Today's Reading

In some ways it reminded him of a bairn's nursery, with bits of wonder tucked into the corners here and there. The folk around him, though, looked serious-faced and earnest, with the exception of the lass standing beneath a row of hanging sandbags, her attention on the lad playing the role of Orlando onstage. Hmm. In the play Orlando didn't win Celia, but he seemed to be doing well enough from this vantage point.

Coll studied her for a moment. She was pretty enough, with black hair and a slender waist, but he couldn't see why it should cost a man two pounds to be closer to her than he could get from his seat in Francesca's box.

"Excuse m—ah, another one," muttered a short, thin man with a roll of blue material under his arm and a row of pins stuck along his lapel. "If you're here for Mrs. Jones, stay out of the way. You can wait over there."

He indicated a small square of space that had a good view of the stage, with only the open curtains blocking him from the view of the audience. That would do, and from there he would likely be able to overhear whatever curses his mother might be flinging at him. "Is that Mrs. Jones?" he whispered, indicating the black-haired lass.

"That? No, that's Mary Benson." The fellow glanced over his shoulder toward the door. "You didn't pay good money to see her, I hope. She's nearly too occupied with ogling Baywich over there to remember her own lines."

"My thanks," Coll returned, but the man had already scurried away.

A trio of men dressed as nobles trotted past him as they exited the stage. "Stand aside, giant," the one called Baywich commanded, his voice lilting and imperious.

Coll ignored it, and they went around him. Half a hundred Sassenachs had referred to him as a giant over the past eight weeks. Aye, he towered over most people and he had done so since somewhere just short of his sixteenth birthday. So the wee Englishmen could have their opinions; he didn't give a damn.

Instead, he tried to reposition himself to see the two lasses arguing onstage, only to be jostled aside again by a quartet of men dragging a forest of potted trees forward, just out of sight of the audience. The foliage looked a bit tame to be the forest of Arden, but they might suffice if the light was dim enough.

A round of applause welled up beyond the curtains, and a heartbeat or two later, a lass pushed through the trees and nearly crashed into him. "Romeo, you seem to be in the wrong play," she quipped with a quick grin that lit her blue eyes before she hurried into an alcove, two women and an armload of costumes hot on her heels.

For a good second or two, he felt like he'd been caught in a gust of wind, bandied about and left unsteady on his feet. Coll took a breath. It was no doubt the way he'd been stuffed into a small corner with crazed Sassenachs tramping around him. He and small spaces had been enemies for as far back as he could remember. That had to be it, because no wee woman could topple him, and not with one damned sentence, clever though it might have been.

He turned to get another look at her, but she'd disappeared into the tangle of scenery and props. Romeo. Ha. He had much more in common with Henry the Fifth than the empty-headed boy who'd killed himself over a woman. Henry, at least, knew how to fight a battle.

Still, she seemed to have meant it as a compliment.

Still searching, he finally caught another glimpse of her over a half screen, as one of the other lasses pulled the gown off her while the second one fluffed out a white men's shirt for her to pull on. All he could see was her head, topped by an intricate knot of straight brown hair and a bit of neck and the top of her shoulders, but he was fairly certain she was more or less naked behind that woven cane screen.

"Look away, Romeo," she said with a chuckle as their eyes met again. "I'm Rosalind, not Juliet."

"Aye? Well, I'm nae Romeo," he retorted, and kept staring.

A half dozen people immediately shushed him, and he snapped his jaw closed again. The same quartet of men then walked past him onto the stage to squawk out their lines for the next scene. As You Like It had never been one of his favorite plays, probably because he could never believe that any man—much less one who claimed to be in love with a lass—wouldn't know when he was talking with her just because she'd dressed as a man.

The woman in front of him could never pass for a man, anyway, not with her delicate features and slender neck. Not even with her brown hair pinned up and a jaunty hat pulled down over it. She tilted her head, half bending over as one of the other women produced a pair of men's boots. "Scottish," she said in a quiet voice, still grinning. "Highlander. From somewhere near Ullapool. That would make you Macbeth then, I suppose."

Glendarril Park was but two hours' ride from Ullapool.

Coll frowned. "Macbeth hailed from Inverness."

She stepped from behind the screen to pull a coat over her slender shoulders. "Near enough for Shakespeare," she retorted, and sauntered past him.
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