Phillip was what flooded my mind.
Getting out of that damn penthouse and away from a man I wanted to have sex with was necessary. Especially if he wanted to “keep it professional.” I didn’t want to go back to the way things had been before that night. I didn’t want to go back to him avoiding me and dodging me at every turn. And I sure as hell was getting tired of having to take cold showers to calm my body down. But if that was what Phillip wanted, I had no standing to challenge that in any way.
And it was probably for the best, since I enjoyed being with him sexually so much.
“Well, if it isn’t the most beautiful stable hand I’ve ever seen.”
I whipped my head up at the sound of Cristoff’s voice.
“Fancy seeing you here,” I said, smiling.
“What in the world are you doing mucking out stalls?”
“Don’t worry. I asked the owner if he needed any help today. Believe it or not, I find the work therapeutic. Reminds me of my childhood.”
“Was your father some sort of a slave driver?”
I didn’t let the sadness of his statement show on my face.
“No. But he made sure I never shied away from hard work, even as a woman. I was his princess, but he also taught me how to fend for myself,” I said.
“Then he sounds like a good, decent man.”
If only the world thought so.
“Are you going on a ride today? I could surely use the company,” Cristoff said.
“What brings you out to the stables today?”
“I hate the bustle of the city. But it’s necessary for work. When I can’t get home to my estate, I come here to wind down or gear up for things. I keep a couple of my horses here specifically for occasions like this. You could ride my other horse, and we could take a mind-clearing ride.”
“I’m sure I could take a break and accompany you. Let me finish mucking out this stall, and I’ll go tell the owner.”
“You really are something else, Miss Elizabeth.”
“I try to be whenever possible,” I said, grinning.
I finished up the stall and told the owner I was going on a ride. He gave me an appreciative hug, and I tried to make sure I kept it as platonic as possible. Cristoff’s eyes were on me, and every move I made would reflect on Phillip. Especially since he wasn’t here. The man tried to pay me for my time, but I wouldn’t let him. All I wanted was to clear my head, and he had helped me with that. I washed my hands down and wiped the sweat from my brow while Cristoff set up my horse; then the two of us mounted and took off galloping over the trails.
It was beautiful—the wind whipping through my hair, the horse panting beneath my body. I hadn’t felt that free on a horse in years. My hips rolled as I stood up, stretching out my arms as the horse continued to ride underneath me. It was a trick I had worked on for years. I had sustained multiple injuries just trying to perfect it. I closed my eyes and followed the feeling of the horse. I rolled with it and never once tried to guide where the animal was going to go. I was a passenger, and the horse was the driver. It felt like my horse needed the freedom as much as I did.
So, I gave it.
Cristoff and I rode silently side by side for over an hour. My legs ached by the time we got back to the barn. It had been a long time since I’d enjoyed the company of someone without ever feeling the need to say a word. We dismounted and unsaddled our horses, then led them back into their respective areas so they could eat and get some water.
“Miss Elizabeth, your riding form is outstanding. And that little trick you pulled back there had me worried for a second. You must have done a lot of riding in your youth.”
“Are you telling me I’m no longer a youth?” I asked playfully.
“Nothing of the sort. Trust me, if I wasn’t old enough to be your grandfather and I wasn’t happily married to the love of my world, I’d steal you away from Phillip in a heartbeat.”
“I see your compliment and raise you one of your own. Your horses seem very healthy and tended to. I’ve seen many owners neglect their horses. It makes me very happy that you don’t, and shows me the kind of man you are deep down.”
“Everything in my care gets taken care of. My father raised me that way and it stuck with my personality.”