Spy Glass Page 26

He remained neutral. “Yeah.”

“They are.” I let him figure it out. When I swung up into the saddle, I was eye level with Finn.

He changed the subject. “Is that a jumping saddle?”

“Yep.” I grinned. “Quartz loves to jump. I hope you can keep up.”

“That won’t be a problem, because you won’t catch me.” He spurred Sun Ray into a gallop.

To be fair, I waited a few seconds before giving Quartz the signal. Then we gave chase.

My ribs protested the motion, but the pure joy of riding banished my aches, worries and problems. I concentrated on my connection with Quartz and soon we moved as one, flying over fences, chewing up the miles and drinking the wind. We transformed into a combined mass of energy and power, free to go anywhere. Exhilarating.

We caught up to Finn and Sun Ray. He pointed to a forest in the distance. Our destination. With a burst of speed, we passed them and bolted for the forest. Once at the edge of the woods, we slowed and returned to horse and rider. I dismounted and walked beside Quartz, letting her cool down.

Holding Sun Ray’s reins, Finn joined us, leading her beside us as she puffed for breath. Her golden coat gleamed with sweat. “I always thought the stories about the Sandseed horses had been exaggerated. Now I’m thinking they didn’t quite explain the—” he searched for the proper word “—splendor of the horse. Not just physical attractiveness, but the whole way she moved as if she embodied the tangible essence of pure beauty.” He looked a bit chagrined. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to gush.”

“As long as it doesn’t go to her head. She’s already spoiled, but she’d be impossible to live with if she developed an over-inflated ego.”

We entered the forest, following a trail through the bare branches and crunching dead leaves under our boots. A few evergreens saved the landscape from being outright creepy. Only a few days remained in the cold season, but full greenery wouldn’t arrive until the end of the warming season.

The gurgle of water reached me before we entered a rocky clearing. A stream cut through the middle, snaking around the bigger rocks. Finn tied his horse to a nearby tree, but I pulled Quartz’s bridle off and let her explore.

“Aren’t you worried she’ll run away?” he asked.

“No. Although, if she chooses to leave, I’d be devastated.”

Quartz snorted and flicked me with her tail. Finn peered at me as if my skin had turned another color.

“With Sandseed horses, the horse picks the rider. And if she decides she wants to return to the Avibian Plains, there’s nothing I could do to stop her. Well…I could tempt her with milk oats.”

She raised her head at the mention of her favorite treat, but returned to drinking from the stream when I failed to produce them.

I scanned the clearing. “Where’s the waterfall?”

“Upstream.” He removed a sack from Sun Ray’s saddlebags and slung it over his shoulder. “Come on.”

We hiked along the bank, hopping from rock to rock to avoid the mud and water. A light shushing filled the air and a moisture-rich breeze fanned our faces. The sound grew louder and the stream widened as we continued. Up ahead, a bend blocked my view, but a thin mist floated low over the water.

Anxious, I increased my pace and rounded the corner. I stopped. The waterfall was three feet high.

Finn shot me his slanted smile. “I did say it was a pretty little waterfall.”

He opened the sack and drew out cheese, bread, two flasks, two cups, a variety of small sandwiches and a blanket. Arranging them on the top of a large flat boulder, he smoothed out the blanket and invited me to sit next to him.

For a moment I stood in stunned silence. This was a date. An actual date. I’d never been on one before. Ulrick and I had started as friends and then took the next step. And Kade…Our initial meeting hadn’t gone well, but the relationship grew over time and crises. We never had a peaceful moment. Not even a picnic on the beach.

I suddenly wished Kade and not Finn waited for me to join him. Settling on the ground, I turned my attention to him. We talked about nothing in particular as we ate, but at the first natural segue, I steered the conversation to Wirral. Because this shouldn’t be a real date. I needed to learn everything I could about the prison.

Finn answered a few questions, but the gleam in his eyes meant he saw right through me. Eventually he asked, “Is your interest in the prison linked to the attack last night?”

“No. I was just curious.”

He leaned back on one elbow. “Even if I hadn’t been trained to spot one, you’re not a good lair. Your questions about security at Wirral combined with the attack last night, mean you’re up to something. You’re on a mission.”

I tried to protest, but he shook his head. “Don’t bother denying it. Since I doubt you’re up to no good, why don’t you tell me what’s going on so I can help you?”

I hesitated. He straightened and said, “I have sources all over Fulgor.” He leaned toward me. “What if you’re attacked again? If I know what’s going on, I can better protect you.”

Sticking to the truth, I said, “I’m on a mission for myself. No one sent me. You know I’m not popular among the guards. Remember the drunks at the Spotted Dog?”

“What’s the mission?”

“I’d rather not say. Don’t worry. It doesn’t involve helping any of the prisoners at Wirral.”

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