Where My Heart Belongs

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Thomas had avoided Jeannie’s company ever since she had arrived back the night before and had disappeared early in the morning before she had time to get out of bed.
Lorna and Joseph tried to keep out of their argument but strongly felt that Thomas had overreacted. They fine well knew that their interference would only be the cause of more tension.
The hustle and bustle at the fair had been a welcome distraction for Jeannie who quickly had her hands full with tourist from all over the county. She mainly stayed in the market square at the park from where the track set off to take bookings and talked about the ranches’ history for those interested. She got right into the swing of things and was confident enough to let the track set off without her.
At about mid-morning Bradley appeared with Sam to Jeannie’s surprise in formal clothing.
“Aren’t you heading back today?” Jeannie greeted the couple as they stopped by.
Bradley shook his head as he pointed over his shoulder.
“Sam convinced me to stay. She couldn’t stop talking about the horses.”
Sam demonstrative caressed Bradley’s waist as she joined them as to outline that they were now an item.
While Sam went to the little table to put her name down Jeannie noticed Alexander in the crowd. His tall figure was standing proud above the day-trippers. Carefully she got on her tiptoes to make herself seen but before she was able to raise a hand, a dark haired young woman suddenly appeared next to Alex who cheerfully grabbed him by the arm. A sharp pain grounded her instantly and for a moment wanted to make unseen what her eyes had forced her to witness. Samantha who was standing with the horses was fully in her element and oblivious of what was going on behind her.
Following her gaze, Bradley could only imagine what had caused Jeannie’s distress and stepped next to her.
“You know that starring at them won’t change anything unless you are going over there right now.”
With his finger Bradley tapped forceful on Jeannie’s shoulder to encourage her.
Jeannie vigorously shook her head in denial.
“Don’t be ridiculous Bradley. Why would you say that?”
Trying to avoid a further conversation with her ex about her heart affairs Jennie tried to make herself useful and watered the horses. The sun wasn’t at its highest peak but was already brutally burning down on them.
Bradley wasn’t giving up that easily though.
“Let’s state some facts Jeannie. One moment you are perfectly happy. Then you see that person over there, well, everyone can. How tall is he? 6”4? You try to make yourself seen. Enter scene mysterious lady, your mood changes. I don’t have to be a wizard to understand what is going on here. Is he a friend? Or a friend?”
“He’s a friend of my father’s.” Why did she even interact with Bradley?
Bradley pointed inquisitive at Jeannie.
“Aha! There we go. Let us gather some more facts. During the past few days you have had some close dealings?”
Angered Jeannie turned away but Bradley wouldn’t let go.
“Come on, that is fun”
“For you maybe Bradley” Jeannie snarled back.
“Okay, okay. Mea culpa. I am sorry Jeannie. I know that is none of my business. I did not want to tread on your feet.”
Jeannie’s hands were shaking. The stress of the past week had taken its toll and all she wanted was a moment to breath, a moment just to her own, where she had not to fear to hurt someone or to be broken herself.
With the back of her palm Jeannie wiped forcefully tears from her eyes and took a big sip out of her water bottle.
Ashamed for having caused her distress, Bradley came closer and sat down on the table Jeannie was standing next to.
“There is more than just a fleeting encounter with tall dark and handsome is there? Come, now is the time, spit it out. That is not like you to lose your cool admits an abundance of strangers.”
Jeannie closed her eyes and held her face against the warming sun. Bliss. How easy it could be.
As she opened her eyes again Bradley sat patiently on his spot and gave Jeannie all the time she needed. Taking a deep breath she leaned against the table.
“Where do I start” Jeannie questioned herself. Carefully Jeannie steered around what Bradley needed to hear. Now was not the time to make useless accusation and bringing up their past. That ship had sailed the other day at Carrie’s. To her own surprise, Jeannie managed not to burst in to tears when she reached the part with her and Tom falling out and was even more taken aback how intently Bradley was listening to her problems. There was always a first.
After she had finished Bradley paused for a long while before he recited.
“You have no money. The bank is at your fathers’ heels and wants to sell on, all the while you and that architect came up with this idea? – But you have no penny to do that?”
“Well, that’s the extreme short version but, yes.”
Bradley rubbed the corner of both his eyes with his right hand as he laughed at Jeannie.
“Oh Jeannie. I’m not ridiculing your idea, but my gosh, when you dream you really dream big.”
Jeannie had known that the Guest House was more a last straw than a profitable idea and already regretted that she had confided in Brad.
“Actually,” Bradley paused a moment.
“Do you remember a while ago, we advertised for this co-op in Jersey?”
Jeannie thoughtfully squinted her eyes as she tried hard to remember which corporation he was talking about until a it dawned on her.
“The CEO is an old family friend. I cannot promise you anything but I will get in touch with them. How long do I have?”
Jeannie’s heart jumped with excitement and tried hard not to do the same. Quickly she restrained herself as she cleared her throat.
“Well, yesterday?”
Bradley understood and reassuringly laid his hand on her shoulder.
“As I said, I cannot promise you anything. But fact remains, I owe you, big time. Without you we wouldn’t be half as successful as we are now. I’ll do my best”
Jeannie couldn’t believe her luck. She was under no illusion. Them being interested in funding a Guest House that hadn’t even been built yet stood as high a chance as them winning the lottery this weekend. But at least was a light finally lit at the end of the tunnel. That was more than Jeannie could have hoped for.
“Thank you so much. I am lost for words.”
Bradley kindly waved with one hand as to shove her words aside.
“Wait with the thank yous’ until we have more to be thankful for. I haven’t done anything yet.”
Bradley was so wrong. He had given her something Jeannie felt she had lost forever, a glimmer of hope. Always leave a door ajar- where did she hear that before?
Her joy was so overwhelming that she almost had forgotten about the strange woman that Alex had shown around but was ever so brutally reminded that she existed when she suddenly appeared in front of her stroking Napoleon, which seemed an insult in itself! First she dared to publically hug Alex and now her horse?!
Hastily Jeannie scanned the surroundings but was unable to find Alexander anywhere. And if this wasn’t enough were all her volunteers busy with other people. Maybe if she would wait for a while this woman would just disappear again. Jeannie hadn’t finished her thought when the dark haired woman directed her attention straight to Jeannie as if she had read her mind and sardonically done the exact opposite of what Jeannie so faithfully had prayed for.
She was taller than her, almost by a head and caused a terrible sense of insecurity which she tried to hide by the best of her abilities. Her friendly demeanour had the reversed effect on her jealousy and made her feel guilty that she wanted to avoid her. Yes, even hate her.
But there was something about her that made it almost impossible not to like her with a kind of familiarity surrounding her.
Her lips smiled as bright as her eyes when she stretched out a hand to introduce herself.
“Hi, Yvette Gruber! But you can call me Yvi. Are you in charge here?” Her over-excitement made it hard to believe that an adult was standing in front of Jeannie, but who was she to talk at the moment.
Giving her a chance they briefly shook hands.
“I am. I’m Jeannie Leeland. How can I help.”
After the usual formalities Yvi signed up for a ride out.
Jeannie had so badly hoped she could avoid having to go out with her group but luck was not on her side. One of the volunteers happened to be the sound engineer for the band and Tanner had his mind set in stone that sound check had to be done at 1pm. No sooner or later. So Jeannie had no other option than to do it herself.
When she mounted Napoleon she could see Alexander waving from a distance but this gesture had not been intended for her. It was Yvi waving excitedly back at him. Briskly Jeannie made Napoleon to canter up ahead the path and lead the party of about 10 people on. Samantha, who was part of them, rode next to Jeannie who for the first time ever was glad about her company. After the first ten minutes Jeannie turned on her saddle to check if the party was okay with the pace and saw Yvi closing in to them.
She was confident enough on horseback but clearly was not used to it.
Soon they would have to engage in a conversation and all of Jeannie’s senses wanted to avoid any further contact.
“You enjoying it?” Jeannie asked respectful. Keep it professional Leeland, she told herself.
“It’s wonderful. I really enjoy it! It has been a while since I was on the back of a horse though” Yvi laughed in an adorable childish way.
“Great! If you two don’t mind I have to go ahead a little just to make clear that the path is still fine” Jeannie lied through gritted teeth. She needed time for herself.
As she trotted ahead she could her snippets of the conversation echoing around the corner.
Here for a visit, missed his cheeky face. Alex is the greatest.
That was it she had enough. Jeannie was glad when she had brought some distance between them and was out of earshot.
She felt sick by the time they had reached turning point. If she could she would have left them on their own devises and had stayed at the farm but she needed to escort them back. Going downhill the horses quickened their strides to Jeannie’s content and as soon as they had reached the town again handed over to Marcus one of the ranch workers and gave him a lame excuse that she was needed at home.
Quickly she said her goodbyes to the party and hurried with Napoleon back to the ranch. As she made Napoleon race along the woodland path the wind stung in her already beaten eyes.

By the time the party had made their way towards the woodlands some 30 minutes earlier, Bradley wandered with punch in his hand along the stalls towards Alex who had just waved at Yvi.
As if it were the most natural thing to do Bradley stopped next to Alex who recognized him instantly.
Like Jeannie, Alex felt uncomfortable to talk to Bradley but did not want to seem disrespectful.
“Bradley Hoffman” he introduced himself “You must be the architect”
Alexander’s astonishment was a mixture of discontent and spite as they shook hands. Bradley’s felt weak and clammy and Alex could not help himself but gripped it tighter than he usually would have done.
Fighting against the urge to moan Bradley faked a laugh until Alex let go of him.
The upbeat buzz of the fair surrounded the taciturn men in a sarcastic undertone. Both with their view focused on the riders that were slowly disappearing in the distance and sipping simultaneously on their punch Alex waited for his opponent to mix with the crowds but gave no indication of doing so. Instead this peacock grinned over his cup observing Alexander more than the stalls around them.
This continued for some time as a group of youngsters cheerfully raced past them and almost knocked Brad’s drink out his hand as one of them misjudged the space between him and the booth he was leaning against.
Alex almost chocked on his drink as the sight of Bradley’s desperate try to wipe punch of his expensive jumper caused way too much pleasure. He needed to find the kid and thank him later.
“Ha, very funny” Brad muffled as he put his cup down on the counter of the stall.
“Sorry” Alex giggled full with Schadenfreude and was not even ashamed that it took a while to restrain himself again.
“A reason I try to avoid children. They are loud, touch everything with their dirty sticky fingers” with a put on shudder Brad turned around to grab his cup again as angered eyes stared at him from behind the stall. The Lady who was in charge of the candy shop was also the boys’ mother who had heard each word. Before she had the chance to say something, Alexander lead Bradley along the fair to avoid further tension.
“What’s the deal with people here?” Brad stated more to himself as he tried to change subject.
“Must be a different experience to work in a place like this isn’t it? All very, cosy.”
“I like it” Alex sharply replied, wondering where this conversation would lead to.
“Great as well that your firm can accommodate this.”
Dazed, Alex walked next to Bradley, who noticed his bewilderment.
“Google” Brad exclaimed and held up his cell. “I like to know with whom I am dealing with. Very impressive read by the way. Very prestigious firm as well. I know one of the partners pretty well.”
Why didn’t that surprise Alex?
“Well, I don’t rely on the web to get to know someone” Alex replied through gritted teeth, greeting friends as he walked along.
“I did not want to intrude. It makes things a lot easier though. A short cut to avoid all this small talk nonsense.”
Oh the irony, Alex thought as he checked the time. The riders had just been away for five minutes and he already felt as if he’d been stuck with Bradley for hours.
“Let me come straight to the point. As I hear we have a mutual friend. Jeannie Leeland?”
Bradley waited on a reaction of Alex but his controlled composure didn’t let any emotion slip. On the inside however Alex wanted to grab Brad and push him down to the ground. All he could see was how Bradley had held Jeannie the night before and he stared to wonder if he took pleasure in causing so much distress to everyone around him.
With a grunt Alex confirmed his assumption.
Bradley waited in vain for further input. He hadn’t come across such stubbornness and was intrigued by this challenge.
Still strolling along the busy streets, Bradley waited for a few moments and sipped again on his drink.
“It is such a shame what she has do deal with. I just wanted to thank you for your support.”
Alex did not expect this sort of kindness of his opponent and stopped in his tracks.
“I don’t follow? What have I done?”
“Humble as well, I start to understand why Jean is drawn towards you”
Bradley was proud with himself. Catch and release. It never failed. Instead of waiting for Alex, Bradley continued his stroll along the crowd, stopping at a stall that was selling custom jewellery and flicked absentminded through the display.
Alex closed in, his eyes sternly affixed on Bradley as his patience was tested. So many questions had been raised in a fraction of time and Alex hated how much he depended at this moment on the one person he had tried to avoid ever since he had entered Alex’s sheltered home.
Bradley nestled a delicate red necklace between his fingers as he turned around.
“You have to keep the ladies happy” Brad proclaimed with his unpleasant smile as he handed the necklace over to pay for it.
“Sure Samantha will appreciate it” Brad said casually. Before he pocketed it he carefully studied Alex. Something seemed to have shifted in his affliction and he was eager to find out why.
“Girlfriends, they always are so needy of affection. But whom am I telling that” Bradley fished further.
“Couldn’t tell you. The joys of a solitary life.”
Proceeding their walk the two men wandered over to the BBQ that had been strategically been positioned close to the Town Hall where the bar was erected.
They both had worked up an appetite and ordered burgers which Bradley insisted in paying for and ate quietly in the shelter of the old oak tree. The sun was shining from a deep blue sky and had exhausted them both more than anticipated.
Alex felt more content around Bradley as they quietly chewed and was content enough to engage in a conversation.
“So, Jeannie has spoken to you about the commotion at the ranch?” he wanted to know.
Casually Brad wiped some sauce of his chin before he replied.
“She did. She was pretty distraught about it all. But I must admit, she might be on to something. This idea with the Guest House sounds actually rather promising.”
Alexander hid his face in his hands for a brief moment before he turned to Bradley.
“It all looks great on paper but there are no funds Bradley. How can you encourage that?”
“Isn’t that what you also did? The blue prints? I mean, you have no leg to stand on here man. Or why did you spend hours of your time to do that? Looking at your resume your hours are paid rather generously, if I may say that. Na, I am sure there is a way to get through the financial aspects. Might look all a little tangled up at the moment, but I have an idea. And, if I might say, YOU come in rather handy.”
Bradley had Alex’s full attention. Pleased that his bait was so wilfully taken Bradley leaned in closer and unfolded his plan of action. Talking business was his forte and knew how to convince even the greatest doubter and he was pleased how willingly Alexander was listening to his words. They both did not even notice the party returning and spent most of the afternoon discussing their next steps.
It was Samantha who found them still seated underneath the tree entangled in what she only could recall as a heated discussion. The heat had made her light headed and a slight sunburn had crawled up her arms which she admittedly welcomed. As she greeted them Alex and Bradley got up to their feet. Alex shook his legs after the long wait sitting in the grass had made them feel slightly numb. He was scanning the crowds for Jeannie as he felt the desperate urge to talk to her. Sam, who thought he was looking for Yvi pointed him in to her direction and instantly saw the disappointment on his face.
Dodging the question he excused himself and zigzagged slowly through the crowd towards Yvi. He felt more confident asking her if she had seen Jeannie around as it still felt too queer to talk Bradley about her with.
Setback that not even Yvi had an idea of her whereabouts Alex could only hope to see her later. His obligations, with Yvi being there for a visit, did not allow him to leave her on her own accounts. She had come all the way just to see him and had to leave in a few days again. So he had no choice than to wait.
With Yvi hooking her arm into his he checked the crowd once more in hope to spy Jeannie amongst the crowd but was left discontented.

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