Westbound (Love Travels West, Book 1)

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Chapter 29. When all is Said and Done.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning—King David

Chapter 29.

When all is Said and Done.

The soft music of the harmonica came to an end and for a few seconds the only sound was the wind as it gently blew over the terrain. Dannie sighed contently as she deeply breathed the evening Arizona air. She turned and softly caressed the little stone that marked area Roy's grave. It had been three weeks since the incident with Calhoon and life on the two ranches had finally returned to normal. Calhoon had been buried on the outskirts of the little Hopewing cemetery and Roy's body had been laid to rest not far from the place where he had breathed his last breath. The news that Calhoon was dead spread around like a wildfire and Jake knew a lot of bounty hunters throughout the area were a little disappointed. There had been a great price on Calhoon's head and to have him killed by a dog sort of left everyone without the reward. Jeremiah Grant had tried to give the reward money to Dannie, since it was her dog, but Dannie had refused to take it. Jake didn't want it either, after all, he hadn't caught Calhoon; all he had done was nearly gotten Dannie killed. In the end they gave the money to Tarak. Many thought this was unfair and stupid to give a red skinned Indian all that money, but Jake and Dannie both felt it was best. Tarak had spotted Calhoon to start with and it was through his help that they had managed to finally rid themselves of the notorious outlaw. Bessie, Asop, and Jem had been taken to Fort Rivers where there was a federal prison. Jake was offered to bring up charges against them, but he had refused. He didn't want everyone talking and speculating about how and why Calhoon had been after him. There were plenty of other charges to be brought against those three. He didn't care what happened to them, as long as they stayed away from him and didn't interfere with his life or the lives of the people he loved. 

Clay Walkers had of course been very perplexed with the whole incident, and asked Jake to please tell him next an outlaw was after him. Sophie was mad as hell at Jake for getting Dannie in danger, and blamed him and the 'stupid Indian' for Roy's death. Mr. and Mrs. Martin had also been rather upset about whole incident, but with Jake's apology and Dannie's interference they had allowed Jake to continue to court Dannie. So when Jake was not working on the Cora Belle he was riding to the Circle 4. He would take Dannie horseback riding, have picnics, and go on long walks. Jake was always in a hurry to get Dannie away from the house so they wouldn't be at the mercy of Sophie. 

Today they had gone for another long ride and visited the little grave that meant so much to both of them. It was evening now and the sun was just starting its descent towards the horizon. At Dannie's request Jake had been playing his harmonica, but had at last put it down and allowed the cool evening breeze to take a turn at making music.

"I think evenings are my favorite time," Dannie told Jake after a few minutes of silence. "The heat of the day is gone and it is cool and pleasant. And of course there are the sunsets, nothing in this world can compare to the Arizona sunset. Somehow the reddish landscape, dotted with the shrubbery becomes so vibrant when the glow of the sun becomes orange and red."

Jake smiled and stroked her hair. "So, Arizona finally startin' to grow on you?"

Dannie laughed at his words. "I don't think I'm quite settled with the summer heat, but I have discovered that home is where you family is. Before my family was in England and so it was my home, but now I've got family here. The Martins, Carolina, the Rellwars, and you." She turned to looked at him with loved filled eyes. "And at last I feel like I've come home."

Jake smiled at her. "It's been a bumpy road home, hasn't it?"

"Tell me one road in life that is smooth," Dannie practically pointed out.

"Still," Jake argued. "There were some moments that could have been avoided."

"Jake," Dannie tenderly touched his arm. "It is alright. This is a dangerous area, I understand that. I am just glad we are all safe, that you are alive, and that Calhoon is gone. It could have ended so much worse."

Jake shrugged, he still felt really bad about the whole ordeal with Calhoon and the fact that Dannie had been dragged into it, but she was right about it being over and them all being alive.

"I wish there was some way we could tell your mother and sister that Calhoon is no longer a threat," Dannie kindly said.

"So do I," Jake confessed. "But it's just wishful thinkin'."

"Does your brother know?"

"Yup. I wrote him a letter tellin' him that Calhoon's no longer a part of our lives, I haven't gotten an answer from him and I don't expect I will."

"Why not?"

Jake gave a sad chuckle. "I think Dan's afraid that now with Calhoon out of the picture I might decide to come back and claim the farm and he hopes if he just ignores me it might discourage me from coming back. Poor fellow, I don't want that silly farm, I've got a great life here doing what I always wanted to do. I just wish he'd get over his grudge or hate or whatever it is that causes him to dislike me." Jake shrugged in a sort of indifferent defeat. "Well, if he don't want to communicate than that's his problem."

"I'm so sorry your whole family seems to have abandoned you," Dannie softly said, stroking Jake's cheek.

"Ah, I'm alright," Jake reassured. "I've got the Cora Belle. Clay Walkers and myself come from completely different backgrounds, but somehow I've found in him the brother Dan always refused to be."

"Am I ever going to meet this wonderful Clayton Walkers?" Dannie asked. "You talk about him so much, and Sam talks about him so much, but it seems impossible to meet him personally. Does he ever leave his ranch?"

Jake shook his head. "Nope. He doesn't like meetin' new people. I don't know why, he can be kinda strange."

"So it would seem," Dannie laughed. "But if he is your friend, then he must be good, because like Tarak says you don't hand out your friendship to just any person. Speaking of Tarak, how do you think he will use his reward money? There was an awful lot of it."

"I'll say, six hundred dollars is no joke. I know he split the reward with Sam, so he's only got three hundred dollars now."

"Split it with Sam?" Dannie was rather perplexed.

"He wanted to give me half but I won't have any of that money, and so he went to Sam, who was also instrumental in catchin' Calhoon and his hooligans and offered to give him part and Sam said yes without so much as blinkin' an eye. I thought it kinda strange, Sam don't got no debts and he lives alone with no family to speak of, it's not like he needs the money. He probably spends about a tenth of his salary, the rest is just lying around in the bank and now he's going to add three hundred dollars to it."

"Maybe he's saving for something?" Dannie suggested.

"But for what? He's past forty and it's clear as day he ain't plannin' on getting' married. He's very kind and polite towards woman, but any lady who has tried to catch him in is always politely turned down."

"Maybe he's hiding something?" Dannie suggested with a naughty twinkle. "Though I can't say he's the hiding type. Those eyes are far too honest. Either way, he's very nice, and very considerate to just about everyone he comes across, almost like a father."

"Yup, we call him the Father of the Cora Belle, mainly because he's the oldest person on the ranch. Everyone else is no older than thirty five."

"How old is Mr. Walkers?"

"He's somethin' like a year older than me, so that would make him about twenty eight--I think," Jake laughed. "I'm not big on rememberin' people's ages, you know."

Dannie giggled and settled more comfortably in Jake's embrace. "I find it a little ironic, Jake how you and I, being so different, have at the same time such a similar situation. We've both left behind everything we once had and came here and found new life and new family."

"You've got a point there," Jake slowly said, feeling now was the right time to approach a subject he had been trying to bring up ever since Calhoon's death. "But I can't come right out and say that I've found...well...family yet."

"What do you mean?" Dannie twisted herself to face Jake. "I thought you told me--"

"I said the Cora Belle was home," Jake pointed out. "That is to say it was before."

"Before?" Dannie lifted her eyebrow.

"Before I met you. You said before that home is where family is, and Dannie," Jake took a deep breath. Dannie realized what he was leading too and nodded her head in support, determined not to interrupt until he got it all out.

"I've realized," Jake went on. "Home and family is...that is it could be where you are. I know I'm probably not the sort of fellow you ever thought you would marry. Honestly I never thought you'd be the kind of girl I'd ever marry, but now I can't see myself with anyone else. I have this dream, it's been slowly coming to me ever since I started likin' you, and that was over a year ago on the road to the Circle 4. It's got you in it and your ability to make the world around you a place of beauty. Oh I know, I know," Jake hurriedly stated just as Dannie opened her mouth. "I know you sometimes make more of your accomplishments than necessary and you can get pretty angry over nothing, but at the same time you can love. You love when it hurts, you keep on loving despite the hurt. I've seen with my own eyes how you were willing to sacrifice yourself for others. I've witnessed your strength, your courage, and your kindness. I love you Dannie, I love you more than life itself and I'd consider myself the luckiest man in the world if you'd agree to be my wife."

Dannie was so enthralled by Jake's speech that for a couple of seconds she couldn't find the words to answer.

"And I also wouldn't mind havin' to save myself the trip to the Circle 4 and back," Jake added with a nervous chuckle. Dannie's silence was a little unsettling. He looked at her, his heart starting to beat a little faster. Why was she taking so long?

"I talk books all the time," Dannie whispered at last, her dark brown eyes shinning. "And even though I love horses I don't know much about them. If you think this won't bother you, than I am yours to take."

Jake let out a deep breath. "So that is a yes?"

"That's a yes," Dannie laughed as Jake's embrace around her tightened and his lips met hers. When the kiss was over Dannie put her arms around Jake as he buried his head in her shoulder.

"The look on your face," she laughed quietly. "Did you really think I was going to say no?"

Jake shrugged, trying to bring back his tough attitude. "Well, you can be pretty unpredictable."

"So can you," Dannie fired back, looking him square in the face.

"So we can just go on surprisin' each other," Jake concluded and they both laughed. "I'll teach you about horses, and actually, some of the books you talk about are pretty interestin'. The Rob Roy one caught my interest; Sam just dragged me away before I could finish it."

"Walter Scott's books are very exciting," Dani smiled. "Filled with adventure and action. Sort of like out here-but very different."

They both laughed at her words. Then Jake turned to more practical matters. "The only thing is we can't get married right away. It's not like I don't have enough money, I've got a steady job and savin's in the bank, but there ain't exactly anywhere for you to live. You do realize you'll have to come and live on the Cora Belle."

"Of course I realize it, I'm not stupid." Dani laughed. "And I'm a good waiter. Waited for a year without a single complain, though that time it didn't exactly turn out too well for me."

"Yeah well, I'm not like that," Jake sharply reassured. "I've already talked to Clay and he's got an old linen shack that he was going to tear down. He said I could buy it out from him and turn it into a home, so it should only be a couple of months, two or three, four at the most."

Dannie once more settled comfortably in his arms, her thoughts in a whirl. To think in only a few months she'll be able to see him every single day. It would of course be sad to leave the Martins, but Jake was worth it. "Oh wait," she suddenly realized. "We should talk to Mr. Martin about this, after all, I am living under his roof."

"I've already talked to him." Jake said. "I felt it would be best if I approached him first. Right now he's probably the closest thing you have to a father."

"How honorable, Jake." Dannie was very impressed and touched and made no attempt to hide it.

"Yeah well, I figured since I started everythin' wrong, I might as well end it right."

Dannie burst out laughing. "We both started off very wrong, Jake. I'm guessing if we managed to get through those four days and come out alive and unharmed, we can manage just about anything."

"Could be. Since we know all about each other's bad sides, all that is left is to find out all the good sides."

"But I know your good sides, Jake, they've shown through so many times. I'd list them to you, but I don't want it to go to your head."

Jake turned away, feigning offence and it took some silly words and mock apology from Dannie to get him to look at her again. This all brought out more laughter from the couple. "Only Dannie, there is one thing," Jake suddenly said, "it's about my boss, Clay Walkers, he's well--"

"I thought you said he was a nice man," Dannie interrupted.

"Oh he is, he's good, honest, hardworking, educated even, but he's, well, he's got some singular views on certain subjects. What I'm trying to say is he can be a pretty tough nut to crack."

"That's alright, I've tamed one shrew; I think I can tame another."

"Wait...shrew?" Jake was confused.

"Don't tell me...you never read The Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare?"

"Do I look like someone who read Shakespeare?"

Dannie smiled mysteriously.

"Oh no, no Dannie, no, don't even think about it, no! Scott I'll read with you any day, Dickens and Vern maybe, but I draw the line with Shakespeare!"

"Nonsense, you'll enjoy it, it's a comedy all about wives submitting to their husbands. I believe Mr. Martin has it in his library. I'll read it to you and explain the hard words."

"Somebody remind me why I am marryin' you." Jake laughed, taking her face into his hands and kissing her once more.

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Goodness me, the story is almost at its end! Just one more chapter and an epilogue. Many thanks to all those wonderful souls who stuck with me this far.

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