The horse shifted feet beneath her, bringing Joel's gaze back to her. His eyes were flat gray, no life in them at all. His lips were pursed, brows down as he glanced back at her. She shook her head, a shiver running through her at the icy stare. It brought home to her suddenly that he was a man for hire. The soldier of fortune standing in the darkening shade wouldn't want forever, but would wallow in the passion until called to duty again. She wondered if she had it in her to allow that, already questioning her feelings for him. Lust or the beginnings of falling in love?
Way too early for that reflection, she shut it out of her head, coming down to soft whispers in her head as she waited in the darkness.
Hoof beats never slowed as they passed the place where Joel held both the horses quiet. He reached out a delicate tendril, searching for whom was riding out here, hell bent for leather. The horse slowed as he brushed against the mind of the rider, the slower hoof beats reversing and coming back toward them. Joel looked back at Morgan, plans forming and dissolving in his mind. The main thing was to keep her safe until he could get her back to the house. He told himself again that the Plantation worked under a state of the art security paradigm created for this house alone. Morgan would never be as safe anywhere in the world as she was here.
"I'm tired and I want to get some food." The woman's voice startled Morgan. "I am not your nursemaid and I resent that I was sent out here to find you. I have not slept in almost thirty four hours and I would be happy to shoot you and haul your worthless ass back to the stable over that mangy nag's back with the slightest encouragement."
Joel grinned and Morgan watched his shoulders ease. He knew her, very well from the sound of things.
"You sorry bitch. Have you come home to die at last?" Joel moved toward the clearing, Onyx walking right behind him. Rooster stayed statue still and Morgan was happy to be there with him.
"Fuck you, boy wonder." The hidden woman laughed, the sound sultry and low, but genuinely amused. Morgan wished she could see through the branches. She wondered what the silence meant, the seconds stretching to breaking point. In her minds eye, she could see them locked in a clench every bit as elemental and primal as the one she and Joel shared a short while ago. She couldn't stay here forever, hiding in the dark. Shivers already clenched her muscles, trying to keep her warm.
"Gryphon is shouting the house down looking for you and your missing friend." Bonnie told him, returning his half hug from the back of her horse. The half-Arab danced back blowing from the run, still wanting to cut loose.
"What's the problem?"
"Damned if I know and damned if I care. I might want to know something about it tomorrow, but right now-" She shook her head. "I really am dead on my feet. I still have to debrief and will have to type up my notes and get them to the Master by morning.
"So, do a girl a favor. Bring your candy ass and your glue factory reject, along with the woman, back to the house." Joel nodded and smiled.
"I'll be right behind you." He told her, swinging up into his saddle. Bonnie nodded and turned her little mare back to the stables. It looked like she would be up thirty-six hours anyway at this rate. She would need to rub Jewel down and get her dinner before she made it back to the house to shut down. She didn't wait to see if Joel followed her. If he decided not to come back, it was no skin off her nose. He was welcome to face Gryphon any time. She hadn't recovered from his last ass chewing and had no desire to repeat the performance.
Joel walked Onyx back to where Rooster waited patiently. He waved Morgan forward, turning Onyx to lead them out and back toward home.
"What was that about?" Morgan asked him, a full body shudder doing little to warm her.
"Bonnie is home. She's another operative who was doing a little PR for the, uh..." He stopped.
"For the?" Morgan asked him to finish. He shook his head.
"That's something I really can't say." He said, shutting her out. Quick recovery was essential even if she did rattle his nerves being near him. No other woman rattled him like she did. "We don't get dossiers on each other's missions, most of us work alone unless something comes up that needs a team effort." He turned in the saddle to face her, hoping to soften his harsh attitude. "That only happens rarely and in the years I've been here only twice. We lost an operative in each encounter."
"I'm sorry." She was sincere. If she didn't deal with the fragility of life on a daily basis, it might bother her more, but a doctor learned quickly that God always had the last say. What did bother her about his statement was that it could easily have been him, or Bonnie. Or some other friend. It brought home to her his chosen profession, mercenary. He chose the relative anonymity of working dangerous situations alone, outside the law, becoming an unsolved cipher upon his death because no one would look for his killer to bring to justice.
Joel lapsed into silence then, the steady foot falls of the horses the only sound in the night. The temperature was dropping fast and the thin shirt Morgan wore did nothing to keep any body heat. Her shivers turned to shudders and she clamped her jaws together to keep her teeth from chattering. She leaned over the saddle, curling into a ball to conserve some of the warmth from the animal rising around her, her body fighting against the cold on instinct. She guessed they were still fifteen or twenty minutes from the stable and another twenty minutes or so from the house. She kept her mind in whisper mode, the trick getting easier the longer she held still in her head.