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October 01, 2007
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Excerpt from A Western Winter Wonderland by Cheryl St. John
Carson Bend, Colorado, 1886
Marvel Anne Henley had made a decision. Why it had taken her three months to come to it, she wasn't quite sure--except perhaps for the fact that the entire rest of her life hung in the balance. She'd had to choose between spending the rest of her years married to a man for whom she felt only friendship--or living her remaining days as a spinster. Not exactly options to fulfill her long-tucked-away dreams, but in the end the verdict hadn't been that difficult.
"Your friendship is important to me," she told Henry Morrison. Now came the tough part. "But I can't marry you."
He still held his black felt hat. Snow had melted on the shoulders of his black winter coat and the drops glistened in the light streaming through the long beveled glass windows on each side of the front door. Marvel glanced at his handsome graying hair and thinly-trimmed mustache. She'd greeted him in the foyer and hadn't had time to take his wrap before he'd pressed her for an answer.
Henry had been a friend of her father's for as many years as she could remember, so his presence was familiar and reassuring. He and his wife had been to dinner more times than could be counted. Nora had been older than Henry, and a sudden illness had left her weak and housebound. Henry had cared for her until her death in July.
He'd proposed to Marvel in October.
Her heart hadn't fluttered, nor had she caught herself daydreaming of a union. But she'd been tempted--for the first time since she'd been very young, before her mother had died and her father had taken ill--tempted to want more.
Henry held his expression in check, though she knew she hadn't given him the answer he'd hoped for. "I respect your decision, Marvel. But may I ask how you came by it?"
Theirs had always been an easy relationship, one comprised of a fondness resembling that of an uncle and niece, but since his declaration of intent, their exchanges had become increasingly stilted.
"I understand a good many marriages are based on friendship," she began. "Or suitability or even necessity. It seemed sensible whenever I thought of it. You may call me foolish, but being sensible just wasn't enough incentive to make me turn my whole life upside down." She gestured with a wave of one hand. "I realize I'm turning down what is most likely my last hope for marriage. And it's not that there's anything wrong with you or that I wouldn't have enjoyed sharing your grandchildren one day..."
Henry had a grown son. She turned and surveyed the wide doorway that opened into a spacious drawing room where she'd played and later spent countless evenings with her father. There hadn't been another child in these rooms since. "I'm satisfied here. I love this house--my father built it when I was only eight, you know."
Of course he did. He'd been around then. She couldn't imagine selling her legacy, her independence, and moving to Henry's home. For one consideration, she had boarders who depended on her for their lodging and their meals. For another...well, she just didn't want to let go.
She loved the house and guarded her independence. She didn't love Henry. Passion was for the young, anyway. "This home and my work here will be enough for me. I've decided I'm content with my life."
Seeming more puzzled than upset, he frowned. "You're choosing a house over a husband?"
He couldn't understand, of course. She hadn't expected him to. "I'm choosing to be content where I am."
His dark gaze bored into hers for a long moment. "I hope you don't regret your decision later."
"I don't think I will." In fact, she was sure.
He turned his hat by the brim. "That's it, then."
"Will we remain friends, do you think?" she asked.
"I don't know. We can try."
"We'll see each other at church." She deliberately kept her tone bright. "And around town."
"I'm not angry, Marvel. A little bruised perhaps."
"Good. I mean, that you're not mad." She placed her hand on the damp sleeve of his coat and was ready to lean in and kiss him on the cheek as she always did when she noticed he was holding his expression taut and had cast his gaze downward. Everything had changed. In that moment she knew she'd lost a dear friend.
"I'm sorry, Henry."
He met her eyes then. "Be happy, Marvel."
He turned and walked out into a swirling snowfall. Marvel closed the door behind him and hurried to the window where she pulled aside the lace curtain and watched him climb into his black buggy and slap the reins over the horse's back.