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FAIRER THAN MORNING
by Rosslyn Elliott

Genre: Historical Romance, Inspirational

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Rushville, Ohio 

15th July, 1823

Proposals of marriage should not cause panic. That much she knew.

Eli knelt before her on the riverbank. His cheekbones paled into marble above his high collar. Behind him, the water rushed in silver eddies, dashed itself against the bank, and spiraled onward out of sight. If only she could melt into the water and tumble away with it down the narrow valley. 

She clutched the folds of her satin skirt, as the answer she wanted to give him slid away in her jumbled thoughts.

Afternoon light burnished his blond hair to gold. “Must I beg for you? Then I shall.” He smiled. “You know I have a verse for every occasion. ‘Is it thy will thy image should keep open, My heavy eyelids to the weary night? Dost thou desire my slumbers should be broken, While shadows like to thee do mock my sight?’”

The silence lengthened. His smile faded.

“No.” The single word was all Ann could muster. It sliced the air between them with its awkward sharpness. 

He faltered. “You refuse me?”

“I must.”

He released her hand, his eyes wide, his lips parted. After a pause, he closed his mouth and swallowed visibly. “But why?” Hurt flowered in his face.

“We’re too young.” The words sounded tinny and false even to her.

“You’ve said that youth is no barrier to true love. And I’m nineteen.” He rose to his feet, buttoning his cobalt cutaway coat.

“But I’m only fifteen.” Again Ann failed to disguise her hollowness.

She had never imagined a proposal so soon, always assuming it years away, at a safe distance. She should never have told him how she loved the story of Romeo and Juliet. Only a week ago she had called young marriage romantic, as she and Eli sat close to one another on that very riverbank, reading the parts of the lovers in low voices. 

“There is some other reason.” In his mounting indignation, he resembled a blond avenging angel. “What is it? Is it because I did not ask your father first?” 

“You should have asked him, but even so, he would not have consented. Father will not permit me to marry until I am eighteen.” 

“Eighteen? Three years?” His eyes were the blue at the center of a candle flame. “Then you must change his mind. I cannot wait.” He slid his hands behind her elbows and pulled her close. His touch aligned all her senses to him like nails cleaving to a magnet. With an effort, she twisted from his grasp and shook her head.

His brow creased and he looked away as if he could not bear the sight of her. “I think it very callous of you to refuse me without the slightest attempt to persuade your father.” 

“I do not think he will change his mind. He has been very clear.” 

“Then perhaps you should have been—clearer— yourself.” His faint sarcasm stung her, as if a bee had crawled beneath the lace of her bodice 

He dropped his gaze. “You would not give up so easily, if you cared. You have deceived me, Ann.”

He turned and walked up the riverbank, the white lining flashing from the gore of his coat over his boot tops. Before she could even call out, he topped the ridge and disappeared from view.