by Shanon Grey
It’s February and, as is the case everywhere, love is in the air. Even more so in the quaint southern town of Ruthorford, with one exception. In Ruthorford, descendants are hoping for a match-mate connection that will result in a “blended” offspring. To encourage this, the townsfolk of Ruthorford created an event perfect for their purpose–a Valentine Day’s Dance. Those who are descendants of the original Native Americans, whose farms surround and protect Ruthorford, and the descendants of the Scots, who settled and formed the core of the town, are invited. Not everyone will “match,” but generally one or two will find their mate and, hopefully, that union will produce a blend, who, in turn, will match with another blend and that couple will be trained as Gatekeepers, whose powers, when combined….
This is the story of one such Valentine’s Day Dance and how things are not always as they seem.
“Okay,” Brenda, the town’s long-lived post-mistress, said, as she pulled the large box of invitations through the open grill, “is that everyone?”
“Of course it is,” Miss Alice intoned, sniffing indignantly. “I’ve been doing this for…forever,” she stated, careful never to give away her age.
Brenda let the smile broaden as she flipped through the invitations, not looking up. She lifted one. “The Hamilton’s? They never come.”
“I won’t be leaving anyone out. Just because they don’t come doesn’t mean they don’t deserve an invitation.” Alice’s narrowed her eyes.
No one knew for sure why, but the Hamilton’s had broken away from the town, moving the farthest out. They married outside as well. It wouldn’t be long before they were all but gone. Nevertheless, as one of the first Scottish families chosen by the Native Americans to settle in Ruthorford, they deserved the respect as such and an invitation went out.
The same with the Merciers. They came from a Canadian tribe and had settled with the tribe surrounding the town. They also didn’t attend, which was just as well, since their longstanding feud with the Hamilton’s generally erupted into a brawl whenever they attended the same functions.
Brenda shook her head and stamped the envelopes. She gave a little smile. Miss Alice might be sending out the invitations but Brenda had managed to get on the decorating committee and she’d seen the huge Davis barn transformed into a red, pink, white and silver fantasy. Of course, Abbott Bed and Breakfast was catering the affair and Brenda had managed to “taste test” several of Teresa’s creations. No one would go hungry, that’s for sure. They’d nixed the idea of a live band this year since so many of the young men were away at college. Even if they made it home for the party, they’d arrive late with little time to practice. Rowe and Kateri Davis were in charge of music. They were young enough to make sure everyone got something they liked.
Across town, Alice’s sister, Grace, was not making much headway with her visiting god-daughter.
“Tante Gracie,” Alexanne, moaned, her voice pleading, her French accent heavy for effect. “I really don’t want to go to that dance.” She threw in a pout for good measure.
“Now, Lexi,” Miss Grace said, using her nickname, “it would mean so much to Miss Alice. She’s worked so hard on the invitations. Grace reached over and gave a loving tug to the sable brown hair that flowed about Lexi’s shoulders. She hadn’t seen her since she was eleven and now, at nineteen, she was stunning. “Besides, Teresa sure could use the help.”
Lexi’s light green eyes sparkled as she turned to her godmother. “For Tante Alice and Teresa, though I would rather stay with you,” she acquiesced. “I’m still not sure what the emergency was—that it was all so important that I come now. I’ve never been before. It’s a good thing I’m on winter break, because you know maman and papa would not have agreed.”
Miss Grace just smiled.
The crowd overflowed out from the open barn doors of the transformed barn. The heavy rhythm poured from perfectly placed speakers, letting the music flood into the night. Almost everyone was dancing. If they weren’t dancing, they were eating. Laughter drifted outside along with the music.
Grant Hamilton made his way through the throng. He’d just arrived from Scotland that afternoon, his graduation present after finishing med school. It had been a wonderful break before starting his residency. He’d fallen in love with the land and the people, his family’s people. Now he was back and thrust into the thick of a Ruthorford gathering. Even though he’d never attended one of Ruthorford’s functions—his family making a point of avoiding them—tonight he found himself delivering the Scottish pastries he’d brought for Teresa Yancy, his god-mother and the owner of the Abbott Bed and Breakfast, per her request, to the Davis’ barn. He figured he could drop them off and be gone before he ran into a Mercier and they ruined the party.
He headed straight to the table, keeping his blue eyes forward, trying not to draw attention. Teresa saw him, gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, and ruffled his windswept blond hair, moving before he could hand her the box. “Take that on down to the end of the table for me, will you?” She turned him and gave him a gentle push toward the end of the long table, already laden with every type of food, leaving little room to place his box. He moved a couple of plates around and lowered the box.
“Don’t you dare set that box down!” A heavily accented female voice came at him from the side.
He jerked the box back up and turned toward the voice, only to find himself staring into the green eyes of a goddess. Thick brown hair swept her shoulders, a fringe of bangs offsetting the pale green of her eyes. His response to her beauty was so visceral he nearly dropped the box. Perfect white teeth worried her full lower lip as she reached to catch the box.
Her hands closed over his as the both clasped the box. A current coursed back and forth between them. Their eyes locked.
“Hey, Lexi!” A young man came up and put his arm around her waist, breaking the spell. “You haven’t danced with me yet.”
She gave Grant a quiet smile, let go of the box, and turned to the young man holding her, “I would love to dance with you, Jimmy.”
Her French accent washed over Grant like warm cognac, setting fire to his nerves. Still holding the box, he watched her disappear into the crowd.
Out of nowhere, Miss Grace appeared at his elbow. “Let’s put that right here,” she said, taking the box from his hands and setting it in the exact same spot he’d aimed for in the first place. “Now, would you offer an old lady a dance?”
“I’d love to,” he flashed his blue eyes at her and followed her to the floor.
She let his arm slip around her as she hit him with a flurry of questions–about his family, school, and Scotland—barely giving him a chance to breathe in between his answers. She was also leading, or rather pushing, him around the floor. He stumbled slightly and bumped into a warm body.
The contact sent a spark through his back. An apology was on the tip of his tongue, when Grace stepped around him. “Jimmy,” she exclaimed, taking hold of the young man’s arm. “Just the man I was looking for. Will you excuse us a moment, Lexi? Grant, this is Lexi. Lexi this is Grant.” They stood, staring at one another. “Well…dance with her,” she said and pushed the two together.
His hands slid around her as though they were meant to encircle her small waist. The curves of her body melted into his as if welcoming him home after a long absence. The current ran from one to the other and back, pulsing—until their two hearts began to beat as one.
Grace directed Jimmy, ignoring his whimpered complaints, out to the parking lot on some trumped-up errand and stopped next to Teresa. She turned and watched as the two young people swayed to the music, oblivious to the world around them.
“There’s going to be some upset families tonight.” Teresa nodded toward the couple and let a smile play across her lips. “What were you thinking, putting a Mercier with a Hamilton?”
Grace let her old green eyes close in a slow blink, opening them to see the blended aura surrounding the young couple. She smiled at Teresa. “We do what we must.”