Westbound (Love Travels West, Book 1)

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Chapter 6. Beyond Strength.

It requires less character to discover the faults of others than is does to tolerate them.--J. Petit Senn

Chapter 6.

Beyond Strength.

"We'll settle here for the night," Jake stated, pulling the horses to a stop.

"Out here?" Dannie looked around at the barren landscape, with bushes and cacti dotting here and there.

"Yup, this here is a good spot. I warned ya, Miss Preston, it ain't no easy road and the conditions are gonna to be tough."

"Oh well, I guess I'll just have to get used to it," Dannie primly said and hopped down from the wagon.

"Right, you settle down on that end of the wagon and I'll settle down on this end and we'll put the fire between us."

"Is there anything you want me to do?"

Jake frowned at her. "Stay out of my way and stay out of trouble."

Dannie rolled her eyes and put her hands on her hips. "What I meant was is there any way I can help you set up camp.

"Set up your half of the camp, don't even come near the horses or me."

"As you wish," Dannie retorted. Why did he have to be so impudent? She stomped off loudly to get her displeasure across. Jake scowled at her behind her back. Apart from being annoying she was loud, honestly, as far as females went, Miss Preston was probably as terrible as they got. She wasn't even trying to make herself likeable.

Jake got busy rubbing the horses down, after which he unloaded the wagon and got a fire going. "So, what was it that Mrs. Callaway gave to you?" He called to Dannie, who was sitting staring into the fire.

For a reply, Dannie got up and fetched the basket. Jake motioned for her to set it on the ground. Dannie shook her head stubbornly. She didn't want their clean food on the dirty, dusty earth.

"I don't got nothing clean to put it on," Jake replied to her unspoken question. Dannie sighed and set the basket on the ground.

While Dannie was exploring the food Mrs. Callaway had packed for them, Jake put the coffee pot over the fire and proceeded to brew some coffee. Once it was ready he poured a cup and handed it to Dannie. She took it with a nod of thanks. Pouring himself a cup, Jake settled down opposite Dannie and was about to take a sip when Dannie's voice arrested him.

"Haven't you forgotten to thank the Lord for the food?"

Jake lifted his head and looked at her. "Well fine, but you do the prayin' since it was your idea."

Dannie felt like she would explode, but forced herself to remain calm. "For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly grateful, Amen," She prayed.

"Amen," Jake grunted then dove into his food. Dannie took a sip of her coffee and spit it out in disgust.

"What is this?" She asked, sputtering at the horrible taste in her mouth.

"Coffee, duh."

"This is not coffee," Dannie argued, looking at the dark contents of her cup with suspicion.

"Not like you would know, all you folks in England drink tea."

"That is entirely untrue," Dannie fired back. "My father was a great lover of coffee and drank it regularly, so I know what real coffee is supposed to taste like."

"Well this is prairie coffee an' if you don't like it then don't drink it!" Two more days, he would be stuck with her for two more days!

"Thank you very much, I won't," Dannie retorted and poured the contents of her cup onto the ground. "Do you have any tea?"

"Can't stand that stuff, so the answer is no."

"No tea?" Dannie couldn't believe it.

"If you so wanted tea, Miss Preston," Jake shot at her, his patience having reached its limit, "then you really should have just remained in England, where you belong, not out here." With those words Jake turned away a little, focusing his full attention on his meal. Dannie let out a sigh and slowly began picking at her food. It sure was getting chilly. She shivered a little as the wind blew about her.

"Who would have thought that it could get so cold," she softly said. "It was searing heat just a few hours ago."

"Yeah, well," Jake let out a low chuckle, "welcome to Arizona."

Dannie glanced up from her food to look him square in the face. "That has got to be the first pleasant thing you've said to me since the moment we met."

"I can't say you've been a piece of cake either," Jake retorted in his defense. There was a bit pause as the two of them sat staring into the fire. At last Jake broke the silence with a question. "Whatcha Pa do for a livin'?"

"What makes you suddenly so interested?" Dannie's voice was cold.

"Gotta kill the time somehow," Jake shrugged, not really sure why he was interested to know anything about Miss Preston. Maybe it was because she was doing a great job at breaking every box he'd placed women in and he wanted to figure out why. Maybe it was because it wasn't every day English ladies appeared and demanded to be taken to the Circle 4. Whatever the reason, Jake figured there wasn't any harm in getting to know his unwanted traveling companion a little better.

"My father was a vicar in the Church of England." Dannie told him, a faraway look appearing in her eyes as she thought of her parents.

"Oh, so you're a preacher's kid?" There was something of a smirk on Jake's face.

"A vicar's daughter," Dannie corrected, knitting her eyebrows together. "And there is no need to poke fun at that! To serve God is the most honorable calling in the world, and there are few who are willing to heed it. How about you, what of your family?"

"Oh, there ain't much to say about them. Owned a farm down in Texas, which is run now by my younger brother, but I don't communicate with them."

"Why not?"

"Just because," Jake barked, looking away.

"Tell me, Mr. Wade, are you always this rude?" Dannie's voice was a little annoyed.

Jake turned his gaze back to Dannie. "No, it's just I don't like talkin' about my personal life and when you women pry and pry it makes me mad. I know better than to trust you type."

"My type?" Dannie narrowed her eyes. "My type as in 'fine lady' type?"

"I'm speaking collectively of women here, be they fine ladies or ignorant maids."

"What is it, Mr. Wade, that makes you hate women so?"

"A great many things. I've known a good many women in my life. I'm not just speaking off the top of my head; this is the voice of experience. I've had a lot of unpleasant dealings with women and I know enough to keep me as far away from you and yours as possible."

"Is that so?" Dannie cynically asked, cocking her head to one side.

"And don't you go givin' me that look, I know what I am talking about. Your race is a dangerous and deceiving one. Okay, I'll even admit that I am human, and I've fallen for a pretty girl several times, a man can't help himself after all. But any lover I ever had turned around and ne're crucified me, every single one of them! Now what does that tell you?"

"That you, Mr. Wade, have a very bad taste in women!"

"Excuse me?" It was Jake's turn to get defensive.

"What else I am I supposed to think? Obviously you have a weakness for the wrong kinds of women. My advice to you, sir, is learn to tell the difference between a good woman and a bad one before jumping to conclusions. You can't judge an entire crop just because you happened to find a few rotten apples. If I were to think like you, I'd assume all you cowboys were arrogant, rude, and absolute beasts of men. Fortunately for all the rest of you kind, I have a different way of thinking, and I am not going to let one obnoxious cowboy spoil my good opinion of them."

Dannie's rebuke was more than Jake could take, but he fought to keep his cool. "Miss Preston, you're tryin' my patience. I know what I am talkin' about, trust me on that fact."

"I don't think I want to trust a man whose only ability around women is to get himself crucified by them," Dannie smugly answered.

"Now that is just being plain rude!" Jake was very offended by her statement.

"Oh, he's finally getting a taste of his own medicine," Dannie laughed. "Maybe now you'll stop handing it out when it is not wanted."

Jake growled under his breath and finished the last of his meal. "You seem to be doing a fine job so far in trustin' me," he pointed out to her once he was through chewing. "You came out here in the middle of nowhere with a man you didn't know, and you didn't even seem worried that I might hurt you."

"I was worried," Dannie pointed out, "I was just good at hiding it. Besides, you came well recommended."

"By a man you just met," Jake laughed. "Ever think that Abner might have been pullin' your leg as well."

Dannie felt her face going hot. "I had my doubts, but I was watching you with the horses something told me you weren't the kind of man who would hurt a woman."

Jake shook his head, "I've seen many a bad man handle a horse with care. Miss Preston, you are very naïve, poetic, but naïve."

Dannie no longer had the strength to argue with him. "If you say so," she mumbled and putting her plate next to the fire, walked off to her little bed roll. Of course she wouldn't undress, not with Jake sleeping right across her. Taking off her hat, Dannie let her long black hair loose and brushed out the dusty locks, after which she braided them into a single braid. Wiping the dust again from her face, she settled down on the lumpy and uncomfortable bedroll. Looking upward, she gazed at the dark sky dotted with stars. She had never slept outside before, in fact, she had never done any of what she was doing now before. Jake was busy putting things away and making sure the horses were settling down. He didn't even give a single glance in her direction. That was probably a good thing, it would have been terribly improper if he had been eyeing her, but somehow with him not paying any attention to her made Dannie feel so alone. For the first time since she left England, Dannie found herself feeling so very, very homesick. Before, with the cares always burdening her mind, she had never had time to stop and remember the way things had been before. Now it all came flooding to her; her little cottage back in England, her dear parents sitting on the porch, drinking lemonade and eating cake, Bettie and Matilda, their cook and maid, walking about here and there, tending to things. Dannie thought of Meg, who would come over every Sunday for tea, of the church her father had been vicar of, and the people that she had grown up with. Of course, her thoughts couldn't help turning to Paul, of when she had first met him, of the time he had proposed to her. Where was that all now? It was gone,evaporated into thin air and here she was, alone, without family, friend or protector, out in the middle of nowhere with some stranger who didn't like her and whom she didn't like. Despite herself, Dannie felt the tears slowly beginning to form in her eyes, and trickle down her cheeks.

Jake had just settling down when he thought he heard muffled noises coming from the other side of the fire. "No," he thought to himself, "she's cryin'!" Of course she would cry, all women cry, but it struck Jake as strange. Dannie had been so headstrong, determined, and sassy, it hadn't occurred to him that she even knew how to cry.

"Are you cryin', Miss?" He called over.

"Maybe I am," Dannie replied in a tear filled voice.

"What on earth are you cryin' about?"

Dannie lifted her head a little. Jake expected her to glare at him, same way she had been doing just about the entire trip, but her eyes were only filled with tears and her voice was subdued. "You think of it, Mr. Wade, I'm out here, all alone, without any friends or family. I don't know where I'm going or what exactly I'm doing. Isn't it natural that I should cry? And since you claim to know so much about women, this really shouldn't come to you as a surprise." With those words she rolled over and snuggled under her blanket.

"Maybe," Jake shrugged, "but I guess it never occurred to me that you would be the cryin' type. You didn't really strike me as a weak woman who would sob over stuff."

"You know, Mr. Wade," Dannie's voice had gotten soft and quiet, "some people don't cry because they are weak, but because they have been strong for far too long."

Silence ensued and Jake went to sleep pondering Dannie's words

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