"Where is she?" shrieked Mrs. Kingsley in the early morning hours of the next day. The she was referring to happened to be Natalie Kingsley, who, at earlier morning hours decided to wander to her families lake for a morning swim. She had taken her clothes with her and informed her maid not to let anyone know where she went. She did this when she wanted to think. Now her mother held her maid by the pleat of her braid, her face red in anger and demanding where her daughter was. Her maid, completely terrified, kept her mouth shut.
"I do not know ma'am," the maid repeated, over and over again, "I do not know where she went!"
"I know you do," screeched her mother unhappily, "Where is she now!"
"Honestly, ma'am, I have no idea-"
"Mrs. Kingsley, that's quite enough," came the stern voice of her husband. Flustered, she released the maid's hair and straightened herself, curtseying at his presence. Her face was flushed in an unfortunate shade of tomato and she was panting heavily.
"Marcus," she breathed, "Forgive me."
He nodded and waved his hand, dismissing the maid. She bowed and scurried quickly from the room. Once gone, he began to laugh elciting a scowl from his wife.
"Jane dear, you mustn't worry so much, I saw Natalie this morn in the pomegranate orchard. I believe she was heading towards the lake-"
"The lake!" screeched Mrs. Kingsley, "Does she not realize she could catch cold, or worse be seen by one of the guests?"
He chuckled again, cracking open the door to his parlor wider, wide enough to reveal a neatly dressed Natalie in her morning gown of light blue and her hair pulled away into a bun, sitting upon the sofa with a grin plastered on her lips.
"Natalie!" she shrieked, half surprise half angry, "How long have you been there?"
"A few moments mama," she answered, "I came in through father's terrace."
"Terrace? You mean the terrace? Did you climb up?"
"Of course," Natalie answered, standing up, "How else would you be able to reach the top?"
Her mother stared, flabbergasted at her daughters incredulous behavior, watching as her eldest daughter gave her father a quick hug and gentle peck on the cheek before walking by the two and into the hallway, where she headed down towards the breakfast table. Her mother looked shocked while her farther merely chuckled lightly, holding out his arm for his wife and headed off behind her.
When Natalie entered the dining hall, all was silent. It appeared less like a mealtime for their family and guests and more appeared like a funeral scene, where talk did little to sooth the soul. Here the air was thick with discomfort and when she entered, the four men rose quickly, waiting for her curtsey. She did, receiving quick bows from the men, a smile from most and a scowl and glare from Mr. Merring. This put Natalie in a foul mood for the meal.
"Mr. Harris, your plans for the day?" Asked her father as they ate. Mr. Harris addressed him happily.
"We have none, perhaps you would like to show us about the property, it is quite magnificent."
Her father beamed at the idea, "Of course, that is a wonderful idea! Mr. Rios, Mr. Penas, Mr. Merring, shall you join us as well?"
The men replied that they would each go with him, each riding horseback on Mr. Kingsley's finest breeding stallions later that day. For a few moments they spoke about the horses that Mr. Kingsley raised, until Melanie became bored with the conversation and spoke to Helena.
"Let us go to the dance hall today," she said happily, "Then the gown shop, I saw a beautiful dress of silk I wish to look at!"
"That is a splendid idea," cried Mrs. Kingsley, "Natalie, are you going to join us."
"I promised John a race," she said quietly, catching the attention of the men, who now where listening.
"A race?" inquired Mr. Rios, "On horseback? Surely that is dangerous for a lady like you."
Helena did best to hide a snort, and Melanie giggled at his remark, with Natalie stared openly at him, her face blank of emotion.
"Yes, on horseback. I am quite talented on my horse I believe to be."
"Yes quite," agreed her father, "The best in the lands."
"Surely it is hard to race side saddled," spoke Mr. Pena, bringing his steel eyes to stare at her.
"I ride in the regular saddle," she spoke coolly, stabbing her fork into her food.
It was quiet for a moment, and she looked up, meeting the amused gaze of Mr. Merring as he looked at her. Finally, he could contain his amusement no longer and spoke.
"Riding, like a man!" he snorted, "Certainly, that explains a bit about you."
"And what is that?" she said quickly, looking at him, "Does it have to do with my wit? Or is my ability to leave you without speech?"
A few darkening moments went by at the break fast table as the pair stared angrily at each other. Every word Natalie had spoken was true to him, she left him without retort as he had never met a woman whose haughtiness was so brightly illuminated in her eyes!
"You are a haughty unruly woman are you not, Miss Kingsley?" he spoke with a low and hushed fervor, "Tell me, is it because you are broken and unable to be married, or because you harbor a secret passion for more than one man?"
There was a swift motion under the table, and Mr. Merring gritted his teeth, sucking in air as the sting of her kick was felt reverberating throughout his shin. She smirked happily and ate the rest of her break fast in peace.
That afternoon, needless to say, the men admired Natalie's thoroughbred mare with awe as it sat in its' stall, waiting for her. The men, impressed by the mare wished for one for themselves, Mr. Pena offering a large sum for that one right then. Mr. Kingsley declined, saying that the horse was the light in Natalie's eyes. Mr. Rios understood well, as did every other man, except Mr. Merring, who could care less for the one and twenty woman with her haughty personality. He disliked deeply, mainly for disliking the personality she brought out in him, the very childish snide remarks, instead of speaking like a gentlemen. At seven and twenty he was no longer the child she brought out in him. He despised her for this.
Natalie rode much after the men had left for the far vineyard on the west side of the estate. She met John in the stable, her horse saddled along with the palomino stallion that he rode. She did not smile at him, and thus he felt uneasy. She stormed up to her horse angrily and mounted in a flurry, not even bothering to change out of her skirts. This action puzzled John greatly.
"Is something the matter Natalie?" he asked, mounting his own horse. She merely huffed.
How could she let him bother her so! She was a strong very independent woman and he seeped into her skin! With a swift kick, her mare lurched forward at a gallop, racing across the barnyard and into the open meadow, her blue silk skirts billowing out behind her. She rode in anger, pushing her horse on in haste not even bothering to hear the dying calls of John as he hastily sped behind her, unable to catch her attention. Never had he seen her so angry at herself for she only raced like this when she felt she was to blame. He desperately called to her, trying to catch her attention, but those cries fell on deaf ears as she sped away towards the vineyards.
While she flew on at an exhilarating pace, not bothering to even worry about being seen, in the distance rode the gentlemen and her father. They had finished their exhilarating ide to the hunting grounds, in which they were to return to on the morrow for sport shooting. Her father talked merrily and the men found themselves comfortable with his easy speech, enjoying the scenery. Merring found himself relaxed and rid of all thoughts of Natalie as Mr. Kingsley told them of his fine improvements to the land.
"Yes, it is a beautiful estate," he said, chuckling to himself, "Any man would be lucky to have these lands. Yes, they would most certainly be quite fortunate, that man who marries one of my lovely daughters."
"And lovely they are sir," commented Mr. Pena, "Quite exsquiste indeed. The middle Miss Kingsley is a fine young lady with proper manners, is she not Rios?"
"I dare say I agree," commented Mr. Rios, "But I find my taste in much darker haired women," he added chuckling, "And the eldest Kingsley is certainly more appropriate. What say you Merring?"
"The eldest has much fire and stubbornness in her. I dare say she is much too witty and cunning for a man of any stature," he said, glancing at his gloved fingers, "She much to wild and unruly for marriage."
"Come now," teased Mr. Pena, "She is certainly haughty and fiery yes, but she rivals any woman I have seen in her charms and dance. It is unfortunate that you have found her to your disliking."
"Me! I have found her to my disliking?" he laughed mockingly, "I dare say she has found me unsuitable for civilized conversation! I had the disgrace in confusing her with a maid and she took it with insult!"
"As she should," Mr. Kingsley said sternly, "She is a proud woman, pride bred into her very bones!"
"And yet she has not afforded me the chance to forgive her," Mr. Merring continued, a cooler tone now taken.
"Yes, I am certain of that by your conversation this break fast," snickered Mr. Harris. Mr. Merring looked at him with a set jaw before speaking.
"She is much to wild for my taste. I could never be happy with a woman of such fire and stubbornness that she often acts like a child."
Thus, this comment ended the conversation, just as the sounding of pounding hooves came within earshot. The men looked up from their ride, able to see the woman in question flying at much to fast a pace, racing towards the vineyards. Her horse was laden with sweat and Miss Kingsley had a glazed facial expression, the shouts of her friend falling deaf to her. The men, stunned to stillness barely heard the alarming shouts of the stable boy.
"Natalie, stop, you are going to hurt yourself, Natalie please!" the cried came as the boy raced behind her, kicking the palomino faster in hopes to catch the mare. She sped on, unable to hear the cries behind her.
"Natalie! Please Natalie slow down!"
"My goodness, she is going to hurt herself!" cried Mr. Kingsley, watching as her daughter sped away. Mr. Pena let his gaze contiune in front of her speed and saw an approaching gate, one that was shut.
"She is going to jump the gate!" he cried in alarm.
"Her horse is going to crash!" cried Rios in alarm.
Natalie saw the gate, but not in time. She was unable to pull her mare up, and-unlike the many times she had jumped it- she was frightened. She pulled on the reins, desperately for a slow but nothing happened. The fence came encroaching faster, and she was forced into a jumping stance. Her father and guests watched in horror as the horse cleared the fence, but rather than landing straight, the mare stepped wrong, catapulating itself head over heels onto the ground, throwing Natalie across the field.