***Click the teal “Wednesdays in Whippercreek” above for previous chapters.***
Cade stared across at locks of blonde curls. He longed to brush just a strand and twist it through his fingers. How soft her hair would feel.
Ella’s chin jutted from that mass of yellow tangles–stubborn, unyielding. Cade longed to linger over his study. But alas, a replica of that same stubborn gaze rested on him from the front. He turned from his present thoughts and smiled at the preacher.
The brook gurgled water past their blanket. Ella recognized the worn woven fabric, a piece from Abigale’s cabin. Cade had packed a saddlebag and laid it with much accord on the blanket.
She suppressed a giggle, as he slid its contents onto the fabric with shaking hands.
“I’m sorry if it’s not to your liking,” he said with a worried expression.
“Oh no, this is fine,” she said, no longer able to suppress the amused light that glinted from her eyes.
He glanced at her again, a look of questioning and dismay filling his face.
Ella sighed. “Maybe I should do the cooking from here on.” She suggested, hoping he wouldn’t take it as an affront.
Cade’s face reddened.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it to sound harsh. It’s just beans and dried pork from a saddle bag…” Her voice faded off in attempt to search for the right words.
Cade offered her a pitiful smile. “I think, perhaps, you’re right.” He laughed with nervous amusement and gazed at the stream.
Moving from her side, he stooped to pick a round stone from the bank and tossed it into the brook with abandonment.
“I’m sorry, I ruined the day,” she said, her heart thundering.
“No,” he shook his head. “You couldn’t possibly ruin such fine afternoon.” Cade spun toward her and smiled with bliss crossing his face.
He returned to her side, resting so that his eyes sat inches from her own. Without a word, Cade twisted one of her blonde curls through his fingers. Chills ran down her spine. He released the lock and turned away with that old sorrow distancing his eyes.
“Ella, I haven’t told you everything. There is so much you still need to know. Things that will change how you think of me.”
She patted his hand. “I doubt that’s possible.”
A dry hollow laugh escaped his lips. “I only pray that’s true.”
“Then tell me what plagues you.” Ella insisted.
Cade shook his head. How could I ever tell you I’m an outlaw? “I have to know you better,” he said.
“Do you not trust me?” She whispered, a hint of sorrow in her voice.
“This ain’t about trust,” he said, chucking another stone into the brook.
Ella gazed at him with skepticism.
“It’s about losing you.” Cade swallowed, his voice breaking under the weight of his words.
Ella cast her eyes to her lap. “If you’re worried I’ll treat you like those others from the towns, you don’t know me at all.”
He closed his eyelids, gritting his teeth under the weight of her words. Please, don’t remember the sins of my youth, he whispered in the silence of his own thoughts.
“Ella,” he said, taking her chin gingerly between his thumb and index finger. “That’s not my worry. You’re different in every way.”
A tear rolled past her cheek.
Cade wiped it away. With a tenderness he’d never felt before, he brushed his lips to hers. “You may still have a lot to learn about me, but I won’t have you wondering about your standing in my heart.”
Her lip quivered.
Cade took her chin between his fingers once more. “There is no one else I would trust with my past. In time, those secrets shall be for your ears alone.”
Ella nodded, and Cade knew he had her heart, but would time make any difference?