Mending a Highland Heart – Kenna Kendrick

Isle of Mull, Seat of Clan MacLean, Late February 1718 Charlotte Andrews wiped the young man’s brow as he lay on the small bed in his cottage. “He’s nae been eating, mistress, I’ve tried everything.” An old woman stood next to her, wringing her hands. Tears began to form in her eyes. “I’ve nae seen a sickness like it. What could it be?” Charlotte leaned back in her chair and sighed. She had not seen anything like it before either, and it troubled her that she was unable to come to a conclusion. She wanted to be there for these people, showing them that she was just as good as an educated male doctor, but here she was, struggling to find the answer. The young man and a few others on the island shared symptoms. They were heavily bruised; some of their teeth were loosening and threatening to fall out; they had purple gums and a dry, almost scale-like skin. She was afraid something was spreading around the island, but she couldn’t decipher what the symptoms meant. It wasn’t scarlet fever, or sepsis, or anything like that. She turned to smile at the old woman. “I will do my best for him, ma’am. But I am unsure yet as to what the illness could be.

Keep him resting and make sure he is drinking plenty of water if you can find it. Boil it first.” “Should we nae set the leeches upon him?” Charlotte shook her head violently. “No, I beg you would not do that. There are much better ways of dealing with an illness. I will think on it and see what I can do for your son. I will come to you tomorrow.” The woman nodded and showed Charlotte to the door. “I thank ye, mistress. We have nae had a healer for many a year, and the one across the water cannae be trusted tae come in time, and sometimes he doesnae come at all.

” Charlotte clasped the woman’s hand and smiled. Then she left the house and straddled the horse that was tied outside. Her brow was furrowed in concentration as she steered the horse back towards Duart Castle. It was not a long ride, and Charlotte loved the beautiful path by the water, giving her an excellent view of most of the island and its mesmerizing castle. She wanted to let the worries of the illness float off of her, just for a moment. Charlotte had arrived at the Isle of Mull a few months ago to visit her dear cousin, Julia Bradford, who was, at Charlotte’s arrival, in the clutches of her evil uncle, who was trying to force her into matrimony with one of his friends. Julia’s now-husband, Laird Calum MacLean, and his brother, Angus, had saved her and brought her back to her new home to live forever as Lady MacLean. Julia was an orphan and had attempted to escape her uncle while they were traveling to Scotland. Her uncle had arranged her marriage to a friend of his, General George Whiteman, a fearsome, unscrupulous, and a much older man. But now, Julia was a very happy woman indeed, married to the dashing Laird Calum MacLean.

Charlotte smiled to think of it. She had never expected either she or Julia to end up where they were. Charlotte’s mind and thoughts of marriage were always in the direction of an Earl’s or Marquess’ son. Her father was the younger son of a Duke, and Charlotte’s mother had been an Earl’s daughter, so she had aristocracy on her side. She was an only child, and so she had a good dowry. She had no desire to marry below her station, nor did her father. He had great plans for her. Despite Charlotte’s father’s less than civil comments on the match between his niece and the Scottish laird, Calum MacLean was a good man: kind and wise, devilishly handsome, and completely besotted with Julia. It made Charlotte happy, and she was wholly in support of the marriage. After the life she’d had, Julia needed a good man.

But, she knew that she could never choose such a man. Charlotte slowed her horse as she approached Duart Castle from the side. This was her favorite part of the journey. She took a deep breath and stared in awe at the stone structure, jutting out into the shore of the Sound of Mull, its tall, imposing figure beautiful with the backdrop of a blue sky and bright sun. In spite of their plans for Charlotte to marry a wealthy man in London and become an integral part of London society, Charlotte’s father, also a general, had decided to move to Fort William to take command after the death of the former leader, General Whiteman. He had been there for some weeks now and was happy to let her live with Julia. But, she knew that soon enough, he might call her to come and live with him. Once she left Duart, she would be going to the fort, only a few miles away, and she would not be going back to London for some time. But in her heart, she was content. She had never felt such beautiful freedom.

She was allowed to roam as she pleased, healing those who needed it and spending time with her cousin. The clan was working towards rebuilding after a time of stagnation and loss, and so she was assisting Julia in any way that she needed. There was only one fly in the ointment. Angus, Calum’s tall, brown-haired brother, had begun to pester her with his constant presence. He seemed to have eyes and ears everywhere, watching her with the pretense of protection. He also gave her advice about how to behave and how to stay safe, and she was fed up with it. When she had first met him, she was dazzled by the strength and beauty of him. She remembered the feel of his strong leg and his muscled chest as she had cleaned his wounds after a small battle a few months before. His light brown eyes had watched her every movement, and she had felt a tingle in her breast at his nearness. But now, it was totally different.

She remembered back to only a week ago when she had taken the idea to go for a walk to collect winter berries and whatever hardy herbs she could find in the cold weather. She needed to restock her supply of medicines, or else she would need to travel back over the Sound to collect what she could. She had been having a pleasant enough time, when just as she was kneeling to collect a bunch of berries, Angus appeared, his face stern. “What are ye doing out in this weather? ‘Tis a bloody ice-cold day! Ye’ll get sick, and then we’ll be without a healer.” He’d practically yelled the words at her. She had jumped in fright. “Good Lord!” she’d cried. “Must you appear everywhere that I am? I do have business to conduct. I am here solely to collect much-needed medicines for my work. Can you not understand?” Despite her fury at the time, she was annoyed at how she’d focused on how handsome and imposing he had appeared to her, his hands on his hips, the sharp line of his jaw even more evident in the stark, cold daylight.

He’d had the audacity to march her straight back to the castle as she protested the whole way, and she yelled back, “You know I’ll just come back out again as soon as you’re not looking. This is absolutely ridiculous!” And even as she’d said it, she thought to herself, I could never be with someone like him. Ha! As if he’d ever have a chance! Not only was he completely frustrating and controlling, but she would never lower herself in such a way, and her father would never approve. He meant to increase their station soon so that he could leave the military and live out his days as a gentleman. She thought they would come to be friends, or at least civil to one another, after discussing how to help free Julia, but then he’d gone and saved her without any help from Charlotte. And, after that, once it was known that Julia and Calum would need to go to London for a while to attend the trial, Angus had begun to take a strong leadership role, trying to control her every movement. She didn’t understand what had happened. He had, at first, seemed slightly in awe of her, with her brazen words and lack of shyness, but now he was stoic and unpleasant, and Charlotte was not looking forward to when Julia and Calum left. She would be stuck with him. Angus and Calum MacLean stood in the study together, Calum grinning.

He was a different man now, Angus noted, and it made his heart full for his brother. He’d known that Julia was the woman for Calum the moment he met her, and he kept thanking God that he had found her that day, nearly frozen in the woods after she’d escaped from her uncle and that Calum had finally stopped being too hard-headed to notice her. “Are ye sure ye’ll be all right when we leave, brother? Ye’ll have a lot of responsibility.” Angus rolled his eyes. “Am I nae used tae that? After ye practically disappeared for years after Arya left?” Calum chuckled. Talk of the past hurt him no longer. “I know ye’ll be fine, but now ye’ve got the new lass tae think of? Charlotte? Will she nae be staying around? I think Julia was thinking of asking her. Julia knows first-hand just how dull those bloody barracks can be.” Angus didn’t reply. He didn’t want to talk about Charlotte.

He knew what Calum was thinking, and he didn’t want to go down that road. Charlotte had become his burden to bear. He loved his new sister-in-law so much, and with all of the new responsibility being laid at his feet to save the clan while Calum was away, Angus felt like he needed to protect Charlotte more than ever, knowing how dear she was to his beloved sister. He didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize the new happiness that had so lately come to Duart Castle, after so many years of despair. But Charlotte Andrews was a nuisance, always heading out on her own to do the healing without informing him or anyone of her whereabouts. What would he do if something happened to her? The blame would be on his head, so he tried to know what she was doing and where she was going. He hoped that she would see sense and stop fighting him, understanding that, for her own protection, someone needed to know where she was at all times, then he could stop worrying about her and take care of what the clan needed. But it hadn’t worked. It merely made them sour against each other. “If Julia asks her, I’m sure she will stay around as long as she can.

She seems tae enjoy her work here,” Angus said without a smile. “Julia mentioned that she might need tae leave soon tae go and stay with her father, now that he’s been installed at Fort William, but she might try tae persuade him tae allow her tae stay a bit longer. He’s allowed it thus far.” Angus grumbled. “‘Tis good that she helps us out with her skills as a healer, but she only causes trouble. Might be better for her tae stay with her father so that he can keep an eye on her.” “Why? Ye worried about the lass’ safety?” Calum said with a grin, and Angus stood up to leave. “If ye’ve naething more, brother, I’ll be on my way.” Calum couldn’t stop laughing. “Angus, yer growing back intae yer old grouchy self.

I thought a new Angus was emerging once Julia came tae stay, but now ye’re all hardened and screwed up inside. Could be dangerous. Ye know how women have a desire to untangle messes of that nature.” Angus grit his teeth. “We’ll talk later, brother.” He left to get out of the castle, so many thoughts swirling in his mind. He was happy for his brother, but he was afraid that when he left to go to London, the clan would fall to ruin once more, and it would be all his fault. It had fallen to ruin when Calum had descended into despair all those years ago, and he had tried to take charge, but it hadn’t worked. Now, Calum was entrusting the fate of the clan to him, and he wasn’t sure that he would be up to the task. He left the castle and strode towards the shore, taking deep breaths of the breeze off the Sound.

He watched the ripples in the water and thought about how they would soon need to go for another hunt again. He needed to do everything possible to be organized in time for the Campbell’s return. The Campbell clan was in league with the English, particularly General Whiteman. They had come before winter to threaten them that if they did not bring their clan back to health, their land would be taken and given to the English. But the Campbells had had mercy on them and offered to wait until winter’s end before coming to make their claim. They had waited because Angus and Calum had exposed that the English were actually exploiting them and extorting money out of them. General Whiteman, unbeknownst to anyone, had been taking extra money in taxes, and so John Campbell, the Campbell laird’s much more able younger brother, had killed him by pushing him out of a window. Campbell had been tried and acquitted by Charlotte’s father, and now, it was only a matter of time before the Campbells would live up to what they had said and come to see how clan MacLean fared after a long, hard winter. They had done well, but Angus didn’t have the confidence to keep it going. His mind kept going over all of the bad possibilities when he was interrupted by a scream from the woods near the shore of the Sound.

He turned and ran in that direction, his hand on his sword. His heart was beating rapidly. The first word that came to his mind was Charlotte. He wasn’t sure why, but as soon as he saw what was happening, he knew he was right to be worried. Charlotte slowed her horse, taking in the view of the castle, the familiar, thick clump of trees at her side. It was an idyllic moment, and she knew that as soon as her father required her presence, the idyllic moment would be lost and replaced with the smell of leather boots, dirty men, and the clang of metal. She had done her best to convince him thus far of allowing her to stay longer, but once Julia left, there would hardly be any seemly reason for her to stay. They may need a healer, but her father would never approve of her duties in that respect; her only real purpose, as far as he was concerned, was to be a companion to Julia. She would continue to try and persuade him to let her stay for as long as she could. And she would enjoy what time she had left.

As she rode, she spotted a dark figure at the edge of the woods. The man was hooded and had a long beard. Usually, the inhabitants of the island knew her by name and would call out to her in friendly greeting or offer her tea or fresh bread. This man said nothing, and Charlotte was filled with a deep sense of unease. In order to calm herself, she called out a friendly, “Hello!” to the man, but he did nothing. She did not recognize him. He was wearing a kilt, but under the long cloak, she couldn’t quite make out the colors and identify the clan. But it didn’t seem to be MacLean. She shrugged her shoulders, and as she was trotting by, decided to kick her horse into gear to move faster away from the man, but he was too quick. He grabbed onto her leg and skirts and pulled her from the horse.

The beast neighed in protest, going up on its hind legs in fear, before galloping off towards the castle. Charlotte toppled down onto the gravelly sand and winced as she fell. Part of her body had fallen on top of the man, and so he had cushioned her head. She was so in shock that she didn’t even yell. Suddenly, as if in a dream, the man began pulling at her skirts, lifting them up above her thighs. She couldn’t believe what was happening. It was like she was frozen in a body, not her own. It was as if she was watching the attack from above, floating outside herself. He said nothing, but he was hoodless now, and Charlotte could see his cold eyes as he grunted in his effort. He stunk of alcohol and sweat, and lines of dirt-streaked his face.

She saw him lifting his kilt, and underneath she could see his pale member spring forward, long and hard. At that moment, she knew what he was about, and her body allowed her to yell out a long, blood-curdling scream. The man slapped her hard, and her head fell back in shock, bouncing sharply against the stones. She clutched her hand to her cheek, feeling the pricks of pain. Fight back, her mind said. Kick him. Hit him. Do something! But she felt trapped; she could not control her movement, and it unnerved her. But to her surprise, the man was pulled upwards and knocked away. She looked to the side at his lumped form, lying still on the stones.

She was breathing heavily, and she pushed her skirts down as she looked up into the brown eyes of Angus MacLean.

.

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