Maybe this isn't such a good idea? We could just go to the zoo or the beach how about Sea World? My treat!
Giles laughed. Willow, if you're frightened you only have to say so. I thought you were really interested
Willow's cheeks turned bright red. Oh I am I mean, I was I mean sure
Her eyes dropped. Okay, what I really wanted was to see you in riding clothes and riding a horse She lifted her head again bravely, her eyes cheeky. You'd look so sexy on horseback.
He guffawed. Willow Rosenberg, you are nothing but a tease.
And you love it, she shot back.
He grinned. Yes I do. I'm bound to admit, I truly do. Would you like to do something else this weekend?
She shook her head firmly. We decided to go, and if anyone can cure my horse fear well pony fear, really it's you. Besides, I really, really, do want to see you on a horse.
Giles leaned over the steering wheel and looked up. Bloody weather might give us grief yet.
Well it is getting awfully close to Christmas, Willow pointed out. And they do get snow on the mountains, even in California, in winter.
Yes, but does it have to happen this weekend? he asked plaintively, skilfully overtaking a Semi.
Willow put down a window and stuck her head out. The air was cold and brisk and the sky was grey and damp looking, where an hour earlier, it had been blue and Spring-ish. Just half an hour before, Giles had put the top up because the air had gotten so cold.
Looks like it has plans, she dead-panned. We should get marshmallows. If we can't ride the horses, we can at least toast marshmallows.
On what? Giles chuckled. It's not the Ponderosa, love.
Willow's brow knitted. You didn't look at the pictures, or read the spiel, did you?
What? No, actually I was more interested in the location, the quality of their animals and what it was all going to cost me, he pointed out in a practical voice.
She chuckled. Well, the main social area has an open fireplace, and so do some of the rooms.
Taking a bit of a risk, aren't they?
Willow shrugged. Cheaper heating and I guess you could just as easily set the place on fire with a cigarette.
More easily Giles pointed out. You're right, and it happens far too often.
Willow looked up at his profile. He looked tired. It had been a long week, doing inventory and working late at the store, heavy training every day with Buffy and reading when he should have been sleeping, trying to be as prepared as possible for whatever lay ahead for the Slayer.
He turned a little and smiled at her for no reason, then looked back at the road again as it curved around the mountain.
A warm wave went through her, and a little thrill. For the fifth time that day she found herself utterly aroused and still unable to do anything about it. She had wanted so badly to just be with him all the time, to go home with him after work and college and to wake up with him in the mornings forever if she could, but their relationship was so new, and he was being so darned careful.
She sighed, remembering the day they'd discovered each other's secret. It was the day of the opening of the Magic Box. Everyone else had gone home, but she'd stayed longer, to ask him about a spell. He was so tired, so frazzled and looked so adorable lying there, sprawled in the chair he'd flopped back into the moment the door closed and the place was silent.
It had been an impulse, but a powerful one. She had come to the back of the chair and started rubbing his temples, massaging and caressing, so that he sighed with pleasure as she worked. She'd been overwhelmed by her reaction to touching him so intimately.
A tremor of pleasure went through her and she shot Giles a look to see if he'd noticed how hot her face had become, but he was concentrating on the road as the afternoon continued to darken prematurely.
Willow let her thoughts go back to that moment again. The scent of his shampoo, his cologne, mixed with the aroma of crushed herbs on both their hands, and, because she was so close, the vague scent of maleness after a long day, that was purely Giles, came back to her.
She shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
After long minutes of soothing and relaxing massage he had seemed so relaxed, and again, so adorable: his eyes closed, his hair rumpled and his lips just slightly parted. In a million years she knew she would never had done what she did, if that moment, that particular, lovely moment hadn't happened
She had leaned forward and brushed his lips with hers, the most wonderful moment of her life, followed by the most awful the panic, the embarrassment, the waiting for him to yell, or ask her to leave or
His body had tensed, but he was otherwise unmoved after she jumped back.
Then green eyes had opened and sought hers.
Why did you do that? he'd asked, very gently.
Trembling, Willow made herself hold his gaze. B-because I wanted to.
Tell me, he'd whispered, a note of demand in his voice.
I Giles, please don't be angry. I when I was a kid I had an incredible crush on you for the longest time and then you know other stuff. But lately, I .well I found out it w-wasn't a crush
Willow He'd sat up then, and faced her, his eyes incredibly intent. Willow, do you know what you're saying?
She had nodded, terrified.
Then he'd smiled. It was the most beautiful sight she'd ever seen.
Good, he'd said softly. Come here
He'd drawn her onto his lap and covered her mouth with his. The kiss had gone on forever until she thought she was drowning in it and was happy to do just that...
Willow wriggled in her seat again so that Giles turned his head again. You all right? he asked, kindly. There's a small town in about ten minutes. You should be able to find a bathroom somewhere.
She giggled. I'm fine, she reassured him. Just frustrated, she added meaningfully as his eyes went back to the road.
Her mind picked up where it had left off.
The kiss had ended and they had begun to talk, to really talk, about her relationship with Oz, then with Tara, and how she really felt about her life, and most importantly what she'd learned about herself after seeing him singing in the Bronze, and why those feelings had grown stronger, not weaker, in the months since. He'd been reluctant at first, but eventually he'd started to talk too, about his life in Sunnydale, Jenny, Olivia, why he'd been ready to go home, and why he'd stayed and the fact that she'd always been a part of his life, even before he'd noticed her romantically.
That had captured her heart, the knowledge that he'd come to love their time together reasearching, reading, talking, that the fiasco of the spell to have her will done the previous year had actually opened his eyes to other things. He was so good about that spell, in a surly, brusque, 'you can jolly-well detail-my-car, Willow,' kind of way, afterward. But that was Giles. So deep, not willing to reveal himself or his real feelings to anyone.
Their talking had continued late into the night, and there had been tenderness, caresses and more kisses
She sighed, still amazed that he felt the same way about her as she did about him, and amazed that their lives had paralleled each other as much as they had. She's been looking for affection, unconditional and uncomplicated affection and an escape from loneliness and had accepted it from Tara. And Giles had admitted exactly the same thing about Oliva
Willow sighed again. They had both been lonely, rejected in different ways, Giles by his Slayer, she by her first lover, but the pain had been just as deep.
Giles had refused to take her back to the apartment that night, or to do anything but be with her, work with her and enjoy each other's company in the few weeks since then. He was adamant that they would not rush into anything. There had been too much pain, too much hurt, he'd said. There had to be time, for both of them, to part from their respective lovers, to consider what they were doing. Giles had wanted her to be absolutely certain of her feelings for him no reservations, no ifs, no buts.
There never had been, but she loved him too much to push the issue. It was a part of what made him who he was, that he cared enough to wait. Wait she wriggled again and a sigh more like a whimper escaped her lips before she could stop it.
Predictably, his head snapped around. Willow? There is something wrong!
She grinned at him. Okay, you got me, she admitted mischievously, I want you, Mister Giles, so bad I can't sit still you've made me wait so long for you and I can't wait any longer!
He gave a crack of laughter, but his colour was high. I'm sorry, sweetheart, he told her when the laughter subsided. You had to have time to be certain, to change your mind if you wanted to. But it won't be long now, I promise.
Stuffy, she teased. I didn't need more than five minutes after you told me, she told him.
He took a hand off the wheel and caressed her cheek with it. She sighed again and he let his fingers trail down to her throat, smiling when she groaned.
Poor darling, he said softly and caressed her throat, the curve of her breasts, with the same gentle fingers. When he finally had to take them back to steer, she was flushed and breathing hard.
Almost naughtily, her eyes went to his lap and she grinned. Poor darling, yourself, she growled and slid a hand onto his thigh, heard his sharp intake of breath as she trailed her fingertips up his pants leg to his groin.
Willow, he breathed. I'm driving.
Multi-task, she drawled and let the fingers trace the new, straining contours of his jeans.
His breathing grew faster and shallower and he shifted in his seat as she continued to caress him.
God, he gasped. Minx! Stop that until I have two hands and a mouth to reciprocate with!
Willow giggled. You asked for it. If we don't get there soon, I might not make it, she added, in a pout, but didn't remove her fingers.
Giles grinned. He loved it when those red lips pouted.
It was, in fact, another forty-five perilous minutes, in which Giles almost drove off the road once, gave a truck pulling a horse float a terrible fright not ten minutes after that, and drew the line with a swift smack on the hand, at his prospective lover's attempt to undo his zipper
The riding resort came into view just as the sun peeked through the only gap left in the early evening sky. It was beautiful, lots of white rails and green and white painted buildings, rolling grassy fields and healthy, content looking horses. The main building was very large. Willow giggled to herself. It did, in fact, look a lot like the Ponderosa.
The guest quarters were arranged around the main building, each with a sheltered walkway to and from, and there was a huge barn, several blocks of stables and extensive outdoor entertaining areas.
I'm guessing you don't want me to enquire about an evening ride? Giles asked dryly as the car slid to a halt in the reception area.
Willow hit his arm. One word about going anywhere outside of our room today and horse riding is all you'll be doing this weekend!
They both laughed and Giles picked up his wallet to go and organize everything.
Wow, Willow said softly when the door to their room swung open.
Giles smiled. He'd asked for the best, wanted the best, and contrary to what he'd told Willow, he'd poured over every inch of the literature for the place, to make certain it was the absolute best.
She bounced on the king-sized bed as he put down their bags then caught sight of the bathroom in the mirror than ran across on wall of the room and took off to investigate.
Giles, you'll never guess what they've got in here ! She squealed excitedly.
He smiled indulgently. What have you found? Bubble bath?
No, silly! she cried, racing back out to leap into his arms. A hot-tub our very own hot-tub! You must have known about all of this her eyes lighted on the bottle of champagne in the bucket on the breakfast table, and the crystal glasses. You did she whispered. Oh Giles
He had no trouble holding her slender body against his as they kissed, nor did he have any trouble carrying her to the bed, or drawing off her sweater, sliding off her jeans, appreciating the way her breathing raced out of control, her cheeks glowed like cherries and the way she made small noises as he caressed her.
She could see his pants straining to hold the evidence of his desire as he turned back after dropping her jeans on the floor, and in moments she moved to unbuckle his belt and draw down the zipper.
Giles closed his eyes. They'd waited so long and he wanted her so very badly he'd dreamed of her touch, even the feel of her breath on his skin, and now he was so aroused he felt seventeen again, in peril of embarrassing himself just from a caress or a touch.
Willow pushed the jeans off his hips and grinned at the size of the bow in his boxers.
No prizes for guessing what you're thinking, she teased as he kicked his shoes off and stepped out of his pants. My turn again, she added when he was done, and slowly drew the shorts down, so that her prize was released.
It was her turn to take a deep breath. She hadn't been with a man in a long time and that man had been just a boy with a boy's circumcised size. She swallowed, her loins overheating with desire and heart beating a little faster at the thought of what it was going to do to her soon. Then she reached out and stroked him, heard his shuddering moan, and smiled before bending her head. Soon she had him yelling and gasping, to the point where he suddenly took her by the shoulders and lifted her to kiss her mouth hard.
What? she gasped when he lifted his head.
You're too good, he rasped. I want us to do this together He pulled off his sweater, and the T shirt beneath, and threw them away before laying her down on the bed, his mouth exploring hers, then her face, her ear, before his lips played along her throat, pausing only to nip once over carotid artery. The touch was so erotic that her whole body lifted off the bed when he did it. Then he was carrying on down to explore and caress the soft curves of her small breasts, using all of his experience to tease the small peaks to a hardness that rivalled his own, and to make her cries even more desperate than his had been. Then, when it seemed she could take no more, he continued, kissing and trailing his tongue over her soft belly until he reached her warm centre.
He stopped after making her crazy kissing and running the tip of his tongue over the sensitive flesh of her groin. Instead, he caressed her warm folds with the tips of his fingers, smiling as she actually screamed at her body's response to the first direct stimulation of her sex. He did it again and listened to her panting gasps, knowing exactly what he was doing. The third time he allowed his index finger to part her and slip down over her now straining desire, caressing the silky flesh beneath it, before moving down to her very damp opening so that she bucked and shuddered with pleasure.
Giles! she groaned hoarsely, desperately.
He moved over her with barely restrained need. I'm here, love, he whispered, caressing the red locks off her face and kissing her softly as his knee caressed her thighs even further apart and he came to her.
Oh God she whispered as the heat of his tip brushed against her, and groaned a long, demanding groan as her hips shifted and tilted up towards him, trying to bring her waiting womanhood closer.
Giles closed his eyes and took some deep breaths. He'd waited so long for this moment it was all he could do to control his desire enough to show her how much he wanted her, needed her, loved her
He kissed her again and knew he couldn't wait any longer. He took her the way he'd always dreamed slowly, sensuously sliding into her warm, vice-like passage so slowly, so unbearably slowly, that their groans were equally wanting, and hoarse with exquisite pleasure.
Giles, please, Willow whimpered when he'd filled her. Please !
He started to move slowly, to make love to her, but she surprised him, not just with the vehemence of her cries but the way she rose to him, moved against him.
Please! she repeated, moving her hips, desperately, obviously incredibly aroused.
Oh God, love, he breathed, and proceeded to take her, their frenzied lovemaking carrying them into a kind of ecstasy neither of them had ever known before.
Giles thought he'd stopped breathing somewhere along the way, as he continued to plunge into her, feeling her hands raking his back, her heels raking the backs of his thighs as she tried to give even more, take even more, until suddenly she was writhing and whimpering and thrusting her pelvis hard into his.
It was too much for Giles and he thrust into her one last time, his orgasm almost tearing out of him, such was the force of it. Beneath him Willow was arching and screaming out her own completion, her eyes rolled back with the force of her own climax. It was a long time before they both came to rest, exhausted, and immediately moved into each other's arms.
Willow buried herself in his chest and he held her fiercely, as though each of them was claiming the other, reassuring the other.
Above the red head, Giles kissed the silky hair and closed his eyes again. She wanted him, she desired him, and she loved him. He shook with the depth of his relief. She had instinctively resolved his last fear, his last terror that she might have regretted might have drawn away from him after.
I love you, he heard her whisper, and crushed her to him, as though he might never let go.
And I love you, he breathed into her hair, overwhelmed by his feelings. My sweet love, I need you so very much
Willow shifted and put her arms around his neck, kissed his closed eyes, his nose, and his mouth.
It's okay, she whispered tenderly. It's okay. I love you so much, Rupert. Forever and ever
The soft green eyes opened and looked up at her, emotion blurring them. Willow he whispered, the word trembling and caressing at the same time.
They stayed together, held each other into the night, before finally slipping into a deep, contented slumber.
Giles woke in the morning to find himself alone, but not for long. Even before he could think about getting out of bed, the door to their room opened. He squinted against the morning sunlight pouring through it, until it closed again.
Hey cutie. You looked so peaceful, snoring away there, that I thought I'd go find us some breakfast. The kitchen's not open yet, but the nice man there made us a tray.
Giles blinked as she slid the tray onto their bed and uncovered its contents. Tea, coffee, croissants, butter, currant jelly, and bowls of sliced fruit.
Not much, she said ruefully, but he says there'll be hot food galore at six-thirty.
He smiled at her sunny face. It could be ashes and I wouldn't give a damn, he told her. Come here.
She giggled and crawled onto the bed, threw her arms around his neck as they kissed passionately.
Good morning, he said, kissing her nose when their lips parted.
Good morning, she echoed. So, not hungry? she asked.
Plenty hungry, he growled, and not just for breakfast
It was just as well the breakfast was a cold one. It was another hour before it got eaten.
Giles, I'm scared, Willow said as they walked down to the stables in warm sunshine.
I won't let anything happen to you, he said gently, tightening his arm around her as they walked. The proprietor has promised me a mount that won't give you any trouble, love. Trust me.
Willow looked up at his face. I would trust you even if you said to jump overboard, on a ship in a hurricane, she told him.
He looked down and grinned lovingly at her. Silly girl, he chided. Just remember what I told you.
Willow sighed and rested her head against him as they walked. He'd told her an awful lot. The lessons that had traumatized her about horses as a child had been enough for her to know the basics, but Giles was more than just a basic rider, and she wanted him to be proud of her. She wondered if there were any spells for controlling a horse
The horses that had been assigned to them for the weekend were waiting with a dozen others in a corral alongside the massive barn. Willow was relieved to see that they must have been brought up from somewhere and didn't need to be caught, because their halters were tied to a line strung across the corral, same as the rest of the animals. She wasn't really listening to the foreman as he explained to Giles about both mounts, except to hear that her white mare was called Moon and the big pinto stud assigned to Giles was called Diablo.
They had to saddle the horses themselves and Willow giggled when Giles laid eyes on the big western saddles on the fence.
A simple Stubben would have been so very nice, he said, crestfallen. I wasn't expecting to be chasing any cows this weekend.
Hop-a-long Giles, Willow teased. It's not so bad. Not as fancy as English riding, but you'll get the hang of it.
He sighed. Come along then, Miss Oakley, time to saddle up. And promptly had to catch her as she pulled her very large saddle off the corral rail and almost overbalanced backward from the weight of it. When they both stopped laughing, he threw the saddle- cloth on Moon's back and slid the saddle into place for her.
Your steed, madamoiselle, he said gallantly and left her to cinch up and exchange the halter for the gaily stitched hackamore on the fence.
Giles finished with the pinto, who was inclined to throw his magnificent head up, seemingly out of sheer good spirits, and turned to see Willow had finished too, and was stroking the mare's nose and talking to her in a soft voice.
She looked up at him and smiled, but he could see the fear still in her eyes. Sure am, she told him. Moon here is going to look after me, aren't you sweetie? she added, scratching the white muzzle.
He slipped the reins from the tether line and lifted them over the little mare's head before offering Willow a leg up.
Bravely, she moved right away, putting her toe in his interlocked hands, springing up and landing lightly in the big saddle, even looking a little lost in it.
You're so tiny, he said, shaking his head.
You're so big, she shot back, then waggled her eyebrows Soooo darned big, she whispered in a sultry voice, making him turn beet red before looking around self-consciously. No one was taking any notice.
Are you really all right? he asked when he turned back, trying not grin. And behave!
Yes, and no way, she shot back cheekily. It isn't anywhere near as scary as I thought it would be. More like merry-go-round stuff. I guess it was so long ago, it was really just little kid fear. And you're here Then Moon moved slightly. The colour left Willow's face, and she grabbed the horn with both hands. On the other hand
Giles moved close and took one of the hands gently from the saddle horn and stroked the back of it with his thumb as he spoke.
Relax, he said gently. It's a beast, trained to respond to your commands. Feel it and understand it, but don't be afraid of it.
Willow breathed deeply, and let the horsy scent fill her nostrils, felt the warmth, the power of the mare beneath her and closed her eyes as Moon stamped a foot and flicked her tail to dislodge small flies.
Okay, she said tremulously, not realizing that her hands were shaking. I'm feeling it I'm even smelling it when does the not being afraid happen?
Now, Giles said softly and lifted her down, drew her into his arms. I'm sorry, love. I didn't realise it was that bad. I would never have asked you and I love you dearly for trying.
She hugged him hard and looked at both horses. I I really want to do this but couldn't I mean, would they be mad if just for today, I mean if I went with you?
He looked puzzled.
She touched his face. I'd feel safe anywhere, as long as I was with you. Take me on Diablo. Let me see if I can do it with you.
His face creased into a grin, but his eyes revealed how moved he was. What am I going to do with you? he said lovingly and picked her up again.
Diablo barely noticed her featherweight on his back, and Willow sat bravely holding the horn and swallowing frantically while Giles slid his boot into the stirrup and swung himself up. She couldn't help the little shriek, but resented Diablo's lack of interest, only one black ear flicking back and then forward again, acknowledging her terror.
Giles, on the other hand, came to rest right behind her in the saddle, his body moulded to hers so that she could feel the heat of his chest through the denim shirt she'd bought him for the occasion. He also immediately closed his arms reassuringly around her as he drew the reins tight and guided the stud out of the corral, stopping briefly at the gate to explain to the foreman about the change in plans.
Willow was so busy trying to control her body's response to Giles' nearness and warmth, that they were beyond the ranch before she even realised they were moving.
Wow, she exclaimed. We moved.
Behind her, Giles laughed, his chest shaking against her back. You're doing wonderfully, love. Don't waver now.
Willow leaned back a little more in his arms and decided that if Diablo continued to be such a gentlemen she could take anything while Giles held her like that.
They walked for miles, following well-worn bridle paths and enjoying the sun, the greenery, and pleasure of being together despite the chill in the air.
Giles found new pleasure in sharing the simplicity of nature with Willow, who was enraptured by the first woods they rode into, pointing out everything from the wood fungus on the fallen logs and the various tiny native flowers to squealing with delight when a jack-rabbit broke from the trees and scampered into the undergrowth on the other side of the path.
He was very proud of her. He could feel her tremble every time Diablo shied or tried to break into a trot, and had felt her freeze up several times when the big stud had stumbled on rocks or branches hidden in the grass, but she hadn't complained or made a sound. Impulsively he leaned over her shoulder and kissed her cheek.
Mm, she said. What was that for?
Courage, beauty and joy, he recited softly.
Willow closed her eyes and leaned back against him as Diablo plodded on, certain that she was going to explode, so great was the swell of love in her heart for the man behind her.
When they returned it was almost time for lunch, and the cook had a full-scale barbecue underway. Giles swung off Diablo and lifted Willow off, not objecting when she made certain her body was pressed hard against his as she slid down.
Once she was on the ground, they just held each other for a moment.
Then Willow lifted her head. Are you as hungry as I am? she asked, grinning.
Starving, he said. Let's get this poor fellow rubbed down, and then we can forage for sustenance.
The barbecue seemed like a feast of the Gods to the ravenous pair and Willow finished her plate with a sigh of contentment.
Barbecue never tasted this good before.
Giles nodded, his mouth full of steak, then swallowed. Something you Americans seem to have a knack for, he agreed.
Willow looked up at the sky. Weather's holding, she observed, except for those clouds over there. They look kinda weird.
Yes, he agreed. But by the time they decide to do anything we should be tucked up in bed.
Willow giggled at the vision of the two of them tucked up in bed like six year olds. Are we riding again this afternoon?
Giles looked up at the sky. Might be our last chance. I'm sure Diablo won't mind.
Willow looked up at him lovingly. Her legs were beginning to twinge and she was in awe that she'd made it through the morning ride. She would not, however, have spoiled this for him, for the world. The trip had been her idea, when she found out how much he loved horses and riding, and how much he missed it, but she hadn't counted on the old terror still being so strong.
Sounds great to me, she grinned. Maybe I should try riding by myself? Moon seemed so sweet and gentle
Giles nodded, but his eyes narrowed. He didn't miss the note in Willow's voice that told him she was trying to convince herself as much as him.
Are you certain, love? he asked carefully.
Willow nodded. Sure, she grinned extra hard. But you have to promise major goodness in the hot tub tonight.
Giles' eyes glittered like a tiger and his grin became almost feral. Oh, definitely. *Major goodness*, he assured her, making her laugh again, but she'd seen his desire and felt the hot flush rush through her body even as she giggled.
Willow made it through the mount up and even the long walk down to the beginning of the bridle path, without panicking. It was terrifying, being alone on something so seemingly out of her control, and every twitch, every jerk, felt to her once traumatized senses, like Moon was going to bolt. She couldn't help the terror, no matter how much she tried to tell herself that was a long time ago, and that she wasn't ten years old anymore.
Giles brought Diablo to a halt when they reached the open fields and moved him very close to Moon so that he could put a hand over the one with which Willow was convulsively clutching the leather-covered saddle horn.
You don't have to do this, he said gently.
Willow turned, saw the love in his eyes and felt the panic subside. With determination she prised the fingers from their death grip and turned her hand to hold his.
I'm okay, she said, almost calmly. Really I am. It's it's hard but I'm getting there. She's a good girl, she added, leaning forward a little to pet the mare's neck as she munched on the grass underfoot.
You're okay, Giles said unhappily, but you're not enjoying this at all.
But I am, Willow objected. I'm doing it with you. Giles, I haven't been near a horse since I was ten. The smell of them used to make me sick. Now look where I am all because of you. This has to be a good. I'm going to be riding like Annie Oakley in no time, she added bravely. I still remember how, you know. All those lessons my mom paid for weren't for nothing until Trixie the pony decided to set land speed records trying to get back to her dinner early.
All right, he agreed reluctantly, touched that she was putting herself through this for him, but if it gets too much for you, I want you up here with me, and we'll lead the lady home.
Willow nodded. Okay, she smiled. Lead on, Lone Ranger.
Giles did a tiny double take, grinned, snorted and set Diablo down the path, still shaking his head.
Willow pressed Moon and she moved off smoothly, Willow holding her breath until they caught up with the other two and only just marginally relaxing as they fell in alongside.
An hour later she was actually beginning to enjoy herself. She had gotten used to the unexpected movements and occasional minor jibs when Moon didn't like something in her path, and the continuous rhythmic motion was as soothing as Giles' voice. He had started up a conversation about twenty minutes earlier, not talking about anything specific or important, just pleasant, fun, small talk, that had kept her happily distracted until now.
Suddenly she realised why. She looked up. The temperature had been dropping but it was now positively icy. Those weird clouds had closed in and they looked even weirder now, sort of greyish, yellow green, nasty and ominous. She couldn't feel any magic in the air, so it was just nature being gross.
I think it's going to rain, she said suddenly. Maybe we should head back?
Giles looked up. It does look rather appalling, doesn't it? One should have looked up earlier. Do you want to go back the way we came, or take that circle route we saw this morning, so that you can actually see the lake before the weather breaks?
Circle route, she said immediately, knowing it was what he would want.
The lake was in sight when the storm broke. Only it wasn't thunder and lightning. The wind, which had been picking up for the last twenty minutes or so, began to howl and whip around them and they were stung by sleet.
Snow! Giles cried as soon as he felt it. It's going to bloody snow!
Is that bad? Willow yelled, trying to lighten the situation as the wind jumped from twenty knots to about thirty five.
Worried, tense, angry, Giles heard the courage and the mischief in her voice and laughed.
You could say that, he yelled back and pushed the stallion close to Moon so that he could lift Willow across to his saddle if she chose.
She shook her head. Moon needs me now. We have to go Rupert you've got snow on your hair!
Real snow flakes were falling faster and faster now and being driven by the wind. Giles had flakes in his hair and his eyebrows. She was glad he hadn't worn his glasses.
So have you, silly goose, he rejoined, glad to see he had made her smile, pressed Diablo and tapped Moon on the rump so that both horses moved off together.
They were halfway around the lake when it happened. Willow had been hanging on for grim death, not even stopping Moon when she broke into a lope and Giles had brought Diablo loping alongside. They'd reached a stretch of woods that went all the way down to the water. The wind had gotten even fiercer and the snow was driving at them now.
There was a ferocious gust and a huge branch tore off a fir tree very close to them with a retort like a high-powered rifle. It wasn't Moon, however, that panicked, even though her rider almost jumped out her skin. It was Diablo.
The stallion reared up in terror and Giles, who had been more concerned about Willow's welfare, was taken completely unawares and had no time to shift his seat to compensate.
Giles! Willow screamed as he tumbled off and hit the ground hard. Willow looked at him, then at the fleeing Diablo, then back at Giles.
Diablo would go home. She slid off Moon and wrapped the reins around her wrist, stupid and dangerous, she knew, but she couldn't afford to lose both horses.
Giles was lying very still. She swallowed the tears in her throat and touched his. He was breathing strongly. For a moment she rested her brow against his chest, and then she started to feel in his hair for bumps. There was one already the size of a goose's egg. She swallowed as the wind howled even more nastily and Moon pulled a little on the reins.
Rupert, sweetie, she said near his ear, wake up. Can you hear me? You're getting snow all in your eyes. You have to wake up. She carefully brushed all the flakes off his face, but he didn't move. Carefully, she tapped each of his cheeks and rubbed a handful of slushy snow on his brow.
Slowly, he started to move his head back and forth. Willow almost choked with relief. Giles! Rupert! Can you hear me? she called again and sobbed when his eyes opened.
Ow! he growled and made her laugh, only the giggle turned to a sob very quickly, followed by more sobs.
Oh R-Rupert, I thought she snivelled, I thought are you all right? Does it hurt much?
He spat snowflakes. Oh God my head feels like hell, he groaned as he tried to sit up, then stopped suddenly. *Jesus!*
Willow leaped forward when he swayed, and the colour that had returned to his face promptly drained away again.
I I think I broke something, he gasped and lay back again.
Oh where? she demanded, terrified again.
I don't know, he said forlornly. Every bloody thing hurts but pain is shooting down my left leg and my back feels like Diablo walked on it.
D-do you want to try and get up so we can go back together o-on Moon?
Giles groaned again. Where's Diablo?
Went home, breaking more land speed records, she told him dryly and was pleased to see him at least try to smile.
Then Moon it will have to be, he said in a strained voice and tried again to sit up, but this time it was too much, and he passed out.
At first Willow got a little hysterical, then she made herself think, made herself calm down enough to make certain he was still alive, to try and work out what to do next. There was so much snow coming down now, she couldn't just leave him. They'd never find him again and yet the lake wasn't that far from the ranch
She made a decision. She couldn't do anything for her lover by sitting beside him while he either died of shock or froze to death, but she could get help.
Shaking like a leaf, she scrambled up on a patient Moon, swinging back and forth on the stirrup as she tried to shift her weight enough to push herself up and into the saddle. Once she found her seat, she took one more look at Giles, who was again getting all snowy, and turned the mare for the ranch. The bridle path was so well marked it was still easy to follow, despite the wind and the snow. For a while Willow was content to let the horse make the pace, struggling to control her panic, misery and fear, but after about ten minutes she knew she had to do something, or risk losing the man she loved.
Terrified, she put her heels to the little mare and hung on as they flew into a fast lope. Tears streamed out of her eyes as they thundered along, but Willow knew she couldn't do any more. There was no way she could put the mare into a gallop, frozen as she already was with terror. It was difficult enough keeping the mare at the lope, squeezing her sides and pushing her onward, despite her fear.
When the lights of the ranch finally came into sight Willow sobbed, but didn't pull her up until she had presented herself at the corral, which Moon knew was the true end of her journey.
Several ranch hands and the foreman sprinted up to the slender young woman as she sat, terrified, on the blowing horse.
Where's Mister Giles? the foreman demanded, when no other hoof beats could be heard, even in the distance.
Diablo there was a tree branch Giles is hurt we have to help him, Willow managed, shivering with cold and shock. We have to go. He's up by the lake...by the stand of fir trees
At that moment Diablo came trotting into view and two of the hands ran to catch him.
We'll find him, Miss, the foreman told her and lifted her down, but you need to go take care of yourself. Dry out, get warmed up
No! she cried. I can't, not until I know
The foreman looked at her. Listen to me, little one. You aren't going to help him by getting hysterical. I know where the fir wood is, and my boys and I can bring him back in a jiffy in the truck, but not if we have to worry about you getting lost out there or something. Now, if you care about him, go and wait like a good girl.
Willow stood and watched them go, her lip trembling, her body shivering violently. I love him, she said into the wind. And I'm not a little girl. I'm a woman, you big big *cowboy!* shouted, and burst into tears.
The old man was right. They were back in half an hour. The four-wheel drive pulled up right outside the main building, where a doctor was already waiting. Willow, who had refused to go anywhere, was there too, in the lobby, but only because the doctor had threatened to have the remaining hands carry her back to her room and lock her in.
She sobbed when Giles was helped out of the car. He was vertical. After all the visions of him near death, brain damaged, or his neck or back broken, Willow couldn't help going to pieces when she saw him on his feet.
Giles was in a lot of pain, but he'd been conscious since not long after she left him. He hadn't moved, because he knew that if she'd gone for help they'd have a devil of a time finding him if he wasn't where she'd last seen him. It didn't seem long now, but the hour he'd spent lying there in the cold, in pain, terrified that something might have happened to her too, was the worst he'd ever spent.
And the sound of the four-wheel drive powering up the gentle hill he was on, was the sweetest sound he'd ever heard. The ranch-hands had gotten him to his feet, mostly by ignoring his agonised moans and groans, and pronounced him okay. He had irritably told them that they 'bloody ought to learn a bit about first aid, you wankers, and had almost fallen when they'd immediately let go of him. The foreman had caught him and apologised for their enthusiasm.
You're probably going to be bruised from head to foot, Mister Giles, but you'll live, he'd offered.
No thanks to those pillocks, Giles had growled.
Is there anything broken?
Giles had thought about it for a moment, tried to find a spot that hurt more than the thousand other spots that were aching, or more than his violently throbbing head, but there weren't any. He shook his head, swore and held it for a moment, until the daggers subsided and the hammer stopped smashing at it.
It would appear that my bones are in tact, he said through his teeth. Can we go now?
Getting into the car had been an exercise in agony, but Giles had managed it.
Now he was out again, and feeling like hell, and all he wanted was to find Willow, and to lie down, in that order.
As if he'd willed it, she was suddenly there.
Willow, sweetheart, are you all right?
Me fine but you! she protested. Giles, there's a doctor
Giles swore like a trooper, but in the end the doctor had gotten his way. The foreman was right. Nothing was broken, but his back was black and blue, he'd knocked chips off himself in all sorts of places, and he'd bruised his coccyx quite badly, causing the pain that had shot down his leg earlier. The doctor added a light concussion to the list and gave Giles some strong painkillers, a tetanus shot and instructions to stay in bed and rest for as long as possible.
It was another half an hour and many well meaning cups of coffee, nips of brandy and a picnic hamper from the kitchen pushed into Willow's hands, later, before they got back to their room. Someone had laid and lit a fire in their hearth. A bucket of firewood stood next to it.
Willow put the hamper on the breakfast table and sniffed at it as Giles eased himself onto the bed.
They sent hot food, she said moving to the bedside and fiddling with the electric blanket control. You should have some.
Giles was easing his right boot off and grunting with pain. Willow came swiftly to him and pulled each one off as gently as she could for him.
Poor Giles, she said. I'm so sorry
Don't, he said. It was an accident. It's over with and I'm fine, love.
Liar, she said miserably and watched him hunch a little in pain. It hurts a lot, doesn't it?
He looked into the witch green eyes and knew he couldn't lie to her. He nodded grudgingly.
Willow's brow furrowed. Wait here, she said suddenly and dashed off to the bathroom.
And I was just thinking of jogging around the block too, Giles muttered to himself irritably, wanting nothing more than to curl up in bed holding the woman he loved. And she had just vanished again to God knew where
A moment later he heard water running. *Well yes, old man, we all do need to use the bathroom, eventually, you idiot*, he thought ruefully. But the water kept running.
A little while later Willow came back. Bath time, she announced and started to unbutton his shirt. He decided to let her, since lifting his arms was now also an exercise in pain
When the shirt was off, she started on the belt buckle. By the time she pushed the zipper down she'd discovered that some things overcame even the pain and discomfort of a fall. She caressed him for a moment and smiled when he groaned, not from the discomfort.
Ready? she asked, standing up and running her hands up his chest, sliding them very gently around his neck to kiss him.
He deepened the kiss and forced his arms up to hold her for a moment. I'm sorry, he said softly.
Don't be, she whispered.
It took some time for Giles to get from the bed to the tub, but it took the most time to ease his battered frame into the big bath. Once he was in, Willow turned on the jets and watched the expression on his face shift from one of great pain to pain mixed with relief.
Would like something to eat? she asked tenderly.
He opened his eyes again. I would like you, in here, with me, he said succinctly.
I can do that, she grinned.
Giles watched as she slowly began to remove her clothes, one article as at a time. She knew he was watching, and she knew his erection had lasted through the pain, to the bath, so she knew what he wanted.
By the time she got to her jeans his eyes were flashing with unadulterated lust. Very slowly, very provocatively, she pulled the stud undone and eased the zipper down with one finger before wriggling in the sexiest way possible, out of the pants.
He watched as she smiled naughtily and dipped a fingertip into her mouth, wetting it before slipping it down her body and inside her panties. His erection throbbed and his hips moved automatically, bringing him up short with a sudden jolt of pain. It didn't flag for long though, because Willow was deliberately moving her hand inside the briefs, teasing him, making him watch as she pleasured herself.
When she knew she had his attention again she walked to the side of the tub and brought her centre very close to him. He could smell her scent, and it only made him harder.
Very slowly, he lifted his arm enough to reach out and caress the curve of her panties, feel the heat of her, then slip his fingers inside the elastic of the leg, smiling as she groaned when his fingertips caressed the soft flesh, teased the damp inner folds. Then he took his hand away.
The wind howled outside their window and rattled the frame. Are you coming in the bath now? he asked gruffly, his tone implying that she really didn't have a choice.
She was alongside him in seconds, the green panties discarded on the floor.
When she was snuggled in the crook of his arm in the bubbling hot water, Giles kissed her hair.
You know I won't be able to make love to you properly tonight, don't you love?
Willow nodded, sliding her hand down to hold him anyway, stroking him while he spoke.
He groaned. It's not fair, he said huskily. I want you so very much
I know, she whispered and squeezed him by way of reminding him how she knew. He moaned and a thought occurred to her.
She turned suddenly, and straddled his lap. He was so hard he slipped easily inside of her. She moved in rhythmical strokes, careful not to jolt his back, and soon heard him start to moan, and felt the involuntary jerks of his body.
Yes, she growled and increased her pace until he cried out both in pain and pleasure as he climaxed inside her. Yes, she growled again and kissed him hard as he came down.
When they parted he was breathing heavily. God, he rasped. You are extraordinary, woman. How you could get a man to do that when I feel like God just drop kicked me, I'll never know.
Yes you do, Willow told him and snuggled down beside him again in the tub. They stayed there for a long time, until she heard his breathing become deep and rhythmic and knew he'd dozed off.
By the time they'd managed to get themselves to the big bed with its eiderdown and pillows, and the electric blanket Willow had already turned on, he was wide awake again. The storm was getting fiercer. She helped him in first, steadying him as he eased his frame onto the bed, before turning to lie down very slowly, then she crawled under the covers and snuggled up close.
Instinctively, Giles reached out to caress her. He stroked a tender breast and felt her shudder.
Willow touched his lips with her finger. It doesn't matter, she told him, still tingling from his touch.
Of course it matters, he growled. Come here.
Come where? she asked naughtily.
Darling, I can't come to you you have to come to me, he growled, his eyes dancing. Now be a good girl and do as you're told.
Willow's body wasn't inclined to refuse. She drew herself up onto her knees and leaned over him, so that he could catch her breasts in his lips and caress them with his tongue, suck them gently, until she was moaning with pleasure. She moved a little more and he was able to slip a hand between her thighs.
Willow gasped and shuddered as Giles' expert fingers found and caressed every electrified fold and silky valley in her aching centre while his lips continued to pleasure her small, soft breasts.
She whimpered as she got closer and Giles lifted his head. Come here, he whispered again. She understood immediately and lifted herself so that he could taste her and cried out when his tongue touched her, so sensitised that when he slid it over her swollen desire and down into the moist, silky core of her, she screamed and thrust her hips toward him, her orgasm exploding over and over with every expert caress of his warm tongue until she fell back, sated, and slid back down, to curl up alongside of him.
It was a few moments before she reached up and stroked his face, looking at him tenderly as he lay there, looking strained and weary.
I love you, Rupert.
I know, he replied, grinning. That's what makes it so wonderful. That and how much I adore you even with a bad back
I noticed, she grinned. I didn't hurt you, did I?
He shrugged and winced. Not enough to matter, he replied honestly. And watching your pleasure made me feel far, far better than any painkiller could.
She smiled widely at him, love bubbling up inside her. You were it was fantastic, she confirmed, then frowned. The painkillers aren't working? she asked plaintively.
He chuckled. Of course they're working, love. How the bloody hell do you think I could make love to you at all, if they weren't masking at least eighty percent of the pain?
Her eyes widened in pleased surprised, and she smiled back, relieved.
You know what I love about you? she asked, sliding contentedly into the crook of his shoulder and pulling the covers up under their necks as the roof rattled with the strength of the wind.
What? he asked sleepily.
How darned romantic you are, she drawled, and giggled, then shrieked when the fingers of the arm she was lying on deliberately tickled her ribs, her wriggling making him swear as his back was jolted.
Well, you deserved that, she told him when they settled again.
So I did, he agreed. But it was worth it.
Go to sleep, she ordered.
Bully, he muttered sleepily.
For the rest of your life, Mister, she agreed. Sleep!
Willow opened her mouth to retort again, but stopped to grin instead. His eyes were closed, his mouth slightly open and she could hear the slightest little snoring sound.
I love you, she whispered, slid her fingers into the hair on his chest and closed her eyes.
And a moment later there were two small snoring noises being drowned out by the howling of the wind