"Marry me," he repeated, this time with more confidence behind it. Despite his best efforts, it was like his brain and mouth had disconnected. The ring was still in the jail. He had nothing to give her. He didn't know what he'd even say.
There was an awkward moment while they were both lost to their thoughts. Elizabeth broke the stalemate first when she shifted her body weight. He gently placed her down, then took her hand as he kneeled before her.
"Elizabeth Thatcher, you came to this town two years ago and I may have loved you since I met you. I have wasted too much time and had too many failed attempts to declare my intentions towards you to not take this opportunity to ask you to be my wife." He looked down from her eyes to her left hand. He missed her nodding as he focused on her bare hand, his mouth suddenly dry. "I do have a ring," he started, "I just have to-"
She tugged on his hand and Jack looked up. She continued to nod, her eyes even brighter than before.
"Yes?" he asked, unsure of what he'd just said. He couldn't be sure if it was the exhaustion or the adrenaline.
"Yes!" Elizabeth yelled, her voice finally recovered. She pulled him by the lapels of his soot-stained serge into a kiss that made him feel like the most well rested man on the planet.
He suddenly felt exposed in the middle of the street. "Come on," he whispered as he took her hand and pulled her to the jail. At the front door, he stopped and assessed her. He was slightly embarrassed to see the smudges of soot that appeared on her face, her blouse, and her skirt. He would offer to clean them for her tomorrow. He gave her a quick but forceful kiss. "Wait here," he said.
Once inside, he immediately discarded his serge. Rip wandered in from the other room, his rest clearly disturbed. Jack quickly lit a lantern to help him see better. He moved to the mirror while he untucked his long undershirt and pulled it off. He caught a glimpse of his blackened face and neck in the reflection and immediately glanced down to the wash basin. Though he expected it to be dry, he found the pitcher filled and a clean cloth perched on the basin rim. He smiled. He couldn't be sure if Elizabeth or Abigail had made such a thoughtful gesture, but he appreciated it all the same. Jack quickly scrubbed his face and neck as he watched the water darken. He used some soap and scrubbed under his arms. His hair was a mess, but he poured some clean water from the pitcher over his head, while he used his free hand to try and scrub out some of the debris. He glanced at the mirror again. Satisfied that he was as presentable as a man who'd lived primitively while fighting a fire could be, Jack moved across the room to change clothes. He knew well enough that he couldn't eradicate the smoke smell entirely, but he could at least try. He put on new clothes, then set about collecting items from his small abode.
First, two blankets; one a quilt, the other woolen. Next, he grabbed a small crate. In that he added a bottle of wine confiscated from a smuggler, two jars, his sketchbook and pencil, and a small lantern. He piled the blankets on top of the crate so as not to ruin the surprise. He paused before he moved to the front of the jail. The plan came to him as she kissed him. More a vision than anything else, but more than he'd had before. Jack took a mental inventory. He grabbed matches for the lantern then moved to his desk. He quickly slipped the box out of the drawer, a smile plastered across his face. He was eager to get back to Elizabeth. On his way out the door, he took the lantern. Rip huffed back to bed.
Elizabeth paced just beyond the door. He saw her almost immediately, including the small excited jump she gave when she heard him. Her smile turned to confusion as she took in the items piled in his arms.
Jack kicked the door closed, then offered her the lantern and an elbow. "If you'll do me the honor of escorting me this evening," he asked as she took his offered arm.
"What's all this?" Elizabeth asked as she twisted around to glimpse at the crate. Jack wouldn't give her an answer. He continued down the sidewalk, then led them to the middle of the deserted street. They walked in silence, her arm wrapped around his, the lantern lighting their way. Every once in awhile, he looked down at her. Every time their eyes met, they both erupted in giggles, pure giddy energy passed between them.
When they'd arrived at his destination, Jack put the crate down. The frogs sang their evening lullaby while Jack spread the quilt out on the grass. While he couldn't see it, he knew the church stood on the other side of the water.
Elizabeth remained standing, the lantern still in her hands. They were quiet as he worked. Jack took the wool blanket and wrapped it around her shoulders. The evening was mild, but he worried she'd chill. He took the lantern from her hand and placed it on the corner of the quilt, then led her to the blanket. The energy between them shifted in a way he couldn't explain. Was she nervous? Was he? He only needed to look into her eyes to feel grounded again.
"Join me?" Jack sunk to the blanket. When Elizabeth followed, Jack turned to the bottle in the crate, along with the jars. He fished his knife from his trouser pocket, then made quick work of opening the bottle. He handed her a jar and filled it before he poured some for himself.
Jack raised his glass. He tried to think of something to say that would mark the occasion, but his adrenaline clearly waned. "To us," he concluded with a chuckle. She giggled in agreement. They took a sip of the wine. The way her face and neck glowed in the light of the lantern caught his attention. He put the jar down and moved up to his knees while he reached in his pocket for the small box. He opened it, but felt even more nervous than before.
Elizabeth tentatively reached her left hand out, palm down. Jack slid the ring on. There was a moment of silence. Jack suddenly doubted his choice. "I-"
"It's perfect," she breathed, her eyes focused on the small gem as it shimmered in the light. She broke her gaze from her finger to look at him. They both leaned in and met in the middle. The kiss was even more passionate than their one in the street. Jack's hand tangled in her hair, his other moved to the small of her back to pull her body into his. She responded by slipping her arms around his neck, arching her back to press more firmly against him. They'd never been this close, and Jack could feel his hunger for her take hold as he kissed down her neck.
Though it pained him, Jack broke the kiss with a groan. "Are you alright," Elizabeth asked. He could only focus on her swollen lips as they glistened in the dancing light. Jack looked down and tried to remember why he stopped.
"I'm fine," he answered, but his breath still felt ragged. "I just…" he trailed off, then tried again when she leaned in again. "You are beautiful, you know that? And I am amazingly lucky. And as much as I don't want to, we should stop." She looked disappointed. "I'm not strong enough to let this continue and trust myself to remain in control," he finished. He longed for her, but he would not sully their reputations. Not in a town as small as Hope Valley, and not when their positions were as public as they were.
Elizabeth nodded slowly and gathered the discarded blanket around her. "Jack Thornton, sometimes I wish you weren't so noble." He wondered if he should be hurt by her statement. "But thank you," she added. Jack smiled in relief. "Would it be against your constitution to look at the stars?" Jack shook his head and turned down the lantern before he positioned himself on his back. He tucked one arm under his head and extended an arm for her to rest her head on. He let her point out stars and constellations, most of which he already knew from his navigation training. The cadence of her voice combined with the warmth of her body so near his pulled him toward sleep.
When he awoke, the first thing Jack noticed was how rested he felt. Content, though it took him a minute to place why. It was then he felt Elizabeth's head on his chest, her body curled into his, an arm draped across his torso, blanket around them both. For a moment, Jack startled. The lantern had burned out. He looked up to the sky, but based on the movement of the stars and the moon, only two or three hours had passed. Jack allowed his heart to calm. Elizabeth must have felt his body tense, which caused her to stir. He felt her arm stretch across his body, then she stilled as well.
"Shh," Jack murmured as he slipped his arm from under his head and smoothed her hair. "You're safe." Elizabeth craned her neck to look at him, smiled, then quickly resumed her position, her head nestled further into the blanket, a contented sigh escaped her lips. Jack smiled, fulfilled in a way he'd never thought possible as he gently combed his fingers through her hair.
He must've drifted off again, because suddenly he felt chilled. Jack stretched his arms over head as he opened his eyes. Elizabeth's silhouette was just distinguishable against the setting moon. The blanket wrapped tightly around her, she'd moved toward the crate, clearly curious to inspect the contents.
A small sound escaped Jack's lips as his stretch finished. Elizabeth scampered across the blanket and launched herself across him, her lips to his. Now she took her turn to explore his neck. She used a finger to pull aside his collar before she placed her warm lips on the spot where his neck and shoulder met. He felt fire and ice as her fingers brushed his skin, then fireworks as her lips followed- tentative at first, but more confident and hungry with every passing moment. His body shuddered while heat built in his belly. He tried to say her name, but was sure moans only emanated. Suddenly her ministrations stopped as she looked at him.
"Too much?" she questioned. He nodded in response as he attempted to regain his composure. The smile on her face told him she knew exactly the hold she had on him.
Jack let out a chuckle. "You are going to drive me mad, Elizabeth Thatcher. I can only hope our engagement is brief, because having you so close may be the most dangerous challenge I've faced." With that he grabbed her by the hips and pulled her body next to his while he wrapped his arms around her. Elizabeth laughed again. They stayed that way for some time.
"What else did you bring tonight?" Elizabeth inquired. He was sure she'd seen the remaining items in the crate. He thought about teasing her, but suddenly felt nervous. When he'd thrown his sketchbook in, he thought the two lanterns would throw enough light for a sketch. Now with one burned down and the small one in the crate, he knew he had to share his sketches with her.
Carefully, Jack sat up so as not to disturb her, but she sat as well. He first took the lantern from the crate and lit it. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the flare from the lantern. Jack reached for the sketchbook, then handed it to her without a word. Elizabeth gingerly took the book with a reproachful glance. He nodded in response while she scooted closer to the lantern.
Jack sat with one knee held to his chest as he watched her pour over the pictures. Her murmurs, gasps, and sighs loosened the tightness in his chest. He knew it wasn't his most polished work. He also knew that while the first few sketches were of the valley and town, the majority of the work was of a different subject.
From his spot, he could see she'd stopped on the sketch of her in the dress she'd worn on the night of their first dinner. He'd tried to remember every detail of the dress and the night: how the beading sparkled in the light, how the lace wrapped around her curves, how her hair cascaded down from the pins she'd artfully placed. "Oh Jack," she breathed as her fingers gently ran over the edge of the page. She turned the page and continued to investigate the contents. He knew some of the pictures to come: her hands tucked under her head while she slept in the train carriage on their first trip to Hamilton; her with Julie at the cafe, lost in gossip; her first solo ride, the horse midstride. Elizabeth smiled at the memory. There were unfinished sketches as well: those where he couldn't get the shine in her eyes or the turn of her nose right, one of her at the chalkboard, her hands frustratingly awkward as they gripped the eraser. A series of abandoned sketches of the town in the days he avoided his muse. The buildings felt flat and lifeless, the residents bored. Then a sketch of her with Rip, in the place he thought she'd surely recognize as the mine, her eyes filled with their sparkle.
He realized now that what he shared with her was a journal of sorts. While it didn't contain the eloquent prose he was sure hers did, he knew that there was definitely a story contained within the pages. A story of pining, devotion, and even frustration.
When she finished her examination of the last sketch in the pages, Elizabeth gently closed the book, placed it beside her, and leaned toward him. "Thank you," she whispered before she placed a series of light kisses on his lips. Jack felt the smile creep across his face. As though he needed further evidence that Elizabeth understood him and appreciated the man he was. Her reaction spoke volumes.
"I love you" he told her. He wasn't sure the words were enough.
"I love you, Jack Thornton," she responded.
"I don't think I'll ever get tired of telling you that," Jack told her.
"I should hope not," she responded as her hands moved to the nape of his neck. After a few moments, she paused. "What would you draw tonight?" She went on hurriedly, "I mean, if you did draw something from tonight, not that I would expect you to…"
Jack gave a small chuckle. "You. Right now."
Elizabeth's hand flew to her hair. "Oh, no, I'm sure I look a fright."
"You look beautiful. And your hair looks just the way I hope to see it waking up next to you each morning." He knew his comment was forward, but it was also honest. She smiled and looked down, a gentle blush on her cheeks. He offered to sketch her and she complied.
They sat together mostly in silence while Jack worked. The light source was weak, so Jack had to fill some things in with what he knew of the face he'd sketched a thousand times. When he'd gotten her outline sketched in, he'd asked her to hold the jar to her lips with her left hand. The image allowed him to add the ring to her finger. He smiled as he drew it, it's features almost as memorized as the beautiful woman who modeled it.
In the end, he declared it not his best work, but he knew it would be a night they both remembered. Jack looked up to the horizon as the first wisps of gray stole the night sky. "We should get back before we start a rumor," he said as he tucked the pencil and sketchbook back into the crate. Elizabeth gave a resistant nod.
They walked back to town together hand in hand. They reached the back of the cafe just as the first hints of color glowed in the east. He promised her he'd be back for breakfast so they could tell Abigail together. He knew he wouldn't sleep in the short time, but he still worried about being caught in the cafe too early. He longed for a time when it wouldn't matter.
After their fourth goodbye kiss, he leaned his forehead against hers. "A quick engagement?" he asked.
"I think that can be arranged," she responded.
"Most of the town probably has the whole thing planned, anyway," he said with a chuckle. With one more kiss, he tore himself away. Though he could probably count the hours of sleep he'd gotten in the better part of the last week on both hands, he felt positively buoyant. She'd accepted his proposal, and would be his wife. They could start a life together and they wouldn't have to sneak around and steal moments. Not for long, at least.