On this day in history, Charlotte Brontë declined a marriage offer from Reverend Henry Nussey on the grounds that she was too “romantic and eccentric” and not suited to be a clergyman’s wife. In the mid-19th century, women didn’t have many options when it came to providing for themselves, so turning down a marriage proposal could be considered a risky move.
Instead, Charlotte worked as a teacher and governess to support her brother’s literary aspirations. Unfortunately, Branwell Brontë succumbed to alcohol and opium abuse and later died when he accidentally set fire to his bed.
Charlotte went on to publish under the pen name Currer Bell, releasing Jane Eyre in 1847.
Although fearless and independent, Charlotte did not go on to have a happy life. She survived her five siblings, Maria and Elizabeth, who died very young, Branwell, Emily (of Wuthering Heights fame), and Anne (author of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall), cared for her father, and went on to marry his curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls, a year after publishing Villette. She died while pregnant after being married for only nine months. Charlotte Bronte was just short of her 39th birthday.
It’s interesting to consider what might have happened had Charlotte accepted Reverend Nussey’s proposal. Would she have gone on to publish in an age when such options were limited for women or been lost to mediocrity for the sake of security and social acceptance?
“I suppose that’s one way of putting it.” He traced light circles on her palms with his thumbs. “Weren’t you the one who assured me I would never take what you did not choose to give me?”
The thought was wicked, but the words were tumbling out before she could hold them back. “Then I could ask you for a kiss, and it would not—” her breath caught “—not be more?”
“Yes.” Theo found himself wanting to give her anything, everything she asked for. He hoped he could. “Are you asking me for a kiss, Julie?”
“If I were a coquette, I could say I am only giving you the kiss you wanted this morning.”
There was a trace of a smile in her voice, but her eyes were huge and serious.
“You could. But you are not, are you?”
“No,” she whispered. “Kiss me, Theo. Kiss me now before the sun goes down.”
He was still holding her hands in his. Lifting them again, he brushed his lips over her fingertips, once, twice. Then he laid her hands flat against his chest.
Cupping her face as gently as if she were made of glass, he tilted it up to his.
Julie forgot to breathe as she waited for the touch of his mouth on hers, but instead, his lips began a leisurely journey over her face. She sighed as he traced the curve of her cheek. Her sigh became a moan as he dipped to taste the skin warmed by the pulse that beat beneath her ear.
When his mouth found its way to hers, she was already melting. He brushed his lips over hers, teasing, provoking them both. Even when her lips parted in invitation, he continued to tease.
Julie dug her fingers into his waistcoat, sure that if she did not find purchase, she would collapse at his feet. Sure that if he did not kiss her, truly kiss her, she would go mad. But he only skimmed his mouth over hers, watching her, always watching her.
Impatience became longing. Longing became need. Need became hunger. Desperate, she whispered his name.
Something eased within him as Theo realized that this was what he had been waiting for—this knowledge that it was his kiss she wanted. His kiss and no other. Then he deepened the kiss.
Julie thought she had remembered his kiss—the taste, the texture, the sensations that it sent spinning through her. But as Theo took her mouth fully, she realized that her memories had been to reality as a single candle is to a blazing fire. As their tongues tangled, the heat arrowed through her. Here again was the power she had felt earlier, but this time, it did not frighten her. Perhaps because she knew it was too late for fear.
Theo felt Julie’s pulse racing beneath his fingers. Even her skin seemed to quiver with the rush of her blood. He felt his own body stir. It was tempting, so very tempting. Another kiss, a touch, a caress, and she would be his. His body hardened at the thought. But, he reminded himself, he had promised he would not seduce her.
Slowly, he ended the kiss. But, unable to sever the link completely, he allowed his mouth to linger on hers.
Julie felt the rush of her blood subside. The whirlwind within her waned degree by slow degree, but still, it remained a small, spinning ball in her belly, sending out heat throughout her body. It was no longer the frantic, violent heat that consumed everything in its path, but a solid, banked heat that would last through the night.
The look of a little girl lost had faded, and the temptress was back. The temptress who had tantalized him months ago and then allowed herself to be betrothed to his brother like a mare sold to the highest bidder. And yet Alessio still wanted her. He wanted her with a desire so outrageously exorbitant that he could feel the heat consuming him.
“Strega. You are a witch, Bianca.” Instead of letting her go, his hands shifted up from her shoulders and into her hair. As they fisted in the wind-tossed strands, he lowered his mouth to hers.
Her gaze still signaled a sultry invitation even as she turned her head aside.
“Why so coy today, madonna?” he demanded, his eyes turbulent.
“Let me go, Alessio,” she demanded even as she hungered for him. For a mad, heady moment, she could imagine giving in to him. Now. Here. But then a voice she had never heard before seemed to call to her. Because the voice spoke of danger and dishonor, she began to struggle against him in earnest, not quite understanding why she felt compelled to fight him when she wanted to give in so badly.
“You forget that I belong to your brother.” As she spoke the words, she was struck with the thought that she was speaking a lie. She might be betrothed to Alessio’s brother, but she belonged to him.
Alessio felt his fury, which she seemed to provoke so effortlessly, rise another notch. Yes, it troubled him that he so desperately wanted this woman, who would, in a few months’ time, be his older brother’s wife. It troubled him far more than he cared to admit. There was no love lost between Ugo and himself. But did an honest man dishonor his own flesh and blood for a woman, no matter how desirable?
Perhaps not for any woman, he thought, as his gaze traveled over Bianca’s face with its stunning, imperious features. The eyes so dark that they were almost black, with their tiny flecks of gold that made them look like live coals. The lush mouth the color of poppies promising all the pleasures of paradise. Perhaps not for any woman, he repeated, but for this woman he would sell his immortal soul to the devil. Perhaps he already had. An ache wound through him. An ache that had nothing to do with the ache in his loins.
“You belonged to me long before I touched you for the first time. When you looked at me from the tribunal after the tournament, we both knew you were mine as if we were already lovers.”
Startled that his words mirrored her thought so precisely, Bianca wanted to look away. Because her pride demanded it, she kept her gaze steady on his.
Instead of taking her mouth, he brushed his lips over hers once and then again. For some reason, it seemed important that she give him what he could so easily take.
“Open for me now, Bianca,” he murmured. “and let me kiss you.”
His hands were gentle where they had been rough before. His lips coaxed where they had demanded. Bianca took a deep breath, drawing in his scent—horseflesh and leather and aroused male—and her senses began to swim. Another moment, and she would surrender. Instead, she seized control and took Alessio’s mouth.
She kept her eyes on his as she teased his tongue with erotic invitation. When he moved, it was not to respond to her kiss. Instead, he slid his hands down, down and filled them with her breasts.
For a moment, Bianca stopped breathing with the sheer pleasure of his touch, as if the barriers of satin and linen were gone, and she was naked. The last rational thought fled her mind, and her body took over. She placed her hands over his and pressed them into her satin-covered flesh.
Alessio stilled. Then, knowing that now, they were both the vanquished, both the victors, he dove into the kiss.
They feasted on each other until they were drunk with the pleasure of it. Their nerves humming, their breathing ragged, they pulled apart, the terrible knowledge in their eyes. They had shared much more than a kiss. They had possessed each other. Possessed each other as surely, as completely as if they had shared the ultimate embrace.