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Warrior of the highlands, p.42
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       Warrior of the Highlands, p.42

         Part #3 of Highlands series by Veronica Wolff  
Page 42

  Then why did she still feel so uneasy?

  Hurtling downhill, she followed his path. Racing across a glen and then huffing back up the next rise, she ignored her burning lungs and the razor-sharp stitch in her side. She was suddenly certain. She needed to get to MacColla, immediately.

  Reaching the top, she saw him at once. And shrieked.

  “No!” she screamed, racing along the ridge, trying to make sense of what she saw.

  He'd been captured. One held him, one more was behind.

  “MacColla!” The man at his back was lifting his musket.

  Sunlight glinted sharply off the metal. The whole scene was so muted, so faraway. “MacColla, watch out!”

  She needed to make him hear her. Look, turn, watch out. Haley was stumbling downhill to him when she heard the shot crack, and she froze, watching in horror.

  MacColla fell to his knees, and her heart tore from her body. Haley collapsed at the same moment, her pose mirroring his.

  She needed to rise, go to him. But she was paralyzed.

  He looked up then, and a sob ripped from her.

  Was he watching her? She cried his name. Did he see her?

  Oh God, MacColla.

  Haley hoped he saw her. But she hoped too that his last thought wouldn't be that she'd failed him. Or worse, that he'd failed her.

  She teetered to standing. She needed to get to him.

  He flinched, his lips moved. And Haley saw the puddle of crimson spread at his knees.

  “MacColla!” she screamed.

  The man at his back looked up to her position, but Haley didn't care. She could think only of MacColla.

  His eyes held hers.

  He wavered. MacColla fell to his belly and was still.

  God, no.

  Haley held her breath, and waited. She felt the slow pounding of each heartbeat. Heard it thundering, a whoosh and roar like the sea in her head.

  She waited, but she knew.

  Her MacColla was dead.

  She ranted then, raving and shrieking his name as if she could call him back.

  Dead. She'd followed him, but she was too late.

  MacColla was dead.

  “MacColla. ” she shrieked again, trying to call him back.

  Sobs tore from her. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.

  Shuddering and wailing, her body gnarled in on itself. She clawed at her chest for air, but the sobs crushed the breath from her lungs.

  Oh God, MacColla.

  She crumpled to the ground, her sobs slowly quieting into weeping.

  She'd lost her one true love. She was alone.

  She hadn't saved him. And he was gone from her, forever.

  No, she thought. Panic would do her no good. She had to fight. It wouldn't be over until she herself was cold and dead.

  “My condolences, love,” a man shouted to her.

  Oh shit.

  Looking downhill, she spotted him. His killer.

  The man who'd shot MacColla in the back was climbing up the slope to her.

  She looked down to the valley. The other man knelt over MacColla's body, paying no mind to what happened above.

  He followed her eyes and laughed. “Shot in the back like a coward. ”

  “Fuck you!” Haley snarled, scrubbing the tears from her face. Anger was like acid in her veins, its poison curdling her sorrow into vengeance. “Fuck you,” she said again, more loudly, scrambling to her knees to pull the musket from her back.

  “Shit,” she muttered, fumbling to remove her flint and steel from a pouch at her waist.

  Struggling to hold the match and steel file in one hand, she struck the flint down, but the sparks were too weak to light the thin stretch of rope.

  Laughing at her, the man broke into an uphill jog.

  “Dammit dammit. ” Her hands trembled. Errant memories came to her. She saw her brother's lighter in his hand, Gerry's nervous fingers flipping the silver lid of the old Zippo, open and shut. The image was too painful, too sharp to touch, and she pushed it from her mind. “Dammit,” she cried, hysteria sharpening her voice.

  She struck harder, and sparks flew. They landed on her hand, danced bright white on her skin, seared her. And then winked out.

  The man was approaching. She opened her senses, heard his boots scrambling up grass and rocks, felt his presence twenty feet away. She continued to struggle with the flint, but she was almost out of time.

  Haley spared a quick glance. Ten feet away. Close to the top. Casually using his musket as a walking stick. The same musket that had killed MacColla.

  Rage filled her.

  He crested the hill. Six feet.

  She tossed the flint and match down. The soldier sprinted at her, and Haley's hands wrapped tight around the base of her gun. So long and heavy in her hands.

  He thought she'd be easy prey. He was wrong.

  Haley sprung to her feet, swinging the musket like a windmill before her. The sheer weight of it increasing its own momentum.

  It slammed into the man's arm. knocking his gun from his hand. It spiraled and slid downhill, out of reach.

  She held the musket like a bat in front of her, arms trembling from the awkward weight.

  “I was going to show you mercy,” he said, rubbing his forearm. Fury was in his eyes. “But I think I'll have you beg for it. ”

  She swung again, but the musket was too cumbersome and he stood too close. The man snatched the barrel and smiled.

  She struggled to pull it from his grasp, letting panic get the better of her. What am I doing? The man would win any contest against her. She knew that. She needed to remember what her father had taught her.

  A woman had two options. Fight dirty, or run.

  Haley let go and ran.

  She heard him throw the musket. Heard him race after her.

  She pumped her arms, felt one of her leather slippers fly off. Hiking her skirts up, she raced faster, but it was a struggle along the uneven ground.

  His panting breath came louder now. He was catching her.

  Fight dirty.

  Haley stopped short, used her momentum as she spun, bringing the heel of her hand up hard. She aimed for his nose, but the man ducked at the last moment, and she simply grazed his forehead.

  He wrenched her wrist with one hand and reached for his belt with the other. Knife. She spotted it hanging from his belt, tucked in an elaborate, brass-studded leather scabbard.

  She couldn't let him get to his knife.

  Counterintuitive, she heard her father say. The most basic principles of street fighting were counterintuitive.

  Get closer.

  Haley leapt for him, twining her legs around his. He still had a death grip on her wrist, so she used her free hand to strike at his eyes.

  You killed MacColla.

  He flinched away, but her nails found flesh, and she clawed down hard, feeling the meat of his lower eyelid and cheek warm and wet under her nails.

  “Good Christ,” the man screeched, and the shock in his voice girded her.

  He struggled, squinting his eyes shut tight, wriggling his free hand between them to get at his blade.

  “I'll kill you. Like you killed him. ” She hooked her thumb on the bone of his eye socket. Began to push in. “Kill you. ”

  “Christ, bitch,” he hissed, struggling to dislodge her hand.

  “Demon. Hellcat. ”

  Haley reeled. Hellcat. Memories of MacColla cascaded rapid-fire into her mind. Of that fight so long ago when he'd called her that same name.

  She faltered, and her opponent struck.

  Wrenching his arm between them, he elbowed her in the belly just as he got a grip on his dagger.

  She leapt off him, but he still held her wrist. Focus or die.

  Her hand was growing numb.

  Break his grip. She ducked, swinging her arm up and around, and his hand automatically released her.

  He was close, though. Too close for her to run.

  She looked at the blade in his hand. It was a preposterously elegant little thing, with a brass horse head for a pommel.

  Defang the snake, she heard her father say. Go for the knife arm. Make your opponent lose his blade.

  Haley quickly shook life into her hands, then attacked at once. A rapid scissor strike, smacking the inside of his wrist with her right and the back of his hand with her left.

  The knife flew from his grip.

  He was stunned, but it lasted just a moment. The man clearly hadn't expected a fight, and he was furious.

  Run. Haley turned and took off again, loping and sliding down the far side of the hill.

  She heard him behind her. He was closing.

  MacColla. She wanted MacColla. She wanted this all to be over.

  Maybe this was it. This man would kill her like he killed MacColla and it would all be over.

  She heard a shot crack overhead and flinched. Did he have a pistol? Haley dove into a low tangle of shrubbery.

  Was she shot? Her heart felt like it would burst from her chest. Was that what it felt like to be shot? Is this what MacColla had felt?

  A part of her welcomed it. MacColla. If she were shot dead, would she see him once more?

  But then her opponent shouted. Another shot was fired.

  Then silence.

  She heard a familiar voice, and was relieved and heartbroken both. Not MacColla. Haley crawled from the gorse and looked up to see Rollo.

  Calm, he sat his horse at the top of the ridge as if they were a statue carved of granite. It took her mind a moment to understand what was happening.

  “Come, Haley,” he said. “Fast now. They approach. ”

  Her mind kicked back into gear, and using both hands and feet, she scampered uphill, where Rollo swung her behind him on the saddle, seating her sideways as he galloped away.

  She turned to see her lover one last time. Her MacColla.

  Lying dead on the field below.

  * * *

  “I'm sorry there's not true shelter to be had. ” Rollo leaned forward to stoke the fire he'd built at the mouth of the cave.

  They'd ridden hard and long, reaching a rocky bit of Irish shore. His legs were trembling by the end of it, looking like the solid and knotted branches of some tree. Haley didn't know where on earth they were, and she was too numb to care.

  “But there's nobody I trust,” he added, pounding life into his muscles. “I'll bring us back to Scotland ”-

  “Where?” she interrupted, despondence giving an edge to her voice. “I've got nowhere to go. ”
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