​    Cindy spotted him crossing the living room and starting down the hall.  The sound of his boots on the hardwood floor echoed off the walls.  She dashed on bare feet to intercept him, catching him in the hall with an index finger in the back of his belt.  He stopped abruptly and turned, his expression clearly startled until he realized it was her.  His face softened into a smile that invaded his eyes.  
    “Hey!”
    She put a finger to her lips “Shhh”
    He slipped an arm around her waist as she came up beside him.  “Is he asleep?” he whispered.
    She nodded, hugging his lean waist until they had to let go at the bedroom door.
    Together, they tiptoed across the hardwood floor and stood proudly looking down Zach.
    “Zachary Russell Cade,” he said softly with wonder for what must have been the hundredth time.
    Zach stirred and yawned.  The tiny hands beside his head stretched.  His arms barely reached his ears.  
    Cade kneeled beside the cradle and touched a blue crocheted bootie.  “What’s this?”
    “I hope you don’t mind.  I thought she would have wanted him to wear them.”
    He glanced up at her, his expression unreadable.  The shadows in the room had narrowed his pupils, emphasizing the green in his eyes.  “I suppose so.”
    Zach squirmed and made soft baby noises.  Cade gently slipped his hands under the infant and lifted him as though he were made of fragile glass.  For a moment he held Zach, body in one long hand and head cradled in the other.  His features softened as he gazed down at the tiny form.  “I wish she could have seen this.”  As he continued to watch Zach, his expression molded into unmistakable awe.  
    Zach jerked suddenly and his cap came off, exposing a scalp full of red hair.
    Cade looked up at Cindy, his expression alarmed.  “What did I do?”
    Cindy reached down and pulled the cap back on his head.  “He does that every once in a while.  He doesn’t have complete control of his muscles yet.”
    Cade stood, gently tucking Zack into the crook of his arm.  Zach snuggled against him, turning his head and opening his tiny mouth in search of food.  
    “Here now.” Cade’s tone was a little startled and a lot amused. He turned to Cindy, awkwardly shifting him around so she could take him. “I think he’s hungry.”
    Cindy gathered him into her arms and sat down on the bed.  Cade watched as she unbuttoned her blouse and began feeding him.  “Your lunch is on the table,” she said.
    “I know.  I saw it.”  He made no move to leave.
    “I think it’s about time to move him from his cradle to his crib.” She mused.
    “What’s the hurry?”  His tone sounded a little alarmed, and she glanced up at him.  His expression was bland.
    “Well, he’s about to outgrow the cradle.  It doesn’t take long.”  She sighed.  Don’t worry.  I have the baby monitor.      We’ll hear him the same as when he’s in here, but he won’t be disturbed by us when we talk.” 
    He met her gaze and his eyes warmed as his lips gave in to a smile.   “You’ve had the nursery ready for him a long time.”
    True.  They had moved the antique furniture out of her old downstairs room and put it upstairs months before he was born.  Together they had redecorated the room and changed it into a nursery.   Claudette had sent them so many clothes.  It was amazing how a baby could put love in so many hearts.  Cade and Claudette might never be close, but they had certainly reduced the gap. 
    “Oh, I forgot to tell you,” he said.  “I have a man coming out here tomorrow for the job.  I thought he could stay in one of the rooms upstairs at night – if you don’t mind.”
    She caught her breath and glanced up at him again.  “You’re actually getting help?”
    He lifted a brow.  “Yes, and I ordered a computer for you too.  Dial-up internet will be slow, but at least you’ll be able to stay in contact with the rest of the world.”
    It would be handy when she studied to home school too.  Cade was an excellent provider.  Who would have guessed two years ago that he would become a happily married man?  His smile came slow now, but it came more frequently.  Words of praise came more easily to his lips, but he still had trouble accepting praise.  He had a gentle temperament, though.  Throughout a difficult pregnancy, he had never raised his voice once.  The real surprise came with his presence in the delivery room.  Who would have thought he would actually clip the umbilical cord?  It was strange how he could blush at praise, but watch with unabashed interest while she nursed their child. 
Zach was asleep, so she put him in his cradle and closed her blouse.  She stood.  “Let’s go eat before it gets cold.”
    He followed her out of the room, guiding her through the door with a light touch on her waist.  He pulled the door shut gently and tiptoed down the hall after her.  The way he touched her; the way he looked at her across the room - all those little things were his subtle way of saying he loved her without voicing the words.
    Maybe he would always be that way.  Maybe that was what she found so intriguing about him.  Once she had been unaware of his love, but now she had learned to read the signs.  He was a man who said little, but felt a lot.  In many ways he was still a recluse, but he wasn’t wrapped up in himself.  They had the ranch and each other, and now they had Zach.  They would all grow strong leaning on each other.   

****

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EPILOGUE
Courtship of the Recluse
                   Linda Louise Rigsbee