I watched the dancers on the packed dance floor as I waited for either of my boyfriends to come back. We’d only just gotten to the dance after the rodeo when the pair had been called back out by one of the ranch hands to deal with something bull related, and I stood leaning against the railing that separated the tables from the dance floor.
I wasn’t totally alone. Dad had gotten tired of waiting for the waitress to come around so he’d gone to the bar to get all four of us drinks to celebrate my being back again for the summer.
I was quite proud of how my father had handled himself over the last year. He’d adjusted to me dating both Adam and Scott better than I’d expected. Maybe it was because he only had to deal with it in small doses.
Vet school was only a three hour drive from here, so even though I couldn’t come home every night, I did make it home most weekends and all holidays. Weekends were just spent with the guys on the ranch, but I tried to make myself available to dad, and his vet practice, on holidays. And since tonight was my first night home for three nice, long months of summer break, we figured the Friday night rodeo and dance afterward would be the perfect time to relax, reconnect and kick off what would hopefully be a great summer.
Once dad came back to the table with our drinks he said, “Come dance with me, Grace. You look like you’re dying to get out there and once Scott and Adam get back in here they’ll keep you out on that floor and I won’t get a shot again.”
After quite a few dances with dad, and a couple of dances with some old friends from back in high school, I was starting to get a little worried about the guys not being back yet, and quite a bit sweaty from all the dancing. After one particularly fast and spinning jitterbug I thanked my partner for walking me back to my table, told dad I needed to get some air, and headed outside to cool off and see if I could catch sight of what was keeping my men.
I’d missed them something awful this last stretch at school, and I’d really been looking forward to an evening spent alternating in their embraces on the dance floor, and ending with a night getting sweaty for an entirely different reason between them both once they’d taken me back to their ranch and to our huge bed.
The air felt wonderful on my skin once I stepped outside. There was a breeze that caressed me, almost making me forget that it would soon be hotter than hell as another Texas summer rolled in on the heels of May. I knew that by July and August there would be no relief to be had by stepping outside, as cooling off at night wasn’t a thing Texas did. Nope, soon one hundred degree days would just mean ninety-five degree nights and stepping outside after dancing would mean being met by a wall of hot humidity instead of a cooling breeze.
Where the hell were they? Didn’t they realize I was aching to blow off the stress of my final exams by drinking, dancing and fucking long into the early morning hours?
I heard voices coming from around the corner of the dance hall, and followed them, more from the action being something to do to kill a few minutes as I waited on the guys to reappear than any real curiosity.
The noises got louder as I slowly ambled in that direction, and not just because I was getting closer.
They rose again suddenly in what sounded like anger, and for a second I almost thought that one of the voices belonged to Jake, but I knew that couldn’t be. Jake had been arrested and sent to prison about this time last year, after kidnapping me, so I knew it couldn’t be him.
I started to round the corner as the shouting crested and then stopped. I figured I was too late and had missed all the excitement, but as I stepped out to peek, a quickly moving body came around the same corner, only I didn’t move out of the way fast enough.
The grunt was forced out of me as two hundred pounds of pissed off cowboy ran smack into me and I tripped over my own feet as I tried to catch my balance, and failed.
I landed on my ass as the cowboy in question fell over me trying to avoid stepping on me once I’d gone down.
“Shit lady, what the hell? Watch where you’re going next time. Aw, fuck! Grace? I thought you were still supposed to be at school.”
I looked up at the voice in disbelief.
“And I thought you were still supposed to be in prison!”
It was Jake’s voice I’d heard, and it looked like he was almost as surprised to see me as I was to see him.
I got to my feet, brushing the dirt off my ass as I stared at him in confusion.
“Seriously Jake, did you escape somehow?”
I figured that outsmarting guards and escaping prison were beyond his abilities, but Lord knows I’d been wrong before.
“No. Something about overcrowding and good behavior. I’ve only been home a week.”
“Good to see where kidnapping ranks in our legal system. I’d be willing to bet that good behavior had a whole lot less to do with things than your parent’s money did. Adding bribing judges to the list of things your family is good at would make way more sense to me.”
Jake didn’t confirm or deny my suspicions. All he said was, “I never meant to hurt you, Grace. If you really didn’t want to be with me, all you had to do was say so.”
I opened my mouth to respond, but nothing came out.
All I had to do was say so?
What the hell planet had he been living on? I’d broken up with him, and had moved on, dating not one but two men, neither of whom were him. I just shook my head in disbelief, knowing that trying to argue with his logic was just going to send me down a rabbit hole I had no interest in exploring.
“I can’t even… Forget it. What were you just yelling about back here anyway? Never mind. Forget I asked. I really don’t want to know.”
“Not everything is about you, Grace.”
Aaaaand it’s past time for me to go back inside, where people are sane.
“Have a good night, Jake.”
“Oh, I plan to. I have a girlfriend, you know.”
“Really? Did you find her on ‘fucking-nut-cases-love-prisoners.com?'”
“No! Wait, is that a thing?”
“Probably. Look Jake, I gotta go. Tell your girlfriend… good luck.”
And with that I spun on my heel before shit could get even weirder, and I headed back to the safety of my dad, thinking Come on, Scott and Adam. I really need a bout of your sexy brand of forgetfulness after this conversation.
Back at my table I gave it to my dad, both barrels loaded for bear.
“Why didn’t anyone tell me Jake was out of prison? It would have been a nice thing to know before I ran into him outside.”
“Jake’s out of prison? Seriously? I’d bet his parents are a lot lighter in the wallet after that little miracle.”
“So you didn’t know either?”
“Did you know he has a new girlfriend?”
“Jesus Grace, you were only gone a minute. Did people follow you out to spread gossip?”
“Oh no, I got these straight from the ass’s mouth.”
“He’s here? Oh, right, you already said that. Sorry. I’ve had a few shots.”
“Jesus dad, I was only gone a minute.”
He just shrugged and grinned.
The music ended then, and instead of another song taking its place, silence filled the dance hall. As people both on and off the dance floor looked around in confusion, there was Jake yet again. Only this time a spotlight found and then centered on him, and he held a microphone in his hand.
“Aw, fuck. What now?”
I wasn’t sure if the words were dad’s or mine, but they were perfect.
“If my favorite lady, Cyndi, would come out here just for a minute? Guys, clear a path, please.”
“What is he doing?”
“Probably making a fool of himself, if history is to be believed.”
“There she is! Hey baby, don’t be shy. Come on out here, I’ll make this quick, I promise,” Jake waved at a figure in the crowd from his spot on the dance floor.
“That ain’t the only thing that’s quick about Jake…”
“What?” I asked with a mostly innocent shrug. “I’m just saying.”
I reached for the shot dad had left on the table for me, and downed it, eyeing Adam and Scott’s shots as well, just in case I needed them after whatever Jake was about to do.
“I know you guys haven’t seen me around much lately…”
I heard quiet laughs spread around the room as people who knew Jake, and knew why he hadn’t been around much, trickled through the crowd.
“…And I know this little lady isn’t someone I’ve dated very long…”
“Try a week, unless they’ve been rocking some conjugal visits,” I whispered to dad as I rolled my eyes.
“…But I knew that she was the one for me the moment we laid eyes on each other. Cyndi, darlin’, you have been my rock and you’ve also rocked my world, if you know what I mean…”
“Oh, God. I think I may puke.”
Dad surprised me by adding, “You and me both. It’s in moments like this that I understand why they don’t allow guns in bars anymore.”
I laughed my agreement, knowing he was kidding. Mostly.
“Cyndi,” Jake continued, getting down on one knee. He tried to pull something from his jeans pocket, but couldn’t. He stood up again, tugged a teal ring box free from his tight jeans, and bent down on one knee again.
“That’s a Tiffany’s box!”
“So he kidnapped you, stole a box from some Tiffany, and now he’s kneeling in front of a Cyndi?”
I turned to dad in disbelief.
“What? No, Dad, Tiffany’s is…”
“I was kidding, Grace. I know what Tiffany’s is.”
I wasn’t sure if I was more surprised when I thought he didn’t know, or now that he said he did. Of course my biggest shock was still playing out on the dance floor.
Cyndi’s hands were covering her mouth, and her eyes were huge. She started to shake as she held one hand out as he finished.
“…It would be my honor to call you my wife. Would you marry me?”
She looked like she was starting to hyperventilate as she nodded yes, shook her head no in disbelief, and cried all at once.
“Yes! Yes, of course I’ll marry you! Holy hell that ring is huge!”
“It would have to be, to make up for his…”
“Dad! Stop acting like I’m twelve. We’re in a bar, shooting whiskey, waiting on my boyfriends, plural. Just look around and comment on some boobs or something. Then we’ll be even. Hey! You know… if you’re ready… I could totally be your wing-woman tonight. Maybe if you start getting some you’ll loosen up a bit.”
“Don’t you dare! Go back to talking about Jake, it’s safer ground.”
“It’s past time. You really could use a good woman. Or a bad one, if you’d rather. You know, whatever gets your bridle in a bunch.”
“Where the hell are Scott and Adam when I need them? Your whole attention focused on me is scary. Wait, where are you going now?”
“Well, if you won’t let me fix you up,” I said, pausing to grab Scott’s shot glass and tip it’s burning warmth down my throat for courage. “I’m going to save that poor woman instead.”
“What poor woman?”
“Jake’s new fiancé. Someone’s gotta tell her what she’s getting herself into, and I reckon I’m the perfect person to do it. I wish someone, anyone, had told me about Jake before I dated him, so you bet your ass I’m going to tell her what I wish someone had told me since she’s just agreed to marry his ass. Consider it my good deed for the day.”
I saw the back of her head disappear into the bathroom after she’d wound her way through the crowd, probably to fix her makeup after crying. I slid off my bar stool and went to follow her before I could think better of it and change my mind.
“Grace, do you think that’s really a smart idea?”
“Why not? Whether she listens or not, whether she believes me or not, my words will be there. Maybe I can save someone else from even a little bit of what I went through.”
I walked a few steps toward the bathroom, and then turned and went back.
“Come to your senses, did you?” Dad teased.
“Never. I came for Adam’s shot too.”
I grinned, downed one last hit of courage, and went to tell the blushing bride about her asshole of a fiancé.
Stay tuned, Chapter 22 will be posted tomorrow
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