The bell above the office door jingled and Jamie cursed inwardly. Of course, a customer would come in at the worst possible moment. He had tried to print off the weekly reports only to hear the sharp crackle of paper sliding into the machine a little off-kilter. Damn thing should have been replaced months ago.
“Just a moment, aye? I’m fixing a jam,” he called. His fingers were finally able to reach the crumpled mess now that he had disemboweled the machine on his countertop, and with a yank, the mess of paper was free.
“Aha!” He dropped it in the trash and turned around, dragging a sleeve across his sweaty brow and tugging his shirt into place. “Now then, how can I help ye?”
The first thing he saw was her hair, curly and wild around her shoulders, blazing in a shaft of sun from the window behind her.
“My name is Brianna,” she spoke barely above a whisper, but the words shook him to the core. She was searching his face now, her eyes full of emotion and tears at whatever she found there.
“Brianna?” Somehow he had moved across the room to stand before her. She was so beautiful. So familiar; she had been frequenting his dreams even more of late and he had saved a dozen photos from her Facebook to look at when he had a spare moment.
He found that his hand had lifted toward her, tracing the air beside her cheek, afraid to touch lest she disappear.
“I have waited… so long, a leannan.” His heart lurched as tears spilled over her cheeks and then she was in his arms, warm and real against his heart.
Oh, God. Oh, Christ. Brianna.
She was huge . That was his first real thought. He was so used to hugging smaller women; Claire being the tallest, and still, her head naturally tucked right under his chin. His daughter was broad and strong, only a few inches shy of his own 6’3”. She had bent her head to rest on his shoulder and he could feel her tears soaking into the flannel of his shirt.
“Dinna weep, m’annsachd; it’s alright,” he soothed her, running his hand over her hair. He thought his heart might burst with joy, and in the next breath, break with the grief over all of the time they had lost with each other. “ Mo nighean, mo chridhe, all will be right now.”
“How do you…” she pulled away abruptly and blinked away tears to look into his face, “how do you know my name? Have you known about me all this time?”
Jamie felt the loss of her against his chest acutely. “No, no, lass. I have only known about ye a short time. Since Thanksgiving.”
“Oh,” she sniffed, looking down. He fumbled in his pocket for a handkerchief, murmuring a prayer of thanks that he had a clean one. As Brianna wiped at her eyes and nose he could see the wheels turning in her brain. There was a pause, where his arms ached to embrace her again. Then she glanced up, “Did Mama tell you?”
He shook his head, and noting the question in her eyes, answered, “I saw yer photo on the internet.” He ran his fingers through his hair nervously, but looked up sharply when she laughed.
“That’s how I found you, too.” Her own curls were tousled from jittery fingers and he found himself grinning at her. The chuckle caught in his throat when her smile wavered and he pulled her close again, glad for the excuse.
“You saw a picture, and that was enough? You could… you could tell?” Her voice was choked and small, almost unsure, and Jamie had to swallow the lump in his own throat.
“Aye, a leannan. I could tell ye were mine.”
She sobbed then, her whole body shook with relief and sorrow as he pressed her into his shoulder and whispered in her ear. He told her how much he wished he could have been there for her growing up, how much it pained him that those years had been lost, and most of all, over and over again he told her how much he loved her. It was all in Gaelic—he didn’t know if it was too soon to tell her in English—but the words seemed to soothe her tears, and he ran his hands over her curls and held her for several long blissful minutes.
“Are you Scottish?” The words were mumbled into his shoulder and he chuckled.
“Aye, as Scottish as they come.”
“So, I’m Scottish?” She pulled back, wiping her eyes with his handkerchief. Jamie caught a movement at the window and looked up to see Fergus peeking in. He looked startled at being caught, but then waved sheepishly.
Jamie opened his mouth, unsure if he should warn her about his son when the door opened and Fergus and Marsali both walked in. Brianna spun around at the sound but then smiled, and Jamie was surprised to see both of his children beaming at her.
“I told you,” Marsali said, stepping forward and sliding her arm around Brianna’s waist.
He stared for a moment, a little stunned as the world shifted beneath him yet again. “How…?” He gestured abstractly between them, looking to Fergus at a loss for words.
“She showed up at the office this afternoon,” his grin was wide as he watched the two girls, “she found my name as the photographer and came in looking for you.”
Jamie couldn’t think of a thing to say. Brianna had melted into Marsali’s side with a relieved expression on her face. He could see the stress slowly dissipating from her shoulders. She must have come down from Boston not knowing for sure what she was going to find.
What a brave wee thing.
“I saw a picture of you and Mama on Instagram, and I had to know… so, I drove down,” she smiled shyly, and Jamie’s breath caught in his throat. He had thought he knew her face as well as his own, but to see it here, in real life… there was a photo in his home of his parents on their wedding day, Brian and Ellen Fraser—both gone now, but as in love as any two people could be. Brianna was the very image of her grandmother.
“Aye, I saw yer photo on the Facebook. That’s how I found out about ye.”
“God, Da. ‘ The Facebook’? What are you, seventy-five?” Marsali rolled her eyes and they all started laughing. It was surreal. His children—here, happy, and comfortable with each other. Jamie felt like his heart might burst trying to contain his happiness.
Fergus squeezed his shoulder, bringing him back to the moment.
“Marsali and I came to man the office so you two could spend the day together,” he gestured to Brianna and smiled. “You’ll want to get to know each other a bit, I think.”
“Aye,” Jamie said softly, smiling at each of them in turn. “Is that alright with you… Brianna?”
He saw her throat move when she swallowed, but her blue eyes met his and she nodded firmly. It took several minutes for him to gather his things, but they were soon walking out to his truck.
“I thought I’d take ye up to one of the empty rentals,” he glanced over to see her drumming her fingers against her thigh with nervous energy and clenched his hand when he realized he had been doing the same thing. “That way we willna run into anyone.”
“Sounds good. I’m fine with whatever,” she kept her face turned, watching the trees pass outside the window. Jamie wondered what she was thinking, then decided the only way to know was to ask.
“How are ye feeling, then, lass?”
Brianna looked over at him with a half-smile. “I’m okay. It’s been a lot to take in, and my mind is spinning with questions right now. But… I’m glad to be here.”
He reached over to touch her shoulder, squeezing gently. “I’m glad ye’re here too, Brianna. I’ll answer everything I can.”
She took a deep breath and nodded, but didn’t try to keep the conversation going, so Jamie let the silence fall between them. He turned up the road to the cabins and pulled down to the end, to the cabin Claire had stayed in at the end of the summer when she had shown up and disrupted his whole world.
“Yer mam walked into my rental office unexpected one day, just like ye did,” he smiled at the memory. “Nearly knocked me off my feet. She didna ken she had rented a cabin from me, and I hadna recognized her name on the reservation.”
“How long had it been since you saw her?” Brianna hopped out of the truck and they stepped up onto the porch together. There was a chill in the air but the sun was warm enough that he led her around the porch to stand and look at the valley below.
“It had been twenty years,” his eyes found Claire’s cottage through the trees and he thought about pointing it out.
“Twenty years...” her voice trailed off and she stood frowning at the railing.
Jamie could see the wheels turning in her head and took a guess, “Ye’re trying to figure out when we had the chance to make ye?” Her blush made the corner of his lips twitch into a smile.
“Well, it was the last night we saw each other. We had been dating all through college and broke up our Junior year. Then just before graduation we… ah, well.” He felt his own cheeks heat.
“What happened?” Jamie glanced up sharply and Brianna shook her head, “No, not… that. I mean, what happened between you? Why did you break up? Why didn’t she tell you about me?” There were tears forming in the corners of her eyes and she quickly turned back to the view before them.
“I… well, we... “ he stopped, trying to find the words.
“Fergus and Marsali said you lost a baby,” her voice was small again and she wasn’t looking at him. “I thought… I thought maybe that was me, and she just didn’t tell you.”
“No, Brianna,” Jamie turned to face her fully. “No. We got pregnant our Junior year and we fought about whether to keep the bairn or not, but…” he felt the familiar tightness in the back of his throat. “It was what they call a blighted ovum, or an anembryonic pregnancy,” his tongue stumbled over the medical term that he had memorized so many years before. “It means the baby never developed. So she showed all the signs of a healthy pregnancy, but when they did an ultrasound the sac was empty.”
Brianna was nodding, deep in thought.
“We had fought before, because… well, I was raised to believe that every life is precious, and I wanted that bairn with her—so badly. But Claire… she’s always been verra passionate about women’s choice. And I didna want to take her choices away, but… I was so afraid that she would have an abortion.” He couldn’t look at her. He knew she also leaned liberal and most likely would feel the same as her mother had, but the words wouldn’t stop.
“When we lost the baby, we had already hurt each other with our words. And all I could think was that she must be relieved that it was gone.”
He tried not to remember her face. The pain that had split it when he knew he had gone too far. He gripped the wooden railing in front of him and breathed in deeply.
“It wasn’t just that—though that would have been plenty—but my father had just died and her uncle was diagnosed with cancer. We were both in a bad place. And our relationship just fell apart.”
Jamie was startled when he felt her arms wrap around his waist and her head settle on his shoulder.
“I’m sorry that happened to you,” she whispered.
There were tears in his eyes, but not for himself; for Claire, facing the future and raising this child alone. And for Brianna, growing up without him all this time.
“I canna help but think,” he murmured against her hair, “that if I had handled it differently, we would have been able to find each other again. And I would have been able to know ye.”
Her chin tucked down, but she didn’t cry. She drew away after a minute, putting her hands in the pockets of her coat. Jamie thought she might be chilly and he turned to unlock the doors, leading them into the main living space of the cabin. Bree sat on the couch and he switched on the gas fireplace and moved to one of the chairs.
“Are you and Mama together now?”
She was staring at the flames and picking at the piping on a cushion beside her. Jamie was struck again at how very much she reminded him of his mother. His early memories of her had gone hazy, but the photos and videos he and Jenny had watched and treasured for years. He studied his daughter’s profile, trying to decide how to answer her.
“Not officially,” he finally spoke, seeing her mouth tighten slightly with a frown. “She wants to be independent right now. I’m trying not to rush her.” Brianna looked up, surprised. She seemed to search his face for something. Then her eyes dropped to her hands.
“You said she didn’t tell you about me,” she spoke slowly, as if working out what she meant to say in her mind before it came out of her mouth. “But when you found my picture, did you talk to her about it? Does she know that you… know?”
Jamie sat forward and rested his elbows on his knees, keeping his eyes on the fire to give Brianna a bit of reprieve from the tension of the topic. He could sense that her nerves had skyrocketed when she started asking about his relationship with Claire.
“When I first found out, I was verra angry,” he tried to soften his words with the tone of his voice, working to keep it smooth and even. “I didna understand why she wouldna have told me. And I wanted to drive to Boston and find out everything that very night.” He swallowed, breathing deeply through his nose. He could feel Brianna’s eyes on him as he spoke.
“What I realized, after I had a wee bit of time to calm down, is that… whatever her reason is for the choices she made all those years ago, I canna judge her for it. I dinna ken what she was dealing with. And she’s here, now. I think she wants to tell me. And so I’ve been waiting—” he looked up and realized there were tears streaming down her face.
“Och, lass. What’s wrong?” He moved to the sofa quickly, unsure how best to comfort her.
Brianna had buried her face in her hands and sat breathing shakily, trying to control her emotion.
“You want to protect her,” she pulled his handkerchief from where it had been shoved into her back pocket and wiped at her nose. He waited, thinking she must have more to say, but she met his eyes.
“Aye, of course I want to protect her. I love her,” Jamie watched carefully, trying to decipher what was triggering this response in her. “I’ve always loved her—and ye, Brianna. Even before I kent ye were… mine. I would protect ye both. Always.”
She nodded, her face crumpled with all she was feeling. Then she suddenly scooted toward him and put her head on his shoulder. Jamie’s arm came around her back on instinct.
“I’ve always been… the only one… protecting her.”
He stared without seeing at the tousled curls, trying to swallow past the tightness in his throat. His daughter—his Brianna—had been alone all this time trying to protect her mother. The implications of that crashed into him and his embrace tightened around her shoulders.
Christ, my poor sweet lass.
Without thought, his lips pressed to the crown of her head. “Ye arena alone anymore, Brianna. I willna let ye face it alone. Never again, a leannan.”
Jamie walked up the ridge trail toward home from Fergus and Marsali’s house. After the afternoon spent talking with Brianna, they had gotten a call inviting them to have supper with the young couple. They had both been relieved to break from the intensity of their conversation to more lighthearted topics when they joined the others.
Into the late hours of the evening they talked and laughed, and Jamie watched his daughter with fascination. She was his mother, she was him, and under it all she was Claire. He had been carefully keeping the thought of Claire at bay, not sure yet how to handle this new dynamic. Should he go and confess? Should he wait and let Brianna take the lead as she was the one who had travelled down early?
Marsali insisted that she stay with them, rather than going to a hotel. So as the clock hit 10pm, Jamie promised to come down and have breakfast with them in the morning. He had hugged each of his children in turn before he left, holding them each a few seconds longer than he normally would.
The wind blew gently through the trees, but he didn’t notice. His mind was so full of everything that had changed in just a few hours. His daughter was there. She knew him. She didn’t hate him. He rubbed his hands over his face.
I need Claire.
His body was moving toward her even before he had consciously decided to go. He ached for her. To see her, to share with her everything he was feeling, even knowing that he couldn’t tell her yet. Down the side of the ridge behind the properties and across until he stood at the edge of the treeline in her yard, checking the house to see if any lights were still on.
The windows were dark, but a blue light caught his eyes as they scanned the scene. She was in the hot tub. He could see the soft glow of the lights and her curly head resting against the side. Jamie stepped across the yard, slowing down to call out to her softly.
Claire turned her head and smiled, not startled at all. His heart tightened in his chest at the sight of her face so content and welcoming. As he stepped up onto the deck his eyes dropped down her form under the rippling water and he almost stumbled when he realized she was naked.
“I wondered if I might see you tonight,” her arms lifted out of the water to stretch above her head, smooth white skin with drops forming into rivulets tracing down to disappear where the jets disrupted his view.
“Christ Almighty, Sassenach,” Jamie’s mouth was dry and he couldn’t make himself move.
She bit her bottom lip and arched her back off the seat just enough that her breasts floated at the top, flashing glimpses of hardened pink nipples through the bubbling water.
“Are you coming in?”
He had never undressed so quickly or with such disregard for where his clothes and shoes ended up. But within thirty seconds he was lowering himself into the steaming water across from her, his cock stiff and ready as any randy schoolboy. There was a knowing smile on her face as she considered him.
“You look happy, Jamie,” she observed quietly. And for a moment he couldn’t breathe. Happiness did not begin to cover the depth of joy and gratefulness in his soul tonight. For her. For Brianna. For Fergus and Marsali opening their arms and their home to her without question. He tried to smile, holding back the strong emotion that threatened to break over him at any moment.
“Aye, mo ghraidh, ” he managed to get out, “In this moment I am happier than I have ever been in my life.”
“Is that a challenge, sir?” she slid forward through the water and knelt in front of him, her fingers lighting on his knees and then sliding up his thighs. She pushed them apart and wrapped her arms around his hips, her breasts cradling his cock between them, and she watched him with a curious gleam in her eye as she squeezed them together. Jamie groaned, desperately trying to hold himself still.
There were nights in the past twenty years that he had grasped himself with this view sharp in his mind. Claire between his legs, her whisky eyes dark with lust, her bottom lip playfully caught with her teeth. He flexed his hips and watched his cock slide up between the sweet swells of her flesh.
It was incredible but it wasn’t enough. He didn’t want to pleasure himself to her, he wanted to lose himself in her. He wanted to give her everything he had and take whatever she would offer.
“I need ye, Claire,” the words were lost in her mouth as he pulled her up to him. She hummed against his lips with pleasure, sliding her nipples up and down his chest in the water. Jamie shuddered and braced his hands against her hips to keep her from touching his erection. He was ready to burst and he wasn’t going to let this end so soon.
The jets shot a hard stream of water against his back, pounding into the muscles there, and suddenly he had an idea. Claire squeaked when he slid off the seat and flipped them around. “Jamie! What are you…” Her back was pressed against his chest and he lifted her enough to drape her legs over the side of the hot tub, then he sank down to his knees, running his hand down her belly to cup her sex gently in his palm.
“Spread yer legs, mo ghraidh,” his voice was rough with need. He nudged her legs apart further, moving her body down until he felt the jet pulsing water against the back of his hand.
“Jamie…” her hands moved restlessly, finally gripping his thigh and the side of the tub. “Jamie, I don’t know if I—oh…” he parted his fingers, spreading her and letting the stream of water hit her most sensitive places. His arms tightened when she lurched against him, crying out with the sensation. Her head fell back onto his shoulder and he could see her legs trembling, covered in gooseflesh as the air hit them. Her toes curled and she whimpered against his ear.
“Shhh, my Sassenach,” Jamie covered her and her body collapsed against him with relief. His hand slid down over her slick center, shielding her from the jets as he slipped two fingers deep into her body and she convulsed against him again. “I’ve got ye, mo nighean donn.”
His fingers pumped in and out several times, slowly, letting her recover. Her hips started to move with him, legs restless, trying to find something to brace against. Jamie pulled her back enough to get her feet against the inside of the tub, knees still bent and parted wide. He threaded his free arm on the inside of one knee and grabbed the edge of the tub to keep them in place, then he moved his hand again, letting the water pound and pulse against her.
The sound that came from her throat might have set him off, but he had to grip the tub to keep her from pushing herself away from the stream of water. He held her pelvis angled down, directly under the assault.
“Aye, that’s it. Good, let me hear ye, lass.”
“I can’t, I can’t, Jamie!” He slid his palm over her again to protect her from the spray. Her legs were shaking, and he could feel her belly heaving with the effort to breathe. He soothed her, speaking Gaelic in her ear and gently rubbing over her overstimulated flesh with his hand.
“Not again, please,” both of her hands had come up to grip his curls. Her nose was pressed into his cheek and he tilted his head to kiss her. His fingers slid into her core, holding her strongly, and she whimpered against his lips.
“Ye can, my love. Once more,” he pressed his lips to her mouth and her cheek and her neck. Her body clamped tightly down on his fingers, but he kept her legs spread wide. “Once more, let me hear yer wee noises, mo chridhe.”
She nodded shakily and her hands settled on his forearms, gripping him and breathing deeply through her nose. Jamie smoothed his hand up over her again and braced her body as his fingers opened her up one more time.
Her breathless cry gripped his cock, and her entire body shook with the intensity of the orgasm that hit her within seconds. Jamie pulled her back away from the jet and turned her to straddle his lap. She couldn’t speak, only clutched his shoulders with gasping sobs breaking from her lips.
“Ye’re beautiful, my Sassenach. That was beautiful.”