Excerpt from Lover's Knot

   
      Excitement shivered through Alysa. This was a proposal of marriage, no matter how obliquely Philip had couched it. "I understand, Philip, of course I do! Papa has too many immediate problems to concern himself with my future."
     Philip squeezed her hand, before gently removing his. "If he gave his permission for us to marry, Alysa, how would you feel?"
     The excitement returned, stronger than before. Alysa laughed and cupped his face in her hands. "You have to ask?"
     "Yes," he said seriously, but he was smiling at her jubilation.
     "I did not think I would ever find a man who could move me as you do, Philip." Her eyes and voice had become as serious as his. Her hands remained warm on his face. "In many ways you are a mystery to me and yet I trust you implicitly. From the beginning you intrigued me, even when no one in my family was sure whether you were a Roundhead spy or a loyal Royalist—What is it?"
     Philip's expression had tightened forbiddingly. He caught her wrists and pulled her hands away from his face. "You thought I was a Roundhead spy?"
     Relief flooded over Alysa, drowning her momentary dismay. She told herself that it was good that they were finally having this conversation, for doubt had hovered between them for too long. "The question did come up from time to time. You must remember, Philip, that you were a stranger here. Old Sir Richard Hampton rarely spoke about his two nephews and no one had seen you in years. With the country in confusion after the death of Oliver Cromwell, those loyal to the king were hopeful that a rebellion would finally bring him home for good. We were very aware that we could not afford to have an agent of the Protectorate in our midst."
     Grimly, Philip said, "What made you decide that I was what I appeared to be?"
     "Time," Alysa said simply. "When you seemed attracted to me, I offered to encourage your advances so that I could get to know you better. Papa was reluctant at first, but eventually he agreed to my plan." The expression on Philip's face was still and dangerous. Alysa hurried on, determined to complete her confession and get the worst behind them. "As you courted me, I learned that you were a man of honor, as well as one I could respect. I told Papa that I did not believe that you would seek to harm our family, and I believed it, then and now."
     She gazed up into his fathomless brown eyes, pledging him her trust and promising her love. His eyes searched her face, probing the depth of her honesty, but his own expression was unreadable. After a moment he pulled away to stare unseeing across the broad green lawns. "You shouldn't have done that, Alysa."
     She touched him tentatively on the shoulder. "Are you telling me that you are not the Royalist brother, Philip? That my family should be wary of you? That you are the spy who has been plaguing West Easton?"
     He drew a deep breath and let it out again forcefully. "No. I am not the spy who almost cost your brother his freedom. You must look to your own ranks for that. But I am not what you imagine me to be, Alysa. I am a simple soldier who has retired from active duty, nothing more. Do not make me into what I am not."
     Her grip on his shoulder firmed and she turned him toward her. "What I see in you, Philip, I have not imagined. We are all more than we think we are or can be. I know that if the time came for you to make a decision, you would make the right one. I know it!"
     Taking both her hands in his, Philip rubbed the soft skin with his thumb as he gazed deep into her eyes. The movement had a slow, seductive rhythm to it that hypnotized Alysa. "By whose definition of what is right?"
     She smiled up at him, her eyes trusting. "By yours, dear sir. For I know that your definition and mine are the same."
 
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