I was becoming more frustrated by the day. Our journey was reaching its end, I could tell. Despite this, Jesse still would not disclose where we were going.
“So, Jesse, where are we headed? Have I been there before?” I asked, riding alongside him. Our horses trotted along happily, occasionally making sweet little noises.
He gave me a sidelong glance, laughing and shaking his head. His wavy hair was growing longer, and now curled against the back of his golden neck. His face still remained clean-shaven, though, despite my never seeing him with a razor.
“No, señorita, you have not. At least to my knowledge,” he told me, staring straight ahead.
Jesse nodded as we passed a man driving a covered wagon pulled by a team of oxen. I lowered my chin to my chest, attempting to hide my face under the brim of the hat I was borrowing from Daniel. I was trying to avoid being seen until it was absolutely necessary.
Jesse always made a friendly gesture to passing people in order to come across as peaceful. Sightings of other people were becoming far more frequent. I was not sure how much time had passed, but Jesse’s behavior is what told me that we were almost to our destination.
“Please? I want to know where we are going! Will I have to put my dress back on?” I asked, hoping he would at least disclose this much information. Putting a dress on sounded horrifying to me. I never wanted to go back to those awful skirts, especially after experiencing pants.
I watched as he became increasingly fidgety in his saddle, his brow furrowed in obvious concentration. He had been this way ever since we found the body of that poor man. That was the only time Jesse had ever seen visibly shaken to me.
“That is actually a very good question. I will get back to you on it,” Jesse answered, rolling a fallen sleeve back up his forearm. His eyes flashed gold as he looked into the setting sun.
The other men rode behind us, laughing noisily. There never was a quiet moment with them, especially Ross. He was the loudest of them all, and by far the most raucous.
The landscape moved by, a blur of trees and distant ocean. The weather was perfect, not a cloud in the sky. It was cooler wherever we were than it was in Monterey, the air a bit windy from the ocean. It was steadily becoming chillier under the darkening sky.
“Jesse! Tell me!” I exclaimed. My braid thumped against my shoulder with every step the horse took. This is how every single one of our conversations had gone in the past days.
All at once, I knew I was going to get my way. Jesse slowed his horse down a bit, and turned to me with frustration evident on his face.
“Jesucristo, Ella! We are going to Los Angeles. I need to speak with my mother,” Jesse exclaimed, shaking his head wearily at me.
My mouth dropped open but no words came out. Los Angeles? What?
I had heard stories of Los Angeles. It was a huge city, populated by many Mexicans. It was near the ocean, as was Monterey, but Los Angeles was so much bigger.
I was not sure whether to be terrified or excited. Would I have to meet Jesse’s mother? His family? Were they nice? Have they ever seen a white girl?
“Will I be meeting your family…?” I asked, trailing off after realizing what an uncomfortable question it was. “I am sorry. You don’t have to answer tha-” I started to say.
“Yes, lo siento, you will have to meet her. And yes, you may want to put that dress back on as we reach the city. Mamá is…traditional,” Jesse replied.
Traditional? Great. I was currently wearing pants. And a men’s shirt. And belt. The woman probably hates me already, and she does not even know of me.
“Do not worry, señorita. My family speaks good English. They will welcome you with open arms, as I have done,” he said, making direct eye contact with me.
I flushed, looking away from his light brown gaze. I could never tell what he truly meant by these cryptic phrases. Jesse was far too gentlemanly to ever make a pass at me, but his statements were warm and affectionate and often made me blush, which was incredibly embarrassing. Jesse loved to tease me about my blushing.
“Ella, are you hot? Your cheeks are flushed,” Jesse spoke, reaching over to feel my face. He was struggling to keep a straight face.
I swatted his hand away, glaring.
“When will we be there?” I asked, deciding to just ignore the previous statement. I lowered my head again as we passed multiple people on horseback.
“We are a few miles away from the outskirts,” Jesse answered, not looking at me.
“What?” I shrieked, completely stopping Shadow.
Jesse stopped too, bringing Caballo back next to my horse.
“What is the matter?” He questioned, looking confused. The rest of the group gathered around us.
“What’s goin’ on here, Jess?” Ross asked, his eyebrows knit in confusion.
“I have not had any time to prepare, Jesse! I am not even dressed, my hair is a ratty mess, I do not even know how to act around them-” I all but screamed. I did not give myself time to breathe, so that statement must have sounded like gibberish to the men.
“Ah. You told her,” Ross said, knowingly smiling.
“Was I the only one that did not know we were going here?” I seethed, my rage boiling over.
“Going where?” Wyatt asked, finally contributing to the conversation.
We all rolled our eyes.
“Ella, it is fine! You can bathe when we get there and then look presentable. For the time being, Mamá will understand. Just be Ella and you will be fine,” Jesse told me, obviously trying very hard to calm me down.
I set my jaw and urged Shadow to move. I began moving away from the group, following the trail toward Los Angeles.
A few moments of this and I started to hope someone would catch up with me, because the trail was branching off into two before me.
Luckily, Jesse came to the rescue and rode left, riding slowly so that I could catch up.
“I am sorry, señorita. I did not realize this would be so important to you,” he said quietly, so that the other men behind us would not hear.
I struggled to keep my resolve, but Jesse was looking at me with his beautiful eyes and I was having a rough time.
“It is fine,” I finally answered.
His shoulders relaxed, and he opened his lush mouth to say something.
“Next time you keep me in the dark about something, though, I will find the nearest Sheriff and tell him you kidnapped me,” I said, cutting him off. He had voiced his worry to me a few days earlier about that, claiming that he was essentially a kidnapper now.
He laughed and shook his head.
“Okay, señorita. That is fair,” Jesse said.
The rest of our ride was spent in comfortable silence. We arrived in Los Angeles just as the moon rose. I was thankful for this, for the bustling city was relatively quiet. All to be heard was the sound of horses snorting and the occasional door opening and closing.
We rode through the streets of Los Angeles, following Jesse towards his home. He seemed nervous, almost on edge. His shoulders were sharp, as if he was ready to strike at any moment.
“This is Calle del Vino. Wine Street,” he told me, his face remaining passive. “My home is at the end.”
Jesse stopped riding, and we followed suit. He dismounted his horse, waiting as everyone did the same.
“Please, be respectful of my family,” Jesse said, staring straight at the other men. “You four, do not go anywhere near my sisters or else I will personally kill you.”
They did not seem to think he was kidding, for they solemnly nodded.
“You,” Jesse said, turning to me. “Be yourself. Relax.”
I also nodded, and we followed Jesse down the narrow stone street to the end, reaching a large villa. It was unlike anything I had seen before; absolutely beautiful. I stood there, open-mouthed, admiring the house until Jesse cleared his throat, signaling to me with his hand.
We slipped past the house and put our horses in the stable behind the house, preparing them to rest.
Once everyone had their horse ready, we went back to the front, where Jesse pounded on the huge door loudly.
We waited, listening as the door was unlocked.
The door was flung open, and the porch flooded with light.
My jaw dropped.