You can find the first part here: Hoping For Change
As the cold metal cuffs snapped around her wrists, something inside Hope froze. She didn't register the words Jake was speaking quietly near her ear, nor the warmth of his hand on her arm as he led her toward his patrol car. Even the shouting and yelling had faded to a dull hum as shock and despair held Hope captive in a way that the handcuffs never could.
Hope stared out the window as the patrol car rumbled down the gravel road, not even wincing when the pot holes caused her to knock her head against the glass. The farms they drove past blurred into a continuous stream of green and brown, dissected by the occasional road or building.
She wasn't sure how much time had passed when the door she was leaning against opened, causing her to tumble out. She hadn't even realised the car had stopped.
Jake grabbed her shoulders in a gentle grip, steadying her. "Hope? Hope, are you okay? Answer me! Hope!"
She heard him muttering as she was turned around and then the click as he unfastened one cuff and then the other. Her arms fell down to her sides and she was turned back to face Jake.
"I'm sorry, Hope, I really am. I had to do something. I was worried they were going to form a lynch mob or something."
Hope stared straight ahead, which meant Jake's broad chest filled her field of vision.
"Hope? Will you please talk to me?" He briskly rubbed her arms as if she was cold and he was trying to warm her, despite the heat of the summer sun bearing down on them. Then suddenly she was enveloped in his embrace, and the warmth of his body and the unique scent of man, grass and fabric softener combined to feel like...home. Hot tears leaked into his shirt.
"I just wanted to belong," she sobbed. "I've never belonged anywhere, to anyone. I just... I thought this time it might be different."
Jake's hands smoothed up and down her back as he held her close. "Shh, honey," he crooned. "It's not your fault."
"They hate me!" she wailed. "Everybody hates me."
"Oh, Hope. That's not true. As much as I hate to break up your pity party," he teased gently, "I don't hate you. I actually... I mean... I've been trying to tell you, I..."
Hope pushed away from his chest and raised wet eyes to blink up at him.
Red tinged his cheeks as he looked away. "I love you, Hope."
Hope sucked in a breath. "What?" She cringed at the squeak in her voice.
Jake met her gaze and smiled. "I love you. I hate that you're upset, and I hate that I made you cry, but I just had to get you out of there."
"You love me? But... Me, really? You love me?"
Jake chuckled, then leaned down to place his lips against hers. "You, Hope Marin. And only you. I love you." Then he kissed her, a sweet press of lips that melted her limbs and left her leaning against him again.
Hope didn't know what Jake had planned when he'd gathered what seemed like the entire community into the local hall. One thing she definitely hadn't expected though was pictures of herself as a child to be flashed up on the projector screen while he stood in front of the crowd talking. What was he thinking? He'd started talking about her childhood, her parents, the nanny, and it seemed like he was telling them her whole life story. Hope fidgeted. There was no way this was going to end well. These people didn't care about a poor little rich girl. They wanted someone strong and capable, someone who fit in. Someone who belonged here.
As Jake continued, Hope heard him recite every one of the mistakes she'd made since buying her farm. She cringed. She didn't want to think about them, and surely reminding everyone was the very opposite of what they should do? It was bad enough that most people had been there for one or another, let alone listing them all off like some criminal's rap sheet.
"She came here looking for acceptance. To belong somewhere. All she's ever wanted is to be accepted. To be part of this community. A friend. A neighbour. And you not only turned your backs on her, you made her doubt that she was worthy of us."
Tears ran down Hope's face as she listened to Jake talk about her. She believed him now. He really did understand her. He loved her. She didn't know why, but it was enough that he did.
"She is the strongest, sweetest woman I know, and frankly I don't think you deserve her. I'm sure I don't. But that's not going to stop me trying my hardest every day to do right by her. Hope, honey, would you come out here?"
What? Hope glanced around, looking for an escape. He hadn't said anything about her having to go out there and face them all.
Hope tipped her head back and looked up at the ceiling. There was no way to resist him when he used that gentle, coaxing tone. No wonder everyone, even the animals, responded to him the way they did. She trudged out to stand beside him, looking at the wooden floor of the stage as she tried not to make eye contact with anyone in the crowd. She heard the buzz of a low murmur moving through the crowd.
She looked up at Jake, then squawked in a most undignified fashion as he dropped to one knee in front of her. "What are you doing?" she hissed, shooting panicked glances at the people closest to them.
"Hope Marin, I love you. Will you do me the honour of being my wife?"
Hope was so startled she barely even noticed the ring he held out in a small black jeweller's box. "I... But... Jake? I don't know..."
A yell came from the crowd. "Say yes!"
Hope spun around as the cry was picked up and repeated, more and more voices joining in. Tears streaming down her face, she looked back at Jake who was smiling at her. "I don't understand."
"I think they want you to say yes," he said, laughing softly.
Hope nodded, and barely heard her own voice saying "Yes" as a roar went up from the crowd.
Jake slid the ring on her finger and then stood up to kiss her, accompanied by whistles and cheers.
"I don't understand, Jake," Hope whispered. "They don't even like me."
Jake turned her to face everyone, his arm around her shoulders. "They don't hate you," he whispered in her ear. "They understand now how badly they behaved, and they understand that none of it was your fault. They want to make it up to you."
"I don't need that," she protested, looking up at him. "I never wanted to be special. I just wanted to fit in."
As people came up to congratulate them, Hope recognised quite a few of the faces from the past weeks. One after the other they apologised. Hope tried to brush away their words, saying there was nothing to forgive, but when she and Jake were left alone for a few moments she had to admit she was relieved that they all insisted she stay in the community with Jake.
"You will always be special, Hope," Jake murmured as he brushed a kiss over her hair. "But I promise you, you belong with me. Here or wherever you want to live, so long as it's with me. We belong together."