Cherished:The Mountain Man's Babies(4)

By: Frankie Love


He is here for me now.

Again.

Always.

I press my palm against the guitar strings, stopping them. I look over my shoulder and see him standing under an oak tree. Our oak tree.

His dark hair is pushed back from his forehead and he looks larger than ever, looming several feet above me. He looks like a real man, a man who could swoop in and protect me, a man I have denied. The only man I have ever wanted.

"James." My eyes sting with tears, and he rushes down to the river bank where I'm sitting on a fallen log.

"Abigail," he says again, now sitting beside me, lifting the guitar strap over my shoulder, setting the guitar behind us. He opens my palms and takes the guitar pick with a music note on the smooth surface, and he places it in his pocket. For safe keeping, he tells me.

"You're the only person who calls me that anymore," I tell him, missing the way my birth name sounds, but it also seems so foreign now, so removed. Not who I am, or at least who I have allowed myself to become.

He wraps his arm around me, knowing the cost of being caught. He doesn't care. For so long he has been careful, not doing anything that could compromise me. Avoiding long conversations with me—and recently any conversation at all. But now, under the shelter of the oak tree, with clear water running in the creek before us, it's like he is untethered from the compound rules a mile away. Out here in the woods, there are no rules, only us, and I remember what it was always like when we were young.

I wish it could always be this way.

"You can't get married tomorrow, Abigail. That can't be the way our story ends. We are supposed to be a love song."

I shake my head. "I don't even want you to look at me."

"Why?" he asks, squaring my shoulders to face him. Cradling my face in his hands. How many years have I longed for this moment? How long have I refused my heart what it wanted?

And for what? For a God who never heard the cries of my heart? My pleas and my prayers?

I want more than that.

I want James.

"I don't deserve you, James," I manage, closing my eyes, unable to look at him. Knowing his face is filled with nothing but devotion and not feeling like I deserve that sort of adoration. Not from a man like him.

"Shush, you don't need to cry. I'm here." He pulls my face to his. His lips are even better than I remembered. Soft and hard and here and now. Lips that press against mine and break something open. Wide open. My heart.

I sink into his kiss. His lips part, and so do mine, and he tips back my head, his arms around me, and I can feel how deeply he wants me. No, it's more than a want. It’s a desire. A craving. A longing.

"I love you," he tells me between kisses, and then his tongue finds mine, and I whimper against him, his words a balm to my broken heart.

"I don't deserve this," I tell him. "I made you wait for so long."

"You were scared," he says, kissing me again. "Are you still scared?"

I shake my head, pulling away, wanting his kisses but also knowing the reality.

"George is paying my father ten thousand dollars for me. My brothers and sisters... they need me here. And that money can help them. I can't just—"

James shakes his head, refusing to hear it. "We can make a life and come back for them."

"They will never let me just go with you."

"We won't tell them." He kisses my forehead. "I should have made you come with me a long time ago. Standing by only made you more scared. Scared of me. Of the idea of us."

"I'm not scared of you... I'm just scared of what you think of me, James." I pull back, covering my face with my hands.

"I think you are the only good thing in this place. The only good thing in this world. I love you, Abigail, and I'll cherish you forever. You chose not to go with me before, but when I heard that you were getting married, I knew in my heart I couldn't let this go on anymore. Let me be the man I was made to be. Let me take care of you."

"Do you have money?" I ask, knowing I have none.

He shakes his head. "I'll break into the office, find some. I'll get us a car. We can go tonight when it's dark."

He speaks with fervor, passion, the same intensity he had three years ago. He hasn't wavered in his choice for a moment.