Westbound (Love Travels West, Book 1)

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Chapter 21. Because of Paul.

In a true loving heart, either jealousy kills love, or love kills jealousy—Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter 21.

Because of Paul.

   "Jake, we've come to take you back to the Cora Belle!" Sam stated as he and two other fellows marched into the library where Jake was browsing through a book.

   "Ah, I see you've finally remembered about the invalid," Jake replied, looking up from the pages filled with endless words. "I was almost beginnin' to worry  you were gettin' along fine without me and that I would be forced to remain on the Circle 4."

   "Not in yer life you wouldn't," Slim, a very tall, very lanky fellow who seemed to be composed of only legs and arms, said. "The boss was wonderin' what on earth is takin' you so long and finally got tired of waitin' and sent us to fetch ya."

   "Are you...readin'?" Sam asked in voice that was confused and teasing at the same time. He snatched the book out of Jake's hands and looked at the title. "Rob Roy." Sam glanced at Jake with raised eyebrows.

   "Dannie named her dog after the title character," Jake defended himself. "I just wanted to know what sort of a person this Rob Roy was."

   "Right!" The three Cora Belle cowboys exchanged glances and burst out laughing. Jake rolled his eyes and getting up, grabbed the book from Sam and put it back on the shelf.

   "How's the leg?" Sam asked in between guffaws.

   "Leg's fine, thank you." Jake snapped. "Even went ridin' several times. I've still got a bit of a limp, but Mr. Martin says it's just a matter of time and within a week or two I should be walkin' around as good as new."

   "That's great!" Sam had calmed down by now and grinned at Jake. "I have to say, Jake, I don't know what sort of stars you were born under, but they sure as hell worked their wonders. I didn't think any man could survive what you went through, an' what is more, still manage to get completely better."

   "I wouldn't think it was the stars, lucky or unlucky, that helped me this time," Jake replied. "I'd say it was the grace of God and a very determined woman."

   "Ah yes," Joe, the third fellow, spoke up in his thick Irish accent, "Sam wus tellin' us aboyt yisser nurse, we actually 'oped we catch a glimpse av 'er before we carted yer aff, but she doesn't seem ter be 'ere."

   "Yeah, Jake, where is Dannie?" Sam put in.

   "Out doing somethin'. It's not like she has to watch me anymore, I'm gettin' by fine on my own two feet."

   "So that means we won't see her?" Joe's face became downcast.

   "Why not, she's here on the ranch. Though why you all are so dying to see her is beyond me." Jake wasn't exactly eager for a pair of women starved cowboys meet his Dannie.

   "We jist want to 'av a look at this wonder woman for ourselves," Joe chuckled. "Sam kept goin' on an' on aboyt 'er."

   A knock sounded on the door and everyone turned to face it.

   "Jake, Grace said you were...oh." Dannie froze in the doorway when she realized there were four men in the room.

   "Dannie, these are a couple of the fellas from the Cora Belle, they've come to drag me home." Jake introduced. "You know Sam of course, but this is Slim and Joe."

   "Pleased to meet you gentlemen," Dani gave a smile to the men.

   "Fellas, this here is Danielle Preston."

   "We've 'eard a lot about ya, Miss," Joe said.

   "Oh, from who?"

   "Sam, who else? He said it wus yer that pulled Jake through."

   "Nonsense, all I did was what Mr. Martin instructed."

   "Miz Preston, you are far too modest," Sam said. "I'll bet you are glad you don't have to nanny Jake anymore. How you managed to be with him in one room for so long is beyond me."

   "It wasn't that bad," Dannie chuckled.

   "An' might I add you are looking mighty fine today."

   "Thank you, Mr. Carthwrite."

"Though not quite as pretty as Miz Martin," Slim spoke out. An eerie silence suddenly came over the room as four sets of eyes turned towards him.

   "Well, Slim," Danni'es voice was crisp and cutting, "God had to make a few ugly girls so you could appreciate the pretty ones. Excuse me please." She gave a stiff bow and exited the room.

   "Miz Preston, wait." Sam flew out after her. "I'm, I'm terribly sorry about what Slim said, he's uh, he's not exactly known to have any brains."

"I understand, Mr. Carthwrite," Dannie waved the matter away. "Please do not trouble yourselves on my account."

   Dannie hurried away before Sam could say anything else. She sought out the solitude of the back porch and sat on the wooden steps. Something wet licked her hand.

   "Oh, dear Roy, dearest, Roy," Dannie hugged the dog who had followed her out. "You don't care if your mistress is not as pretty as most girls, do you?" Danni's eyes were beginning to tear up. "You like me just the way I am, even if I'm plain and unattractive. I know you do. That's the nice things about you dogs, you love with such a pure love, no strings attached. I'll bet I could be something like the Hunchback of Notre Dame and you would still love me."

   A cough behind her made her look up. Jake leaning on the door post. As soon as she noticed him he came up and sat down next to her.

   "Slim's an idiot," he said.

   "He's just honest, Jake," Dannie shrugged, hurriedly wiping her eyes in an attempt to hide her tears.

   "He's in a lot of trouble," Jake retorted. "Sam's in there giving him a piece of hell."

   "Oh dear, I shouldn't have created such a scene. They are our visitors after all."

   "That was not a scene, Dannie, and you don't need to blame yourself. He's the one who opened his mouth and got his foot stuck in it. Blasted fool!" Jake shook his head in disgust.

   "Oh Jake, it is not the first time such a thing has happened to me. You have no idea how many people made a habit of comparing me to other girls to bring out their beauty. It's almost become a saying. Sort of like you can't appreciate light until you've experienced darkness, health until you've been sick and you won't know how truly beautiful a woman can be until you have compared her to Danielle Preston."

   "Dannie, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder," Jake burst out. "So ya don't look like Sophie, that doesn't mean you're ugly."

   "I know. I am just tired of people comparing me to someone else. No matter where I go, there always seems to be someone else who is more beautiful than me."

   "But you are pretty Dannie, pretty in your own way."

   "Not pretty enough I guess," Dannie mumbled, but Jake heard her.

   "Pretty enough for what?"

   "Dannie, Dannie," Sophie's voice sounded out and soon her figure appeared in the doorway. "What are you doing on the back porch?

   It was all Jake could do to keep from turning around and wringing Sophie's head off. Those cowboys had come to drag him off to the Cora Belle and this was his final moment alone with Dannie and Sophie just had to go and ruin everything. She seemed to be making a habit of it recently.

   "Is something the matter, Sophie?" Dannie asked.

   "Daddy just got back from the town and brought in the mail. I took the liberty of going through it and found a letter from you."

   Dannie reached over and took the envelope Sophie handed her. "Oh, it's from Meg!" She exclaimed joyfully.

   "I hate it when she writes you," Sophie grumbled, plopping down next to Dannie.

   "Why ever would you hate it?" Dannie asked in surprise, opening the envelope and pulling out the letter.

   "Because when you get post from her you completely forget about my existence. All you can talk about is Meg, Meg, Meg."

   "Sophie did anyone ever tell you that you are a spoiled, selfish little female?" Jake barked. "Mr. and Mrs. Martin have my every respect, but somewhere along the line you were spoiled rotten, I'm thinkin' it was probably Carolina."

   "Oh Jake," Sophie rolled her eyes, "do the world a favor and bite your tongue. What did she write, Dannie?"

   "Just news from England, how things are going on back there, how she and Richard are getting along." Dannie said, running her eyes over the letter quickly. Her reading was interrupted by Mr. Martin, who also came out on the back porch.

   "Ah, there you are Dannie," he said with a smile. "I was looking for you."

   Jake could not believe it. Why did everyone suddenly want to find Dannie today? Couldn't they wait till tomorrow? He huffed angrily, though no one seemed to notice.

   "Is something the matter, Mr. Martin?" Dannie asked him.

   "Mr. Richardson sent you another letter, only for some reason it was delivered to the bank and Cal Jenson came running out to me just as I was leaving town and handed it over."

   "Thank you, Mr. Martin," Dannie's voice was flat as she took the envelop. Sophie waited for her father to leave before snatching the letter of Dannie's hand.

   "Is it from PAUL Richardson?" She dramatically asked, gazing at the letter with wonder. "The infamous Paul Richardson?"

   "Sophie, give that back to me," Dannie angrily grabbed the letter. Jake stiffened at the mention of Paul.

   "Since when does he write....oh!" Sophie's blue eyes widened. "Daddy said another letter, have the two of you been in correspondence? Why you sneaky little thing! How could you keep such secrets from me?" Sophie grabbed Dannie by the arm and shook her. Neither girls noticed Jake get up and walk back into the house.

   "Why on earth are you writin' a former lover? Why is he writin' you? Is he tryin' to get you back?"

   "Certainly not!" Dannie snapped. "Mr. Richardson has been married for nearly ten months now."

   "Then why would he write you?"

   Dannie sighed and looked at the envelope in her hands. "Mr. Richardson is a lawyer, and he was so very kind to look into my father's affairs and sort out all the financial matters."

   "So kind?" Sophie lifted her eyebrow at Dannie's sarcasm. "Was he trying to make amends by doing this?"

   "I suppose so." Dannie gave a frustrated laugh. "If you were to ask me, it was all his aunt's doing. Miss Richardson was our neighbor and close friend and I don't think she ever forgave her nephew for breaking our engagement. The dear woman was very fond of me. Miss Richardson owns a lot of money and has no one to leave it too. In an attempt to make peace with his aunt and restore himself in her good graces, Mr. Richardson wrote me and said he had sorted out Papa's affairs. I answered that it was very kind of him and asked him to send in his bill. He wrote back and said he did it for old friendship's sake, to which I replied that I did not want to accept charity from him and demanded the bill be sent. I believe this is it. I cannot understand why it made it's way to the bank, because it is addressed to me. Perhaps there was some mistake."

   "How do you plan to pay him?"

   "As it turns out I have fifteen pounds a year from Papa, it has been lying in the bank all this time. He make take out of that."

   "What do you plan to do with the money that is left?"

   "Leave it in the bank in Leeds for now. Save it for a rainy day perhaps."

   "No doubt your Paul wanted to make himself look like such a kind man, who is takin' care of the poor helpless orphan," Sophie laughed. "Do you think he made peace with his aunt by doin' this? Do you think she will still leave her money to him?"

   "I do not know, and I do not care. I didn't appreciate Mr. Richardson's 'favor' and once I have paid my debt I hope I will never have to deal with that man again." Dannie stuffed the bill into her pocket and turned towards Jake, but was surprised to find out he was gone.

   "When did he leave?" she asked Sophie.

   "I dunno," Sophie shrugged. Dannie got up and went back into the house, where she met Jessie Martin.

   "Mrs. Martin, have you seen Jake?"

   "He went off with the fellas from he Cora Belle." Mrs. Martin answered.

   "Without saying...oh no he doesn't!"  Dannie rushed through the house and out the front door. Sam, Joe, and Slim had already mounted their horse, Jake wasn't with them. "Mr. Carthwrite," Dannie ran up to them. "Where is Jake?"

   "He's in the stable, fixing his saddle, it wasn't put on properly," Sam replied with a glare at Slim.

   "Miz Preston, I want to apologize for what I said earlier, I was out of line," Slim said, shifting in his saddle uncomfortably.

   "Don't worry about it, Slim, I'm not angry," Dannie hurriedly reassured and went into the stable where Jake was working with the saddle.

   "Jacob Carver Wade, where on earth are you going?" She demanded, hands on her hips. Jake turned his head.

   "Back to the Cora Belle, where else?" Jake grunted, turning back to the horse.

   "I can't believe it, I just can't! This is the second time you're walking out on me. Don't you even want to say goodbye?" Dannie was confused and upset. "Jake, what is the matter with you? Last year you took off without a word and now you are doing the same thing? Is this some habit of yours?"

   "You're a smart girl, Dannie, figure it out for yourself," Jake retorted and mounting his horse rode off.

   "What on earth do you mean?" Dannie called after him, but Jake and his companions were already riding off, and the only answer she got was the sound of horses kicking up the Arizona dust. Dannie stood where she was, long after the riders were out of sight.

   "Dannie," Sophie's hand crept up her shoulder. "What's the matter?"

   "I just don't understand him," Dannie replied. "I just don't. I thought he cared for me, at least I thought he was beginning to care, and then he just rides off like that. What is more, he makes it sound as though it is my fault."

   "Maybe he got angry because of Paul?"

   "But I said it was only a business transaction and it wasn't appreciated on my part."

   Sophie shrugged. "Jake is Jake, and he's never known to be very patient or understanding when it comes to women."

   Dannie didn't say anything. She couldn't completely agree with Sophie's words. Jake wasn't all bad manners. Sure, there was a certain amount of prejudice, but there was was also a good, kind, and caring heart beating inside of him. She couldn't understand the way he had just treated her, and at the words he had said. Was it really because of Paul? Was he jealous? Dannie bit her lip, trying to think of what to do. Should she go after him? That would make her look desperate. Not to mention he had never said anything to her. Sure there had been stares and smiles, but he had never actually spoken of any sort of attachment. Even though he had been here for well over two months, Dannie had no idea what Jake felt towards her.

Giving Sophie a weak smile, Dannie walked back to the house. She needed to search her own heart and mind before trying to figure out Jake's.

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