Strong hands roamed up and down my back as I lay face down on the softest feather mattress on which I’d ever slept. Jamie had a way of bringing me to consciousness with the most tenderly stimulating means possible.
“How are you so good at that?” I asked.
His throat made a pleasant vibrating sound as he chuckled. “I pay attention, Sassenach.”
“To all yer wee noises and the squirming of yer hips.” He was straddling my legs as he massaged down my back. “When ye dinna care for something, ye get verra tense and quiet, like this…” He massaged in a ticklish spot under my arms. I grunted and pulled away.
“And when I’ve found a place that’s all stiff and strained, ye moan and arch yer back like a wee cheetie as I’m rubbing it out.” He demonstrated by attending to a rather tense deltoid and tenderized it into limp submission.
“And when I’ve found a spot that makes ye whimper and squeak and roll her hips, I ken I’m making ye hot and slick between her legs.” His large hands gripped my hips and his thumbs massaged my lower back.
I did, in fact, roll my hips quite involuntarily, and the squeak that left my mouth was a higher pitch than I knew I was capable of making. He chuckled in pride at his mastery of my body.
His laughter turned to a restrained grunt when his hands moved from my hips to my arse. And now I was the one giggling at my mastery over him as I arched my back and raised my bottom in the air. His breath was ragged as he squeezed each cheek. All ten fingers pressed into the expanse of malleable flesh before him.
He gave a great groan, and I grinned in satisfaction at turning the tables on him.
“Ye’ve the roundest arse I've ever seen!” And to my shock, his mouth came down on the left curve of my buttock and bit down. A shriek escaped my lips, not in any sort of pain, but at the sheer animalism of the gesture. He licked and kissed over the now tender skin, and I realized I was pressing myself back into him.
He grabbed a meaty handful of the other buttock, and repeated the action to a similar response. He licked and kissed and grazed his teeth over my skin. His hands were kneading my flesh all the while. They made their way down low to the crease of my thighs and pulled each side apart. I don’t know which of us moaned louder when his mouth found my sex.
All I could think of as I bit down on the mattress was that my husband-to-be was a very generous and naturally-skilled lover. I could only imagine what decades of love-making would do with the man’s intrinsic aptitude.
He was as desperate as I was when he rose up on his knees behind me. My arse seemed to drive the man mad. He hammered into me with unmitigated passion. His fingers dug into my hips as he drove inside. He moved so hard and so fast, there was a loud slapping with every thrust.
Orgasm came from deep within, clenching my womb as pleasure burst from my core. Jamie was not far behind, stuttering and grunting as he came.
“God!” he said as he collapsed on me. The weight of him crushed me into the bed, but it felt a necessary comfort while coming down from an orgasm like that. His fingers intertwined with mine as he breathed heavily in my hair.
“I never kent it could be like this,” he said roughly. “I’ve seen many a husband and wife look and speak to each other in a way that tells me this isna how it is between them. Is this usual for people in your time?”
By the tone in his voice, I knew he was asking if this was what it was like with Frank. I squirmed beneath him so he’d roll off me. Our hands remained connected as I rolled with him and rested my head on his chest. “I come from a time where people partner more often for love than necessity.” I looked in his eyes. “It can often be something like this...but no...this isn’t usual. This is different. I’ve never felt anything this powerful in my life.”
He nodded as though I confirmed his assumption. His cheeks crinkled up as he tried not to smile too wide. The sight made me deliriously giddy. I reached up and kissed those cheeks, my lips grazing against the scratch of an impending beard. His smile only bloomed wider.
“I dinna ken what I could possibly have done to deserve this happiness, but if ye’ll inform me, I’ll gladly repeat the act ad infinitum.”
“That you’re not aware how wonderful you are is promising. You seem to think the way you are is just how people should generally be.”
“Mmphm.” He took my hand and brought it up to kiss the backs of my fingers. His eyes lingered on my bare ring finger when his mouth pulled away.
“When do you think we’ll be married?” I asked.
He sighed in frustration, “If I had a ring for ye, I’d marry ye this moment. I’d handfast wi’ ye, and we could have the church ceremony next week or next month or however long such things take to plan.”
“Aye. Scots may have a private ritual of marriage if there’s no' a suitable alternative. The man and wife would make promises to one another and need to be marrit in a kirk before a priest within the year.”
“Well, let’s do it now. We can get a ring later.”
“Dinna fash. I’ll be heading to Broch Mordha tomorrow to see the smith. We’ll do this right, and the ring I place on yer finger will stay there for all our lives.” He kissed my hand again.
“Ring or no ring, James Fraser, I’m already yours.”
After I checked on Jenny and Maggie later that morning, I set out to find Jamie to make sure he wasn’t overusing his reinjured arm. He was easy enough to find with his flaming, red hair glittering in the sunlight. I spotted him in a bare patch of land by the stables. He didn’t see me coming because he was hammering stakes into the ground with his good arm.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“Och,” he waved off my concern. “I’m marking off a garden for ye. I want it near the paddock so I can watch ye tending to yer wee herbs while I manage the horses.”
“This can’t wait for your arm to heal?”
“Sassenach, if I wait ’til I’m wi’out injury to get work done on a farm, we’ll be starved before the end of the month.”
He laughed as he grabbed a rope and tied it around one of the stakes. He then moved to the next stake and the next and did the same to them. When he was done, the large plot was visible, and I could actually picture which fruits, vegetables, and herbs I would want to plant where.
“Is it large enough, d’ye think?”
“Oh, Jamie, it’s perfect!”
“I’ll build a nice fence for ye to keep the critters and weans out, and I’ll till the soil for ye after I get ye seeds tomorrow from Broch Mordha. Ye’ll make me a list of what ye need?”
He was flushing with pride at making me so happy. I wrapped my arms around him and kissed him, not caring who was around to see.
“Ye’re an easy woman to please, my Sassenach. Ye just need a box of dirt and a few weeds, and ye’re throwing yerself at me.”
“Thank you for pleasing me so diligently, Jamie.”
He kissed her forehead, “I ken yer garden will be good for the family and the tenants, as well. Ye’ll save our teeth and patch our wounds wi’ what ye grow.”
I nodded. “I will.”
“D’ye think I should build ye a surgery for the tenants to come see ye? A place of yer own to brew yer medicines and see yer patients?”
“You would do that for me?”
“For you. For all of us.”
I kissed him again and again.
“See what I mean?” he said when I pulled away. “Easy to please. Come, let’s walk around the house and ye can tell me where ye’d like me to build it.”
We set off arm and arm as he showed me the land around the house...our house, as he kept reminding me.
“And there is where we grow the hay,” he pointed to a distant field. “And the apples are there,” he pointed to another.
“Oh, Jamie,” I said as I recalled my history lessons. “Potatoes. We need to plant potatoes.”
His face went from narrowed curiosity to passive acceptance as I told him of the coming famine. “Alright then. I’ll send for some, and we can figure out how to grow them over the next few years.”
“Just like that?” I was shocked at how immediately he trusted my judgment and heeded my advice.
“Ye’ll ken better about such things than I. Is there anything else I ought to ready myself for?”
“Well, yes. I suppose there is…” I told him all I could remember about Scottish and British history around this time. He was particularly concerned about the battle at Culloden Moor and the consequences for the Highland people.
At the end of it all, he just shrugged the tension from his shoulders and said, “We’ll prepare as we must and do our best to protect our people when the time comes. We have some years yet before it is upon us.”
At lunchtime, he walked me back to the house where we ate our meal with the rest of the family. Jenny was up and moving around with Maggie, and Ian and wee Jamie were in from the orchards to check on their lassies. There was so much laughter and warmth at the table, I’d never felt more at home...not even in the twentieth century.
As we were cleaning up the meal, Mrs. Crook informed us Murtagh had just arrived and asked to speak with Jamie and me in the study.
“He doesna want to eat?” asked Jamie.
“Nay. He insisted on speaking wi’ the two of ye alone.”
We excused ourselves and went directly to the study. Murtagh was pacing back and forth when we arrived. Jamie closed the door behind us and walked over to his godfather.
“Are ye alright, a ghoistidh?”
“Aye, laddie. I’ve some things to give yer bride-to-be, if ye dinna mind.” Murtagh looked at me cautiously.
“Of course. Claire…” Jamie held out a hand for me to come near.
I noticed a couple of items on Jamie’s desk that weren’t there the day before. One was a small, opened box with silk lining on the inside. There were twelve silver spoons inside with some sort of design on the end of each one that I didn’t get a chance to see, because Jamie closed the box quickly and put it away in one of the cupboards behind him.
There was a second larger box on the desk; this was what Murtagh must have brought for me. He stood over it for a while as he thought of what he wanted to say to me.
“This box was given to me several years ago in France.” His eyes flashed to mine and a shiver ran down his spine. “The wise woman who healed Jamie at the abbey entrusted me to give this to ye. She said she was a seer...and she kent Jamie would marry soon. His wife, one Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, would have need of the contents inside when I met her.”
Murtagh looked to Jamie and then back to me. “The woman had the strangest eyes I’d ever seen...your eyes.”
“Aye...we ken,” said Jamie. “Go on.”
“Weel, she healed Jamie as if by magic...” Murtagh hesitated, lost in thoughts. “I dinna care much for magic and such things, but the auld woman...she saved him...and I could see she loved him dearly. She said she kent I was the only one who could be entrusted with keeping this box until the next time I saw Jamie when he'd arrive home wi’ Claire at his side.”
Murtagh pushed the box to me and gestured for me to open it.
It was an old traveling box. It had a leather strap tied to it so it could be carried long distances with ease. I opened the box and found a number of different things packed inside, some of which immediately took my breath away.
“What the Devil?” said Jamie, picking up a syringe. “Is this what ye stuck me in the arse wi’ at the abbey, Sassenach?”
“It’s a syringe,” I said. “It looks like there are several of them in here. And a microscope, a journal…”
“Here is a letter.” Jamie pulled out a piece of parchment rolled up and sealed with wax. “It’s been marked wi’ the Fraser crest.”
I opened the letter and began reading aloud.
“Dear Claire (you have no idea how strange it is to address oneself as such),” I looked at Murtagh, who was listening with narrowed eyes.
“’Tis alright, Sassenach. Murtagh can be trusted.”
I nodded and returned to the letter. “By now, you and Jamie will have figured out who was the healer at the abbey. Yes, Beauchamp, I can confirm it will be you. I received a box and a letter just like this some sixty years past, and in sixty years, you will be writing the same letter for your younger self (Please instruct Jamie that just because he knows he will live for another 60 years does not mean he is allowed to play fast and loose with his safety. There is a reason he lives so long: caution!).”
Jamie chuckled at my future self’s parenthetical chiding.
“I have a few things here that will make your life at Lallybroch a little easier. In the journal you’ll find instructions for cultivating penicillin (which you will need to use far too many times on that injury-prone husband of yours, not to mention the children), instructions on how to make ether (have Jamie build the surgery a good distance from the house if you’re as fond of Lallybroch as I am and would like to see it remain standing), recipes for fine soaps and perfumes, a list of useful herbs and plants, and suggestions for 18th century medicinal intervention (yes, the maggots and leeches are both necessary).
“You will also find a small sapphire in the little blue, velvet pouch. That is your ticket through the stones to save Jamie.” Jamie pulled out the little pouch and emptied it into his hand. A small, blue gemstone the color of his eyes glittered in his palm. He put it back in the pouch and stored it safely back inside the box.
“I have one piece of advice for you that you must adhere to. Start bedrest (including pelvic rest) in your first pregnancy during the fifth month of gestation. Do not, under any circumstances, strain yourself in any way. Have Faith that this advice will save you and Jamie a great deal of heartache.”
My eyes flashed to Jamie who’s brow was narrowed in concern. He nodded for me to go on.
“Look in the box for another little pouch, this one made of green silk, and give it to Jamie.”
Jamie found the pouch and opened it. He pulled out a small, rolled piece of parchment. He opened it, and found his own handwriting inside. “For your wife, laddie…da mi basia mille, diende centum, dein mille altera, dein secunda centum…”
“What does it mean?” I asked.
He looked at Murtagh and blushed before translating:
“Then let amorous kisses dwell
On our lips, begin and tell
A Thousand and a Hundred score
A Hundred, and a Thousand more.”
He emptied the last of the contents of the pouch into his hand, and a silver ring fell into his palm. It was a wide band, decorated in the Highland interlace style. Jacobean thistle blooms were carved in the center of each link. He peered inside the ring and read the inscription, "Da mi basia mille.”
The beauty of it paralyzed me for some time. Jamie was turning the ring over in his hand, examining it like a fine jeweler. Finally, he nodded to himself as he came to an approving conclusion.
“Is there anything else in the letter?” he asked.
I recovered and bent my head to read more. “Advise Murtagh that he should find reasons to visit Jocasta Cameron. He’ll be thankful for it.”
“Jocasta?” said Murtagh.
Jamie smirked. “She’s wed, is she no’?”
“Ye ken right well she is.”
“Aye, but she’s lost two husbands already. Who’s to say she willna be widowed again?”
“Och, bugger off.”
“Who is Jocasta?” I asked.
“My mother’s sister,” said Jamie, grinning.
Murtagh was not laughing along with his godson, so I looked down at the letter to read the last of what was written.
“You don’t need me to tell you made the right decision; you know it in your heart every time you look at Jamie. Yours, CEBRF.”
And that was it. I checked the backside of the letter in case I missed anything. “I couldn’t have told us how many children we’d have or anything about what our life would look like?”
I rolled the letter up a little irritated and packed up the box just as it was when I first opened it, save the ring still in Jamie’s hand.
Jamie laughed. “Ye didna want to spoil it for yourself, mo nighean donn.”
“’Tis true then. Ye’re a witch?” asked Murtagh warily.
“No. I just somehow fell through time.” I really couldn’t give a better explanation.
“I kent it was you when I saw ye yesterday. I didna ken how, but I remembered yer eyes, lass.”
“Thank you for bringing this to us. You never opened it?”
“No. As I said, I thought ye were a witch. I wasna fool enough to open a witch’s box. It was already fretful enough bringing yer body back to Lallybroch wi’ me and arranging for yer grave.”
“You did that?”
“Aye. Jamie asked me to when I found ye...ye ken...in his arms...” When he found me dead, he didn’t say.
“I didna recall,” said Jamie. “I thank ye for laying her to rest in the place that was her home.”
“Yes, thank you, Murtagh.” I kissed his cheek, and a patch of red appeared beneath his skin.
I looked at the box on the desk. It seemed to carry the weight of our entire future inside. “So, what now?” I asked Jamie.
He grabbed my hand and brought it to his lips. “As I see it, we’ve our life laid out before us, and there’s naught to do but live it as we choose.”
He held up the ring between his fingers. “Be my wife, Claire? Handfast with me this day in our home and before our family?”
Joy bubbled in my chest as I nodded and said, “Yes, I will marry you today. Wild horses couldn’t keep me away.”
It was a small, quiet ceremony in the parlor. We stood in front of the hearth with Murtagh, Jenny, and Ian witnessing. We made vows in both English and Gaelic as Murtagh sliced our arms and tied our wounds together in some sort of pagan binding ritual. We drank and laughed and danced until the need to be alone was too great, and we stole away to our room.
I watched the Laird scrub himself down by the fire as he cleansed himself for our own ritual of consummation. I would’ve helped him wash, but I was quite enjoying the view. The smirk on his face told me he didn’t mind putting on the performance.
When at last he was clean, he went to his sporran and fished something out from inside. He eyed me with a hungry smile as he came to me in bed. I lay naked, watching and waiting.
He lifted his hand and a string of pearls dangled from his fingers. “They belonged to my mother. Now, they belong to my wife.” He placed them around my neck. “'Tis one of the few things I have left of her. They’re verra precious to me, Claire. As are you.”
I had no words. All I could do was kiss him to show just how precious he was to me in return.
We consummated our marriage on a bed of feathery clouds, madly in love, and full of absolute certainty, with the knowledge of a lifetime of this before us.
60 years later…
Germain was making Jamie laugh with another of his bawdy songs he’d learned at university in France. Any other day, I would’ve let him go on as long as Jamie could keep his eyes open. There was no lovelier sound in the world than Jamie’s laughter, and Germain had a knack for eliciting it in uninhibited waves.
But Jamie was looking more run down than usual as he sat in his chair by the fire. Faith tended to him, making sure he was comfortable and warm, but I could see the energy draining from his eyes.
I walked up behind him and placed my hands on his shoulders. The light of the red-orange fire flickered against his white hair, making him look like the red-haired man I first met all those years ago. My eyes travelled around the room, looking at all our children and grandchildren that shared his same fiery color. I didn’t mourn the loss of the red, because I was surrounded by it everywhere I looked.
“Ye’ve worn yer Grandda out wi’ that foolishness, Germain,” teased Faith.
“Granny will have yer hide if ye dinna smarten up,” said Willie.
“Och, I’m fine,” Jamie objected meekly. It was a token protestation, as anyone could see. Jamie hadn’t looked fine for some weeks.
“Well, you may not be tired, but I am,” I said, placating him.
Brianna corralled the children to come give us hugs and kisses. I noticed Jamie holding each one a little longer than usual and whispering soft words in their ears that only they could hear.
After all the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren bid us good evening, I looked to Fergus and Jemmy and nodded for them to take Jamie upstairs. With Jemmy grown larger than his grandfather had ever been, Fergus wasn’t strictly necessary for the task, but I knew Jamie wanted a word with our eldest before we went to bed.
The boys helped him upstairs and to our room. Jemmy eased him down on the bed and stacked pillows behind him to sit him upright.
“Before ye go, Jem…” said Jamie, grabbing our grandson’s arm. “I want ye to take my sword wi’ ye.”
“Grandda...I canna have yer sword.”
“Aye, ye can.”
“But Uncle Fergus, Ma, or Uncle Willie should…”
“No. I already gave Willie my father’s sword, yer Ma my rifle, and Fergus will be taken care of just fine. Go on. Grab it off the mantle and give yer Granny a kiss before ye leave. I dinna want to hear another thing about it.”
Jemmy hesitated for only a moment before he bent over Jamie and hugged him something fierce. “Tapadh leibh, seanair. Tha gaol agam ort.”
“I love ye, too, Jem. Now, go on, will ye? I need to speak to yer uncle.”
Jemmy did as his grandfather instructed and grabbed the sword from the mantle with delicate reverence. He held it tightly to his breast, and a tear fell from his eye. He looked longingly at his grandfather once more.
Jemmy turned to leave, but not before pulling me into a great bear hug and kissing my temple.
“Goodnight, darling,” I called after him as he walked out the door.
“Claire...” said Jamie. He stopped short as he coughed like his lungs had forgotten how to work. When he caught his breath again, he said, “The deed.”
There was a rolled up piece of parchment on the table near the hearth. I picked up the document and brought it to Fergus. “Go on, open it.”
Fergus unrolled the parchment, and read through it quickly. He was overcome with astonishment when he realized what he was holding.
I snorted at his old names for us. He hadn't called us such things in a very long time.
“We want ye to have Lallybroch, Fergus,” said Jamie.
“You are our son,” I insisted. “You’re the eldest, and we trust you to take care of our family, our home, and all our tenants when we’re gone. You’ve been doing so for the past ten years anyway.”
He laughed, “Aye, I have.”
I hugged him tight, remembering the first time we laid eyes on him during that sojourn in France. I grabbed both of Fergus’s hands and gave them a squeeze. “We’re proud of you, darling. You’ll make a wonderful Laird.”
“Ye’ll have to wait until we die to take our bed from us, though,” Jamie grumbled. “I’ll no’ be having yer Ma sleeping on that pile of rocks ye call a bed.”
“Your mattress looks old and lumpy, anyway,” Fergus teased. He bent down and hugged his father, and they exchanged quiet words in elegant French tongues. Then he hugged me one more and whispered, “Je t'aime, Maman.”
“Je t'aime, Fergus.”
When Fergus took his leave, I was surprised how peaceful I felt taking care of such necessary, last-minute business. I still needed to bequeath my surgery and equipment to Mandy, Ellen’s pearls to Brianna, and her bracelets to Faith, but I still had plenty of time for that.
Jamie rested back against his pillows with a look of a man completely at peace with all in his life. He turned his head and eyed me with a playful tenderness that made my heart flutter wildly. I moved to his side and took his hands in mine.
“How are you feeling?”
“Liar. You look tired.”
“I’m an auld man, Claire.”
“I’m older than you are.”
“Nah, ye were born almost 200 years after me, ken.”
He lifted a hand to my cheek. “Ye’re as beautiful as ever, mo calman geal.” He pulled me close and kissed me softly. He let out a great sigh of contentment as his eyes traced every line of my face. “Aye, ye look the same as the first time I saw ye at the abbey.”
“I don’t trust your laudanum-intoxicated memory to remember how I looked over half a century ago.”
His smile faded and sadness filled his eyes, “This journey will kill ye, Claire. Are ye sure it must be you who goes? Can we no’ send Mandy and Jemmy to tend to me in yer stead?”
“No, darling. Traveling the stones is far too dangerous. I’ve lived my life as full as anyone could hope for, and I’m grateful for the chance to spend my last moments with you. This task is mine. I want to be there with you. And, quite frankly, I don’t want to be here long without you.”
He nodded in pained understanding. He cleared his throat and asked, “Have ye got the box ready?”
“Yes, Jamie, everything is all set. The letters, the syringes, the instructions, all of it. I’ll just have to make the penicillin when I get there and purchase a gemstone.”
He nodded, “And ye ken when ye must leave? It must be Yuletide.”
“I know, my love. We’ve been over this a thousand times before.”
“And ye’ll humor me once more. If ye dinna save me at the abbey, Claire, yer younger self will be left to Randall wi’ no one to protect ye. I willna ha’ that bastard laying hands on my wife.”
I held his cheeks and spoke firmly. “I will find you and take care of you, Jamie, just as you did for me. You know I will.”
He nodded as tears surged into his eyes. “I ken. I just...I worry for ye, mo chridhe. I hate that I canna go wi’ you.”
“I’ll only be alone for a short time. The children will take me to the stones, and I can make it from there to France easily enough.”
He nodded as more tears fell. I tried my best to wipe them away.
“Did’ye talk to the mason about getting our headstone made? I will be buried wi’ ye, mo ghraidh. My bones will lie wi’ yers forever.”
“Yes. He’s going to deliver it this week. It’ll be ready for whenever you...” I stopped short. I couldn’t say the words. The thought of Jamie dying, of his body buried underground, triggered the first of my sobs. His old, weakened arms wrapped around me as more sobs overtook my body. He muttered in Gaelic and stroked my hair until I settled down.
When I sat up once again, he wiped the tears from my face and said, “Get us both undressed, Sassenach. I want to touch ye before I sleep.”
I did as he asked, stripping us both naked before getting into the bed. I was afraid to lay on his chest with his lungs being as weak as they were, but he pulled me close despite his labored breath.
“Jamie…” I chided.
“Dinna fash, Sassenach. I’m no’ long for this world either way. I’d much rather spend what few moments I’ve left happy in yer arms than alone and worrit about my lungs.”
I wrapped myself around him and squeezed with what meager strength I had left. Our bodies embraced, tangling all our limbs. I could feel him, usually so vital and warm, growing cold beneath my skin. Each beat of his heart grew slower and slower as the evening moved on.
“’Tis a gift and blessing to die of auld age in the arms of one ye love.”
“It’s the only way I could leave this world in peace.”
He kissed me lightly and nuzzled my nose with his own. “Ye ken, the first thing I’ll do when my spirit leaves my body is ensure ye arrive at the stones safe…”
He would protect me, I was sure. “And the second?”
“I’d like to see the bairns as they grow, to see them happy...but...” he chuckled.
“I think I’ll go see ye in yer time, before ye came to me. Perhaps I’ll play bagpipes in yer dreams and set ye on a course to visit Scotland.”
We laughed together, but when I realized it might be the last time I’d ever hear that sound, it was cut off with a sob. He stroked my cheek and comforted me with a knowing smile.
“Jamie, can I ask you a question?”
“Aye.” The word was no louder than his breath.
“Remember when you asked me all those years ago if it would stop? The wanting me?”
“Has it...has it ever stopped?”
“Never a chance. And you?” he grinned, knowing the answer to his question. “Did ye ever stop wanting me?”
I pressed my forehead to his and said, “Never, my love.”
I kissed him again, showing how badly I still wanted him. I could feel in his lip’s fragility that we were running painfully short on time.
We kissed soft and gentle until he could hardly breathe. He inhaled once more and used the last of his air to say, “I love ye, Claire.”