Claire pressed her knees into her fillie’s side, and chuckled as the sweet horse responded eagerly. James had presented her with Moss, a soft blue grey mare this morning, though her apparel had garnered a greater reaction from him than her joy.
“What the devil are you wearing?” He had asked, as he pulled her away from the stable hand’s gaze.
“Breaches. Like the ones you have on now?” Claire had said, with a bit of irritation.
“Aye, I see that, but why?”
“Because riding in a dress is not practical, nor is it comfortable. I had the staff make me a few pairs for when I wanted to foraging or…”
“Aye but….” James leaned in and lowered his voice. “Do they need to be so tight around your arse? I can see the entire shape of ye as can everyone else!”
Claire blew out a breath, but matched his gaze. “They need to fit, yes. Would you prefer if I untucked my shirt?”
“If it’d hide your bum from the waking world, aye, I would.”
With a swift motion, she untucked her blouse so it fell over her hips and offensive backside. She unfastened her belt and wrapped it instead around her waist to cinch the billowy material. James continued to frown as he watched her adjustments. She unbuttoned the top two buttons of her shirt, revealing the cleavage beneath it and raised a brow at him.
“I suppose I deserve that.”
“You do.” Claire rebuttoned the lowest button and pulled her shawl tighter over her shoulders.
“I’m ready!” Brian shouted from outside, where he stood bouncing beside Donvan. Claire and Jamie exchanged a smile before he helped her into her saddle, and the three were off for the morning.
Looking behind her now, Claire could see Brian’s animated conversation had died down as they approached a hillside. At the top, Claire could see for miles, both behind them to the smallness of Beauly, and ahead of them to the rolling pastures of Fraser land. In the far distance, she saw the remains of a homestead, and charred earth, and with a gasp, realized what she saw.
“That’s my grandpa’s land,” Brian said quietly.
Brian rode in front of James, who remained silent behind his son.
“He was a very good man,” Claire replied, as she met Brian’s eyes and smiled.
“Did you ever meet him?”
“I did, once when I was barely older than you. He stayed a few days at my old home when my father was ill.”
“I remember,” James said quietly. “It was the first time he left me in charge of Lallybroch. Oh, I was a proud lad that day.” James smiled down at Brian and hugged him close.
“Like when you leave me in charge of Beauly?” Brian asked.
“Aye, but without the likes of Murtagh or Miss Alice to look in on ye!”
“Were you scared, da?”
“Och, I was. But I had your Aunt Jenny with me, and we managed just fine.”
“Maybe you can get me a sister one day.”
A stream of laughter erupt from Claire as she saw James’ face grow pale.
“Do you know much about bairns, Brian?” Claire teased, her eyes sparkling. James shot her a glare, but before he could intervene, Brian launched into an explanation.
“Oh, aye. I know a da and a mame need to like one another, and then a bairn will grow inside a mame. Like I did.”
“A smart lad, you are,” Claire said with a smile.
“So how long do you two need to like each other before Claire grows a bairn?”
Now it was Claire’s turn to pale at the question. Claire heard the deep chuckle leave James as they turned their horses back to Beauly. “Well, son. Claire’s just joined us. It could take quite some time before that happens, aye?”
“Will you let me know when it does?” Brian asked as he dismounted from James horse, his attention newly fixed on a copse of rabbits.
“You’ll be the first to know,” Claire said through her blush, and averted her eyes from the smile that stretched across James’ face. “Stop looking at me like that.”
“Fashed, and lovely,” James murmured. “Come. Let’s sit while he plays a bit.”
Leaving the horses to graze, James took Claire’s arm and brought her to a well sized tree trunk with raised roots that created a perfect seating ground. He pulled her down beside him and wrapped one arm around her to hold her steady. She gripped the hand that surrounded her in her own and gave it a squeeze.
“Thank you for this,” Claire whispered.
“For Moss, this morning, and last night…”Claire trailed off. James squeezed her side in answer and motioned his chin to her grey horse.
“Do you like her, then?”
“Good. I’m glad for it,” He said quietly. “And you don’t need to thank me. I didna realize how much I had been keeping from ye, in truth. We’ve only been married a week, and it seems as if a lifetime has passed since I met ye. I thought I’d have more time to let you settle here before troubling you with all this.”
“I did think of a question last evening. Why did you wait three days to tell me all this?” Claire asked, bumping her shoulder against his.
“I could tell you what I told myself,” James said quietly, “That I was securing the castle, and ensuring every body within the walls was accounted for. In truth, I was a coward. I kept thinking that perhaps it was too late to show you who I was, to explain to you why I said what I did.” James tilted his head towards her. “You seemed convinced I was fodder.”
“And now,” Claire let out a breath. “I can appreciate why you kept things from me, even if I wished you hadn’t.”
“I swear there won’t be secrets between us again,” James spoke softly against her cheek. Her finger reached up to rub the stubble on his cheek as she nodded. James dropped his chin to kiss her so Claire could feel the wet heat of his mouth a moment before their lips touched, but they’d barely brushed together when—
“It’s snowing!!!!” Brian yelled.
Claire and James looked up and saw the boy dashing towards them, his hair full of the fresh flurries rushing to cover the ground.
“We should start home before this picks up,” James said as he stood, catching Brian as he barreled past him and swinging him about. Claire smiled as both of their faces lit up at the game, and quickly clapped her boots clean to start after her men.
Claire stood in her bedroom window, combing her damp locks as she stared out at the white landscape. The moon’s light reflected off the blankets of snow and cast a glow upon Beauly’s battlements and towers. The effect encouraged those working to keep on, not knowing what conditions they may find upon waking. Two days had passed since her ride with James and Brian, but with the castle to run and villagers to keep warm and fed, work had prevented idle hands. Claire had a line of patients most days, suffering from sprains and colds, as well as frostbite, and James was kept occupied with mending rooftops from the heavy falls, and ensuring supplies of grain and meat were distributed where needed.
Still, throughout the busy days, Claire would turn and unexpectedly find James within arms reach. He’d usually be mid-conversation but would place a hand at her waist, or briefly squeeze her hand as if accounting for her whereabouts and safety. Each passing day taught her a more authentic version of James: one who worked with his hands cared for his people and his family, and one who did not have time to mince his words with half-truths. Her heart warmed when he brushed back a strand of her hair or when he made pockets of time for her by escorting her to supper, a completely unnecessary action that often left her last patient wiggling their brows.
After supper, he would spend a precious hour with her and Brian as he narrated Brian’s favorite bedtime stories. She would part from James for the evening at their chamber door with a formidable but gentle kiss before he returned to work, or his study.
That had been their pattern until today.
Today, the snow finally stopped and a collective sigh of relief was felt by all. Claire’s surgery only had one patient this morning, so she spent the rest of her day grinding her herbs and resupplying her stocks. She was surprised when James appeared in her doorway well before the dinner hour, looking clean and mostly rested. Her mouth opened to greet him, but the words hadn’t left her mouth when he gathered her close and kissed her breathless, one hand tangling into her hair as the other circled her waist. His kiss was tender and eager, carefully stoking the desire Claire’s heart had decidedly stamped out days before.
”I can’t stop thinking about you, ” he said softly, a soft chuckle ending his breath.
”I’m not sure that kiss helped matters, ” Claire murmured against his lips.
”Maybe no’ but…” His nose brushed hers. “May I kiss ye again all the same?”
Claire’s fingers hooked into his belt and tugged him forward, letting her mouth answer his question. He leaned his hands onto the table behind her, caging her between his arms until his lips collided with hers, nipping at her bottom lip. Her hands moved up to his collar, slipping her fingers into the shoulders of his shirt where she could feel the heat of him and the beat of his heart. His pulse drummed madly against her fingertips, and a hiss left his teeth she sucked his bottom lip. His hands dropped to her bottom, squeezing the roundness of her arse with a muffled curse lost in her kiss.
The sound of Murtagh’s curses echoing from the hall startled James from her embrace, pinking his ears as he ground his teeth in frustration.
“I must leave ye.” He kissed her once more.
“Are you sure?” Claire teased.
“Lad! Where are ye!”
“Aye, I must. But I’ll see you tonight.”
He kissed her twice more, leaving only when Murtagh’s footsteps rounded the corner. James ended up missing supper when a supply house was found flooded from the snow melt off, and Brian decided to stay with Alice and Graham’s boys this evening. Supper was a quiet affair, and hours later now washed and fed, Claire felt restless in a way she hadn’t experienced before.
Her heart was full from his tender words and gestures, that was certainly not the problem. Her eyes fell on the lone tulip on her vanity, though she had no idea where he’d found it. He’d simply kissed her on the nose and left the bloom in her hands the other morning. No, this restlessness was in the marrow of her bones, an ache that she knew he could soothe if she gave him the opportunity. She missed her husband and feeling his hands on her this afternoon had heightened her need.
Touching the flower to her lips, she decided she was done with caution.
James turned down the hall to his study and was surprised to find the door cracked open and a warm light glowing from the doorway. He pushed open the door and was surprised to see Claire’s robed shoulders by his window, and the fireplace well supplied with wood. She had voiced a shyness about entering his study without him, and immediately his mind raced.
“Claire? Are you all right?”
She turned as he closed the door behind him, a slight smile pulling at her lips.
“Yes,” she breathed softly, “Just worried for you. Did you get supper?”
“Aye, I did.” He approached her, leaning down to press a kiss to her forehead. “And a bath to rinse away the cold one Murtagh gave me when he pushed me into the supply shed.”
A chuckle sounded from behind Claire’s hand, and it warmed him to his toes. She smelled of vanilla and cinnamon, and he fought the urge to press himself to her neck to taste her. He grounded his feet firmly into his heels as he lowered his eyes and smiled instead.
“I…had a question for you,” Claire began, her voice low as she took a step closer to him.
“Yes, I decided there was a story I needed you to tell me.” Claire led him to his chaise and motioned for him to sit. He felt a slight wave of unease pass over him, but settled into the seat, his eyes turning concerned as Claire bit her lower lip.
“What’s that, lass?”
Claire swallowed. “I want you to tell me about your time with Milla.”
James paled. “What? But why—”
“Because I want to know how she touched you.” Claire untied her robe and let it fall from her shoulders. His shuddered breath was the only sound she heard over the fire crackling as his eyes swept over the sheer nightdress that skimmed her knees and hid nothing but her freckles.
She bent forward to slip a hand beneath his kilt, her nails scraping as his knee as his eyes bore into hers, trying to understand her game. He heaved a breath, licked his lips and said, “I didna sleep with her.”
“Oh.” Claire placed her hand on his other knee and pressed them apart, drawing him to the edge of his seat. His mouth opened in awe as he watched her settle on her knees, and his eyes narrowed as her nails scratched the inside of his knees. His tongue licked at his bottom lip, and his expression was one of utter conflict. She waited patiently as he fought with himself, curious to see what his next words would be before finally his lips settled into a line and his eyes closed.
“Claire, ye dinna need—”
He words dissolved into a moan when her nails clawed up the inside of his thighs. Her left hand found him, warm and ready, and she lightly skimmed her hand over his shaft.
“You said she haunted the halls…Did she catch you while you were tired one afternoon?” Claire purred, her fingertips gently tracing the seam of his arousal from root to tip.
“I had…a long night…aye, she cornered me in a supply room.” He watched as Claire raised a brow. “I said no but…when she touched me…”
“Here?” Claire pumped her hand over his hardness once, sending a shiver through his thigh.
“Aye,” Jamie ground out. “It’d been so long since anyone touched me.” A breath rattled out from his chest. “I couldn’t bear to stop her, and it was over within a minute.” Claire stroked him once more, a small smile pulling at her lips.
“That was all?” She asked softly.
“Did she kiss you?” Claire asked, leaning into his thighs. James dipped his head so he was close enough to brush her nose with his, and nodded.
“Well, that won’t do,” Claire whispered and leaned into his lips. He met her eagerly, his lips hungry for her as her hand worked slowly over him. A small whimper left him as she pulled away, looking satisfied.
“Did she kiss you anywhere else?”
“Nay,” James grunted, his hips rocking forward to meet her hand’s motions. “I pushed her away and left.”
“I see.” Claire could feel how primed he was by tension in his groin and the tremor in his thigh. “So she never tasted you then?”
His eyes, hooded up until now, widened as he appraised her raised brow and swollen lips. “Nah,” he answered shakily.
“Lean back, Jamie,” Claire whispered, her voice husky as she raised his kilt to his waist. His eyes didn’t leave her as she unveiled his swollen shaft and lifted herself high onto her knees. Her eyes swept up to his as she lowered her mouth over him, sucking his tip into her mouth before pushing her lips down to his root.
He cried out as he leaned back on his hands, his eyes watching as her mouth moved over him. His knees shook as she pumped over him again and again and he felt a chuckle escape his chest at the ecstasy her mouth brought him.
“Claire…mo chridhe, I canna last…” His hand cupped the back of her head, and he groaned happily when she wrapped her arms around his thighs.
“Oh, Claire…” He moaned softly and felt himself come undone, his release spilling into her mouth as he cried out her name. He rode the waves of his high, his eyes never leaving her even as she settled her chin on his thigh. His hand cupped her jaw, as his ragged breath calmed. Claire slowly rose to her knees so she could meet him at eye level.
“You are mine,” she spoke softly, as her eyes bore into his. Her thumb passed over his lip, and he pressed forward to suck it into his mouth.
“Aye, lass,” He whispered. “Yours, and yours alone.