Amelia didn’t go out again for two days. She decided it was better not to be seen with Cade again too soon, especially since her father disapproved.
She ventured out on Friday afternoon, her regular shopping day. Amelia left with her basket on her arm intending to go to the General Store. It was a warm, sunny day and the town was alive with people and children in the street and on the wooden walkways. Several young men tipped their hats to Amelia and smiled at her. She returned their smiles briefly.
She continually scanned the crowds in search of Cade Jeffries. She saw some of the Brody gang loitering outside the saloon and was grateful they was across the street.
Amelia entered the General Store and was immediately greeted by Mr. Borden, the proprietor. “Good afternoon, Amelia. What can I get for you today?”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Borden. I would like half a pound of coffee, half a pound of sugar, two pounds of flour, and some salt pork.”
As Mr. Borden gathered those items, Amelia looked around at other items in the store. Then she asked him for some of the pickles from the pickle barrel, a small basket of apples, and a nickel’s worth of her father’s favorite penny candy.
When everything had been placed in Amelia’s basket, she stepped through the door of the General Store and walked right into Cade Jeffries.
“Oh my! How clumsy of me. I’m so sorry.” She felt the flush creeping up her neck and cheeks as her their eyes met.
Cade tipped his hat and smiled. “So lovely to see you again, Miss Williams. Could I help you with your basket?”
Her heart pounded in her chest like a blacksmith’s hammer on the anvil. Her heart screamed “yes” but her head contradicted her heart.
When she didn’t answer, Cade lifted the basket from her arm and took it upon one of his own. Then he offered her his free arm, which she took without hesitation and she was sure her heart would burst out of her chest.
Finally Amelia found her voice. “I was afraid you’d already left town. I haven’t been out and about for the past two days.”
She looked at him and his intense gaze seemed to pierce her very soul. “You know?”
“Yes. I have been looking for you, hoping to spend some time with you. Could I buy you lunch in the town cafe?”
Amelia bit her lip. She wasn’t ready to be that openly visible with Cade yet.
“I have a better idea. Why don’t I return home and pack us a picnic lunch and we can go to a nice grassy area near the creek outside of town and picnic under the big, old oak tree?”
His grin took her breath away. “That’s a wonderful idea.”
Cade escorted her to her home then went and saddled up his horse.
When he returned, the wait was brief before Amelia appeared, her basket over one arm and a blanket over the other. Cade took the basket and fastened it to his saddle. Then he rolled up the blanket and tied it behind the saddle.
“Are you ready?” He put his hand out to her.
“You want me to ride on your horse with you?” Her eyes darted around the busy street.
“It’s the only transportation that I have. You can sit sideways in front of me. I promise you’ll be safe.” He moved toward the horse, gently tugging her hand for her to follow.
Before Amelia could think of an alternative, Cade placed his hands on either side of her waist and lifted her upon the horse then swung himself up. He reached one arm around her back and one arm around her front to take the reins. He gently dug his heels into his horse’s sides and the horse trotted down the middle of town. Amelia prayed her father wouldn’t see when they passed by.
She sat stiffly in front of him.
“You’ve never been on the back of a horse before have you?”
Sitting so close to him, she could feel his breath upon her ear when he spoke.
“No, I’ve only ever ridden in wagons and carriages.”
The strength of his arms around her helped her to relax and she began to enjoy the ride just when they’d reached their destination.
Cade slipped from the horse and lifted her down, his hands lingering on her waist and their eyes meeting. When Cade started to lean toward her, Amelia turned and escaped his hold. “Isn’t this a lovely place for a picnic?”
“It’s beautiful.” Cade answered, his eyes never leaving her.
“Well, if you’ll untie the blanket, I’ll spread it out under the tree while you fetch the picnic basket.”
“Of course.” Cade loosened the blanket and handed it to Amelia.
Amelia breathed easier as she spread the blanket on the ground and was several feet from Cade. She couldn’t seem to breathe or think clearly when he was near and yet she found herself wondering what it would be like for him to hold her close and kiss her.