Silent are the Bells Chapter Two: Friendships Renewed
written by Sugarberry

Brietta had spent a longer than normal time primping in preparation for the dinner party her parents were holding to celebrate her homecoming; Lissy, the housemaid, had spent valuable time in helping the mare to braid and decorate her hair-- so much so that Anna had finally stomped up the back stairs to remind the maid that her duties in regard to the party were suffering.

Throwing a dark glance at Brietta, Anna shook her head. “Life’ll not be so easy with you back home, little one.” But the “little one” was so beautiful in her ribbons and bows and with the look of expectancy on her face that Anna softened. “Lissy, I’ll expect you downstairs in ten minutes, you hear?”

“Yes’m,” Lissy responded as Anna made her departure; the maid turned a wide smile on Brietta as she returned to the job of positioning each hair ornament in exactly the right place.

“Lissy, what is Sloan like these days?”

Her eyes sparkling brightly, Lissy gave an honest answer. “He’s wonderfully handsome and very, very thoughtful.” She pinned Brietta with a sharp look. “You should make your peace with him, Brietta. Your grudge against him has gone on long enough.”

“My grudge, Lissy? That sounds so... trite. I prefer to think of it as justice.” Brietta moved to her dressing table to choose a perfume. “Flourish or Reserve?” She opened the first bottle and sniffed the scent.

Dispute would be more like it,” grimaced the precipitous Lissy to the reflection of the mare in the mirror; that opinion registered, she left to help Anna.

Her room once more to herself, Brietta grew thoughtful. Was she the same pony who had grown up along side Sloan almost as if they were from the same family? Her father and Sloan’s father, Niles, had been best friends all through their school years, and that friendship had never waned. When Aiden had become a lawyer and Niles an architect, the two had continued to collaborate on both a business and a personal level; and their wives had become close friends. Building an elegant house in the area, Niles had become a neighbor as well. It only followed that the offspring of such a woven existence would be close.

And so they had been. Brietta smiled as she remembered the games of hide-and-seek in the wide lawns and spreading willows; playing at the pond; the first day of kindergarten for Brietta when Sloan, by now a veteran student, holding her hoof to thwart her fear; reading books in silent companionship; working on homework at the kitchen table with cookies and milk readily available from Anna; cheering on the local teams; congratulating one another upon their individual graduations. She had never “tagged after him”; even with three years of age between them, they had been equals in everything.

“Brietta? May I come in?” Shayla was at the door, bringing Brietta out of her reverie. The two young mares had spent a pleasant morning together with Flynn playing at their hooves.

“Yes, indeed. Come on in, Shayla. You look lovely! Are those flowers from Derry?”

“Who else?” Shayla giggled. “It’s been ages since he brought me flowers.” She lifted her foreleg where the corsage of red roses rested.

“I’m jealous,” admitted Brietta. “No one thought to present me with such a memento.”

“Oh, but the flowers downstairs are gorgeous; your parents went all out for this dinner party.”

“They always insist on entertaining their guests in style.”

“Oh! Brietta! The guests! That’s why I’m up here; everyone is wondering where the guest of honor is!”

“All the ponies are here then?”

“Yes. And Sloan can’t keep his eyes from the stairway, Brietta; you’re torturing him.”

“I’m nearly ready,” Brietta responded, turning back to her dressing table. “You go back down and assure the company that I haven’t slipped out the back door.”

“Okay. But don’t be too long.”

Once more Brietta looked over the scent bottles in front of her; suddenly she made up her mind. “Reserve it is.”

* * *

The carpeted hallway of the second floor silenced Brietta’s hoofsteps which worked to her advantage as she moved to the top of the last sweep of stairs; it gave her a moment to view the guests without being seen herself. The arrogant Niles was dominating the conversation between her parents and the others except that Sloan stood off to the side in a spot that commandeered the full sweep of the curving steps which rose dramatically from the center of the hall which was larger than most rooms. His attention at the time was focused on his father’s words, and Brietta realized just what an impressive figure the younger stallion presented.

Having made it a point to avoid any confrontations with Sloan since that fateful evening of the dance when Finella had burst on the scene, Brietta had rarely seen him for several years, timing her rare visits home from college and then law school to coincide with the stallion’s absence from Whitehall. Those lost years had matured the pony and heightened the aura of dependability and honorableness that had always marked him as a trustworthy friend.

Well, almost always, bitterly thought Brietta, remembering again how he had hurt her. But seeing him standing there, his saffron yellow mane neatly combed across his steel blue body, reawakened a longing that had been buried for too long. Brietta felt her resolve to hold him in abeyance falter.

In that moment, Sloan turned his gaze to the head of the steps, and his eyes locked on Brietta’s. Regardless of the distance between them, Brietta could see that no matter what had come between them, he still regarded her as beautiful. She allowed herself a reticent smile.

An assured voice drew Sloan’s attention away, however, and Brietta realized to whom that voice belonged- Finella. Her smile disappeared, and she made her descent to the main floor without the measured poise that she had intended.

To his credit, Sloan broke away from Finella to meet his foalhood friend at the foot of the stairs; Brietta allowed him to take her hoof in his. “Brietta, I’m glad you’re home.”

“It’s very nice to be back,” Brietta smiled politely. “Hello, Finella.” There was no way she was going to refer to her as “Dr. Finella”.

“You’re looking well.”

“Dear, dear Brietta,” Sloan’s father came to Brietta with a ready hug. “All grown up and prettier than ever!”

“Thank you, Niles. Noreen, your husband still knows how to make a mare blush.”

“My dear, you do look stunning! When you get those ponies in court, you’ll dazzle them!”

Grandfather spoke up dryly. “We are assuming that she has the knowledge to dazzle them with her expertise... regardless of her looks.”

“Without a doubt, she will be a smashing success!” Niles declared with authority. “Sloan can help her over any rough spots while she’s learning the ropes.”

“It will be my pleasure,” Sloan verified, his eyes twinkling.

“Conrad and I plan to keep a close eye on her until she’s comfortable with things at the office,” Aiden responded, and Brietta flashed him a thankful smile.

Shayla came forward, pulling her husband with her. “Hi, Brietta,” the stallion grinned. “Good to see you.”

“I hear that your business is doing well, and I’ve seen with my own eyes what a darling little colt you have. Flynn is an absolute angel,” Brietta greeted him.

“Your sure you saw my son?” Derry joked. “He’s usually a little terror.”

“He was on his best behavior this morning,” Shayla revealed. “I think he likes Brietta.”

“That’s easy enough to do,” Sloan said with a look at Brietta that sent shivers down her spine.

“Dinner is served,” Lena said, taking her cue from Clarence who waited by the dining room door. “Clarence will show you to your places.”

Brietta took advantage of the shuffle of ponies to whisper to Shayla, “Why didn’t you warn me that Sloan was Finella’s escort?” Brietta, in all honesty with herself, had dared to hope that Sloan would have been ready now to rekindle the camaraderie they had once shared; but Finella’s presence put that fire out before it had a chance to flame.

Shayla did not bat an eye. “They’re always together at social functions; it doesn’t mean a thing.”

“It doesn’t?” Brietta responded bitterly. “Maybe not to anyone else, but it does to me.”

Feeling a bit unsettled, Brietta made her way to the table, lost in some depressing thoughts that carried her miles away from the dining room setting until Clarence touched her foreleg and guided her to her place. Only then did Brietta notice an unfamiliar stallion waiting next to her chair. A smile broke through her dreary deliberations like a diamond finding the light.

“You must be Dorian!” She held out a forehoof to him which the stallion accepted with alacrity.

“I’ve been waiting to meet you, Brie.” He held her hoof and returned her smile, presenting her with a nosegay of fragrant flowers. His dark blue eyes twinkled at her so merrily that she did not have the heart to reprimand him for using an abbreviated form of her name- something that had irked her since she was a foal and that she normally allowed from no one. Instead, she looked on him with a benevolent twinkle of her own.

Their meeting had become the center of attention; and Brietta blushed to find that all the ponies in the room were looking at her and Dorian, some with amusement, others with disapproval, and one at least with envy. She glanced at Dorian as he helped her with her chair, and found that he was happily unaware of any tension in the room.

“I bribed your mother to let me sit next to you,” he winked. “I figure that since I’m the only one with no previous acquaintance of you, I should be allowed the opportunity to get to know you better.”

“And what size bribe did it take?” asked Brietta as she picked up her napkin.

Seeing that Lena was occupied with the conversation at her end of the table, Dorian admitted the cost. “I had to set the table; that’s why I couldn’t greet you sooner.”

Brietta looked at him sharply. “You’re not serious, are you?”

“Yes, I’m serious. And it was worth it.” He flashed her an enticing smile. “Do you approve of my work?” He swung his hoof to take in the formal place-settings before them.

“It looks perfect; you’re obviously a stallion of many talents.”

“And I look forward to showing you more of them.”

Brietta looked long at the stallion as he made himself comfortable and spoke some words to Grandfather who was on his right. Dorian was light grey with the darkest blue eyes she had ever seen-- so blue that they were nearly black. His violet hair hung long. His bow tie, she noted, was a wild pattern that picked up the color of his mane. Her attention was torn away by the abrupt voice of Niles, sitting at her side.

“What do you think of the old town now that you’ve had a chance to taste the offerings of Pembroke?”

“I honestly haven’t been further than this house since I got back. I’ll have to withhold my answer until I’ve seen the changes that occurred since I was last home.”

“Ahh. So you aren’t going to blindly commit yourself to an opinion based on sentimental memories from the past?”

“You know that this house holds a wealth of wonderful memories and that there is no place else I’d rather be; but as to the town itself, I’ve heard that it has been expanding quite unexpectedly.”

Derry spoke up from across the table. “Do you remember the old movie theater where we saw all the best flicks? It’s gone now with a five-story apartment building in its place.”

“Oh, Brietta! The new theater on the edge of town has three screens! Can you imagine? We never had a choice when we were growing up. Now Flynn can take his pick.”

“The library has added a new wing that has doubled its space,” Aiden added.

“And the mall,” Noreen cooed. “We have more variety for shopping now than Capital City. Well, nearly.”

“The city’s growth is pulling in a lot of professional ponies, like Finella,” Sloan observed. “Those of us who came back because of our roots will have some competition.”

“Dorian, you’re relatively new to Whitehall; what do you think of it?”

“It’s a great place; it has all the businesses that a pony could need plus it has super relaxation spots and reasonably-priced apartments that have all the comforts of home. Not only that, but the planning commission makes sure that the growth of the city follows certain guidelines to guarantee that the town will always be a good place to live. I’d recommend it to anyone.”

“A town can grow too fast,” Conrad commented, then settled back to see if anyone would contradict him.

“Not if it’s done, as Dorian stated, under the guidance of a planning commission who looks ahead to see potential problems before they start and takes the necessary steps to correct them. Whitehall is known for its leadership in city planning.”

“I enjoy the improvements,” Lena agreed, “but I’m not sure that I approve of the out-lying land being taken over by new and bigger shopping centers and business sections. This house used to be a country home; now the residential sections of the city are creeping up on us.”

“But by the same token,” Niles reminded her, “you have better utility services and a shorter walk to any of the businesses that you need on a daily basis.”

“Harumph!” Conrad scowled. “Some day a little pony won’t be able to walk on green grass anywhere!”

The conversation came to a standstill as Clarence and Anna served the food; the talk renewed itself among smaller groupings of the diners around the table; Brietta took time to study the faces of the friends and family around her while Niles debated with Aiden, and Dorian assured Conrad that Whitehall would never be buried under acres of concrete. Her perusal of the guests ended with those directly across the table from her, Sloan and Finella.

The doctor was whispering her comments to Sloan who was focusing his entire attention to catch her words; his only response was an occasional nod of the head or a brief smile, and Brietta was free to watch him openly until he sensed her steady gaze and looked up at her directly. Brietta immediately shifted her attention to Dorian who had himself lost Conrad to something Derry had said.

“Brie, this house must have seemed like a castle to you when you were a foal. I still feel like I’m visiting royalty whenever I’m here,” Dorian stated.

“I’m afraid that I never really appreciated the magnificence of it until I was away at law school,” Brietta admitted.

“Surely you must have noticed that the homes of your friends were small by comparison,” he teased.

Brietta cast a glance at Shayla. “We were happy wherever we ended up; it didn’t matter whose house we met at.”

“I would have been annoyingly proud if I had been raised here. Your ancestors were the founding ponies of this town, after all.”

“Not the only ones; there was quite a settlement of ponies that pooled their resources and talents to put Whitehall on the map.”

“But you can’t deny that this house was called Whitehall Place before there ever was a community to exist. That says a lot.”

Conrad came back to the discussion. “My ancestors were some of those ponies who made sure that a local government was set up to guarantee that everyone’s needs would be met. This house was built in part to provide a source of work for some of the ponies who were having a hard time making a go of it. The house became a symbol of what could be accomplished with teamwork and common goals.”

“I rest my case,” grinned Dorian.

The rest of the meal went smoothly with Brietta keeping a careful eye on Sloan and Finella without appearing to be doing so; Dorian remained attentive, and the conversation flowed on until the party retired to the main room to enjoy dessert in a less formal setting. Brietta and Shayla relieved Anna of her serving chores and proceeded to supply generous helpings of Anna’s warm peach cobbler to one and all.

One of the rooms on the spacious main floor was reserved for dancing this evening, and Brietta now saw that a string quartet was setting up near the patio doors.

“Father, no one told me that you were indulging my favorite pastime!”

“A welcome home party for you without dancing would be unthinkable, Brietta. It was unnecessary to mention it.”

“You are such a dear!” Brietta hugged her father and mother in turn.

“Save the first dance for me,” her father ordered. “Dorian, you have my permission to dance with my wife.”

Given a renewed spirit in view of the dance, Brietta mingled gaily with the guests and was even able to strike up a light-hearted conversation with Sloan while Shayla and Finella strolled through the dancing hall to admire the gleaming wooden floor and the wainscoted walls. Brietta and Sloan had danced together innumerable times in that room from the time Sloan had guided Brietta’s first awkward steps; it was a welcome release for Brietta to concentrate on the good times for a change. When her father called her to begin the first dance, Brietta was in such good humor that she gave Sloan a brief hug as she left him to the approaching Finella.

Once the dancing started, Brietta could be found out on the floor for the duration. The dance with her father was followed by a command performance with her grandfather; Niles was not to be left out; and, as Dr. Finella had restricted Shayla’s activity to that of a wall flower, Derry was permitted to have a whirl with the newly returned lawyer. By then, even Brietta consented to a momentary rest.

As Derry and Brietta returned to Shayla where she sat in company with Grandfather, Dorian joined the group with a tray of drinks. “Refreshments are served,” he intoned in Clarence’s voice. “And I would like to take this opportunity to claim a dance with you, Miss Brie.”

The mare sipped her soda and acquiesced. For some reason, she liked the sound of her truncated name from this stallion’s lips. “The next one is yours.” Setting the glass down on the table, she offered him her hoof; and the stallion led her to the center of the room. As the strains of the next song began, he put his foreleg around her and led her in the dance.

The two ponies moved as one across the smooth floor, and Brietta found herself comparing Dorian’s style with Sloan’s and grudgingly admitted to herself that Dorian had a certain polish that Sloan lacked. She was so intensely concentrating on the fluidness of the steps that it was not until the music ended that she realized that no one had joined them on the floor. They had danced alone.

The ponies around the edge of the room applauded their appreciation for a fine performance, and Dorian was slow in releasing his hold on the mare. He guided her to her parents and turned her over to her father’s care. “She’s an excellent dancer, sir.”

“The two of you were perfect together,” Lena smiled. “It was good to see Brietta enjoying herself so much.” She looked favorably at Dorian.

As the strains of another number began, they were interrupted by Sloan. “Brietta.” He offered her his hoof, and she automatically accepted as she had done so many times in the past. For the length of time that the music played, she did not allow herself to think of anything except these moments with Sloan. No words were spoken; no words were needed. The music and the motion said it all.

However, when the instruments were silent, Finella’s voice broke the enchantment. She had been dancing with Dorian, and the two couples ended up near one another. “Sloan, dear, let’s sit the next one out!” She retrieved her escort, and they both went toward the side table where refreshments waited.

“If looks could kill...” Dorian said at Brietta’s side so unexpectedly that she jumped; he was watching her with an amused look.

“I wouldn’t go quite that far, honestly,” she grimaced. Then, seeing Shayla and Derry coming their way, Brietta abandoned Dorian and went to meet them.

“We’ve got to say goodnight,” Shayla grimaced. “Dr. Finella insists that I get to bed at a reasonable hour, and that means I’ve got to get home now.”

“You do look a little tired; I hope you didn’t overdo it.”

“I’ll make sure that she stays quiet tomorrow,” Derry promised. “And it’s great to know that you’ll be around on a permanent basis again, Brietta; we’ve missed you.”

“Thanks, Derry,” Brietta said as she accepted his hug. “I’ll look forward to many good times together. Goodnight, Shayla.”

“I’m going to turn in, too,” Grandfather said from behind Brietta. “These old hooves aren’t up to dancing like they used to be.”

“I wish I could have seen you and Grandmother gliding around the room; but yet I can nearly picture it at that- I can see you dancing... and I can hear the bells.”

“Quiet, Brietta!” Grandfather admonished her, and his demeanor visibly saddened. “I don’t want to be reminded...”

“I’m sorry, Grandfather.” Brietta hugged and kissed him. “I love you.”

The stallion managed a faint smile. “I love you, too, Brietta.” He turned and left the room.

Brietta stood alone. The other ponies were congregated to the side of the room while the musicians took a break. In her isolation, the mare pondered the silent bells; the old longing to hear them chiming from the tower was as strong today as when she was a little foal. Just as her grandfather used to have them rung on happy occasions, Brietta would like to have been able to share in that tradition. Now, however, the bells were off limits; even her homecoming was not sufficiently noteworthy to convince Grandfather to renew the custom.

“A jangle for your thoughts,” Sloan broke in upon her reflections; Dorian was there, too.

“They aren’t worth that much,” she smiled. “I was just wishing we could hear the bells.”

“What bells?” Dorian asked.

“The ones in the bell tower.”

“There are really bells in there?”

“What did you think it was?”

“Just an oddity on the house; I never gave it much thought.”

Sloan eyed Brietta. “If only you could get it out of your thoughts; your grandfather has made it perfectly clear that he wants nothing to do with those bells.”

“Why?” asked Dorian.

“They signified all the good things in his life, like his marriage to Grandmother and the birth of Father. But when Grandmother died, he couldn’t stand to hear the bells ring out anymore; he says they will never ring again.”

“But Brietta has always harbored the hope that some day, Conrad would relent and allow the old tradition to continue,” disclosed Sloan.

“You’ve got my curiosity up; I’d like to hear those bells, too,” admitted Dorian. “Maybe you can tell me more about them during this dance,” he added to Brietta as the quartet took up their instruments once again. Brietta gratefully accepted; Sloan had never understood her penchant for the bells.

The music was slow and the two ponies could talk without interruption. Brietta explained to Dorian how as a foal she had tried to glean a view of the bells, but had been stopped by her grandfather’s intervention. Over the years, she had begged and pleaded, prodded and poked, to convince her father and mother to persuade Grandfather that it was senseless to ignore the bells; after all, she had argued, hadn’t the bells been made for the purpose of announcing events of merit?

Every milestone of her life had refueled Brietta’s desire to hear the bells, starting with her first day of school and continuing until her graduation, but never once had Grandfather budged in his refusal to allow the bells to be a part of Whitehall Place’s celebrations.

“The night of my sweet-sixteen birthday party, I was determined that Grandfather would see my point of view,” Brietta grinned at Dorian, the spark in her eyes giving her a spirited look that quite besotted the stallion. “I had snuck in three of my friends- Bram, Dwaine, and Colin- before the evening got under way; they were going to pick the lock on the tower door and see to it that the bells rang in honor of my sixteenth birthday.”

“I’m guessing that you failed?”

“You guessed right,” Brietta giggled. “Sloan wouldn’t be a party to our plans, but he did consent to playing the part of lookout. Unfortunately, he was no match for Clarence who asked him to help rearrange some furniture, so he left his post.”

“And Conrad caught you in the act?”

“It was Shayla’s fault, actually. She got cold hooves and wanted out, so she went down the stairs from the third floor, only to run into Grandfather coming down the hall from his bedroom. Shayla’s not good at dissembling; one look at her face, and Grandfather knew something was up. He came up the stairs and found the four of us huddled around the bell tower door.”

“Not good,” Dorian surmised with a grin.

“He was quite calm about the whole thing and simply told us to get back downstairs, which we were quick to enact. It wasn’t until the next morning that I was called before his presence in the library and faced my doom.”

“Which was?”

“He told me that as I was incapable of entertaining my guests in the manner that was expected of me, then I’d be denied that privilege for the next month. Not only could I not have friends over to visit me, I couldn’t even stop in at anyone else’s house during that month either. Needless to say, I was dismayed.”

“But you survived.”

“Yes, I did. But my teachers at school were ready to tear their manes’ out because I interrupted class so much with all there was to discuss with everyone without being able to see them outside of class time. They were as glad to see the month come to an end as I was.”

“So the Whitehall Place heir isn’t such a little angel after all?” queried Dorian.

It suddenly dawned on Brietta that the music was no longer playing although she and Dorian were still dancing- sort of- at the edge of the room, lost in the story-telling and lulled by the motion that had transfixed them, holding their attention one on the other. She blushed and pulled away from Dorian, feeling as if all eyes were on them; but when she glanced to where the others had congregated, she was grateful to find that none of them seemed aware of anything out of the ordinary, so caught up were they in a discussion of their own.

When Dorian and Brietta joined them, they found that Noreen was busily planning her own party for later in the summer- a garden party to show off the myriad flowers and bushes that decorated her well-kept lawns. Sloan guided Brietta onto the dance floor when the musicians began another song, admitting that he found the chatter of his mother too tedious; and Dorian courteously extended his expertise to Finella.

When that dance ended, Niles and Noreen decided to end their evening; farewells were said, with Aiden and Lena walking their friends to the door.

With the guests having thinned out, the musicians packed up their instruments; and the house regained its quiet composure. The contemporary glass doors which led to the patio were open to admit the refreshing springtime breezes. An odd, deep sound also pulsed through the room in company with the air currents.

“What’s that noise?” asked Dorian, looking a bit disconcerted.

Finella came to his rescue. “It’s frogs... hundreds of them.”

“You’re kidding!”

“No, really,” Brietta laughed. “There’s a pond beyond the willow tree, and the frogs are celebrating springtime.”

Dorian, still not convinced, looked at Sloan. “Are these two pulling my leg?”

“No, city boy. The sound you hear is definitely made by frogs. Brietta, Shayla, and I have caught enough of them in the past to know.”

Brietta giggled. “It’s kind of fun, if you’d like...”

“No, thanks!” Finella grimaced, stepping back quickly.

“I’m game,” Dorian said enthusiastically. “Do we need any special equipment?”

“Good eyes and quick hooves,” Brietta proclaimed.

“I’m covered then. Let’s go!”

“Sloan, you’re not going out there to chase those slimy creatures!” Finella wailed as the stallion was on the verge of joining the hunting party. She took his hoof and pulled him away from the doorway while Dorian grinned at Brietta.

“It’s just you and me.”

Brietta tossed her head, giving Sloan and Finella a withering glance. “Sissies!” she hissed and led Dorian out the door and across the smooth patio stones.

Beyond the scope of the outside lighting, the two ponies were lost in the blackness until their eyes adjusted to the wan moonlight; Brietta took Dorian’s hoof in hers. “Follow me,” she whispered. “I know just the place.” With slow, quiet steps, they moved to the bank of the silvery pool, reflecting the ghostly glow of the moon.

Their approach was stealthy, but the amphibians were aware of intruders. Those near the spit of land where Dorian and Brietta stood ceased their croaking to listen intently; several plops were heard as the frog bodies hit the water. Brietta indicated to Dorian to keep still; and as the two ponies stood, barely breathing, one, then another, and soon all of the frogs were singing again. At this close proximity, the sound was deafening.

The coarse animals were everywhere, but Brietta made no move to catch one; she had been away from this music too long, and she wanted to enjoy it. Dorian seemed to sense her mood, and stayed unmoving beside her, listening to the amphibian choir.

A sudden louder splash across the pond created instant silence, and Brietta pointed to a spot where a furry brown raccoon was fetching out his catch. For an instant, his black masked face stared across the water at the ponies, his bright eyes reflecting the moonlight, after which he turned and lumbered away, disappearing into the bushes that clustered in that area.

“We’d better get back,” Brietta said, becoming conscious of the closeness of the stallion in this isolated darkness.

“Your mother will think I let you fall in,” agreed Dorian, his voice rather husky; Brietta could feel his gaze on her.

“Be careful where you step,” she warned. “It’s easy to lose track of where...” She screamed as her hoof began to skid down the slippery bank; in an instant, Dorian’s forelegs were around her, pulling her to safety.

Brietta’s heart was racing; and she leaned against Dorian, welcoming his support. “Thanks for saving me from a cold dunking,” she said, “although I probably could have caught you a frog easily enough down there.”

“I rather like what I caught... better than a frog,” Dorian replied, pulling her close, his lips brushing hers.

A light beam suddenly hit them. “Brietta, is that you?” came Sloan’s voice. “Are you okay?”

The two ponies pulled away from one another and Brietta responded, “I’m fine; we both are.” She hoped that neither of the stallions heard the tremor in her voice; but when Sloan came up to them with the flashlight, she could see the smoldering anger in his eyes.

“Don’t worry, Sloan; I’m here to protect the lady,” asserted Dorian. Brietta could imagine the grin on his face.

“Finella and I were coming to check on your hunting expedition,” revealed Sloan evenly, his eyes on Brietta’s face. “We heard a scream.”

By this time, Finella, following the light from the lantern, reached the trio. “Is everyone all right?”

“I lost my balance near the water; Dorian kept me from falling,” Brietta answered. “The evening is getting chilly; we’d better get back to the house.”

The evening air was indeed much cooler than the sun-warmed temperatures of midday; but, in actuality, Brietta wanted to escape the accusing expression on Sloan’s face that warned her that even though he had cut his ties with her, he had no patience for any other stallion who might try to take his place.

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