Jamie walked his newly planted fields and saw green shoots coming up in every direction. He prayed for a good harvest this year. Not because he was poor or starving, he just wanted to win at something this year. He answered his cell phone and stood up straight, listening intently.
“Are you sure it’s Casper? I’ll leave within the hour and meet you in Paris.”
Jamie felt exhilarated and ran back to the house and into the shower. Casper had come out of retirement and stolen a painting from a private gallery. He did the same thing at a London gallery the previous weekend. It seemed a bit low end but at the very least, it would buy him more time. He got packed and headed for the airport.
Claire sat in her office at the University, staring into gray space. Her pencil tapped absently and when Geillis called to her she jumped.
“Calm yerself, Claire. I had hoped you could settle down a bit, especially with your gorgeous high-security apartment, and it’s been five months without word from that snake Randall. But yer still very unhappy. Why?”
Claire looked up at Geillis and shook her head, saying she didn’t sleep much the night before and not to worry. She packed up and went home for even more quiet time with her gray thoughts and more time to worry she was losing her mind. Jamie lived in her head now, always with her, always heartbroken because of what she did. She didn’t think he would ever speak to her again, and if he did, what would she say? Looking at the clock she wanted to scream because it was only seven o’clock. That was the worst part of missing Jamie, an hour took forever to go by so the torture never ended.
Claire grabbed some lined paper and a pen to see just what she would say to Jamie. Maybe getting it all out is what she needed to start feeling better. She could burn the letter after it was written.
Jamie poured over the reports and studied the crime scene photos of what were now three thefts. Something was wrong, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He spent two full days checking his contacts in the black market, but no one knew the fence for this art, no one knew anything. The last guy he spoke to said someone told him a Monet would be in play soon, but he didn’t know which one. Jamie thanked him and promised the standard reward if the information was used to apprehend Casper.
Jamie sat on the same bench he shared with Claire six months ago and he let himself remember her smile and whisky brown eyes. She was playful and sexy, and he believed she had feelings for him. He shook his head and opened the newspaper. Flipping pages to the art section he scanned the ads and bam, there it was. A mid-range gallery hosting a private collection of Monet the following weekend. This, it seemed, was Casper’s new normal. Private showings and small galleries. Jamie had a good feeling about the location, and they had one week to set the scene to catch Casper.
There was one piece of evidence left by Casper that wasn’t shared with the world. It was how they identified him as the thief. Casper took great pains to keep the art intact, unlike many who pull the canvas from the frame basically ripping it out. Casper used some kind of tool to pop the nails that held the canvas in the frame. Whatever this tool was left distinct marks on the wood, a half-moon indentation. It was all they had so it was a guarded secret.
Claire pulled another piece of paper, the fourth piece, and continued writing a letter she would never send. Her feelings opened up to her like a blooming flower and she let it flow thinking the answer to her continuous sadness would reveal itself so she could fix it. When she was ready to end the letter and had said all there was to say, she wrote, ’I have never shared this much of me with anyone and I hope it cures my broken heart. I can summarize these four pages by saying I love you, Jamie, with all my heart, I love you.’
Claire sat up and looked at the paper. The words I love you seemed to jump off the page and she just stared at them. Before she could stop herself she sent a text to Jamie, ‘I love you, please forgive me. Claire” Send.
She didn’t expect to hear from him but hoped this would give her some closure. She went to bed.
Jamie stared at his phone and felt his heart ramming in his chest. Those words were the absolute last he expected to see, six months after they parted. He wouldn’t be returning the text, but as he fell asleep he said out loud, “I love you too Claire.”
The Monet show was one day away, and Jamie called Javier to ask about the gallery. He seemed genuinely happy he called and suggested they meet for lunch and he would answer any questions he could. Seeing the older man’s happy face was bittersweet for Jamie. They met at a sidewalk cafe and Jamie told him about the show. He asked about the gallery, if there were hidden entrances, a second vault, a basement, or structural abnormalities. Javier answered what he could and asked Jamie who it was they were closing in on.
Javier almost choked on his coffee, “Casper you say? Well, that is wonderful, I hope you get him.”
The men talked a bit about sports and Jamie thanked Javier for his help and then bit him goodbye.
Claire came home early and saw a coded message from Javier. Once Tom deciphered the message, she couldn’t believe her eyes. ‘Lunch with Jamie, he is preparing to arrest Casper tomorrow on a tip about a Monet. Needless to say, I was very surprised but not worried because you are in Chicago, right?’ Claire held the Chicago Tribune in front of her chest and took a selfie that she sent to Javier. She needed some air.
Jamie and his team had installed close circuit tv monitors in the gallery office and extra cameras throughout the exhibit. They scrutinized each visitor until their eyes were blurry. Jamie noticed a man standing in front of one of the pictures for a very long time. When he moved away the picture was still there, but Jamie’s gut was telling him the guy wasn’t normal. He radioed to his men near the door and described the man as he started running. The man was already being led out of the gallery when Jamie got to him. This was surprising since he would expect a man to fight harder for his freedom. The art thief had switched the painting with a reproduction and was arrested. His pockets were searched and a small Leatherman multitool was handed to Jamie. It was a link to Casper he thought, and a billion other people.
Later that afternoon, Jamie questioned the suspect who knew all the details of the last three crimes but was confused about the others.
“Tell me, sir, why did you rip the Rembrandt canvas out of the frame? Was someone coming?”
“I don’t remember, probably.”
Jamie made a sound of disgust, “if you intend to impersonate someone, sir, at least get the details straight. You are not Casper, nor could you ever be. You’re not smart enough.”
Jamie left the suspect handcuffed to the table and left. The pressure from his employers had let up with the newly revived Casper chase but now they would learn it was a copycat crime and his nightmares would start again.
“Yes, sir. It was a copycat, sir.”
“This is not good news for us or you Mister Fraser. We gave you an additional six months and you failed to fulfill your end of our bargain. I’m sorry Mister Fraser, it is out of my hands. The court will be notified of your failure to abide, sadly our agreement will be nullified.”
Jamie put the phone down and walked outside for some air. All of his tomorrows suddenly vanished and the nightmare of his captivity came back in living color. He was terrified. Not of monsters or torture, but of loneliness, desolation, no hope of escape. Jamie realized he left his phone at the office and jogged back before he lost that too.
Once back at his hotel, the phone vibrated an incoming text and Jamie’s heart sank, they don’t fool around, he thought. He looked with disbelief at the text message. ‘Come to Greece Jamie, please give me a chance to fix the hurt I caused. Two weeks on a yacht, just you and me going from one island to another. My heart aches to be near you. We can spend the first day making rules we are comfortable with. Claire.’
Jamie held his phone while the heartbreak over missed opportunities crushed him. “I love you too, Sassenach. Forget about me and find your happiness.” No text was returned, instead, Jamie got back to his reports and the grief settled into his bones.
Claire had battled herself for days over sending the text. The semester was over and she was getting out of Chicago for two weeks at least. She owned a yacht that was moored in Greece and the open water always made her feel better. For days Claire waited to hear back from Jaime, but no text came. This was the second time she extended an olive branch, leaving herself vulnerable, and he did not make contact. He was lost to her forever she concluded, and try as she might, the tears came, her legs buckled, and she sobbed into a gray pillow on her gray couch in her gray apartment, like her heart would never mend.
Jamie spent three days closing his case on Casper and the successful arrests made during the past year. He checked out of the hotel and headed for the airport. He considered calling Javier, but he wasn’t strong enough to show a brave face. Javier reminded Jamie of his own father in many ways and he didn’t want the reality of who and what he was to be known. Not to anyone in her world. Her perfect, sparkling world would be repelled by him. Like a muddy pig running through a fancy white living room. Jamie swiped at his eyes in the taxi and tried to stop thinking about it. His phone buzzed for email and he brought it up.
Good afternoon, Mister Fraser.
We have ironed out the details of your return and would like to ask for your complete cooperation. Our agreement is not to be known outside of the agency and we want you to extract yourself slowly to avoid anyone looking for you or filing reports that you are missing. You will return to us as quiet as possible. I do hope you agree, the alternative is rather brutal.
I understand you have a small farm in Scotland and will need time to sell it and conclude any other business such as liquidating assets and the like. We are offering a four to six-week window and ask that you keep us informed.
Any questions you can reach out to this address and I will receive the message.
Jamie paid the taxi driver who looked at him with sympathy and told him life will be brighter tomorrow. He wiped at his face and nodded. Sorry mister, wrong about that, no sun where I’m going, no love, no hope, no redemption, he thought.
When Claire landed in Athens, she spent half of the first day getting reacquainted with the captain and his girlfriend who lived on the ship. There were living quarters connected to the bridge and they were happy there, living on a luxury yacht waiting to be called to duty. She and Maia made three trips to the grocery store to stock food for a two-week journey.
Claire walked down the long dock with her arms full of last-minute purchases. She could feel one of the bags slipping through her arm and she felt sweat drip down the side of her face from the effort.
“Here, let me help you with that.” The man rescued the slipping bag and took all the others. Her subconscious smelled him and sent a cascade of neurotransmitters through her body that felt glorious and tense at the same time. She looked up at his face and just stared at his icy blue eyes and crooked smile.
“You invited me, remember Sassenach?” He asked the question nervously as he could not read the shock on her face.
“And here you are,” was her breathy response.
Jamie wanted to drop the bags and crush her to him. She was like the gift of air to a suffocating man.
Claire was so overwhelmed it took a few seconds to see the man that had stolen her heart was right in front of her. She pulled his head down and kissed him with all the pent up passion and loneliness of the past six months. Someone pulled the bags out of Jamie’s arms and he wrapped her up and held her to him. The kiss was a surrender to love, an invitation to leave the chrysalis of loneliness and fly into a world of their making. When she finally pulled away from him, she was the definition of happiness.
“It is so good to see you, Jamie.”
“You just restarted my dead heart Sassenach, thank you for that.”
He kissed her again and as time passed for the rest of the world, for them it didn’t exist. Jamie heard the musical sound of the Greek language and looked up at the biggest boat he had ever seen up close. Two beautiful people were on the top deck waving and laughing, beckoning them on board. He heard Claire laughing as she waved back.
“Do we get on that then?”
Claire was giggling, “we do, come on I’ll show you around.”
Jamie was astounded at the size and luxury of the yacht, three bedrooms, two decks, a large living area with a huge flatscreen, phones, and a bar. The galley had two refrigerators and a chest freezer, two ovens, microwaves, and large food preparation counters. The opulence was staggering and if not for the beautiful girl walking in front of him he would have looked closer. When they found the back deck, Claire pulled his mouth to hers and they were lost in love.
“Time for trunks or something more comfortable.”
She led him back to the master bedroom and helped him put his clothes away, noticing he packed for any occasion. She unbuttoned her shirt and Jamie watched her with interest as she pulled off her cut-off shorts to reveal the tiniest bikini, bright melon colored against her tanned skin. I will meet you on deck. Maia has been cooking since yesterday, so I promise you won’t starve. She looked at him and wanted to pinch herself in case she was dreaming. He was here, with her, he came.
Claire handed Jamie a cold glass of champagne and offered flatbread and several kinds of dip that were made from scratch while they chatted at the bar. The sexual energy was palpable, and Claire looked out at the ocean to think about something other than the mere twelve inches of space between them.
“My God, I haven’t noticed how blue the water is until now, I can’t remember the last time I saw blue.”
There was so much to discuss but every sentence fell stunted, unexplored because both were captivated with the other.
Claire picked up a ringing phone at the bar and told the captain they were ready to go. She smiled at Jamie and promised open ocean and sunshine for the next six hours.
“This is my first launch, you want to see it from the front deck?”
Jamie watched her mouth and nodded yes.
They got comfortable and sipped champagne as the captain eased the vessel away from the dock and toward the open ocean. It wasn’t long before the huge engines pushed the boat forward to cruising speed and Maia appeared with the cold bottle of champagne to refill their glasses.
“Maia, what do you have on?”
Maia was a Greek beauty with all the attributes this country was known for. Large brown eyes, a wide smile, and flowing hair to her waist. She looked down at her clothes and shrugged her shoulders,
Claire rubbed the highly starched shirt sleeve between her fingers and noticed the ill-fitting shorts. This would not do, she thought.
“You have been in cut-offs or a swimsuit since I arrived. Unless you love that uniform, I want you to be comfortable. Please, get that off.”
Maia thanked her and left them alone.
“I think we left the dip on back deck. Let’s go find it.”
Jamie noticed her voice was quiet and nervous sounding. When they walked to the other deck Claire closed the sliding glass door and locked it. The glass was black and Jamie wondered if it blocked the view from the other side. Claire led him to a lounge with a comfortable mattress and pillows to aide whatever ailed you. She walked back to the bar removing her button-down shirt revealing her exposed butt cheeks. She looked naked from behind and Jamie almost choked on his tongue. Her skin was already bronzed with a bit of sunburn on her cheeks and shoulders. She brought the tray of bread and dip and laid next to Jamie on the large lounge.
He took in every gorgeous inch of her and ran his hand down her hip and leg. He wanted to touch everything and tried to hold himself back.
“I promised we would go over the ground rules first thing.” She ran her hand across his massive chest and down his arm. When he saw her ramming heart pulsing in her neck, he let it go and pulled her on top of him to smother her with kisses. In his delirious mind, he decided this was enough, to have her body on his and her tongue in his mouth. When she broke the kiss, he chased her mouth as she sat up and straddled him. He watched her reach behind and pull the strings of her bikini top dropping it on the floor. She never took her eyes off his until he pulled her down and kissed her.
Their bodies were covered in sweat that made contact difficult, causing them to overheat or slide off each other. Claire stretched her arm until her fingertips touched the bridge phone.
“Darius, were you kidding about sea spray …ahhh…on the back deck when you dropped speed. Okay, do that please.”
She dropped the phone and used that arm to pull on the string holding Jamie’s trunks on. They slowed enough for the wake to slap the sides of the boat and lovely, cool, sea spray brought their temperature down for more vigorous activity. Jamie ran his tongue from her waist to breast and sucked a nipple while caressing the other. She was losing her mind and asked him to pound into her which he did in short order, gasping when he filled her. Claire felt the throbbing, almost painfully. She begged him not to stop, she was about to come. His next two strokes pressed into her and he twisted his hips. That did it. He held her and watched her face register the euphoria, he had never loved her more. When she pressed his butt, he pumped into her soft wetness until he stiffened and his body convulsed as he emptied himself into her.
They kissed and found their favorite resting position to snuggle and nap the afternoon away. Claire called the bridge and asked Darius to set whatever cruising speed he wanted, and the boat lurched forward.
Later, Jamie felt a cool breeze on his stomach and opened his eyes to a breathtaking sunset.
“Sassenach, sweetheart, you must see this beautiful sky.” Claire sat up and declared it the best sunset she had ever seen. What finally drove them inside was starvation and Maia served them a beautiful meal of lobster bisque, steak, and several Greek sides that were delicious but unknown to them.
Later they cuddled under a quilt on the top deck and let the heavens entertain them with shooting stars streaking across a black sky with billions of stars as a backdrop.
“It’s important to me that you really know who I am, how I got this way, how I could screw up so bad in Paris last Christmas. Would you mind?”
“Please Sassenach, there is nothing I’d like more.”
Claire turned on a battery-operated light and handed him her four-page burn letter. She couldn’t bring herself to burn it because it was all she had to remember him by. It was shoved into her wallet and now it was in Jamie’s hands. She felt self-conscious and rolled away to leave him to his reading. He caught her hand and pulled her back, “not without you love.”
He read every line and then, to her surprise, started at the first line and read it again.
“Jesus, lass, I hardly know what to say. Completely alone at five years old except for a man who dragged you from one archaeological dig to another. He wasn’t there for you emotionally, I see that, I also see how you slip easily into emotionless relationships. And why I didn’t hear from you for six months. It makes sense now, so many things. Come here, sweetheart.”
Jamie hugged Claire and pulled her to him. She was so grateful he read her letter, and then read it again. She hoped he would have more faith in her this time because now she knew how much she loved him.
“What is happening with Frank Sassenach?”
Claire was quiet just a little too long while she considered telling Jamie the truth. If she didn’t, the letter meant nothing and he still couldn’t trust her. She reached for her phone and launched her gallery.
“This is my new apartment that Javier rented for me, and that is all my new furniture. He arranged everything from the lease to filling the apartment with furniture, kitchen stuff, even clothes. The reason he had to do all this is because…”
Claire swiped to the next picture of her destroyed apartment showing various rooms and angles. Then she swiped again, and Jamie’s intake of air was loud enough for the sea creatures to hear. He grabbed her phone and sat up, studying the picture of her face after being knocked out.
“No, no, no, no, no, my God, how did this happen, who did this? Oh my God Claire, this is sickening.”
He stood up and walked the deck around their bed under the stars. He kept looking at the picture as she told him exactly what happened. When she was finished, he pulled her from her sitting position down on the mattress and covered her. He spoke into her ear, telling her she was loved and protected, and Frank or anyone else would never touch her in anger again. His kisses were love affirming becoming heated and passionate causing her to pant.
Claire was trying to get his shirt off and panting in his ear when the voice of reason took over in his head. You will love her, tell her you will always be there for her, make her feel safe, and then break her heart like everyone else in her life. The lovemaking came to a crashing halt and Jamie looked like he had been kicked in the head.
“Sassenach, I…I’m sorry love. I’m too much in my head, I can’t right now. I’m sorry.”
“You are here in the flesh Jamie. You took a leap of faith and came on this trip with me. Your hands are still warm, and your heart is still open. That’s what I want. There is time for us to find our way.
He hugged her for over a minute, trying to come to terms with his reality. He had, at the most, six weeks of freedom left, and he needed to find a way to tell her. Claire suggested a hot shower and sleep and he agreed.