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Brave Enough To Love You

Chapter Text

It was the evening of the third day since Alistair Munro surrendered Foulis Castle. He stood on his balcony and watched the sun paint the Scottish hills orange and purple hues. Alistair knew he would not see the evening of the fourth.  This sunset was his last sunset,  but he'd made peace with his fate months before.  Claire, however, would take this evening harshly.  His daughter—

No.  Alistair could no longer think of her like that. He raised Claire since she was ten years old when her uncle passed suddenly during his stay. She'd been a wisp of a thing,  but his son, Jacob, had taken to her. So had he.   Claire became the daughter of his heart,  and a few years ago, his daughter in law, even if it was short-lived. Widowed a mere week after marrying his son,  Claire dutifully stood by Alistair's side, seeing to his needs and running castle Foulis as if it was hers.

It should have been hers.

She would not understand, not right away at least.  Alistair hoped Fraser kept his word, that one day he would explain to her that he wasn't vile, cruel, or unjust.  He was merely a man who made a choice and chose to pay back the debt he created with his life, and hers.  His, as punishment.  Hers,  as compensation for what was lost.

He hoped it was enough.  But most of all, he hoped one day Claire would forgive him.


Three Days Prior

Castle Foulis surrendered by early morning,  but casualties poured into the great hall throughout the afternoon.   Claire commanded the women and spare hands to treat the dire first, not caring which side they fought for, and shouted at any idle hands for supplies.

A woman, James Fraser thought,  with a belted tartan and dagger in place of stays,  had never been so bonny, nor so fierce.

Claire met James - felt him really—sixteen hours later when his swooping hand kept her from falling into the grand hall's hearth.  She startled as she took in the crimson and charcoal war paint and fiery braids pulled into a tight queue. Bare-chested and covered in dirt, blood, and tartan,  she nearly fell back into the hearth had he not braced her arm.

"Lady Munro—" Claire took a small step back and blinked.

"You don't have to call me that." She said quietly. She wrung her hands before she straightened her face and raised her chin. "Thank you, but I am your prisoner."

James raised a brow. "One who hasn't slept, eaten, or sat down since wounded men came through the gate," he said, as he guided her into a chair. "I think you have earned your title as well as some rest, my lady."

He produced a flask and pressed it into her hands, and without a second thought, she eagerly drank the dark whiskey within.  He took a knee beside her and let her eyes scan him for wounds. He was sound except for the gash on his shoulder.  

"You are the Fraser, then?" She asked softly.

"I am," he answered curtly.

   Mackenzies and Munros harbored a 20-year grudge that escalated six years ago when the Frasers joined the fray.  She was so young then that she'd barely been aware of the conflict until the fire at Lallybroch.  Alistair had wept when reports claimed the entire family perished in the unstoppable blaze.

'The Fraser,' also known as 'Red Jamie', had been at Beauly castle with his young son when Lallybroch burned.  Rumors called him a ruthless warrior who slashed deep wounds through the Highland clans these past four years,  seeking vengeance and blood.

"God be with you.  We held mass for your family for a month after we heard." She said softly and motioned to his arm. "May I see to your shoulder?"

His eyes held hers, and though she wished to look away,  she felt to do so would admit guilt to some discretion.  Her skin tingled when he broke her gaze first and nodded.

"I'd be indebted to you, Lady—"

"Please. 'Claire' will do." She motioned for him to take a seat by the hearth. A moment later, a needle and thread appear from the fabric of her sleeve.    He watched as she passed the steel through flame and the line through the wax. Once satisfied with both,  she doused the remainder of his whiskey on the wound and began to sew.  

He grimaced at her. "Seems like a fine waste of whiskey."

Claire let a soft smile settle onto her lips as she worked neat rows into his wound. "It can prevent wound fevers, so I'd hardly call it a waste, Laird Fraser."

"James.  And I haven't been a Laird to anyone for several years."

"Well, someone will run this castle, surely. And then there's Beauly, in the North."

"Mackenzies will see to this keep, and all within it.  We wish for peace as much as you do."

She tied off the knot at his arm and tucked the needle back into her sleeve. She tried to bite back a response but found her hands curling into fists.

"Traveling two days to sack a castle—"

"We did not sack the castle—"

"Hardly seems peace provoking, sir. Excuse me." Claire turned her back to leave.

"I need answers from him, Claire."  

She turned slowly and met his steely gaze.

"I don't know what answers you hope to gain from an old man."

"The truth. Alistair's involvement with the Grants, and their involvement with the fire."

Claire's brows furrowed. "British deserters were the ones who set the fire, not—"

"That's how it appeared,  but the apprehended soldiers told very similar and very illuminating tales." His eyes were on her face again. "You truly didn't know?"

Claire dropped her chin as her eyes darted to her feet. "I'd have no way to know," she whispered. "Alistair hardly shared such matters with me."

"But, your husband, surely…"

"My husband spent his last days drowning in his blood," Claire whispered fiercely.  Clan politics were not a priority."

The silence stretched between them, interrupted only by the hissing hearth logs.

"Forgive me," James whispered. "I didn't realize he passed around the same time."

"The day after we received word of Lallybroch," Claire whispered.  His hand cupped her elbow and squeezed it softly,  a gesture that nearly tore a gasp from her lungs.  

"I must leave you now, but we'll speak again," He said softly, and then he was gone.


Two nights passed since that encounter, but she felt his eyes on her always.  He lurked in the corner of vision, like an apparition of shadows. She found herself relieved when she turned and saw him standing before her, neatly dressed and thoroughly scrubbed of war paint.  At least she hadn't imagined him watching her.

"Lady Munro.  Will you come with me please?"

Though he asked politely, his expression made it clear his words were not a request.

"Of course."

She followed him from the Great Hall and found herself heading towards Alistair's study.  James motioned her in, and she saw Alistair sitting in front of his desk, quite pale, with Dougal Mackenzie at his left.

He did not look at her, and Claire felt her throat tighten.

"Will ye tell the lass what you told us then?" Dougal asked,  and Alistair nodded. 

"Claire, I've confessed to aiding the Grants in setting the fire at Lallybroch."

Claire stood still, her eyes unmoving from Alistair's face as the silence in the room threatened to swallow her whole.  

"Have you gone mad?" She finally whispered.

"Claire—"

"You were here." Her voice trembled, and she felt a hand try to put her in a chair, but she pushed it away. "Jacob was dying two rooms away, and you were here, saying goodbye to your son.  The Grants—"

"Never entered the castle." He said slowly. "I met them in Edinburgh to escape notice."

Claire kept her eyes pinned to his face, but she knew now that he spoke the truth.  She stepped forward, watched his face turn up to meet hers, and could not stop her hand as it slashed across his face.

"The trip that delayed our wedding," She whispered.  

Alistair closed his eyes and bit his lip. "Yes.  I didn't know, Claire."

"But the fire?  You planned it?" She rasped.

"It was meant to be the barn. Just the barn." He said softly.  

Claire dropped to her knees, and her vision blurred with unshed tears.

"Just the barn," Alistair whispered. "Brian Fraser was a friend, and I was angry with him, certainly, for getting involved in a dispute of land and sheep,  but not enough to…" Alistair stifled a sob that threatened to escape his lips. He cleared his throat and nodded.  

"I've confessed, Claire. I've lived too many years with it on my conscience, and I'm ready to atone." Alistair sought her gaze, but Claire would not look at him. "I've no right to ask anything of you, but I could not face death without knowing you're cared for."

Claire felt a chill crawl up her spine at his words, but only let the slightest tremble show in her fingers.  She knew what his request would be,  the only request it could be,  but she asked anyway.  

"Who would you have me marry, father?" She asked softly,  the coldness heavy in her tone.

"Fraser. He's already agreed."

She felt her heart splinter, and the sound of it roared in her ears.  

Marry the man who will kill the only father I've ever known.

Her mouth tasted of ash, but she stood and walked to the door.

Without turning, she answered them. "We'll marry in the morning."

Chapter Text

Claire’s feet carried her quickly from Alistair’s study, but a set of boots followed her.  Claire maneuvered swiftly through the crowded halls where servants and soldiers searched for beds for the night and ascended the stairs to her own chamber.  At the top of the stairs, the pursuing boots spoke.

“Claire,” James called.  “A word?”

Claire froze but did not answer.  She’d held her composure to the eyes that watched her, but with solitude just footsteps away, she felt her willpower waiver. She turned towards his voice and nodded her consent. She did not trust her voice just yet.

“You’ve had a shock, I know, but—”

“Do not attempt to tell me what I feel, sir.” Claire spat, her eyes glassy with rage and tears.

James held his hands upward, taking a step closer to her. “I mean no offense, Claire.  I know regret too well and wish to spare you the pain of it.”

Claire felt herself take a step back but then grounded her feet.  She was exhausted, hurt, and on the verge of unraveling in front of a man she barely knew. Even Alistair had only seen her tears once.

“I can barely look at him,” she whispered.  “I’m furious that he was…that he could even…” Claire wiped at her cheek again and scowled as her face tightened with frustration.   “What did you want to tell me?”

James pressed his lips together as he watched her face close off, cloud over, and grey. “That you should go to him, and spend these last hours with him.  The anger lasts, but the hours do not.”

“He’s your enemy!” She exclaimed,  and then quickly hugged her arms to her chest. She swallowed hard and lowered her voice.  “Why would you care for his welfare or mine?”

“He is not my enemy, not now that I have the truth from him,” James said steadily, taking another step towards her.  He cautiously extended his hands to her elbows and took hold of her gently.  “He has chosen his path of atonement, and if it’s suitable for God, then it’s suitable for me.” He paused then and took her in.  Her eyes blazed with courage, and she stood ready to accept whatever fate awaited her.  Did she think he’d throw her in the dungeon then?  The fierce scowl curling about her lips told him she’d thought of it.

“Do you fear you’re marrying the crazed beast, then?”  

Claire felt a blush creep up her neck at his words.  “Oh. You’ve heard of your reputation.”

“Mmhm.  Drinker of traitor’s blood, and stalker of oath-breakers, or that’s the last I heard,” James said and raised a brow.  “Any others?”

“A few.  What’s your point?” Claire countered.

James shot her a small grin,  and Claire felt her cheeks tingle in response.

“Any decent man would care about his future wife’s welfare,” James said and dropped his hands from her arms.  “Unless you plan to reject my offer.”

“Is it an offer?” Claire asked tartly. “Can I truly say no without being destitute?”

“I’d like to say I could arrange it, but I won’t be able to control my uncle once I’m gone.”

“And why me then?  Guilt?” Claire asked, letting her eyes wander to the floor.  “Your ability to outmaneuver marriage arrangements is sung about as much as your battles.”

James laughed then, a hearty sound that sent warmth down to her toes. His face lightened, and he appeared as a boy for a moment before he bit his bottom lip. “Well, I admit I have several reasons.  Will you settle for the most practical one?”

Claire considered him for a moment.  “I can admire practicality, yes.”

James nodded.  “My son has bouts of sickness, and I have a suspicion you’d find a way to help him.”  Claire watched his fingers tap against his thigh.  “He also needs a mother.  I fear I’ve denied him one his entire life, and he’s finally old enough to notice. I suppose if you accept me,  you accept him as well.”

Claire nodded at his words and met his eyes. “His name?”

“Brian James.”

Claire cast her eyes down.  “You’re father must have been proud.”

James nodded.  “He was.”

Claire felt the resolution settle in her, as well as a semblance of peace, the first she’d felt since the castle’s surrender. “I’ll accept you both, and I’ll take heed of your advice.  I’ll change and then go to Alistair.”

James bowed his head and felt relief wash over him at her words.  He turned to leave when she called out to him once more.

Claire bit her lip and steadied herself.  “Will it be quick? His death?”

James felt his chest tighten and nodded.  “He’s requested a duel with swords, but I’ll make sure it’s clean and swift.”

A tear slid down Claire’s cheek as she gripped her elbows to her chest. “Thank you.”

“My lady.”

***

Claire found herself standing by his graveside at dawn,  not having slept a single hour.  A heavy fog crept slowly along the stacked stone walls, making the rock shimmer with condensation. Her uncle’s stone was small but well kept, a sign of the lives he touched during his years here as a tutor. Jacob’s stone was by the willow tree, beside his mother’s.  Alistair’s plot would surely be on her opposite side.

“Jacob.”  

His name sounded too loud in the thick morning fog.

She swallowed and tucked her hands into her knitted shawl.  “You told me one day I would marry and find happiness…”  She squeezed her eyes shut.  “But I did not imagine it like this.”

Claire sat on the willow's exposed root,  huddling into its side as her eyes swept over the grounds.  “I remember when we used to play here.  We had picnics under these trees and annoyed the piss out of the spirits with our loud games.”  

A soft breeze moved through her curls, and she closed her eyes as a smile lighted her face.

“You were my brew taster, my weed picker, my secret keeper…” Her smile grew.  “Still are, I suppose.” Claire fell silent and let the early sun rays break through the fog and light her face. A stillness settled within her.

“Thank you,” she whispered to the last traces of fog and wiped the stray tear off her cheek.  She stood and shook out her skirts, giving the graveyard one last glance before she started back toward the castle. She wouldn't sleep,  but she would be by Alistair’s side until fate parted them.  

***

A quarter to Noon, Alistair walked Claire down the stairwell to the small family chapel.  Claire froze at the bottom of the stairs when she heard James’ voice.  Alistair turned to her, a ghost of a smile on his face.

“I know you harbor anger for me despite your silence,” he said softly. “But I am grateful I can see you safe.”  Claire nodded stiffly and gave him a tight smile before lifting her skirts and continuing forward.

James stood by the chapel doors with Dougal, looking like a fine specimen of a man in his shined boots and gentleman’s coat.  His kilt was pressed and clean,  a miracle considering the chaos of the last few days, and his hair was tied at the nape of his neck. When his eyes swept over her, she became self-conscious. While her dress was clean, it was hardly one of her best.

James walked towards her and bent over her hand to press a kiss to her knuckles.  He met her eyes and gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. If he had an opinion of her appearance, he didn’t show it.

“Ready?” He asked softly.

Claire nodded as he led her into the chapel, with Alistair and Dougal in tow.

Claire felt her heart race as the priest began the ceremony.  James kept a firm hold of her elbow as he spoke his vows, though she wasn’t sure if he meant to hold her up or keep her from fleeing.

When James produced a gold band from his pocket, she nearly pulled her hand away in shock.  It fit her finger well, but the extravagance of a gold band on a second arranged marriage was not lost to her.

Before Claire could look up, the priest announced them married, and Claire raised her head in time to feel the gentle graze of James’ lips on hers. She felt flush as his kiss sent heat down her spine and heard herself gasp when he suddenly pulled away.

A moment later, she realized why: Dougal stormed out of the chapel and immediately put Alistair in shackles.

“Dougal,” James called harshly.

“Nay, Jamie, we’ve done enough of this your way, aye?”  Dougal answered as he hauled Alistair behind him up the stairs to the courtyard.  Claire stood frozen at the chapel doors as she watched James bound up the stairs after Dougal. For a brief moment, she considered if she should try to run,  but that thought left her head when she heard the angry clash of steel and a roar of shouts.

Claire felt herself fall against the steps as she tripped on her skirts but barely registered the pain as the shouts grew louder.  Finally reaching the upper courtyard, Claire let out a scream as Dougal plunged his dagger into Alistair’s eye before kicking him to the ground.

His howls and screams were needles in her skin, and without thinking, she lunged for the circle of men and pushed her way through.  Right before she broke through the crowd,  James rushed forward and knocked Dougal backward.  With his dagger drawn, he quickly dealt a mortal wound that left Alistair silent.

Claire pulled away from the men and slowly approached Alistair’s battered form,  taking his hand as she knelt beside him.  James pressed his hand to Alistair’s forehead and began whispering what Claire recognized as a prayer. Slowly, Alistair slipped away from her,  his grip on her hand growing weaker and weaker.

“Rest well...son of Scotland,” James whispered.

Chapter Text

Claire felt dislodged from reality as Alistair’s hand grew heavy, and its warmth drained away towards his stilled heart. She’d felt this helplessness before, with Jacob, but had time to ease him to his fate. In the end, she had wished death to hurry, while now she felt a part of her ripped away.

Dougal turned from his soldiers when he saw the castle guard coming to retrieve the body. “Quit your tears, lass,” Dougal said gruffly. “The priest has work to do, and we have—”
Claire struck Dougal in the chin with her fist before he could finish his thought. She landed one more blow before a set of arms trapped her limbs to her side and spun her away from Dougal’s rage.

“You coward!” Claire screeched above Dougal’s roar.

“Ye damnable bitch—”

“Enough!” James bellowed, halting the steady approach of Fraser and Mackenzie soldiers to the fray.

Claire pushed away from James’ arms, though a look from him was enough to keep her silent. Her heart pounded as she came back to herself, and she tried to stop the tremors that shook her entire body.

Both Fraser and Mackenzie soldiers stood with weapons drawn, eyes locked on their Laird for direction. Dougal quirked his lip in a sneer, and muttered, “Step aside, James. I’ll no’ spare a woman a beating if she’s earned it.”

“I’ll see to my wife’s discipline, Uncle, and thank ye to leave.”

“She struck a chieftain.” Dougal snarled.

“You dare defy me?” James growled.

Dougal narrowed his gaze but then held up his hand, signaling his men off. Dougal caught the taste of iron on his lip and let out a dark chuckle.

“I fear I’ve tied you to another shrew, lad,” Dougal said, spitting blood on the ground. “No matter. She’ll service yer cock all the same, aye?”

Laughter broke out amongst Dougal’s men, but James steeled his gaze on his Uncle until he turned to retreat, only then signaling the castle guards to retrieve Alistair’s body. Claire felt rage trembling through her, at least until James shifted his gaze on her. It’s coldness stiffened her.

“Go to your chambers,” James growled.

Claire clenched her jaw, but let her head bob once in acknowledgment before she turned and ascended the long stairwell to her rooms.



Claire undressed down to her stays, feeling hot and damp. Her skin vibrated, and her breath was short as the past hour replayed in her mind, at the injustice of Dougal's actions, at her powerlessness to stop him. Then she sunk to her window sill, brought her knees up to her chest, and let her rage dissolve into sobs.

Her chest wrenched as she collapsed inward, pressing the air from her lungs until they ached and stung. Here in her solitude, she let go of her restraint and wailed until she exhausted herself.

Alistair’s blood would soon wash from the castle stone, taken back to the earth with the rain and wind, and for a moment, Claire wished her heart would give out, and free her from existence. In the days following Jacob’s death, she hadn’t allowed herself such grief, knowing Alistair and all her people needed her strength.

She held her breath and closed her eyes, letting her mind drift, allowing her heart to slow and her body to calm.

Perhaps she could convince it to stop.

Soon, the sound of boots along the stone halls echoed towards her and stopped outside her door. She stiffened, knowing it was James, but felt unable to move or utter a word.

He did not knock, and she did not look up when he turned the latch with care and closed the door firmly behind him.

James crossed the room slowly as Claire pressed her chin into the tops of her knees. He stood in front of the window she occupied, and Claire clenched her fingers, as she waited for chastising words, his anger or worse, the blow of his hand. When none came, her anger broke the silence instead.

“Will I have no privacy in this marriage? No room to escape from you?”

She expected a sharp reply, and welcomed his anger, even if it earned her the strap. Instead, his hand covered hers, infusing her icy fingers with warmth and steadiness. The gesture was so unexpected, a sob shook loose from her chest, and she felt her face flush with shame.

“Ye did not care about privacy in the courtyard, lass,” he said softly, as he brought her hand closer to his face. His fingers probed her scraped knuckles, and she winced as she noticed her bloodied hands for the first time. “But, I apologize for my uncle’s cruelty all the same.”

Claire’s felt her anger drain out of her. “Thank you,” she rasped.

“I’m sure you’ll manage to keep your secrets, as I’ll manage to keep a few of my own, but it will no’ be through locked doors and separate bed chambers.” A small smile played across his face as he dabbed at her knuckles with a handkerchief. “However, if I do earn your wrath, I ask that it be behind closed doors, and preferably end without you bloodying your hand.”

“That depends on your views of beating women.”

“I thought I made that view clear.”

“Your public view, yes,” Claire retorted.

James tipped her chin up so she’d meet his gaze. “My private view, as well.”

A heartbeat passed as well as hundreds of unspoken questions, but Claire felt a different heat build in her cheeks as his lips pressed to her knuckles. Had their wedding ceremony indeed taken place today?

James squeezed her hand, whispering soft words into her hair. “The priest is ready, lass, when you feel…”

“Ready? I don’t know if you’re ever ready.”

“Ye aren’t. Not really,” James said softly. “Ye only manage.”

Her tear-brimmed eyes met his and blinked several times before she nodded. James helped her to her feet, steadying her as her legs tingled back to life.

“Will…will Dougal…”

“Nay. He’s left with a band of warriors to settle some of the wounded in the nearby crofts.”

She lowered her chin in a swift nod. “Good.”

“Still, we’ll be leaving at sunset,” James said, his lips tightening as her head snapped up. “I’m sorry for it, but it’s a three day ride back to Beauly for my soldiers. And with you with us, I won’t ride through Grant lands in broad daylight.”

Claire frowned but nodded, and James' expression tightened. “Come then. Let’s see this through.”



The burial was quick, with only a handful of attendants and a sun that quickly dove towards the skyline. James stood beside her, stoic and calm, and she felt oddly grateful for his reassuring presence.

After the services and quick stop to her rooms, Claire hurried on to the stables where the Fraser soldiers were mounted and awaiting only a word to begin their journey home.

James readied their horse as Claire belted her shawl tight across her waist. She carried only her most important possessions: her first wedding band on a chain around her neck, her uncle’s dagger tucked into her boot, and her medical box, which James now strapped to the back of their saddle.

Her eyes danced over the stone face of Foulis Castle, though she felt conflicted in leaving her decade long residence. She had lost so much here, and for the first time, she realized she would have eventually left, even if she hadn’t married James.
Brushing a tear from her cheek, she faced James as he finished tending the animal.

“I could ride on my own,” she said softly. “I’m a good rider, and we’d make better time.”

“Aye, but I’d feel better with ye near,” he said quietly.

Claire tensed. “Do you suspect someone would attack us? Even with ten soldiers?”

“Nah,” he brought her hand to his horse’s nose and nodded as the horse nuzzled against her hand, “but I prefer caution. Besides, we can talk a bit, with less greedy ears.”

Claire felt a shiver run down her back, despite his words. Indeed, he’d tell her if he expected trouble, she thought. She nodded at James and took his hand as he helped her into the saddle.

With the sun’s purple hues darkening the sky, Claire looked once more at castle Foulis before turning towards the northern road to Beauly.



The ride turned out to be ill-suited for talking. Though a good rider, she’d never ridden with a guard before, and certainly not on horses as well-bred and tended as these.

The group moved at a frightening speed to take advantage of the remaining light before the evening slowed them. Though when the woods darkened, Claire shuddered at the pace they maintained. She could barely see the rider ahead of them and felt the tinge of leaves scraping her cheeks as they road the narrow paths.

James had been silent for the entire ride. Not that it mattered. He could shout in her ear, and she’d probably still not understand him with the pace they kept. The only communication they exchanged was a squeeze of an arm or0 hand as James adjusted the reins or knees. As the night drew on, Claire felt her eyes grow heavier despite the chaos of a racing horse and soon felt her head slip back against James’ shoulder.

She jolted awake sometime later when they came to an abrupt stop.

“James? What…”“Shh. We’re making camp for a few hours so the horses can rest. Go back to sleep.”

Claire was barely aware of much besides the warmth radiating from James' chest and the bristle of his beard against her forehead. He had her cradled in his lap, and she wondered when he had shifted her without waking her.

Soldiers nearby spoke of a tent, but Claire fell back asleep before James dismounted from the horse.

Chapter Text

Claire gasped as she startled awake, the remnants of a nightmare just out of her memories grasp. Sweat beaded across her brow, but her eyes began to focus on the canvas walls around her and the figure beside her.

“Are you all right?” James whispered as he shifted up on an elbow. Someone has spread out several blankets and tartan for her bed, and James laid on the opposite end, an arms-reach away.

“Just a dream,” she whispered back. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“Dinna fash. I was awake.”

His brogue seemed to get thicker with his tiredness. The low campfire cast a small amount of light into the tent, enough for her to see he still wore his clothes from their ride. Inspecting herself, she noted her belt was loosened and...

“It’s still in your boot.” He muttered.

Claire tensed but found her boots at the foot of the tent. “You don’t mind?”

“That you can protect yourself? Nah. I’m glad about it. Long as you don’t use it on me.”

She snorted, as her eyes fell on him again and watched as he fought off a yawn.

“Have you slept at all?”

“A bit.”

She shifted forward and caught his eye. “Only a bit?”

James shrugged his shoulders as his eyes fell to the small space between them. “You’ve been crying out in your sleep. Touching ye seemed to help, so I wanted to stay near ye.”

“Oh…I,” She could feel the fire in her cheeks. “I didn’t…I’m…”

“I can stay by the fire if ye’d like,” James offered.

She swallowed, fighting the embarrassment she felt and shook her head. “No. Please, stay.” She wiped a hand across her cheek. “Besides, most new husbands would not be so…accommodating on their wedding night…”

James sighed, then said softly, “Most new husbands don’t execute their father-in-law on their wedding day.” He paused. “I am sorry for it, Claire, but leaving him to face Dougal’s sentencing...I wouldn’t wish that on him.”

Claire winced but nodded. “Thank you for intervening on his behalf. For...ending his suffering.”

“Do you hate me for it?” James whispered.

Claire wrung her hands. “It’s difficult to hate you when even Alistair didn’t. He spent most the night telling me about you, and how he admired you so...how I shouldn’t give credence to tales and rumors, and to forgive you for doing what you must.” She paused and sighed. “In truth, his praise of you was maddening.”

James chuckled, and to her surprise, Claire felt a smile creep onto her face.

“Such blunt speech for a lady,” James teased. “An admirable quality to be sure.”

“Hardly,” Claire chuckled but fell silent as she felt her necklace bounce against her skin. Her hand pressed to her chest, and she felt his gaze follow.

“My old wedding band,” she whispered.

“Ah.” James rolled onto his side, closing the distance between them a bit. “I met Jacob a few times when my father took me to Edinburgh. He was two years younger than me but had an envied mind for tactics.”

“Did he play you at Chess?” Claire asked.

“I don’t call a game ‘played’ when I’m defeated in three turns,” James replied and smiled as Claire’s face lit with laughter. “He was humble, though. More excited to play and discuss strategy, then gloat.”

“Sounds very much like him,” Claire answered with a smile. She felt James' hand slip into her own, and let out a breath as his thumb rubbed her palm.

“Will you tell me about him?” James asked.

“A-Are you sure?” She whispered.

With his nod, Claire hesitated, but before long, stories tumbled forth with ease. She told him of teaching Jacob to ride that he snuck her pastries when she was ill, and the havoc they’d cause in the manor’s library. She found her heart eager to talk about Jacob, and the joy of her memories surpassed the pain of his passing.

“Shortly after his nineteenth birthday, his heart began to give him trouble.” She wiped at her eyes. “He was 22 when we married, and he passed a week later.”

His hand squeezed hers. “Jacob was fortunate to have ye. Watching you tend the sick at Foulis,” James shook his head. “You’re verra brave, Claire. Ruthless, in the face of death and violence.”

She rewarded him with a soft smile. “I’m more stubborn than strong, I think.” She let out a mouth gaping yawn then, and James chuckled softly. “We’ll have to discuss this later, lass. I think sleep calls for ye.”

Claire shook her head. “Will you tell me about Brian’s mother?”

He raised her hand his lips, but Claire felt the tension in his body shift. “Aye, I will, but another night. Ye need yer sleep, and I’d like to warm ye if ye dinna mind.”

Taking care to cause as little noise as possible, James helped Claire turn her back into his chest as she extricated herself from yards of tartan. He enveloped her in his warmth and the scent of grass and horses.

“Now, what do ye know about kelpies, lass?”

 


Claire woke from a heavy sleep, feeling cold and only moderately sore from the previous day’s ride. The tartans beside her were cold, and the men were anxious to leave, given the sound of rustling outside the tent. She quickly righted herself and wrestled her hair back into her pins before she emerged. Several heads tipped her way, and one soldier, Paul, he called himself, pushed a bowl of porridge into her hands. She sat by the smoldering ashes of their fire and ate contently, not realizing until that moment how hungry she’d been. Finishing the bowl in five bites, Claire soon saw James reappear wearing considerably less road dust.

“I’ll wash before we go,” she said as she passed him. He caught her wrist as she passed. “I’ll go with ye.”

Claire stopped dead in her tracks. “No, you won’t.”

James met her eye and quickly looked about at his soldiers. They continued to break down camp, none meeting his eye, silently ignoring the feud about to ignite. “Aye, I will,” James said steadily. “We’re still on Grant lands, and I’ll not have you wandering about.”

”The river is within a stone throw. It’s hardly wandering about.”

“Claire,” James’ voice lowered to a deep rumble. “You’ll wash with me beside ye, or not at all.”

Claire huffed and yanked her wrist from him. So much for any treaties forged in the night. “Is that really necessary?”

“Aye. Tis.”

Claire pressed her lips into a thin line and scowled when his lip rose into a humored smirk.

“Which is it, lass?”

Claire felt defeated as the men showed signs of concluded packing, and her time to debate quickly expired. “Fine. I’ll freshen up.” He nodded his head once, but she turned and shot him a forced grin smiled sweetly, “Besides, you’re the one who has to suffer my smell.”

James chuckled as he followed her to the river, keeping a few paces behind her as she scrubbed her face and arms.

“Mount up!” James called, and within two minutes, the group was riding once more.


By midday, the horses needed water, and Claire needed some space from James. Her mood turned from sour to bewildered when he decided to tease her, pushing his nose into her hair and audibly sniffing her. The first time, she shot him a glare but brushed it off as accidental. The second time earned him a well-placed jab to the gut. He pulled his horse out of line and slowed to walk, his laughter and her blows nearly dropping him from the horse.

“I yield, wife,” James called out, though he could not hide his mirth. He grasped her wrists to his chest, and their laughs quieted as their eyes met. Claire’s vindication quickly fled as her heartbeat quickened, and his hands held her close. His mouth was near, and Claire needed only to stretch her neck to taste the bead of sweat collecting on his upper lip. Her cheeks burned at the thought, but her eyes watched as his tongue peeked out to wet his lips before they drew closer to her…

Until the sound of approaching horses made him pull back.

“All’s well, my laird?” Paul called.

“Aye, sorry lads. Let’s start again.”

Three hours later, Claire felt desperate from the feel of his thigh pressed tight against her own, and his hand clamped low on her belly. She tore off into the brush the moment she dismounted and settled along a tree trunk. Her entire body buzzed from his closeness, but worse, she couldn’t help feeling both aroused and guilty at the same time.

You’re in mourning, for Christ’s sake. Get a grip on yourself.

But Claire couldn’t keep her eyes from him as he walked the camp, checking on soldiers and horses alike. There was a gentleness to him that caught her off guard and contradicted what she’d told herself to expect. She knew most men could be charming when convincing a woman to share their bed, but his concern last night, and playfulness this morning…could he care for her already?

Claire noticed then the silence that fell on the camp. The soldiers stood still, listening, with their eyes on James, but the only sound she could hear was the occasional whiny from the horses at the stream. James caught her eye, and a small motion of his hand indicated for her to stay where she was. She curled her knees into her chest and pressed close between the tree and neighboring bush when a war cry sounded and raised the hair on the back of her neck.

A group of 15 soldiers appeared through the trees, ambushing them from the river’s edge, and all Claire could make out was the green of their tartan, marking them as Grants.

The air exploded with the sound of steel and bodies colliding in melee. She pressed herself as close to the ground as possible, watching as the Fraser men downed man after man, quickly dwindling their enemy’s numbers.

Then a hand grabbed the back of her dress and pulled her forcefully to her feet. Her face collided with the tree trunk as a body pressed hard against her back, choking her with the smell of sour breath and body. She grimaced as the tree’s bark scraped her face, but gritted her teeth until her stretching hand found what she sought: her boot dagger. She stabbed her captor in the thigh, broke free of his grip, and ran into the woods. She twisted and weaved through branches and tree roots, desperate to put distance between her and the Grant soldier cursing at her existence.

She was about to cross the narrow part of the river when a body collided with hers and knocked her to the ground.

“Yer a lot of trouble for a woman,” the man grunted as his hands tore the length of her skirts and pinned her hips to the forest ground. Claire slashed at his cheek, but this time the man didn’t let her go, howling instead as he grabbed her hand and twisted. Claire screamed as he forced her to drop the dagger, grabbed the neck of her dress, and tore it and her shift open. She raked her nails over his face as he tried to spread her thrashing thighs...

Then he was gone, lifted from her so suddenly that she froze in confusion. She heard the sickening crack of bone and watched as his body crumpled into a heap by the riverbed. James stood over the motionless body and sucked in a breath as his chest heaved.

Their eyes met as a sob escaped Claire’s lips. He held an arm out to her, and after a moment’s hesitation, she ran to him and wept.

James threaded his fingers into her hair as he held her close, his hands rubbing soothing patterns into her back and neck.

“I-I tried to outrun him…” She sputtered as James pressed his nose into her curls. “He ran so fast...even after I stabbed his leg...”

“There were two,” James replied softly. “Yer a bonny wee fighter.”

He felt her hiccup as her fingers unwound themselves from his shirt and tartan. He let go for a moment to kneel and recover her dagger. Wiping it clean, he pressed a kiss to the hilt before returning it to her boot.

“This,” James said, “stays with you always.”

Claire nodded but reached for him as he stood. She was steadier, but he could tell by her expression she had more to say.

“Did he hurt ye?” He wondered aloud, his hand gently reaching for her torn corset to inspect her further.

“No, I-I’m all right,” She whispered, drawing away from his hand briefly before halting herself and taking a step closer to him. She pressed her eyes shut and blew out a breath. “I’m all right, thanks to you.” She leaned up and pressed a soft kiss to his lips.

James watched her as her eyes closed and made no movement as her lips fell away until he saw the uncertainty in her eyes. He pulled her back to him and pressed his forehead to hers.

“Your servant, my lady,” he murmured, before returning her kiss.

Chapter Text

James held Claire close as they made their way back to the men, but the entire time his body thrummed with lust. He’d seen naked women before, but the sight of her white skin, flushed from struggle and the heat of her mouth when he kissed her...

He scrubbed a hand over his face as they approached the clearing and raised a hand to the cheers that went up as they broke through the tree line.

“I’ll be back,” he said softly against her ear and watched as her eyes widened, and she nodded in reply. He needed to tend to the men, and he needed to get the blood back in his head and out of his cock. Still, he couldn’t stop himself from glancing over at her every few minutes, and he couldn’t help the swell of pride he felt when he saw her stitching up his soldiers.


Claire was relieved to see that none of the Fraser soldiers suffered more than cuts and bruises, the worst being Graham Sinclair, a man of 35, who required sutures. The Grants had retreated shortly after James took off after her, though Claire was surprised to see the bodies gone.

“We let them take their dead,” Graham explained as she sewed his forearm. “Skirmishes like this are supposed to occur over livestock or encroachments, and deaths are rare things. We dinna like killing Scots when there are plenty of English to kill, aye? Bad business this, to be attacking men clearly on their way. Lachlan Grant must be raising hell in his hills.”

Claire raised her head. “That’s Grant’s son, yes?”

“Aye, lass, but he may as well be Laird now. His father has had little sway over him since his first divorce.”

“First? He’s had multiple?” Claire asked quietly.

“Well, according to Himself. No church or Laird would agree with him. He just kept taking wives, hoping to get one of them with child.”

Claire’s brows furrowed. “Are there not elders who can argue against such things? The families of these women can’t be pleased.”

“They are not. My wife Alice has a cousin who married a Grant a few years ago, and she told us bits, but we haven’t received word from her or the family.”

Claire frowned and was about to ask more when James crouched beside her, taking Graham’s good arm.

“All right for the ride, Graham? I know Alice will have my hide if I don’t get ye home tomorrow evening.”

“The ween is cutting teeth,” Graham said to Claire, who smiled as she tied the last stitch. “He’s no’ the most pleasant lad just now, and I’ve missed my share of the screamin’.”

“A drop of whiskey usually helps,” Claire offered.

“For the lad or me?”

Claire chuckled as she stood and brushed off her skirts. “Send Alice to me once you’re settled. I may be able to help.”

“Aye, I will,” Graham said as he got to his feet. Looking up to the sky, he smiled at James. “Aye, I’m good to ride, but let's not rush on my account,” he added with a wink.

Graham made his way to where the other men were readying their mounts as James turned to Claire and smiled. “Graham’s family stays in Beauly. He’s a good friend and a trusted sword at my back.”

Claire took his arm as they walked towards their horse. “Do the Frasers and Grants intermarry despite the ongoing feud?”

“They did, at least until recent times.” James grew quiet, and Claire felt him retreat far into himself as he looked across the rolling hills.

“What will you do now that you know their involvement with Lallybroch?” James helped her into the saddle before mounting behind her, but Claire could see the conflict on his expression.

“Wait, for now,” he answered. “Find out why we were attacked on the road and if he knew I was returning home, with a bride no less. Those answers will determine what I do.” James looked about before he nudged Claire’s cheek and dropped his lips to her ear. “Are you impatient for a bed?”

“I don’t mind the road if that’s…” Claire turned and realized his closeness. She swallowed and dropped her eyes as her cheeks flamed. “That’s not what you meant.”

“No, it wasn’t.” He pressed his lips where her neck and shoulder met and felt her gasp. “The way you blush, however, I think the neighboring town could decipher my meaning.”

Claire stiffened and let out a huff. ”I’ll work to loosen my morals if that’s your desire.”

James chuckled against her skin despite the heated glare Claire shot him.

“Nay, that will not serve me,” James replied, stifling his mirth as her frown deepened. ”A lady of honor and grace, despite her devious husband.”

“Sire! At the ready!” Graham called.

“Let’s be on our way,” Claire said quietly before she sat up straighter in the saddle, though she felt her back soften at the squeeze from James’ arm.


They rode until the daylight was spent, and several hours after, until they crossed beside a mountain range hedged with shrubbery. The forest opened into a clearing with heather, and finally, a more dugout and traveled road.

Though she was dirty and hot from the ride, Claire raised her head to the moonlight fields aglow with glow bugs and distinctly fresher air.

“Mackenzie lands,” James said softly beside her. “We’ll rest here for the night. The Grants won’t risk attacking us again without more men.”

Claire nodded as they continued forward into a grove set beside the mountain and a lake. The men quickly set to their tasks, and James was no different, dismounting quickly before helping her down.

Only her soft yelp broke his attention from his next task.

“You are hurt,” he scowled as his eyes darkened.

“No, It’s just—-“

James grasped her hand as he pulled her firmly behind him. He led her to the lakeside, where the moon washed the water’s edge in light.

“A scratch.” Claire finished as they came to a halt.

“Show me,” James grumbled and motioned to her shawl bound corset.

“I don't want to,” she finished lamely, knowing she did not have the will or strength to win this argument.

To his credit, James let out of a soft sigh. He stepped towards and slowly placed his hands on her waist, tugging her the rest of the way until she was pressed against him. Claire rested her head against his chest but stiffened as she felt his fingers loosen the ties of her skirt.

“What are—“

“You wish to bathe, aye? Well, go in your shift, and I’ll join you.”

Claire felt her face flame but saw the logic in the request. He could easily examine her in the water, and it gave her the option of modesty versus stripping on land.

Honestly, I’m behaving worse than a teenage maid. Claire scolded silently.

Despite herself, she still turned her back to him as she undressed, neatly piling her clothes by the rocks. She nearly jumped when she heard footsteps behind her, but a few words revealed it was Paul, bringing them fresh linens and shirts.

When he departed, she stepped into the lake and let the water reach her waist before dropping her head beneath the surface. Despite the cold, the water was a relief against her chaffed skin. She proceeded to scrub herself, nearly finishing when a soft cough sounded behind her.

He’d nearly startled her again with his silent approach. Determined to control herself, Claire turned slowly only to find her naked husband standing less than an arm's length away.

Though the water covered her ribs, it barely approached his waist, leaving his chest and navel bare to her. His muscular chest, golden from the sun, gleamed with water beads that dipped into every crevice of his skin. She’d never seen a more beautiful man in her life.

“Let’s be quick. You’re shivering,” he said calmly as if she was a spooked horse. He gently pulled away the torn panels of her shift to reveal the scratch on her shoulder. It traveled alongside the shift's tear, undoubtedly done by her corset when it was torn from her, and stopped midway down her left breast. James cupped water in his hand and gently poured it over the wound as his other arm wound about her waist and pulled her close. The dried blood slowly washed away until only the pink wound remained against her goosebumped skin.

Claire’s breath rasped loudly from her as she settled against his warm skin, only to catch in her throat when he laid his warm hand against her breast.

“Kiss me again, Claire,” he murmured against her cheek before her lips reached up and connected with his.

While their first kiss was gentle and soothing, this kiss clawed at her guts and set her mind ablaze. His tongue pressed into her mouth as his arm wrenched her close, combating her own mouth for dominance and control, and when his thumb flicked against her pebbled nipple, she groaned into his mouth.

A moment later, that mouth was on her nipple, sucking her hard between his lips as her teeth closed around his shoulder.

When his teeth grazed her taut flesh, she cried out, and he nearly fell onto his back from how quickly he tore away from her.

“I’m sorry, I dinna-”

“I know I’m—“

“Aye?” They were both breathing heavily, and their eyes were blown wide with lust.

“Cold. I’m cold,” she whispered as a grin spread across her face.

An answering smile spread across James’ face as they both began to tremble with laughter.

A chuckle washed over Claire as hands pulled her waist close. “Aye, I think we’re done washing for now.”

James helped Claire from the lake and held out dry tartan for her as she dropped her wet, torn shift. Wrapped and warm, Claire felt a flush enter her cheeks that had everything to do with her husband’s sultry gaze.

“The largest tent is ours. I’ll get us some food.” Claire nodded and let out a breath, and she tried to calm her belly.

“And lass?” James came near to whisper by her ear. “Just remember you bit me first.”

His hot lips pressed to hers for a moment, and then he was gone.

 

Chapter Text

Hours later, the group arrived at the gates of Beauly by moonlight, and despite Claire’s annoyance at James, weariness won out over pride. She slid off the horse into his waiting arms and steadied herself before she turned away.

“Claire,” he murmured, as his arm tightened around her waist. “Are you cross with me?”

Claire felt her ire lessen as his arms chased the evening chill from her bones. “You think me foolish,” she muttered.

“I do not.”

“You do.” Claire huffed. “I’m a widow, and shrewish and three and twenty and still blush like a maid despite…”

James silenced her with his lips as he tugged her back against his chest. The tension in her arms soon loosened as her fingers curled into his jacket, and he felt a bolt shoot to his groin when she inhaled sharply against his mouth, breathing him into her lungs. He felt dizzy with need of her, as he chased her breath and taste—

“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 like 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 followed 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.

“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, extending her hand to him.

“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, yes.”

“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 on a cold night. Brian?”

“Aye, Mrs. Sinclair?” Sounded from James’ back.

“You’ll 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 as if they were mere chickens in the yard, 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’s told me a bit already since he’s been home,” 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.”


An hour 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 as 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. His broad shoulders nearly spanned the doorframe, and his arms were carved sculptures of sinew and muscle, but his hands, the hands that had saved her that afternoon and held her the night before, lay limp at his side.

Claire steeled herself, and taking a breath, met his gaze to see what awaited her.


Lust.

He could think of no other word to describe what stood before him, besides 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 then 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 night 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 and nodded. “Yes, though perhaps not in the most traditional manner.  I had to consummate it myself.”

Claire stared at her hands and felt a chill creep through her as she waited for him to respond. “It wasn’t completely 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. “Please say something, James.”

James shook his head.  “There is nothing to say, besides how honored I am to have such a loyal and brave woman for a wife.”

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 thumbs 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 resume 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 of 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 laid 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 his,  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, and keep his vulnerabilities limited to his son.

“Forgive me,” he whispered against Claire’s brow and pressed a kiss to her temple. He breathed a simple prayer against her curls as he felt the beating of her heart against his chest.  Sleep did not wait long to take him.


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.  

She bit her bottom lip and cursed her imagination.  She never should have thought more of their flirtations, or his attentiveness.  Despite the pleasure of the previous evening, their marriage was one of necessity, and imagining more would only break her heart. Straightening her shoulders and her resolve,  Claire dressed to meet the day and the castle staff.

Chapter Text

Brave Enough to Love You, Chapter 7


*warning*  I shit you not,  i finished this chapter at Midnight and then LOST THE ENTIRE FUCKING THING.   It’s rewritten, and below,  but this chapter may be rewritten in the future if i find the beautiful prose that got eaten by my IPAD >><<

Claire dressed quickly,  except for when her eye caught on her new gold ring.  It felt heavier on this gray morning, and she couldn’t help being more aware of it.  As Claire entered the main hall, she realized the breakfast table looked just as glum.  Brian hung his head and frowned into his bowl of porridge, and Alice paced the great hall with a red-eyed fussing infant on her hip, looking very low on patience.

“But he just got home! Couldn’t the roof wait a bit longer?” Brian scowled.
“Roofs do not wait for good weather, lad, now stop your grouchin’—”
Alice looked up as Claire entered the room and quickly made to brush the flour off her dress,  but Claire moved immediately to take the small baby from her arms.

”Rough night, little one?” Claire cooed, earning herself a snuffle and a sigh as the baby shoved a finger in his mouth. ”Let’s see if we can’t help those achy teeth.”

”You shouldn’t trouble yourself, Madam…”

”It’s Claire, Alice.”  

Claire probed the baby’s mouth with her own finger,  sweeping a finger over his gums until she found the swollen culprit.  ”Could you get me a dram of whiskey and a handkerchief?   I think we should get this young man sorted straight away, don’t you agree Brian?”

Brian nodded slowly,  his eyes widening at being addressed. ”Aye. His cries are hurting my ears.”

Claire smiled as she jiggled the baby on her hip and drew a half smile from the babe, not terrible considering his disposition. Brian crept closer until he was seated on the bench next to Alice and watched Claire dip her finger in the whiskey and rub it on the babe’s gums.

“Well I’ll be da—” Alice caught herself and coughed into her sleeve, struck with her now quiet son.  “I canna…he’s no drunk is he?”

“No, but the burn in whiskey is a very good pain reliever and can reduce swelling.” The baby babbled happily in Claire’s arms and gave his mother a wide toothless grin.

“Oh praise you, Claire,” Alice said in wonder, as she smiled back at her boy.  “My other two dinna suffer the way this lad has.”

“Can I try the whiskey?” Brian asked, his hand already reaching for the flask.

Claire snapped it up and placed it in her pocket as she handed the baby back to Alice.

“When you’re sick,” Claire said simply.

“Well that won’t be long then,” Brian muttered, wiping his nose on his sleeve. “I’m always sick.”

“You don’t look sick right now,” Claire said.

“It only happens at night,” Brian said with a shrug.  “I finished breakfast, Ms. Alice.  Can I play with Shane and Caleb now?”

“Aye, you may.  But no farther than—”

“The stream! Aye Ms. Alice!”

The front hall entry slammed with Brian’s departure, and Alice and Claire chuckled.  

“He’s no’ exaggerating, the poor lad,” she said quietly.  “He’ll wake in the middle of the night unable to breathe, or sometimes complaining that his entire throat is on fire.  What’s worse about it how frightening it can be for the lad.”

“How long has this happened?” Claire asked.

“Och,  I can’t remember a time James didn’t struggle with the lad.  When he was a babe, it was a struggle for him to nurse.  I was his wet nurse, ye ken, after his mum passed. My Caleb was born a month prior.  But, aye Brian’s wam would turn and he’d only keep down half of what he ate.  And then the lad wouldn’t sleep if he wasna held upright.  I didna think James slept in a bed for his first year…”

“James stayed up with him?”

“Och, aye.  He would hardly let me feed him, nevermind let anyone else tend to the lad.  Only in recent years, now that he’s older, has James been forced to travel with his uncles to deal with clan matters.  If it was his wish,  he’d be home.”

Claire sat quietly, considering Alice’s words. She looked up at her and smiled. “Alice, could you help me with something?”

***

Claire sat with Alice in the newly organized castle surgery, and she couldn’t keep the smug grin off her face. Alice was in high spirits as well.
”It’s about time we changed some of these rooms about.  James will be pleased to see all this tack equipment returned to the stables.”

”Yes, well. It’s a good start at least.” Claire left out that she was tempted to reverse the change, knowing James would be pleased.

Alice chuckled as she moved over to the windows and began scrubbing the panes.  ”Ack, let me change the water in this bucket.  I’ll return in a bit.”

Throughout the afternoon, Claire learned that Alice organized and ran castle Beauly, though she swore she didn’t do half the work that such a place demanded.   She introduced Claire to the staff and was quite honored with Claire asked for her help.  They decided to split the castle management with Alice Claire could open a surgery for the injured.  Many of the soldiers had passed by the spacious room, both curious and willing to lug equipment to new homes.  A new set of eyes were watching her now, however,  and Claire wondered, not for the first time if skulking was an inherent Fraser trait.

”Hello there, fox cub, ” Claire murmured, without raising her eyes. A short gasp escaped the space behind the door as Claire watched a pair of blue eyes emerge from the shadows.

”Fox Cub?” Brian whispered, a small grin creeping up his face. ”Why would you call me that?”

“Well,  your hair for one.” Claire chuckled,  as she rubbed a hand through his curls. “But,  the Frasers, your Da especially, are known to be sly and quick-witted, like a fox.”

Brian giggled. “And I’m Da’s cub!”

“Too right,” Claire said with a tap on his nose.

Brian’s laughter filled the room and Claire could not keep the grin off her face as he crawled under table legs into her herb stash.

“What you do with the petals?”

”Why don’t you come here, and I’ll show you?”

Brian hurried forward, climbing onto the stool beside her.  She handed him a square of moss and his fingers immediately buried into the spongy texture.

”It’s so soft.  What does it do?” Brian asked.

”Oh, I use it for a lot of things.  It can help with stomach aches, and chest colds, ” Claire said. ”If you rub your hands on it,  they’ll get soft too.”

”And the petals? The purple ones?” Brian asked, reaching for the lavender.

”I use it for teas. Once it’s dried like these, I can pull the buds off the stems and crush them in this bowl. Want to try?”

He nodded and took the pestle from Claire’s hand, imitating how she crushed the buds against the bottom of the bowl.  Claire tickled his cheek with a sprig of lavender before sprinkling more buds in his bowl.

Brian looked up at her.  ”Do you like Da?”

Claire looked down at the small boy, and a small bit of her cringed at the truth she was about to admit. ”I like him very much.”

”He likes you too.  He talked about ye all last night and only told me one bedtime story instead of three like he usually does, ” Brian muttered.  

“Well, I’m sorry about that.  Maybe I could read you a story tonight since he’s away?”

Brian made a face and shook his head.  “Nay, thank ye. I’m laird when Da is gone.  I’ll manage.” With that, Brian jumped off the stool and bolted out the door.  Claire felt a small nugget of disappointment at his refusal but forced herself to brush it away.  He was just a child, and she would not fault him, no matter how much his behavior reminded her of another Fraser.

Stubborn, sly Frasers, indeed.

***

After supper, Claire found herself standing outside of Jamie’s study.  She was curious about what she’d find inside, given the barren nature of their bedroom, but she felt going through his things would be an invasion of his privacy.  Alice explained earlier that Jamie’s departure was unexpected after some nearby tenants had called for help before dawn.  She spent most of the afternoon attempting to excuse his behavior.  She even reasoned that him leaving her a note was rather thoughtful, given the time restraint.

She couldn’t help that the reasons, though logical,  didn’t ease her upset.

How could he just leave…after…

Claire closed her eyes and took a slow breath.  Despite her upset, her body would not soon forget his touch.  

Right.  Whiskey then.

A cry startled her and fizzled out her lustful thoughts.  It sounded again,  and Claire realized she was close to the nursery.  

Brian.

Her feet took off before she finished the thought,  and found herself bursting through his bedroom door a few moments later.  His face was puffy and red,  not purple she noted with relief,  but tears streamed down his cheeks as he began another coughing fit.

It was a dry, wheezing cough, unproductive, and sounding more of inflammation than phlegm, Claire thought as she rubbed a hand between his shoulders.   She had a handkerchief ready for him but was surprised when he produced one from beneath his pillow.  

“Da keeps a stack of his…here for me,” Brian rasped as he trumpeting into the cloth.

“I see that,” Claire whispered back. “Does it hurt here when you cough?” Claire asked,  pointing two inches below her neck.  “And it feels like you can’t get anything out?”

“Aye,” Brian nodded.  “Alice has given me teas with honey before,  but it doesn’t help.”  

“I think I have something that could help,” Claire said.

***

“You want me to eat the moss?” Brian exclaimed as his brows arched into his curls.

“Not quite.  You brew it with tea, and we can sweeten it up with Peppermint and a splash of milk,” Claire offered.  

Brian looked at her skeptically but nodded.  “And it helps you breathe?”

“It helps to reduce swelling,  which can help you breathe, yes.  I’ll need to talk to your Da more,  but I think your stomach is hurting your throat.  We can make this for you before bed, and if you get better, we’ll know.”

Brian took the cup from her once it was cooled and began taking small sips.  “So ye are a fairy then?”

Claire smiled.  “No, I’m not a fairy. I just like healing.  I started when I was just about your age.”  

“Who taught you?” Brian asked.

“My Uncle Lamb had many friends that we met when we traveled.  Some of them taught me,  and then…I had tutors where I grew up…” Claire said softly,  as she felt her own throat close a bit.  With the exhaustion and chaos of the last few days,  Alistair’s loss had settled to the back of her mind but was now quickly brought to the forefront.  Alistair had always invited traveling healers to stay with them, given Jacob’s condition,  and Claire had taken advantage of their knowledge and time.

Brian rubbed the top of her hand and she quickly arranged her face into a smile.  “Almost done?”

“Aye.  Thank ye…”. Brian hesitated.  “What should I call ye? Miss Claire?”  

“Claire is fine.  Less formal for friends,” She added with a smile,  but Brian still looked conflicted.

“Shane said you’re my mam now and I should get used to calling ye that,”  Brian said before placing his empty mug on the table.

“Well, Shane doesn’t know that I’ve given you permission to call me Claire,  and you don’t ever have to call me mam unless you want to.”  

Brian smiled, and Claire saw his cheeks tinged with pink.  “Aye.  Would you mind reading me a story, Claire?”

“I’d love to.”

***

Claire woke to the feel of familiar hands brushing over her forehead, and the shift of the bed beneath her.  Her eyes fluttered open to see James on Brian’s other side,  his finger interlocking with hers over Brian’s head.

“He had a rough night then?”  James whispered to her.

Claire was distracted by his fingers soft caresses along her wrist.  “Just woke up once actually.  He settled back down shortly after.”

“Thank ye, for staying with him,” he whispered to her.  He motioned for them to depart and together they tucked the sheets tightly around Brian and closed the door behind them. 

When Claire turned to face him, his eyes darkened and bore into her and she couldn’t help turning away.

“You’re back sooner than we expected,” she said softly.

“It’s always hard to stay away from him,”  he replied.  “And…”

Claire’s face visibly crumpled at his words, and she turned and began walking to their chamber.

 “And, there are men who need medical attention,” James said as he followed her through to their rooms.  “Later this morning, if you could…”

“I’ll see them now,” Claire said briskly, turn back towards the door.
“Nay, I thought—”

“Thought what?” 

James narrowed his eyes at her.  “That we could spend some time together. Are ye upset with me then?”

Claire perched herself on the foot of the bed, and weighed her words carefully. 

“James, I’m trying not to be.”  When he looked at her blankly, Claire huffed.  “It’s difficult when I’m left within a cold bed with a scrawled note.”

“Lass, I had no time,” James countered.  “And I didn’t want to wake ye. I knew you’d be upset being alone here so soon—”

“So it was easier.  More efficient.”  Claire stated.

“Aye it was.”

“Well, I won’t be treated like your whore,” Claire spat. “I’m your wife, and I won’t be used and discarded!”

“You’ll no’ speak to me that way,” James growled, as his hand cupped her elbow and steered her away from the bed.  He made sure to check his anger as he ground his teeth and pressed her against the door frame. “You may question my methods behind closed doors, but I won’t have ye’ questioning my honor. I don’t bed whores, and I won’t have ye’ accusing me of treating my wife as one.” 

He pressed his hips to her thighs so his arousal was thick between her legs. 

“And if ye’ imply such a thing again, I’ll be rethinking my morals and taking my belt to that round ass of yours.”

“Brute!” Claire spat.

“Aye, a Brute I can be.”  James pressed a hard kiss to her lips, his anger spilling over into his want of her. Claire felt her stomach jump into her throat as she responded and deepened the kiss. Her hips rubbed against his, seeking friction until he hooked her knee over his hip. 

“Did ye’ no like it then?” He murmured in her ear as his tongue slid down her jaw. “When I made ye tremble around my cock? Did ye think me immoral for it?” 

“N-No.”

“When you were panting, and crying out from my fingers in your quim,”  James growled against her throat. “Did I silence ye, or did I take pride in the castle knowing you were mine?” His right hand burrowed two fingers into her heat, and Claire head’s fell back against the door.  She needed more of his fingers,  more of him, immediately.  She reached for the hem of his kilt—

“Nay, lass.  I won’t be using ye this morning.  I canna have my wife feeling like a whore.”

“Jamie—” 

“Now I’m Jamie again?” He dropped to his knees and hooked her knee over his shoulder. “What else will ye call me, I wonder…”  

His mouth pressed to her apex, sending a spike of pleasure through her that made her back arch from the door.  His mouth sucked and nipped at her as his hand squeezed her thigh, anchoring her as he sent waves of pleasure through her body.  Her fingers reached out to the door frame, clawing against the wood door for purchase as the pleasure coiled and tightened her belly to her spine. 

 She began to buck against his mouth as she sought her release, and he gripped her ass to keep his mouth on her as she trembled and shook. 

She cried out when she found release, a sharp piercing sound that echoed through James’ hands as he held her hips.  He stood and held her for many minutes, the silence stretching until he found words to fill them.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been a husband,” he whispered.  “If I’m truthful, I was never any good at it.”

He dipped his head to her, and Claire found herself silent as he gently rearranged her skirts. 

“I’ll see ye at dinner.”

 

Chapter Text

The afternoon sunlight gleamed off the freshly scrubbed table in Claire’s surgery, and though there were herbs to seep and plants to dry,  Claire found herself ignoring her work.  Her mind was elsewhere now that James’ men were attended to,  and try as she might, her thoughts kept circling back to the red-headed scot and what he’d done to her this morning.

Claire knew she was not as experienced as other married women, but it hadn’t occurred to her she’d enjoy carnality with her new husband.  Most women described it as a chore, a duty that a wife endured, while others said bedding didn’t become enjoyable unless love and trust were also present.  
She trusted James, but love?  She certainly didn’t love him more than Jacob,  and their few attempts at lovemaking were…well, different.  A wave of shame washed over Claire, and she lowered her head into her hands.  She’d found herself comparing her two husbands most of the morning, and was frustrated over the feelings James could press from her.

She lost control with him. Her body synced to the rhythm he set and abandoned any argument that dissuaded her from pleasure.  She realized how many questions she still had for him, but pinning him down long enough to ask them seemed impossible.  Dinner would not be an appropriate time,  though perhaps she could ask for an audience afterward? Claire nodded to herself as she tied bundles of herbs, her fingers finally finding pleasure in their work.  Yes,  after dinner then.

“Claire, you should come to the front gates,” Alice said quietly, as she poked her head into the surgery.  Alice looked shaken and Claire stood and reached for her hands.

“What’s the matter then?”

“The Grants have sent their former Chieftain to parlay with James,” Alice whispered, squeezing Claire’s hand.  

“Well that’s good news, isn’t it?”  Claire asked.

Alice wrung her hands and worried her bottom lip. “I dinna ken, Madam. I’d like to think so,  but the Grants have a way of making an empty purse look appealing if you get my meaning.”

“Oh. I see,” Claire hummed. “And gracious enough to take your last coin to see it emptied?”

“Quite,” Alice said, her face turning grim.  “James has gone to meet them,  but I wanted ye prepared.  It will be an interesting dinner at the least.”

Claire took Alice’s arm and twined her own through it. “Let's go see this foe then.”


 

Stopping only for Alice to fix a few pins in her hair,  Claire took a breath before she walked down the front steps of Castle Beauly.  Alice stood a step behind her and the two made an impressive show of composure as Grant and Fraser riders entered the front gates.  She recognized the older man beside James, having entertained him at Castle Foulis more than once:  Eran, the former Grant chieftain and a good friend to Alistair, or so she once thought.  

The two men dismounted and Eran hurried forward to kneel before her.

“Lady Munro,” Eran breathed as he took her hand. “My son was ever concerned about your welfare, and sends his deepest condolences.” Claire stole a glance at James before squeezing Eran’s hand and helping him to his feet.

“I’m a Fraser now, Eran,” She corrected gently as she pulled her hand away. “But I thank you for your family’s condolences.”  

“Married her then, did you, Fraser?” Eran said as James approached on his left. “Didn’t have the stomach to hang her?”

Claire felt a bolt of fear shoot down her spine but kept her face frozen.  She felt Alice’s hand press into the small of her back in reassurance.

“I don’t hang women,” James said blandly.

“It may have been kinder if you had,” Eran replied.  

Claire stood stone still and pressed back into Alice’s hand for support as the two men stared at one another.  James looked towards the castle’s doors, and let a smirk crawl onto his face.

“Perhaps.  Alice will show you and Milla to your rooms.   Dinner is served in an hour.”   It was then Claire noticed the young woman dismounting from her horse in a cloud of furs.  Her green eyes took in Claire’s appearance from crown to toe, and the smugness on her expression nearly pulled a frown from Claire.

James extended his hand to Claire and she quickly took it as he leads her up the front steps,  leaving their guests behind. She didn’t dare say a word until they were inside their bedroom with the door bolted behind them.

“James,” she whispered.  He turned to her, and she was relieved to see the softness restored to his face.  He took her hands and brought her to the wall farthest from the door.  

“I dare not speak above a whisper with Grants in our home,” he said quietly. “Do you understand?”

Claire felt a rush of heat and understanding at his words.  “He doesn’t know what Alistair told you?”

“Nay,” James whispered back.  “And I’ll no’ start a war a week before the ground freezes,”  James swore beneath his breath as he squeezed her hand. “Christ, there’s so much I need to tell ye.  I thought I had more time.”

“The abbreviated version then?” Claire said with a smile.

“I have to speak to Murtagh. I need him to take Brian away,” James whispered and held her chin in his hand. “Promise me we’ll speak this evening, no matter your anger? I’ll explain everything then.”

Claire frowned but nodded before James departed from their room.  Claire felt dread well up in her chest as she thought of his words, and the woman called Milla traveling with Eran.  She pressed a hand to her chest and took two slow, steadying breaths.  Then she turned to her mirror and began to dress.


 

Claire felt fortified as she descended the stairs to the grand hall.  She wore a dress of dark violet velvet with lace details around the cuffs, waist and hem.  The bodice’s square cut left much of her shoulders and chest on display, so Claire let her curls down with only two combs to keep her hair from her face.  

As she walked towards the grand hall,  she heard James’ voice echoing from the side hall, and quickened her pace to find him.  Perhaps they could have a few more words before the others arrived. Claire turned the corner and came to an abrupt stop.

Claire’s vision blurred a bit before she focused on the fur-cuffed hands pressed against her husband’s chest.  The woman before her stretched towards James, her lips poised inches from his own.  Her hands traveled up his chest with a familiarity that hallowed Claire’s chest and left a line of needle pricks down her spine. James noticed her then and cleared his throat.  To Claire’s disbelief, the woman pouted.

Claire blinked rapidly to clear her vision, as her lungs fought to breathe evenly.

“I don’t think we’ve been introduced,” a silky voice sang out. “I’m Milla, Eran’s niece. You must be the new wife.”

Claire felt the pins spread to her fingers but kept her composure.

“You may address me as Madame Fraser.” Claire steeled her eyes down her nose at the woman.

“Of course,” Milla said with a sickly sweet smile.  “James and I were just discussing you.  What a wonder that you somehow convinced him to take a wife.”

Claire sought James’ eyes, but he seemed determined to evade her gaze.  

“Let’s take our seats, shall we?” James said, walking toward the great hall.  

Milla started after James but slowed as she passed Claire. “We’re just old friends. Nothing too serious to worry about.”  

And with a wink, she was gone.


 

Dinner turned out to be a series of jabs and insults surrounded by meat and wine.

“The marriage solidifies your claim over Foulis, does it not Fraser?”   Eran asked during the second course.

“It does,” James answered.

“And you claim Alistair gave his blessing to the match?”  

“He did,” Claire answered.  Eran frowned at her, but to her dismay, James didn’t even look up from his plate.

“And where is Brian this evening?” Milla asked, her eyes fluttering as she made to look about the room.  “I do miss him.”

“He’s staying with a friend,” James answered,  and gently patted Milla’s hand,  a gesture that set Claire’s blood to boil.

“Aye, well the night is getting late, and there are matters for us to address in private.  James, if you’re ready?”

“Aye, I am.”  

Eran stood in a flourish and made to help his niece out of her chair, but James was at her side first.  Eran watched with a careful eye and grinned.  

Claire fought to keep her face passive, and nearly failed when Eran turned back to her abruptly.

“We’ll get this all sorted Lady Fraser.  Rest assured.”  Eran said with a bow of his head.

James left the grand hall with little more than a nod in her direction,  as Milla Eran and James left for James’ study.  Alone in the grand hall,  Claire gripped the back of her chair,  her hands twisting over the wood as her mind raced from one thought to the other.

“He said he’ll explain,  and you’ll let him,” she whispered to herself before she turned and went back to her chambers.


 

When midnight struck and her husband still hadn’t returned,  Claire felt her uneasiness racket up to pure anxiety. Her mind raced, her feet paced, and she could not stop picturing Milla’s smug smile.  

Right. Enough of this.

Securing her dressing gown over her night dress,  Claire padded down the hallway towards Brian’s room and peered around the corner.  She could hear the murmur of voices and seeing that the hallway was dark and abandoned,  she tiptoed to his study door and pressed her ear to it.

“Lachlan will give up his argument over the lad,  that I can assure ye,” Eran said.

“He had better if I agree to this.”

“If?  Are ye going to talk me in circles again?  My son only wants what you’ve taken after all.”

“All I ever took from Lachlan was the wife he divorced and abandoned.  The boy is mine, and my father—”

“Aye, I know, don’t get your hackles up.” Claire heard the creak of a chair.  “Still, to marry the lass to secure a castle.”  

A long silence followed that chilled Claire’s blood. 

“So, you’ll have the marriage annulled,  and return her to Lachlan as was arranged.  In return, we don’t trouble ye over yer son and you’ll get Milla, for yer troubles.”

“Aye.  We’re agreed.  In the spring though.”

“Lachlan wants her now.” Eran said forcefully.

“Lachlan is still married, and I’ll no shame the lass after she’s already lost a father.  She’ll be safe and unharmed here until spring.”

“And what will ye be fooking ‘til then, eh?” Eran said with a peal of uproarious laughter.  

“I’ll make do.”

Claire fell away from the door and her limbs trembled so badly she could hardly stay upright. Tears sprung from her eyes as she slowly moved down the hall towards her bedroom.  

She would not be given to Lachlan Grant just to be discarded when she too could not produce an heir.  She’d bet her life his lack of child had everything to do with him and nothing to do with his wives.  And James…

His name caused her chest to ache.  How could he have kept so much from her?  Brian’s mother, Lachlan’s claim on him…

There was no way, she thought.  Brian was a mirror image of James.

Her mind circled back to James’ words.  He’d explain everything tonight.   She nodded to herself and tucked herself back into bed,  her back to the door and her eyes on the moon outside their window.

As the sky slowly lightened with the breaking of dawn,  Claire realized James wasn’t coming to her.  She did not know where he spent his night after his meeting,  but when she checked with Alice, she found out he’d gone out riding with Milla.

Just as well.  Their guests would be leaving this afternoon, and she planned to be ready.

Chapter Text

Claire spent most of the morning collecting odds and ends she’d need for her journey, from bits of food to bandages.  She rummaged through her surgery,  packing what she could into her small basket while eyeing the time, and the sun.  Days were shorter now,  and if she had any hope of out riding James, she’d need to leave with at least two hours of sun ahead of her. Any sooner, and he’d have too much light to catch her.

 She secured a heavy shawl over her basket when a small cough sounded behind her.  She turned to see Brian’s wide eyes staring between her basket and her.  She gently set the basket down and gave him a smile.

“How was your night wee fox?” Claire asked and took a seat beside her table.  Brian shrugged, moving from foot to foot. 
“Fine.  I came to get some more moss from ye…”
“Oh! Well, let’s get that started then.”
Claire went about the motions of setting her kettle to boil and cutting up the moss into fine pieces,  but she could feel the boy’s eyes fixed on her and the frown on his face spoke of his suspicions.

He was quiet as she worked and watched her tie the fine moss pieces into a cloth and pour the hot water over to seep.

“Where are you going?” Brian finally asked, and Claire froze.

“Nowhere.  Why do you suppose I’m going somewhere?” She blew on the tea and stirred it vigorously to cool.

“I’ve seen my da pack up for a ride. I know what people pack when they plan to be away,” he said quietly.  He took the tea from her and drank too quickly.  He let out a series of harsh coughs that brought Claire to his side until it subsided.

“Slower,” she whispered.  “You must drink slowly.  Your throat is inflamed. Did you have another episode last night?”

Brian nodded, as he sipped at his tea.  “Aye.  I was with Murtagh and Graham at the hunting cabin.”

“Oh, I see.  And what did you bring back from your hunting trip?”

“A few rabbits this morning.  I saw a stag, but Murtagh said it was too young to take down.”

Claire watched the small boy sipping at his tea and felt a sudden rush of fear.  Without her, Brian would suffer.  Despite only knowing her a few days, he spent most of them attached to her skirts like nettle. Brian, however, was the farthest thing from a thorn.  When she treated James’ men, Brian stood ready to assist and learn, and she found his enthusiasm and gentle nature heartwarming. But was she willing to see him safe, even if it meant being a Fraser pawn?

She looked over at the boy as he poked at the tied satchel in his cup.  The tip of his tongue peeked out from the corner of his lip as picked at her twine knot, and Claire shook her head in disbelief.  

Of course, she would.

As he finished his tea,  Claire picked up the basket and moved closer to him.  “Well, you’re right Brian.  I’m going on an adventure to find some more purple flowers.  Would you like to accompany me?”

“Oh aye!” Brian said, jumping up.  “There are several small bushes in the meadow.  I’d be happy to show ye!”

“We’ll have a picnic then.  Lead the way, wee fox!”

 


 

 

The afternoon sun began its descent into the horizon when Claire and Brian found several bushes of Rosemary by the Beauly stream.

Claire carefully cut the long sappy sprigs as she watched Brian chase after some wild grouse.  His loud game ended when he tripped over a tree root and pummeled the ground with his face.  He stood almost immediately, his face covered in dirt, and Claire burst into a fit of laughter as he scowled at the tree.

“Come here,” Claire called,  reaching into her basket for the cloth she had packed.   She dipped a corner of it in the cold stream and pulled Brian down to her to wipe his face.  

“No cuts.  Just dirt, wee fox,” Claire muttered as she looked him over.  

“It would be my luck to get a shiner from a tree instead of something exciting, like sword practice,” Brian said as he scrunched his face.

“Is your Da already teaching you then?” Claire asked.  

“Aye, when I’m good. He says swords aren’t for lads, so the more responsible I show myself to be, the more I get to learn.”

“Hmm, I couldn’t agree more,”  Claire muttered.

The sound of an approaching horse raised Claire’s head to the horizon, and she saw Jamie crest the hill and the wave of relief that washed over his face a moment later.

“Uh oh,” Brian said.  “We’re on the wrong side of the stream.”

Claire looked down and saw that they had, in fact, crossed the stream towards the woods.  From what Alice had told her,  there were scouts around the perimeter of Beauly’s lands,  and undoubtedly at least 4 sets of eyes on them even now.   James’ cross expression didn’t seem to take that into consideration, however.

Claire noted that he wore breaks now when last night he wore a kilt to supper.   At some point he found time to change, she thought tartly, but not the time to speak with her.  The thought brought a sour expression to her own face as he dismounted.

“Brian, come here,” James ordered as his feet hit the ground.

“Yes, Da,” Brian said quietly, having already been walking towards his father.

“What is the rule about the stream?” James asked sternly.  

Brian sighed.  “I must stay on the western side of the stream.  The eastern side is too close to the forest edge where wild animals can attack without the river to slow them.”

“And strangers to Beauly,” James reminded, though his voice was less stern.  

“I do know, Da, it's just that the plant Claire needed doesn’t grow on this side of the stream.”

James' eyes skirted to Claire and her basket,  and let out a sigh. “Aye, I see that.  Next time you wait for me or Murtagh to accompany ye.  Now go get your supper.  I need to speak with Claire.”

“Yes, Da,” Brian said quietly, shooting an apologetic look at Claire before he scampered back up the hillside toward Beauly.

When he was out of sight,  Claire stood with her basket. “It wasn’t his fault.  I should have realized—”

“You should know I wouldn’t want either of you this close to the forest with Grants newly exiting our lands,” James growled.

Claire narrowed her eyes at him.  “Oh, are they gone?  What a shame.”

“Aye, they’re gone,  and I made excuses for ye since you decided to disappear this afternoon.”

“I didn’t realize I was needed after you and Milla went on a long morning ride by yourselves.”

“With a full guard you mean,” James countered. “And I don’t appreciate your tone.”

“Oh, my tone?  You’d like me to apologize for my tone when I waited for you all night to come and speak with me,  and upon seeking you out, find that you’ve left on a dalliance—”

“It wasn’t a dalliance!” James barked.

“A dalliance,” Claire shouted back, “with the woman who's been sewn to your hip since she arrived!”

James ground his teeth as his eyes bore into Claire,  his rage nearly to the point of boiling over.  He shut his eyes as his fingers drummed against his thigh.  As he released a breath,  he said quietly, “I have not played ye false.”

“I heard you with Eran,” Claire said, her voice breaking at last.  James looked up at her, his brow furrowed. Claire sighed and lowered her head as she wiped at her eyes. “I went looking for you around midnight.  I overheard you two speaking in your study.”

James' face paled at this,  and he grabbed for her arm. “Claire, ye don’t know what you’ve heard—”

“I know enough to know you’ve been keeping more than a few secrets from me,” Claire growled, as she wrenched her arm away from him. “I may not know the extent of them, but I know I’m a bargaining chip in your damn game with the Grants.”
“There’s more to it—” James began, his own face crumbling before her.  

“It doesn’t matter. I’m honor bound by my calling to tend to your son. I don’t need to understand anymore.”

“Claire.”  Her name sounded like gravel in his throat, an abrasion of sorrow and tears that tore at her guts even as she turned her back to him.  Pulling her shawl out of her basket, she pulled it about her shoulders and began back to the castle.

She turned back at the hilltop to see him sitting on the rock she’d abandoned, looking out toward the stream and the distant sunset.  Even now,  the thought that he’d freeze if he didn’t come in soon preoccupied her mind.  

“Damn him,” she whispered to herself.  And she repeated it every few steps back to the castle, despite heart’s ache to run back to him.

 


 

 

James didn’t come to their bedroom that evening, nor the three nights that followed.  She saw him only briefly in the yard, sometimes playing with Brian, other times speaking with Murtagh or Graham.   He was never at meals.

It came as a surprise then, on the fourth night, when a knock sounded at her bedroom door, followed by whispers and shadowed feet under the door.  She pulled the door open to find both male Frasers behind it,  Brian smiling from ear to ear, and James attempting to not throttle his son, given his hand placement on his shoulders.

“Claire!” Brian sang, as he ran forward and threw his arms around her middle.  “Could you please make my moss drink for me?  Da has no idea what I’m talking about.”

“Oh. Well of course.”  Claire dropped her hands to Brian’s curls, as her eyes lifted to James.  He looked tired, but his face was soft, and his eyes were warm as they gazed at her.  A smile tugged at his lip as he watched Brian with her, and to Claire’s annoyance, she felt her cheeks heat.

She pulled her nightdress tightly around her as they walked toward her surgery,  Brian grabbing her free hand as they descended the stairs.  James followed quietly, but she felt his eyes on her at every turn.

In her surgery, she busied herself with the kettle as Brian told James everything they put in his tea and showed him the special teacup he kept in her surgery now.

“Moss, aye? And it helps?” James asked Brian.

“My belly doesn’t gripe after, and my throat feels cool, even though the tea is hot,” Brian explained,  as he added a healthy dollop of honey to his cup. “And now we mix it with the Rosemary we found by the stream.”

“And what does the Rosemary do?” Claire quizzed as she poured the hot water into the cup?”

“It’s an anti…flame thing,” Brian said with a giggle as he stirred the cup.

“Anti-inflammatory,” Claire corrected with a smile.

“I think ye have half the honey pot in there, ye wee fiend,” James said, as he tossed his son’s curls.   “You’ve made quite an office for yourself, Claire.  I hear good things from your patients as well.”
“Caleb says she can remove a splinter without the sting!” Brian piped in.

Claire laughed. “It was a very small splinter, but I’m glad he thinks so.” Brian finished his tea and quickly put the herbs away, as Claire and James's eyes met over the table again.  Claire couldn’t deny that she missed his company,  but there was no future between them with secrets in the way.  The three days of silence made her think he was content in their distance, but the look he gave her now…

“Claire, will you help Da tuck me in?” Brian asked.

“Oh, um—”

“Lad, let Claire go back to—”

“Pleeeeeassseeee?”  Brian asked,  looking between the two spluttering adults. James looked at Claire and smiled again, shrugging his shoulders in defeat.

“One story,” Claire answered, as she eyed her two Frasers.

 


 

 

An hour later, Claire and James snuck out of Brian’s bedroom and found themselves alone in the hallway that led to their bedroom.  

“Claire, I—”

“James—”

They both stopped and looked up at each other, startled. Claire cleared her throat. “You first,” she said.

James nodded. “I’d like to speak with ye this evening if you’d allow me the time.”

Claire nodded. “Lead the way.”

Claire expected him to lead her to their room, but instead, he turned toward his study, and Claire felt a flutter in her chest.

“Not there,” Claire said. James raised a brow. “That’s your place, like the surgery is mine.  I’d rather speak in a place where we have equal footing.”  With that, she took his hand and lead him to their room.  

Within the walls, James let out a chuckle and he walked over to the hearth to light it.  

“Would you think me daft if I told ye I do not feel even footed in here?” James said quietly.

“Not if you told me why.”

James looked over his shoulder at her, rising slowly.  “Weel, I’m not used to feeling my wame in my throat, especially over a woman.” He smiled and shuffled his feet toward her.  “You manage to soften my sharp edges in here.”

Claire sat down on the bench at the foot of their bed and James moved a chair to sit across from her. Without additional preamble, James took her hands in his.

“Brian’s mother, Anne, was a childhood friend.  We’d play together at clan gatherings, and see each other every couple of years as our fathers spoke and did business.  When she was 18, she married Lachlan Grant.  She was completely besotted with him.” James said with a grunt.  “They were married for five years when Lachlan told the council he wanted a divorce, believing she was barren.”

“My father was convinced the council would vote against it, but when they didn’t, she was turned out of the clan, and forbidden to return to her father’s house. Her father pleaded with mine and my uncle, and though I was barely 21 at the time, the marriage was arranged.”

Claire nodded and gave his hand a squeeze.  

“My father, bless his soul, took precautions.  He had Anne stay with the women of Lallybroch, and shortly after she arrived she had her courses.  He documented it, had witnesses sign, and even made copies.” James looked up at her.  “I thought he’d gone daft.”

Claire’s eyes widened. “He knew, or feared, perhaps.”

“Aye, perhaps,” James muttered.  “We were married without delay, and as fate would have it, she was with child 6 weeks later.”  James paused. “Anne was beside herself with grief.”

A chill ran down Claire shoulder blades.  James stood and began to circle the chair as he paced in front of the hearth.

“She shut me out, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t reach her. She wanted him, and he wouldn’t even return her letters. I begged and pleaded with her for months to at least try to find some happiness here, for the bairn she carried if not for me.”

James gripped the back of the chair and Claire climbed onto the seat on her knees, her hands finding the hallows of his cheeks.  “Finish it,” Claire whispered. 

James nodded.   “I wasn’t there when Brian was born.  She’d near thrown me from the cottage we were staying in, here at Beauly.  My grandsire still ran the castle at the time, so he had me go out on patrol. By the time I was back,  she was dead.”

Claire wiped at his cheeks but was surprised when tore away from the chair and began pacing the length of the room. “I failed as a husband, and I was a catastrophe with an infant, so much so my father and grandsire didn’t tell me about the hell Lachlan was raising.”

“He made a claim on Brian,” Claire whispered.

“To the Earl, Claire.  He made a claim to the Earl and bless my father, he fought the claim.  He wrote the Earl that he had proof and witnesses regarding Anne and her condition when we were married.  He even sent the Earl one copy of the evidence, but it never arrived.”  

James stood still before the hearth and looked at her. Tears ran down his face, and Claire felt her own eyes well up with emotion as the pieces fell into place.

“James, no…” Claire whispered.

“Then Lallybroch burned.”

Chapter Text

Claire felt her heartache as she watched the silent tears stream down Jamie’s face.


 

“The Earl put the matter of Brian’s parentage to rest after the fire, siding with the legal marriage at the time of birth.  I didna…live for a while after that. I took care of my son. I buried my grandsire a year after, but it wasn’t until Brian’s health improved that I let myself feel angry enough to fight,” Jamie said softly, as his eyes swept up to meet Claire’s. “Dougal’s rage was contagious, and it was during those years that my reputation became what it did.  I sought answers, and if those answers came while doing my uncle’s bidding, then it was a fair price.  Eventually, I felt myself grow tired and lonely for home…and that was when Alistair reached out to me.”

“What?” Claire’s head shot up.

James nodded.  “Alistair’s relationship with the Grants soured after Lallybroch. The Grants were nervous, knowing I didn’t believe their story of English rebels burning Lallybroch, and Alistair grew weary from guilt and remorse.  When Lachlan approached him seeking another wife, he knew it would take death to deny him.”

James let his words trail off, and let out a breath.  The worst of it was behind him now. Or so he thought.

“You can’t be serious.” Claire launched to her feet. “Alistair invited you to attack Foulis Castle and stage some… some marriage to me so I wouldn’t…so Lachlan couldn’t—”

“The marriage wasn’t staged, Claire—”

“How can you say that?” Claire shouted, though her voice cracked at the end of it.  “I can’t…How could—”

“Did you want Lachlan then?” James asked softly.

“That’s not the point!” Claire spat.  “Neither you nor my father told me of the Grants’ betrayal, never mind the peril I was riding into!”

Claire let out a wicked laugh, her rage making her fists shake.  “Did it occur to you what would’ve happened if you were killed? If the Grants had taken me hostage?”

“Of course I thought of that!” James shouted, his face reddening with anger.  “Why do you think I withheld this from ye? If I couldn’t get ye here safely, I wanted you ignorant of it all.  He would presume you innocent, and that’s how I wanted ye to be!”

“You’d want me ignorant to the monster in my bed, out of some deranged sense of duty!” Claire howled back at him, tears streaming down her face.

“It is my only duty, to see ye safe,” James growled.  “I promised it to your father and to you when we wed.”

“Then why in God’s name would you give me to Lachlan now?”

James’ eyes widened, and his frustration and anger fled him in his shock.  He thought the answer obvious, but it appeared he was a fool.  He reached for her hand but Claire shrank from him.

“I’ll not give you to anyone,” James spoke solemnly and low,  “least of all Lachlan.”

James took a step towards her, and then another. When his hand skimmed her waist, she flinched and he felt his heart splinter.  

“Never,” he said softly.  “Not ever, Claire.”  

Claire’s chest heaved with the hurt of the past days and weeks, but when his fingers trailed the side of her face, she leaned into his hand.

“Then tell me,” Claire demanded.  “All of it.  Your plans, this deal, and what you intend to do.”

James let out a shuddered breath but nodded.

“I knew Lachlan would be angry that I attacked Foulis, especially given his intentions,” James began, “But I did not expect Eran and Milla at our door so soon. Their lands are a two day’s ride from here, nearly as far west as Foulis is south.”  James met her eyes, and grimaced. “Lachlan wanted to trade for you, and sent 200 soldiers half a day’s ride from here in case I resisted.”

“But…he couldn’t just attack you here.  Not without proof of wrongdoing and a stolen bride would hardly gain the Earl’s ear,” Claire said aloud as she stared back at James.  “There would be repercussions—”

“None we’d benefit from, being dead,” James answered quietly.

Claire felt her blood run cold. “Does the Earl have no control over the man?”

“He should, but he does not,” James answered.  “Lachlan has been a thorn in the Earl’s side since the parentage ruling, and Lachlan’s army has grown.  I’ve gathered support from local clans, and the Earl has sworn to bring me his men in the Spring…but until then we wait.”

“And Milla?” Claire asked quietly.

James tutted. “Aye, what of her?”

“She implied you two had a special relationship,” Claire said softly.  

“I’m sure she did,” James grumbled.  He sighed and ran a hand through his curls.  “Truth you want, aye?”

Claire nodded.

“When Brian was a ween, she haunted the halls here.  There was one encounter I had with her and I’ve regretted it since.  If you must know I’ll tell ye the details of it—”

“No, thank you.” Claire cut him off.

“Aye, right.”  James grimaced. “She means naught to me, and I said what I did to gain Eran’s trust.”

Claire dug her fingers into her temples as she dropped into a chair. “My God…”  

James stepped toward her and knelt at her feet, his forearms resting beside her. Claire could feel the heat of his body, but noted he did not touch her.

“What if I refused you?” Claire whispered. “What would you have done?”

“Wept,” James whispered. “Convinced you to reconsider.” He bent his head to find her eyes.  “I was quite taken with your sutures, ken?”

Claire let a soft laugh burst from her chest, but James quieted her with a finger to her lips.  “I would have kept ye safe, wed or no’.  The marriage was my choice, and yours.”  

“Truely?” Claire asked.

“Aye,” James whispered, and tucked a curl behind her ear.

Claire turned her face from him as her cheeks flushed, and she let her arms cross tight across her chest as it filled with uncertainty.

“I need some time, to process all this,” Claire whispered. “And sleep would help too.”

“Aye, it would,” James said.  “I’ve been sleeping in my study the last few nights.  I’ll bide a few more if it gives ye peace.”

“Your study?” Claire asked.  “But there are empty beds—”

“I sleep in one bed, Claire.  My study chaise suits me otherwise.”

James stood and made his way to the door.

“James?”

“Aye?” He replied softly.

“Could I accompany you and Brian on your ride tomorrow morning?”

The corner of his mouth twitched. “Aye, the lad and I would be honored for your company.”  He bowed his head to her and closed the door softly behind him.  Claire listened as the sound of his footfalls receded down the hall.  

Her mind spun as she sunk beneath their blankets, but for the first time in several nights, felt a peace settle over her.

Chapter Text

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 what?”

“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?”

“Very much.”

“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.”

“I did.”

“And now?”

“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.

 

 PART TWO

 

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.

“Jamie!”

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.  

“Oh?”  

“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.

“Aye.”

“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.