Wishing For A HighlanderBy: Jessi Gage
Trusting the assessment of Dr. Calderwood’s antique dealers, she didn’t bother trying to open it, but carefully turned it over to inspect the bottom. The inscription of the maker was still visible, though barely, after several centuries. The cursive writing, aged to a deep brown in the lighter reddish-brown finish read MacLeod, 1542. Beneath was the place of manufacture, Inverness. The name MacLeod didn’t ring any bells, but then she specialized in Colonial artifacts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, so she wasn’t surprised.
She turned the box upright to set it on the tray again, but a sudden playful urge gripped her. Lifting the box to eye level, she said, “If you’re in the mood to grant a wish, here’s mine: I’d like a sexy Highlander to sweep me off my feet like in the romance novels. Please,” she added as an afterthought.
Scoffing at herself, she rolled her eyes. “As if,” she muttered, swiveling on her stool to set the box on the tray. As she turned, the balance of the piece shifted. It felt like something inside rotated and slipped from one end of the box to the other. The box made a series of soft clinks and groans like an old cuckoo clock about to engage. The lid sprang open.
She gasped in surprise. Eager wonder coursed through her. No one had been able to open this box in who knew how long, and she’d done it accidentally. How lucky for her! She’d be the first to see inside since perhaps Andrew Carnegie himself.
She felt proud. She felt giddy.
She felt dizzy.
Really dizzy. As if the seat of her stool were spinning increasingly faster, like the Tilt-a-Whirl ride at Six Flags. Only at the amusement park, her vision had never clouded to black and she’d never tumbled backward off a ride.
The sensations of spinning and falling fed off each other, disorienting her and dousing her with nausea. She released the box to cushion her womb.
I’m not supposed to fall. It could hurt the baby.
She landed on her back. The hardwood floor of her office didn’t knock the wind out of her like she’d expected it to. It felt like…springy grass?
When the black spots cleared, she stared up at a drab-gray sky. Distantly, the sounds of clanging swords and hollering men pierced the damp air. Rolling her head gingerly to the right, she saw a large, flat stone looming like an oversized domino on the verge of falling. Beyond it rose a grassy hill dotted with smaller rocks and scrubby brush. To her left, a path wound around the hill, and in the distance the edge of a sparse, mist-shrouded forest looked like a nice place to meet a ghost or get murdered. She’d narrowly missed landing in a muddy puddle.
Which was strange since she didn’t remember her cramped little office having grass, boulders, or puddles. Definitely no gray sky.
She blinked a few times to bring her office back into focus, but her brain wouldn’t cooperate. The scenery stayed put.
A blur of black motion out of the corner of her eye made her think Alan might have heard her fall and hurried back to see if she was okay. But it wasn’t Alan with his calf-length wool coat. It was a bulky, shirtless man in a…was that a kilt?–running past her little nook of insanity. He did a double take and altered his trajectory when he saw her sprawled on the ground. In two heartbeats he was crouching at her side.
The man had wild black hair and a matted beard. Up close, she could see the dark-gray wool of his shoulder-wrapped great kilt was coarsely mottled with lighter gray to give an effect much closer to camouflage than plaid. In one hand he gripped a utilitarian sixteenth-century dirk with fresh bloodstains on the blade.
Great. She’d had a doozy of a pregnancy-related dizzy spell and hit her head. Hard. While her body lay unconscious on the floor of her office in Charleston, her brain thought it might be fun to dump her into an illusion based on her romance novel.
Could this be the hero who would rock her sexually deprived world and tempt her to forsake her friends, family, job, and all she held dear, in favor of steamy nights in his hay-stuffed bed and a significantly shortened life span due to lack of modern medicine and a diet heavy in salt and low in vegetation?
She narrowed her eyes in appraisal. He certainly had the biceps for it. The boulder beside her had nothing on the man’s massive chest. And his eyes were an intense shade of blue that might be appealing if he weren’t sneering at her. But he was a little on the hairy side for a romantic hero. Weren’t they usually waxed to show off their washboard abs? And she could do without the smears of dirt covering every inch of his exposed skin. And in the books she loved so much, the hero was always taller. But she was short, so why not conjure up a five-foot-eight hero for her five-foot-two self?
The dirk went to her throat and pressed lightly, not breaking the skin but threatening to if she made a wrong move.
She rolled her eyes. “Hello, melodrama, anyone? Like little old me could possibly be a threat to a big, strong warrior like you. Puh-lease. Can we get to the romance, already? I’d hate to waste a perfectly good concussion on the whole build-up of sexual tension thing. What if I wake up before the good part? Although, maybe we could go to your place and have ourselves a little bath first. And maybe comb out that hair. How would you feel about shaving?”