Sorry that I haven't written in such a long time, but it's been a really busy time. Lots of preparation for exams, but here's the last and final chapter! Enjoy and please review!
Soon Julian's engagement to Miss Delford was announced and all of London waited for the announcement of an engagement between his sister and the Earl of Vidal. As St. Ives was talking to Anna one night, he suddenly said,
"You don't really want to marry Vidal, do you?"
She looked at him surprised.
"That would be highly inappropriate of me to answer, you know that, St. Ives. And I wouldn't have expected you to care."
He pulled her into a more private corner roughly. As she looked up at him, she saw the stone face that he put on when he was trying to hide his emotions.
"Of course I care, Anna. I still love you; I never stopped and I never will. And you're still the only woman that I could ever contemplate marrying. If I can't have you, I don't want to marry anyone else."
She looked at him, stricken. She had never expected such forthrightness to come from the cool, emotionless duke. The only reason she had believed him to be in love with Lucy Castlereagh was because he had paid such attentions to her, but he had never come right out and said something like that. She said quietly,
"Gervase, can't you understand that…it would be quite impossible for me to marry you now? And James…he loves me and he would care for me."
She was silent as she watched him pace in front of her, his distress evident on his face. Finally he came and stood still in front of her.
"Anna, my darling, I only say this because I don't want you to be hurt by Vidal and because I want to clarify something. First that bet was the biggest mistake of my life and you didn't deserve what I did to you. No lady does. And although I may not have been in love with you at first, believe me when I say that I fell for you head over heels. You were everything that I want, but that I thought didn't exist. You're intelligent, strong and you can take care of yourself. But then you're also beautiful, vulnerable and in every way the perfect woman. You don't conform and marry without love and you are one of the few young ladies who have my respect. I view you as an equal and if you were to agree to give me a second, I would view you as a partner. Not to shield only, but to share things with."
"But I thought that you were in love with Lucy Castlereagh!" Anna couldn't help but interrupt. His speech had thrown her world askew once more. He looked incredulous.
"Lucy Castlereagh? Is that what you thought? Good God, Anna! She's just a child! And…well she's already secretly married to…the Earl of Vidal. She's his countess."
Anna was shocked.
"What? When did this happen? How could no one know?"
"I know…but the two of them didn't want anyone to know. Then when he came to London, Vidal wanted to tell everyone, but Lucy didn't want to. And to punish her for it, he has been squiring you everywhere. And you punished me by letting him. But Anna, all Lucy ever was, all she could ever be, is a nice young lady to talk to. I would not want to marry her. I am too in love with you. Please believe me. I love you. And I always will."
Anna had tears in her eyes. She had wanted him to propose to her again, secretly she had wanted it. But she had not admitted to anyone, not even herself, but now that her wish had come true she had the courage to finally admit that she loved the Duke of St. Ives. She had from the first and she came to terms with the fact that she always would and that she wouldn't fall out of him ever, even if that was her most fervent wish.
He took her hand in a tight grip and looked down into her eyes, not at them, but into them, deep into them and said,
"Anna, beautiful Anna, love of my life, will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?"
She nodded, too overcome to be able to say anything.
He laughed, his first real laugh in a long time.
"And this time, Anna, I won't let anything stop our wedding."