Outlaw Highlander – Blanche Dabney

Lindsey glanced up at the clock on the wall. Twenty past six. The others had long gone. When the cafe shut they just took off their aprons and left. Why couldn’t she do the same? She was going to tell him. She’d had enough of being walked over. Like her mom kept reminding her, she needed to stand up for herself. If he wanted the place spotless before she went home, he could start paying her overtime. She wiped her brow, turning to find her boss had finally put in an appearance. Richard was known for two things, trying to touch up the staff and vanishing as soon as the rush started, only returning to count the money in the till at the end of the day. He hunched over the notes, the fluorescent lights shining off his bald patch, making him look like a human bowling ball. “Lindsey,” he said, adding the contents of the tips jar to his pile of cash. “I’m running late. You don’t mind locking up for me tonight, do you?” One more lot of tips into his pocket. That was the icing on the cake.

Come on, you can do it. Stand up to him. He needs you more than you need him. “Well, actually, I was going to see my mom and I need to renew my bus pass-” “Great. Knew you wouldn’t let me down. Safe key’s in the office. See you tomorrow.” “But-.” He was already gone, slapping her ass as he went, the door slamming shut before his mid-life-crisis-mobile roared into life outside. Great.

Well done. Superbly handled. You let him touch you again. And how about that for confronting him. I need a new bus pass? How about pay me for last week already? How about stop stealing our tips? Nope, you just let him walk all over you. Again. Her hands curled into fists as anger rose up inside her. She soon swallowed it back down. What good did it ever do to get cross about stuff like this? She’d only get fired and how likely was she to find another job? It had taken six months just to get pot washer for a perve added to her C.V.

No one wanted a historian without a degree. No one wanted Lindsey MacMillan. She glanced up at the clock again. An hour until the next bus. She might as well catch up on some reading rather than wait in the rain at the bus stop. Retrieving her bag from the hook on the back of the staff bathroom, she dug out the book her mom had lent her and took a seat by the window, cars outside passing by in an endless blur as she settled into her book. The rain grew heavier, slamming into the window hard enough to drown out the death rattles of the air con. She hardly noticed. She was too busy trying to work out what it was about the book her mom loved so much. Why was Rhona MacMillan so obsessed with Tavish Sinclair? From what she could tell he was just one more medieval Highlander among many.

She had already finished the first couple of chapters in The History of the Sinclairs. Nothing so far suggested he was anything more than a murderer. Raised in poverty, he had schmoozed through the world of the Sinclairs until he was on the verge of becoming laird, no mean feat in a time when primogeniture was everything. Then for some reason, he threw it all away, killing a princess without a hope of getting away with it before being exiled from the clan, somehow avoiding execution. At that point, he simply disappeared from the history books. She couldn’t see anything particularly exciting about his story apart from the section on the locket. After killing the princess he stole her locket and hid it in his childhood home. No doubt his plan was to retrieve it later to sell the ruby that she kept inside. She already knew all about the locket. That was why her mother had bought Sinclair House.

The seller could hardly believe their luck when mom had offered five thousand above the asking price for a crumbling ruin that had been on the market twenty years and was sinking into the ground underneath it. Lindsey thought her mother had gone mad when she told her about her purchase. “That was the last of your savings!” “But the first step to finding the ruby,” Rhona replied. That was when she found out about mom’s plan. She was convinced she could find the locket where everyone else had failed. Then she could pay off the mortgage that was crippling her and save a historic house from demolition. The house purchase had been a year ago and although the renovations were progressing, there was still no sign of the priceless locket. Money was running out. In the last couple of months, work had ground to a halt. The work had cost much more than they could afford, even with Lindsey’s help.

Rhona’s money had long gone but she still clung onto the hope of finding the locket. “It’ll be worth a fortune,” she kept saying. “Once I find it we can do up the whole place so it’s exactly how it was in his time. Won’t that be a fitting tribute to an innocent man?” Lindsey didn’t have the heart to mention the flaw in her mom’s plan. If Tavish Sinclair was innocent of murder, as she believed, then why would he have stolen and hidden the locket? There was a drawing of the locket filling half the page in the book in front of her. It was a sketch originally done on parchment and long faded but it gave her a good idea of how it had looked. Small, easy to hide, hard to find, the kind of thing that could easily remain hidden forever. What would life have been like if her mom had never found out about Tavish Sinclair? Would they still be living in the tiny flat in London? Or was fate always going to bring them up to Scotland where the only work she could find was in a high street cafe that worked her too hard and paid her too little while she tried to avoid her boss’s wandering hands. It wasn’t like she could afford to pick and choose from dozens of job offers. Dropping out of university when her mom got ill meant her qualifications weren’t many.

She might be able to identify a piece of pottery from five hundred years ago but that was about as useful as her wood carving skills. There wasn’t exactly a lot of call for a whittler in Stirling city center. With the book back in her bag, she locked up and ran for the bus stop, making it just in time. She dug the book back out once she was safely onboard, returning to the chapter about Tavish’s trial. The writer had skill, describing it in such detail that she felt as if she were right there, watching it all unfold before her eyes. The murdered princess was heir to the throne. King Alexander III had died in 1286, leaving his thirteen-year-old granddaughter to rule Scotland. She traveled from Norway to Scotland to marry but made the mistake of stopping at Sinclair Castle on the way. Tavish saw a chance to take the throne of the entire country and tossed her out of a castle window to fall to her death. She could picture the trial, defiance in the accused’s eyes as he raged at them all for catching him.

The people watching in angry silence as he denied having anything to do with the crime. Fingal Sinclair attempted to defend his son but there was no way of ignoring the evidence. The locket was missing, the princess had been seen going up to Tavish’s room before falling to her death. It wasn’t hard to work out who’d killed her. Tavish was found guilty of course, told he was lucky the laird was merciful, he was to be banished rather than executed. The laird knew what he was doing though, banishment was a punishment worse than death in a time when it was believed outlaws could never enter heaven. The bus reached her stop. Cramming the book back in her bag, she headed outside into the driving rain. It was only when the bus vanished around the corner that she remembered she’d left her jacket inside. She waved at the bus to stop but it was already long gone.

“Fantastic,” she said out loud, hunching her shoulders as the torrential downpour began to soak through her uniform. By the time she made it to Sinclair House, she was freezing cold and soaking wet. Her teeth chattered as she pushed open the front door and walked down the passage to the only inhabitable room in the entire place. Her mom sat in front of the makeshift desk, a flickering candle next to her as she hunched over the old plans of the building. “Hi, Mom,” Lindsey said, standing on the hearth, letting her clothes drip onto the enormous slab under her feet. “Electric shorted out again?” “There’s a towel behind you somewhere,” Rhona said looking at her half-drowned daughter. Lindsey dug through the boxes to find it. “How’s it going?” she asked as she rubbed her hair dry, dust falling from the rough towel into her eyes. “The bank’s been on the phone again. They’re running out of patience.

” Rhona sighed, rubbing her eyes, suddenly looking every single one of her fifty years. “I don’t know, Lindsey. Maybe I shouldn’t have bought this place.” “Don’t say that. You’ve made a lot of progress.” “One room we can live in, no electricity and no money to do anything about it? Yeah, I’m quite the shrewd property developer.” “You’ve done a lot. All the ivy’s gone. There’s a staircase that’s not seen the light of day for hundreds of years and now we can use it to get started on the bedrooms thanks to you. That’s not nothing.

” “Sadly, the bank doesn’t take ivy removal in lieu of hard currency.” “Let’s eat something. You’ll feel better for it.” “Good idea. Lend me twenty quid and I’ll go pick up a pizza.” “Toast is fine.” “You didn’t get paid?” She winced, feeling her mom’s eyes boring into her, knowing what that look meant. “He’s going to pay me tomorrow.” “How long’s he been saying that? You’ve not been paid right since you started that job. He’s taking you for a ride.

” “I know but he promised he’d pay me tomorrow.” “Hang on, I thought you were going with me to see the scaffolders tomorrow.” “I was but they’re short staffed. I couldn’t say no.” Rhona looked like she was about to say something but then she shook it away. “Never mind. I’ll make us some tea.” Lindsey changed into dry clothes while her mom got the camping stove going. By the time she was done, a mug of steaming tea was ready for her. “What is it?” Lindsey asked, seeing the way her mom was looking at her as they sat together on the fold-out chairs.

“What have I done?” “You need to stand up for yourself, Lindsey. You can’t let people walk all over you your entire life.” “I know,” she replied, her toes curling. “I just don’t like confrontation.” “What are you going to do when you finally get a man? Let him make all the decisions because you don’t want to make a fuss?” “If men are like Richard, I’m all right without them, thanks.” “What, bald and middle age spread doesn’t get you going?” “You forgot about the dandruff.” “How does a bald man even get dandruff?” “I’ve no idea but he manages it somehow.” Rhona laughed. “You’ll meet a nice man soon enough. God knows, you can’t spend your entire life without one.

I’d had about ten by the time I was your age. You need to get out there. Go wild. Sleep with a few strangers.” Lindsey wracked her brains for a way to change the subject. The last thing she needed was to think about her mom’s exploits with the opposite sex. “Any luck finding the locket?” Rhona laughed. “All right, I get it. You don’t want to hear about your mother’s conquests. But you forget it was those youthful experiments that led to me having the most perfect thing in my life.

” “That vacation in Belize?” “No, you, you little grumblekin.” “I’m not perfect.” “Yes, you are.” “I’ve got a rubbish job with no future. I’ve got no money and no prospects. All I want is to have enough to help you and I can’t. I can’t even get us somewhere nice to stay while you fix this place. I can’t do anything and hooking up with some stranger won’t change that.” “Listen,” Rhona said, reaching over to the desk to pick up an envelope. “Take this.

” “What is it?”

.

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