She ran her hands over the horse’s thin skin, feeling the veins just beneath the surface. He was the color of polished pecan wood, and warm to the touch. His eyes were large and soft, his head relaxed, one ear trained on her. She checked the bridle, the fit of his bit, the tightness of his girth. Why was there this racing in her chest, like the blood was trying to escape?
Zeke watched. “Leg up?” he asked.
He waited for her to gather the reins and a handful of black mane, then he went down on one knee, offering his perpendicular thigh as a step. She raised a brow, afraid her weight and boot would hurt. “C’mon,” he said. “You’re fine. Go for it.”
As soon as her buttocks hit the saddle, she experienced an over-whelming sense of deja-vu, a feeling that she’d been here before, long ago, with this man she’d met three days prior staring up at her with a question mark on his face. The panic began to swell. The ocher sand wavered before her eyes as though through extreme heat, and every shift of the animal beneath her sent a jolt of electricity through her muscles.
“Relax,” Zeke was saying, his hand on her knee. He positioned her foot in the iron, squeezed her knee and calf. “You okay?”
The world swam back into focus. Gunnar was wide, comfortable. And he seemed completely unconcerned with her nerves. She felt him sink on the left rear, and Zeke poked him in the flank with his knuckles and made a kissing sound. “He’s going to take a nap on you,” Zeke said with a smile. “Good?”
She nodded, gathered the reins, tightened her thighs and knees around his barrel. She had a flash of being wrapped around Zeke’s waist…
~Stella (a working title)