Slade rolled over and opened his eyes to the beams of the roof. All of the previous night came back to him. He understood why Ellen loved her loft and the buffalo hide bed. He was sure the fires had all gone out below, but the little space was cozy and the warmth still lingered. He wasn’t sure how good it would feel on his naked back when he threw the covers back, but for the moment it was a little pocket of warmth. Ellen’s soft body pressed against his side. Her head rested on his arm and her hair frizzed against his cheek.
Now that he thought of it, there was a piece that had invaded his nose and tickled almost unbearably. He used his opposite hand to push it away and scratch his nose.
He used the same hand to lift the blanket from her bare shoulder and stroke the smooth skin. He knew that the softness extended down and around and across her entire length. He still wondered at the marvel of being able to touch it. He compared his callused work-stained hand to her white shoulder.
When he moved his head, her silky curls caught in his beard and he heard it scratch against the fold of the pillow beside him. How could such gentle softness love his rough hands and prickly face pressed to her skin? And yet here she was curled against him.
He heard the dogs moving around below them and knew it had to be late. As much as he hated to leave their bed they would have to get up and start the day with all its distractions. Slade lifted himself on an elbow. The warmth dissolved as quickly as he thought it would from his bare torso.
“Ellie sweetheart. We are going to have to get out of bed. If you’ll tell me where your clothes are I’ll get them for you. It’s cold out here.”
Ellen slid an arm out from under the blanket. She spread her hand against Slade’s chest and felt the prickle of goosebumps! She shivered and pulled the blankets around her chin again. “Give me my nightdress. I’ll put that on and come dress in front of the fire when you’ve built one.” She tilted a playful face up at him.
“Mm-hmm.” I hear you.” He said as he pushed his cold legs into his cold pants and buttoned his cold undershirt. “And of course I have no other clothes up here!
“Brrr! I’m going now!” And he jumped out of bed allowing a cold draft to find its way under the blanket. ‘Here’s your nightdress. It’s cold. You better keep it under the blanket till it warms up a bit.”
Slade picked up their candle and in seconds was down the ladder. Ellen listened as he opened the door and let Raven and Fetcher go tearing out into the sunlight. She heard him laying the fire in the stove and then the fireplace. When she felt the tiniest bit of heat from her chimney she sat up and pulled on her nightdress. Her stockings and warm clothes were in their boxes; she pulled them all out and as a last thought turned back to her travel box. From it she took the pretty tucked shift that Mrs. Coulter had made her. She remembered Slade’s reaction the first day he had seen her in the new shirtwaist and skirt with the shift underneath. She wanted that same reaction again, even though she was only doing everyday chores.
With her clothes in a wad under her arm she went down the ladder. Moving quickly she pulled the night dress over her head. Even close to the fire the room was chilly. She wiggled into the shift and bent over to allow her bosom to fall into the tucked area in the front. When she stood up her front bulged pleasantly. She giggled and reached for her petticoat. She had just buttoned it around her waist when Slade came from the pantry.
“Oh! I thought you were outside!” Ellen grabbed her dress and held it up in front of her.
Slade gasped, if such a sound could come from such a masculine throat.
“Oh no!” He leapt across the room. “Just stand there!” He took the dress from her numb hands and simply stood looking at her. “I know you have to wear a dress but maybe you could just let me remember this all day.” He leaned in and kissed her sweetly.
He stepped back and shook his head. “Whew! All right put the dress on. But I get to watch you take it off tonight!” And he laughed at her flushed cheeks. “ Have I told you how happy I am that you are my wife?”
When Ellen dropped the dress over her head and began buttoning it, Slade helped tug it down and get all the buttons done up.
“And now,” he said with a tremendous sigh, “we have to start our day.”