“Sure. I’ll take you. I can’t ride with you, though. I have to finish some homework, and then I have a date.” His gaze slid back to the maid, Laura.

“Oh? Something romantic?” I asked.

“We’ll see.” He stood. “Come on.”

I followed him out to the hallway.

“Hang on, Stella. You can’t wear tennis shoes to ride. Got any boots?”

I looked down at my outfit. “You’re right. I’ll meet you back here in five minutes.”

I rushed upstairs and threw on some jeans, a t-shirt, a light jacket, and boots before returning to Teddy. Laura scurried away when I hit the bottom step. Teddy smiled, his lips a little redder than they were when I left him.

“Don’t say anything to Sin, okay?” He led me through the kitchen and then out through a back hallway.

“I don’t intend to say anything to him, period. So that should be easy.”

“Yeah, you two have some kind of crazy thing going on. I don’t really understand it. I’ve learned just to not ask any questions anymore. They don’t tell me anything, anyway.” He shrugged. His hair was lighter than Vinemont’s but he was just as tall and almost as built. It was no wonder Laura had taken a liking to him.

He led me to some sort of ATV that was parked behind the house and motioned for me to get on the back. He swung a leg over and cranked it up.

“Where are the, um, helmets?” I asked over the sound of the engine.

“Scared?” He smiled, and I realized he was a lady killer hidden in the body of a young, sweet man.

I snugged up behind him and wrapped my arms around his middle. “Go fast.”

He laughed, a deep rumble I could feel through his back.

“Yes, ma’am.”

The day was uncharacteristically warm, but the breeze created by the speeding ATV was delicious. The smell of fall was in the air, crisp and familiar. Many trees still bore some seasonal color, while others had already given up, their branches bare and dormant.

He gunned it down the curving drive. I squealed with the pleasure of movement and freedom. The barn loomed up ahead, large and classically red. Bales of hay were lined up out front, and chickens pecked around from a nearby coop. It was a lovely picture, really—the sky mostly blue with a few fluffy clouds, the red of the barn, and the color in the trees, all working together to create something idyllic.

We flew past the barn and came to the stables, painted the same iconic red. He parked out front and helped me off the ATV.

“That was fun.”

He smiled again, beautiful. “Anytime. I’ll get you set up. Come on.”

We went into the stables and he disappeared into what I assumed was the tack room. There were several horses in the expansive enclosure. Two struck my fancy. One, large and dark. He nickered at me in greeting. I held out my hand and rubbed his nose lightly. He was proud but still friendly.

The next was a white mare, so light she looked almost silver. She watched me approach and nuzzled my hand.

“Oh, you’ve gone for Gloria. She’s my favorite. I would have picked her for you, myself.”

“Do you take care of the horses all the time?”

“No. I’d love to, though. Just don’t have the time with school. We have a stable master and a few grooms. They keep the horses and take them to shows and things like that. They’re out at a show right now. Should be back tomorrow.”

Teddy carried a saddle to Gloria’s stall.

“Come on Gloria, how does a nice ride sound?” She nickered and nodded her head.

I laughed. “She certainly knows how to get her point across.”

“You’ll never meet a smarter horse.” He threw a glance over his shoulder at the black gelding. “No offense, Shadow.”

Shadow didn’t respond.

“That’s Sin’s horse,” he explained.

“I should have guessed.”

Teddy led Gloria from the stall and got her all set up for me. Once the bridle was set, he helped me up and adjusted the stirrups.

“Feel good?” He ran a hand down Gloria’s mane.

“Yep. I think this is just right. Thanks, Teddy.” I loved being astride a horse. It made me feel so tall, powerful.

“My pleasure.” He led Gloria and me from the shady stables out into the dappled light.

“Now, like I said, I don’t know the deal, but I’m pretty sure I’d be in big trouble if you rode off into the sunset and never came back.” He squinted up at me.

“Not on your watch, Teddy. I promise.”

“All right then. Head that way if you want to ride past the lake and over the levee. There are some pulp woods over there if you want trees above you, or you could ride back toward the house. It’s up to you.”

“I think I’ll see the lake.”

“Good choice.” He looked up. “Don’t stay out here too long. When it’s warm like this, storms aren’t far behind.”

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