"Mother!" I screeched. I ran down the winding steps, careful not to step on my skirt, and out the front door. I looked around furiously, but the gardens revealed nothing but hedges and my mother's prize orchids. I grabbed the front of my skirt and hoisted it up, not caring about the staring servants. I ran toward the gazebo in the front yard, hopping over the croquet mallets. I saw her sitting in the gazebo, drinking her tea like the dainty miss she was. I sighed and slowed to a walk, hoping mother wouldn't badger me for lifting my skirts higher than society forbade! Goodness! What would the world do?!

I entered the white fenced gazebo and thrust a piece of paper into my mother face.

"What in heavens name is this?!" I yelled.

Mother looked at me, then back at the letter calmly. She sipped her tea again, not really perturbed by my outburst. After all, she should had been used to them by now.

"Why, dear, it looks like an invitation to Miss Roline's afternoon get together on Sunday."

I sighed angrily. "I know what it IS, mother. I mean, why in smegging Hades am I invited?! I gave absolute no hint that I wanted to go the LAST time she invited me!"

"Darling, please be careful that your mouth stays appropriate, and the reason that you got the invitation is because I asked her to invite you again."

"What the..." Appropriate, Jo, be careful, "heavens?" I finished. Brilliant, Jo, just dazzling I thought sarcastically.

"I thought, dear Josephine, that you were too hasty in declining her invitation last time, so I simply asked her to re-invite you, and IF you do NOT choose to attend this time, you father will have a few words to say to you when he gets back from Scotland. Now, I don't think you would want THAT to happen now would you?"

I sat down on the gazebo bench opposite my mother. No, I did not want that to happen. Not at all, in fact. See, my father was a duke and a very temperamental one at that. He was known for his tantrums and fits, and his anger was usually known before he was. I had had the unfortunate experience of getting under his skin once. I won't tell you all the details of the ordeal, but lets say that we had fewer servants after that. And mother wonders where I get my temper from, I thought.

I sighed. This was NOT going according to plan. "I'll go mother, but only for a few hours. All they do there is figure out who is a good match for who and what the latest style is in Paris." Airhead talk.

"Good darling. Oh, and try to enjoy yourself at least a little. My garden club friends will be there and you need to make an exceptional appearance for them." Mother went back to sipping her tea. I growled at her once before leaving the gazebo. This was NOT a good day.


I walked into the stables, my skirt's gently moving the hay underneath my feet. I took a deep breath and let it out. I loved the smell of hay and horses. Reminded me of freedom, of life.

"Alex! Where are you?" I called out. I took a few steps forward, looking for my young friend in the stables. I heard a slight rustling behind me.

Oh god, I thought. Suddenly, I was thrust forward into a pile of hay, pushed by some 'invisible force'. I couldn't help laughing and squealing as I felt someone jump on top of me. I pulled my face up from the hay and twisted around to see the face of a young girl.

Alex was one of those 'street urchins' that one hears about. She had the face of a gamin and her blonde curly hair was tied in a ribbon at the back of her neck. Freckles dotted her clean, pretty face and water clear blue eyes peeked out from underneath thick black lashes. Alex was brought to our house about 3 years ago, when she was only 6. She had tried to steal a watch from my father when she was on the London streets. After that, my father brought her here to 'work off her debt', but after my mother had seen her, all that had been forgotten. Alex was the baby of the family, and during the first year of her stay, we adopted her.

I tried to push the child off me by arching my back, but she had a firm hold. I finally just collapsed down in a fit of laughter.

"Ok, Alex, you win. You got me!" I said between giggles.

"Hurray!" Alex rolled off and gave me a grin. I smiled back at her and pushed myself off the hay with great difficulty. I straightened, brushing the hay off my petticoat and picking strands out of my hair. I looked down at the bundle of trouble and decided right away to forgive. You can't keep a grudge against someone who looks so adorable.

"Aunt Julia wants me to take a bath." Alex stuck her tongue out at the idea. I laughed again. My mother always wanted us to take baths. 'To stay clean from the country air' she always said. Idiotic.

"I know. Mother always made me take baths when I was your age. Even now, at 20, she is still trying to make me take one every day."

Alex shivered. "The water is never warm and it's all the time cold."

"Almost always cold." I corrected. I reached down and grabbed both her hands in mine, pulling her back up with me. I brushed the hay from her clothes and picked a few pieces out of her hair, despite her protests.

"Ready to go riding?" I saw her nod and turned to saddle up my horse, Candy. She was a beautiful chestnut mare with brown eyes. Father had bought her and her sister as a present for Christmas. Alex and I both got one and in the heat of the moment, I named mine Candy and she named hers Cane.

I grabbed the wooden grooming brush from the shelf within her stable and began to brush her summer coat to a sheen. After combing her mane and tail hair, checking her hoofs, and braiding her tail, I began to saddle Candy up. Across her back I threw a soft light blanket before heaving the massive English saddle across. I stared at it distastefully.

English saddles had always given me a hard time. I never really could grasp the concept of riding sideways on a horse. One day I had seen the men ride off for a hunt. It looked comfortable, to say the least. After that, I demanded my trainer teach me to ride that way. It was actually going quite well, that is, until Mother came out and saw how I was riding.

She cried out in distress, calling it 'improper' and 'abomination'. After all, I was wearing a man's pants and riding the wrong way, according to her. After that, I had never learned.

I sighed. It would have been wonderful to do that again.

"Jo! Aren't you ready yet?" Alex stood outside my stable with Candy's twin, or almost twin. The only difference in the two mares was that Cane had black mane and tail hair, where as Candy's was white. I smiled apologetically at Alex.

"Sorry Alex. Take Cane out and I'll just be a moment." I reached under Candy and grabbed the belt on the other side, bringing it up and securing it on my side. I grabbed the bridle from a hook and slipped it over her nose, bringing it slowly up her forehead. I gently pushed the bit into her mouth and belted the straps at the back of her head. I patted her nose affectionately and lead her out of the stable and into the bright sunlight.

I saw Alex and Cane standing nearby and brought Candy over to them. Cane was nudging Alex's pocket curiously. She kept pushing her away.

"Alex, what do you have in your pocket that's making Cane so eager?" I asked, curious about what she might be hoarding.

She smiled slyly and pulled out a familiar white square from her pocket.

"Sugar cubes, Jo. She was smelling them."

"Ah, I see. Where did you get them? I know that the stable master hasn't ordered the cubes yet."

She smiled again. "I snuck them from Aunt Julia's tea service!"

I laughed out loud. That's why mother was complaining to Mercy about the sugar!

"Oh Alex, what are we going to do with you?" I said, trying to contain myself a little.

She shrugged. "The streets taught me to survive. I guess I just used to sneaking what I need."

I have her a gentle hug, careful not let go of Candy bridle. I touched her cheek and turned her so she would look at me.

"That's all over now, all right?" I smoothed back a piece of hair from her face, "Ready to go riding?"

She nodded mutely and turned to mount. I helped her up before hoisting myself up on Candy. I glanced over at Alex.

"Want to race?" She asked mischievously.

A slow smile spread across my face. I nodded and gave Candy a nudge.

We both took off, flying at speeds only we could achieve, feeling as free as eagles. Leaping over moss covered, fallen trees. Thundering through the forest like madmen, greenery passing us so fast. We finally reached our destination and slowed to stop trying to catch our breaths, only to have them taken away again by the beauty of the pond.

White, serene lilies floated on little green boats. The water was cool and clear, and so reflective that almost everything that moved in that area was seen. If you looked close enough, you could see a tiny fish or two swimming close. The area was completely surrounded by forest. It was so discreet, so wonderful, so special. I came here often with Alex, and most often by myself. It was a place of healing and peace, a place to get away from it all. I took a deep breath, still awed by the beauty.

"Never ceases to amaze me." I murmured. Never.


A/N: Hey all! New story! *cheers* still has a lot in the works though. Anyway, please review and tell me if its any good, if its worth continuing, if you like it, hate it, blah blah blah.