if we find the result unsatisfying.”
“Actually, we can walk away. Not easily, but it’s possible.” Folding his arms, he leaned against the rough wall. “Scottish marriage law is different from English. Females can request a divorce on equal terms with men. If we marry there, you can divorce me for adultery or abandonment, or demand a legal separation for cruelty.”
She frowned. “It seems wrong to take marriage vows while keeping one foot outside the door.”
“Perhaps. Certainly it is a gamble. But marriage is an honorable estate.” His gaze was steady, his voice surprisingly gentle. “Do you want to spend the rest of your life running from Daventry and Crockett? You might succeed if you go to another country, but now that they know you’re alive, they might pursue you anywhere.
“If you marry me, you can return to the world you were raised in. I’m not wealthy, but I have a comfortable income and a small estate. As my wife, you could visit London and wear pretty gowns and be Lady Julia Raines again. Isn’t that worth a risk?”
To have her life back! The picture he painted was painfully tempting. “The risk is great, especially for you. I know you’re a powerful protector, Major, but we could both wind up dead.” She shivered. “I don’t want your death on my immortal soul.”
“As Daventry’s heir, I have a certain amount of influence with him. Though he doesn’t like me, he loves tradition and his earldom,” Randall said with dark humor. “If you are my wife and the only hope for an heir after me, that’s powerful protection.”
“Except I can’t give you an heir.” She couldn’t keep bitterness from her voice.
“He wouldn’t know that.” His mouth twisted wryly. “There would be ironic justice if the title goes extinct because of Branford’s brutality. But I am not proposing marriage simply to punish Daventry. I think we would both benefit if we wed.”
“You tempt me, Major,” she said softly. “But this discussion is so cold and rational. Should marriage be a cool calculation of protection and possibilities?”
Without moving a muscle, he changed. She could feel emotion radiating from him. “My feelings for you aren’t cold, Julia,” he said, his voice as soft as hers. “I’ve never met another woman I’ve wanted to marry. The prospect of choosing a ‘suitable’ bride sent me running to hide in Scotland. I came to Hartley in theory to consider Sarah Townsend, but in truth, because I wanted to see you. Your situation is more complicated than I realized. Yet the more I see of you, the more I want to be with you.”
Moved and unnerved, she asked, “When did you start to call me Julia?”
“Somewhere earlier in this conversation.” He folded himself down on the floor close enough to touch her, but not touching. “If you truly dislike me so much that you don’t want to live under the same roof…well, I must accept that. I won’t trouble you again. But if you think we might someday be more to each other…”
She saw vulnerability in his eyes. That was perhaps the greatest surprise of all. “I am not indifferent to you, Major,” she admitted. “You were right about the connection between us. I also feel it, and I know you much better than I did an hour ago.”
“An hour’s acquaintance is about right,” he said promptly. “More might increase your doubts.”
“Finding you have a sense of humor is a definite plus.” She gazed into the fire, amazed that she was actually considering marriage. And to Randall, of all men. “You say I must be willing to ‘try’ to make a true marriage. What do you mean by that?”
He set another piece of wood on the fire. “I think we should both commit a year to the attempt. I’m allowed to touch, while you have the absolute right to tell me to stop. Until…say, the next day?”
“That seems reasonable,” she said cautiously.
“I will be faithful to my vows as long as we both feel our marriage is real. If we