In His Own Time
The Lineage 2
Author: Melissa Jarvis
Genre: Mainstream/Historical Romance
She found the object of her unease exactly where Ana had told her. The men and horses still had not returned, but that did not stop Banderan from closely inspecting the intricately tooled, leather-pommeled saddles. Victoria narrowed her gaze. She knew how easy it would be to cut the girth holding the saddle to the horse and send the rider tumbling, most likely to his death.
“I understand you wish to take me up on a tour of Ranchos de Las Campanas?”
Banderan turned around, and she saw him drop something in his pocket.
“Señora Victoria. I beg your pardon, I did not see you.” He bowed his head slightly.
Victoria forced a smile. “I’m told I’m rather hard to miss.”
“Indeed. If your generous offer is still open, then sí.”
“It is, but given the size of Señor Santiago’s holdings, I’m afraid it would be impossible to traverse on foot since the men took all the horses.” Victoria moved nearer, running her hands over the saddle Banderan had been looking at. Her fingers couldn’t detect any cuts or weakening in the leather.
“How well do you ride, señora?”
Victoria straightened. She prided herself on her riding abilities, having refused to train on sidesaddle, and learned to ride astride like a man. She could best most of the jumpers at Oxford and certainly didn’t need a pommel to hold on to.
“Very well, but it is a moot point.”
Banderan smiled, and his eyes lit up like a fire amid the smoky blackness. “Not true. I believe I noticed several horses grazing outside the gates. They are already lassoed, so it would be a simple matter to commandeer them.”
Victoria gulped. The Californios had a reputation as being some of the finest horsemen in the world, and with the abundance of horses and cattle, many were allowed to roam with lassos dragging from their neck so that the vaqueros could grab them whenever it was convenient and then leave them at their destination. But riding bareback was one boundary she had never crossed.
“I believe the aunts were going to accompany us, and alas, they do not have the stamina for what you suggest,” she said finally.
“Except that they are not coming,” Banderan said.
“What do you mean?” Had he overpowered them, locked them in the grain cellar? That was what she would have done.
“As much as I admire their vast knowledge of marriage and its benefits to one such as myself, I understand they are off visiting the Castros.”
Victoria grinned, surprised at the glimpse of humor. “Ah yes. Señor Castro’s nephew is recently arrived from Spain. A bit old though, since I hear he’s buried two wives already.”
“The third time could be the charm,” Banderan remarked dryly, although she could still see the twinkle in his eye.
She shook her head, her eyes tearing from trying not to laugh too hard. Because if she did, it might mean that she was actually starting to like this man.
Reluctantly, she let Banderan take her arm and lead her past the wrought-iron gates of the rancho.
It wasn’t long before Banderan located two palominos, their spotted white flanks nearly covered by dust. The frayed end of one lasso sat limply in the grass, while the other horse’s rope looked caught around its forelock. Victoria approached slowly, palm out, fingers close together so that the mare wouldn’t mistake them for a snack. Kneeling down, she cupped her hand around the hoof, lifting it gently and unknotting the rope. She straightened with care, knowing one misplaced kick could cost her life.
Banderan said nothing, merely watching her. She wondered if this was a test and if she had passed. An embedded nail in a horse’s hoof was a common problem, and any rider knew how to remove it. In her own time, the traditional horse and buggy still ruled, although she was fascinated by the new-fangled horseless carriages. Her father had bought one, a Model T, although he refused to let her drive it.
Now that she had the rope in her hand, she wondered what to do with it. There were no stirrups to use as leverage, and the palomino, though only twelve hands high and small compared to the thoroughbreds she was used to, was still far bigger than she was.
She turned to find Banderan kneeling before her, hands cupped. Balancing her hand on his shoulder, which was oh so firm, she placed her foot in his palm, kid boot heel digging into warm flesh, and vaulted onto the sweaty bare back of the horse.
Banderan mounted his own horse easily, as though he had done it a thousand times before. Considering that he had been a nobleman in the fifteenth century, when horses were just as heavily armored as their riders, she suspected that a mere piece of rope and a high flank presented little problem.
Victoria leaned forward, drawing her knees up like she would in a jumper saddle. The pressure of her thighs would hopefully direct the horse since there were no reins to guide it. She breathed a sigh of relief as the horse seemed to respond and was thankful that California women saw no need for corsets other than for formal occasions, else the boning would dig into her stomach. She had braided her hair in the traditional style, and the pantaloons underneath her cotton gown ensured her flesh would not chafe.
With a click of his tongue, Banderan set off, and Victoria urged her mount forward, wrapping the rope around her fingers loosely. In case the horse was startled, it wouldn’t take her hand with it.
“How much of this is part of Rancho de Las Campanas?”Banderan asked. The horses had settled into a comfortable trot. Victoria felt every muscle underneath her moving rhythmically, almost lulling her into a trance.
She shook her head, trying to clear it. “Everything you see. The estate is at least eleven leagues, according to the toma de razon in the governor’s office. But the land grant was filed before Señor Santiago’s marriage, and I do not know how many acres his wife’s family gifted him. Surely your gracious host informed you of this, though. I do not know why you ask me.”
“Because I think you are more knowledgeable than most women I have encountered. And that is a puzzle to me.” Banderan turned his steed, circling her slowly, his eyes never leaving her face.
Victoria remembered Derek’s and Nicolai’s warnings. She could handle this. “Then I wonder whose company you’ve been keeping, señor.”
“A good answer, but not to the question I asked.”Banderan frowned.
“You didn’t ask a question. You merely made a statement. And as such, I didn’t even have to reply to it,” Victoria shot back.