Wishing For A HighlanderBy: Jessi Gage
The man bared his teeth. “An addled Sassenach spy,” he said in a rocky Highland burr. “And oddly dressed.” He grunted. “Only one thing English lasses are good for, and since skirmishes always give me a wicked cockstand–” With the hand not holding the dirk, he pushed up the hem of her skirt, clumsily, as though he weren’t used to dealing with such a snug-fitting garment.
“Really?” she said with another roll of her eyes. “You’re going to ‘take me’ right here?” She made little quotes in the air. “Come on. Just because I want to get to the good part doesn’t mean I don’t need a little warming up. Ever hear of preheating the oven? Sheesh, Kyle had more romance in his little finger than you’ve got in your whole body, and that’s not saying much. That bastard.”
The man gave up on lifting her skirt and simply ripped his dirk through the thick material, tearing a line up one thigh.
“Hey! That was a nice skirt!” And the movement had been too quick to be careful. He could have cut her as easily as not.
A surge of fear sped her pulse. This was feeling less and less like something her imagination might have conjured. And yet it couldn’t possibly be real. Not unless she’d somehow stumbled into a reenactment, and since the damp, almost balmy landscape looked nothing like anyplace within stumbling distance of the Charleston Museum in mid-January, that was highly unlikely. No, it had to be a hallucination. A frighteningly realistic hallucination.
When the man shoved a knee between her legs and rubbed his non-dirk hand up to grab her breast through her top, indignation filled her lungs. Hallucination or not, she wouldn’t stand for being felt up against her will.
“Get your hands off me!”
The man didn’t relent, kneading her breast through the lightweight cashmere. Sour breath seared her cheek as he moved over her, pinning her to the ground. “Don’t make a fuss, lass. I need aught but a few minutes and then ye can return to your English bastard and his romantic ways.”
The man stabbed his dirk into the grass an inch from her ear in an obvious warning. Her heart jumped into her throat and beat frantically until all she could hear was the thunder of her pulse.
The man held her down with one hand while he reached between her legs with the other. Seemingly confounded, he leaned back to study her clothing. She sent a heartfelt thank you heavenward for the thick cotton tights that made biking to work in January possible. She took advantage of the moment and blindly reached for the dirk beside her head. When the hilt met her palm, she curled her fingers around it and yanked the blade free.
She’d planned to merely wave it at the man and tell him to back off, but when he cocked his fist back, aiming a punch toward her face, something in her snapped. It wasn’t so much rational thought as sheer instinct of self preservation that drove her to squeeze her eyes shut and thrust the dirk forward.
It sank into flesh. The blow she’d braced for never came.
She opened one eye.
The man’s face was a mask of disbelief. Both his hands were wrapped around her hand, around the dirk’s hilt. A good two thirds of the twelve-inch blade was buried in his stomach through the diagonal swath of wool wrapped around his torso. Warm wetness spread through the fabric, staining their joined hands red.
She yanked her hand away. The man slid the blade out of his stomach and a spurt of blood came with it, splattering her bunched-up skirt and marring the peach cashmere of her sweater. The man toppled to his side, groaning and clutching the wound.
Horror washed over her in an icy wave. What had she done?
Defended yourself, her practical mind supplied. But what had felt necessary a few moments ago now seemed like overkill. Torn between running away and offering to help the man, she scrambled backward until her back hit the leaning boulder. Her breath came too fast.
“It’s only a hallucination,” she chanted to herself over and over.
But her senses conspired against her, insisting this place was real. The blood on her hands quickly cooled, and the moist ground chilled her bottom. Heather and field grass scented the air. Shouts, groans, and the clang of swords persisted behind the boulder. The man on the ground breathed in and out with harsh whooshes of breath.
No hallucination could do all that. Her imagination simply wasn’t that good.
She was inexplicably and undeniably present at what appeared to be a clan skirmish in Scotland, and judging by her attacker’s wardrobe and weaponry, it was a far cry from modern-day Scotland. While she tried to process this new reality past several layers of shock, the man on the ground pushed to his hands and knees.
Relief that he wasn’t dead made her shoulders sag.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to, um, stab you. But you were going to rape me. I had to defend myself. Is there anything I can do to help?” As she pushed up on shaky legs, she thought about her cellphone, lying on her workbench in Charleston. Even if she’d had it in her pocket, 9-1-1 wouldn’t do any good here.
The man struggled to his feet. A glint of bloodied steel drew her eyes to his right hand. Oh God, the dirk! Why had she let it go?