In one swift, honest acknowledgment she now felt sad. Everything was all wrong, and once again she had put them in a terrible and awkward position. Captain Murdock had already made it clear she should not esteem him so. She stood up in a rush. He came up off the couch at the same time, like she'd cried out, and reached for her arm to pull her close and keep her from leaving. His soft fingertips brushed her tears away. "Don't cry," he ordered. His tone changed to a firm and resolute timbre. "What will they think when I take you downstairs." He looked past her toward the violin case. "We are late," he said but did not move. Sophie could not move either. The grief in her soul made her want to be pulled through a hole in the floor. Everyone had what they wished for but her. She would not have Leatherbury. She would not have Pembroke. She would not have Captain Murdock. An unseen chill moved through the room. She put the back of her hand -- the hand he had kissed -- over her mouth and released a sob as her chest sank. Before she could sniffle or feel mortified at her emotional exhibition, a strong arm went around her waist. Captain Murdock crushed her to him, and she found her face nestled in the center of his perfectly tied cravat. "I don't want to get married," she choked out. "I love... I like... I do admire Mr. Billingham so, but--" She began to cry, horrified to expose such delicate and private feelings before him, but there was no one else to tell. She caught her breath, sniffled, and broke back down again. Murdock said nothing but embraced her, rubbing her arms and stroking her back. "I did say you were the bravest girl I knew." Sophie heard him swallow. He was very warm, radiating heat like stones in the summer sun. She raised her head. Murdock must advise her what to do. "Jack would tell me to run away," she croaked. "My parents would have me do the sensible thing and become the mistress of this great estate. What say you, Edward Murdock?" He looked down at her, his gaze probing. "What does your heart tell you to do, Sophie Crestwood?" His voice was a whisper. She closed her eyes and took a deep, full breath. Her heart had been screaming the truth at her all along.
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