Annis leaned against a tree to catch her breath and wait for her heart to stop pounding. The walk had been tiring enough to weaken her resolve without the first people she encountered being the man she wanted to see most in the company of one she hoped to avoid. As expected, Malcolm had barely noticed her, but still she felt Hamish Lochmore’s eyes on her as keenly as if he were standing beside her.
He was a watcher, that one. It had been bad enough to encounter him on the brow of the hill, but to walk straight into him here made her belly squirm in a way she didn’t like. The plan had been foolish. How had she ever hoped to remain in disguise when there was someone who might recognise her?
Somehow she had to get Malcolm alone, while avoiding Hamish.
She sidled up to a fire and settled down, wrapping John’s brat like a blanket. The heavy plaid was warm, though a draught around her calves made her wish she could still wear stockings and a skirt to her ankles rather than the undershirt that fell to her knees. How men went bare-legged in winter was beyond her! She was glad she would not have to find out.
She gently rejected the attention of a brashly dressed woman suggesting something Annis had no desire for and certainly couldn’t fulfil. The whore ambled off cheerfully, leaving Annis fretfully wondering if that would be her fate. She had no idea what her future would hold after she spoke with Malcolm, and with that unsettling thought she fell asleep.
When Annis awoke the camp was bustling and men were preparing themselves for the games. She tied a dagger to her belt, frowning at the crude shape. It had belonged to her brother, who thought a handle shaped like a cock was the greatest joke in Scotland. Still, it would serve to confirm her identity as a young man, as no woman would wear such a thing. She picked up her stave and followed the procession, remembering to swagger and swing her shoulders as she walked.
Douglas MacNeish stood on a platform and addressed the crowds. Beside him stood Fiona. She was dainty and pretty, but her eyes were blank and reminded Annis of the gentle red cattle that roamed the hills. Annis reddened at the thought of the poor girl being paraded and presented like livestock to the men hollering and whooping as Douglas described the events.
She spotted Malcolm, whose red hair and beard caught the sun and gave his face a glow of vitality. Annis’ heart throbbed at memories that rose inside her, but the look of greed on his face as he listened to Douglas countered his attractiveness.
She was so engrossed in watching Malcolm that she had not been paying attention to who might have been watching her. It was a shock, therefore, when she turned to find herself looking into the eyes of Hamish Lochmore.
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