This will eventually be a piece of the big bang, but for now it's a snippet.
One of Ariadne’s favorite diversions from the bleakness of Cobb manor was her rides around the park. Arthur had given her the little bay mare, Jane, as a birthday present two years ago, and their afternoon outings were the best part of any day fine enough to ride.
She was particularly looking forward to it this afternoon. The other inhabitants were enjoying the company of their houseguests but she found herself overwhelmed by the constant society. She was used to spending an extended portion of the day uninterrupted, sketching, and the lack of the ability to do so was making her peevish. But while one avenue of escape had been cut off, one still remained, so she slipped out after luncheon and made her way down to the stables.
To her great delight Arthur had, with his usual sensitivity, foreseen her desire for exercise, and when she arrived at the stables he was waiting for her while the grooms saddled both horses. She was far less delighted to find Mr. Eames currying his own mount, a large grey stallion that stood at least 17 hands. When Arthur caught her eye, he rolled his eyes, and she quickly had to cover a giggle by clearing her throat.
When she did so, Mr. Eames looked up with a broad smile. “I thought I’d join you,” he said. Arthur made little effort to conceal his irritation, and Ariadne had to turn away in order to maintain her composure.
“We do have grooms,” she said to Mr. Eames, whose black riding coat was quickly getting covered with a dusting of white hair.
“Phoebus doesn’t tolerate anyone else handling him,” he replied. “And it’s best for a rider to do it himself.”
“I have to admit, I rather thought your interest in horseflesh was limited to the betting stalls,” she said.
“Did you?” he said, a slight small on his lips. Ariadne waited for him to say more, but he was not so forthcoming.
They began their ride at a slow pace, but the day was fine and bright and all three horses were quickly chomping at the bits.
“What do you think, Ariadne? Shall we give them their heads?” Mr. Eames asked. He had an unmistakable glint of mischief in his eyes and his smile was conspiratorial, and it took her only a moment to settle her mind.
“I don’t think…” Arthur began, but before he could finish his sentence Ariadne flashed them both a wild grin, found her seat, and squeezed the mare’s sides.
They were off like a shot. Her rides out with Arthur were usually sedate affairs, never getting faster than a slow gallop that was more like a gentle lope than a run. Her rides by herself allowed her greater freedom, but prudence dictated that she take some care when she rode unaccompanied.
Now, however, she took Eames’ lead and let Jane’s reins lay slack against her neck. As the three of them raced across the countryside it was like flying: the little mare’s feet barely touched the turf and they moved together in perfect sync, and when she lost her hat (an ugly thing with a veil that only ever irritated her) she only laughed and spurred her mount on to go faster.
They had sailed over several of the low stone walls that broke up the fields on the estate, so she thought nothing of it when Eames led them over a taller hedge. She and Jane cleared it easily, but the horse lost her balance as they landed, skidding on her front hooves as she scrambled for save footing in the moss. Ariadne held her seat at the first landing, then tumbled forward out of her saddle. She flipped head over heels and tried to catch herself as she hit the ground but still rolled a distance before coming to a stop.
She heard Arthur, who had been right behind her, shout, and Mr. Eames turned back immediately.
“This is your fault, Eames,” Arthur said, and as soon as he was out of the saddle he ran to help Ariadne up. But the sting was taken out of his anger when he reached her and found her lying prone not out of injury but because she was laughing too hard to push herself to her feet. He dropped to his knees beside her and helped her to a seated position, looking her over for injury.
“I’m all right,” she said when she could catch her breath.
By then Eames had reached them, and his appeared genuinely chagrined. “I’m sorry, I never should have…”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said. “I’ve taken that hedge a dozen times before. If it weren’t for that stupid sidesaddle…”
She yelped as she put her hand down to push herself to her feet. Pain shot up her wrist and she grimaced.
Eames knelt in front of her, and she tried to wave him off.
“It’s nothing,” she said, but he shook his head.
“Let me take a look.”
He took her hand and unbuttoned the long riding glove with a swift competence that both caused her to raise an eyebrow and, unreasonably, to blush.
When he slid his hand inside the kidskin sheath to carefully slip it off her fingers it turned into a full and painful flush. He cupped her hand in the palm of his left hand and felt delicately along the bones of her wrist, and she had to quite literally bite her tongue to restrain a gasp.
Ariadne was deeply irritated with herself: you would have thought she was a character in one of her aunt’s ridiculous romance novels, swooning at the slightest touch. She had never swooned in her life, dash it all, and she had no intention of starting now. But at every brush of Mr. Eames’ fingertips she found her pulse escalating and her nerves shouting and she suddenly understood how one might swoon.
If one were so inclined.
Which, of course, she was not. Definitely.
And why had the sun grown so suddenly hot?
And to make it all even more ridiculous Arthur was still nervously propping her up in one arm, a gesture of support that was more like an embrace, and it should have either made the entire affair embarrassing or rendered it completely innocent, but instead it seemed so perfectly right that she had no idea what to make of it.
“Nothing broken,” Mr. Eames said, and looked up at her to smile. That smile faded slightly when he saw the look in her eyes, and became something else entirely. “Just a sprain,” he said, but Ariadne suddenly found it hard to breathe. Then he looked over to Arthur, released her hand, and stood up abruptly.
“Perhaps we should return to the house,” he said, and turned back to remount.
Once she was back in the saddle and headed home, she thought to herself that it was, in the end, terribly good that she didn’t like Mr. Eames, even a little. Otherwise she might have found herself in a terrible predicament.