Cat opened her eyes. Apart from the countless bruises and her torn jacket, she had to admit to herself that she had been damn lucky. Her head alone throbbed and pounded as if it had been worked on with a jackhammer. Carefully, she tried to sit up, but even this small movement made her dizzy.
Damn! She must have gotten a concussion. That was what was missing now! If she really had a concussion, that meant she would have to stay in bed for several days. She certainly wouldn’t be able to finish the damn work this way, and that meant she could forget about her Masters.
“You fucking son of a bitch, I never would have met you!” she snapped.
“What a day!” she heard the deep voice of a man who seemed to come straight from the waterfall.
“First Fiona and now another poison and bile spewing woman! At this time of year, females have far too much leisure! They’d better get down to the really important things, like having children. That would definitely take away their enthusiasm for such posturing and talk.”
“Is someone there?“
Cat tried to turn her head in the direction the voice had come from, demonstratively ignoring the dizziness for the moment.
“Did Gwenny send you?”
In the billowing mists, she could make out the outline of a man. A man in full Highland costume! Plaid, shirt, bonnet and everything else that went with it. He looked like he was about to go to a masquerade costume party, and maybe he was, because after all, she herself had originally wanted to go to a party. The stranger squatted on one of the rocks, staring at the waterfall and muttering unintelligible things to himself.
“Hey, you! Did Gwenny send you?” she repeated her question.
But the person addressed did not respond.
“Hello! I mean you! You there by the waterfall in the green-blue-red plaid.”
At the mention of the colors of his tartan, the man raised his head and looked in her direction.
Was that astonishment showing on his face? Or was she simply too befuddled from the fall to properly interpret his expression?
The young man now rose and moved hesitantly in her direction. The closer he came, the more clearly she could recognize him.
He was tall! Really tall! About six feet, if she were to guess. In addition extremely muscular, but not fat! Probably an amazingly developed six-pack was hidden under his wide shirt! A real nature boy evenly!
Her gaze wandered further upwards. Pitch-black hair, which was tied in a braid at the nape of the neck, framed an even face. But the most fascinating thing about him were his dark blue eyes, which sparkled like little blue stars even in the white soup of the fog.
“Wow!” she gasped, “I need to go to the country more often, at least there the men still look like real guys!”
“Are you talking to me?”
The young man had finally reached her and regarded her appraisingly.
“Who else should I be talking to? Do you see anyone else?“
The stranger looked around, shook his head and then muttered, “That can’t be” under his breath.
“What can’t be?“
The young man ignored her question and just stared at her in complete bewilderment.
“I must say, you are acting extremely strange!” she then remarked. “I don’t understand why you won’t help me and just stare at me like I’m a dog with two heads!”
His gaze became a shade more piercing, which slowly drove Cat to white heat. The more he stared, the angrier she became. Even her headache was temporarily forgotten.
“Why did you even bother coming here if you have no intention of helping me? You might as well have gone to your damn party!” she pressed out with a snort as she slowly straightened up. “I’m used to a lot from men, but this takes the cake! I’ve never experienced anything like this!”
“Are you done with your litany now?”
An amused twinkle entered the stranger’s eyes. “A fury is nothing against you!”
“Furie? You’re comparing me to a fury? Wouldn’t you be pissed if you fell and the one person who could help you just stood there gawking at you like a monstrosity from a chamber of horrors? And how do you talk anyway? Are you one of those role-players who, once they get their costume on, are completely absorbed in their role?”
The young man raised one of his eyebrows questioningly.
“Roleplay? Costume? And, what the hell does “a monstrosity from a chamber of horrors” mean?”
“Enough of this shit! I think it’s good that you’re totally into your role, your costume really is the bomb, but in my situation you’re not exactly up for games!”
“Games? Your situation?“
Was he mentally retarded? After all, it was obvious what was going on with her.
“I slid down the slope and hit my head on one of the rocks.”
“Oh, that’s why! I thought you’d simply enjoy insulting unsuspecting strangers!“
His amused tone of voice broke the camel’s back.
“What is it now? Are you going to help me or not? Apparently Gwenny didn’t send you, after all! So while you’re here, you might as well at least make yourself useful!”
Again he glared at her.
“For crying out loud! Give me your hand so I can finally get up!” The stranger remained standing stiffly in front of her, making not the slightest effort to comply with her request. “What a stubborn goat! I think I’ll think twice about ‘going to the country more often’!”
“No, I did not come to help you!”
Son of a bitch!, the thought followed his statement without her input. Were there really only selfish jerks left on this earth?
“I could have guessed that! What’s the matter, are you afraid I might soil your expensive costume?”
“It’s not that!” she heard him say softly in response. “I can’t!”
“What do you mean, you can’t! Are you kidding me? You’re standing here in front of me, so you might as well help me! What’s the problem there?”
“Cat? Cat? Can you hear me?” Gwenny’s voice echoed down to her before her head appeared above the slope.
“Are you all right? Or did you break something? Don’t move! I’ve brought help with me! They’re coming down to you now!”
“Except for my head, everything seems OK. If this guy here wasn’t so unpleasant, I’d be back upstairs by now!” she yelled to Gwenny.
“What guy?” the girl yelled back.
“I’m not being unpleasant! I’m just unable to help you, so to speak!”
“Who asked you?”, Cat snapped at him in response. “After all, you couldn’t get your mouth open earlier. You can get out of here! I don’t need your help anymore!”
“Who are you talking to”, Gwendoline looked down at her in irritation.
“With the guy here!
“The one standing right next to me, staring at me like I have two heads!
“Cat, there’s nobody there!”
“Gwenny, are you kidding me? You can’t miss that guy”
“Caitriona Campbell, apparently you did bang your pretty skull a little more than you’re trying to fool me into believing. You’re hallucinating, my dear!”
“Damn it, Gwenny, I’m not hallucinating! You must bee seen him too! He …!”
“You are a Campbell? That explains a lot! Actually I should have noticed it much earlier,” the stranger rudely interrupted her in response.
“What do you mean?“
“You have unmistakable traits of your clan! Your men are smug cretins and your women …”
“That’s the last straw! Do I have to be insulted by you as well? You …! You …!”
“If I were you, I wouldn’t say what you think! You might be sorry!”
“Are you threatening me? What do you think you’re doing? You …?”
“Not at all! It’s just … All the Campbell women I’ve known have been man-hating furies!”
“I’m not a man-hating …”
“You’re not?” he interrupted her again. “May I remind you of your saying? I believe you mentioned a fucking son of a bitch.” Cat’s words died on her lips.
“You heard it?” she finally brought out in anguish. “That was …”
“I don’t think your son of a bitch can be any worse than the sons of bitches in your clan, to whom I owe my situation.”
“Cat, stop arguing with your imaginary stranger. It’s getting embarrassing!”
“Cat, will you stop arguing with your imaginary stranger? It’s getting embarrassing!”
“Gwenny, I would, but this guy is driving me up the wall. He insults me non-stop! Would you keep quiet about it? I …”
“I’m not insulting you, I’m just showing you things from my point of view!” Now it was the young man who glared angrily at her. “Who was to blame for the massacre? If this cursed massacre had never taken place, I would not be standing before you now. Morgane would not have had me in her clutches, and I could have spent my existence peacefully by the side of my clan. But thanks to your treachery, nothing of the sort has happened. No, quite the opposite! Morgane’s game has gone so far that you of all people can see me! After all these years, another Campbell. Vile Campbells! Deceitful bitch! To hell with you!” With those words, he vanished into thin air before her eyes.
Cat stared at the now empty space. How was such a thing possible? He had to have disappeared into the increasingly dense fog. There was no other explanation