Charles stared out across the water, his need for peace strong but elusive. He knew that he needed to finally broach the subject of marriage with Elsie since Richard had informed him that he and Isobel would be going to Scotland for a much needed holiday and none of them thought it was a good idea to leave Elsie alone. He’d thought of asking Beryl if Elsie could stay with her, but then he remembered that she and Daisy were going on a small holiday to meet the family of Daisy’s beau.
He wasn’t sure the subject of marriage would go over well with Elsie, it may be something that she would never want to think of much less be asked. Though, asking this time would be a definite change of pace from the last go. And he most assuredly wouldn’t be taking Elsie as his property. Nor would he be requiring anything of her but what she was willing to give.
Charles was startled to hear her voice behind him and turned around. “Elsie? Lass, what in the world are you doing out here by yourself?”
“I didn’t come by myself. Richard walked me here.”
“But, Elsie, you…” he started then stopped when Elsie reached out and squeezed his hand.
“I did. I have to start going out at some point, Charlie.”
Charles smiled and lifted her hand, kissing the back of it while holding her gaze.
Elsie shivered at the contact, her breath catching as she tried to keep herself calm. No one had kissed her, at least not in that manner. The kisses she’d received had been more like angry tears at her flesh. But not her Charlie, never her Charlie. He couldn’t hurt her no matter if his life were on the line. She knew that he would die before ever letting himself be used to hurt her.
“I’m sorry, Elsie. I shouldn’t have done that.” Charles told her quietly.
Elsie shook her head. “Don’t apologize, Charlie. It’s just that I was never kissed like that. All he did was,” she bit her lip and looked away.
“It’s alright, Lass.” Charles gently tugged her hand to get her to look back at him. “May I hold you?”
Elsie answered by stepping into his open arms, her head nestled on his chest. Sighing as she relaxed against him, she thought back to all those months ago when Charles had rescued her and brought her home. She’d come a long way since then, though she knew she still had a long way to go and that she would never truly be her old self again. “Charlie,” she whispered, her voice trembling.
“What am I going to do when Richard and Isobel go on holiday?”
“That’s what I was thinking about when you found me.”
“Well, I had thought of asking Beryl, but remembered she and Daisy were also going to be gone.”
“I could always stay,” she started but Charles interrupted.
“You are not staying by yourself. There’s always the Dower House.”
“Heavens!” Elsie huffed.
Charles chuckled a bit. “Yes, I didn’t think that would go over well. You would be too uncomfortable.”
“I suppose I could always take you to London and we could stay in a hotel.”
“Oh no, Charlie. I couldn’t possibly. Too many people and I don’t want you spending money on me.” Elsie argued then sighed, “I need to find a way to earn again. I have nothing and I can’t keep taking advantage.”
“There’s another option, Lass.” Charles held her a bit tighter.
“Charlie?” Elsie asked, feeling the change in his mood in the way his muscles tensed under her hands.
“You could stay with me as my companion. We would have to marry of course,” he felt her tense. “But I would ask nothing of you, Elsie. Nothing. The marriage would only be so that you could live with me without people thinking ill of you. I won’t have that. I won’t have them calling you names or turning up their noses at you. I won’t have you be fodder for their gossip. I won’t.”
Elsie bit her lip as she pulled away from Charles. “Charlie, I…I,” she stammered.
“I promise that you’ll not be my property, Elsie. No obeying. Nothing you don’t want.” Charles looked down at his shoes. “I only want to take care of you and protect you. No church, just the registrar. No rings. No changing your name. Just a certificate to prove that you have the right to live in my home and the right to my things. That’s all, Lass. And we’ll really be married. No trickery. I have two bedrooms. I’m a good cook and good at the cleaning too. You won’t have to lift a finger if you don’t want to. And maybe,” he paused to look up at her. “Maybe together we can think of something to help you earn some money if you don’t want to share mine.”
Elsie’s eyes were overflowing with tears. Marriage scared the hell out of her, but Charles had just gone through a list of everything he could possibly think of that could be a trigger for her and assured her that he’d expect nothing. Nothing at all but for her to let him give her a roof over her head, to take care of her, to protect her. He was even offering to help her earn her own money so that she wasn’t completely dependent on him if she didn’t want to be. She swallowed hard, her hands shaking as she moved back to him. “Maybe we could share the cooking and cleaning,” she whispered.
Charles looked at her, startled by her words. “Are you sure, Lass? Don’t agree if you really don’t want to. I will find another solution. I don’t want you to think I’m using this situation to force you to marry me. Although, I will admit that I love you, and that I want to marry you, but I’d never,”
“Shh, Charlie. I know. I’m scared, and I can’t promise that I won’t be frightened even more but I know you won’t hurt me. Just keep being patient with me.”
“I don’t want to frighten you, Lass. It would break my heart if I did that. You,” he looked down at their hands. “I need to know a few more things, Elsie. If you don’t want to tell me more, then I understand, but I ask your permission to ask Richard for, for,” he stammered to a stop. This was horrifying, but he had to know everything so that he didn’t do anything to trigger Elsie’s fear.
“Oh Charlie, I,” she bit her lip, her arms going around herself. “I can’t talk about that. It’s,”
“Then let me ask Richard. Elsie, I only want to know so that I don’t do anything to make you afraid. That’s all. I’ve guessed at most of it, and Beryl has shared a few things with me so that I know to not say or do certain things. But living together, that will be different, and I just don’t want to do something that could trigger fear. I never want you to be afraid of me.”
Elsie closed her eyes and shuddered. “Ask Richard what you will and I will try to talk to you about other things. You can ask Beryl to tell you everything I’ve told her.” Opening her eyes and looking up at him, she reached out a hand. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“For?” Charles asked as he took her hand.
“For being my Charlie. For being the man of honor and integrity I’ve always known you to be.”