf about her. She stood in silence, still looking at him in uncertain bewilderment. As though he had expended all his will in the effort to stand away from her so long, he moved suddenly and swiftly towards her. She shrank back involuntarily, and gave a little frightened cry of protest as he caught her roughly in his arms. His first kiss fell on her eyebrow, for she dodged it instinctively, but he forced up her head and had his way with her lips. She struggled for a moment, and all at once gave way.

She broke away at last, breathless and agitated, with flaming cheeks. "You had no right! How dare you!" she gasped.

His hands were on her shoulders. "Well? Have I made you hate me?" he said unsteadily.

A hasty "yes" escaped her. She was trembling, and felt herself on the verge of tears. His hands slid down her arms to her wrists, and clasped them; her flesh seemed to tingle, but she did not draw herself away.

Ralph kissed her hands, drew her closer, and said more gently: "Really? Do you hate me now, my darling?"

She looked at him wildly. "I -- don't know!" she faltered. He had her in his arms again. "Oh, no!" she said faintly.

"You darling! You darling! God, how I love you!" he whispered.

He seemed to crush all the breath out of her body; she wanted to get away, and never to see him again; she wanted to be held closer, and yet closer.

There came the sound of a shutting door to break the trance. Ralph let her go at last. "We're -- engaged? May I tell your father so?"

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