Margaret woke to the sensation of already familiar lips gently brushing hers. She blinked, her vision blurry with sleep at first. Then the face of the man she loved was gazing down into hers, a look of love that was also becoming familiar to her radiating in his eyes. "Wake up, Sleeping Beauty we're nearly back to London," John told her in his dear Northern accent.
She smiled, then leaned back to stretch her arms. "I don't know what came over me," she confessed. "I slept perfectly well last night, and I never nap in the afternoon." John leaned closer to her, his breath warm on her face. "You've no need to excuse yourself, my dear. It's been an eventful few days I nodded off once or twice myself and I'm not ashamed to admit it! I suppose holding such a precious burden in his arms, a man can let his guard down easily." He grinned roguishly.
Margaret admitted to herself that she found the shelter of his arms restful and comfortable as well, but she refrained from saying so. She realized all of a sudden how close John held her far too intimately for propriety. Yet she felt as if she completely belonged where she was, and everything inside her resisted the idea of leaving his embrace. It felt right - but surely it must be wrong. Her worries of the previous night came back to her, and she unconsciously shifted away from him.
"Are you all right Margaret?" John asked, concern causing him to frown. "Nothing," Margaret denied, turning her burning cheeks away from him. "Well... I suppose I must confess being a bit nervous about my aunt - and my cousin. They're bound to make a fuss, and I don't know that I'm quite ready for more argument at the moment." It was not a complete untruth - she knew what the reaction would be when she and John arrived at the house in Harley street. And she knew that she would have to remain firm in the wake of her cousin's tears and her aunt's inevitable fit of vapors.
"I'll take the brunt of it, Margaret," his hand covered hers, and she looked back at him. His expression was serious, his lips thinned in determination. Another expression of his that she knew well. "It's not fair to you," she argued, but he laid one finger against her lips to silence her. "It wasn't fair that you had to face my mother's anger alone last night, either. And as the man who has proposed to you without asking your guardian's permission first, it is only to be expected that I face their objections without your shielding me from them. I wish to behave as a proper gentleman would. I beg you to allow me to deal with this, Margaret."
His tone brooked no argument, and his face was set with grim determination. Margaret knew that he would not yield to her in this matter. She was beginning to learn already to choose which situations were worth opposing him about, and which ones it was necessary to allow him his own will. She would let him make the first advance to her aunt. She had complete faith that he would make all effort to be every inch the gentleman she knew him to be.
But Margaret would not let him face her family alone - and she knew how to manage her aunt and cousin. He would not be insulted or abused by her family the way she had been by his. She would protect him, even if it was not what he wanted. Margaret was a fully-grown woman with her own income - and she had made her choice. A choice she knew both her parents would have approved. Accepted or not, John Thornton would be her husband and partner. If John was determined it would be so, Margaret was no determined. In this, she would most certainly have her way.
The carriage ride to Harley Street was quiet. John slid his palms over the legs of his trousers, hoping he didn't appear as apprehensive as he felt. Despite his brave words to Margaret, in truth, he did not know what their reception would be when they arrived, and he had yet to find the proper words to express to Margaret's aunt those tender feelings that lived in his heart for her niece. He loved her, would honor her and do everything in his power to ensure her well-being and happiness. He would work tirelessly to make his business prosper again and he would manage his wife's fortune carefully and cautiously so that Margaret and the family he hoped to have with her would never want for anything. If they would only put their trust in him, he would make sure that trust was not unwarranted.
That is what he felt, and being a plain-spoken man, he would say just that if the people he was about to address were not refined members of Society who might think his passionate feelings an unseemly display. He only hoped that he could moderate his feelings and show the decorum that he was sure would be expected of a suitor worthy of Margaret. He looked at her and wondered, not for the first time, if she was regretting her choice. Margaret loved him - that much he didn't doubt anymore. But the sudden hesitation in her eyes back on the train - the way she'd moved out of his arms made him question for the first time if his passion for this woman had made him overstep the bounds of propriety in his already unquenchable need for physical contact with her. In truth, he had not been able to help himself - she had such sway over him such as no other ever had. And she had responded to him with such an innocent sweetness, it had only encouraged him. But now, as they drew nearer to the place and people that represented all things civilized, John knew that he must indeed reign in his ardor, not only in speech but in action as well. He'd been taught the proper behavior of a gentleman well - and he admitted that they had skirted the line of impropriety in Milton in his unbridled joy at Margaret's acceptance of his suit. Here in London, their every moves would be carefully watched. No doubt her aunt would insist on chaperoning them every second, giving them no time for intimate conversation.
It was at times like these that the ways of a gentleman chafed at John's natural instinct to merely claim what was his and have done with the matter. His ancestors had been proud conquerors of their land and had always had trouble bending to the will of a higher authority. But this was a civilized age where manners and form ruled - and he had no wish to further his reputation as a brutish beast of a man who trampled on what others held important. He no longer wanted to be that man who had so repelled Margaret last year. For her sake, he could act the part required of him to perfection - he would not shame her or himself. They would be wed as soon as it could be arranged and then no one could contest his right to Margaret's affection whenever and however he wished to express it.
The carriage stopped, and John gazed up at the imposing structure before him. His home in Milton was nothing compared with it. He questioned again who he thought he was to ask Margaret to leave such a fine home to come and live with him. Her family would surely think him mad for even daring to ask such a thing.
Then he felt the gentle touch of Margaret's hand on his, now clenched at his sides. "It's just a house, John. It has not been truly home for me all these months and never will be again," she assured him as he looked down at her. John smiled, some of the tension leaving him - how she had known what he was thinking, he could not venture. But her words emboldened him - she had made her choice only two days ago on a train platform halfway between here and Milton. She had come home with him - she wanted Milton to be her home. And nothing either of their families could say would change that.
Alighting from the carriage, John handed Margaret down, his hand holding on to hers as long as he dared. The ache he felt inside when he reluctantly released her fingers from his grasp was keen. But as they climbed the stairs together, John squared his shoulders, ready to do battle for his future happiness. With Margaret at his side, he would accept no defeat - not when he had already overcome so many seemingly impossible obstacles. He would use any means in his power to convince the people waiting on the other side of that door of his worthiness - and of the certainty he had that there could be no better partner in life for him but Margaret.
(Author's note: SOrry for the delay yet again - I've been working on this chapter in bits and pieces for so long and I wanted it to sound just right. John's taken his time articulating his inner struggle to me and I've been forced to be patient haha.
I hope this is all right. I know the plot hasn't moved very far, but I didn't want to rush what will be a very important scene when John and Margaret make their case to her aunt. There won't be too many chapters left in this story anyway - if my schedule ever settles down I may write another story that tells of the Thornton's married life. We'll see. I'll be getting started on the next chapter soon, I promise!)