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Dawn.

Sparrows chittered on the eaves outside the window. A cat mewled on the landing outside the door.

Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser – FRASER – stared up at the uneven beams in the ceiling, breathing in time with her husband’s soft snuffling snores.

Long past sleep. Mind swimming.

Traitorously remembering the morning after her hasty marriage to Frank. How mundane it had felt at the time – how blissfully normal to wake up in the bed they had already shared for months, mattress springs creaking frightfully, the only real change in their routine being the clink of new shiny gold wedding rings against the teacups at breakfast.

This morning, though…

Idly she thumbed the scab at her wrist, careful of Jamie’s arm wrapped tightly around her middle.

Frank had always had his side of the bed.

She and Jamie now shared a pillow – his red locks tangling with hers.

This morning…all was new. They had no routine. No history together. No knowledge of each other’s boundaries. Would he spring out of bed, or stay warm and nestled against her? Bring her breakfast? Leave her alone?

Somewhere on the landing, the cat mewled again.

Just enough light seeped through the window now for Claire to find the lines of Jamie’s nose and cheeks and chin; the dress heaped at the foot of the bed; her shift a white puddle in the middle of the floor, right beside Jamie’s shirt.

In his letters during the War, Frank had apologized for never having time to give her a proper wedding gift to commemorate their marriage.

Yesterday, Jamie had given her respect, and honor, and choice. A church wedding, an iron ring, and a gray dress.

And his name.

In every word, every action, he had given her himself.

Jamie’s breath hitched, but then settled.

That first morning, she had not given Frank anything – had made him tea, scrambled some eggs as they discussed the latest news from Germany and the Home Office.

Claire turned to the stranger in bed beside her – her improbable husband – and wanted to give him everything.

Beneath the quilt she stirred, shifting within the iron circle of Jamie’s arm. Pushing aside all fears and doubts and guilt and just wanting to thank this incredible, innocent, selfless man.

She could feel the instant he awoke – his muscles sprang to life beneath her hands, skin prickling against the cool air as Claire turned back the quilt.

The light was bright enough now to see Jamie watching her as her right hand – heavy with Jamie’s ring – slid down his front.

His pupils dilated – mouth parted just a bit – eyes intense on hers.

“Claire…” his voice cracked.

“Sshh.” Her palm – so soft – cupped him. He was almost there. She leaned forward to kiss the side of his mouth – then his chins – and he was ready.

His arm loosened, and she pushed up on one elbow, swinging her right leg over his pelvis, settling her hips on his. The pearls swayed gently between her breasts, already pebbling with want.

“Claire?” Jamie’s brow furrowed as his hands settled on the curves of her hips, palms rough with work and damp with sweat.

With one thumbnail, she scratched the line of curly hair leading down from his navel. “This is for you, Jamie,” she breathed. “For you. Lay still.”

His back arched as she found him and guided him home; they both cried out.

It was enough at first to sit up straight, staring down at him, watching him watch her with wide, disbelieving eyes, breathing carefully.

But then – but then a wellspring of tenderness flowed through her – and suddenly she wanted nothing more than to be close to him.

So she leaned forward on her elbows, never missing a stroke of rhythm, and he eased up on his hands so that their noses almost touched.

She looked at him, and he looked at her. Sharing. Breathing. Being.

His nails dug into the soft flesh of her hips; she realized that later, he would gladly kiss away the sting.

A few cool pearls trailed onto his chest. His face surged forward and their lips collided in a deep kiss.

“More.” He bit her lip. Surged into her. Swallowed her scream as her world shrank to become just him and her and surging emotions too terrifying to name.

And later when they drowsed together in the middle of the bed, Jamie pushed Claire’s face into the side of his neck, stroking her hair, kissing her forehead.

He gave her a safe place to hide.

The cat hissed on the landing, and then four heavy knocks sounded on the door.

Jamie rolled so that Claire was behind and beneath him on the bed.

Four more heavy knocks. “Jamie!” Rupert cried through the door. “Get yerself and yer wife up! Dougal wants us to ride.”

She felt the tension leave his body as he shifted to lie beside her, stroking her face – her cheek, her brow, her chin, her nose, her lips – eyes so blue.

Sunlight now poured through the window, warming her bare back and shoulders. Jamie swallowed, then leaned forward for a soft kiss.

“Do ye want to see how I put on my kilt, lass?”