DARING DECEPTION'S DAEMONS, Book Two in Hidden Danger Beyond Fantasy series

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Chapter 8

Barn Dance Trance

Tom came for me at six that evening. I’d ordered a pie from a local bakery and had the box wrapped with a pretty ribbon for the pie supper. I wore a pair of denims and a green blouse. Figuring my professional skirts and heels would not be appropriate, I found a pair of white cowgirl boots at a resale shop in the village. They looked brand new and fit me perfectly.

Tom introduced me to Sallie Taylor. She was probably in her late twenties, looking slender in long-legged black jeans. She wore a red-fringed cowgirl shirt belted at the low waist, and a black silk bandana tied at her throat. Her pale hair was cut in a stylish bob which accented her round face and rounder eyes. Cute gal, I thought, wondering how Dax would react. When he entered the lobby, he drew an open-mouthed stare from Sallie.

Apparently, Dax didn’t realize this was a double date, until I climbed into the front seat beside Tom, and the delighted Sallie took the seat beside him. He raised a quizzical brow at me.

I listened, amused as Sallie began gushing over Dax. “I’m so thrilled to meet you Mr. Larue. I’m your biggest fan, and I’ve watched your every TV special. And to think, you’re right here in Adelphia Valley! I couldn’t believe it when Sheriff Tom told me you’d be coming to Pete’s barn dance. I’ll be the envy of every woman there!” I turned to smile at her enthusiasm and Dax’s obvious discomfort.

“Not every woman,” Dax raised an accusing eyebrow toward me.

Sallie didn’t notice the look. “I’ve always wanted to ask you so many questions. Like when did you first know you were going to be a journalist?”

“The first time I heard the story of Humpty Dumpty’s great fall. I started an investigation to find out who pushed him off the wall.”

She giggled, unaware of the sarcasm in his polite tone. “From a very young age then?”

“Actually, I just read Humpty Dumpty for the first time a couple of years ago.”

“Oh, now you’re teasing me, Mr. Larue. But please, may I call you Dax?” She didn’t wait for a response. “I’ve heard that good writers come from parents who read to them when they were children. I’m guessing your parents read to you to foster and nurture your talent. Right?”

“Ummm. They read the usual bed time stories to me. Stephen King. Edgar Allen Poe. Tales From The Crypt.”

That answer went right over Sallie’s head. Apparently, she knew nothing about those authors of horror fiction.

“I knew it. Oh, it all sounds so warm and cozy. I can see you as a little boy sitting there with Allen Poe’s storybook on your knees. Please do tell me about your family.”

“It’s a typical American family. Absentee Mom, two step-sisters, five alcoholic ex-dads, an illegitimate nephew.”

I knew he was being sarcastic. Sallie did not.

“That sounds just like my family. I could write a book about them. Say, I don’t know much about writing, but my older sister keeps a journal. Does that count? She’s also very good at punctuality. She uses commas and question marks and everything, just like a real pro.”

Oops. Sallie probably did not make the honor roll in school. I grinned to myself, imagining Dax’s reaction.

She babbled on, “I’d really like to learn about how to become a writer myself. Course I don’t read a lot besides cook books. But I’d love to learn. Would you be willing to teach me?”

To his credit, Dax remained pleasant. “You start by reading, Miss Sallie. Reading a lot. Actually, you might learn something from Kaytie. She just finished a great article about the ghost of the Lafitte Hotel in New Orleans.”

“Oh really? How long was it?”

“About sixteen pages.”

I heard Sallie lower her voice and ask, “Is she a slow reader?”

I stifled a laugh. Glancing at the sheriff, I could see he shared my amusement.

“Actually, I’m a writer too.” I was unwilling to let Sallie blunder on.

“Yes of course. I was only kidding!” She managed a nervous giggle. “I bet you both make tons of money writing for those big Chicago magazines.”

“My name has never appeared on Forbes list of the world’s richest people, so I still go to work every morning.” There was just a hint of boredom in Dax’s voice.

“Me too. I work at the elementary school in the cafeteria. I just love kids. And I love to bake. I bring the sheriff a fresh pie every now and then. His favorite is coconut cream. Do you like pie? What’s your favorite?”

I could see a pie in the baking.

She didn’t wait for an answer. “Just so you know, the one I brought for the pie supper is in a red box. Red. To match my shirt.” Sallie was making sure he recognized it, so he could bid on her pie.

We pulled up at the barn. Trixie hadn’t exaggerated. Every car in the county was parked along both sides of the road and also on the large grassy meadow. I wondered if Alice would be there. She’d be heartbroken to see me walk in with Tom. I hoped she wouldn’t notice if we entered as a group.

She was the first person I saw in a row of smart-stepping line dancers, their boots stomping and scooting to the “Cotton Eyed Joe.” She looked stunning in jeans sparkling with rhinestones running from waist to hem down the side seams. A simple belt with a rhinestone buckle emphasized her narrow waist. Her blue-satin Western blouse was trimmed with silver fringe. She waved at us, headed our way, and grabbed Tom’s arm to pull him out on the dance floor. He had no time to come up with an excuse.

I waved at Zeke, who was talking with a plump young lady, her black hair tied in pink-ribboned pony tails. They looked more like pon pom balls of curls on either side of her head. The effect gave her a young, girlish appearance. Zeke grinned when he caught sight of me. I headed toward him.

“Hey there, my spelunking friend. Glad you could come to the barn dance.”

Dax arrived at my side and greeted Zeke with a handshake.

“Has the sheriff picked up Lesley yet?” Zeke wanted to know.

“I wish I could say yes to that question. I’d like to get my hands on the guy.” Dax’s eyes narrowed.

“He’s probably hiding out in the hills somewhere. Lesley knows places that nobody knows. Maybe he’s staying in that cave that Kaytie found. Although the minute he discovers somebody has been there, he’ll likely high tail it to some other hole.”

Zeke’s guess was logical.

“I thought of that too, Zeke. I’d like to show the sheriff where the cave is though, just in case.”

“We will sure enough. We’ll go up there first thing in the morning. The creeks have run down already. It may be a little rough and muddy in spots, but we’ll take the Jeep. That thing will wade through sludge, jump rocks, and probably even climb a tree if I ask it to.”

We visited a few more minutes, until Zeke decided to rejoin the girl with the pon pom hair. I watched her pull him out onto the dance floor. Nobody would have expected this gentle giant to dance with such light-footed grace. He was a real delight to watch, like one of those elegant football athletes you might have seen on Dancing with the Stars.

Fiddlers, banjo, guitar players, and a drummer stood on a makeshift stage of stacked hay bales. I found myself clapping and tapping my toes in time with the music.

Depending on their sizes, Adelphia Valley women looked delightful or dumpy, most in jeans and bright blouses—the standard costume for the night. Several female members of the local square-dance club wore colorful dresses, while their partners sported matching shirts and hats. The older gents covered potbellies with overalls and plaid shirts, and the younger guys looked dashing in denim, western belts and open collared shirts. Naturally, the barn dance demanded cowboy boots. I glanced at the toes of my new white boots and felt pleased to have found such a bargain.

Tall Sheriff Tom looked officially handsome in his uniform. And Dax? In dark jeans and a red pullover, he was a magnet for every female eye. If I didn’t know better, I’d have assumed he and Sallie chose their red and black colors deliberately. They looked like a matched pair of salt and pepper shakers. Heads turned and eyes admired as they walked by. Both men and women stared at Dax—the men with curious envy and the women with admiration.

Merriment and music. Laughing couples moving in rhythmic patterns. The fun was infectious. I found myself wanting to dance. The barn’s wooden floor literally bounced under boots stomping to the lively music.

What a colorful contrast to the shadowed halls of the abbey and its haunting stories. Sallie grabbed her chance to escort Dax onto the floor again, leaving me to watch from the sidelines. Someone passed me a cup of hot cider. The taste far surpassed any store-bought cider I’d ever sampled. There’s a lot to be said for home-grown produce.

Dax surprised me by his skill on the dance floor. He was a natural, stepping and moving with fluid grace, even adding a flourish of extra steps without missing a beat. The man was all the more attractive because of his complete lack of self-awareness. Not a conceited bone in his body, even though he had every right to be. That impressed me.

Sheriff Tom looked less comfortable dancing with Alice, but he executed the basic steps without missing a beat. I watched them with pleasure.

When the dance was over, Tom and Dax both walked straight to me, and reached for my hands simultaneously as the band struck up a waltz. Glancing from one to the other, I shrugged, “What am I to do?”

“We’ll flip a coin.” Tom pulled one out of a pocket.

Dax called it and waltzed me away. His arm at my waist guided me firmly across the floor.

“I wouldn’t have guessed you could waltz so smoothly.”

“There are lots of things you don’t know about me.”

I really don’t know much about you at all besides you’re gorgeous and witty and your kiss left me breathless, I thought as I looked up into his dark eyes. “Tell me.”

“Okay. I like dogs, but I live with a cat. I don’t like anchovies. I like it that green hair doesn’t grow on my chest. I used to worry about that a lot when I was a kid, but it hasn’t happened. Not yet anyway.”

He made me laugh. “You’re right. I never knew any of these revealing character traits about you.”

“Oh, you want character. Let’s see. I’m honest. I might exaggerate a little now and then, but all writers do. I’m a man of my word. If I make a promise, I always keep it.”

His midnight eyes flashed from pretended sagacity to sincerity. “And you probably don’t know that I thank God every morning when I wake up to a day with you in it.”

Oh no you don’t! You aren’t going to charm me with your talk of God, just because you know my stand.

I looked away and changed the subject. “Let’s talk about your cat. I’d never have figured you for a feline-fancier. What’s her name?”

“Tom.”

“You named your cat Tom? How original.”

“Not original at all, but appropriate. You seem to like the name, Tom.” He emphasized the words like and Tom.

A flash of jealousy in his eyes?

“My Tom car is a scrapper. A big, yellow-striped guy with one ear chewed half off. He showed up on my door step one night in a rain storm. I let him in, and he’s been there ever since. It seems Toms have a way of intruding in my life.”

The double entendre in his words did not escape me.

“Maybe you should have named him Nevermore. That seems to fit the scenario you’re describing. Were you pondering, weak and weary over a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore?”

“Not exactly forgotten lore. I was pondering over the mysterious, green eyes I see before me at this moment. And I must admit, they do make me weak, though I could never grow weary of gazing at them.”

“Umm, so let’s talk about green hair on your chest. You say it’s not there yet, but I suppose there’s always a chance it could appear. After all, you did get a dose of voodoo poison in your veins. Who knows what the after-effects of that could be?”

“I think the voodoo poison is you. You’re in my veins Kaytie. Surely you know that by now.”

“Dax, don’t—”

“What do you want me to do? Stand on my head to show you that I’m sincere?”

“Yes. I’d like that. Stand on your head.” I blurted without thinking of the consequences. I merely intended to divert the direction of the conversation.

To my uncomfortable surprise, Dax released me and dropped to the floor. The next instant he was standing on his head, his handsome face grinning up at me from where his toes should have been.

“Here I am standing on my head, lovely lady. Your wish is my command.”

Amused couples began waltzing in a tight circle around us, curious to see what the handsome stranger in their midst was up to. Maybe they thought he was about to attempt a break-dancing, head-spin move, which of course would be out of place during a waltz.

“Dax, get up from there. You’re making a spectacle of yourself.”

“Not until you promise to give me a chance. I’ll even settle for half a chance. I promise I’ll go to church and search out the things you’ve been talking about.”

“Get up right now, or I’m leaving.”

“Where would you go? We came with the sheriff.” His eyes sparked with irritation.

“I’ll ask him to drive me back to the abbey.”

“In that case, I’m up.” Dax leaped to his feet and wrapped his arm around my waist once more, waltzing me across the floor. The dancers parted around us, keeping their eyes peeled to see what he was going to do next.

“Everyone’s looking at us.” I expected him to feel some embarrassment.

“Fine, let them look. Why shouldn’t they? You’re the most beautiful woman in the place, and I’m the luckiest guy to have you as my partner.”

He pulled me close and sang softly along with the music. “Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?” His warm breath tickled my ear and stirred unwanted feelings. I drew back and stared up at him. “You have a nice voice. Maybe you should go sing a few songs with the band.” I thought he’d get the hint that I was ready to leave the dance floor.

“Your wish is my command.” He moved us toward the makeshift stage.

“Now wait a minute. I was kidding.”

Too late. We arrived at the hay-bale stage, and Dax hopped up to the microphone, nudging the vocalist aside.

“Could I have this dance . . .” he sang in a surprisingly good voice, staring straight at me. He had not the least shred of self-consciousness. Instead he was gracefully unabashed by his performance. The crowd took note and watched him appreciatively.

The fiddler gestured to the musicians, who obligingly played three more choruses to accommodate the new singer. I was relieved when the music ended. Dax received a huge round of applause, and the band invited him to sing another song with them anytime.

He could sing like a star. He could dance like a pro. He was good at gymnastics. What would he do next? I had no idea. That unnerved me.

We threaded our way back to Tom and Sallie. Alice had latched onto Tom’s arm and was asking for another dance. Sallie immediately commandeered Dax, dragging him out to the floor. Evidently, they had not seen his headstand trick from their vantage point, or surely one of them would have commented.

An auctioneer stood beside a countertop where the decorated pie boxes sat lined up in a long row, their colorful bows and ribbons beckoning gaily. When the music ended he took a microphone in hand, leaped up on the counter and announced the first pie for sale. Enthusiastic bidding began.

Soon the pie was “sold for eight dollars to Elmer Kinney!” The auctioneer lifted the box and peered underneath it to find the owner’s name. “Elmer, you may eat your pie with Miss Ellen Jantzen right after the auction.”

In a corner of the room, Ellen Jantzen blushed and cast bright eyes at the crowd, searching for Elmer. He waved at her with a wink and a promise.

The auction continued in that manner until my pie was one of the few remaining left on the table. When the auctioneer finally lifted it and opened the bid, Sheriff Tom called out, “Fifty dollars.”

A collective gasp rose from the floor. Nobody had opened with a bid that high all evening.

“Sixty!” Dax raised the bid.

“Seventy.” the sheriff countered without hesitation. An audible wave of oh’s and ah’s ran through the crowd.

Alice and Sallie turned their eyes toward me with an equal amount of surprise and envy. I tried not to notice.

“Eighty dollars.” Dax raised the bid.

“Ninety.” Tom upped it again.

All eyes in the room were on the two dueling bidders and me. The crowd was enjoying it. All except the two women standing beside me. Both Alice and Sallie had blank expressions.

Dax nodded toward Tom with slight grin. I thought it was over. Instead Dax raised his bid.

“Two hundred dollars.”

The excited auctioneer slapped his leg in excitement. “Two hundred dollars for this fine pie! Who’ll give me three?”

Tom held up his hand. “Three hundred.”

Young Alice turned toward me, a stunned look on her pretty face. “He must really like you!”

“He’s just upping the bid because he knows the money is going to help build a new school house.” I hoped to persuade Alice that the bidding war was merely about raising funds.

Sallie looked downcast. She had hoped either Tom or Dax would bid on her pie. Indeed, both men had made the gesture and had run her pie’s price up to the highest bid of the evening, a whopping forty-five dollars, but they’d let Sallie’s pie go for a dollar more to the fiddle player. Now they were bidding fiercely against each other for my pie. This wouldn’t exactly endear me to Sallie. Or to Alice.

“Going once for three hundred. Going twice.”

“Five hundred dollars.” Everyone turned toward Dax with a sharp intake of breath.

“Five hundred! Who’ll give me six?” The auctioneer’s voice was high pitched.

The room remained silent, all eyes on Tom.

How many county sheriffs can afford a five-hundred-dollar pie?

Tom turned toward Dax and offered a small salute, acknowledging defeat.

Picking up on the silent surrender, the auctioneer declared, “Sold for five hundred to the gentleman in the red shirt!”

Dax approached the counter and paid for my bakery pie. Soon we were sitting at a long table with dozens of people enjoying their slices together. Tom sat at another table, and Sallie quickly brought him a slice of his favorite coconut cream. She was all smiles, apparently glad to see him free of my company for the moment.

“Dax, you shouldn’t have.” I began, at a loss for words.

“Nonsense. The money goes to a good cause. I drove by the old school building today. It’s really run down. Besides, sitting here with you is worth the price.”

He looked pleased with himself. His flamboyant gesture had let everyone in the room know, including the sheriff, exactly where his interest lay.

I’ve never considered myself a model of beauty. In high school I was actually kind of a wallflower. My classmates always tell me I was a late bloomer. They love to see reactions from the guys who ask, is this really you? at our reunions in Baton Rouge. All except for Jean Claude, who proposed to all the girls including me. I’d never had a steady boyfriend. Having two very attractive men showing pie-bidding interest in me was a new experience. Even more flattering than their combined attention at the café.

I cut into the pie and served Dax a slice.

“Apricot. My favorite.” He lifted a forkful to his mouth.

“You’ve probably broken poor Sallie’s heart.”

Dax glanced toward Sallie, three tables away, chatting animatedly with the sheriff. Tom, whose eyes were fixed elsewhere. He nodded absently from time to time. His posture indicated he was not listening in rapt fascination. The slump of his shoulders projected a certain ho-hum resignation.

“Broken hearted? Sallie looks fine to me. Not an ounce of heartbreak visible. But you’ve broken the sheriff’s heart. Oh well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. I told you we needed to let him know that you’re taken.”

I bristled at that. “I am not taken. You need to let go of that idea this minute, Mister.”

His eyes danced. “I’ve stood on my head for you. Sang for you. Won’t you consider giving a guy like me a ghost of a chance?”

“I shall most certainly consider it, as long as he isn’t too much like you.”

Dax continued to enjoy the pie, ignoring my cutting remark. Why was I always so abrasive whenever he tried to flirt? My attempts at discouraging his attention just seem to fuel his interest all the more.

“Ummmm. Try a bite. Delicious. You’re going to enjoy eating this with me.”

In a flash of irritation at his supreme confidence, I blurted, “I intend to fly back to Chicago as soon as possible. I’ll rent my own car.”

Even as I spoke, I realized he might be pleased with the idea, since I’d be leaving Tom’s territory—probably just what he wanted. Had I backed myself into a corner? Mom always says my mouth is my worst enemy. She’s always right.

“Are you thirsty?” I welcomed a change of subject.

“Oh yes, I’m incredibly thirsty, thank you.”

He motioned to a girl carrying cider on a tray.

I watched her reaction when she turned and looked at him. Her startled admiration brought to mind something my mom had once told me: “A man like that is too handsome for his own good. He’s going to have temptations—the kind that ordinary men won’t have. It takes a godly man with strong character to resist a pair of long lashes sweeping up at him over promising eyes, no matter how much he loves his wife.”

At the time I thought her words were merely an observation. Now I could see her warning. She was right. Dax would have those kinds of temptations. Especially in his line of work, traveling and meeting people all over the country. I wasn’t sure about the strength of his character. On the other hand, Sheriff Tom seemed as full of integrity as he was tall. The object of female attention in Adelphia Valley, he had not succumbed to his available and very willing admirers. Tom was a man who would be faithful. I could feel that in my very bones.

“Kaytie, I’d really like to get photos of the cow’s carcass tomorrow. Then we can head back to St. Louis together if, that’s agreeable with you.” He sounded very humble, and I regretted being so snippy.

The fiddler struck up a fast tune.

“Hey diddle diddle, the cat’s got the fiddle.”

Where did that come from? Was I acting the part of a silly school girl, or an old prude? I know that I can be both at times.

Feeling an uncharacteristic burst of energy, I tapped my boot toe and swayed. “We can’t find the cow. She jumped over the moon. And the dish ran away with the spoon!”

What am I talking about?

Suddenly I couldn’t shut up. I couldn’t be still. I decided to join the line dancers on the floor. Soon I was out-stomping, high stepping, and kicking with the best of them. Even “whoopee-ing” with complete abandon. My brain was a whirlpool of colors in motion.

I winked at Dax, kissed one old gent on the cheek, grabbed someone’s paper cup, and gulped another apple cider. I handed it back empty, still very thirsty.

Another part of me looked on at myself, astonished by my uncharacteristic behavior.

When the vocalist sang, “Crazy,” an old Willie Nelson tune made famous by Patsy Cline, I started to sing along, a little too loudly. I couldn’t seem to stop myself.

“May I?” Sheriff Tom leaned over my shoulder to ask for the dance.

I swept my lashes up at him, and we stepped out on the floor. “I’m sorry. I didn’t expect that bidding war.” Colors seemed to blur around me and I leaned against Tom, suddenly dizzy.

“You shouldn’t apologize. It’s for a great cause. The school board members are smiling on you with heartfelt gratitude.”

“I felt like a rabbit between two foxes during that bidding.” In reality, I was feeling a sudden extreme thirst.

“I’m glad you didn’t compare me to a wolf. That’s a reputation I’ve never wanted.”

“Oh no, Tom. I can see that. But you are a fox. Totally attractive.” I complimented him, thinking his rugged appeal was not because of any physical charm. He had an inner peace shining through. I could be mistaken. I hardly knew the man. But I liked what I had seen so far.

“Yes, you’re a fox. You tall, foxy, handsome—”

At that moment, his brown eyes began to float across his forehead. I watched, fascinated as they met in the middle and then parted again.

I heard his voice echoing as if coming from a distance.

“That’s me, Foxy Tom. But I have to admit I can’t compete with Larue in the good-looks department. However, you, my lady, are no rabbit. I see a certain fearlessness and determination. You’ve got spunk, and that lets you out of the frightened-rabbit category.”

I liked his assessment of my character and wanted to say so. But try as I might, the words wouldn’t come out. My brain re-wired my speech center, so I repeated the words I was hearing instead of thinking.

I sang with the vocalist. “I’m crazy for tryin, for lyin’—no, cryin’ and crazy for . . . Did you know you only have one eye?” I watched, fascinated as his eyes merged into one, making him look like a veritable cyclops.

The room started spinning. My feet refused to move. He supported my limp body, alarmed.

“Kaytie? What’s wrong? Are you ill?”

“Mmmm, dizzzzz,” I couldn’t get the words to form. My lips had gone numb.

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