Perhaps an hour later, Camille heard hooves approaching, a horse at a gallop. She ran to the doorway, bridle in one hand and cleaning cloth in the other, determined to see. From a distance it was clear there was no danger; Henri rode Rhubarb, bareback, jumping him over a small bush here and some plant clippings there, letting the stallion burn off some of his energy. Camille found herself smiling. His seat was not just secure, but a thing of beauty.
He saw her from across the paddock and cantered up to the barn door, grinning hugely. He had no idea, Camille knew, how lovely his smile was; he had no trace of vanity. After knowing so many preening courtiers, she felt this was one of his most attractive traits.
“Your Grace,” he said. “He’s glorious! Would you like to ride him? He’s well-mannered.” He flushed. “Oh. He’s really yours, you can ride him whenever you wish.”
Camille hung the bridle and cloth on a hook, and picked up the man’s hat Sylvie had given her as a disguise. With that and her loose jacket, from a distance she ought to be safe from curious eyes. She now knew she’d hear another horse’s approach, and any guards would come in a group. After quickly covering her hair and pulling on her gloves, she walked into the yard. The mares and gelding were far across the pasture, too far to go to just now. She would visit with them later. Now, she would ride. Her heart beat faster with excitement. “Give me a hand up.”
Henri gingerly held out one hand and extended his foot, to give her a step. He blushed furiously. Camille hoisted her habit’s skirt in one hand and in a few moments was astride a horse, for the first time in four years.
She gloried in the minute shifts of muscle beneath her, in the hum of living power along the stallion’s skin. The aroma of horse rose up around her. Laughing aloud, she clasped her arms firmly around Henri’s slender waist. She could feel his muscles shifting, too. His smell reminded her of mulled wine. “Glorious!” she agreed.
c. Victoria Janssen, 2009
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