Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: Two
Title: Do You Have The Time?
“I’m not sure I heard you correctly,” she says, lemonade sloshing over the edge of her mason jar.
He hands her a cloth napkin. “Marry me.”
She smoothes a palm down the front of her dress. “You can’t be serious. My father would never allow it.”
“He already has. I have his consent to court.”
Her brow furrows. “That hardly gives you license to propose.”
He shrugs. “It is the natural progression of courting.”
Her fingers swish the white cotton folds of her sundress. “Which we haven’t.”
He takes a drink of sweet tea. “What do you think the last year has been about?”
She lifts her face to his. “Excuse me?”
“I’ve come to call every Saturday for the last year.”
Her gaze rests on his shoulder. “Yes. To help dad around the farm.”
“No, Miss Wright ,” he says, moving to catch her eyes. “I don’t do farm work. I came by and rolled up my sleeves to show respect to your family, and give you a chance to get to know me in the comfort of your own home.”
She begins to pace up and down the far side of the tables.
His stride matches her. “And every Sunday we sat down to dinner together at the Franklin’s.”
Her feet pause. “I assumed you were there because they’re your relatives.”
“Round here,” he says, voice a rough whisper, “I’m everybody’s cousin twice removed. It makes people feel safe to lay claim to me. But I’m no kin to the Franklin’s.”
“I don’t understand. Why were you there?”
“For you,” he says, cutting through the gap between tables and closing the distance between them.
She takes several quick steps backwards, until the dandelions brushing her ankles tell her she’s moved off the gravel drive. “Why?”
He shrugs. “Politics. That’s why I came down to the coffee shop that morning. To discuss the matter with your daddy. But then -”
She turns away from him.
He waits several moments before moving in front of her.
She keeps her eyes on her shoes. “That’s it, isn’t it? You’re punishing me for what happened. This little charade is your revenge.”
“No, Miss Wright , you’ve got it all wrong. I’m not after revenge. And this is no charade. What happened that morning was that I laid eyes on you and my life hasn’t been the same since.”
Her mouth twists. “So let me get this straight. I spilled scalding coffee down the front of you and that piqued your interest? You are joking, aren’t you?!”
He unbuttons his shirt and pushes it open to expose a jumbled scar on his chest.
She pales “Is that … is that where my coffee burned you? Oh, I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. Lot of guys have a tattoo to remind them of their girl. I have an imprint of our first meeting forever emblazoned over my heart.”
“Let’s go back to the politics.”
“What would you like to know?” he asks, giving her conversational liberty without relinquishing an iota of encroached personal space.
“How it involves me.”
He slides his hands into his pockets. “Your father’s family has always held the Neville County seat. It is your dowry. Taking you to wife would secure my tri-county holdings.”
She holds very still. “What do you mean?”
“My family already owns the seats in Carson and Plackett Counties. We have your father’s pledge, but having the deed would make it official.”
“So, I’m just a piece of real estate to you?”
He nods. “That’s how it started, anyway. Lasted all of two hours.”
She tips her head to look up at him. “And then?”
“I bumped into you. That’s what really happened that morning.”
“Oh? It was all such a blur …”
“Well let me set you straight. I was waiting at the counter for your daddy when you walked in. I didn’t know who you were, hadn’t seen any pictures of you yet, but there you were, fresh as a spring colt. But before you got both feet in the door, Ned Tollinger was all over you like a bug on a windshield and I wasn’t going to stand for it. On principle, first off, but it would be more truthful to say that it was because I had an instant hard-on for you and no way was I going to let Tollinger or anybody else get in my way.”
“Oh.” She holds his gaze, unblinking.
He clears his throat. “What I meant to say was that I found you very attractive and had no intention of letting any other man get his foot in the door.”
She lets her gaze roam over him. Why was he wearing that white shirt and black jacket? It was his Sunday best. Who did that on a summer afternoon, at a county picnic, no less? “So, is this you putting your foot in the door?”
He says, “More like closing the door on anyone else. Out here, a man in my position takes what he wants. I could have come into your grandmother’s house at any time and put my hands on you and nothing or no one – not even your daddy – would have stopped me.”
Her face flushes. “Of all the – - ”
“Let me finish before you get wound up. Since your mama took you away from your daddy and birthplace when you were a toddler, you didn’t know our ways when you came back last year. So instead of asserting myself, I took a different route. I educated myself on your background, on your life beyond my territory, on your interests, habits, dreams, so that I had a working knowledge of you. And I gave you an entire year to get accustomed to me before we got to this moment.”
She says, “You’re making me uncomfortable.”
He says, “Welcome to my world, Daisy. You’ve been making me uncomfortable since the first day I laid eyes on you.”
She realizes he is serious. This back woods alpha cock is pursuing her in earnest. And he isn’t ashamed to do it right here in front of the whole damn county. “So, what am I supposed to do here?”
“I don’t know as I’m the one you should be asking. Because I have an answer and it’s short and sweet.”
“And that is …?”
“Marry me. Take my ring. Take my name. Take my seed.”
His frank words startle her but they also set her pulse racing. “Even if I were to consider it, and that would take a lot of considering, these things take time to plan."
“Reverend Lindsay is prepared to read the vows this afternoon.”
She laughs. “Ridiculous. My father would never forgive me for not having a white dress and wedding cake.”
“Let me ask you a couple of questions.”
She shrugs acquiescence.
“What are you wearing today?”
She pauses. “A white dress.”
“Why that dress in particular?”
“My granny brought it out of her closet for me. Oh. Damn it.”
“And what’s in the dining room for desert?”
“A tiered white cake.”
“And who designed it? Who chose the flavor and design?”
“I did. As part of the picnic committee.”
“Who was on that committee?”
“Granny and Aunt Emmy, your sister Charlotte and … your mama.”
“Your family and mine, right?”
“Stop talking, Mr. Crowder. I need a moment to think.”
He looks out across the meadow. “I was hoping to have garnered some small amount of your affection by now, but if you need space, I’ll give it to you. All you need.”
She watches him move down the table and refill his glass. Folks nod at him, give up their place in line for him, and offer him the choicest bits on the table. Why wouldn’t they? He is their heir apparent.
Businesses thrive or fail on his command. Disputes are settled by a single word from his lips. Men live and die by his hand. And it strikes her, not for the first time, how much she wants those hands on her.
She walks towards him, see the stares, hears the whispers, feels the tension. "Excuse me, Mr. Crowder. Do you have the time?"
He winks. "For you, Junebug, I always have the time."
She holds out her hand to him. "Then let's say the vows, cut the cake, and let these nice people get back to their nice quiet Sunday afternoon because I suddenly find myself in a bit of a hurry to get to the honeymoon."
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