Hannah Budge married one of her dearest friends to protect her honor and her other best friend, the man she loves. The death of her husband leaves her vulnerable to the advances of a man she loathes, the father of the man she loves.
Benjamin Thorn always planned to marry Hannah, until his two best friends betrayed him. They made their choices, and he made his. With his dreams dead, he throws himself into other pursuits, until he must save Hannah from his own father.
Hurt and suspicion will tear them apart forever, unless they learn to trust God and each other...
"Please, Benjamin, stop," Hannah pleaded. Confusion overrode the whirlwind of emotions clamoring for expression. "What happened to you? Why are you..." She swallowed hard. "Your manner mirrors your father's," she whispered.
"I am not my father," Benjamin growled. "He'd not offer you marriage, as well you know. I'm offering, but if you prefer to live with the shame, so be it. Far be it from me to interfere in the destruction of your precious reputation."
She sought some shred of softening in his face and found nothing but contempt.
"Why are you doing this?"
"Because my father compromised you, and unlike him, I am an honorable man."
"No." She shook her head and cut the air with a wave of her hands. "Why are you treating me like... like..."
"Like a faithless traitor? Because you are."
Completely closed to her in every way, he met her dismayed gaze but revealed nothing.
"How can you say such a thing?" She scrabbled for the possible reasons her dearest friend would act in such an appalling manner and came up with only one possibility. "It wasn't what you think."
"And what is it you believe I think?" His innocent question held a poorly hidden sharpness in each word.
She could play ignorant and force him to bluntness, or she could follow his line of thinking as she had all their lives.
"I-I chose George over you."
"You did," Benjamin stated, cold, unfeeling, except for the tightening of his jaw.
"We didn't have a choice."
"Didn't you?" he mocked.
"You never gave us an opportunity to explain. You left, without a word. You never spoke to either of us again."
"You're accusing me? I'm to blame?"
"No, of course not, but if you'd give us a chance."
"I couldn't stay." A sliver of pain peeked through his stony countenance, but he slammed it away with a blink.
"Why?" she whispered, hoping for some way to reach him.
"I loved you," he stated, without emotion. "I believed you shared the same sentiment. I was wrong." He held up his hand. "It matters not. The past is past. You've only one question to answer now. Will you use me to preserve your precious reputation? Yes or no? Consider carefully your decision, for not only your wellbeing sits in the balance." He spared a derisive glance for Leo. "Yes or no? Yes, you'll marry me to save your reputation, or no, you'll allow your reputation to be shredded and you and your brother to be shunned. No one will seek your services, and you both will starve, at least. Which is it?"