THE LAST WHISPERER
YA Historical Paranormal (Scotland, 1723)
“Dance with me,” a voice said behind me.
I felt a hand on my shoulder, gentle yet insistent. I sighed. Not again. Even without looking, I knew who it was. Ranald Rankin. Sweet boy, but just a friend in my eyes. Nay else.
I turned around.
“Please, Boudica. Just one dance.” The boy looked down at me, all freckles and frizzy red hair. The hope in his eyes said more than the half-a-dozen pleases he’d uttered to me that night. I certainly had to give him points for persistence.
Maybe I should say aye. Just this once.
I scanned the crowd, searching for my best friend’s mop of red curls among the dozens of bonnets and kerches that bobbed and twirled around us. People everywhere were pushing and shoving, drinking and dancing. Laughter and shouts reverberated above the giddy beat of the music. My ears throbbed with noise.
God I hated weddings. As far as I was concerned they were just an excuse for people to get drunk and act like dunderheads.
I’d already been subjected to two weddings that summer. My best friend’s sister’s wedding made it three. Earlier that day Shaylee Fadyen had taken her sweetheart Galvin MacGillivray to be her husband. And now beneath a starry sky I had to put up with hours of being showered with mead, squeezing past sweaty bodies and fending off would-be suitors.
I’d just about given up looking for Breanna when I spotted her talking to – no, it was more like fawning over – one of the MacAvoy boys. Typical Breanna, always on the prowl for her next romantic victim. She must’ve sensed I was looking for her, for almost as soon as I found her, her eyes locked with mine. She read my silent plea in an instant, glancing at Ranald and then back at me. I could tell by the way she rolled her eyes she was amused, but she nodded. With that simple gesture, I knew my escape plan was secure.
“Very well, Ranald,” I said, extending my hand. “But just one dance.”
I had to admit the atmosphere was intoxicating. The cheerful lilt of the fiddler’s tune rang through the air, infusing our blood with energy. And, as we sailed in circles around the crackling bonfire, hand-in-hand and elbow-to-elbow, our fellow clansmen clapped and cheered, keeping time with the music. It was almost as though we were alive as one being, the tempo of the song our throbbing heartbeat.
When the dance ended, everyone cheered. I bent forward, huffing and puffing, trying to catch my breath.
Ranald chuckled, patting me robustly on the back. “Havin’ trouble keepin’ up with me, are you?”
I looked up to meet his laughing eyes. He wore a broad grin, spanning cheek to cheek. “Oh aye,” I said, sweeping my hair from my eyes. “You’re just too spirited for me.”
A girl with streaks of gold in her hair elbowed me in the ribs, sending me stumbling. In one quick movement, Ranald caught me, steadying me against his chest. When I looked up, his face was only inches from mine. He smelled faintly of sawdust and smoke.
“Sorry,” I gasped.
Ranald grunted. “Don’t fash about it.” Instead of moving to let me go, he held me close, his eyes travelling to my lips. “Do you think a lad like me could ever be good enough for a lassie like you?” he asked, his voice wavering between hope and apprehension.
When his eyes met mine again, my breath hitched in my throat. Somehow I managed a croaky “Ah...” in reply.
“Boudica!” Breanna’s voice shrilled behind me, and I felt a strong tug on my arm. “Come along with you.” Before I could turn, I was pulled unceremoniously backwards and out of Ranald’s grasp.
“Sorry Ranald,” I called out, waving at his frowning form as he receded from view. “Looks like I’m needed elsewhere.” Tripping heel over toe, I stumbled through the throng of hot bodies, the scent of mead heavy in the air. Once I was certain I was hidden from Ranald’s sights, I pulled up short and wrenched my arm from Breanna’s surprisingly strong grip. “Whoa! That’s enough.”
“Ack! Don’t be such a bairn,” Breanna admonished me, her bright blue eyes flashing with mock disgust. “Got you away from him, didn’t I?”
I massaged my wrist – it felt like it had been squeezed in a vice. “Och aye, you did.” The earnestness in my voice was deliberately dramatic, so too the gratitude in my eyes. “Thank goodness for that.” And after sharing a moment of exaggerated awe, Breanna and I burst into laughter.
“You should not be so mean to him,” scolded a soft voice.
“Oh, we’re not bein’ mean, Susan.” Breanna giggled at our friend who’d crept up beside us. Blind mouse number three. “We’re only teasin’.”
Susan turned her big brown eyes on me. I nodded vigorously, laughter still on my lips.
“You know how silly he’s been gettin’ about Boudica,” Breanna went on, her red curls bobbing up and down as she spoke. “The poor lassie can’t go anywhere without him followin’ her like a lost puppy. And it’s not like she hasn’t let him know she’s not interested.”
I threw Breanna a you’re-being-overly-dramatic sort of look. “It’s not quite that bad.”
But Breanna wouldn’t have a bar of it. “Oh aye, it is.”
Susan pressed her thin lips together, her mousy brown hair hanging limp around her face. If Breanna was bold and brazen, Susan was meek and mild. She was also a stickler for doing what was right. “Still, it is not nice to make fun of him.”
I cleared my throat, feeling newfound shame at my behavior. “Oh aye, Susan, you’re right.”
“Pfft!” Breanna pouted her bow-shaped lips. “Both of you are too serious for your own good.” With a shake of her head, she stepped between us, looping her arms through ours. “So, how about we–”
“Excuse me,” a deep voice interrupted. “I was wondering if I might have the pleasure of your company for one dance.”
Susan and Breanna exchanged glances before turning to see who’d spoken. I was shocked to see it was Lachlan MacLean, and shocked further still to realize it was me he was addressing. Lachlan MacLean was Susan’s uncle and brother to our Laird, Keagan MacLean.
Beside me, Breanna snickered. I resisted the urge to give her a good swift shove in the ribs.
“Of course, you may,” I said, accepting his outstretched hand. And then, specifically for Breanna’s benefit, I added my usual proviso, “but only for one dance, mind you. Mammy is expecting my company shortly.” This was Breanna’s cue to fetch me when the first dance was over, muttered by me only in instances where I didn’t fancy the boy and wished to be saved as soon as politely possible. Well, to be more exact, muttered by me in every instance, as there was never a boy around whom I fancied. Although in this case, the suitor in question was far from a boy. Nigh on thirty years of age, Lachlan MacLean was quite a bit older and bolder than the meek lads who usually courted my attentions.
Breanna winked and flashed me a knowing smile. Susan just looked pleased, as though she’d known all along he’d been planning to ask me and perhaps had even suggested the match herself.
I would have to have a serious talk with that girl.