(The following excerpt is straight from a first draft manuscript. There has been absolutely NO editing performed. So, basically, a hot mess, but I’m willing to share. So no comments on editing, please!)
Beckworth grabbed his saddle bags and walked across the courtyard. A good night’s rest, a supply of food, and a loan from Jamie, and he felt like a new man. Or at least a better prepared one. He dropped the bags by a post and retrieved his horse from a stall.
He’d just tied the horse to the post when soft footsteps approached. He let out a sigh, hoping to avoid this conversation. But there was little doubt he’d make it out of the courtyard without her tracking him down. He picked up a brush, and hurried through the ritual.
“You were really going to leave without saying goodbye.” AJ sounded hurt, and she had every right to be.
“I’m not in the mood for a lecture.” He dropped the brush in a bucket then leaned over to check the horse’s hooves.
She snorted. “I don’t lecture.”
He barked out a laugh as he walked around the horse. He couldn’t help it. After all these months apart, she still knew how to push his buttons. Though their time apart hadn’t been nearly as long for her. “Perhaps I’m not prepared for your advice.”
She leaned against the post and folded her arms across her chest. “I suppose that’s better, but I wasn’t going to give you any. I wish there was some to give.”
“We’ve been in sticky situations before. We’ll get through this as well.” He walked across the aisle to gather the saddle and bridle.
“I wanted to thank you for searching for Stella. Finn believes the work we’re doing here is important, and I agree, but I’d rather she not spend any more time with whoever took her than necessary.” AJ bit her lip and glanced away.
“There’s nothing for me to do here so I might as well be doing something I’m good at.” Beckworth lifted the saddle onto the horse.
“Selecting fabric for a new waistcoat and how to plant a proper English garden.” She grinned.
“You have to admit, most of the country could learn something from my tutoring.” He couldn’t help return the smile, the first that made him feel better since Stella was taken.
“It wasn’t your fault. No one would have expected someone to be waiting for you in France.” AJ pet the horses cheek, watching Beckworth tighten the saddle and fuss with the saddle bags.
“It doesn’t make it any easier to bear.” He turned to her, and she took a step back. He wasn’t sure what she saw, he wasn’t even sure of his own emotions.
“No. It doesn’t.” AJ handed him the bridle. “You have to find her.” She laid her hand on his shoulder. “I don’t mean to pressure you, but you’re the best we have at this type of thing.”
“Only sending in your best?” He chided, but her banter increased the lightness of his mood. He didn’t mind the pressure. It barely touched the remorse he’d already placed on himself. “I won’t let you down.” He patted her hand. “She truly does make excellent coffee.”
AJ swatted him. “Well, at least we have our priorities. Be safe.”
“That goes without saying.” He mounted the horse, and with a quick bow, he kicked the horse to a trot. He didn’t look back, but he felt her gaze on him. He had to keep his promise—almost as necessary as finding Stella, he didn’t want to lose her trust.