The Mountain Man by aka "Jake"

Chapter 13

 

To a casual observer, Mulder’s expression appeared as impassive as a poker player’s. Dana, however, spotted a transitory flare of panic in his hazel eyes. She promptly withdrew her hand from his leg and covered him with a blanket, although she was sure he was not self-conscious about his exposed limb, not after parading to the privy wearing only her doctor’s smock tied around his waist. Nor did it seem likely he would be intimidated by her mother’s stern scowl. Dana had seen him go toe to toe with Cap, who was far more formidable.

What, then, was distressing him?

“You gettin’ married, Doc?” Sergeant Phillips’ smile widened. “Congratulashuns!”

A muscle twitched along Mulder’s jaw.

“Excuse us, gentlemen.” Dana turned to her mother. “May we talk in my office, please?”

“By all means.” Maggie’s sniff of disapproval knotted Dana’s stomach. “Lead the way.”

Dana walked with eyes downcast, unable to meet her mother’s judgmental stare straight on. Maggie followed, her skirts rustling like nettles in the wind.

“You’re playing with fire,” Maggie accused as soon as the door was shut behind them.

“I’ve done nothing improper. I was merely treating a patient.”

“You cannot be so naïve as to think you can touch a man in such a familiar fashion without consequences.”

“I’m his doctor.”

“You’re a beautiful, young woman. A fact that Mr. Mulder clearly noticed.”

Dana did not like where the conversation was headed. “Why are you here, Mother?” she asked.

“As I said,” -- Maggie dug into her crocheted purse and pulled out Lieutenant Skinner’s carved wooden box -– “to return this.”

Not believing her eyes, Dana patted her pocket, only to find it empty. Damn! She had intended to remove the box before giving her dirtied clothes to Millie.

“That doesn’t mean what you think it means.”

“It’s from Walter Skinner, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“And it’s an engagement ring?”

“That’s his intent.”

“I’m interested in *your* intent. What did you tell him?”

“I told him I needed more time.”

“Time for what?”

“To be certain about my feelings before I made a decision.”

“Dana, you’ve kissed him. You’ve accepted his ring. These are as binding as any contract. There’s no decision left to be made.”

“But I don’t love him.”

“Do you love someone else?”

An image of Mr. Mulder dressed in buckskin and feathers rose unbidden in Dana’s mind. She glanced nervously at the closed door. If pressed, she could not have explained why he appeared in her thoughts at that particular moment, and yet, there he was.

Maggie followed her gaze. “Does your new patient have something to do with your ambivalence?”

“Why would he?”

“Given what I just witnessed out there in the ward--”

“Whatever you think you saw, you’re mistaken.”

“Am I? Shall we ask Mr. Mulder what was going through his mind just now?” Maggie reached for the door handle.

Dana grabbed her wrist, stopping her. “Please don’t. Your accusations are unwarranted. You’ll only embarrass him. And me. Or is that your intention, to shame me into quitting this place and my job?”

“My intention is to see that you don’t make a mistake you’ll regret for the rest of your life. You’re my daughter, Dana. I love you. I will always love you. But I’m afraid of what’s happening to you, of what you’re becoming. There’s a name people give to women who toy with men’s affections, and it isn’t a very nice one.”

The insult stung as soundly as if her mother had slapped her across the face. Dana steadied herself against the desk. “Is that what I’m doing? Toying with men’s affections?”

“Don’t pretend you don’t understand the consequences of your actions. We’ve had this conversation before.”

Dana remembered only too well. The night before she left for New York, Maggie had come to her bedroom to offer some motherly advice. “A woman must be on guard. A single indiscretion can ruin her prospects forever.”

“I’ll be careful,” Dana had promised.

“Please do. A husband expects his new bride to come to their marriage bed chaste.” Maggie lowered her voice to a whisper. “Intact.”

When Dana inquired quite sincerely if the word “intact” should be taken figuratively or literally, Maggie dodged the subject. “Your husband will instruct you on all you need to know...on your wedding night.”

If Melissa had still been living at home, Dana would have sought her out for more detailed information. But she had left months earlier, which meant the finer points of lovemaking remained cloaked in mystery until Dana arrived at medical school and began her studies in human physiology. Halfway through the second semester, during the dissection of a female corpse, her professor pointed to a scar he identified as the carunculae myrtiformes, located within the vaginal vault. According to Dr. Innes, it was the remains of the dead woman’s hymen -- ruptured during her first sexual encounter.

Feeling foolishly ignorant and hoping her male classmates were too focused on the cadaver to notice her flushed face, Dana asked what the structure had looked like prior to parturition.

Dr. Innes paused only a moment before launching into one of his typically monotone explanations: “A membranous semilunar fold, more or less closed, Miss Scully. It varies in shape, but its commonest form is that of a ring, broadest posteriorly. Occasionally it is cribriform. Rarely, it can be imperforate.”

All eyes turned toward her.

Imperforate or semilunar, Dana imagined that losing one’s virginity must be painful, but she was not bold enough to ask, not in a room full of gawping men.

Four years later, she still had not experienced the sexual act firsthand, but at least she now understood the mechanics -- and the consequences. She did not need her mother’s cautious reminders to know what was at stake.

A look of startled alarm spread across Maggie’s features now. “Has my warning come too late?”

“Of course not.”

“Thank God!” Maggie’s hand went to her heart.

Dana glared at her. “I need to get back to work.”

Her mother blinked at the sudden dismissal. “Yes. Well. All right then.” She handed the box to Dana. “But don’t stay at it too long, dear. Too much intellectual stimulation isn’t good for a woman, you know.”

It was an old warning, repeated numerous times in Maggie’s letters while Dana was at school.

“That’s an outdated opinion, Mother.”

“It’s a widely accepted fact.”

“Unfortunately, that much is true.”

“It’s all true. Too much stimulation -- intellectual or otherwise -- leads a woman to recklessness.”

“I disagree.”

“Your current behavior is proof of it,” Maggie insisted.

Anger ballooned in Dana’s chest. “Any recklessness I may be feeling has been caused by efforts to repress my intellect, not the other way around.”

“You would see it that way.”

“I find my work enjoyable, Mother, and enriching. It makes me feel useful, accomplished, and healthy in mind and spirit. Without it, I am little more than a parasite feasting on the generosity of a father or husband.”

Maggie’s eyes widened. “Is that how you view me?”

Her mother’s obvious hurt stripped away Dana’s anger as quickly as water puts out a fire. She had not meant to insult her mother’s way of life. She intended only to point out that she desired something different.

“No, of course not. I envy your happiness,” she said honestly.

Maggie nodded, lips tight, shoulders slumped. She reached again for the door handle. This time Dana did not stop her.

“Lieutenant Skinner is a good man,” Maggie said, stepping across the threshold. “Don’t risk losing the opportunity to become his wife.”

It was more a plea than a demand, and Dana let her have the final word. As soon as her mother was out of sight, she sank into the chair at her desk, Skinner’s carved box clutched in her hand. A clock ticked loudly atop the bookcase. The air smelled stale and musty, and it seemed she could not draw a full breath.

In the past week she had insulted her mother, argued with her father, and disappointed Lieutenant Skinner. Guilt and dismay weighed heavily on her conscience. Could she do nothing right?

She opened the box to stare at the pearl and sapphire ring. It glittered in its velvet-lined nest, holding the promise of a comfortable life, an opportunity to practice medicine, and the means to win back her parents’ approval.

“The answer to all my prayers,” she muttered, tired of butting heads with her parents and feeling selfish for wanting to pursue her own interests.

She snapped the box shut and dropped it into a drawer in the desk. Her personal dilemma would have to wait; she had work to do. Standing, she smoothed her skirt, tucked a loose strand of hair into her chignon, and headed for the ward. A sense of calm settled over her as she passed through the surgery. She sucked in a great rush of air, relishing the prickle of alcohol and ammonia -- a hospital’s distinctive bouquet -- as it tickled her nose. Neat rows of medicine bottles on their shelves and dozens of surgical instruments laid out precisely on trays mirrored the comfort, order, and purpose she felt in this place -- the one place she could be herself. She felt her composure returning. She was in charge here, if nowhere else.

*     *     *

Over the next week, Dana diligently tended her two patients. She found little time to brood about her own problems. She remained in the infirmary both day and night, sleeping on a cot that Corporal Beckett helped her move from the ward into the office. Cap and Maggie did not visit again, although they issued an invitation through Millie to dine with them and the Reverend McGill after church on Sunday. Guessing at their motives, Dana politely declined.

Sergeant Phillips’ health improved with each passing day. By week’s end, the swelling in his cheeks had disappeared and he no longer required a bandage tied around his head. His fever waned and his appetite increased. He received numerous visitors, which cheered him greatly.

As for Mr. Mulder, he seemed hell-bent on recovering in record time. Although in considerable pain, she was sure, he struggled to walk further and longer each day. He limped around the ward dressed in a borrowed nightshirt and relied on a crutch for balance. Later, he extended his range to the thoroughfare, where he craned to see the mountaintops above the fort’s high, stockade fence as he hobbled up and down the dusty street, hour upon hour.

“Like a caged animal,” she murmured, going to fetch him back inside when he looked ready to drop.

He collapsed on his bed after these excursions, drenched with sweat. Only then, on the brink of exhaustion, did he allow her to fuss over him without protest. He surrendered to her ministrations with eyes closed. She took full advantage, not only dressing his wounds and sponging his body clean, but also shaving his face and washing his cropped hair, which stood on end when dry like milkweed silk, no matter how she tried to tame it with a comb.

He said little as she worked on him, responding to her questions about his health with only a nod, a grunt, or a huff. She shrugged off his ill temper and reticence. He was eager to gain his independence -- a feeling she understood only too well.

Come Sunday, the sergeant was so much improved Dana decided to release him after he finished eating his lunch. While he ate, she tweezed stitches from the puckered wounds on her other patient’s arm. Mr. Mulder lay stoically in his bed, arm outstretched across her lap, while she sat beside him in her chair and tugged at his flesh. Bruises mottled his arm from elbow to wrist.

“No sign of infection,” she said, pleased he had survived the worst and was healing so quickly.

“Does that mean I can leave?”

“No. You lost a lot of blood, Mr. Mulder. Give yourself time to regain your strength.”

A burdened sigh huffed from his nose. He twisted to look past her at Phillips. “Do you believe in fate, Sergeant?”

Phillips paused at his meal, fork piled high with beans. “You ain’t fixin’ to bend my ear with another one o’ your tall tales, are you? I’m still havin’ nightmares about that wolf-man you talked about. What’d you call it?”

“A Manitou.” This brought the beginnings of a smile -- the first in days -- to Mulder’s face. “Every word of that story was true.”

“Right, and I’m admiral of all the seas.” Phillips winked at Dana.

Mulder turned the question on her. “How about you, Dr. Scully? Do you believe in fate?”

“No, I don’t.” Her answer seemed to disappoint him. “Does that surprise you?”

“Well...yeah. I thought everyone believed in fate.” He hesitated, appearing to weigh his next words before confessing. “When I was unconscious, I had a vision of a world beyond this one.”

“A vision or a dream?” She yanked a stubborn suture free.

“Ouch!” He jerked his arm from her grasp. “Are we discussing fate or semantics?”

“Sorry.”

With a gentle caress, she lured his arm back to her lap.

“I met an old friend there, a man named Red Crow, who died recently.”

“A ghost?” Phillips’ eyes rounded.

“Maybe.”

“Was you dead, too?”

“Apparently not. Red Crow told me I was a spirit, not a ghost.”

Phillips nodded, accepting this questionable distinction. He shoveled more beans into his mouth.

“Red Crow said it wasn’t my time to die. My ‘earth walk,’ as he called it, was not over yet. I woke up here.”

Dana swabbed his arm with a damp cloth, wiping away the droplets of fresh blood that welled up in the tiny holes left behind by the stitches. “That’s it? That’s your proof that fate governs our lives?”

“There’s more. Red Crow said I was going to meet someone, a person of unusual strength and wisdom.”

“Did he say who this person was?”

“No.”

“Or when you would meet him?”

"Her."

"Her?"

“He said she would bring me back from the dead.” He fixed her with a stare.

The intensity in his gaze caused her pulse to quicken. A pleasant pressure ballooned in her chest and belly.

“I thought you said you weren’t dead. A spirit, not a ghost.” She gathered up her tweezers and gauze, and rose from the chair.

“I once dreamt about a chicken that laid three pink eggs.” Phillips wiped his chin with the back of his hand. “A week later, my wife gave birth to triplets.”

Mulder’s head bobbed as if this odd coincidence proved anything.

“Dreams have been the harbingers of future events for centuries. Examples date back to Biblical times,” Mulder said. “Egyptian pharaohs, Queen Maya, the Virgin Mary, St. John, Mohammed, Joan of Arc, Mark Twain--”

“Mark Twain?” Phillips asked around a mouthful of cornbread.

“In June, 1858, Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, dreamt that his younger brother Henry was laid out in a casket in their sister’s sitting room. A bouquet of white roses graced the dead man's chest. One lone, red bloom among the mass of white marked his still heart. After Twain awoke, he learned that the boiler on the steamship where Henry was serving as a mud clerk had exploded and Henry lay close to death in a hospital in Memphis. Twain rushed to be at his brother’s side. It took him three days to get there by steamship. For three long days and nights he relived his terrible, prophetic dream and anguished over his brother’s fate. On approaching Henry’s bed at last, Twain sank to the floor in shock, for his brother’s unconscious form was laid out exactly as the corpse in his nightmare. A stain of blood, like the lone, red rose, marked his white shirtfront. Henry died seven days later.”

“I’d say we’re both admirals of the seas, Sergeant Phillips,” Dana said.

Undaunted by her skepticism, Mulder continued to argue his point. “Abraham Lincoln dreamt about his own death and told his wife and a friend about it before his assassination.”

“That’s an unfounded rumor.”

“Some Indian tribes believe dreams are as real as their waking lives. They claim animals in dreams are particularly powerful. Eagles, buffalo, bear, fox -- these animal helpers can provide insight and guidance, impart their unique strengths, and protect and watch over the dreamer, even after he wakes.”

Dana recalled her most recent dream, about her fall from Old Isaac. In it, a fox with green eyes -- eyes almost the same color as the ones studying her so intently now -- watched her from atop a bluff.

An animal helper? Fate? Or mere coincidence?

She deposited the gauze and tweezers on the table beside the bed. “‘Fate is not the ruler, but the servant of Providence,’” she quoted. “As are we, Mr. Mulder. God, not the Moirae,  watches over us, and He allows us to make our own choices.”

“You’ve never had a dream come true?”

“No. Nor am I convinced that they can.”

“What does it take to make you believe?”

“Scientific evidence, not exaggeration and hearsay. Dreams do not foretell the future, Mr. Mulder, nor does fate govern our destiny. I believe in free will. I set my own course.”

“Do you?” he challenged. “Is that what you’re doing right now?” His gaze flitted to her bare ring finger.

She fought the urge to hide her hand behind her back and turned to Phillips instead. “As we’re on the subject of free will, I’m releasing you, Sergeant. You are a free man.”

“I’m cured?” He blinked up at her in surprise.

“Healthy as a horse.” She lifted away his empty plate.

“Yeehaw!” He threw back the covers and bounded from the bed. His nightshirt flapped around his prickly, bowed legs as he danced a little jig.

“Let me bring you some clothes.” Plate in hand, Dana headed for the surgery to retrieve the sergeant’s uniform, which was stored on a shelf with clothing that once belonged to other former patients, all who had presumably died.

Behind her, Phillips chattered to Mulder. “She’s the best doc I ever had. You suppose she’ll keep doctorin’ after she gets hitched? I sure hope so, in case I git the mumps agin. Gosh, whoever she’s marryin’ is a lucky son-of-a-gun.”

Mulder murmured something in response that Dana could not quite catch. Glancing back at him, she saw that his earlier expression of panic had returned.

*     *     *

The following afternoon, Mulder clomped back and forth across the empty ward on his crutch, just as he had been doing every day for the past week. Dr. Scully was holed up in her office. She had been there since early morning. Which meant she had missed the pimply-faced private who delivered a copy of the Picayune an hour ago. The paper carried the oily scent of fresh ink and an official notice of Dr. Scully’s impending marriage.

“A September wedding is planned,” it declared.

September was less than a week away.

Mulder had crumpled the paper into a ball and stuffed it into the water pitcher on the table beside his bed.

“So much for fate,” he muttered as he paced.

It wasn’t like she hadn’t warned him. She admitted to kissing Skinner. She evidently loved him, at least enough to accept his ring, the ring Mrs. Scully had returned to her yesterday.

The ring she still wasn’t wearing today, he had noticed.

“Trouble in paradise?” he mused aloud. For some reason, the idea appealed to him.

The Picayune’s sappy verse circled his brain for what seemed the millionth time: She is thine, the word is spoken, hand to hand, and heart to heart, though all other ties are broken, time these bonds shall never part--

He crashed into the end of a cot, stubbing his big toe and nearly losing his balance. Pain shot up his injured leg.

“Son of a...!” He hurled the crutch across the room. It sailed over three beds before it struck a wall and clattered to the floor.

Had she heard his outburst? He glanced at the closed door between the ward and the surgery.

“I’m all right!” he shouted, just in case.

She did not respond, for which he was grateful. And irritated.

What was it about her anyway? Why did he care if she did or did not marry Skinner? It made no difference to him one way or the other. He had had no plans to marry. And even if he did, it wouldn’t be to a woman as narrow minded as--

“You’re looking better.”

Mulder spun toward the voice...lost his balance...started to fall--

Walter Skinner rushed to his side. With an iron grip, he grabbed Mulder’s arm and set him upright.

Mulder shook free and limped to his bed. “I understand congratulations are in order.”

“Congratulations?” Skinner looked confused. “For what?”

“Your impending nuptials.”

This clearly surprised Skinner, but he gave a nod. “Did Miss Scully say something to you?”

“Not exactly.” Mulder lowered himself to the bed. He punched his pillow several times before lying down. “Will it be different this time, Walter?”

“I hope so. I’ve learned a lot since--” Skinner extended an arm as if pointing to the past. The gesture made him notice he still wore gloves. He removed them, along with his hat, then lowered himself onto the chair beside Mulder’s bed.

“She’s not Liddiah,” Mulder reminded him.

“I know.”

“She’s stronger.”

“Yes. I’m grateful for that.” Skinner plucked a nonexistent speck of dust from the brim of his hat. “When Liddiah and I were first married, she seemed content enough, didn’t she?”

“Yes.” Mulder remembered the couple appeared well matched and very much in love.

Skinner’s expression softened. “Her face lit up whenever I came home. It made me feel...good. Assured me that she was happy to be my wife and mother to our boys.” His eyes grew sad. “Later, when my absences became longer and more frequent, she grew despondent. She greeted me with tears, not smiles. My arrival was nothing more than a reminder of my impending departure.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Walter. She married a soldier.”

“Yes, but she didn’t realize what it would be like when she accepted my proposal. How could she have anticipated the loneliness? The fear? Every battle threatened to leave her a widow and our sons fatherless. The idea terrified her.”

“Men have been going off to war for centuries.”

“While their families stay behind, helpless to do anything but pray.”

“Maybe her prayers are what saved you.”

“Yes, but they didn’t save her.” Skinner straightened in his chair. “Dana will not suffer the same fate; I’ll make sure of it.”

Dana doesn’t believe in fate, Mulder thought. Aloud he asked, “Suppose the army transfers you to Fort Jefferson or some other godforsaken place? You plan to take her with you?”

“I suspect she would be up to the challenge.” A fleeting smile played on Skinner’s lips. “But the point is moot. I’m retiring at the end of this year.”

“You? You’re a career man!”

Skinner shrugged. “I want to make her happy.”

“And you’re going to do that by quitting your profession? You love being a soldier.”

“Life in the army doesn’t hold the interest it once did.” Skinner’s brow furrowed and it seemed there was more he wanted to say on the subject. But he returned to the topic of Dr. Scully. “I love her. I anticipate we’ll have a good life together.”

Mulder thought back to her brief stay in his mountain cabin. Yes, she had argued every point, but it had been pleasant having her there just the same. In fact, he rather enjoyed debating the world’s mysteries with her. She was intelligent and honest, the sort of person he might eventually grow to trust and confide in. Not an easy thing for him. The disappearance of his sister had left him trusting no one. Yet there was something about Dr. Scully that made him believe she could be a loyal friend. Or something more.

He could not help but wonder if she was the Wakan, the person of unusual power and wisdom that Red Crow had described in his vision, the person who could help him confront his shadow self and find answers to his questions. Maybe find peace at last.

“Together you could discover wondrous things,” the old Indian had predicted.

But Dr. Scully would have to be insane to turn her back on a normal life with Skinner, who clearly adored her, to chase ghosts with him -- “Crazy Fox” Mulder.

“I wish you both the best,” Mulder said, knowing he sounded bitter, but not caring.

“Thank you.” Skinner started to stand, but changed his mind and settled again on the edge of his chair. He focused his gaze on the toe of one polished boot. “I owe you an apology.”

“For what?” Winning the pretty doctor’s hand and heart?

“For not trusting you. Doubting your intentions and your honor. I should’ve helped you on Nine Pipe Ridge the other day, when Bill Scully...” Guilt darkened Skinner’s cheeks. “You didn’t deserve what he did to you.”

“Forget it.” Mulder waved him off, knowing he had earned every punch. If Skinner knew the things he had been thinking about Dr. Scully, his betrothed, he would sock him in the jaw, too.

Instead, Skinner dug into his pocket and fished out a small, carved wooden soldier. Mulder’s old good luck charm and a symbol of his friendship with Skinner.

“Where did you find it?” he asked, glad to see it again.

“Ptarmigan Hill.” Skinner handed it to him.

“I must’ve lost it during the storm.”

The crevices were caked with mud, but otherwise it appeared unscathed.

“Thank you for saving her life, for keeping her safe,” Skinner said, looking embarrassed, but earnest. “Is she here?”

Mulder glanced at the closed door that separated them from Skinner’s intended bride.

“Hey, don’t let me keep you,” he said, trying his best to sound generous.

Skinner rose to his feet, but before he could take a step toward the office, a soldier burst through the front door. The young man spotted Skinner and saluted.

Skinner returned his salute. “What is it, Private?”

The soldier gulped air, clearly out of breath. “Captain Scully’s looking for you, sir.”

“Did he say why?”

“No, sir, di’n’t give no explanation. Just said to rattle my hocks and bring yer back, quick as I could.”

Skinner looked annoyed, but fitted his hat to his head. He turned to Mulder. “Would you tell her I was here?”

“Sure.”

Skinner gave a brusque nod, then strode from the room. The private trailed at his heels.

Mulder set the little carved soldier on the table beside the bed. The pitcher with its crumpled copy of the Picayune caught his eye.

“I’ve got to get out of here.”

He swung his feet to the floor and slowly stood up, testing his weight before heading to the surgery. Phillips’ uniform had come from somewhere behind that closed door. Mulder hoped to find his own clothes in there, too, but he wanted to do it without alerting Dr. Scully.

He hobbled across the ward as quietly as possible, forgoing the crutch since it tended to thump against the floorboards with every step. Opening the door a crack, he peered into the surgery.

“Must be fate,” he whispered, unable to suppress a smile. The second door -- the door to Dr. Scully’s office -- was closed.

A set of shelves to his left held neatly folded linens, rolled bandages, wool blankets, and a meager supply of Army-issue shirts, jackets, and trousers. He pawed through them, but could not locate his own clothes. Undaunted, he selected a four-button recruit coat and pair of kersey pants that looked about the right size. The coat’s left breast was marked by a faded blood stain and an obvious bullet hole.

“Oooo...bad luck, buddy.”

He shed his nightshirt and let it drop to the floor before shrugging into the coat. He had to brace himself against a wall to pull on the trousers, but managed to get them on without falling over or yelping in pain.

“Boots...boots...where are the--”

Ah-ha. Bottom shelf. One matching pair, along with two left boots and one right. He recognized the right as his own.

“Just what do you think you’re doing?”

He nearly dropped the boot, startled by Dr. Scully’s sudden appearance.

“I’m leaving.”

“You aren’t well enough.”

“I’m fine.”

“You can’t ride a horse. Not with that bad leg.” She crossed her arms in defiance.

“Watch me.” He held up his boot. “Where’s the other one?”

“I had to cut it off you. It was ruined, so I threw it out.”

“Great.”

He grabbed a left boot, a size too small, but the closest match, then limped back to the ward to put them on.

She followed him. “I’m coming with you.”

“No, you’re not.”

“You can’t go alone. Not in your condition.”

“I don’t need help.” He sat on the nearest bed. The damned left boot was too tight and it hurt like hell pulling it on, but he squeezed his foot into it -- without passing out. A victory. “See?”

He stood up. His leg throbbed with god-awful pain, but he was dead set on leaving. Without her. He hobbled across the ward toward freedom.

She tagged right after him.

Didn’t she have a wedding to plan?

At the door, he spun to face her and she bumped into him. He straightened to his full height, loomed over her, tried to intimidate her with his greater size, but she stood her ground. Toe-to-toe, they glared at one another.

“Should I call for your father?” he threatened.

“You’ll find yourself on the end of a rope if you do.”

She looked beautiful with her chin thrust out, eyes blazing, fists balled. It was all he could do not to take her in his arms and kiss those tightly puckered lips.

He turned away, yanked open the door, and limped out into the blazing sunshine.

She stepped out behind him. “I can be as stubborn as you are, Mr. Mulder.”

“Apparently so.” Was she really going to chase him all the way to Nine Pipe Ridge? “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

 

Continued in Chapter 14

 

THE MOUNTAIN MAN
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