Passing as a man was a revelation to Annis. Her height had always caused comment, but now most men didn’t give her a second glance. The day was raucous and fun. She took no part in the swordplay, but there was a race and bouts with staves she intended to join in the following day.
Malcolm competed against Hamish late in the afternoon, hurling large, smooth rocks far into the loch. He drew the eyes of all the women with his thickset, powerful torso, dense with the same red hair as his beard and head. Annis watched, unmoved, feeling none of the longing that had once caused her to behave so incautiously.
She found her eyes drawn back to Hamish. His chest was smooth and lean. He was slighter, but when he heaved aloft the rocks, his arms and back became knots of muscle, and the sweat that trickled down his back traced interesting pathways that whispered enticingly to be explored.
Had Malcolm’s attraction burned away because of his betrayal, or was there another cause?
Malcolm won the contest. They shook hands briefly, then turned their backs and stalked away. Even though they had been drinking together the night before, there was clear animosity between the two men.
Annis sighed in frustration, seeing Malcolm immediately surrounded by well-wishers. She could present herself as one, but would not have an opportunity for the private conversation that she needed. Her disguise, surely, would not fool him, after the intimacy they had shared.
Hamish had joined Angus, and was wiping down his arms and chest with long strokes of a linen cloth. It would be wise to stay well away from him so he did not get the chance to look more closely at her, but Annis sidled closer, captivated by the way his body moved.
“Ye did well,” Angus was saying.
“Not well enough.” Hamish sounded unconcerned, grinning. “There’ll be more chances to beat him.”
Angus laughed. “If you want to prove you’ll be a worthy laird you’ll have to.”
Laird? Annis had not realised Hamish’s status.
Hamish was calling her name. He had accepted the story of a sister, though there had been some doubt in his thoughtful blue eyes. She paused, knowing that to run would cause more suspicion.
“Will ye share a drink tonight?” Hamish asked. He was still bare to the waist, brat slung over one shoulder. Annis tried to ignore the stirrings inside her, but it was almost impossible when even his voice was enough to send fingers of desire stroking their way down Annis’ spine.
“You wish for my company, my lord?” she replied. “Why?”
“I’m not a lord yet.” Hamish frowned. “It’ll make a change to talk with new company.”
“And Angus, too?”
The two men exchanged glances.
“Ye know Angus?”
Annis cursed her blunder. “I heard his name in passing.”
“From a strumpet, no doubt!” Angus guffawed. “I’m off for an evening with a bonny lass tonight. You can drink together unless you’d prefer to join me.”
He laughed as Annis’ cheeks turned scarlet.
“I’ll meet you later,” she mumbled to Hamish. “I need to practice for tomorrow first.”
She held out her stave as explanation before walking away. As long as she avoided drinking too much she would be safe from making any further mistakes.
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