Driving across the country alone can be daunting, especially if you are a young woman alone, pulling two horses. When Claire decided to escape Boston and move out west she planned meticulously, analyzed her vehicle and trailer options, and found the most suitable barn once she arrived. She sold her brownstone fully furnished. The only possessions going with her were her clothes, tack, and horses. She also purchased a new cowboy hat and a new pair of sexy sunglasses. She looked at her tight jeans and western shirt, put her hat and glasses on, and decided by the time she reached Arizona they would feel like a second skin. She still had trouble walking in anything less than a three-inch heel but that would come with practice.
Yesterday she turned the keys of her surgical practice over to the new owners without a second thought. Same with closing on her home last week for a cool 1.8 million cash. There was no sentimental pull or sadness. She felt utterly detached from her home of twenty-five years. Whatever made her feel so cold inside she hoped would be cured in Arizona. The last item on her list was to load the horses and get on the road. It was four o’clock in the morning.
Claire carried her grooming and wrapping bucket into the first stall and was greeted with a horse hug from Fred. She paused and hugged him coo’ing about their adventure. Fifteen minutes later she got the same hug from Ginger and got busy brushing, braiding, and wrapping tail and legs. “Don’t you two look fancy!” She led Fred to the trailer and walked him up the ramp and snapped him in. He was overjoyed at the heap of hay in the feeder and started eating. Next came Ginger up the ramp, a little more nervous but Claire was gentle and reassuring. With everything stowed Claire pulled out of the stables for the last time.
She loved this truck, a full-sized Ram with a matching trailer. The luxury interior package included ergonomic seats, blue tooth in the steering wheel, navigation, rear video, interior trailer video, and a bunch of stuff she had not found yet. All on voice command. “Change to interior video.” Claire watched Fred and Ginger munch on their breakfast. “You guys look happy. Here we go.”
She would drive for twelve hours stopping for 30 minutes to let the horses out at mid-day. She had reservations for each night at a B&B that also rented stalls and came recommended by her equestrian association for safety. Fred and Ginger were very special horses that were trained for therapy. Chosen for their docile and loving nature they were among the first group of horses trained at the equestrian therapeutics Institute. “And I’m taking them to Arizona,” she said with a giggle.
Claire had romanticized the first sunrise of her new life seeing the light coming up on a sleeping city as she barreled down the freeway. Reality is sometimes disappointing as commuters swarmed her on all four sides making her head whip between her mirrors and the video trying to negotiate each lane change. She saw her exit coming up fast and had two death-defying lanes to cross and no friendly commuters to allow her to move over. She was covered in sweat but made the exit and took a deep calming breath. “Holy shit.”
The drive became much easier once she was out of commuter traffic. She set the cruise control, popped in a CD and opened her window. “interior video,” all she saw was horse teeth as Ginger was tasting the little camera above her head. “What a goofball.”
Claire gripped the steering wheel when she pulled into the B&B. She was so tired she almost fell out of the truck when the door opened. She hurried to register and get the horses out of the trailer. It was a beautiful property with ample outdoor lighting. The owners offered her use of the arena and Claire was grateful. Once both were inside she closed the gate and clapped her hands sending them both speeding, bucking, and snorting around the large arena. Claire laughed at the high tails and swinging heads, pure horse happiness after a long stressful day. Ginger loped up to her and spread frothy goobers down her face. “Ew, Jesus Ginger!”
Once Fred and Ginger were safe in their stalls with food and water Claire got to her room, grabbed a robe and towel and headed for a hot shower. The soap smelled heavenly, the water was soft and Claire started to relax. Then the lights went out and the water turned ice cold. She shrieked trying to find the faucets in the dark to turn the water off. Groping for the towel, then her robe, then the door handle. She saw little emergency lights along the hall. Thank God she thought as she shivered down the hall looking for her room. She bumped into the manager in the hall and he used a flashlight to help her find her room. He pointed to a battery-operated light on the desk and she had enough light to find the bed. Fatigue pulled her to a blissfully dreamless sleep. At three o’clock in the morning, the power came back on and her room lit up with multiple lamps. She turned them off quickly and jumped back in bed squeezing her eyes shut and waiting. “Damn it! I really need a few more hours,” she whined.
The safety locks snapped down on the trailer doors, horses were brushed and re-wrapped and the Dodge roared to life. Claire was tired but anxious to put another two states behind her. She had one hour of unimpeded travel before the swarms of commuters came from all directions. Traffic slowed to a crawl for ten miles and finally opened up for normal speeds. She set the cruise, turned up the music, opened her window and felt the first pang of…what? Loneliness, sadness, loss, yearning? She couldn’t decide so she turned the music up louder, checked the video, and pushed the petal. Why not? She never had a speeding ticket in her twenty-five years. She was due. She set the cruise at 75 and sang to the music. She felt absolutely wicked speeding down the highway and hadn’t noticed the speed limit postings were 75 MPH.
Another B&B, another early rise to load the horses and another long highway stretched before her. She saw the signs to Phoenix on the fourth day and let out a whoop! Followed by Fred kicking the trailer sides in protest. She turned the interior video on and blew kisses to her favorite couple. “We are almost home you guys!”
Mid-afternoon she followed the exit to Mesa and headed East. Traffic was light and she looked at the buildings along the highway. She wondered if she would travel this highway a lot in the future. She flew through Mesa and finally saw her exit to Ironwood Drive. Her navigation turned her North for seven miles. She was so ready to put the horses up in their new home and then find a hotel for the night. This was the only night she didn’t prebook because she could easily find lodging for herself. She decided to find something with a huge bathtub and a full room service menu. She couldn’t wait.
She drove into the foothills and gasped at the sight in the rearview mirror. The valley floor spread out beneath her and she wondered what that must look like at night. There was desert all around her, exotic and beautiful. Tall Saguaro cactus loomed above her showing two and three arms raised in greeting she thought. Her heart was pounding as she turned into Fraser Equestrian. The place took her breath away and she stopped to just look at the multiple paddocks and pastures, deep green against the desert brown. New foals were sticking close to their mothers, and horses in the adjoining pen straining to see and smell. She pulled up the long drive and pulled next to the main barn. It was white with forest green trim and she counted twenty stall doors along one side with horses peering out half doors to look at her. It was glorious and a fitting home for Fred and Ginger.
“Good afternoon!” Claire turned to see two men walking toward her. They offered their hand to her and she shook them smiling.
“I am Claire Beauchamp, I have rented two stalls for my guys here.” They looked at the two rumps in the trailer and smiled.
“I’m Rupert and this is Angus. C’mon lets see where Jaime has put ya.” Claire followed. She spoke to Jaime Fraser on the phone from Boston and thought him friendly but a bit aloof. The bur from these two men sounded like him, so they were probably from the same area of Scotland. They walked the length of the barn without finding Jaime. The large board near the office had her name on two stalls where she was escorted.
“No, this is not what we agreed to! I rented two stalls that had doors to the outside, not interior stalls, and they have to be together.” Claire was overtired and getting upset. She wanted to be friendly but she just didn’t have it in her. Rupert suggested putting the horses up for the night and Jaime would figure it out tomorrow. Claire was too tired to argue and went to fetch Fred and Ginger from the trailer. Rupert watched her walk away with interest. He whistled low, appreciating the tight jeans, long legs, and champion ass.
“Can I help ye lass?” Claire gratefully accepted Rupert’s offer to lead Ginger to her stall.
“We can feed them tonight, what do they get?” Claire eased Fred down the ramp.
“They both get two flakes and a scoop of grain” she called. Rupert walked in a zigzag and noticed Ginger’s nose stayed three inches from his right shoulder. “Yer a good lassie, aye?”
When Claire walked Fred into his stall there was already grain and hay waiting for him. She leaned against him and dropped her head on his back. He moved into her and waited like he would with a child or challenged adult.
“I love you, Fred.”
Claire pulled out of the equestrian center and asked Siri for the closest hotel. The fourth motel Siri directed her to was as run down and frightening as the first three. Her fatigue was mounting and she did not know what to do. It was late and she just couldn’t drive anymore. She headed back to the center and curled up in the corner of Fred’s stall with a blanket. The wood chips smelled new and she was out in seconds. She dreamed of dancing with him in his shiny shoes and impeccable suit. He expertly twirled her around the dance floor. She felt graceful and adored, and her skirt flowed up her legs as he spun her.
Claire’s head snapped up and she saw Fred startle at the loud noise. She tried to focus at the man coming into Fred’s stall.
“C’mon lass, this is no place to sleep, for a human anyway. Are ye doctor Beauchamp?”
Claire shook her head and blinked hard. Too many nights with little sleep made her groggy and weak. She stood up holding her blanket in front of her. She looked like a scared little girl and her first step pitched her forward landing in strong warm arms. She looked up at the face attached to those arms. “Wow,” came as a whisper followed by her hand clamped tight against her mouth.
“I, I’m sorry, yes I’m Dr. Beauchamp and this is Fred who is my horse and I couldn’t find a suitable hotel and Fred said I could bunk with him tonight.” Her last sentence was an effort to speak and she looked back at the corner she slept in and started moving toward it. Those annoying arms stopped her and she looked at him sharply.
“Alright lass, ye sleepin on my couch tonight.” He pulled her along and closed the stall taking her blanket. He stopped to make a note on the board and Claire sunk into a corner and closed her eyes. She was asleep before he turned around.
“Wait just a second lass, ye canna sleep there either.” He pulled Claire to her feet among strong protests and guided her out of the barn and into his golf cart.
“I’ll have ye wrapped and snug in two minutes Dr. Beauchamp.” He drove toward the house and felt her head come down on his shoulder. She was unconscious and Jaime chuckled.
“You musta left Boston with the devil chasin ye lass.” The house was set away from the center on a beautiful lawn of green grass with lights along the tiered walkway. He lifted Claire against his chest and carried her into the house. He pulled the blanket up to her chin and she snuggled down into it. “Thank you, mister, um, mister.” Jaime smiled at her. Noticing her long black hair tangled into her fingers he pulled her hand away and gently pulled the hair out.
“Well then, you’re a beautiful girl doctor Beauchamp, alone in the Arizona desert. What has someone done to make ye run so far?” Jaime estimated her sleep deprivation would keep her down at least until he woke up with the dawn. He climbed the wide circular staircase pulling off his shirt as he walked into his bathroom. He stripped the rest of the way and turned the knobs that shot warm water out of three heads. He stood still and let the hot water release his muscles and back. He thought about that beautiful face asleep on his couch. A doctor from Boston. He was very intrigued. He slipped into sweats and a t-shirt and stood at the railing of his upstairs loft looking down at her. He eventually dropped his body into his king-sized bed and barely threw the quilt up before he passed out.
Claire’s eyes popped open at five o’clock in the morning. Her surroundings confused her at first and then she remembered the owner catching her asleep in Fred’s stall. “I am an idiot,” she said quietly. She folded the extra blanket and pulled out a note pad from her purse to say thank you. Then she crept quietly to the door to slip out but the open door tripped the alarm bells which were loud enough to wake the dead, and Fraser, who flew down the stairs and punched in the code for quiet.
“Jesus H Roosevelt Christ! I am so sorry Mr. Fraser, I didn’t think, I didn’t want, …” Claire hoped she would evaporate in her misery but she was still there. She just looked down and shook her head.
Jaime took the opportunity to notice her long legs, long arms, and long hair, then looked up to her eyes as she lifted her head. He was stuck and staring at the most gorgeous eyes he had ever seen. They were the color of good whiskey and rimmed with dark brown making them look beautiful and exotic. He recovered quickly and tried to make Claire feel better.
“Tis fine lass had to get up now anyway. Would you like some coffee before you leave?” Take the coffee, please, he thought. I like lookin at ye and yer too rattled to drive.
“Another time perhaps, I’m sorry about the alarm and thank you for the rescue last night. Goodbye, Mr. Fraser.”
Jaime chuckled, at the slamming door. He watched her run for the barn and admired the backside of her not seen before. Her application to rent two stalls described her horses as therapeutic and gave impressive training credentials. It would be a pleasant change to have a nice lady doctor with docile horses for a change. He was sick of the cut-throat competition equestrians inspired, including his girlfriend. He picked up his cell phone. “Laoghaire my darlin where ye been? Ye have a show this weekend and ye horse needs some work. Call me.” He dropped the phone thinking about his blonde lass with cherry cheeks and a body to stop a mack truck. Put her in a tight riding jacket and the judges soon forget why they were there. It’s a good thing, she hasn’t been able to ride out of a paper bag lately.