Elise sighed heavily. Hunter stood too close. “I am not the same girl who wrote you all those years. Then, I accepted the eventual match, chosen by my father. I knew my duty. That has all changed. I have changed. I can’t foresee marrying...”
“Without love?” Hunter asked, looking into her eyes.
Elise had not intended to add those last words, but he was correct.
“As I have chosen,” Hunter continued and took another step in her direction. Their eyes locked, his burned into hers.
Elise feared he read her feelings too clearly. “It is not what I meant.”
“I know,” he offered. Sadness lingered in his tone. “We both know that I have settled.”
Elise broke eye contact first, turning with haste.
Hunter gently grabbed her arm and turned her toward him.
Stunned, Elise looked up. Her heart began to pound. She should pull away, but she was locked in place by some invisible tie. His green eyes darkened with emotion, longing. She should pull away. Though the thought repeated itself in her mind, Elise made no move to remove her arm from his hand.
“Do you know what I wish? I wish that you find love.”
“There will be no love in my life,” she insisted.
“Do you know what else I wish?”
She didn’t want to know. His voice was thick with emotion, low and smooth. She was afraid of what he might say. That he might voice what she has been fighting herself.
“I wish I had canceled that ball as I had wanted to. I would be free now. Free to-”
“Hush,” Elise put her fingers to his lips. “This cannot be right.”
Hunter stepped forward and brought her close, his hand on her waist. “To love you, Elise. I do, you know, and probably did before meeting you face to face.” He studied her eyes. “Tell me Elise, if I were a free man, could you return that love?”
Elise struggled with her answer. If she answered him falsely she would free him to try and make a good marriage with Delia. Try as she might, she couldn’t lie. “Yes,” she choked out. Yes, she loved him, but even if he were free, she could never marry him.