Excerpts from A Stone Denied
Beckworth and Stella meet
Beckworth pushed two bags off a stool before dragging it toward her but left six feet separating them. Close enough for a quiet talk, but not too close to spook her. He sat, keeping his hands in his lap and showing no signs of aggression. Now that he was closer, with more light from the lantern, he noticed the color on her left jaw. It was still a dark blue, and from what Gemini told him, Stella had only arrived a couple of days before. Had she put up a fight to earn that bruise?
“I think introductions first.” He kept his tone low so anyone standing by the door wouldn’t hear. And maybe she’d relax long enough for a conversation.
Her gaze darted to his, then away, but after another moment accompanied by a long, exaggerated sigh, she pushed her thick auburn hair back and gave him her full attention. His first thought was that her curiosity wouldn’t keep her quiet. He had no idea why he thought that and couldn’t help but wonder what she’d been thinking when he’d first entered the room.
“My name is Beckworth, but I think you already knew that.”
He glanced toward the door then leaned forward and whispered, “And you’re not who everyone thinks you are.”
She snorted but kept her voice low. “You’re quick. AJ didn’t tell me what a scholar you were.”
He stared at her. A sharp tongue on this one, and he wasn’t sure if he should be offended or intrigued. “Are you going to be as troublesome as it appears?”
A rocky beginning
When Beckworth reached the designated spot, he’d expected Stella to be standing next to the horse. He turned in a circle and sighed. She must have taken the opportunity to run on her own. He should have known better. She was proving every bit as troublesome as AJ. He strode to his horse, untied the reins, and turned him so he could mount.
He twirled around. Had he imagined the voice?
He glanced to his left and caught the movement of a hand waving from the bush. He walked over, his steed trailing behind. In the loudest whisper he could muster he chastised her. “This is not the time to be playing games. Come out of there.”
She stepped out, her coat catching on a twig before she yanked it free, and within the dim glow of the moon a button flew out of sight. Her hair was disheveled, and she picked at the leaves strewn through it. What a fright, and yet, still a beauty.
“I don’t think this is a good idea.” She stared at the ground.
She refused to meet his eyes.
“Quickly, woman. This isn’t the time for soul-wrenching admissions.”
That got a rise out of her, and she gave him an irritated glance as she straightened her shoulders and pushed back her overcoat to rest hands on hips. “Horses don’t like me.”
He choked back a laugh. “Really? And how do you know that?”
“It’s a bit of a long story. Let’s just say the trip over from the first cabin was a bit adventurous, even for Gemini. There were some injuries.”
He gave her a head-to-toe perusal, but she shook her head. “Not me.”
His brow rose. “Did the horse survive?”
“Well, we can’t stay here, and it would be foolish to go on foot. So I’m willing to risk it.”
She stepped closer, but when she glanced up at the horse, she shifted from foot to foot before taking a step back.
He shook his head. “You’re scared of a horse?”
She bit her bottom lip. “No. Well, they are large, and it’s a long fall.”
“Christ, woman, you’re thinking too much…”