Harlow raised the shotgun with her thin arms, keeping her breathing slow. Her hair, short and curly, tickled her cheeks. She stared ahead, her eyes boring into the stag’s skull. It was large and healthy, its antlers intricately curved like a crown on its head as it fed on the dewy grass. Her finger curled, gently touching the trigger, and she exhaled shakily. “I— I don’t think I can do it, Pa. I’m scared.” Harlow confessed, her voice small as her lower lip trembled.
Her father’s hands fell upon her shoulders, keeping her steady despite the quaking of her limbs. The heat from his body felt like a warm blanket as he leaned down, his cheek nearly brushing against hers as he followed her gaze. “Be brave, Harlow.” His voice rumbled.
She pulled the trigger.
“You look like you got socked in the eyes, Low.” Her brother kindly pointed out, his fingers curled around a warm mug of coffee. He smiled innocently at Mrs. Baird as the woman set down a plate of fresh fruit and slices of cheese. Mrs. Baird was a kind woman, the owner of a small and homely bed-and-breakfast in Inverness. It was clean and quiet, with faded floral wallpaper and gleaming floors.
“Oh, choke on a cock, Nick.” Harlow muttered, and she slid on a pair of shades. She heard him snicker and lightly thumped her fist against the side of his head, playing it off with a yawn and the stretch of her toned arms. Nick smiled fakely and gave her the finger. He was obviously enjoying their small vacation.
The whole thing was his idea. Nick thought it’d be good for her to get away from the madness of London and its residents. Plus the gym, he’d added, stating that overworking her body wasn’t good for her health. Now imagine his reaction to finding her doing pushups on the floor at three in the morning, fresh out of a nightmare.
“Did ye have trouble sleeping, dearie?” Mrs. Baird asked in a motherly voice, setting her hands on her wide hips and saying nothing about their behaviour. Though her eyes glittered with something akin to amusement. “Is there something I can do to help?”
“It’s nothing to worry about, Mrs. Baird.” She quickly replied, plucking a green grape from the plate. It went surprisingly well with the oat porridge.
Nick looked down, absentmindedly tearing his slice of cheese into strips, “Was it the dream about the stag again?” He asked softly and met her eyes through the dark lenses of her shades. Harlow nodded in silence, taking a spoonful of warm porridge into her mouth.
“A stag?” Mrs. Baird looked curious.
He looked at Harlow for a moment before answering. “Harlow and her dad used to go hunting every month before he disappeared. Pops took her in and she’s been a part of the family ever since.” And that was fourteen years ago, when she was twelve, a thin little thing with fluffy hair and ruddy cheeks that despised staying away from her father for too long. With time, she learned to deal with the loss of him.
Mrs. Baird looked saddened, “I’m sorry to hear that, dearie.” She said, sounding sincere. She reached out and gently patted Harlow’s shoulder.
“It’s all right.” Harlow said, clearing her throat and forcing a crooked grin. “I’ve had good company all these years, haven’t I?” She asked, throwing her arm around Nick’s shoulders.
“Mostly.” He corrected, folding another slide of cheese and stuffing it into his mouth.
“Mostly.” She echoed, knowing he was referring to her disastrous flings and scandalous relationships.
Mrs. Baird shook her head at them despite not knowing the context. She clapped her hands together, “Eat up, quickly now! Ye lads don’t want to miss the tours!” Harlow lifted her left arm to glance at her wristwatch. Mrs. Baird was right, the tours would be starting in fifteen minutes or so. “Will ye still be heading to Craigh na Dun after?” Before they could answer her question, she was already setting down the food she’d made for the small hike and listing off all the snacks.
Harlow, for the life of her, couldn’t understand why Mrs. Baird was so excited about a circle of rocks. Though Nick, the little historian, shared her excitement— not just with the looming slabs of stone, but the Scottish culture itself. Instead of questioning her insistence that they visited the circle, Nick happily went along with it. Harlow grabbed a handful of grapes, and they were off.
The tour started off with the more common landmarks such as Culloden Moor, where some of the Scots on the tour left flowers for the clan graves in the field. Nick was nearly talking her ear off about the Frasers and the Mackenzies and so on. Harlow listened along, nodding her head despite it being the umpteenth time he’d told her about the Jacobite rising. 1250 Highlanders died that day, while the British troops lost only 50 men and around 300 were wounded. It was a massacre. The Jacobites never stood a chance.
Next up was Cocknammon Rock, where — according to Nick’s whispers and the tour guide’s too happy voice — the British used the high ground to stage ambushes for the Scottish rebels or brigands. The final stop was Castle Leoch, the mighty building still standing tall after so many centuries. She and Nick walked through the castle grounds, keeping a few paces behind the group and taking their time to explore. When they made it to the apothecary, a healer’s surgery, Nick excitedly grabbed her by the arm, not unlike a child.
Harlow smiled, looking around the room that looked a bit like a small dungeon if she was being honest. “In all honesty,” She began, clapping Nick on the back, “I much prefer the clinic.”
Her brother laughed, “Yeah. Your clinic is much more spacious than this.” He agreed.
All in all it was a nice tour. They went back to the car and headed for Craigh na Dun, which was a few minutes away. It was a lonely dirt road with a few potholes, but it was nothing the Jeep couldn’t handle. They parked a few ways away, right next to the sign of the tourist spot. The air was chilly, the autumn air caressing her face as she got out of the vehicle. Nick huffed as his brown hair whipped back and forth from the breeze. Harlow chuckled and ruffled the messy curls.
He grumbled in dismay when he went to do the same, only to be reminded that she’d shaved off her black curls in exchange for a short undercut. Harlow laughed when he slapped a hand down on her combed hair, not even managing to ruffle the inch long strands. She fished a hair tie from her pocket and gathered up his hair into a half bun at the back of his skull. His puppy brown eyes gained that soft stare that told her he was about to do something stupidly corny. He cupped her face in his hands, his index and middle fingers gently touching the sun, moon and stars tattoo behind her right ear. Harlow mimicked him, touching the matching tattoo behind his own ear and pressing her forehead against his.
Nick gave her a small smile and lifted his head a bit so the tips of their noses bumped against each other. “I really need to piss.” He suddenly whispered. Tender moment gone, Harlow shoved him away with a scoff, trying not to smile. “Low, really! I’ve been holding it in since Culloden!”
“Nick!” She groaned. “How many times have I told you not to hold your bloody piss in?! It’s like you want your kidneys to fail you.”
Her brother bounced in place as if he were a child and not a twenty-four year old man with a history degree. “Yeah, yeah, just go on ahead, Low, lemme water the bushes and I’ll catch up to you.” Nick shooed her off with his hand.
Harlow rolled her eyes, adjusting the strap of her satchel across her bound chest. She gave a half assed thumbs up and marched her way up the small mountain, little twigs and leaves crunching under her boots. She was taking her time, looking at the tall trees and admiring the scenery, so Nick would find her quickly. A soft humming caught her attention, and Harlow looked up to see a man dressed in traditional Scottish clothing, the tam on his head nearly swallowing the red curls.
“Early one morning, just as the sun was rising, I heard a young maid sing in the valley below...” He sang softly in his thick accent, his smooth strides making it seem like he was almost gliding across the dewy grass.
The fine hairs on her arms prickled at the familiar song, and she vividly remembered her father’s hand stroking her hair as he sang her mother’s favorite song to get Harlow to sleep. After his disappearance, she had never heard it again. “Oi!” She called out, quickening her steps into a jog, “Wait up, mate! Where did you hear that song?!” It was stupid, the hope brewing in her chest, but Harlow didn’t care.
Just as she reached Craigh na Dun, the man was gone. Harlow spun on her heels in the middle of the circle, desperately searching for the Scottish stranger. She breathed out in frustration and smoothed a hand down the short hair on her head. She lifted her green eyes to the tall stone a few feet away from her, easily twice her height. Suddenly, Harlow heard the loud neigh of a horse and stumbled back from the stone, searching for the animal that had made the noise. She found nothing.
A humming picked up with the wind, a chorus of unintelligible voices— arguing and laughing and weeping all at one. She shook her head to clear it, but the voices only grew louder. Then, the voice of the man returned, his careful pronunciation of the words of the English song cutting through the noise. It almost seemed to draw her in, an invisible force that tugged her towards the stone. Harlow began walking without realizing it, and when she pressed one of her hands against the rock, his voice became clearer and clearer. Taking a deep breath, she raised her other hand and touched the stone.
Once, when she was eight, she’d climbed the oak tree behind the house, almost all the way to the top. The branch she’d been holding snapped, sending her toppling to the ground below. Her father had been angry, his eyebrows knitted together as he drove her to the hospital with a broken arm. “Be brave, Harlow. Not stupid.” He’d snapped, and she’d nodded in silence. During the drop, between the foliage of the tree and the ground, she felt like she was floating. As if gravity had disappeared for a few seconds. That was what she felt after touching the stone.
Multiplied by ten.
She couldn’t say she lost consciousness, not entirely, but Harlow was certainly not aware of herself for a few moments. She stumbled almost drunkenly down the hill of Craigh na Dun and leaned against the bark of a tree as she caught her breath. Her sunglasses had fallen off at some point, and Harlow rubbed the spot between her eyebrows. She jerked at the sound of gunfire, looking around wildly for the source of the sound. They were a distance away when she saw them, two men dressed in kilts, running across a clearing and shouting what sounded like obscenities in Gaelic. They were quickly followed by a few men dressed in red coats waving muskets.
Harlow gaped at the sight and looked down at her hands. She easily counted ten fingers with a clear view— not a dream or a concussion. She lifted her head just in time to see one of the men point his musket at her and shoot, making the bark an inch away from her shoulder burst. Live ammunition. Not a movie set, definitely not a movie set. “What the fuck—” Harlow shouted, quickly getting her shit together and running like a madman down the mountain.
Her heart felt like it was going to come out through her mouth with how hard it was beating, adrenaline pumping through her veins. She followed the sound of flowing water and made it to a small creek. She nearly stumbled into him in her rush, not seeing him between the saplings, and spotted a familiar head of brown hair. “Nick, come on, man. We need to get the hell out of here.” Harlow said quickly, shoulders rising and falling with her labored breathing.
The man stopped washing his face in the water and slowly turned. Harlow’s heart plummeted to her stomach when she saw the entirety of his face and the red coat he wore. While he did look like Nick, he was older, somewhere in his mid thirties. His features were a bit more chiseled, sharper, with the same leveled brows and dark brown hair. Whereas Nick’s wide eyes were a warm brown, this man’s eyes were hazel— a yellowish brown color with specks of green around the pupil.
“You’re not Nick.” Harlow rasped, swallowing roughly.
The corner of the man’s mouth lifted in amusement. “No, sir. I am not.” He said, rising to his feet, roughly an inch or two shorter than her. His eyes swept over Harlow’s body from top to bottom and up again to stare at her face with a sort of appreciation she wasn’t unfamiliar with.
The short sword in his hand made Harlow wet her lips with the anxious swipe of her tongue. All she had to defend herself was a folded pocket knife against her thigh in her cargo pants. “Who are you then?” She asked, her voice deceivingly steady.
“I am Jonathan Randall, Esquire, Captain of His Majesty’s Eight Dragoons. At your service.” He gave a half assed bow that was more mocking than anything. His name made Harlow pause.
“Jonathan Wolverton Randall, September 3, 1705 to April 16, 1746. Also known as Black Jack,” Nick said, showing her an oil painting on his tablet. “A fucking menace and a bloody disgrace to gays everywhere.” He joked, shaking his head, and Harlow rolled her eyes at him, laughing.
What the shit.
What the actual shit.
Harlow broke out in a sprint, but she was clumsy from confusion and Black Jack slammed his entire weight against her, sending them rolling down yet another small hill. He was quick to settle on top of her, his forearm pressing down against her flattened chest. The pressure from his weight and her binder made it a bit harder to breathe, the sound of their panting much too loud. Harlow clenched her jaw and glared up at him. The tumble made some of his hair fall out of its ponytail, dark brown strands framing his face in a way that made him look more like Nick. The resemblance made her uneasy and, unfortunately, reluctant to strike him.
“Now, chuck, what do you mean by running away like that, hmm?” Jack questioned. His hazel eyes swept Harlow’s features once more, and he tilted his head to take a look at her defined jaw. “You’re quite the looker.” He murmured more to himself, and his smile seemed anything but friendly. “Unfortunately, you showed up at a rather inopportune moment. This will have to be quick.” His hips rolled, his hardening length pressing against her muscled thigh.
Hot anger flared through her, and Harlow struggled under his hold. “You fucking—” Her furious cursing was cut off by Jack slamming his lips against hers, his tongue thrusting into her mouth to swipe against her own with a frantic hunger that left her repulsed. Harlow bit down hard on his bottom lip and tasted copper.
Jack pulled back with a disgustingly wet sound, his lips shining with spit and blood, and he laughed. Her actions only seemed to arouse him further, and his hips thrusted against her thigh again. He licked his lips and groaned, “Perhaps later I’ll have the time to attend to you properly.” Jack said, pressing nearly the entirety of his weight against her as his other hand went to her belt.
Harlow tipped her head up like she wanted to kiss him, and Jack seemingly forgot all about her belt when he looked down at her mouth again, distracted. When his lips were a breath away, Harlow lurched forward and socked him in the jaw, sending him toppling to the ground. She scrambled to her feet and put her fists up, ready to punch him again if he moved closer. Jack rubbed the side of his face with a laugh. It sounded nothing like Nick’s contagious snickers.
“Where are you from, chuck? Who are you with?” He questioned curiously. “I’ve no man by the name of Nick or Nicholas in my company. You’re clean and smell quite nice, so you are definitely not a cottar. For that matter, you look far too expensive to be living around here.” Jack pointed out, looking at her black shirt, cargo pants and boots again.
“Just let me go, mate.” Harlow said roughly, not lowering her guard. “You won’t see me again, I can promise you that.”
“You won’t have to,” Jack smiled again, not unlike a starved wolf, “because I’m not letting you go.”
There was a whoosh and a blur followed by a thump and a shout in Gaelic. Jack whirled around to face the Scot, and Harlow took her chance. She lunged and grabbed Jack in a headlock, tightening her toned arms around his windpipe until he went limp in her hold. Harlow let his body drop and scowled at his unconscious face. She spat a glob of spit to the side and rubbed off Jack’s blood from her lips with the back of her hand to get rid of the taste.
“Och, lad!” The Scot waved a hand at her. His brown hair was mostly covered by a tam, the bottom half of his face obscured by a thick beard, and he wore a Fraser tartan. “Hurry!”
Harlow heard the shouts of the other redcoats and quickly followed the Scot. He pulled her to hide behind a large tree, pressing a hand to her chest to keep her still as the group of men ran past over the hill above. The Scot turned to look at her chest with furrowed brows at the feel of her binder, and he pulled away like he’d been burned.
“Are ye a lass?” He seemed incredulous, eyeing her attire and cropped hair with wide eyes.
Harlow shifted her weight from foot to foot. “Would that change anything?” She asked instead of answering.
The man looked into her eyes for a moment and shook his head. “Nay. Come on.”
Harlow wasn’t sure how long they rode for, her mind a mess as she tried to make sense of what had happened in the last… minutes? Hours? God knows. Her companion had taken her satchel, probably to make sure she wasn’t carrying a weapon— which she was, just not in her bag. The black horse galloped up a dirt road that led to a stone cottage. It was cold, water coming down the skies in a light drizzle and mist pooling around their ankles as they dismounted. Harlow clenched her jaw, her green eyes looking around anxiously. The Scot, just a bit taller than her, seemed to notice her reluctance. He opened the wooden door and nudged her inside.
Harlow stepped into the cottage and was met with a handful of men wearing kilts sitting around a fire pit. They all squinted at her, a few rising to their feet. The Scot who brought her spoke with the others in Gaelic, and Harlow heard them say a familiar word. Sassenach. Outlander, something they called the British.
Her companion shook his head at something that was said. “A lass.” He corrected in English, and Harlow tensed while the men looked surprised.
A bald fellow with a salt and pepper beard rose from his seat. He walked over in a few strides, nearly eye level with Harlow. “Come, let’s have a good look at you then, lass.” He said, putting a hand between her shoulder blades to guide her closer to the fire. His blue eyes darted around her face, taking in her sharp features and cropped black hair.
“I trust you can see me now.” Harlow said in a quiet voice, fists tightening and loosening at her sides, more than ready to act should he try anything.
The man gave her a deceivingly friendly smile that made the corners of his eyes crinkle. “What is your name?” He asked softly.
“Harlow Blythe.” She’d taken Peter’s last name when he adopted her, but declaring herself as a Randall to these men seemed like a death sentence.
“Harlow Blythe.” He repeated in his accented voice, nodding to himself. “You said you found her?” He asked, turning his eyes to the man that brought her.
“Aye. She was at the foot o’ Craigh na Dun, havin’ words with a certain Captain of Dragoons with whom we are acquainted.” He answered, giving their leader a pointed look. “He intended to rape her, though I dinna think he kenned she was a lass. She took him down with her bare hands before I could. She’s a strong one.” The men present murmured amongst themselves in surprise.
“Is that so…” The leader murmured, staring at her like he was looking at her in a new light. It was a bit comforting, only mildly. She noticed he didn’t seem surprised or puzzled at Jack’s not so straight actions, meaning he was quite aware of it. He turned on his heels to face the red haired young man sitting on a stool close to the fireplace in the corner. “We’ve got a good distance to go tonight. We must do something about Jamie first, he canna ride like that.”
Harlow looked at this Jamie lad. He kept his head bent, his hand clutching at his opposite shoulder as he softly rocked back and forth in evident pain. Upon a closer look, she realized the shoulder was out of place, a dreadful hump that stuck out and made his arm bend at an impossible angle. Like always, the sight of a dislocated limb made her toes curl in her boots.
The leader’s expression softened a bit in sympathy as he kneeled in front of the young man. “Out o’ joint, poor bugger.” The round man next to him said, shaking his head.
“You canna ride with it like that, can you, lad?” The leader questioned, as if a part of him hoped he’d say he could.
The young man shook his head. “Hurts bad enough sitting still.” He said quietly, “I couldna manage a horse.”
The leader nodded his head and patted the wounded man’s knee before rising. “I don’t mean to be leaving him behind.” He announced to the others.
“There’s no help for it then,” Another man piped in, nodding almost somberly. “I’ll have to force the joint back.”
The statement made Harlow pause and look at the occupants of the room. None of them seemed like they had any sort of medical training, not even first aid, and that made her uneasy. When they started grabbing his arm with the intent to just yank it back into place, Harlow was calling out before she could realize what she was doing.
“Oi! Stop that, you’ll break his bloody arm, you dickheads!”
Jamie’s eyes flew open in surprise, and he raised his head as Angus let go of his arm to point a knife at the strange woman. She didn’t back down, only glared at him with piercing green eyes that almost seemed yellow in the firelight. Jamie felt like the breath had been knocked out of his lungs.
“Do you even know what you’re doing?” She asked Angus, almost a head taller than him. Then, she scoffed, “Of course you don’t. Move over.” Harlow pushed him aside without fear and looked over at Dougal. “You have to get the bone of the upper arm in the right position or it’ll snap like a twig. I can do that.”
Dougal looked at her in silence before nodding his head.
Jamie swallowed as the strange woman kneeled in front of him, the fire casting intriguing shadows on her handsome face. She could easily pass off as either gender, what with those rosy lips and long eyelashes, yet that certain sharpness to her features that set her apart from any lass Jamie had ever laid eyes upon. He noticed her hands were firm, yet gentle when they touched his arm.
“This is the worst part. Hurts like a bitch.” She told him, and Jamie couldn’t help but smile at her language. She had quite the mouth.
“It canna hurt much worse than it does. Get on wit’ it.” He said in reply.
Harlow looked up at Murtagh. “Hold him still.” His godfather did so without protest. A look of concentration came over her face, her hands guiding his arm into the correct position, and she began rolling it back slowly. “Deep breath,” She warned, and Jamie should have listened because his shoulder snapped back into place with a loud pop! He cried out in surprise rather than pain and saw all the men cringe, Angus turning his face away for a moment.
Jamie moved his fingers and his elbow in wonder. He tilted his head to stare up at her as Harlow got to her feet. “It doesna hurt anymore!” He grinned.
“Oh, it will.” Harlow said, the corner of her mouth lifting into a smirk that made his heart pitter patter in his chest. “It’ll be tender for a few days. Use a warm compress on it daily. You need a sling…” She trailed off and fixed her eyes on Angus. A short whistle caught his attention, “Fetch me a piece of cloth or a belt.”
Angus pointed at himself and laughed in disbelief. “Fetch me, she says.” He turned to the others, “Do ye hear that, lads?”
Harlow rolled her eyes, and Dougal scowled at Angus. “Give her yer belt.” He ordered roughly, and Angus’ smile faltered. He grumbled to himself as he unbuckled his belt.
“Have you done this before?” Jamie asked, curious.
Harlow nodded her head, taking the belt from Angus. “I’m a practice nurse.” She said, and Jamie’s lips parted as his eyes fell to her seemingly flat chest. He was sure the others did the same. She groaned, “Not a wet nurse, you idiots. A healer.” She said, and he felt rather foolish as blood rushed to his cheeks.
She maneuvered the belt across his torso, over his other shoulder to keep his arm held against his body in a makeshift sling. Jamie averted his eyes to the fire as she leaned closer to adjust it, the smell of her cologne invading his senses. “When you start using your arm again, go slowly, and stop if it hurts.” Harlow said and stepped back to admire her work. “All right then, how does that feel?”
He nodded his head, giving her a smile. “Better. Thank ye.” Jamie said sincerely, and she gave him a crooked smile that he found incredibly charming.
“Can you ride?” Dougal questioned before Harlow could say anything else.
“Aye.” He answered, a bit dazed, not taking his eyes off the woman.
“Good. We’re leaving.” Dougal said roughly, tossing his tartan at his face upon noticing where he was looking.
The sky was dark and the air was cold when they stepped outside. “Where’s Inverness?” Harlow asked Jamie, her dark eyebrows furrowing. She was nearly as tall as he, something he’d never seen in a woman.
“You’re looking straight at it.” He answered, jerking his head in its direction. He watched, a bit confused, as her expression became one of defeated acceptance.
“Right…” She sighed, nodding.
“You be sure to stay close to the rest of us. Try anythin’ and I shall slit your throat.” Jamie heard Dougal threaten her, giving her a shove towards the horses. “Do you understand, lass?”
Harlow huffed, “Shove me again and I’ll slit yours.” She snapped back, though she didn’t sound serious (at least Jamie didn’t think she was), and hoisted herself up on Jamie’s horse.
Jamie cleared his throat, trying his best not to think around the round and firm ass pressed against him. The rain began falling down more heavily than before, the cold making their breaths come out in small white clouds. He felt Harlow shiver and heard the quiet chatter of her teeth. He used his free hand to start pulling a plaid from his bag, but found himself struggling.
“You all right back there?” Harlow murmured over the rainfall, her cropped hair looking even darker now that it was wet.
“I’m trying to get my plaid loose to cover ye,” Jamie confessed, biting back a victorious noise as it came loose with another yank.
“Oh,” She said and turned a bit to assist him in wrapping it around their shivering bodies.
“Wouldn’t want ye to freeze before sun-up.” Jamie said, grinning cheekily as he coiled his arm around her waist. He felt the muscled expanse of her stomach with his fingers. It felt like his own, perhaps firmer, not soft and delicate like a lassie’s belly would.
“Sun-up?” Harlow asked in surprise instead of saying anything about his hand. “You mean we’ll ride all night?”
Jamie nodded his head, his mouth close to her ear so he wouldn’t have to raise his voice, “All night. And the next one, too, I reckon.” He said, glancing up at the thick clouds in the dark sky. “Fine time of year for a ride, though…”
“Shit timing.” Harlow murmured, and Jamie laughed quietly. Dougal glared at them as his horse galloped past theirs.
The rain let up a few hours before sunrise, and the sun brought a gentle warmth that eventually dried their clothes. Harlow hadn’t slept a wink, the constant rocking of the horse and Dougal’s threat made that impossible. At least Jamie was good company, she thought, basking in his warmth and the way his firm body was flush against her back. She’d be lying if she said she hadn’t rocked back against him on purpose whenever the horse made them sway. The little gasps he uttered as he tried not to make his hard on noticeable were adorable. It was difficult not to smile.
Harlow looked up and frowned at the familiar shape of the mountains. “I’ve been here before.” She said, trying to remember its name.
Jamie stopped breathing for a moment, inching his hips away from her ass. “Ye have?” He asked, attempting to sound casual.
“Cocknammon Rock.” Harlow realized, snapping her fingers. “The English use it for ambushes. They could be hiding there right now.” She told Jamie in a serious voice, all mischief gone.
He looked up at the mountain and nodded. “Aye, it’s a bonnie place for an ambush.” Jamie agreed and clicked his tongue, urging his horse forward to meet with Dougal at the front. He called his name, speaking rapidly in Gaelic. Dougal looked startled before his eyes narrowed at Harlow almost accusingly.
“Now,” Dougal started, leaning over with a dark stare. Harlow fearlessly met his gaze. “You’ll be telling me exactly how and why you come to know there’s an ambush up ahead.”
Harlow clenched her jaw and took a deep breath to calm herself, briefly glancing down at the words permanently etched onto her forearm in black ink; be brave. “I heard that the redcoats use Cocknammon—”
Dougal interrupted her, “Where did you hear?”
“Be brave, Harlow. Not stupid.” Her father’s voice cut through her angry thoughts, and Harlow took another deep breath.
She tried not to glare at him as she looked at Dougal again. “I heard about it in the village.” Harlow grit out, trying her best to sound civil.
Dougal nodded after a moment, staring off at Cocknammon Rock in silence as he weighed his options. There wasn’t much to think about, Harlow scowled, he could either go prepared or run in blindly and die like a dumbass. Dougal raised his arm, shouting something in Gaelic as he drew a circle in the air with his index finger, then Jamie’s mouth was next to her ear.
“Hide.” He said quickly, and Harlow nearly face planted into the dirt as he not so gently pushed her off the horse. She stumbled to her feet, huffing in displeasure and glaring after them as their horses galloped away.
This was her chance to escape, Harlow realized as she watched the Scots charge at the redcoats. She spun on her heels and hightailed it out of there. Gunshots and loud shouts came from behind her, but Harlow was only focused on finding the fucking stones at Craigh na Dun and going back to Nick. She made it to a stream and, after a second of pondering, decided to follow it. She needed to keep an eye out for any Scots or redco—
“Stop right there!” A voice called, and Harlow sighed. She slowly turned to face a young redcoat, no older than twenty, shakily pointing a musket at her. She raised her arms in surrender.
“Listen, mate,” Harlow began, wetting her lips, “I just escaped some Scots, I’m just trying to find my way home—” The dirt next to her boot exploded, the soldier having missed his shot. “What the fuck, man?!” She burst, setting furious green eyes on him as the young man prepared to shoot again, shaking. Harlow gave up and let out a shout as she ran at him, the man dropping his musket in fright as she charged.
She grabbed on to his arm and jumped to wrap her legs around his neck, twisting her body to bring him down hard. The boy went limp as she rolled to her feet, cursing under her breath. Her self defense instructor would be so fucking proud. Harlow rolled her shoulders, bouncing on her toes as adrenaline surged through her veins. A twig snapped behind her, and she turned to face Jamie. His face was splattered with blood, some of it soaking his hair and the collar of his white shirt. He carried a sword, the blade of it speckled with bits of gore. She could smell the coppery scent of it as he approached, an impressed look on his face.
“Hope you haven’t been straining that shoulder.” Harlow said in a casual voice, setting her feet flat on the ground. The corner of his mouth lifted.
“This lot isn’t my blood.” He said in reply, trying to cage her by spreading his arms slightly. “Not much of it anyway.” Jamie added as an afterthought.
“Right.” Harlow nodded and took a step to the left, Jamie quickly blocked her path. Harlow clicked her tongue and flipped out her pocket knife, holding it tightly in her fist as she brought them up in a stance. The bloke was wounded already, a few jabs here and there could take him down. Probably. Maybe.
“Don’t be stupid.” She could almost hear Nick warn.
“Dougal and the others will be waitin’ further up the stream.” Jamie said, and it felt more like a threat than a statement.
Harlow grinned, “Good thing I’m heading down.” She shot back and saw the frustration in his eyes.
“We should go.” He said lowly, fingers flexing as he held his sword.
“You should go.” She corrected, “I’m heading back to find my brother.”
The furrow of his brow softened at her words, but Jamie did not back down, “You’re coming with me, Fiadhaich.” He said and pointed the tip of his sword at her throat. She didn’t know if that was a compliment or an insult.
Something dangerous stirred to life, and Harlow licked her lips, then gave a crooked grin. “Think you can act fast enough, love? Slit my throat before I slit yours?” She taunted.
Jamie looked up from her mouth to stare into her eyes, and she noticed his blown pupils. “What about you? You’re looking rugged, Fiadhaich. Tired?” He asked, a husky roughness to his voice that wasn’t there before. God, why was he so hot? This was one of those fight or fuck situations, and she really wanted to do the latter. “Just come along. Even if ye do kill me, the others will catch up. Ye canna beat them all by yerself.” Now he was sounding like the conscience she usually lacked in violent situations. Huh, her own Jiminy Cricket.
Harlow stared at him in silence, then sighed deeply. She flipped her knife closed and slid it back into her pocket. “You win this one, love.” She teased halfheartedly, mostly disappointed that she would be staying in the past for a little while longer. Nick would have to wait.
Jamie was lucky he was pretty.
On the ride back to the others, she heard Jamie groan when his injured arm was jostled. “I think this is what they call karma.” Harlow pondered out loud, the petty side of her taking delight in his discomfort. “Now you probably have bruises and torn muscles.”
She heard Jamie chuckle and felt the vibrations of his voice against her back. “Well, it wasna much of a choice. If I’d not moved my shoulder, I wouldna have moved anything else ever again.” He pointed out as they reached the others. “I can handle a single redcoat with one hand— maybe even two.” Jamie boasted, and Harlow rolled her eyes, but had to bite back a smile. “But not three. Besides,” He leaned in, flush against her back to speak into her ear, “ye can fix it for me again when we get to where we’re going.”
Harlow hummed, “If that’s what you think.” She said, but she knew that she’d immediately help him if he needed her to.
The round Scot, Rupert, raised his leather bladder at her. “Here’s to you, lass, for tippin’ us to the villains in the rocks and giving us a wee bit o’ fun!” He laughed, taking a swing.
“Slàinte mhath.” Jamie said, and Rupert echoed him, passing the bladder over. “Fiadhaich,” He called after taking a sip, “have some. It willna fill your belly, but it will make ye forget you’re hungry.”
Harlow took it from his hand, the smell of strong liquor reaching her nose. “Cheers then.” She said and took a swing of whiskey. It wasn’t half bad, with hints of honey as it slid down her throat to warm her insides.
Like Jamie had said before, they rode for the rest of the day, making no stops. The sun fell over the horizon, and the moon took its place in the sky. The chill of the night returned, but the whiskey kept her comfortable. Harlow noticed something was wrong when Jamie was slow to react to the low branches that smacked him in the face, his breathing ragged. His hold on the reins went slack, and his body slumped, tipping to the side like a drunkard without balance.
“Jamie!” Harlow hissed, but he didn’t answer, only gasped for air. “Shit. Help, he’s going over!” She called out to the others when her grip on him slipped, Jamie’s body hitting the ground with a dull thump. Harlow jumped off the horse as the others came to join her.
“He’s breathin’.” She heard someone say as they flipped Jamie onto his back.
“He’s just unconscious.” Harlow reassured the group after checking his vitals. She tugged his bloodied collar to the side and spotted a gunshot wound, blood lazily seeping from the hole. She clicked her tongue, “Gunshot wound. Idiot kept it to himself. Good thing it went straight through the muscle, a clean exit. It’s not serious, but he’s lost a lot of blood.” Harlow assessed and shifted her weight on her knees. “I need to disinfect it though.”
Murtagh made a face, “Disinfect?” He repeated, confused.
“Clean it properly so it doesn’t fester.” Harlow elaborated with the wave of her hand. “Pass me my bag, I have some isopropyl in there.” Murtagh stared at her oddly again, but complied nevertheless. Harlow dug into her bag and fished out the plastic bottle. She unscrewed the cap and poured some of the alcohol onto the wound.
Jamie awoke with a hiss, mumbling unintelligibly in Gaelic. “Fiadhaich?” He asked, confused eyes staring up at her face.
“Welcome back, sunshine.” She greeted.
“I’m all right, just a wee bit dizzy.” Jamie tried reassuring them.
“No you are not.” Harlow interjected, smacking him in the forehead with her palm. “Stay still, will you?” She poured some more isopropyl onto a few bandages and pressed them against the wound despite Jamie’s pained hisses. “Help me tie this,” She told Murtagh, who seemed to be her personal assistant for the night. “Son of a bitch. Stop fucking moving, man. Shit.” Harlow grumbled as the other end of the bandage slipped her grasp when Jamie moved.
There was a shocked noise behind her.
“I’ve never heard a woman use such language in my life.” Dougal spoke in something like awe.
“Your husband should tan yer hide for ye, woman.” Angus added.
“Saint Paul says, ‘Let a woman be silent, and—’”
“You and Saint Paul can kiss my bloody arse.” Harlow snapped at Rupert, not taking her eyes away from her work. She heard Jamie stifle a laugh and glared at him. “And you, sir, need to stay still or I’ll fucking make you.”
Jamie grinned cheekily, “Is that a threat or a promise, Fiadhaich?” He asked.
“We have 15 miles to go yet.” Dougal interrupted before Harlow could say anything. “Five hours, at the least, if not seven. We’ll stay long enough for ye to stem the bleeding and dress his wound. No more than that.” He said roughly and walked away from them.
Harlow got to her feet and marched after him. “He’s lost too much blood. He needs to rest.” She stated, but the man ignored her and kept walking to his horse. Harlow scowled.
“Randall.” Jamie started, and Harlow turned instinctively, a part of her thinking he’d been calling for her. She then realized he was talking about Black Jack. “The office ye encountered, he won’t give up so easily.” He said, and Harlow kneeled by his side again to adjust his sling. “He commands the redcoats hereabouts and he’s sent patrols out in every direction by now. We canna stay here long.” Jamie added, shaking his head with a haunted look in his eyes. Jack had done something to him, that much was clear.
“You know him?” Harlow asked cautiously.
“Aye,” Jamie whispered as he met her eyes. “I won’t risk you or anyone else being taken prisoner by that man. If ye canna fix me well enough to ride, you’ll be leaving me here with a loaded pistol so I may determine my own fate.” He said, determined.
“Good thing we won’t be doing that.” Harlow said, smirking, and patted his cheek teasingly. “I’ll need to clean this out again in a few hours. I can lead the horse for now, you just hold on to me.” She told him as she helped him to his feet.
“Thank you, Fiadhaich. Truly.” Jamie spoke softly once he was seated on the horse, his good arm wrapped around her waist.
“Don’t thank me yet, love,” Harlow said, meeting Dougal’s glare with a crooked grin as she urged the horse forward.
Only five to seven more hours to go.