Welcome new contributor and author Christine Melanie Benson! For this week's focus on all dimensions of the heart and love, the following is an excerpt from her "anti-romance romance" novel, Marrying Myself, available now online and anywhere books are sold.

Asher cleared his throat and paused to brush a lock of his thick, dark hair from his eyes, a gesture which prompted a small smile from Julia. Asher was so commanding, so certain of what he wanted and what was important in life, and yet he could never quite tame that longish, unruly hair of his. She regarded him fondly, feeling herself coming dangerously close to losing herself in his deep brown eyes, yet still she didn’t resist. The sensation was terrifying, but electrically so.

No more holding back, she’d thought. Finally, after a lifetime of playing it safe, she’d managed to let go completely.

“You’re wonderful, Julia,” he said. “I love you, I more than love you. I feel–it sounds preposterous, but I feel as if you saved me. You helped me discover myself–my authentic self, the part of me I thought I’d lost forever. And not only did you accept that part of me,”– here, he paused to shake his head in wonderment– “that’s the part of me you loved the most. I can’t even begin to tell you how much that means to me.”

Tears had welled up in Julia’s eyes.

And in that moment, she’d seen tears in his eyes, too.

“More than anything in the world,” he said, “I want to be your husband. And I want you to be my wife.” And then, he said it. “Will you marry me, Julia? Will you let me love you? Will you let me love you forever?”

Now, to be fair, despite what he’d said about her profound understanding of his most authentic self, Julia didn’t feel she’d seen quite all of Asher. He’d certainly seen all of her; not since her beloved mother, who’d died tragically in a plane crash when Julia was only eleven years old, had there been anyone to whom she’d so willingly bared her soul. Asher, however, was a different story. Even in their most intimate moments, there seemed to be a part of him that he kept closely guarded–a part which, she suspected, might ever remain solitary.

Still, she’d felt little cause for concern. She’d chalked it up to his being an only child, a byproduct of the self-sufficiency he’d been forced to develop as a lone little boy in a world of high-powered adults. And, besides, wasn’t that the nature of human relationships in general? When it came right down to it, did anyone really know anyone?

The point was, Asher loved her. And for those few brief moments in the moonlight, Julia at last allowed herself to feel the love. The love of a man who was handsome, charismatic, and successful–and, more importantly, generous, constant, and unfailingly kind. A man of character and integrity, who could have had his pick of women–his last girlfriend had been a Slovakian super-model, for God’s sake–and yet, who wanted her. Her.

And, so, on that balcony in Florence, Julia summoned the courage to do what she’d longed all her life to do: respond to love’s invitation with a joyous, unqualified, “Yes!

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