"You’ve yet to compete,” Hamish said. “What brought you here?”
“No reason in particular.” John drank deeply, looking over the top of his cup. In the fading light Hamish had to remind himself he was looking into the eyes of the brother not the sister, so similar was the expression. When John noticed Hamish’s eyes on him he drained it, coughed and held it out again.
“How old are you?” Hamish asked, refilling the cup to the brim.
Hamish laughed. “I’m twenty-three. Try again.”
It was more of a question than a statement. Hamish looked at the angular jaw that had never seen a beard growth. He said nothing and waited.
“And do your father and sister know where you are?”
John took a long swig from the cup, tipping his head back with an enthusiasm that alarmed Hamish. He’d wanted to loosen the boy’s tongue, but at this rate the lad would be heaving his guts into the loch. He tried to take the bottle, but John refused to relinquish it.
“Father won’t care, beyond having to draw water and carry the logs himself.” John spoke with the tearful voice of the drunk. “He’ll be glad I’m no’ there to shame him any longer.”
“Won’t Annis miss you?”
“What’s your interest in her?”
John pulled himself onto his knees, wobbling slightly, and leaned towards Hamish until their faces were close. Hamish sat perfectly still, their eyes never wavering from one another. John looked so much like his sister it was uncanny.
“She’s a pretty lass,” Hamish said.
“You liked her?” John beamed.
“Aye. Not that I saw her properly, and I didnae get to talk with her.”
“You’d like to though?” John said in a voice rich with promise. “Talk with her? And more?”
John bit his lip, then reached out and rested his fingers on Hamish’s jaw just below his lips. John’s fingers were cold and gentle and caused the breath to catch in Hamish’s throat. The caress—and Hamish had no doubt that was what it was—lasted less than a heartbeat.
“Ye’d use her like any man would, then leave and break her heart,” John sneered, whipping his hand away.
“No!” The accusation struck Hamish hard, followed by the terrible awareness that John wasn’t entirely wrong.
John gave a gasp of fury. He pushed himself to his feet, sending the bottle flying. Ignoring Hamish’s entreaty to return, he stumbled off into the dark, pushing his way through the bracken. Hamish counted to twenty before following. He could hear the sound of retching as the lad emptied his stomach, and Hamish held back to give him some dignity. After a scuffling he heard the sound of heavy trickling as John dealt with another need. Hamish strolled a bit closer, but when he saw John he froze.
The lad was not standing as a man would, but squatting in the bushes.
A slow grin spread across Hamish’s face as he understood what he was seeing. No wonder he was struck by the resemblance between John and Annis. They were the same person.
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