Westbound (Love Travels West, Book 1)

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Chapter 23. At the Harvest Dance.

It will never rain roses: when we want more roses, we must plant more roses—George Eliot

Chapter 23.

At the Harvest Dance.

   If Sophie had hoped to do any shopping before dance, her hopes didn't materialize. Hopewing was in need of a school building, and this year's harvest dance was going to serve as a chance to raise the money needed. This meant Dannie and Sophie spent the two days before the dance busy in Mrs. Clington's kitchen, baking up pies, pastries, and other such delights with which to tempt the men of the town to open their wallets wide.

   At last the eve of the dance arrived and the Martins, along with Carolina and Dannie went over to the town hall where the dance was to take place.

   "Just look at it, we are one of the first to arrive, that means we'll be one of the first to dance!" Sophie sighed with contentment. "Oh I just love coming first; it gives you such a feelin' of accomplishment."

   "You're still such a child," Caleb laughed. "I don't know why you make such a big deal about this here dance, all you do is break a whole bunch of hearts."

   "Caleb, bite your tongue," Sophie snapped. Caleb only laughed harder; there was nothing he enjoyed more than teasing his sister.

   "Though he does have a point, my dear," Mrs. Martin softly said. "Try to be at least civil to some of the boys here, and don't go breaking their hearts as soon as you're through dancin' with them."

   "Momma, I'm always nice to everyone I dance with," Sophie protested.

   "I'll say." Caleb whispered loudly. Sophie wanted to retort something smart, but she was cut off by a loud voice calling.

   "Grab your partners for the first dance."

   Mack was at Dannie's side in an instant. "Can I have the first dance, Miss Danielle?"

   "Of course Mack," Dannie smiled. She took the hand he offered and walked with him to dance floor. On the way she passed by Cal, who nodded to her, obviously disappointed that Mack had gotten to Dannie before he had. Dannie smiled and nodded back to him. Sophie, who had been asked to dance by a dark haired youth, caught Dannie's eye and winked at her. Dannie frowned in reply. To Sophie this was all one big game, but to Dannie, who had experienced heartbreak and rejection, such things could no longer be taken lightly. Matters of the heart should never be played with for sport, and she was trying her best to be nice to Cal and still get across that at the moment she was not interested in him as a potential suitor.

   Once the first dance was complete, Mack escorted Dannie to her chair and Cal, who was waiting by it.

   "Miss Preston, you look beautiful," he spoke in an awed voice, his eyes full of adoration.

   "Thank you," Dannie thanked him, looking down to avoid his gaze. If only Cal wouldn't stare at her so.

   "May I claim the next dance?"

   "You may indeed."

   Sophie waltzed up to them. "Cal, use your charm to put Dannie in a good mood again. tThe poor girl has been very low these past few days."

   "Sophie!" Dannie hissed.

   "Has something happened?" Cal's eyes clouded with concern.

   "Only that Slim compared the dear soul to me."

   "Miss Preston, I wouldn't worry," Cal hastened to reassure. "Slim compares every single girl to Miss Martin here. I guess it his feeble way at trying to court her. Poor fellow, he's so naively stupid it's hard not to feel sorry for him."

   Dannie plastered a fake smile on her face, and nodded her head. Shooting Sophie a glare that spoke of a soon coming revenge, she walked onto the dance floor with Cal. Sophie shrugged her shoulders, no regretting anything that had been said. Mr. Farrington, the shopkeeper asked her to dance, and Sophie kindly agreed, even though she knew her toes would be in a great deal of pain by the time the dance was finished.

***

   The party was well underway when the Cora Belle company finally made it to the town hall. It was all thanks to Slim they had arrived late, but Jake didn't really care. As he walked through the door, people gawked at him in shock. Jake was known to never come to any social event, and the sight of him all dressed up and attending the Harvest Dance rendered plenty of people speechless. Jake didn't pay any attention the stares directed his way, he had only reason for being here and he lost no time in searching it out. His eyes scanned the room, and at last he spotted her. She was dancing away with the rest of the couples on the dance floor. Jake had never seen Dannie so dressed up before and despite himself, Jake caught his breath at the sight of her. It wasn't so much the dress she was wearing, but rather the way she looked in it. The blue sash added an elegant touch to her waist, and her neckline, while modest, was much more revealing than any of her other dresses had been. The short sleeves exposed the delicate arms, and her silky black hair was partially gathered up in a small bun, while the rest hung loose in thick curls. Jake let out a low whistle when he saw her. He felt someone slap him on the back.

   "She sure is pretty, ain't she?" Sam said.

   "I have no idea why in the world that girl thinks herself plain." Jake shook his head in bewilderment. The music came to an end and Dannie's partner led her to the tables where punch was being served for the thirsty merrymakers. Jake tried to make out just who he was. Sam came to his rescue.

   "I think that is Cal Jennson with her."

   "The banker's son?"

   "Yup. Was raised back east by his uncle. He's a great help to his father at the bank, but I believe he's actually a lawyer."

   "Lawyer?" Jake spit the word out in disgust. "God I hate men of that profession. What is it that attracts them to Dannie like flies to a carcass?"

   Sam suppressed his chuckle. "I am sure Miz Preston will be flattered when she hears you've compared her to a carcass."

   Jake rolled his eyes. He wasn't blind, he could see plain as day the looks and smiles that Jennson fellow was giving Dannie. Maybe it wasn't the lawyer in England he should be worried about, maybe his rival was a little closer to home.

   "Well, seein' as soon there will be another round of music, I'll think I'll ask pretty Miz Preston to dance." Sam stated, fixing the little red bow tie around his neck.

    "No you're not!" Jake retorted. "She's the only reason I came here, so if anyone is going to dance with her, it's gonna be me."

   "You're a terrible dancer."

   "So what," Jake shrugged and began making his way over to where Dannie and Cal where taking a drink.

***

   Sophie was trying to get away from a very persistent young suitor who had been haunting her right from the start of the evening. She spotted Cal and Dannie and ran over to them for protection. Pouring herself a drink, Sophie drank greedily, relishing the feeling of liquid running down her parched throat.

   "The heat is more than I can bear," she stated in a breathless voice, placing the cup back on the table. "That is the only drawback of the dance; it gets so hard to breath." Glancing over, Sophie let out a gasp. "Oh no, Slim's here, and he's comin' my way. Quick, Cal, let's dance."

   Before Cal had a chance to protest, Sophie grabbed his arm and dragged him off. Dannie laughed at this. She turned towards the door and let out a gasp of her own as her heart skipped a beat. Not far away from her, standing next to Sam Carthwrite was Jake. And not the Jake she was used to seeing, always dressed in old, faded clothes, dust in his hair. No, this Jake was wearing a spotlessly clean blue shirt, and the customary red neckerchief around his neck was no longer faded and threadbare, but new and bright. His old, homespun pants had been replaced with tailored ones. Even his leather boots had been shined. He had removed his hat when coming in and the reddish blond hair was clean and brushed back out of his face. What was more, he was looking straight at her. The shock of seeing him rooted Dannie to her seat and she just stared at him, wide eyed. She didn't even realize he was coming up to her until he stood right in front of her.

   "Jake, what...what are you doing here?" She sputtered in disbelief.

   "Came to ask you if you would like to dance."

   The shock of seeing him was beginning to wear away and Dannie found herself able to think clearly. Jake was asking her to dance? What was the man's problem? One day he is storming off and the other he's all nice and kind again? Dannie rose from her seat, her eyes cold and angry. "Not with you I don't," she flatly stated. "Excuse me please."

   She quickly began making her away out of the stuffy dance hall and into the cool night air. Jake growled at her behavior and putting his hat back on, followed her out. Dannie wasn't going to get rid of him that easily.

   "Now Dannie, hold yer horses," he called once they were both outside. "Don't take off in such a hurry."

   "I'm just following your example, Jake," Dannie retorted, pausing to look back at him. "Maybe now you can get a taste of your own behavior. I do not know what sort of game you are playing, but just let me tell you I do not find it amusing."

   "I'm not playing any game," Jake hopped down the three steps that led to the dance hall door and walked closer to Dannie.

She shivered a little as the wind blew around them, and wrapped her arms around her shoulders. "Are you not now? Could have fooled me. You are caring one day, angry the next and what is more you refuse to explain any of your action. Your whole time at the Circle 4 has left me baffled and bewildered. We have spent a lot of time together during these two months but after your circus act, as Sophie would have put it, I've realized all I have been left with is confusion. You never said anything, you never spoke of your feelings and I don't know what you feel for me. I don't know if you feel anything for me at all. I don't know if you care anything for me, or nothing for me, or perhaps you just..."

   "Dannie just wait a minute," Jake was starting to go crazy from her angry ramble.

   "I'm tired of waiting, and I'm tired of trying to figure it out on my own. If you can't..."

   "I am, alright, I am!" Jake burst out, cutting her off in mid-sentence. This was not exactly how he planed to confess to Dannie, but sometimes the circumstances just dictated themselves.

   "You are what?" Dannie couldn't quite understand what Jake had said.

   Jake took a deep breath, "I am in love you!"

   This frank, unexpected confession was the last thing Dannie had expected to hear from Jake, and she blinked several times, wondering if she had heard right.

   "Don't ask me why," Jake kept on. "Cause I can't understand it myself. I swore that I was through with love and then bam, you appear. At first sight, it seemed like heaven itself couldn't make me fall for you. You can be rude, you can be loud, and when you just start talkin' and I can hardly get a word in edgewise it drives me insane. But I fell for you, way back while we were still on the road to the Circle 4. I guess it's like, like you told me back on the porch, once you get past all the annoyin' stuff, there is the purest, kindest, truest heart I have ever seen and it's gotten a terrible hold on and refuses to let go. I mean, ever since my accident you're all I've been able to think about."

   "You sure have a strange way of showing your affections," Dannie slowly said.

   "There were times when I was sure you also cared for me," Jake wasn't deterred. "But then Paul entered the picture and I got mad and took off. I couldn't understand why you would be correspondin' with him, I thought perhaps...well..."

   "You thought we were renewing our old romance?" Dannie guessed. "But I thought I made it clear it was only business."

   "I didn't hear that part."

   "That is because you ran away. Paul sorted out the financial affairs of my father and he only did this to please a rich aunt in order to get her money. She was very fond of me and angry when Paul ended it the way he did. I paid him for his troubles because I did not want to accept charity from him. That was the beginning and the end of it."

   Jake eyed her for a few seconds; most of him said she was telling the truth, a little part was wondering if she was maybe making this up.

   "A moment ago you said you loved me, Jake," Dannie spoke up again. "And if you really do, then you must trust me. After all, trust is the basis of love, is it not? How can we give our heart to someone without the trust that they will not break it? It is a risk, and one that has failed you many times. Bu have I ever lied to you? Have I ever betrayed you? Have I ever given you reason to doubt me? Oh I know, when I was coming here I called you Paul so many times you probably thought I was just trying to use you to be with him. I don't know, maybe I was, but you must remember it had only been three weeks since he had ended a romance that had last four years. I have since long gotten over anything I felt for Paul Richardson, and if he were to come here to find me I would never go anywhere him. I cannot erase him from my past, no matter how hard I wish, just as you cannot erase Amy or Bess from you past. But that does not mean I want to stay in that past, I don't. I want to move forward. And when I am around you, I feel like I am moving forward, and I like the direction I am going in." Dannie looked down, her cheeks glowing a deep red. "What I am trying to say, Jake, is that...well..."

   "What you are tryin' to say is that you're in love with me as well," Jake finished for her.

   Dannie couldn't make herself look at him. "At least I think I am," she mumbled. "It's like I felt with Paul...only...only different...somehow it's a whole lot nicer."

   Jake walked up to her and gently cupped her face in his hands.

   "Why do you and I always make drama out of nothin'?" he asked with a chuckle.

    Dannie wasn't sure how to answer, so she just shrugged and gave a weak smile. Jake leaned over and placed his lips on hers. Dannie's eyes widened from the kiss she hadn't been expecting.

   "You have no idea how long I've been dreamin' of doing that," Jake whispered once he had pulled away.

   "Jake!" Dani glanced around. "How terribly improper."

   "Yeah, so was dancin' out in the rain, but you didn't seem to mind then."

   "Then it was just you and me."

   "It's just you and me now as well."

   "What about all the people back at the dance? What if someone were to come out and see us standing here like this? It goes against all the rules of propriety."

   Jake gave another chuckle. "Tell me, Danielle Preston, what sort of girl uproots herself from her home, travels alone across the great water, crosses an entire country, rides out for three days with a cowboy she doesn't, hopes to convince a relative she never met to let her live with him, sits in a alone in a room with a half dressed person, and then after all this manages to bring propriety up when a man she's in love with kisses her?"

   Dannie opened her mouth than shut it again. The pale green eyes, eyes she could die for, sparkled at her in amusement. "Well, if that is the argument you bring up," she giggled at last, and removing the hat from Jake's head returned his kiss. Jake let his arms slip around her waist and bring her closer to him.

   "And I'm sorry for my behavior," he whispered once she had pulled away. "It was wrong of me to keep silent for so long and then just jump to conclusions. After all I have been through I find it hard to trust people, women especially, but I know I can trust you, cause like you said, you've never once given me reason not to."

   "I'm not mad anymore, Jake," Dannie reassured. "It's in the past and we can just forget about it."

   "Does that mean you are going to dance with me?"

   "I suppose it does," Dannie gave a whispered laugh.

   "Only I'm warnin' you, I'm a lousy dancer."

   "I'm sure I'll survive."

   "Oh, and how about those baskets I saw lined up for the upcoming auction, are one of yours there?"

   "Perhaps," Dannie teased.

   "Which one?"

   "Jake!" Dannie shook her head in disapproval. "I'm not supposed to tell you; that's cheating. Cal Jennson was trying to find out from me too, but I didn't tell him and I shan't tell you. You have to guess."

   Jake's sucked his lips into a thin line. Right, he had gotten rid of Paul, but there was still that Jennson fellow. "Come on, Dannie," he persisted. "You don't want to end up with someone like Slim do you? Imagine having to spend most of the evening with him."

   "Maybe it won't be Slim," Dannie gave a careless shrug.

   "But it might not be me either!" Jake reminded. "Come on, please. You're the only reason I came to this darn place and I don't want to spend it sittin' in a corner boilin' over with jealousy."

   Dannie laughed. "Very well, it's the last one with the blue ribbons tied on the handle and the handkerchief with the blue birds."

   "What about the stuff inside, is it yours too."

   "Every single pastry."

   "Well I'll be sure to give you my most severe criticism."

   "Then you truly deserve the bellyache you will wake up with tomorrow."

   Jake laughed and kissed her again. Putting her arm through his led her back to the dance hall. "One last question, how come your lips taste like cherries?"

   Dannie thought for a moment. "I think it's because I was drinking cherry punch."

  "Right, drink some more before I kiss you again, I like the way it tastes."

   "Jacob Wade!" 

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Awwwww :) but do not be fooled, this isn't the end of the story yet. I can't let them get away that easily, can I? ;)

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