“Do you ride, Miss Stephens?” Joe asked late the next morning from the kitchen doorway. Eleanor sat at the table with her manuscript before her and a cup of coffee in her hand.
“I hunt sometimes when I’m in the country,” Eleanor answered carefully. She was still worried about the western saddles, and had been hoping no one would ask her to try one. She put down her coffee and stepped to the doorway. Over Joe’s shoulder, she could see two horses tied to a post. One wore a saddle like the ones she’d seen on the horses Lillian and Eden had ridden to the ranch. The other wore an ordinary saddle, and Eleanor felt a flood of relief.
“Can I offer you a tour of the place?” Joe said now. Eleanor agreed.
The “tour” was really just a ramble through the wilderness as far as Eleanor could tell. After three quarters of an hour of climbing up and around brushy hills, they came to a wide, stone slash in the earth through which a small stream of water trickled. Clumps of twisted, thorny trees with tiny fronds for leaves sat here and there scattered among the small boulders along the creek bed.
Joe dismounted her horse and led it to the edge of the water. The animal drank thirstily and Eleanor followed Joe’s example, dismounting and letting her horse drink too.
Presently, Joe asked “shall we sit in the shade, Miss Stephens?” and gestured to some large flat rocks as if they were a sofa in a well furnished drawing room.
Eleanor let Joe take her horse and tie it to one of the trees. The animals began to nose among the sparse weeds between the stones.
It came to Eleanor that if this were a novel, Joe would have some sinister plan to dispose of her here in the middle of the desert where no one would find her before the ravens had picked clean her bones.
But Joe made no violent overtures. Instead, she sat on the boulder nearest Eleanor’s and contemplated God knows what before breaking the awkward silence.
“Do you think your fortune can buy her?”
I love it when the characters in my novel imagine themselves as characters in a novel.