With a gasp, she pitched forward until he took hold of her arm. Pulling her up, he watched as he carefully set her back onto her feet.
“Are you alright?”
“Y-yeah. Just a little tired.”
His brows furrowed but he didn’t question any further. It was vital they keep silent. Not only did it preserve what energy they had, but continuing the line of interrogation would have scared away what scarce prey there was to be had.
So, instead, he held out a hand. Taking it, she lugged herself through the knee-deep snow, all the while tightly gripping his hand. Once they finally broke free of the bank, they paused as she caught her breath.
“Why’d you have to pick me of all people to go with you?”
“You need shooting practice.”
“My shooting is fine.”
“Yes, but it could be better.”
She pulled a face, and there was muffled chuckle.
“I also wanted to spend some more time with you,” he said softly. Flushing, she glanced up at him to see he was only teasing. Rolling her eyes, she straightened up before shouldering her rifle.
“What are we waiting for then? If this is just shooting practice.”
“For you, my darling. But if you’re ready now…”
Hand in hand, they trudged through the snow.
. . .
“Do you love me?”
He didn’t look up from his lunch. Nudging him, she leaned into him.
“Don’t just ignore the question.”
“Why do you want to know?”
She set her chin on her drawn knees and peered at him. With a sigh, he cupped his chin with a hand and studied her for some time before turning away.
“I do love you. I have, for a long time.”
When she was silent for some time, he glanced up to see her smiling at him. Raising a brow, he asked her if hearing that he loved her made her happy. He was pleased to see her nod.
“I must warn you though that I can’t act on my feelings. So please don’t hold any expectations.”
“But I can, can’t I?”
He scrutinized her before realizing she was only joking. Giggling to herself, she turned away, shaking her head to herself. Notorious outlaw he may be, but sometimes, he could be such a silly person. Not that she didn’t like it. It was somewhat endearing in a way, and the knowledge that she was probably the only person who ever saw this side of him made her feel as if she were walking on air.
“Do you love me?”
Smile fading, she adopted a more serious tone as she picked her words carefully.
“I don’t really remember anything about the past. For all I know, I could be a completely different person. But I’m…” She cleared her throat. “I feel very strongly for you. I, um…” She flushed. “I very much enjoy our time together and… And that’s all I’m going to say about it.”
Burying her face, she sat quietly in the snow, when she felt him kiss her forehead. Looking up at him, she watched as he softly said, “To hear that makes me indescribably happy.”
And it really did. More than anything in the world, it made him happy because it meant that there was a chance to restore their engagement. Of course, it was far too early to so much as suggest such a thing to her, but his original sentiments – those of wanting to spend the rest of his life with her – remained, but that didn’t mean they did for her. But her words told him that there was a possibility she could want it one day, and for him, that was more than anything he could have asked for.
Yet, as elated as he was, when Jeremiah pulled him aside later that day, all traces of that memory were wiped clean. Folding his arms across his chest, he narrowed his eyes as his subordinate questioned him of the existence of any favoritism towards the Fugitive Bride.
“So is it true?” he said. “Is there?”