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Lost in the Wind

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Warm, wet kisses trailed down my neck, waking me from much needed sleep. I turned away, in no mood to appease the whim of any man when I’d been disturbed at least six times overnight. 

The kisses didn’t stop. In fact, they became far more aggressive. A long tongue licked my ear, mouth breathing heavily and whining for attention. I began to worry that he might lose hold altogether right on top of me.

I sat up and opened my eyes to find the sweetest, happiest face staring up at me, arse wagging so enthusiastically that his whole body swayed with the pure joy in seeing my eyes. 

“Good morning.” I gave him a scratch behind his long, floppy ears. He was undone, melting with sheer pleasure in my lap. If only all men were so easy to manage. “Do you require the necessary?”

He jumped up and licked my nose, having no clue what I said, but loving the sound of my voice. 

I stood, and the happy little one jumped down from the bed, faceplanting on the stone floor. He popped right up and shook off his fall, completely unaffected, racing me to the door. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes as I stepped painfullybloody hell, I’d forgotten about my sprain—forward. 

My foot landed in a cold puddle of piss right in the middle of my kitchen.

“Fuck me.”

The little red beast was scratching at the door, desperate to get out to unleash his abnormally large bladder on the rest of the world. I threw a rag on the puddle and took him quickly outside to avoid more misfortune. 

He bolted out the door and into the meadow, ears bouncing with every step, careless of the cool breeze and the morning dew lingering everywhere. His little bottom was not quite in sync with his front half and tried to run off in a different direction than his head. I couldn’t help but chuckle at my great protector as he attempted to urinate on every blade in the meadow.

He was distracted from his task only by the excitement of birds flying overhead. He jumped and barked—whether trying to reach them or chase them away, neither of us had a clue.

“You’re too far!” I called, worried about a large bird of prey swooping him up. “Come back, now!”

He looked at me, panting and smiling, and went on with his morning.

“Come…” my voice trailed off, only just realizing I’d yet to give him a name.

I hadn’t a clue what to call him. If I gave him a silly name, he’d only grow to be all the more ridiculous. He needed a name of substance. One of sense and distinguishment, then maybe he’d allow a lady to have lie in when she was tired or learn to hold his bladder overnight.

I knew of only one name with enough substance to turn a foolish man into a gentleman. I stepped forward and called it out across the meadow.

The dog stopped his ornithological pursuit and snapped his head around, ears propped up and face tilted in curiosity. 

“Come!” I called again, with a nurse’s authority. 

He barked sweetly and rushed over, possibly in excitement at having been bestowed such a fine name, but more likely at the joy seeing his person. 

I thought James Fraser could learn a lesson or two about amiability from my new lad.

 


 

“Keep up, little one,” I called.

It was several days later that the dog followed me as I limped down the lane to see the first of several patients. I was doing house calls all day, none of which I really was looking forward to, and I couldn’t leave the puppy on his own, especially with storm clouds brewing overhead. 

The first patient of the day was a woman close to seven months pregnant and in need of her regular checkup. I’d asked her to come to the surgery, but she insisted she didn’t feel well enough to leave her bed. She wasn’t prescribed bed rest, but I rather thought she enjoyed people waiting on her hand and foot.

I had delayed the appointment for over an hour, hoping to avoid the woman’s husband. I knew he often woke early to go to work, and I’d rather not have to see him if at all possible. She was a handful enough all on her own without his ominous presence.

“Bennet!” I called, as my little puppy scampered toward the door of Laoghaire Fraser’s house, yapping madly to get in. “Come here, you naughty little thing! You cannot insist on inviting yourself into other people’s houses!”

He didn’t listen.

The door opened to reveal a surprised Mrs. Fitz who was visiting her bed-bound granddaughter, ready to chastise whoever was responsible for the commotion. Before she got a chance, Bennet darted beneath her skirts to make his way inside.

“Is that yer wee ratton?”

“Unfortunately, yes,” I said, limping to catch up. “I’m terribly sorry for his lack of manners.”

Mrs. Fitz stepped aside as I pushed passed to retrieve my little burden. I followed the sound of his barking into Laoghaire’s bedroom, where she could be heard complaining about the intrusion.

“Put a muzzle on that thing, Jamie! How I’m expected to rest wi’ all that racket?”

“I’m so sorry. He’s just a little excit—” I stopped at the entrance of the bedroom door, and my mouth fell open. Laoghaire lay in the center of the bed, round and flustered, blonde hair messily pinned back and still wearing her night-rail. She was staring angrily up at her husband who stood next to the bed dressed only in his kilt and boots, holding a very happy Bennet in his large hands.

Jamie ignored his wife. He was too busy talking to the dog in a quiet, rumbling Gaelic, informing him of how handsome and mighty he was, and possibly the most ferocious beast he’d ever seen. 

I intentionally ignored the fact that his muscled chest was on display for all the room to see. I was a military nurse for Christ’s sake; it wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before.

“Apologies,” I said, fearful of unwittingly angering him again—as I had a propensity to do. “Bennet is still learning how to mind.”

“Bennet?” Jamie looked at me with disgust. “Ye named the dog Bennet?

“Yes, I did.”

“What kind of name is that?”

“One meant to inspire good sense and manners.”

His eyes told me he thought I was out of my mind. I became unnecessarily annoyed by his disapproval and raised my own bloody hackles. “What would you have named him?”

“Something manly. Like Fergus.”

“Fergus?”

“Aye. The first King of Scotland. He came from Ireland to defend the Scots from the Picts and Britons.” He held up Bennet to inspect him further. “This lad is an Irish setter, is he no’?”

“Well, he belongs to an Englishwoman now.”

“Ye may always be a sassenach,” spat Laoghaire, “but ye’re meant to be a Scot now, Mistress MacKenzie.”

Hmphm,” grunted Jamie, keeping his focus on the dog. “If ye dinna like Fergus, then consider something of the land he’s meant to protect. Like Rowan, Ash, or Oakley.”

“His name is Bennet, thank you very much.”

“What does it matter what she names her mongrel?” Laoghaire sneered. “It’s naught to do wi’ us.”

Jamie ignored her, grabbing Bennet’s snout and pretending to nibble on his jowls. Bennet licked Jamie’s face with utter joy—the traitor—no doubt falling in love with the large, muscled brute.

Jamie dropped the dog on the floor and snagged his shirt off the bed. I averted my eyes toward my patient to begin my examination. Just as I was getting out the ribbon I used for a measuring tape, Laoghaire turned to Jamie and her voice softened. “Will ye be staying today, then?”

He glared at her with contempt—an expression of his I was all too familiar with—then looked away. He turned his back on us, silently gathering the rest of his clothes and revealing the hundreds of scars that covered his back. I sucked in a breath at the ghastly sight, wondering what kind of sick man Black Jack Randall must have been to stomach doing something like that to another person. 

My sympathy for him was at war with my dislike of his character and his general neglect of his wife and unborn child. He gathered his weapons and stormed out of the room with no further word to either of us. Poor Bennet trailed behind his favorite Scot with his short legs and was met with a door slammed in his face.

Tears began streaming down Laoghaire’s cheeks, and as much as I disliked the girl, it must have been awful to feel so alone when with child. No wonder she was lying in bed all day; it was likely melancholy from having to spend her life with a complete arsehole.

“Is he not looking forward to the birth?”

“It’s no’ that. He’s only tired. He was up all night wi’ guard duty.”

I gave her a look that conveyed my doubts that sleepiness had anything to do with it. 

She shook her head, tears still falling. “Dinna judge him too harshly. Ye’ll ken he’s an outlaw? I’m sure Dougal told ye.”

I nodded.

“He’s worrit he canna care for us both, is all. It makes him crabbit. If he could only get a pardon, we’d move to Broch Tuarach and take our place as Laird and Lady.”

“That’s right. Dougal said Jamie owns a good bit of land out near the Frasers of Lovat.”

“Aye. It would be much easier to deal wi’ a wean if we had his servants to help us. As it is, we’ve got just enough to keep food in our bellies and a roof o’er our heids.”

My sympathy for Laoghaire was growing, particularly as I knew the only reason Jamie agreed to marry her was because he was caught in a compromising position with her in one of the castle alcoves. Something told me James Fraser resented having a wife…and a child.

“Well,” I said, trying to sound encouraging, “it looks like you’re growing nicely. Let’s see how baby is doing, shall we?”

“Aye. Thank ye, Mistress.”

I reached down to grab my box of supplies, and my eyes landed on little Bennet. He had somehow managed to get himself into Laoghaire’s knitting basket. A half-knitted sock hung out of his mouth, and he was squatting in the yarn.

“No!”

But I was too late. The tinkle of urine sounded in the otherwise quiet room, and the smell of warm piss filled the air.

I snatched him up as Laoghaire’s face turned a bright shade of red, and hobbled outside to have my guard watch over him. Bennet licked my cheek, excited to see what the next adventure awaiting him held.

“All the red headed men in Scotland are out to drive me fucking mad.”

I dropped the dog off with Willie and went back inside to face the wrath of Mrs. Fraser.

 


 

“I hear yer husband will be home soon,” said Geillis Duncan, interrupting my examination of her husband. It was my last house call of the day, thank goodness. My ankle was terribly swollen and my body weary with fatigue.

“Is that so?”

“Aye. I heard it from Lady MacKenzie just this morning. Did Dougal no’ tell ye?”

“No. He did not. Does it hurt when I push here?” I asked Arthur.

“No. Not there.”

“How about here?”

“Ahhh! Oh, dear God!” He jumped up from the table and ran out to the other room where a chamber pot was conveniently located. 

If my ankle was any better, I might have followed him to check if he was all right. His wife, on the other hand, didn’t seem remotely concerned.

“His letter must have gotten lost in the castle,” she said.

“Arthur’s?”

“No, silly. Dougal’s. The one informing ye he’d be home in a few days’ time.”

“Perhaps.” I doubted he thought to send me notice.

“So, what was it he was doing, gone for so long?” she pried.

“I’m surprised you even noticed he was gone, being that you’re so busy here in Cranesmuir with your own husband.”

“Oh, aye. But Dougal is a man of so great importance that all notice his absence.”

She was right about that. My life was far more peaceful without him.

Geillis pressed on. “Was he away on business for Colum? Or was it a more personal errand?”

“I’m sure I don’t know. He wouldn’t entrust his wife with information regarding either of those things, now would he?” 

Geillis smirked at me with a cool condescension, as though she knew more about my husband than I did. The truth was that I knew more than I’d let on to the biggest gossip in Cranesmuir. I didn’t keep quiet for the sake of my husband. Quite the contrary. I just didn’t want to be sucked into the messy politics of the doomed Jacobite rebellion. 

Dougal had gone to England to meet privately with the Duke of Sandringham—a potential ally in the upcoming rebellion. I recalled Frank’s conversation with the reverend shortly before I came through the stones, speculating that the duke was a Jacobite. I also remembered his connection to Black Jack Randall, the frightening bastard who attacked me the moment we met…the man responsible for the scars on Jamie Fraser’s back.

No. I wanted nothing to do with any of it.

Geillis was not of the same mind, constantly asking about my husband, taunting me with snippets of information meant to ruffle my feathers.

“I hope Arthur is all right,” I said, returning to the purpose of my visit.

“D’ye ken what’s wrong wi’ him?”

“I can’t quite pinpoint the source of the problem, but I’ll write some receipts for teas and a list of meals that might aid in alleviating his gastrointestinal distress.”

“I’m sure he’ll be grateful.” 

Geillis gave me a bit of parchment and a quill, and I started scribbling down instructions. 

“Are ye sure I canna tempt ye into a spot of tea or glass of wine before ye leave?”

“I’m afraid not.” I looked out the window at the rain pouring down. The clouds had darkened the skies prematurely, and I was already worried about getting home safely. If Willie wasn’t waiting outside to escort me back, I might have considered staying the night at the inn. 

I hoped Willie was keeping Bennet dry. 

I stayed just long enough to finish my examination on the fiscal, refusing Geillis’s insistent hospitality all the while. It was a relief to step into the rain and out of the Duncans’ stuffy home.

“Bennet! What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?!”

My wee lad barked at the sound of my voice and came rushing toward me. He was soaking wet and caked in mud. 

Willie was grinning at the little heathen. It was hard to watch his joy in exploring the world without delight overtaking one’s heart.

“Come here, you little wretch.” I gathered him in my arms and wrapped him up in a spare bandage, not wanting to ruin my dress with mud. I stuffed the precious bundle in my cloak and had Willie assist me in mounting my horse.

Bennet writhed and wriggled until I opened my top button to let his head pop out. He licked my chin, still and cozy in my embrace, but no longer worried he might miss some bit of excitement along the way.

All was for naught when five minutes into our ride, he was fast asleep. I had to slow down to tuck him in and shield his sleeping face from the rain. 

 


 

“Mistress MacKenzie!” yelled Willie from behind. “We’ll go straight to the cottage!”

Thank God. Dougal wouldn’t let me keep a horse at the cottage, fearful I’d ride off on it in the middle of the night without him knowing. I had expected Willie to force me to ride to the castle stables, then walk home on my bad ankle. 

I’d never been more grateful for a Scottish downpour. 

When we arrived at my door, I invited him in to warm up and have a bite to eat, but he insisted on taking the horses back to the stables to be properly cared for. My initial surprise at him leaving me alone faded quickly when I looked at the massive puddles of water and mud that covered the ground. There was no way I was going anywhere in my condition.

The first thing I did was start a fire and set a pot of water to boil. Then, I forced a sleepy Bennet outside to empty his overactive bladder. As tired as he was, he showed no inclination to leave the warmth of my side, and only whined at the doorstep, leaning heavily against my leg. 

“Oh, all right.” I granted him a temporary reprieve. After whipping up a quick supper, enough for me, Bennet, and Willie, I washed out all the mud stuck in the dog’s fur. 

Comfortably attired in my shift and wrapped in a shawl for warmth, I sat by the fire with Bennett in my lap and bestowed all the affection and cuddles a dozing puppy required. It was no hardship to run my fingers through his soft, clean cinnamon hair. The firelight glittered off highlights of copper and bronze, except his nearly bald belly, round and bulging from an overindulgence on fresh stew. 

Not a terrible way to spend an evening.

A flash of lightning lit the windows, and I counted the seconds for the thunder to follow. One…two…three…fo—

Bennet jumped awake with the frightening sound, whimpering and nuzzling close. 

“It’s all right, sweet thing. It’s all right.”

But he wasn’t having it. His ears perked up as well as they might, given their floppiness, and he listened intently to the storm. Out of nowhere, he began barking like mad and jumped off my lap, racing clumsily to the door.

“What is it?”

He was scratching the frame like mad, and I thought he might have to urgently relieve himself, but I was also afraid that he might get spooked by more lightning and run off only to drown in a large puddle.

“I suppose potty training is not for the faint of heart.” I hobbled to the door and let him out. He bolted deep into the dark meadow faster than I’d ever seen him run before.

“Bennet!” I pulled my shawl tight around my shoulders and stepped outside. “Bennet!

Could he hear me over the sound of the rain? It was so dark; I couldn’t see ten feet in front of me.

“Bennet!”

Lightning struck, flashing a bright light across the meadow. A large, dark figure stood not fifty feet away, covered in MacKenzie plaid. I jumped back, knowing the man was far too big to be Willie.

It was Bennet’s excited bark from near the figure that calmed my nerves. From out of the darkness, the man loomed closer, and I could see he was holding my puppy in his large hands. 

“Mr. Fraser? What are you doing here?”

“I was at the stables when Willie arrived. I sent him off to supper and told him I’d watch ye for the night.” He closed the distance between us, grabbing my elbow and steering me inside. “D’ye have a towel?”

“For you?”

“For the dog.”

“Oh.” Bennet was once again soaked to the bone. I retrieved the towel I had hung up by the fire after drying him off earlier and handed it to Jamie. He proceeded to rub it all over the puppy who delighted in the attention. 

It was bizarre to see Jamie’s kindness toward Bennet after watching how unpleasant he was to his pregnant wife.

“Are you hungry?” I asked out of politeness. If he was going to be staying for any length of time, I figured I should make attempts at civility. 

“No. I just had supper.”

“I thought you said you met Willie at the stables? Surely you didn’t return to work after supper?”

Mmphm.” He only shrugged. I doubted he ate anything at all.

“And come to think of it, you worked all day today, and Laoghaire told me you were out on guard duty last night, probably having worked the entire day before, as well. Why the bloody hell are you here again?”

“Because Dougal’s men are mostly gone, and ye canna be left on yer own.”

“I’m hardly going to escape from his custody in weather like this. Especially now that you’ve saddled me with a damn baby to take care of.” 

“Ye think I care if ye run away from yer husband?” he snorted.

“You’re here, aren’t you? Again!”

“Christ, woman, ye’re the war chief’s wife! Ye’re wanted by the English, and the Black Watch would love to get their hands on ye. Then there are everyday miscreants. Did’ye ever stop to think what kind of ransom ye’d be worth if ye were held by a rival clan?”

My heart thudded wildly at the thought of all the dangers lurking around every corner. The truth was that I’d become complacent. Life was peaceful at my cottage, far removed from the hustle and bustle of the castle. I spent my time caring for patients, foraging in the wilderness, bathing in natural springs, and tending to the most adorable puppy there ever was. Yes, I missed Frank and motorized vehicles and hot baths, but life hadn’t been too terrible once Dougal began leaving me alone.

I hung my head in shame for losing my drive to get home.

Mmphm,” Jamie grunted in approval, misinterpreting my solemn mood.

“Still,” I challenged, “you’ve hardly slept in the last forty-eight hours. Aren’t you exhausted?”

“I’ve rested here and there.”

“Is the valerian root not working?”

“It works fine, when I take it.”

“Then why aren’t you taking it regularly?”

“Because if I’m asleep, I canna keep watch o’er you!

I was startled by the vehemence in his tone. “Why would you want to? You don’t even like me.”

He only grunted and shook his head, keeping his attention on Bennet. 

Craving space and time to think, I hobbled to the pantry to retrieve Willie’s plate of food. I set it on the table and gestured for Jamie to sit down. He did as I asked, setting Bennet on the floor before digging into his supper. 

With Jamie present, I was all but forgotten by the little shit. Their wet hair was precisely the same color, and they looked like two peas in a pod. Though Jamie ignored me throughout the meal, he periodically bent down and told Benet to sit, pushing his little bum to the floor, then rewarding him with a small bit of meat. The dog had learned to sit on command in the space of fifteen minutes.

“You’re teaching him in English?” I asked. Every time I’d seen him speak to an animal, it was always in Gaelic. They seemed drawn to the language. 

“His mistress is a sassenach.” He spoke as if it was a curse. “I dinna want to confuse him.”

I huffed in annoyance, tired of trying so hard to be nice to someone who was dead set against reciprocating. I moved to my seat back at the fireplace, intent on not speaking with him again, knowing he would just take anything I said and hurtle it back at me as an insult.

Jamie finished his supper and gave the last few bites to Bennet. “Thank ye for the meal,” he said with a bow, before turning for the door.

“You’re going back out there?”

“Aye.”

“It’s pouring down rain. You’ll freeze!”

He shrugged as if it didn’t matter.

“Why not just stay where it’s warm? This storm is showing no sign of letting up. It’ll be unbearable out there in a few hours—”

Mistress MacKenzie,” he interrupted, speaking through gritted teeth, “if ye think standing out in the freezing rain in the middle of a Scottish night is any less miserable than spending hours alone with you, ye’re sadly mistaken.”

“What the bloody hell have I done to deserve your ire? I’ve been nothing but kind to you! Caring for your pregnant wife, feeding you, generally staying out of your miserable way!”

He shook his head and moved to the door. I grabbed him by the arm and stopped him just before he slipped out.

“Tell me! Why the hell are you so awful to me?”

“Because ye exist!” he yelled back, making Bennet whimper and cower.

“Well, there’s little I can do about that! You, on the other hand, could leave me the hell alone to whatever dangerous fate awaits me! Yet, here you are, insisting on keeping me alive!”

He towered over me, shaking with rage, clinging to whatever shred of self-control he had left. I was a fool to provoke him, but his hostility was driving me fucking mad. 

“Would it kill you to show me some degree of kindness?”

“I havena slept in three days,” he said softly, his quiet voice no less dangerous than his yelling. “It’s all the kindness I can bear to give.”

He turned and stepped toward the door. Bennet jumped forward, trying to go with him.

“Stop!” Jamie commanded, pointing at him. “Sit!”

Bennet complied without thinking. 

Guard yer mistress,” he said in Gaelic, then slammed the door on his way out.