Forever Kisses (Romance on the Ranch Book 7) (7 page)

BOOK: Forever Kisses (Romance on the Ranch Book 7)
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Chapter 16: Selections

 

The Three Day Trail Blaze was only days away and although Dovie quelled her outward excitement, she was as thrilled as the children and the ranch guests to learn more about their upcoming adventure. Sage introduced neighboring ranchers Jackson and Annie Martinez and their daughter Angel, a young woman with an infectious smile. The family joined him in front of the fireplace and Sage said they owned the
Triple T Ranch,
the launching point of the Trail Blaze. He then asked the family to speak. Jackson, tall and lean, explained that the Trail Blaze had been going on long before he purchased the
Triple T,
and after the purchase he'd seen no reason to stop the ranch's participation.

Next, Annie and Angel shared some of their experiences over the years, and then Sage took center stage again to go over safety rules. Afterward, he grinned and said, "And now I'm turning this gathering over to my wife, Sarah."

All eyes riveted on Sarah as she stepped up to the hearth. She said, "As you know, we try to keep our wagon train experience true to the Old West, and, as Sage explained, if you're not ready to leave modern conveniences, you might want to reconsider going. Even though there are portable potties set up periodically alongside the trail, sometimes a trip into the woods may be necessary, if you catch my meaning." Everyone laughed and she continued, "The reason I'm up here, however, is to let you know that the costumes have arrived. Preston and Toby should be entering through the back door any minute to unload them."

The sound of a door opening had everyone spinning around to see the brothers hauling in a large rack on wheels that was crowded with period clothing. The children squirmed and squealed, as did some of the adults. Dovie's gaze immediately went to a lovely shade of lavender in the center of the rack.

Preston and Toby grinned at everyone and tipped their cowboy hats before walking back outside.

Sarah explained, "That was just the first rack of many. But I need to give some instructions before setting you loose to choose two costumes each." She waited for the group to settle down before continuing. "The children with the Big Bro and Sis Organization will each have an assigned adult to help them. The other children will be helped by their parents or guardians. The racks have been arranged by gender and size."

Michelle said loudly to the girl beside her, "I like that pink dress!"

Sarah grinned. "And, children, as we've been teaching since your arrival, courtesy is uppermost here at the
Lazy M.
If someone chooses an outfit you wanted, being jealous and ugly will not benefit you or anyone else. Just find another one. One of the first things that will get you thrown off the wagon train is discourtesy." She pulled a folded paper out of her jean's pocket. "Right now, I'm going to call off children's names and the adults assigned to help them."

The back door opened again and the twins entered with a rack of men's clothing. Sarah started calling off names and when she got to Roxy's, she said, "Roxy, you are assigned to Dovie."

Dovie smiled and sought out her charge. Looking as sullen as ever Roxy glared back at her.

The men continued hauling in costumes while Sarah gave last minute instructions. Finally, she said, "Toby is everything ready?" Toby called from across the room. "Yes, ma'am."

Sarah made a waving motion. "Okay, great. Children, go find your adult helper and then choose your outfits. Adults, be sure and select your own outfits, too."

Roxie, with the assistance of her leg braces and canes, started toward Dovie. Together they walked to the back of the room. Dovie asked, "Do you have a special color in mind that you want to wear?"

"No."

"Well, as for myself. I like the colors lavender and blue." They reached the racks and Dovie waited to see what Roxy would do. The girl's eyes darted from rack to rack.

Dovie stepped to a pretty yellow broadcloth dress with sprigs of blue flowers and pulled it away from the others. "This one looks about your size. Do you want to try it on?"

Roxy snorted, "You mean we're actually supposed to wear
dresses
on a wagon train?"

"If we want to be authentic to the time era, yes, but if you want to search the men's rack for something, I'm not stopping you."

Roxy frowned at Dovie.

Dovie sighed. "I don't think you have an appreciation for the women who traveled the trails in covered wagons. They walked hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles, not only wearing dresses, but attending to children, cooking, washing, and performing the myriad tasks necessary in caring for others."

"Why would they travel so far?" Roxy's tone held a note of disdain.

"For the same reasons we travel to different places—adventure, new beginnings, a better life, curiosity. Whereas we get into a car and head out, stopping at diners or fast food restaurants when we're hungry, they mostly walked to lighten the burden of their oxen or horses, and ate when camp was set up. The men hunted game when it was available and the women prepared and cooked it. After eating, there were dishes to clean, as well as children to care for. And when the pioneers were hit with illness, it could be tragic. Many children were left orphaned and many parents lost spouses and children."

"And these three days are supposed to be fun?"

"They can be. They'll change your life if you let them. You'll gain a perspective not afforded many young people. I'm expecting them to change my life, too."

Roxy fingered the dress in Dovie's hands. "I guess this silly dress is as good as any."

Dovie smiled. "Sarah said the first three bedrooms are set up as dressing rooms for the girls, so let's find a few more outfits for you to try on."

Over the next hour, Dovie helped Roxy by slipping dresses over her head and fastening buttons or zipping zippers. In the end, they chose the yellow dress and a denim walking skirt with matching jacket. To go with the skirt and jacket, Dovie spied a white cotton, button-down-the-front, petal-sleeved, banded-collar blouse. Roxy was able to move unhindered in both outfits and Dovie nodded her approval. "They're perfect. But you know, don't you, that you can wear your own clothing. The Tanners make the Old West attire available so we can really get into the spirit of the adventure."

Roxy turned in front of the mirror and shifted her gaze to Dovie. "This is okay."

Dovie grinned. "I'm really looking forward to this."

Roxy started removing her jacket. She seemed to have forgotten her displeasure in the adventure when she said, "You better pick out your outfits, too. Maybe the lavender one is still available." She glanced away from Dovie and said softly, "I'll help you put it on if you want."

Warmth filled Dovie's heart. Roxy was finally responding to efforts to befriend her. "I'd like that very much."

Chapter 17: Loaded and Rollin'

 

Inside one of
Triple T's
barns, Toby saddled his horse and grinned. "Well, Blue, looks like we're not going to miss this year's Trail Blaze after all."

He tightened the cinches and mounted. Earlier that morning he'd received a call from Preston asking him to take his place on the wagon train because Freckles had come down with the flu. Preston had proclaimed, "There's no way I'm riding the trail without her. I'll cover your appointments while a neighbor checks on her throughout the day."

Toby replied, "I'm sorry to hear about Freckles. I know she was looking forward to going on her first Trail Blaze. But sure, I'll work the trail for you."

"Thanks, brother. I knew I could count on you."

Toby laughed. "Hell, Preston, I'm not doing anything extraordinary. You know how much I love the wagon train."

"Well, that's true. But thanks, anyway. I'm going to call Dad and Mom and let them know. I'd tell you to have fun, but that's already a given."

Toby chuckled. "Yep."

The pioneers had already been transported from the
Lazy M
to the starting point at
Triple T,
and the horses had been delivered the night before. Toby mounted his steed and rode out of the barn toward the wagons and pioneers. He scanned the excited crowd for Dovie and saw her standing beside Roxy. He couldn't help but laugh. They looked adorable in their western attire with modern day backpacks slung over their shoulders.

Sage was calling instructions when Toby halted Blue beside the chuck wagon and dismounted. Sage glanced up and motioned him forward. "Listen up, pioneers, we've had a slight change of personnel. My son Preston is being replaced by his brother Toby. Preston's wife is ill and he's staying with her. Toby has been working these trains since he was a boy, so you can put your confidence in his abilities. He'll be our wagon train master and also acting as scout by checking the trail for Indians and lowlife bandits. If you have any problems that your driver is unable to solve, Toby's the man to see. He'll figure out what needs to be done. Now, back to safety instructions…"

Toby couldn't stop the wide grin spreading across his face. He loved this stuff! While his father had been introducing him, he'd glanced at Dovie and seen her surprised expression. She'd quickly moved her gaze away. She did that a lot. From experience he'd learned that shy women who liked him usually did just that; the bold ones met his eyes straight on. He sure hoped Dovie was starting to like him, because he was crazy about her. Over the past weeks he'd come up with as many excuses as he could to work at the dude ranch during his free time. He'd even peeled potatoes for Hank in the kitchen and suffered the cook's out-of-key singing.

Sage called loudly, "Are we ready to get this train loaded and rollin'?"

The pioneers all shouted, "Yes!"

Chapter 18: Wagon Master

Dovie smoothed a hand down the skirt of her lavender linen day dress with its long full sleeves and high neckline, and then reached to fiddle with her pristine white bonnet. She glanced at Roxy to see the girl's face alight with excitement under a yellow bonnet chosen to match her dress. She looked very—Dovie grasped for a descriptive word—pioneerish. Dovie laughed and said, "I can't believe a month ago I was living my life as usual, and now I'm a dudette about to become a pioneer traveling on a wagon train." She giggled. "And I'm dressed in character and wearing a bonnet!"

For the first time, Dovie heard Roxy laugh freely. "I know what you mean. This is crazy."

They both stepped backward with the crowd as the wagons, drawn by two horses each, were pulled to the loading area. Sage was again calling instructions as they approached their wagon. Toby rode Blue down the lineup and halted beside Dovie and Roxy. He touched the brim of his hat. "Howdy, ladies. I'm here to assist you into your schooner. And in case you didn't know, the best places to ride are either beside your driver or in the back with your legs hanging over the side. Of course, only one person can sit beside the driver. What's your preference?"

Dovie and Roxy looked at each other. Dovie said, "You can sit up front if you want. I'd like to ride in the back."

Roxy said, "I'd like to be in back, too."

"Then it's settled, ladies." Toby dismounted, reached for Roxy, and gently lifted her onto the wagon's bed. Then he returned for Dovie. When he lifted her into his arms she inhaled deeply, loving his unique smell of sweat and soap. He set her beside Roxy and motioned inside the wagon. "That small trunk has been loaded with your other outfits and supplies. There're plenty of water bottles, Kleenex, toilet paper, toiletries, snacks, and what-have-you. If you need anything, let your driver know first. If he can't take care of whatever it is, he'll contact me. The last two wagons on the train are the chuck wagon and supply wagon with our food and necessities, such as blankets, pillows, foam pads, cots, and blow up mattresses for those who need them." He stopped his recitation and smiled sheepishly. "Sorry. I know my dad has already covered all this. It's just a habit to repeat everything. Are you ready to begin your journey?"

Dovie placed a hand over her pounding heart and admitted, "My heart is thumping so hard I think it's going to jump out of my chest."

 

Hearing Dovie's heartfelt confession wrapped a warm blanket around Toby's heart and he couldn't remove his eyes from her flushed face. She was simply adorable in her pioneer dress and bonnet. He wanted to lean down, kiss her, and rest his cheek against hers to feel its softness; he wanted… He jerked himself back to reality. Mooning over Dovie was the last thing he should be doing when he had other pioneers to help and myriad duties to perform. He was glad when Beaner approached and joined the conversation. "Howdy, Miz Dovie and Miz Roxy. I'm your wagon driver. If you need anything, you jes let ol' Beaner know."

Toby said goodbye and returned his attention to assisting other pioneers into their wagons, but kept glancing back a Dovie. He made a decision to ask her out to dinner again. Maybe she now considered them friends and would agree.

Finally, the wagons were secured, the pioneers loaded, and the ranch hands in their places. Toby cantered Blue to the head of the train and yelled the phrase his father had shouted for years as wagon master before turning the lead position over to his sons. "WESTWARD HO!"

Chapter 19: Cry of the West!

 

As their wagon lurched forward, Dovie gave a little shout of glee and reached to squeeze Roxy's hand. She was amazed when Roxy squeezed back.

Dovie counted the wagons in front of them—five. And there were seven behind them. They were almost in the middle of the train. With fascination, she watched the cowboys on their steeds keeping vigilance over the pioneers, but her gaze always strayed to Toby supervising the operation by riding the length of the train and occasionally calling instructions to his men.

During the loading of the wagons, Dovie had recognized a late arriving couple, as did everyone else. A wave of excitement had rippled among the pioneers because the famous rock star Sean Barfield and his wife Tessa were to be their traveling companions. Their wagon turned out to be the one in front of the chuck wagon.

Sean was wearing typical cowboy duds of jeans, double-breasted chambray shirt, brown boots, and a black duster that reached his knees. He had a red bandana tied around his neck and a brown Stetson settled on his head. He no longer had the long hair fans were accustomed to seeing on him.

Dovie was surprised by his wife, Tessa. She had seen unflattering pictures of the couple plastered on tabloids with remarks about Tessa's weight; however, in person the young woman was simply adorable in her gingham dress and sporting braids that barely contained corkscrew curls. She
was
full-figured, but she looked great, and Sean obviously thought so, too. Dovie watched him smooth some wayward curls back a few times, bend down to kiss her dimpled cheek at least twice, and smile at her often. Roxy even commented, "I can't believe I'm riding on the same wagon train as Sean and Tessa Barfield." She sighed, "And boy, does he have the hots for his wife. I wonder what it would feel like to have a guy like that crazy about me?"

Although Dovie didn't respond, she inwardly sighed and wondered the same thing herself.

An hour into their adventure the wagons stopped at portable potties. Neither Dovie nor Roxy had to go, so they declined Beaner's offer to assist them off the wagon.

Toby rode up on Blue and asked Beaner to help resolve a mechanical issue with the supply wagon and the grizzled old cowboy hastened away. Toby grinned at Dovie and Roxy. "Howdy, ladies. May I help you to the ground so you can stretch?"

Dovie changed her mind about the wisdom of staying on the wagon and replied with humor, "Oh, yes, kind sir, that would be much appreciated."

As Toby dismounted, she got that flustered feeling and felt her cheeks flame. She
really
needed to get over her attraction to him. He encircled her waist with leather-gloved hands and easily lifted her to the ground. Reaching behind her he retrieved her cane. Next, he helped Roxy down. He said, "I'll be back soon. Enjoy some exercise because we won't break again until lunch."

"Thank you, Toby," said Dovie.

Roxy just said, "Yeah, thanks."

Toby was riding away when Roxy said low, "Oh. My. God. Sean Barfield and his wife are walking toward us. I can't believe it."

Dovie followed Roxy's gaze and watched the couple approach. She had just gotten over the butterflies in her stomach caused by Toby, now they were back.

Sean and his wife grinned and he said, "Hello. You must be Dovie." He extended his hand in welcome and Dovie shook it. He continued, "I'm Sean and this is my wife, Tessa." He looked at Roxy. "And you're Roxy, right?"

"Y-yes," she stammered.

He held his hand out to her.

Roxy lifted her hand with the cane still attached by way of its wrist brace. She looked embarrassed, but Sean seemed not to notice as he warmly clasped her hand.

Tessa said, "Hi, Dovie and Roxy. Can you believe how much fun this is? I've traveled this wagon train many times over the years and I love it just as much every time."

Sean said, "This is my first time and I'm having a blast." He turned his attention to Dovie. "I understand you want to interview my wife and me."

"Oh, yes! I can't tell you how excited I am that you've granted an interview for my blog."

"What would be a good time?" he asked.

"You name the time and place and I'll be there."

Sean glanced at Tessa. "Honey, when would you like to do the interview?"

"Why not tonight after supper?" She turned to Dovie. "We could come to your wagon, if that's okay?"

Dovie replied, "That would be wonderful! I promise to only take up a half hour of your time."

Sean laughed. "Don't worry about the time."

Toby rode over again and grinned. "I see ya'll have met."

Tessa said, "Yes, and we're getting together after supper for the interview." She turned to Roxy, "And Roxy, if you get a chance, why don't you come to our wagon for a visit before supper?"

Roxy's eyes grew huge. "Oh-kay."

Toby said, "It's about time for the wagons to move out. I'll be announcing it in a couple of minutes."

Sean said, "Dovie, Roxy, let me help you back onto your wagon."

Toby said, "That's okay, Sean, I've got it covered."

Sean nodded, smiled, and reached for his wife's hand. The famous pair said goodbye and started toward their wagon.

Toby dismounted and lifted Dovie and Roxy onto their schooner just as Beaner returned. "Sorry 'bout the time, boss. It took longer than expected to fix that wagon wheel."

Toby responded, "Not a problem, Beaner." He mounted Blue, said goodbye to the ladies, and trotted to the lead wagon while Beaner got back in the driver's box. Dovie and Roxy peeked around the wagon's canvas and saw Blue do a little sideways dance as Toby yelled,
"Can you hear the cry of the west, pioneers?"

Some of the responses were: "I sure can!"
"Yes, sir." "Loud and clear!"

A second later Toby shouted, "WESTWARD HO!"

For Dovie, the remainder of the day was a blast. Many of the pioneers walked beside their wagons, just as the real ones had done in the 1800s. Children frolicked and scuffled and everyone seemed to be having a great time. At noon, the wagons circled around a large clearing that had the luxury of picnic tables, a distinct advantage over the original settlers. Beaner explained that in previous years the wagon train had been more realistic, but to make it accessible to people with special needs, modern conveniences had been invested in.

While Hank directed cowboys to unload the ice chests from the chuck wagon, the pioneers, under the direction of Sarah Tanner, began placing red and white checked tablecloths on the tables while other pioneers wiped down the benches. Luncheon became a group effort and Dovie and Roxy helped by keeping the youngest children entertained.

When the gathering was seated, Sage called for attention and asked everyone to hold hands. After a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving, he said, "Well, dig in folks 'cause it's a long time 'til supper." He searched the group and called, "Hey, Hank, what's for supper?"

Hank was bent over a large ice chest, but he paused whatever he was doing, stood, and proclaimed proudly, "BBQ steaks, roasted tators, corn on the cob, cornbread, and apple pie!"

A shout of glee arose from the pioneers and Sage called out,
"Is everyone having fun?"

More gleeful shouts ensued and Dovie laughed before biting into a ham and cheese sandwich. She was so hungry the sandwich tasted as good as a gourmet meal. While she was chewing, Toby came to her table and asked, "Mind if I eat with ya'll?"

The children were obviously excited at having the wagon master eat with them and Benny said, "Mr. Toby, would you sit by me?"

Toby grinned and ruffled the boy's hair. "You bet I will, Benny."

Dovie swallowed and hated the fact that her heart was going ballistic once again.

Toby unwrapped his sandwich and after taking a huge bite followed by a gulp of soda, said, "Well, kids, what do you think so far about traveling on a wagon train?"

The children all answered at the same time. Toby laughed and directed his attention from child to child and Dovie admired the wonderful comradery he so easily inspired. He often glanced at her and smiled and the rapid pounding of her heart remained.

Everyone was enjoying lunch when Roxy pointed toward the tree line and exclaimed, "Oh! Oh! Look over there!"

Benny shouted, "Injuns!"

All the pioneers watched as Toby rose and called loudly, "Welcome, Chief Soaring Eagle!"

An elderly Indian dressed in an elaborate beaded tunic, buckskins, and full feather headdress, stepped into their campsite. He was followed by five Indian braves and two maidens. He lifted his hand in greeting. "My people come in peace, Toby Tanner!"

Toby said, "And we welcome you in peace. Would you and your braves and maidens join us in breaking bread?"

Chief Soaring Eagle replied, "We would be most honored to join you."

Toby shouted, "Let's make room for our guests."

Quickly, and with big grins, the pioneers scooted over to allow the Indians to sit with them. As lunch progressed, everyone conversed as if they were old friends. After lunch, Toby walked to the front of the group and said, "Chief Soaring Eagle is from the Ute tribe and he joins us every year to share the history of his people and their way of life before pioneers settled the area. So, let's give him a hand."

Everyone clapped enthusiastically as Soaring Eagle walked to stand beside Toby. The chief said he was a retired teacher from Cortez and his passion was making others aware of his great tribe, whose name meant "land of the sun." After a fascinating glimpse into tribal life, he called his braves and maidens to the front to demonstrate one of their ancestral dances, the Bear Dance that welcomed spring each year.

Dovie noted the wonder and amazement lighting the faces of the pioneers and it warmed her heart. Next to her, Roxy's eyes were glued to the demonstration. Dovie lowered her lashes and surreptitiously glanced at Toby. He was looking in her direction. She quickly returned her attention to the dancers. Had he seen her searching him out?

After the dance several questions were asked of Chief Soaring Eagle and then the pioneers all pitched in to clean the campground. By mid afternoon they were once again headed westward.

Throughout the remainder of the day, Dovie often found herself grinning as she marveled at the beautiful countryside. Sometimes the road led them through groves of stately pines. Other times, it bisected wide meadows of tall grasses and colorful wildflowers. Often, they would round a bend to encounter views of white-capped peaks rising from lushly timbered distant mountains. Dovie envisioned a winter scene of snow blanketed forests causing pine branches to bow beneath their heavy burdens. She sighed and fell in love with Colorado all over again. While she was picturing each season in her mind's eye, she felt Roxy lean toward her. The girl said softly, "I think Toby likes you."

Dovie jerked her eyes open. Without looking at Roxy she replied, "Toby likes everyone."

Roxy said, "I mean I think he likes you in a romantic way."

Still not looking at Roxy, Dovie said, "No. You're wrong. Besides, I'm sure he has a girlfriend."

Roxy remained persistent. "Maybe so, but that doesn't stop him from liking you. And I can tell that you like him a lot. You get all red whenever he's around."

Even though she knew it was true, Dovie said, "I turn red because of the weather. I'm hot."

Roxy giggled. "Yeah, hot for Toby."

Dovie finally turned to glare at the girl. "I am not."

Roxy smiled knowingly. "You are such a liar. But I promise to keep your crush on him a secret."

Dovie glanced away and didn't respond. The more she denied her feelings to Roxy, the more ridiculous she sounded.

At four o'clock the train circled another campground with picnic tables and the travelers prepared their wagons for the coming night. Over the course of the day, a new level of friendship and comradery had been forged between the pioneers and the cowboys.

Hank and his helpers started charcoal grills while more ice chests were brought out. Before long, the smell of grilling steaks and roasting potatoes wafted throughout the camp. Supper was a wonderful occasion of laughter and tall tales. Dovie smiled and jotted down several notes for her blog. She wondered if Toby would again eat at her table, but he was busy with Beaner and some of the other cowboys caring for the horses. Because there was still daylight after supper, the pioneers were separated into two groups. The children joined Sarah and Sage to play games and the adults joined Newt and Molly to hear tales about the Old West. Dovie noted that Toby and the ranch hands were now finally loading their supper plates.

Behind her, she heard her name spoken. "Hi Dovie." She turned around. It was Tessa Barfield.

"Hi Tessa."

"Is now a good time for the interview?"

"Oh, yes! It's a great time."

BOOK: Forever Kisses (Romance on the Ranch Book 7)
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