EMMA was out shopping with her aunt when Josh delivered the new horse.
“Decent young fellow,” Gideon announced at supper. “Invested some of my payment in a set of harness, he did.”
A memory of dancing with strong arms around her rose in Emma’s mind: the glint of sunlight on burnished curls and the brush of warm lips on hers. She bent her head demurely over her plate, trusting that no-one noticed the flush in her cheeks.
Business at the saddler’s shop was thriving, and as a rule Alfie or Hamilton dealt with the deliveries. Several days later, however, all three men were engaged upon a rush order and it was left to Emma to take a sidesaddle to a house a few miles away at Waverton.
Cygnus had not been out of his stall for a while and was fresh, fidgeting as she fastened the traces on the harness, tossing his head when she climbed into the gig.
She drove him out of the yard, holding him back until a suitable gap appeared in the clot of slow-moving traffic of the main street. Jinking and dancing, Cygnus took her along the unaccustomed city thoroughfare, eyes showing the whites behind his blinkers.
Once out of the town she was able to give him his head. The young horse plunged forward eagerly, trotting out, the gig bowling along.
All went well till they came to a pair of low-roofed cottages. They were passing when a dog bounded from one of the gardens and ran snapping at Cygnus’s hooves. The horse let out a snort, shied violently and bolted.
“Whoa!” Emma hollered, hauling on the reins. She braced herself against the back of the seat and tried to pull him up, but the horse’s jaw was set.
He went thundering on, the gig bouncing treacherously over the rutted surface of the road.
Emma’s bonnet fell back. The wayside hedges rushed past in a haze of green and she closed her eyes and prayed.
* * * *
Josh was returning from a sale, his pockets satisfactorily full. His father had not looked so good when he left that morning and he now urged his mount on, anxious to see if all was well.
Suddenly his gelding’s ears pricked, and then Josh heard it; the unmistakable rattle and clamour of a bolting horse and carriage. Next moment the culprit came into view. There was no mistaking the pounding grey horse between the shafts and the cloud of corn-gold hair of the driver.
“Come on!” Josh clapped his legs against the gelding’s sides and sent it galloping in pursuit. By now Cygnus was tiring and Josh soon caught up with him. Galloping alongside, he reached for the reins and brought the wild flight to a halt.
“Emma, we meet again!” he said lightly.
Taking in her dishevelled appearance and the trembling of fright she was doing her best to control, his heart softened.
“Are you all right?” he enquired in quieter tones.
“I – yes. A dog spooked him. My hands went numb, or I would have pulled him up.”
“Of course you would,” Josh agreed soberly. Both knew it was bravado speaking. “Emma, this is a young animal, reliable under saddle but not long broken to harness. I did point that out. What was your grandfather thinking of, letting you drive him on your own?”
“Granfer trusts me to manage. It wasn’t the horse’s fault. He’d been shut inside when he needs exercise. I shall have to make a point of riding him out every day.”
Josh had no idea what made him make his next move, especially since he had vowed never to come under the spell of a pretty face.
“I ride my horses out first thing. What if we arrange a place to meet? I’ll help you with Cygnus till you get the measure of him.”
He saw the agony of indecision in her bright brown eyes.
“Dawn tomorrow? Here, at the crossroads?” he pressed.
From the mere across the way a pair of swans rose in graceful flight.
Two for joy, Josh thought absently, and was unprepared for the bolt of emotion that shot through him when Emma gave a small nod.
“I’ll be here,” she said breathlessly.