Cherished:The Mountain Man's Babies(8)

By: Frankie Love


"You tarnishing my bride to be?" he yells.

James is steel-faced and jaw clenched and he moves to step in front of me. I will him not to, knowing my father like I do, knowing through the grapevine of women how they are treated by their husbands. The men here put on a good show, some may not even physically hurt their wives, but emotional abuse is real too, and I am terrified of the affliction.

Not just to me, but the way they may hurt James.

But he doesn't care. He only has eyes for me.

He looks at me, his heart raw and mine for the taking. I will take it, now and for always, but I can't bear to see him hurt.

But he loves me. He always has and he tells them that.

"Cherish is the woman I love, the woman I want to marry. You can't come between us."

I love him for his bravery, for his honor, and his commitment.

But as a shovel is raised by the hands of a man I don't even know, and is slammed across the back of James' head, I know he is also a fool.

Because he may love me, but his words will cost him everything.

I was right for never giving in before, I knew what our love would cost him.

His life.

They swing the shovel again, and he falls backward into the shallow creek. His head is bloody, the clear water turning dark as he’s pushed under the current. Once, twice.

I try to run toward him, but I’m dragged away, my screams loud, until I force them to stop. I muffle them with my knuckles, knowing every cry for mercy will result in more pain for my beloved. I turn my head, watching as he is beaten to a pulp.

Watching as the man I love is murdered by my father, my family.

No.

No.

No.

I stop screaming, not knowing how to use my voice once James is gone. I start pulling away from the hold I'm in, bound by my father and George. I fall to the wooded ground, my body desperate to crawl backward, toward him.

Toward James.

But they won't let me. They pull me to standing, dragging me away from the river, away from the man I love.

In the distance, he makes no cries, no pleas, nothing.

I'm taken from the oak tree and led away to a life I never wanted but had been too scared to break free from.

I'm led away from James.

And in my heart, I know I am the very thing that killed him.

After all, if he had never met me, he'd still be here.

Instead, he’s gone forever.





Chapter Six





Over the last year, I've been through hell and back.

But I’m still standing.

Still breathing.

Still holding onto hope.

Cherish.

Cherish.

Cherish.

She may have grown up as Abigail, but now… now her name is exactly right. I cherish her in all the ways that matter. Her name is always on my lips. On my mind. A part of my soul.

I live for her, though it's been a full year since I laid her perfect body on the bed of the forest, under the hot sun and blue sky. A year since I saw her smile in a way I hadn't seen in years. She was vulnerable and broken, but in my arms, she felt whole.

I saw that in her eyes when she looked at me, asking for forgiveness she never needed. She is my salvation, and I don't need her to be a martyr, dying for an idea about herself that was never true.

At least never true for me.

But it's been a year and a lot can happen in twelve months’ time.

God knows I've seen it all.

Like waking up beaten and half-dead on a freight train headed south. I would have jumped, but my arm was broken, along with some ribs and a busted ankle—that much was clear. My head was cloudy, my memory shot; I didn't know if I was a day from Idaho or five. And when I finally came to and stepped off the train when it came to a stop, I found I wasn't alone. Jonah was with me, making me drink water, trying his hardest to clean my bandages. He kept me alive.

"What happened?" I asked, willing myself to stand, palm trees around us, salty air working to wash away the blood and broken bones.

Jonah looked at me, then hanging his head, he tells me it was his fault. Someone noticed I was gone, asked where I'd gone. His excuse didn't add up, and they beat the shit out of him, holding nothing back. Apparently, word had gotten out that my interest in Cherish had never waned, after all these years. And George wanted me gone before his wedding, not trusting a young bastard like me around his woman.

When Jonah recounted the day, I gritted my teeth, wanting to punch someone or something. They'd beat the shit out of both of us, left us for dead, but then they put us on a freight train, not wanting our murders on their holy hands.