"Where are we going?" Michael watched me as I maneuvered the Land Rover out of the downtown area of Paris."If it tell you it would ruin the suprise, wouldn't it?" I rolled my eyes at him as the city blocks began to blend into the country roads. "Relax, you have downtime." "All right." He looked at me then at the picnic basket in the backseat. "I do know you will be feeding me." "Smart alek." I turned off onto a country lane where a large house shimmered over the horizon. I handed him a CD case. "Here pick five CD's." "Music. " Michael looked at me again as I handed him the thick case, then he started to flip through the selections. "This isn't your personal collection." He commented as he flipped the clear holders and transferred one CD into a smaller case. I tried to concentrate on the road and not the man with the beautiful hair. "It's a little of mine and a bit of Mac's." The house was near and I turned off toward a large building on the side of the main manor house. "That explains the Celtic music." Michael smiled softly for a moment as he picked another CD and looked at it. A man walked by leading a beautiful Gray Andelusian. Michael watched for a moment, and turned to me. "Riding." "See, you're not a level 5 operative for nothing." I pulled into a parking area. Horses were all over, being groomed, walked, and tacked up. Michael looked at me, taking in all the activity, and finished selecting his music. His lips tilted up a fraction as he helped me unload the truck. I stopped and began to talk to a stable hand in rapid French. The man smiled, nodded and walked into the cavernous barn. A young groom came up and started to take my stuff as Michael stood and watched me look around. I went over to the fence and watched the rider's exercising the horses. Excitement shone all over my face at being this close to horses after all these years. "You miss the horses." He walked over and leaned against the fence, next to me, but not touching me. "I miss a lot of things. Horses were like a dream to me, an odd obsession." She sighed. "Then one day I had a friend the let me ride her horse. I was hooked." I sighed, remembering was so bittersweet." My dad got me a pony the next year and I spent most of my teen years on horseback. Horses never called me names or played cruel tricks." I watched a beautiful black canter by at a nice collected pace. "I remember winning my first horsemanship trophy. I thought I had a future as a trainer." "Then what?" Michael faced me, watching how I was reacting to his questions. "I got married and had kids. My horse days are over, except for the occasional sneaking off to places like this." I smiled at him. "It keeps me sane." He said nothing, but his verdant green eyes looked far away. He turned as a groom approached. "Follow me," The groom lead us into the barn. In the barn, one of the box stalls had had the tack removed and was transformed into a lunch for two. A tablecloth had covered the bales of hay, and there was champagne chilling by the china set temporary table. "Happy birthday Michael." I lead him to a chair, then turned and slipped a CD into the boom box and started it up. The soft sounds of Enigma soon surrounded us. As they dined on Chicken in wine sauce, Michael poured the champagne. "This is very good." He complimented me as he tasted the brown sugar glazed carrots. "Thank Jacques Pepin." I admitted as I savored the sharp tickle of the champagne. "Thank the Goddess for Public Television" I shrugged and smiled. " I even made the dessert myself." "I look forward to dessert." Michael's lips tilted up a fraction as he relaxed and ate lunch. A groom acted as a waiter, taking the finished dishes as we chatted. When the plates were cleared the groom returned with strawberry shortcake. I was proud of the lovely dessert, drizzled with dark chocolate and topped with fresh whipped cream. Michael started to take a taste, but I stopped him. "Not yet." I grinned as I stuck a candle in the top of his cake and sang him a soft happy birthday. "Thank you." Michael took one bite and closed his eyes to savor tart strawberries mixing with the rich silk of the chocolate. "This is exquisite." He took my hand and pressed a soft kiss to it. I tried not to fall over in a dead faint or puddle of drool. "This means a lot to me." "You deserve a birthday away from section." I watched him clean his plate and smile at me. A real, full-blown smile that made my head swim. Then he stood and changed the CD player. B-Tribe flowed around us as he stood me up. "Dance with me." He took me into his arms, and we danced to the soft rhythms of the Flamenco/Celtic group.
Soon, the groom was back. Michael stopped the dance and spoke to him briefly. "Follow me." He walked to a paddock. Two horses stood there, tacked up and ready to go."The Grey one is for you," He watched me blink in astonishment. I clapped my hands like a little kid. "For me?" I was giddy and touched that he cared enough to do this. "For you, ma petite." He held the horse for me. "Thank you." I sighed as I mounted up. He mounted the other horse, a long legged black. Getting on a horse again was wonderful as I settled into the saddle. "Anything for my ladies," He wheeled out of the paddock and towards a open meadow. I followed, and we spent the last few hours before dusk exploring the open fields.