Jamie’s eyes were open with the sunrise, as always. He didn’t mind his early rise because it gave him time to think before the trials of the day buried him. He kissed Claire’s cheek lightly and struggled not to laugh at the coil curls that buried her. She had not changed. She still kept a hand on him all night, she still purred when he wrapped her in his arms. She was still amazing.
His first stop was the galley to make coffee and find some bread to toast. He was excited about all this boat had to offer them and inhaled his breakfast so he could explore. When he stepped out on the forward deck, he couldn’t believe his eyes. During the night, they arrived at the first island and the boat was moored safely offshore. The island of Santorini was waking up, shops were opening, food was cooking, and the colorful island just came alive. This couldn’t wait, he decided and ran downstairs to wake Claire.
She looked so sexy having kicked the covers off. His eyes followed the curves of her back and ample butt, long legs and that tan line was driving him nuts. Slowly, Santorini faded from his recent memory and he crept up on the beautiful one. He kissed the back of her thighs and the nearness to her honey was crippling him. He rolled her to her back and opened her legs giving him access to her secret garden. By the time she was fully awake she was just minutes from organism and Jamie pushed her into the erotic wind and scooted up the bed to hold her while he pulled his trunks off.
“Will you have me Sassenach?”
“I insist,” she breathed with her eyes still closed.
Jamie froze when her still undulating inner muscles held him like a hand. He moved slowly at first, kissing her awake while he took possession of her body. When he let himself go, he held her pelvis up to him and buried himself in her softness. After several minutes he dropped to the mattress and turned into the girl monster, much like the cookie monster with a taste for pretty girls. Claire laughed and tried to avoid his kisses making him redouble his effort to kiss every inch of her.
“I’m sorry for waking you love.”
“You can wake me any time, day or night. What a fantastic way to start the day.”
“I have a surprise for you, but you must get up to see it. It is worth it Sassenach.”
Claire sat up and pushed her hair away from her face while she yawned and pointed to a drawer, “pick one.”
Jamie laughed at how many bikinis were in the drawer and took his time picking his favorite. It was a leopard print, and no bigger than the one she wore yesterday. She slipped it on and looked for her brush in the bathroom, coming out in under five minutes with her hair tamed in a ponytail. Jamie was bursting at the seams with energy and bounced out to make her coffee, telling her to hurry.
With a steaming mug in hand Jamie led her out the forward deck and watched her mouth drop open and then smile.
“She opened a section of railing and said, “first things first, sweet Jamie,” and jumped overboard with Jamie right behind her. They played in the water and kissed and played some more before swimming to the rear deck to climb back on board.
Maia appeared wearing a suit much like Claire’s and announced breakfast whenever they were ready. The table was set with juice, waffles, omelets, bread pudding, fruit, fried potatoes, and delicious sides they didn’t recognize but ate with complete faith it would be delicious.
Darius came in and shook Jamie’s hand introducing himself. They were close in age and seemed to hit it off from the get-go.
“I’ll tender you to shore when you’re ready, just let me know, I have to see to a repair of the navigation system.”
Jamie looked at Claire, “if it means we’ll be lost somewhere in these beautiful islands then don’t fix it.”
Claire laughed and headed for the shower, Darius to his task, Maia to the galley and Jamie to the rear deck to look at Santorini. Each time he thought about the night before he chased it out of his mind. She would be hurt and angry if he told her now, or at the end of the trip. It wasn’t an easy decision.
Darius tendered them ashore leaving them with a small walkie talkie to radio the yacht when ready. Jamie and Claire walked their feet off all morning and stopped for lunch at an outside grill. They decided to rent scooters to see more of the island and other than two almost crashes, Claire figured out how to ride the scooter. It was a dream day, and on the way back to the boat Claire fell asleep on Jaime’s shoulder. He looked at her and felt his heart squeeze.
Claire opened her eyes the next morning confused by the darkness of the bedroom and then she heard the mighty thunder overhead and jumped out of bed to dress. She loved thunderstorms and couldn’t wait to get to the deck.
She halted right before opening the glass door. Jamie stood on deck watching the storm come in. He was such a gorgeous man it was hard not to sigh each time he looked at her. He must have felt her stare and turned around to smile at her. He held his hand and she took it.
“Claire, I secured a new mooring on the other side of the island. If we stay here we take the front head-on. We weigh anchor in the next five minutes, okay?”
“Yes, whatever is best, do you need any help, Darius?”
He didn’t know what to make of that question at first, so he just smiled and said it was all under control. Claire wrapped her arms around Jamie’s waist and put her head on his shoulder. This was surreal. The beauty, the boat, the islands, the storm, and the man. Mostly the man.
The rain held off until they were securely moored on the other side of the island. The rain came with a vengeance as the wind blew the rain sideways. Maia and Claire ran around the yacht closing windows and bringing in lightweight items from both decks, so they didn’t blow away. They were soaked through in seconds, so Jamie had towels waiting for them. It was going to be an inside day and not one of them would be bored.
While the storm raged around them, Darius and Maia joined Jamie and Claire for charades, then broke out the board games and switched the teams throughout the afternoon. Claire and Maia served dinner just as the storm was moving out.
“Tomorrow should be beautiful.”
“Claire, we can cruise all night and be moored at Crete when you wake up.”
“Oh no, I wouldn’t expect you to stay up all night. Let’s set off at first light.”
Darius reluctantly agreed, still getting used to an owner with a heart. He and Maia cleaned up the living room and galley while Jamie and Claire found their way back to the top deck. It was the highest point on the boat offering a 360 view of the sky and a built-in double lounge for comfort. The air was fresh and cool after the rain and Jamie ran down for a quilt to snuggle under. They were so high above the water it felt like they could touch the stars in the black sky.
They talked until early morning, covering various topics, both eager to learn more about the other. The air warmed up with the retreating storm and Jamie removed a piece of Claire’s clothing about every fifteen minutes until she was naked and pulling him to her. It felt very risky to make love on the upper deck, adding erotic energy that raised the bar on explosive orgasms. They were exhausted and clinging to each other before sleep swept them away.
“Sassenach, you must wake up and dress to get downstairs.”
Claire could hear the edge in his voice and opened her eyes to a new dawn and mooring. “Jesus, there are people all around us!”
Jamie held the quilt up so she could slip into her suit while he chuckled. “On or off makes little difference Sassenach.”
They walked downstairs quietly and found the privacy of their bedroom where they could sleep the morning away before exploring Crete. Claire heard all about Lallybroch the previous evening, Jamie’s parents and his sister. The more she knew the better he became.
Every other day Darius would bring them to another island for exploration, snorkeling, eating and drinking. It was, by anyone’s definition, the perfect vacation. On their last night, Jamie pulled her up to the top deck for a much-needed conversation that Claire had thought out well in advance. She would give him anything he asked her for.
“I will miss this view Sassenach.”
“Me too, the stars are beautiful.”
“Oh, yes, the stars too. I have a concern about when I will see you next. I love you lass and don’t want to live without you.”
“I still have two months of summer vacation left. Maybe I should come to Scotland? Would you like that?”
“Aye, I would, when?”
She laughed at his anxious face and kissed him. “As soon as I wrap up the last of my semester projects. Maybe a week?”
“That is perfect, now I feel better, so what happens if I pull this string?”
Darius pulled up to the dock the next morning and they said their goodbyes. Claire hugged Darius so tight he laughed and blushed. She did the same to Maia adding a kiss and a thank you to both of them.
“Maybe you could borrow the yacht again, soon.”
Claire’s mind raced with different ways to answer that question and she fell back to her commitment to the truth.
“It’s my boat, Jamie. It’s part of my inheritance. I’m sorry I didn’t say that before, it just never came up.” A half-truth is better than no truth, she decided. It was actually payment for stealing two Degas paintings, one from London, the other from a private collection in Romania.
Jamie was quiet but smiling and Claire waited. “A girlfriend that is beautiful, sexy, fun, and she owns a yacht. I don’t think there’s a better treasure to be had in this life.” He stopped in the middle of the airport and kissed her, hoping it wasn’t the last time.
Claire clung to Jamie when it was time to board her flight. She didn’t want to leave him and there was nothing in Chicago she couldn’t replace, including her job. He pushed her curls behind her ear and studied her sad face.
Will you be in Scotland by next week lass? That’s a good girl and please let me know you are home safe. He kissed her again and she walked quickly to security and onto her gate.
“It’s like you take the oxygen with you when you go.” He said watching her walk away.
After the dream vacation of the past two weeks, Claire wasn’t looking forward to anything other than leaving for Scotland. Her building on campus was mostly empty and quiet, feeling kind of eerie as she approached her office. There was no Geillis running after her, verbalizing every topic in her head, and no students hanging around waiting to speak to her. That means no interruptions, she told herself and sat down to work.
She didn’t hear him approach, even though the building echoed when empty. When she looked up, there he was at her office door, asking for a moment of her time. He sat across from her in his three-piece suit and seemed to size her up before speaking.
“Doctor Beauchamp, I represent the coalition that is active in Frank Randall’s campaign for governor of Illinois. It is vital that he receive all the support necessary to be the best candidate and win the election. He was supposed to be married this summer, to you, and we are not happy the vows have been canceled. You and Frank have had a long, well known relationship that would look unstable if he was to marry someone else, so you have a large wedding to plan and make sure you sparkle on your big day. There will be hundreds of pictures taken that day I’m sure.”
Claire stared at the man completely mute. She was suddenly afraid and there was no one to hear her scream.
“Don’t be absurd. I have a restraining order on that man, so I’m hardly interested in marrying him.”
Claire stood up and reached for her briefcase running physically into the man when he stood to block her. He looked down at her and suggested she sit and continue the conversation. Now she was terrified.
“I will not marry that man so peddle your story to someone else.”
“I’m afraid you are the best candidate for the governor’s wife and in three years, the first lady. A professor of fine arts at the University of Chicago is exceptional. I suggest a romantic dinner this Friday at your new apartment on Michigan Avenue, number 1103, the view must be breathtaking from up there. Frank will agree and you will be married in September.”
“You’re not listening…”
“I don’t have to listen Doctor Beauchamp because it isn’t an offer or a choice. We are counting on eight years in the White House and after that you can run away with James Fraser if you want, we don’t care.”
“Last I checked it was illegal to force a person into marriage,” said through clenched teeth, she was seething.
“You won’t be forced, Claire, and I don’t bring a water pistol to a gunfight, I bring an Apache helicopter fully loaded.”
The man sent a text to someone and two minutes later he held the phone out for her to see a live stream of Jamie working on a barn. The camera zoomed in on his face and Claire gasped.
“I have a man at Fraser’s estate and your beloved is in his crosshairs. Go to the police, try to run, and Jamie dies. Now, let’s look at your godfather’s business, oh, he’s been breaking the law fencing stolen art and he’s moving millions per year. Too bad he wasn’t a better chef.”
Claire’s mind was racing trying to outthink this horrible man. He watched her for a minute and smiled.
“Give us eight years in the White House, and play nice so he doesn’t beat you to death, and all will be well…Casper.”
The man stood and moved to the door, and like he had an afterthought he turned toward her.
“Our candidate will look holier than the pope when he runs for governor and then president of the United States. It is unacceptable to have an ex-girlfriend reject him, but mourning over his dead love will provide a nice boost in ratings. We don’t need your permission, and you cannot bargain.”
“An Apache, fully loaded.”
Claire was shaking from her head to her feet. When she stood, her legs threatened to give way so she held onto her desk, and then the walls, and then the door frame, another wall, and then the exit door. The first step without support was wobbly but she finally made it to her car and drove home.
She took inventory of her predicament once in her apartment where she had felt safe until an hour ago. They will kill Jamie, they will expose Javier, they know she is Casper, and he threatened to kill her if she didn’t marry the vilest man in history.
She wasn’t well versed in spy technology but she knew they would track her credit card expenditures, so she needed cash and a lot of it. They would tap her phone and have her watched and followed. She jumped up to write a message on her computer and run it through Tom. When her fingers touched the keyboard, she realized they would have a keystroke recorder and see everything she typed. She closed her eyes and tried to relax.
“I will take it, and I’ll need a quiet place and access to the secure internet for five minutes.” Claire handed her credit card to the clerk at Best Buy and followed his pointed finger to the back room where she found a hub to plug her new laptop in. She flew through creating a new email and wrote a warning letter to Javier.
‘I want spaghetti and meatballs, three times the meatballs please. I will find a way to update you until I’m there.’
Claire sent the file to Tom remotely and pulled it back once it was coded. She sent it to Javier and went to her next destination. The safety deposit box was placed on the table in the vault. She pulled the fake passports and credit cards out and scooped the gold into her purse. She signaled the bank manager that she was finished and handed him a note with an offshore account number.
“Do you have affiliates in Veneto Italy?”
“Yes, how may I help you?”
“Please arrange a checking account in Veneto, Edinburg, and Athens, if you would. Be a darling and transfer three million from the account on the paper to each bank. Also, transfer three million to my account here. I will be traveling and I will be heavily reliant on my credit cards. Burn the paper when you’re done.”
“No problem, anything else, Misses Dunn?”
She handed the man three hundred dollar bills and received his pledge in his expression. She had set up her account under her alternate identity and was known to these people as Mary Dunn. The real Mary Dunn was in a deep coma at her family’s estate in France. Her husband asked his friend Javier for help burying the story of her car accident and the problem was taken care of. Claire visited the family with Javier and sat with Mary for quite some time. She was a beautiful woman with three gorgeous sons and a husband who loved her. It seemed so unfair and her heart broke for the whole family. When she learned that Mary’s favorite artist was Gustave Courbet, she stole one of his paintings that was being reconditioned in the lower basement of the Louvre. Some flirting, some promises, and the painting was abandoned so the artist could meet and get lucky. Claire never had it so easy and a week later the painting was hung on the wall directly across from Mary’s bed. When Claire received her Ph.D. and a job in Chicago, Mary’s passport, license, and birth certificate were given as a gift with the provision they would not be used in the commission of a crime. It was a safe way out of town, or the country, if ever needed.
Claire made her way to see Geillis and put the crucial part of the plan into action. She needed a safe way out of town and prayed Geillis would help her.
Geillis read the paper Claire handed her and saw the stark terror in her friend’s eyes which was sinking into her bones too. She nodded her head and Claire left.
Geillis read the instructions and dialed the airline making a reservation to Paris for Mary Dunn leaving tonight and used her own credit card looking at the one thousand in cash Claire had left on the table. She dialed a friend and announced she needed a favor and was coming over.
Claire dropped her make up bag, passport, driver’s license, and credit cards into her largest shoulder purse. Her plan and Jamie’s life were in the balance and she prayed for enough luck to pull this off. She needed a head start because once the coalition knew she ran, it would turn into a hunt for blood.
Claire and Geillis arrived at Ravinia and enjoyed the outdoor show, a trending jazz band that was very entertaining. Claire pounded three cans of beer and giggled to the restroom. Geillis moved her feet to avoid the puddle of beer on the grass and said a silent prayer. Claire wore a floppy, stylish hat with a huge brim to keep the afternoon sun out of her eyes. When she entered the restroom she looked at their friend who was waiting for her. Claire threw her clothes over the lavatory door and grabbed the woman’s clothes, holding her breath they would fit. They did and she let out a sigh of relief. She handed the hat to the woman along with three hundred dollar bills and hugged her tightly, thanking her. The woman walked back to Geillis looking a bit unsteady on her feet. Claire waited ten minutes and left in the other direction.
The most vulnerable time was waiting for a city bus to the airport and she tried to calm her ramming heart as she climbed on board and took a dirty seat next to a window. She wore a blond wig cut in a bob at her jawline, like the picture on her passport and license. She thought about the live stream of Jamie in that man’s hands and prayed he was alright.
If she was very lucky, the woman impersonating her would get dropped at Claire’s apartment building and lock herself inside. Geillis gave her the passwords to Claire’s computer so she could send an invitation to Frank for dinner Friday night. Tom was completely cloaked on Claire’s computer so there was no worry their friend would find it. She spent hours surfing the web for wedding planners, wedding venues, dresses, bride’s maid dresses, and poured over pictures of recent celebrity weddings. She didn’t mind, she loved Claire and was happy to burrow in this luxury apartment to give her a couple of days head start. From what she had no idea.
The security technicians reported back to the coalition that the subject has not left the apartment and Frank has accepted the invitation to dinner, all other activities were wedding related. The tall man read the report and smiled. “That’s a good girl.”
It was morning when Claire left the airport in Paris and started walking. She punched the numbers of Javier’s burner phones and heard a ring on the fourth try.
“Send Joseph please.”
The line went dead and Javier motioned for Joseph to go get her. She might be a short-haired blonde at the moment, but Joseph would know Claire’s walk anywhere. He pulled up to the curb and she gratefully got into the front seat.
“I am racing the clock Joseph, Jamie Fraser is in danger, they are using him to force me to marry Frank. They want me with him for the next eleven years from governor to the White House.” Claire took a deep breath, “they know about Javier and they know I am Casper.”
Joseph was freaking out inside but patted her hand and promised all would be well.
“Or, Jamie is shot in the head for leverage, I am forced to marry a monster, and Javier goes to prison. You too I might add.”
“I get it Bear, all those things are possible, you must have faith in Javier. He is ready for this.”
Claire felt the hair stand up on the back of her neck. What did he mean ready for this? When they were safely back at the mansion Javier listened to every detail and hugged his goddaughter like they had all the time in the world. When he stood up the smile disappeared and he strode into the outer office where his men were given specific instructions for moving the art, and every piece of paper in his office and restaurant. He twisted the dial on his wall safe and left it open so they could remove the money, gold, and treasures inside.
Javier picked up his burner phone and called his man in Scotland, explaining he was to find Jamie at Lallybroch and tell him to get out of the country before these men made an example out of him to put more pressure on Claire.
“Make it convincing my friend, or share the same fate as Fraser.”
There was much to do but Javier watched the men, looking for one in particular who had not shown up in almost a week after winning a weekend getaway at a luxury resort somewhere in France.
The corpse of a once loyal servant was buried in a landfill on the outskirts of Paris. His fingers were burned down to the second knuckle, one eye was gouged out, and his naked body was full of wounds from the sustained use of a cattle prod. When he cracked, he was delirious and near death. They got him to divulge Javier’s secrets by offering a drop of liquid pain killer into his mouth. They buried him alive in garbage where the tortured man lived another twelve hours in extreme pain.
Jamie grabbed a wrench next to the tractor he was under and started to line it up with a stubborn bolt. He could hear a car in the driveway and peaked out at a small man running toward him.
“I have your order Mister Fraser. Please show me where to set up lunch.”
Jamie looked up at the weird man who seemed about ready to shake himself out of his boots. When Jamie didn’t move the man quietly said it’s from Claire and they must go inside. Jamie walked the man back to the house and read the note he was given, then he looked at the stack of money and fake identification. The little man handed Jamie a ticket to Venice, Italy, and a note with an address in Veneto.
“Wait a minute! What the hell is this all about?”
“There is a sniper in the woods across from your estate. When he gets the call, he will shoot you in the head. Find a way to the airport without being seen or die in the attempt. She will meet you in Italy. Good luck Mister Fraser.”
The man left the house and drove away. The sniper in the woods was sound asleep and missed the whole episode.
Jamie sat down in the kitchen wondering what the hell happened to cause these preparations. It was unnerving to think Claire was in trouble and he couldn’t reach out to her. He started planning his escape when his cell phone buzzed for an incoming message. One of the men on his team sent twelve fuzzy pictures recovered from the close circuit hard drive at Sotheby’s. His team had no idea he pulled from prison and was now going back. The pictures were absolutely useless, but Jamie looked through them a few times to give his body some time to normalize after the shock. He squinted at one picture that seemed indiscernible at first glance but there was something there that he needed to see. He downloaded the jpeg to his graphics program and sharpened the image before making a copy with higher resolution, he used other filters to clean up the image and then enlarged it gradually, making a copy with higher resolution each time. When he had the image at 300 dpi, he enlarged it and hit print. He pulled the picture out of the printer and stared at it, moved to the light of a window, and finally turned it upside down. There it was.
Jamie threw his gear in a backpack and came downstairs in time to see Angus sneaking in the front door. Jamie slapped him on the back and Angus looked into his friend’s worried eyes. They waited in silence until they heard Rupert coming into the driveway, revving his engine and honking his horn.
“Good luck Jamie.”
Angus pulled Jamie’s jacket on and kept his head down as he ran to the truck. It was too dark to see much more than a hunched shape get into the truck and head for the fields to spin donuts and generally be loud, obnoxious, and attention-grabbing.
Jamie went out the other side of the house and ran a half a mile to find Angus’s motorcycle parked under a weeping willow that had been a rendezvous spot since they were kids. He jumped on the bike and made for the airport in Edinburgh. Angus would pick the bike up tomorrow in the underground parking.
Javier hugged Claire and then held her hands. She was in a lot of trouble, no doubt about that and he would help all he could, starting with research on the coalition.
“You stay ahead of them Bear, just don’t let them catch you. I need time to find their weaknesses and we will play the same deadly game with them.”
“Javier I am so worried about you, once they know I’ve bailed they will come here looking for you.”
“I am too old to fight so thank God we won’t be here. The men have been scattered far and wide for their own protection. Joseph and I are going underground. Please touch base once a week or this old man will worry himself to death.”
Joseph gave her a warm hug even though he was driving her to the airport. Claire walked backward so she could keep Javier in sight and blew him a kiss before she went through the door.
Joseph watched her walk into the airport with nothing but the clothes on her back, heading for a place she has never been, to meet a man that might already be dead.
“God speed, Bear.”