Chapter 27

Cassandra laughed heartily, sighing as she made herself cease. "Oh, I wish we could do this everyday," she breathed in the crisp fresh air filled with the aroma of nature, looked to the open space around her, and the Duke riding alongside her, grinning widely along with her. The casual gait of the horse rocked her gently, her riding dress cascading over the side of the saddle to cover her legs hanging there.

"Indeed," nodded Giddeon, observing the Princess in the brilliant autum light. Her sharp features were accentuated by the style of her long hair twisted gracefully on the back of her head, an elegant plumped hat set atop it to match her hunter riding gown ribboned with simple gold. There was no denying her unique beauty.

"Come! Let us race to the top of the knoll there, and explore it!" she cried suddenly, spurrign her grey mare into a gallop.

"Hey, that is not a fair start, Your Highness!" he protested jokingly, bringing his athletic stallion to a matching sprint. Her dressed flailed behind her in a wild fashion, she screamed laughingly as she tried to have a hold on her hat with one hand and the reins in the other.

As the Duke finally caught up to her, they were reaching the top of the hill. They both pulled on the reins of their horses, halting them. "I believe you have won, Princess," smiled the Duke, swinging his leg over his horse and jumping down.

"I believe it was a tie, Sir Giddeon," her eyes glittered playfully as he came to her own horse's flank, offering to help her down. "If anything," she continued as she allowed him to put his hands about her waist and lift her carefully down. "Your horse put his nose in front."

He could not help but continue smiling down upon the Princess, her hair tossed and half removed from its style from the violence of the wind, little wiry curls springing from the side of her face, her hat hanging limply from her head, her dress dishelved, her chest rising falling in quick little breaths, and cheeks flushed with red. "No, I believe it was your own that held her position to pull off the win," replied Giddeon in play, yet his hands remained as they were, almost holding her between him and the horse.

Cassandra shifted awkwardly in his grasp, holding his eyes. "I fear you are being too polite, Sir, in saying it was your defeat....," she murmured, though her words had no force behind them, meak and worthless, distracted by the intensity of his eyes and touch.

"Let us not argue over this," Giddeon whispered in reply, coming closer to her. She tensed slightly, her muscles stiffening as his face neared hers, the tips of their noses almost brushing....

He placed his lips over hers. She relaxed into his kiss, overpowering and filled with indescribable bliss. She immersed herself in it, forgetting everything, her heart fluttering in her chest with such emotion. So caught in it, she was surprised when he pulled away. There was something uncertain in his eyes, hesitant in his expression, guilty as he averted his eyes, and a pause so extraordinarily awkward.

"Shall we return to the palace?" he asked, though his head seemed somewhere else. He didn't appear to notice as Cassandra nodded briskly, breathless and confused, and his eyes also looked glazed with thoughts as he helped to return her to her place on the horse. The two bent their horses heads back to her home, mainly riding in silence.

The End

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