The lad looked as if he was about to run. Hamish narrowed his eyes, recognising guilt in the boy’s posture. A thief cutting purses while attention was on Douglas MacNeish? He dismissed the thought as immediately as it had arisen. The lad had been so busy watching the crowd that he had missed a dozen opportunities if that was his intent. He hadn’t even noticed Hamish getting closer.
Hamish whipped the cap from the boy’s head. His hair looked as if it had been hacked off by a blunt knife. Perhaps it had been. He was obviously not wealthy, given the state of his threadbare brat and a pair of boots that looked too big. The lad turned his face away, scowling and bullish. Another dagger of familiarity pierced Hamish at the shape of the angular jaw and wrinkled nose.
“You look familiar.” Hamish clasped his shoulder.
“Let me go!”
There was anger and fear in the boy’s high-pitched voice. His eyes were wide and pleading. The sight touched Hamish’s heart and, he was shocked to the core to discover, left him slightly aroused. He felt the boy’s slight muscles beneath his clothes and removed his hand hastily, unnerved by the unexpected frisson.
“I mean you no ill. What’s your name, lad?”
The boy looked at his feet and mumbled, “John.”
“Have we met before?” Hamish asked. “Before I knocked you off your feet yesterday, that is.”
“No.” The lad coughed and his voice deepened a shade. “I would remember you!”
Hamish tried to hide his amusement, remembering the embarrassment of a voice that refused to obey him. He pursed his lips, still unconvinced they were meeting for the first time.
“I have a sister,” John continued in his uneven voice. “Perhaps you met her on your way here. People say we look a lot alike.” He pulled his cap forward, hunching down into his voluminous brat until only his striking green-grey eyes were visible.
The eyes. That was it, of course, and now Hamish knew why they were so familiar. He’d last seen those eyes glaring at him over a spindle in the blacksmith’s home. A shiver ran down his back and round across his belly. It had been too dark to properly appreciate the colour of Annis Gowen’s eyes, and he wondered if they were as the same shade as her brother’s.
To his annoyance, while he was considering it, John bolted away through the crowd. He clearly had the same instinct to withdraw as his sister, and Hamish’s previous urge to discover the cause of her sudden hostility returned. He resolved to return home the way he had come and see if he could coax a bit more geniality from her. And what better way to receive a warm welcome than turning up in the company of her brother.
To the list that included besting Malcolm McCrieff, making his name as a future laird, and winning Fiona MacNeish, he added befriending John Gowen.
It was going to be a busy week!
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