“Oh damn,” Miss Catherine swore after opening her parcel. The brown paper contained what looked to Arthur to be two pieces of wood strapped together with leather. It was after releasing the leather straps and pulling apart the wood pieces that she’d uttered the epithet, “Ruined.”
Ignoring the looks her outburst received—as they were still standing in the station, not far from the post office window—the young woman sighed, “Now what am I going to do…?”
Arthur stepped near to investigate and discovered the rotted remains of… some kind of plant. A flower, maybe, with dozens and dozens of limp, brown and blackened petals folded in on each other. He tried to imagine what it looked like healthy and couldn’t quite figure it. “… What is it?”
“A rose. Well it’s supposed to be a pressed rose, but it got wet and rotted…”
“… That’s not a rose.” Arthur told her, watching her expression. He didn’t dispute she was far cleverer and more proper educated than he was, and though she often teased him good-naturedly, she never tried to trick or mislead him. He wondered if she somehow… didn’t know what a rose was.
“Well, it doesn’t look like much, now, but it was before it rotted.”
“Excuse me, but I don’ think it was much of a rose even before the rot took it, Miss Schofield…”
“Well!” She huffed, somewhere between honest exasperation and the pantomime of it for effect and amusement, “I didn’t realize you were a connoisseur of decorative horticulture, Mister Morgan! Color me surprised!”
“A connoisseur. An expert with strict ideas.”
“Nah,” He indicated with one hand she exit the station with him, and used the other to lightly touch her shoulder when she did so, making clear to those giving her long, interested looks that she was in his company and under his protection, “I’m no expert, but I do know a thing or two about wildflowers…”
“Wildflowers…” She echoed, confused, “… Are you making fun of me?”
“I wouldn’t dream of it, Miss Schofield.”
“You are making fun of me!” Was her accusation out in the afternoon sun, “Roses aren’t wildflowers!”
Furrowing his brow, he faced her. From her expression, he could see she was somewhat truly upset about the situation—more likely the ruined product still in her hands than anything he’d said—and surprised that he would take advantage of her disappointment this way.
“I’m getting’ the notion we’re talkin’ about different things…” He said carefully.
She furrowed her fine brows right back at him, “I’m talking about roses. Flowers. We imported them from Europe and grow them in the garden back in the city…”
He nodded, “That explains it… Come on.”
He led the way back to where Slim was hitched, and she followed, pale eyes still full of questions, “… Where are we going?”
She allowed him to help her mount forward in the saddle, a feat made possible only by the specific combination of his hornless trail saddle and her riding skirts. She claimed to prefer riding forward as opposed to behind, and Arthur hadn’t anticipated trouble on the roads enough to warrant needing her behind him. Climbing up behind her, there were only minimal adjustments needed before they were arranged, his arm secured around her middle and her tucked back against his chest, her backside firmly against the front of his hips, and the smell of wildflowers threatening to drown him in waves from her dark hair while the top of her head brushed against his jawline.
It was not the most comfortable way to ride, but no one would ever hear him complain.
“We’re goin, Miss Schofield, to find you some wild roses.” He murmured into her scalp.
Fortunately, he knew of a place not too far out of town. Long rides seated like this often left him with half-numb legs and an aching-hard erection in his pants, and her sore from the pressure of the pommel digging into the front of her thighs.
It was a fine day for riding, too. The summer heat was always brutal in the high desert, but there was a nice breeze coming off the mountain that brought them some relief. The sky was a cloudless, cornflower blue, and few other riders were out, as it was entering the afternoon hours when folks avoided work—‘siesta’ both Javier and Catherine called it. Slim kept his trot long and easy, sparing his riders the punishment of a jarring ride up into the foothills.
The mostly uphill trip offered lovely vistas as they climbed, but also demanded some coaching on Arthur’s part, as the young lady was still very much a novice rider.
“Gonna hafta lean forward,” Were his words in her ear, “so’s help Slim stay center on the up.”
“Yes, but… I can’t really move further forward… unless you want me to bend?”
“Nah, don’ bend, shift your hips.”
“How? I… I’m a bit pinned here, Arthur…” She laughed lightly, a little self-conscious at her ignorance. He knew she never liked the idea of hurting or even overburdening a horse due to her lack of skill.
Dropping the reins for the quick moment—Arthur trusted the war horse to not spook or misstep in the few seconds he needed both hands—he gripped her hips on either side and rotated her pelvis forward.
It was a mistake.
It was a mistake on three fronts: Firstly, it caused a new, very intense friction between her backside and the front of his trousers, illiciting an immediate response. Secondly, it caused a similar, very intense friction between the front of the saddle where it met the pommel, and her crotch, which also illicited a response in the form of a shudder. Finally, all of these accidental consequences, and the very intentional movement of his hands, and even the intention of manipulating her body to suit his purposes better in the first place were all so much better suited to intimate activities that he could not help but reflect on them.
“Oh…” Catherine said softly while he repositioned his hands, holding the reins secure in one hand and tucking her into his elbow with the other arm. She shivered again when she felt his weight shift against as he also leaned forward for the uphill ride. Likely she could not ignore the way parts of him were pressing insistently into her.
“… Sorry, ‘scuse me.”
She laughed, “… I’d be more offended if it didn’t happen, I think… Seems to be the usual when we ride together like this.”
“… Do we have much further?” Was her uneasy prompting.
“A bit…” He admitted, “You alright?”
“… I’m fine, but if it’s all… uphill like this… I might need to stop…”
That was a concern, “… Somethin’ wrong?”
“No, Arthur,” she sighed, “just my lady bits rubbing against the saddle leather and you iron-hard in my rump and murmuring all low in my ear while taking me out of town to try and show me wild roses that don’t exist…”
Chuckling, he said, “Oh, if that’s all… it’s just a bit further…”
She found some relief as the incline smoothed and she was able to shift her hips back again to sit more naturally. Arthur found no such respite, but when she settled more relaxed against him again and brought up a hand to trace the back of his roughened knuckles with her fingertips, he could find no reason to complain.
“So what are you gettin’ roses in the mail for anyway?” He wanted to know.
“More the press than the rose.” She told him, “Mary-Beth’s book was talking about a hoity-toity miss who pressed flowers with a field press, and she didn’t know what that was. I told her I had one… being a hoity-toity Victorian miss and all. I said I would send for it. I think she’d like pressing flowers, and I understand why she doesn’t want to use her books.”
“So someone put that rotted flower in by mistake?”
“Or forgot it was in there before sending it, or wanted to send me something that reminded me of home in the hopes I’d miss my fancy gilded cage.”
“… Gotta say, that’s quite the reminder…” He mused.
“Yes,” He could hear the smile in her voice, “quite fitting.”
He heard what she didn’t say, and it made his heart race to know she wasn’t tempted to leave any time soon.
“Here.” Was his announcement, nudging the horse off the narrow trail. “Found this place huntin’ awhile ago.”
He helped her down before dismounting behind her, moving slow to adjust and favor his… predicament.
“… I don’t see any roses.” Was her dubious observation after a few long looks over the patches of prairie grasses.
Wordlessly he took her hand and drew her further from the trail and then crouched down, tugging her after him. With a finger, he indicated the scatterings of coin-sized white and pink blooms. “There’s yer wild roses, Miss Catherine.”
“Those are wild roses?” She asked.
“Yes’m. Prairie roses.”
Turning from the blooms, she looked him in the face, clearly searching for some indication of further jest at her expense. When she found none, doubt slipped away from her beautiful face and was replaced by wonder, “You really brought me out here for wild roses!”
“’Course I did, what else would I be—”
She cut him off by dropping her hand to his thigh, as if to balance herself while she leaned forward to more closely inspect the blooms he’d pointed out. The casual touch caused the muscles in his leg to jump and he stiffened while his pants became even less forgiving. She was also giving him an eyeful of her elegantly curving spine and the round of her backside as she bent.
“Oh.” He finished, unsure whether he was offended she suspected him of bringing her out here for such a thing, or embarrassed that she might be encouraging such an act.