The caravan came to a halt, a runner traveling down the line and telling us we were stopping for a rest. It seemed a bit of an odd stopping place to me, the road being narrow, with no room for anyone to spread out and no easy access to the lake. Still, as long as I got to get off my horse, I wasn’t about to complain.
When I slid off of Phaedra’s back, I practically fell on my butt, my legs so rubbery they could barely hold me. Phaedra gave me a disdainful look as Ethan hurried to my side to give me a little support in case I took a nosedive.
Oh. My. God. I don’t think I’d ever been so sore before in my life! And this was just a rest stop, a chance to water our horses and stretch our legs. In less than an hour—according to the runner—we’d be mounting up and heading out again. I honestly wasn’t sure I was capable of getting back up on the horse, much less riding several more hours.
“You guys seriously need to invent some kind of alternative to the car,” I muttered at Ethan, who gave me a crooked smile.
“Believe me, people have tried. There are some aspects of technology that magic can mimic, but I’m afraid cars aren’t one of them.”
At that moment, all the trees on the lake side of the road started to move. At first, I thought I was hallucinating or dreaming, but then I felt the faint tingle of magic in the air. No one else seemed particularly alarmed when the trees pulled up their roots and trundled aside, those roots working like giant crab legs. I shivered in a phantom chill as the underbrush, too, pulled up roots and cleared a large swath of land between the road and the lake. People began leading their horses to the water’s edge to drink as if nothing unusual had happened. I just stood there and gaped like an idiot.
“Fairly normal,” Ethan reminded me. “Except when it isn’t.”
“Yeah,” I said, unable to think of anything clever to say.
Phaedra hadn’t bothered waiting for me to lead her to the water; she headed toward the lake, swishing her tail in my face as she passed. I could have done without the tail-in-the-face bit, but I was just as happy to take a break from her—and no one seemed to think the horses needed constant supervision. Phaedra wasn’t the only one going to the water without a rider. Ethan put his arm around my shoulders and guided me toward the water.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Keane, his eyes narrowed and flashing. He looked like he was about to hit something, which meant he was watching Ethan, not me.
I stifled a sigh. I had no doubt Ethan had put his arm around me specifically to provoke Keane, but I didn’t feel inclined to shrug him off. We’d had very little alone-time, and though we were hardly alone here, the anonymity of the crowd gave us some semblance of privacy.
I slipped my arm around Ethan’s waist and laid my head against his shoulder, enjoying the feel of him against me as we walked to the shore of the lake and then stood there together, taking in the view. Up close, the lake looked just as blue as it had from a distance. Near the shore, the water was crystal clear, showing a bottom of pebbles, but even that water had a blue tinge to it. The color shaded to aquamarine as the water got deeper, and then was an almost sapphire blue in the center. I wondered if maybe there was some kind of algae in the water that made it blue like that, but I didn’t ask, because “Why is water blue?” seemed like a dumb question.
“You doing okay?” Ethan asked, squeezing my shoulders.
“Nothing’s attacked us yet, so I’m doing great,” I said, crossing my fingers in case I just jinxed us.
Ethan laughed. “Nothing’s going to attack this party. There are a dozen Knights with us, along with some serious magic users. We’re not exactly an appealing target.”
I glanced over my shoulder at the prince’s entourage. Everyone was scurrying around busily, and I wondered if anyone other than me, my friends, and the prince was actually getting a chance to rest at this rest stop.
Ethan pulled me a little closer, his chin nuzzling the top of my head. I tore my gaze away from the lake and looked up at him, meeting his eyes. I had come so close to losing him forever, and I’d promised myself that I was going to savor every moment we had together from now on. His head bent toward mine and his lips parted. I closed my eyes and held my breath in anticipation of his kiss.
Someone cleared his throat behind us. I jumped like a startled cat, although Ethan didn’t seem surprised at all. I tried to pull away, feeling guilty and embarrassed about our near public display of affection. Until I turned my head and saw who had just interrupted us.
“You should get something to eat,” Keane said, holding up a shiny red apple and then taking a bite. “This is as close to a lunch break as we’re going to get.”
I saw that he had a second apple in his other hand. He tossed it to me, and I impressed myself by catching it one-handed. (I had to catch it one-handed because Ethan was squeezing me so tightly against him my other arm was trapped.)
“Thanks,” I said warily. I was pretty sure Keane hadn’t come over here just to give me an apple. I didn’t think it would take much for this to turn ugly.
“You didn’t bring one for me?” Ethan asked with exaggerated outrage.
Keane took another bite of his apple, the fruit making a crisp crunching sound that would have made my mouth water if I weren’t so aware of the rising testosterone level. I’d known from the start that having both of them traveling with me was a recipe for disaster, but which one of them would I have told to stay home? Not that it would have mattered, because neither one would have listened to me.