She pushed at his chest, her hands as firm and unyielding as iron bars. “You’re wrong. I don’t want anything to do with you.”
“Hang it all, Elizabeth. Stop pushing me away and talk to me for a minute. I want to walk you home tonight. I want to see you tomorrow and the next day and the next. I want to court you. I’m in love with you.”
* * *
Elizabeth wrapped her arms around herself, a sob catching in her throat. Luke still stood too near, his body radiating heat and strength and confidence, issuing that subtle message that he’d carried with him since the first moment she’d seen him: Trust me. I’m safe. I’ll protect you.
But she couldn’t latch on to him. Not now.
I’m in love with you. She’d heard those words from a man before. How many times had David told her that he loved her? Held her in his arms? Stolen a kiss from her? And then strode from her parents’ house straight to the mistress he kept?
She stepped farther back from Luke, even though doing so trapped her against the wall. “No, it doesn’t matter if you’re in love with me.”
Perhaps she loved him. But that would remain a secret. There would be no declaration of her feelings, no public courtship, nothing but the silent ache of her heart when he walked into a room.
He didn’t approach her again but stood back, his arms crossed and hip cocked, watching her far too closely. “You’re terrified of me.”
Not of him. Of love. He claimed to love her now, and probably did, at least a little. But how long until Luke lost interest the way David had?
“What have I done to scare you? Is it because I’m going back to Wyoming? Because I wasn’t raised to be a fancy eastern gentleman? We can work through those things, Elizabeth. I don’t have all the answers tonight, but give me half a chance to dig some up.”
“It’s not where you live or how you were raised. It’s got nothing to do with you.” Indeed. She’d never met a more wonderful, trustworthy man.
But was he trustworthy enough to love her ten years from now and not just today?
Was any man?
Marriage lasted until death, and Luke hadn’t even known her two weeks. “I told you before, I don’t want to get married.”
“Every woman wants to get married.”
She shook her head. “Not me.”
“What’s this about? Teaching? Are you so afraid I’ll make you give up teaching that you won’t let me walk you home or take you to dinner? Good grief, Elizabeth, I haven’t proposed. I’m just asking for a chance.”
If only the reason was that simple. If only she could easily claim she didn’t want to give up her students for a family. But as much as she loved the girls who walked into her mathematics classes every day, they only made up half the problem. “Luke, please. Just let me go home.”
He rubbed the back of his neck. “Fine. I’ll send for the carriage, but at least let me take you to dinner tomorrow night.”
She nearly groaned. “No. It isn’t wise.”
“Samantha can come. We’ll invite along a gaggle of her friends, and I’ll pay for the lot of them. Call it a school outing, if you want.”
Oh, how unfair. Her students had been so sweet tonight, nearly making her forget the disaster with David, and now Luke offered an opportunity for her and the girls to have some special time together. She simply had to trust him.
She looked into his eyes, that deep, honest blue that seemed to promise the world, and had to ask. “Do you...do you have a mistress?”
He went deadly still, his face turning pale, as though his veins had been slit and every drop of blood drained from it. She expected blustering rage and a haphazard denial like David had displayed when she’d accused him all those years ago.
But Luke barely seemed able to breathe. “A mistress? You think I have a mistress?”
She stared at the floor. “I...I have to know.”
He came close, moving slowly, the way one would if trying to catch a butterfly. And indeed, she probably would have flown from the building had he moved any faster. But he soon stood in front of her, pinning her against the wall while she stared at the buttons on his coat.
“No.” Softness permeated his rusty voice. “And I never plan to, either, if that’s what this is about.”
She drew her gaze slowly up his buttons, to his strong neck and firm jaw and chiseled cheeks, before finally staring into those trustworthy blue eyes. “I...I believe you.”
The words twisted something inside her. Perhaps they freed her, or maybe they further chained her. Either way, they hurt, and she just wanted to go home, make a cup of tea, curl up on her bed.