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A few weeks had passed since the beach incident and Claire was sad to see that Jamie seemed to withdraw into himself in fear.  He no longer looked her or Mrs. Fitz in the eye and ate very little.  Claire was alarmed when she made him stand on her bathroom scale and saw he’d lost ten pounds.  His beautiful face was drawn and dark circles were ever-present under his dull eyes.  He only really smiled laughed or perked up when he was with the horses or with his littlest friend, JJ.  It was like a pall descended on the house.  One of the only bright spots came when the Abernathys and Claire came home from a dinner only to see JJ sprawled out on Jamie’s broad chest, drooling all over the redhead’s shirt. Jamie’s huge hand was tucked firmly around the little boy and both slept peacefully as only good friends do.  In desperation, she called Marsali for some sessions for Jamie and decided to make good on her idea to buy two puppies for him to train as guard dogs.  She enlisted John’s and Hector’s help – they knew of a dog rescue and suggested Claire and Jamie look there. 

On a Tuesday afternoon, Jamie met with Marsali in her hospital office.  He refused to sit on a chair or couch when offered, preferring to kneel at her feet instead.  Marsali was very gentle with him, encouraging Jamie to speak to her as if he were a free man once again.  For the first hour, he seemed too cowed to speak. Little by little, she coaxed him to relax and set free whatever was troubling him.  After about five sessions, it became evident to her that Jamie blamed himself for the beach situation. Normally, she would keep anything someone said confidential, but as Jamie’s appointments were arranged by his owner, she wasn’t bound by the same confidentiality requirements.

Claire came to see Marsali after a long operation and sank into an overstuffed chair. Marsali started the meeting right away and carefully explained how Jamie blamed his behavior for “ruining” the beach outing.  Claire’s heart broke and Marsali handed her the entire box of tissues.  Claire resolved to go home and hoped that Jamie would believe her when she said that not only was the beach incident his fault, but nobody blamed him for what happened, either. She did just that as she was eating dinner that night. Clearing her throat nervously, she shifted in her seat so she was facing the boy and fought to keep her tone and energy calm. “Jamie, I want to make sure of something.”

“Yes, Mistress?” He said softly.

“Face me, please.” She waited while he shifted. “Look in my eyes, please.” He did so and was lost in their kind depths. “What happened at the beach with that man did NOT ruin our beach day. I wanted to make sure that that man couldn’t bother you anymore.  Also, JJ needed to go down very soon after that incident. So, nobody blames you at all.  Do you understand?” Claire prayed he’d get it. 

Jamie looked at her doubtfully, but he dutifully said, “Yes, Mistress.”

“No, Jamie, don’t tell me what you think I want to hear!” Claire’s frustration finally gained the upper hand. “You did nothing to deserve that awful treatment!  We were all horrified at what that man did because he had no right to do that to another human being.  And I know it’s hard for you to accept that you are still a human being worthy of respect, but you are and I’m going to work with you every day until you believe it!”

Jamie’s eyes misted with tears, “Thank you, Mistress, and kissed her hand.

A few days after the discussion, Claire called Jamie to her.  “Jamie, go to your room and put on clothes you won’t mind getting dirty and get on your boots as well.  We’ re going on an outing.”

“An outing, Mistress?”  “

Yes.  There are times when you and I may be separated and I’m going to need extra security. When you’re done, get in the car and I’ll join you in just a second.”

Mystified, Jamie did as ordered, slipping some work jeans over his muscled legs and a faded T-shirt hid his perfect six pack. He nervously fingered his collar the whole time. He wondered when that became a habit, but it always soothed him.  Claire had picked out a beautiful collar for him that was crafted of the finest, softest leather money could buy.  He remembered when he saw “Barbour” stamped into the inside of the collar; she could have chosen any brand, but she chose a Scottish one just for him.  His name and her particulars were embedded in the chip hidden in the leather and his name and her cell were also tooled into the buttery surface in case Jamie was incapacitated and there wasn’t a chip reader available.

As his mistress got into the driver’s seat, a gleeful smile seemed to deepen her beautiful dimples even more.  The trip took about a half hour.  They finally turned onto a muddy unmarked road and bumped along for a couple of minutes until a large house and barn appeared in the distance.  Claire pulled up next to a late-model Jaguar and cut the engine.  She and Jamie got out and were greeted by John, Hector and Mary. Mary squealed when she saw Jamie and jumped, grinning, into his strong arms.  He caught her and let out an exaggerated “oof,” but Mary just laughed, threw her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek. He laughed and blew a raspberry on her neck, to which she squealed, as he twirled her in his arms, “Och, mo luchag bheag! ‘Tis good ta see ye again!”

“Oh J-J-Jamie, you’re looking so healthy!” she exclaimed excitedly as he carefully eased her to the ground.

“And you, Mary, ye’re lookin’ like ye’ve been eatin’ yer own cookin’, a leannan, I’m glad!”

Claire, John and Hector couldn’t help but smile as Mary eased her arm around the waist of the giant next to her.  They looked like a sequoia and a sapling – the height difference and build between the two friends couldn’t have been more different or comical.

“Everybody ready?” John asked?

Everyone chorused “Yes!” and John and Hector led the way into the brightly lit barn. 

Jamie immediately felt at home, because the barn was filled with dogs of all sizes and descriptions.  John led the way to the large breed section.  He walked up to a service counter and greeted the man at the counter, “Hello, my name is John Grey and I have a 2:30 appointment with Mr. Fergus Mochrie.”

“Certainly, Sir, one moment while I text him and let him know you’ve arrived.”

Jamie and Mary looked around at all the dogs, wondering what they were doing there.  Soon enough, a young man with gray blue eyes and dark curly hair approached with a relaxed smile on his face, “Mr. Gray?"

John extended his hand cordially, “Mr. Mochrie, thank you for meeting me and my friends.”

“You said you and your partner are looking to adopt a dog?”

“Yes, that’s right.  My friend here, Claire, is looking to adopt two dogs she can give to her manservant to train as guard dogs to protect her in her home if her man, Mr. Fraser, is not with her.”

Jamie gasped, hand to his mouth, unable to believe what he’d just heard.  Claire turned toward him and smiled. He swallowed, “Mistress, permission to speak please?”

“Yes, Jamie, go ahead.”

“Ye really mean it? Truly? I kin train yer dogs fer ye?” He had a fire in his eyes that she hadn’t seen before; she realized it was purpose.  Jamie’s spirit had been reawakened with a purpose.

“Yes, of course I mean it. Come on, it’s time for you to advise me on which two puppies we should bring home.  She smiled at John and Hector, “Is your friend ready to show us the way?”

“Aye, madam, I am,” smiled Fegus.

“Jamie?” Claire called, “Come on, man, walk with Fergus.” She smiled inwardly; the boy still looked like he was on cloud nine.

“Mistress? Did I hear ye properly? I should walk wi’ Fergus? No’ two steps behind?” His mouth dropped open and he abruptly shut it again.

Claire strode up to Jamie and whispered, “You’re the authority in this situation, Fraser. I’m following your lead.”

His voice came out in a soft, comforting whisper, “Ye needn’t worry, Mistress, I’ll do ye proud!” A

After about an hour, the group chanced upon a couple of females with large litters.

“Ah, yes, these two were brought in together, both pregnant. We think they might be sisters – a hoarding situation.”  Both dogs were powerfully built and looked like part Bull Mastiff at least.  Jamie approached one of the mothers with caution and extended his hand carefully, speaking to the bitch in soft Gallic.  She sniffed his hand and her great tail thumped on the soft bedding.  He slowly brought his hands to the first pup and lifted him gently.  He looked at the pup’s eyes, ears and paws before praising its mama and letting him snuggle with his littermates again. He passed his hands over each pup, selectively choosing another two to pick up and examine.  He went over to the other bitch and worked his magic with her as well. Just as her sister had, she allowed Jamie to stroke her babies and examine them. 

Jamie straightened up and said, “Mistress, I like two from the first litter.”

“Alright, Jamie, pick them up and then we’ll help John and Hector pick their dog.”

Jamie smiled broadly and Claire thought the sun had come out from behind clouds. He looked happy and excited, like a kid at Christmas and Claire had to hold back a small sob.  He gingerly picked up a fawn male and a red male.  The troop walked down the aisle again and Fergus led them to the small dog section.  He found them a four-year-old blond Border Terrier who desperately needed a home. Montgomery (Monty for short) was chipped, vaccinated, had his shots and was neutered.  Jamie took the puppies up to the adoption counter.  Fergus went behind the desk and grabbed two manila folders, labeling it “Beauchamp fawn male mastiff DOB 10.08.15 in shelter.”  He labeled the other one for the red male.  He placed soft collars around both their necks with “Beauchamp” written on paper discs edged with cheap metal.

“So, we still have to give them their shots, neuter them, chip them, give them a bath and the whole nine yards, aye?” The young man checked the surgery schedule.  “It looks like I can put them in for Tuesday.  That means you can pick them up next Saturday. Since they’ll be newly altered, they’ll have to be kept quiet for at least a week.”

Claire stepped up to the counter and paid the adoption fees and she and Jamie waited while John and Hector did the same.  Everyone separated and Jamie and Claire headed off to the pet supply store.  They each took a buggy (cart/trolley) and loaded them up with beds, blankets, treats, toys, puppy pads, shampoo, leashes and collars.  They got very high-quality puppy kibble. Jamie respectfully requested stainless steel bowls for food and water, explaining that they could be sterilized, unlike plastic bowls.   Jamie escorted Claire to the driver’s side door and shut it firmly behind her.  He dutifully loaded up the back of the car and joined her in the cab when he was finished.