Jay cartwheeled through the air and landed on his butt on the ground at Allie's feet.
Her instantaneous laughter should have made him angry. Instead, the surprisingly beautiful sound made him laugh, too.
Jay looked up at her and shook his head.
"I thought you said you rode before," Allie finally said.
"I thought you meant an ATV."
"I'm afraid an ATV can't get us where we're going. Besides, a horse will give you a more authentic experience."
Jay's horse, turned toward him, rolled its eyes, snorted, then started grazing on a few wisps of grass. Allie laughed again.
"You think this is funny?" Jay asked with a grin.
"Hysterical would be a better word," she said, offering him a hand up. "Come on, cowboy. Getting into the saddle is supposed to be the easy part."
Jay took her hand, and let her help him to his feet. He was sure he'd have some bruises to show for the rough dismount, but it was good to be outside in the wide open. He'd also forgotten how nice it was to breathe clear air for a change.
He rubbed his butt, much to Allie's amusement, then warily approached the horse.
"What'd I ever do to you?" he asked, rubbing the horse's neck. This time the horse blinked and faced forward.
Jay put his leg in the stirrup, and hopped up, throwing his leg over in one smooth motion. He never had gotten comfortable around horses because he parents didn't have them growing up. Yet, how hard could it be?
Once he was in the saddle, he almost immediately slid off the other side. He saw Allie cover her mouth with her hand as he righted himself.
"That wasn't so bad," he said, feeling his confidence return. Once the reins were firmly in his hand, he made sure he kept his heels away from the horse's ribs so he didn't accidentally make it move until it was time to move.
"I'll catch up to you on the hill," Allie said suddenly, smacking Jay's horse on the rump.
Before he knew what was happening, the horse let out an angry whinny and took off on a dead gallop for the hill.
"Not funny!" Jay yelled, grabbing the reins and saddle horn and hanging on for dear life. Once he was sure he wasn't going to take another tumble, Jay turned slightly to see Allie mounting up.
Even from where he was, he could see the grin on her face as she watched him try to stay astride his galloping beast.
Flames flickered in the campfire between Jay and Allie while the tethered horses nickered softly as if having a private conversation.
"This is actually quite tasty," Jay said, nodding at his plate of beans and ham.
Allie smiled. "You sound surprised."
"When you said you were going to rustle up something to eat, I was picturing leaves and berries," he told her with a grin.
They continued eating in companionable silence.
Once Jay finished, she moved back and sighed. "How old were you when your dad—"
"Sixteen. I stopped thinking he was coming home at eighteen."
"That had to be rough."
She shrugged nonchalantly, though her...