Authors: Cassidy Cayman
Lachlan didn’t want to terrorize Oliver. He liked the lad, for as much as he knew him. To stay in the wilds of Scotland for his wee harridan of a sister when he very likely had business of his own to attend, earned his respect.
“Unless it’s for the fortune,” he mused aloud, causing Oliver to jump in his saddle.
They’d been riding along at a brisk trot, absorbed in watching for Mellie, and occasionally calling her name. Lachlan surprised himself that he’d spoken his thought, but raised a questioning brow at Oliver now it was out.
“Are you asking me if I’m staying in hopes of gaining Catie’s inheritance?” Oliver asked. “Because I assure you I have ample money of my own. As well as land, and three houses.”
“Ah, that’s good to know.” Lachlan nodded, glad to have it out of the way. “Didna ye say ye had relatives in Scotland? It’s so long I canna remember.”
Oliver looked pleasantly surprised that the matter of his alleged gold digging should be so easily dropped. “Yes, I have family closer to the border, and land there as well. Er, Mellie took me to see it when I was in your time a few months ago.”
Lachlan laughed. “Ye must think me soft-headed to not remember such things, but I’m from a different time entirely. It’s been ten years or so since I saw ye.”
He squeezed his eyes shut in confusion. “Did Mellie come from that time? Or the time I was in?” They were nearly crossed when he opened them.
“She’ll be the Mellie who saw ye recently, at least that’s what we think. We dinna know for certain.”
“Well, I shall be glad to see her safe, whenever she’s from,” Oliver said. “I shall be glad to see her again,” he repeated, too eagerly for Lachlan’s comfort. He called for her, which echoed around them, and disturbed a few birds into flapping out of their tree. “Where could she be?”
“I’m beginning to think the gormless lass has tried to go through the forest. Ye see, in the future, people traipse about in it for fun. It’s called hiking and it’s quite a popular past time.”
Oliver turned and looked at him, brows knitted. Lachlan hoped it was a general sense of humanity that put the stricken look on his face, and not any deep caring for Mellie. The Mellie he’d grown to know over the years would never do something so rash. No matter how he delved into his memory, he couldn’t think of a reason for it.
“There’s quite a lot resting on finding her,” Lachlan said. “Not just that we’d miss her terribly, but she’s been instrumental in so much of our lives. I fear what might change.”
He kicked his horse to ride alongside Oliver and glared fiercely at him, wanting to beg him to go back and send someone else, Quinn, anyone, who wouldn’t tempt her to stay.
“Can I be completely honest with you?” Oliver asked.
“No,” Lachlan said, snapping his reins in exasperation. “I beg of ye to lie to me.”
Oliver remained unfazed by his sarcasm, and he felt a bit more begrudging respect for the lad. It would take a stout temperament to put up with Catie. They gained the top of a hill and he waited patiently for Oliver to share whatever was on his mind.
“Look,” Oliver said, reining in his horse.
Lachlan stopped as well and saw a woman being dragged away by two men. They were too far to know if it was Mellie, but the lass definitely needed help.
Oliver was already ten yards ahead of him, charging down the hill, and he kicked his horse forward. Bloody hell, he really had lost his edge living in soft modern times. He’d actually longed for a phone the day before. Determined to show he still had what it took to live in his own time, he raced to catch up with Oliver, praying the woman was Mellie, praying she was safe.
Mellie’s anger disappeared as Shane backed her away from the men, replaced by cold fear. She reached for the knife at her belt as the men came closer, their filthy leers wiping away any last good feeling left over from the kiss.
“Run,” Shane hissed over his shoulder, not taking his eyes off them. “Run as fast as ye can, Mel, and dinna stop.”
He squeezed her hand and shoved her, then whipped his own knife out and held it up. She stumbled backward, but didn’t scarper away into the woods like Shane wanted her to. Like hell she would leave him behind. Why was he always trying to get her to run? She could barely believe a minute ago she’d been angry enough to pummel him, and a minute before that, he’d made her feel like she was floating in a sea of sparkles. And now he was advancing toward the men, risking his life like an idiot, and bringing her back around to wanting to pummel him again.
He was taller than the two thugs, but one of them had a lot of heft to him, and it was obvious they’d done violence before. It looked like violence was their career path.
“We don’t have anything worth stealing,” she yelled, and saw Shane stiffen. She knew if she could see his face, he’d probably be rolling his eyes at her. “Look at us,” she continued. “We’re worse off than you.”
The men paused and glanced at each other. It dawned on her that they might be shocked she dared to speak, being a lowly woman and all. She infinitely liked the rage that burst within her better than the cowering fear she’d felt when they first lumbered menacingly into their path.
“Ye’ll let us be the judge of what’s worth stealing,” the uglier of the two said, waving his club.
The other one made a truly disgusting face at her, and smacked his lips together like he’d just had a hearty meal. “Aye, there’s always something to take, lass.” He looked her over like she was the delicious dessert and took a few steps forward. “Perhaps ye’re hiding your valuables on your person? Shall I have a look?”
Her skin crawled and Shane rushed at him, going low and plowing into the man’s gut with his shoulder, successfully knocking him backward to the ground. He turned around and kicked him twice in the ribs, then dropped on top of him and viciously hit him in the face. Mellie had never seen such a fight outside of films or television, and stood mesmerized with a bizarre mix of revulsion and satisfaction.
The other thief ran at Shane with his club raised, and Mellie shrieked and charged him with her knife. She managed to jab him in the bicep, feeling a sick victory when he yelped in pain, but he quickly recovered and hit her in the shoulder. The heavy wooden club knocked her off balance and she landed on her behind, legs hopelessly tangled in her skirt. Unconcerned with modesty, she yanked it up, scrambling forward to grab his leg before he could turn back to Shane. She stabbed him again, this time in the calf, knowing it had to hurt like a bastard. As he howled, he kicked her in the chest with his free foot, knocking the wind out of her.
She barely got her breath back in time to scream as he clubbed Shane in the back of the head. Shane teetered forward, and tried to gain his feet to defend himself. The man struck him again, harder this time, and he slumped over, out cold. The man he’d been beating coughed and rolled out from under him, shakily getting to his hands and knees, and spitting out mouthfuls of blood.
“Get rid of him,” the one she’d stabbed said. “I’ll keep an eye on the lass.”
“No,” she yelled, finally able to gain her feet. She slashed at him, but he grabbed her wrist and twisted it, making her drop the knife.
The other man stood up, clutching his side and still spitting blood. With a lot of grunting and swearing, he rolled Shane into the ditch, who landed at the bottom like a ragdoll. She kneed her captor in the groin, but her skirts hampered her mobility. Instead of crumpling, he hit her in the face and shook her.
“Be still and we may let ye live,” he said, face red.
He groped at her gown, but she was too consumed with the need to know if Shane was alive to feel any concern for herself. When the other man came over to help his crony, she kicked out at him, then bit the one who had her arm in a vice grip. A berserk panic to get to Shane took over her and she found herself free. She lunged for her knife, able to grab it and dodge their grimy hands. Holding the blade in front of her in both hands, she slashed it back and forth to keep them at bay. Maybe if there had only been one, she might have succeeded, but they worked as a team, one keeping her attention in front, the other circling behind her.
As she stumbled backwards, she glanced into the ditch to see Shane still lying motionless. Just as the man who’d gone behind her grabbed her, she heard thunder and felt the earth shake. At first she thought it was a panic reaction, but the thieves must have heard it and felt it too, because the one paused and the other one dropped his tight hold on her arms.
A flash of red plaid, and a slash of shining metal blade crossed her vision, and the man in front of her dropped to the ground, blood pouring from his chest. A horse neighed and she looked up and up to see a familiar black-haired warrior brandishing a sword.
“Oh, thank God,” she murmured.
The man behind her got the brilliant idea to use her as a human shield, wrapping his arms around her and backing away from Lachlan. Another horse cut between them and a strong arm reached down for her. She grabbed the outstretched hand, and as Lachlan rode around and cut the man down from behind, she was pulled to safety.
“Fancy meeting you here,” Oliver said with a jaunty grin.
He helped her to a more comfortable position, a long dark cape flapping behind him in the wind. She absolutely had to be dreaming.
“Is the lad with ye?” Lachlan asked, looking in all directions. “Where’s Shane?”
She blinked, snapping out of her near fugue state. She pointed at the ditch, unable to find words. Her hand shook and Oliver took off his cape and wrapped it tightly around her.
“You’re safe now,” he said.
She watched, barely breathing, while Lachlan jumped from his saddle and ran to the ditch. After a heart stopping moment, he helped Shane sit up. When he turned and threw up she saw the back of his head was wet and matted with blood. The relief that he was alive got canceled by fear that he might not make it the rest of the journey. There was so much blood, and he staggered frighteningly when Lachlan helped him to the horse.
She wriggled out of her wrappings and got down to look at him, touch him, feel for sure that he was alive. She motioned at her pack, lying in the dirt several feet away, and Lachlan retrieved it for her.
“Can ye patch him up enough to get him back to the house?” Lachlan asked.
She nodded, rummaging for the bandages. “Sit him down. How far are we?” Even though her heart raced as if it wanted to flee her body, she spoke calmly and clearly.
“Not far, less than an hour’s ride.”
Shane sank to his knees and groaned. “Mellie, are ye all right?”
She laughed bleakly. “Yes, you fool. Just be still.” She knelt down in front of him to inspect his eyes, which were glazed with pain and alarmingly dilated. “Can you see me? Try to touch my nose.”
He reached toward her face, passing it completely and brushing her ear with his fingertips. He looked confused and righted his course, finally pressing her nose and making a boop sound.
“What year is it?” she asked, tears welling up and sliding over her cheeks.
“That isna a fair question,” he said.
“You’re right, I’m sorry.” She wrapped his head, unable to tell how bad it was through all his hair and bleeding. He’d definitely need stitches. “I may need to shave your head when we get there,” she whispered, curling a wet strand around her finger. She wiped her tears and smiled at him. “But I don’t think it’ll hurt your fine looks.”
He tried to smile back at her, and his eyes nearly crossed from the effort. The amount of rage she felt made her want to kill the man who’d hit him. She looked over at him, a still form covered in blood, and shuddered. A glance at the other one confirmed he was dead, too. She gripped her knees and struggled not to be sick.
“They were bad men, lass,” Lachlan said, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Let’s get him back for proper care, aye?”
She nodded, letting Oliver help her back onto his horse. The amount of effort it took to get Shane on Lachlan’s horse caused him to pass out again, which Lachlan unhelpfully told her might be for the best. He assured her he felt a strong pulse, then took off at an alarming pace.
“Lachlan will get him back quickly, and there’s a medicine woman who lives close by,” Oliver said. “If you’re still shaken, we can go at a slower pace.”
She turned from her place in front of him and looked at him. He was exactly as she remembered. Handsome and solicitous, and now a hero. And also someone who would never understand her, if he thought she could have a leisurely ride while a person she cared about was gravely injured. Should she enjoy the scenery when Shane might die? She knew her irritation was unfounded, that wasn’t what he meant at all, and she had to fight to sound civil.
“I’d rather you rode like your life depended on it,” she said. “I’d rather you rode like hell.”
Mellie sat at Shane’s bedside while Lachlan and Piper hovered behind her. It had taken her a moment to discover they weren’t her Lachlan and Piper, but from further in the future, the parents of the wee raven haired girl she’d met in the forest on their first wrong trip through time.
They flatly refused to answer any of her questions, though she got Piper to admit Daisy was indeed her daughter, which earned her a stony look from Lachlan. Apparently it was very important that she didn’t know anything, for her own good and so she didn’t muck anything up.