Westbound (Love Travels West, Book 1)

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Chapter 9. Caught in a Storm.

A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other—Charles Dickens.

Chapter 9.

Caught in a Storm.

   Dannie woke with a start. Lifting her head, she tried to make out just what her pillow had been. It slowly dawned on her she had been sleeping on a man's shoulder.

   "Oh, I'm sorry, Paul," Dannie mumbled, trying to shake the drowsiness away. Rubbing her eyes, she glanced up and found herself looking into a pair of very amused, pale green eyes. Dannie's heart skipped a beat when she realized who she had been sleeping on.

   "Did I just fall asleep on your shoulder?" She asked, her voice filled with embarrassment. She caught her breath again when the reality of her second mistake came crashing down on her. "Did I just call you Paul?" She sputtered, feel more and more awkward with every second.

   "That would be a yes to both questions," Jake chuckled. "I'd say you slept the better part of the hour."

   "Oh my, I am so, so sorry." Dannie wished she could shrink and shrink until she disappeared. "I didn't mean to do it, I didn't even notice how I drifted off. I don't usually do things like this, how horribly improper of me."

   "Don't worry about it, Miss Preston, it's all right." Jake was amused at her obvious embarrassment, and sought to make light of the situation. "Don't know why you went ahead and called me Paul though."

   "Oh that," Dannie looked about her, searching for some place to hide. "I've only fallen asleep on a shoulder like this once when Paul and I went out for a ride in the country. When I woke up a minute ago and realized that I was sleeping on a man's shoulder, the first thing I thought of was Paul. Once again, I'm terribly sorry, I don't know..."

   "Dannie, it's alright," Jake cut her off. He was beginning to get really annoyed with the way she kept going on and on.

   "You just called me Dannie," Dannie pointed out.

   "Shoot, I did. Don't take it offensively, Miss Preston, you were just gettin' on my nerves with the endless apologies."

   "I'm not upset," Dannie reassured. "In fact, I believe we've known each other long enough for you to keep calling me Dannie if you wish."

   "It's shorter than Miss Preston, so it will take less breath to say it," Jake joked.

   "As long as you don't say Danny Fanny."

   "I'll try not to," Jake promised. "Do you spell Dannie with an 'n n y'?"

   "No, that would be a boy's way of spelling it. I spell it with an 'n n i e'. Danielle is a French name actually."

   "Was you mother French?"

   "Certainly not," Dannie burst out laughing. The thought of her mother being French was enough to make anyone laugh. "No, both my parents were about as British as you can get. Mamma named me Danielle because she wanted me to have an original name, my middle name, Frances, was my grandmother's name. Allow me to guess that Carver was your mother's maiden name?"

   "That's correct." Jake gave a crisp nod, his eyes glued to the road ahead of him. Dannie got the point that he didn't want to talk about his family.

   "I wonder why," she thought as she studied his facial features. "Is there some sort of terrible, tragic secret he doesn't want to give away to anyone? Why do you have to be so mysterious, Jake? It is like you are purposefully making it hard for me to like you."

   Jake didn't notice the way Dannie was studying him intently, his mind was fully occupied with a couple of large rain clouds he could see in the distance.

   "Looks like we might be in for a pretty big storm," He said, pointing to the sky. Dannie followed his outstretch arm and her eyes widened at the black angry clouds in the distance.

   "Do you think we'll make it to the Circle 4 before it hits?" She asked.

   "Not by a long shot. We'll never outrun those. The best thing to do right now would be to try and find some place of shelter and wait out the storm; I wouldn't worry though, this time of year if a storm does hit it won't last very long."

   The wind had picked up and the clouds that had seemed so far away only moments before were now hovering above them.

   "How about we hide there?" Dannie pointed to a fortress of rocks and boulders.

   "Looks like a pretty good spot," Jake nodded and turned the horses, urging them to go faster, hoping they would only catch a little of the storm if they hurried. Dannie found herself gripping Jake's arm as the two horses picked up speed. They were going a lot faster than she was comfortable with, the road was bumpy and rocky and the wagon jostled about. Closing her eyes, Dannie tried not to think of falling off the wagon if they should hit a really large bump. Soon droplets began falling on her and Dannie allowed herself to open one eye and look upward. The clouds were right above them and the rain was coming down faster and faster with every minute. Jake gave another crack of the whip and the horses broke out into a gallop. Dannie shut her eyes again and clung to Jake's arm with both of hers. She silently prayed in an effort to calm her beating heart.

   The horses came to an abrupt halt and Dannie opened her eyes. They had reached shelter and were safe from the storm. Slowly she let go of Jake's arm. "Sorry about that, Paul," She mumbled.

   "Jake."

   Dannie widened her eyes and felt her wet face growing hot. "Oh dear, did I call you Paul again?" she asked, lowering her head and looking at her feet.

   "Reckon you did," Jake chuckled.

   "I'm terribly sorry, I don't know why I keep doing it." Dannie avoided Jake's gaze as he helped her off the wagon.

   "No worries, come on, I'll build us a fire to dry off a bit."

   "Where will you get any firewood?"

   "Rule number one in Arizona Territory, be ready for anythin' that may come your way," Jake stated with a grin as he walked over to the wagon and pulled out an armload of firewood.  "Besides, I'm sure if we look around here, we might find some spare sticks and dried up bushes, so we're set till the storm clears up."

   The shelter they had come to consisted of a several large boulders that provided a sort of roof from the rain. Jake fixed a spot for the horses, it was rather damp, but their blankets he was sure they would be fine. Some search showed a more sheltered spot in the form of a small cave. After hunting around, they found some more fire wood and soon had a small fire going. Dannie took off her bonnet and letting her hair down, brushed out the damp locks.

   "You sure got long hair." Jake couldn't help pointing out.

   "Thank you," Dannie smiled, "though I will admit it is a bit of a nuisance when it comes to traveling for miles and miles in the dust."

   "Yeah, I can imagine," Jake said with a nod and a chuckle as he settled down a little more comfortably and leaned back. "If you don't mind, I'm going to catch a few winks, seein' as there is nothing better I can do."

   Dannie only nodded her head, and she kept brushing her hair. Looking out, she watched the rain as it poured down. How strange it all was. Only an hour ago it was insufferable heat, and now it was raining cats and dogs. Not that she wasn't used to rain, they had plenty of it up in England, but somehow the heat of the past two days had made her quite forget what rain was like. On a sudden impulse, Dannie put her comb down and rising went over to the mouth of the cave. Reaching out her hand she felt the droplets pelt against her palm. Biting her lip, she decided to throw all reason to the wind, and taking a deep breath stepped outside into the rain.

   Jake had opened his eyes, and lifted his hat a little bit just to to make sure the horses were doing okay, in  the next instant he took his hat off his face and sat up straight. He blinked a couple of times to make sure that he wasn't seeing things, but no, Dannie was no longer in the cave, she was outside, twirling around and around in the storm.

   "What in the sane hill are you doing, Miss Danielle Frances Preston?" He called, jumping to his feet and walking to the mouth of the cave. "You git your little self right back in here! The last thing I need is for you to catch pneumonia. What am I going to do with you if you get sick?"

   "I don't know," Dannie laughed. "And honestly at this moment I really don't care."

   "Yeah well, I don't know nothin' about treating sick people and we're still half a day away from the Circle 4, so will you please come back here!"

   "No," Dannie laughed.

   "Miss Preston, you want to tell me what on earth has gotten into you?"

   "It's like this, Jake," Dannie walked up closer to where Jake was standing, "I just realized that I can go ahead and dance in the rain and no one is going to care."

   "Oh yeah, and what about me?"

   "What about you? You're not going to get all upset about the rules of decorum and proper behavior, you aren't going to lecture me on how I'm not behaving like a proper lady, and all that rot. All my life I've lived under a certain code of conduct that could not be broken, and just now I realized that out here the code doesn't count. I mean, I've traveled across the ocean by myself, without a servant and I've ridden for three days, completely unchaperoned, with an unmarried man I hardly know. How's that for breaking the rules of proper conduct? But who's is going to care?" Dani laughed and spun around again. "If I ever felt true freedom, it has got to be right now!"

   Jake shook his head, "fine, go ahead, catch your death, I wipe my hands clean of this."

   "Oh stop being such a ninny and join me," Dannie retorted in a joyous voice.

   "I ain't being a ninny, Miss Preston, I'm just being realistic."

   "Alright, alright, you win," Dannie gave in and crawled back into the little cave. "Though it felt so nice to go and be a part of the storm and have all the horrid dust wash off my face and hair." Dannie whipped her hair back and smiled a broad smile. Jake found he had to smile back. Dannie's long black hair was fell over her shoulders in a tangled mess, and little droplets covered her face. The dark brown eyes sparked with mischief and Jake had to admit that the Danielle he was looking at right now was actually very attractive. He reached over and pulled a wet strand of hair out of her face.

   "You're one crazy woman," he told her.

   "Yes, that's what everyone has been telling me, I guess I'll just have to get used to it," Dannie laughed.

   "You got your hair all tangled."

   "So what? I'll brush it out again. Don't go being such a killjoy."

   "Alright, alright, I'm sorry," Jake relented. "You look pretty you know, all wet like that."

   Dannie looked down. "Thank you," She mumbled, her face turning hot.

   "So you are going to change or somethin'?"

   "I should, a wet dress is very uncomfortable." Dannie searched for a secluded place for her to change.

   "You can go behind the wagon," Jake suggested, "and I'll turn around and look the other way. Don't worry, I won't peak."

   "You'd better not, or I'll pray for you damnation," Dannie threatened and went over to get out her other dress.

   "Oh, now you've frightened me," Jake called over his shoulder, "preacher's kid."

   "Vicar's daughter," Dannie corrected. "Tell me, what did your father do for a living?" She asked from behind the wagon as she stepped out of her old dress and into her dry one."

   "I thought I told you before, he was a farmer."

   "Oh right, you did say something about farmer. Was his farm on Arizona Territory?"

   "Texas actually. Why do you want to know?" Jake's voice got a little gruff.

   "Jake," Dannie stepped out from behind the wagon and hung the wet dress over one side to try and get it to dry a little, "Why is it that every time I ask about your family, you get angry? You asked me all about my family, my friends, even about me former lover, and I answered truthfully even though it isn't something easy to talk about. But the minute I ask you anything about you and yours you get upset and tell me it's none of my business."

   "That's cause it ain't."

   "Jacob Carver Wade!" Dannie stood in front of Jake, hands on her hips. "If I didn't know better, I would think you thought of me as though I were some sort of spy trying to get secret information out of you."

   "Well, for all I know, you are."

   Dannie stared at Jake in disbelief. "I beg your pardon?" She asked, narrowing her eyes. "I may not know who you are, Jake, but I know what I am, and by now you should know too. All I've ever done during this journey is told you about myself."

   "Maybe..."

   "Oh don't you maybe me," Dannie cut him off. "Maybe you are an outlaw, maybe you are a thief, maybe you're a murder, I don't know, but whatever you it is your are hiding it does not give you the right to accuse me of...of...of spying!"

   Jake caught her angry gaze and held it for a couple of minutes.

  "Are you going to keep staring at me like that for a long time?" Dannie broke the silence. "What, are you trying to do, figure me out? Might as well stop now, because you are at reading people, Jacob Wade."

  "Am I now?" Jake found himself getting on the defensive.

  "Of course you are. From the moment we first met, you defined me as your prejudiced deemed fit. You didn't even bother to try and get to know me before judging what sort of a person I was. You jumped to conclusions right away. I wonder, do you do that with everyone you meet?"

  "It's a dangerous place out here..."

   "Danger doesn't mean you have to treat others with contempt!" Dannie turned from Jake and sat down, staring at the mouth of the cave. "Ironic, isn't it," she stated, "how different the Callaways were from you. They live in the same world you do, they know of the dangers this place holds, yet they were still sympathetic to an orphan from England who was new to the land and completely lost, while all you could do is tell me to go back East and become a governess." Dannie sighed and hugged her knees, resting her head on them.

   Jake had heard Dannie's rebuke quietly, and now he felt a little bad for getting her so upset. She did have a point, he really didn't have any ground on which to mistrust her. So far everything she had said about herself had been proven true by her. From the things she said and the way she reacted to certain words and actions, it was obvious she had been reared in a home where religion and God where held in the highest reverence. She had called him Paul on several occasion which made it pretty clear that she was not quite over the man who had broken her heart.

  "Dannie, look at me," he called to her. Dannie stubbornly shook her head.

  "Thank you, but I'd rather not; at this moment I can't stand the sight of you."

   Jake chuckled at her words. "Dannie, come on, I know the past two days I haven't been the easiest person to live with and I'm sorry. And yes, I'll admit I'm a stick in the mud, but try to understand there are a lot of secrets wound up in my family and I'm afraid of givin' them away. You see," Jake faltered a little, wondering how best to explain, "you see, the last time I had a girl trying to find out about my past and my family, it all it all led to nothin' short of betrayal. I guess that's why I'm suspicious of anyone around me, especially when it comes to women."

   Despite herself, Dannie turned around and looked into his pale green eyes.

  "Like I've said numerous times," Jake went on, "I've got a good reason to be so mistrustful, I just wish you could take my word on that."

   "And I just wish you could take my word that I am not a spy of any sort. I am no one other than Danielle Preston, a poor, recently orphaned daughter of a simple vicar who has come to England searching for the only person who could possibly help her."

  "Why is it that you so what to know about me?"

  "Because I have been traveling with you for nearly three days and apart from the fact that you are terribly suspicious of just about everything this world can hold, and have a strong inclination to prejudice, I know nothing about you. Jake, I'm not asking for deep secrets from your family life, I have no business knowing such things, all I want to find out is a little about you, what sort of a man you are, what sort of a life you led. Isn't it natural for people to want to get to know each other? Is it really such a crime for me to be curious.

   Jake rubbed his hands together, battling with himself on whether to give in or not.

  "Very well, if you don't tell me, I'll just start guessing. I know your name is Jacob, tell me, was you father by any chance named Isaac?"

  "It was actually."

  "Oh!" Dannie was surprised, she had just said that to try and get Jake talking, never dreaming she would have guessed the name. "Don't tell me your mother's name was Rebekah and that you happen to have a twin brother named Esau."

   "No," Jake gave in a little. "No, I don't have a twin brother and my momma's name was Leah. Though there was a Rebekah in my family, she was our colored maid, we all called her Becky."

  "Goodness me, did you ever notice how you've all got names from the same part of the Bible? Isaac and Rebekah were the names of Jacob's parents and Leah was one of Jacob's wives. Tell me, was there a Rachel, Joseph, and Benjamin in your family as well?"

  "Benjamin was the name of my stepdad and I have a sister named Rachel."

  "Oh my." For some reason Dannie found herself feeling a little uncomfortable. "I'm sorry, Jake."

  "Sorry for what?"

  "I didn't realize I'd go and guess how everyone was named."

  Jake couldn't keep from letting out an amused laugh. "You're sorry because all the names in my family happen to be so predictable?"

   "Well, yes, I guess so."

   "Don't be, there's no need to be sorry about that."

   "You mentioned you had a brother as well as a sister, what was his name?"

   "Daniel."

   "Oh dear, he's the only one who doesn't quite match." Dannie pointed out with a giggle. "But then, Jacob did have a son named Dan, so he almost fits. It must have been fun growing up with a brother and a sister." Dannie's eyes grew wistful.

   "Half brother and sister." Jake's face become hard. "They're the kids my momma had with my stepdad.

   Dannie looked at Jake with eager eyes. Jake held her gaze for a few seconds then with a sigh finally relented and began telling the story of his life.


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