Westbound (Love Travels West, Book 1)

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Chapter 20. To Blame the Stars.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars

But in ourselves, that we are underlings - William Shakespeare.

Chapter 20.

To Blame the Stars.

Jake had stormed out of the house and onto the front porch. The heat of the day had been replaced with the coolness of the night and he breathed deeply of the fresh air. The ranch was still and quiet and covered in a blanket of darkness. The midnight blue of the sky was shattered by the thousands of stars, and Jake got lost in thought as he stared at them.

"Jake." Dannie's voice softly called out. He turned to see her standing awkwardly in the doorway. "I'm...I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"About what happened in the parlor. Sophie really had no business saying such things."

"Why are you sorry? It's not like you said it." Jake replied.

"I know...but...well..." Dannie shifted her weight from one foot to another. All she really wanted to know was that Jake wasn't hurt by Sophie's less than tactful manner, but she didn't know how to ask him without looking very foolish.

"I appreciate the concern," Jake said with a slight smile. "But you really needed have worried. I'm fine."

Dannie nodded as she walked up and stood beside Jake. "Are you?"

Jake laughed. "Seriously, Sophie's sharp tongue isn't the worst thing I've faced in my life. The only reason I left was because I had a lot I wanted to say to the young lady, but none of it was exactly appropriate and I figured better just leave before things really got out of hand. Don't go fussin' over me, takes a lot more than some girl's loose words to cut me down. Trust me, Dannie, if there is one thing I'm used to, it's things never turnin' out for me, and I don't whine because of it. I'm sure you heard the popular joke of me not being born under unlucky stars, and I don't deny this fact. Don't know why, but that's the way it is. Not like I'm complanin', the hardships have toughened me and I can brave just about any storm sent my way. I guess the stars figured since the luck in my life isn't on the upside then I might as well be given enough will power to make up for it."

Dannie looked up at the stars. "Astra inclinant, sed non obligant."

"That wasn't English, was it?"

Dannie let out a small laugh. "No, it was Latin. The stars incline us, they do not bind us. Maybe you were born under unlucky stars, but you don't have to live under them. They're not up there to dictate how you are supposed to live your life. Personally, I don't think there are lucky stars or unlucky stars, they're just stars and we were all born under them. They may incline us, Jake, it is not like they have chosen our fate for us."

"So ya don't believe in the stars?" Jake questioned, more out of jest than curiosity.

"I believe in the God who made them," Dannie replied, still gazing at the celestial beings. Jake in the meantime was busy looking at Dannie. The fact that most of her features were covered by the shadows of the night caused Jake to study her in a completely different perspective. Maybe it was the night, maybe it was the moon, maybe it was the slight breeze that was blowing, maybe it was all those things put together that make Jake wonder what in the world had ever made him think there was nothing special in the woman standing next to him. Before Jake had always clumped women together in one gigantic mass. Now he divided them into two separate categories. One was for most women, and the second was for the young lady next to him. She didn't belong with the rest, there was something in her that made her stand out, that made her worthy of having a category all to herself.

Dannie soon became aware of the intent stare Jake was giving her and turned to face him.

"What?" She asked.

"What?" Jake answered back, shrugging his shoulders in defensive ignorance.

Dannie raised her eyebrows. "You are staring at me, Jake."

"Am not," Jake protested. "I mean, I was...I mean, I was just wonderin' why you're so nice to me now. What happened to that nasty Dannie I first met?"

Dannie burst out laughing. "Tell me I'm not completely useless and have no common sense about me and I shall become very nasty. I'm afraid I have little tolerance when people give even the hint of insult in my direction. Papa always told me my temper was not Christian and not Preston. Both he and Mamma were very placid and had a lot of patience while I seemed to be born with a temper that could curdle milk."

"Yeah well, Ben always said: 'if you can't say a nice word, Jake, than keep silent'. And you can see just how well I've been able to follow that piece of advice."

"To be fair, Jake, you followed it very well back inside with Sophie."

Jake chuckled. "So there, if there is hope for me, there is hope for you."

They both laughed softly at this. The laughter died down and for some time silence hung in the air as Dannie and Jake both got lost in their own thoughts.

"Jake." Dannie spoke up. "Why didn't you communicate with me the year after you brought me to the ranch? You just took off without saying goodbye. Was it something I said? Were you mad at me? Did I offend you?"

Jake went blank for a minute, wondering how best to answer. "Um." he scratched the back of his neck uneasily. "No, I certainly wasn't mad or offended at you."

"Then why did you just disappear?"

"Ummm, I dunno. I had a lot of stuff to do. There was a cattle drive and when I got back there were horses to breed and foals to train, and other work to do, and I sort of just got caught up in it all. It's a really busy life on the ranch and I don't get much time to myself."

"I see." Dannie nodded her head.

"What about you?" Jake counterattacked. "It's not like you tried to communicate either."

"I was busy settling in. There was so much to learn, so much to discover. Everything here is so different than what I am used to. I am so grateful to Sophie and Caleb, they took great pains to help me 'learn the ropes' as they put it."

"Do you finally feel at home out here?"

"Not really," Dannie confessed. "I am very happy, and very grateful, but I'm still adjusting to the way it is. There are times I find it hard to believe it has been a whole year, to think my parents have been gone that long."

"You must really miss them," Jake's voice became soft and low.

Dannie shrugged. "I'm alright. This may sound strange, but the fact that Mr. Martin is grieving about Papa's death makes it easier to bear. It is nice to know there is someone who feels their loss as keenly as I do."

"If it is any comfort, Dannie, while I can't sympathize with their deaths, I do know what it is like to lose parents and I know what it is like to hurt inside while putting on a brave face and go on despite the pain. I admire your determination to keep going no matter what."

Dannie looked down and let out a small chuckle.

"What are you laughing at?" Jake demanded of her.

"I was just thinking, Jake, how you can really come across as the most notorious scoundrel this world has ever known, but once you get past the mistrust and prejudice there is a heart and mind that I have come to greatly admire," Dannie blushed from her statement. "There is still so much about you that I don't fully understand, but I do wish for you to know that I pray for you, and I hope everything will resolve for you, in God's time."

There was a little pause as the two of them just stared at each other before Dannie said in a blushing voice. "I should really go inside, it's getting late."

She turned to leave, but Jake arrested her wrist. "Thank you, Dannie."

"For what?"

"For—everything."

Dannie smiled shyly, her cheeks glowing."I really must go inside or Sophie will start teasing me for being out so late."

"You can tell that little Miss she's got a head full of puddin'."

"Jake!"

"Hey, at least I'm honest."

"Now all that's left is for you to learn some tact."

"Nah, I'd be perfect then and that would make me boring," Jake grinned. He slowly let go of her hand. "Goodnight, Dannie."

"Goodnight Jake." Dannie gave one more shy smile and went into the house.

Jake turned his gaze back to the sky, but he was no longer studying the heavens, his thoughts were occupied with Danielle Preston. He noticed a couple of shooting stars as they flew across the sky. Pity Dannie had gone inside, it would have been nice to see the stars falling together with her. Jake didn't quite understand how his first opinion of Dannie had changed so drastically. Somehow all the things that had repulsed before suddenly attracted him. Her determination, her gut, heck, even her sassy attitude. Jake felt something nudge his leg and looked down.

"Roy!" he exclaimed when he found himself looking into canine eyes. "What are you still doing out here? Why didn't you follow your mistress into the house? You are one lucky dog you know, most of your kind don't get the privilage of sleepin' indoors." Jake squatted down and rubbed the dog behind the ears with both hands. Roy continued to stare at him with his large, brown eyes.

"What are you lookin' at?" Jake asked. "You don't trust me or somethin'? Come on, it's not like I'm out to bring her any harm."

Roy cocked his head to one side.

"You didn't believe me back then did you?" Jake guessed. "Well what was I supposed to tell her? That I was fallin' for her but was tired of being confused with a former lover? It's not exactly flatterin' to keep being called Paul, and she just kept doing it. 'Sides, I swore a long time ago I was done with women and love and then Dannie had to fall onto my lap and I didn't want it to end up like it did countless times, so I just stayed on the safe side. Oh quit lookin' at me like that," Jake chuckled. "'I swear I'm not going to hurt her. I know if I did I'd have you to deal with." He rubbed the dog down the back. Roy sat down and put his head on Jake's lap. "Don't worry ole' boy," Jake soothed. "I don't claim to love her as much as you do, but I do like her. I know it sounds mighty strange coming from me and I know I'll be the laughing stock back at the Cora Belle, but somehow I don't care. You know, she hasn't mentioned Paul once since I came here, she hasn't even brought him up vaguely in a conversation. I'll confess I was waitin' for it, but it didn't happen and now I'm thinkin' I actually have a chance. Maybe there was hope she'll actually like me for me, without the Paul factor being involved. In any case I'm gonna to give it a try and see where it takes me."

A soft croon escaped Roy's throat. Jake laughed. "Well, I'm glad you have faith in her. Come on, she's going to start wonderin' what happened to you. Let's go inside." Jake stood up and opening the door, let Roy in first, before walking in himself. He figured it wouldn't be too bad to impose on the hospitality of the Martins for a little longer. After all he wasn't completely better yet, was he? Who would have thought, but this accident was turning out to be a good thing for him. Maybe the stars had smiled on him at last, maybe they weren't so unlucky after all. In any case the Cora Belle and Clay Walkers could wait, Jake had more important things to do.


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This is probably be a great moment to throw in some drama, huh?

(Can anyone guess which Shakespeare play the quote at the beginning of the chapter is from?)

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