Jonah dabbed at her face with the mud, staring intently at her cheek. Suddenly their eyes met, and his hand froze. Meagan couldn’t move. She felt as if her legs had suddenly gone numb. A strange tingling was growing in her chest, and her heart started beating very fast. She found herself thinking that Jonah’s eyes resembled the sky overhead, and she saw tiny yellow flecks in the blue, like sparks of gold. His cheeks were hollow, and whiskers, the color of straw, grew on them. His eyelashes were light brown and very long. She thought of all this, and at the same time, she felt the gentle pressure of his hand on her cheek. She had the impression she could feel each grain of sand in the soft river mud on her skin.
Jonah’s breath was coming very fast. Meagan felt herself sway toward him. His mouth touched hers so softly it was like a feather sweeping across her lips. She closed her eyes. His lips settled over hers, softly, then harder. She pressed into him, eyes still closed. Small, unimportant things occurred to her. Jonah’s lips were dry but satiny smooth. His skin was hot. The button on his overalls dug into her collarbone. His whiskers scratched her chin. And . . .
Luke’s voice shattered her reverie. “Meagan!” She jumped backwards and spun around. Luke strode toward them, walking very fast through the prairie. In the blinding sun, his figure stood out like a black shadow against the yellow grass.
She turned her gaze toward Jonah. She had no idea why he’d kissed her, or if she’d really wanted him to. She felt dazed and strange, as though she’d just woken up. Shaking, she took a step back, trying to clear her head.
Jonah glanced toward Luke, and his brows drew together in a scowl. “Here,” he said. He took her wrist and put the rest of the mud in Meagan’s hand. “Put that on the stings on your arms, too. It’ll help stop the itching.”
“Where are you going?” Meagan asked him.
“To see Kyle. He needs to eat.”
Jonah didn’t look at her again as he walked away, and a searing wave of embarrassment washed over her. She almost felt afraid to face Luke.
Luke had no such qualms. He strode up to her, his face as dark as a thundercloud. “Meagan Cadet,” he said harshly, “what were you doing with Jonah?”
Meagan blinked. “He was putting mud on my cheek for the bee sting,” she said knowing perfectly well that he wasn’t asking about that.
Luke narrowed his eyes. “You were kissing him.”
Meagan looked toward Jonah, but he’d disappeared into the trees. Sorda raised her head, and Meagan pointed toward the mare. “She’s not doing well.”
Luke grasped her arm. “Meagan!”
“What?” she pulled back. “You’re hurting me.”
He let go of her arm as if it burned him. “I thought that you and I . . .”
He stopped suddenly, his mouth tightening.
“That we what?” Meagan had no idea what he was getting at. Or rather, she hoped she didn’t know what he was getting at. “We’re friends, aren’t we?” she asked.
“I thought we were more than friends.”
Meagan sat down slowly on the dried ground. Luke, ––her friend, Luke, ––looked at her with his mouth drawn in a thin line, . his His blue eyes were fierce again.
She didn’t speak. Silently, she compared Luke to Jonah. Whereas Jonah had ice-blue eyes, Luke’s eyes were dark indigo, like deep water. Instead of straight, white-blond hair, Luke had unruly red curls. Taller and leaner than Jonah, he had sharp cheekbones and a pale smattering of freckles across his high-bridged nose. He stood over her, his fists clenched, staring at her.
“Well? What happened?” he asked. His voice broke in the middle of the last word.
She looked at her feet and dug her toes into the dust. “I don’t know,” she admitted. She wanted to crawl into her shell and not speak to anyone again. Speaking to people, she decided, caused nothing but trouble. She didn’t remember ever feeling so bad. Her chest hurt, her stomach hurt, and she was sure she was about to cry––something she seldom did. “Go away,” she said harshly. Anger and shame made her voice crack. “Just leave me alone. I didn’t do anything wrong. You’re making me feel like a criminal.”
He didn’t leave. He stood there for a minute, then dropped to the ground at her side. “I’m sorry, Meagan. I wasn’t thinking. It’s just that,” he stopped and rubbed his hands over his face, “When I saw you with Jonah, it hit me. I realized that I was in love with you.”
Meagan looked at the ground, the trees, then focused on the mud in her hand. Finally, she looked at Luke. He was sitting with his knees drawn up, his arms wrapped around them. His coveralls were torn, half his shoulder was exposed to the sun, and in the light his skin looked paper-thin. “You love me?” she asked in a small voice.