The Jeweled Dagger Series by Diane Merril Wigginton Book Tour and Giveaway :)
“Hey, what do you think you are doing, young man?” the farrier, Tucker Parker, growled as he grabbed me by my coat, spinning me around. If it had not been for his strong grip on my collar, I would have hit the ground hard.“Shhh!” I said, almost jumping out of my skin. “Tucker Parker, you scared ten years off my life,” I scolded pushing him off of me, as I leaned down and picked my hat up off the ground. “Keep it down before you awaken the entire place,” I groused, while dusting the hat off and placing it back upon my head. Then narrowing my eyes at him, I began tucking my hair back under the hat. “Sorry, Isabella, I didn’t realize it was you. I thought someone was stealing a horse,” he replied, in a hushed tone. “Which begs the question, where exactly do you think you are going at this hour of the morning?” he asked, standing in front of me with his hands on his hips. “I have to take care of something and I don’t need the entire Order of Saints coming down upon my head, if you must know. So you can help me, Tucker, or get out of my way,” I said in a loud, angry whisper. “Why didn’t you come and get me to help you?” he asked. Then taking a second look at me, as if he was truly seeing me for the first time. “And why are you dressed like a boy, if you don’t mind me asking?” “I have a long ride ahead of me and I don’t want to attract any unwarranted attention, if you get my drift,” I added as quietly as I could, while throwing the blanket and saddle over Dodger’s back. “And why I didn’t seek you out at this wee hour of the morning is a silly question. You have known me for three years now and you know my history and general mistrust of men,” I replied, struggling to secure the saddle properly. Taking hold of my arm, Tucker pulled me around to face him. He had a strange look in his eyes, before he stepped in even closer, as if he intended to kiss me. Panic set in and I suddenly experienced a strange ringing between my ears. Bringing Tucker up short, I placed my hands against his chest, and gave him a hard shove, to stop any further advancement. “Have you lost your mind, Tucker Parker?” I cried, sounding a little harsher than I intended. “You use to like it when I kissed you, Isabella Deveraux.” “That was a long time ago.” I said, brushing him off as I turned back around to finish saddling Dodger. “I’m not that scared little girl any longer, trying to figure out which way is up.” Taking a hold of my arm gently, he forced me to stop and look at him, “Then I will go with you, to make sure nothing happens to you.” “No, you can’t,” I answered rather sternly. “Why Izzy?” he asked, with that hurt look he always gets when I said or did something he didn’t quite understand. The sound of pain in his tone almost made me feel bad for being so harsh. But dealing with Tucker’s delicate ego is not something I could handle, so I did what I always do in a situation like this, I pushed him even further away. “Tucker, I don’t have time for this,” I replied, irritated he was distracting me from my task. “Oh now, look here,” he said, pointing at the strap, as if I had never saddled a horse in my life. “You’re doing it all wrong,” he said, shoving my hands out of the way. “Keep it down, before you wake the entire stable up,” I scolded with just a hint of derision in my voice. Tucker proceeded to undo the leather strap, and then cinch it back up exactly as I had done it in the first place, only tighter. “If you don’t do it tight enough from the beginning, the saddle will slip and you will end up on the ground a mile down the road. You know Dodger is a prankster,” Tucker continued to pull on the strap until Dodger voiced his distain, by stomping his hoof and swatting Tucker with his tail. “Dodger always inflates his belly when you slip the saddle on his back.” “Thank you for your unwarranted assistance, but I really must be on my way,” I stated flatly, changing out the feedbag for a bridle. “I can’t let you go off on your own, willy nilly through the countryside. What if something happens to you? I would be responsible,” Tucker countered, stepping in front of me, trying to impede my progress. Then reaching up, he took a hold of Dodger’s bridle, and refused to let go. “As if you have anything to say about the matter,” I stated under my breath. Gingerly stepping around him, I placed my booted foot in the stirrup and swung myself up onto the saddle. Leaning over, I secured my other foot in the other stirrup, while avoiding eye contact with him.
Looking up at Brody, who was still seated on his horse, I brought my hand up to block the sun. “New surroundings, different noises, you know how it is. I couldn’t sleep, so I decided to take a walk before breakfast,” I answered, placing my hands in the small of my back and leaning back, stretching, somewhat dramatically. “Do you like to ride?” “I tend to avoid it, whenever possible,” I answered, placing my hand to my forehead again as I looked up at this tall, handsome figure of a man and tried to act normal. I could still feel disbelieving eyes staring at the back of my head. I gave a little shiver and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t stop my eyes from straying back to that porch. With a skeptical look, Brody climbed down from his horse and took me by the hand. Then leading me around to the other side with a laugh that said you must be jesting, he placed my hand on the neck of his horse. Trailing my fingers through the silky, thick mane with his assistance, he continued. “Nonsense, you just haven’t had the proper riding partner. This is Zeus. He stands seventeen hands high and is what they call a Friesian,” Brody proudly proclaimed. “I traveled all the way to England, just for the pleasure of paying top dollar for him,” he added with a half-smile on his handsome, full lips. Then he chuckled as if he had just told a great joke. “I knew the moment I laid eyes on him that Zeus was meant to be mine. He and I have been together for three years now, and to tell you the truth, I can’t remember what I did without him.” Zeus nervously pawed at the ground with his powerful front legs, as his coal black eyes stared in the direction of the porch. Soon he began to prance around, restlessly and snort. “Maybe we should lead Zeus back down the path. He seems spooked by something,” I suggested, knowing full well what was spooking him. “It’s these buildings. He always gets like this whenever we ride through here,” Brody said solemnly, looking towards the rundown wooden structures. “Ghosts from the past, I suppose,” he added while staring at the porch, as if he could see people standing there. I nervously laughed, knowing he didn’t realize how true that statement was. Steering his attention away from the porch and back to his spooked horse, I pulled on his sleeve. “I still think that it would be prudent to walk Zeus out of here.” “Now that’s just crazy talk. You will be perfectly safe with me,” Brody boastfully stated, slowly dragging his eyes from the porch. With a confident smile, Brody boldly looked at me now. Placing the leather reins in my hands with purpose, Brody grasped either side of my waist and lifted me onto his horse. Sitting sideways, with one leg over the saddle horn, while Brody hoisted himself up behind me, I was afraid to move. But at the same time, I didn’t miss the fact that his well worn pants were faded in all the right places, as if he wore them often, while riding or performing manual labor. His boots, while broken in, shone black with a fresh coat of polish and his white shirt, minus a formal cravat, was paired with a dark gray waist coat which accentuated the green of his eyes. My heart began to beat wildly against my ribs as he came in close behind me, hooked one arm around my waist and slid me back against his chest and hips. “How is that? Are you still afraid that you might slip off?” Brody asked with confidence. “No, Mr. Beaumont, I am no longer afraid of falling from this great beast of a horse. I am, however, concerned that your father or someone else may see us and call for a priest to marry us post haste.” Throwing his head back and laughing, Brody tightened his grip around my waist even more, crushing my lungs as he kicked Zeus in the side. Turning around on the path, we headed for the stables. “Oh, my dear woman, you are, if nothing else, entertaining. I am truly grateful that you agreed to come.” With a terse smile, I took one last look at Lilly and the others still on the porch, giving the slightest nod of my head. Lilly knew what to do, and I knew that I could find her again if I needed to. Brody called out as we rode into stable area. “Jamie, take care of Zeus for me. I must show Lady Townsend something,” he bellowed, pulling me unceremoniously from the back of Zeus like a rag doll. “And don’t forget to give him extra grain. It’s going to be cold tonight.”