The trial would take place on Wednesday. Amelia’s nerves were on edge and she feared the only way Cade would be saved was through some kind of miracle. She couldn’t concentrate on anything.
She went to the stable and sat in the stall with Cade’s horse on Tuesday afternoon. She stroked his velvet soft muzzle. She let the memory of the day Cade had taken her, on horseback, down by the creek for a picnic replay in her mind. She closed her eyes and felt the warmth of his arms around her. Her fingers touched her lips as she remembered his soft, gentle kiss.
She wept, her shoulders sagged and she put her face in her hands.
When she quieted, Cade’s horse nuzzled the side of her face. She stood and wrapped her arms around the horse’s neck.
“Oh, what will I do if something happens to Cade? I suppose the Brody gang will take you with them, and I’ll be alone.”
* * * * *
Wednesday morning the sky was gray and threatened rain, so the trial would take place in the church, the only building large enough to hold the crowd.
Amelia sat on the left side near the front, and when her father escorted Cade into the building and down the aisle, Cade’s eyes met hers and he offered her a small smile before her father pushed him into the pew two rows in front of her. She twisted the handkerchief in her hand.
As the judge entered, Amelia noted he was a thin, wiry little man with a pointed nose, beady eyes, his mouth in a grimace. She lifted a silent prayer that God would make him merciful and tried not to doubt that it was possible.
When the room grew quiet, the judge spoke to her father. “Sheriff Williams, what charges are being brought against this man?”
Her father rose to his feet. “Kidnapping and horse thievery.”
Amanda willed herself to remain quiet, though she wanted to stand up and refute the charge of kidnapping. She would wait, but if she felt a need to speak out, she would not hesitate. She wouldn’t allow Cade to be hung for kidnapping her when she had not been kidnapped.
“Do you have witnesses?” The judge addressed her father again.
Her father called one of his deputies forward. Deputy James Tanner came forward curling the brim of his hat in his hands. He glanced in her direction and Amelia could see his Adam’s apple rise and fall as he swallowed hard under her gaze.
“Deputy Tanner, what do you know of this Cade Jeffries’ involvement in kidnapping and horse thievery?” The judge questioned.
“Uh, well, a couple of weeks ago, Miss Williams, the sheriff’s daughter was missing one afternoon. We formed a search party and couldn’t find her anywhere in town, and Miss Williams doesn’t stray from town. As we were preparing to expand the search, Mr. Jeffries came riding into town with Miss Williams on his horse with him. We stopped him and Sheriff Williams grabbed Miss Williams down from the horse and instructed Mr. Jeffries to dismount.” The deputy curled and uncurled his hat brim the entire time he talked.
“Did Mr. Jeffries do as instructed?” The judge glared at Cade.
“Yes, sir. He came along to the jail without any trouble.”
The judge grunted. “What about the horse thievery?”
Deputy Tanner looked at Amelia’s father and then back at Judge Reinhardt. “I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t know nothing about that, except that there’s a wanted poster circulating about it.”
Judge Reinhardt dismissed Deputy Tanner and looked to Amelia’s father. “Do you have any witnesses in regard to the horse thieving?”
Her father tugged at his collar and cleared his throat. “No, sir.”
“Are there any here who have anything more to offer on the charge of kidnapping?” The judge scanned the crowd.
Amelia stood. “Yes, sir. I’d like to speak.”
A collective gasp went through the crowd and Judge Reinhardt’s beady eyes looked Amelia up and down appraisingly. “And you are?”
“I am Amelia Williams, the woman Cade Jeffries is charged with kidnapping.”
Murmurs rose from the crowd.
“Quiet!” The judge glared at the people in the room, then he looked at Amelia. “You may come forward and speak.”
Amelia could feel her father’s eyes boring into her back as she moved past him.
“Your honor, I was not kidnapped by Cade Jeffries. I willingly went with Mr. Jeffries to a pleasant spot by the creek outside of town for a picnic on the afternoon in question. However, I neglected to inform my father of my plans. I didn’t mean to cause any trouble.” She never moved her eyes from those of Judge Reinhardt as she spoke.
The judge sighed. “I see. You may be seated.”
Amelia strode back to her seat, her back straight and chin slightly raised.
The judge glared at Sheriff Williams. “It appears that we cannot convict Cade Jeffries of kidnapping. However, since the wanted posters have been circulating for a while and many men have been seeking Cade Jeffries and the Brody gang for stealing horses, I declare . . .”
A disruption at the back of the room prevented the judge from completing his sentence. He stood, his face red and looked to the back of the room. “What is the meaning of this?”
Luke Brody marched up the aisle to the front of the church. He looked at Judge Reinhardt not bothering to remove his hat.
“I’m Luke Brody. I’m here to tell you that Cade Jeffries is not a horse thief or outlaw. Yes, he’s been traveling with me and my gang for six years now, but that’s because he needed someone to look after him after his ma died and his pa became a drunk. I might not be anyone’s idea of what a father should be, but I couldn’t leave a boy to starve, so I took him with us.”
“And you expect me to take the word of an outlaw? And, if Cade Jeffries has been riding with you for six years, I’m sure he’s been with you when you’ve stolen horses, so that makes him guilty.” Judge Reinhardt had remained standing, and he now faced Brody with a red face, fists clenched at his sides.
Amelia lifted a hand to her throat as she watched the scene unfold.
A smile slid across Luke’s lips. “I know you’re itchin’ for a hangin’, but if you want to string someone up, make it me, and let Cade Jeffries go.”
“No!” Cade was now on his feet.
Amelia swayed in her seat. The room became a blur and then everything went black.
* * * * *
“Amelia, wake up honey.” The words in Amelia’s ears seemed far away. Someone was squeezing her hand and stroking her forehead.
Amelia’s eyes fluttered open. Cade Jeffries was peering down at her. He let out a deep breath and his blue eyes were shining as they met hers. A slow smile spread across his lips, exposing those dimples she found so irresistible.
“Yes, I’m here. How are you feeling?”
She tried to sit up, but a wave of dizziness stopped her. “I’m a little dizzy. What happened? Is Luke . . .?”
Luke lowered his eyes to his hand on hers. “They’re preparing to hang him.”
“Oh no, Cade!” She sat up and put her free hand on his cheek.
“If you’re okay, and you’re still willing to marry me, we have to leave right away.” He searched her eyes, and she could see the tendons standing out in his neck, his pulse visibly pounding.
She leaned toward him and placed her lips on his. Her kiss was soft and brief. Her hand still cradled his face as she pulled back just a little.
“Of course I still want to marry you. Why must we leave so quickly if they’ve found you innocent?”
“Because the Brodys are planning on grabbing Luke and making a getaway, and they don’t want me anywhere near so I can’t be blamed for being part of it, and they won’t be able to grab me and hang me when they lose Luke.”
“Then let’s go.” Amelia got up, grabbed a satchel and put a couple of dresses and some undergarments in it, grabbed a shawl and stood before him.
“Are you sure about this?” Cade pressed his lips together and shuffled his feet.
Amelia moved closer to him, looked up into his cornflower blue eyes and smiled. “Cade, I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
She put her small hand into his large one and he squeezed it. He leaned down and captured her lips with his own. His kiss was hungry but he broke it off quickly, and gripping her hand in his led her out of the house she had grown up in and out to his waiting horse.
He lifted her onto his horse, swung up behind her and dug his heels into his horse’s sides. The horse galloped out of town, Amelia leaning against Cade’s chest, his arms encircling her, and neither of them looked back.