Gabrielle raised her silky arm above the water and back down, lifting the other above. Her swim was an elegant dance; a ballet performed in the early morning when the mist still crept off the silvery surface of the pond. She was bare in the cool water just as nature intended all mammals of the forest. She could see the silhouettes of the antelope grazing on the hill not far from the pond. The sun slowly crept up from behind that hill. Ducks and geese played in the water opposite Gabrielle, and she dove under when they dove. When she reemerged her curly black hair was as straight as a horses tail, and it hung off her perfect neckline down to her shoulders to float in the water with her. She swam to the pond's edge.
She dried her body with a towel when Benjamin, Mr. Shepard to Gabrielle, rode along the forest path to the water's edge. His horse halted when he spotted her, and he graciously looked away.
"Sorry." His gruff voice said to the trees, but Gabrielle knew he meant it for her. She smiled and wrapped the towel around her body. "It's okay." She picked up her clothes. Before she went behind the bushes she sauntered up to the horse to pet its nose. It neighed, and she chuckled.
Benjamin looked at her with his soft green eyes. He was ten years her senior, and already a very wealthy man. He wore a white collared shirt made of silk over his muscular chest. His hands were coarse from the manual labor of a farmer, and she could see as he stroked the horse's neck. "What are you doing out here by yourself?"
"I like the way the water feels in the early hours before the sun warms it up." Gabrielle could see the red in Benjamin's cheeks. He was blushing as he looked down at her beautiful body, but it didn't make her uncomfortable. Instead she felt flattered.
"I didn't realize anyone else got up this early. I usually ride by myself through the forest before I come down here to catch the sunrise."
Gabrielle gazed at him for a while, "It sounds lonely." Benjamin swung his left foot back and forth in silence. He had embroidery over the leather that spelt out his initials. "Doesn't Mr. Fawkes ever join you?"
Benjamin shook his head, "He's usually organizing the schedule, or mending the barn, or scouting the field for locusts." "Wouldn't you want the company?"
"It's nice, riding alone. It gives me time to think. You never take the time to enjoy life. It passes by quicker than one would think." Gabrielle barely could catch the solemn tone of his voice because his horse was growing restless and began snorting. That made Benjamin laugh as he patted the beast's neck. "There, there." Benjamin climbed down from the steed. "You should get dressed and join me to watch the sun come up."
Gabrielle glanced up the hill. The antelope were gone, and the sun's rays were close to breaking over the hilltop. "I should get back before my brother wakes. He'll be wondering where I am if I'm not there when he wakes."
"You can tell him that you were with me."
Gabrielle shook her head. "No, he wouldn't like that."
Benjamin raised his eyebrows, "I can assure my intentions are purely honorable."
Gabrielle hurried behind the bushes and hurriedly dressed. She called out from behind them, "No. You don't understand… he's… well, he's very protective of me. I mustn't keep him waiting. I'm all he has."
"If you're afraid because I'm your boss--"
"No. It's not that." Gabrielle came out from behind the bushes.
"Then what? He's your brother, wouldn't he want you to meet new people and make new friends?" Benjamin tethered the horse's reigns to a tree. Gabrielle leaned against the same tree and continued stroking the horse's snout. He munched on the leaves.
"Why should we? After here, who knows where we'll be." She pulled leaves off a branch and fed them to the horse.
Benjamin smiled and put his hand on her shoulder. He looked deep into her hazel eyes, "You don't have to go at the end of harvest. I always could use extra hands during the off-season. This place isn't easy to maintain by myself." A smile spread on Gabrielle's face. "You could tell your brother, and then you wouldn't have to search for work."
"He would like that," she whispered.
Benjamin took her hand and led her up the hill to watch the last of the sunrise.