Claire moved her largest needle through her corset, mending the muslin back together. Luckily, the boning wasn’t damaged, and she could replace the fabric once they arrived in Beauly. For now, the task busied her mind as well as her hands.
You’re allowed to be attracted to your husband.
Claire repeated that mantra as she took each stitch. The lake refreshed her but also sent her into a whirlwind. Her grief should consume her, and yet James made her forget the crushing loss of Alistair, at least for a moment.
Was he only buried yesterday? It felt like a lifetime ago already.
James comforted her with his steadiness and humor. His silence held no expectation, no demands or awkwardness. And his lips—
“One of the lads could mend that for ye.”
Claire jumped, and James smiled apologetically.
“You are a soft-footed thing, aren’t you?” Claire murmured as her eyes flicked between James and her sewing.
“Aedan offered. But handing a lady’s corset to an 18-year-old—” Claire’s eyes flicked to James as a smirk crept up her face, and he chuckled in response.
“I thought to spare him. Besides, I enjoy the work.”
They had finished their meal several hours ago, and Claire knew his return signaled his men were cared for and bedding down.
Placing the finishing stitch, she put the corset aside and took in the sight of her husband stripping off his shirt and boots as he knelt beside their makeshift bed. Claire fidgeted with the edge of her fresh dressing gown, and struggled to voice a question that
had drifted into her mind.
James looked up and surveyed her face. “What is it, lass?”
“Would you mind terribly if we just slept this evening?”
James blinked several times, looking to the bed and then back to her. “I had no plans to force myself on ye in a field with our soldiers a breath away.”
Claire felt her cheeks fever as she pressed her eyes shut. “I didn’t think you would. I only…”
James leaned forward to grab her hand, pulling her gently towards their pile of tartan and bedding.
“Your cheeks have the loveliest flush when my words unsettle you.”
“That’s because I feel foolish,” Claire muttered, and she sat beside him. “I can’t seem to keep my thoughts straight, never mind speak them.”
“Maybe no’, but you’re a fiend with a dagger,” James smiled and kisses her hand before muttering softly, “I thank the Lord for it.”
Claire dipped her eyes and squeezed his hand. “I enjoyed the lake. I didn’t want you thinking otherwise.”
“I found it too cold, myself,” James answered and grinned as Claire glared in return. He leaned forward and touched his forehead to hers. “I ken. I did as well. And after nearly losing you, ‘‘twas needed.”
Claire nodded and tugged his hand to follow as she laid down in their nest. James slid his arm beneath her as he laid on his back and pulled her close.
“I didna expect this, to feel this way,” James whispered. “Do ye feel it as well, this connection?”
Claire nodded into his shoulder. “Yes, I do.”
Claire felt James' mouth brush her forehead before he departed into dawn’s light. She did not linger long after, knowing today they would finally arrive at Beauly.
The men made quick work of the camp, and it wasn’t long before James reappeared with their horse in tow. The group was riding by the time the sun fully crested the horizon.
So close to home, the men rode hard, and Claire could feel the excitement among them as they passed through the outer farmlands and cottages.
Then Beauly appeared, its red stone gleaming in the setting sun’s orange rays. It was easily twice the size of Claire’s former home, with grey brick parapets lining the inner and outer courtyards.
Seeing the expected party, the gates opened in anticipation of their arrival, and before long, the entire party was dismounting in the yard as stable men came out to tend to the wary horses.
Claire took James' extended hand and dismounted into his arms.
“Welcome to Beauly, Claire.”
Claire squeezed his arms and tilted her lips to his, and felt her stomach flutter as his lips met hers.
“Ye wee devil!”
The sound of a Scottish howl broke their kiss, and James turned in time to see a ragged Murtagh standing by the house door, heaving for breath.
James let go of Claire in time to intercept the blur of linen, limbs, and ruddy curls just before it slammed into his hip.
“Da!” Brian cried out as he swung up into James’ arms and snaked his hands around his father’s neck. “Da! Donas let me brush him today! He even took the apple from my hand as you showed me! Can you take me riding on him tomorrow after…”
Claire watched as the small boy’s crystal blue eyes found hers and widened in awe and amazement, completely forgetting his story. “Da?”
James quirked his lip as he followed his son’s line of vision. He adjusted his grip on the small barefoot boy, dressed in only his nightshirt, and pressed a soft kiss to his brow. “Aye, lad?”
Brian tugged on his father’s collar and whispered, “Da, did a faerie follow you home…”
“You’ll be the death of me yet, ye wee gomeral,” Murtagh scowled, eyeing the identical innocent expression on father and son alike. “And ye! No word for days! I should let you sleep in the stables with the damn…”
Murtagh followed Brian’s gaze and furrowed his brows.
“Who is this, then?”
James smiled as he threw his awestruck son over his shoulder and took Claire’s hand.
“Murtagh, this is Claire Fraser. My wife.”
A gasp sounded behind James, but Murtagh’s scowl deepened as he inspected her from the crown of her head to the tip of her boot.
“Pleased to meet you, Murtagh,” Claire greeted.
“You’re the Munro sassenach, then?” Murtagh said tersely.
“I’ve lived in the Highlands since I was eight. I’m hardly a sassenach anymore, after two marriages, but yes, I was known as that growing up.”
“You’re a bonny healer, I heard.”
“I’m that as well.”
“Good Lord, Murtagh!”
A blond-haired young woman with a small bairn clinging to her chest approached, and though she was a slight wispy thing, Claire watched as Murtagh jumped to the side to let her through.
“Interrogate the poor woman by the fire if you must, but not in the damp yard in the cold. Brian?”
“Aye, Mrs. Sinclair?” Sounded from James’ back.
“You’ll take a bath and let your father put you to bed the moment you get back in the house and dry your feet, and I don’t want to hear another peep out of you this evening, understood?”
“Aye, Mrs. Sinclair.”
“In the house, all of ye!” Alice shooed the men off and then bowed her head to Claire. “Alice Sinclair, ma’am. I’m so pleased to meet ye, Mrs. Fraser.”
Claire felt a wave of relief hit her as the woman’s hands closed over hers. “Please, call me Claire. Your husband has been very kind to me, and I feel as if we’re already friends.”
“He fetched me right away and already showed me your handiwork,” Alice said with a smile and nodded toward the small boy nodding off on her shoulder. “This is Roland, our youngest. But enough about me. Let’s get you inside.”
Some hours later, Claire found herself fed and washed and staring at two garments Alice had left for her use.
Both shifts presented problems. While one was sleeveless, with mere strings tied together at the shoulders and a deep cut revealing nearly all of her chest, it was at least made of linen. The second appeared to be made of gauze, the material so sheer it
barely colored her skin.
Claire berated herself as she stared at both garments and finally dressed in the lesser of the two evils, taking the gauze film and tucking it away in one of the dresser drawers.
With that decided, she looked about her husband’s bedroom, something she hadn’t had the chance to do with Alice keeping her company.
A few plush rugs and skins were laid by the hearth, but all in all, the room felt sparse. The desk set by the window was immaculate with one inkwell and one journal set upon the surface. The drapes were clean but heavy and unbound, brushing right to the
stone floor. The table beside the bed held three books, neatly stacked, and three unused candles with fresh wicks.
The room was devoid of him, and Claire wondered suddenly how long it had been since he slept here.
The bedroom door opened loudly on its hinges, and the sight of a damp-haired James dressed in only his kilt stopped her thoughts as well as her breath. His eyes found hers, and she couldn’t read what emotion crossed his face at that moment but watched
as he bolted the door shut before resting his back against it.
Claire couldn’t help herself as she admired the golden muscles of his chest, for once not covered in dirt or another man’s blood or hidden by darkness. His broad shoulders nearly spanned the doorframe, and his arms were carved sculptures of sinew and
muscle, but his fingers tapped nervously at his thigh.
Claire steeled herself and met his gaze to see what awaited her.
He could think of no other word to describe what stood before him beside the human embodiment of a deadly sin made sacred by the sacrament.
Her dark curls created a sea of ringlets he itched to touch. Her pale shoulders were bare to him, as well as her arms and most of her ribs, given the deep cut of the shift. He could see her nipples pushing through the fabric, beckoning him to her with each
breath she took. He curiously wondered if the entire garment would fall to the floor if he pushed one strap off her shoulder…
“Hello,” Claire muttered and grabbed her hands to stop herself from fidgeting.
James stepped away from the door and approached her slowly as if afraid she’d flee. When only a few steps remained between them, he reached out a hand and gently brought her hand to his lips.
“You’re a vision,” he whispered to her.
“A faerie, you mean?” Claire said with a grin.
James was pleased to see her smile.
“Aye. The lad doesna shield his words. He was quite enraptured with ye.”
“He seemed very partial to you as well,” Claire chuckled as her eyes glinted. Given the stories you’ve told me, I can presume faeries take part in his bedtime stories.
“Aye, they do. Those seeking to heal and protect, and those seeking to destroy, but all of them Vera beautiful.”
Claire looked up at James through her lashes. “Which would I be, do you suppose?”
He lifted a hand to her chin and turned it back and forth. “Oh, a good one for certain. Especially with those curls of yours.”
“My curls? What’s my hair to do with it?”
“Why, everyone knows a Faeries power is demonstrated by her hair. You, with your fair skin and brown curly wig,” He spoke softly. “You’d capture an age of magic in every lock, and twice as many hearts.”
Claire let her gaze wander over James, as a warmth filled her chest. This playful banter set her at ease, as it’d done the nights before and she felt her pulse race from desire instead of nerves.
James gently took her hands in his own and placed them on his chest below his chin. His expression turned solemn as he pressed a kiss to her fingers.
“Claire, I need to ask ye a question of your first marriage, and I vow to never repeat the answer. I simply don’t want…to harm ye…” He swallowed roughly.
Claire shut her eyes but nodded, knowing the question on his mind. “Ask it.”
James squeezed her hand sat them both on the bedside, facing one another.
“With Jacob as ill as he was, were ye able to consummate your marriage?”
Claire let out a shaking breath. She’d never shared this with anyone.
“Yes, though perhaps not in the most traditional manner. I had to…do most of the consummating myself.”
Claire stared at her hands and felt a chill creep through her as she waited for him to respond.
“It wasn’t entirely pleasant, but it legitimized our marriage, and that’s all that mattered to me then.” A tear stung the corner of her eye and she swiped at it quickly.
James shook his head. “What a wee fierce thing you are, Claire.”
A tear slide down Claire’s cheek and James leaned forward to catch it off her chin with his bottom lip. Claire sucked in a breath as more tears began to fall, and he answered with pressed kisses to her cheek, brow, and nose before finally sealing his lips to
her. James cupped her cheeks as his thumbs brush away the tears that remained, and her mouth seared her brand into him.
She pulled away long enough to find the clasp of his belt. “James…”
“Jamie.” He spoke against her lips. “Call me Jamie.”
“Jamie,” she spoke softly. “I want to see you.”
Claire’s fingers deftly handled the buckle and let his kilt drop to the floor. Her eyes greedily drank in his defined hips, thick, well-formed thighs, and his stiffened length, thick and pulsing against his belly. Her fingers curled around his girth as she swept a
finger over his aroused tip.
He gasped as her gentle touch stroked down his shaft, where it gave a gentle squeeze before it vanished.
“You may hurt me after all,” Claire whispered.
Jamie chuckled, a soft Scottish sound leaving his lips as he swept a kiss over her shoulder, dropping one of the straps to her elbow.
“Not if I do it right.”
He swept his tongue over the other strap, letting it pull the billowy fabric away from her breasts. The shift dropped to her waist and, a moment later, to the floor as he laid her back against the pillows and crawled between her knees. She bent her knees and
spread her thighs as she felt the ache between her legs ease as he settled on top of her. She let out a trembling breath when she felt fingers graze her center, followed by a breathy moan
“Open your eyes, lass.”
His eyes met hers as he passed a finger over her arousal again, and she watched as he bit his lower lip when the sound escaped her again.
“What are you doing?” She panted.
“Hush. Let me lead,” he whispered.
When she felt his lips close on her nipple, goosebumps broke out along her side and arms. His tongue circled her swollen peak, and she gasped when she felt the pressure of his teeth rake against her tender flesh. With a pop, he released one breast and
moved his mouth to the other as his fingers found her slit again. Claire’s face flushed and contorted as one and then two fingers entered her, gliding in and out as his thumb pulled open her folds. James frowned when he saw her muffle her mouth against
their pillow and made a Scottish noise of disapproval.
“Let me hear ye’, lass,” he crooned.
“I’m afraid the entire castle will hear me.”
James flicked his finger against her slit and felt her gasp as her hips bucked against him. “These walls are made of thick stone. Only the servants with their ear to the door will hear your wee noises.” Her blush deepened and James felt himself harden.
God, she was lovely.
“What a relief,” Claire huffed, but James chuckled and raised himself to press his lips to hers, his tongue coaxing her nerves to rest. Balancing his weight on his right arm, James fixed his teeth on the tender flesh where her neck met her shoulder and let
his left hand continue its work.
He felt her shiver as his thumb flicked across her bundle of nerves. His fourth finger pushed into her wet heat and began thrusting in time with his thumb’s movements. Her hips began to move against his hand when he felt her shudder.
“Claire?” He murmured into her ear as his tongue flicked over the shell.
“Please…I want…” a soft squeak sounded from her as James adjusted his thumb on her clit.
“What do you want?” James murmured, his eyes hooded as he watched the red hue color her cheeks and breasts. Her body shook with pleasure, and her eyes were wild as she thrashed her head from side to side. His fingers curled inside of her, pressing up
into her fleshy walnut, and Claire let out a sharp cry.
“Oh, God. That.” Claire panted. “Please do that again.”
Another cry sounded from her as his teeth sank into her neck, nibbling behind her ear until her hips began to buck against his hand.
“Christ, yes.” She breathed out strings of blasphemous praise as one hand tangled into Jamie’s hair, and the other took a firm grip on his ass. She rubbed her nipples against his chest, letting the breathy mews escape her as she sped towards her pleasure,
moving her hips against his fingers until she found the perfect amount of pressure and friction…and burst into a sea of lights, pleasure, and warmth.
Her lips were against his shoulder, and her breath was ragged, but his stilled hand gripped her hip and anchored her as she returned to her body, only easing its hold on her when she opened her eyes.
What she saw frightened and thrilled her. He stared at her, his eyes dark and hungry as he rolled between her knees and parted her thighs with his hips. A single thrust and he was inside her to the hilt, their lips exchanging moans and breathy gasps at the
feel of their joining.
Claire felt stretched and full, and her belly quivered as she watched the emotion and pleasure ripple over Jamie’s face. He looked maddened and euphoric, and Claire felt her heart grow bold at having caused such pleasure.
He’d planned to be gentle with her, but her wanton cries had awoken a beast within him, one he could scarcely contain. He forced himself to be still while she adjusted to him, but when her hips squirmed against him, and he found her eyes brimming with
lust, he lost his last leash of restraint.
He rocked his hips and began a ruthless cadence, letting his hips slap against her thighs as he plunged deep inside her. Her whines and gasps grew louder as she spread her legs wider, taking hold of her ankles and meeting his thrusts with her own.
He bellowed his approval as he watched her breasts quake with their motions, his teeth on his bottom lip as he felt his own completion nearing…
He pulled out of her and chuckled at the curses that escaped her lips until he flipped her swiftly onto her belly. He grabbed her hips and dragged them towards him until her knees found purchase.
“Such a sweet…”
Claire howled as his tongue licked a path over her slit, and his hand slapped her outstretched ass. Claire pressed her face into the mattress as he plunged into her from behind, her cries becoming shouts as he thickened inside her.
“Harder,” Claire chanted, squirming against his grip.
“God Almighty,” Jamie cursed and folded over her to pinch her nipple. He thrust into her hard and fast, their passionate cries becoming shouts as Jamie’s fingers parted her folds and pressed against her clit, making her clench against his thickness and send
a spike of pleasure through him that shattered his resolve. Within moments, their shouts echoed off the stone walls as her quim fluttered around his cock, and he spilled himself within her.
The two collapsed to the side, their limbs refusing to unfold as each trembled against the other. Jamie burrowed his nose into her curls as he felt her legs vine around his own. When her head turned up a moment later, he settled his nose to her crown.
“Jamie,” she whispered against his lips. James hummed against her skin in response. His hum turned into a yelp as her small hand took hold of his balls.
“I want to do it again,” she whispered against his lips.
Hours later, Claire slept soundly on her stomach as Jamie lay awake with his thoughts. He felt a kernel of fear settle in his belly, knowing all that still had to transpire before his people were safe. His family as well.
Claire murmured softly as she turned, her cheek pressing to his chest as her arms wound around his waist. His right hand swept a curl off her cheek as she settled against him, and he nearly cursed at himself in frustration. Bedding her had eased the
tension in his groin but replaced it with an affection he had zero will to stamp out. Nay, he cared for her and felt her feelings for him were growing as well.
With the slide of her knee, she had mounted his hips and rubbed his wasted flesh until he was, again, aroused. She’d slid her opening over his length and carefully, gently, took him inside her. Her fingers traced over his ribs as she guided her chest down
to his, pressing kissing to his breastbone, nipples, and clavicle. When her eyes met him, he gave over to her will, letting her set the pace between them. Slowly, she pleasured them both, coaxing moans and whispered pleas from his lips.
Carefully, she had removed a brick from the wall constructed around his heart, and that brought more fear now than relief. Once the first snow fell, Beauly would be safe for five months when the final thaw broke the river’s ice. Until then, he had to keep a
brokered peace with the Grants.
The plan was risky, with several ways for it to fall apart, but he knew now risking her safety was out of the question.
He’d find a way to keep them both safe.
Claire woke the next morning, languidly stretching her limbs as a beam of morning light flooded the bedroom. She turned to find the other side of the bed bare, except for a note upon Jamie’s pillow:
“Gone to see the tenants. Be back in a few days.”
Claire felt her breath come short at the note’s brief statement. A few days? Why hadn’t he mentioned it or woke her before he left? She felt a pang of unease in her heart as she looked to the break in the curtains and imagined her husband standing
there only hours before.
A heaviness filled her as she began to question the events of the last several days and how they led to waking alone.