Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em...damnit!
Thanks to KT for Monarch of the Glen AU
Characters: JD, Buck, Chris, Inez
Warnings: Death of animals
Summary: The Glenneaval estate shows it has no boundaries when others need help
My thanks to Katy for the look over and invaluable help :o)
Following reports by outlying croft owners of discoveries of several unidentified carcasses, Chris asked Buck, Vin, and JD to drive out to the northern boundary and check out their concerns. After a long trip, the three were now standing on the aforementioned moorland, and staring at the remains of a dead animal.
JD watched Vin walk the area, then return to speak to Buck, who nodded his agreement. Desperate to understand what his companions already did, the young Laird spoke. "What's this all about?" he asked, as he grimaced and pointed to the grisly sight.
Vin replied. "Judging by the tracks, whatever is doing this, lives on the estate, but is feeding off sheep and goats from outlying crofts."
"Not from our tenants?" Buck asked.
"No. The ear tags suggest not. There are a few sheep and goat farmers bordering the estate, but we let them graze on the open moorland."
JD shuddered at the thought of what type of teeth could cause so much mutilation. "Do you have wolves in Scotland?" he asked.
"This is a dog a big one," Vin explained. "He's on our land, and has a taste for blood, so we need to find him."
"Can I help?" JD asked, hopefully.
Vin grinned at Buck who winked. "Aye lad, I reckon so. Let's go find Chris."
Goat herder Inez Recillos poured recently boiled water onto her prepared coffee. Sitting in her comfy armchair, her hands caressed the mug. She inhaled the fragrant brew and gazed around her.
After fleeing her Spanish homeland and a violent and unhappy relationship, she was still reeling at her recent sad news, but ultimate good fortune. Descending from survivors of the Spanish Armada, for centuries her uncle's ancestors had farmed in Scotland, and more recently on land just off the Glenneaval estate's borders. His passing just six months ago, left her with his smallholding and around two dozen Pygora goats. The pretty woman was an accomplished shepherdess on her family's farm in Spain, and had considered selling the business and returning home to buy her own sheep farm. However, with her recent difficulties nudging her into coming to the Highlands to escape for a while in the first place, it offered an opportunity to look over the smallholding. It was love at first sight and she decided to stay.
Inez expected it to be a solitary existence, not to mention she initially knew very little about goat farming. Nevertheless, between frequent shopping trips to a friendly, local town, her farming background, coupled with the pure pleasure in making and eating cheese and butter from her own herd's milk, this simple, man-free existence was becoming nigh on perfect.
Alongside occasional sales of her goats' fleeces, her change of life became complete, and fully financed when, during one trip into town, she happened upon a family run catering company who subsequently entered into a business deal with Inez for the supply of her herd's cheese. The Spanish beauty decided recently that if there was a word to describe her life, it would be 'idyllic'.
Until the attacks.
Three goats gone in as many weeks, and now she was forced to keep them penned in close by until she could either shoot the offending animal, or learn that someone already had. It was clear the creature killing them was living on Glenneaval land, and feeding off animals straying to graze there; but she had heard positive rumblings about the estate's new Laird, a new manager, and of the already established key staff, and decided she would approach them and demand some action.
Three men and a teenager stood in the castle kitchen and studied the ordnance map spread out over the table. Chris pursed his lips. "That's a lot of ground to check over."
Vin shook his head. "I'm confident the dog's living close to the kill area. I have a few places in mind I wan'ae check out first."
"Ezra, Nathan, and Josiah are making sure all farmers are aware of the situation," Buck assured.
"How?" Chris asked.
"Phone calls, emails. Those we can't reach, I'm sending workers out to inform personally," Buck replied.
"Can we be sure we'll reach them all?" JD worried.
"As far as we know, the list is complete. The Recillos' smallholding hasn't replied, but I understand the old chap died a while back," Vin added.
Chris nodded. "Aye. The funeral was at the local Catholic Church. Angus and I attended the service."
"Still might be an idea to check the place out," Vin suggested. The estate managers agreed. Their discussion was interrupted by a soft, American drawl.
"I guess all you guys can shoot, huh?" JD asked, gesturing toward the shotguns leaning against a far wall.
The three nodded. Drawing their attention, Chris indicated to points on the map. "Vin, you and Buck check out the areas you've already earmarked. JD, you're with me."
The teenager looked at Chris in awe. "Yeah?"
Chris stifled a grin. "Aye. We're gon'ae drive around the land surrounding the kill zone. See if we can get an idea of whose animals the dog is going for." He didn't miss a flash of disappointment, and instantly knew why.
"This animal is dangerous, laddie. Buck and Vin need their wits about them to track it down and hopefully dispose of it without injury to themselves. Best you help me out on this one." He winked. "I'll still be carrying a shotgun I just hope I won't need to use it."
"We have to kill it?" JD rasped out, apprehensively.
Vin shrugged. "Most probably, aye. It's turned feral, and attacks to feed. There isn't much hope of rehabilitating it, now."
Chris folded up the map. "Right let's get on it." He raised his mobile phone. "Keep in touch."
Having walked the marked areas for almost an hour, at the third place Vin and Buck visited, they hit success. The stench from rotting carcasses clued them in long before they cautiously walked into the heart of the den. Buck slapped Vin on the back.
"Good tracking, mate." He glanced around. "Looks like the dog's not here, though."
Crouching to scrutinize the ground, Tanner nodded. "Judging by the tracks, it's a big bugger. The carcass we came across this morning wasn'ae fresh enough to be from today more likely yesterday. I was hoping it would drag another meal here which it had been doing, but for some reason, its last kill was eaten where it died."
"Is that significant?" Buck asked, ducking around and under bushes with his gun balanced, just in case the dog was hiding there.
Vin dipped and dodged to pick up twigs, leaves, and soil to examine them. "I'm more sure than ever now that it's injured. I don'ae think it's even sleeping here anymore."
"Too much trouble to bring food back here?" Buck asked.
The ghillie nodded. "Maybe it's become too weak to drag food this far. I think when Chris figures out whose stock it's attacking, we'll find it's switched to sleeping close by." He pulled out his phone and began dialing.
Chris drove his silver Range Rover to several crofts close to the kill zone, but no one reported any stock missing. Despite expecting it to be empty, they were now at the old Recillos place. Chris pulled up and climbed out of the truck, casting a frown toward penned in goats close to the house.
"Huh?" JD asked, jumping out after him.
Larabee pointed. "Well, those goats surely can't be the old man's, he's been gone a while. Someone must be borrowing the pen." He directed JD toward the croft. "Go see if anyone's using the house. I'm gon'ae walk around, see if there are any signs of tracks around the property."
Chris grabbed JD's shoulder before he could leave. "Be careful."
JD grinned. "I will. 'Sides, it's Vin and Buck who have the dangerous job, right?" Swallowing nervously when he noted Chris check his gun before walking away, JD headed toward the croft.
Chris paced the periphery of the smallholding. Taking the call from Vin, he suggested he and Buck join him and JD. Chris stared out across fenced off moorland. Beyond the barriers was boggy ground, and definitely not a spot a dog would hang around. That fact cut the search area considerably. As he made his way closer to the front approach to the farm, something caught his eye and Chris stopped dead. Crouching down he could see fresh tracks in the soft earth. He looked back toward the distant, goat-filled pen. Whoever was using it had literally created a free vending machine for the animal. Anxiety gnawing at his gut, Chris decided to join JD.
The closer Chris got to the fence-encircled house, the more his unease grew. He was jogging now, and wouldn't relax until he got hold of JD. Chris tried calling his phone, but it went to voicemail. As he closed in, and before he could redial Vin or Buck, a shot from an outbuilding in the crofter's yard turned his blood cold and the blond started running.
The young Laird stepped back from the croft's weathered front door. No one was answering; yet, looking through the window, there was evidence someone was around. 'Squatters?' JD thought to himself. Noting an outbuilding further down the large, fenced off yard and past the pen full of bleating goats, JD wondered if the occupant was in there and walked toward it. Passing the pen, he didn't miss the odd blood spatters on two planks almost as if something had been dragged through them. On reaching the large door to the building, JD pulled the squeaky wooden entryway open.
Instantly he saw a goat further in and lying on the ground. It was bleating as its bleeding form was struggling to stand. "Aww jeeze, what's happened to you, little fella?" In seconds JD was there and helping it up, but instantly balked at the sight of its one back leg almost ripped off. He backed away horrified, while glancing between the stricken animal and his bloody hands.
A low growl from behind him had the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. JD turned slowly to find his escape route cut off by the biggest, snarliest dog he'd ever set eyes on. Trembling hands dug out his phone from his jacket pocket, but before he could coordinate his fingers to even speed dial, the dog fully bared its teeth and pounced.
JD raised his hands for protection, dropping the phone as the airborne, heavy body took him down.
Hearing her goats bleating in fright, Inez looked out of the window and gasped on seeing a huge dog dragging one of them through the fencing and into the barn. Racing to the spare room, she searched for a set of keys, then burrowed under the bed to pull out a locked box. In doing so, she missed JD's knocking and subsequent walk to the barn. Grabbing her uncle's shotgun, she loaded it, and then composed herself before heading off to confront the beast.
JD screamed out when the pain of something sharp piercing his forearm reached his brain. Vigorously moving his arm from side to side, he managed to shake the dog loose. Flipping onto his stomach, he reached out his good hand for the phone just inches from his grasp, but a new pain assaulted him and he realized the dog had his leg.
Half-turning to kick at the mutt, JD's eyes widened on seeing a woman standing near the doorway and pointing a shotgun toward him. He closed his eyes and jolted when a shot rang out.
While making her way across the yard, a young, male voice crying out from inside the outbuilding surprised Inez, and momentarily halted her approach; but the cries, and unearthly snarling from within, pushed her onward. She elicited another gasp on seeing a teenager on his stomach in the dirt, and trying to escape the teeth clamped around his foot and ankle. The dog was shaking the boy's leg as if attempting to rip it off. She stared at her shotgun. Inez had never fired this gun before and feared hitting the boy, who unexpectedly stared back at her, his expressive features etched with terror. When he closed his eyes, she fired into the air in a hope of distracting the dog.
Releasing its prey it turned, exposed bloody teeth to snarl at Inez, and limped toward her. With no time to re-aim the gun, Inez was just raising an arm to shield herself from the leaping dog when another shot sounded. Trembling, she turned to see a handsome man dressed in dark clothing pointing a smoking shotgun. She glanced at the prone animal and then again to Chris.
While Chris quickly moved to toe the animal to check it was dead, the Spanish beauty hurried to JD. Dropping down next to him, she pulled the groaning, quaking youth in close.
"Shhh está bien, pequeña it's alright."
JD clung to her, his eyes wide. "D dog *big* dog "
"Sí, lo sé yes, I know shhh "
"CHRIS!" JD settled somewhat on seeing the man he always looked up to, and who had just saved his and the lady's lives, approach them. The estate manager squatted down next to him and curled a comforting hand around JD's good arm.
"You found the dog, then." His tight smile concealed the deep concern at JD's shaking form, and bloodied limbs. Changing his grip, Chris prepared to get JD to his feet.
"Good thing I didn't have a gun aaahhh " he yowled as Chris and Inez helped him up.
Chris looped his arm around the teenager's waist. "Why's that?"
" Was so scared probably woulda shot myself "
Realizing JD was panting, and in no real shape to walk, with a grunt, Chris took the strain and half walked, half carried him. Inez ran on ahead.
Closing in fast on the Recillos farm, Vin unexpectedly halted his Land Rover and cut the engine. He listened, and then turned to Buck. "Did you hear that?"
Buck frowned, nodding. "I heard something, but the engine noise cut into it."
"I think it was a " Before he could finish, another gunshot pierced the stillness.
With the kettle recently boiled, Inez made quick work of cleansing JD's wounds. The pale, sweaty youth was awake but quiet, and shivering. "He needs a doctor."
"As soon as you've patched him up enough to travel, I'll see to it." From his crouched position next to JD's head, Chris stared at the woman. "Who are you? Why are you here, in Manuel's home?"
Without looking up from her ministrations, Inez replied. "My name is Inez Sofia Recillos. Manuel was the brother of my father. My father returned to Spain from this place before I was born, and I recently came here to claim the property after my uncle's passing." She looked at Chris. "I liked it so much, I stayed."
"Kinda grows on you doesn't it?" JD drowsily rasped out.
Inez stroked back the dark, damp tresses. "Sí pequeña. Es muy hermoso aquí. It is very beautiful here." She stroked his cheek and tried not to worry when his eyes began to close. To stop him going into shock, she kept talking.
"Usted es un Americano?"
JD nodded. "Yes ma'am New York."
"Since when does he speak Spanish?"
Three pairs of eyes stared back at the just arriving Vin and Buck. The latter dropped down on one knee next to JD and Chris as he scrutinized the ashen, pain-filled, glistening features. Buck reached out to grasp the unbandaged hand.
"I'm guessing you found the dog," he said, softly.
JD attempted a grin and nodded toward Larabee. "That's what Chris said."
"And Chris is always right," Buck winked.
"And don't you forget it," the blond reminded JD before glancing apologetically to Buck. The brunet's forgiving gaze absolved his own guilty stare.
Pocketing his phone, Vin approached and Chris stood for the ghillie to address him. "Nathan says if JD hasn't had one recently, he'll need a Tetanus. We'll have to take him to the cottage hospital."
A soft groan of complaint came from a sleepy JD.
Buck nudged him, playfully. "Tough titties, Squirt. You play with snapping dogs, you pay the penalty," he teased, trying hard to hide his concern. Chris moved closer to Vin and pointed outside.
"Check out the barn. There's a goat in there, and it looks like it's badly injured."
With a nod, Vin left.
As Inez cleared up the bloody cloths, Buck was suddenly aware of the beautiful woman next to him. "Forgive my manners. I'm Buck Wilmington." He pointed to JD and thumbed to Chris. "This is my cousin, JD Dunne, and estate manager Chris Larabee. The chap who just left is our ghillie, Vin Tanner." He took her hand and kissed the back of it. "Pleased to meet you."
Unsure of whether to slap him for that move, or smile in amusement, Inez chose a middle option. "My name is Inez Recillos, and kindly refrain from drooling on my hand." Buck chuckled, and her man- wary heart thawed a little at the handsome grin. It melted a little more when she saw how sweet he was with his cousin.
Buck and Chris eased JD into a sitting position. When JD nodded he was ready they got him to his feet. JD yelped, and then stifled further groans as the pair linked arms to make a 'chair' in order to carry him between them to Chris's Range Rover. JD halted them as they got through the door, and he glanced back at Inez.
"Thank you for helping me, Ma'am."
The woman smiled. "It's Inez." She looked at them all. "Gracias err thank *you*"
"Would you be interested in dinner sometime?" Buck spoke the words before he had barely contemplated asking the question.
"I don't " she began.
" At the castle," JD cut in, quickly. "Please? We like to get to know our neighbors."
Her gaze softened at the request from the young man she had instantly taken a liking to. And his cousin wasn't half bad, either, not that she was about to admit that any time soon. She looked back at them all, realizing that, actually, she wouldn't mind getting to know them. "Si. Yes, thank you. I would like that, also."
Noting Vin exiting the barn, Chris nodded. "Give Vin your number, and we'll call you."
Tanner watched the others leave, acknowledging their call back to say they'd be going straight to the local hospital. He approached Inez. "I'm afraid your goat didn'ae make it. Would you like me to dispose of it, along with the dog?"
She nodded. "I would, thank you."
Four days later, and despite Nettie protesting JD wasn't up to having company, the youth in question insisted, and so Inez was invited to dine with all seven friends. Casey was away at University, and Nettie was encouraged to join them, partially in the hope Inez wouldn't feel overwhelmed by the all-male guest list; and also as a reminder to the matriarch that she was considered no less family even if she was cooking for them. Despite her bluster, the older woman was delighted to be included, and agreed.
An unusually nervous Buck walked into JD's bedroom. From where he was sitting on the chair next to his bed, JD wafted his unstrapped hand under his nose. "Holy shit, Buck. Did you pour on a whole bottle of cologne?"
Buck sniffed himself. "Too much?"
JD chuckled. "Just a little, yeah." He smiled at the man more like a brother to him than a cousin. "It's okay, she already likes you."
"Yeah, I do. And with a cutie pie of a little brother like me hanging around, you can't lose."
Buck laughed "I can't believe I'm taking advice on women from you, Squirt."He bent down to tie JD's sneaker. The boy only needed one as his injured leg, foot, and ankle meant his limb was bandaged like a Mummy's torso. "That's all I can ask is for her to like me. Of course, I'm nae surprised that she does, considering all that animal magnetism I've got oozing form my pores."
JD's eyebrows rose. "Huh, r-i-g-h-t, in New York we'd call that needing to take a bath."
Buck chuckled, and then looked up and patted JD's knee. His demeanor softened and sobered. "How are you doing?" Buck didn't add that Ezra, despite the thickness of the walls, had heard the kid crying out the past few nights.
JD forced a smile. "I'm fine, thanks. Kinda sore, but good."
Buck stood. "Oh, okay. So you don't want a roommate for a night or two, then." He proceeded to neaten JD's shirt and button it.
JD blinked and looked up at the man. "Sure, if you uh why?"
Buck shrugged and adjusted the strap holding the injured arm. "There's a damned owl been hooting right outside my window for a few nights now. It's affecting my beauty sleep."
Chuckling, JD gratefully accepted the offered pull up. "Well, can't have that, can we " his eyes twinkled. "I mean, you need as much of that as you can get." He ducked a mock-swipe to his head.
Buck helped him out of the door. "Do you think it's wise for a lad with only one good leg and unable to run, to give me lip?"
"Probably not. So, you gonna wash off some of that 'animal maggottism'?"
Buck bobbed his eyebrows. "Probably not," he mirrored.
Full to bursting, Inez dabbed at her lips with a napkin and sat back a little from the dining table. "My, that was wonderful, thank you."
Nettie smiled. "Thank you, my dear. You're very welcome."
There was a heavy pause before JD broke the silence. "Sorry about your goats," he said, sincerely. They had been avoiding the subject while they ate.
JD was seated at head of table mostly to stretch out his bandaged foot, and avoid knocking both it, and his strapped arm. Inez was sitting kitty-corner to him, and opposite Buck. She glanced around at her new friends, smiling warmly at the brunet she had watched cut up JD's food for him.
"It could have been worse, but thanks to you all I am still in business." She reached out to touch JD's cheek. "And look at what you went through to help me."
JD blushed, much to the others' amusement. "Aww, it was nothing," he mumbled. "We were just being neighborly." He looked at Chris. No one missed the hero-worship in his gaze. "'Sides, it was Chris that saved the day."
"We had no idea the farm was occupied," Chris cut in quickly, a little uncomfortable at the unexpected adulation.
"Well, I had not decided if this was the life for me, but I find that it is," Inez replied.
"Does that mean you're staying?" Buck asked, hopefully.
Inez gave a half smile. "I think it might." She leaned in, conspiratorially. "I feel I must say at this point, it was so kind of you to share your cologne with us, this night."
They all laughed, including Buck, who threw a mock-glare to his chuckling cousin. "Aye, it did kind of get away from me a wee bit, didn't it?"
"That's alright, Buck," Vin smiled. "It kept the bats away."
More laughter circled the table.
Inez sobered the mood. "Was the dog local? Had someone lost it?"
Vin shook his head. "Couldn'ae say, but it was injured a damaged front leg." He glanced at JD and raised his eyebrows. "But thankfully, not rabid." He chuckled at the splutter from JD mid-drink and the horrified expression.
Nettie threw a scowl at the grinning ghillie. "He's pulling your leg, son. We don't have that problem in the UK, let alone Scotland."
"Beside's the Kid's nuts enough without that," Buck muttered, grinning at a smack to his arm from JD. Inez's eyes sparkled at the interaction.
"Dear lady, may I interest you in a rather fine glass of brandy, or perhaps a port?"
Inez declined. "Thank you Mister Standish, but I must leave soon."
Ezra nodded and smiled. "Please, call me Ezra."
She agreed. "And where is your place on this estate, Ezra? Are you an employee here?"
About to explain, JD answered before Ezra could. "Actually, he's the estate's business director, accountant and lawyer, and darned good at it." The boy missed the flash of delight in twinkling green eyes at the declaration.
"Indeed," the self-proclaimed adopted Scotsman managed to choke out.
Josiah and Nathan stood and poured out several whiskies for the others, a brandy for Ezra, a port and lemon for Nettie, and a ginger beer for JD, before taking their chosen cigars into the garden to smoke. Buck put down his drink and turned to Inez.
"I'd be happy to drive you home."
Inez smiled as she stood. "Thank you, but I fear I do not know you all that well..." Her head snapped to JD. " Unless will you be joining us?"
Unsure of what to do, he glanced at Buck and saw the quick, wide- eyed nod. JD turned back to her and smiled. "Sure."
Nettie scowled as she went about clearing the dishes. "You should be resting, John Daniel."
JD grinned, using his much-loved ghillie stick that Vin gave him instead of the crutch from the hospital to walk from the table. "I will be Buck's doing the driving."
The group walked their new friend to the main door. Stepping into the front courtyard, and on reaching Buck's Land Rover, she smiled back at them. "Thank you. This evening was delightful."
"Don't be a stranger," Vin called, much to everyone's amusement. He frowned at them. "What?"
Chris grinned at his friend, and then looked to Inez. "If you need anything, just call."
She half-bowed her head in gratitude. "Most gracious of you. Gracias."
Pulling up outside Inez's home, Buck jumped out of the truck and ran around to open her door. Accepting the help down from the vehicle, she looked up at him. Suddenly realizing she was staring, and that her hand was on his shoulder, and his on her waist, she pulled back. To cover herself, she looked into the truck and smiled at a slumbering Laird.
"You are good with him."
Buck glanced at the boy fondly before looking back at Inez. "Well, he's good with me."
"So I have seen. Thank you for tonight."
Buck smiled. "Thank you for coming. Maybe one day I can ask you out again just the two of us?"
Inez returned the smile and looked back from unlocking her door. "You can ask but maybe I will say no."
"Well, maybe I'll just keep asking."
"And I will just keep saying no " she flashed a killer smile. " Maybe "
On the drive back, Buck grinned to himself. JD snorted awake, rubbed at his eyes and sat up.
"I dropped her off on the moors and made her walk home."
Not fully awake, JD gawped, and then snorted out a laugh. "Funny you're cracking me up, here. So, did you get a date?"
Buck shrugged. "Not quite, but I'm working on it."
"Ri-ght. Told you that you put on too much cologne."
"This from the kid whose regular fragrance is from the socks that crawl their way to the laundry hamper once a week."
"At least I don't have to beat 'em down with a stick first, unlike yours. What was the name Ezra said your sock odor should be called? 'Eau de Fromage'?"
The pair chuckled as they pulled into the castle forecourt. Buck helped JD out of the vehicle. "So how do you say it? 'Roomie?' How about a mug of hot chocolate before bed?"
JD yawned. "Sounds good."
Just as he closed and locked the main door, Buck looked up at the distant moors toward Inez's home and smiled. This place he loved was stunning, and getting more beautiful by the day.
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