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“What about this one?” Jamie cautiously toed a half-unearthed root amid the thick grass.

At his side, Claire knelt, squinting. “Yes, but no – looks like someone with sharp teeth got to it first. But it’s wild ginseng – it soothes upset stomachs. Good to know that it grows on this hill.”

His hand – battered, weathered, strong – crossed her field of vision. She took it and smiled as he helped her stand, clutching her basket in his free hand.

She stepped forward, eager to keep moving – but he held firm. So she turned to him, surprised. One brow raised. Curious. Patient.

“Why are you rushing?”

“I’m not rushing.”

“Yes ye are. What else do ye have to do today?”

“Oh, I can think of several dozen things we need to do.”

He stepped closer. Gripping her hand tight. The corners of his wide, sweet mouth creased into a smile.

“They will bide. We have all the time in the world now – do we not?”

They did. It had never occurred to her – but they did. Alone for at least the next few days, as Ian was off again with his Mohawk friends. They had a house with a roof, and a study for him, and a stillroom for her, and a bedroom with the decadent feather mattress Jocasta had sent from River Run.

No children. Or pets. Or office jobs. No deadlines. No alarm clocks. No milk deliveries. No radio, or television, or newspapers.

Now Jamie set down the basket, taking her other hand.

“I feel like a lad again, Claire. Like – like we did when we were first at Lallybroch together. It’s all new – fresh.”

She nodded. Remembering. “When we had a home, and we were figuring out what that meant for us.”

“Aye. But now – ”

“Now it’s *our* home. The one that *we* built.”

He swallowed. “When – when we were apart – did ye ever…” He pressed his lips together, but kept his eyes firm on hers. “Did ye ever dream of a house wi’ me?”

Flashes of Furey Street, and the brownstone, and the worn patch on the Persian rug that Frank had refused to repair. “I didn’t allow myself to, consciously. I didn’t feel it was fair to Frank – or to me, because I knew it would never be.”

He raised her right hand to his lips. Kissed her ring.

“But I did, from time to time. I wondered what it would be like. Waking beside you. Making you breakfast. Mending a hole in your shirt.”

Only when she felt the rough bark against her back did she realize he had slowly, slowly brought them against a tall, shady maple.

“When I was in the cave, I dreamed of it.” His eyes were so blue – so dark – so beautiful. “I could only picture Lallybroch, and the life we’d had there – even though I knew I’d never see ye there again.” He sighed. “And then, with Laoghaire – I wanted that sense of peace wi’ her. The comfort I needed – from my partner. My helpmeet.”

He dropped her right hand and cradled her jaw. She dropped his right hand and dug her fingers into the thick, scratchy wool of his waistcoat.

“I need you close,” she breathed. “With me. Beside me.”

“Forever,” he vowed. “Always.”

Her eyes shone – so bright. “God, Jamie. We have forever.”

He leaned in then, pressed his forehead to hers.

Somewhere in the treetops, blue jays called to each other. The carpet of leaves rustled with chipmunks and raccoons.

The moment stretched. Their breaths mingled.

“Every day with you, Claire, is the dream I thought would never come to be.”

She kissed him, tasting salt.

“I need you wi’ me. In me.” Greedily his lips returned for more.

“Always.”

Beneath that tree she sheltered him from his fears, the scent of leaves and flowers crushed by their boots all around them. Proof that it was all indeed very real.

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