Chapter 4

Ephraim and Liza

Liza watched with uneasy feelings, as her best friend made her way further deep in the woods. Her heart started to beat fast and for a minute, she thought that it would jump out of her chest. The mare recognized her rider's nervous state, so the animal also started pacing around, sensing that something was about to happen. Liza gripped firmly onto the reins and eased the horse. Her mind was filled with worried thoughts. What was taken Martha so long? Why did she agree with this plan in the first place? At least she had left a note to Milly and the girls. True, she didn't tell that to Martha, afraid that she would disapprove. Ugh...she was so confused right now. This was a big mistake. But nevertheless, she waited for her friend. After what seemed like hours to Liza, she finally had enough.

"Martha?" She called out, her voice cracking with fear. But there was no reply from the light haired girl. Liza swallowed a big lump in her throat. As she was about to get down from her horse and investigate, there was a gunshot in the distance, and the animal suddenly spooked out. "Hey, whoa! Easy girl!" Liza gasped as she tried to calm the grey mare. The animal nickered fearfully, hopping to the side, almost knocking the tiny brunette from her back. Someone had fired a gun. Probably Martha. Who else? Liza grabbed the mane and reins as the horse began to rear and buck. "Whoa girl!" She exclaimed desperately. But more Liza tried to hang onto the horse and calm her down, more the mare freaked out. The dark haired girl let out a yelp as the spooked mare launched herself straight up in the air and took off. Unable to control the animal any longer, Liza clung to the reins and shut her eyes. "Whoa! Easy!" She cried out, but all in vain. The mare had sensed the wolves nearby, heard the gunshot, and bolted with panic.

Ephraim was soberly trotting on his horse and kept looking for his girl. After all, Daniel had managed to come upon Martha and even saved her from couple of wolves. They were both safe and sound. At the moment, the two were in a heated argument. Fifth Pontipee brother shook his head in annoyance. He was disappointed that Liza...his Liza was nowhere to be found. Wasn't she supposed to be with her best friend? Didn't they leave together? Where was she? From the looks of it, Martha had no idea what was happening, and she seemed lost her self. Ephraim was watching them from a far, he was about to advance towards his brother and the stubborn lady, when suddenly he saw a flesh of grey out of the corner of his left eye. Looking in that direction, he recognized the dapple-grey mare from his barn. It was Moon and she was bolting with its rider, who he couldn't quite see, but soon enough, he quickly realized who the rider of Moon was. He heard desperate voice of Liza, calling for the horse to stop. Without further hesitation, the fifth Pontipee boy urged his stallion into a flat-out gallop, while at the same time steering him into the trees.

"Hold on, Liza!" He shouted. "Hold on!"

Ephraim was unaware of it...but Daniel had seen him rush to the girl's aid and wasn't worried about them anymore.

It didn't take long for Ephraim's horse to catch up with the bolting Moon. "Whoa! Easy Moon!" He called and reached over to touch the mare's wither, trying to calm her down. Sensing the familiar voice and recognizing his owner, Moon slowed down. "Attagirl!" Ephraim said to the mare, and finally both horses came safely to a stop. "Are you alright?" He finally asked Liza, who was still bit in shock of what had happened.

"Yes...yes, I'm fine." She answered slightly out of breath and regained her composure. "I heard a gunshot? Is Martha alright?" Liza asked worried, as the horses slowly started circling each other.

"She's safe. Daniel's with her." Ephraim told her gently while taking a good look at her. He was little bit surprised to see pretty and sheltered girl like Liza riding astride. Don't women prefer carriages, wagons, and sidesaddle riding? Well, Liza sure was doing mighty fine job at staying on the back of mischievous and easily spooked out mare like Moon. The left side of her skirt was tucked up and her pantaloons were showing, Ephraim tried not to stare and cleared his throat.

"I must say, for a smart gal like you. Running away in the forest was surely a dumb idea." He said finally with full confidence and bent forward in his saddle.

Liza narrowed her eyes at him, but then after a while, bit her bottom lip. "We just wanted-"

"I know, I know." Ephraim didn't let her finish the sentence. "Find another path and run away!" He added bitterly finishing the line for her. To be fair, he was quite upset with both Martha and Liza. They were smart women and should have known better. Martha almost got eaten by wolves and Liza almost broke her neck. Ephraim was downright angry!

"Are you mad?" Liza asked innocently, which caused him to soften.

"Let's just go home." He told her quietly, trying to avoid her gaze.

"You can't boss me around." Dark haired girl exclaimed and lifted her chin. "I'm waiting for Martha." She said stubbornly.

"I have the upper hand here." Ephraim answered with a cocky expression."Both of the horses listen to me, and I suggest you to do the same."

Liza didn't answer, she shook her head and angrily turned the mare in a different direction trying to canter away from Ephraim. But as she was about to get away from him, the fifth Pontipee brother whistled. This caused the mare to launch forward very suddenly, and poor Liza flew right from her saddle and landed in the muddy puddle of snow.

The girl shrieked in disgust when she noticed that all her clothes were entirely dirty and wet. Ephraim couldn't help but chuckle in amusement...she asked for it. Nevertheless, he dismounted the stallion and rushed towards Liza's side and offered her his arm.

Instead of taking it, the feisty brunette pushed him in the mud as well. "There!" She spat furiously. "That's what you deserve!"

Ephraim regained his composure and stood up. Now he was also soaked and muddy, but he couldn't help but laugh at this whole situation.

"You oaf! You savage!" She yelled angrily, trying to adjust her muddy, wet skirts. "Do you realize what you've done? I'm gonna freeze to death!"

"Looks like we'll freeze together, then." Ephraim grinned and winked at her.

He wasn't expecting his encounter with Liza to go this way. He had always been the level-headed, solemn brother, and everyone knew that. If anything, this situation should have been more serious and less playful. But this girl here brought out his inner mischievous and fun side, that even his brothers missed.

"Why you...!" Liza angrily advanced at him and tried to knock him in the mud again. But she was forgetting something...their height difference, strength, and whole bunch of other things that made her weaker than Ephraim. If Ephraim wanted to, he would easily overpower the petite girl. But she was really mad at him! Nobody messes with a girl's dress!

"Hey, be nice." He caught her hands and pulled her towards him. "Shhh..."

"Let me go!" She struggled furiously, but all in vain. The more she tried to break away from him, the more closer he pulled her and soon enough, she was few inches away from his face.

"You remind me of Moon." Ephraim said calmly. "She behaved just like that when we tried to tame her." He teased.

"How dare you!" Liza tried to slap him, but her hands were caught by Ephraim and she couldn't move them.

"Relax. It's a compliment. Look how beautiful Moon is." Ephraim told her with a chuckle. Oh he was really enjoying this. Poor Liza was in such a vulnerable position...suddenly he had a huge desire to kiss her.

"Let go off me!" She exclaimed unhappily.

"You know I could kiss you, right?" Ephraim asked with a mischievous expression.

"What?!" Shocked Liza gasped in awe and froze. What was this oaf trying to do?

"But I won't." He added quickly, dropping his gaze and releasing her from his grip. To be completely honest, Liza felt a little bit disappointed when he didn't kiss her. Not that she wanted to be kissed by him! Of course she didn't! Nice and proper ladies don't kiss crude and uncivilized men. But she couldn't run away from her it or not she was very fond of Ephraim. No matter how she tried to lie to was true! And for a brief moment, she kind of hoped he'd kiss her.

"I'll only kiss you when you'll ask me to." Ephraim added and wiped the dirt from his arm.

"I never will!" Liza exclaimed and turned towards the horses. "Good grief! Look at me, I'm a mess!" She whined in despair as she looked at her soaked dress.

She was right! It was really cold outside and before both of them would get home, they would probably catch a fever or something.

"Hey, listen." Ephraim told her seriously, suddenly struck with an idea. "We have a small hunting lodge around here. There's warm water, food supplies, and fresh clothes."

Liza turned around to face him. "You have a lodge here?" She asked curiously.

"Yeah, I can take you there to dry yourself. It's right here."

"But what about Martha and Daniel?" Liza asked and crossed her arms.

"They'll join us soon. Don't worry 'bout them." He informed her and walked towards her. "We'll freshen up a bit and then get to our homestead. We'll be home by 9 o'clock."

Liza started to shiver, and she nodded hesitantly. "Alright. But-but how will Dan and Martha know that we're waiting for them in the lodge?"

"Because it was Dan's idea, in the first place. He has his favorite pocket knife in there and wanted to get it after we'd find you two."

Ephraim took off his dirty coat and wrapped it around Liza, then he helped her up on Moon and once she was safe in her saddle, he mounted his stallion.

"Thank you." Liza told him softly and smiled at him. Ephraim felt his heart skip when she saw his sweetheart smiling.

"My pleasure." He answered and gently steered his horse towards the hunting lodge, and the animal started to trot, while Liza and Moon followed after him quietly.

"How many cabins do you have around the farm, anyway?" She asked curiously.

"Enough." Ephraim replied with a cocky smirk.

"Show off." Liza mumbled, but he had heard her and chuckled in amusement.

Just as Ephraim had said, the trapping lodge was really close by. They stopped the horses and climbed down. Liza stared at the cabin in surprise, for a moment she thought they were visiting Adam Pontipee.

"Adam's further up the mountain. We have two hunting lodges." Ephraim told her as if reading her thoughts. Then again, he was really good at observing people from a far without having to speak with them. It was different with Liza though...he wanted to know more about her. He liked listening to her bright voice when she talked just about anything.

He gestured for her to go inside and after Liza politely walked in, he followed after her. The lodge was quite empty but nevertheless, looked somewhat decent. Ephraim walked over to the fireplace in order to get the cabin warm.

"It doesn't have rooms." Liza stated surprised, which caused Ephraim to look back at her.

"Yeah," He answered with raised eyebrows. "That's because it's a trapping cabin. Nothing more."

"So where exactly am I expected to change?" She threw in shocked.

Ephraim awkwardly rose from his seat walked towards Liza, clearing his throat. "Well, you change here." He said little bit embarrassed. "I'll wait for you outside. Here, while your...d-dress is dryin' you can use this cloth. It's made of wool."

"Alright. I'll get started then." Liza said confidently and took off her red coat, and handed Ephraim his own coat that he had given her earlier. "Thanks for that." She said softly.

Ephraim was about to head outside, when it occurred to thoughtful Liza that he too needed to to get warm. He was also really wet and probably cold too. After all, he had given her his coat and wore nothing but a soaked shirt in such a weather. She simply couldn't bare to see him standing outside and freezing, while she was comfortable in the cabin.

"Look, you can stay." Liza called to him. "I don't want you to get sick because of me." She had soaked him with cold water before as a prank...but this time, she wanted to be nice.

"Trust me, it's not a problem."

"Yeah, it is." She argued. "I insist! Stay here."

Ephraim was stunned. "Um...are you sure?"

"I'm positive." Smile tucked Liza's lips. "But you have to look away." She quickly added with a mischievous glare.

"Of course. " Ephraim replied with a smirk. "I'll just sit right here in the corner and mind my business."

"Good!" Huffed Liza and turned around to get undressed. What was she thinking? Was this a proper behavior? Getting out of her dress in a same room where Ephraim was. And why was that fact sending silent shivers up her spine? Ephraim in the meantime, was putting on a fresh new mantle that belonged to Frank. His younger brother had left it in the cabin last summer when the boys went out for a hunt. He was starting to feel uneasy, here he was in a small cabin with the girl of his dreams. And both of them were undressing...this wasn't really convenient. Especially, when he was trying so hard to fall in her good graces.

For a brief moment, Liza couldn't help but feel self conscious. Maybe this was a bad idea? But Ephraim was not a scoundrel. He might seem rough around the edges, maybe quite blunt and rude sometimes. But he really respected, cared and...loved her. Liza wasn't stupid she knew his feelings very well. And yet, she couldn't bring herself to forgive him for what he had done. She struggled against her dress, trying to take it off, but couldn't reach the top buttons. "Curse this dress!" She spat quietly. "And this corset too!" Why was it so hard for women to get out of their clothes, while men had it really easy? She managed to slip from the dress at last...but now was the worst part...her corset. Her underclothes weren't muddy, but they were wet. She needed to dry them as well. Liza reached out behind her, attempting to reach her laces.

"Do you want me to set tea?" She heard Ephraim's comment in the background and bit her lip. Her stupid corset, for the life of her she couldn't reach her damned laces. She muttered thousand curses under her breath, most of them she had no clue to their meaning.

"Are you alright?" Cautious Ephraim asked not turning around, keeping his eyes fixed at the fireplace, that was now blazing warmly and drying him.

"Um, yes-I mean no!" Liza exclaimed and paused taking a deep breath. "Ephraim?"

"Yes, Liza?" He asked softly not moving from his place. She looked over her shoulder at him.

"I need help with my laces." She murmured quietly.

Ephraim almost fell from his small wooden chair. What did she just say? He was not even sure if he had heard her right. Was he imagining things? Nevertheless, Ephraim nodded his head and slowly walked over towards her, his eyes never leaving hers. Only when he stood behind her did she look away.

What the hell was he doing? And why was this girl having so much power over him? What would Milly say if she'd hear about this. Oh well, it was too late now. He brushed her raven hair over her shoulder, that had come loose from her chignon a while ago. He gently traveled his hands from her hair, down her back and slowly began to undo her corset expertly. Liza wondered if he had ever done this before? He didn't look nervous, if anything it was Liza who tried hard not to shiver at his touch. She, unsure of what do with her hands, clasped them together in front of her. She felt Ephraim tug at the last lace. His hand went up to bring her chemise's one sleeve back over her shoulder, his fingers gentle. Ephraim was surprised at himself...he managed to remain solemn, confident, and restrained even though, he could barely breathe. All he could think about was...he shook his head trying to get rid of those un-gentlemanly thoughts. He let her corset fall off, caught it and then threw it in amongst her other belongings.

They stood like that for several more seconds, Liza in front of Ephraim, and Ephraim strong and stoic at her back. She could hear his heavy breathing behind her; she was holding her breath.

He cleared his throat, breaking the silence.

"I'll go check on the horses." and like that he was gone. His soft warmth went as soon as he did. Only when the door closed, Liza was able to breathe again. She turned and wrapped a warm wool shawl over her and placed her dirty, wet dress by the fire, hoping that it would dry soon.

Ephraim in the meantime, was petting his stallion Maximus. He couldn't believe what had just happened. He was proud of himself for not completely losing his nerves. Why was Liza making it so difficult for him to forget her? Didn't she wish to return to her family? If she continued acting like this he would never let her leave. If anything, he was falling even more in love with her.

Liza's dress dried up in few minutes, the blazing fire really did help. However, it was still muddy ...She quickly put her clothes back on leaving out the uncomfortable corset. As soon as she was finished, Ephraim re-entered the cabin. "My clothes aren't wet anymore." She said quietly.

Ephraim nodded at her stoically and walked over to get a small little pocket knife for Daniel "I'll wait outside." Liza told him in order to avoid him again and exited the lodge. Ephraim gazed after her with a longing expression. He wished to tell her how sorry he was...and more than anything he wished to kiss her.

Liza stood outside looking at the two horses with a huge smile on her face. They were so magnificent especially pretty and sassy Moon. She was glad to put her mind off Ephraim for a while...or if this continued she'd completely loose her mind. She walked up to Moon and gently placed her head on the mare's long and beautiful neck. Liza kept wondering if Martha was alright. Was she feeling the same way about Daniel, as she felt about his brother? Ugh...these Pontipee brothers had indeed gotten under the girls' skins. It was so obvious! Even Milly fell head over-heels for the oldest brother Adam. What was it about these brothers that made all the girls' hearts beat? And why did she wish for Ephraim to kiss her? What was happening to her? Frustrated Liza looked at the grey mare, who nuzzled her cheek in this exchange.

"You like horses?" She heard Ephraim's husky voice behind her. Liza quickly turned around to face him and crossed her arms, clearing her throat uncomfortably.

"I'm not talking to you, until you tell me as to why you kidnapped me." The brunette announced with determination.

Ephraim was taken aback by her sudden confident and determined question. "Because I lost my mind." He replied easily.

"What?" Liza raised her eyebrows.

"You heard me!" Fifth Pontipee brother confirmed, walking closer to her. "I guess that old sayin' 'love makes us fools' is true."

Liza didn't know on how to respond to this, but she waited for him to continue.

"I know I disappointed you Liza, with my reckless and foolish behavior. I understand that now and I wish I could change the past, but I can't." He gently took her hand in his."All I'm asking for is your forgiveness and your happiness. That's all I want."

Liza stared at his handsome features for a while. He looked so sincere and was so heartfelt that she had to accept his apology.

"I wish I could make it up to you, really." Ephraim added and continued. "I didn't want you to run away because of me. I'm so sorry for upsetting you."

"Hey, it's alright, Ephraim." Liza said at last and squeezed his hand in hers. "I...uh I forgive you."

"Really?" Ephraim's eyes widened with surprise. This was too much to ask for. He wasn't waiting for her to accept his apology and forgive him right away.

"Yes. You saved me this afternoon and I thank you for that." Liza told her with a gentle smile that made her eyes shine like stars.

Ephraim tried really hard to restrain himself from not embracing her in his arms. "Oh and to answer your question..." Liza exclaimed turning her attention to Moon. "Yes, I like horses...I mean, I love horses. My Pa owned a ranch back East and I got to ride many ponies." She said with a far off look.

"That's why you're such a good rider." Ephraim grinned playfully. "Moon likes you a lot."

Liza petted the mare and kissed her nose slightly. "I like her too. But I'm still upset that she listened to your whistle and threw me off." She said with a giggle, turning towards the stallion.

"That's Maximus." Ephraim introduced. "He loves carrots and apples."

"They're both gorgeous." Liza said brightly petting the stallion's mane. Then she ran up to Moon again who was nickering at Liza to pay more attention to her. "Alright sassy girl! I'm comin' "

"Keep her." Ephraim said softly and gazed at the raven haired girl with admiration. Liza looked at him shocked and questioned him with her eyes. "She's yours."

"Pardon me?" Liza asked in surprise.

"We'll keep Moon in the barn for you. While you can come anytime you want and ride her." Ephraim replied her easily. "Then in the Spring, once passes re-open,..." he couldn't help but feel extremely sad at that thought. "You can take her with you. She's yours."

"Oh my goodness." Liza gasped as her eyes sparkled with happiness. No longer would she feel bored and homesick anymore. She would go out and ride and have fun whenever she wanted. After all, she was Moon's official owner. "But.."

"No buts. Moon belonged to me and I'm giving her to you." Ephraim cut in. "She seems to like you more...and I don't blame her."

"Thank you so much!" Liza cried out excitingly and hugged Ephraim little too enthusiastically. "I could kiss you right now." She quickly pressed her hand over her mouth, when the last sentence burst out of her mouth.

Ephraim stared at her wide eyed, his jaw almost dropped.

"I mean..." Liza said, taking a deep breath and calming her nerves. "...I want you to kiss-" she didn't get to finish her sentence when Ephraim picked her up in his arms, spun her around and passionately kissed her.

Liza wrapped her arms around him and kissed him right back. Their little passionate display was interrupted when horse beats were heard. The two broke away and saw Daniel and Martha arriving on horseback. Thankfully, they didn't see anything. The two seemed lost in their own little worlds.

Ephraim looked at Liza with a mischievous and satisfied expression and walked towards his brother, handing him the pocket knife that he was looking for. As the four of them finally decided to make their way back at the main house where Milly awaited them eagerly, Liza on horseback whispered at the fifth Pontipee boy. "Thank you for Moon."

Ephraim nodded and whispered right back at her. "Think of her as a peace offering."

The three horses: Maximus, Ephraim's stud, Moon that now belonged to Liza, and Daniel's steed Jesper, that also had Martha on his back, galloped off towards their homestead safely and swiftly.

Thanks for reading! Shout out to one and only andreamama! You're awesome!

So tell me guys, which peace offering was your favourite? The delicate wedding dress with a sweet note? Handmade seashell bracelet? Handkerchief? Or the grey mare named Moon?

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