Abandoned

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Chapter 14: Full moon

As they passed the Donaldsonville city limit sign and continued on River Road toward Vacherie, Cassie pondered the possible location Jacob had chosen for their dessert. Familiar with the small community at this point, she couldn’t imagine any restaurant there as lovely as The Cozy Grape.

Why wouldn’t he tell her; why so mysterious? Jacob was up to something, and though she trusted him, she couldn’t shake her sudden apprehension.

They had chatted throughout dinner, but now, in his truck, in the darkness of the evening and the isolation of the highway where lights from oncoming cars were few, Jacob drove in silence.

Unable to think of something to say that they hadn’t already discussed during dinner, Cassie adjusted her position in the seat, tugged at the hem of her skirt, and then opened her small clutch bag.

Pulling out a small, clear box, she turned toward Jacob. “Tic tac?”

Jacob took his eyes off the road long enough to see what she was offering. “Sure,” he replied with a smile and held his hand out to receive one, his attention back on the highway as headlights appeared around a short curve.

Oh, God! Cassie thought to herself after helping herself to one and then returning the box to her bag. Had she seriously just implied that he had bad breath? Would Jacob take it as a preparation—an invitation—for later kissing?

Focusing on the once-again dark highway in front of them, she smoothed her hair back from her face with the tips of her fingers as she fought desperately to come up with something intelligent to say.

“Mind if I turn on the radio?” Jacob asked.

“Not at all,” Cassie replied, thankful for the break in the uncomfortable silence.

“Do you have a preferred station?”

“No, whatever you like is fine.”

Cassie usually listened to her own extensive iTunes collection through her Bluetooth while driving, preferring it over constant advertisements and host chatter of radio.

Jacob reached over and flipped the radio on, lowering the volume to a soft hum. Familiar with the crossover artist, Cassie recognized the tune playing as Tim McGraw’s “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools”. She, Margo, and Melanie had attended one of his concerts in New Orleans a few years before. Margo had insisted they attend, saying the man was “hot,” and, by the end of the concert, Cassie had agreed. Not wanting to think about Melanie in any way, including the fun times the three of them had once shared as friends, she concentrated on the words to the song as she sat with her hands in her lap, gazing out the window at the full moon lighting the night sky. The tune was soft and romantic, and before Cassie knew it, she had gotten lost in it and was gently swaying to the sweet melody. Suddenly feeling his eyes on her, she stopped and glanced over at Jacob, who was indeed watching her, a slight smile on his face.

Embarrassed, she merely said, “Nice song.”

“It is,” he replied as he turned his attention back to the highway. Minutes later he flipped his blinker.

Cassie glanced back at the highway as well, surprised that they had arrived back in Vacherie so quickly. Except they hadn’t; Jacob was turning into the entrance to Tara.

“Why are you turning here? What’s going on?”

“You’ll see.”

Cassie’s whole body tensed. What possible reason would Jacob have to visit Tara at this late hour of the evening? As visions of her dream began to fill her head, she felt her heart racing. As they neared the mansion, she noticed a dim light shining on the porch, as well as one inside. When Jacob parked in front of it, she turned to him. “Jacob, why are we here?”

Pointing to the sky through the windshield, Jacob said, “It’s a full moon tonight. I thought we’d see if we could bring Dr. Savoy out of hiding while we have dessert.”

“I thought that applied to werewolves, not ghosts.”

“Well, come on, let’s find out.”

Jacob opened his door and stepped out. Cassie sat, still buckled. Should she insist he get back in the truck and take her home? Nervous, but also intrigued by the idea of channeling the doctor’s ghost, she unbuckled her seat belt just as Jacob opened her door and offered his hand.

“Watch where you step,” Jacob said as he led her to and then up the front steps of Tara. When he opened the front door and motioned her in, she was shocked by what she saw inside. The large central room in no way resembled the room as it had been earlier in the day. The center of the room was void of all scaffolding. It, along with tools and supplies, had been moved off to the side and all sawdust swept away.

“Jacob, did you do this yourself? And when?” she asked as she entered the room.

“I asked the crew to do it before they left this afternoon,” he replied.

In the center of the room a large quilt lay spread on the floor, a vase of dark red roses glistened in the light provided by one of the smaller construction spotlights. A few of the smaller, less noisy fans cooled the air. Numerous pillar candles, unlit, surrounded the vase, while others sat in various places around the room. As Cassie neared the quilt, she discovered a champagne bucket, complete with a bottle of champagne immersed in ice. Two champagne glasses sat next to the bucket, one on each side. On one side of the vase of roses was a small plate of chocolate-covered strawberries, on the other a small plate of assorted chocolates and miniature cheesecakes.

Overwhelmed by all of it, Cassie turned to Jacob.

“Jacob, this is all so lovely, but—how? How did you manage this? Has it been here all evening?”

Jacob was smiling, clearly proud of his achievement. “I have no idea. I guess Dr. Savoy knew we were coming.”

“I’m sure he did,” Cassie teased, suddenly recalling the taillights of a truck ahead of them on the highway just before Jacob turned into Tara, taillights that seemed to appear out of nowhere.

“Sit,” Jacob said, offering her a seat on the quilt. “There are chairs if you’d be more comfortable,” he added, as if suddenly unsure of his plan.

“No, picnic style is perfect,” she replied as she sat on the quilt on her side, knees together, legs bent, relieved that she had chosen a dress with a full skirt.

“Mind if I light the candles?” Jacob asked, still standing.

“I think it’s a necessity if we’re to entice Dr. Savoy out of hiding.”

“That was my thinking.” Jacob located a lighter left on a small wooden crate and then walked around lighting all the candles. When he finished, he turned off the spotlight, creating the perfect ambiance of flickering lights casting shadows around the room. He then joined Cassie on the quilt, sitting within reach of the champagne bucket. Reaching for it, he asked, “Champagne?”

“Yes, please.”

“Now let’s see if I can do this. I’m not much of a pro when it comes to popping the cork on these.”

“I never mastered it myself,” Cassie replied. “I always left that to Phil—” she caught herself before she finished saying his name—“to my ex.”

Jacob removed the foil wrapping from the bottle, then the metal wire. He aimed the bottle away from them as he held the cork steady with one hand as he gently turned the bottle back and forth with the other until the cork loosened and slowly slid out, releasing a small hiss as it did.

“Perfectly done!” Cassie replied.

Jacob poured a glass for each of them. “To Tara and ghosts,” he said as they clinked their glasses together and then they both sat in silence, sipping their champagne and nibbling on the desserts.

“This is quite nice, Jacob. You may not be an expert on wines, but you seem to know your champagnes.”

“Not at all. I simply trusted the recommendation of the salesclerk.”

“Well, he, or she, recommended well,” she replied, as she reached for another strawberry.

“I’m assuming Mark was the ghost who helped with this and was leaving just as we arrived, but I thought he had a date with Margo tonight,” Cassie said as she finished her strawberry and then reached for one of the small cheesecakes.

“He did. But he insisted it wasn’t a problem to help out. They seem to have enjoyed each other’s company the other night, from what I heard.”

“Yes, it sounded like they did.” All night long, according to the detailed report Cassie had received the next day from Margo.

When Cassie finished her champagne, Jacob refilled both their glasses. As Cassie nibbled on one of the chocolates, she noticed Jacob concentrating on her face.

Uncomfortable by the attention, she asked as she rubbed her hand over her chin, “What? Do I have chocolate on my face?”

“No, not at all,” he replied. “I was thinking how beautiful you look in the candlelight.”

Blushing, she said, “Yes, well, we always tend to look better the less the light.”

“You always look beautiful, Cassie, whatever the light.”

Jacob leaned in and touched his lips to hers, sliding closer and placing one hand on Cassie’s waist as she returned the second kiss. A slight moan escaped her lips as they parted for the deeper, more extended third kiss.

“You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do that, Cassie,” Jacob whispered as he caressed her cheek.

With his hand at the nape of her neck, he pulled her close, his mouth once again on hers, his kiss now aggressive. As she slipped her arms around his neck, his grip quickly tightened around her waist as he pulled her even closer. Lost in Jacob’s warm kiss and firm embrace, the clean, masculine scent of his cologne, and the gentle touch of his callused hand on her bare skin, she was unaware for a moment that that hand had made its way under her skirt. Flinching at the sudden realization, she quickly pushed away.

“I’m sorry! I just got carried away,” Jacob pleaded, as he moved away from her. “I didn’t mean to move so fast. It’s just—”

Before he could finish, they both heard a distant squeaking.

Removing her hand from her mouth, Cassie asked, “What was that?”

“I don’t know! Dr. Savoy, perhaps?” Jacob scanned the room, then said, “Looks like we do have a visitor, but no ghost.” He pointed toward the front door.

When Cassie turned to look, she saw a small black cat peeking inside the partly-open front door.

“Oh, my goodness,” Cassie said, sitting up on her knees, facing the door. “Where did she come from?”

“There are several that hang around during the day. They’re feral cats. The guys toss them food at lunch, though I tell them not to.”

“Why do you tell them not to? I’m sure they’re hungry if they’re feral.”

“Yes, and as long as they’re hungry, they’ll take care of the mice and rats.”

“Rats?” Cassie repeated, her eyes wide as she looked around the room as if she might see one.

“They’re in the fields. The cats will keep them out of here if they’re hungry enough.”

Cassie turned her attention back to the cat, who had stepped just inside the room.

“Here, kitty.”

“She won’t come to you. She’s the smallest, the shyest, most skittish. I’m surprised she came in. Must be the full moon. Or curiosity simply got the best of her.”

“She’s beautiful!” Cassie said. “I love the white on her paws and her face. Does she have a name?”

Jacob chuckled. “No, I don’t think any of them have names.”

“Well, she needs a name,” Cassie said as she continued to watch the cat, who had made herself comfortable on the floor next to the door while keeping a close watch on Cassie and Jacob. “I know! How about Prissy?”

“Prissy?” Jacob asked.

“Yes, Prissy. From Gone With the Wind.”

Jacob shook his head. “Sorry, drawing a blank on that one.”

“Prissy.” Cassie held up her hands and shook them frantically. “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ babies, Miss Scarlett,” she squealed, scaring off the cat as she did.

Jacob threw his head back in laughter. “Gotcha. Great imitation, by the way!”

“If you think that was good, wait till you hear my Rodney Dangerfield.”

“Let’s hear it!”

Cassie let out a huge laugh, blushing. “I don’t have one. I was kidding.”

Jacob looked at her, smiling. “It’s rare to see you laugh so much. It’s nice. I like it.”

Still blushing, she said, “It must be the champagne.”

Reaching into the bucket, Jacob pulled out the bottle that still held a small amount. “Then here, have some more.”

Putting her hands up to stop him from pouring, she said, “No, no! I’ve already had way too much!”

As he returned the bottle, Jacob asked, “Afraid I’ll try to take advantage of you if you have more?”

“No, Jacob, I’m not afraid of that at all. I think you’re way too much of a gentleman for that.” She paused, trying to decide if she should say what she wanted to say. “I’m afraid if I have more, I won’t resist if you do.”

Jacob leaned in and kissed her once more before standing. Once on his feet, he offered her his hand. “Then maybe we better call it a night before one of us does something you’re not ready to do.”

Accepting his help, Cassie rose to her feet. When she did, Jacob pulled her close, her hand still in his, and kissed her. “Not that I want to call it a night. But I’m willing to take things as slow as you want, as slow as you need.”

Releasing her, he walked over and turned on the small spotlight before turning off the fans.

As Jacob blew out all the candles in the room, Cassie placed the vase of roses and dessert plates on the wooden crate nearby, then carefully moved the smoldering candles that had surrounded the roses. As she folded the quilt, she said, “This was a lovely evening, Jacob. All this, as well as the dinner earlier. Thank you. I am disappointed in one thing, though.”

“What’s that?”

“No visit from Dr. Savoy.”

“Maybe next time,” he said as he kissed her once more, then picked up the vase of roses for her to take home, and led her out the front door, locking it behind them.

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