Claire crept silently to bed and laid down, ready to grab Adso to keep him from waking Jamie. His back was to her and his customary embrace was not there to soothe her nerves. She sensed he was awake, but a million miles away from her. Sleep was hard in coming, but she finally rested.
In the deep of night, she reached for Jamie, feeling cold sheets bring her out of sleep. She found him on their deck, standing as still as a statue, looking out at the blackness.
“Jamie? Are you feeling better?”
He didn’t answer or move until her hand touched his bare back, making him jump and gasp. She rushed to him, wrapping her arms around his waist and pressing her cheek to his chest. His hands were on her upper arms, gently pressing her away from him.
“Let’s go back to bed, Sassenach.”
She pulled away from him and the hurt she felt played across her face. Jamie felt his heart squeeze painfully. He reached out to her and walked her to the bed. Claire said nothing. By the looks of him, she wasn’t even sure she wanted to know.
Jamie sat her gently on the edge of the bed and looked at the face he loved, knowing this conversation would change their lives forever.
“You are the purest heart that Danny talked about tonight. I can see it so clearly now. Losing your family at such a young age, and belonging to no one, made you feel you couldn’t be loved. You grew up with a cold uncle who dragged you from one dig to another, but he never held you when you scraped your knee or had a nightmare. Did he Claire?”
She stared at Jamie, liking this conversation less and less, wondering where this was going.
“Becoming Casper was how you coped with being the unloved. Never allowing anyone close enough to discover your identity meant no one would ever know you as the unloved.”
“You are wrong. I grew up in a crime family so it was just natural to steal art.”
“Sweet Claire. Are you lying to me or are you lying to you? You were stealing art for a year before Javier caught you. He said he grounded you for a whole summer and when you refused to quit, he pulled you into his business to protect you. You had to become Casper, and it worked. No one ever got close enough to know you couldn’t be loved. As wrong as that is, it’s how you felt.”
“What about Frank? I was engaged to be married to him!”
“The nowhere man, so self-absorbed he couldn’t possibly discover who you were. Marriage was another layer of protection from the world. You became notorious, willing to saddle yourself with a cold-hearted man. You became the unloved.”
Jamie barely made it through the last sentence before he broke down and pulled her to him. She held onto him for dear life, not knowing why he would remind her of that life and the choices she made. It took a minute for Jamie to get control and set her back on the bed, away from him.
“I’m so goddamned sorry it took this long to understand that part of you. Because I would have told you about the Claire that I know. Everyday. She is loved so fiercely, so completely by me, and everyone on this boat. I would have made you see it until you no longer felt like the unloved.”
Claire felt bolstered by Jamie’s words of love, but it was a brief respite. He still sat away from her and still called her Claire. Something bad was coming, she could feel it all around them.
“Can it end there, Jamie? Please?”
She looked at the pain on Jamie’s face when he shook his head from side to side.
“We got married so quickly. Before there was time to talk about our dreams and plans for the future. We were running for our lives with no certainty of a future. Do you remember Claire?”
She nodded, feeling the distance between them, wanting to cling to him and promise whatever he needed.
“I am so sorry, Claire. I am so sorry that I let you pledge yourself to a man condemned to live out his life on the water. Like a ghost.”
“Stop it, this instant! I don’t want to hear anymore. You are my husband and whatever is wrong we will face it together!”
Jamie could see her shaking, and it was breaking his heart.
“Everyone in love talks about their hopes and dreams of the future, but not us. We got married not knowing if we had tomorrow let alone the rest of our lives. So we skipped that part, maybe because we knew it would end us.”
Claire was silent as the tears fell. Whatever Jamie had to say, it was too late to turn back now. She locked her whisky eyes on him like an enemy.
“Stop it, Jamie! Nothing can end us, this conversation is killing me! You are talking nonsense like you’re suddenly someone else. What has changed?”
Jamie looked at his lap while Claire cried. He was up against a brick wall with nowhere to turn and he hated the whole world for it, especially himself.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. By the end of this conversation, you’re going to leave me behind and have the life you were supposed to have.”
“You’re lying!” Claire flung the sentence at him like a weapon. “So you don’t love me anymore. Man up for Christ’s sake and tell me the truth!”
Claire was crying and looking for clothes to put on so she could escape this conversation. Her mind had shut down from shock and she was in survival mode, running for her life, running from her life, because she couldn’t take the pain anymore.
Her shaking hands could not button her shirt, so she ran toward the door anyway, coming within feet of Jamie who pressed his back against the door, blocking her way. His head was down, and the image of him barring the door of an outbuilding in Veneto came to her mind. She shook with the memory of that morning, discovering he was the painter, desperately wanting to get away from him. She could hardly believe she was that woman, who barely escaped capture hours later when she and Jamie ran from Hesser. Her eyes were wide with fear and she backed away from the door, seeing rats around her feet as they hid in an old barn that same day. She felt Jamie catch her as she spun toward the floor.
Claire opened her eyes, feeling the wet towel dab her face. She was in bed with covers over her and still she shook with cold. Jamie pulled a chair to the bed and sat next to her, looking ghostly white himself. He spoke softly to her, his voice weakened by his breaking heart.
“We owe it to each other to finish this conversation, Sassenach. I don’t want to hurt the one I love most in this world, but we have choices to make and we need to start in the truth.”
Claire felt a moment of hope. He loved her most in the world, and she clung to that statement and listened.
“As a young man, I saw only one path in front of me. Fall in love, marry, and start a family. I wanted to be a father and pictured wee ones playing in the fields around my family home. It was an absolute future, I had no doubt. The estate passed to me after my father’s death and the second year we suffered a long drought, followed by days of rain that washed away the only surviving crops. My fields were damaged and empty. I had nothing to sell to replenish my accounts. I went bank to bank but having no credit history no one would give me a loan and my unpaid bills were in collection. Winter was coming, and I knew I would lose the estate by spring. It was my lowest point until today. I never thought anything could hurt me more than that did.”
“I painted a lot in the winter, and I had the idea of creating a forged masterpiece to make enough money to save my land. I practiced on bed sheets and used the only money I had to buy three canvases. Two weeks later I finished a copy of the “Girl With A Pearl Earring”, the same painting you discovered in Veneto. It took a month to find an art fence that would talk to me. I told him the painting was stolen and replaced with a forgery, and this was the original. When I showed him the painting, he studied it with an eye loop for two hours, made phone calls, and agreed to buy it for a million pounds minus one hundred thousand for his fee. A staggering amount of money I never expected, but it saved my estate. By spring, I felt like I was in the clear, so I did it again with a Renoir and sold it in Ireland for the same money. It was completely unnecessary, but my addiction had taken hold of me.”
Jamie stopped and looked at Claire’s deer-in-the-headlights face. “I’m sorry, Claire. I have to do this and you are being very brave so I’ll continue.”
“I never lost sight of my dream to have a family, to be a father, but it was on the other side of my criminal life. Once I quit forging art, I would go back to Scotland and settle down. But that never happened. I was caught, convicted without trial, and locked in a cell until dead. You know the rest.”
“Why did you tell me that, Jamie?”
“ I want you to know I was once a moral and decent man with dreams of being a father and loving one woman until my last breath. That is no longer an option for me, but it is for you.”
Claire sat upright, eyes wide with horror, staring at Jamie. “Do you hold me in such low regard you would leave? Was this a mere dalliance to you?”
Jamie took her hand, “quite the opposite. The body of James Fraser was never recovered, so I am presumed dead. My crimes are spread out over a dozen countries and there are people that will never stop looking for me. It’s why I have to stay on the water, always moving, until one of them catches me. Only two people know your secret. One is dead, the other will die with your identity protected.”
“We don’t know that Jamie, there could be others that know who I am.”
“Do you think of them, Claire?”
“Our children. Do you see them playing at the park, or jumping off the school bus? A beautiful life, on land.”
“It doesn’t have to be, we will have a life on a superyacht.”
“So it’s more accurate to see a toddler walking to the edge of the boat, in the middle of the ocean, with no other children for socialization. He or she will be completely unprepared for life as an adult.”
“Here is a darker reality. They will come in the night, breaking down the glass doors, pulling people out of bed at gunpoint, a child crying, you screaming, and me trying to protect my family. They will shoot me in front of you, in front of our child. They will put you under a microscope and possibly figure out who you are, hauling you to jail, leaving our child alone.”
“Stop, Jamie! We will figure this out and we don’t have to have children. I love you, where ever we are, and if you leave me I think I might die. You have been thinking all night about only the bad and nothing of the solution. Why?”
He pulled her to his lap and held her while she sobbed, fighting his own emotion over their heartbreaking reality. When Claire’s tears stopped, she pressed herself to him and wouldn’t let him go.
“We suffered so much, from Italy to Greece, always just one step ahead of Hesser. You were inches from a bullet that whizzed by your head, and witnessed my death, grieving for months. Are you starting to remember Claire?”
“That is over now, Jamie.”
“We fled to Jamaica and felt safe in the sun and warm water. Once the tracker was out of our arms, we forgot who we are and let the distractions like Danny and my painting hypnotize us into thinking we were safe. It will happen again Claire, we will let our guard down. The night I fought Darius’s brothers, if his sister had called the police they would have taken us in, or surely me, and I would be fingerprinted. It’s that easy to be identified as the Painter and never seen again.”
“If you leave me, I will follow you. I’ll never stop looking for you. Is that the life you want to force on me, Jamie?”
“No more talking, love.”
Jamie laid Claire on the bed and pulled her to him. He didn’t think either of them would sleep, but he couldn’t hurt her anymore, he just wanted to hold her in the quiet of the early morning. He wanted to tell her he thought of nothing but a solution and would trade a decade of his life to find one, but there was no solution. They would live like fugitives until he was caught, and Claire would have no protection.
Later, when Claire’s breathing was rhythmic and deep, Jamie pulled away from her and went to his studio. Feeling like a shattered man, he stared at the wall as random thoughts came in and out of his mind. Looking at the little chest of drawers that Danny had stocked with watercolor supplies, he remembered her words, “For a rainy day. A bit of warning though, you will find yourself in those drawers, they will reveal your true heart.”
Jamie thought watercolor was a child’s toy, certainly not for the serious artist and before he could stop himself he set up the paints, water, towels, and brushes. He was numb, going through the motions without thought. He painted a large circle of water, very wet, pushed the brush against the pots of dried paint until it softened and filled his brush. A drop of paint hit the wet circle and pigment rushed into the water in all directions. This isn’t helping me think, he decided and stood to put everything away. His first step buckled his knee and he went down clutching the chair for support, feeling his mind break and his tears flow, and then he cried, hard, gulping air to steady himself, but it just kept coming.
Danny put her hand on Jamie’s back and helped him into the chair, telling him not to give up, he would find a solution. He turned his face from her to hide his tears and heard Danny’s steady voice telling him again there was a solution.
“There is no solution that will keep Claire safe. I have to go on my own now, I just don’t know how to do it.”
He got up and walked out of the studio like a zombie, on his way back to Claire. He knew he had to be the strong one, that she would fall apart, but she had her dearest friends with her. She would get through this if he never contacted her again.
Jamie could hear Claire crying as he opened their door. There were at least a dozen tissues balled up around her. Jamie pulled her to him and rocked her. Or was it himself he rocked?
“Claire, I will take the little boat and disappear. I will transfer all my money to your accounts so you will never want for anything. You will let me go, Claire, it’s the only way.”
“I will hate you for the rest of my life.”
“I pray that when you are very old, surrounded by your children, and maybe their children, your heart will soften towards me and you will know I did this for you.”
Danny paced in her room, rubbing her hands together, convincing herself not to meddle. She could feel her resolve slipping, “fuck that.” She started dialing her cell phone. She knew people who knew people that knew how to get things done. If there was someone in this world who could help them, she would find him.
Jamie walked into the galley and heard Chef gasp.
“Still sick? You look white as a sheet.”
“You have no idea. Can you have the crew bring trays to our room today? Neither of us are feeling well.”
“You got it, Jamie. I’ll keep ya well fed.”
Before Jamie left, he poured an iced tea and dropped a sprig of mint into it. He knocked on Danny’s door, hearing her talk to someone excitedly. When the door opened, she took the drink and kicked the door closed with her foot. He went back to Claire, who was checking on flights to Mykonos. Jamie leaned on the desk and looked at the floor.
“I’ll have you know that I will book a flight to Mykonos as soon as you leave. I will be on that boat when you come to pick it up, most likely washing all the dusty furniture. I will be your first mate and we will stay together.
“My husband calls me Sassenach, or love. We pledged ourselves to each other until death. We are not dead.”
Claire was bouncing around the room, pulling suitcases from the closet, acting like they were going on vacation.
“Adso has decided to stay here, with Danny. He hates you so he doesn’t want to go.”
“Anyway, I will be ready to depart in a moment’s notice.”
She seemed manic, high on adrenalin, she raced from drawer to drawer pulling clothes out to pack into her cases.
“Oh! Forgot to tell you that Cici resigned and left the boat and Ethan got his orders to deploy, I will be chasing you and you will be running away. That leaves Darius, Steven, and Maia to get the boat to New York. They’ll be fine, I’m sure. Actually, I’m not sure, I just don’t fucking care.”
Jamie gripped the desk he leaned against, trying to calm down. When Claire pushed Adso out the door and told him to find his new mother, Jamie snapped and lunged for her.
“Claire! Stop this right now. You need to let me go, don’t make this any harder.”
He crushed her in his arms and kissed her hard, running his hands up and down her backside, trying to pull her top over her head. As soon as her arms were free, she slapped his face hard enough to make his ears ring. Jamie was shocked and looked at her with wide eyes.
“You gave me away today, you called our marriage regrettable. One last fling? I’d rather not.”
Jamie watched her leave the room, hearing her sobbing down the hall. He sat down hard and hung his head.
Danny heard the rapid knocking on her door and helped Claire to the bed where she sat on the edge and cried her eyes out. Danny held onto the hysterical woman and waited for her to gain control.
“Danny, please tell me what you see. Are these my last moments with Jamie? Will I ever see him again? Did you see this coming? I can’t let him go, I can’t live without him, he says… he won’t… Jesus, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!
Claire went down so fast Danny was shocked and started screaming for help. She opened her door and screamed that Claire was unconscious. Heavy feet could be heard running down the stairs. Darius looked down at Danny kneeling next to Claire, patting her cheek. He scooped her up and took her to the saloon, almost running into Jamie on the way.
“Please Claire, wake up!”
Jamie held her hand and cheek while the chaos surrounded him. Danny called for emergency medical and a chopper was landing on the yacht within minutes, it seemed. The medical team would not allow Jamie on the ride to the hospital, so the tender was pushed to the limit of speed the outboard motors would tolerate. Jamie jumped to the peer and ran for a taxi.
It isn’t every day a helicopter lands on a yacht and a small crowd had gathered to watch. People on the dock saw the tender racing toward them, and several hailed cabs in case they were needed. Jamie barely had enough brain space to thank them as he jumped into one and they sped away.
Mary Dunn was whisked into emergency, followed by a terrified Jamie ten minutes later. He asked for her and was shown a seat in the registration area where he would be questioned about her name, date of birth, medical history, events leading up to her collapse. His name, request for ID, and dozens of other questions that he didn’t want to answer, so he refused. The hospital representative looked at him suspiciously and then looked up as a woman approached.
In her infinite wisdom, Danny also raced to the hospital to get the focus off Jamie. The rep watched both of them, wondering how she was getting home after her shift and what to make for dinner.
“Thank you for your assistance, please return to the yacht and I will be along soon.” Danny sat in the vacated seat and looked at the rep.
“My name is Sepora Meyers and Mary Dunn is one of my crew.”
Danny laid her passport and driver’s license on the counter and started answering questions. She informed the rep they were self-pay and she wanted to speak with the doctor, ignoring the continuous questions and finally getting up to wait near the door to the treatment rooms. Her heart was pounding so hard she worried about a heart attack, so she walked around to calm herself but kept an eye on the door. She spotted Jamie pacing outside and went into command mode.
“This is not a subject for debate, Jamie. You will hail the next cab and return to the ship. Hello Darius, no, we don’t know anything yet. I am sending Jamie back to the boat so please pick him up at the dock. If he is not there in the next five minutes, you are to find him and use force if you must. Maybe take Steven and Ethan with you, but he is to be detained in the yacht.”
Danny almost cried when she looked at Jamie’s worried face and she held his arm while she spoke to him.
“I’m sorry, Jamie, I promise to stay right here and oversee everything. Now you must get back to the boat with my word I will call the minute I hear anything.”
Jamie was stuffed into a cab so fast he barely had time to argue. When he was out of sight, Danny felt the tears of worry and overwhelming defeat. She stood to the side of the ER doors and wept for Claire and Jamie, for herself, and for her son. All the reasons she had stuffed inside of her came to focus and she continued to cry, silently and alone. She saw a police cruiser in her mind and forced her emotions back into hibernation, drying her eyes and face as quickly as possible.
Two officers walked quickly into the reception area and spoke to the woman at the counter. Danny pressed her speed dial for her attorney in New York. Kevin Phillips had represented Danny for twenty-five years, starting fresh out of law school. He shook her hand at a function in the city and when she saw the man inside, she hired him as her personal counsel. His success and fame were due to his brilliant mind and Danny, in equal parts, he always thought. He was there for her, always.
“Kevin dear, I am very sorry to interrupt your day but I am about to be questioned by two police officers and I want to control this situation and avoid questions about the identity of two crewmen, well, friends, actually, that just came to the ER in San Diego. Can I legally refuse to answer?”
Kevin had a boardroom full of high-profile attorneys waiting for him to resume the meeting. They were a distant memory as he fired questions at Danny.
“Put me on speaker, Danny.”
“Excuse me, ma’am. You just brought Mary Dunn in for treatment, is that right?”
Kevin’s voice could be heard from Danny’s phone. “May I ask, gentlemen, why you are breaching HIPAA, patient privacy, and good Samaritan laws to ask anything about a patient or who brought her in. Is she suspected of a crime? What is your just cause for questioning Sepora Meyers, my client?”
“I’m sorry ma’am, but who is on the phone?”
“My attorney, Kev…”
“Hang up the phone ma’am, we have a few questions for you.”
“Danny, if there is anyone around you, please ask them to video your encounter with the officers, offer to pay the person one thousand dollars. Hand the phone to the bossy officer.”
Danny looked around at two people brazenly pointing their cell phone cameras at the three of them. She could hear Kevin running down the list of laws and violations, promising to sue the city of San Diego if one more question was asked. The officers walked back to their car and bid Danny a good day.
“Will you please carry me to the hospital employee responsible for calling the police, Danny?”
The woman rudely ignored Danny and called someone’s name. The patient and her parents approached the counter.
“Danny, if you would, turn your speaker on high and set the phone on the counter. This is something everyone should hear.”
Danny placed the phone down and suggested the woman listen, then caught her phone when she batted it away.
“Young lady, you are in violation of …”
It took approximately five minutes for Kevin to finish listing the violations that she and the hospital were now responsible for. The woman’s face drained of color and an overhearing doctor brought another employee to replace her, asking the rep to follow him.
Danny turned her speaker off and spoke to Kevin as she walked back outside. It was a long shot, but she had to ask.
“I have a question and then I’ll let you go, my wonderful friend. I can vouch for a man who needs to disappear. He is a good man, Kevin, and bad people are looking for him. Would you know about that sort of thing?”
“You need Aunt Mary. I will call her and text you a time and location later. You only have one chance with Aunt Mary, so please make sure you are there to meet her. Always a pleasure, Sepora, see you in December.”
Kevin clicked off before Danny could utter another word. She rushed back into the ER and was taken to Claire. Danny took her hand and tried to engage her, but Claire looked at her feet and barely spoke.
“He’s already gone, isn’t he?”
“Jamie? No dear, he has called every five minutes it seems. I had to put my foot down and tell him to relax because I had to use my phone.”
Danny chuckled and Claire stared at her feet. “Will I ever see him again? Can you see us in the future?”
“I’m sorry, Claire, I cannot see anything but a picture of the beach with a big hill and waving grass. I’m sure he will paint the picture, but I don’t know what it means. Have faith in love dear, a match like you and Jamie is rare indeed.”
The doctor interrupted them and explained Claire she was suffering from exhaustion and dehydration. He handed her a prescription and released her with a reminder to have a glass of water or juice in her hand for the next three days to restore her blood volume, and stay out of the sun. Danny wrote a check for the balance of Claire’s care and led her out to hail a cab.
Danny called Darius and asked for the tender to pick them up. Claire was certain Jamie would be gone, now that he knew she was released. It was so mind consuming, Danny had to ask a question two or three times before Claire understood. “It’s alright, dear Claire, I will take care of everything.”
Darius held Claire’s hand as she climbed into the boat. He knew something monumental was happening but refrained from asking. He would know when he was supposed to know. Claire tried to step out of the tender onto the aft deck and lost her balance due to weakness. She put her head down, wanting to disappear when Jamie came out of nowhere and scooped her into his arms. Claire did not look up but clutched his shirt with a death grip until he laid her on their bed.
“Thank Christ you’re alright, Sassenach. You had me worried half to death.”
He pushed extra pillows behind her and announced it was movie night, and he chose the film carefully, a classic, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He seemed coiled like a spring, talking rapidly, with a fake smile.
“Thank you, Jamie. I haven’t seen it in many years. Very thoughtful.”
Jamie ran to the galley and accepted the tray Danny had waiting. Soft food, juice, bottled water, and tea. When Jamie met her eyes, they spoke volumes about her love for Claire, and he wondered if he was included in that love. It didn’t matter, it couldn’t matter. This was no longer his life, his people, or his business. He only wanted to help Claire, and then he was leaving.
When Jamie came back with the tray, Claire was just getting out of the shower and grabbed for a large towel to hold in front of her nakedness. Jamie’s looked at the ground before going back to their room.
“Whenever you’re ready, Claire.”
Jamie laid on the bed and thought about the hospital and that obnoxious woman who insisted on his identification. The world did not accept anonymity anymore. If Danny hadn’t rescued him, he might have ended up at the police station being booked for resisting arrest or some other ridiculous charge because the officers were bored and had an issue with his refusal to produce identification. He hoped it would drive his point through to Claire that she was not safe with him.
Claire laid against Jamie in the dark watching the movie, neither wanting to fall asleep and miss that time with the other. Until the day they died, it would live in their memories as the saddest night on earth.
Dinner went on without the Frasers. Midway through, Danny received a message from an unknown number. It was from Kevin.
Aunt Mary is away babysitting but will call tonight at one o’clock in the morning, California time. Purchase three burner phones and text me a number. Which of the children need a baby sitter? J , D, or M?
Danny pushed the J and send. Kevin had done the research on Jamie, Claire, Darius, and Maia when the yacht was heading for Greece to find the voice that called to her. It took two weeks of concentration but Danny finally heard all the names of the people Claire thought about the most and soon Danny was connecting with them all. By the time they met in Jamaica, Danny knew each of their stories, verified by Kevin’s research.
Danny looked up at the half-empty table and felt the oppression of sadness on the boat. She wanted to close her mind for just a little while and dispatched Ethan and Steven to the store to purchase the phones with instructions to send Kevin one of the numbers. Maia asked Danny what had happened to Claire and Jamie.
“Sweet child, we will all know soon enough.”
Jamie was so sweet to Claire. For the rest of the night, he kept her drinking and tried to get her to eat. She said little but smiled shyly when she looked at him. He could feel her emotion change to resignation. He wanted to tell her she would never be forgotten, she would always remain his greatest love. He had so many things to tell her, but he said nothing. He just held her and stroked her hair in the dark. When it got late, Claire sighed deeply and moved out of Jamie’s arms.
“Goodbye, Jamie Fraser,” was whispered, then she laid down with her back to him.
Jamie sat still on their bed until he was sure Claire was asleep. He left his cases and clothing because every stitch would remind him of their life together. Claire’s eyes opened the minute Jamie left. She stood up and brought the bottle of whisky back to the bed, intending to drink him out of her head, or pass-out trying.
Jamie walked through the empty saloon toward the aft deck. He would take the tender and leave it with the harbormaster with two hundred dollars for returning it to Danny. When his feet hit the deck, he gasped at the sight of Danny, sitting close to the water, smoking what looked like a little cigar.
He owed her a goodbye, so he sat in the next chair and tried to start speaking.
“I have taken good care of you throughout this trip, have I not? I need something from you before you disappear forever. An important call is coming in ten minutes and your strength will be required.”
“Just sit with me and keep me talking. Then you can go. We will take the call in your studio if you don’t mind. This cannot be overheard by anyone.”
Danny got up and Jamie followed her to his studio. He was upset by her insistence because he wanted to be away from this place, where his heart lived with a beautiful grieving woman. They sat at the art table and Danny read the instructions from Kevin’s text.
“Answer the phone but do not speak. There will be a series of clicks and other noises that may go on for several minutes. When the line is clear for one whole minute, state your name and wait. Aunt Mary will identify herself and your conversation will begin. Good luck.”
Jamie looked at Danny, wondering if she was some kind of secret agent and the phone rang, making them both jump. Danny tapped the answer button and laid the phone on the table with the speaker on. They waited through all sorts of strange noises and one minute of silence.
“Good evening, this is Aunt Mary.” The man’s voice was deep but quiet. “I have news for you. J’s body was recovered last month by divers investigating a boat explosion. Just bones that matched the age, and height. The recovery was kept from the media because guns and death keep the tourists away, but it was reported to government agencies in Europe and America.”
“What name did they report finding?”
“Jamie Fraser, of Scotland.”
Danny could hear Jamie gasp but didn’t look at him yet.
“My friend is being hunted by men in multiple countries. How can he protect himself from being identified?”
” Pull all teeth and amputate the hands.”
“There must be another way.”
“Switzerland, if you have a fat piggy bank. One million per finger, one million for the new flesh, if it is available. No guarantee the graft will take, but you can always try again. Ninety percent success rate, but you won’t read about the procedure. It is kept secret from the world.”
“How do I arrange this procedure?”
“Do you have eleven million dollars that can be verified?”
“Kevin must vouch for you, putting his life on the line to guarantee truth of disclosure and your silence. Switzerland will be notified, the money transferred to an escrow account, and only then will you meet the doctors.”
“I will arrange for Kevin to act on my behalf and …”
The line went dead. Danny turned the phone off and asked Jamie to remove the battery. He looked ghostly white with wide blue eyes. Danny could see his mind was grinding all he just heard.
“I have one important promise to make you Jamie. If you disappear anyway, for whatever reason, Claire will never know that you had a solution and chose to leave. I swear.”
Jamie jumped to his feet, walking through his studio like a caged animal, shaking his head. He would stop suddenly and then launch back into his pacing. It was incomprehensible there was a way to change his fingerprints. If he ended up with bloody stumps, it would still be a fair trade for Claire. He looked at Danny and pulled her up to hug her for an entire minute. She felt him shaking from shock and patted his arm.
“Help me to my rooms, dear Jamie. You have a lot of thinking to do.”
“Will it work, Danny?”
“Of course it will. You will have a fresh start, no longer a ghost.”
“I do not have to think. Come now, I need to see the Sassenach.”
Once Danny closed her door, Jamie sprinted to their rooms. Claire had been through so much today, but he would have to wake her. This was too big to wait for the morning. His hand shook on the doorknob and he took deep breaths, trying to calm down as he entered the room.
Jamie thought his heart would explode when he looked at her sleeping face, puffy from crying but never more beautiful. He decided rest and love would mend the wounds she endured, and he would give her both. He slid into bed quietly and let the happiest sleep take him away.
“Jamie? Why are you here?”
Jamie turned sparkling blue eyes on the woman he loved and held her gaze. He wanted to grab her and spin her around the room before locking her to him for the rest of her life.
“May I come to you, love? Or perhaps you will come to me. There are two wounded hearts on this bed that want to be together.”
Claire was hypnotized by his eyes, full of love, unguarded, like the old Jamie. He moved toward her until his arm pulled her to the mattress and she laid her head on his chest, feeling his arms around her.
“I have a miracle to tell you about, a heart to claim, and a celebration to enjoy.” He ran his finger along her jaw and locked his gaze with hers. “Will you come out to the deck with me and watch the first sunrise of forever?”
They laid together under a blanket and watched the sunrise while Jamie explained what Danny had done, the phone call he heard with her, and what that meant for them.
“Oh, almost forgot, my body has been recovered, well, my bones anyway. Swept out to sea and picked clean by the fishes. The coroner made a positive ID somehow, and this was reported to the authorities throughout Europe and America. I have been officially pronounced dead, may I rest in peace.”
Jamie realized that Claire had not moved her eyes from his face, nor had she said a word. He pulled the blanket over their heads and moved his body to lay face to face with her.
“Danny’s attorney will personally guarantee our silence about the procedure in Switzerland, with his life. We cannot tell anyone about what I’m going to do. Do you understand, love?”
Claire put her hand on Jamie’s cheek and nodded her head.
“We have both suffered with the end of our love and the pain of me leaving. I have to ask you, Sassenach, do you still want to be my wife? Will you take me back as your husband?”
Jamie could see she was coming out of her stupor when she smiled at him.
“Yes. A thousand times, yes. May I have a kiss, please?”
Jamie touched her lips with a kiss that would last until mid-afternoon and live forever in Claire’s memory. Jamie took his place at the table that night, after a two-day absence, and plugged himself back into life on the yacht. He ate the sumptuous meal with his left hand so he could hold Claire’s under the table. When he caught Danny’s eye, he held her gaze for a full minute while his heart said thank you to hers.