Christina Dodd’s RITA-award winner Candle in the Window is a reread, but what keeps me coming back the most is a pivotal scene where the hero’s taken the leap into love but the heroine's terrified of doing so.
At the beginning of the story, Saura and William are both blind; she, from birth, he, from injury. Blindness is a part of her life, part of who she is. She doesn’t let that stop her from doing everything that she wants to do. William, on the other hand, rails against the injustice of having his sight taken from him. His constant struggle between wanting everything to be exactly the way it was before his injury and not being able to, is wearing away his humanity.
They slowly come to terms with each other; William comes out of his self-pitying stupor and learns to re-navigate the world. She stops haranguing him and learns to accept and give affection.
One night, after making love, they start talking about physical love, which in turn leads to talk of emotional love. At first, they define this love as the one the Church ordains, akin to spiritual love. Then she veers off into emotional territory saying that she’d be an ungrateful fool if she didn’t thank him for loving her in turn. He’s completely teasing her when he asks what makes her think he returns it.
Her reply is all the more heartbreaking, because she doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with it. She’s laughing softly as she says:
You’re kind to me. You’re patient with my ignorance. You never remind me I’m a burden or beat me when I deserve it.
It makes him angry and shocked and sad:
'God’s Teeth! You call that love? Are you so unworthy you’re satisfied with that whey-water version of love?'
' ‘Tis what everyone else has.'
'Everyone else? We can do better than everyone else. I’ll tell you what love is. 'Tis standing arm in arm against the world and knowing together you could rule the country. ‘Tis fighting with each other tooth and nail and never fearing sly or brutal reprisals.'
Saura then accuses William of speaking of fighting and ruling and war, and then trying to tell her about love.
'I’m a knight. How do you want me to say it? . . . ‘Tis knowing God created Eve from Adam’s rib, the spot that protected his heart. ‘Tis knowing you’re created to be at my side, not under my feet. ‘Tis knowing we’re one body, one mind.'
Saura is angry, and fearing his eloquence, she lashes out at him, saying that only poets sing of such nonsense. How can he expect her to believe that any man doesn’t appreciate gratitude? William, in turn, is angry that she expects to be grateful to him for not beating her. He wants her to be happy with him. She’s in such pain and at such a loss that she cannot understand what it is that he wants.
I want a wife, Saura. I want a woman who loves me, who glories in my love for her, who values my judgement enough to know that I’d not love an unworthy vessel. You’re the wife chosen by me for me. There’s no need to file away rough edges; we already fit. We always fit. We could have the kind of love that shines like a light for all to see. But you’re afraid to trust me with your confidence. Afraid to look into my soul and see the kind of man I am. I’m open to you.
Saura is so emotionally damaged and so overcome with anxiety that she cannot understand that she was harming herself by not reaching for this gift William is bestowing on her: the gift to live her life as a cherished, respected, and beloved person. As she continues to weep in despair and in terror, he comes to her and wraps his arms around her.
Don’t cry, sweeting. You’re breaking my heart. Please don’t cry.
Keira Soleore is an aspiring Medieval & Regency historical romance writer and the comments moderator for IASPR's Journal of Popular Romance Studies. On the web, she can found at Cogitations & Meditations, on her website, and on Facebook.