Heart of the Highlands Ch. 01bysimply_cyn©
Author's note: I want to both dedicate and thank my best friend Christopher for helping to inspire this particular story. Without his imagination and encouragement, this particular story would still be floating around in my head as simply an idea.
Juliana Mackay and her friends seemed to drift through the mingling crowds of the fairgrounds, their gossip and chatting intermingled with soft laughter and giggles drifting to those just around them. With as much noise from the Highland games, music, laughter, and boisterous conversations that surrounded them, there was no way any one would be able to decipher the topic of their conversation unless they were amid their small, tight-knit group. But whatever it was, it was apparent that the girls were enjoying their time at the fairs and their opportunity to mingle with people that they didn't see on a regular basis.
The small group of young women would stop every now and then by another group of girls that they had made acquaintances with but the giggles and laughter seemed to come faster and harder every time they passed a group of young men that were littered throughout the fairgrounds. However, Juliana didn't seem to find much joy or fun in the giddiness of her friends, especially when it came to the young men. She had, in her own opinion at least, more important things on her mind than the prospect of catching a young man's eye. Unfortunately for her though, she had been blessed with the looks that girls envied and men desired ... long waves of fiery locks and emerald-green eyes, all atop a body that she tried desperately to dress in clothes that didn't accentuate her ripe curves and long legs.
Colin Mackenzie stood rather desolate amongst a gathering of young men playing a game of ball. They were laughing and having a grand old time. However, Colin stood out amongst the gathering as the only one not smiling. He didn't seem to be enjoying the festivities much until one of his friends jabbed him roughly in the stomach. Grunting, he glared momentarily at him before laughing. It was apparent they were all determined to make Colin enjoy himself regardless if he wanted to or not.
The ball was thrown at him and he caught it in his left hand, tossing it back to the thrower. At least a smile had been drawn for a while as he had finally gotten involved with the game. It was a ball game commonly played amongst the young men of the clans. Colin ran straight into the back of one of his friends and they both tumbled. The friend had stopped to eye a gaggle of girls that were passing.
Juliana was in the middle of her group ... she always seemed to be even though most of the time her thoughts were elsewhere. For some reason, the girls seemed to be more giggly than usual and she glanced around to find the source of why they had slowed to a bare crawl.
"What? I swear by all that is holy, what's going on now?" she quipped, somewhat irritated and somewhat good-naturedly.
She heard one of the girls murmur softly, "Oooo, he's got to be the best one out of the bunch" and with that Juliana's eyebrows furrowed, turning her face completely to see who they were ogling now.
Colin cursed and got up, dusting himself off. "Damn you Cedric. Can't you keep your focus for even five minutes?" Then he looked in the direction Cedric had been fixated, flushing as the girls started giggling and talking amongst themselves. Shyly he rubbed the back of his neck and stepped back from Cedric. He had never done well with the female sort. They had a tendency to stare at him what with his rugged good looks.
He had long dark hair that was generally tied back in a tight braid or at least a ponytail and always wore loose tunics in attempt to keep females from groping him with their eyes. Though today his mother had pestered over him and insisted he wear a low-cut neckline of a tunic without any undershirt. It felt odd to him but he had no choice. The tunic was cinched at the waist by a black belt and his black pants were all dirty from the game, tucked into knee-high boots.
It was obvious as to which young man the girls were ogling and as Juliana saw him nervously step back and avert his gaze along with the tell-tale hand that he used to brush along his neck; she couldn't help but feel his pain. Even as she gazed at him with this sort-of empathetic look on her face, she could feel the stares of the other men in his group. It was their comments that snapped her back from the moment that she gazed at the other boy with him that brought the fire back in her jaded green gaze. All of them were alike ... ogling and commenting over her body, angering her further that she had dressed "as a lady" on this day of celebration. She would have given anything to rid herself of the corset that pushed her ample bosom up even more as if to encourage the stares of the young men in the group.
Turning her nose up at them, Juliana hurried her steps along even if the other girls moaned their disapproval at having to move on so quickly but like little chickens in a group, they quickly gathered round her again and began their chattering and giggling as usual.
Cedric approached his somewhat shy friend and slapped him on the back with a laugh. "That red head was sure staring at you, Colin."
Colin shrugged and stepped back again, looking at his friend. He knew the girl Cedric was speaking of. He'd caught her gaze for only a fraction of a second. She'd seemed like him... not really wanting to be here.
"Ooooo Juliana! Wasn't he gorgeous?" Lucinda sidled up beside her friend, giggling almost insanely. She was flushed. The day was hot and the constant twittering hadn't helped any.
Juliana sighed as their group stopped off by a stand for refreshments. This dress was getting the best of her and she tugged at the lacy bodice that kept itching at her chest and shot her friend Lucinda a look that would have withered most girls if she had even been paying attention but she kept glancing back at the group of young men that they had left just a few yards behind.
"I don't know ... which one?" she asked, pulling the hand fan out and snapping it out to get the still air around her moving. What she wouldn't give for a nice refreshing swim in the lake nearby. She followed her friend's stare for a moment to see that the boys were still standing around, much like their own group, instead of resuming the game they had stumbled across.
"That tall one. There." Lucinda brazenly pointed toward Colin and giggled. "The one with the blonde. He looked at you, Julie ... didn't you notice?" She looked back at Juliana in shock, furrowing her brows and looked all sorts of flustered. "Really, Juliana ... you're of marrying age now. Looking is invited, you know. Even encouraged!"
Juliana glanced at Colin again even as her hand reached up and snatched Lucinda's arm down. "Heavens, don't point! What are you trying to do? Make us look like a bunch of sniveling, giggling idiots?!"
At times like these, Juliana wanted to just be alone out on the rolling Highlands on horseback instead of stuffed inside a dress that put her on display. But her gaze lingered on the young man that her friend had pointed out for a fraction of a second too long and Lucinda caught her look. "You DID notice! I knew it!" and that threw the whole group of girls into giggling fits again as they all looked and began twittering around Juliana who didn't know whether to blush or to grow angry.
"Heavens, would you stop all this ruckus?" she harshly whispered, turning her back suddenly as if she didn't really care but she did chance a glance back over her shoulder at him one more time. True enough, he WAS gorgeous.
Colin's gaze moved back toward the girls that had passed. One was pointing at him which just made him blush a little but his eyes were drawn to the red head's gaze again as she looked at him. They were obviously talking about him. Again, shyly he turns away.
Cedric just chuckled and nudged his friend in the side. "Do I sense a bit more than a casual glance in that look?"
Colin glared at his friend and nudged him back, sending him stumbling a few paces. "Shut up Cedric."
Juliana couldn't help the small, reflexive smile that appeared when their gazes met. However, Lucinda caught it before Juliana even knew she had done it. "I KNEW it!" and the whole group seemed to turn and watch as Colin shoved his friend, sending them all into a pile of giggles again as Juliana blushed from head to toes.
"Please ... girls ... don't do this," she pleaded, turning her back again as her fan picked up the pace as it waved in front of her. This had to be the most embarrassing moment of her life and as the girls started to wave and flirt with their fans and twist about demurely, Juliana suddenly took off at a fast pace, almost running as her face flamed almost the same shade as her hair.
Cedric waved back to the girls, laughing as Colin hurriedly went the other way. He turned his head, catching the movement of his friend and quickly turned to follow him. "Colin! Wait!"
Reaching close enough to his friend, Cedric grabbed hold of one of Colin's gauntleted hands, causing him to growl under his breath. Instantly Cedric let go. "Oh ... sorry Colin. I didn't mean to."
Colin could only grit his teeth at the pain before nodding stiffly, looking to his friend. "It's alright."
"Julie! Don't you run off." Lucinda grabbed her friend and tugged her to a stop. "What's the matter with you? Got butterflies or something? At least go talk to him or ... something. No sense in running off."
Juliana whirled around as her friend pulled her to a stop, the long skirts of her dress billowing around her legs as she snapped the hand fan shut. "Lucinda! Have you lost your bloody mind? There is no way that I am approaching a man that I don't know to talk to him. A lady would never do such a thing!"
At Lucinda's hurt look, she softened her stance and reached out to gently touch her friend on the arm. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that. It's just ... I ... I can't." She glanced up and then back to the group of boys that were still responding to the girls that were waving and giggling. "I have no idea who he is. I've never seen him with the families that are in the alliance of the clans. I can't."
"Sure you can. You just don't want to." Past the hurt she forced a smile and reached to pat Juliana's arm. "It's okay. Want to go and do something else?"
Juliana sighed gently and glanced away, her thoughts heavy on her Father's troubles that were prevalent in her mind. If things didn't work themselves out, this might be the last get-together that she would attend with her friends. What she wouldn't give to be as carefree and unconcerned as the group of girls that she was in the company with. But the state of her Father's fortune and the possibility of them losing their land if an
agreement wasn't worked out had given her more to chew on lately and her carefree demeanor had disappeared.
She glanced once more at the group of boys and in particular the handsome one with long dark hair. Aye, she wished she could dream of the things that most girls her age did again. Then offering a soft smile to her friend, she gently covered Lucinda's hand on her arm and squeezed it tenderly. "I'm fine. You go have fun and flirt."
Lucinda frowned a little, looking into her best friend's eyes a moment to make sure she was really telling the truth. "Okay ... but don't be a stranger too long, okay? I'll be .... somewhere. With them," she said, motioning to the other girls. "No running off and staying gone. It's not allowed." She smiled, squeezing her friend's arm gently before moving away to rejoin the group they'd split apart from.
Colin had managed to slip out of the line of fire and was on his way to find something else to do. Cedric's attention had been taken by the game again as they started up again, showing off for the girls that watched and cheered. Colin wanted no part in the sport. He already felt enough on display. He didn't need more of it.
His hand throbbed a bit within the tight leather glove from when Cedric had grabbed him. The game hadn't helped either. He flexed the fingers carefully as if measuring their strength. He needed time alone, some privacy to get away and think. At a fair that was difficult to find.
Juliana smiled a bit and watched her friend move back to the group of girls as they all began to watch the boys as they resumed their game. She sighed wistfully and then moved back in the direction in which she had remembered seeing the small lake they had passed earlier. It had been further off the path of the fairgrounds and away from the hustle and bustle of activity that seemed to draw everyone into its gaiety and frivolity. Something Juliana just didn't feel at the moment.
Too much was on her mind ... without her Father's wealth and lands, there really was no telling what she would become. A laborer, no doubt ... but there were worse things out there for a girl of her beauty than hard labor. Taking a deep breath and shaking her head to rid herself of those kinds of thoughts, she moved further and further away from the noise until she found herself at the water's edge.
Colin found himself at the water's edge of the same small lake some distance from the festival. He was sitting on an overturned log, having found a patch of shade beneath a large oak tree to settle under. It got him out of the noise and out of the sun which was a Godsend.
Reaching up to unlace the front of his tunic, he loosened the rich fabric to get some air and then proceeded to unbuckle the gauntlet on his right hand, carefully tugging at the fingers to pull it off. He pauses as he hears footsteps coming up the path, seeing the red-headed beauty he'd seen back on the playing fields. Furrowing his brows, he pulled the gauntlet back on, buckling it again with a frown of disdain. Had she followed him? Or by chance, had she needed air too?
Stopping at the water's edge, Juliana was oblivious to the nearby young man that Lucinda had been so fervent about. Kicking off her slippers, she stooped to pick them up and slowly walked through the thick moss that ran along the water's edge, loving the way the spongy greenery felt on her bared heels. As she walked, she reached up to pull a comb from her hair, letting the mass of red hair that had been partially up tumble down her back, pushing the comb in the folds of her waistline that was cinched tightly.
She stopped and looked out over the water as she raised her arms to lift her hair off the back of her neck for a moment to feel the coolness of air touch it momentarily as she slowly began to relax a bit. There was much on her mind and it troubled her to the core. She had heard of plenty of girls that had fallen from wealth and wound up being nothing more than a ... than a ... She closed her eyes as she released her hair, refusing to even think the worse right now.
Colin forced his eyes from the young woman. She clearly thought she was alone and hadn't noticed him yet. He couldn't help but look at her again as she lifted her hair from her neck. She looked everything a well-bred Scottish girl should look ... red hair, milky white skin, and a smooth complexion.
He could hear his mother's voice in his head - "You need to find a well-bred girl. One who will bring sons. It was a gift from the Gods that I was given you after seven daughters." He'd heard the speech over and over and over as he grew up. Yes. He was the youngest of eight children born by his mother. All of the eldest were daughters. Four had been married off within the last cycle of seasons. That left three, and Colin, who would inherit everything at his father's passing just because he was the male heir.
Juliana opened her eyes to gaze out over the lake once more as she released her hair to tumble down her back. Her father was in negotiations to ensure the security of their wealth but she had also heard through the grapevine that he was also in negotiations to possibly give her hand to the eldest son of the Kincaid family, one of the prime leaders of the alliance of clan members and she shuddered to think of it.
Yes, she knew marriages were arranged all the time to ensure wealth and a family's place in the clan but marrying Robbie was a sentence worse than death. With a soft sigh, Juliana turned and gasped as she suddenly realized she wasn't alone.
Colin's eyes widened when the girl suddenly realized he was there. He hadn't been intending to stare, but he couldn't help it. She was just ... there. Instantly he looked away, clearing his throat. Rubbing his neck shyly, he kept his eyes averted from the woman.
"Please don't speak ... don't come over here," was all he could think. He really didn't want to have to stumble around trying to communicate with a woman. True he had seven sisters, but they were sisters. This was different. The beauty looking at him definitely wasn't a sister.
Juliana turned again towards the lake almost immediately, feeling her cheeks flush a bright red. It was him. By the saints, it was him. She had dropped her slippers out of surprise and bent forward to retrieve them, her long hair falling forward and almost blinding her as she silently cursed at herself for being caught off-guard.
Why was HE here? And what the heck was she supposed to say and what if HE said something to her?? She retrieved her slippers and hopped around, blushing furiously as she could only imagine what kind of idiot she looked like as she tried to put her sandals back on and keep her balance. As soon as she had them on she whirled to hurry on but thought it would be rude to just walk off and not say anything so she turned as if to just wish him well but her mouth just kind of formed this round circle and nothing would come out.
Feeling more than a bit embarrassed, she turned again and scrambled away from the lake as quickly as she could without saying anything other than a small sound that probably sounded quite like a frightened animal.
Colin watched the girl out the corner of his eyes hopping around on one foot as she put her sandals on before she started to run away. He wanted to call her back, but he couldn't bring himself to. Girls had always flustered him. They made no sense.
As she scrambled away he stood and took a deep breath. He couldn't just let her run off without saying anything. It'd be rude. "Hey! Wait!" he called, suddenly wondering what the hell he was doing. What would he say? He'd stutter is what he'd do. It's usually what he did around girls.
Juliana heard him call to her but she was so embarrassed at this point that she wasn't sure what she would do or say to him. Glancing back at him one last time, she wanted to kick herself for acting like some kind of fool in front of him but it was a little too late to make a different impression on him now.
When she turned her head back around, she gasped right as she ran headlong into the one person she had no desire to see, much less run smack dab into his arms ... Robbie Kincaid!
"Well, well, well ... what do we have here?" Robbie bellowed as his strong hands caught Juliana by the upper arms right before she ran headlong into his chest.
Juliana reacted and began to flail at him with her small fists. "Unhand me!" she cried out, wrenching herself from his grasp. She nearly shook with both anger and hatred as Robbie and his cohorts laughed at her display.
"If things go the way I expect they will, my pretty Juliana," he began, reaching out to capture her chin in his rough grasp, "You won't be saying that much longer."
It had taken Colin a grand total of a few seconds to cross the beach. His left gloved hand came around in a hook to catch Robbie Kincaid right across the jaw. The girl had screamed in disdain and she'd struggled. That was enough for him.