Lights illuminated the houses near the centre of the village of Cranesmoore as he approached by horseback in the company of his Godfather. The warm spring air began to fade from the atmosphere that surrounded them, being replaced by a chilly mist that masked the skies with a grey hue that would eventually fade to black instead of the pinks and purples that would have been seen as the sunset. Tiny droplets of water ran down his face as he pulled the reins of his horse, releasing a soft sigh from his lips; Jamie dismounted his horse and turned to face the large house they stopped before. His heart squeezed as he caught sight of her through the large windows that peaked into the parlour of the house, where her host was currently entertaining her. At that moment, his breathing caught in the back of his throat, and he turned back to his horse.
A small smile crept its way upon his lips as his breathing finally steadied, and he lifted the flap to one of his saddlebags, removing the cloak he had neatly folded and brought for her before handing the reins towards Murtagh. A small 'Mmphmm' slipped by the older man's lips as he caught sight of the woman in the window as he shook his head and started in the direction of the stables that belonged to the Duncans. Jamie had assumed it was to collect the horse that Claire had rode down to the village earlier that day when she first arrived with his uncle, Dougal MacKenzie, however in the exact moments that consumed his thoughts, that was the least of his concerns.
Refocusing his thoughts away from horses, his uncle or even his Godfather. Instead, he returned his attention to Claire and the house she was currently in and felt his feet take their long strides towards the large wooden door that now separated them. Jamie stood staring at the door for a minute, taking deep breaths in and slowly released it as an overwhelming feeling of desire washed over him, taking hold of the forefront of his brain as he listened to her muffled laugh through the door.
He was unable to pinpoint what drew him to her. He thought over to himself nightly since they had first become acquainted. From the first moment he had laid his gaze upon her ivory white skin and met her whisky coloured stare, he was at her mercy. He was hers to do as she wished. And he knew he had to have her. It was a new feeling, something he had yet to feel in his short twenty-two years of living. He had felt the desire of wanting a woman; he was unable to deny that, however with Claire, he felt as if he needed her to carry on breathing.
It wasn't until they returned to Castle Leoch that he had fully processed his feeling, though. From the moment she cried in his arms about the loss of her husband, he knew the feeling he was feeling towards her was love. While she grieved over her husband, he felt the early pings in his chest of it. That night, unbeknownst to Claire, he had given her his heart. From that moment, he knew he was going to give her more of his soul with each moment that passed between them, and he had never felt as hopeless as he had since meeting her.
"Mister McTavish!" Claire's musical voice exclaimed as he stepped out from the shadows of the entryway and sidestepped around Duncan's housemaid and into the parlour.
A renew faint smile painted his lips as he watched Claire. Her cheeks flushed; he assumed that due to the effects of the dram of whiskey, she was clutching tightly in her right hand as she clasped her lower lip beneath her top teeth. Then, pushing herself forwards on the sofa she was perched on, she released the grasp she had on her lip and allowed them to spread into a small smile as her eyes hooded, and he felt the tips of his ears warm.
Rather quickly, he pulled himself away from thoughts of her, and he registered his surroundings. Jamie, trying to compose himself, reached his left hand up to the damp light brown hat placed on his short ruddy curls and removed it as he turned to Geillis Duncan. Then, feeling her steady gaze still on his face, he lowered himself stiffly into a bow before their host and muttered a fate greeting as he restored himself to his full stature.
"Mister McTavish," Geillis greeted him with a slight nod of her head, unmoving the sofa she was situated on opposite of Claire, "what a pleasure."
"Aye," Jamie nodded, beginning to feel somewhat uncomfortable as he shifted the cloak he had for Claire from over his right forearm and into his hands. "Dougal was called back to Leoch by Colum," he explained as he turned to reface Claire, "I was sent to fetch, ye, Mistress Beauchamp. I have yer cloak, 'tis rainin' and Colum dinna wish ye to catch a chill."
"Me?" She asked, her eyes igniting with curiosity as her name slipped through his lips.
Jamie took a small step in her direction, closing the small gap between them as he extended his hand that held her cloak. Claire remained motionless as she connected their stare and gripped the edge of the sofa cushion she was perched on as she placed the now empty whisky glass on a table next to her. He pulled the cloak back towards his large frame as he watched her stagnant movements and extended his hand out for her.
"We should be leavin', Mistress," He said softly, recapturing her gaze as he helped her to her feet and placed his hands on her shoulders to steady her, "Murtagh is readyin' yer horse."
"Murtagh is with you?" Claire asked, her speech slightly slurred as she matched his own hushed, soothing tone as he simply nodded and glanced over the top of his brown-haired lass towards Geillis. Who was currently studying the pair with a hint of a question in her green eyes.
"Claire was just about to tell me about her unusual upbringin'," Geillis announced, "before ye interrupted us."
She finished saying as she bore an icy glare at Jamie, which caused him to grip Claire's hand tighter. He had heard the stories about Geillis. Not that he believed she was a witch or practised witchcraft. However, he knew to be wary of the woman, that perhaps she wasn't exactly who she was claiming to be.
"Was I?" Claire asked as she fumbled with her cloak.
"Aye," Geillis said with slight amusement in her voice, "Ye said ye were raised by yer uncle and travelled all over with him. That's quite unusual in 'tis own right."
Claire nodded, causing her loose brown hair to fall into her face as she finally tied the woollen strings together of her cloak around her neck.
"That's it, the whole story." She finally responded with a slight shrug to her shoulders, "he was my legal guardian after my parent died. He travelled for his job. So, where he went, I went."
Jamie watched as Geillis glanced down at her bodice and smoothed the fabric over her midsection as she released a small sigh and brushed away an invisible crumb. He wasn't sure what she was looking for by having Claire speak of her upbringing. If Geillis had been any other lady in Leoch or in Cranesmoore, he would have thought it only her wish to get to know the English visitor better. However, something in the pit of his stomach told him that wasn't the case. Geillis had her secrets. She knew how to play his kins, fool them even, he wasn't falling into her trap, and he wouldn't allow his Claire to be subject to them either.
"We truly must leave now." He said, keeping his voice even as he glanced out the front window to see Murtagh had returned with all three horses.
"Right," Claire said, following his gaze out the window and faintly smiled, "Thank you, for today Geillis." She said, mustering up as many pleasantries as she could manage in her intoxicated state.
Geillis looked up from her place on her sofa, unmoving other than her hand. Waved them both off in a dismissing manner, "You're welcome to raid my stillroom anytime, Claire. 'Tis excellent to have a friend to share secrets with."
He watched as a wave of panic crossed over Claire's whisky eyes as she nodded and toyed with her lower lip beneath her teeth. Jamie then returned his hat to the top of his head and lowered himself once more to bid a farewell to Geillis before he led Claire out towards their horses. Once outside, he felt her hand slipped from his own grasp; almost instantly, he missed the small amount of warmth it provided, and he turned to face her.
"Jamie," She whispered, smiling up at him as she steadied herself by grasping tightly to the leather stirrup of her horses' saddle and hiccuped, "I don't think I'm capable of riding."
Her own cheeks turned a deep red colour as she giggled and pushed the strands of her brown hair away from her eyes.
"I dinna think ye are," Jamie said softly with a hint of amusement over her drunken state to this tone as he peered over the back of her horse and towards his Godfather, "Ye can ride with me, Sassenach. Murtagh can lead the horse back for ye."
Claire nodded her head, causing the curls she had just removed from her face to tumble back into her face as she dropped the hand that was steadying herself from the horses' saddle and wrapped her arms around her slender frame. Jamie remained motionless with the reins in his left hand as she watched her. Her body was swaying slightly as she stumbled forwards, and her voice slurred out a soothing tone to the horse she was approaching. He smiled as she unwrapped an arm from her body and slowly reached up to allow Donas to smell her before touching his nose.
A soft giggle escaped her lips as she ran her hand across the beasts' nose before looking up at Jamie and returning his smile with a small one on her own lips. His heartbeat quickened as her lips widen and her glossy eyes met his.
"Take me home?" She whispered, her voice pleaded as she moved her hand away from the horse, and she reached out and gently placed it upon his cheek, "Please?"
“Leoch isna home, Sassenach.” He replied as he gave in to his emotions and leaned into the warmth of her tender touch.
"No," She nodded in agreement, "it's not. Not mine or yours."
The pair allowed silence to settled around them as they let their conversation die. The subject of home was still a sore subject for them. Both longed for a place they couldn't be, but he longed to be there with her. Jamie sighed as he felt her hand fall from his cheek, allowing the cool spring air to replace the spot that was still heated from her touch.
Instead of saying the thoughts that were dancing at the tips of their tongues. Jamie turned to help her onto his horse. He continued to silence his thoughts, his desires, as he stared up at her, his heart racing once more at the site of Claire as rain droplets ran down her face and fell from the tip of her nose. A slight blush bloomed upon her cheeks in the faint light of the setting sun as he placed his hand on her thigh before he slipped behind her on his own horse.
Her head thumping against his chest as they rode towards Castle Leoch, it reminded them of their ride together merely seven days prior. A week. It was what it took for the seeds to be planted into each other's hearts.
Flashed through his mind as she shivered and nestled closer into his warm frame as she sang softly to a tune he didn't know. The English, he thought as he wrapped his tartan around them, sheltering them from the rain. Then, as they travelled down the dark road, her singing silenced, and her head rolled to the side, resting against her right shoulder. Jamie sighed, pulling her to him, closing the minimal gap that had been left between them.
"Mo Chridhe," He whispered into the mess of her brown curls before kissing her softly against the temple of her face, before repeating the saying once more.