There was no reason to take off his coat and hand it to her. He had another upstairs he might have given her, and it was hardly toasty in the kitchen. But his heart pounded as she slipped her slender arms into the sleeves, pulling it close to savor the warmth his body had given it. He wished her to know that he would freeze for her if she asked him to, and even if she didn’t.
He also wished her to look at his arms in his shirtsleeves, and she did, a smile hovering at the corners of her mouth.
He took his overcoat from the peg and put it on, then sat cross-legged on the floor opposite her and waited, his skin on fire with impatience.
She looked terribly sad all of a sudden. “I think I want to marry you.” Her eyes filled, a tear slipping down her cheek.
John didn’t know what to say. “I never intended the idea to make you so unhappy.”
“I meant to get by on my own. I ignored my mother when she said I’d end in the workhouse. I didn’t want to need help. I don’t want to get married only to have some man to take care of me.”
“It isn’t weak to wish for a helpmeet.” Perhaps the coat had been the wrong gesture. “I wish for one myself.”
She looked at him, and then she straightened, a little more cheerful. “That’s right. You’re lonely.”
He had to fight a smile at the pleased way she said it. He widened his eyes and stuck out his lower lip, just a hair. “Terribly lonely,” he agreed solemnly.
“And you want that job at the vicar’s.”
“Badly.” He held his breath, waiting for her to decide that really, she was taking pity on him.
She turned up her little retroussé nose. “Really, I’m taking pity on you,” she said slyly, eyes gleaming.
He met her gaze. “I hope you will.”