Chapter 29

Miranda wanted to tell Chase that she had always loved him, that she would love him forever. But the tears that clogged her throat made it hard to speak. Instead, she lifted herself off the pillows and wrapped her arms around him. He smelled exactly how she remembered, and he clung to her tightly. The tears fell from her eyes, and she practically sobbed for ten minutes, making her head throb even more than it had been. With the tears out of the way, she could say all that she had kept bottled inside her.

"I'm not going to marry Robert," she began, "and not just because you told me what happened tonight. Before I went out riding, I had decided to break things off with him. I was miserable with him. He treated me badly, and made me feel horrible about myself and wouldn't have let me raise a family the way I've always dreamed. The truth is; I was courting him because I had finally been offered the thing I wanted more than anything in the whole world, a husband and a family. I think the other reason I was courting him, was to forget about you. Chase, I've been in love with you since I was twelve years old."

"Why didn't you ever say anything?" Chase asked, clearly surprised by her admission.

"Because I cherished our friendship, I figured when the time was right, you would ask to court me and we'd be married, and we'd built that little house in the valley. Whenever I spent time with you, I ran home and told my sisters of all you'd said. I was convinced that you loved me. Then, that day when you took me to the valley and asked my opinion, I knew you were. I still can't forget the times that you told me I looked beautiful, or told me we made a great team, or commented that I'd make a wonderful mother some day. I turned each and every phrase into something that meant so much more than friendship.

"And then, you left. I rode Tucker to your house to show him to you, excited because I had finally been able to convince my father to get him for me. I wanted you to be the first to see. When I got to your house, you were gone, and your sister was upset. Cass invited me in to read your letter, and I felt like someone had pulled my heart out of my chest. I was crushed, I cried for two weeks. I think the worst part was that you didn't even mention me in that letter. It seemed like the friendship we had shared for six years had meant nothing to you. Then, at the same time, I realized that you had never had feelings for me, because you left with another girl! I was left to analyze the bits and pieces of conversations that made me believe something that wasn't true."

Miranda took a shuddering breath. She was unable to look at Chase, but she could feel his eyes intent upon her. "Two years without a word, and I started to move on. I started to smile at strangers and bat my eyelashes at the gentlemen that came into the mercantile. But no one wanted me. I watched as woman after woman got scooped up around me, and I was still left alone. My sisters were married and raising children, and so was my best friend. I felt more alone than ever, but I kept you out of my thoughts, determined to get what I wanted someday, unwilling to let you ruin it for me.

"Everything changed when you walked into the mercantile that day. When you called me Cricket, my mind flew back to when I was a little, and that was only the beginning. With you around, my mind floated back in time more often than I'd care to remember. It seemed that any number of things could cause me to think about you and the time we shared together."

"Why didn't you say anything?" he asked.

Miranda laughed. "Chase, you'd already left once without an explanation, which led me to believe that you didn't care about me the way I cared about you. Why would I have spilled my emotions out to you?"

"I suppose you're right," he sighed. "Then why didn't you want to be my friend at least, if you had missed me so much?"

"Because I didn't want to let myself get caught up in you again. I fell down a deep hole when we were younger. I was hopelessly in love with you, and your charming ways had led me to believe you felt the same way. I refused to let myself get caught in your charm again. All I could think of was that you were going to fill my head with compliments and make me believe something that wasn't true again. And then I found Robert, and hoped that he would keep me from thinking about you, but he didn't. It seemed that whenever I was with him, I was comparing him to you."

Chase moved closer to Miranda, touching her cheek gently, forcing her to gaze at him. "Miranda, can you ever forgive me?"

The look in his eyes, and the emotion with which he spoke, caused tears to well up in Miranda's eyes yet again. Unable to answer, she simply nodded. He drew closer, pressing his lips against hers again. She wrapped her arms around him and kissed him back. If Chase's explanation and letters hadn't made it evident that he loved her, the kiss certainly did. Miranda felt like laughing, her stomach bubbled and her skin tingled. It was the most wonderful thing she had ever experienced.

"I'd like to show you something," Chase said after pulling away.

"Anything," she sighed, still breathless from his kiss.

He stood, carefully pulling her to her feet as well. She wobbled a little as she gained her balance, touching a hand to the bump that was causing her pain. Chase wrapped an arm securely around her back and led her toward what she guessed was the front door of wherever she was. Slowly, they walked through it onto a beautiful porch and down a few stairs. When they had walked twenty paces away from the house, Chase stopped and turned her around. In the dark, it was hard to see what she was looking at, but as her eyes adjusted, the image before her caused her mouth to drop in surprise.

She stared in awe at a beautiful two story home that was painted a pale golden color. It was nestled between two study sycamore trees. Rust colored shutters outlined the four windows on the front of the house, and the front door was a matching shade. A large porch sat beneath a sloping roof and seemed to wrap around the whole house. It was almost exactly as she had suggested so many years ago, it was hard to believe he had remembered down to the smallest details.

"I had to plant the pear trees on the back side of the porch, though I know you envisioned them out front," Chase whispered, leaning close to her ear.

She turned to look at him, hardly knowing how to believe what was sitting right in front of her. "May I see the porch?"

"Of course."

Leaning against his strength for support, he led her back up the few stairs and onto the porch. It was wide and grand, with enough room for rocking chairs or maybe even a swing. The back porch wasn't entirely covered by the roof, leaving plenty of room to sit in the sun when the weather called for it. On either corner of the porch, Miranda saw a tiny sapling of a tree, which she knew would someday turn into the pear trees she had asked for.

"I didn't have time to build the barn yet, but don't worry, I remember exactly where you said to put it. The inside of the house isn't finished either. Truth is; I just finished painting the front door last week."

"How did you get it all finished? You haven't been here nearly long enough to build a whole house! And you've been helping Jamie with his barn!"

"It was kind of a trade, I'd help him with the roof if he would come and help with my house. He's great with a hammer. I managed to get a lot of help from the miners, too, and then some of the guys I traveled into town with are still here, so they volunteered too. I wanted to get it up before winter so I wouldn't have to be cooped up in Cassandra's house. The inside won't take long to fix up, and I can work on that in the winter when there's not much else to do."

"It's wonderful, Chase."

"I'm glad you like it, I built it for you, you know."

Miranda knew he was telling the truth. She turned, allowing him to wrap his other arm around her waist and draw her in. Not wasting any time, he kissed her again. They remained there, sheltered by the eaves of the porch, completely wrapped up in their current activity. When Chase pulled away, he continued to hold her tightly. "Miranda, I'd like to marry you. I haven't asked your father yet, but I'd like to know if you'll agree before I do."

"Oh, Chase!" she breathed.

"So, you will then?"

"Yes, most definitely!"

"Then I can call you Cricket again?"

Miranda laughed. "Well, I don't know, Darling or Sweetheart seems much more appropriate."

"Don't worry, my love, I'll use each and every endearing nickname there is, but you'll always be my Cricket."

Miranda didn't bother answering, simply kissing him in response. It didn't matter what Chase decided to call her, as long as his arms were there for her to run into. So much had happened in such a short span of time she could hardly believe it. In one night, she had gotten everything she had ever wanted. To have Chase as her own was more than she had allowed herself to hope for in the six years of his absence, but he was more than worth waiting for.

There it is! The end. Hope it wasn't too terribly sappy for you, but I tend to be a sappy ending kind of writer, haha. Now, onto the next! Below you'll find the full summary for my next story. Which also has a bit of a Western flair. I hope you'll all look for it when I post the first chapter. The only thing I'm struggling with at this point is a new title. So! If you read the summary below, and a lovely short title pops into mind, please let me know! Again thanks to all of you who stuck with this story despite my slow updating, and slow paced plot, I really appreciate every word you take the time to send :)

It seemed that moving to California was the only way to avoid the War Between States, so that is what the Robinson family decided to do. Now Ella is stuck in the West, living a life that is completely different from her own socially appropriate ways of the East. While in California, she is re-introduced to the little boy who stole her heart at four years of age, who now finds her silly, ridiculous and useless. With grungy men begging for her hand in marriage, and more chores than she knows what to do with, Ella strives to make the best of her new life for her family's sake and her own sanity. Can her determination and strength see her through a life of unknowns?