The Halls of Damon Manor:
"Wait up," Jacob called out to Serena. "Come on, wait a minute!"
Serena turned to glance at him as she continued walking. Seeing him race to catch up with her, she felt a surge of renewed anger that he dared to speak with her now. She was completely offended by the sight of him.
"Serena," he growled and rushed to stop her. When he reached her side, he placed a hand on her shoulder in effort to halt her.
"Don't you touch me, Jacob," she raged. Leveling him with defiant eyes, she finally stopped walking as she whipped around to face him. "How dare you speak to me now?"
Stung by her sharp tongue, he blushed and turned away for a moment. Trying to hide his dismay, he smiled sheepishly. With a mystified expression, he replied, "What have I done? You look like you are ready to pounce on me."
Her eyes widened at his feigned ignorance. He knew perfectly well why she was upset. "Of course I'm angry," she flared. "Gambling is a sin and you know it. It is not a trait I admire in anyone."
Shrugging helplessly, he laughed, "I wasn't gambling."
His response made her pause for a moment. Then she realized he was trying to sidestep the issue. Curling her nose, she said, "You did nothing to stop them. You encouraged the others into committing a sin. It is as much your sin as theirs."
"Serena, please. I did not encourage anyone. People do as they please. What I do or don't do has little bearing on anything in this manor. My actions may have spurted them into gambling, but it was not my doing."
He couldn't believe she was so upset over the whole thing. It hadn't occurred to him that she might take such offense over the contest. He'd thought she might even be impressed by a display of such strength.
In a million years, he would never understand the way a woman's mind worked. They were so unpredictable with their emotions. He hadn't thought a woman would drop dead at his feet if he beat Blake at arm wrestling, but he did feel he deserved a little praise. It had taken all he was worth to put Blake down. Of course, Blake had blatantly given in, he was sure of that.
Frowning at her now, he asked, "Are you really so upset with me over this then?"
Considering the question, she knew he was only half right. Between their conversation last night and the one they'd had this morning, she knew she'd already been angry with him to begin with. Besides that, she was still upset by what she'd learned about Blake.
"Serena," he promised, "if I'd known this would upset you so much, I wouldn't have challenged Blake. I had no idea you would take it this way."
Staring up at his earnest expression, she sighed and found her fury dwindling. Hearing that her opinion might change anything he'd choose to do was surprising. He couldn't be serious'
"If I had told you not to challenge Blake, you would have listened? I think not," she argued in doubt.
Giving it a bit of thought, he had to laugh again. "No, I think Blake had me a little too riled at the dinner table." Nodding in agreement, he added, "I would have probably fought him anyway."
She saw him flexing his arm and knew he was probably sore. Her inner devil smiled in victory. Serves him right, she thought with a grin.
Jacob saw the light dancing in her eyes. With a curious stare, he asked, "What brought that on?"
Knowing she hadn't done a very good job at disguising her delight, she tilted her head a little as she commented, "Your arm is a bit sore, isn't it."
Lifting his arm slightly, he shook off a mild cramp and found himself blushing again. He realized she was teasing him now. With a playfully wounded expression, he said, "You aren't supposed to notice such things. You're supposed to be concentrating on what strength I possess, not that my arm is quivering from such strain." He continued to stretch his arm for another moment and winced a little in spite of himself.
Serena was smiling now. She saw that he was trying to amuse her. With growing pleasure, she remarked, "I guess the fact that your face looked like it was ready to explode was merely a display of that strength then? It's amazing that Blake's face wasn't purple like yours."
"Now just wait a'" he readjusted his stance defensively as he continued, "I was not purple."
Serena laughed again, falling silent for a moment afterwards. This was the first time she and Jacob had spent a civil moment together in days. It felt so much better than arguing with him. It was nice to see that his agreeable personality hadn't disappeared altogether. She wondered if this was just a rare moment in time with him. Which was the real Jacob Damon? The pessimist she seen the last few days or the playful man who stood before her now?
Jacob watched her growing thoughtful. He couldn't help wondering what she was thinking. Still, he knew it was getting late. He knew they should be parting company now.
"Well," he murmured quietly. His eyes seemed to dull a little as he said, "I suppose you must want to get going back to your room then."
Serena frowned as well. Would he return to his moody persona by morning? If so, she wished to stay and enjoy a little more of his pleasant side before adjourning to her room, but it wouldn't do to let Caleb catch them speaking here alone in the hall. He'd have more words with her then. If she continued defying him, he was sure to send her back to her father's home. And, Andrew would be waiting for her there, ready to make the final commitment'
Bowing her head a little, she agreed, "It would be the appropriate thing to do. I don't want your brother chastising me again."
Glancing up a little sharply, Jacob breathed, "What?" His suspicious eyes thinned a little.
Feeling a little flushed, she was caught off guard by his reaction. Surely Caleb had given Jacob the same lecture.
"Serena," he insisted, "what has Caleb got to do with this?"
"I uh'" she stammered a little. Attempting to shield some of Caleb's suspicions, she explained, "Your brother just felt that it wasn't appropriate for me to spend time alone in the presence of a man."
His brows rose as he qualified, "He knew I was the one who was with you?"
She nodded with a deeper frown.
"And he was still upset?" Knowing that did not sit well with him. Of all the ludicrous'
"He was looking out for my interest, Jacob. I understand that," she defended weakly. She could see the hurt in Jacob's eyes. He was truly wounded by the thought that his brother didn't trust him.
Turning away from her now, he walked a few feet away and muttered, "I don't believe it. I know my brother thinks I'm capable of ineptitude, but I never imagined he would think me stupid." Spinning around with true aggravation in his eyes, he said, "This is so typical of Caleb, Serena. He trusts no one." Hesitating for a moment, he added, "Apparently not even me. If he had the smallest clue about what I've let pass by me'"
Releasing a harsh breath, he shook his head negatively. He was utterly stunned that Caleb thought he was capable of such stupidity. He was more than aware what the consequences would be if a hint of such scandal were to leak from this manor. He would never take such chances with the Damon name. But then again, maybe he should have thought better of it. This was not the first time he'd given in to such temptation and been leveled with the consequences.
"Jacob, I think you are making too much of it," she suggested. She felt terrible that he looked so distressed. "Caleb was merely trying to warn me of the dangers of spending time alone with strange men. It was my own fault, not yours. I don't think he meant it as a slight against you."
"Then again, it doesn't really matter," he added. "I'll never be in a relationship with a woman in any case. So what does it matter if he thinks I'm a social moron?"
Serena wondered why he said things like that. It was the second time he had made such a comment. Why did he feel it was so impossible to find love? He only had to open his eyes. There must be more than a few women in this area'at least'who would be happy to become his wife.
"Jacob," she couldn't resist, "I don't see why you are so opposed to the idea that you will one day find a relationship. It happens to everyone."
Smiling with sad eyes, he denied, "Not for me. I gave up on that idea long ago."
Unable to believe it, she asked, "In all your life, you have never attempted to court a woman? You have never been in such a deep relationship?"
Raising his eyes to the ceiling, he rolled his head back for a moment before sighing, "Contemplated, yes. But the opportunity has never presented itself." Staring back down at her, he remarked, "I suppose you find that hard to believe? I can see it in your eyes."
She cast her eyes to the wall for a moment. Did he think she was judging him? If so, she knew she should guard her thoughts more closely. It was impolite to speculate about such things. Jacob's personal life was no one's business but his.
Jacob couldn't believe he had gone off on this tantrum once more. Why did she keep probing him about the subject? Was it so fascinating after all?
"I'm sorry," she whispered at last. "It isn't my place to talk with you about any of this. Last night my better judgment was a little less reserved. I can see now that this bothers you."
"Oh no," he shook his head, he began to turn away. Just as he would have walked off, he continued, "What bothers me are not your questions. If the world delights in the fact that I've had little experience with women, I really couldn't care less. What bothers me is that my brother would not take my history at face value. He knows I'm harmless, and he ought to know I have some level of decency after all these years. If anyone ought to be held to task for their actions, it's him. While I've never even been close enough to touch a woman, Caleb has taken his share." Seeing the growing shock on Serena's face, he dared say no more. Her fragile nature reoccurred to him and he fell suddenly silent.
Serena was not stunned by his admission about Caleb. She had barely registered his last few comments. Instead her mind was replaying the comment he'd made about himself.
He'd never been close enough to touch a woman? Never? Not even to kiss? Surely he had at least kissed a woman, she reasoned. Even at her tender of age of nineteen years, she had been kissed numerous times by men. She had experimented a little with neighborhood boys before Andrew came along, and of course he also hadn't hesitated for a moment to do so when they were alone. She couldn't imagine a man five years her senior admitting that he had never done any of those things. Surely she'd misunderstood him.
"I'd better be going back to my room, Jacob," she finally said as she bit her tongue. She knew better than to stay any longer. If she did, she was likely to find her foot in her mouth as she opened it to ask him what he was thinking. How had they broached such a subject anyway!
Feeling he had broken the limits of propriety, he nodded in response. Uncertain now, he asked, "You won't tell Caleb what I said, will you? Not that I'" he shrugged, unable to finish the thought. He honestly did care if Caleb found out about the things he'd said. He had no desire to let Caleb know he'd honestly been offended.
Wondering what he was talking about, she asked, "What would I tell him?"
Silence hung in the air as she stared up at him. Then all of a sudden he began snickering. "That's good. Thank you," he continued smiling. "I'll speak with you in the morning then."
A baffled expression covered her face, as she began to walk back to her room. It finally dawned on her that he'd thought she was playing along. He'd thought she was pretending to have no memory of it. The truth was she had no idea what she wasn't supposed to tell Caleb. What had she missed?
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