She didn’t have a clue where she was heading in the dark. She just had to get away – get away from the lights and the music and everyone decked out in their finery - to where no one could see the darn streaks down her cheeks. She’d wiped at them twice with her hand but each time more darn tears took their place.
The extra flounces that’d taken all those blasted hours to sew onto her old petticoat kept getting caught around her ankles and she wished she’d never worn the stupid thing.
She hated them gals – hated the whole darn lot of ‘em…stuck up…two-faced…prissy mouthed…. Why that old goose of Aunt Bertha’s couldn’t spit an’ squawk as mean as any of them.
And to think she couldn’t wait to get here … had talked about nothing else all week. Nearly drove Pa to distraction with her plans and her worrying about what to wear and all the fine folk they’d be meeting and begging him to give the wagon a coat of paint so that it’d look respectable.
But we gotta make a good impression, Pa! This is our first invite! A reeel proper social outing!
She shoulda known.
Them dang Lancers. Who’d wanna meet ‘em anyways? She hoped they all choked on the dang punch – every last one of ‘em.
The tears had slowed some now and so did her feet and she dashed another hand across her face. That felt better. She never was one to cry too long. Not as if crying could change things any.
Away from the party there was no one watching so she pulled out the handkerchief she’d tucked into the front of her dress and then stopped walking for a moment while she blew on it hard.
When she raised her head again, the music was getting a bit fainter and so was the light. She looked around. It wasn’t quite dark yet, but almost. This far from the house the crickets were starting to drown out the music with their ‘ha ha, you ain’t never gonna catch me’ calls to the birds bedding down for the night in the trees. That’s what Pa told her they was saying anyway. It used to make her smile when she was a little ‘un.
She kept right on going past the line of wagons and buggies. Did her best to look like she knew where she was going when she saw the hand that was tending all the horses look at her. The only thing in front of her now was the barn - if you could call it just a barn - looked big enough to hold all the animals in the ark and then some! They sure had money, these Lancers. She’d never seen anything like it.
Anyways, the barn was just the place she needed right now… away from prying eyes…a barn and a bale of hay and maybe they had a kitten or two, somewhere. That’d do her.
The tearing sound just as she was about to walk through the single side door made her stop and curse and look down and stamp her foot. “Oh, damn it. Can anything else go wrong? Lordy me!”
Looking down she could see the edge of her dress caught on something near the doorway. She bent down and gave a bit of tug. It was too darned hard to see what was…
“Ow! Darn it! Now I got a splinter!”
She squinted at her hand.
“Need any help, ma’am?”
She peered into the barn. It was so dark in there, with just that bit of light from the open double doors, the only thing she could make out clearly was the edge of his hat – a cowboy hat at that. There was something about him that scared the daylights outta her – maybe the way he was so still.
“Oh! Oh… I don’t rightly know…I mean…I didn’t know there was folks in here.”
Those jingling spurs of his sounded real loud in the dark as he took a couple of steps closer.
“No other folk…just me.”
Even though his voice was soft enough to float right away on the evening breeze - that ‘just me’ didn’t sit too well with her. Not at all.
“Um…” She turned back to her skirt and gave it a harder tug. Thank the Lord - the darn thing pulled free this time. “No…I got it…um…thanks…thank you kindly…sir.” The words tumbled out more awkward than a pig in a parlour. Her hands wouldn’t keep still – kept smoothing down the folds of her skirt as her feet kept backing off from him. She’d only gone three steps when her head hit the barn wall with a jolt. Oh heck, now that was downright embarrassing. She bit her lip but didn’t rub her head. After all, a gal had her pride to consider!
She tried peering up at him to see if he’d noticed but it was so dark it was impossible to see his face let alone his expression. But was that a flash of white where his mouth oughtta be?
Well, at least he wasn’t coming any closer.
“You want me to take a look at that hand, ma’am?”
Oh, Lordy. “No…it’s…there ain’t nothin’ wrong…it’s just…”
And then those spurs were jingling in the dark again as he came towards her and Lordy me, there was no cause for him to be touchin’ her so what the heck was his hand doing reaching out like that? Oh, dear Lord…there was that cowboy tending the horses out there…should she cry for help? Would he hear? Was he close enough? She’d bite him! That’s what she’d do! As his hand got close she opened her mouth and…and his hand moved right on past her shoulder without touching her at all! Well, darn it, if he wasn’t reaching for a lantern hanging by her on the wall, just about level with her ear.
She was so relieved she just shut up and slumped against the wall like there wasn’t a bone left in her body.
She didn’t see where he got the match from but as she watched he struck it against his boot as cool as you please, then lifted the glass and the next moment the barn was flooded with a yellow light and she gasped. Lord, he was a Mexican…why she’d never spoken to one before. Not where she was from.
He must’ve heard that squeak of surprise because right then and there he looked straight at her, and she just knew she’d gone as red as … well, just as red as could be, but then he seemed to ignore it and just held the lantern up higher until the light washed over her as well. And then she felt like she was the one being stared at…or smirked at, she couldn’t decide which, because his hat sat so low on his head it was hard to see.
The light flickered a moment and he leaned his head to one side without saying a word, sort of pursing his lips like he was considering everything about her and oh, gosh, there was that heat rushing into her cheeks again.
“Now…you gonna let me take a look at that hand?” he asked, like he could be real patient when he had to.
Well, just because a voice sounded real fine and smooth as fresh churned butter didn’t mean she was about to be taken in. No sirree! Back home they’d warned her all about cowboys before pa and her left for California.
“Oh no…it’s fine…really.”
He shrugged like he didn’t even care, then pushed his hat back a-ways so that the light fell full on his face and she could see hair as dark as night peeking out from underneath it.
“Sure…I guess…” He shrugged again, showing a strip of red shirt beneath that cropped jacket he wore. “If you wanna be a baby...”
“I ain’t no baby! Why the time I broke my arm fallin’ off Aunt Bertha’s roof I didn’t even…”
She stopped. Darn it if he wasn’t grinning at her.
Lordy me, she grinned right back looking into those dark eyes of his and then she did it - she stuck out her hand. Maybe it was them dimples - it sort of took a gal by surprise to catch sight of them in such a strong face.
He hung the lantern on a nail in a post just behind him before he said, real politely, “You mind?”
She had a notion he was laughing at her again but when she looked up at him his face was just as serious as could be.
She nodded. Land sakes, she was probably being a fool but the truth was her hand was starting to sting real bad. He put his left hand under hers, sort of cradling it, while he took a look. It was all she could do not to shrink clean away from him. He was so close she could smell the whiff of leather and horse and cattle that kind of clung to him. It made her think of the cowboy she’d seen bent low over his horse as he galloped clear across one of them green grassy fields. Lord Almighty, she wished she knew how to ride. She couldn’t imagine there’d be anything to compare.
“Ooh, that’s gotta hurt,” he murmured, dropping his head down to get a closer look.
“No…no…it ain’t too bad.”
She bet you had to have strong hands to be a cowboy – strong hands like his to rope a cow or tame a horse – make a fist even; they were all sinew and strength with long fingers and scratches across the back of one hand and dirt under some of his nails. What on earth had he been doing while ever’ one else had been soaking and scrubbing and turning themselves inside out for the party? This one’d need to scrub for days to get clean if all that dirt and dust on his clothes was anything to go by. Maybe not all the hired help got to go to the party?
His grip on her hand suddenly got a little tighter. “Now…” He sorta breathed the word out like he was used to quieting and helping hurt critters. “When I count to three, I want you to take a big breath. Okay?”
She nodded. The splinter looked real ugly sticking out of her hand like that. In the light, she could see why it stung – nearly an inch was buried near the surface under the skin in the middle of her palm.
“Okay, you ready?”
“Look at me, now.”
She nodded again. It was kinda hard to know where to look. She felt too shy to look up at his face so she stared ahead and followed the braiding on his jacket. There was even braiding around the sleeve. Boy, he sure dressed fancy – with all the fancy stitching on his shirt and the buttons down the outside of his pants and…
…then there was the braiding on his jacket and… “Hey!”
She looked up and there he was with a big grin on his face, holding up a two inch splinter like he’d won it in a raffle.
Tricked – he’d darn well tricked her! “You said you was gonna count ta three!”
He screwed up his face like he was trying to remember. “Yeah, I guess I did say that, didn’t I?”
She glared at him.
“Well?” He asked it like a man who was very sure of getting the answer he wanted…and probably anything else he wanted as well! “Aren’t you gonna say thanks?”
She pretended to be still miffed. “Yeah... I s’pose I will. Thank you…”
But she just couldn’t keep it up, not when he was looking down at her in that cajoling way with his head tilted to the side. Why, he could charm the spikes right off a porcupine. So she smiled and let her voice sound warm. “Thank you, kindly.” Pa wouldn’t like her to forget her manners.
“There – that wasn’t so hard, was it,” he grinned, before he turned around and walked back a few paces. For the first time she caught sight of a feed bucket that he must’ve had in his hand when she’d got her dress stuck.
“You gotta name?” he called over his shoulder as he put the bucket against the wall next to a row of other ones.
She stuck out her hand just like Pa did. “Bessie…Bessie Weaver.”
He wiped his hand on his behind a couple of times before he held it out to take hers. My, his grip was strong.
“Well, pleased to meet you, Miss Bessie Weaver.” He spoke real polite in that pretty drawl of his and sort of bowed over her hand like she was a real lady before he let go.
She was just figuring out how to ask him what his name was when he walked across to the open door and then tossed the splinter out into the night. It was then that she noticed his gunbelt. She couldn’t think how it could even stay on his hips with it sitting so low like that. Why it sat right across his a…AND she hurriedly fixed her eyes fast on his face when he suddenly turned his head and looked straight into her eyes.
She didn’t even dare gulp – just stood there not daring to turn away even though she felt a sudden chill about her shoulders that sure hadn’t been there a moment ago.
A horse snorted and his eyes flickered towards the back of the barn and she let her breath out.
“So how come you’re out here, anyway?” he frowned, staring at her. “You had enough dancin’ all ready? I thought they only just got started.”
Dancing? Oh Lordy…not after what happened. Not so they could all laugh at her and point their fingers and such. “I just…I just don’t feel like it is all.”
His eyes kind of ran over her slowly but after what seemed like an age he finally nodded and didn’t even say anything at all. Just reached down and picked up a piece of straw and then stuck it in his mouth before hitching his shoulder against the doorjamb and staring off in the direction of the party, but that chill about her shoulders had got even colder.
“You don’t wanna dance?” she asked, hoping her voice didn’t squeak. The big house looked a million miles away of a sudden. She really, really should have told pa where she was going.
He didn’t sound the least bit interested in either the dance or herself and that little flicker of fear started to die down again – but she was no fool. There was something about him…something she’d felt from the very first that screamed at a girl to take care but at the same time sort of stirred you up with a hankering to get closer.
“Me neither,” she told him and darn, she couldn’t hold her sigh in.
He looked back at her. “Pretty gal like you oughtta be dancin’.”
Bessie shrugged, not wanting to catch his eye. “Well, I don’t know many people here.”
He crossed his arms, switching his gaze to the loose bits of straw down by his feet. He scooted them about for a second or so before he said, “Me neither,” and oh my gosh, that smile that showed under his hat just about stole her breath away. What on earth had she been worrying about a minute ago?
He didn’t really sound Mexican…not with a pretty drawl like that but…well, he did look Mexican. But then, what would she know – they’d only been in California a couple of weeks.
Her eyes slid to that gunbelt again. It was hard to take her eyes off it. With him standing this close to the lantern she could see it was almost half-filled with bullets and he had a big, nasty looking gun sitting real comfortable in the holster – and unlike the boys she knew back home, she had a pretty good idea he didn’t use it for adding rabbit to the pot. Seemed kinda strange though – ever’ one else at the dance had hung theirs up on pegs outside the house…
Oh gosh. He’d caught her looking at that gun again. Best not to be too obvious – so she just slid her eyes up back to his face, as if it that was where her eyes were aiming to go all along. But darn, just one knowing look from him could make her awful flustered. Seemed like he knew exactly what she’d been looking at.
“Um…my pa bought the old Stanford place,” she blurted out.
This information clearly meant nothing to him but he nodded before his eyes slid off her in a disinterested way and he looked back out into the night towards the house…no, ‘hacienda’ they called them out here. She lifted her chin and did her best to ignore that dip of disappointment – well, she guessed she wasn’t the type of female to keep his interest. He was probably another of those ones that’d be tipping their hat to Miss Cindy Lou with all her fine airs and graces and offering to get her punch and all the…
“You aren’t from around these parts then?”
Well, if he was one of them folks taken in by the likes of Cindy Lou she sure wasn’t going to be too neighbourly to him. “Nope,” she said airily, damned if she was going to tell him too much about herself. But somehow she never had been able to keep her mouth from saying just what it wanted to say anyways and it just didn’t seem to want to stop at that. “What about you? You don’t sound like you’re from around here, either.”
She didn’t know why that’d strike him as funny but it looked like he was ducking his head just to hide his smile. “Well, a long time ago I was, I guess.”
“And your parents moved away?”
He stopped chewing on the straw.
“Somethin’ like that.”
Ooh. She would have loved to ask just what that ‘something’ was but she had an idea she’d caught a shadow of something he wouldn’t have wanted her to see. Feeling a bit awkward, her eyes strayed passed him to the hacienda. She could hear the music real clearly – even caught a yell of laughter here and there. Out on the patio she could see the girls being twirled in their pretty dresses…
She sighed. Where she came from, everyone had been a farmer but out here – it looked like they were very much the poor cousins to the ranchers. Maybe folks here just didn’t take too kindly to folk that tilled the land.
She eyed the stranger. “We’re farmers,” she choked out, and then held her breath.
The cowboy simply nodded his head like she was telling him the time of day. “That so? I’ve been on a few farms in my time.”
“Oh? I thought you were a…a…vack-wer-o?”
He grinned a little. “Well, I wasn’t exactly working on the farm at the time. I was just a kid an’ when you’ve got an empty belly and you’re staring at a field full a corn…well…”
“What’s one head a corn more or less?” she put in heartily.
“Well, not all farmers see it quite like that o’ course. I had my share of buckshot.”
“Buckshot? Oh, that’s just terrible!”
“Well, you gotta understand it from the farmer’s point of view; if every hungry kid in the village comes and eats your corn, by the time harvest comes around, there won’t be nothin’ left to harvest.”
“Well, I know, but my pa always says you can’t be stingy with the Lord’s blessings. He never turned down a man who came asking for some of our corn.”
“Pity I didn’t know your pa, then – might’ve saved my hide from being peppered a few times there.”
Bessie laughed and walked forward to stand beside him in the doorway. She couldn’t help it. Something kept pulling her back to look at the party – and remind herself how miserable she was and she hoped those Lancer boys weren’t dancing with Sally or Jane or Cindy Lou, because cattier girls she’d never met in her life! All those hours she’d spent cutting and stitching. Cut up Pa’s memories, that’s what she’d done! That first snip had been the hardest – she coulda been cutting his heart right out then and there. But Pa never even turned his head.
“Bessie – your ma lives on in ma heart, not in that there piece o’ cotton. ‘Sides, she’d want ya to look yer best for a fancy shindig like this. She always said first impressions count.”
“But they don’t tell the whole story.” That’s what she’d said to Pa, but they were Mama’s words. My, she was wise. She sure wished she had her wisdom right now. She had a feeling Ma’d be telling her to go straight back to that party with her head held high and if those cowboys didn’t have the sense to ask Bessie for a dance then she oughtta just ask them herself.
“Bessie, you okay?”
She turned her head and looked up at him. “Oh, just thinkin’.”
“You look…” He waited a bit, like he was putting out feelers for the right word, “…kinda sad.”
That stinging at the corner of her eyes was getting to be real annoying so she turned her head away and looked back to the party, just in time to see a man, almost head and shoulders above nearly everyone else there, walk towards the punch bowl.
“Wow – that man’s built like a mountain. He’s even bigger’n my pa. I heard tell Mr. Lancer’s a tall man. You reckon that might be him?”
The cowboy shifted, standing straighter for just a moment, but he soon eased back to his usual slouch. “Yep. That’s Murdoch Lancer all right.”
“You work for him?”
He took the straw out of his mouth and stared at her, and just for a second there she thought she’d said something wrong but then he started chuckling – quiet like but deep in his throat. “Ooh, so he tells me.”
Now this was real good news! “Oh…so you know his sons – the ones he’s throwin’ this party for? Why, at church last Sunday Cindy Lou started telling me how those two boys came back and saved the valley from that outlaw feller only then I had to go before she could finish. Then Pa met Mr. Lancer at the store an’ one thing led to another and Pa said Mr. Lancer was real hospitable an’ that’s how we got ourselves an invite.”
“It is, huh?” he asked, putting the straw back in his mouth and starting to chew on it again.
“The way I hear tell, one of em’s from Boston and the other one’s a gunfighter! So…do ya know ‘em?”
“Well…kinda…I guess,” he said and if ever a man was hedging, he sure was. She guessed the hired help didn’t mix much with the folks who hired them.
“Well, you either know ’em or ya don’t!”
“I’ve met the one from Boston,” he told her, sounding real positive now.
“And what about the other one?”
He looked back across to the party.
“Nope, I don’t see him anywhere over there.”
Darn. She’d been hoping.
Dropping her voice a little, she said, “They say he’s real famous!”
He’d taken to looking at his boots again. “Yeah – is that what they say?” And she had a mighty strong suspicion he was laughing at her. Well, maybe it didn’t mean much to him but she’d never met a celebrity before, let alone two of ‘em – a famous gunfighter and a real gentleman from Boston!
“Well, which one’s Scott Lancer?” she asked. Darned if she was going to let him put her off.
“So you wanna see what Scott looks like, huh?”
‘Well – you said you’d met him!!” she reminded him, putting her hands to her hips. She was beginning to think he was all just talk and didn’t even know them at all.
“Okay…okay!” he grinned.
She watched him look real carefully at the people they could see out on the patio, then he stretched out his arm.
“See that tall feller there…with the yella hair?”
Bessie moved in closer so that she could follow where he was pointing. Darn, if she didn’t feel a bit of a letdown. He wasn’t exactly what she’d been expecting. “You mean the one near the punch bowl?”
She nodded, feeling a little glum.
“Well that ain’t him.”
Bessie went to nod – then turned on him. “Oh, you! You’re just teasin’ me now! Why I betcha don’t have a clue which one is Scott Lancer!”
He threw his hands up like he had to defend himself but she’d had enough of his funning, especially when she had a suspicion she’d just spied the Boston brother herself.
“Ooh, that must be him, surely – the one talking to Mr. Lancer. He’s got yellow hair and he looks real refined – not like the other folks.”
The cowboy grinned. “Well, you’d better not let the other folk hear you say that.”
“Well…is it him?”
He didn’t answer straight away, then he said real softly, “Yeah. That’s him.”
“They seem to be lookin’ for someone.”
“Nah – they’re just talkin’.”
“No…no – they look like they’re lookin’ for someone. See! You can tell by the way their heads are turnin’ every which way.”
“Maybe they’re lookin’ for you.”
“Nope. I can see my pa talkin’ an’ he don’t look the least bit worried.”
“So, why don’t you wanna dance?” he asked all of a sudden, tossing the straw down as he straightened up.
Well, how could she tell him? He wouldn’t understand about not being good enough. She bet no one stood in corners and talked about him and laughed and looked down their noses ‘cause he looked ‘old fashioned’ and like ‘he’d just walked off the farm.’ Darn – and there was that stinging again and this time it just wouldn’t stop.
And then he was holding out a big red handkerchief in front of her; she was about to say no but when she looked up at him he had the kindest look on his face so she took it and then blew her nose hard.
“Thank you,” she sniffed from behind it.
“You shouldn’t take any notice a’ what people say,” he said softly.
Shoot, he was right. She knew he was right…but that didn’t stop it from hurting.
“I know.” If only she hadn’t stood in the corner, just happy watching all the pretty dresses twirling about and smiling people, she never would’ve heard those two talking about her.
“I bet it was one of those stuck-up gals with all the curls…”
“No…Cindy Lou’s hair’s as straight as a…”
He was grinning at her again.
“Oh damn it – now you tricked me again!”
He raised his brows. “Your pa let you use words like that?”
“My pa washed my mouth out with soap,” she confessed.
“Cindy Lou…she’s one of them rancher’s daughters isn’t she?”
Bessie shrugged. “I guess so. But she’s the stupidest gal I’ve ever met and all she talks about is what folks look like and dancing with them Lancer boys. That’s all any of them gals talk about!”
She wished she’d kept her mouth shut ‘cause he seemed to find that funny. Oh, he turned his head but she could see the grin he was trying so hard to hide.
Suddenly he looked back at her and she could see he had a real sneaky idea in his head. Then he walked up real close and put his hands on either side of her shoulders and stared right down into her eyes.
“Miss Bessie Weaver – you reckon you can trust me?”
Lord – she’d be a fool to trust a man who could do what he was doing to her insides right then but her voice just sighed out her answer all of its own accord, “Yeah…I trust yah.”
“And just one other thing – you gotta promise you won’t be mad at me!”
Feeling kind of dazed she nodded her head, but he gripped her just that little bit firmer and said, “You gotta promise now!”
“All right – I…I promise.”
Then he grabbed her hand and started hauling her out of the barn.
“Wait! What am I gonna do with this?” she asked, stalling him before she was clear out the door.
“Just give it here.”
So she gave him back his handkerchief and he just threw it down in one of the empty bins.
“Let’s get goin’,” he grinned, and then they were heading out the barn and towards the party so fast that her feet had to hurry to keep up with him.
Oh gosh – that was Mr. Lancer and, if the cowboy was right, Scott Lancer coming towards them as well! She began to pull back a little.
“Come on, Bessie. You said you were gonna trust me – remember?” he said under his breath so that the men coming towards them wouldn’t hear.
“No ‘buts’ now,” he whispered back. And oh, there was Mr. Lancer bearing down on them both and Bessie didn’t know where to look so she sort of hid behind the cowboy. He must’ve known she wanted to run because that grip on her hand suddenly fastened real tight.
“We were getting worried!”
Whew – well at least Murdoch Lancer wasn’t mad! He sounded relieved more like it.
The cowboy had slowed down now as they got closer. “Yeah…well…I got held up. My horse threw a shoe.”
Bessie peeped out from behind the cowboy. They’d stopped at the edge of the light from the lanterns hanging in the trees. Before she knew it the cowboy’s arm had wrapped around the back of her waist and drew her forward, and she had no choice but to look up all that way into Mr. Lancer’s face as the cowboy said, “Murdoch, Scott…I’d like you ta meet Miss Bessie Weaver.”
Somehow Bessie’s knees did a bit of a bend and she didn’t know whether she ought to curtsy or make the sign of the cross or bow, but there was something so nice in the way both of them said, “Pleased to meet you, Miss Weaver,” that she forgot her nervousness long enough to say “Likewise.”
“Her pa bought the old Stanford place,” the cowboy went on as if he knew all about the old Stanford place and that made her want to giggle.
“Yeah, I just had a nice long talk with Bessie’s father,” Murdoch Lancer told her. “I hope you’ll both be very happy in the valley. That’s a fine piece of land your father bought.”
“I’m sure we will, Mr Lancer.”
“When did you move here, Miss Weaver?”
‘Miss Weaver.’ Oh my, that Scott Lancer talked like such a gentleman!
“Um…nigh on two weeks ago, Mr. Lancer.” He stood so straight and tall and had a way of looking right into your eyes when he talked, like you was the only one he wanted to be talking to.
And then he was smiling at her. “Just ‘Scott’ will do fine.”
“Scott,” she smiled back, of a sudden feeling powerful shy and her pa always said she didn’t have a shy bone in her body.
And she couldn’t take her eyes off his face. Even in the half light she could see that his skin was so smooth - not a wrinkle from the sun to be seen. Maybe that was what royalty looked like…why even…
“Bessie, you’d best go find your father. He was wanting to introduce you to some folk.”
“Oh…of course, Mr Lancer,” she nodded with downcast eyes, ready to curse her pa all of a sudden.
“And you had best go get cleaned up.”
The cowboy grinned back kind of slowly. “Well I told you I wasn’t gonna be in too much of a hurry to get to this shindig.”
“Horse threw a shoe, huh?” Scott Lancer sounded like he didn’t believe a word of it.
The cowboy’s grin got wider. “I got me the blisters to prove it.”
“Oh, I’m sure you have,” Mr. Lancer said kind of dryly. For a hired hand, these two seemed to think an awful lot of her cowboy though, the way they were both smiling at him like they were both surprised but glad that he’d come strolling up out of the night holding onto the hand of a girl they didn’t even know. Gosh – whatever must they be thinking!!
Then Scott was flicking a finger at the dust on the front of the cowboy’s jacket. “Teresa left some hot water for you in your room.”
Ooh, prickles of an awful suspicion started to run up and down her spine about then and then they started jigging all the way clear into her stomach. Oh my…!
“Thanks Scott – but I’m gonna have me a dance first,” and then before they could say anything else the cowboy grabbed hold of her hand again and headed straight for the patio.
Bessie looked up just the once and had a quick glimpse of people standing around the edges with punch glasses and plates of food in their hands. No one seemed to be looking their way and she breathed out with relief until she caught sight of a woman with a nose like the bent beak of a bird. The woman took one look at Bessie holding tight to the cowboy’s hand and then elbowed the man by her side in the ribs and then he turned and looked and oh Lordy, from then on she stared down at the cowboy’s boots as all that strength in his hand and arm pulled her along.
He only paused long enough to take off his hat and toss it onto the table next to the punch bowl and then he led her right smack into the middle of where people were dancing.
And she just knew, as he put his arm about her waist and changed the hold he had on her hand, that that smile on his face was because he knew everyone was staring at them and it didn’t bother him one single bit. She even would’ve guessed that he lapped it up like a cat with a bowl of cream.
And then they were both stomping their feet around and around that patio and just having themselves a fine time and her dress swirled about her just like all the other girls’ dresses did. That extra flounce worked real fine. And there was Pa looking at her with a look that said she was doin’ her mama proud and for just a moment there, things got real blurry.
“Well, does Miss Cindy-Lou look as green as can be?” a voice whispered in her ear.
“Oh Lordy, yes,” she laughed. “Green and then some!”
But oh my…when she thought of all the things she’d said to him in the barn…why all of a sudden she could hardly hold her head up and look at him – just let that strong hold of his twirl her around and around while she kept her eyes glued to a tiny patch of dried mud stuck to the front of his jacket near the braid.
The music came to a stop and now she really didn’t know which way to look. She could hardly look at him but every time she looked around she caught some busy body darting a look at the both of them and in one corner a whole passel of small boys was openly staring at her cowboy like their eyes were about to pop out of their heads.
Somehow the cowboy – oh shoot, not just ‘any’ cowboy – led her through the crowd and over to the punch bowl; he pushed a glass of punch into her hand but she didn’t think she’d ever felt so mortified and she just couldn’t look up.
“Hey, now – you promised you wouldn’t be mad at me!” He had that same coaxing voice he’d used out in the barn and he was talking low so as no one else would hear.
“Oh my – I ain’t mad at ya, Mr. Lancer,” she murmured, gripping tightly to the glass. Gosh, she figured making a fool of herself had probably all been worth it to see Cindy Lou’s face. Now, if she could just get out of here…
“Not Mr. Lancer…”
Just in front of her she caught sight of a hand held out towards her. She recognised that hand with all its strength and scratches and dirt under the nails.
“The name’s ‘Johnny’, Bessie Weaver.”
Well, somehow she got the courage to look up at him and oh - would you look at that – his eyes weren’t brown at all but blue! Blue as the sky on a June day.
And then she was smiling up at him real wide - well, what gal wouldn’t with him looking down on her like that – and holding out her own hand.
“And I be mighty pleased ta meet ya, Johnny.”
And there just behind Johnny she spied Cindy Lou and those other gals, looking just as green as green as could be.