And my smile spreads far and wide across my face. “Thank you. I’m happy you were here to see it.”
We’re quiet then. James takes the long way around, with extra turns and diversions to lose anyone from the library who tries to follow us. And Henry holds onto my hand the entire time.
Inside my flat, I slip off my shoes and hang my coat in the closet, and Henry stands in the middle of my parlor, looking too big for it, larger than life.
And there’s something different about him. He’s still the Henry I know. The wild lad with a dirty mouth is still there below the surface. But the way he carries himself has changed, like there’s a veneer of . . . nobility that wasn’t there before.
He turns in a circle, noting my framed covers on the wall, running his finger along my prized bookshelf.
There’s so much to say, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how to start.
So I ask, “Would you like tea?”
“Yes, tea would be lovely.”
I nod, and on jittery legs move into the tiny kitchen. And just like our first real conversation by that big tree on the hill, instead of going mute, I babble.
“I have peppermint and chamomile. But that’s probably too bland for you, isn’t it?” I take the pot and canisters out of the cabinets and set them on the counter. “I have this fruity, exotic blend that Annie convinced me to try—it’s not my taste at all, but you may—”
Henry puts his hand over mine, standing so close behind me, I can feel the heat from his strong chest and smell the scent of his shirt.
“Sarah,” he says against my ear, raising goose bumps along my neck. “I like peppermint tea.”
And it’s absolutely insane, but that small, insignificant confession breaks something open in my chest—which I didn’t even realize I was keeping tightly shut.
I turn my head, looking at him over my shoulder, and he’s right there, near and real and here.
“It’s not too plain for you?”
He shakes his head, swiping a tear from my cheek that I wasn’t aware had fallen.
“It’s my very favorite.”
His arms come around me then. And I sink back against him. I feel his lips on my hair, as he inhales deeply—breathing me in.
“I’ve missed you so much,” he whispers. “Every day.”
“Where have you been? What took you so long?”
Henry straightens with a sigh, like he has to force himself to back away.
“Tea first. Then we’ll talk.”
I’m not sure I like the sound of that. But I put the pot on and a few minutes later, we’re seated on the sofa, drinking peppermint tea.
Henry sets his cup carefully on the table and rubs his palms on his slacks, like he’s nervous.
“I fucked up, Sarah. I thought I was doing the right thing for us at the time, finishing out the show, putting it behind us. But I was wrong. Just like . . . Mr. Rochester.”
Warmth spreads through my chest. And I laugh out loud.
“You really did read the books.”
Henry nods. “Every one.” He reaches out, squeezing my hand. “It made me feel closer to you. Knowing you had read the same letters, that you knew the words by heart.”
“But Henry, if that’s true, why did you wait so long to come here? Why didn’t you call or text or even write me a letter?”
“I had to be sure I was doing the right thing, I didn’t want to risk hurting you again. And there were . . . arrangements that had to be made. Things I had to get in order.”
He waves his strong hand. “That’s not important now. What matters is that I’m here, for you. Nothing’s changed for me and yet, everything is different. How I see the world, the part I want to have in it, it’s all different because of you. And I’m ready now—I can be the man you deserve. Steady and consistent, unselfish and adoring. Your very own Colonel Brandon.”
It seems so foolish now. A silly girl’s thoughts. Henry doesn’t compare to Colonel Brandon—he’s so much more. He’s real and true and wild and romantic, all the things I once thought only existed in books.
“I’ve spoken to Grandmother about us; she can’t wait to meet you. And . . . I want us to be like Jane and Guildford . . . only without the whole head-chopping part.”
I laugh and start to cry.
“I want to change the world with you at my side, holding your hand. I love you, Sarah, and whatever happens, I promise there won’t be a day that I don’t love you with all that I am.”
He takes my hands and leans in close.
“Will you have me, love?”
I shudder in a breath and my face is wet with tears. I shake my head at him, silly boy.
“Have you? Are you mad? You are every dream I never let myself believe could come true.”
And then I’m in his arms, kissing his face and holding him close. He lifts me up and carries me to the bedroom. He lays me down and strips me bare and I run my hands up and down his beautiful chest. And we make love, over and over again.
Outside the window, tiny snowflakes begin to fall, but we don’t notice. Because we’re lost in each other and no matter where we are, from this moment on—whether it’s in a drafty castle, a grand palace, or a little flat in an old, quiet town—it will be Henry and I, together for always.
FOR THE NEXT SEVEN DAYS, my life is perfect, because I slip seamlessly into Sarah’s. She still goes to work at the library—I meet her boss, Mr. Haverstrom, and her git of a coworker, Pat. I chat football with George the bachelor retiree and flirt with Maud, the nearsighted widow volunteer. But mostly, while at the library, I just watch Sarah—basking in the joy of seeing her in her element, soaking up every smile and laugh and committing them to memory.