Chapter 1: Aon
The earth rolled beneath me like waves at sea, yet it wasn’t cold water where I rested, but warm, solid ground that rose and fell to a slow, steady rhythm. My lungs synchronized to each change of direction—as my body rose up in the waves’ ascent, my mouth pulled in crisp, forest-scented air, and with each drop down it cleared away hot breath now transformed into something useful for the surrounding trees.
The movement was soothing in the extreme, a comfort to the deepest parts of being. Safety. An idyll of existence I never wanted to end.
But a faint pulsing rhythm played like a drum, a reminder this paradise couldn’t last.
Somehow, I knew if I moved, pain would come. If I opened my eyes, this dreamlike sensation would be gone forever; it would be turned into a memory, tainted by all the experiences that came after. So, my eyes remained closed, and my lungs kept pace with the earth’s breath. My arms wrapped around the warm world that served as a bed beneath me.
The ground gave a shuddering breath at my touch, and I knew this sojourn in paradise was over. I forced my eyelids apart to let in the dull light of a cloud-covered sun.
Immediately, I realized it was not the earth I lay on, but a man. A very large, very firm, man. For some reason, this thought didn’t scare me. I was comforted, even in the presence of a generally disconcerting scent—one I knew all too well—at once metallic and organic...blood.
He lay flat on the ground on his back, my body lengthwise over him. I lifted my head and was struck with a throbbing pain in my temple. I flinched and laid back down on my comforting pillow.
“Careful now, lass. Ye took no small hit to the heid,” said a deep voice with a thick Scottish accent. Long, rough fingers stroked the source of the pain, tangling in my hair with each caress. “’Tis alright now. Ye’ll no be harmed again.”
Prepared for the pain this time, I tried again slower. I lifted my head off the man's chest and looked up. We were surrounded by a forest of dense trees and brush. The only sounds I could hear beyond our breath was the trickle of a small creek somewhere in the distance and the song of a dozen birds overhead.
“Ye alright then, lass?”
I searched for memories of what happened before I lost consciousness to make sense of the world I was currently in. I remembered visiting Craigh Na Dun...the buzzing at the standing stones...the pain of touching that giant rock...my car missing…seeing Frank alive...but it wasn’t Frank...a man looking just like him in a red coat...attacking me…A red-haired man in a kilt coming to my aid with a great long sword...everything going black…
“I...I’m not sure,” I said. I sat up, my hand on his chest for balance.
The sword attached to the man’s side seemed something from ages past. The rifles and pistols the men were using on that hill looked hundreds of years old. The Englishmen wore red coats, for Christ’s sake.
It was as if I’d fallen through time.
The man made no effort to get up beside me. He lay unmoving, flat on his back.
“How about you?” I asked. “Are you alright?” I looked him over. My breath caught in my lungs at the sight before me. His hair was the first thing I noticed—a thousand shades of red, mahogany, auburn, and ginger shining even in absence of sun. Blue, cat-like eyes, with far too much depth for a man so young, watched me with concern.
He was nothing short of beautiful.
I wondered if my thoughts showed plain on my face, because a twitch of his lips made me think he might smile. I was grateful he restrained himself for the sake of my pride.
I felt a strange intimacy with this man I hardly knew. One who came to my aid and carted me off to relative safety. A man who worried for me still, even as he lay bleeding on the ground.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, you’re bleeding!”
“Aye,” he grunted, clearly in pain. “Randall pierced me wi’ his sword. My shoulder isna well either.”
I helped him struggle out of his coat. He was bleeding from a stab wound through the deltoid, but I could see the injury causing him the most pain was a dislocated shoulder on the same arm. “Oh, dear. We’ll have to put it back into place.”
“Ye ken how to do that?”
“I do. I’m a nurse.”
His ears flushed red, and his eyes dipped to my breasts.
“Not a wet nurse. A healer of sorts.”
“Aye,” he flushed further still.
Setting the arm was difficult—he was so large and his useless arm so heavy—but he was a stoic patient and hardly made more than a grunt when the shoulder popped into place. And more stoic yet when I cleaned his wound with a small flask of whisky he carried on his belt. He watched intently as I did my best to bandage him up with strips of fabric torn from my slip.
“I thank ye...truly,” he said when I finished. He spoke with utter sincerity. In marginally less pain—for the time being—he was finally able to sit himself up.
“You’ve lost a lot of blood,” I said. “You need rest and nourishment. Try not to move around too much.”
“Aye.” He pushed himself back with his good arm until he was resting against the trunk of a tree. I covered him up with his coat even though it wasn’t very cold. It was an old habit from the hospital, I suppose.
“We’ll camp here for the night,” he said. “We’re hidden well enough away, but we’ll avoid a fire, just in case.” Even injured and running from the law, the man had a pleasant disposition.
“What happened at Craigh Na Dun?” I said.
“I was coming home from Paris when I met up wi’ my uncle and his men. They’d been caught raiding cattle by the English. That’s the stramash ye encountered. I’d meant to take off on my own to return home when I saw ye wi’ Randall. Weel, I couldna leave ye to him. I ken what that man’s like.”
Jonathan Wolverton Randall. Black Jack Randall. I remember Frank talking about him—a 200 year old ancestor!
“Thank you for saving me. It must have caused you some good deal of trouble, fighting the redcoats like that.”
“Och, ’twas nothing.”
I couldn’t help my smile. “I just set your arm and bandaged a stab wound. It was hardly nothing.”
He shrugged. “Like I said, I couldna let him have his way wi’ ye.”
“Will he come after you now? Is that why we’re hiding?”
“Uh, no. He won’t be harming anyone ever again. I slit the man’s throat...and three others besides. When I was fighting Randall, some of his men came to assist him. That’s how ye got that bump on your heid. I dispatched the lot of them. I dinna think there were any witnesses.”
“And how did we end up here?”
“I pulled ye up on my horse and rode off wi’ ye. I couldna leave ye to be found wi’ the bodies. We made it some distance before I fell off my horse wi’ ye on top of me.”
I looked around and found no sign of his horse.
“I was a wee bit faint thanks to the scratch on my arm.”
I laughed. That scratch was a 2 inch wide hole through solid muscle. “Is that how your shoulder was dislocated? Falling off the horse with my dead weight on top of you?”
He laughed. “I wouldna use a wee lassie to break my own fall.”
The sight of his large, heavy body made me grateful for that, indeed.
“Should I go look for your horse?”
“Nah. I’m sure he’s no' far. I dinna want ye lost in a strange place.”
I looked at the forest around me. It was exactly that, a strange and beautiful place. I had no idea where I was, nor had I any clue how to get back home. “Do you know where we are?”
“Aye. Some ways east of the faerie hill where I found ye.”
I couldn’t even tell which way was east given the absence of the sun.
“Ye canna go back, Sassenach,” he said. “Not yet, anyway. I’m certain the redcoats are after my uncle and his men, and that’s the only reason they’re not searching this direction. But if a stray sassenach lassie like yerself shows up at the hill wi’ Randall’s blood still fresh on the ground and my blood on your shift, ye’ll be taken in for questioning...if not imprisoned entirely.”
My stomach turned in knots. I couldn’t go back. What the bloody hell was I going to do?
“I see ye have a ring, lass. Are ye marrit? D’ye have a husband looking for ye?”
Black Jack Randall’s face appeared in my head. It took effort to find the subtle differences of Frank’s face in my memory again. “Um...no. My husband died some years ago in combat.”
“I’m sorry.” And he did look sorry. I wondered if he interpreted the turmoil in my expression as acute grief. “D’ye mind me asking, Sassenach, what it was ye were doing on that hill?”
I knew the question was coming, but I’d yet to find a suitable answer. I was wearing a perfectly modest dress for 1945, but to a man like this, it must seem like undergarments. I had no method of transportation, no acquaintances, no food or money. How could I account for such a thing? And the thought of lying to this man that risked so much for me made me ill.
“’Tis alright, lass. I’d rather ye keep your secrets than speak untrue. If ye have nowhere to go, ye can come home wi’ me, and I’ll take ye wherever ye like once this all settles down.”
“Why would you do such a thing for me? I’m a stranger to you.”
“What kind of bastard would leave a wee thing like you helpless and alone in the Highlands?”
That he was so scandalized at the thought of leaving me to fend for myself was endlessly endearing.
My stomach gave an audible protest of neglect, and I realized I’d overlooked an essential part of healing my patient. “Can I fetch you some water? I may not be much of a hunter, but I’m sure I can forage some edible plants somewhere.”
“No need. Donas will be nearby wi’ food in his saddlebags, and I have salted meat and a bannock in my sporran to hold us over ’til I find him. Come, Sassenach. I canna have ye starving, or I’ll have no one to mend whatever future ails my clumsiness brings.”
“You forget, soldier, I watched you defend me from Captain Randall. If you are clumsy, then I am a bull in a china shop.”
He laughed. “I’ve never seen someone sae sure of their hands, the way ye mended my arm.”
“And I’ve never seen someone so sure of his body...” I bit my lip as heat flushed over my face. That didn’t come out the way I’d meant it...or perhaps it did.
The way he was trying not to smile did the loveliest thing to his cheeks. They were bunched and quivering with reluctant laughter. I nearly forgot my embarrassment over my slip of the tongue.
“Here,” he said, saving me from having to explain myself. He reached into his sporran and pulled out food. He tore his bannock in half and gave me a piece along with salted meat.
“Thank you.” I’d never been more grateful for such awful tasting food in my life.
We ate in awkward silence, much like that of a first date. Somehow, the intimacy of sleeping on him had made me forget we were complete strangers. But strangers we were.
In truth, there was a comfort about the man I couldn’t explain. Perhaps it had something to do with his warmth and generous spirit, but I’d met a lot of warm and generous people in my life, and they didn’t have the same effect. Perhaps it was our current state of codependence. If I was being honest with myself, perhaps it was his attractiveness.
He was a beautiful, young man. He looked like a Viking in a kilt with his broad cheekbones and sharp lines. Even injured, he moved his one arm with grace.
He ate his rations quickly. The meager amount couldn’t be anything close to what he’d need to sustain that body on a normal day, much less one where his injuries demanded additional nourishment.
I ate half of what he gave me and handed the rest back.
“Go on, lass. Ye’ll need yer strength.”
“I’m feeling a little queasy from the concussion,” I lied and rubbed my head to try to sell it. “I don’t want to vomit if I eat too much. But your body needs to heal.”
“I’m the healer, remember?”
“Aye,” he smiled. “As soon as ye’re feeling hungry again, I’ll find Donas and feed ye proper.”
“You shouldn’t move for at least a day. You don’t want to reopen that wound and risk infection. My stomach can hold just fine.”
“Ye’re a hardy wee thing, hmphm?”
“I’ve lived through war and seen my share of combat. A bump on the head and rationing food is par for the course.”
“What for the course?”
“Oh...never mind.” Apparently, golf terminology was yet to be popularized. I needed to find out what year it was so I didn’t make more mistakes like that.
“What year were you born?” I asked as nonchalant as I could muster.
He narrowed his eyes at my strange question. I wondered if it was intrusive for the culture for a stranger to ask something so personal and direct. His lip quirked in a smile, so he didn’t seem too bothered. “I was born the first day of May in 1721.”
Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ! One hundred and ninety-seven years before my birth. I squinted my eyes, pretending to do the math. “So that would make you…?”
“I just turned three and twenty, mistress.”
“And you?” he asked, grinning.
“Twenty-seven.” For the first time in my life, I felt unaccountably self-conscious about my age. He had the kindness not to comment on my geriatric condition, but he was staring at me with an unreadable expression.
“Tell me,” I said to move the attention away from me, “what were you doing in Paris? Business? Pleasure?”
He smiled, but it was the first one he’d given me that didn’t reach his eyes. “War...mostly. I was a mercenary for a bit. I went to university before that. Worked wi’ my cousin.”
“And now the prodigal son returns home?”
“Something like that. Except I’ve no parents to return home to. I’m Laird now. I’ll be going back to take care of my land and tenants.”
“Oh. I’m sorry...about your parents.”
He shrugged, then grunted when it pained his shoulder.
“How about a wife? Girlfriend?”
“Och, no,” he flushed. “I’m no' promised to anyone.”
His words pleased me more than they had any right to. I pushed the thought away. “It’s easy to picture you taking care of land and tenants. You have a caretaking quality about you.”
“That’s fine to hear. I thank ye.”
He leaned his head back against the tree and gave a great sigh. His eyelids grew heavy.
“You must be tired. Your body needs rest. Sleep, soldier. I’ll wake you if something happens.”
“I think I might, at that.” He looked around cautiously before resting his head back again. He closed his eyes and warned, “Dinna wander off, Sassenach. ’Tis dangerous for ye here, mind.”
I nodded my acquiescence, though he couldn’t see me with his eyes closed. Before I could reassure him, his body went limp and his breath grew deep and slow. The poor thing was exhausted. His body demanded time to heal.
I took the opportunity to look at him more thoroughly. His relaxed, sleeping features looked more their age at rest. But even relaxed, his jaw was strong and his shoulders broad.
A shiver ran through my body that had nothing to do with the cold. My heart fluttered, and my stomach dropped like there was a sudden shift in gravity.
I wondered if I was developing a bit of a crush. I hadn’t had one for some time...not since Frank. Perhaps it was grief or guilt that kept anything more than fleeting attraction at bay for all the years since Frank died, but the life and death intimacy I shared with this Highlander seemed to obliterate any sense of wrongness about such affection for a man.
I didn’t even know his name.
A restless energy overtook me, urging me to my feet. I wished there was something helpful I could do. I paced around frustrated at my own uselessness. I needed something to keep my hands busy and my mind from racing. Wandering around within eyesight of my kilted rescuer, I decided to forage for something edible. I had no idea how long we’d be out here or how long it would take to get where we were going, so it was better to be prepared.
After some time searching, I found dandelions and wood sorrel in effort to add to our meager meal of protein and carbohydrate. It felt good to get my hands in the dirt. It somehow helped me confirm that this wasn’t a dream. It was as real as the soil on my fingertips. Whatever plants I found, I brought back to my sleeping soldier and left them in organized piles. Then, I headed out for more. It was actually quite a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
I nearly squealed when I found wild berries growing by the creek. They were delicious and sweet. I tore off another piece of my slip to use as a satchel and filled it with the little bites of heaven.
A distinct animal noise behind me had me frozen in fear. Whatever the beast was, it was certainly large. It was sniffing and rooting around...a boar perhaps? I knew they could be terribly dangerous. It didn’t sound angry or agitated, so I was reluctant to move and trigger hostility.
But what if it saw my sleeping rescuer and attacked him?
I turned quickly, purposefully drawing attention to myself. I came face to face with a large black beast and jumped back with shock. The ground gave beneath my feet, and I fell back into the freezing creek.
My shriek made the beast neigh loudly and rear back on his hind legs.
I looked up from the water and saw a magnificent horse, black from nose to tail. He was the largest horse I’d ever seen.
“Donas, I take it? A pleasure to make your acquaintance,” I said, getting to my feet. No wonder my soldier dislocated his arm falling off that immense beast.
“Ifrinn!” My soldier was on his feet and calming his horse in soothing Gaelic.
I shuffled out of the creek and stood frozen and shivering. An overcast spring day in Scotland was a little on the cool side for the light dress I was wearing, but plunged into a creek of freezing water, it was unbearable.
My friend tied his horse to a tree and turned his attention to me.
“God, ye’ll freeze!”
He grabbed his coat and wrapped it around me. It was thick and enormous and oh so warm. Along with his soothing words and the way his arms wrapped around me, rubbing my back and arms, I was taken back to that blissful idyll I’d inhabited when I woke up a few hours ago lying on his chest. My quivering now hadn’t only to do with the icy water.
My face rested in the hollow of his chest between his pectorals. I knew he was large when I laid with him, but seeing him stretched out to his full height showed how much I’d underestimated his size. He wrapped himself around me, soothing me with his immense strength and heat. The effect was jarring, buckling my knees. He felt me waver and held me against him, keeping me upright.
“Ye alright, lass?”
“I-I’m...fi-fine,” I stuttered. Perhaps I was colder than I thought.
He tucked me under his uninjured arm and led me back to our tree.
“Y-you should be resting,” I said. “I’m s-sorry.”
“Och, never mind that. Ye’re no' the first person Donas has knocked into a creek.” He sat me down in the place he’d been occupying before.
“You shouldn’t be moving your arm. I’ll have to fix those bandages,” I scolded.
“It’ll bide for a bit. Ye willna be able to mend my shoulder if ye freeze to death. I’ll go get wood for a fire.”
“No! You said we couldn’t risk a fire. I’ll dry soon enough.”
“Mmphm.” He seemed to be at war with himself over what was the greater risk to me. I watched him reach a hand behind his back and rub what seemed like an old injury through his thin, white shirt. It seemed to help him make up his mind.
He bent down and scooped me up, then took my place leaning against the tree. He fitted me on his lap and pulled me hard against his chest. I was glad he couldn’t see my face. I was blushing with the heat of a thousand suns.
“Grab my plaid, lass. I canna reach it wi’ one arm.”
I pulled the long, hanging part of his plaid up over his shoulders and around my body, cocooning us in another layer of warmth. His deep, soothing mutterings in Gaelic were hypnotic. I was like a snake to its charmer, defenseless and happy to be so. His hand stroked my wet hair back away from my face.
I chanced a glance at him, wanting another glimpse of his deep, blue eyes. He was watching me, face unmoving save for the twinkle that seemed to reside permanently in his eye and the quirk of his mouth always threatening to smile.
Eye contact is a powerful thing in the most benign and ordinary of circumstances, and this wasn’t anything close to ordinary. Eye contact with this man—at this proximity and alone in the wilderness—was almost unbearable. But I couldn’t look away.
“Is this alright, then?” he asked.
I couldn’t help my laugh. If he only knew how alright this was. “Yes. It’s quite warm. You’re not bothered that I’m getting you wet?”
“Bothered?” he chuckled. “No. ’Tis no bother.”
My eyes were drawn to his open collar that showed hints of large muscles and auburn hair beneath. There was a small, triangular scar at the base of his throat. I had an urge to trace its edges with my fingertip, as though I could go back in time to when it happened and heal it properly. Touching him was an urge I quickly stifled by gripping tight to the lapels of his coat I was wearing.
He made a low grunting noise that rumbled in his throat. I looked up at him again and noticed he was staring down at my chest. I followed his gaze and realized my wet, white dress and undergarments were hiding very little of what was underneath. His coat and plaid were covering most of me, but the slope of my breast was on display from the angle he was looking.
I knew I should cover myself, but that was the opposite of what my body wanted to do. It wanted to take off the plaid, throw open the jacket, and let him get a real look at me.
Instead, I did nothing.
I felt my muscles contract deep within and a rush of need flow down to the long neglected pieces of myself. I hadn’t been with anyone since Frank died, and this was the first time I’d even considered the possibility. I was doing much more than considering...I started fantasizing what it might be like to pull my dress over my hips and straddle him right there.
Dear God, it must’ve been the adrenaline from all the events of the day. I was prone to amorous impulses when my blood was boiling. It made the war a very confusing time for a young woman far from her husband.
My soldier must’ve been having similar thoughts—it was becoming increasingly obvious being that I was sitting on his lap. I worked up the courage to look at him again. He was flushing a deep red, but his blue eyes stared back with dark intensity. When his tongue licked out to wet his lips, I knew he wanted to kiss me.
And I very much wanted him to…
His eyes closed with abruptness, and his body tensed around me. He took a deep, shuddering breath, letting it out long and slow through pursed lips. When his eyes opened again, he said with forced nonchalance, “What’s yer name, Sassenach?”
I tried not to be disappointed in his restraint. It was the 1700’s, after all. Chivalry was, apparently, still alive.
“Claire,” I said. “Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp.” I don’t know why I felt compelled to give my middle name. I left off the Randall, seeing as how my deceased husband's ancestor—with the same name—was just killed by the man.
“A pleasure to meet ye, Claire. My name is James. James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. Ye can call me Jamie...if ye like.”
He smiled sweetly and turned away. The moment wasn’t quite broken, but he made it clear his intent was not to follow through on whatever impulses were driving us only moments before.
“Jamie,” I said, trying to aid him in cooling down the moment, but failing at the sound of his name on my lips. “Where are we going? How long will it take us to get there?”
“We’re going to my family home. Broch Tuarach, or Lallybroch, as we call it. It would normally be only a few days' ride, but…,” he looked at his shoulder, then at me, “but it might take us a few more, depending on our pace.”
“And how long do you think it will take for the redcoats to move on from the hill?”
“I dinna ken. A few weeks or a month...at least.”
I sucked in a breath. A month?! My job! People were sure to think I just ran off. Or perhaps that something terrible happened to me.
I looked around. I guess some would consider the situation I was in “terrible.” For some reason, I had a hard time thinking of it as such in the arms of James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser of Broch Tuarach.
A month. I had a month with this man before I went home...if I even could get home. What if I never made it back?
The thought made me sick to my stomach.
“Dinna fash, Sassenach. You need not be scairt so long as ye’re wi’ me.”
His eyes drew me back in. “Thank you, Jamie,” I said, pouring all the sincerity I could into the words.
Sunlight chose that moment to pierce through the clouds and trees and shine on Jamie’s beautiful face. The vibrant light glittered on his flaming hair, making him look like a torch or beacon calling me home.
“Come let’s walk, lass. Ye’ll want the sun to dry ye before it goes down. Spring nights in the Highlands carry a bite wi’out a fire.”
He helped me to my feet, and I helped him to his.
“Let me fix your bandages, first.” I pulled open the top of his shirt to check the wound. It was looking as well as it could be for something so fresh. It had stopped bleeding anyway. I quickly sanitized the wound and fixed the bandages. He was ever the compliant patient. He just stood there and let me have my way with him with little in the way of complaint. He stared down at me with a look of sweet indulgence.
I was quite certain I wasn’t the only one with a crush.
“There. All set,” I said. “Let’s get you some water and a bit more to eat.”
“Aye,” he said softly. His hand dropped to my lower back as he led me to the creek.
I pulled off his coat and set it on a bush to dry in the sun. The berries I’d picked earlier had long since washed away. I ripped off another piece of my slip to carry them in.
I could hear Jamie chuckling at me from where he knelt by the creek. “Preserve what’s left of your wee shift, or I’ll be presenting ye to my family covered in naught but bracken. Ye can use my sporran to carry berries and the like.”
Since I’d already ripped the piece off, I just shrugged and filled it again.
“There’s a clearing no' far from here. Ye’ll have good sunlight there.”
“Lead the way, soldier.”
Jamie put out his good arm in courtly invitation. I locked my arm through his, and we set off for a walk. He did his best to avoid looking down at my wet dress in the sunlight. The ground was wild and uneven, and my shoes weren’t built for the terrain. I leaned heavily on Jamie who walked as though he was strolling down a flat, cement sidewalk.
“Here.” I handed him a berry. The little fruit looked so tiny in his large hands. He popped it in his mouth with amusement. I handed him a few more. “You know this land well, don’t you?”
He laughed, “Oh, aye. By nine years old, my Da ensured I could find my way home from anywhere in the Highlands.”
“What happened to your father? If you don’t mind my asking.”
“Apoplexy...a few years back.”
“Oh, Jamie,” It was still fresh then. I could hear the pain permeate deep in his voice.
“He’s wi’ my Ma and my brother, now.” He sounded like he was trying to convince himself there was some benefit to the loss of his father. “My brother died of the pox when we were weans, and my Ma died in childbirth.”
I squeezed his arm at the thought of the pain he must’ve gone through with so much loss early in his young life. He smiled sweetly down at me to let me know he was alright.
“My parents died in an accident when I was young. I was raised by an uncle who died during the war.”
“I’m sorry to hear, Claire. Have ye any family left?”
“No. Just my friends and my work.” I tried to smile back at him to let him know I was alright, too, but I don’t think I was quite as successful. “How about you? You said you still had family at home?”
“Oh, aye. A sister still living at Lallybroch. And Uncles, Aunts, and cousins scattered all over the Highlands and France. Both my parents came from large families.”
That was a nice thought...having family all over. “Tell me about your sister.”
“Ahh, Jenny...a fearsome wee thing…stubborn as a mule. There was this one time she was preparing for Hogmanay, and my friend Ian and I had found the indigo...”
He was a natural storyteller, and he enjoyed the subject of his family. With questions and encouragement from me, he regaled me with tales of his parents' elopement, cattle raids with his uncle, and trouble he got into with his friends. His amusement at his own stories was infectious, and I was giggling along with him as we sat for hours into the fading sunlight.
Wildflowers, ferns, and all manner of plants grew in this small clearing. I could see that sunlight was a rare commodity in this place, so I laid my head back and absorbed what I could.
“Ye’re dry now, lass?”
“Yes, I’m quite comfortable.” I’d been dry for a while and had forgotten why we’d gone for our walk in the first place. “It’s so beautiful here, Jamie. You don’t see so much untouched nature anymore where I come from.”
“Ye live in a city?”
I nodded, but thought it best not to share more. I felt guilty with how free he’d just been about his own life. I wished I could reciprocate. Instead, I changed the subject. “What kind of flowers are these? Forget-me-nots?”
“They’re beautiful.” I sighed as Shakespeare’s 18th Sonnet sprung to mind...I must have been feeling quite romantic. “‘Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.’”
“Mmphm.” He made a Scottish sound in his throat that was somehow the epitome of contentment. He picked a stem of a small bunch of blooms and looked at it from every angle. Then, he brought it to his nose and inhaled softly. A subtle smile played across his lips as he held it out to me. The look in his eyes was the most tender I’d ever seen. I accepted the flowers with a shaky hand.
“I once thought they were beautiful, but...” he hesitated. His voice seemed to reverberate in my very bones when he picked back up and recited:
“The forward violet thus did I chide:
Sweet thief, whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells,
If not from my love's breath? The purple pride
Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells
In my love's veins thou hast too grossly dy'd.
The lily I condemned for thy hand,
And buds of marjoram had stol'n thy hair;
The roses fearfully on thorns did stand,
One blushing shame, another white despair;
A third, nor red nor white, had stol'n of both,
And to his robbery had annexed thy breath;
But, for his theft, in pride of all his growth
A vengeful canker eat him up to death.
More flowers I noted, yet I none could see,
But sweet, or colour it had stol'n from thee.”
“Oh my” I said, quite overcome. His tone, his rhythm, the meaning behind it...“I hadn’t realized Shakespeare wrote his sonnets to be spoken with a brogue, but I think I’ll no longer appreciate them any other way.”
I lifted the little cluster of flowers to my nose and inhaled. “They’re most fragrant in the evenings, you know.”
“Aye, some things shine their brightest beauty in the moonlight.”
Our eyes met just then, blue to gold, unable to look away. I tried to understand how I could be held so captivated by this man, yet so aware of what was happening in my own body at the same time. Heat flushed over me, warming all the parts of me I’d long since forgotten were cold. A vibrating energy coursed through my veins, waking every tissue and fiber along the way. My lungs struggled for breath, shuddering with every pull. My heart thundered so loud, I was sure he could hear it, too.
He was the first to move. He unfolded his large body and stood before me. “We should get back under cover before full dark.”
He offered me a hand and pulled me up to stand. I didn’t take my hand away, and he didn’t release it. His palms were large and calloused, but so intentionally tender as only a rough man could be.
His eyes dropped to my lips again. I wanted him to kiss me…
“Jamie…” I whispered.
“Claire…” he was as breathless as me. He stepped in close, his movement full of hesitation. Frozen he stood, unable to decide. I feared restraint would once again take over.
Just as I was about to reach up and pull his face down to mine, he stepped back and looked the other way.
“I’m sorry, lass. I dinna mean to take advantage of ye out here alone.”
“Take advantage?” I scoffed. Did he think kissing a willing woman was taking advantage?
“I’ll behave myself. I swear it.”
I raised an eyebrow at him—I would be making no such pledge.
He held out an arm once again, and I took it as a lady should—even if I was a half-naked lady in his eyes. We walked slowly back; I could see he was tired from his injury, even though we spent the afternoon at rest. When we made it back to our camp, he sat back against his tree.
In Donas’s saddlebags, I found Jamie’s bannocks and salted meat. I went down to the creek, rinsed the greens, and gathered more berries.
“Sassenach?” he said amused as I laid out the meal before him.
“We’ve plenty to eat and are nowhere near starving. I can catch us some fish or hunt down some rabbits before resorting to weeds.”
That made me laugh, “The greens have nourishment. They ward off things like scurvy and help you keep your teeth in old age. Whether you like the taste of them or not, they’re more important to your diet than meat.”
Skepticism showed plainly on his face, but he seemed fond of me enough not to argue. Even if he did, I was fond enough of him to push my nutritious agenda.
I held one up to him. “They’re better sautéed or mixed with a dressing, but this will have to do. Here, try one. They’re not bad, even if a little bitter eaten raw.”
He hesitantly took my offering, but stared at the weed suspiciously.
I laughed. “It’s not poison. It won’t harm you.”
“That’s what I thought the last time I ate grass. I ended up cramping and vomiting what meager strength I had left.”
I took a bite of one of the greens to show him it would be fine. “You’ve actually eaten grass?”
“Mmhm.” He took a cautious bite himself.
“How do you like it?”
His face scrunched as he said, “’Tis not so bad going in...it’s the going out that makes me worrit.”
“Here. The sweetness of the berry will balance the flavor.”
I brought the berry to his lips. He smiled sweetly before opening his mouth. I was all too aware of the feel of his lip on my fingertip. By the way he licked his lips, I could tell he was, too.
“Ye’re right,” he said. “That was verra sweet.”
I flushed deep and averted my eyes. I wondered how this man could make me as shy as a school girl one moment and indecently brazen the next.
“So…” I dusted off my bloody and battered dress in a futile attempt at nonchalance. “How’s your shoulder feeling?”
“Verra well. Thank ye.”
I looked up at him with a raised eyebrow. He shrugged and amended, “A bit tender, as ye ken.”
“Are all Highlanders tough guys, or is this a Fraser trait?”
Jamie just shrugged and smirked before picking up a piece of meat.
“Will we ride tomorrow?”
“Aye. We’ll go slow...take as much time as we need, but we should get moving. I’d like to put some good distance between us and that hill.”
“I’m no great rider,” I confessed. “I’ve ridden before, but not much.”
“Dinna fash, Sassenach. It will be fine.”
“Are you always this calm and reassuring?”
He laughed, “Uh no. No, my sister wouldna describe me as such. She’d say I was a hard-heided lout.”
“Well, that I can’t wait to see.”
“Which is it ye’re looking forward to witnessing? My unruly behavior? Or my sister’s abuse of me?”
“Oh, a little of both would be quite entertaining, I expect.”
He chuckled, “Be careful what ye wish for, Sassenach.”
I hadn’t seen even a remote glimpse of a man anything other than gentlemanly—except the soldier safeguarding my body and honor at Craigh Na Dun. I was vastly curious what Jamie Fraser would be like in a temper...or if he even had one.
He kept up his impeccable manners and agreeable countenance throughout dinner. He even indulged me when I hunted down sprigs and showed him the proper way to clean his teeth before bed.
“The best kind of healing,” I told him, “is prevention. Don’t wait for a wheel to squeak to give it grease.” Thankfully, he seemed more amused with me than annoyed—as many of my patients would’ve been in the 1940s.
The clouds had returned when darkness fell, and little could be seen without the moon shining above. Jamie laid down bracken as a bed and his saddlebag as a pillow. Our spot was hidden away in the brush, though I didn’t know if it was to conceal us from patrols, animals, or the cold wind that bit painfully at my bare skin.
“If ye dinna mind, we’ll sleep close together. Wi’out a fire, we’ll be too cold to sleep well on our own.”
I was more than grateful. It wasn’t just his warmth I was after, but his protection. The thought of sleeping in the wilderness by myself was terrifying.
We lay together, my back to his front. My head rested on his uninjured arm, while his other arm held the plaid around us. We covered our legs with his coat. The man’s temperature was uncommonly warm—just short of a fever.
In no time at all, I was warm to my very bones, and his plaid shielded us from that sharp, cold breeze.
Neither of us slept for some time. I could feel in his body he wasn’t fully relaxed, and his breath wasn’t the slow easy pace of someone unconscious. We listened to the wind whistling and the creek passing by. Our surroundings seemed so much louder at night than in the bustle of the day.
In the darkness, my body was hyperalert to the sensations around me. I felt every move of Jamie’s body against mine, every breath, every twitch. My bare legs rubbed gently against his where the hems of my dress and his kilt ended.
He was such a large man, I felt completely engulfed by him. Surrounded. Protected. I’d never felt more safe in my life.
“Ye’re finding it hard to sleep, Sassenach?”
“A little. You?”
“Mmphm.” It was an ambiguous sound, neither confirming or denying. My guess was that he was accustomed to such conditions, and he was just being a gentleman and waiting for me to fall asleep first.
Finding it strange to look the other direction while talking to him, I turned around in his arms. It was quite dark, but the traces and outlines of what I could see of the man affected me no less in absence of light. The twinkle in his eye was ever present even without the sun; it must’ve been lit from within.
I wasn’t certain what to do with my hands, so I held them tight between my breasts.
“I take it this isn’t your first time sleeping out in the wilderness,” I said.
“No. Is it yers, then?”
“No. But I usually was in a tent and had a sleeping bag. It was always a planned trip with my uncle.”
“This is strange for ye, is it? Are ye afraid, lass?”
“No,” I put my hands on his chest. “No, I’m not afraid...not with you.”
My words seemed to soothe something inside him. His body relaxed ever so slightly. “I’ll protect ye, Claire. Ye ken that? No matter from who.”
“I know you will, Jamie.”
I reached up and touched his face. He gave the quietest whimper at the contact. He leaned into my touch, the scruff of several days beard scratching against my palm. The sensation shot straight up my arm and to my heart, making it thunder in my chest.
My thumb passed over his bottom lip. It was softer and fuller than I expected. I couldn’t feel his breath; his lungs had stopped moving.
My hands moved back, fingers tangling in his soft, curly hair. His arms around me squeezed, making my breasts rub against his chest. My leg curled up around him.
“Claire,” he whispered. I could hear fear in his voice. “Ye dinna need to do this. Ye ken that?”
I nodded, but I didn’t know if he could see. So, I lifted up and pressed my lips to his. This time, I was the one who whimpered. Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, his lips felt nice. When his shock wore off at the contact, he moved them gently, kissing me back.
My tongue slid out and licked into his mouth. His strong arm flexed, and our bodies rubbed with stimulating friction. I could feel his cock pressing firm against my hip. His mouth opened, and his lips sealed over mine. His tongue licked slick and hot into my mouth, still tasting of berries and willow sprigs from before.
My arms cradled his head as I pulled him closer to deepen the kiss. His mouth fit so well over mine. He kissed me with an unrestrained enthusiasm, a youthful eagerness I’d never felt before, but God, I never wanted him to stop.
I hooked my leg around his waist and rubbed my pelvis against him. The rhythm of my kisses fell into time with the thrust of my hips.
Jamie’s injured arm seemed immune to pain. He’d reached down and grabbed a handful of my arse, squeezing it as I rolled my hips. His own were moving now, following the pace of mine. My clitoris found his cock, and I rubbed them together.
“Oh, dear God,” he said against my lips.
“Jamie, I want you inside me.”
He shook his head, but our bodies kept moving. “I canna do it...not now...no' like this.”
My feelings might’ve been hurt if his cock wasn’t rubbing against me so firmly. His hand on my arse gripped tight and sped the pace of our bodies.
“God, I want ye, Claire...more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life.”
“Take me, Jamie. Have me. I’m yours.”
His mouth covered mine again and he drove his cock harder and faster. My muscles in my core clenched up as he powered over the right place repeatedly. Moans and whimpers grew louder and louder the closer I came to orgasm. I threw my head back and called his name as climax erupted inside me.
He froze in place as he watched me. My eyes blurred and lost sight of him, but I continued rubbing through the waves of pleasure. “Bloody hell, don’t stop,” I groaned. “More, Jamie, more!”
His hips started up again quickly, and his mouth moved down to my neck. He licked and sucked my tender skin, grunting with every panting breath. I rocked with him, wishing he was inside me.
He came with a shuddering growl muffled in my wild hair. Hot semen shot thick and viscous on my belly. I stroked his hair as he groaned into my neck. His normally hard body was beyond tense and solid as granite. I molded myself around him, curved to fit his unyielding shape.
“Claire. Oh God, Claire,” his voice sounded almost pained. He pulled back enough to look in my eyes. The intensity of his gaze was jarring. If I would’ve been upright, my legs would have given way. His grip on me was so firm, so possessive...I’d never been held like that in my life.
Something in his eyes finally softened, though his hold on me never did. He kissed me again, this time sweetly. He rained them soft and slow on my lips, his eyes never leaving mine.
The flood of affection I felt for Jamie was beyond a crush, and it had only been a day. It had turned to a devastating, all-consuming infatuation in moments. How in bloody hell was I supposed to spend a month with this man and keep my heart intact?
“Are ye alright, mo nighean donn?” he asked quietly.
I nodded, “As far as first kisses go, I’d say that one was memorable.” Then I gave him another.
He whispered between more kisses still, “Then let amorous kisses dwell...On our lips, begin and tell...A Thousand, and a Hundred, score...A Hundred, and a Thousand more…”
Chapter 2: Dhà
To watch her sleep was a gift. He need not worry about etiquette or manners while she dreamed. He could look without shame or restraint.
While awake, he watched her mind race wildly, each thought displayed plainly on her face, his attention intently focused on every shift of expression, eager to capture its meaning. It was already getting easier, though they’d barely known each other a day. Like learning a new language, he’d be fluent with time and practice.
But when she slept, he could just watch and appreciate without the effort of anticipation. He could stare at her delicate cheekbones and her dainty jaw. He could notice how her sweet, pink lips were a little brighter and fuller after a night of vigorous use...how her blue veins were visible through her pale skin...how her hair took on a will of its own. He could gaze with possessive pride over the red marks on her neck that his mouth made in his mindless lust.
That she trusted herself so vulnerable to him was not something he took for granted. He held her in his arms and felt her heartbeat against his chest. He nuzzled into her hair and breathed her soft, natural scent.
His father’s words echoed in his mind, “The greatest thing in a man’s life is to lie wi’ a woman he loves.”
James Fraser was in love.
He was enamored with the woman the moment she spit in the face of Black Jack Randall while the bastard held a sword to her throat—but he fell in love when he held her in his arms, soaking wet and freezing cold, huddled together for warmth by the creek.
“You’ll just ken,” his father told him when he asked how he’d find his wife.
Jamie didn’t need a fortune-teller to see Claire would be his wife, but it was reassuring all the more that one did tell him so. He thought back to his encounter with the wise woman in Paris who foretold he’d fall for a golden-eyed sassenach lass. If the spirits were on the same side as his own stubborn will, it was all the more likely Claire would choose him as well—like his mother said a woman would do one fine day.
An aching in his shoulder and an urgency of the bladder had him reluctantly unfolding himself from Claire’s side. He covered her with his coat and kissed her hair before stepping away. He stretched himself out as best as his injury would allow before going behind a tree to relieve himself.
“Jamie?” Claire called from where they slept.
“I’m here. It’s alright.” He was kneeling at her side in a moment.
Golden eyes glittered at him. As much as he enjoyed watching her sleep, he was all the more delighted she’d awoken. He couldn’t see those extraordinary eyes when her lids were closed.
“Good morning,” she said, stretching like a contented kitten arising from a nap in the sunlight. Her sensual morning voice was coarse with lack of use.
“Aye, ’tis that.” He couldn't help the foolish grin spreading across his face at watching the woman who’d one day be his wife lift herself up to meet him with delight in her eyes.
Her cheeks flushed, and her eyes flared with excitement when she dropped her gaze to his lips. His breath caught in his throat when he realized what she wanted. Tender and gentle, so not to overwhelm her with his fierce passion simmering just below the surface, he lifted a hand to her chin and kissed her.
He’d only meant it to be a brief meeting of lips, but he’d forgotten the intensity of her mouth’s sway over him. A brief meeting progressed to lingering, and lingering to open mouths, eager tongues, and a cockstand hard enough to club a wild boar.
He forced himself away; the wee vixen was showing no signs of stopping.
“Ye’ll be the death of me, woman.” He could smell the desire on her, making him mad with lust. He stood and turned around; he couldn't allow things to progress as they did the night before. He grabbed his cock and stretched it left to right, trying to loosen its grip on his mind.
He breathed slow and deep until he could no longer hear his heartbeat in his ears. When he turned back, he found her trying not to laugh, her cheeks dancing and distorting with the effort.
“Come,” he said, flames heating his ears. “Let’s break our fast and be on the road.” He needed to get her to Lallybroch where, God willing, witnesses would ensure he kept his hands off her.
The sun made another rare appearance, as if God himself was trying to keep a better eye on the two sinful beasts roaming wild in the Highlands. It was too cold in the morning for much in the way of washing, so they ate and got on their way.
Donas was eager to go. Jamie hoped he would behave himself while Claire was riding with them. He helped pull her up to sit in front of him in the saddle in case she needed to help with the reins. She threw a leg over, and her great, round arse plopped down right in front of his cock.
Ifrinn! he thought, as the blood throughout his body rushed thunderously downward. She adjusted in her seat, squirming back and forth to find a comfortable position on the hard saddle. Her wriggling about created friction that was anything but helpful to his current problem. She froze still when she noticed his plight. He could see the flush move up the back of her neck and the shake of her shoulders as she chuckled.
“Mmphm.” At least one of them thought it amusing. The woman had no idea how close he was to rucking up that damnable shift, bending her forward, and rogering the laughter right out of her.
That thought did nothing to ease his cockstand.
He squeezed his heels to urge Donas forward. As they picked up pace, Claire’s arse bounced tighter and harder between his thighs. It was going to be a long few days.
As Claire became more comfortable on the horse, she eased her body back against him. Her head thumped around a wee bit on his chest, but they soon found good pace and position for a comfortable ride. It very much helped to wrap his arm around her waist and pull her tight against him so they didn’t jostle about against each other.
His hand around her belly found evidence of their night together on her shift. His spunk was dried low on the soft fabric just above her pelvis. She chuckled when he rubbed his hands over it and groaned in recognition.
He couldn’t help laughing either. “If the sun holds, we’ll find a place to wash up. Ye’ve got my blood, sweat, and spunk all over ye, Sassenach. My sister, Jenny, will think I’ve used ye something terrible when we arrive at Lallybroch.”
“I’m eager to see what other bodily fluids you’ll see fit to share will me today.”
He cringed. “How many more possibilities are there?”
“Oh, you’re talking to a nurse. I’ve had all sorts of things spilled on me. Vomit, bile, mucus, wax, urine, tears…”
“Ifrinn, woman, we must find ye an occupation that keeps ye dry!”
His jokes to the contrary, he didn’t hate the feel of his seed on her...and he very much wanted to feel it inside her. God, if there was a kirk in any reasonable distance, he’d be married on the spot.
“I’m not sure you are the best person to be in charge of keeping me dry. I’ve been wet almost constantly since we met…” She stopped abruptly, and the back of her neck flushed red yet again. He wondered at her embarrassment this time.
He bent his head and kissed the bare skin on her shoulder. Gooseflesh pebbled as her body quivered under his lips. She whimpered the sweetest sound.
God, her wee noises!
Jamie may never have lain with a woman before, but he’d been nearby enough to hear others in the act. The whores he’d overheard in Paris gave such dramatic shrieks and giggles, and the few others he’d overheard...well...they didn’t sound like Claire.
Last night, she’d moaned against his mouth like she’d die if he didn’t kiss her...in truth, he thought he was at risk if he didn’t. And the tone of her voice when she cried out his name made him forget the Lord Himself.
His cock was hard yet again. Claire noticed, of course. She dropped her hands to his thighs and caressed them in soft reassurance.
“Can I ask you a question?” she said over her shoulder.
Jamie pulled the reins on Donas to slow him down. “What is it ye want to know?”
She blushed as she considered her words. “Why...why didn’t you...Last night, why didn’t you…? Um...penetrate?”
“Ah. Mmphm.” He swallowed painfully in shame. “Weel...there were a few reasons, ken.”
“Any you’d be willing to share?”
“Aye, though ye may laugh or think me a fool.”
She squeezed his thigh again.
“The first is that I…” he stopped short. He tried to find a way to be honest without scaring her away or shaming himself by eliciting early rejection. The truth was that the first reason he didn’t do as she asked was because he loved her. He wanted her to be his wife, and he didn’t want their first time to be in a fit of uncontrolled passion, outdoors, and covered with bracken. “I respect ye, Claire. I thought, mebbe, ye deserved better than being used ill to fill a need that’ll bide for a better time.”
“A better time?”
“Aye. When I can provide ye wi’ a warm bed, a fire, a full belly, and a wee bit of French wine.”
She looked over her shoulder at him with a twinkle in her eyes. “You’re a romantic?”
“Mmphm. I suppose so.”
“Well, I can tell you, James Fraser, that sleeping out under the stars with you keeping me warm...that’s more romantic than any amount of French wine or warm beds.”
Her words squeezed his heart and stole his breath.
“Now, what other reasons had you refraining from...the act.”
“My father taught me that a woman shoulna be used to sate my lust unless I am ready to accept responsibility should any consequences arise from our joining.”
“Oh. A baby, you mean?”
“Aye. We dinna ken each other overly well, Claire. If I was to become a father, decisions would have to be made. I thought it best to wait until we’re certain of each other...until we make promises.”
“That’s quite endearing. Though, I must tell you, I was married for a number of years. We tried having children. I...I couldn’t. I don’t think that’s something you’ll have to worry about with me.”
Her words were a blow to his wame. He did his best to keep himself steady and conceal reaction. The idea of never having a child clearly pained the lass from her tone, and he didn’t care to add to it by showing his own injury.
“I dinna ken much about such things, Sassenach, but perhaps it wasna ye that was barren. Did ye ever consider that maybe yer husband’s seed wasna fertile.”
She shrugged. “I suppose that’s a possibility.”
His spirits lifted; a possibility gave him hope. He knew he was getting ahead of himself, but he was absolutely certain of the woman...child or no. Besides, Jenny would likely have enough bairns to keep the whole family’s hands full.
“In truth, Sassenach, there is one more reason I didna bed ye last night.”
He shifted uncomfortably. “To do so would ha’ been dishonest wi’out informing ye that...I’ve never...that I’m a virgin.”
He was pleased she wasn’t facing him as she reacted. He feared what he’d read on her face.
“Oh…” She looked over her shoulder to see if he was joking. Convinced he was telling the truth, she turned back around. “I suppose that makes sense with what you told me about responsibility and all that...but…”
She turned back to look at him again with narrowed eyes. “Where in bloody hell did you learn to kiss like that?”
He laughed. “I said I was a virgin, no' a monk.”
“How could you have been to war, lived in France, and gone to university without some woman...? I mean...look at you!”
“Ha! Ye think I have no say if a lass wants to bed me? I’m to just acquiesce to her demands?”
“Well, clearly not, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation!” She turned in a pouting huff. A moment later she let out a chuckle of amusement. “I thought...perhaps...you didn’t want me. I was prepared to be quite put out.”
“Not want ye?! Are ye mad woman?” He pressed her back into his cock that had been pointing at her since the moment he carried her away on Donas.
“I said it was only for a moment!” She swatted his hand so he’d ease his grip. “The thought did occur to me that perhaps you thought it immoral? Are you religious? Catholic?”
“Aye, I am. And you?”
“I’m Catholic. It’s just...I mean...I’ve been married before. I’ve only ever been with Frank, but...I don’t know. It just felt right with you. I couldn’t see making love to you as such a terrible sin.”
“Neither could I if I’m being honest. But why rush, mo nighean donn?”
“Because I’ll be leaving for home in a month. We only have a short time together. I...I just couldn’t imagine leaving you without...without being with you. I’d hate to waste what time we have together.”
A fierce cold rooted in his belly, tensing him from head to toe. When he spoke, his voice was as iced as his wame. “Ye want to bed me and then leave?”
“It’s not like that, Jamie. Not at all. I can’t...I can’t explain. Not if you want to keep things honest between us.”
When his father met his mother, he knew she was the one...and his mother chose him right back. It never occurred to Jamie that the one he knew was his own might not want him back.
But the wise woman had told him…
He calmed himself down with deep breathing and rational thought. He would not win the woman over by flashing his Fraser temper all about. He had time. They had a month, at least.
“’Tis alright, lass. I reckon ’tis a strange time for the both of us.”
“You have no idea,” she said under her breath.
Needing time to think without saying something to make things worse, he sped up Donas to a faster gallop. There wasn’t much room for speaking while riding quick and rough. Jamie still held Claire tight, a possessive claim whether she liked it or not.
They rode mostly uninterrupted through the morning. It wasn’t until close to midday that they ran into a traveler on the road. Jamie released Claire as they edged closer. He wanted to dismount quickly if the need arose. He wrapped his coat around Claire for modesty’s sake and handed her the reins. His hand rested readily on his hilt.
When the traveler was close enough to recognize, Jamie relaxed. He took the reins back from Claire and put his arm around her waist once again.
“Lallybroch?! Is that you?” said the man.
“Aye, Adair. ’Tis me. Ye well, a charaid?”
“Aye, well enough, I suppose.” He looked down at his arm with narrowed eyes. Jamie noticed a filthy bandage tied above his elbow.
“Ye’re coming home? They’ll be pleased to see ye,” said Adair.
“Aye. Ye’ve been by Lallybroch, then? All well?”
“Aye, they’re in good health. Yer sister will have that bairn any day, now.”
Adair stared at Claire with narrowed, curious eyes, no doubt wondering if Jamie had found himself a wife or a stray.
“This is Claire Beauchamp. She’s a healer who was set upon by errant redcoats.”
“Was it the deserters?”
“’Twas Captain Randall.”
The man spat. “Ruttin’ bastard.”
“Aye. Why’d ye ask if it was deserters?”
Adair held up his arm. “I fought off a couple not three days past. They didna get my purse, though they made a good enough effort.”
“Not far from Broch Mordha.”
“Mmphm.” Jamie added ridding his land of redcoat deserters to his ever-growing list of things to do upon his return.
“Do you want me to take a look at that arm?” said Claire.
“Och, should be fine,” said Adair.
“Nonsense. Let me down, Jamie.” She was out of his embrace and halfway down the horse before he realized what she was doing. He dismounted behind her. The lass was shameless, even in her half-naked state with love bites down her neck. Although she was dressed like a beggar, her manner was that of the finest of physicians in Paris. She had the man off his horse and was dexterously untying his bandages with practiced hands by the time Jamie caught up.
“It’s infected something awful,” she said. The smell of the man’s putrid flesh made Jamie’s stomach turn. Whitish-yellow puss oozed from the wound. “We need to get this cleaned before you get blood poisoning. Jamie, is there any whisky left?”
“I didna ken whisky to be medicine,” said Adair. He looked to Jamie, “I much prefer this to the filthy teas the Beatons shove down yer throat.”
“It’s not to drink,” said Claire. She upended Jamie’s whisky on the man’s wound and held him firm as Adair let out a fierce string of Gaelic curses and tried yanking away. “I’ll need a clean, fresh bandage.”
Jamie knew she’d start ripping up her shift again, so he stopped her with a hand. He didn’t like the idea of another man taking such a token from her. “I’ve got a spare stock in the saddlebags, Sassenach.”
He retrieved it for her, then he watched her soak it in the last of his whisky before tying it around the wound. She then listed ingredients for a garlic poultice he was to make when he arrived home and made the poor bastard repeat them back to her word for word.
Adair left their company with a straight-backed deference and a nervous bow to the half dressed outlander. Jamie couldn’t hide the smile on his face, seeing as how he wasn’t the one on the receiving end of her forceful ministrations this time.
As they mounted Donas once again, she said, “Well, we can add puss to the list of bodily fluids I’ve gotten on me since meeting you, soldier.” She rubbed her hands on what was left of her shift.
“Does it count if the puss wasna mine?” he asked.
“I suppose not. Either way, please get me to a river or loch or a giant cauldron of boiling water as soon as possible. I’ll need to soak for at least three days.”
He did as she requested and made way to a nearby stream. They’d made good distance that morning, and he truly didn’t think anyone was after them. His Uncle Dougal and the MacKenzie men were far more likely to be pursued as suspects.
“I’ll go catch a fish so it’ll cook while ye bathe,” he said when they dismounted. He let Donas wander off to graze and went looking for a decent spot to catch trout.
He knew Claire’s eyes were on him as he set to work guddling with his bare hands. Her watchful eye made him overly conscious of every limb of his body. For the sake of his pride, he was determined to catch at least two fish.
His pride was duly stroked by a cheer of delight from Claire with each success. He grinned like a bairn as he carried off his trophies to prepare for consumption. He started a fire a short distance away.
He wanted to give Claire her privacy, but with deserters on the loose, he didn’t mean to let her out of his sight. He grappled with keeping an eye on her without looking at her. His tasks of building up a fire, cleaning the fish, and crafting a roasting spit, took his attention away from her bath for a short time. But soon, as he sat watching the fish cook slowly over the flame, his hedonic curiosity got the better of him.
He glimpsed over his shoulder and saw her submerged to her neck in the water. She was scrubbing the blood, puss, and spunk off her shift. Her hair lay flat and wet against her back.
“Jesus, Mary, and Bride,” he muttered to himself. She wasn’t making celibacy easy. He turned back to the crackling fish and flame. Resolute in maintaining focus on the meal, and not the beautiful, naked, willing woman behind him, he took to reciting every bible verse he could remember that referred to chastity—in Latin, Gaelic, and French.
He was so focused on avoiding the temptation in the stream that he nearly missed the whinny Donas let out not far away. He snapped his head around, expecting to see the redcoat deserters coming up with swords drawn, but instead was met with the most sinfully glorious sight he’d ever beheld.
Claire was walking from the stream toward camp. Her shift was visible on the riverbed spread over a large rock to dry. She wore nothing but his coat pulled around her as she made her way closer.
He cursed the Devil and thanked him at the same time. Her slender, pale legs reflected a rainbow of light back into his eyes with every step she took. Her wet hair was curling up in the most beautiful spiraling ringlets around her face, and they bounced with every graceful stride.
Jamie hadn’t realized he’d gotten to his feet until Claire smiled down at the tented state of his kilt. He’d given up on being embarrassed by the effect the woman had on him. She was a seductress, luring him into all the most depraved fantasies his wicked mind could concoct, and she seemed to find it quite amusing.
“You look angry,” she said, grinning.
“Mmphm." He bent down and took the fish off the fire and did his best to avoid looking at her.
“Are you ignoring me now?” she asked.
“No. I’m cooking a meal for ye, despite yer brazen wantonness trying to distract from the task at hand.”
“You can’t be serious. I’m completely covered.”
“I am serious. If ye think coming here wi’ yer bare body wrapped in naught by my coat is anything less than bawdy, then ye’re egregiously mistaken.”
“I’m not bare underneath; I’ve got on underwear.”
“Underwear? What the devil is underwear?”
“Oh...well…” she opened one side of the coat and displayed a wee bit of silken fabric covering her breast and quim.
“Ifrinn…What the devil is that?”
“Where I come from, it’s what we wear instead of corsets and such.”
He wondered where on earth the woman came from. He’d never even seen such a thing—not even in France. “Cover up and sit yerself down, lass. The fish is ready.”
She pulled the jacket closed around her and sat next to Jamie. He cut chunks of meat off the fish, and they ate quietly for some time.
“Have I offended your sensibilities?” she asked. Her voice was trying to be playful, but it cracked with vulnerability. Jamie looked up to better read her question’s intent. He could see she was worried despite her smile.
“I’m no' sure ‘offended’ is the right word. Challenged, perhaps.”
“You must find me quite unusual?”
Her brow knotted in disappointment.
“’Tis a good thing, Claire. Ye’re spirited, is all.”
“Then what’s wrong, Jamie? You’re behaving quite differently from last night. Do you think less of me offering myself to you?”
He looked up and held her eyes. “No,” he said firmly. “No. I do not.”
“Then what is it?”
“I dinna ken how to do this,” he spoke true. “I dinna ken how I’m supposed to kiss ye and lie wi’ ye...how I’m to give ye my virtue, knowing ye’re planning on leaving me in a month.”
Her face was sympathetic. “I don’t belong here, Jamie. Can’t you see that? I mean, look at me, for Christ’s sake.”
“I ken verra well ye dinna belong in the Highlands. Ye’re more a sassenach than King Geordie himself.”
“Does what I am bother you?”
He laughed. “God, woman, it only makes me want ye more. I like the strangeness of ye.”
She looked as though she didn’t know whether to be pleased or offended.
“I dinna ken if I should be guarding my heart for when ye leave or trying to convince ye to stay. I fear I must either invest all of myself in pursuit of ye or close myself off entirely.”
“Can’t we just enjoy the time we have together even knowing it’ll come to an end?”
“I’m no' sure my constitution is built for such a thing.”
Her hand reached out and caressed his cheek. Dear God, she was softer than silk. He melted into her touch.
“You’re a good man, James Fraser.”
“I dinna ken about that.” The back of her fingers traced his jaw, and he thought he might start purring like a kitten. He closed his eyes to focus on the feel of her fingers on his cheek.
“I do. And the last thing I’d want is to be responsible for hurting you.” She pulled her hand away.
The loss of her touch was a shock...a stab in the gut. A jolting fear coursed through him at the realization that when she left him for good, the pain would be infinitely worse. His mind didn’t decide anything—it was his heart thudding heavy in his chest that forced his arm to reach out and grab her hand back. He didn’t allow himself to exhale until her palm was placed back against his cheek. “I dinna think I’m built for letting you go either, Sassenach.”
She stared with soft, wide eyes. Moisture of threatening tears made the glitter of gold all the more visible. She got to her knees and closed the gap between them. She held his face in both her hands and pressed their lips together.
He wondered when the shock that hit him every time they kissed would wear off. It always seemed to stun him a little, like cannon fire in battle. But just like in battle, he gathered his wits and reacted. His mouth moved against hers, gently sucking her full bottom lip. She slid her hands into his hair and opened her mouth. His tongue found refuge in linking with its mate.
His hands moved inside his jacket and touched her bare skin. It was like caressing a cloud of warmth and pure sensuality. He wrapped his arms around her back and pulled her tight against him. Her body seemed made for this, to fit perfectly with his own. He pulled her over his lap so she straddled him like a horse.
“Careful your shoulder,” she said between kisses.
“I havena any pain when ye kiss me.”
She smiled against his lips and kissed him more. The muscles on her back moved beneath his hands as she pressed against him. Desperate to know her body, he touched every space of bare skin he could find. The wee thing she tried to pass off as a corset was in the way of the smooth flat expanse of skin. He pulled back to look at the flimsy bit of fabric.
“Christ, Claire.” The creamy silk was hardly existent covering her breasts. Her nipples fought for freedom from their dainty restraints. He touched one with the tips of his fingers. It was as firm as the pit of a cherry, while her plump breast gave at the slightest pressure. His hands were big enough to fit fully around them, and he watched intently as he squeezed the soft, fabric-covered flesh and her nipples poked through the gaps of his fingers.
Claire’s back arched and her pelvis moved against his belly. He was beginning to think she took as much pleasure from his touch as he did from touching.
He lay back with her on top of him, then rolled over to pin her beneath his body. The position was another shock to his system, but this time, it was one of familiarity—deja vu. He felt as though he’d been here a thousand times before, like this was home. He only needed to come inside.
He groaned into her mouth as he rained his kisses down. Their bodies set a rhythmic rocking like the night before that seemed beyond their control. His cock strained against his kilt as though it was angry at him for holding it back.
“Jamie...you’re crushing me.”
He didn’t have the words to apologize. He pulled away and sat up on his knees to give her air. Claire lay before him in his coat, legs spread and her most intimate parts covered by the little things she called underwear.
He watched as she pulled her arms out of the sleeves and reached behind her back to loose the piece covering her breast. He pulled it off her arms and stared down at her uncovered chest. Her pale skin glowed in the sunlight, nipples as pink as her lips. His hands grazed up her sides, over her fragile looking ribs, to cup the plump swells of her bosom. His thumbs traced over her nipples, and he watched them tighten even more, growing twice their height.
Her back arched to lift herself in offering, and he bent down to kiss her breast as he would her mouth. Claire squirmed beneath him with every stroke of his tongue. She whimpered and moaned like the feeling was unbearable, but she muttered, “More...more,” and tangled her fingers in his hair, holding his head in place.
His hands groped her breasts, squeezing them together. He buried his face between and nuzzled back and forth, licking and nipping her skin with his teeth. He thought he might lose hold just watching her wild response to his lust-filled consumption of flesh.
Her hips squirmed, rubbing on his chest as though her quim was as eager as his cock. Was that so with all women? Or was it unique to Claire? It didn’t matter; it was this way with her, and she was all he wanted.
He dropped his hands to her waist and kissed down her belly. She bucked up into his mouth when his teeth scraped the delicate skin at the hollow at her hip bone. Carnal curiosity drove him to understand all that inspired her pleasure-induced delirium. He was determined to find out what drove her mad.
His fingers hooked the top of the silk that covered her quim. It was soaking wet as he pulled it off. He looked back down and stared at the only part of a woman he’d never seen before.
“Jamie...” she whimpered as she writhed back and forth under his gaze.
He couldn’t help his grin as he looked past the small patch of hair scattered over her two full lips. With her legs spread wide, the lips were parted to show soft, pink flesh beneath. The sunlight sparkled off a sheen of moisture that coated every inch. He grazed the soft, slick skin with his finger; it felt like olive oil on fine velvet. He gently explored each layer from the small nub at the height to the opening at the bottom.
“Is it always this wet?” he asked.
“No,” she said breathless. “Usually only when it's...stimulated. Oh, Jamie. Oh, God.” Her hands were above her head, tangled in her wild hair and long grass.
He rimmed the slick hole with his finger, exploring the place his cock was desperate to go. He pushed his finger inside. It was hot and wet, the texture somehow both smooth and rough at once. He put a second finger in and felt her quim squeeze around him, as though muscles were gripping his hand. Her eyes watched, disconnected and glazed over with a haze of ecstasy. He wondered if she even saw him, or if she was lost somewhere in her mind and body.
He pulled his fingers out and pushed them back in, wondering how it would feel with his cock. She rolled her hips and moaned deep and low, so he did it again and again. He rubbed and stroked with all tenderness.
“God, Claire...I never kent a woman could find such pleasure making love.”
“For God’s sake, don’t stop.”
Jamie chuckled but obediently continued as he dropped down to lay on his belly for a closer look. He inhaled her pleasure...a musky scent, different from his own. His body seemed drawn to it by instinct. He had a compulsion to rub his face between her legs and anoint himself with her moisture.
“Tell me where,” he said, pulling out and tracing over the slick folds. “Where do ye like to be touched? Out here? In there?” He pushed his fingers back inside, and she moaned and bucked her hips. She made the sweetest whimpering sound he’d ever heard when he curled his fingers around and massaged a soft bit of flesh inside.
“Here,” she said. Her hand dropped from her hair and moved all the way down. She spread her lips apart and massaged the little bud at the very top. As she did so, her quim squeezed his fingers again. She closed her eyes and rocked her hips back and forth against both their hands.
He’d never known a woman to pleasure herself so. God, he wanted to do it for her. He grabbed her wrist and moved it aside, pinning it to the ground. He continued his massage of the soft bit deep inside, and he covered the wee nub with his mouth.
Claire shrieked when he licked and sucked on that swollen bit of flesh. He rolled it between his lips and flicked his tongue faster and faster. She was squirming beneath him and pulling his hair in desperation.
Her flavor was of salted honey. He licked and laved and craved more. He pulled his fingers out of her so his mouth could find the source of her nectar. He grabbed her arse—God, it was so full and round—and plunged his tongue deep inside to lick her up.
How had no one ever told him of the intoxication of a woman’s honey? They yammered on of rutting and spilling seed, but never of the hypnotic flavor or the dizzying scent, or how licking there would make her cry out for God to take her away.
He kissed his way back outside and fingered her again. She pleaded for more and more, and he was incapable of opposition when she sounded like that. And all at once she let out a high-pitched moan that cracked her voice as her quim crushed down on his fingers. He looked up to make sure she wasn’t hurt, but her thighs gripped his head and held him in place.
Slowly, her body eased. He pulled his fingers out and watched her collapse back, panting heavily, skin red and moist with exertion. Jamie concluded women must have an equivalent of pleasure as men do spilling their seed, for that was exactly how he felt the night before when he did so on her belly.
His cock was straining, demanding attention, but he wouldna bother the lass wi’ his needs so soon after being sated, fearful it might be a discomfort to her as it would be to him. Instead, he reached under his kilt with the hand still wet from her pleasure and stroked his cock. With Claire lying naked and beautiful before him, it took no time at all for his balls to tighten, his gut to clench, and his seed to spill.
It shot with every stroke onto her belly and lower down. He felt like a hound marking his territory with each blast of spunk. Claire bit her lip and hummed low as she watched. Her hand traced down and her fingers smeared the seed all over her belly and into her lower lips.
“God!” he said, joining her in rubbing her slick with spunk. It felt as though they were merging themselves together somehow, bits of himself absorbing into her skin. He bent down to kiss her between panting breaths.
Damn it all to hell, there was no way he’d ever be able to let her go. With his forehead on hers and his lips against her cheek, he said, “How can ye think ye belong anywhere but wi’ me, Sassenach?”
“I’m questioning that myself just now.”
He pulled back to see the look in her eyes. They were still hazy with pleasure, but she seemed to mean what she said. “As ye should.” He could no longer entertain the possibility that she’d leave him.
The distinctive sound of a pistol cocked behind him. His blood turned to ice as he froze. “No…”
The tip of the pistol was held to the back of his head.
“Up you get, you rutting bastard!” said a cockney accent. “Leave the woman on the ground. I’ll be having my turn with her next.”
Rage coursed through Jamie from head to toe, both at himself for leaving Claire vulnerable and for the maggot behind him. Jaime stood with his hands up and watched Claire cover herself with the jacket as she backed away.
There were two men—the redcoat deserters. They must’ve been following Adair for what they missed from his purse on their first attack. One of the men held his pistol on Jamie, and the other was unbuckling his breeks and moving toward Claire.
In a moment of rash impulsivity, he pivoted around, pulling out his dirk from it’s scabbard. In a sweeping backhand, he stabbed the man holding the pistol in the neck. Blood squirted out as the bastard dropped, pistol still unfired.
Jamie lunged for the other deserter and stuck him kidney with his dirk. He pulled it out and sliced the bastard’s throat for good measure. The man fell in a heap at his feet.
Jamie rushed to Claire who was quietly shaking on the ground. He lifted her up and carried her away from the bodies toward the stream. He sat her on a large rock and gripped her tightly by the arms.
“Ye’re alright, Claire. They're dead. Ye’re safe, mo nighean donn.”
“I know...I know.” She went on shaking.
All Jamie could think to do was whisper calm words of reassurance, knowing his tone was more important than her understanding. He held her against him until she stopped shaking.
As soon as she was steady, he led her back in the stream and washed her down. He kept her close as he did the same for himself, wanting the blood of the filthy English bastards off his hands.
When they were done, he packed up their camp and they rode off quickly on Donas. By mutual unspoken consent, they did not stop for the rest of the day. They rode hard and long to put distance between them and the dead bastards’ corpses.
He risked another fire that night. He wanted all the comforts he could offer the woman, though he hardly thought they mattered to her. She shed no tears, but he could see her mind had disconnected, pulling away from the danger of their reality.
“I’ll no' let anyone harm ye, Claire. I swear it,” he said, as she lay still in his arms when it was time to sleep.
She finally looked into his eyes and said, “I know.”
He kissed her softly on the temple.
“I haven’t thanked you yet,” she said. “I meant to...as we were riding.”
He shook his head. “Dinna thank me for doing my duty by ye. I shouldna ha’ let them get so close. I’m terribly sorry. Will you forgive me?”
She placed her lips over his heart. “There’s nothing to forgive.”
“I understand what you meant now.”
“About responsibility. What you said about accepting responsibility for the consequences of our love-making.”
“This is a dangerous place...a dangerous Time. Having a child would make you all the more vulnerable. And then there’s the risk to the little one.”
“Aye, but it doesna mean it isna worth having a bairn.” He stroked her wild hair away from her face. “Did those men push ye away from me, Claire? I’ll never forgive myself if they did.”
“No...they just reminded me why I should go back.”
“Are ye still planning on leaving, then?”
“I’d be mad not to...”
“Aye.” As much as it gutted him to admit, the Highlands were a terribly unsafe place for an English woman.
Her arms wrapped around him. “But the thought of leaving you...I’m not sure I’ll be able to when the time comes.”
“D’ye think it’ll get easier the more time we spend together?”
He kissed her softly and said, “Dinna fash, Sassenach. ’Tis no' a choice ye need to make tonight. Sleep, lass. Dream of naught but pleasant things, aye?”
She nodded and buried her face in his chest. “Jamie?”
“Recite me another sonnet, would you? Let me hear it in your brogue.”
“As ye wish, Sassenach…
“So are you to my thoughts as food to life,
Or as sweet-season'd showers are to the ground;
And for the peace of you I hold such strife
As 'twixt a miser and his wealth is found.
Now proud as an enjoyer, and anon
Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure;
Now counting best to be with you alone,
Then better'd that the world may see my pleasure:
Sometime all full with feasting on your sight,
And by and by clean starved for a look;
Possessing or pursuing no delight
Save what is had, or must from you be took.
Thus do I pine and surfeit day by day,
Or gluttoning on all, or all away.”
“Me, too, Jamie,” she whispered sleepily. “Me, too.”
Chapter 3: Trì
Neither of us were accustomed to sleeping with someone else. It had been years since I shared Frank’s bed, and further still since it was with any degree of regularity, thanks to the war. Jamie had never slept with a woman in his life.
I was startled awake in the predawn hours by a full-body twitch from Jamie. He must’ve been dreaming. In truth, I was still rather jumpy from the events of the day before. My own body was hypervigilant for another attack.
I wondered if Jamie was dreaming of what happened...of killing those men. He’d killed six men in two days protecting me. No wonder his eyes looked like they’d seen fifty-three years instead of twenty-three. The last two days alone felt like two years.
Jamie was spooning me from behind. I think he liked breathing in my hair as he slept...and he liked the feel of my arse pressed against him. I wanted to look at him, so I turned in his arms. He grumbled unconsciously at my squirming, and threw a heavy leg over my hip to stop me moving. He kept right on sleeping, his breath heavy and rugged, not quite snoring.
He was a big man. His chest was immense. I comfortably buried my face between his large, firm pectorals. He smelled of sweat and horse; the scent was quickly growing on me—a good thing considering the amount of time I spent pressed up against him.
I wrapped my arms around him and squeezed, aching for closeness, craving the way his presence soothed my anxious mind. The effect was almost instantaneous. When we were close like this, it was almost easy to forget how dangerous a place I was in. All I could think of was how safe he made me feel...and how badly I wanted him.
How could I feel so strongly for someone I just met?
I loved Frank, desired him, even missed him greatly during the war. I grieved him painfully when he died. But I don’t remember him inspiring this kind of fervor in me.
What was it about James Fraser that made him feel so essential to me?
My hand ran up and down his back, appreciating the vast expanse of muscles. I could feel his scars through his shirt—the ones I saw when he was washing in the stream. They were impossible to miss.
I reached under to feel them without barrier, careful not to get too near his more recent injury. Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, whatever or whoever brutalized this man was vicious and thorough, damaging him from shoulder to sacrum. How on earth had he survived? Especially in the eighteenth century. Only a man as strong, fit, and healthy as Jamie could’ve lived through damage like that.
I felt him tense awake. He wasn’t breathing. His heart was racing under my cheek. I’d bet no one had touched his back since he was injured. I didn’t stop caressing. I grazed my fingers over the smooth and rough edges of his mangled skin and placed a kiss over his thundering heart.
His hand tangled in my hair, grabbing tight enough to let me feel his tension. He didn’t stop me from touching, but his message was clear: it wasn’t easy for him, and he was indulging me.
I lifted up to kiss his mouth. He was tense there, too. I kissed him again and again. I was gentle and coaxing. His lips softened as I nibbled gently. I kissed him until his heart slowed and his grip eased.
“Does it hurt?” I asked.
“No. Not anymore.”
“How did you get them?”
He took a deep breath and watched my eyes. “Randall.”
“Dear God. Why?”
“I stopped some redcoats from attacking my sister. He punished me for it, then attacked her anyway. They brought me to Fort William, and he gave me 100 lashes on top of 100 lashes only a week apart. He was going to hang me before friends broke me out and took me to France.”
“Jamie…” I rested my forehead against his, wishing there was a way I could take his pain.
“My father died watching that bastard whip away my skin...trying to whip away my pride.”
I cradled his head in my arms and kissed his cheek in awe and gratitude. “You’d been through all that for saving your sister, yet you still protected me the same way knowing what could happen?” I stared into his eyes, the deep blue looking dark grey in the lack of light. “Thank you, James Fraser.”
His mouth twitched in an amusement that didn’t reach his eyes. “I should be the one thanking you. Watching you spit in his face gave me great joy before I ran him through.”
“I’m glad you got your revenge.”
“Aye. I just wished he hadna touched ye.”
“You stopped him from hurting me. I just wish your sister wasn’t hurt either.”
“Mmphm. I later found out he couldna do it. His cock wasna up for the task. That’s why I decided to come back home. See, after I was healed at the abbey in France, I left for mercenary work. I couldna face my failure to my sister.” He looked away in shame. “I’m a coward, ken.”
I caressed his face in comfort. “Is that why you stayed away?”
“Aye, that and I had a price on my head for murder—one I didna commit. My Uncle Colum and cousin Jared are well connected. They were able to secure me a pardon. Even still, I didna come back right away. It took some time before I mustered the courage to write to her and offer an apology. When I received her response, she told me the truth of it. In the years since I’d been gone, she married my friend Ian and started a family wi’ him. In my self-pitying foolishness and shame, I missed out on her wedding and the birth of my first nephew...wee Jamie, named for me.”
He hung his head in disappointment.
“Well,” I tried to ease his regret, “if you hadn't been coming home from Paris when you did, you would’ve never been there for me. I’d say you came at just the right time.”
His eyes lifted and his face softened. “Aye. That was a stroke of good fortune, was it no’?”
I nodded and kissed him again. “You're that man, aren’t you? The one who sacrifices himself for everyone else?”
He shook his head. “No. 'Tis no sacrifice to give my body in protection of others when the shame and guilt of letting them be harmed would rot my soul. It’s a fair bargain, to be sure. God built me to be this way, and I must do what needs to be done.”
I kissed him again. I wanted so badly to find a way to share how much I was growing to care for him, but I thought the words might be cruel if—not if, when—I decided to go.
“And you?” he asked. “What did God build ye for, Claire?”
“Oh,” I smiled. “To be a healer, of course. To patch wounds and make people better.”
He nodded and smiled back in a way that wrinkled in his cheeks, “Aye. To make people better. Ye were certainly built for that.”
For the first time, I wondered what it might be like if I chose to stay in the 18th century. I knew it was a foolish consideration. It was far too dangerous here. And as soon as Jamie found out the truth about how I’d arrived, he’d probably think me mad. But the tenderness in his gaze wasn’t something I could ever see myself letting go of intentionally.
“God brought us together for a reason, Sassenach. It canna ha’ been to pull us apart after only a month.”
When he kissed me, I couldn’t think of a single reason he might be wrong.
“I want ye, Claire. I want ye so bad, I can scarcely breathe.” We kissed again, mouths open and tongues entangled. “Will ye have me, mo nighean donn?”
“Yes...yes, I’ll have you.”
And have him I did. We kissed madly until our bodies couldn’t stand being apart. I helped him carefully out of his shirt, his poor shoulder battered with days of injury and overuse. I removed my dress and undergarments, surprised at how little the cold morning affected me. He stared unblinkingly as he unbuckled his kilt and tossed it aside.
“Did I ever tell ye how beautiful ye are?” he said. “I’d call ye an angel, but I dinna think God would much care for the lewd thoughts I’m having about one of his own.”
I rose up to meet him, hands exploring the body I already knew so well. His rough fingers grazed over my breasts, gently squeezing, discovering. The moment felt monumental, though in the grand scheme of worldly things, we were only two people joining in the dark hours of the early morning. But the way his eyes closed and how his breath hitched when my hands dropped lower was the only thing happening on earth as far as I was concerned.
“Lie on your back,” I said, worried about his shoulder. He did as instructed, brow narrowed with intense focus.
I moved on top of him, laying my body over his, much like when I woke at our first meeting. His hands held my hips steady as my mouth sought his. My legs spread apart, opening myself up. I reached down and guided him with a hand on his cock and a curve of my hips.
I was slick, eager, and ready, but I moved slow, wanting to watch Jamie’s face as I slid down. His jaw was clenched, and his lips opened, sucking in shallow breaths. His eyes held mine with fierce intensity. I involuntarily clamped down around him, the intrusion a shock after years abstaining. He let off a resounding grunt, and he squeezed my hips, pulling me down hard.
I tried to adjust to the myriad sensations, but the pressure his pelvis put on my clitoris caused a compulsory thrust of my hips. One full stroke provoked another and another, more and more cascaded beyond.
Dawning light illuminated the pained euphoria in Jamie’s eyes. It might have been the most beautiful sight I’d ever beheld.
I bent down to kiss him, craving more connection. His mouth met mine with a demanding urgency. He was skilled and confident with his mouth, and the more he kissed me, the more that competence moved to the lower half of his body. He met my thrusts stroke for stroke. His hands gripped my arse rocking me forward and back.
I could tell by his quickening rhythm he was not long for climax, but it still seemed a shock to him when it arrived. I sat up to watch him come, still pumping my hips. His head was thrown back as his seed emptied into me. I reached down to my clitoris and rubbed feverishly to catch up. When he noticed what I was doing, he watched intently, ever observing, ever learning. It took a few moments, but I climaxed hard, squeezing his cock, coming in a rush.
He sat up with my legs still astride him, kissing me as climax lingered on. His hands were everywhere at once, in my hair and on my arse, rubbing up and down my back, pulling me hard against him.
He broke our lips apart only to say, “Yer mine, mo nighean donn. Now and forever.” At that moment, I was more than willing to acquiesce if it meant he’d kiss me more.
His lips traveled down my neck growing more and more languid with every inch. He settled at my breast, kissing, licking, and sucking on my nipple. “I didna ken how badly I’d want to eat up every bit of ye, Sassenach, but I canna seem to pull my mouth from yer skin.”
“I’ve no complaints about that. I seem to have a similar affliction.”
He moved to the other breast with a chuckle.
“Was it like you thought it would be?” I asked.
“I didna ken a woman could be on top. I thought it must be done the back way...like horses.”
I snorted. “I suppose I did go for a ride.”
Jamie fell back in a fit of laughter, bringing me down with him. “Ye certainly worked me up into a mad gallop.”
“Is your shoulder alright? I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
His eyes crinkled as he smiled sweetly at me, “Ye make me forget any pains I’ve ever had, Claire. I’m glad my first time happened just as it did...looking up at ye with the dawn light coming in behind. A heavenly sight if I’ve ever seen one.”
“You’ve put me on a pedestal, Jamie. I’m not as perfect and heavenly as all that.”
“Ye put yourself on the pedestal, Sassenach, if that’s what yer calling my cock.”
I cuffed his arm. “You know what I mean.”
He was unaffected by my chiding. He fingered a lock of my hair as he said, “I see ye for who ye are, Claire. It only makes me more fond of ye.”
I knew I wasn’t going to convince him otherwise while his mind was flooded with chemical aftereffects of sex—especially his first time feeling them.
“Come, lass,” he said, sitting up. He pulled me into his lap and wrapped his plaid around us. I realized we were facing east. Dawn light had illuminated the sky with pinks, purples, and blues, and the sun was just about to rise. Jamie’s body enveloped me in the most comforting warmth as the sun made its first appearance of the day.
“’Tis a comfort to ken that no matter what ye’ll face in life, the sun will always be there in the morning and the stars at night...that they’re there when we need them, giving us light and showing our place in the world, and even when hidden by the clouds, they’re still there, waiting for the wind to reveal them again.”
“It’s funny,” I said, “how day-to-day I still find myself thinking the sun rises for us when we are the ones moving around the sun.” An image of a child on a carousel appeared in my head, riding around and around, passing her parents’ smiling faces with each revolution, the child feeling like the world is spinning around her, when she’s the one moving.
“It can be alarming to think we’re hurtling wildly around in the dark,” said Jamie.
“Perhaps thinking that it’s the sun that comes and goes—not the people who witness it—helps keep us in denial of being the transient visitors in the world, here for only a short time. If we’re the center of the universe, can the universe really exist without us?”
“’Tis better to remember our life is short so we make use of it as we see fit. When we forget we’re mortal, we become complacent...as stagnant in life as a fool thinking existence revolves around him.”
“So, you think a fool is a person who allows things to happen to him?”
“No. Things happen to everyone, whether we will it or no'...” he sighed deeply, and I assumed he was thinking about his scars, “...but we can either allow our experiences to master us, or we can be the ones to sharpen our dirks, dust off our kilts, and find a way to move beyond.”
He looked down at me and asked, “Tell me, what did ye do when yer parents died?”
I shrugged, “I went to live with my uncle. He tried to put me in a school, but I refused. I demanded he take me traveling with him, researching historical artifacts.” I smiled at the memory of Uncle Lamb’s face as I informed him I’d be coming with him.
“See, ye took control where ye could. Ye decided yer life for yerself, even as a wean.”
I nuzzled into him, enjoying the warm embrace of his arms, more comforting than a thousand sunrises.
“Ye ken, Sassenach, from the moment I carried ye away on Donas, there was never a chance that I might fall prey to thinking the sun, moon, or stars revolved around me. When I took ye in my arms, gravity shifted. Ye became the center, and my world revolves around you. Ye are my sun...mo Sorcha.”
I’d long forgotten the sunrise. How could I care for the blue skies when Jamie’s eyes were near? My only use for the sun was the light I needed to see his face.
I needed him again. I needed my mouth on his and his body on mine. And when he bent down to kiss me, his cock hardening against my bottom, I thought perhaps he was right, the force of my pull was like gravity to him.
I lay back on his plaid beckoning him to follow, eager to show him yet another way to make love that horses wouldn’t understand. I didn’t worry about his shoulder this time. He could put all his weight on me, and I wouldn’t care. I spread wide open and kissed him madly.
He was a quick study and found his own way inside me this time. His virginal eagerness needed little recovery time from his earlier climax, and the desensitization of the second time helped him last longer.
He wrapped his arms all the way around my body, elevating me off the ground. His hips drove into mine, still too new to making love for tenderness. I didn’t want tenderness anyway. I wanted him raw and uninhibited, because I wanted to be raw and uninhibited. I grabbed his arse as he drove into me, demanding more. He gave everything he had, and I came hard and loud, my screams echoing through the quiet Highland morning.
Jamie got up on his knees with panting breath. He was rubbing his shoulder to ease an acute ache. “Ah Dhia,” groaned.
“I’m so sorry.” The heat of shame overtook my face. I wasn’t being a very good nurse.
“Dinna fash, mo chridhe. I only wish my shoulder was half as strong as my cock, or I would’ve finished along wi’ ye.”
I laughed, wrapping my legs around his waist, “Why don’t you finish now? You can do it on your knees like that. You don’t have to put any weight on your shoulder.”
His brows shot up. “Ye can keep going after ye’ve...finished?”
“Women are different than men, Jamie.”
“So I’ve noticed,” he said as he lined himself up once again, “and I’ve never been more grateful for it.”
He cut off my laugh with a thrust of his hips.
We were slow moving that morning, making little in the way of progress to Lallybroch. Whatever stamina Jamie’s shoulder allowed him, we spent it making love. Donas was bored and restless with the sheer number of times we mounted and dismounted from his saddle.
The day was spent in a buzzing, dreamy haze. Kiss after kiss. Touch after touch. Nothing demanded our attention. No patients, no tenants, no redcoats, no family, no stones. Not even Time itself.
After lunch, I lay naked on Jamie’s plaid in the heather. We were covered by the shade of a hundred year old tree. Jamie stood with his body bare, holding a handful of forget-me-nots. He pulled off the tiny petals one by one and let them flutter down over me.
“If I had my mother’s hand wi’ a paintbrush, mo nighean donn, I’d capture this moment forever. Though, I’d be damned before I’d let anyone else ever see ye like this. The painting would be only for the private pleasure of my eyes.”
Laughter seemed to come so easily in the state of bliss we were living in. “Why, James Fraser, I never took you to be a greedy or selfish man.”
“Did I no’ tell ye last night when ye asked me for a sonnet?” He sat beside me, hands tracing over my skin and the blue-purple petals he’d just sprinkled over me. He repeated the third quatrain and the last couplet of Shakespeare’s 75th:
“Sometime all full with feasting on your sight,
And by and by clean starved for a look;
Possessing or pursuing no delight
Save what is had, or must from you be took.
Thus do I pine and surfeit day by day,
Or gluttoning on all, or all away.”
And he kissed down my body and began his gluttonous feast…
Jamie lay sleeping face-down on his plaid. Sunlight landed on him, filtered through the tree above. His hair blazed like heated coals when the wind fluttered through the leaves, flickering sunlight in his hair.
I lay next to him, tracing the scars on his back. I’d seen my share of disfigured and tortured servicemen. I’d sat at hundreds of bedsides of men who were forever changed by the horrors they’d endured. Many of them certain they’d never have a life again.
I repeated his earlier words in a whisper, “...we can either allow our experiences to master us, or we can be the ones to sharpen our dirks, dust off our kilts, and find a way to move beyond.”
“Mmphm,” he hummed, letting me know he was awake and listening.
I kissed one of the most gruesome scars with all the tenderness I possessed. He sighed in contentment.
I kept my voice a whisper, fearful of disrupting his tranquil state. “How did you do it, Jamie? How did you survive?”
“Stubbornness and divine intervention,” he chuckled.
“I’m seriously asking.”
“And I told ye the truth of it.” He rolled on his back to better see me. My hand resumed its caresses, but instead of scars, I fingered the hairs on his chest. “I dinna remember much of the escape and the trip to France. I was in and out of consciousness and delirious wi’ fever.”
“How did you beat the fever?”
“Prayer, I think...and stubbornness.” He smirked at me. “I held onto life, because I couldna let Randall win, ken. I couldna let him break me. He violated my sister, beat me with rapturous pleasure, and killed my father. I couldna let him win.” His blue eyes grew dark and unfocused. He seemed to be looking somewhere beyond me. “There was a time—though it’s hard to recall because of the laudanum they gave me—where I thought I might give up. My father, brothers, and mother were all dead. I was guilty of not protecting my sister. I was in more pain than was bearable...body and soul. There was no clear reason to go on…and God seemed to be giving me the choice whether to stay or go...” His voice drifted off as he became lost in his thoughts.
“What changed? Why did you stay?”
“A healer came and prayed over me, tended to me. Told me I had much to live for.” His eyes came into focus and found mine. “Said I would fall for a golden-eyed sassenach. I dinna ken if I believed it, but I thought I’d stick it out and see if she was right. I’d only ever seen a pair of golden eyes on a leopard; I figured eyes like that on a lassie would be something worth living to see.”
I bent down and placed a kiss over his heart. “I’m glad she was right, Jamie.”
He ran his fingers through my hair and smirked playfully. “Ye think she was right, then? Ye think I’ve fallen for ye? I’ve only known ye but three days.”
I flushed red and pulled away. I supposed I was being presumptuous.
He pulled me down and rolled over me, pinning me to the ground. His eyes bore fiercely into mine, sparkling like the god of thunder. “Tha gaol agam ort, mo sassenach. Buinidh tu dhomh a-nis.”
I never heard the words before in my life, but their meaning was clear.
We made some headway that afternoon, both too exhausted for anymore love-making. Our bodies had grown completely accustomed to each other. I hardly remembered the awkwardness of our bumpy first ride. Now, it seemed as though I was molded to fit in his arms, as if I belonged there the whole time.
I fell asleep just before nightfall against the comfort of his chest. Galloping hooves and a steady beating heart lured me into the most serene dreamland.
I was still asleep when we stopped for the night. It was already dark, and my mind refused to come fully to consciousness. Jamie brought me down from Donas and carried me to a bed of foliage. He had me wrapped in his coat as he started a fire and tended to Donas.
When he came to bed, my legs spread in semi-conscious invitation as he wrapped his plaid around us. He slid home in an instant, and I’d realized how badly I was aching for him. We hadn’t the energy for vigor, but what we lacked in vim, we made up for in tenderness and affection.
“Does it ever stop?” he whispered in my ear. “The wanting you?”
“I don’t know, Jamie. I really don’t.”
Chapter 4: Ceithir
He could wake every day of his life with Claire spooned in his arms, arse wedged in the curve of his pelvis. He’d never tire of it. His morning erection pressed between her thighs, seeking the source of the heat it craved. She was squirming her bottom around in her sleep, making it all the more difficult to restrain himself.
He kissed down her shoulder, skin salty from days of exertion. His teeth grazed the nape of her neck. A shiver quaked down her spine, leaving gooseflesh in its wake.
He wanted her...all of her. Her soul, her heart, her body, her spirit. There was a need in him he’d never felt before—a need to consume her, to own her, to master her...to keep her.
Though her eyes were closed, she was awake now, hands reaching back and rucking up his kilt. She brought him down between her legs, arched her back, and guided him in.
“God,” he grunted. A temporary relief washed over him, like the first drink of water after days of dehydration. But when she rocked against him, his thirst only grew.
His arms wrapped themselves completely around her, all but crushing her as he buried his cock in her over and over. If making love to this woman earned him a seat in hell, he’d make sure he had enough seats to fill the Colosseum. She was his, and he’d have her over and over for the rest of their lives.
It had to be her. The scent of her hair, the sound of her voice, the look in her eyes. The way she touched him, kissed him, held him. There was something different about her. Something strange and special. She was his Sassenach. No one else would do. No one else would ever be enough.
“Like that, Jamie. There...more!” He had her by the hip and was ramming against her great, soft bottom.
“Ifrinn!” he was losing himself. She felt too good, and he had no self-control! He groaned loud and released. His seed shot deep inside her, and he prayed it would take root and grow.
“Oh, God. I’m sorry, Sassenach. I couldna stop it.” Yesterday, he noticed he lasted longer the more they lie together. Now, it was as though he was a virgin all over again.
“It’s alright.” She grabbed his hand and moved it to her quim. “Touch me, Jamie. I’m almost there.”
He stayed inside as he rubbed, enjoying the way she clenched around him. God, she made it easy to please her. She told him what she wanted and let him give it to her. She made him feel competent and useful and cared for. What else could a man ask for?
He felt her whole body tense and shudder. She squeezed and pressed back against him. A high-pitched moan sounded from her throat, and she reached back, grasping handfuls of his hair.
Yes, he most certainly could get accustomed to waking like this every morning. He turned her around in his arms and kissed her thoroughly.
“Good morning,” she said, peering through heavy-lidded eyes.
“Aye. Good morning.”
“Did you sleep well?”
He laughed, “Oh, aye. My body is sore from shoulder to knee. Ye’ve used me something savage, mo ghràidh. I’ve got muscles I didna ken I have in my arse feeling as tender as tears.”
“He’s human, after all.” Her hands grazed up and down his body as she admired his form. “For a while, I thought you might be Thor himself.”
“I dinna carry a hammer.”
Claire reached her hand down and felt his softening cock, “I could’ve sworn you were wielding one a few moments ago.”
He barked with laughter, but he couldn’t help the swell of his pride at her flattery. “Give me an hour, and I’ll thunder it down on ye some more.”
“An hour? Are you growing so old and decrepit already?”
“Aye, only three days with ye and I’ve used up twenty years of my life and all my youthful virility. I'm fearful this fourth day will take the teeth from my mouth and the ginger from my hair. A right wee succubus, ye are.”
Claire rolled herself on top of him, hair falling in curtains around them. Her lips grazed teasingly over his mouth. “Careful, soldier...I might run off with your soul in the dead of night.”
“Aye, ye might at that...but ye’ll miss yours, my Sassenach, for I have it locked away for safekeeping. I dinna intend to ever give it back.”
She looked at him, her face suddenly quite serious. “You think you own my soul?”
“Aye...only, I canna possess yer soul wi’out losing my own. Fair is fair, after all.”
Her golden eyes bore into his. Her brow knotted in quiet contemplation.
She finally broke away and sat up next to him. She tried to change the subject. “Will we arrive at Lallybroch today?”
“I dinna think so, unless God bestows on us something in the way of restraint. Tomorrow, perhaps.”
“We should get moving. I’d hate to be the reason you missed your niece or nephew’s birth.”
Claire went to gather breakfast, keeping her eyes averted from him all the while. The lass was still conflicted. He would give her a bit of space—he had time to win her over.
Jamie busied himself with Donas and with plans for when he returned to Lallybroch. He had a running list kept in his mind of all that needed to be done when he returned. The first things on that list were ensuring Claire was given a nice room of her own and having a few new dresses made. His Lady Lallybroch couldn't be dressed in rags and quartered with a view of the goat’s pen. She’d need a space close to the Laird’s room. It wouldn’t do to have Jenny witnessing them sneak into each other’s rooms.
He sighed at the thought of Claire sleeping in his bed. The Laird’s bed.
To think that only a short time ago he was lying face down at the abbey in France—miserable, helpless, alone. He had failed his sister and lost everyone else in his family. But now he was bringing Claire—his very heart and soul—back to his home, taking up his father’s mantle, and caring for his sister, his friend, and their growing family.
He coughed away the threat of tears.
Jamie kept moving down his list of things that needed to be done: meeting wee Jamie, Jenny’s impending birth, checking on his tenants, the ledgers, Broch Mordha, the mill, the livestock, the crops. Perhaps he should build a still? Jared taught him much about making a fine whisky.
God, he wanted to see his land. He’d take Claire with him. The Lady should meet her people and know her property. He could take her by the kirk and meet the priest who would marry them.
If they needed to get away from the family and the servants, he could bring her out to sleep under the stars as they’d been doing the last few days.
“What are you doing?” asked Claire.
“What d’ye mean?”
“You’re mumbling to yourself in Gaelic. Is that like a prayer or chant or something?”
“Was I? I was just making a list of things that need tending when we arrive home.” He laughed, “I remember my father would do that...mumble it quietly as he went about his chores.”
“Are you very much like your father?”
Jamie shrugged, “I dinna ken. I’ve got the look of my mother’s people, but some would say I ha’ my Da’s stubbornness.”
She smirked, “You? Stubborn? You’ve called yourself stubborn before, but I’m not sure I believe you have it in you.”
Jamie gritted his teeth, “It’s early in our acquaintance. I’m sorry to disillusion ye.”
She laughed him off despite his seriousness. He shrugged. She’d find out sooner or later.
They were on their way shortly after. As they neared closer to his land, he felt a pang in his wame that his time alone with Claire would soon be over. He’d work throughout the day and see her mostly at night. He’d see more of Ian, working in the fields, than he’d see of her beautiful face during the day. The thought had him slowing Donas to a meandering pace. He wrapped his arms snugly around her and inhaled the scent of her hair.
“This list you have,” Claire asked as she leaned back against him, “is there anything I can do to help?”
“Mmphm. Perhaps if ye were my Lady Lallybroch. Should I take us to the kirk?”
She elbowed him in the ribs as if her wee arms would affect any damage on him. “Be careful making jokes like that. You could end up with a wife.”
“And who said it was a joke?” His voice was teasing, but he was more than serious.
“First of all, for a man who spouts poetry more easily than curses, you should really work on how you proposition a potential wife.”
“Duly noted. And second?”
“Second...Well, you’ve only known me a few days. You’re really too young to be thinking of tying yourself to someone for the rest of your life when you know so little of me.”
“I ken enough.”
“Is that so?”
“Aye. I ken ye’re a fine healer. My shoulder is about as good as new…”
“You’ve a gaping hole in it, Jamie. We’re just lucky it isn’t infected.”
“...and ye may no’ be much of a cook, shoving plants down my throat, but ye’ll certainly help me keep my teeth in auld age.”
She laughed sweetly.
“And yer hair smells sae nice...relaxes me into a right stupor.”
She picked up a strand of her hair and sniffed it. “It smells like dirt and horse.”
“Aye, I’m fond of horses. Ouch.” He rubbed the soft spot in his belly she rammed her elbow into. “And yer aim is getting better wi’ practice.”
“So, you’d marry me to stitch your wounds, help keep your teeth, and because I smell like a horse?”
“You’re mad. I think you’re infatuated by your recent loss of virtue.”
He chuckled, “Now that ye mention it, ye’ve the prettiest quim I’ve ever seen…”
She interrupted, “The only one you’ve ever seen.”
“And ye’d have me risk giving up such a fine specimen? What if the next is an awful one? Nay. I’m pleased wi’ the one I have, thank ye very much.”
“The one you have? I believe it’s mine, that ye very much.”
“Oh, I dinna ken about that.” Jamie reached down her shift and slipped his hand beneath. He pulled aside the wee bit of satin she insisted on wearing. She was as hot and wet as he expected her to be. “It seems to obey me just fine.”
“Yes, well, you do treat it rather nicely. But it is still mine, and you only get use of it when I say you can.”
“Is that so?” He rubbed her with just enough pressure to make her squirm.
“Y-yes,” she said breathlessly. “That’s exactly so.”
He slipped his fingers inside, letting Donas’s steady trot dictate the rhythm. She was clay in his hands, his to mold and do with what he wanted. She rolled her hips against his palm where it rubbed her outside. She reached back and tangled her fingers in his hair. How could she doubt for a moment that she was his?
He’d teach her wee lesson…
Right before she was ready to finish, he pulled his fingers out and grabbed the reins with both hands. He spurred Donas on to a galloping pace as if nothing happened.
“You can’t be serious,” she said. She turned her head and was eyeing him with incredulity.
“Well, since ye say it’s no' mine, I shouldna want to impose myself on ye without formal invitation.”
Her eyes narrowed in threat. “You’re saying you want me to beg?”
He smirked and shrugged. He would be her Laird and master; it should not hurt her to offer a polite request.
“You fucking bastard.”
He was ready for her elbow to his wame this time. He tensed his abdomen and her arm bounced harmlessly away.
“Oh, my dear lad, you’ve a thing or two to learn about women.” She pulled herself upright and leaned forward away from Jamie. The position could not have been comfortable for her, and it certainly wasn’t comfortable for him.
“Och, come on, Sassenach. ’Twas just a wee joke.”
“Mmphm,” she grunted, sounding more like a Scot than a sassenach. She was cold and stiff in his arms.
Fine. More lessons, then. He steered Donas on a hard uneven bit of land, making her feel every bump along the way.
He had to hand it to her, the woman was as stubborn as any Fraser; she’d fit in just fine with his family. She didn’t once complain about the pace or the ride, and she obstinately refused to use his body for support.
He thought about riding through lunch, but even he had his limits on how far he could push her. That, and they’d arrive at Lallybroch by nightfall if they kept pace, and he needed a wee bit more time with the lass before handing her over to his sister.
Claire dismounted without any assistance from him. She stormed away to go dig in the dirt and yank up plants by their roots. With the right foul mood she was in, he’d have to empty one of his saddlebags in order to fit all the wee herbs she was digging up.
He gave her a few moments to cool off. He guessed that she wouldn’t be quite ready to talk in such a huff—like most Frasers. He waited until her hands were good and filthy, and she had a nice pile of wee herbs stacked up, before he edged closer.
“Would ye like some salted meat, lass?”
“You can shove your salted meat up your arse,” she said with the most elegant English tongue he’d ever heard.
“Suit yersel’,” he said with the thickest brogue he could muster.
He took a bite of the meat, but it felt like sawdust in his mouth. The flavor and texture had little to do with its constitution and more to do with the sour mood he was in. He very much didn’t like Claire sore at him.
“Come now, Sassenach. I canna have ye starving.”
“As surprising as it sounds, Mr. Fraser, you may offer me something that I may choose not to accept. I do not want your piece of meat at the moment.”
“Mmphm.” He shoved it back in his sporran. “I’m sorry, Claire. I didna mean to make ye sore.”
“Really? Because it seemed to me that was exactly what you were trying to do.”
“I didna intend to make ye angry. I just...I just…”
“You wanted me to beg you for an orgasm! Just to educate you, Jamie, I do not need anyone else to pleasure my body. I can handle that just fine on my own!”
“I ken that well enough! Ye dinna seem to think ye need me for anything! Not even when I pulled ye up half dead on my horse and carried ye away from the corpse of a man bent on raping ye no’ two minutes before!”
“Is that what this is about? You want me to need you? You want me to depend on you for protection, food, shelter, and pleasure?”
“Is it so terrible to want to give those things to you, lass?”
“It’s not terrible for you to want to give me those things, but what you did wasn’t about giving me anything, and you know it! It was about wanting to control me. To demand I do as you please, then giving me rewards for good behavior. Well, I am not a child, and I am not a dog! If you want to give me protection or pleasure, then give them as gifts or barter for them outright like a man! Don’t play games with me.”
Ifrinn! He turned and kicked the dirt beneath his boots.
She was right, of course. She saw through him like a ghost. He did want to control her! He did want to keep her...to master her.
“Aye,” he finally said, peering at her beneath his lashes, shame coloring his cheeks. “Ye’re right. I’m sorry. I shouldna ha’ teased ye so. I wanted to teach ye a lesson, but...I...I was the one needing instruction.”
He walked back to her and bent down to where she sat. “I’m sorry, Claire. Will ye forgive me?”
Her jaw was clenched tight, and her shoulders were tensed up to her ears. It took her a few moments of intentional deep breathing to concede. “Forgiven. Just don’t let it happen again.”
Relieved, Jamie sat down beside her and helped dig up a particularly stubborn weed. They worked in conciliatory silence for some time longer before Claire’s stomach protested its neglect. Jamie took her by the hands and led her to Donas to wash the dirt off her palms from his waterskin.
Claire was much more amenable to his offering of food after his reluctant, but heartfelt, apology. They sat together under a tree and enjoyed their lunch. He was surprised how much it pleased him to watch her eat. His own food tasted better now that she was no longer angry with him.
He gave her his last bite and watched her eat it with tenderness in her eyes.
His apology was no longer so reluctant. “I am sorry, Claire. ’Tis truly a gift to touch ye, and I’ll no’ forget it ever again.”
She leaned in to kiss him in reconciliation. And that quickly, he realized he was never the one with the power in their relationship. She held his heart in the palm of her hands, and he was a fool thinking he had any leverage over her. When she kissed him, it felt like he was the dog being rewarded for good behavior, and he was never so happy to think himself a hound.
She was rewarding him, indeed, when she trailed her kisses down his neck. Her soft lips and gentle tongue were heaven on his skin.
“Oh, Claire.” He stroked her wild hair. God he was a fool to use their intimacy, to risk losing it for good.
She rucked up his kilt and bent down to his cock.
“Jesus, Mary, and Bride!” Her hot, wet mouth sucked up his cock. Ifrinn, he’d never felt anything like it...softer than her quim, but pulling and caressing. Her tongue licked the tip, fluttering like mad, while her hand squeezed the based, jerking it up and down.
Her wee moans vibrated his cock as she took him back to her throat. How she could fit so much of him into her mouth, he didn’t know. Her small hand massaged his balls; the shock of pleasure made him quiver all the way up his spine.
His whole world centered on this woman and what she was doing to him. The Four Horsemen could ride up and declare the end of times, and he’d hardly notice.
The sweet curving lines of her body were on display as she bent over him. Her head quickened its bobbing pace. He was having trouble with self-control yet again. He nearly lost hold when she scraped her teeth the length of his cock.
Claire abruptly removed her mouth and squeezed the base tight with her fist, stopping the need for his seed to spill. She got up on her knees and looked at him with fire in her eyes.
“If you ever try to manipulate me again, James Fraser, I will visit it back on you tenfold. Do you understand?”
His head was trying to process what in hell was happening. It was buzzing and needy for completion. His cock throbbed in her hands, demanding to be finished.
“Do you hear me?!” She squeezed tighter.
He tried pulling back, but her grip was firm for such a wee thing. “Aye! I hear ye!”
“Good.” Claire got up on her feet and went to collect her plants. She set to work packing them up in his saddlebags.
He sat with his mouth agape realizing she wasn’t coming back to finish what she started. He dropped his gaze to his throbbing cock, still exposed and glistening with the moisture of her lips.
“Mmphm.” Jamie stood up and stormed off to the other side of the trees.
Claire wasn’t the only one in command of her own pleasure. He grabbed his cock and made to abuse himself and finish what she started.
No matter how hard he stroked, he couldn’t bring himself to spill seed. He pictured her in his head, sucking his cock and making those wee noises. For a moment, he thought it might work, but the calluses on his hands felt nothing like her tongue. And the faint memory of her scent was a ghost of the smell of her skin.
“Ifrinn!” he cursed.
He couldn’t even be angry with her. He’d done the same thing to her only a few hours before.
He gave up any attempts at finding release. He wouldn’t get it without her. He didn’t want it without her.
He made his way back to her. She was sitting in the tall grass, staring out over a view of the meadow. Her eyes were unfocused, so he knew she wasn’t paying attention to anything but the thoughts in her head.
“May I join ye?” he asked.
She nodded quietly. He sat next to her, just short of touching. He looked out over the meadow and saw nothing but Claire’s face in his mind.
“I meant it, Claire. I’m sorry.”
“I meant it, too. You’re forgiven. But I’m not sorry for what I did.”
He was cooled off enough to chuckle. “I ken. Nor should ye be. Fair’s fair.”
He put his hand on the grass next to her, hoping she’d accept his invitation. She held still, not looking at him.
“I dinna want to arrive at Lallybroch wi’ ye angry at me, mo nighean donn. I want it to be a happy place for ye.”
She finally placed her hand in his and gave it a squeeze. “I’m not angry anymore, Jamie.”
“Then what is it?”
She turned to him, moisture filling her eyes, “It’s the realization that you have the power to hurt me...that I care for you enough to actually feel hurt by you.” She wiped away her tears. “My feelings for you are going to make it all the harder to leave when the time comes.”
“I dinna want ye to leave, Claire.” He picked up her hand and kissed it softly. “And I dinna believe ye will. Ye’ll choose to stay wi’ me. I’ll be whatever man ye need to make ye stay.”
“That’s the problem, Jamie. You don’t have to be anything other than who you are to make me want to stay.”
“Even when I’m daft?”
She smirked. “That I still care for you when you’re foolish is the hardest part of it all.”
“Mmphm.” He couldn’t help his smile. “’Tis a good thing...this...what it is between us. ’Tis a gift.”
She looked up; her eyes were puffy and swollen. “I know.”
He traced her cheekbone with his thumb. He wanted to make all her pain go away. “May I kiss ye, then?”
She smiled softly, though her eyes looked defeated. “Yes...you may.”
He bent his lips down to hers. He was soft and gentle, letting her know this wasn’t about giving or taking. It was just about wanting to love her.
When his lips pulled away, her body followed, leaning into him. He pulled her close and kissed her again.
“Lay back, mo nighean donn,” he whispered against her cheek. “Let me give ye all ye deserve.”
She whimpered sweetly as he lay her back on the grass. He kissed down her neck on the same trail she did to him only a short time before. He pulled up her shift, stripped her silk, and placed his mouth on her quim. He kissed her to make up for what he denied her. He licked her to show her how badly he wanted to please her.
Her legs were spread wide for him. She was vulnerable...open to him. He meant to earn back this trust she was giving him.
Without warning, she pushed up to roll him over. He moved as she commanded, lying flat on his back. She rolled on top of him kneeling on either side of his face. He grabbed her arse and pulled her back down to his mouth. She grinded down on him, panting and moaning while she pulled his hair.
“Wait, Jamie, wait,” she whimpered despite the motion of her hips.
“No!” he held her firmly in place, eager for the taste of her finish.
“What?” He let go of her arse, and she pivoted to lay opposite. Her hands and mouth came down on his cock, making him cry out just as her quim landed back where it was a moment before. He latched his mouth back on and resumed his consumption.
With each suck she gave his cock, he kissed, bit, and licked all her flesh he could find. It was maddening to feel so much and give at the same time.
It was an aching relief when she climaxed into his mouth. She screamed with his cock between her lips, determined to keep it there until they were done. She sucked and pulled as his mouth became flooded with her honey. He gripped her arse, grinding her against him, while meeting her mouth with the thrust of his hips.
His seed spilled, but she didn’t pull away. She sucked it up, swallowing every shot of fluid. If he could’ve spilled it twice in the space of seconds, he would’ve done just that.
When their bodies calmed, he pulled her up into his arms and kissed her deeply, the taste of both of them on their tongues. They sat unmoving except to savor each other.
Tomorrow loomed closer with its promise of bringing the outside world crashing down on their private existence.
“I dinna want this to end,” he said. “I want to keep ye like this forever.”
“Everything will change tomorrow, Jamie. You know as well as I.”
“Only some things will change. And some changes may no’ be so terrible.”
She smiled sweetly. “I suppose I do miss hot water. And soap. I miss feeling clean.”
“Mmphm. I’ll wash ye wi’ Jenny’s fine-milled French soap when we get to Lallybroch. It smells of lily of the valley.” As soon as Jenny found out Claire was to be part of the family, she wouldn’t allow the use of the French soap. It would be tallow and lye for her like everyone else in the household. However, Jamie didn’t intend on pronouncing his intentions for Claire until he was certain she would accept them.
As he was learning all too well, the woman had a mind of her own.
A loud neigh from Donas had Jamie up on his knees with a dirk in hand. He searched the horizon for movement. In the distance, redcoats were riding straight toward them. They must’ve seen Donas’s trail or heard him cry. “Ifrinn! Come, Claire.”
Jamie pulled her to her feet and hid her behind some trees and shrubs. “Stay hidden. My coat conceals most of the blood on my shirt, but if they see it on yer shift, we’re done for.”
“Stay put, Sassenach. I’ll try to send them on their way, but if they take me wi’ them, ye’ll need to go on to Lallybroch and tell Jenny and Ian what happened.”
“I’m not leaving you!”
“Ye’ll do as I tell ye, or we’ll both be imprisoned by nightfall. Quiet now.”
He kissed her hard, then cupped her cheek to glimpse her face one more time. Her whisky eyes furrowed with worry. He kissed her again, softly.
He walked out to Donas and awaited the arrival of the company. Five soldiers rode up; all but the commanding officer had their hands on their hilts.
“Good afternoon to ye gentlemen,” said Jamie. “May I be of some service?”
“Are you Mr. James Fraser of Broch Tuarach?” said the lieutenant, as though Jamie’s muckle size and flaming hair didn’t give him away.
“Aye, I am.”
All five men dismounted and slowly surrounded Jamie. They had yet to draw their swords or pistols. He took that as a good sign.
“We were informed that you were seen not four days past near the hill of standing stones known as Craigh Na Dun. Is this so?”
“Aye. I’ve been making my way home from Paris. I traveled no’ far from the hill.”
“Tell us, Mr. Fraser, did you encounter any trouble along the way?”
“I dinna ken what ye mean by 'trouble.’”
“Did you happen upon any of His Majesty’s soldiers on your travels?”
“No' personally, no. But I did see some soldiers engaged wi’ a band of Highland men heading North.”
“And you didn’t engage in combat with any of the soldiers?”
The lieutenant raised an unconvinced eyebrow. He unsheathed his sword and used the tip of the blade to push aside the lapel of Jamie’s coat. Bloodstains marred his shirt where Randall had stabbed him.
“Pardon me, gentlemen!”
Jamie turned to find Claire coming toward the soldiers. She looked thoroughly misused, wearing her blood-stained shift and nothing more. It took everything he had not to run to her side and carry her off to safety as quickly as he could.
“Madam!” said the lieutenant. “Dear God, are you alright?”
“I’m fine, thanks to Mr. Fraser here. I was visiting some acquaintances in Scotland when my manservant and I were happened upon by a fearsome gang of Highlanders. They killed my servant and ripped off my clothes with ill intentions. Thankfully, Mr. Fraser here engaged the men and pulled me to safety just as a group of soldiers arrived in time to save us. We were able to get away from the barbarians, thanks to the soldiers’ intervention. Mr. Fraser was wounded protecting me, and seeing as I have some skill in healing, I agreed to accompany him home and tend to him in payment for his timely assistance.”
The lieutenant had dropped the tip of his sword at Claire’s word. Her refined English and the noble set of her shoulders were all the credibility he needed.
She continued, “If not for Mr. Fraser and the king’s soldiers, I would likely have not survived that encounter with my virtue intact. I am ever in his and the soldiers’ debt. Tell me, Lieutenant, were you and your men here amongst the heroes that saved us?”
“No, madam. Unfortunately, the soldiers were killed for their efforts.”
“Oh, dear me!”
“Indeed. We are searching for the persons responsible.”
“Well, it’s like my companion said, we witnessed them riding North at high speed after we had already gotten away. We haven’t seen any sign of them for days. Our progress has been quite slow thanks to injury.”
“I see.” The lieutenant looked to Jamie who gave a confirming nod. “Are you sure you’re alright, madam? If you like, we could take you to Fort William and have your family retrieve you.”
“I’m quite well, sir. I thank you. But I am a woman of honor, and I gave my word to assist Mr. Fraser. I trust his behavior thus far has been in the best interest of my safety and general welfare. I should be fine in his care. I wish you good fortune in finding the men who attacked me and killed those brave soldiers.”
“Indeed, madam. We will do what we must to bring them to justice.”
“I’m ever in your and His Majesty’s debt, Lieutenant.”
Jamie moved to Claire’s side as the soldiers mounted up and rode off in a northbound direction. He waited until they were far out hearing range before he turned to Claire and said, “And what the Devil did ye mean by that, woman?!”
“Excuse me? I just saved both our skins. That officer was just about to take you in!”
“I ordered ye to stay put! Ye put yourself at risk by that foolish stunt. Both of us could’ve been headed for the gallows if not for blind luck!”
“You ordered me? Ordered me?!”
“That’s right. But did ye listen? No!”
“If I would've done things your way, the next time we met would be at your funeral, you bastard!”
“I’d be just fine! I’ve been imprisoned before.”
She rolled her eyes, “Oh, and that worked out so well for you?”
“I ken what I’m doing!”
“So do I!”
“Were ye purposely trying to get caught in anger at me?”
“In anger at you? Are you mad? I wasn’t angry anymore! But I’m sure as hell angry now! You think I’d put us both at risk as some sort of revenge?”
Jamie raked his hands through his hair. “No...no I don’t!” He moved away and kicked a nearby tree. “I just...I was just afraid is all. I was trying to protect ye. It’s what a man is meant to do for his woman.”
“And you think a woman is meant to just take his orders and not have a mind of her own?”
“A woman should mind her husband, aye!”
“You’re not my husband! And you never will be if you think I’m going to give up my free will. I’m not the meek and obedient type!”
“I ken that well enough! How many more men am I going to need to kill so ye can keep yer disobedience? Should I serve up my soul to the Devil on a platter with a bottle of Port and a wheel of brie?”
“Not at all! I would much rather you find a wife willing to obey your Laird’s commands. I’ll find my way home, and you’ll never have to bother!”
Panic struck Jamie at the thought of Claire leaving him. He grabbed her by the arms and held her still. “Christ, woman, I just want to love and protect ye!”
“That’s not love!” Her face was contorted with disgust. “And if you think controlling me is anything like love, then I don’t want anything to do with it.”
“No! God no!” He gripped her arms tight, desperate to keep her with him, but knowing that the tighter he held her, the stronger she’d pull away.
He forced himself to let her go.
He stumbled back several feet and dropped his knees. “I’m sorry, lass. I dinna ken how to do this, but God…” he ran his fingers through his hair, “...I’ll do anything ye want, Claire. Anything. Ye canna leave me.”
He stared up at her, not all that much taller with him on his knees, but God did the fury in her eyes have complete command over him.
“Ye said it yerself, mo nighean donn, ye make people better. I’ll be better for ye, I swear it.”
“Don’t make me responsible for you being a better person.”
“Responsible...no. But I’ll be damned if I’m not accountable to ye. Just the thought, the mere idea of being parted from ye is tearing my guts out, Claire! There’s no one like ye, Sassenach. Ye’ve turned my world upside down, and I’m scrambling to stand on solid ground. I give ye my word...I will find my footing. I will be the man ye need me to be.”
Her fury was gone, but anguish stole over her face. “Jamie, you don’t understand. I don’t belong here.”
“Ye belong wi’ me! Christ, woman, I am doing everything I can to keep ye, and ye’re looking for any reason ye can to leave! I’ve never felt more a fool in my life.”
“No, Jamie. It’s not like that.” She stepped toward him and cupped his face in her hands. “It’s not that I want to leave you.”
His arms wrapped around her bottom, hugging her against him, and he buried his face in her chest. “Then choose me, Claire. Choose me over whatever other life ye had.”
She stroked his hair like a mother comforting a child. “It’s not just about choosing you. I’d have to give up my whole life. Everything and everyone I ever knew. My career, my identity, all the things I’m used to...everything.”
He peered up at her through eyes blurred with tears, “Did I no' do the same when I killed Randall for ye? When I killed the redcoats attacking ye at the Dun? When I killed the deserters for ye? When I hid ye away in the bushes and told ye not to come out even if the redcoats took me away? I’d give my life for ye in a heartbeat and be grateful for the chance.”
Tears fell down her cheeks, and her breath caught in her throat. “You did choose me, didn’t you?”
“You’d sacrifice yourself again and again for me, wouldn’t you?”
“As many times as fate would allow.”
“All this time, I kept thinking I’d be mad to stay.” She dropped her forehead to his. "But the truth is, I’d be mad to go.”
“You love me, don’t you, James Fraser?”
“Aye, I do.”
She laughed, “It’s madness where I come from, to think two people can fall in love so quickly.”
“Well, ye’re here now, mo nighean donn. Where ye belong. And I ken ye love me, too.”
Her fingers stroked his cheeks, all tenderness and affection. She nodded in confirmation.
Their teary kiss was salty and wet, and it went on long enough to settle the fear in Jamie’s heart.
They made some little progress toward Lallybroch the latter end of the day. They found a secluded place to camp inside the border of Fraser lands for their last night alone together. They’d arrive at Lallybroch early the next day if no further obstacles presented themselves.
Jamie and Claire lay naked beneath the stars, covered only in his plaid, their bodies worn and hot with use, cooling in the night breeze. Claire’s head rested on Jamie’s arm as they watched the twinkling stars.
“Ye’ll be my bride, will ye no', Claire?” he asked. “Ye ken I mean to call ye my wife.”
She nuzzled into his side. “If I’m to stay, you’d better make an honest woman of me.”
“But you don’t know all there is to know about me. When I tell you the truth, you’ll likely go running for the hills.”
“If you don’t, I might think you’re the one who’s mad. I don’t know if I can marry a man insane enough to accept my story.”
He chuckled softly. There was nothing she could tell him that would change the way he felt about her.
“Tell me another sonnet, Jamie...make it as Scottish as you can.”
He chuckled again as he decided on number 116.
“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixèd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken…”
Claire sucked in a breath at his next line:
“Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”
Jamie wrapped himself around her as his eyelids grew heavy. Her fingers twirled around the hairs on his chest.
“I love you, Jamie,” she whispered.
“I love ye, Claire.”
His lips softly met hers.
“Do you really believe nothing can change how you feel about me?”
“I ken it wi’ all my heart.”
“I do so dearly hope you’re right.”
“Ye have all the courage in the world, Sassenach. Now I must teach ye to have faith.”
Chapter 5: Còig
“Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy...”
I whispered the poem as I looked out at the magnificent meadow below full of endless purple blossoms as far as my eyes could see. The floral, herblike scent of heather floated in the air.
I sat on the edge of Jamie’s plaid and watched the sunrise in the east. The morning was crisp, but not quite cold. My naked body covered itself in goosebumps when the morning breeze kissed my skin.
My nipples tightened into hard, pink buds as the cool air grazed by. I touched one with the tip of my finger watching it harden further with the soft caress. I moved to the other, running my finger around the tightening areola. When I rolled the nipple between my fingers, I felt a pleasurable clench from deep within.
I leaned back on one hand and opened my body to the sunrise. The more light that illuminated the land, the warmer I felt.
I cupped my breast and gently massaged. I’d forgotten how heavy and full they became when aroused. Bite marks and bruising peppered my pale chest where Jamie’s mouth had spent so much time the last four days. The memory of his warm lips on my cool skin made my heart race beneath my fingertips.
Those memories were so vital, I couldn’t help but whisper his name, “Jamie…”
“Mmphm,” he hummed from just behind me on the plaid.
I turned my head to find him watching. The state of his naked body made it clear he’d been observing for some time.
“Ye look like a pagan priestess making an offering to the sun god.”
“The view was just so beautiful. I felt...at peace.” I traced my nipple again.
Jamie sat up slowly, not taking his eyes off my hand. “Aye, ’tis verra bonny.”
He bent over me, his tongue taking the place of my hand. His tongue was somehow gentler, yet more insistent than my fingertips, and his warm breath was a soft, comforting contrast to the cool, Highland breeze.
I looked out over the blossoming meadow as Jamie’s mouth massaged and caressed. It felt oddly spiritual to make love in such a place, surrounded by nature and the lingering essence of an ancient culture. A place that meant so much to the man loving me. A place that was beginning to mean something uniquely special to me. This would be my home. It would be my land with Jamie. Making love in the light of the rising sun overlooking the scene where we’d play out our future felt like a christening ritual or pagan blessing.
Jamie sat me in his lap and pulled my legs around him. I held on to his neck where the ends of his long, curling hair tickled my fingers. The moisture from his mouth still lingered on my breasts and rubbed roughly against the hair on his chest.
His eyes were intent on mine. A vast, deep blue held me in place, trapping my gaze. A wave of awe washed over me that not even the glorious stretch of nature around us could inspire.
Our lips all but touched as he entered me. His lungs sucked in the air around me, leaving me breathless and wanting. My mouth fell against his in worshiping reverence, not so much the worship of the man, but of the connection between us.
I didn’t know what it was about Jamie, but something was different between us, something I couldn’t explain. I’d loved before, but the feeling was gray in comparison. My love for Jamie was all majestic vibrancy.
Our union was of body and soul, the two so deeply interconnected, one could not be differentiated from the other. When I rocked against him, I was caressing his spirit, and when he kissed my mouth and grazed his teeth along my jaw, he was paying reverence to my very soul—our love-making an act of the deepest veneration culminating in euphoric climax.
I lingered in a buzzing haze long after. Jamie held me in place, my face buried in his neck, as he murmured soft Gaelic words in my hair and rubbed his large hands up and down my back. Neither of us wanted to move and risk breaking this respite from the pains of reality.
But reality would come for us despite our determination to reside in a fairy tale. We needed to get to his sister and his land. Part of why I fell for the man was his overwhelming sense of responsibility to the people and things he cared most for.
And if I was being honest, reality would come in the form of the secret I kept from him. The deeper I fell for the man, the more that secret felt like a wedge being hammered between us.
I didn’t have it in me to lie to him. I tried stifling the nagging fear that Jamie wouldn’t believe me, or that he would believe me and reject me in fear or disgust. I supposed I could always return back through the stones—if I wasn’t burned at the stake first—but the truth was, I didn’t want to go. I wanted this man in my arms as certain as I wanted the Earth to stay devoted to the Sun.
His hands felt my increasing tension as they traced up and down my back, for he pulled away and cupped my face with concern. “Ye alright, lass?”
I nodded, reassured by the love in his eyes. His lip curved into a smile. “What was it ye were doing when I woke, Sassenach? Reciting the 33rd?”
“I didn’t think you were awake to hear me.” If I’d known, I might’ve chosen a different sonnet. That one didn’t end well for the lovers.
“Ye dinna mean to equate me the transient beast in the poem, d’ye now?” he smirked.
“Not at all.”
“But I can see ye’re worrit. Is this about yer past?”
“Not my past, per se.”
He stroked my cheek. “Whatever it may be, my Sassenach, ye need not be scairt. There’s the two of us now.”
“There it is. D’ye see?” he said, pointing to a stone tower in the distance. We dismounted from Donas as we neared Lallybroch. Jamie was afraid the family’s dogs would startle the horse and get us tossed off. He’d had enough of dislocated shoulders.
“It’s just like you said it would be.”
A bittersweet look crossed his face. I wondered at all the nostalgia and familial longing in his heart, likely mixed with the losses and painful memories of the last time he was here.
I hugged his arm and kissed his shoulder. I hadn’t realized how difficult coming home would be for him, or what it would mean to face the sister he believed he failed.
He kissed the top of my head and made one of his Scottish grunts. He grabbed my hand and we set off to Lallybroch.
As curious as I was about his sister, I had an urge to pull him in the opposite direction and hide ourselves away in the wilderness. I’m sure Jamie was having the same thoughts the closer we came to the great stone archway that served as an entrance to his home. I wrapped his coat protectively around me.
As he predicted, we were rushed by a pack of overzealous dogs thrilled at their Laird’s return. Jamie gave me Donas’s reins as the great beasts charged toward him, barking and reveling at his arrival. Jamie played with them roughly, calling out in Gaelic, patting them and throwing sticks.
He calmed them enough to take back Donas’s reins as we arrived through the archway. He tied the horse to a hitching post just inside. He surveyed the yard with his hands on his hips and his face set in stone. I wondered if he was steeling himself for whatever it was we’d find inside.
“Well if isn’t the Laird come home just in time…”
I turned my head toward the door of the great stone house. A tall, thin man with a grin from ear to ear came hobbling down the front steps. He had a wooden leg that couldn’t bend at the knee, so he made his way down by swinging it out every other step.
Joy spread over Jamie’s face, and he bounded over to the man. “Ian, a charaid!”
“Is mise do bhràthair a-nis,” said Ian with pride.
“Is e sin mo fhortan, a bhràthair.”
They embraced each other like brothers. Jamie grunted and pulled away when Ian hit him with a strong pat on his healing shoulder.
“Christ,” Ian flinched when he realized Jamie was injured. “I canna remember the last time I saw ye when ye werena covered in blood. Are ye alright, Jamie?”
“Aye, I’m alright. Got stuck by a redcoat a few days past.”
“And the redcoat?”
“No longer breathing.” Jamie looked at him meaningfully. “’Twas Randall...and a few others.”
“Blessed be.” Ian grabbed Jamie by the healthy arm. “The world is a better place now that ye rid us of him.”
“And who’s this?” Ian looked expectantly at me. His face was warm and welcoming. He didn’t look twice at my attire. That told me something of the adventures the two men had experienced together.
“This is Claire. Claire Beauchamp,” said Jamie. A glorious smile lit his face. If Ian had any doubt of the romantic nature of Jamie’s feelings for me, that expression certainly put them to rest. “Randall and his men were harassing her in the countryside. We thought it best she stay wi’ me until things quieted down.”
Or until forever, his sparkling eyes clearly said.
“Claire, this is Ian Murray. My sister's husband,” Jamie said with a laugh. I’d realized it was the first time he’d introduced the man as a member of his family.
“A pleasure to meet you,” I curtsied as best I could in Jamie’s filthy coat and my bloody dress.
“The pleasure is mine.”
“How’s Jenny?” asked Jamie. “And the bairn?”
“She’s upstairs. The pains started late last night.”
“Is the midwife here?”
“No, she’s ill and canna travel. I’m afraid it’s to be Mrs. Crook catching the wean.”
“Dinna fash, a bhràthair. Claire is a fine healer.” Jamie turned to me. “Have ye ever helped wi’ birth, Sassenach?”
I nodded. “I’ve assisted a physician more than once.”
I hadn’t realized Ian was holding tension in his shoulders until he let out a sigh of relief.
“Do we have time for a wash and a change?” asked Jamie.
“Aye,” said Ian. “It might be some time before the bairn comes.”
Jamie took my hand and led me up the stairs and into his home. Lallybroch was a fine house, with high ceilings and doorways that Jamie needn’t bend to walk through.
“Has it changed much?” I whispered.
“Nae,” he said, relieved.
He led me to a parlor where a little boy was playing with a toy sword. Jamie stopped in his tracks and grinned at the little one. He looked to Ian and said, “He favors ye, the poor child.”
“Aye. Come, wee Jamie. Meet yer uncle. The one ye’re named for.”
Wee Jamie looked at the giant who had suddenly arrived in his home. The poor thing kept lifting his chin up and up and up to take in his enormous uncle’s haggard appearance. He finally stopped when his neck was bent all the way back. The effort to see the head of the great giant was made moot by big Jamie bending a knee to come down to the wee one’s level. He was still significantly taller than the child. Wee Jamie seemed too surprised to move.
“Let me see that weapon ye got there,” said big Jamie. He took the sword from his nephew’s hand. He eyed the line of the wooden blade and bent his wrist back and forth as though checking the balance. “A fine blade. Has yer Da taught ye to use it properly?”
Wee Jamie nodded, mouth slightly agape.
“The wee gomerel knocked me on my arse and stuck me in the wame just yesterday,” said Ian.
“Och, then ’tis a good thing yer uncle’s here to teach ye how to stay on yer feet in a fight. Ye’ll need to learn how to look after yer new baby brother or sister.”
I gave Jamie a teasing bump with my hip and said, “I seem to recall you flat on your back after the first time I saw you in a fight.”
Jamie handed the sword back to his nephew and stood smirking at me. “That is different. ’Twas no’ the redcoats that felled me, but the sight of a bonny wee lassie.”
“You were bleeding out, and your shoulder was dislocated from your arm,” I laughed.
“’Twas no’ much more than a scratch.” He turned to wee Jamie, “Be that a lesson to ye, laddie. A lassie will fell ye quicker than any redcoat.”
Wee Jamie nodded seriously and committed his large uncle’s advice on the dangers of the female wiles to memory.
I noticed Ian looking curiously between Jamie and me, no doubt wondering just how far our relationship progressed. He smiled when I caught him staring. He turned to Jamie and said, “Jenny’s had the Laird’s room prepared for ye for weeks now. I’ll have Mrs. Crook bring hot water after she readies Claire’s room for her.”
“Dinna fash on my account just yet,” said Jamie. “And I’ll find a room for Claire. What will ye need for the birth, Sassenach?”
“Just hot water, soap, clean cloths, and a few herbs from the saddlebags for a tea.”
“I’ll have Mrs. Crook bring ye all ye need straight away,” said Ian. He laid a gentle hand on my shoulder and smiled warmly. “’Tis a great pleasure to meet ye, Claire, and our good fortune ye’re such a fine healer.”
We followed him up the stairs, but parted ways when he went to find Mrs. Crook who was attending to Jenny. Jamie led me by the hand down the hall. He opened a door to a small guest room.
“’Tis no’ much,” he said, escorting me in, “but it’s next door to me and away from prying eyes should ye fancy a visit.”
I flushed. “Won’t everyone in the house know exactly what’s going between us if you put us together like this?”
“Ye ken, Sassenach,” he wrapped his arms around me and pulled me close, “I dinna think I care.”
His lips were soft when he bent to kiss me, but they hummed with an underlying passion. He kissed me for a good long time...long enough to forget there were other people in the house and urgent business to attend to. We pulled apart when footsteps sounded walking toward the door.
“There ye are,” said Mrs. Crook. Jamie stepped to help her with the large bowl of water she carried. “’Tis fine to see ye home, my Laird.”
“And you,” said Jamie, kissing her cheek.
Mrs. Crook had a shift and some cloth thrown over her shoulder that she laid out nicely on the bed.
“Would ye like help wi’ washing, Mistress?” she asked me.
“No, thank you. I should be fine.”
“Mrs. Crook,” said Jamie, “ye’ll see to having some dresses made for Claire? She’ll be staying wi’ us for some time.”
“Aye, my Laird. I could make some alterations to one of Ellen’s dresses, if ye like, while the new ones are made?”
Jamie sighed deep and grinned sweetly, “Aye. I thank ye.”
Mrs. Crook curtsied and made her way out of the room, but not without a backward glance at her Laird and the strange, half-naked healer he brought home with him.
“I’ll let ye wash,” he said. “I’d better get in to see Jenny, or she’ll box my ears for making her wait.”
“Don’t you dare go in to see your sister like that!” I said. He was covered in filth from head to toe. “You’ll expose her and the baby to all manner of disease and germs. Wash up first with soap and hot water. And put on clean clothes.”
“Germs?” he raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, never mind. Just scrub yourself down before you go anywhere near her.”
He shrugged but indulged me. He began stripping off his clothes. I stepped quickly to shut the door. “Not in here!”
“Weel, I made sure she brought ye the soap and hot water first, did I no’?” He smiled and dipped his hands in the water. “Make yerself useful, Sassenach, and come wash my back.”
After he was thoroughly cleansed, Jamie left to his room to dress, then went to see his sister. I was pleased to give him some time alone with her while I completed my own ablutions.
I donned a shift that was much too short for me, and realized that Jamie’s sister may not have inherited the same genetics of size as her brother. Mrs. Crook included a shawl that was absolutely necessary, seeing as how the shift was so thin, and I was wearing nothing in the way of undergarments. I secured the shawl around me so I didn’t have to worry about it slipping and exposing myself to Jamie’s family.
I followed the sound of voices down the hall to find an open door. I peered in and saw Jamie sitting on the edge of a bed, talking to a small, pregnant woman with jet black hair and his same blue, catlike eyes. They were conversing in Gaelic, and she seemed to be chiding him. He smiled through most of what she said, but a tear dropped slowly down his cheek as she spoke. When she was done, he leaned forward and kissed her head, embracing her firmly in his great, long arms.
I knocked softly to announce my presence.
“Here she is,” said Jamie, gazing sweetly at me. “Jenny, this is Claire Beauchamp. Claire, this is my sister, Janet Fraser...Murray,” he added as an afterthought. "We all call her Jenny."
Jenny grunted noisily and dipped her head in pain. Realizing she was having contraction rather than an aversion to my presence, I slipped in and sat on the other side of the bed. I grabbed her hand and did my best to time the contraction.
As it eased, she sat up and gave a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. She spoke through ragged breaths, “A pleasure...to meet ye...Mistress Beauchamp. How fortunate my brother met a healer on his travels.”
“Please, call me Claire. How are you feeling? And how far apart are your contractions?”
“Och, I’m fine. There’s no rhyme or reason to the pains yet. They're just getting a wee bit stronger, is all.”
“Do you mind if I perform an examination?”
She shrugged, “Do as ye must. Jamie, go on and get Ian drunk and keep an eye after wee Jamie, will ye? Ye’re no’ needed here.”
He smiled down at his sister, “Aye. As ye like.” He kissed her on the cheek before coming around the bed to me. “I’ll bring yer wee herbs to the kitchen, Sassenach, and have some food ready for ye. Mrs. Crook can help brew whatever teas ye need.”
“Aye.” He looked like he wanted to bend down for a kiss, but thought better of it in front of his sister. “Call out if ye ha’ need of me.”
He hesitantly turned and left with a quick stop for one more glance before going through the door. When I turned back to Jenny, she was eyeing me speculatively.
I smiled and proceeded with my examination. Her vitals were good, and I was only interrupted by one more contraction in the process. She was only dilated to 5cm, but with a second pregnancy, I knew that could progress to full dilation anywhere from an hour to a whole day.
“Hmm.” The baby’s head didn’t seem to be dropped into the correct position.
“What?” asked Jenny. “Is something wrong?”
“Well, it seems as though the baby is in a breech position.”
Jenny raised an eyebrow.
Jenny sighed deep and shrugged. “Is there ought to be done about it?”
“Possibly. I could try turning the baby manually. About half of babies will slip into the correct position with the right cajoling.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
“Then we’ll do what we must.”
“I suppose we dinna have a choice in the matter.”
“I suppose not.”
“Well, let’s get on with it, then. There’s no sense in putting it off." She was as practical as her brother.
I convinced her to let me brew some tea for pain and relaxation before we started with an External Cephalic Version (ECV) technique. It would be quite uncomfortable for both her and the baby—though much less so than a breech birth.
An hour later, we tried unsuccessfully to turn the little one. After a round of ECV and several contractions, I insisted we take a break to let her gather her strength. I didn’t want her completely worn out before the real labor pains started.
I wiped the sweat from her brow with a damp cloth as she caught her breath.
“I can see why your brother admires you so. You’ve a will to match his own.”
“Stubborn, is what we are,” she smiled, “like our parents before us. If something is to be done, there’s no stopping us. Unless...” she looked at me curiously.
“Unless we find the proper incentive.” Her eyes bore intensely into mine. “Ye’re verra bonny, Claire. Jamie’s quite fond of ye.”
I flushed under her scrutiny, but held my chin up.
“Are ye as fond of him?” she asked.
“Ian told me Black Jack Randall attacked ye.”
“D’ye ken what he did to my brother? What he tried to do to me?”
I nodded again.
“Jamie told ye, then? I kent he trusted ye; I just didna realize how much.”
“How did you know he trusts me?”
“He left ye wi’ me in this condition, did he no’? And he asked me not to harass ye about where ye come from. I mean to respect my brother’s wishes, but...”
She was cut off by a strong, sharp contraction. She squeezed my hand through the pain as I counted it out for her.
She breathed deep and lay her head back before continuing on. “As I was saying, I mean to respect Jamie’s wishes, but ye canna blame me for warning ye against playing my brother false. He’s a sensitive man, as muckle-sized as he is. I willna have anyone breaking his heart. He’s had enough heartache in his young life.”
I stood up and walked to the window. I looked out over the rolling hills, wishing I was still out there with Jamie. “I don’t blame you, at all. I’m glad he has you looking out for him.”
“Will ye accept him if he offers marriage?”
“I will...if he offers.”
“I ken my brother; he’ll offer.”
“If he does, then I suppose we’ll be sisters.”
She nodded in acceptance, though I couldn’t say if she was pleased or disappointed. “Tell him the truth of who ye are before ye accept him. Not that it would change his mind, no matter what secrets ye keep. A Fraser is stubborn, ken, and that one’s mind is made.”
Our conversation was cut off by yet another contraction. I worried the baby was coming rather soon.
It was a short but painful delivery. As soon as Jenny went into advanced labor, her practiced body remembered exactly what was to be done, and the little one was on its way. I wondered at the pain tolerance and pure grit of Fraser genetics. The baby was born breech and left the damage to her mother’s body to prove it. The episiotomy I administered was not quite enough to prevent additional tearing.
Little Margaret Murray was freshly cleaned up and lay skin to skin on her mother’s breast. She’d already learned to latch and fell asleep in her mother’s arms after all the effort of her arrival into the world. She was a healthy little thing with an Apgar of 9, one point lost for little blue fingers and toes.
Jenny had already expelled the placenta; all that was left to be done was the stitching.
“Here ye are, Mistress,” said Mrs. Crook. She handed Claire a bottle of laudanum and a needle and thread soaked in brandy.
Claire poured a small amount of the laudanum into a cup and came to Jenny’s side. She gave a small dose, not wanting the baby too affected by transmission through her milk when it came in. “Here. Drink this. The stitching won’t be pleasant.”
Two hours before, Jenny would’ve certainly turned the laudanum down, but she was exhausted from sleep deprivation and an exceptionally painful delivery. She did as the healer ordered.
“Take Maggie, Claire. I dinna want to fall into a laudanum stupor wi’ her in my arms.
I took the baby and bundled her in the softest blanket I could find. The medication wouldn’t take effect for another half an hour, at least, so I asked Mrs. Crook to go fetch Ian and Jamie for their first visit with little Maggie.
The men arrived moments later, faces alight with wonder and fear. Ian went straight for his wife, mumbling to her in Gaelic. Jamie’s eyes met mine from the across the room, their catlike shape softened at the view.
“The lassies are well?” he asked, slowly coming closer.
“Yes. I’ll stitch up your sister when she drifts off with the laudanum, but aside from that, they’re both happy and healthy.”
Jamie gently reached out a massive hand that dwarfed Maggie’s tiny head. He said a quiet prayer and traced a cross on her forehead. Maggie made a soft coo at her uncle’s touch, and caused a giggle to erupt from his chest.
He gathered the two of us in his arms and placed a soft kiss on my temple. “Thank ye, mo nighean donn,” he whispered.
“It was genuinely my pleasure.” I don’t think I’d ever felt so warm in my life, being held by Jamie with a fresh new life in my arms.
I flushed when I remembered we had an audience. I pulled reluctantly away from Jamie’s embrace and brought the little girl to her father. Jenny and Ian were watching us with poorly repressed smiles.
“Come to yer Da, wee ‘un,” said Ian, reaching for his daughter. I placed her in his arms and watched his paternal pride light up the room. Maggie’s little hand found her father’s finger and grasped on, melting every heart in the room.
I turned back to Jamie, so grateful he let me in on this beautiful family moment. The sight of him there in his freshly laundered kilt and sark, clean for the first time in days, beaming at his growing family—one he never thought he’d have again—smiling from ear to ear, with moisture in his eyes, made me light-headed with adoration.
I spent the rest of the day tending to Jenny and Maggie. Even as both were exceptionally stoic patients, I was still nearly as exhausted as the two of them by the time the sun went down. Jamie made sure I was well fed after days of hard travel, long nights of love-making, and my first solo labor and delivery.
“Here, Sassenach. Ye’ve earned this.” He poured me a large glass of whisky. Peat had never tasted so good.
He sidled up to me with a suggestive smirk on his face. We were alone in the dimly lit kitchen, but someone could easily walk in at any time.
“Don’t you dare,” I warned.
His chuckle was all mischief as he bent to nuzzle into my neck.
“Jamie, we’ll be seen.”
“Good. Let them watch.” His teeth caught the lobe of my ear sending shivers down my spine.
“Mmm.” It was better than the whisky.
His arms were suddenly around me, and his mouth traced the line of my jaw. When our lips met, the kiss was urgent and needy after our first day spent out of each other’s arms and in the presence of other people. I was shocked at how badly my body craved him even though we spent the early hours of the morning making love.
“Grab the whisky,” I ordered. I took my glass and made my way upstairs. Jamie was right behind me, hand on my lower back, guiding me past my guest room and to his bedchamber. I’d forgotten to even look to see if any of the servants were watching.
I’d hardly gotten a look at the Laird’s room before the Laird himself was pulling off my shawl. I drank back what was left in my whisky glass, savoring the burn of the liquid down my throat. Jamie drank straight from the bottle and set it aside to resume his nefarious intentions.
“God, I’ve dreamed of having ye here, Sassenach, on a bed of feathers instead of bracken.”
“As much as I liked the bracken, I must say, I’m looking forward to a soft mattress, particularly while you’re feeling so vigorous and spirited.”
“Spirited?” he chuckled as he dropped his kilt and pulled off his shirt; his wound was healing quite nicely. “I’d say depraved or perverted, but if ye care to see it as spirited, I’ll no’ convince ye otherwise.”
As soon as my shift hit the floor, his body was on mine, wrapping his long, muscular arms around me. His tongue pushed deep in my mouth and licked me eagerly. I was about ready to tell him to quiet his moaning when I realized I was being louder than him. My whisky glass dropped noisily on the floor, shattering around us.
Jamie hardly seemed to notice. His hands traced down my arse and to my thighs. He lifted me effortlessly, spreading my legs around him. He walked me to the bed, keeping my feet safe from the broken glass, and he slowly lay me down.
Somehow he was now the one with all the self-control. I realized as he stood over me, looking at my body, that he really was living out a fantasy he’d been visualizing for days—me in his home, in his bed, ready, willing, and opened up to all he had to give.
“Jamie, I want you inside me,” I pressed. We had plenty of time for appreciating fantasies after this urgent ache in me was sated.
His gaze darkened, and his lip curled, “Aye, mo nighean donn. Ye shall have me.”
He crawled over and trailed kisses up my chest and to my neck. I was too aroused, too needy, too eager to wait any longer. I pulled his face up to mine and demanded, “Do it now, and don’t be gentle.”
He lined up his cock and hammered it home.
“Jamie!” I cried out. He took my mouth, swallowing my cries for more. His body caged me in; his muscles rippling with every thrust. I gripped his arse, urging him on.
His heavy pelvis rubbed against me with each press of his hips, surrounding me with pleasure both outside and in. My climax hit hard, drawn out by his ongoing rhythm.
“Claire! Oh God, oh Claire!” His hips stuttered against my body as he emptied himself into me. Nothing had ever felt more right in my life than taking this man inside me. I was determined to do it again and again for the rest of my life.
He collapsed on the bed next to me so he wouldn’t crush me, but took me in his arms, cradling me firmly against him.
“Ok, you were right,” I conceded.
“The bed. It’s amazing. It’s like lying on a cloud.”
He laughed. “See, if I deprive ye from civilization long enough, ye’ll think the modest living I have to offer is something grand.”
I scoffed. “Modest. You own all the land as far as the eye can see.”
“Aye, and soon I’ll no’ be the only one who owns it, mo ghràidh. This will be your land, as well.”
The thought reminded me of my conversation with Jenny and my promise to tell him the truth of where I came from.
“Does the thought no’ please ye, Claire?” He sounded crestfallen.
“Of course it does.” It was time. There was no further reason to put it off. Hearts would only be broken all the worse if I did. “Jamie…”
“Mmphm?” he hummed as he stroked my hair.
My throat felt suddenly dry as I tried to figure out what to say. “Is there any more whisky?” I swallowed hard. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
He froze. “Is the whisky for you to tell the story...or for me to hear it?”
“Both, I suppose.”
“Aye. Alright, then.” He kissed my temple firmly and stepped out of bed.
He moved to the table where he set the bottle, but just as he was almost there, he cursed loudly and his body began tipping over like an enormous piece of timber in slow motion. I had a quick recollection of my whisky glass crashing the floor before we made love. He must’ve stepped on a piece of broken glass.
Jamie’s injured shoulder landed on the sharp corner of the old sturdy table. “Ifrinn!” he yelled, just as his body hit the floor.
“Jamie!” I jumped out of bed about to run to him.
“Stay put, Sassenach! The glass.”
It was hard to see the floor in a room only dimly lit by a fire.
Uneven footsteps clattered down the hall in our direction. Ian, dressed in only a sark, looked in on the disaster in the Laird’s room. I pulled the blanket up over my body as he surveyed a naked Jamie on the floor. “What the Devil is going on?”
Jamie tried sitting up, but grunted and gave up.
“Yer shoulder is bleeding something fierce. Did ye have enough of him already, Claire? Ye dinna ha’ to run him through.” he chuckled.
“Shove it up yer arse. We needed whisky,” growled Jamie.
“By the looks of it, ye’ve had enough.”
“Have Mrs. Crook bring us a couple glasses and a broom, will ye?”
Ian chuckled at Jamie’s clumsy misfortune and went to find the housekeeper.
Jamie’s body was a mess. He needed stitches on his shoulder and his foot. He really should’ve gotten stitches on that shoulder days ago had we not been in the Highland wilderness, but it was too late by the time we arrived at Lallybroch.
But now the wound had been reopened and additional damage inflicted. He also had multiple pieces of glass sticking out of his person. He was quickly fed up with my apologizing for dropping that glass and insisted on taking responsibility.
“Hush, now, Sassenach. I was the one who mauled ye and made ye lose hold,” he’d said. He wouldn’t listen when I reminded him of my begging for it.
After minimal protest, he accepted a dose of laudanum as more efficacious than alcohol. I convinced him there was no reason he needed to be fully alert for the rest of the evening. Our conversation could wait until morning.
He lay back on his preferred side of the bed. The laudanum made his eyelids heavier and his groaning less frequent.
I began prepping my tools to extract the glass and sew the wounds.
Ian watched over me as I worked. “He’ll be alright?”
“Yes, he’ll be fine. Just tender for a while. He may not be much use to the animals or the crops for a week or so.”
“We made do wi’out him for years; I’m sure we can handle a few days more.”
Jamie grumbled in his dozy state as though he had a retort he couldn’t muster the energy to hurl back at his brother-in-law.
“Ye ken, Claire,” said Ian, “I wasna surprised to find the two of ye here together.”
My face flushed with heat at his blunt statement. I could hardly see how it was any of his business.
“Am I mistaken in assuming Jamie’s asked for yer hand?”
I took a deep breath and composed myself as well as could be expected for the circumstances. “We’ve discussed marriage, yes. We have a few things to work out between the two of us before making any sort of definitive plans.”
Ian laughed. “Which is why ye needed the whisky?”
“Well...yes, as a matter of fact.”
I started removing the pieces of glass from Jamie’s foot. After I mended the wound, I moved up on the bed and started on Jamie’s shoulder.
“Ye’re none too bad wi’ a needle,” said Ian.
I laughed. “If only I could mend socks or dresses as efficiently.”
“You’re an artist that prefers working wi’ a fleshy medium. A useful talent if ye marry a Fraser.”
Jamie started to get restless in his semiconsciousness about halfway through. On two separate occasions, he tried to roll over onto his chest as I was stitching. Ian had to forcibly hold him down. "Quit moving ye dolt!"
“Perhaps I should take up cross-stitching pillows. They’re less reluctant to intervention.”
As soon as I finished with the shoulder, Ian let him go. Jamie turned face down on the bed.
“He’s going to agitate that wound if he sleeps on it. That can’t be comfortable.” I said.
Ian and I both noticed Jamie clenching the blankets with his fists as though he was in pain.
“D’ye think he’s hurt somewhere else, as well?” asked Ian. “Does he have more glass in his back?”
“I don’t think so. I examined him thoroughly before giving him the laudanum.”
I double-checked again and found nothing, but anytime I touched his back he would flinch away.
“I don’t see how he could be in more pain now that he’s under the influence of an opiate than before he took it.”
But the look on his face and the groans of pain seem to tell us otherwise.
“He’s having ghost pains, then?” asked Ian. “I ken I have them sometimes where my leg should be.”
“You think he’s having phantom pains from when Randall beat him?”
Ian shrugged. “I dinna ken.”
“It’s as though the laudanum brought him right back to where he was after he was injured. Perhaps…” my hand grazed gently over his scars and all the muscles of his back seized up. “Dear God. He told me the healer gave him laudanum when he was recovering from Randall’s lashings. Maybe he’s entered into some sort of state-dependent memory.”
“What are ye saying, lass?”
“Sometimes our minds remember things most clearly when we are in the same state in which the memory first occurred.”
“Ye think he’s reliving the lashing, then?”
“No, not the lashing...the healing.”
Ian looked at Jamie like he was possessed. “When will he snap out of it?”
“As soon as the laudanum wears off, I’d expect. In a few hours.”
“What do we do ‘til then?”
“I don’t think there is anything we can do, except sit with him.”
We did just that for some time. When baby Maggie let out a wail that echoed throughout the house, I sent Ian away to help his wife and daughter. There was nothing he could do for Jamie at this point.
When Ian was gone, I crawled into bed next to Jamie. Fearful of causing him more pain if I touched him anywhere else, I wrapped myself around his uninjured arm and caressed his cheek, trying to soothe him in the way he always did with me or Donas. I didn’t have his poetic words or Gaelic, so all I could tell him was, “I’m here...It’s alright...You’ll be just fine.”
He faded in and out of consciousness, but when his eyes were open, I wasn’t convinced he was fully with me.
“The pain is temporary,” I muttered. “It’ll be gone soon.”
He groaned in agony, “Nay, Sassenach, unless ye ken how to bring back my family, the pain will always be there.”
“Oh, Jamie.” He was reliving his father’s death after the beating. “I’m so sorry. I can’t bring them back, but we’ll make a new family, one of our own.”
“I’m an outlaw, and ye’re a meddling auld woman. We willna be having a family. Just let me die in peace.”
I wrote off his comment about my being old and meddling as a delirious side effect of the opium. “You’re not an outlaw anymore, and you're not going to die, James Fraser.”
“No’ if ye keep sticking me wi’ needles and shoving that penicillin in my arse. I dinna ken anything about those wee beasties ye speak of, but I’d rather ye just let them finish me off.”
“Penicillin? Where on Earth did you learn that word?”
“Ye’ve been stabbing my arse up wi’ yer moldy brew since ye arrived at the abbey. I’m no’ likely to forget.”
I lost my breath completely. It took several attempts for me to form the words to ask, “The healer who tended your wounds in France...she used penicillin on you?”
“Stop talking daft, Sassenach. Ye ken it was you. Now come close, calman geal. I dinna want ye to freeze in this place...even if ye willna let me die.”
Jamie stayed lying on his chest, but put his arm around me, curling me in tight.
“Now, if ye insist on keeping me alive, ye auld witch, tell me again of the golden-eyed sassenach ye say I’m to marry. Give me something to look forward to.”
He didn’t answer.
After some time, Jamie’s face relaxed into unconsciousness. He snored louder and heavier the deeper he drifted.
I could hardly breathe, and I certainly couldn’t sleep. I lay there staring at his face, unable to comprehend the words he had just spoken, unable to wrap my mind around any explanation that might make sense of what he said.
Chapter 6: Sia
Pain or oblivion, there was nothing else.
First came the pain—an all encompassing pain, throbbing from the mutilated expanse of his back, radiating out to every square inch of his body. He couldn’t move. He could hardly open his eyes. When they broke him out of Fort William, it was all he could do to stay on the horse as he rode away. Now, he was certain he couldn’t even do that.
The bleeding stopped before they put him on the boat, but the pain seemed to be just getting started. Seasickness took what was left of his strength on the way to France. By the time they made it to the abbey, the lash wounds were inflamed, fever had set in, and James Fraser was welcoming death with open arms.
Then came oblivion. It was brought to him by a strange woman with white, curly hair that tickled his cheek. She brought it in the form of laudanum.
In and out he went between states of pain and oblivion, each bringing their own form of confusing disorientation. The only thing he knew was that as soon as both the pain and oblivion faded, the real torture would set in...when he’d have to face what happened to his father.
More laudanum...more blissful nothingness.
The pain woke him again. He was clearer now, but there was no relief from the agony.
A sharp prick on the arse made him cry out. “Ifrinn!”
“You’re awake now? Good,” said an old woman, cheerfully.
He lay face down and tried to turn to see her, but his back seized in misery. He was forced to collapse back on the bed.
“More laudanum,” he groaned.
“I’m sorry, soldier, but we can’t have you growing addicted to that wretched stuff. Hold out a little longer, and I’ll give you a small dose.” She had the voice of a sassenach—a kind sassenach, but a sassenach nonetheless.
“Why are ye here? What are ye doing to me?” he asked.
“I’m here to heal you. To make you better. As for what I’m doing to you...Well, I just administered a dose of penicillin into the muscle of your arse.”
“Your wounds are infected and…”
“Inflamed...You came down with a fever. Fevers are your body’s reaction to germs—minuscule little beasts smaller than your eyes can see. They invade wounds and make you ill. The medicine I shot into your bum will fight the germs. I’ve been giving you a dose every four hours since you came to the abbey, and I’ll do so until the infection is gone.”
“Ye need no’ bother. Leave me be.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
“God will understand. Ye do me no mercy keeping me alive, ken?”
She chuckled softly from somewhere above. He couldn’t turn his head around to see. Sensing his difficulty, she came to sit on the bed next to him. “You’re wrong on both counts, soldier. It’s not God’s will I’m performing. And I’m showing great mercy giving you another chance at life.”
“Whose will do ye serve then, if no’ God?”
“Ye’re mad. Leave me be. I dinna want yer needles in my arse or yer brew of penicillin, ye meddling, auld wench. I dinna want yer mercy.”
“Not yet...but you will.”
Her fingers stroked the sweat-soaked hair from his face. It was strange to feel something other than pain for a moment. It wasn’t that the pain was absent from the rest of his body, it just wasn’t there in the particular place she was touching. He closed his eyes and focused on the feel of her hand.
“Ye think ye ken so much about me? Ye’re no’ but a sassenach...a stranger.”
She hummed pleasantly as she combed his hair with her fingers. “I do know you, Jamie, better than you know yourself...and I know your future. You’ll thank me for this one day, I promise you. You’ll thank me for this many, many days to come.”
“Ye're a wise woman, mmphm? A witch?”
“No.” The word carried amusement with it. “No, I’m not...though you may think so by the time I leave.”
“Seeing as how I already think so, would ye hurry and leave? I’m no’ speaking daft when I say I dinna want ye to save me. I’ve nothing left…” He stopped short; the pain of his father’s death was too much to bear.
“Your father wouldn’t want you to give up.”
“What do ye ken of it?” he snapped, turning his head and trying in vain to pull away, but the pain stole his breath and stalled his efforts. “He’s dead, anyway. What does it matter what he’d want?”
The truth of it was that his father, mother, Willie, and the wee babe were all in the next life, a far more welcome sight than that of an outlaw who failed the only family he had left.
Without the laudanum, the pain was throbbing with increasing agony throughout his body. He bit down on the pillow, but embraced the discomfort, much more welcome than thoughts of his family.
“Perhaps a small bit of laudanum would do you some good. Here drink a few spoonfuls of water, and I’ll give you another dose.”
“Bribery, is it? Now I’m certain ye dinna do the Lord’s work.”
She laughed a sweet sound. It made him want to smile despite everything.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her wild, white hair floating in a nebulous cloud around her head. She brought the spoon to his mouth and gave him water sweetened with honey. The fourth spoonful was of laudanum.
She stroked his hair and hummed a strange tune until oblivion found him once again.
He woke abruptly, yelling and jumping up. Pain stabbed him in the back from shoulder to arse.
“Jamie, calm down! You’re safe! Lie down before you hurt yourself more,” said the sassenach witch.
He wasn’t at Fort William. He was in the abbey with the laudanum woman...and Randall was nowhere around. His hammering heart thundered in his ears and he tried to slow his breath. He could feel his pulse throbbing in the wounds of his back.
“It’s alright, darling. I’m here. You’ll be just fine.” She stroked his cheek and whispered in his ear. She didn’t sound quite so old when she whispered like that. His heart slowed and his breath steadied.
“You’ll kill him, you know,” she whispered. “In a couple of years, he’ll die by your hand.”
“I dinna need to be a fortune-teller to ken that, Sassenach. If I am forced to survive these wounds, I will ensure he does not.”
She whispered quiet prayers under her breath and ran her hands through the tangles of his hair over and over and over again. He’d never known a stranger to behave so familiar before. In truth, he didn’t mind it one bit.
The room in the abbey was damn cold. A shiver ran down his spine, and it felt like all his lash wounds were reopened once again.
“Your fever is as stubborn as you are, soldier,” she said as she lay her hand on his forehead.
“Put another log on the fire, will ye? I’d rather the fever take me than freezing to death.”
“It’s not cold in here, Jamie. It’s just the fever making the air feel cool on your burning skin.” Despite her words, she did add another log. She came and sat down beside him once more. “Let’s check on those wounds while you’re still awake.”
She peeled off the bandaging while muttering to herself quietly. “Bloody bastard, that one’s deep. I can see your scapula…” She cursed an awful lot for an Englishwoman with the sound of nobility in her voice.
She reapplied fresh bandages to keep the wounds clean. Her obsession with eradicating her wee invisible beasties would have been amusing if it didn’t mean he had to endure all her poking and prodding.
As she applied a fresh poultice, her mutterings turned from medicinal commentary to irritated chiding. “You really need to stop fighting so much. There was nothing you could do about Randall, but you’re going to see a great many fights in your life, young man. Your wife is going to get very tired of having to tend to your wounds and stitch you up. You’re a magnet for trouble, you know. Be wary of snakes in the wilderness. Never be the first man running into a battle. Oh, be careful with the muscles in this back of yours. It’s strong now but it will have its weak spots in a couple of decades. Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, you’re going to drive your wife mad with worry...”
He wasn’t even listening to her words anymore; he just liked the sound of her sassenach voice, cursing and chiding, full of concern.
When she was done bandaging and swearing at him, she went back to stroking his hair.
“What about you, Sassenach? Does your husband drive ye mad wi’ worry?”
Silence stretched for such a length of time that Jamie thought she wouldn’t answer, but finally, she responded, “My husband died in my arms a few months ago. That man gave me more reasons to fear for his life than I have breaths left in my own to tell you about them.”
The thought made Jamie chuckle, “He was a wild man, your husband?”
“He certainly could be when it was needed...but generally, no. No, he wasn’t. He was tender and kind. Witty and strong. Trouble had a way of finding him. Duty had a way of making him face it head on.”
“I’m sorry ye lost him.”
“Thank you. But we had a long, full life together. Children. Grandchildren. Great-grandchildren. A legacy anyone would be proud of.” Her voice was tender as milk.
“Ye loved him.”
“I still love him. No amount of time could ease the passion in my heart for him...not even death itself.”
“Did he love ye the same?”
His thoughts turned to his father and his mother. As a child, he thought all men and women married for love, seeing as how his parents were mad about each other. Watching Lallybroch’s tenants soon informed him otherwise. Trips around Scotland, particularly to visit his MacKenzie family, told him love was an exception.
James Fraser did not want to marry for anything less than what his parents had.
“Can I ask ye something?”
“Ye say ye ken my future…”
“I’m guessing ye willna let me die of the fever, then?”
“An accurate assumption.”
He refused to look at the woman while he put the words together in his mind. “Will I marry? Have a family?”
She sighed a contented, peaceful sound. “You will marry, Jamie. And you’ll have a beautiful family...even if it’s somewhat untraditional.”
“D’ye ken who my wife will be? What she’s like?”
She traced the lines of his cheek with the soft pads of her fingertips. “Your wife will be...different than any woman you’ve met before. She’ll have a stubborn will to rival your own.”
“Lord help us,” he chuckled. “Where will I meet her?”
“Oh no, young man. I will not spoil your first meeting. It will be a special time for the both of you, and it’ll happen when you least expect it.”
“Will ye, at least, tell me what she looks like?”
“I suppose I can do that. Your Mrs. Fraser will have dark brown hair that will forever be tickling your face as you hold her in your arms, and she’ll have golden eyes that you’ll describe as whisky illuminated by the sun.”
He smiled at the thought of eyes he could drink in forever.
“And she’ll have a great, full bottom you’ll appreciate well into old age.”
“Mmphm,” he grunted at the old woman’s bawdy talk. “And here ye say my wife will be different from other women. Look at yerself, lass.”
She was very much amused at that. “Look at you, already protecting her. But you don’t fool me, James Fraser, you like the strangeness of me.”
“Mmphm.” She wasn’t wrong about that.
“It’s a good thing, too,” she said, “because your wife will be a sassenach, just like me.”
That startled him, “Marry an Englishwoman? Are ye mad?”
“I most certainly am not. I won’t be the one marrying her, for Christ’s sake.”
The old sassenach was curling his hair around her fingers. “It really is the most beautiful shade of red. It’ll still be lovely...even as it fades to white.”
“Tell me, Sassenach...will I marry my wife for love? Will we be happy of each other?”
“Yes, Jamie. The single greatest truth of both your lives will be the love you share. Blood of your blood and bone of your bone.”
He let a smile take over his mouth. Whether the woman was spinning him tales for the sake of hope, or if there was actually truth to her ramblings, it didn’t matter. She painted a bonnie picture...one he desperately needed.
He realized his muscles were relaxed, easing some of his pain. As soon as he was aware of it, the pain returned.
The old woman shivered with her whole body. For the first time he noticed her pale skin, as white as a dove...though, with the gooseflesh on her skin, more like a plucked, white dove.
“Are ye alright, mistress? I thought ye said it wasna cold?”
“It’s not cold.”
“Ye’re shivering so hard, ye’re making my teeth rattle.”
“It’s nothing to do with the temperature of the room.” She patted his arm in reassurance, but it was hardly reassuring; her hand was freezing. “Do you feel up for a little bread and milk?”
He groaned. The thought of food made his stomach turn.
She chuckled. “Maybe when the fever breaks.”
He listened to her sigh deeply in exhaustion. The woman was finally showing signs of just how old she was. He tried to turn his head to get a better look at her, but his back protested the effort.
“Stop that,” she chided, her youthful, pushiness returning quickly. “I suppose you can have a little more laudanum, now. Water first, though.”
“Thank God. Perhaps ye do have mercy in ye.”
She gave him more water and laudanum, then began singing him to sleep once again. Her aged voice was without the smoothness of youth, but it was beautiful with all it’s rough, halting edges. Her cold hands caressed his cheek, sending shivers down his own spine.
“Jesus, ye’re cold. Ye’ll catch pneumonia or the ague! Come close, calman geal. I dinna want ye to freeze in this place...even if ye won’t let me die.”
Jamie wrapped his arm around the old woman's little waist and pulled her on the bed despite the pain in his back. She didn’t need much convincing. She sighed in relief as she wrapped her body, cold as ice, around his arm. There was something incredibly soothing about warming this woman, letting his heat flow into her, caring for her as she cared for him.
“Now,” he said, “if ye insist on keeping me alive, ye auld witch, tell me again of the golden-eyed sassenach ye say I’m to marry. Give me something to forward to.”
She pressed her lips to his arm and opened her eyes, his own eyes seeing them for the first time—whisky-gold, lit from within, as fierce as a leopard and as wise as an owl. White hair curled madly around her face, and soft lines framed her eyes and mouth, but those eyes held a timelessness in them that made her age irrelevant. Perhaps it was the way she looked at him...like she saw his soul, even the darkest parts of it, and loved him anyway.
He caught his breath, not knowing it had left his lungs. He whispered, “What is your name, mistress?”
“I’ll tell you when you find me, Jamie. Promise you’ll come find me?”
He nodded even as he wasn’t sure what she meant, “Aye. I swear it.”
And as he lay still, drowsiness overtook him. He wished he’d refused the laudanum so he could lie there staring at those golden eyes forever.
She sang him to sleep once more, “Oh...I do like to be beside the seaside...I do like to be beside the sea...Oh I do like to stroll along the Prom, Prom, Prom...Where the brass bands play, "Tiddely-om-pom-pom..."
He woke in the middle of the night with the sassenach wise woman curled around his arm. She was frozen stiff, colder than ever, but no longer shivering. He noticed his own fever was gone.
“Promise me something, Jamie,” she whispered, her voice weaker than before.
“Tell the priests to have me buried at Lallybroch.”
“As ye like, mo calman geal.”
“Tell them now, before the laudanum makes you forget.”
She was drifting off, heart slowing, breath ragged. It took all her effort to say her last words. “It is a gift and blessing to die of old age in the arms of one you love.”
Jamie woke with a start. He flinched in anticipation of pain in his back, but thankfully, none came. His shoulder was a little sore, but aside from that, he felt braw.
Every muscle in his body relaxed when he realized he was in the Laird’s bed at Lallybroch, and not some miserable cot at the abbey.
His hand reached out instinctively to the other side of the bed, but found it empty. By the light shining in the window, he could see he slept late. He needed to talk to her, tell her everything he could recall. He could feel the memories fading, blurring like dreams, his imagination trying to fill gaps.
He got out of bed and flinched when he put weight on his foot.
“Ifrinn.” He remembered stepping on the glass.
As he readied himself for the day, he mumbled quietly, hoping if he spoke the memories aloud, they might stay rooted in his waking mind.
After the vivid recollection of his lashing wounds, the pains in his shoulder and foot seemed inconsequential. He eased his foot into his boot and walked around, only slightly favoring the other. Once dressed, he made his way out to find Claire.
It was Ian he found first on his way downstairs.
“How are Jenny and the wean?” he asked.
“Braw. They’re Frasers, ken?”
“Aye. Have ye seen Claire this morning?”
Ian smirked, clearly remembering the night before. Jamie gave him a look that told him to keep his mouth shut. Ian chuckled before saying, “She’s wi’ Jenny and Maggie, helping them wash and changing bandages.”
“Could ye tell her I need to talk wi’ her when she’s finished?”
“Aye, but it might ha’ to wait until ye’ve seen to yer visitor this morning.”
“Visitor?” As far as Jamie knew, no one had any idea he was there.
“Have a look in yer study.”
Jamie gave him a pat on the back and moved passed him down to the parlor. He ignored his growling stomach and went from there into the study instead of the kitchen.
As soon as he walked in the door, his face split into a grin from ear to ear.
Murtagh was leaning against the desk. His beard-covered mouth dropped open in shock.
“Jamie?!” The men moved together, embracing in the center of the room.
“I back, mo charaid.”
“Aye? Finally where ye belong.”
“Aye. What brings ye to Lallybroch?”
“I thought I’d check in on Jenny and the bairn for ye. Make sure all was well.”
“I thank ye...and my mother would thank ye, as well.”
“Och.” Murtagh waved him off.
“Have a seat. I’ll call for some ale.”
Jamie was pleased to find Mrs. Crook was already preparing food and ale when he stepped into the kitchen. Upon his return, he and Murtagh toasted to the newest member of their family and to the Laird’s return.
“I think we may have one or two more causes to celebrate,” said Jamie.
“Oh? Weel, we’ve had enough of the bad to last several lifetimes; I’ll no’ say no to more good news.”
He looked his godfather in the eye and the words came out with all the gravity they deserved, “I killed the bastard...five days past.”
The smile left Murtagh’s face, for even though it was a cause to celebrate, neither found joy in anything to do with Randall.
“I slit his throat and ran him through with my sword.”
“Did ye make him suffer?”
Jamie looked down. “No. I didna have the time. The redcoats were attacking a wee lassie. I couldna let them harm her while I had my revenge.”
Murtagh stilled. “Did any of them see ye kill the bastard?”
“Aye, but...I killed all of them, too.”
Murtagh nodded in approval. “Good. It wouldna do to have the Laird come home fully pardoned just to be an outlaw once more.”
“And the lassie? D’ye ken her? She willna speak of what she saw?”
Jamie smiled. “No. She’s already saved me from the redcoats once already. Told them a gang of Highlanders headed North were the ones who attacked her. She told them they were who killed the redcoats.”
“North?” Murtagh laughed. “To MacKenzie lands?”
Jamie chuckled with him. “Aye. And she’s a sassenach, ken. They didna even question her.”
“So a wee sassenach lassie saved yer hide, hmphm? Fearsome Laird you are.”
“Aye.” Jamie thought of the memories his dreams recalled the night before.
“What? What’s that daft look on yer face?” Murtagh's eyes narrowed in suspicion.
Jamie rubbed his hand through his hair as he searched for the words to tell his godfather that he’d found his great love. “I’m to be marrit, a ghoistidh. I’ve found the woman who will be my wife.”
If Murtagh was surprised by anything since Jamie walked through the door, it paled in comparison.
“Marrit? To whom?”
Jamie tried not to grin like a fool when he said, “The wee sassenach lassie.”
“The sassenach?! But ye said yerself, ye just met her but five days ago!”
“Aye,” he laughed. “And I kent she’d be mine since I first laid eyes on her.”
Murtagh rolled his eyes. “She’ll be bonnie, then. And wi’ a great round arse.”
Jamie no longer cared if his grin made him look foolish. “Aye.”
“Dhia, yer mother would have my hide. What if the woman doesna ha’ a mind to balance that fat bum? Ye’re no’ a man who’d be happy wi’ a silly woman at his side.”
“I ken that. I canna believe the lack of faith ye show me, a charaid.”
“Dinna forget, laddie, I’ve seen how daft ye get when any lassie wi’ a formidable backside frolics around ye wi’ her great, fat bum bouncing…”
A woman’s laughter had both their heads turning to the door. Claire was eyeing Jamie wi’ a teasing expression as she said, “Oh, please, don’t let me interrupt. This sounds like a very amusing story.”
The woman was taking the piss out of him, but he couldna play along. As soon as he laid eyes on her, his thoughts were right back where they were when he awoke that morning. Memories of a white cloud of hair and golden eyes punched him in the wame.
God, Claire was bonnie, standing there in a dress that was once his mother’s. Her hair was pinned up like he’d never seen it before. It threatened to burst out in wild abandon at any moment. Her whisky eyes were dancing in amusement, and her pink lips turned up in joy.
“Ye see what I mean, lassie? Ye’ve turned the lad daft,” said Murtagh.
“Quiet down, ye auld coot.” Jamie stepped to Claire and held out a formal hand. “Claire Beauchamp, I’d like ye to meet my godfather, Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser. Murtagh, this is Claire.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” said Claire. She curtsied respectfully. Jamie waited for Murtagh to reciprocate, but the old man was just standing there staring at Claire like he was the one who’d gone daft.
“Murtagh,” he chided.
“Oh, aye.” Murtagh bowed his head. It wasn’t completely out of the ordinary for the grumpy, old man to bypass niceties, but Jamie was hoping he’d make the effort for his betrothed.
Claire took it in stride. She turned to Jamie. “Ian said you were looking for me? I have something I need to discuss with you, as well,” her eyes flashed to Murtagh, “when you're finished, of course.”
“Dinna let me hold ye up,” said Murtagh. “I’ll be on my way.”
“Och, no. Stay. I’d planned to take Claire to broch this morning.”
“No...I uh...I must be going. I’ll come back tomorrow, aye? Ye’ll both be here?”
“I’ve no plans on leaving for a verra long time.”
“Aye,” Murtagh smiled. He hugged Jamie once more, then gave another bow to Claire before stepping to the door. Before he turned the corner, he stopped and looked back one more time. “Mistress?”
“Yes?” said Claire.
“Yer name…” Murtagh took a deep breath, “It wouldna happen to be Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, by chance?”
Claire straightened her back and narrowed her eyes. “It is. How did you know that?”
Murtagh bowed formally and spoke to the floor, “I’ll return tomorrow to offer ye a more suitable congratulations. Good day.”
And he was gone.
“What the Devil?” said Jamie.
“How did he know that?”
“I dinna ken. But he was acting strange, even for him.”
“I suppose we’ll find out tomorrow.”
Now that they were alone, Jamie turned his woman to face him and smiled tenderly down at her. “My God, ye’re beautiful.”
“Your godfather was right about one thing...you are made quite daft by a fat arse.”
He smiled brightly and lifted her chin. He bent down to kiss her like he meant to do that morning. He was slow and thorough, savoring the chance to dote on his beloved. He loved how her hips turned into him, and her body softened as the kiss lingered on.
“Good morning, soldier,” she sighed.
“Aye, that it is. Come now, mo chridhe. We’ve much to discuss.”
Jamie led Claire on a walk outside to the broch. He held her hand in his as they meandered through the tall grass to the solitary tower. He could hear Jenny’s goats in the distance and smell heather and manure in the air. With Claire at his side, it had never felt more like home.
There was a small cemetery just by the broch. It was a quiet, peaceful place. They wouldn’t be interrupted or overheard by anyone.
It took Jamie a moment to gather himself before he led her inside. There were two new headstones in the graveyard that weren’t there the last time he was home. One belonged to his father...and the other…
“I had a dream last night, Sassenach. I’d like to tell ye about it.” He led her to the second new headstone. He sat down on the grass next to it and leaned back against the great stone. He held out a hand for her to join him. She took his hand, and he pulled her into his lap.
He inhaled deeply as he gathered her in his arms and looked down at her. She smelled of the tallow and lye soap. It warmed his heart that Jenny had already accepted her into the family, but he would need to find his future wife something more pleasant and luxurious to bathe with.
She looked up at him and said, “You were going to tell me about that dream?”
“Aye. Only, it wasna so much a dream, but a memory.”
That caught him off guard. “Was I talking in my sleep, then?”
“A bit. I think the laudanum got to you.”
“Mmphm. ’Tis no wonder.” He caressed the beautiful, gentle lines of her face as he gathered his thoughts. “Remember I told ye about the lashing Randall gave me?”
“And how I was taken to an abbey in France where a wise woman did what she could to heal my wounds? Ye mind, ye asked me how I survived?”
“I remember. You said stubbornness and prayer.”
He smiled, “Aye. Well, there was much I’d forgotten about during that time, whether from the pain, the fever, or the laudanum, but last night...last night I remembered much of what happened.”
“It was probably the laudanum I gave you. It put you back in the same state you were in, making the memory more accessible.”
He nodded. “Remember I told ye the healer said I’d marry a golden-eyed sassenach? Well, I’d always thought she kent that because she was a witch or a seer of some kind.”
“Did your memories uncover another explanation?”
“Aye.” He traced the elegant line of Claire’s neck, skin so pale in the sunlight...as white as a dove.
“See, the woman crafted a brew to heal the fever brought on by my wounds. She called it penicillin. She took the brew and put it in a needle, then she stabbed me in the arse so the penicillin would fight whatever wee beasties were causing the fever.”
Claire’s eyes were wide, but they were not surprised.
“Ye ken what she did to me, don’t ye?”
“Yes. That's common medicine used where I come from. It’s not something that’s done here though.”
“Aye. Weel, she healed my fever and bandaged my back, but…” There was a wild curl of hair that had sprung loose from Claire’s pins. Jamie tucked the hair behind her ear. “...but it was my soul she truly healed, mo nighean donn.”
“You said she gave you hope when she told you about the woman you’d marry?”
“Aye...except, Claire…” Moisture filled his eyes as he looked down at her familiar face.
“The auld woman...she had wild, curling hair turned white wi’ age. Her eyes were like whisky wi’ sunlight shining through. And her voice...she was a sassenach...just like you.”
A tear fell down his cheek and dripped onto Claire’s dress. She wiped the trail of moisture from his face, but she did nothing to remove the tears that had begun falling from her own eyes.
“The sassenach...she told me she had a husband she loved verra much. He had died some months before in her arms. She said they had a long, full life together wi’ children and grandchildren and the like.” More tears started falling, and he didn’t try to stop them. “She left them to tend to me, Claire. To save me and make me better...before she...she died in my arms.”
Claire was shaking now; it was all the confirmation he needed.
“Was it you, Claire? Did ye come save me at the abbey?”
She swallowed an obstruction in her throat before she answered. “I think it must’ve been.”
“How? How could that be?”
“Jamie...I…” She sucked in a deep breath to calm herself. Then she steadied herself with several more. “Jamie...You asked what I was doing on that hill of standing stones. It was no coincidence I was there. I traveled here through those stones.”
She shook her head. “Not where, darling, but when. I was born in the year of our Lord 1918. I was on holiday in Scotland when I visited the stones in 1945...200 years from now. I touched the stone in the middle of the circle and woke up at Craigh Na Dun in 1743 staring in the face of Black Jack Randall. That’s when you arrived.”
“So, the wise woman who saved me...it will be you, Claire? Ye’re going to travel through the stones after I die an auld man, so you can save me as a young one?”
“I suppose I must.”
They both were out of breath. Claire grabbed his face in her hands, staring in wonder, reflecting the awe in his own gaze.
“And ye think ye’re no’ a witch, mo ghraidh?”
She laughed, “Don’t you dare call me that.”
“Fine. A Faerie or an Auld One, then.”
She cuffed his healthy shoulder and pulled her sweet bottom lip into a pout.
“It doesna matter what ye are, Claire. Ye’re mine.”
She nodded as the tears fell freely down her face.
“Ye’ll be my wife, then? As soon as we can get ye a dress and ready the church...ye’ll marry me?”
“Yes, Jamie. Of course, I’ll marry you.”
He kissed her deeply, passionately. He put all his joy and wonder and gratitude into her lips. “God, I want ye, Claire. Come, let’s find a place I can have ye.”
She stood from his lap and laughed. She looked at the headstones around them and said, “I’d hate to scandalize the spirits of my new relations.”
“Oh, that reminds me...look.”
Jamie pulled Claire around to the front of the headstone they were just leaning against. The name read, Calman Geal.
“Ye asked me to have ye buried here at Lallybroch.”
Claire froze as she stared down at the stone. A shiver ran down her spine as she looked at her own grave. “I suppose it’s a comfort...we won’t be separated in death for very long.”
Jamie wrapped her in his arms and kissed her temple. “If either of us ever doubted we were fated for each other, this should put those doubts safely to rest.”
Something had shifted between them after their conversation in the graveyard. As beautiful as Claire was yesterday, she was all the more radiant today. Her movements were all the more graceful, her voice all the more alluring.
They were the same people as they were in the morning, but their certainty of each other brought them closer. Jamie didn’t know how he could love the woman more than he did the day before, but as they made love in their bed that night he knew yesterday’s love was a mere shadow today’s, and tomorrow’s love would eclipse them both.
They lay facing each other in bed, Claire’s leg hooked over his hip, his cock buried deep inside her. They moved slow and easy, neither impatient for climax, both savoring the feel of making love to the other. They stared into each other’s eyes as he slipped in and out, mating body and soul.
In the late night hours, they lay tangled and sated in each other's arms. He whispered, “Thank ye for saving me, my Sassenach. I’m verra sorry I gave ye such a hassle over it.”
“It was my pleasure...or at least, it will be.”
“I swear to ye, I’ll spend my life making it up to ye.”
“You already have.”
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.”
Thank you all so much for your kind words and encouragement.
This was the most enjoyable story for me to write (during a very difficult time).
If this story was your cup of tea, make sure to check out the sequel "Sojourn of a Thousand More." The Frasers go to Paris and have a much different experience than canon.
I've also begun writing a Prequel. Many of you have asked, "How the heck did all this happen?!" This story is how the Frasers' perfect loop of existence finally fell into place (it won't be easy for them, but you'll see how they fell in love for the first time).
I've also got another sequel (that occurs after Sojourn) planned for this series. Subscribe if you don't want to miss it.
Thank you for reading!