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The Substitute

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The guards had taken off in search of the runaway. Back at Thistle Glen House, its mistress reasoned he couldn’t have gone far - he hadn’t been here long enough to get an accurate lay of the land. Still, she was amazed at his cunning and his sheer bravado. His own family was too far away to reach unless he had three days and a horse. Walking, it would take him more than a week; and he didn’t have any food or water with him, she was reasonably sure. She stretched her arm and pulled one of many rolled parchments stacked in an old, heavy bookshelf. The newest scroll had a soft wool ribbon patterned in his family’s tartan holding it closed. Bits of wax still clung to the ends of the ribbon. She smoothed the beautiful parchment onto the desk and placed books on each corner to keep it open. “I, James Alexander Malcom MacKenzie Fraser, do confess that my brother, William David MacKenzie Alasdair Fraser, heir to the Laird Broch Tuarach, and I did commit a grievous crime against Her Grace, the Duchess of Glenfinnan, on November 1, 1743, when we did kill and remove two deer and five rabbits from her lands without permission. The law allows for the injured party to demand service from the family of the criminal(s). Her Grace demanded that William Fraser pay her with a year of service for the animals. I do hereby swear that I have reached my twenty-first year and do pledge, upon my honor, to serve Her Grace for the term of 365 days as her bondsman in my brother’s stead. In return, she will release and hold him harmless for our malfeasance. Signed this day, Thursday November 5, 1743, at Thistle Glen House, between Master James Alexander Malcom MacKenzie Fraser of Lallybroch and Master William David MacKenzie Alasdair Fraser of Lallybroch and Her Grace, Claire Moriston, Duchess of Glenfinnan.”

Chapter Text

The next morning, she sat in her study, enjoying a cup of tea.  She heard the clatter of hooves in the courtyard and looked out the window.  They’d found him.  She used her second-story study window to boldly ogle him.  Never had Claire seen a more beautiful man.  James Fraser was 6’4, with curly red hair, high cheekbones and eyes the color of the ocean that slanted invitingly, rather feline-like.  At about 225 pounds of pure, hulking muscle, she could see that Marley, the head of her guard, had fought hard.  The man himself pulled Fraser behind Atlas, the prized Shire in Claire's stables. Shaw had a black eye and fat lip and Reynolds had lost his coat.  His waistcoat was covered in mud and ripped.  Fraser’s hands were manacled and a rope was tied to the chains to make Fraser more “agreeable” to progress towards the house.  Fraser’s long stride was hampered by the fetters around his ankles that scraped the ground leaving a strange snail-trail behind him.  Claire entered the courtyard and stood impassively, waiting while Fraser was released from the saddle.  The guards frog marched him in front of Claire and ordered him on his knees to beg forgiveness from his mistress.  When he refused, he was punched in the stomach and kicked in the back of his knees to make him obey.  Jamie crumpled onto his knees and fell forward onto his hands with the force of the blows.  

“Bring his head up,” Marley growled.  A guard seized a handful of curls and yanked his powerful head back, eliciting a snarl of pain from the giant below him.  Jamie looked at the imperious woman before him, chocolate-brown curls blowing in a halo around her head that crowned brown eyes, ivory skin and lush lips.

“Fraser, do you know the meaning of the word “bondsman?” Claire looked into narrowed blue-icicle eyes.

“Aye, I do.” He spat.

“Tell me, then, what is the definition of ‘bondsman’?” 

Fraser licked his parched lips and rumbled, “’Tis someone who pledges fealty and service to another.” 

“And do you know an old definition of the word, Fraser?” Fraser remained obstinately silent.

“Alright, I’ll tell you.  It is ‘slave,’ Fraser.  When you signed that contract, you agreed to be my property for the next year.  Was that clear to you when you committed yourself?” 

“Aye, ‘twas.”

“Why did you try to escape, then?”

“To go back home, to hunt again with my brothers so we could provide food for my father’s tenants, who are starving!” Fraser glared defiantly at the tiny woman standing above him, “An’ we had failed crops two years in a row.  Our crofters canna feed their families and most have no place to go! We’ve hunted our lands near bare of game.  Ye know that game is scarce in the countryside because of the harsh winter we had.  Remember the wildfires?  The land was decimated.  What would ye have us do? Let our people starve?”  He looked disdainfully at her small form.  With her tiny waist and slender hands, he could break her like a damn twig, given the chance.

“Your father is a Laird in his own right.  As the son of a fellow estate owner, why did you not just ask to hunt here?” 

He sneered at her, anger and scorn dripping from his voice, “All yer neighbors hate ye.  We all know about Kenny Gordon.  Yer estate manager flogged him near to death and dismissed him – and for what? Stealin’ food?  The man was hungry! Ye’re a Sassenach, an outsider.  God only knows what His Grace was thinkin’, marryin’ a hateful Englishwoman to plant amongst our midst like a weed that will choke a garden!” 

Before Claire could stop herself, she stepped up to Fraser and slapped him with all her might.  His head snapped to the right and the blow reverberated off the buildings ringing the courtyard.  Fraser growled and rubbed his cheek.   Claire shouted, “Stealing food? You think I had a man flogged and dismissed from my service for stealing food because he was hungry?  Is that the bald-faced lie he spread?” She turned around and Jamie could see her shoulders quivering.  She took a deep breath and whirled around.  “I would never deny any of my workers food, Fraser.  I’m not an animal!  The reason he was flogged so brutally and dismissed?” She moved very close to him and he saw that her eyes weren’t brown, as he’d previously thought.  They were a whisky color, with golden flecks.  She spoke in a voice barely above a whisper so the guards couldn't hear her, “He raped me!  He snuck into my bedroom one night after he’d had too much to drink, bound and gagged me and had his way with me.  I wasn’t found until the next morning and almost didn’t survive.  So, yes, I had him flogged within an inch of his miserable life and dismissed!”

Jamie’s face drained of blood and his wame rolled when he heard what’d really happened.  His mouth fell open and he lowered his eyes, ashamed of what he’d said.  He sank back on his haunches and thought, What if that’d been Jenny?  Jenny was his sister and his confidante in the family.  Jamie would defend any woman who needed protection to the death.

He stammered an apology, still keeping his eyes downcast.  “Mistress, please forgive me.  I shouldn’t have said what I did.”

Claire ignored him, and the head of the guard cleared his throat and said, “Your Grace, what shall his punishment be?” 

Claire looked down at the man below her, considering.  “I don’t know yet.  Bring him downstairs and leave his restraints on.  Chain him to the wall by his neck in case anyone needs to go in the cell.  “Fraser, are you hungry?”

Jamie shifted uncomfortably and admitted, “Aye, Mistress, I could eat a bear.”  

Claire sneered at him and snapped to one of the houseboys, “Tell Mrs. Fitz to make three plates for him.  I will bring it down to him myself.  I wouldn’t want him thinking I let my servants go hungry,” she looked Jamie dead in the eye, daring him to say anything.  Jamie blushed furiously and lowered his gaze again. Feet shuffled behind him and Jamie was pulled to his feet.  He did not resist as he was brought to the lowest level of the great house.  Per the duchess’ orders, the men pushed him into the cell, enclosed his neck in an iron collar embedded in the masonry, locked the cell and left him there without a backward glance.  As far as they were concerned, he was a petty criminal and deserved no better treatment.  

A few minutes later, Claire descended the stone stairs with three guards, all bearing plates of food and drink.  She watched them push the plates into the cell and demanded that Jamie eat them while she watched,  “Go on, Fraser, eat up.  I’m trying to rehabilitate my image!”  She spat angrily.  “At least at the end of this year, you will be able to say that nobody denied you a meal!”

Jamie blushed crimson and wisely stayed silent.  He made his way first through a small bowl of beef stew with warm buttered bannocks on the side.  Next came a plate of sausages with gravy, neeps and tatties. The second plate held a thick slab of ham with a white pepper sauce, garlicky carrots and cabbage rolls.  The last held hot apple cobbler with a cinnamon-cardamom sauce and whipped cream.  Shortbread cookies were last, all washed down with delicious cool ale from the estate.  He pushed all the dishes back into the room and carefully stood, warm woolen dun bonnet in hand,
“Mistress, I thank ye for all the delicious food.  I didn’a deserve it after how I spoke to ye.  I am sorry and I hope ye can see yer way clear to fergivin’ me someday.  I will take my punishment fer tryin’ ta escape and serve out my agreed time.  I give ye my oath; ye’ll have no further problems from me, dinna fash.” 

Claire bit back a smile and said, “Hamilton, remove his collar.”  The man stepped forward warily and quickly freed Jamie’s powerful neck.  “Don’t make me regret my kindnesses to you, Fraser.” 

He swallowed and replied quickly, “No, yer grace, I won’. Thankee.”  Jamie looked down at the fierce woman in front of him.  

He could swear her eyes were sparking with mirth as she said quietly, “Very well, Fraser.  Someone will bring you breakfast in the morning.  Sleep well.”

He sighed and curled up on his pallet underneath the woolen blanket.  He fell asleep almost immediately despite the chains.  Many hours later, he started awake as he heard the door to his level opening slowly. Whoever was coming down the stairs knew nothing about stealth.  He feigned sleep and kept his back toward the cell door.  It was a full moon and there was no need for a lantern.  His cell door was opened and before the intruder could touch him, he rolled to his feet and plowed into the other man’s stomach with his iron fist.  In the moonlight, Jamie could see that it was Marley and two guards Jamie had hurt quite badly during his capture. Two of them kicked him to the ground and stuffed a rag into his mouth, tying a handkerchief tightly around his face so he couldn’t call for help.  Two of them held him and the third would take his time with his fists, feet, or a blade, laughing when Jamie screamed behind the gag. Jamie was kicked and punched indiscriminately, hoisted to his feet just to be knocked down with powerful fists. The abuse went on and on until Marley kicked him in the stomach and smashed his head against the cell floor, declaring that he was tired and thirsty.  His colleagues followed him out the door and Jamie was locked inside again.  He ripped the gag out and stumbled to his pallet, crying from the pain. He tried to slow his breathing so he could fall asleep.  He finally woke and wished to die; his body screamed from the beating.  All he could do was groan and cover himself with the blanket, lying huddled on his pallet.  Later that morning, Marley ate most of Jamie's breakfast and laughed at the prone man.  He kicked Jamie’s breakfast through the opening in the cell door, upsetting the bowl of now-cold porridge dregs and empty plate that had held the bannocks onto the dirty floor and spilling the tankard of water.  Jamie was half asleep but roused himself to eat.  He crawled over to the food, licked the bowl clean and ate the bread. He collapsed back on his pallet and wished for death.  
The next morning, the guards brought Jamie breakfast and Marley, that bastard, waited until they left.  He sat down and ate most of the food meant for Jamie and kicked the rest to him.  Jamie waited until he was gone and ate a bit of egg off the dirty floor and the crusts Marley had left him.  He fell into a fitful sleep and could not see any end to this torture.  The same pattern repeated every time Marley brought food.

On the afternoon of the fourth day after Jamie’s beating, the duchess came to the dungeon.  He would suffer twenty lashes for his attempted escape.  She opened the door and walked over to the cell.  His massive form was curled up on his pallet and he was snuggled into his blanket. 

“Fraser! Wake up!” she called his name, but Fraser didn’t react.  That didn’t seem like the brash young man from a few days ago.  Claire became concerned and made the guard, Peter Lauder, open the cell.  He followed her into the cell. She knelt and shook Jamie’s shoulder vigorously.  Jamie fell onto his back from the force and stared at her with glassy eyes and a hollow stare.  Claire gasped and screamed for a second guard.  Alan Johnstone came running with Marley close on his heels.  She swore and gently pinched Jamie’s skin, furious when his skin didn’t snap back quickly.  Extreme lack of fluids.  She stood up and barked, “Johnstone! Run to the kitchen and have Mrs. Fitz give you some warm broth!”  

Seeing him hesitate, she yelled, “Go, man, Fraser is dying!”  He took off like a ban sidhe was chasing him and returned a few minutes later with a basket that held a cup, a spoon, a bowl, a napkin and warm bread (from Mrs. Fitz, “just in case”).  There was a large jar of warm broth nestled in the center.  She ordered Johnstone to get Jamie water.  She uncapped the broth and poured some into the little bowl.  She ordered Johnstone to sit Jamie upright.  Claire lifted his head gingerly and carefully trickled water down his parched throat, a miniscule bit at a time.  She spoke to him the entire time, urging him to accept the liquid and open his eyes.  She continued giving him water and spooned warm broth into his mouth, gently stroking his throat to encourage him to swallow.  After about 20 minutes of feeding him, she ordered Jamie to be carried upstairs.  

His chains were struck off and Lauder called for reinforcements – it took four men to carry Fraser upstairs. She had him installed in a bedroom next to hers so she could watch over him in the night.  She ordered hot water, soap and clean clothes for him.  Ever-cautious, she ordered two more men to guard the chamber in case Fraser woke.  The large copper basin was filled with hot water and Claire got to work, Johnstone and Lauder in the room with her.  She requested her medical bag, stripped Jamie naked and saw the damage someone had inflicted on a helpless Jamie – he had angry crop marks, blood and dirt, enormous bruises and bloody cuts over his entire body.  Lauder swallowed loudly when he saw the abuse and Johnstone crossed himself.  All her men knew that she alone was the person who decided punishment.  She got the four men to place him gently in the tub.  She washed his hair and battered body, getting angrier and angrier as she saw more and more and evidence of abuse.  She smoothed arnica ointment on his wounds for faster healing and stitched the larger cuts.  She bandaged what wounds couldn’t be left to the air.  Why was he so dehydrated?  She was sure to send him three simple meals per day.  Mrs. Fitz confirmed every day that she’d sent Marley to Fraser.  His job was to bring the food down and push it under the hole in the cell door.  Had Fraser spurned the food?  Surely he was thirsty and needed the water. Even though he might not have wanted to eat, the water was the important thing.  She put a fine linen shirt on his clean body and the guards eased him under the covers.  

She sat on the edge of the bed and smoothed his curls away from his face tenderly, whispering, “I am sorry, Fraser.  Whoever did this to you, he will pay dearly.”  Lying down, he looked younger than his 21 years.  She hoped to God he’d get a good night’s rest tonight.  She ordered Johnstone and Lauder to keep all except herself and Mrs. Fitz out of the room.  

Just as she was preparing to leave, Johnstone cleared his throat, “Beggin’ yer pardon, yer grace, but Fraser didna waste any food or drink.  Marley was angry at Fraser for beatin’ him and either ate most of Fraser’s food or upset it so Fraser had nothin’ ta eat or drink.”

Claire’s stomach fell, “Lauder, can you corroborate this?” 

Lauder looked down at his feet, “Aye, yer grace.  We couldn’a say anythin’ because Marley threatened our families if we said anything. He forced two other men to help him and he threatened to have them dismissed for stealing. Smith and MacAllister both came to me separately about it."  

“I see.  Alright. Stay here for a minute.”  Claire walked downstairs and ordered two more men to guard Jamie’s chamber. “Lauder, Johnstone, you’re with me.  We’re going downstairs.”  The men exchanged small smiles.  They hated Marley.  He was unnecessarily brutal to prisoners and cruel to coworkers. They arrived downstairs and Claire looked Marley square in the face and slapped him, “That’s for abusing Fraser and other prisoners.  Idiot, you could have killed him! I’ve turned a blind eye to your excesses up until now because you’ve been an asset to this house, but you’ve gone beyond the pale this time.”

Marley just stared incredulously at Claire, “Did ye see the shiner the bastard gave me, yer grace?”

Claire shouted, “Of course I saw it, Marley! He was trying to defend himself!  He gave you a black eye, but that’s no reason to starve a man to death!  You are dismissed (fired)!  Gentlemen, get this piece of filth off my property, please, and get help if you need it; then get Smith and MacAllister. Make them wait outside my parlor and stay with them.”

The men chorused in unison, “Yes, yer grace, right away!”  Johnstone and Lauder called Smith and MacAllister to help them and dragged Marley outside. When they were out of earshot of the main house, the men thoroughly cleaned Marley’s clock (they beat him severely) and let him know that he’d die if he trespassed here.  Marley picked himself up and ran off into the night.

Back at Claire's parlor, Lauder knocked on the door and all four men entered, hats in hands. She sat behind her desk and looked at Smith and MacAllister. "Smith, MacAllister, I've been told that Marley forced you to beat James Fraser. Is this true?"

Smith stammered, "Yes, yer grace. He threatened us with a false stealing accusation and dismissal if we didn'a." MacAllister nodded silently.

"Very well," Claire said. "You will not be punished, but the next time something like this happens, go to Johnstone or Lauder, yes?"

The two men nodded and said "Aye, yer grace" in unison.

Claire straightened up and replied, "Good, you are excused." The men bowed and left, quietly closing the door behind them.  “Gentlemen, I wish to thank you for alerting me to Fraser’s real situation."  She poured all of them a whisky. "He may live because of your bravery.  I am promoting both of you to my lieutenants in my home and you will be responsible for more here; you will be my eyes when I cannot be here. You will also see to staff welfare from this moment on.”  She rummaged around in her drawstring purse and pulled out two gold sovereigns, the equivalent of a month’s wages in those parts. She smiled at their incredulous faces and placed the coins in their hands, "I know you are both married – Lauder, you are about to become a father, so make sure you give these to your wives for the running of their households!  You know I'll find out about it if you don't!" The two men grinned, blushed and laughed with Claire, who continued speaking,  "You will both be given commensurate pay raises, of course."  I'm also giving you both the rest of the day off with pay." She pulled her two finest unopened whiskies from her locked cabinet and gave both men a whole bottle they’d never dared dream of owning.  She raised her glass and toasted their health.  Both men blushed scarlet in surprise and pleasure, bowed deeply and left, hugging the whisky to their chests.

She returned to Fraser’s room and found Mrs. Fitz spoon-feeding him more water and broth, murmuring quietly in the Gàidhlig to Fraser in her motherly way, which was her wont.  Claire thanked her and let Mrs. Fitz retire for the night.  She settled Fraser under the blankets again and sat down in a comfy chair, ready for her vigil.  She got up periodically during the night to make sure he still lived.  Reassured that they hadn’t reached him too late, she propped him up on pillows and she fed him again, pleased to see that he’d managed to keep down what he’d ingested.  At around 6 am, Mrs. Fitz sent up more broth and bread with a kitchen maid as well as a nibble of breakfast for Claire.  Claire fed Jamie again, praying he’d wake up soon.

Chapter Text

Jamie finally woke on the morning of the third day.  He opened heavy eyes slowly and looked at himself.  What was he doing here? The last thing he remembered was Marley upsetting his food.  It had all spilled to the floor, so Jamie hadn’t eaten anything, again.  He’d crawled onto his pallet and didn’t remember anything more.  He was clean and warm, dressed in a strange linen shirt with no arms to it that buttoned down the front.  He was in a real bedroom with a fire roaring in the fireplace, keeping the room warm and drafts at bay.  He blinked and swiveled his head; Mrs. Fitz sat next to him, reading.  He moved his fingers sluggishly and silently touched the back of her hand.  Mrs. Fitz startled at the sudden touch, but smiled at Jamie,

“Ahhh, there ye be, laddie.  Thank God above, ye came back to us!  Do ye want some water, a bhalaich?” Jamie’s throat hurt horribly and he simply nodded slowly.  She brought the little bowl to his lips and let him have a few sips, “Aye, son, easy does it.  Ye’ve been verra sick an’ scared us all ta death.”

“Did ye know Herself ‘as been here every day an’ night, sittin’ with ye, feedin’ ye?”  His eyebrows rose slightly in surprise.  “I see that surprises ye, lad. Not me.  Why, the mistress, she bathed ye and tended to all yer hurts personally.” Jamie blushed ten shades of deep crimson at that revelation. “Och, I had to nag her ta eat sumthin’.  She’s been fair fashed about ye.”  The chatelaine cleared her throat, “Aye, the duchess is a natural healer.  She was a lass of only eight years old when she came here.  Her parents died in a coach accident when she was five.  She was wi’ her father’s brother. They were on the road travelin’ to France when their coach was robbed.  The horses panicked and the coach overturned in the commotion.  Her uncle and the coachman died and the scoundrels thought her dead.  I don’t know how she managed, but she unhooked the carriage horses and rode one up to the house door bareback – “ Mrs. Fitz took a deep breath, “After she ‘couldn’a wake’ her uncle, is what she told his grace later.”  Jamie reeled back in shock. A little girl, left to fend for herself, here, in the Scottish Highlands? Mrs. Fitz continued, “It was at least five miles to the main road; she must have been so frightened.”  Jamie’s mouth fell open.  “Aye, thank Jesus it was late spring an’ the snow was gone.  ‘Twas her late husband’s father was the duke at the time.  When he asked her how she found the lodge, she said that she figured that the horses would find water, so she let ‘em ha’ their heads.  She noticed the worn path leading to the burn they found and took the second horse’s reins and brought them all, literally, right to the duke’s front door.  He said later it was the most incredible thing he’d ever seen.  Can ye imagine?  Openin’ the door and seein’ a tiny lass and two horses starin’ at ye?” She snickered and Jamie smiled. “O’course, Himself an’ his wife took her in and gave her a place to stay.  His son, her late husband, was but three years older than she was but she was farther along in her schooling!” Mrs. Fitz giggled at the memory of Claire correcting Silas’ grammar and spelling.   They married when she was 16 and he 19.  They only had eyes for one another.  The young duke died well before his time – he got thrown by a horse – his neck was snapped instantly.  Herself was never the same after that.  The light fairly faded from her eyes.  She mourned him and the future they never had for a long while.  Her greatest hope had been a babe by him, but it was not to be.  Mrs. Fitz’ eyes clouded with hot tears at the memory.

Jamie’s eyes burned with tears and shame.  He didn’t think he’d ever been less of a Christian to anyone as he had been with this woman.  He vowed that he would make it up to her, somehow.  Throat on fire, he whispered brokenly, “Grace... attacked?” 

“Aye, ‘twas a horrible thing, too.  Whatever punishment that man got was too little.  The law,” she snorted derisively, “the law wouldn’a lifted a wee finger to help ‘er.  I foun’ ‘er, ye see.”  A solitary tear ran down her pinked cheek as she went back to that painful day, “I would give all I have to erase that from her memory.  Aye, she’s a good mistress, Jamie.  She cares deeply about her tenants and servants.  Ye’ll see.”

Jamie mimicked drinking and Mrs. Fitz gave him some warm weak tea with honey, “There ye go, lad.  Nice n’ easy, Tha’s it. Honey will coat yer throat and make it easier to talk, soon, I promise.”

“M-mar-Marley?”

“Och, lad, dinna waste any thought on that scum.  Johnstone, Lauder, Smith and MacAlpine took care o’ him and threw him off the property, on her grace’s order.”

Jamie drank a little more broth and Mrs. Fitz busied herself helping him get beneath the quilts again. 

Claire arrived ten minutes later and motioned silently for Mrs. Fitz to join her outside Jamie’s room, “So, how’s he doing? Has he regained consciousness yet?”

Mrs. Fitz smiled, “Aye, yer grace.  That he has.  He canna speak more than a few words at a time; his throat is still too damaged.  I gave him water, broth and weak tea with honey, jus’ as ye directed.  He’ll be back on ‘is feet in no time.”

Claire smiled at the woman who’d been a comforting fixture for so many years of her still-young life, “Mrs. Fitz, I have no doubt that your broth will do miracles.  And, if the soreness doesn’t go away fast enough, I’m sure you’ll frighten it away!” Claire grinned and Mrs. Fitz blushed.  The women laughed and Claire went to sit with Jamie.

She opened the door slowly.  Jamie was on the edge of sleep but his eyes popped open when he heard her quiet footsteps.  She sat next to his bed and said in a hushed voice, “So, Fraser, I am heartily glad you are back with us.  You gave us all quite a scare!” 

Jamie blushed red and whispered rustily, “Sorry.”

She smiled and Jamie felt it shoot an arrow into his heart, “I’m teasing you, Fraser.  I am glad you’re better.  Mrs. Fitz says you’ll be up and ready to take on duties soon.”  She felt his forehead and Jamie bit back a moan at her smooth cool hand on his skin.  “Well, it would appear that you have no fever, which is wonderful.”  She reached behind her and handed him his tartan, which had been washed.  “Go ahead and drape this over yourself to protect your modesty.  I’ll be back in a minute.”

She left the room and he wrapped the plaid around his hips, covering his groin and buttocks.  She knocked twice and said, “It’s just me, Fraser, I’m coming in.” She sat down in front of him again.  “I’m glad you have no fever; that’s an optimal outcome. However, I do want to check your wounds to make sure they’re healing properly.  I’m going to unbutton your sark, alright?” 

Jamie nodded, immediately noticing a change in her disposition.  This must be her healer mode.  “Please try and relax. I promise, Fraser, I’ll be as quick and as gentle as I can.”  

He gave her a small smile and forced himself to relax.  Claire took a steadying breath in. Jesus Mary and Joseph!  His body is as beautiful as his face, she thought to herself.  His chest was broad and well-muscled, with a smattering of freckles that looked like they’d been haphazardly sprinkled there by a mad fairy.  He had four sets of very well-defined abdominal muscles and a beautiful cinnamon-blond-red happy trail leading to his... NEVERMIND, CLAIRE!  She chastised herself brusquely.  He was massive.  Unbidden, her thoughts snuck into forbidden territory – his thighs, which happened to be her second-favorite part of the male anatomy, right after the - OH, MY GOD, I HAVE TO STOP!  HE WORKS FOR ME! She scolded herself once more.  She couldn’t even look at her bondsman and blushed furiously.  She dragged her attention back to the wounds she could see.  Everything was dry, scabbing over or the stitches were holding up well.  His huge arms looked like they could rip a tree right out of a mountain.  She had a flash of herself being carried tenderly in those arms.  She squeezed her eyes shut in exasperation with herself and refocused her attention on what was right in front of her.  Thank goodness none of his knife punctures on his arms or shoulders were deep.  She rebuttoned his shirt and draped his chest and torso with a warm woolen blanket. 

“Alright, I’m going to remove the blankets and the sheet, alright?” She smiled encouragingly at him.  Awestruck by the beauty and gentleness of her eyes, he nodded mutely.  Claire carefully peeled back the bedclothes and inspected the man’s thighs and could feel herself get wet and salivate slightly.  Magnificent, rock-hard muscles adorned his legs, a testament to hard, physical work.  She finished inspecting his front and helped him roll onto his back.  God help her.  She saw the awesome strength of his back muscles rippling in the sunlight streaming through the windows.  One gouge of a knife had been particularly deep and she could see that it was weeping slightly beneath its bandage. 

“Fraser, one of your injuries looks like it may fester, so I’m going to remove the bandage and cleanse it, alright?  It may sting a little.”  She called for Mrs. Fitz and asked her for “the bottle from my study” and the woman brought it quickly. 

Claire poured three fingers into a cup and gave it to Fraser, “here, try to drink this.  It will dull the pain.” 

Jamie raised the cup to her and tossed back the amber goodness.  His throat and mouth burned and he grimaced. 

“The whisky helps clean your cuts in your mouth and essentially cleans your throat, Fraser. It may burn but it’ll help.”  Claire removed the bandage and dipped a clean rag into a small bowl of the whisky.  She cleaned the wound and all around it and Jamie hissed at the burn but emitted no other sounds. 

“I’m sorry, Fraser, I know that was hard to endure,” Claire said quietly.  She patted the wound dry and gave him a couple of stitches, hoping that they would help the wound heal faster.  She helped him onto his back again and asked Mrs. Fitz for a large bowl of broth with minced chicken and vegetables in it to try to get some food into him.  “Fraser, do you feel strong enough to feed yourself?” Jamie was already fatigued from the exam and looked at her.  He hesitated and then shook his head, blushing.  “No need to be embarrassed, Fraser.  You’re still recovering.  Please, let me assist you.”  She smiled gently and pushed a long curl behind his ear when it threatened to drag in the soup.  Jamie closed his eyes – her touch was magical.  “Alright, let’s get you to eat as much of this as you can, Fraser.”  She fed him slowly, waiting until he was ready for another bite.  By the last few spoonfuls, Jamie could barely keep his eyes open.  The hot soup, warm bed, whisky and gentle care had pushed him into a blissful, relaxed state he’d never experienced before.  She helped him under the covers again and as she was rising out of the chair, she felt Jamie’s hands gently capture one of hers.  She looked at him in surprise as he reverently kissed her hand in thanks, sleepy blue eyes and tousled curls making him look somewhat like an overlarge child.  He released her and she cupped his cheek soothingly, “You’re welcome, Fraser.  Please try and sleep now, alright?”  Her eyes held many mysteries, he knew.  Today, though, something new and different was showing; but he couldn’t puzzle it out right then.  Morpheus arrived and insistently led him away and James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser slept soundly for the next 12 hours. 

She brushed the stubborn curl off his forehead again, turned and walked out the door, knees wobbling the whole way.

Chapter Text

When Jamie awoke, bright sunlight streamed through the windows in his chamber.  Johnstone walked over and smiled, “There ye are, man, welcome back. How de ye feel?”

Jamie cleared his throat and spoke quietly, “Much better, thank ye, sir.”

Johnstone raised his eyebrows, “Dinna call me ‘sir,’ Fraser, we’re equals here.”

Jamie’s eyebrows raised in surprise, “Aye, tha’s how it is here.  Ye do have to call her grace by her title, but among the staff here, we’re all equals.”

Lauder notified Mrs. Fitz that Jamie was awake and she brought a large serving bowl brimming with piping hot soup and a mountain of soft bread and butter, “Alright, Jamie, time ta put somethin’ i’ that wame o’ yers.  Do ye feel strong enough ta feed yerself?”  Jamie nodded and she smiled brightly, “Tha’s bonny.  Eat as much as ye can, a bhalaich.  Mistress says ye need another two days in bed an’ then ye should be right as rain.  An’ Herself may come by to check on ye taday.” Mrs. Fitz winked and left.  Jamie ate slowly and enjoyed the fresh vegetables and lamb soup and buttered bread.  He managed to finish it all and Lauder took the tray from him and set it outside the room.  Jamie settled down into bed and enjoyed the feeling of a full belly; he wouldn’t forget the feeling of starving anytime soon.  He was just about to drift off when the door opened and her grace walked in.  He straightened up hastily as she advanced farther into his chamber.  She came and pulled a chair up to the bed, “Good afternoon, Fraser.  How are you feeling?”

Jamie cleared his throat and replied quietly, “I’m braw, mistress, and ye?”

She smiled and Jamie was lost, “I’m fine, thank you.  I heard from Mrs. Fitz that you ate well.  I’m glad to hear it.  How’s your throat feeling?”

He smiled, “Much better, thank ye fer all yer care, yer grace.  An’ I am considerably less sore than the other day; I even managed to feed myself taday.”  He grinned, “Mistress Fitz sure can cook, aye? 

Claire laughed, “Yes, she can, Fraser.  I’ve known her since I came here.  I learned quickly that it’s best to eat what she gives you and not argue. Not even my late father-in-law would defy her on that.” 

Claire shifted into healer mode, “So. I want to check your wounds, Fraser.” She leaned over the bed and pulled Jamie’s tartan into his lap.  Jamie caught a whiff of her natural scent mixed with jasmine and oranges.  It was a heady mix and Jamie knew he would remember it for many years to come. 

“Alright, I’ll come back.  Same as last time – cover yourself and I’ll do a quick exam.”

“Yes, yer grace.” She smiled and left to go to the kitchens for a few minutes.  When she knocked at the door again, Jamie bade her enter and was ready for her.  She skimmed his chest with her beautiful whisky eyes and moved a bandage slightly to check a knife wound. 

As she touched him, a shock barreled down his chest right into his cock.  Jamie sucked in a breath in surprise and looked at Claire, who had an equally stunned expression on her beautiful face, “Did you feel a shock, Fraser?”  She wrinkled her petite nose.  Jamie could have stared at her forever. 

“Aye, Madam, I did.  Must be the rug, aye?”

She gulped as she studied his beautiful face.  He had a very strong nose and chin, always weaknesses for Claire.  She was seized by an urge to bury her tongue in the cleft of that chin and kiss down his long, slender neck.  She shook herself and nodded mutely in agreement.  She put a hand on the quilt and stuttered out, “A-are you ready for me to examine your legs?”

Jamie saw the blush creeping from her sternal notch to her neck and his nostrils flared in arousal, although he was unaware of it.  His eyes became darker as he looked her in the eyes and whispered, “Aye, mistress.  Go ahead.”

She mentally shook herself and focused on her task.  His bruises were healing well and swelling had decreased, always a good sign.  Her gaze traveled to his wonderful thighs and she wondered briefly how it’d feel to sit on them and ride – STOP, CLAIRE, FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE! She shook her head and asked him to turn onto his stomach.  She turned around while she did it so he wouldn’t feel any more self-conscious than he already must.  He turned over slowly and made sure his modesty was protected.  She heard him settle and turned around.  She was heartened to see that his wounds had made good progress.  Every one was dry and scabbing over.  She lifted the bandage on some stitches and they looked good, too.  God, his back. So beautiful with its planes and muscles.  She kept her hands at her side with difficulty; she wanted to caress him and make him moan in desire.  She cursed inwardly and shut her eyes tightly, wondering when she would be able to control these completely inappropriate thoughts.  She’d never experienced anything like the attraction she felt towards Fraser, and it frightened her. 

She hadn’t felt like this about anyone since Silas.  Oh, God, Silas, her heartbreakingly beautiful husband, with velvet-soft kisses and loving, honeyed words.  It had been five years since his death and 23-year-old Claire still missed him every day.  

She felt disloyal to his memory, and was ashamed of her carnal thoughts, “Darling, please forgive my weakness,” she prayed.  Tears pricked her eyes and she sniffled quietly, remembering his deep, sonorous laugh and quick wit.  She’d always felt safe around him, especially one day when she was 15, after he killed a wolf that had been stalking her as she was out gathering herbs one day.  It was a beautiful sunny day; you know the kind, where perfect, soft breezes caress one’s hair and cheeks, birds sing together in perfect concert and drowsy bumblebees get drunk off the perfume of the flowers.  Claire took off with her wee basket over her arm, telling Silas she’d see him later.  He waved goodbye to her and resumed his work.  She had just found a large amount of feverfew when she heard a slight rustling behind her.  She paled and the hair on the back of her neck stood on end.  She straightened up slowly, dreading what’d made the noise.  She stifled a scream.  She’d been so absorbed in her task that she’d allowed the wolf to creep up on her and her horse, who threw Claire and screamed in alarm at the large animal growling and showing its sharp fangs, ears pressed against its head.  He circled them, eyes fixed on Claire.  The horse took off for the stables. 

Silas was home at the time and his heart stopped when he saw her horse return without her.  He took his best dogs, Bran and Lucas, and ordered them to “Find Claire.”  The dogs were ferocious to strangers but had adored Claire since her first day at the house.  They pricked their ears and took off at a gallop, stopping occasionally to stick their noses in the wind.  As they mounted a rise, the dogs’ baying got louder and Silas knew they’d found her.  He gave them the command they’d been waiting for, “Ionnsaigh (attack)!” and the dogs rushed the wolf.  They flanked him on two sides and Silas yelled at the wolf and pulled his sword, swinging it wildly in front of the wolf to make it back up.  He used the wolf’s distraction and helped Claire onto his mount, murmuring, “Stay there, Claire, aye?”

Claire whispered, “yes, Silas.”  

He turned around and faced the wolf and pulled his gun from its holster, took careful aim and shot the poor beast dead.  He picked the body up and balanced it on the back of his mount – the pelt would make a fine blanket.  Silas led Claire back to the main house, the dogs happy after a successful hunt. 

After they got back, Silas checked her over for any injury and looked deep into her eyes, “Claire, God, oh, Claire! I was so frightened when I saw Cinnamon come back without you!

His soft brown eyes filled with tears and he hugged her to him, wanting to protect her from anything and everything in their world that might harm her.  She started weeping in relief and hugged him tightly.  He kissed the top of her head and whispered, “Mo rionnag deàlrach (my shining star)” so quietly she did not hear it.  It was that night that she admitted to herself for the first time that she had fallen in love with the young master of Thistle Glen House.  She thought back and couldn’t even pinpoint when it happened, but she knew she wanted to see him first thing every morning and last thing every evening.  When he drew close to her, her heart beat faster and her stomach fluttered strangely.  She saw how he treated his staff with respect and was fair with his tenants.  Claire was sure he saw her as just his little sister and vowed not to risk their brother/sister relationship for anything in the world.  She would swallow her feelings and marry the man of his choice when the time came; she knew he would pick wisely for her. 

She tried ignoring her growing attraction to him, but being around Silas became increasingly difficult for Claire.  She kept making excuses so she didn’t have to be around him as much, and Silas’ feelings were understandably hurt as he had no idea what he might have done to offend her so that she no longer wanted to be around him.  It all came to a head one day when they received their customary joint invitation to a summer lawn party held by the Duke of Pardloe.  They’d attended the yearly celebration together since Claire was 9, because at that point, Silas still didn’t like girls, so attending with his “sister” was the best option.  Today, the butler brought the ornate invitation on a silver salver while Silas was in his study.  He opened the invitation and was glad, for the first time, to receive it.  Surely Claire would attend with him, wouldn’t she?  She couldn’t possibly manufacture an excuse to skip the celebration.  He asked a housemaid to find her and bring her to his study. 

It took Laura quite a few minutes, but she eventually found Claire in her herb garden, “Miss, the Master wants to see you in his study, please.” Laura curtsied and returned to the kitchen and the goose she was plucking. 

Claire cleaned up and headed to see what Silas wanted.  She knocked and he said, “Ah, Claire, thank you.  Please close the door.”  Her eyebrows went up in surprise – he didn’t normally require their conversations to be in private.  The staff knew that if Silas was in his study with the door closed, he was not to be disturbed. 

“Please, Claire, have a seat.  Would you like a port?”  Claire accepted a small glass of port and Silas poured himself a whisky. 

“Well, it arrived again, the invitation to Pardloe’s summer do.”  Silas rolled his eyes in irritation.  “You’ll have to decide what kind of dress you want.  I know you can’t turn up in a dress you’ve already worn.  I’ll have Mrs. Fitz arrange for the dressmaker to come out here and measure you, is that acceptable?”

Claire took a deep draught of her port and closed her eyes briefly.  She looked down at the floor and mumbled, “No.”

Silas looked at her in surprise, “No? What do you mean, ‘no’?”

She looked up at him, face flushed in anger, “Silas, I said ‘no,’ and I meant it! I will not be attending the party with you this year or any year!”  She turned on her heel and fled. 

Silas just stood there, dumbfounded, his mouth hanging open.  Claire had never, ever, spoken to him in such a tone, ever.  Not even as children, when they were quarreling, as children often do.  He tossed back the rest of his whisky and pounded the tumbler on the massive oak desk.  He got up and ran upstairs to Claire’s room.  She wasn’t there, and she wasn’t in the parlor or chatting with Mrs. Fitz or Mrs. Crook.  He looked out the bay window of the kitchen at her herb garden. No Claire.  He turned when he heard Cinnamon whinny in excitement in the courtyard.  A ride.   He ran outside in time to see Cinnamon canter towards the blossom-stained hills in the distance, “Claire!” he bellowed.  She flinched and spurred Cinnamon to run faster and the mare broke into a powerful gallop.  He swore and ran to the stables, “Rabbie!” he shouted for the stableboy.

“Aye, yer grace?”

“Saddle up Ajax for me, aye?” Young MacNabb ran and prepared the Percheron and led him to his master, “Here he is, Yer Grace, ready ta go.” 

Silas mounted Ajax swiftly and urged him into a full gallop after Claire and Cinnamon.  He could see her in the distance, even behind the long dust column the mare was generating.  Silas urged his powerful stallion to move faster and Ajax’ stride seemed as silk, so smoothly did he move.  After a few minutes, Silas and Ajax pulled slightly ahead of the young woman and her mount.  Silas leaned over and wrestled Cinnamon’s reins out of Claire’s hand and forced them all to stop.  Undeterred, Claire jumped down and ran from Silas as fast as she could.  Silas tied the horses’ reins to an overhead branch and swore up a blue streak and took off after Claire. 

He caught her around her waist and swung her around with the force of their movement.  She yelped and fought to be released, shrieking, “Silas Moriston, let me go this instant!”  Her face was red with exertion and her eyes sparkled daggers in her anger at being caught, “How dare you!” He refused to release her and yelled, “How dare I? How dare I? You’re the one who ran away from me, Claire!”  He was panting and his normally calm eyes were wild with rage, strands of golden-blond hair standing up from the breeze, “What’s gotten inta ye, lass? We go ta tha’ blasted party ever’ year tagether so we can get through it tagether! What’s changed?  Ye haven’a spoken more than a ‘please’ or ‘thank ye’ ta me over the past weeks! Have I insulted ye? Have I hurt ye? What is it?” His panting wasn’t quite as fierce now and he drew a deep breath, trying to calm his heart that beat a tattoo against his ribs. 

Claire looked in his eyes and saw the hurt she’d created.  Tears dripped down her face as she sank to the ground and covered her face with her hands, “I can’t stand it.”

Silas tilted his head at her, as if trying to understand which language she was speaking,

“What canna ye stand, Claire?”  He sank to his haunches, carefully pulled her hands away from her face into one of his and extended his handkerchief to her face and dabbing delicately at her tears. His soft, gentle tone only made her tears come faster, “Oh, Silas, I’m so sorry for acting like such a brat,” she wailed.  “I-I can’t stand the thought of you dancing with other girls at that damned party!“ The words dripped agonizingly slowly out of her quivering mouth.

He looked at her like she’d grown feathers, “Other girls?”

She nodded dumbly and remained silent.

He clapped his mouth shut and asked gently, “Why, Claire? I dance with other girls every year.  It’s what I have to do; you know that! Why does it bother you so now?”

She looked up at him, whisky eyes red-rimmed and bloodshot now.  She gathered all her courage and whispered, “because I love you, Silas Moriston.  I don’t want to share you with any other girl, ever.”

Silas felt his heart expand and shatter into the ethereal lightness of a million angels’ wings.

He lifted her quivering chin with a trembling finger, “But, Claire,” he took a shaky breath, “I love you, too.  I have for a long time.  I never acted on it because I was sure you didn’t feel the same about me.”  Her mouth dropped open and she lurched forward and hugged him to her.  He buried his nose in her curls, “Mo rionnag deàrrsach (my shining star).”  He held her gently until her tears subsided and her breathing was back to a semblance of normalcy. 

They clasped hands and sat until they were both completely calm.  “Silas, I would like very much to kiss you.  May I?” Claire’s eyes had turned a shade darker, as had Silas’ clear brown eyes.

“Aye, mo blàth beag (my little blossom), ye may, anytime ye wish!”  Claire Beauchamp’s and Silas Moriston’s first kiss was a template for all other kisses that would follow it.  It was a "Goldilocks" kiss - not too forceful or too gentle, too wet or too dry, too long or too short, nor too warm nor too cold.  It was just right and left them both breathless with astonishment.

Neither Silas nor Claire gave a hoot about society and decided to get married right away.  They rode home together and called the house staff into a meeting, waiting for Mrs. Fitz and Mrs. Crook, who were both busy in the kitchen.  When all were assembled, Silas asked Mrs. Crook, Mrs. Fitz and the butler, Ryan, to give all the staff a drink of sherry or whisky, a happy surprise for the staff. 

The duke smiled and said, “Miss Beauchamp and I have an announcement.  We have discovered we love each other and are to be married as soon as possible!” 

Mrs. Crook and Mrs. Fitz smiled and laughed, and the rest of the staff applauded.  Mrs. Crook looked at Mrs. Fitz and smiled. 

The women crowed together, “Finally!”  Silas and Claire stared at the women and blushed.  “Aye, yer grace, Miss Beauchamp, we’ve been hoping ye’d realize that ye loved each other before too long.  It was plain as the noses on yer faces!” Everyone gathered laughed heartily at that, “Ayes” echoing the ladies’ pronouncement. 

Silas continued, “I ask you now to charge your glasses to the future lady of my house, Claire, Duchess of Glenfinnan!”  Everyone raised their glasses to Claire, who blushed, pleased and honored, and snuggled bashfully into Silas’ side. 

The wedding took place a month later, after the banns had been posted at the estate’s chapel.  Silas and Claire were married quietly, with Mrs. Fitz and Mrs. Crook as witnesses.  They didn’t want to make a great fuss that evening and had a simple supper.  Mrs. Fitz knew that Claire hadn’t had a proper talk with a mother figure and made sure to explain what was expected of her on her wedding night.  Claire and Silas were eager to get to bed and retired at 9pm on their wedding night.  Claire stood in front of Silas, shy and quiet, waiting for him to take the lead.  He was just as nervous, but he tried to school his features so that Claire wouldn’t sense it.  He kissed her hand and bade her sit on the divan.  He knelt in front of her and gently loosened the ribbons on her dainty shoes.  He removed them slowly, so Claire could get used to him touching her in such an intimate manner.  He carefully pulled up her dress and trailed his fingers up her calf and thigh, stopping when he reached the ribbons holding up her silk stocking.  He undid them and rolled them down her leg one at a time, sensing his new wife’s nervousness – she was shaking. 

He looked up at her with hooded eyes, murmuring, “My love, try to relax.  I love you and I will try to make this as wonderful as possible for you.  She smiled and he added, “It’s my first time too.” 

He finished rolling the stockings down her legs and placed them to the side. 

He stood and held his hand out, “Darling, please turn around and I’ll be glad to help you with your laces, aye?”

Claire’s eyes got big and she stuttered, “A-a-alright, dear.” 

She slowly turned around and took a relaxing breath.  He loosened her laces and helped her remove her stays, underskirts, pannier, overskirts, bodice and sleeves.  He left her in her shift.

“Claire, will ye help me with my stock and waistcoat, please?”  Silas extended his hand to her.

She smiled and untied his stock and unbuttoned his waistcoat slowly. 

She looked up at him with love in her eyes and whispered, “Kiss me, husband.” 

He smiled down at her and rumbled, “As you wish, wife.”  He wrapped her in his arms and kissed her gently, not wanting to push her too far too soon.  She sighed in contentment and stood on her tiptoes, wrapping her arms around his warm neck.  Silas licked her bottom lip, encouraging her to open her mouth for him.  She complied and groaned when his tongue massaged hers. 

After a few minutes, they came up panting for air and Silas undid his tartan and tossed it on the divan.  Now, Silas and Claire were only in their shifts after he took off his boots and socks.  He placed his large hands on her tiny waist and pushed her gently towards the bed.  He turned them around so he sat on the bed and she could stand between his legs.  He was so tall they were nearly the same height.  He allowed her to take the lead, amazed when she boldly licked his neck.  He moaned, “Oh, Claire,” as she peppered his neck with soft kisses.  She kissed his clavicles and pulled off his shift, curious to see him.  She was nervous to see his genitalia, but sucked gently on his nipples, amazed when they puckered up like hers.  She glanced down and saw his penis for the first time.  It bobbed towards her in welcome and a shiny drop of pre-come crowned the tip.  She reached out for it, and oh-so-carefully stroked his cockhead, delighting when Silas moaned, “More, mo mo sheud bheag (my little jewel), please!”  Emboldened, she rubbed her palm on the tip.  Silas was silent, and Claire wondered if she’d displeased her love, or worse, hurt him.  She squeezed her eyes tightly closed and hardly dared breathe.  There came his gravelly voice, though, urging her on, “Please, dinna stop, mo chridhe!” and Claire resumed her explorations, using all her fingers to sweep down his rock-hard penis.  She reached underneath him and palmed his testicles gently, surprised when Silas’ breathy, delighted voice reached her ears, “Claire, yes, please, keep going,” so Claire did as her husband asked.  She moved her hand up and down his shaft and played with his balls.  Silas growled in need and Claire’s stomach flipped, muscles pleasantly tightened.  “Claire, get up here, please, I need you!” Silas’ breathing was ragged and his voice bordered on desperate.  She obeyed, and Silas divested her of her shift and palmed her sex, inching a finger down the seam of her nether lips, delighted at the copious moisture he found there.  He scooted backward on the bed and held out his hand after pulling the covers down, “Come here, darling, and let me love you, please!”  She crawled to the center of the bed and, remembering what Mrs. Fitz said, laid on the thick extra cloth spread across the mattress and spread her legs for her husband.  He was amazed at the beauty of her young, lithe body, and not a little in awe of her.  He crawled in between her legs and kissed her lips, tongue searching for its home in her mouth.  He kissed his way down her neck and licked her clavicles.  He licked down to her nipples and she saw stars when he pinched and pulled them gently.  She moaned and he continued for a few minutes.  Claire could feel the space between her legs getting wetter and wetter. Eventually Silas scooted down and kissed down her stomach and gently inserted a finger into her channel.  She gasped at the intrusion.  He stopped, startled, afraid he’d hurt her, “Mo leannan? Are ye alright?”

“Yes, Silas, I was just startled, that’s all.  It feels good.  Will you continue?” She smiled at him and he leaned over her and gave her a tender kiss.

“Aye, wife, I will,” She heard the smile in his beautiful voice and relaxed.  He inserted his finger again, surprised by how soft her channel was, especially her walls.  He pulled his finger out and looked at the shiny wetness coating it.  Intrigued, he put his finger in his mouth and groaned at its musky sweetness. 

Claire sucked in a breath at the sight of Silas licking her juices off of his finger and her eyes grew dark with lust, “Put your finger inside me again, Silas!”

He grinned, “Yes, yer grace,” he replied cheekily.  Claire responded by grinning and throwing her lavender-filled pillow at his head, “Cheeky bastard! Do as I say!”

Silas growled at her tone and winked.  He inserted his finger in her vagina again, moving it back and forth.  Soon, he stretched her channel with a second finger and was rewarded by Claire’s hips thrusting into the air and a gush of wetness over his fingers.  He settled between her legs and kissed her inner thighs, “Are ye ready, mo nighean?”

“Yes, Silas, make me yours forever, darling.”

Silas inserted the tip of his member just inside her lips and drew it up and down, wetting it in preparation.  He pushed forward slowly until he reached her hymen. 

“Claire, I will try to make this as painless and quick as possible, aye?  I ask yer forgiveness for any pain I cause ye.”

Overcome by his caring, Claire sat up and tenderly kissed the man who had captured her heart so thoroughly, “I know you don’t want it to hurt and you’ll try your best, Silas.” She settled herself back on the bed and spread her legs again, “Come to me, husband.”

Silas moved over her and leaned down for a passionate kiss.  He kissed her breasts and licked and nipped his way down her torso and stomach.  He pulled out and moistened his cock at her entrance again.  He took a silent breath and pushed slowly and steadily inward.  Claire whispered, “Oh!” at the feeling of being one with her husband.  He continued pushing until he hit her hymen again, pulled back and pushed through in one quick, sharp snap of his hips.  Claire grabbed her pillow and bit it to keep from screaming and Silas stilled, waiting until he thought Claire could bear his movement again.

“Mo chridhe? Is it alright for me to continue?”  His dark brown eyes searched hers, begging her to answer him. 

“Yes, love, continue.  I’m fine.”  Silas stretched over his tiny wife and kissed her mouth and cheeks and used the distraction to start moving again. 

Claire noticed that soon, her pain gave way to a mounting pleasure, which surprised her.  She’d heard whispers of how painful sex was with a man, but had never heard of a woman enjoying it.  She knew she was definitely starting to enjoy this, though. 

She moaned in pleasure and whispered breathily, “Silas, oh, darling!  It feels so, so good!”

Silas smiled at her and continued pumping into her.  God, she was hot, wet and all his.  This woman who had loved him secretly and whom he’d loved secretly for years was now his wife!  He ground out hoarsely, “I dinna think I can be gentle with ye, Claire.  I must have ye! May I?”

“Yes, God, yes, Silas!” Claire felt him start to move again and she hooked her ankles together over his back.  Silas groaned in pleasure and started pistoning in and out of her channel. 

The feeling started slowly for Claire – in her nether regions.  It was a delicious buzzing tingle that filled her belly and zoomed up her spine.  As she climaxed, she saw stars and she screamed, “Silas, oh Silas!”

Not a minute later, Silas Marston baptized his wife’s uterus with his seed, shouting “Claire, my beloved!”  As they came down from their mutual pleasure, they kissed and embraced one another. 

Silas got soap, a rag and some water a maid had left near the fire to stay warm and cleaned the blood from between Claire’s legs, hissing in sympathy.  He urged Claire up and folded the thick cloth differently, so she was lying on unstained cloth.  He cleaned himself last and, worn out, crawled into bed with his wife.  They embraced and kissed and slept happily entangled the whole night long.

Chapter Text

Mrs. Fitz had asked the entire staff to be extra-quiet the next morning, so the newlyweds could sleep in peace.  The kitchen would wait breakfast for the two of them until they came down. 

Silas awoke first and rolled onto his side, happy that last night wasn’t a dream.  She was really his wife.  Silas vowed he’d spend the rest of his life making sure Claire knew she was loved.  Right now, though, he wanted to love her physically.  He laid a large hand over her breast and fondled her nipple.  He smiled when Claire smiled and moved closer to him without waking.  Emboldened, he played with her other breast, massaging her gently.  He kissed down her ivory body, so thankful that all this delicious beauty was for him alone.  He kissed right down to her Venus mound and pushed her legs apart gently.  He hunkered down and breathed warm air over her outer lips and was rewarded by a soft squeak from his wife.  He brushed his fingertips over her labia majora, amazed at their softness.  He inserted the tip of his index finger inside and grinned when it came out wet.  He tasted it carefully, and her scent filled his mouth.  He licked her labia gently and parted her labia majora so he could find more of her wetness and pulled on her inner lips with his fingers, stretching them slightly.  Claire moaned above him, “Oh, Silas, whatever you’re doing, please, don’t stop!” He chuckled and Claire tittered when she felt the vibrations of his voice in her most delicate place.

He experimented with swiping his tongue in a broad, flat fashion, reveling in Claire’s surprised, breathy “Oh!”  He pointed his tongue and stuck it in between her labia minora – jackpot! Wetness to savor!  He grunted in satisfaction and began licking her out in earnest.  Of course, Claire had never felt anything like this before.  All that came out of her mouth were stuttered iterations of her name and whines of pleasure.  Silas noticed that changing up how he stimulated Claire and where made a difference in the flow of her juices.  Hearing her pleasure made his cock as hard as an iron hammer and Silas was sure that it was leaking pre-come already.  He speared his tongue and thrust into Claire’s center one last time and she screamed in ecstasy, “Oh, Silas!” and shook with the strength of her orgasm.  She laid on her back and panted, thoroughly warm from her husband’s attentions. 

Silas backed away and cleaned his face at the washing bowl and ewer held over the embers on a swinging hook and a platform to keep the water somewhat warm.  He rejoined Claire in bed and she gave him a heart-stopping kiss.  They hugged for several minutes, simply enjoying the ability to finally touch each other whenever they wanted.  Silas loved how she stroked his head gently with her tiny hands; it comforted and calmed him.  The hug had made Claire aware of the effect of his activities on his cock.  She looked down and palmed it gently with a warm hand.  Silas, lying on his back, stiffened and hissed in pleasure so Claire trailed her fingers from the base to the tip.  Silas groaned and bucked his hips, “Claire, please, close your hand firmly around it and squeeze a bit, aye?”

She smirked and complied and Silas’ eyes rolled back into his head. Panting, he directed her to lick her hand and move her hand up and down his shaft. She was mystified, but did as he asked and Silas couldn’t help the loud groan that escaped his lips, “God, Claire, ye’re pleasin’ me so, lass. Please, keep going!” She kept pumping him, reveling in his grunts and sighs of pleasure. 

Suddenly she remembered something startling Mrs. Fitz had told her in a hushed whisper, “Lass, some men, they like it when ye take their tossel in yer mouth and suck on it like candy. But make sure ta keep yer teeth away from ‘im, because that can be painful.  If Silas asks ye ta do this fer him, and ye dinna want ta do tha’, tell him no, aye?”

She thought for a minute and remembered how good Silas’ tongue felt against and inside her nether lips and resolved to at least try to please her husband that way.  She scooted down the bed and tentatively took his tip in her mouth, sucking gently.  She was unprepared, however, for Silas’ reaction. He stiffened and cried out, “Claire! What’re ye doin’, lass?” He moaned and propped himself on his elbows, “Will ye do it again, please?” He begged.

“Yes, love.” This time though, she went past his bulbous head farther down his shaft, swirling her tongue around, sending lightning bolts up and down Silas’ backbone. 

He writhed in ecstasy and soon warned her, “Claire! I’m about ta spill ma seed, let me pull out!” Claire wasn’t sure she liked the salty taste of her husband, but she was too interested in what she was doing to stop now. 

She looked up and popped off his cock and hissed, “No, husband, let me do this for you!” She inhaled him again and Silas nearly lost consciousness.  He groaned and allowed himself to fall back on the bed, fisting the bedclothes tightly.  Her tongue, it was so slippery and hot, sliding all over him, pushing him into a place where all he felt was ecstasy.  He could hardly breathe as his completion rocketed up his cock and into Claire’s eager mouth.  He shouted as his come spurted down her throat. 

She swallowed the last of the salty liquid and crawled up his body and nestled her head in the crook of his shoulder and neck, “God, lass, I’ve never felt somethin’ so wonderful. Thank ye,” Silas murmured, kissed her head and pulled the blankets over them as they both fell asleep.

Household staff could see how happy Claire and Silas were and they all hoped for an heir for the Duke and Duchess to make their happiness complete.  Claire became pregnant when she was 18, but waited for a couple of months to tell Silas.  Tonight, though, was the night.  He was going to find out, and Claire could hardly wait.  She conspired with Mrs. Fitz and asked her to make Silas’ favorite foods and a lovely cake for dessert.  The two of them spent the afternoon riding Cinnamon and Ajax and finally returned to the house for dinner at 7:00 p.m., as she’d planned.  About halfway through the meal, Claire squeezed her husband’s strong hand, “Darling, we need to talk,” she said, swallowing a smile.

Silas looked up from his venison, “Is everything alright, a leannan?  None of the tenants giving you any trouble, I hope.  Are you well?” He asked with a hitch in his voice.  She was his world and he would have it no other way. 

“Well, about that.  I haven’t been feeling well in the mornings, but it’s nothing that won’t go away and clear up completely in about seven months, darling,” she said, a coy smile gracing her lips.

Silas blinked, “What? Are ye sick, love? Why would it take sev-“ and Claire saw the exact moment when he understood. The blood drained from his face and he took a stuttering breath in, “A-are ye wi’ child, mo cridhe?”

Happy tears coursed down her face, “Yes, rìgh mo cridhe, I’m expecting your child in about seven months,” she whispered in a gravelly emotion-laden voice.

“Claire, oh God, thank ye, lass. I’m so happy an’ I’m the luckiest man on God’s green Earth!” Silas leapt up and pulled his wife into his arms, giddy with excitement.  She laughed and he bent down and gently kissed the woman who held his heart in her hands.  He scooped her up into his arms and twirled her around, thirsty for her giggles and infectious happiness.  He burst through the door connecting the dining room to the kitchen still cradling his wife and crowed to the staff, “Claire’s wi’ child!” Mrs. Fitz had counseled Claire, so she already knew, but she’d not revealed the secret to any other.  The happy couple entered the kitchen and Silas set Claire down and much to the older woman’s surprise, Silas quipped, “Ye can keep a good secret, aye, Mrs. Fitz?” She winked at him and he picked her up and whirled her around, too happy to concern himself with propriety.  He set her down and they both giggled as the assembled staff cheered and broke into spontaneous applause.

“Mrs. Crook, please see to it that everyone gets a glass of port, aye?”  

Two months later, Claire was just starting to show a tiny bump that only Silas could see, due to her heavy clothing.  He’d been watching Claire carefully since the announcement, amazed that there was a bairn in the woman he loved.  On a foggy Saturday morning, Silas left on Ajax to go to town to discuss business with his lawyer.  Claire was sleeping when he left and he tenderly pushed unruly curls off her glowing skin and kissed her cheek gently, whispering, “I’ll be back this afternoon, mo cridhe, an’ I’ll let ye beat me at a game o’ chess, I promise.”  He closed their bedroom door and headed into town. 

He met lawyer Ned Gowan at the man’s office and they executed Silas’ changes to the duchy as permission had finally come through from the crown.  He wanted his first child to inherit the duchy regardless of gender.  He thanked Gowan and they ate lunch at a local tavern and caught up on each other’s lives. As Silas was getting ready to head out of town, a loud argument spilled out of the tavern.  The two men were bellowing and trading blows and a ring of onlookers surrounded them.  Silas shook his head and attempted to urge Ajax forward when one combatant shoved the other so hard that the man fell on his back right in front of Ajax.  Angry at ending up on the ground, the man drew his pistol and shot at the other man, killing him instantly.  Ajax whinnied sharply and reared up on his hind legs.  Silas fought the mighty beast for control, but when Ajax came down, his weight shifted his center of gravity in such a way that Silas was ejected from the saddle.  Silas fell to the cobblestones with a sickening crunch and Ajax thudded on top of him.  Ajax was able to right himself immediately, but the damage had been done.  Silas Moriston, Fifth Duke of Glenfinnan, was dead, his neck broken by the fall.  Gowan knelt by his friend, tears in his eyes; he’d just found out that Claire was with child and was now tasked with informing Silas’ widow that her life, as she’d known it, was over.

Gowan arranged for a wagon to carry Silas’ remains to Thistle Glen House.  He tied Ajax to the back of the wagon and set off on the saddest journey of his life.  He pulled up to the house after explaining to the guards at the perimeter of the property what’d happened.  Ashen-faced, Lauder uncovered the face, praying that there’d been some mistake, but he knew those were the hopes of a foolish man.  Gowan and the master had known each other for years and there was no mistaking the shrouded man’s identity, sadly.  Lauder joined Gowan on the wagon.  The wagon pulled up close to the house and Gowan looked up tiredly as a tiny woman dashed through the door, “Si- oh, hello, excuse me, I thought you were the duke of Glenfinnan.”

Ned pulled his hat off his head in respect, “No, yer grace.  My name is Ned Gowan, I am his grace’s lawyer.  He was visiting me in town to alter some paperwork.” 

Claire noticed how sad the man looked and heard a familiar whinny.  She turned toward it and paled, “Where is my husband?” Her face drained of color, she ground out again, “Where. Is. My. Husband, Mr. Gowan?”

Trembling, Gowan and Lauder alighted from the driver’s seat, “Your grace, I am sorry to have to tell you that his grace is dead –“

Gowan was interrupted by a bloodcurdling scream of anguish as Claire howled, “No! no, no no!” She looked around wildly, hyperventilating.  Seeing Lauder, she cried, “Lauder, where is the duke?”

Lauder stepped over to Claire right as the front door opened behind her, “What in heaven’s name is going on out here?” Asked Mrs. Fitz, loudly.  

Lauder ignored the older woman and focused on Claire, “Yer ladyship, I -I -I’m terrible sorry ta have ta tell ye, Mr. Gowan is tellin’ the truth.  The master is gone.”

Mrs. Fitz paled and crossed herself, stepping up to stand beside her mistress.

“Where is he?” Claire whispered. 

Lauder took her by the elbow and lead her to the back of the wagon.  He looked at his mistress and asked gently, “Are ye sure ye want ta see him?”

“Yes,” Claire said resolutely and gestured for Lauder to pull back the shroud.  When she saw her beloved’s face, Claire inhaled sharply and tears sprang to her eyes. She lifted a shaking hand to her mouth and breathed, “Oh, Silas, darling, I’m so sorry, so very sorry.” She covered his face gently and crossed herself, stepping back two paces before crumpling unconscious to the ground.

When Claire came back to herself, she was upstairs in her bedroom and Mrs. Fitz was sitting in the overstuffed chair. 

“What happened?”

“Ye collapsed, Milady; ‘tis understandable wi’ the strain.  Lauder brought ye upstairs.”

“Where is the duke?”

“In the cool house by the spring, your grace.”

“Call Lauder and Johnstone and please come with me.”  Claire viewed her beloved’s body one more time and removed his wedding ring, his signet ring and searched his pockets for any important papers. Satisfied that she had everything she needed, she kissed her husband one last time and left the cool house.

Her husband was buried two days later and fittingly, it thundered and lightning bisected a dark morning sky.  All the mourners stayed until the service was over and then everyone came back to the house.  Claire felt like she was somehow out or beside herself; how could this have happened? She and Silas had just found each other and now he was gone.  Her bairn’s father was gone.  How would Claire cope? During the service she cradled her stomach gently, acutely aware that this child was the last living bit of Silas.  When the other mourners had left, she whispered to the babe, “Your father loved you, child.  He was so excited to meet you,” and cried herself to sleep.  The next morning, Mrs. Fitz bustled in with a tub and a steady stream of serving girls dumped hot water into it until it was about halfway full.  Mrs. Fitz brought some clean snow in and spooned some in until the water wouldn’t burn Claire’s skin.  She fussed over the girl she’d loved and tutted and generally made herself somewhat of a nuisance but Claire said nothing because she knew this was Mrs. Fitz’s way of dealing with the death of a boy she’d loved all his life.  Mrs. Fitz left her alone to bathe, shutting the door quietly.  Claire curled her arms around her knees and sobbed out her despair and loneliness.  She felt a twinge in her belly and rubbed her tummy in a soothing, slow circle.  Usually that mollified her child but not today.  The twinges got stronger and closer together and horrifyingly, devolved into full cramps so strong that Claire gripped the sides of the tub with white knuckles.  A long, drawn-out pain blossomed and she saw black specks in her sight line. Panicked, she called out, “Mrs. Fitz, please! Come quickly! I’m cramping!”

Mrs. Fitz burst through the door with a couple of older women on staff.  One of them had an armful of linen toweling and the other rags and a length of waxed fabric.  Mrs. Fitz helped Claire out of the water, “There, now, lass, let’s get ye in bed.” Matilda, cover the mattress wi’ yon waxed sailcloth.”

The woman hurried and did as commanded, covering the sailcloth with a good bit of toweling.  Claire laid down in the bed and all four women began to pray as Claire’s contractions started. Claire screamed, panted and cried.  Mrs. Fitz knew that letting Claire rage and feel her feelings was important – she’d just lost her husband and now she was losing the tangible bit of him that was left.  Three hours later, an exhausted Claire was placed back in the bath and Mrs. Fitz washed her body and hair as others silently made short work of cleaning up any vestige of the horrible night.  Claire collapsed when she tried to get out of the tub, so Mrs. Fitz and Mrs. MacClarty wrapped her securely in her dressing gown and a blanket to preserve her modesty and sent a scullery maid running for Lauder and Johnstone.  The men entered fearfully, crossing themselves as they came into the room.  Mrs. Fitz spoke to them in hushed tones, “Get the mistress in bed an’ then bring a mattress in here fer me. I’ll sleep in here tanight.”

Lauder picked up his mistress carefully as if she was made of the most fragile crystal. He cradled her to his chest and she woke briefly, whispering, “Where’s my baby?” before losing consciousness again. 

Lauder didn’t bother to stop his tears as he settled her on the bed and propriety go hang, kissed her wee forehead, “God bless ye and the babe, Mistress,” he whispered hoarsely, and left, heartbroken for the woman who’d made his poor master so happy.

Chapter Text

Jamie eventually recovered from his beating and grew strong again, his skin beginning to bronze in the spring sun.  The estate workers had their own dining room and Mrs. Fitz was pleased with how Jamie had regained his appetite.  Just as Mrs. Fitz said, Claire never denied any of her workers any food, no matter how much they ate.  His favorite task was helping with the horses and Claire noticed with interest how he gentled horses differently than others – it was like he spoke their language and communicated with wordless power or energy.  About a month after Jamie’s arrival, Ajax, the only shire horse in Claire’s stables, broke his ankle in a gopher hole and a mare died birthing her foal.  Thanks to Claire’s healing skills, the foal survived. Now, though, the estate needed new stock to work the land and Jamie and Lauder advised Claire on which animals would best fit the bill.  

Lauder, Jamie and Claire left on Thursday for the horse auction in town in a wagon so they could get other supplies they needed.  As they were leaving the auction with a fine pair of plow horses, they heard a horse whinnying in terror and a man screaming, followed by the unmistakable sound of a whip hitting flesh.  Lauder told Jamie to stay with Claire and went to investigate.  He turned the corner and a corpulent man was sweating profusely, hair fallen carelessly out of his queue.  The man’s wet, darkly stained hat was crushed in the dust below him.  He stood in front of a horse tied to a post slashing and whipping it with all his might.  The beast was enormous – a beautiful stallion, at least sixteen hands high, jet-black all over with lather dripping from his mouth and body as he pawed the ground, jerked and attempted to escape his tormentor. 

Lauder bellowed, “Stop, man!” and strode forward, jerking the whip out of the man’s hand. “Jes’ wha’ ha’ this animal done to ye to deserve this?”

The fat man snarled, “I just bought this worthless beast and he threw me when I was settling myself in the saddle – and then he trampled my new hat and pished on it, that’s what! An’ wha’s it ta ye how I treat ma horse, man?” 

Claire and Jamie walked up behind the irate man and Claire looked at Jamie, eyes dancing in mirth, struggling to hold in her giggles. Jamie knew that the man had no chance because his mistress had set her sights on him.  He put his finger to his lips and then, for good measure, crossed his eyes, which had always made Jenny collapse in laughter.  Claire’s eyebrows rose, eyes wide and she slapped a hand over her mouth to silence herself, face pinking prettily. She cleared her throat, shot Jamie a warning look, put on a serious face and stepped forward, “Sir. What did you pay for him?”

He sneered, “An’ what’s it ta ye, lassie? This is a man’s concern.  Move along, now.” He placed his hand on the pommel of his dirk, pulling it a fraction from its sheath, attempting to intimidate her.  Lauder moved swiftly to block the man’s access to Claire. Jamie was standing behind Claire and stepped forward so he could protect her. Both men drew their swords and the sharp “s-ss-shing!” of the swords leaving their scabbards attracted a ragtag crowd like vultures to carrion. 

Jamie had a murderous glare fixed on the man and Lauder ground out, “Dinna threaten our mistress, scoundrel, or I’ll run ye through and gi’ him wha’s left o’ yer miserable hide ta play wi’,” he nodded his chin towards Jamie. 

Jamie raised both dirk and sword, “Hold, ye filthy bugger! Put away that damn toothpick or I’ll have you! Claire, the Duchess of Glenfinnan, owner of the land on which ye stand, has asked ye a question.  If ye wish ta leave here in one piece, ye’ll answer her.”

The man paled and stammered, “Thirty-five pounds, yer grace,” he said, bowing. 

Claire’s face remained impassive, but Lauder saw her nostrils flare and her eyes narrow, never a good sign.  She was certain he was lying.  “You do realize that I can check the actual price you paid, don’t you? It’s my right as duchess, since some of the taxes will be paid to the royal exchequer.  Now,” she fixed him with a steely glare, “How. Much. Did. You. Pay?”  He was about to answer and she held up a hand to stop him, “The truth, man, or I’ll go find it out and have you banished from my lands, which include this town.”

He shifted uneasily from one muddy shoe to the other, “Ten pounds, yer grace.”

“Why was his price so low, do you know?”

“Aye, yer grace.  He couldn’a be broken.”

“Lauder, Fraser, can we use this horse in my stables?”

Jamie politely waited for Lauder to speak first, “Aye, yer grace. Cinnamon is gettin’ on in years, as ye know. I’m confident Fraser and I can rehabilitate this animal.  Also, Fraser’s eatin’ so much o’ Mistress Fitz’ good food he may crush any other horse he mounts if ye’re wantin’ him ta accompany ye on rides or such-like,” He grinned at Jamie who grunted in derision and rolled his eyes. “Fraser, what say ye?”

“Aye, yer grace an’ Mr. Lauder, we can.

All watched, hushed, as Jamie approached the huge beast.  “What’s ‘is name, man?”

“Donas,” spat the disheveled mess.

Claire addressed the man next, “I’ll give you eleven pounds; ten for his sale price, one for your trouble.  I’d better never see you abusing animals on my lands again.” Claire extracted eleven pounds from her purse and watched as the man wrote her name and new sale price in Donas’ sale papers. He carelessly shoved the sweat-stained papers in Claire’s hand and she quickly covered them with a handkerchief so her hands wouldn’t get dirty.  The man eagerly extended his other equally grubby hand for the payment.  She sniffed disdainfully and tossed the coins in the mud, to the amusement of the crowd, who laughed in the cruel man’s face.  He bent over and fished the coins from the muck with two fingertips.  As he straightened, he narrowed his eyes and opened his mouth in a sneer to undoubtedly say something rude to Claire but Lauder and Jamie both pulled their dirks and step towards him menacingly.  He paled, turned tail and fled.  Claire called the two men to her and thanked them for protecting her.  Lauder simply smiled easily and checked some things in the wagon. 

Jamie lingered a bit longer, saying, “anytime, mistress. We willna let anyone hurt ye.”  Claire looked up into his incredible eyes and felt paralyzed, captured by them.  Before she knew what was happening, she was swaying slightly in the large man’s direction.  He stared at her beautiful face, not knowing what to do or say.  A dog barked in the distance and both snapped out of their reveries and awkwardly stepped away from one another.  Jamie shook his head and focused on the task at hand, creeping towards Donas, whispering soothing Gàidhlig as he moved closer.  He kept his hands at his sides and moved so he was facing the stallion rumbling soothingly,

“Halo Donas, balach brèagha. Tha fios agam gu bheil an t-eagal ort, ach tha sinn gad thoirt gu dachaigh ùr iongantach, chì thu. An urrainn dhut tighinn còmhla rium (Hello Donas, beautiful boy.  I know you're scared, but we're taking you to a wonderful new home, you'll see.  Can you come with me)?”

The horse nickered and his nostrils flared, taking in the large man’s scent. Very slowly, Jamie untied Donas and walked backward so Donas would have his face in his line of sight. He led the stallion toward the wagon, speaking to him quietly the whole time.  Claire and Lauder breathed a sigh of relief when Jamie sat down in the back of the wagon so Donas could see him.  She turned on her heel, allowed Lauder to help her into the wagon and home they went.  That night, Jamie slept with Donas in his stall.  Jamie worked diligently with Donas and within three months, the great horse would do almost everything Jamie asked of him.  Donas had learned that Jamie always scratched and caressed him and would nose the boy insistently when he was close enough.  Jamie eventually trusted him enough to ride him and was able to take him out to the meadows and let him have his head, galloping as fast as the wind and his legs could take him.  It was during these rides that Jamie felt like a free man again.  He knew how lucky he was that he hadn’t ended up in prison or with a mistress who beat him but he missed being able to do anything he wanted without checking first.  Donas always tested Jamie, trying to see what he could get away with.  He was also very affectionate with Jamie, nudging his head, lipping his hair and pushing his nose into Jamie’s pockets for treats he knew lived there. 

With Claire, it was a different story.  He would kick his stall door when he smelled her perfume on the air and whinny hello when she entered the barn, crowding his great head into the crook of her neck and her curls for pets and scritches, her curls lifting with his exhaled breath.  He was as docile as a lamb and never, ever tested her when she rode him.  She knew that all horses liked sweets and Donas’ kryptonite was her sugar cookies.  He’d follow her around the paddock freely like an overlarge dog at the promise of a morsel of one of those cookies.  Claire would tell guests about this behavior and they never believed her until they saw it with their own eyes. 

One lovely breezy June day, Claire decided that she wanted to eat lunch at a small pond on her property.  It was shaded by trees and had been Silas’ favorite fishing hole.  A small waterfall tinkled merrily into the pond and wildflowers and herbs grew along the pond’s edge.  The estate encompassed twenty-five thousand acres but this small area was one of her favorites.  Claire had been cooped up inside the house for the last week with a cold and she desperately wanted fresh air, sunshine and a bit of alone time.  She got up at 6:00 a.m., dressed in her thinnest summer skirts and put on a sun bonnet.  She wanted to enjoy putting her feet in the cool water and the sun’s rays without getting burned.  She asked Mrs. Fitz if she would mind packing a few things for her and Cinnamon.  She’d brought her herb basket, water, a book and a blanket (an additional one to the picnic blanket).  By 7:00 a.m., she’d had a light breakfast and was on her way.  She went to the stables and asked one of the stable hands to saddle up Cinnamon.  A few minutes later, she was enjoying the scenery as they made their way to the pond. 

Jamie and the other workmen had already been out in the fields when Claire left for her day of solitude.  He was starting to feel quite at home on the estate and had become friends with Lauder and Johnstone.  He’d never forget how the two took care of him after Marley’s abuse. Now, Jamie wasn’t as lonely for his family.  Every person employed at the estate would do anything for Claire, and that included Jamie as well.  He didn’t understand why he felt so differently about this woman over all others.  They weren’t from the same social class, certainly, even though he was the son, nephew and grandson of lairds.  But then, he considered, her grace wasn’t born into her title, nor had she come from an aristocratic family – he thought of her, a wee lass, having the pluck and the smarts to get to Thistle Glen House all by herself. A canny mind, this one.  Mrs. Fitz and some of the older ladies at the estate told him stories that had him holding his stomach that ached with laughter because she couldn't master knitting or sewing of cloth, embroidery or weaving, typical “acceptable” pursuits for ladies of her station.  Mrs. Fitz had him in helpless tears of mirth over the time a very frustrated Claire launched her knitting needles and latest project at her chamber door.  Unfortunately, her husband chose to open the door at that very moment and he had to duck quickly to avoid getting brained at which Claire burst into helpless tears. Silas held out his arms to his shining star and soothed and rocked her. Together, they agreed Claire should forget about knitting for the safety of all concerned. 

Claire’s true talents blossomed when she was taken under the wing of the local healer, M. Raymond Grenouille.  She met him when Silas broke his leg and Master Raymond came to the house to set his leg.  In time, the fingers that produced horribly disfigured embroidery knots that meandered over muslin like a drunken snail’s trail created catgut stitches as straight as any arrow.  Hands that nearly poked an eye out trying to learn how to master knitting needles could coax even the most recalcitrant bones to knit themselves together again.

Jamie had seen and heard enough stories about her grace to admit shamefully to himself (and he cringed inwardly every time he thought of his behavior at their initial meeting) that his mistress was nothing he thought she was when they first met.  She treated everyone with respect until they demonstrated they didn’t want it or didn’t deserve it.  Regardless of her relationship with someone, healing came first, every time.  No matter what she was doing, she dropped everything as soon as someone needed her help. 

He thought back to a winter day when he was fixing some wobbly shelves in Mrs. Fitz’ larder and someone banged hard on the door and yelled for help.  He put down his hammer and opened the door, other hand on the pommel of his sgian dubh.  It was Alastair McIlhenny – his wife had gone into premature labor.  It was their first child and a month ahead of schedule.  Mistress had run down the stairs at the commotion and immediately ordered her carriage brought around as well as a mountain of blankets, sheets and her medical supplies.  Before she disappeared out the door she’d asked Mrs. Fitz to unpack her trunk.  Jamie wondered what the mistress meant by that but went back to fixing Mrs. Fitz’ shelves.  About forty-five minutes later, she called him upstairs and asked him to deposit the trunk in the attic again; Mistress Claire had chosen to help her tenants over going to a much-anticipated masquerade ball weekend at the Duke of Pardloe’s estate.  The current Duke, John Grey, son of the Duke of Pardloe of Claire and Silas’ childhood, had been best friends with Silas.  He had married a childhood friend, Isabel Dunsany, who became good friends with Claire.  Claire, Isabel and John remained friends and they did what they could to help each other cope when Silas left them much too early.  He grabbed the mistress’ trunk and brought it up to the attic and returned to her to make sure she didn’t need any more assistance.  Mrs. Fitz was putting away Claire’s clothing and Jamie saw a dress lying on the bed that stole his breath.  It was a gold silk gown with a fierce dragon seemingly flying over the dress’s surface.  Jamie thought of the duchess’ eyes and wished he could see her in this confection one day.  Mrs. Fitz nudged Jamie and pressed a small button on a case she was holding.  The lid popped open and Jamie swallowed, his throat suddenly dry.  Nestled in green velvet lay a full diamond parure – tiara, bracelet, ring, earrings and a magnificent three-strand necklace.    

Mrs. Fitz set the case on the dresser to be placed in the safe in the Duke’s study and sighed wistfully, “’Twould would be a blessin’, Jamie, were she ta find love again, ken?” “Aye, Mistress Fitz. She needs someone to care for her, to protect her, someone – “ he stopped abruptly and blushed pink, “Well, I best get to bed.  Have a good night, mistress.” 

Mrs. Fitz had seen longing for Claire in Jamie’s eyes and heard it in his tender words.  She was sure that he didn’t know he’d given himself away – he had fallen in love with her.

Around noon, Jamie realized he hadn’t seen his mistress at all.  Concerned, he poked his head into the kitchen after lunch and asked where she was, expecting she’d taken one or another of the lads with her into town with her.

“Och, lad, she took a lunch and Cinnamon and went to her favorite pond. ‘Tis about an hour fro’ here.”

He stared at her incredulously, “Wi’ out a guard, Mrs. Fitz?”

Mrs. Fitz gave him a sidelong look, “An’ since when do ye think we can tell Herself wha’ ta do?  She’ll be fine, lad.  She does this all the time.”

Jamie never thought she’d be allowed to go off alone even if the land did belong to her. Brigands and robbers didn’t care whose land they were on – they just wanted your valuables.

“She’s normally back around 5:00 p.m., a bhalaich,” Mrs. Fitz smiled at the boy of whom she’d grown very fond.

Jamie had a worried scowl on his face, “Aye, well, if’n she isn’a back by 5:30, I’mma goin’ ta look fer her wi’ Donas.  All I have to say to that greedy beast is “go find yer mistress” an’ he starts scentin’ the air fer those damn sugar cookies,” Jamie smiled crookedly in spite of his anxiety for Claire.

“Well, then, ye’re in luck. She made some yesterday and took a few with her.  He’ll probably smell her long before he sees her.”

Claire wasn’t back by 5:30, or 6:00.  At this point, Jamie was genuinely worried.  He saddled Donas, took three blankets, some food, whisky and water and left to find her. He’d gotten a rough map from Lauder and set off.  About three-quarters of the way there, he heard the clop-clop-clop of hoofbeats on the turf.  Jamie drew his sword out of an abundance of caution, but he could see how excited Donas was – his ears pricked forward, nostrils flared to catch the breeze.  He started cantering and reached the summit of the last rise before the descent to the pond.  Thank God, there she was, safe and sound, hair gloriously clouding around her head like a halo. Jamie saw brunette, blonde, chestnut and russet in her breathtaking curls.  He could swear he was looking at Da Vinci’s “La Scapigliata”[1] come to life.  Relief washed over him and he called, “Mistress!” Urging Donas to a gallop.  Donas stopped right in front of Cinnamon, smelling her and making pleased whuffing and snorting sounds.  Jamie vaulted off of Donas and grabbed Cinnamon’s bridle, walking stiffly around to the mare’s side.  Claire looked down at him, “Well, hello Fraser, how a – “

Unable to control his temper any longer, he held his arms out, gesturing with curled, impatient fingers for Claire to let him help her from the saddle.  Mystified, she allowed it and tried again, “Fraser, is there – “

Still holding her under her arms, Jamie looked her over carefully, “Ye’re not hurt anywhere, aye? Ye weren’a bothered by anyone?”

Claire looked up, confusion etched over her fine features, “No, Fraser, not at all.  I fell asleep under my favorite tree an – “

For the third time, he interrupted her as he growled, “I ‘tisn’t safe fer ye ta be out here wi’out someone! It doesn’a have ta be me, but, God Almighty, dinna do tha’ ta me again, please!” Forgetting himself, he gripped her upper arms roughly, “Ye had me worrit sick!” 

“’Worried sick?’”Claire backed two steps away from him and noticed for the first time that he was trembling in what she assumed was rage.  She said slowly, “Fraser, I’ll thank you to take your hands off me, right now.”

Jamie snarled, “No’ until ye promise never to do such a thing again!  Ye had me worrit sick an’ I’ll tell ye, were ye my wife I’d take ye over my knee and beat some respect fer yer lord and master inta yer arse wi' ma belt!”

By this point, Claire had had enough.  Her voice became deadly quiet, “SIR. You forget yourself. You are most certainly not my husband, lord or master.  Remove your hands this instant or I shall remove them for you by means you may not like.” Jamie simply tightened his grip, so Claire slammed her knee into his groin.  He screamed at the pain, released the fuming woman in front of him and clutched his genitals, collapsing in an agonized heap on the ground.  She pulled her sgian dubh at the same time.  That finally seemed to shake him from his rage.  He curled onto himself on the ground and moaned in pain. 

She mounted Cinnamon and rode to the pond, tearing two strips of fabric from her dress.  She stuffed the material in a cup and filled it with icy pond water.  She rode back to Jamie and handed him one cloth, snapping, “Press this against your nether regions – it will help dull the pain until we can get home.  There’s another cloth in the cup. Replace the first cloth when it doesn’t help anymore.” She yanked her whisky out of her saddlebag and handed it to him. “Drink,” she commanded tersely.  Red with shame and pain, he did as he was ordered, first drinking a healthy couple of swallows of the golden liquid and then snaked his hand up under his kilt, hissing when the water hit the affected area.  Soon, though, the icy liquid soothed his poor cock and balls and he sighed in relief provided by the water and whisky.  “There, now.  Lie there and try to breathe easy.  I’m going to make a fire and boil water for tea and you, young man, are not going to move. Are we clear?”

“He looked up at her wearily, “Absolutely, mistress.”

She took the whisky bottle from him and gathered some wood for a fire. Soon, she had a good fire going.  She got a small pot from her saddlebag and filled it at the waterfall.  She set the small pot on a grate Mrs. Fitz had thoughtfully included and soon had water boiling for tea.  She rooted around in her medicine bag until she found willow bark and cherry root.  She steeped the tea and tipped three fingers of whisky into the cup and passed the concoction to Jamie.  “Can you sit up and drink this?  It’s one part willow bark and three parts whisky.”

He smiled tremulously at her and looked on the verge of speaking.  She held up her hand, “Drink then talk, yes?”

Jamie nodded tersely and sipped the hot liquid.  He moaned in appreciation as he felt the jagged edges of his pain soften and his anxiety recede.  He looked at her underneath his lashes and silently spoke to her from his heart,

My darling, I am sorry I was so angry with ye.  It wasn’a my place to talk to ye in such a manner; after all, I’m not yer husband, although I wish ta be someday.  Ye are the kindest, gentlest (alright – not today, but I deserved that) woman I know and I will gladly spend my lifetime learnin’ how ta make ye happy. Righ’ now, though, I haveta content mysel’ wi’ bein’ yer servant, but I’ll soon be free ta court ye, an’ court ye I shall, should ye and my father allow it.”

He placed the cup on the ground when he was done and Claire took a drink of whisky.  “Alright, Fraser, surely Mistress Fitz told you I do this all the time, taking off to have some time to myself, or?”

Jamie flushed anew in embarrassment, “Aye, she did.  She said ye were generally back by 5:00, but when it got later than that, I got worried.  Yer estate is huge, yer grace, and I didn’a know if ye could protect yerself should – sh-should,” Fraser swallowed loudly and finished with a whisper, “Anything happen.”

Claire took a deep breath, wanting to reassure him, but he spoke first.

He looked up at her, eyes shining with unshed tears, “When I was sixteen, I went to Paris to study an’ I met Micheline, the smartest, prettiest girl I’d ever seen.  I asked her father’s permission to court her, and God bless him, he gave it.  We spent all our free time together an’ created a deep bond wi’ one another.  I took her out one morning in May and asked her to wait for me. She said she would an’ I gave her a gold locket wi’ our initials intertwined on the case an’ a bit o’ my hair in it as a promise to wed when we turned eighteen.”  He cleared his throat gruffly, “One day in mid-June, she went fer a walk in the public gardens and was attacked by ruffians.  They-th- they stole her innocence and she barely survived.  She didn’a tell me she wanted to go out.  She assumed since it was early afternoon she’d be safe.  But they ambushed her near a thick copse of trees.  She was never the same after tha’, an’ didn’a let me see her after it happened.  Her mother said she was too ashamed – she thought it was her fault. Her mother and father begged her to see me so I could reassure her my feelings and intention to wed hadn’t changed, but she thought she was ruined an’ I’d not want a fallen woman.  Mistress, I would ha’ loved her for the rest of our lives.  Her deflowering,” and his hands balled into tight fists, “did nothing to diminish my adoration o’ the lass, except raise a terrible bloodlust in me for vengeance against the bastards who hurt her.”  Tears rolled down his face as he whispered, “she took her own life.  I found out in a letter I got a month after I got home.  Her mother enclosed a note to me from her.  She said she loved me but couldn’t live with the shame anymore.  So, ye see, when ye tol’ me ye’d been raped when ye were caught alone in yer very own house an’ ye weren’a home on time today, I panicked.  By the time I found ye, I was terrified.” He sniffled and hung his head in despair.  “I couldn’a bear fer anything ta happen t-to the woman - ” and the redhead paused to look up at the woman sitting opposite him, “who has taught me to believe in the possibility of love again.”

By the time he stopped speaking, both Jamie and Claire had tears on their faces.  Claire, humbled by Jamie’s story and his feelings for her, extended her hand.  Jamie took it shyly and Claire raised their clasped hands to her lips and kissed Jamie’s hand, whispering, “Thank you for telling me that.  I am so sorry about Micheline. 

He squeezed her hand gently, “Thank ye, mistress.”

Claire looked down at her lap and bit her lip, “I have a confession to make.  You have brightened my life, Mr. Fraser.  I feel things I haven’t felt for a very long time, not – not since Silas. I’m not as good with words as you are, Mr. Fraser, but you have made me believe in taking another chance on love as well.”  

[1]  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Scapigliata

Chapter Text

One Tuesday, Claire decided to go to town herself.  Normally she sent someone in her stead, but she wanted to check up on how things were on a market day and perhaps overnight at an inn.  She summoned Jamie, just come in from repairing some tools in the main storehouse,

“Fraser, I want to go into town tomorrow and possibly stay overnight.  I need to replenish my supplies and I want to check on a couple of patients of mine.  I would appreciate it if you’d accompany me,” she smiled and her eyes sparkled.

“Aye, mistress, I’ll do tha’.  When would ye like ta get on th’ road?” Jamie smiled shyly at her, pinking. 

God, how his smile undoes me, does he have any idea?” Claire wondered.  Surely a man as handsome as Fraser could charm any girl, or woman, for that matter.  She’d never heard any rumors about him being promised to any girl or even interested in any.  Mrs. Fitz was like a gossip hub; she collected it all and passed the choicest tidbits on to Claire.  She also alerted her to potential problems with the staff.  Mrs. Fitz was a confidante to all, and Claire knew Lauder and Johnstone were getting married before most of her staff, thanks to her little bird.

“I think sunrise, Fraser.  What say you?” 

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, she’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.  I’d give anything for her to love me, Jamie thought wistfully. 

“Tha’ sounds jus’ fine, mistress.  I’ll come inta tha house and wait fer ye in tha kitchen.  Do ye want ta go on horseback, or do ye think ye need the small carriage or wagon?”

Claire thought for a moment, “Well, most of my salves and herbs come in small containers, so if we take large saddle bags we should be alright.  Be prepared to stay at an inn if it gets late, yes?  I’ll ask Mrs. Fitz to put a few bannocks, cheese and apples in a package for us just in case, but make sure to eat a large breakfast before you come to the kitchen, Fraser,” She smiled again and Jamie’s knees wobbled just a bit, “I want to make sure you’re not hungry – I’ve seen how much you can eat and I can’t possibly fend you off if you decide to take a bite out of me!”

Claire giggled and Jamie’s mouth dropped open.  He looked her full in the face and laughed, “Aye, Mistress, ye’re nothin’ but a wee nibble fer th’ likes o’ me!”

The next morning the two set off, Jamie on Donas and Claire on Cinnamon.  Jamie had his sword, dirk, pistols and sgian dubh on his person and Claire had her own dirk, a 17th birthday present from Silas.  It was custom-crafted to fit her hand, with a sleek jet handle and her initials carved into the sheath.  The blade was the finest steel, in case Claire had to use it when she didn’t have her special knives (housed at Thistle Glen House in her surgery).  He’d taken the time to train her in hand-to-hand combat so she’d be able to defend herself should the need arise.  She already knew how to handle guns although she preferred her dirk.  In addition, Silas had purchased special rings; his was a gold ring with the Moriston coat of arms impaled on the Beauchamp coat of arms.  The wearer had to push on the Moriston crest with the thumb of the wearer’s other hand to access a hidden compartment inside of which lay a tiny box with powdered death cap mushroom, potentially lethal for whoever ingested it.  When pressed, the Beauchamp crest revealed a slot with a tiny ivory spoon.  Claire’s design was quite delicate, because her hands were so much smaller than Silas’.  Her ring had a square face with their flowing, seamless initials carved on it.  If Claire pushed firmly against the ring’s face, a hidden chamber was revealed which contained a tiny ivory spoon resting in a slot and a compartment holding antidote to the death cap toxin.  Claire giggled when she found she could place her ring inside of Silas’ ring with room to spare.    Thus far, neither she nor Silas had had occasion to use anything in their rings.  The only person who knew of the rings’ secrets other than the Moristons was Master Raymond. 

They stopped to let the horses rest and drink from a stream and Claire unpacked a bit of food and pulled Silas’ ring out of her pocket.  Jamie came back from checking on the horses, 

“Mr. Fraser, sit down, please, come have a nibble,” Claire smiled in invitation and Jamie’s wame flipped.

“Aye, mistress, thank ye kindly,” Jamie helped himself to dense, wholesome country bread, butter and several thick slices of roast venison.  Claire ate as well and they passed the time in companionable silence.

“Fraser, I have something for you to wear during this trip,” Jamie stopped looking at the mountains in the near distance and focused on his lady,

“Aye, mistress?”

“This ring belonged to my husband.  If you do this,” and she showed Jamie how to access the poison powder, “you have enough dried death cap mushroom to kill a full-grown man if necessary.  You can stir this into his food and he’ll never know the difference.  One can never be too careful.”

She held out the ring, picking up and supporting Jamie’s hand as if they were in a church getting married.  Jamie shivered as that exact vision filled his third eye.  She slid the ring on the ring finger of his right hand and gently released his hand.  It was a perfect fit.

Claire had a lump in her throat as she looked up at the young man from underneath her dark lashes, “You see? It fits you perfectly, Mr. Fraser.  I - I wish to ask you to protect me now and as long as you are in my,” she cleared her throat roughly, “in my employ.” She looked down at her feet, unable to look at him.

Jamie carefully eased his finger underneath her chin so she could see his face.  She looked up at him, breath caught in her throat.  He took a step back and knelt on one knee.  In a voice heavy with emotion, he pulled his heavy dirk with a “sschwiiin!” sound from its scabbard. 

Holding the deadly blade aimed directly at his beating heart, he captured her gaze and recited solemnly, “I swear on the cross of my Lord Jesus and by the holy iron which I hold that I give you my fealty and pledge you my loyalty.  If ever I should fail you, I ask that this holy iron may pierce my heart.” His beautiful blue eyes glittered darkly as he drank in her singular beauty and awed expression, unshed tears dancing in her wondrous eyes.  Were she any other lass, he might have moved in to try for a gentle kiss, but of course, not with her; for Jamie, it wasn’t just her face that he found so beautiful, but everything about her. He made a silent promise to himself, I will always love and honor her. 

Chapter Text

Jamie and Claire left at sunup and reached town just before sunset.  They decided to go to the nearest inn since it was so late.  They could arrive at market early the next day and be on their way.  Jamie escorted Claire into the loud inn and asked her to wait while he saw to the horses.  By the time he returned, she had secured the last two free rooms next to each other for the night and ordered dinner.

The innkeeper’s wife, Mrs. MacRannoch, cheerfully brought them ale to their table and promised to be back in a minute with the food.  When she placed the large plate in front of Claire, the tiny woman gasped at the mound of turkey, potatoes, neeps and bannocks, all served with a bowl of gravy on the side, “Jamie, uh, I mean, Mr. Fraser, pardon me!” She blushed so prettily, thought Jamie and his heart sighed.

“Dinna fash, mistress,” he smiled easily.  “What did ye want ta say?”

“Um, I believe I’ll need your help cleaning my plate.  Do you think you can do that for me?”

He blinked rather owlishly at her, “Aye, mistress, ye ken, I kin eat more than most other men.”

Their conversation ceased as they ate.  Too soon for Jamie’s liking, Claire pushed her plate to him, “Mistress, kin ye no’ eat more?” He wrinkled his nose, “It hardly looks like ye ate anythin’.  Are ye feelin’ poorly?”

She blushed and looked down, “When I travel my stomach can get upset sometimes and I lose my appetite.”

“But, I canna have ye gettin’ hungry later or gettin’ sick.  Will ye try to eat just a little more, fer me, please?” He fixed his clear blue eyes on her warm brown ones and gave her his best winning smile.

Claire stammered, “O-oh, well, okay, I think I can manage another couple of bites.”  Dutifully, she ate some more of everything on the plate until she pushed it away with a groan, “I absolutely can’t eat anymore, I swear, Mr. Fraser.”

Jamie inspected the plate again, “Much better, mistress, thank ye,” he said softly.

By the time Jamie finished eating his food and the rest of Claire’s, it was dark outside.  They agreed mutually that it was best to go to bed so they’d have most of the day to travel tomorrow.  Claire requested that they both be brought hot water, towels and soap.  Jamie didn’t like the looks some of the men in the tavern had been giving Claire – or what they’d been saying about her in his native tongue.  Of course, he didn’t tell her what he’d heard; it was rude and vulgar and would only upset her.  He insisted on ascending the stairs before Claire.  When they reached their rooms, he said, “Please bolt yer door, mistress, aye? There’s a lot of men in the tavern tonight.”  He looked down at her, “If ye need anythin’, just call out, aye?  I’mma righ’ next door.”

As he was about to go, she spoke, “Mr. Fraser, thank you for helping me to feel so safe.” She looked up into his crystal blue eyes that threatened to engulf her, “I haven’t felt so safe since my husband was alive.”

Jamie looked down at her and trembled so slightly the angel in front of him didn’t notice it, Oh, God, do I want to sweep you into my arms and kiss you breathless.  But as your bondsman who freely gave you my oath, I canna dishonor you so. A gentleman doesn’t do such things.

Instead, he fisted his hands to steady himself and rumbled, ”I’m happy ta hear that, mistress.  Have a good sleep, aye?”

Back in his own room, Jamie shucked his boots off.  He washed his face, neck and hands and made sure his nails were clean before climbing into bed.  He’d placed his dirk underneath his pillow and his sword on the floor next to him.  Five minutes later, Jamie was fast asleep. 

About three hours later, he was jolted out of a deep sleep by a shrill scream, “Mr. Fraser, please help me!”

He bolted out of bed, grabbed his dirk and yanked his door open.  Two very drunk men were pounding on Claire’s door and jiggling the doorknob, wheedling “Come on, lassie, who da ye think ye are? The Queen of Sheba? We jes’ want ta have some fun – “ Jamie didn’t need to hear any more.  

He faced the drunks and growled, “I’ll thank ye ta step awa’ fro’ my mistress’ door, ye clarty bastards!”  It took a few seconds for the men to register that he was there at all.  Jamie grabbed the first man by his hair and smashed his face in the wall, gratified by the sickening crunch of a broken nose. The man thudded to the floor, momentarily stunned.  He grabbed the next man by his bicep and spun him around.  The sot slurred, “I saw the hoor firs’- wai’ yer turn,” and swung clumsily at Jamie.

Jamie shouted, “Ma mistress isn’a a hoor!” He dodged the wobbly fist easily and his left fist sent three blackened teeth flying out of the drunk’s mouth, splitting his lip for good measure.  Jamie’s opponent wasn’t a small man, but he was no match for the redhead.  Jamie sent him crashing headlong down the stairs with a powerful kick to his backside.  He strode purposefully to the second man, heaved him upright and gave him the bum’s rush headlong down the stairs just like his companion.  The second man landed on top of the first man with a table-shaking thud, blood dripping lazily out of his mouth onto his friend underneath him. 

The innkeeper ran up to the landing in his breeks and sark and said, “What’s all the kebby lebby about?” His mouth gaped as he regarded the two louts on the floor.

Jamie growled, “These two thought they’d visit ma mistress in her room fer some ‘fun,’ as one put it. They assumed she’s a hoor because she and I came in tagether las’ night.  Name’s Fraser. I’m her manservant,” he said cordially, extending his hand. 

The innkeeper said “MacRannoch,” and the two shook firmly.

Jamie continued, “Well, her grace an’ I weren’a happy with that arrangement, so I helped them find another place to spend some time.”  

The man paled and swallowed nervously, “her grace?”

“Aye, ‘tis none other than Claire, Duchess of Glenfinnan,” Jamie informed the man flatly. 

MacRannoch looked like he might faint.  He gathered his wits and looked down at the unconscious men again, “Righ’, I’ll get someone ta help me get these donkey’s asses outta here permanently.”

Jamie grinned, “No need. I’ll be glad ta be o’ service!” Mrs. MacRannoch ran up,  saw what was happening and grimaced, “It’s Lee and Wesson agin’; wha’ ha’ they done this time?”

Her shaken husband turned to her, “They nearly attacked a woman i’ her chamber –Claire, Duchess of Glenfinnan!” The woman paled and snapped, “Well, these two are never comin’ back here agin’! Get Angus ta throw water on ‘em until they’re awake enough ta move on!”

Mr. and Mrs. Mrs. MacRannoch went outside to the kailyard and the woman yelled, “Angus Mhor! Will ye come, please?” She put two fingers into her mouth and whistled long and shrilly. 

A few seconds later, the biggest man Jamie had ever seen came from the barn.  He was almost as wide as the door and had to duck to avoid hitting his head.  Angus Mhor was 6’7” (2 meters) and about 250 pounds (113 kg) of pure muscle and bulk. 

“Aye, Mistress MacRannoch?”

“Och, Angus, Lee an’ Wesson ha’ been at it agin.  This time they tried ta get inta the duchess of Glenfinnan’s chamber – “

Angus’ face drained of blood and he literally growled, “Th’ duchess? I’ she alright, mistress?”  The man’s lip actually wobbled and he looked like he could burst into tears at any moment.

She patted his arm soothingly, “Aye, a bhalaich, dinna fash, yer lady is right as rain. Her manservant Fraser here,” and she gestured to Jamie, “Stopped ‘em cold, ‘e did. Helped them downstairs in a hurry!”

Angus swiveled his great head to look at Fraser and nodded his approbation, “Alrigh’ then. Thank ye, man. Angus Finlay.” and the black-haired man (unintentionally) crushed Jamie’s hand in his iron grip. Jamie nodded, “James Fraser.” Finlay still had his hand in a death grip and Jamie was trying very hard not to grimace. 

The three men went inside and Angus grabbed Lee and dragged him out by his feet.  Jamie and MacRannoch did the same with Wesson.  The men smirked at each other when Lee’s and Wesson’s heads bounced off the stone steps leading down to the courtyard.  Jamie was impressed – there was even a faint echo.

Angus dragged Lee to the horse trough, dropped him and said, “Put that wanker next ta this one.” He gestured to two buckets next to the trough, so Jamie stepped forward and filled them both. He handed one to Ramsay, who mock-bowed.  Jamie snorted and mimicked the taller man, in an exaggerated fashion, drawling, “Yer servant, milord!” Ramsay laughed, a wonderful, sonorous laugh that sprung from his belly and frightened birds from the tree above them.

Jamie was about to throw the water in Wesson’s face when Ramsay spoke, “Hold, sir!” and held up his index finger to stop Jamie.  He continued with a positively evil smile, “Luckily, I just refilled the trough wi’ fresh, freezing cold water fro’ yon burn there.” He winked at Jamie, deftly flipped up the unconscious man’s kilt and threw the water on his genitals. Lee shouted, spluttered, coughed and struggled to a sitting position, his hands finding no purchase in the mud now surrounding him. He heaved and choked and finally staggered to his feet, promptly falling again. 

He swore and mistress MacRannoch sniped, “Lee, ye tried ta assault Claire, Duchess of Glenfinnan, las’ nigh’.  Ye are banned fro’ th’ premises!” Lee groaned, got to his feet and headed for home, wobbling the whole way.

Jamie promptly aped Angus.  Wesson screamed hoarsely, clutched himself, and rolled to his feet faster than Lee. Mistress MacRannoch dismissed him as well and the four of them went inside.

Angus stopped Jamie, “The duchess saved ma firstborn bairn’s life.  Thomas had eaten what he thought was wood-garlic an she gave him somethin’ that made him vomit it all up.  Ma wife Bronagh and I, we kin never repay her.”

 Jamie patted Angus’ shoulder comfortingly and saw tears shining on his lashes. “She’s a miracle worker, I know.  She saved my life too.” Jamie and Angus shook hands again and Jamie made his way upstairs.

Jamie strode back to Claire’s door, listened for a moment and said, “Mistress, it’s Jamie.  I took care o’ those men.  Kin ye open tha’ door fer me, please?” Jamie heard the bolt slide back and Claire’s shaky voice whisper hoarsely, “Come in, Mr. Fraser.” He opened the door slowly and his heart broke to see his mistress sitting on the bed shaking in fear.  She jumped up, rushed into his arms and burst into hot tears that soaked his shirt, hugging him tightly.  He hugged her cautiously at first and when she tightened her embrace, he realized she needed him to hold her more firmly.  He carefully tightened his grip and felt her arms relax slightly and saw her shoulders drop in relief.  He breathed soothing words in the Gàidhlig into her beautiful curls, sticking up every which way from her interrupted sleep.  He moved an arm and stroked her hair, something that always soothed his sister Jenny when she was upset.  She spoke in a voice heavy with emotion, “Thank God for you, Mr. Fraser.  I-I was so afraid they’d break down the door a-and it would happen again.”

Jamie shuddered and empathetic tears pricked his eyes.  He stroked her wild curls one last time then picked her up and gently deposited the exhausted woman on the bed.  “Lie back now, mistress, aye?” He pulled up the bedclothes and tucked a curl behind her ear. 

She took his hand and whispered, “Will you stay and hold my hand until I fall asleep, please, Mr. Fraser?”

“Aye, mistress, wi’ pleasure.”  He perched on the edge of the bed and tucked her hand into his, holding it gently. 

She murmured, “So warm, Mr. Fraser.  Thank you again.” Gradually, her weary eyes slipped closed.

He kissed her forehead and prayed over her, “A Dhia, feuch an dìon thu mo chalman geal bho chunnart, an-diugh agus a h-uile latha. Leig dhomh an t-sochair a bhith ga dìon cho fad ’s as urrainn dhomh; is i mo chridhe agus m ’anam (God, please protect my white dove from danger, today and every day. Allow me the privilege of protecting her as long as I may; she is my heart and soul).”

He waited until she was asleep then went to his room.  He cleared his things out and grabbed his pillows and a couple of blankets.  Hang convention and what other people thought!  He settled himself between the duchess and the door and fell into a fitful sleep.  Much later, Jamie would recall a disjointed dream he had.  He and Claire working side-by-side, laughing together and kissing; in a chapel in their finery in front of an altar; Jamie protecting Claire again from men who would harm her; Jamie proudly holding a tiny baby in his arms, Claire standing next to him.  He saw his whole family and Lallybroch.  His mother and father presided over Hogmanay celebrations, with a whole swarm of grandchildren gathered about them.  He saw himself and Claire standing beneath a breathtaking stained-glass window bearing the Moriston arms with the Fraser arms impaled upon them. A beautiful, pulsing silver cord flowed from the center of the window and draped down a winding staircase.  Jamie descended the staircase and saw scenes of strange and wonderful things at the periphery of the staircase – machines that plowed faster than any man could; other metal machines on wheels that moved much faster than horses; boxes with moving pictures on them that spoke and played music. Further down the staircase, a cylindrical metal tube was spitting fire and smoke like a mighty dragon, lifting into the sky with a roar louder than anything he’d ever heard. Jamie couldn’t see beyond the image of the tube; the rest of the staircase was hidden in thick mist.

The next morning, Claire awoke before sunrise and was startled to find Jamie sleeping on her floor.  She got out of bed and padded gingerly to his room, praying she wouldn’t wake him.  She snuck to his room and put on her clothes.  Her eyes filled with grateful tears at how much he’d done for her the night before.  She packed her things and went downstairs to talk to the inn’s proprietess.  She saw her coming out with food for guests and waited politely.  As soon as Mistress MacRannoch saw her, she dipped in a low curtsy and called, “Paul! Her grace is here!”

Mr. MacRannoch came out of the back room and bowed to Claire.  Uncharacteristically, Mistress MacRannoch let her husband speak for them,

“Yer grace, I would like to apologize for the kebby lebby las’ nigh’.  Please rest assured that neither blackguard will e’er darken the pub’s door again!”

Claire smiled, “Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. MacRannoch, I’m indebted to you.  You couldn’t know what those men could do.  Mr. Fraser is still sleeping and if you wouldn’t mind, I’d appreciate it if we could let him sleep.  I am happy to pay you for the additional time.”

“Nay, mistress, we’ll take no coin fro’ you. Mr. Fraser can sleep as long as he likes.  I’ll tell my girls not to disturb him.”

Just then, the door to the tavern opened but instead of seeing light, Claire saw almost overwhelming darkness.  She got a bit nervous until it dawned on her why there was so little light coming in the open door.

“Mr. Ramsay, how pleasant to see you again!” Claire smiled and Angus’ face pinked in pleasure as he removed his bonnet in Claire’s presence.

Ramsay strode up to her and bowed low and then kissed her hand, “Yer grace, thank ye.  “’Tis a pleasure ta see ye as well.”

“How is Thomas faring? And Mrs. Ramsay?”

“Thank ye fer askin, yer grace.  Thomas is fine, an,” here, Angus’ weathered face broke out into a sheepish grin, “My Fiona is in a family way again.  We have 3 boys already an’ are prayin’ fer a lass, mistress.  Ma boys are eatin’ us outta house an’ home, they are!” Claire laughed out loud and Ramsay and the MacRannochs joined in. 

“Well, Mr. Ramsay, congratulations are in order!” Claire smiled.  “Please do remember me to your lady wife and your son.”

“Aye, yer grace, I shall, thank ye.”

Jamie slept until 9:00 a.m., unheard of for him.  Claire knew he must be exhausted and was happy to simply let him sleep.

He woke slowly, blinking at the sunlight already flooding the room.  He pushed himself up on his elbow and peered over the end of the bed. No mistress.  Where was she? He dressed hurriedly and grabbed his things, ready to run downstairs, but he heard her voice and others’ voices and relaxed, sending a prayer of thanks heavenward, “She’s safe, mo calman geal is safe.  Thank ye, Jesus.” He came downstairs and smiled at Claire, who returned his smile with interest, “Good morning, Mr. Fraser, did you sleep well?”

“Aye, mistress, I did.  And ye?”

“Like a baby, better than I have in years, honestly.”

Jamie greeted Angus and the MacRannochs and waited to seat himself until Claire was seated.  She saw Angus going to sit alone and invited him to share their table.  He accepted gratefully.

Mrs. MacRannoch busied herself with bringing hot tea first and then three breakfast plates groaning with food. A kitchen girl followed her and brought a large steaming bowl of porridge for the table with smaller bowls containing sugar and a separate one filled to spilling with fresh redcurrants and yet a third with honey, all followed by a pitcher of cream. 

Claire, Jamie and Angus tucked into their food.  Jamie offered to serve Claire porridge and she said, “Yes, please, Mr. Fraser,” and smiled.  His wame exploded in butterflies and he gave her half a bowl.  Angus pushed the honey, sugar, fruit and cream to her so she could help herself. She thanked him and the meal continued. Just like the previous night, Jamie’s mistress ate entirely too little for his liking.  She set down her spoon and wiped her mouth, not meeting his eyes.  He didn’t say anything out loud because Angus was there and he didn’t want to embarrass her.  He waited patiently and finally captured her eyes with his. She pinked as she saw the eyebrow cocked.  She asked for the cream and ate the rest of her still-warm porridge.  She buttered half a sliced bannock, spread preserves on it and ate that as well.  She finally finished and drew her index finger just under her hairline, indicating she was full.  He barely nodded and took the helpless food into custody. 

“Say, Angus, her grace canna eat any more.  What say ye we help her out?”

Angus grinned, “Right.  Always happy ta help.  Thank ye, mistress.  Fraser, gie’ me whatever ye dinna want. We’ll polish the plates clean.”

Mr. and Mrs. MacRannoch watched the dynamics between Jamie and Claire and smirked.  Mrs. MacRannoch leaned close to her husband and whispered, “Come wi’ me, a leannan.”  She led the way to a storage room and they shut themselves inside.  Only when the door was securely shut did they allow themselves to smile widely at one another, remembering their own courtship thirty-five years earlier.

Moira’s sun-filled smile reminded Brian of the first time he’d seen her, at a Hogmanay dance when he was sixteen and she fourteen, “Oh, Brian, those two are mad fer each other. I gie’ ‘em not two years afore they’re married.  Did ye see how he got her ta eat more? She’s too thin by half anyway. What do ye say?”

“Aye, Moira, they’ve got it bad.  The poor duchess, alone since the duke passed.  She needs a man.”

His wife butted in, “’An he needs a strong woman, tha’s certain – someone ta temper his spark-hot temper, ye ken?”

They smiled at each other and kissed.  Moira and Brian knew that they were blessed because their kisses still left both of them breathless.

Claire and Jamie finished breakfast, bade Angus and the MacRannochs goodbye and headed out to the market.  Claire enjoyed being amongst so many new faces.  She was happy at Thistle Glen House but meeting new people and forging new connections with growers and craftspeople was nothing if not smart.  She was able to stock up on herbs she couldn’t find on Thistle Glen lands.  Jamie found a beautiful skein of very soft yarn he’d use to knit presents for his family.  His time with his mistress was galloping toward its contractual end.  He knew it, and yet, he could feel his heart slowly breaking, cracking more and more the closer November 1st approached. Would that I could stop time, he sighed to himself. 

He observed her closely, never letting her get too far ahead.  He’d admitted to himself that he loved her for many reasons -she’d never completely grown apart from the little girl who ran wild on the estate whenever she could, shoes and hose off, cap forgotten, curls blowing wildly, getting snarled in the breeze.  So, Jamie protected her from a respectful distance.  The incident at the market when they found Donas was still uppermost in his mind, as was the previous evening, obviously.

Claire stopped at a few stalls and picked up some fresh bread, cheese and fruit.  To her delight, she found some sweet cakes at one stall and bought several, intending to give the horses one each with their dinner because they’d been so good.  She found a butcher and asked him to cut several links of sausage, mindful of Jamie’s appetite.  She planned on boiling them in the small pot they’d brought with them.  Luckily, it was another beautiful day for a ride.  Claire let Jamie set the pace. 

They stopped near a stream to eat.  Claire went down to the stream to get water to boil the sausages while Jamie built a small fire after hobbling the horses.  While the water boiled, they arranged their food on the blanket.  Claire tested the sausages’ doneness.  Satisfied, she speared four for Jamie and one half for her, leaving one in the pot for whoever wanted it.  Jamie eyed what she’d given herself doubtfully but said nothing.

She looked directly into his beautiful eyes and said in a low warning tone, “I saw that look, Mr. Fraser.  I’m still full from breakfast, if you must know.”

He held his hands up in surrender, “Aye, mistress, I didn’a say a word.”

“Good,” she asserted firmly. 

Jamie took a deep breath, “Mistress, may I speak wi’ ye, please?”

Claire looked surprised, “Of course, Mr. Fraser, always.  How may I help?”

Jamie looked down and then looked at her earnestly, “I’mma grateful ye allowed me ta wear the duke’s beautiful ring.  I’m sorry, but It’s been pinching.  Could I gie’ it back to ye please?”

Claire looked chastened and Jamie almost wished he hadn’t said anything, “Oh, of course!  Here, I have some salve in my pack. “ She got her new container of arnica salve and smeared some on Jamie’s skin and the ring’s edges. Jamie had to steel himself when he felt her cool fingers fluttering over his ring finger, Ah Dhia, lass, would that I could return that caress. Mini massage done, it slipped into Claire’s hand easily.  Claire wiped the ring off and slipped it into her skirt pocket.

Jamie ate the leftover half of her sausage and the one in the pot and he poured the water over the campfire to extinguish it, following it with another pan filled with cold spring water.  Right before she mounted Cinnamon, Claire remembered the three sugar cookies she’d put in her other pocket for the horses.  She fed one to Cinnamon, whispering sweet nonsense words into her fuzzy ear.  Cinnamon snuffled her open hand, making sure she’d got every bit.  Donas whickered in pleasure and lipped Claire’s hair, snuffed her palm and went one better than his equine friend – he licked her palm when he got his cookie.  Claire giggled and gave his forelock a scratch and wiped her hand on her skirt. 

Jamie helped Claire onto Cinnamon and turned back to his mount.  He considered changing Donas’ name to Greedy Beast.  “Aye, ye softie, ye have had yer sugar cookie now.  Might ye be fortified enough now .ta take me the rest o’ the way home?” Jamie snarked.  Claire burst out laughing and Jamie joined her.

Around three-thirty, Jamie heard several horses coming up a rise they were about to crest.  He cautioned Claire to get behind him and drew his sword.

Chapter Text

 

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Attention, please! The italics in this section are meant to convey action that happened the night before Jamie and Claire set out for Thistle Glen House on their way back from town. Let me know if anything here isn’t clear, please!

 

One day earlier

A brunet man and a stocky red-haired man sat at a massive oak table in an ancient and grimy tavern that had tobacco smoke stains indelibly staining its walls. The brunet Scot was approached by a skinny, pock-faced man with shaggy, dirty blond hair.  The blond whispered in the brunet’s ear softly but urgently.  The brunet clapped his friend on the back, thanking him.  He leaned over and spoke in low tones to his countryman, “Aye, Jacob jes’ said, tha’ hoor’s been seen ridin’ in town wi’ Fraser. I mean ta make ‘er pay fer what she done ta me – nobody’ll take me on since she dismissed me!”  

“Aye, I ken it! Me too!”

Two men, one bald and one black-haired, had been sitting at an adjoining table for about an hour when they heard the Scots pull out a deck of cards and shuffle them.  They made an enticing soft “thwap-twap” on the sticky table.  The men asked if they could play if they bought the two Scots another beer.  The brunet studied the strangers – he may not have been good at many things in life, but he was a good judge of people.  He gestured to the table silently, inviting the strangers to sit.  The bald foreigner tipped his hat at the brunet, caught the barmaid’s attention and made a circle with his finger, ordering beers for the table. The two Scots didn’t ask their fellow players’ names - too many curious questions could lead to teeth flying from one’s mouth, or worse.  The men all ponied up the minimum bet and the game started. 

After around two hours of playing, the men all stood to stretch their legs.  The foreigners went one way to talk for a minute, and the Scots stepped outside into the cool night.

The brunet and silver-haired man stood at the back of the tavern and the brunet spoke first, “Ye know how big Fraser is, aye? Ye saw him. I had ta subdue the beast an’ I dinna fancy doin’ tha’ agin’! Ye saw how he guarded her so close a’ th’ market – tha’s a man in love.  They kin be overprotective an’ dangerous.”

“Aye, Marley, bu’ wha’ kin we do? We dinna know how long she’ll be in town, either.”

“She never stays longer than o’ernight.  Trust me, that bitch will be riding out tomorrow.”  A sick smile spread over his face, “An’ mebbe I’ll take ‘er in tha’ woods an’ ride her masel’.”

“How’s about we ask those men in there ta join us. Four-way split o’ the booty.”

The grizzled man rubbed his jaw thoughtfully, “So. We ask ‘em if they’re interested in makin’ a bit more coin than at this game, aye?”

The two Scots shook hands and went back to the table.  They re-joined the foreigners and before Marley dealt a new hand, he spoke in a hushed, deliberate whisper, explaining his and Jacob’s plan to rob the duchess the following day.  The four men agreed to join forces, agreeing to meet in the tavern for breakfast at six the next morning.  The redhead and Marley pooled their winnings and each paid half to rent a room, securely bolting the door behind them.

 

Okay, that’s the end of the “flashback.” Back to our regularly scheduled program!

 

The men met at six o’ clock the next morning and set out after breakfast.  Marley knew that Claire liked to be on the road by seven a.m. to get back home at a decent hour.  Because he’d traveled the route to town with Claire already, he knew approximately when she’d hit certain streams, pass certain ponds and hills.  He led the men over a different route so they wouldn’t be seen.  He knew where there was only one way up to Thistle Glen House and when they approached that point, he directed the men to tie handkerchiefs over their mouths and noses to conceal their identities.

Just as Marley suspected, he heard two horses coming up the rise.  He could hear the duchess’ clear laugh, cut off by silence and then the s-shinnng!” of Fraser’s huge sword being drawn from its scabbard.  Of course the bastard wouldn’t just travel with his dirk; that would have been too easy for Marley and his companions.  Marley drew his sword as did the other men as they crested the rise. 

Jamie saw the men’s concealed faces and screamed, “Mistress, run!”

Jamie started fighting with Marley as Claire wheeled Cinnamon around and urged her into a gallop but after a few meters (a meter is three feet), the mare’s hoof caught on a small stone and Claire was thrown to the ground, momentarily stunned.  She shook her head quickly and scrambled to her feet, sprinting to the woods, the two foreigners hot on her heels.  The taller one caught her first and grabbed her upper arm, spun her around and slapped her so hard she crumpled to the ground.  They dragged the struggling woman between them to the red-haired Scot, who marched over, grabbed a thick handful of Claire’s curls, pulling her backwards to his chest. He snarled, “Fraser! Consider yourself carefully!”

Marley used Jamie’s distraction to knock his sword out of his hand as Jamie cried, “Mistress!”

Her cheek was already bruising where she’d been struck, but said, “I’m alright, Mr. Fraser. Don’t worry about me.”

The redheaded man gave his prize to Marley, who yanked Claire’s hair into his fist, deliberately keeping her off-balance.  Marley whispered into his former mistress’ ear with hate, “Claire, we’re gon’ ha’ some good fun, ye and I.”

Claire gagged at his breath, which smelled like rotting meat and old beer, Wait, I know that voice!

She yelled frantically, “Mr. Fraser, it’s Marley!”

Marley shouted, “You whore!” Arching Claire’s back by yanking on her hair, he fondled her breasts and kissed her roughly, “Ye ha’ ruined ma life; nobody will hire me because o’ you!”

The two foreigners held Jamie tightly and pivoted him to face Marley.  Jamie capitulated for Claire’s sake, “I surrender to you, sir.”

Marley snarled, “Get on your knees!”

Jamie snapped, “No! Now, let my lady be!”

Marley growled and lazily admired Claire’s breasts with his eyes and chortled, “I’ll take a closer look.”

Jamie was momentarily confused, A closer look? What does tha-

Suddenly, Marley forced Claire to turn slightly so her breasts were at an angle to him.

Jamie bellowed, “NO!” as the brute ripped his mistress’ bodice asunder, exposing her perfect milky skin and rose-pink nipples, pebbling immediately in the cool breeze.

The foreigners forced Jamie to his knees as he struggled, trying everything he could to avoid looking at his mistress in her distress.

Marley laughed and growled, “Bring his head up!”

Jamie growled as his head was ripped up by a handful of curls and he roared his fury at his mistress’ humiliation and his inability to protect her.

“Bring him over to that tree there.”  The men wrestled Jamie up and forced him to walk to the huge oak with them where they shoved him against the rough bark face-first, scraping his cheek.  Marley dug rope out of his saddlebag and tied Jamie securely to the tree trunk. Marley took his dirk and sliced Jamie’s shirt in two, ripping it off his powerful back.  He strode over to his saddlebag again and withdrew a riding crop.

Claire cried, “Please, I’ll do what you want, just don’t hurt him!”

Marley ignored her and started whipping Jamie with all his strength but Jamie never made a sound.  The first stripes were pink and as Marley administered more strikes, they layered over one another in a a red crazy quilt of cruel welts. Marley kept whipping him and dark red rivulets of the young man’s life’s blood meandered down his injured back.  Still, no sound escaped him. 

After about 25 lashes, Marley turned to Claire, chest heaving with exhaustion, ”You care to see more? Or would you rather go into the woods and offer me better entertainment?  All the men will take a turn, your grace,” and Marley laughed at the petite woman under his control.

Jamie ordered, “Don’t go with him - even if he slits my throat right before your eyes!”

To Claire’s horror, the man simply turned back to her bondsman and kept abusing him, snickering, “I ken, this will hurt you more than anything else I could do to you.”

“Marley! I wan’ ta be th’ firs’ wi’ th’ duchess!”

“Aye, Gordon, go on, git ye gon to tha woods.  Or we’ll untie Fraser so he kin watch righ’ here an’ get a real purty show.” Grabbing Jamie’s head, Marley snarled, “Would ye like that, ye dirty whoreson?  Watch yer mistress get served by a real man?”

“STOP!” screamed Jamie desperately, “When I catch ye, Marley, I’ll kill ye, count on tha’!”

Kenny Gordon laughed as he pointed his dagger at Claire’s heart.

The foreigners untied him and one pointed a gun at his head. Gordon saw that Jamie wasn’t moving and re-sheathed his dagger.

Gordon grabbed Claire and kicked her feet out from under her.  Initially, she fell on her side and Gordon kicked her in her ribs to roll her on her back, sing-songing, “I’mma gon’ get me some o’ that!” and started rucking up Claire’s skirts.  She whimpered and a solitary tear escaped her right eye.  Gordon undid his breeks, pushed her thighs apart and prepared to mount her.  Just as he was going to force himself inside her channel, she jerked and in a blur, her fist came down to his lower back. Gordon screamed in agony – she had pierced his kidney with her sgian dubh.  Jamie used the chaos to grab the gun and shoot the bald man in the head.  He pulled his dirk out and slit the second foreigner’s throat from ear to ear. Blood spurted from the gaping wound onto the grass below in time with the dying man’s pulse.  Marley stood in front of the oak tree, shocked that Claire had killed one of the foreigners.  Jamie ran to Claire and knelt, ripping off his jacket.  He tenderly wrapped her in it so she could cover herself.  Before he rose, he kissed her hand.  He led Claire to a nearby tree and squeezed her hand, looking into her eyes until she could focus on him, “I’ll be righ’ back, mistress.  Stay here, aye?”

She nodded silently and tried not to focus on how many ribs Gordon may have broken.  Jamie ran to Marley and as they were fighting, the thunder of hooves was heard coming up over the rise.  Three men crested the rise and as the dust settled, Claire saw Angus Mhor galloping towards them on a great dappled-gray percheron, two men behind him. 

“Mr. Ramsay!” screamed Claire, “Please help Mr. Fraser! He can’t go on much longer!”

“Aye, Mistress!” He bellowed and guided his mount to stop right behind the battling men.  As soon as Marley feinted back to regroup, Angus simply grabbed him in his trunk-like arms, grabbed his sword arm and brought his knee up, smashing Marley’s fist down on his kneecap.  Marley howled in pain and dropped his sword.

“Please have your men hold him so I can tend to Mr. Fraser first, Mr. Ramsay.”

“Aye, mistress.”

Ramsay’s men grabbed Marley’s arms, tied his hands behind his back and kicked him in the back of his knees to force him to kneel in the dirt.

Claire and Ramsay ran towards Jamie and just as he breathed, “Mistress, ye’re safe,” he fainted right into Angus’ arms.

Tears sprung to Claire’s eyes and she turned to Angus, “Please bring him over to the grass, Mr. Ramsay.”

“Aye, Mistress,” and the giant carried Jamie as gently as he could to the cool grass.

“Lay him down on his stomach on this blanket,” and she yanked a blanket from their saddlebag as well as her bandages and ointment, “then please take this pot and these water skins and fill them at the stream.” Claire folded her arisaid and placed it under Jamie’s head then turned to start washing his wounds.  “There’s a couple of full bottles of whisky in Donas’ saddlebag, Mr. Ramsay.  Could you please take this cookie,” and she reached into her pocket, took out the third cookie and broke it in half, “and bribe Donas with it and then give the other half to Cinnamon?”

Angus chuckled, “Aye, mistress, righ’ away.”

Donas didn’t like this big man coming close to him at all, but he could smell curly haired woman’s sweet cookie in his hand and he really wanted that cookie.  He pawed the ground twice to show the stranger he wasn’t afraid, at which Claire turned and said, “Donas, be a good boy for mistress, please.”

Angus could swear a guilty look washed over the great beast’s face. Donas allowed him to collect the whisky and got his cookie in return, which he crunched happily.  Cinnamon didn’t put on such a show, because ladies didn’t engage in such rough behavior, after all!  She took her treat very politely and dare she say it, demurely.

Claire got Angus to open the first bottle and after washing the blood off Jamie’s back as well as she could with spring water, she called for Angus again, “Mr. Ramsay, I’m afraid I need your strength again,” she called, sheepishly.

Angus smiled gently, “Dinna fash, mistress, ‘tis nothin’ ta be makin’ heavy weather of.”

She smiled, “Could you please hold Mr. Fraser down? I have to clean his gashes with alcohol so they don’t get inflamed and I don’t want him jerking around and making them bleed more.”

Angus smiled and said gently, “Aye, mistress, anythin’ ye need.”

Claire cleansed Jamie’s wounds with the whisky and sure enough, he startled awake, shouting, “I’m alright!” Only Angus’ strong hands holding him down stopped him from thrashing about.

“You’re not, Mr. Fraser,” replied Claire tersely.  “Please lie back and let me finish this, alright?  I am sorry I am hurting you.  I promise, I’ll make this as quick as I can.”

Claire finished cleansing the wounds and put ointment on the ones that needed it.  She gave Jamie license to drink a bit more whisky and waited for a few minutes for him to get more relaxed, then sewed up the particularly rough injuries. 

Claire passed the bottle to Angus and invited him to take a healthy drink.  He grinned and did just that, so she directed him to share the bottle with his friends.  The three toasted her and Walker quipped, “Mistress, if we get this kind o’ whisky when we help ye, we’ll find trouble for ye!”

Claire looked at Angus and the other two men and all four burst into hearty laughter.

Jamie fell into a light doze as Angus, Claire, and Angus’ companions discussed what to do with Marley.

Angus sneered, “I say it’s her grace’s and Fraser’s decision, men.  Whit say ye?”

“Aye,” the other two men chorused. 

At the sound, Jamie roused from his twilight sleep, cleared his throat and asked, “What does the mistress say should be done wi’ Marley?”

Before Claire could say anything, Marley began groveling pitifully for his life, “Please, mistress, I’mma sorry! I’ll go an’ ye’ll never see me agin, I swear it! Dinna leave me ta Fraser, he’ll kill me!” Marley sobbed and carried on and Claire looked on him with coldness.

“You didn’t seem too worried about what was going to happen to me, Marley! You beat my manservant and showed him no mercy and left me to your filthy companions!”

“Aye, I know’t an’ I am heartily sorry, yer grace.  Please, I’m beggin’ ye, one Christian to another.”

Jamie stepped over to Claire and whispered in her ear.  She nodded and said, “Very well.  I will show you mercy you do not deserve.  Mr. Fraser will tend to your wounds.”

“Mr. Fraser, please remember to clean his wounds.”

“Aye, mistress,” smirked Jamie.

Rising from the ground, the redhead addressed the other men, “Angus, mo charaid, will ye and yer companions please accompany her grace ta the water an’ guard her while she freshens up? I’ll whistle for ye when I’m done.”

Angus nicked, “O’ course.  Yer grace, please take yer arisaid an’ we’ll take some blankets fer ye. Have ye soap and linen toweling? If no’, I have some.”

“Oh, yes, I do.  I’ll be right back.” Claire retrieved her bathing supplies and joined the men who surrounded her and Cinnamon on three sides with swords drawn.  Claire was escorted down to the water’s edge and the men tied a blanket between two trees as a privacy shield.  While she was in the water, they laid a blanket out on the grass, returned to the modesty shield and turned their backs to give the lady much-craved privacy.  Claire thoroughly scrubbed herself, groaning when her sore ribs hit the icy water.  She washed her body and her hair, happy that she’d chosen a very simple traveling dress that she could get on and off by herself.  She emerged from behind the blanket and Angus extended a hand to her, guiding her safely to the blanket.  The men had some food in their saddle bags and everyone ate a little bit.  Naturally, Claire contributed her wonderful whisky, which pleased the men enormously.  The foursome enjoyed chatting with one another and of course, Claire asked each man about their families, especially the children.  Like proud fathers everywhere, the men gradually opened up to Claire and boasted about their children and their wives’ cooking.

Meanwhile, Jamie had whittled two stakes out of a branch to sharp tips.  He used a mallet he kept in his saddlebag to drive the stakes into the earth behind Marley’s head and in front of his feet.  Jamie used his brute strength to push Marley to a sitting position.  The rope holding Marley’s hands behind his back was severed and Jamie tied the older man’s hands to the stake.  He moved down to the man’s feet and repeated the process.  Marley lay helpless on the grass and closed his eyes, fearing the worst. 

Jamie quipped, “I haveta clean yer wounds, Marley, on her grace’s orders.  Ye’re lucky – I would ha’ left ye ta rot.”

Jamie walked to his saddlebag and retrieved the whisky and a cup and turned back around to Marley, pouring a healthy dose into the lead cup.  Jamie knelt, tore open the shredded remains of Marley’s shirt and said gleefully, “This is goin’ ta hurt, man. Ye better say a mighty prayer.  But here’s some whisky ta take away th’ pain.” He grabbed the lout’s head and brought the cup to his cracked lips, relishing the pained sound Marley made when the alcohol dribbled onto his split bottom lip.  He tipped the cup slowly so Marley could drink every drop.

“Thank ye, Fraser,” mumbled Marley.

“Dinna thank me yet, scoundrel.” Jamie brought his water skin over and carelessly drizzled water over Marley’s injuries to get as much dirt out of the wounds as possible while Marley screamed bloody murder.  He took a couple of bandages and patted Marley’s skin dry.  Next, Jamie pulled out the whisky and remarked casually, “The mistress uses alcohol ta cleanse wounds.  This will hurt more than th’ water.”

Marley begged for a small branch or rags to stifle his screams, but Jamie refused,

“Nay, ye didn’a gie’ me that courtesy; as ye reap, so shall ye sow.”

Marley trembled in fear, clenching his fists.  Jamie gave him another few swallows of whisky and then slopped wide swaths of whisky on the man’s injured skin.  Marley was on fire and his screams were so loud the four at the stream could hear them and heard the reverberations off of the tree trunks and larger rocks in the area. 

After about twenty seconds, Fraser stopped the flow of precious liquid and took a swig from the bottle, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.  He watched with detached fascination as Marley started to shiver, then shake, then convulse.  He groaned in pain and screamed; his insides felt like he was being turned inside-out. His pulse beat wildly and he vomited on himself, too helpless to move his head.

“Wha’ ha’ ye done, ye devil?” Marley wheezed hoarsely.

Jamie chuckled, “Weel, I put dried, powdered Amanita phalloides[1] in yer whisky.” Jamie smirked.

Marley felt dizzy and groaned as he defecated on himself.  “Wha’s tha’?”

“Deathcap mushroom.  Try ta relax, Marley, or ye’ll only make it worse,” advised the redhead.  “Do ye know what’s goin’ ta happen next?”

Marley’s sclera and skin were taking on a yellowish tint and Jamie shook his head, “More diarrhea an’ kidney failure. O’ course, if ye’re a verra lucky bastard, yer heart will gie’ out before then.  We’ll see.”

“Damn you an’ tha’ dirty whore ta hell, Fraser! I shoulda killed ye when I had ye out in tha woods!”

“Well, ye didn’t an’ I must thank ye fer it, Marley.  An’ as to yer fate, as I said before, ye are reaping what ye sowed. So.”

Marley dry heaved again and his eyes fell closed.  He groaned, a sickening sound that made Jamie’s wame twist in disgust.  Marley convulsed one last time and was still.  Jamie put his fingers on the man’s neck and listened for breaths coming out of his mouth, but Marley was silent.  Jamie left him lying there for a moment and built a fire a few feet away.  He stoked the flames and when it was to his satisfaction, went to Claire’s saddlebags and took out several handfuls of rags she used for cleaning wounds.  He poured the rest of the water from his water skin on the man to wash away some of the vomit and pulled Marley’s pants off and threw them in the fire, wrinkling his nose at the putrid smell.  He washed the feces and urine off Marley with some of the water Angus had collected and wiped Marley’s face and body as clean as he could get it.  He strode over to the fire and threw the rags in, watching in satisfaction as they lit up and charred around their edges.  Jamie took an old blanket and wrapped Marley’s naked body, leaving his head and neck uncovered.

Satisfied with a job well done, he whistled powerfully for his companions.  He grinned as he saw Claire leading the men, just as she should. 

Claire slid off her saddle and jumped into Jamie’s arms.  He laughed and twirled her around and the other men looked away to give them a moment alone.

“Oh, Mr. Fraser, thank you for saving me,” I thought Gordon was going to kill me!”

Jamie held onto her hands and was pleasantly surprised when she kissed his cheek in thanks.

He blushed beet-red and stammered, “Aye, mistress, ‘twas ma pleasure.”

She took his proffered arm and said, “Now, I need to see to Marley.” They walked over to the man and Claire eyed him critically.  She knelt next to him and tried to find a pulse in his neck and his wrist, finally laying her ear on his chest to hear a heartbeat that was no longer there.

“Well, there’s nothing more to be done for him now, Mr. Fraser.  He must have perished from his injuries.”

Jamie rumbled, “Aye, tha’ must be it, mistress.  After all, ye’re tha healer.”

Jamie helped Claire up and made sure she was steady on her feet.  She brushed her dress off and walked to the fire while Jamie and Angus took Marley’s corpse and buried it deep in the woods, leaving Walker and Drummond to guard Claire.  Claire got up to look at some blossoms that were in a cluster not far from the fire.  “Oh, forget-me-nots!” She squealed excitedly.  She plucked them gently and nestled them in her handkerchief.  She was about to turn around when something else caught her attention.  Intrigued, she pawed through the grass and was amazed at what she found.

Jamie and Angus came back a few minutes later and Claire walked out to meet them, addressing Angus Mhor, “I’d like to speak to Mr. Fraser if that’s alright.”

Jamie dismounted and said, “Stay” to Donas.  “Aye, mistress, how kin I help ye?”

She clutched his hand, tears threatening to fall. 

“Mistress, what’s wrong?” Jamie asked, worriedly. “Are ye alright?”

She gazed into his beautiful eyes and opened her fist slowly to reveal the promise locket Jamie gave to his first love, Micheline.  Overcome with sorrow, the huge man sank onto his knees and wept for the love that had been so brutally torn from him all those years ago.

[1]   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amanita_phalloides

Chapter Text

YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE, MY LOVELIES!

The “ayes” have won the day! The story shall go on! Thank you to all who voiced an opinion!

Chapter Text

Claire sank to her knees in front of the sobbing man and collected both his hands in hers.  For a moment, she simply held them. Her delicate thumbs began caressing the backs of his hands in a soothing circular motion.  He squeezed them gently in acknowledgement as they moved over his like a breeze kissing a fevered brow.  Claire waited silently with him, walking with him through his profound grief.

When Jamie collected himself, he washed his face in the stream’s bracing water and escorted his lady back to Angus, Walker and Drummond.

Jamie said, “Thank ye, gentlemen, ye saved our lives.”

All three blushed and tugged at their forelocks in respect.  Angus spoke, “Mistress, ‘tis nothin’ ye didna do fer my Thomas.  Anytime I can help ye, jes’ send word.”

“What made you come this way, anyway?” Claire eyed Angus curiously.

He took off his cap, “I’d been talkin’ ta my wife an’ she said she heard from a neighbor that two French and two Scots brigands ha’ been robbin’ people on th’ road.  I knew ye were on th’ road home, so I took ma cousins here, Ian an’ Tammas an’ we set out ta make certain ye were safe.”

Claire and Jamie thanked them again and assured Angus they’d be alright now since the threat had been eliminated. 

The parties separated and went their own ways.  Jamie and Claire rode side-by-side in silence.  Much had transpired since they’d set out on their short journey and the quiet was a much-needed oasis for the travelers.  When they finally reached the outermost boundary of Claire’s land, both breathed sighs of relief – another three hours and they’d be home.  As they reached Loch Dorcha (“dark loch” – A/N: I made up this name), they stopped one last time to water the horses and fill their skins. 

Claire grabbed a blanket and spread it on the grass so they could rest if they wanted.  

Claire faced Jamie, “Mr. Fraser, will you please sit with me for a moment?”

“Aye, mistress,” and he sat across from her.

She took a deep breath to steady her nerves,

“You have gone above and beyond your duty to me personally and my house.  When we get back to Thistle Glen House, I am going to burn your contract.” 

He opened his mouth to speak and she held up her hand.  He closed his mouth and let her continue, “Mr. Fraser, I wish to thank you for being such a devoted member of my staff for almost the past year.  I realize we didn’t start on the best footing, but you have proven your loyalty and kindness to me time and time again.  I know that William took your horse back with him and I am giving you Donas and twenty pounds in gold as a thank you for your exemplary service.”  

He stared at her, wondering if he’d heard her correctly.  “Free? Do ye no want me anymore, mistress?”

“No, Mr. Fraser, I do not want you to serve me anymore as my bondsman, you are correct.”

He sucked in a breath to calm himself, but Claire saw tears glimmering in his eyes. The young man looked at her forlornly, like a puppy who’d just been kicked.  “Whyever no, mistress? Did I displease ye?” A deep sadness had replaced the sparkle in his eyes.  He closed his eyes and tears tracked down his cheeks.

“Mr. Fraser, open your eyes, please,” she begged.  “I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood me.  I do not want you to serve me as my bondsman anymore, but – “

Here goes nothing, thought Claire, praying he wouldn’t spurn her.  She moved forward and gently kissed Jamie’s mouth.  He whimpered softly and didn’t move, praying she’d continue. She wiped his tears away with her thumbs and continued pressing butterfly kisses to his lips and face, caressing his cheeks with her warm hands.  Jamie sighed, savoring the sweet feeling of her hands and lips on his skin.  Claire saw that his cat eyes were nearly black in desire.  He bent down, slotting his mouth against hers, kissing her cautiously until she fisted his shirt and drew him closer.  He cupped her beautiful face in his large hands and kissed her passionately, letting her know exactly how he felt about her.  Claire squeaked in delight and he smiled onto her lips, licking her generous bottom lip asking for entry into her beautiful mouth.  She groaned quietly and he took that as permission.  He snaked his warm tongue into her mouth and their tongues caressed and spoke to each other.  Finally, they had to end their first kiss so they could greedily gulp air.  He held her upper arms gently to make sure she was steady. 

Claire’s eyes fluttered open, “Well, Mr. Fraser, after that, I think it’s time you called me by my Christian name, Claire.”

“Only if ye call me Jamie!” They laughed and Jamie nervously cleared his throat,

Jamie held Claire’s hands in his, ““Claire, there’s somethin’ I’d like ta discuss wi’ ye. He took a deep breath, “I – I love ye; I ha’ fer a long time.  I want ta spend ma life wi’ ye as yer husband, should ye accept me.” I should like ta court ye when I’m a free man again.  O’ course,” he added hastily, “wi’ yer permission.  I must also secure Mam’s an’ Da’s permission an’ then I kin return ta ye.  We kin take it slowly an’ see if we’re compatible.  I believe we are,” he said earnestly.

The tiny woman said nothing, but he saw tears in her eyes.  He had no time to be alarmed, though, because he was bowled over by a curly haired whirlwind,

“Oh, Jamie, I love you too.  After Silas, I never thought I’d love again!” She burst into happy tears.  He gathered her into his arms and soothed her with caresses and beautiful words from his native language.  When she’d quieted, he wiped away her tears and held her to him for a long moment, kissing the crown of her head.  She twined her arms around his powerful neck, pressing more kisses to his throat. Claire knew it was time to show him exactly what she felt.  She tugged on a handful of curls, kissing him with wild abandon.  He smelled enticing – horse, grass, woods and something ineffably him. He growled deep in his chest, grateful that this amazing woman had the baws to reveal her feelings to him.  The kiss was so powerful that both forgot where they were when it finally ended.  Again, the pair surfaced for oxygen. Claire wrapped her arms around Jamie’s waist and laid her cheek on his chest.  He caressed her back in soothing circles, not believing how much his life had changed in the last few minutes.

Claire straightened up and kissed Jamie’s cheeks, eventually shifting to his jawline, drawing a grunt of satisfaction from him.  She untied his cravat with trembling fingers and sucked greedily on the bronzed skin, nipping hard enough to make Jamie hiss in arousal.  She could feel his excitement – his cock was hard, and she could tell even through all their clothes that he was very large, even larger than Silas.  Her mouth watered thinking of all the things she wanted to do for him and to him.  She pushed his coat open and unbuttoned his vest, pushing it down his arms.  He ripped both the rest of the way off, along with his shoes and hose.  He left it up to her to decide if she wanted to remove or simply unbutton his breeks.  He didn’t want to pressure her – she meant too much to him. He pulled on the ribbon holding her stays closed, thanking Christ that she was wearing front-lacing ones today.  He knew she often chose this type for traveling, as she could readily dress herself.  He whipped the ribbon out of each individual eye, thankful when the damn thing released her.  He stood and helped her up and slapped at her hands when she tried to untie her petticoat.  He shimmied it over her hips, giving it a sensual tug over her generous hips, propelling her forward so she had to grab onto his forearms to keep her balance.  He used her distraction to steal a kiss and grinned wickedly at her. She squealed, pivoted a bit and pinched his bum hard, drawing a hiss from the aroused ginger.  He yanked his sark over his shoulders and flung it on the grass.  God almighty, marveled Claire.  His upper body was a work of art, finely muscled and tan from working in the sun all summer.  He had a cinnamon-red happy trail that disappeared into his breeks - she desperately wanted to see the prize waiting for her at the end of that trail.  Claire locked gazes with Jamie, knelt and popped the buttons open one by one.  She pushed the material over his hips carefully, watching his handsome face for any signs of distress.  All she saw in his half-lidded eyes was hunger and longing for her.

Finally, it was his turn.  He carefully picked up the ribbon holding her last barrier closed, an eyebrow cocked.  She nodded, panting with excitement.  He pulled it loose, took a step back and was struck dumb by her beauty.  Her ivory skin was unblemished, almost artfully spiced with light freckles.  Her mouth and her nether mouth were both swollen with arousal and Jamie’s cock took immediate interest.  She had a patch of dark hair covering her mons and Jamie wanted to sink his fingers into it and make her wetter than she already was – he could see her love juice had already dripped onto her beautiful thighs.  Her legs went on for miles and Jamie wanted to lick and bite them until she squirmed.  He swallowed heavily and his pounding pulse roared in his ears.  Mistaking his silence for disgust or disapproval, she said quietly, “Would you bloody well say something?”

“Aye,” he croaked hoarsely, “Ye are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, Claire.” 

He stepped up to her and kissed her until she was dizzy with want, “I want you now, Jamie!” He groaned and took her in his arms, gently laying her down on the grass.  He straddled her and yanked her hands above her head, holding them prisoner. 

His eyes were dark blue, almost black again, blown wide with want.  He kissed her hard and nipped at her neck, sucking on skin directly below her clavicle, “Mark me as yours, Jamie,” pleaded Claire.

“Aye, mo nighean donn.” He moved down to her breasts and licked and kissed one and said, “keep yer hands up above yer head, lass.”

She nodded, dazed.  She hissed as he latched onto one nipple, sucking and licking her to distraction, stroking and pinching the other one to a hard peak.   More excitement dripped from her nether lips onto her inner thighs and she sucked in a breath, feeling her inner muscles start to contract in arousal.  He lowered his head and bit the tantalizing flesh of her breast under her areola, gnawing and sucking hard enough to bruise her the next day. 

When he was satisfied with the welt, he switched to the other breast and did the same thing.  Claire’s back arched and she moaned, “Oh, Jamie, please! Please!”

The ginger chuckled wickedly, “Ye must tell me what ye want, mo graidh.”

She huffed impatiently, rolling her sparking eyes, “Are you so dense? Fuck me, man!”

He threw back his head and laughed and was delighted when she laughed too.  He kissed her soundly and said, “No’ yet, ye shameless hussy, I wanta taste ye first.  I could smell yer arousal after our first kiss an’ it’s drivin’ me mad.” He parted her legs roughly, lowered his great head to her center and breathed appreciatively, “Ah, so sweet, better than honey,” and tortured her with soft strokes and kisses up her inner thighs until he reached her labia.  He diddled her outer labia for a few minutes and loved that Claire rolled her hips.  When she brought her arms down and tried to push his fingers inside her, he tutted disapprovingly and pinned down both arms with one of his, “Och, mo leannan, now I’ll haveta start all over again.”

She groaned and wheedled, “But, Jamie, love, I’m ready NOW!”

He took pity on her and trailed a finger up and down her inner labia until she keened and begged, “Jamie, Jamie! I can’t take it any longer! Have mercy on your lady!”

“Aye, my duchess,” he smiled and finally, to Claire’s great relief, parted her inner lips with his soaked fingers.  She breathed a sigh of relief and rocked her hips as he teased her inner walls with both index fingers, loving how wild he was making her.  He withdrew his fingers and stiffened his tongue, kissing her inner labia and inserting his tongue as far as he could into her channel. Ah Dhia, her walls were so sensitive, readying themselves for his tossel.  He moaned as she gushed sloppily onto his tongue.  She howled her release, screaming his name.  He sucked her nectar down and licked her clean.  He gave her no rest, though. 

She cried out, “Enough, please, Jamie, please stop,” she pleaded.

“Nay, love, I want ta give ye more pleasure.”

“But I can’t take it!”

“Aye, ye can because I say ye can.”

He inserted his left index finger and middle finger into her sopping channel, groaning at the wet warmth.  She moaned and quivered as he crooked his fingers, something Silas had never done.  He started making a “come-hither” motion with his fingers on the top of her channel.  When he hit a certain region, she thought she was going to drown in pleasure. 

She choked out, “Oh, God, Jamie, what are you doing to me? What sorcery is this?” She panted and groaned and begged, “Right there, Fraser, right there, again!” His eyes glittered at her begging tone.

His possessive, aggressive feelings raised their head and screamed their satisfaction.  His cock leaked pre-come as she writhed, eyes squinched closed, chanting, “Yes, yes, that’s it.”

He leaned over and yanked on a fistful of curls, “Eyes on me.  Tell me who ye belong ta, lass. Tell me, or this stops,” he threatened, menace lacing his words.

She hissed when he yanked on her hair and then whined, low and desperate, “You, Jamie, I belong to you, forever! I love you!”

His eyes softened but lost none of their fire, “Aye, Claire, I love ye. Ye do belong ta me, mo calman geal, now an’ forever.”

She bucked and tossed her head from side-to-side as she came again, screaming, “Oh, Jesus!”

Jamie could wait no more, “I dinna think I can wait any longer, Claire, will ye have me?”

“Yes! Come to me, my love!”

He climbed on top of her and in one smooth motion, he slammed into her channel, shouting, “Mo nighean donn, I love ye, an’ I belong ta ye as ye ta me!” 

She groaned in ecstasy at the words she never thought she’d hear.  He set a furious pace, hooking her legs over his shoulders so he could penetrate her more deeply.  He leaned up and kissed her mouth reverently, loving how widely her pupils were blown. Even without her stays, she was panting through every breath. 

Jamie could feel his climax approaching – his baws pulled up and his cock stiffened painfully.  He groaned, “Oh, Claire, I’mma comin’!

She tried to lower her legs but couldn’t.  She ordered in her best Duchess of Glenfinnan voice, “Mr. Fraser, lower my legs, now.  Don’t you dare stop fucking me!”

He did as she ordered because he wanted to pull out at the last second.  He was shocked when she locked her legs around his back then moved them down to his bum, pushing them even closer together. “Mo graidh, what’re ye doin’?  I haveta pull out!”

“James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser, don’t you dare,” she cooed, grinning evilly, very pleased with her subterfuge.  “Put your baby in my belly, now!”

That was all Jamie needed to hear.  He answered her breathlessly, “Aye, yer grace, as ye command!”  Jamie roared as his seed shot out of him, coating Claire’s thirsty uterus. The strongest orgasm of his life branded his heart and soul as Claire’s forever.

After they’d both had a chance to recover and take a very short dip in the loch to clean themselves up, they dressed and stood at the edge of the loch, arms wrapped around each other’s waists.  She turned and faced Jamie, “The two Frenchmen – they must have been the men who attacked Micheline, don’t you think?”

“Aye, I should think so.  How else would he have had the locket wi’ ma hair still in it? Come ta think o’ it, he may not ha’ realized at all tha’ it was a locket because I’d asked the jeweler to hide the button to open the front on the back of the locket.  You have ta use a sewing pin ta press th’ latch ta open it.”

Wordlessly, Claire held out her hand for Silas’ ring.  Jamie pulled it out of his waistcoat pocket and laid it gently in her palm.  She removed her own and kissed both reverently.  “It’s time for me to start my new life with you, Jamie. Will you please send these rings to their final resting places?”

“Aye.”  Before he let her jewelry go, he dug in another pocket for Micheline’s locket, kissed it and recited, “It’s also time fer me ta start ma new life wi’ you, Claire.  Micheline wouldn’a want me ta mourn her so much tha’ I let your love pass me by.  She’ll understand, I ken it.” He placed the locket and chain in his right hand with the rings, took a step back and hurled the three pieces into the murky waters of the loch.

February 15, 2021

The BBC news reader straightened his glasses, “Now for an interesting story out of Scotland.  A loch in the highlands was cleaned up today by Environment Alba.  Among the rubbish and some recyclables were found two 18-karat gold rings and a gold locket on a gold chain.  All three pieces are believed to have been manufactured in the 18th century.  The locket had an ‘M’ and a ‘J’ engraved on it.  The engraving survived because the locket was found face-down in the mud.  The rings had traces of family crests on them but they were unrecognizable due to weathering.  However, both rings had secret compartments and traces of the deadly death cap mushroom’s DNA was found.  Death cap mushrooms were often dried and ground into a powder and used as a tasteless, odorless poison in the 18th century.  The locket opened to reveal a lock of curly red hair.  The pieces will be auctioned off and proceeds will support Environment Alba.”

Both Claire and Jamie heard three faint splashes as the jewelry hit the water.  Satisfied, they kissed, cleaned up their picnic site (although they’d forgotten to eat anything...) and headed home.  Both had much to consider – Jamie, how to break it to his Da and Mam that his servitude had exploded into love. For Claire, she realized she needed to go talk to Silas about her new love.

 

 

Chapter Text

The rest of the journey passed uneventfully, although Jamie and Claire held hands as they were riding.  About an hour from home, Claire had a devious thought.  She called a halt so she could relieve herself.  After she’d done that behind a large tree, she crept forward to the largest tree near the path beaten by many boots into the forest floor and surreptitiously shed all her clothes.  She called to Jamie, “Oh, Jamie, can you help me? I’ve caught my stocking and don’t want to rip it!”

“Aye, I’mma comin, love.” He slid off Donas and started toward the direction he’d seen her heading last.  He looked all around, but no Claire. Concerned, he called, “Mo nighean donn? I canna see ye. Where are ye?”

Claire purposely lowered the pitch of her voice, “I’m waiting for you right here, Jamie.”

He turned around and hissed – she was stark naked, hands braced on the tree trunk in front of her, looking at him over her shoulder, devouring him with a sultry hungry gaze.  “What’s the matter, big boy? Cat got your tongue?”

Jamie growled and stalked towards his woman, cock rock-hard and weeping into his breeks.  The friction of his sensitive head on fabric was almost too much.  He unbuckled his belt with a violent jingle and yanked it off.  He draped it around his neck, seized her shoulders and spun her around so quickly she nearly fell.  He used that to his advantage and slammed her back into the tree trunk, mashing his great hands into her supple breasts holding her in place.  She gasped and her eyes sparked heat and arousal as she moaned.  He took the belt off his neck and bound her hands tightly, then passed the free end over a small branch above her head, cinching it as tightly as it would go.

“Claire, ye have freely gi’en yerself ta me, aye?” He waited for her answer.

“Yes, Jamie.” She was breathtaking, spread out like a feast, only for him.

“Aye, ye have. An’ when I’m good and ready, I’m gonna swive ye until ye canna see straight.  I’mma no ready yet, though.  Ye mus’ be punished fer teasin’ me so, lass.  No speaking until I speak to ye firs’, do ye understand?”

She looked into his soul, whisky eyes that knew all.  She nodded silently and bit her lower lip and Jamie nearly gave up the game.

He resolutely turned away from her and went to go lay their blanket down.  He pulled out their food and arranged it on the blanket.  He pulled the last whisky bottle from a saddlebag setting it down on the blanket.  Settling down in a comfortable position, he simply gazed upon her beauty for a while, consuming her with his hungry eyes.  He finally felt calm enough to pay her attention.  He stood and strode towards her.  Fisting curls, he got right up into her face and whispered in a low voice, “I’mma gonna swive ye now, Claire, as is my right as yer man.  I’ll warn ye this once ta be very careful about teasin’ me this way. Ye never know if I’ll react tender an’ lovin’, or like a bear woken up from his winter sleep. Ye roused the bear taday, mo graidh. Brace yerself!”

He unbuttoned his breeks and pulled his cock out, smiling when he saw Claire’s eyes darken in want.  She even licked her lips and he wasn’t sure she realized it.  He hoisted her up in his arms and pushed his cock into her warm entrance, both groaning in excitement as they joined again.  Jamie held her securely and fucked her hard, loving her breathless pants and grunts.  He changed his angle and she whined, “More, Jamie!”

He smiled ferally, “Ye’re a demanding little thing, are ye no?  Ye’ll take what yer lord an’ master gives ye and be satisfied, woman, do ye hear me?”

Claire breathed out, “Y-yes, my lord.” The friction of the rough tree bark on her back contrasted with the smoothness of Jamie’s beautiful cock, but it was beautiful to her.  She didn’t care if she had gouged skin later; this love was worth it.

Jamie snaked a finger into her drooling snatch, licking his suddenly dry lips in pleasure – he had made the world’s most beautiful woman come undone.  If he was lucky, she’d soak his cock in her love and carry his bairn soon.  He took his lubricated finger and drew it lightly around her anus to gauge her reaction, “Is this alright, a leannan?”

“Yes, Jamie,” Claire breathed silkily, overwhelmed by the new sensations.  He eased his finger into her hole.  She clenched up a bit so he soothed, “Relax yerself, my wild rose, take a deep breath an’ let me help ye enjoy this. Be a good girl an’ obey yer man, aye?”

Claire whimpered and choked out, “Yes, I - I’ll obey you, Jamie.” To Jamie’s delight, a gush of her moisture drenched his cock and she gasped as she uttered the word “obey.”  He knew it wasn’t something he would normally ask of her, but what was the harm in fantasy in their love nest, wherever it happened to be?  Jamie eased his finger into her passage up to the first knuckle and she begged, “More.”

He smiled and pushed his finger up as far as it would go, stilling to allow her to adjust to the new sensation.  He looked into her eyes and when she nodded, he slid his finger in and out of her hole slowly, loving her gasps and mewls. She groaned and rasped, “My cunt is still hungry!”

His mouth fell open at her audacity and his eyes darkened a fraction, “We canna have tha’, mo nighean,” and shifted his hand to cup her luscious buttocks again.  When he had a firm grip on her alabaster globes, he slammed into her tunnel, grunting with the effort,

Claire cried, “Fraser, service your mistress!”

He ground out, “Aye, mistress!” He pulled back again and built up a furious pace, sweat darkening his shirt and rolling down his face as he pounded into her again and again. 

Claire felt her climax start and squeaked, “I’m going to come, Jamie, I’m so close!”

“Aye, Claire, take what ye need from me, lass; I’ll give ye anything!” To her shock, he hoisted her legs onto his shoulders and licked her little bud, then sucked on it with all his might. 

The petite woman wailed long and loud and Jamie’s reward gushed all over his lips and tongue.  He grabbed his sgian dubh and cut the ropes binding Claire to the tree.  He brought her down very slowly and walked them over to the blanket, cradling her head as he laid her down.  He pulled a second blanket over them and  snuggled next to her as sleep beckoned.

Claire was the first to awaken.  She stretched languorously, relishing the just-fucked feeling still between her legs.  She felt boneless, relaxed and energized, a very interesting combination. 

A few minutes later, Jamie stirred and smiled at her, “Claire, I feel wonderful.  Did ye have fun too?”

She smiled, “Yes, Mr. Fraser, I did.  I don’t make a habit of screaming like that just to amuse myself or the staff,” she giggled.

He laughed out loud, got up and helped her to straighten out their belongings.  A few minutes later, they headed for Thistle Glen House.

Household staff welcomed them home like conquering heroes.  Jamie passed the horses to a stable boy and he and Johnstone took the saddlebags to Claire’s physicking room for her.  She happily unpacked her supplies and directed Mr. Fraser “To meet me in my office after you’ve bathed.”

She brought her underthings to Mrs. Fitz to wash.  She ordered baths for Jamie and herself, standard practice when she and staff came home from the road, so nobody raised an eyebrow. She directed the men to put Jamie’s basin in the room next to hers.  She stepped into the basin and doused her head with the hot water, using a pitcher left for just that reason. She got a good lather going with her rose-scented soap and dumped it, too, over her head.  She scratched, scrubbed and pulled the dirt and grime from her curls until her hair squeaked, dreamily contemplating the day when they wouldn’t have to keep their relationship a secret anymore.  That wasn’t right now, though.  Right now, they had to figure out how they were going to navigate their intimacy with their vastly different positions in society.  Normally, Claire didn’t give a flying fig what people thought but she realized that they had to keep up the “mistress-and-servant” posture because any whiff of impropriety could affect Thistle Glen’s bottom line.  Her neighbors might stop buying her grain or sheep and the estate couldn’t afford that.  She washed the rest of her tired body and finally left the wet refuge when the bath started cooling too much.  She squeezed the moisture out of her hair, redressed and went to her office to await Jamie.

Jamie stepped with a grateful groan into the steaming water and let it relax his sore bones.  He lathered up his head and stood to wash his body.  He started washing his cock and balls and blushed, thinking where his cock had been just a few hours before. How am I so lucky?  If Willie and I had gone to another estate, I might never have met Claire.  He shuddered, not wanting to entertain that thought any further.  He hoped that Claire meant what she said about freeing him.  That would give him extra time to go home and explain to his parents what had happened.  He thought it might be best to spend a couple of weeks at home, talk to them, prepare them for the eventuality of a new daughter-in-law who outranked Da and was a duchess in her own right since the death of the duke.  He also realized that if she were pregnant, they could get married sooner than later.  He re-dressed and went downstairs to find Claire.

He arrived at her office and knocked softly on the door, “Enter,” she said quietly.

“Ah, Mr. Fraser. There you are. Please do come in.” Mrs. Fitz, Johnstone and Lauder were sitting in front of her desk in three armchairs.  Jamie waited to be invited to sit in a fourth chair, “Take a seat, Mr. Fraser.  Now,” she said, turning her back to them and opening up her tantalus, “Who would enjoy a whisky or port or cognac?”

Mrs. Fitz chose a French cognac, Johnstone, Lauder and Jamie chose whisky.  Claire poured for Mrs. Fitz first, of course.  She picked up the bottle of whisky and read from the label, “It’s 15-year-old single malt, gentlemen.  Will that suffice, do you think?”

The three men were momentarily stunned – neither had enjoyed such a whisky in their lives as something like that was too expensive.  Jamie nodded his head first, “Oh aye, mistress, thank ye kindly!” Lauder could only nod vigorously and the ever-quiet and solid Johnstone simply hummed, his tell that he was happy.  Claire poured a cognac for herself last, as she was the hostess.

“I will ask you to wait to drink, lady and gentlemen, for we shall have something to celebrate in a few minutes.  While on our junket, Mr. Fraser saved my life and my honor from lawless brigands who would have robbed and then murdered me.  As thanks for that, I am destroying his contract, letting him take Donas and setting him free and you are our witnesses.”   

All three witnesses’ mouths dropped open in shock but were too well-mannered to interrupt Claire.  She handed Jamie the contract with a shaking hand - only he saw the sadness reflected in her eyes, “Go ahead, Mr. Fraser, go to the fireplace and consign your contract to Hephaestus.  He is always greedy for sacrifices.”

Jamie stood, pushed back his chair and bowed deeply to Claire one last time, “I thank ye, yer grace.  It has been my privilege to serve ye.”

He stood, turned and knelt at the hearth.  Everyone else got up and gathered behind him as he gently tossed the contract into the flames.  Silence reigned for the few seconds it took to burn the rolled parchment to ashes and then the room broke out in applause.

Claire raised her glass to Jamie and waited until the other three had their drinks, “Congratulations, James Alexander –  uh,“

He grinned and whispered loudly, “Malcolm!” and everyone snickered. 

Claire laughed and started over, “James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, you are a free man once more!”

“Hear hear!” chorused Jamie’s friends.

Jamie nodded his thanks and sipped his whisky, groaning at its unctuously smooth taste.

“Is it alright, Mr. Fraser, Mr. Lauder?”

“Oh aye, mistress, it’s the best I’ve ever had, thank ye,” smiled Lauder.

“Tha’ was a groan o’ pleasure, yer grace,” Jamie said and winked at her.

Johnstone simply closed his eyes slowly and sighed happily.

“Mrs. Fitz, your cognac?”

“Oh, aye, madam, it’s so lovely!”

Claire smiled, “Lauder, Mrs. Fitz, Johnstone, thank you for acting as witnesses when Mr. Fraser’s contract was destroyed.  Mrs. Fitz, would you please close the door behind you?  Mr. Fraser, we need to discuss wrapping up your service here, please do stay.” 

“Aye, Mistress, said Mrs. Fitz, bobbing a shallow curtsy.  She straightened up and followed the two other men.  Once she was back in her room, Glenna Fitz leant against the soundproof solid stone walls and smiled, then snickered.  The snicker devolved into hysterical laughter until tears poured down her face, The lass thinks she’s so canny, she thought gleefully.  The entire staff knows she’s in love wi’ Fraser an’ he with her.”  Glenna Fitz readied herself for bed and fell asleep dreaming of an entire herd of children with curly hair overrunning Thistle Glen House.

Back in her study, Claire huskily ordered, “Mr. Fraser, come here to me.”

“Yes, yer grace,” Jamie smiled and obeyed.  He came back over to Claire, “What would ye like to discuss firs’, milady?” 

Claire murmured, “I’ve had filthy thoughts about you, Mr. Fraser, I confess, about what you might do to me if you find the bottle of oil hidden on my person."

“Aye, yer grace.” He stepped behind her and encircled her waist with an iron-strong arm, nudging her legs wider so she had to lean against him to keep her balance, “Dinna move unless ye want ta earn a punishment, lass.”  He removed his arm from her waist, moving up to her breasts.  He squeezed and pinched until Claire was panting and squirming.  He bit her shoulder and she almost yelled, but he slapped his hand over her mouth, whispering darkly, “Now, milady, I’ll thank ye ta stay quiet, aye? I canna have someone comin’ in here interruptin’ me.  Tha’ would end verra painfully fer ye, I promise.” Claire whimpered in arousal, a sound that bolted through his consciousness right to his cock. He groaned and thrust his hips into her backside, “Kin ye feel wha’ ye’re doin’ ta me?  Ma tossel’s so hard I could drill inta stone wi’ it, an’ it’s yer fault, yer grace!  Imma verra uncomfortable an’ ye’re goin’ ta help me feel better.” He nipped her earlobe and sucked it until Claire was squirming again.  She pushed her backside into his groin, grinding sensuously against him. He hissed, “Ye’re a wicked woman, milady.  It’s time ta pay th’ piper.” He turned her around carefully and gently pushed her stomach-first onto her desk.  He stuck a large hand in her skirt pocket, and she squirmed, trying to make things difficult for him.  He wrenched up her skirts and slapped her hard on the meat of her beautiful ass.  She yelped, “No! Bad lass! Submit! He pushed his fingers further into the pocket and grinned when he found the oil.  He placed it carefully on the desk, glad it was only about a quarter full. “Lass, please be careful, th’ oil is next to ye on th’ desk wi’out th’ stopper closin’ i’ up. I’d hate ta see the lovely rug or your pretty clothes stained wi’ it, aye?”

“Thank you for telling me, Jamie, I appreciate it.  I’ll be careful, I promise. 

He pulled off the leather tie he used to keep his hair neat and snapped, “Now, back ta business.  Gie’ me yer hands, woman.” She defied him and snugged them underneath her breasts.  Jamie sucked in a breath and warned, “Gie’ me yer hands, lass.  Dinna make me ask again.”  

She remained obstinately still and silent so Jamie fisted her hair and growled in her ear, “I warned ye, yer grace.  I’ll gie’ ye one last chance ta beg fer mercy.”  He waited, panting, but she only snarled, “eat shoe leather, Fraser!” and balled her fists impossibly tighter against her breasts.  After Jamie had choked down a laugh at her unique insult, Aye, lass, leave it to ye ta think o’ somethin’ so original an’ funny! He grinned to himself and started feathering his fingertips oh-so-lightly along her ribs.  She took a deep breath and whined, but still said no words.  He grinned wickedly and launched a full-out attack.  Claire writhed and giggled, trying everything to avoid Jamie’s long fingers. She seized his wrists and as she did so, he grabbed both in one hand and secured them with the tie.  He flipped up her skirts and stuffed the ends into her collar, wrenched up her shift and prepared to spank her.  At the last second, he took a clean handkerchief, rolled it up and told her to bite down.  He moved to her backside again and spanked her ten times on each buttock, until it was glowing red.  He wormed his little finger in her snatch and marveled. She was dripping from the spanking and wouldn’t need any oil to smooth his way.  He re-stoppered the bottle, knelt before his pink prize and gently parted her with his fingers.  She groaned, a long drawn-out groan of relief and relaxation.  Overcome with love for this incredible woman, Jamie stood and stroked her hair, whispering, “Ye are the most beautiful person in my world, mo nighean donn,” and kissed her cheek tenderly.  Her eyes fluttered shut and she exhaled in relaxation again, “Tha’s it, lass, let it all go an’ let yer man take care o’ ye.” He kissed the crown of her head reverently and returned to his previous place.  He used his thumbs to open her labia and licked inside her sopping channel, moaning at the deliciousness of her honey.   Claire sighed and stiffened – she was nearing orgasm.  Jamie sucked on her labia minor, nosing around in the soft flesh until he found his prize.  He gently tongued her, eating up her pleasured sighs, rumbling his satisfaction directly on her swollen, needy clit.  She gasped and panted, “Yes, Jamie, right there!”  He flicked his tongue forward and back and sucked on her nub until she shook, her honey pouring into his greedy mouth. Claire screamed her orgasm and her legs trembled.  Jamie couldn’t wait any longer.  He unbuttoned his breeks, shoving them past his knees.  He shoved her legs wide open and entered her channel deliciously slowly, pumping in and out of her until Claire cried, “Fuck me, Jamie, fuck me hard, please, love!” Her plea was all she needed.  He grabbed her shoulders and used them for leverage, loving her aroused whines as their pubic bones ground against each other.  He knew he was too keyed up to last long.  His orgasm rocketed out of him and the giant man screamed “Claire!” and collapsed against her back, his breathing ragged.  He got up quickly and untied her hands.  He lifted her into his arms and brought them over to the sofa.  He cradled her in his arms for a few minutes so they could both calm down.  When they were calmer, they snuck out of her study and into her room and fell asleep in each other’s arms.

When Claire woke at seven, Jamie was already gone.  She put her hand on where he'd been sleeping and it was barely warm – he must have left some time ago. She washed with the hot water and rose soap left by one of the kitchen maids and dressed quickly.  She found Jamie in the stables giving the horses their breakfasts,

“Mr. Fraser, when you’re done, please see me in my study.  We need to discuss your departure.”

Jamie nodded, “Aye, mistress, righ’ after I’m done wi’ th’ horses.”

Jamie joined her in his study a few minutes later.

“Close the door, please.”

“Aye, mistress.” Jamie turned and closed the door quietly.  Claire crooked her finger to him in a “come-hither” motion and took a sip of tea.  He crossed the short distance quickly, grinning like a madman.  He purred, “How may I service ye, mistress?”

Claire choked on her hot tea, wheezing, “Ah, well, I’ll have to wait until later for that, I believe.”  She crossed her eyes at him when he giggled, which made him laugh harder.    

“Are ye alrigh’ mistress?”

“Yes, Jamie, I am, thank you.” She moved to the tea cart and poured him a cup of tea, “Milk or sugar?”

“Both, thank ye.”  She brought him his tea and some warm raisin yeast buns with fresh-churned butter, “Thank ye kindly, Claire.” He looked sternly at her, “An ha’ ye eaten taday, mo nighean?”

She flushed under his steely scrutiny, “Y-yes, Jamie. I had a bun earlier.” He immediately got up and got two more, “’Tisn’t enough, Claire.  Please, eat another bun, aye? I know ye like ‘em. Why only one?”

She bit her bottom lip and turned her head towards the window.  Just as she turned, Jamie saw her lower lip tremble.

“Lass, wha’s amiss?” She refused to meet his gaze so he went around to her side of the desk and knelt in front of her, moving her face with a warm gentle finger to look on his. “Out wi’ it, Claire,” commanded the large redhead quietly.

Reluctantly she turned to face him, tears streaming down her cheeks.  Jamie immediately started blotting her face with his just-laundered handkerchief.  He rose and picked her up in his arms and settled them on the sofa, murmuring quiet, soothing words to her, hoping to calm her enough so she would open up to him.  She sobbed and fisted his shirt, miserable.  He rocked them together, kissing the top of her head.  He kissed her beautiful lips softly.  Hers were sweet, moist and salty, a unique combination. Eventually she stopped crying and told him, “You’re leaving and I don’t know what I’m to do without you, my love.  A-and I had to choke down that one bun earlier because I knew you would be disappointed if I didn't eat at all, but the way I’m feeling now, I truly can’t eat any more – please don’t make me.”

His large hands warmed her cheeks, “Lass, wha’ name did ye jus’ use ta address me?”

She looked confused for a moment, “Pardon me?”

“Wha’ name did ye just use fer me?” Jamie repeated his question, his voice soothing.

“Well I-‘love’, why?”

He smiled and Claire felt like the sun had risen, “Kin ye no see it, lass? I am yer love, as ye are mine. I promise, we shan’t be parted for long.  I will go home, explain things to ma Da and Mam an’ return to ye as fast as I am able, aye?”

Claire let out a relieved sound between a sigh and a sob and buried her head in Jamie’s shoulder.  He rubbed her back lightly and was relieved when she let his shirt loose to live to see another day.  Together they decided that Jamie would leave in two days, after he’d packed his things and Claire could find two men to accompany him – the Highlands were dangerous for all, even a man as intimidating as Jamie.  Claire offered extra “hazard pay” to any man who would sign up.  Jamie was relieved when it was Lauder and Johnstone who volunteered to come with him.  They would escort him to Lallybroch and then come home.  Jamie wanted to ask his godfather, Murtagh, and his brother, Willie, to bring him back to Thistle Glen.  They could meet Claire, have a tour of the house and then go home together.

All too soon for Jamie and Claire, his departure day arrived.  Jamie had spent the night in Claire’s chamber and woke slowly before dawn, wondering what the strange muffled sound he heard could be.  He raised his head and looked down - Claire’s head was in between his thighs, rosebud lips and warm mouth loving him so beautifully. He sighed in delight and relaxed into her favorite way to wake him. She heard his sigh and moaned around his cock. Jamie hissed and his hips came off the bed, “Claire, Claire, ye’re makin’ me feel so good, mo graidh,” He pushed a couple of pillows behind himself and eased up so he was leaning against the headboard.  She scooched up with him and licked his cock in a sensuously warm swipe, pulling a shiver from him.  She smiled predatorily and inhaled him to his root, caressing his manhood with her eager tongue.  She went all the way to the tip and sucked on the head lightly, then firmly, stiffened her tongue and inserted it into his opening.  The redhead grabbed her hair and used it to guide her hot mouth all over his shaft, already shining with saliva. He moaned and she moaned in answer.  Soon, though, he had to stop because he could feel his climax building up too soon.  Jamie stiffened and growl-groaned, trying to keep as quiet as he could.  Jesus, she’ll be the death o’ me, he thought. But I wouldn’t mind goin’ out in a blaze of ecstasy.  Panting, Jamie could feel perspiration starting to bead at his hairline, “Please, mo Sorcha, mercy! I canna hold it back anymore! If ye dinna move yer mouth, I’ll be givin’ ye a liquid breakfast!”

She freed his cockhead with a very wet, very audible “pop!"

“Sorcha, eh?  I like that name, darling. And if you move one muscle while I’m having my fun, I’ll bloody throttle you, do you understand?”  To emphasize her seriousness, she ran her teeth very lightly on the underside of his cock and sucked on his frenulum.  That was the end for Jamie. He gritted his teeth and his back arched off the featherbed, hands gripped in the blankets.  When he couldn't wait any longer, he rolled her over quickly and slammed into her so hard the crash of their pelvises meeting echoed against the chamber walls. His face contorted in a silent roar as his cock got harder with his excitement. His DNA shot out of him so hard it was almost painful.  The jets kept coming and his army of babymakers swam up her channel with one objective – to join with an ovum.  On and on they raced, like a pack of microscopic predators, each jockeying for the best position in front of their fellows, pushing, shoving and doing anything to be the first to sight their defenseless prey.  Many of the pack fell early in the race; lack of a tail, a defective tail or slow swimmers simply couldn’t keep up with healthy sperm.  The wolves charged up a ridge into a narrow box canyon and a collective feral cry emanated from the competitors.  She was finally in their sight-line.  The pack leader increased his lead, howled in lust and finally slammed into her with all his strength.  The impact snapped his tail off, everything went dark around him and he knew no more.    

Chapter Text

On the night before Jamie’s departure, he snuck into Claire’s chamber through the trellis underneath her window.  Mrs. Fitz had certainly noticed in the past few days that that window was unlocked but of course, said nothing.  He righted his clothes as he climbed onto the chamber floor over the windowsill, turned around and closed the window quietly.  He heard the clock in the downstairs hallway chime eight, and he knew Claire would be coming upstairs from her study any minute now.  Jamie heard both Mrs. Fitz and Claire heading for the chamber so he managed to squeeze himself under the bed, but it was a painfully tight fit.  He rearranged the dust ruffle and breathed as quietly as he could.  The women entered, chatting to each other.  Mrs. Fitz closed the door quietly and appraised two of Claire’s old work dresses hanging on a hook; she needed to take them with her to have one of the girls repair some rips caused by an energetic puppy at a patient’s croft.  The dresses were practically worn out, but Claire wanted to wear them for a while longer and then see if they could reuse the fabric.

Claire meant to speak to Mrs. Fitz immediately about the dresses, but as she sat down on her bed, she thought of Jamie’s imminent departure and her beautiful face darkened in sorrow. Without realizing it, she’d wrapped her arms around her middle for comfort.

“Aye, mistress, Shonagh can do a bonnie job wi’ these.”  I think you can wear them through this summer an’ then we’ll get her to – “Mrs. Fitz turned around to face Claire and asked gently, “Now, what’s this, lass? Are ye fashed about somethin’?”

“O-oh, I’m just concerned for Mr. Fraser and his companions.  I just hope they’re safe on their journey, Mrs. Fitz.”  Claire blushed pink and looked away, embarrassed she’d been caught exposing so much feeling.  She sighed and hugged herself tighter.

“Now, Claire, th’ men are all strong and good fighters.  Ye ha’ given them money for nights at inns on the way to Jamie’s home.  They will be safe and they will be fine.  Lauder and Johnstone wi’ be back nex’ week.”

Claire gazed at Mrs. Fitz again, remembering all the times they’d giggled in Mrs. Fitz’ kitchen when Claire was a child.  Mrs. Fitz was the woman to whom Claire could go if she was upset about something and didn’t want to talk to the duchess about it.  Hesitantly, she ventured, “Mrs. Fitz, may I confide in you?”

Mrs. Fitz smiled, and laughed inwardly because she knew what was coming, “Aye, Claire, always.  Wha’ is it, a nighean?”

Claire swallowed and couldn’t meet Mrs. Fitz’ eyes at first.  She steeled her resolve, took a deep breath and said, “Mr. Fraser and I have fallen in love and want to be married.”

Mrs. Fitz patted Claire’s hand, “Aye, lass, I know.”

Claire couldn’t believe it.  They’d tried to be so careful! What gave them away?

She regarded the older woman, awestruck, “You knew?  How? When? We tried to be so careful!” Claire was appalled that their efforts at subterfuge had been so transparent.

Finally, Mrs. Fitz could let loose, “Aye, I knew ye did, lass, bu’ ye know, I read people verra well an you an’ Jamie threw sparks like an uncontrolled wildfire after a few months of knowin’ each other.  Mrs. Crook an’ the rest o’ the staff prayed tha’ it would work out between ye.”  She saw Claire was going to interrupt her, “Please let me finish, lass.” Claire quickly closed her mouth and waited patiently.

“Ev’rybody on staff knows about ye.  An’ no, Mrs. Crook an’ I didna tell them.  They figured it out fer themselves.  We all prayed for ye because we wanted ye ta find a good man again, Claire.  We all know how much ye miss Silas.”

Mrs. Fitz smiled warmly, “We know ye tried ta hide it, but ye know as well as I there comes a tippin’ point where love has grown so that hidin’ it is impossible; it affects everything ye say an’ do, even wi’ other people.”

Claire blew out a long breath, annoyed and relieved, somehow, that the secret was out and she and Jamie could be in the open at least at Thistle Glen House.

“One more thing, Claire,” Mrs. Fitz winked at her, “Jamie, lad, ye can come out now.” Claire’s eyes got comically big the same time her face went up in adorable flames of embarrassment.  Mrs. Fitz just giggled and watched for Jamie.

“Aye, thank the Virgin fer that,” came from under the bed in a muffled, gruff voice.  The redhead started a two-arm crawl out from under the massive bed.  He grunted in relief, “Thank ye, Mrs. Fitz. I could tell ye knew I was here because ye stopped righ’ in front o’ my boots.” Jamie smiled ruefully, “I’mma glad tha’ it’s out in th’ open, at least here.”

“Alrigh’, mistress. I’ll take th’ dresses ta be worked on and I’ll bid ye both a good night.  Jamie I know ye want ta get a dawn start tamorra an’ we’ll ha’ breakfast ready for ye an’ yer men.”

Jamie smiled, “Thank ye, Mrs. Fitz.  Have a good night.”

Claire walked Mrs. Fitz to the door, “Thank you again, Mrs. Fitz. It is a relief that we don’t have to hide anymore.”

Claire shut the door gently and bolted it.  Jamie circled his arms around her waist and kissed her warm neck, sucking lightly on her pearlescent skin.  She moaned and he rumbled deep in his chest, moving over to the other side of her neck.  He held her neck in his large, warm palm and squeezed ever-so-lightly with calloused but gentle fingers.  Claire hummed as he sucked on her shoulder and inhaled her sweet, slightly wild scent of grass, sunshine, freshly baked bread and strawberries and he couldn’t get enough.  He pushed her against the door and untied her skirt.  It fell in a feathery “whoof” to the floor.  He turned her around and lifted her out of her skirt, holding her above his head for a brief moment.  He brought her down slowly and loosened and removed her under-petticoat, underskirt, skirt, stays, stomacher, fichu and stockings. Finally, she was in her shift.  She took him in,  her arms and whispered, “My darling, let me show you tonight how much I love you.  I won’t see you for a while and I don’t want you to forget me.” She looked up and his eyes crinkled in a smile, “Never, mo leannan. Ye know ye have ma heart.” She reached the bed and pulled the covers back, allowing Jamie to get into bed first.  She climbed in afterward and shed her shift knowing that her man would keep her warm.  She rolled on top of him and nudged his legs apart, pleased when he whined and opened himself more for her, “That’s my good boy,” she said, smiling as she inched up his chest to capture his lips.  She moaned in relief as their mouths came together.  He smelled of whisky and pork and bannocks, smoke and his own unique smell.  To Jamie’s delight, she increased the fervor of her kisses and stroked his face with her warm fingers.  She inched down his body and tongued his chin cleft, sucking it and laving it with abandon.  He growled, “Och, mo Sorcha, so good!” She chuckled and nipped all along his jaw and chin, licking and kissing his long neck until he sighed and truly relaxed for her.

She smiled and kissed her way down his shoulders to his nipples, taking them in her mouth and tonguing them to hard points.  She wanted to show him that he wasn’t the only person who could be dominant, so she bit him, softly at first, but then increased her bite pressure, sucking and licking his nipple until it was painfully aroused.  When he was writhing on the bed, hips pumping, she went in for the kill.  She abandoned the first breast for the second and did it all over again.  This time, she also latched on to the side of his breast and bit down, sucking and laving his skin until a large welt formed.  He yelled and she let go with a “pop,” smiling slyly when she saw him trembling from the bite’s aftershock.  He tried with a “Sorcha, come – “ to gather her into his arms, but she scooted away,

“No, Jamie, I get to do what I want to you tonight, do you understand?”

He blinked, surprised, “Aye, love, if that’s what ye want, I surrender myself to ye, body an’ soul.” Piercing blue eyes watched her and he moaned as he saw her move to his cock.  She exhaled all down his cock and Jamie grunted, hoping she’d take him in her mouth.  His pelvis bucked in response, but she didn’t touch him.  Instead, she ordered,

“Get up, Jamie, and go lean over my desk in my study and leave the door wide open.” He regarded her lazily and she repeated herself firmly, “Do as I say!”

He sat up, shook his head and said, “B-But Claire, I’ve no clothes on! Someone could see!”

She smirked, “Yes. Now go!”

She waited a few seconds and then followed him after putting on her robe.  She closed and bolted the door and stalked toward Jamie, purring, “You were a very naughty boy the other day, tying me to that tree and ravishing me, Jamie. I think,” and she paused for dramatic effect, “it’s time for you to pay the piper, for you see, Beauchamps may look calm and indifferent on the outside, but we have very long memories of wrongs done to us and those that perpetrated them.”

“Bu-but lass, ye enjoyed it! Or did ye no?” protested the huge man, awkwardly bent over the massive desk.

“Yes, after I got over my initial embarrassment, you’re right, I did. But it’s my embarrassment you’re paying for, Jamie, and the note has come due tonight, with interest.” She chuckled low in her throat and for the first time, Jamie was a little afraid of Claire.  He begged,

“Please, Claire, remember, I haveta be in the saddle fer tha’ nex’ three days. Tha’s uncomfortable when you’re sore from, ah, pleasurable activities, ken?”

“Oh, yes, she said in a sing-song voice, “I know.  But we all have our trials through which we must persevere, no?”

She walked around to her chair behind the desk and opened the long middle drawer.  She drew out two long, soft ropes and showed them to Jamie.  He groaned as his cock actually started to harden, What the hell is wrong wi’ me? She’s goin’ ta hurt me an’ I’m gettin’ excited?  Jamie had never experienced anything like this feeling of pleasure in his stomach as it flip-flopped pleasurably at the idea of being disciplined by his little sprite.  She knelt at his right wrist first and wrapped the cord around it firmly, securing it to the desk leg, then did the same with his left wrist.  She stroked his hair and cooed, “Just relax, mo cridhe, I’m absolutely positive you’re going to enjoy this more than you think.” It occurred to Jamie that she was right – he was curious about what she’d do, but he wasn’t terrified because he trusted her love for him.

She walked around to his back and hummed appreciatively, “My goodness, look at that behind, what a delicious treat.” He flinched when she pinched him but moaned when she laved away the slight burn with her tongue.  Claire reached into her pocket and drew out her flat-backed hairbrush.  Without any preamble, she slapped his buttock with it.  Jamie gritted his teeth and said nothing, not wanting to alert any staff as to their goings-on.  She smiled and caressed his skin and gave him a second, third and fourth strike.  Jamie wriggled and jerked in his bonds but she’d tied them too securely for him to free himself, dammit!  He exhaled quietly and there was silence in the room except for their panting.  He waited for the next strike, but she was silent.  He heard the sound of a bottle being unstoppered and heard her pour something into a shallow plate.  Claire coated her index finger in oil and parted Jamie’s cheeks.  He sucked in a breath and his legs went rigid with anticipation.  Claire rubbed his back soothingly in response but uttered no words.  When she could feel that he’d relaxed, she massaged oil thoroughly around his hole.  He took some calming, steady breaths as she gently pushed her index finger into him.  It feels so strange! Do women feel like this when their man opens them up? Jamie wondered.  Claire put a little more oil on her finger and re-inserted it in him, pushing all the way to her large knuckle this time.  She went slowly enough so that Jamie had plenty of time to adjust and actually start to enjoy it.  She began to rock her finger up and down her channel and he groaned, “Oh, lass, it’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before and it’s strange, but wonderful, too.”

“I’m glad you like it, love,” answered Claire, kissing his back.  She continued sawing in and out of him and pulled out after a couple of minutes.  Jamie relaxed against the desk, which was exactly what Claire was waiting for.  She let him lie there for a minute then again, without warning, slapped him with the hairbrush again.  Jamie couldn’t help swearing at the shock, “Ifrinn!” and breathed slowly again.  Claire gave him another ten slaps with the hairbrush, then started clearing the surface of the desk.  She returned to him and gave him another eight slaps, much harder this time.  By this point, Jamie’s ass was bright red and truly on fire.  Jamie even had to grit his teeth to stop himself from crying out.  She finally decided she was done and laid toweling on the desk next to him.  She took the vial of oil and massaged it into his buttocks and Jamie hissed as she touched his hot skin.  She made sure to work her fingers into his anal cleft.  He sighed at her healing fingers,

“Thank ye, mo nighean, tha’ feels much better,” he breathed, relieved.

She walked around so he could see her and smiled, “Come on, Jamie, I’m not done with you yet.  On your back on the toweling and brace your feet on the edge.  Come on now, step lively!”

Confused but interested in what was coming, he complied, holding on to the edge of the desk for support.  She placed a silk couch throw pillow under his head, “Comfortable?”

“Aye, Claire.  May I ha’ a kiss, please?”

“You may.  Good boy for asking so politely,” her smile made Jamie’s wame flip again.

He hissed as the toweling rubbed against his welts but he stayed in place.  She carefully placed his feet somewhat wider apart and leaned over him, playing with his nipples, twisting and pinching them until he was wriggling, “God, that feels so good bu’ my bum hurts an’ my heid dinna know wha’ it should feel first, pleasure or pain!” She smiled and gave him a toe-curling kiss, nipping, licking, sucking and kissing downward, ever downward, until she reached his lovely, weeping cock bobbing a proud hello to her.  Grinning in satisfaction, she slicked up her hands and grasped him firmly with her right.  He bucked and ground out, “Och, Dhia, mo graidh, feels so good!”

She murmured throatily, “Close your eyes, my darling, I want this to be all feeling for you with nothing else getting in the way.”

 

He closed his eyes quickly and she took hold of the top part of his shaft in her other hand.  She moved her hands together and apart slowly, then quickly, with multiple fingers, circling his cock with her thumbs and forefingers and finally making a corkscrew motion starting at both ends of his cock with her hands meeting in the middle, then descending again.  Jamie didn’t know what to feel first – it was all incredible and the sensations shooting up and down his cock, into his balls and his spine were almost too much.  He groaned, “Claire, oh Claire, ye’ll be th’ death o’ me!” She leaned over and kissed him, brushing the tip of his weeping cock.  Jamie grunted and gripped her neck with one hand and drew her to him.  She squeaked and he planted a kiss on her that was so powerful she had to grab onto the edge of the desk when she stepped back to resume playing.  Jamie sighed when she left his cock alone but inhaled sharply when her slick finger penetrated him.  She worked him open slowly and added a second finger.  He bucked and panted, “Keep doin’ tha’ lassie, an’ I’ll make a mess soon enough!”

“Well, soldier,” she drawled, “It is in my best interest to have you come completely undone before you leave me in the morning so you’ll have a reason to come back, now isn’t it?”

“Yes, mistress,” he whimpered.

She opened him up with her two fingers and scissored them, stretching his hole, pulling a sensual moan from him.  She worked a third finger into him and pushed all three up to her last knuckles, finger-fucking him soundly, stretching him, massaging his prostate until he was shaking.  His hips left the table and he grunted and groaned. 

“Mary, mother and Bride,” swore Jamie, “Ye’re a darin’ woman, Claire; I like ye jus’ fine!”

She giggled and pulled and pushed her fingers in and out for a few minutes until Jamie was rolling his head back and forth on the desk, not believing how good this felt.  Finally, she pulled it out all the way, inquiring in a voice dripping with honey, “Shall I get down to really fucking you, boy? But, oh, on second thought, you know what?” She pretended to think something over, looking up at the ceiling and tapping her chin, “I think begging would fit in very nicely.  Beg me, Jamie.  Beg me for what you want, now!”  She watched in amazement as his eyes darkened and dilated, lustful and feral. She’d never felt more like dinner than right at that moment but she didn’t mind at all. He was hungry for this experience and for her, and by God, she’d give everything to him.

In a gravely voice drenched in need, the large man begged, “Mistress, please, fuck me wi’ yer hand.”

She gripped the table as her uterus fluttered and spasmed around nothing, “Again!” she rasped, desperate to hear that wild desperation a second time.

“Yer grace, I beg of ye, have mercy on yer poor boy an’ fuck me wi’ yer beautiful fingers!”

Suddenly, Claire stiffened and let out a string of filthy curse words as her knees buckled with the force of her orgasm.  Quick as a flash, Jamie sat up and grabbed her arm, steadying her. 

She gripped his hands, “Jesus, Jamie, that’s a first! You just made me orgasm without even touching me!”

He eyed her carefully, “Are ye alright, mo graidh?”

She released his arm that she’d been gripping, “Yes, thank you.  I suspect that would happen more except I’m usually lying down when I orgasm with you.  Shall we continue?”

“Well, it is gettin’ late an’ I would like ta pick up these particular activities,” and he waggled his eyebrows, “when I am back.  Now, I jus’ wanta make love ta ye, Claire.  Is that alrigh’?” He looked at her hopefully.

“Of course it is, Jamie. But before we go, I want to show you something.”  She put his fingers on her snatch and he inhaled sharply as his fingers came away drenched.  He looked between her legs and there was a thick line of wetness from her pussy that clung to one thigh.  He took her hand gently and led her back to her bedroom.  They climbed into bed and Jamie immediately climbed on top of Claire and shoved a knee between her thighs.  She grunted and he entered her gently and slowly.  He wanted to savor this last night with her and he suspected she did, too.  They tasted each other and loved each other until after both had reached their peaks and fell asleep in each other’s arms, well-contented with this world.

Chapter Text

Lauder and Johnstone entered the kitchen quietly the next morning at five a.m., careful to remove their boots so they wouldn’t wake residents of the house or dirty Mrs. Fitz’ clean floor.  They tiptoed to the kitchen to find Mrs. Crook and Mrs. Fitz loading the table with plates of cheeses and fruit, piping-hot bannocks, warm bread, smoked fish, sliced venison shot by Johnstone and a giant tureen of hellishly hot porridge, carefully set on the old, massive table by Jamie himself.  A large container of local honey and one of house-made strawberry preserves flanked a crock of home-churned butter and a pitcher of cream.

Johnstone and Lauder greeted the ladies first, as was proper, and then greeted Jamie.  The three all said a prayer over the bountiful feast and served themselves.  Plates groaning with food, they dug in.  Jamie slathered his bread with butter and honey and groaned at the delicate taste of the honey and unctuous butter sliding down his throat.  He dug into the venison and porridge and ate until he was fit to burst, as did the two other men.  While they were still eating, Mrs. Fitz came to them, holding two bottles of the estate’s finest whisky, “Jamie, one bottle is for the Laird and Lady Broch Tuarach, a gift from her grace. T’other is fer th’ three o’ ye ta share.”  Lauder, Fraser and Johnstone grinned at each other then turned their attention back to Mrs. Fitz as she continued, “Also, she asked me to tell the three o’ ye tha’ when ye get near th’ border o’ the Moriston lands, go huntin’ an’ see if ye can bring down some deer or boar an’ rabbits fer th’ laird’s people.” Jamie jumped up and kissed Mrs. Fitz on the cheek, “Thank ye, Mrs. Fitz.  Please tell th’ duchess I am grateful.”

She blushed, “I shall, Jamie.  Now, get along wi’ ye.”

The men all got up and thanked Mrs. Fitz and Mrs. Crook for the splendid food and left for the stables.  Mrs. Fitz and Mrs. Crook looked at the wrecked table and sighed, then looked at each other and laughed.  The three men had cleaned the porridge tureen, the venison had only two slices left on its platter, the honey was half-gone, the butter was a third gone, all the fruit and bannocks were gone. There was hardly any ham left and no fish.  The ladies bustled about, making packets for the men to take with them from the leftovers and supplies in the kitchen – hunks of bread, bannocks, cheese, apples, pears, dried fish and venison were wrapped in rough cloth with Claire’s butter cookies.  The ladies even remembered the horses and put a packet together for them, with apples and butter cookies.  Mrs. Fitz put everything in a sack and gave it to a stable boy to affix to one of the horses’ saddles.

Lauder and Johnstone mounted their horses and did not see Claire standing at her window, gazing down on the courtyard, remembering the first time she’d seen Jamie being brought to her as a prisoner. She breathed slowly and quietly, willing her breaking heart to heal itself as Jamie looked up at her window and raised his hand in a silent salute.  Tears tracked down her cheeks as she pressed her hand against the cold glass.  The sight of her tears made his eyes prick hotly and he prayed silently, “God, please shield my beloved while I cannot protect her, today and every day, tonight and every night.” He had woken her that morning in her favorite way, kissing and licking her neck gently.  She moaned quietly and he moved down her body, kissing her collarbones, massaging her breasts, trailing strong fingers down her sides to her stomach.  He kneaded her stomach gently and moved lower, squeezing her bottom appreciatively, wrenching a needy whine from the beautiful woman above him.  He settled between her legs and stroked her soft nether lips, marveling, as he always did, at their unbelievable softness.  Will she gift me children from this wondrous body?   He inhaled deeply, relishing her unique sweet-tanginess and the musk of early morning Claire.  She whimpered as he parted her with his tongue and lashed her channel walls with his stiffened tongue, devouring her gasps and groans.  He decided not to use his fingers this time and focused on making her come with his tongue alone.  He blew warm, moist breath on her sensitive folds.  Claire bucked and groaned and Jamie’s cock drooled in response.  He licked her nub and she bowed off the bed, panting.  He extended her sweet agony, wanting her to fall apart because he made her.  The power he had over her at the moment was heady, intoxicating and he never wanted it to end. She stuttered, “Oh, God, Jamie, I’m coming, mo graidh! I can’t stop it now!”

“Come for me, my beautiful white dove,” he growled.  She shrieked and shook as he held her securely. She finally quieted a couple of minutes later.  Panting, she kissed him ravenously and he moaned, “God, woman, I love ye so.”

“My turn,” she smirked, after breaking the kiss.  He rolled on top of her and held her wrists gently, “Ye dinna need ta do this, aye, love?” She laughed, “Of course I don’t have to, you silly man.  I want to; it’s in my best interest.  I have to make sure you come back to me.  Remember? We talked about this last night.” She gathered her hair in a messy bun and got right to business, pushing his legs apart roughly, making Jamie smile at her determination.  “Ah, there he is, Mama’s favorite toy!”

Jamie groaned and gave up any pretense of resisting her, his head suddenly very heavy.  She breathed on his cockhead and his stomach muscles coiled, ready for whatever she would dish out. He gasped as she deep-throated him all the way down and hummed loudly.  Jamie fought to keep his cool, Christ, if she keeps goin’ li’ this, I’ll not last ten minutes!  He couldn’t stop himself from clutching at the blankets in an effort to stop himself from hauling her up to him by her hair and kissing her senseless.  He knew this was his parting gift from her and he would let her do as she wished. 

She will always, always have a choice wi’ me, Lord. So many things ha’ been done to her or happened to her tha’ weren’t her choice.  I will honor her and love her just as she is, for she is my equal.  In our journey together, Claire will always be able to exercise her free will, e’en if I return to her an’ she decides not ta marry me.  I ha’ told her my wishes and tha’ is enough. She will bear no pressure from me to decide one way or t’other.  O’ course, t’would break ma heart should she decide against me, but it must be her own free choice.  Anythin’ else would be slavery. 

He raised his head slightly as she moved up his cock slowly and then down again, massaging him every inch of the way with her soft, strong tongue.  She’d let herself drool all over him because she knew he loved the feeling of her saliva dripping down his cock.  Sure enough, she was drooling copiously and started back up his cock.  She took her other hand and spread her saliva up his cock, massaging the exposed part with her strong hand.  Jamie growled and panted and an erotic image filled his imagination unbidden -

He and Claire were in a sturdy stone cottage up in the mountains of her estate, where nobody would disturb them.  They could make love in the heather, swim naked in the little pond and wouldn’t have to try to muffle anything because they’d be miles away from anyone.  He imagined asking her if she wanted to play a game.  She’d smile and agree and they would choose a word or action for her to use if anything got too much.  He saw himself looming over her, accusing her in a predatory growl of breaking some completely ridiculous rule (that he just made up) and decide she needed to pay right now. He would strip her naked (but he would stay clothed) as she fought him tooth and nail, screaming her innocence, begging him not to do this thing.  He’d finally get her clothes off and start to pull her outside.  Of course, she would balk and he’d threaten to pick her up and throw her over his shoulder if she wouldn’t walk.  He asked, “Will ye come under yer own power, my lady?” She mimed the motion of slapping him and stopped her hand a millisecond before it connected, patting his cheek softly instead.  Jamie played along, his face snapping to the left.  He’d roar, “Tha’s it, yer grace, up you go!” and he’d haul her onto his shoulder and slap her ass, warning her not to struggle lest she fall.  Naturally, being Claire, she’d howl with the sting of the slap, ignore him and keep on pulling his hair (gently while she massaged his scalp, making him hum in contentment), pinching him (with very open fingers) and beating his back with her little fists (she could do that with all her strength; it wasn’t like it hurt him in the slightest), and generally just making a pest of herself.  There wasn’t any danger of Jamie dropping her – he’d never let that happen, ever.  When they got to their destination, he’d move her carefully from his shoulder, cupping her head and shielding her neck. Claire whimpered in real fear – she hated heights. Jamie soothed, “It’s alrigh’, a leannan, I have ye.” Still, she clutched white-knuckled to his arms until her feet were solidly on the ground. She’d give him a passionate kiss that made his wame flip and then back in the fantasy they’d go.  He would have to drag her over to the fence to secure her, but even with her fighting, he’d get his way.  Jamie would have previously sanded and smoothed the rails to which he tied Claire to a lustrous, satiny finish.  He knew that she could get a nasty splinter or even cut herself on a sharp edge otherwise and nothing was worth that risk.  He’d walk around his panting wife and admire her, pleased with how the rail would press into her beautiful breasts.  He’d leer at her and fondle her beautiful body, sometimes roughly and other times gently as she cursed him heartily. He ignored her heated protests to “take his filthy hands off her,” slap her buttocks a couple of times and ensure she watched as he unbuckled his sword belt, doubling it in his massive hand.  He warned her “to curb her wicked tongue lest she suffer the consequences,” but she spit into the dust at his feet (spitting on his boots? Ewwww...).  He schooled his face into a hard mask, moved behind her and thoroughly enjoyed her screams as he brought the belt down on her enchanting skin.  By the time the strikes had stopped, Jamie’s cock was blindly saluting Claire, desperate for attention and weeping. When her bottom was bright-red and painful, he’d soothe her painful red bottom by drizzling cold stream water over her, gently blotting her dry and massaging arnica oil into each stripe.  He never, ever left her wanting - that wasn’t the point of the game, after all.  He heard her heated moan as he pushed a finger in her weeping cunt, pulling his kilt up, smearing her essence on his now-purple cockhead.  Claire would take some deep breaths and Jamie knew she was settling herself. 

“Jamie, Jamie, please, fuck me!” she’d cry, and Jamie would do as he was told, pushing slowly into her passage, pulling back and pushing forward slowly so she would be able to handle his girth.  He’d pump into her at a relaxed pace and start playing with her clit, making her writhe with passion and energy that finally had an outlet. He’d fist her hair and pull her head back, just enough to make her hiss, certainly pleasurable for both. He’d torture her breasts until she was crying for relief and begging him to stop, dancing on her tiptoes.  He’d release her breasts but hold on to her hips firmly and pick up the pace until he was pistoning in and out of her, Claire a sweaty, panting mess beneath him.  She’d howl when he started on her overstimulated clit again, tugging on it, circling it, tapping it and pinching it. He flattened his hand and slapped her soaked pussy hard.  “Come for me, my love,” he’d shout hoarsely.  He always loved when she came first, screaming her satisfaction to the heavens, “Jamie, oh go- Jam-!” His cock would be squeezed so tightly by her inner muscles that it would steal his breath and his pace would falter as a torrent of sticky wetness drenched his cock. Finally, it was too much to hold back anymore and he’d release into her depths, bellowing his climax to the heavens.

Jamie’s attention snapped back to the present as Claire sucked on his head and squeezed his base.  He came with a roar, and bless her, his queen swallowed everything down.  His vision speckled black on the edges as she pulled herself up to his side and kissed him.  Jamie’s heart was pounding and he was really awake now. Jesus, what a start for the morning! He kissed her back and rolled out of bed, sad to leave her but excited to see his family soon.  He dressed after cleaning himself up and gently kissed Claire one last time, “I’ll see ye as soon as I can, a nighean, aye?”

She cleared her throat, “Yes, love, I know.  I’ll miss you but don’t take any chances, alright? Haste ye back, or else.”

He studied her for a moment, eyebrow arching in curiosity. “Or else what?”

“Or else, I will follow you - I will drag you back by your thick red curls and you won’t like it one bit.”

She watched as his eyes dilated and blackened in arousal and his trademark half-smile graced his lips, “Nah, Sorcha, I’m sure I wouldn’t.” He winked, kissed her quickly and was gone.  Claire rolled back to his pillow and inhaled his scent lingering on the pillow and bottom sheet. She covered herself with the blankets and closed her eyes, willing herself to fall asleep.

The men took off for Lallybroch under a chill wind, gray sky and weak sun, but those things weren’t on Jamie’s mind. In three days I’ll see mam an’ da an’ the whole family, he thought, excitement building in his heart.  The ride went smoothly, and the banter between the three friends was mixed with song, stories and ribald jokes certainly not appropriate for mixed company.  Around eleven a.m., the men’s wames were complaining loudly.  They made a picnic after taking the horses to a nearby stream to drink, hobbling them in sweet grass.  The men ate their fill and went on their way.  They traveled the rest of the day and into the evening until they reached an inn.  They arranged rooms and dinner for themselves and food and a place in the stables for the horses.  Jamie was very happy that he was taking Donas with him because he knew the rebellious animal was too much for others to handle.  If mam and da allowed him to return to Claire, he’d take Donas back as well.  The men pulled out Claire’s gift to them.  Jamie motioned for a barmaid and requested three glasses.  She smiled and brought them, and he poured for his friends first.

“Well, wha’ shall we drink to, lads?” Lauder asked.

Johnstone rumbled, “To her grace. Our mistress is a fine lady wi’ a kind heart as big as this worl’.”

The other two men inclined their heads in agreement.  “Aye, ta Her Grace, Claire Moriston, Duchess of Glenfinnan, the finest mistress in all the Highlands.” The men touched their glasses together and enjoyed their whiskies. Dinner was served and it was a rich venison stew, full of potatoes, carrots neeps, tatties and celery.  Thick country rye bread was served alongside with a sweet custard and a cheese plate for dessert.  The men all ate well, polishing off three bowls of stew each, much to the delight of the innkeeper’s wife. After a couple more drinks they decided to go up to bed.  Jamie ordered hot water, towels and soap for all of them and thoroughly cleaned the dust of the road off his feet, hands and face, as did the other men.  All three tumbled into bed and fell asleep immediately.

The men got a pre-dawn start, happy that the innkeeper’s wife and her kitchen maids were ready to serve them breakfast.  Mrs. Tennant came bustling over with tea and let them know breakfast would be up shortly. She and Jamie started chatting and he mentioned that they’d all come from Thistle Glen House.

She exclaimed, “Thistle Glen?”

“Aye, mistress, why?” asked Lauder.

“Well, I remember hearin’ an unbelievable tale about twenty years on, now, that the duke opened his front door one morning to a soft knock, only to find a wee lassie an’ two horses starin’ him in th’ face!”  She turned to Johnstone, “Tha’ canna be true,” she chortled.

He smiled at the woman, but his smile was wide and full of sun today, “Aye, mistress, ‘tis the truth.  Th’ little girl wa’ in a coach accident and unhooked th’ horses herself, lettin’ them ha’ ‘their heads,’ because she figured,” and he raised an index finger that caught her attention, “’Tha’ horses would find water’.  They found water an’ she found a worn path up a hill.  She took both beasts, riding one wi’out a saddle, an’ climbed the hill wi’ them, found Thistle Glen an’ jus’ knocked on th’ door, pretty as you please!” Mrs. Tennant’s mouth fell open and she closed it quickly.

“The story gets better, mistress.  Th’ little girl, Claire, she stayed wi’ th’ family an’ fell in love wi’ an’ married the duke’s heir, Silas Moriston. Sadly, he died in an accident a few years after their marriage, so she’s alone now.  But rumor has it, someone new ‘as captured her heart.” Jamie blushed crimson and looked at a very interesting ale stain on the ancient table.  Johnstone smirked, “She’s a good mistress an’ treats all her people well.  She’s a natural healer, is our duchess.”

Mrs. Tennant couldn’t believe what she was hearing.  She whispered, “It’s true.”  Someone opened and shut the tavern door quickly, “Ah, David! Come here!” She motioned excitedly, “Gentlemen, my husband, the innkeeper, David Tennant.” He shook everyone’s hand.  “These men are from Thistle Glen House.  Remember that tale we heard years ago about the little lass?”

“Aye, Gillian, wha’ about it?”

“It’s true!” she crowed.  “I canna believe it! An’ these gents say th’ duchess finally migh’ have a beau again – ye remember when the young duke died, aye?”

Mr. Tennant shook his head, “Aye, ‘twas verra sad, that.” But ye say her grace may ha’ someone new?”

Lauder couldn’t resist, “Jamie, ye tol’ me yerself ye’d heard her las’ night talkin’ about him, or?”

Jamie swallowed nervously and glared sharp, rusty daggers at his friends, “Aye, I did.  But we shouldna be talkin’ abou' such a fine lady as Herself. Her personal li’ is none o’ your concern. Shame on ye both.”

Mrs. Tennant giggled, “Och, I’m sure i’ t’isnt as bad as all tha’, sir. Jus’ a bit o’ harmless gossip is all.”

Mr. Tennant went to the back and got three small glasses and poured his guests a drink, “Let’s toast th’ duchess - our treat, lads.”

The men stood and raised their glasses to the Tennants, thanking them for the amber libation.  Mr. Tennant cleared his throat and led the toast, “To Her Grace, the Duchess of Glenfinnan, Claire Moriston.  We wish ‘er health an’ happiness.”

“Aye!” All five Scots chorused, bringing their glasses together carefully.  They tossed back the whisky, Jamie paid the bill and joined his friends outside.  When they were on their way, he growled, “I’m no’ speakin’ to ye both fer th’ rest o’ th’ trip, ye miserable bastards!”

Lauder and Johnstone looked at Jamie’s thunderous face and burst out laughing.  Finally, the redhead had to join in and laugh at the joke they’d played on him.  Lauder wiped his streaming eyes on his coat sleeve and choked out, “We’re teasin’ ye because we’re so pleased fer ye an’ th’ mistress, Jamie.  She lost her babe righ’ after she lost the duke an’ I had ta help th’ ladies settle her in bed righ’ after they bathed her because they couldn’a lift her.  She woke an’ asked me where her baby was before fallin’ asleep again.  The large man’s eyes misted with tears and he cleared his throat loudly but with obvious difficulty. “Ever since tha’ day, I ha’ prayed to th’ Blessed Virgin tha’ she find someone new ta love. No’ ta replace th’ duke, but ta escort her through a new phase o’ her life.”

“Aye, Jamie,” said Johnstone, “It broke all our hearts when th’ duke died an’ th’ baby followed so soon after.  We weren’a sure she’d make it.  Those were dark days an’ she ha’ her sunshine back since ye’ve been wi’ us.” 

Jamie was stunned at the admission from his friends, “Thank ye, men. I shall do my utmost ta make her grace happy.”  Johnstone, Fraser and Lauder rode on and never mentioned Jamie and Claire’s relationship after that day. 

The men were now riding parallel to a wide, dark forest and a series of huge boulders lined the dirt road.  Known as “the dragon’s teeth,” Jamie recognized them immediately.  The legend went back into the mists of time.  Some said that Saint Andrew had vanquished a dragon and claimed the lizard’s land for Scotland.  Still others believed that King Arthur had stopped in this wood and killed a dragon for his treasure, sowing the earth with its teeth as a warning to other mystical beasts to stay away.  His family’s land was only five miles away!  They made camp for the night, intending to rise before the sun to hunt deer and boar.  They laid snares in the forest for rabbits, nine in all.  They unpacked the last of Mrs. Fitz’ food and ate some of that as well as three fish Lauder guddled.  They ate while telling each other about their families.  They could feast tomorrow morning with fresh fish and rabbit if they caught something and still have rabbits for Lallybroch.  They built a fire and each man took a few hours of guard duty, but as Jamie suspected, nothing remotely suspicious happened.  Jamie had taken the last guard duty and checked all the snares – seven rabbits! He twisted the animals’ necks to make sure they were dead and brought them back to camp where Lauder and Johnstone were breaking camp.  All three of them skinned and ate two of the rabbits, keeping the pelts as a gift and leaving five intact animals for the Frasers.  They loaded up the horses and discussed the upcoming hunt, “There’s a glen not far fro’ here; bucks rut there an’ does are there, too, o’course.  Th’ rise in the ground here may make it hard for ye ta see until it’s too late, so I’ll go watch fer them at some high rocks.  If you hear this,” and he whistled a short tune that sounded like a bird’s call, “tha’s me.  I’ll whistle once for each deer I see. Take yer shot when ye can.”  The men gathered their weapons and then crept silently into the woods after Jamie.  They walked in single-file for about twenty minutes and reached a pretty glen dotted with late-season flowers.  Jamie signaled to the men to stop and Johnstone and Lauder froze, waiting for the signal from Jamie.  Jamie climbed the rocks easily and perched himself at a good observation point, looking down at the glen, dew sparkling on the grass like jewels.  Now, they had to wait.  Early morning mist rose from the ground as the three men waited in suspense.  The sun rose slowly in the sky, lifting the glade from the darkness.  Jamie heard a faint rustle ahead of him – two bucks and two does! He whistled four times and climbed down silently, making his way back to the men, who had looked at each other in amazement - four whistles! The three men started to crawl on their bellies in the grass so the deer wouldn’t smell them.  Thank goodness there wasn’t a breeze this morning.  The three of them crept closer and closer, gripped their guns and rose slowly.  Jamie was closest to what must have been an older stag – his rack was magnificent and would look grand mounted at Lallybroch or Thistle Glen.  He focused on the large male and saw out of the corner of his eye that Lauder and Johnstone were standing as well.  As if they’d timed themselves, the friends all pulled their triggers at the same time.  The large buck fell, pierced in the heart, as did the smaller, shot by Johnstone.  Lauder hit the larger of the does right in the head and she crumpled to the ground, hooves twitching.  The men cheered and one by one, tied the animals’ hooves together and hoisted them into a large tree.  Jamie slit his buck from stem to stern, letting all its blood flow onto the grass below, as did the other men.  All the useable entrails and organs were separated out and wrapped securely.  As he helped Johnstone heft his deer, he saw where the man had hit it, “I’ th’ eye! By God, Johnstone, ye pulled a King Harold!*[1] He went and got the horses and the three men loaded each horse carefully.  Jamie was glad they’d packed very lightly for this trip.  Donas was the largest and carried the largest deer, followed by Johnstone with his deer and Lauder with his.  They set off for Lallybroch and couldn’t believe their incredible luck.  “This food wi’ help da feed his tenants fer a long time, lads, thank ye!”  Both men simply nicked their heads and a little over an hour later, Jamie’s heart sang as Lallybroch finally came into view.

As they approached Lallybroch’s arch, Jamie heard the estate’s dogs sound the alarm.  The dogs ran from the barn, barking and whining as they smelled Jamie.  Bran! Lucas! Angus! SEAS! He bellowed.  All three dogs immediately stopped barking. 

Jamie dismounted and was about to enter the house when his father opened the door, “A bhalaich? Ye’re home!”  He hugged his second son close and turned, “Ev'rybody come quick! Jamie’s come home!”

Ellen and Jenny ran down the stairs and Ellen grabbed him first in a powerful hug, kissing his cheek, “Mo graidh, it’s so good ta see ye!”

Jenny whooped and Ellen wisely got out of her way.  Johnstone and Lauder smiled as the black-haired dynamo vaulted into Jamie’s arms.  Ian, Jenny’s husband and Jamie’s best friend, shook Jamie’s hand.  Willie and Rabbie came out too and didn’t dare dislodge their sister, moving around her to pat his back in greeting.  She finally consented to let him loose and he twirled her around and then saw her small baby bump, “Jenny, a leannan, ye’re wi’ child?” She nodded up at him, tears in her eyes.  He hugged her again, but very tenderly this time, “So, when am I to become an uncle?” Jamie asked, grinning.

“March, a brathair, answered Ian, stepping up to give his best friend a proper hug.  Jamie slapped him on the back, “Congratulations, ye beast!” Ian blushed red and just rocked back on his heels, immensely pleased.

“Jamie, who’s this wi’ ye? Jamie brought his mother and father over to Johnstone and Lauder.  This is ma father, the Laird Broch Tuarach, and ma mother, the Lady Broch Tuarach.  Laird and Lady Broch Tuarach, I am pleased ta introduce Lauder and Johnstone, ma friends from Thistle Glen. They ha’ accompanied me here an’ will need a place ta stay before they go back, mam.”   She nodded quickly and asked Jenny to talk to Mrs. Crook. Jenny nodded and ran into the house.

The two men bowed to Brian and he acknowledged both.  Both men gallantly kissed Ellen’s hand in greeting.  She curtsied to both in return.  One by one, Jamie introduced his friends to his family.

“So, Da, we ha’ bagged some deer an’ rabbits from her grace’s land this mornin’.  Brian’s eyes grew round and he was about to chastise his son, as that was exactly what got him into this mess in the first place.  Jamie could see storm clouds gathering in Brian’s eyes, so like his own.  He hastily held up his hand and soothed, “She asked us ta do it, as a gift to your tenants, Da.  We ha’ three deer an’ five rabbits, killed this morning on her lands.”

Brian took a look at the animals and whistled, “My goodness, son, ye ha’ done well.  Thank ye, gentlemen, my tenants will be grateful, as am I.” He shook both their hands again.

Brian invited his guests into the house and directed some of the men from the stables to put the deer and rabbits in the coolhouse and skin them.  He took the sack of entrails from Jamie and brought it in to Ellen, who set a scullery maid to preparing them.

He escorted Johnstone and Lauder into the parlor and offered them each a drink.  Both gladly accepted a whisky.  Jamie remembered the bottle of whisky in his saddlebag and ran out to get it.  He brought it back inside and presented it to Brian proudly, “Da, thi’ i’ a gift from her grace fer ye an’ mam.”

Brian looked at the bottle and uncorked it.  He smelled the whisky and “mmmmmhhh” came from him.  He closed his eyes and inhaled again, “Ellen, mo banrigh, come and see the gift from her grace.”

Ellen came downstairs.  Brian handed her the bottle and she sniffed at it, “Oh, tha’s grand! Shall we all ha’ a wee nip?”

Brian got up and gathered glasses for everyone.  Ellen poured for Lauder and Johnstone first, then Brian, then herself and then her children. 

Brian remained standing, “To Her Grace, Claire Moriston, Duchess of Glenfinnan, and fer havin’ our Jamie back wi’ us two months early! Slainte!”

“SLAINTE!”                                            

[1]  https://www.historytoday.com/shot-through-eye-and-who%E2%80%99s-blame#:~:text=The%20English%20historian%20Henry%20of,'above%20the%20right%20eye'.

Chapter Text

“Jamie, show our guests to their rooms so they can freshen up before dinner,” directed Ellen.

“Aye, mam.  Come on, lads. This way.  Come back downstairs when ye’re ready. Dinner should be served not long after.”

Jamie showed both men their rooms and then returned downstairs.  Johnstone and Lauder looked inside their rooms and then Lauder walked into Johnstone’s room, just next door. Just like his room, inside was a spacious bed, beautiful art hung on the walls and lovely wallpaper.  Most importantly for them, both men had a washstand and looking glass with large pitchers of near-boiling water, soap, a rough washcloth to scrub their skin with and towels ready.  “Kin ye believe it, Alan? It’s better than th’ best inn I ha’ ev’r stayed in.”

“Aye, Peter. It’s wondrous.”

They took advantage of the Frasers’ hospitality to wash their faces and shave quickly, washing the grime of the trip away, concentrating on their hands and fingernails. 

Lauder and Johnstone came back downstairs much refreshed.  They thanked Mrs. Fraser for the hot water and accoutrements,

“Ye’re welcome, gentlemen.  We will bring ye more water to wash tanight before bed.”

Johnstone thought about that for a minute – the Frasers were already being generous, allowing them to sleep in the main house; the men thoroughly expected to have to bed down in the barn or at best, share a bed in the house.  Dinner would be served soon and they’d shared their gift from her grace. As if that wasn’t enough, they’d have a chance to bathe again before bed.  He shook his head in wonder, So tha’s where Jamie gets i’ – that man will gie’ ye th’ shirt off ‘is back without ye e’en havin’ ta ask. Now I know why. Johnstone thought back to a day in when Jamie had first come to Thistle Glen.  Johnstone had accidently ripped his shirt so badly he couldn’t wear it and still be considered decent. Of course, he didn’t have an extra with him. Jamie had run to the barn and brought one of his shirts and gave it to him, “Here, put thi’ on fer taday.  We’re about th’ same size.  Ye’ll gie’ it back ta me when I see ye next, aye?” Johnstone smiled to himself, remembering how his mouth had dropped open in astonishment at such easy generosity.

The men rejoined the Frasers and a few minutes later, dinner was served.  They walked into the kitchen – the solid table groaning with enough food for a royal court.  The venison they shot, rabbit and pork were all heaped on platters in the center of the table. Mashed tatties wafted heady steam in a large bowl next to the pork, a large hunk of fresh butter melting on top.  Carrots, neeps, bread and two large tureens of gravy bordered the platters and bowls.  The guests stood with the rest of the family (including the laird) until Lady Broch Tuarach took her seat and invited everyone else to do the same.  Everybody sat and the laird led the prayer over the feast.  Plates were filled and passed to the guests first and then to the family.  Ellen urged them to eat as much as they wanted.  The men did exactly that, cleaning two plates each.  After dinner, the family settled in the parlor for after-dinner drinks until the table was laid for dessert – homemade cranachan, sweet honey cake and biscuits (cookies) still warm from the oven.  Ellen brought out a sweet dessert wine, something Alan and Peter had never experienced, but thoroughly enjoyed.  After dessert, they were plied with more whisky as the family sat together and talked.  Jenny, Brian and Ian asked the men about their families and both men were happy to share some of their children’s funnier exploits.

“Aye,” Peter said.  When she found out ma wife wa’ expectin’ our first child, she gave me a gold sovereign an’ told me I better gie’ it ta my wife fer her household because she’d find out about it if I didn’a!”

Ellen laughed, “Well, I like that. She sounds very spirited.”

“Aye, mistress, tha’ she is.  She’s always fair an’ puts her people firs’, always before herself.”

Just as Ellen had promised, Peter and Alan had more hot water, soap and towels in their rooms when everyone decided to call it an early night.  Both men washed and sank into featherbeds finer than any they’d slept on, including their own homes.

The next morning, scullery maids brought more washing water and the men dressed, eager to start the ride home.  They came downstairs to the wonderful smells of porridge, ham, bannocks and fruit with hot tea served alongside.  They ate their fill and thanked Brian and Ellen for a wonderful time at Lallybroch.

“Och, lads, anytime ye’re near here, stop an’ say hello.  Our children’s friends are always welcome,” smiled Brian, clasping their hands.  Mrs. Crook came out with large packages of food for the journey.  They took their leave of Jamie, unsure if they’d ever see their friend again.  Of course, they did not mention that possibility as they knew he hadn’t talked to his parents yet.

When Lauder and Johnstone were gone, Jamie went to see Ellen.  “Mam, can ye come up ta ma room, please? I need ta talk to ye.” 

“Aye, Jamie, I’ll be righ’ there,” Ellen called.  She laid down her knitting and ascended the solid staircase.  Jamie closed the door behind her and pulled 15 pounds out of his pocket.  Ellen’s mouth dropped open at the fortune in her son’s large hand.  She gasped, “Where did ye get so much money, a bhalaich?”

Jamie placed the heavy coins carefully in her hand, “Th’ mistress ha’ gie’en me twenty pounds when I left her service, mam, in gratitude fer savin’ her life.  I’ve kept a bit back fer meself, but I’d like ta ha’ ye and da use it ta help our people an’ repair things here, mebbe save a bit.”  

Tears welled up in her gray eyes, “Jamie, mo leannan, thi’ will help th’ estate fer years, are ye sure ye dinna wan’ ta hav’ all o’ it fer yersel’?

Jamie shook his head, “No. I can finally help ye an’ da, an I want ta do this.  Shall we go downstairs an’ ask him ta hide it?”

“Aye, son, bu’ here, it should be ye tha’ gie’ it ta him, no’ me.  Come,” and she gave her son the money back and the two Frasers went to go see Brian.

As expected, Brian in his study going over ledgers.  They knocked on the door and waited until Brian said, “Enter,” and sat in chairs across from Brian’s massive desk.  Ellen closed the door and Jamie nervously cleared his throat, “Da, th’ mistress, she ha’ gifted me twenty pounds fer savin’ her life.” Brian’s bushy black eyebrows raised in astonishment but he held his tongue.  “Da, hold out yer hand.”  Brian stared at his son, a little confused, but did it anyway.  Jamie continued, “I wanta gie’ this ta ye ta help our crofters, do repairs, anythin’ ye think needs doin’ here.”  He dug in his pocket and dropped fifteen pounds into Brian’s cupped hand.  Brian gaped as he quickly counted the money, “Fifteen pounds, son? Tha’ is a small fortune!”

Jamie smiled, “Aye, I ken it, Da.  Th’ duchess is a verra generous woman bu’ has a temper o’ an angry bull – best ta be avoided.” They all laughed because she sounded so much like Jenny.  No wonder Jamie had fit in so well at Thistle Glen.

“Da, there’s somethin’ I wish ta discuss with ye, but I dinna want ta do it here.  Do ye perhaps ha’ time ta take a ride wi’ me?

Brian looked up at his son, surprised, “Well, i’ must be important if ye dinna want ta talk here. Do ye want it ta jus’ be me, or Willie and Ian ta come along as well?”

“Nay, thank ye, just us, Da, if tha’s alrigh’.”

Brian smiled at his second son.  Come ta think o’ it, Jamie had seemed a little on edge when he got home.  Why, though?     

“Aye, mo mhac.  We can go alone.  I haveta go check some o’ the pasture fences in the north pasture anyway before I send any men out there ta fix somethin’ tha’ may no’ need fixin’.  Go ask Mrs. Crook ta pack some food fer us.  I’ll tell yer mam we’ll be gone fer a few hours.  I’ve been wantin’ ta ask ye about th’ magnificent stallion.”

Jamie flashed a grateful smile at Brian, “Thank ye, Da.  I’ll gladly tell ye all about this great lump o’ silly,” he said, scratching Donas’ nose.  Brian laughed, seeing Jamie roll his eyes in mock exasperation.

Jamie found Mrs. Crook and requested some lunch for the two of them. Noticing some tempting molasses cookies on the table, he asked if he might have a few for after lunch and two for the horses, “Aye, lad, help yerself.  I made three dozen.  Be careful now, they may still be quite warm.”

Jamie took the bundle of food and a couple of cookies for the horses and met Brian outside.  Donas and Eanraig (Henry), Brian’s mount, started sniffing the wind when Jamie stepped up with the food parcel.  Jamie gave Da Eanraigh’s cookie and took another out of his pocket and said to Brian, “Da, watch Donas.” Jamie showed the still-warm cookie to Donas and walked a few yards away, called the horse’s name and whistled with two fingers in his mouth.  Donas nickered and walked after him like a well-trained dog and stopped when Jamie said “Stad!” Donas waited patiently and whuffed in excitement when Jamie gave him the cookie.

“My goodness, son, that’s incredible,” exclaimed Brian.  “I’ve never seen a horse do something like that before.  Come on, we’ll get going and ye can tell me how ye found ‘im.” Father and son rode under Lallybroch’s arch and headed to the north pasture. 

Jenny stood at a second-story window, looking out at her father and brother, wondering what Jamie wanted to talk to Da about.  It hurt her a little that he hadn’t come to her, but, she reasoned, sometimes a boy needs his da.  Sighing, she returned to dusting the guest room.

As they rode, Jamie regaled his father with the story of how Donas came into the duchess’ possession.  Brian whistled low, “An’ ye say he willna allow anyone else ta handle him?”

“Anyone else exceptin’ Cl – her grace.” He gulped, hoping Da hadn’t noticed his slip or would simply let it go.  Brian smirked inwardly but showed Jamie no sign that he’d noticed anything peculiar about why he talked so familiarly about the duchess, So that’s it – there’s something there, possibly an understanding.  Well, I always did tell ma bairns tha’ they’d know immediately when they’d met the loves o’ their lives.  Appears i’ has happened fer Jamie.

“Oh, aye? An’ how does the great lunkheid act aroun’ her?”

“Och,” Jamie smiled, “He gets really excited when she enters the stables an’ kicks his stall door.  He never, ever misbehaves wi’ her an’ will follow her wi’out any commands at all, especially if she brings ‘im a sugar cookie she baked.”

Brian smiled, “Well, she certainly has him in hand, doesn’t she?”

Jamie pinked ever-so-slightly, “Aye, da, she has.”

Oho, son, I think she has ye in hand also, thought Brian.  This must be one hell of a woman. The Frasers dismounted and hobbled their horses and went to check how much damage had been done.  It wasn’t too badly damaged, but it would need to be repaired before the first snow came down.

“Da, I wan’ ta tell you somethin’, an’ ye must promise ta let me get it out before ye say anythin’, said Jamie hurriedly, a worried look in his eyes. 

“Aye, Jamie, what is’t?” Brian studied his son.

“Th’ mistress saved ma life, Da.”  Jamie cleared his throat, “Ye see, no’ long after I got to Thistle Glen, I tried ta come back home ta help ye hunt fer our people.  O’ course, I was caught an’ brought back ta her grace an’ forced ta kneel i’ front o’ her in the courtyard.  She asked me why, as the son of a fellow landowner, we hadn’a jus’ asked ta hunt on her land, an’ I – I – “ Jamie’s eyes filled up with ashamed tears he didn’t try to stop.  He cleared his throat, “I said to her, to my everlasting shame, that everyone hated her, knew about Kenny Gordon an’ tha’ she’d had him flogged near ta death an’ dismissed fer stealin’ food.  I compared her to a weed tha’ will choke a garden.”  She stepped righ’ up ta me an’ slapped me so hard it echoed off th’ buildins’ i’ the courtyard an’ tol’ me tha’ truth o’ what happened.”  Brian’s mouth fell open in surprise (and not a little respect) for this woman.

“Aye, tha’s the story I heard,” said Brian, putting a warm hand on his distraught son’s shoulder.  “Wa’ that not true, a bhalaich? Brian suddenly had a sick feeling in his stomach. Why else would she dismiss someone? God, please no’ wha’ I think it is, prayed Brian fervently.

Jamie nearly choked on the next words lodged tightly in his throat.  “The truth? She had him flogged an’ dismissed fer breakin’ inta her room, tyin’ her up an’ –“ he took a shallow breath and whispered, “Tha’ bastard ravished her, Da, an’ left her there, helpless, ta die.  Mrs. Fitz, her housekeeper, tol’ me she found ‘er.  The duchess almos’ didn’a make it!” 

Brian swallowed hard to push down the bile rising in his throat and gasped, “Th’ poor woman –“

Jamie was overcome by tears and sank to the ground, hugging his knees for comfort.  Brian went down to Jamie’s level and sat across from him and hugged his sobbing son, whispering soothing words in his curls and ear. Jamie eventually calmed and Brian handed him his handkerchief.  Jamie dried his tears and Brian busied himself with laying out their lunch, giving his son time to collect himself.  “Come a bhalaich. We’ll eat somethin’ – ‘tis always easier ta discuss important things wi’ a bit o’ food i’ one’s wame.” Jamie nodded gratefully and the men dug into the food, savoring the roast venison and thick bread with homemade cheese.  “Ye said she saved yer life, Jamie. How did tha’ happen?  Kin ye tell me?”

“Aye, Da.  As ye kin imagine, a whole group o’ men were sent out to find me.  An’ ye must know, I fought them as best as I could.  I gave as good as I got bu’ they were too many fer me.  They shackled me hand an’ foot and dragged me back ta her grace.  We had those words an’ she ordered me held in the house’s dungeon.  They chained me by my neck ta th’ masonry,” Brian’s eyebrows rose silently in concern, “Aye, that they did – her grace said i’ was in case someone had’ta go inta ma cell.  Weel, she’d asked me i’ I was hungry. I said yes, so she had the kitchen send down three full plates o’ food an’ watched me eat every crumb.  She got righ’ in ma face an said she ‘wa’ rehabilitatin’ her reputation an’ wanted me ta know by th’ end o’ my year she didn’a deny any servant food!’” Jamie chuckled at the memory.  “After I finished eatin’, I stood an’ thanked her for the food an’ apologized again, promising not to make any more trouble fer her. I promised ta take ma punishment fer tryin’ ta escape an she ordered the neck restraint struck off.  I went ta bed an’ later tha’ night, th’ head o’ th’ household guard, Marley, brought two other men wi’ him an’ cut an’ beat me severely, gaggin’ me so’s nobody coul’ hear ma screams.”

Brian’s huge hands folded into fists, but he forced himself to stay quiet so Jamie could continue.  “Th’ nex’ mornin’ and for three subsequent days, ever’ time Marley brought ma food an’ drink, he’d eat it or kick it onta th’ floor so I’d ha’ none.  I must’a passed out’ because th’ next thing I remember was wakin’ in a bed in th’ main house.  Th’ mistress ha’ come down ta gie me ma punishment fer escapin’ an’ found me sufferin’ wi’out enough ta drink an’ near death.  She ha’ men bring me upstairs an’ nursed me back ta health herself; leastways, tha’s wha’ Mrs. Fitz tol’ me.  Da, she washed me,” and both Jamie and Brian blushed, “She tended my wounds an’ even spoon-fed me broth an’ water when I was still as weak as a kitten!  Johnstone an’ Lauder tol’ her wha’ happened an’ tha’ I hadn’a refused food nor drink.”

“An’ wha’ happened ta th’ head o’ th’ guard,” asked Brian.

“I heard from Johnstone an’ Lauder later tha’ she marched righ’ up ta him, slapped him an’ dismissed him immediately.  Johnstone an’ Lauder ha’ the pleasure o’ ‘escortin’ hi’ off tha’ property an’ gave ‘im a good beatin’.  I spent a few days in bed an’ then she allowed me ta start resumin’ ma duties.

“She sounds like a good mistress, son,” Brian said softly.

“Aye, Da, th’ bes’,” Jamie cleared his throat with difficulty and took a long quaff from his flask.  “She’s a natural healer an’ also trained wi’ a local healer, Maitre Raymond.”

“An jes’ how did it come that ye saved her life, Jamie?”

“Weel, we were in th’ nex’ town so she could check on things there, seein’ as how the duchy owns the town.  She also needed healin’ supplies she couldn’a get on estate property.  Some drunken men tried ta get inta her room a’ the inn we were stayin’ at.  I fought them off an’ we left fer Thistle Glen House th’ next day.  One o’ th’ men fro’ th’ inn an’ his cousins ha’ decided ta go huntin’ an’ one o’ th’ men, Angus, remembered tha’ his wife ha’ heard tha’ brigands were robbin’ people on the road we were traveling, so they trailed us ta make sure we were safe.  Th’ mistress ha’ saved th’ life o’ his oldest.  Weel, Marley and his men set upon us an’ nearly raped th’ duchess an’ did beat me again, bu’ our friends fro’ th’ inn came upon th’ stramash an’ stopped ‘em cold fro’ harmin’ us anymore.”

Brian whistled low, “Ye had luck, then, son.”

Jamie smiled wryly, “Aye, Da, tha’ we did.”

Brian asked carefully, “An’ wha’ happened ta them?”

Jamie looked his father square in the face, “They started it, bu’ we finished it like ye taught us, Da.”

Brian looked around, relieved there wasn’t anyone about but still ran a hand through his hair, worried.  “An’ nobody saw ye, son?”

“No, we were careful.  When we got back to th’ house, she called Lauder, Johnstone an’ Mrs. Fitz inta her study an’ burned ma contract.  Imma free man, Da.”

“Congratulations, Jamie!” Brian smiled at his son, “yer mam an’ th’ rest o’ th’ family wi’ be happy ta hear it.  It shouldn’t take ye long ta settle in here again.”

Jamie thought, Oh, God, I’m afraid fer wha’ I ha’ ta say nex’. “Da, I dinna want ta stay here.  Th’ mistress an’ I ha’ fallen i’ love an’ want ta be married as soon as we can.  I want ta ask yer blessin’ fer’t an’ go back an’ rejoin Claire.” Jamie watched his father’s face and wasn’t comforted by what he saw – blue eyes, so much like his own, muddied with turbulent grays weakly reflected in the watery light of the midafternoon sun. 

“Ye wan’ ta go back ta’ th’ woman who held ye prisoner fer ten months, Jamie? I dinna understand. Whit happened?”

“I don’t know, Da. I have no clue.  Bu’ when she ordered ma neck restraint struck off, some kind o’ energy passed between us an’ I knew there was more there. An’ when she so lovingly nursed me back ta health, tha’s when I knew – she was th’ one.”

Brian didn’t want to shatter his son’s heart, but he wanted to make sure Jamie was going into this with his eyes open, “Surely, though, son, she would have done th’ same fer any other o’ her servants, or?”

“Aye, Da, bu’ th’ difference? Th’ looks an’ energy th’ passed between us.” Jamie pulled up short, making his mount stop abruptly, “Da, look a’ me, please.”

Brian nudged Eanrigh to step back a few feet and faced Jamie, twisting slightly in his saddle, “Aye, Jamie?”

“Da, we ha’ already said we love each other.”

Brian’s next question came out in a gravely tone, “Bu’ Jamie, have ye lain wi’ her?”

Jamie blushed beet-red but didn’t avert his gaze from Brian’s face, “Aye, Da, I ha’, bu’ only at her invitation. I didn’a dishonor our family name or her.  I wouldn’a force maself on a woman – ye taught us better.”

“An’ she an’ her first husband didn’a have any bairns?”

“No,” whispered Jamie, “Mrs. Fitz ha’ tol’ me tha’ she lost th’ child th’ night her husband wa’ thrown fro’ his horse an’ killed, instantly.  Da, she wa’ only eighteen!”

Brian slumped in the saddle at that heavy news, “God almighty, th’ poor woman ha’ suffered more than her fair share!”

“Aye, Da. An’ I’ll tell ye somethin’ else: Any one o’ her servants would defend her ta th’ death, she is so highly regarded by all o’ us.”

“I’ she wi’ child, mo mhac?”

Jamie blushed furiously and looked directly in his father’s eyes again.  He would not shy away from his responsibility to the woman he loved and who loved him with all her heart, “We dinna know, Da, bu’ we’re hopin’ so.”

Brian frowned, “An wha’ about her husband’s title? Will ye become a duke, then?”

“We haven’a talked about i’, Da.  If Claire needs me ta take th’ title so her bairn will inherit th’ duchy, then I shall take it. If not, then I dinna want it, bu’ we do wan’ ta get married. She is th’ duchess i’ her own right now an’ she wi’ need ta talk to her lawyer.”

“Weel, Jamie, I would like ta meet this lady. I’ there any way we kin meet ‘er?”

“Will ye gie’ us yer blessin’, Da?”

“Aye, mo mhac, bu’ yer mam, ye ken, she mus’ gie’ her own opinion.” Brian scratched his head distractedly, “An’ ye ken, Ian only wants yer happiness, bu’ Jenny, Lord, Jenny...” Brian’s voice trailed off, “Ye canna expect yer sister ta gie’ her blessin’, Jamie.”

“Aye, Da, I ken.  I’ she doesn’a, I willna like it bu’ it will no stop me. Ye tol’ us, we’d know when we met them, an’ it ha’ happened fer me.”

“Are ye happy, son?” Brian looked at his son hopefully.

Jamie smiled beatifically, “Aye, Da. I ha’ my heart again. I ha’ thought tha’ ma heart wouldn’t allow anyone after Micheline.”

“Weel, as long as the whole family can come ta th’ weddin’, ye have ma blessin’, son.”

Jamie nicked his head in gratitude, “Thank ye, Da.  I think it’s time ta talk ta th’ rest o’ th’ family. Would dinner be alright, do ye think?”

“Aye, mo leannan. Let’s go home.”

The men walked their horses through the arch at Lallybroch and readied themselves to face the family.

Chapter Text

“Da, since dinner willna be for a couple o’ hours yet, kin we talk wi’ Mam in yer study afore dinner, please?”

“Aye, son.  She at least needs ta hear th’ basics first.  “T’would no be fair, surprisin’ her.”

Jamie and Brian removed as much mud and dirt from their boots as they could and entered the house.  Ellen kissed Brian and Jamie hello and told them to get themselves freshened up and then come and join the family.  Brian and Jamie returned to the parlor after washing their faces and hands in the kitchen sink and found his mother again, “Mam, Da an’ I would like to talk to ye fer a bit in his study.  I’ that alright?”

“Oh, yes, Jamie.  I’ll go ask Mrs. Crook ta make some tea fer us.” 

“Tha’s bonny.  We’ll meet ye there, mo cridhe,” smiled Brian.

Ellen disappeared to the kitchen and spoke to Mrs. Crook, who promised to bring some tea and bannocks into the Laird’s study.  Ellen joined her men.  Brian was sitting behind his massive desk and Jamie in one of the comfortable chairs in front of the desk.  Both stood up when Ellen came in and did not sit down until she had seated herself.

“Now, wha’ is it ye’d like ta talk ta me about, lads?”  Ellen had a suspicion that Jamie had met a new girl, and she was hopeful.  He had been understandably devastated when Micheline died, and she’d feared he’d never open himself up to love again.  However, she kept her own counsel and didn’t speak to anyone about it, especially Jenny. She loved her independent, spirited daughter, but Ellen knew she could keep a secret as well as a bucket with a hole could hold water.

Mrs. Crook knocked and at Brian’s “Enter,” wheeled in the tea cart and parked it unobtrusively in the corner.  Ellen got Brian tea, herself tea and then her son tea and gave everyone a napkin and small plate.  On each plate were a few tea sandwiches, scones with butter, fruit tarts and cheese.  Brian stood and retrieved three thick glasses from his bookshelf along with the fine whisky gifted to them by the duchess.  He poured with a generous hand and served his wife, himself and then Jamie.  “Thank ye, Da,” Jamie began nervously and took a large gulp of his whisky.  Turning to his mother, she saw his left eye twitching, something that only happened when he was incredibly nervous, “Weel, Mam, I willna sugarcoat it. I ha’ fallen fer a lass at Thistle Glen an’ I ken she’s th’ one fer me, like ye and Da knew it about t’other.”

Ellen merely clasped his hand warmly, smiled and said, “Aye, mo mhac, tell me about th’ lucky girl.”

“Ah,” a bead of sweat rolled ever-so-slowly down the side of Jamie’s face and trickled right into his ear. Oh Jesus, wha’ if she gets angry? Or refuses ta gie’ us her blessin’? Then whit do I do? He jammed a finger in his ear for a moment to satisfy the maddening itch. He looked down at a very interesting dust mote on the carpet and then at his Mam again, face ashen, “Weel, ye see, Mam, sh-sh-she’s no ordinary lassie,” and he blushed to beat the band.  “Sh-she’s uh,” And the following very disturbing thought ran through his head, Say it, ye coward! She kin only kill ye once, ken? Ah Dhia, thank Jesus Claire isna here ta see me floppin’ aroun’ wi’ ma words like a fish suffocating on a riverbank!

Brian sat across from the woman he loved more than life itself and his very uncomfortable son, pinching the bridge of his nose so hard he almost drew blood, trying desperately not to bellow with laughter, Och, puir lad, he canna help it. He’s i’ love an’ canna talk to ‘is Mam about it.  He pulled himself together, cleared his throat and said gently, “Son, it’s alrigh’, talk ta Mam, go on.”

It was at this point that Ellen became concerned, really concerned. Her usually happy, confident son was stammering, sweating and couldn’t get his words out.  I’ there somethin’ wrong wi’ th’ lass? I’ she simple i’ th’ head? She wondered. I’ she a cripple? A mute? Blind? Deaf? Disfigured? WHAT?  She sat up and said in a no-nonsense tone, “Right. Jamie, out wi’ it. Who is she?” 

Jamie winced at her demand like she’d slapped him and croaked out, “I ha’ fallen i’ love wi’ Claire, th’ Duchess o’ Glenfinnan, Mam, an’ she wi’ me. We wish ta be marrit as quickly as possible.”

Just as he’d feared, her eyebrows reached for the sky and she slapped a surprised hand against her mouth.  When she was sufficiently recovered, she lowered her hand and said in a stage whisper, “Bu’ Jamie, the duchess? Whit da ye mean, ye love ‘er? How? Fer how long?”

Jamie gripped his whisky with a shaking hand and swallowed the rest of the drink down quickly, pushing his glass at his father in a silent entreaty for more.  Brian saw the same grayish look on his face he got when he was forced to be on a boat and served Jamie again, but said in a warning tone, “Drink some tea first, son, two cups, aye? An’ eat a’ least a scone or a sandwich.”

Jamie choked down his now-cold tea and Ellen served him a fresh cup and admonished him, “Slowly, mo cridhe.” 

Jamie pinked and sipped his hot tea carefully - and realized he was ravenous.  He cleaned his plate, immediately feeling better.  His mother loaded up his plate again and wordlessly pushed it in front of him.  Ellen knew that these nibbles would merely be a speedbump to a full dinner.  All her boys were healthy eaters, thank Jesus.  Jamie dutifully started in on his second helping.  Jamie’s parents exchanged relieved looks when some healthy color returned to his cheeks.

Jamie swallowed the last bit of warm scone he had in his mouth before addressing his mother, “Mam, I kin promise ye, th’ duchess i’ one o’ th’ finest people I have ever met.”

Wasting no time at all, Ellen nodded and looked directly at her son, “I’ she wi’ child, Jamie?”

He blushed, “We dinna know, Mam.” 

Ellen exhaled slowly, remembering what it was like for her and Brian to be so young and powerfully in love.  They’d been together for nearly thirty years and their love had mellowed like a fine scotch, but it was still strong and had a good nip to it when they needed it the most.

“Alrigh’ – bu’ ye love her?”

Jamie looked at his mother, love for his lady in his eyes, “Aye, Mam.  I want ta spend th’ rest o’ ma life wi’ her.  I would like ta ask fer yer blessin’.”

She studied his face and could see that he meant what he said, “Aye, mo leannan, ye have it,” she smiled.  I’ve ne’er seen ye like this since poor Micheline an’ it does ma heart good.  I trust yer judgement, mo mhac.  An’ ha’ ye thought about a weddin’ date?”

“Nay, I wanted ta come an’ talk to ye first. I was hopin’ Willie an’ Rabbie could come wi’ me an’ then return home.”

“Weel, tha’ is up to the twa o’ them, ken?”

“Aye, Jamie, Mam is righ’. Bu’ I canna see either sayin’ no, unless ye think ye’d rather ha’ Ian by yer side.”

Jamie rubbed the back of his neck, “Aye, Da, I would rather ha’ Ian wi’ me, but Jenny, she’s i’ th’ family way an’ I dinna want ta distress her, aye?

“Jamie,” and Ellen turned him a quarter-turn to face her, “listen ta me.  I’ ye wan’ Ian by yer side, tell him an’ let the two o’ them work it out whether he goes wi’ ye, aye? Ye shoul’ never make a decision fer another adult wi’out talkin’ ta them firs’, ken?” She smiled and Jamie’s shoulders immediately relaxed.

He smiled at Ellen, “I’ll go talk ta Willie an’ Ian, then, Mam, thank ye.”

The clock chimed half-past five and Jamie discreetly asked Willie and Ian to step outside with him.  Jenny was helping Mrs. Crook and saw the three of them exit the house. Naturally, Jenny being Jenny, she went to follow her husband, but her mother put a soothing hand on her forearm, “They need ta talk man-ta-man, a nighean, I’m sure Ian wi’ talk to ye soon enough.  Dinna fash yerself, aye?”

“Bu’ Mam, I wanta ken what’s bein’ said!” Jenny made to shake off her mother’s hand and follow Ian, but to her surprise, Ellen’s strong fingers tightened around the fleshy part of her upper arm, enough to hurt and said in a clipped tone,

“Nay, Janet, enough. I’ll tell ye this jes’ once more, leave the men alone or I’ll make ye cut a switch an’ I’ll warm up yer backside like I did when ye were a bairn, ken?”

Jenny snapped, “Bu’ I’m wi’ child! Ye wouldna dare!”

“Dinna tempt me,” snapped Ellen.

Jenny’s mouth opened again like she wanted to sass her mother, but one look at Ellen’s pinked cheeks and hard stare had her hastily reconsidering.  She grabbed silverware and went to go lay the table, plunking the silverware down hard enough so everyone would know she was angry.

“An’ I’ll thank ye ta stop tha’ nonsense, child, the silverware didna do anything to ye!”  Ellen strode out of the kitchen toward Jenny, all business. 

Jenny hastily dropped the silverware on the table and immediately apologized, “I’m sorry, Mam, I willna interfere wi’ Jamie an’ th’ boys,” she said meekly.

“Tha’s better, a neighan.” Ellen turned on her heel and went back in the kitchen to help Mrs. Crook bring out dinner and Jenny quietly finished setting the table.

 When the three boys were outside, Ian spoke up first, “Aye, Jamie? Kin I help ye wi’ somethin?”

“Mus’ be somethin’ important, little brother,” grinned Willie, “seein’ as how ye brought us out o’ Jenny’s hearin’ distance.”

Jamie grinned, “Come wi’ me ta th’ barn, lads.” Jamie motioned to them quickly.  The three men walked behind the barn door, sure now that nobody could hear them. “Aye, t’is.” Jamie explained, “Th’ duchess an’ I ha’ fallen i’ love an’ wish ta be married as soon as possible.  I would like ta leave a’ th’ end o’ this week an’ return ta Claire an’ I wanta know i’ ye twa wi’ accompany me.”  He looked up, praying that two of the people he loved best in the world would agree to come with him.

Jamie looked at Willie first and breathed a sigh of relief as Willie nodded his agreement.  He glanced over at Ian, who seemed a bit shocked by the whole thing.  Ian noticed Jamie staring at him and quickly nodded as well.  “Alrigh’.  Ian, I know ye have ta talk wi’ yer wife bu’ I didna want ta jus’ spring this on ye at th’ table, ken?”

Ian looked visibly relieved, “Aye, and thank ye, Jamie. Righ’ now, I think Jenny an’ I might do well wi’ a few days o’ separation.  I’m only gettin’ underfoot tryin’ ta help her and makin’ her more crabbit than she normally is.  She’s sufferin’ wi’ the mornin’ sickness an’ it seems like she wants ta make me suffer as well.”

“Are ye goin’ ta announce yer intentions a’ dinner, Jamie?” Willie watched his younger brother’s face, eyebrows knit together.

“I dinna ken i’ tha’ is a good idea or no.  What say ye, lads?  I thought mebbe askin’ Jenny outright a’ th’ table would make her feel more like it’s her decision too.  I’ we ask her when she’s by hersel’ an’ all secret-like, she may thin’ we have somethin’ ta hide.”

“Aye, tha’s good thinkin’, Jamie.  Go ahead.  I’ she says ‘no’ outright, mebbe Mam can talk ta her, or Da.  He kin always get her ta listen e’en when Mam canna,” suggested Ian.

Willie put up his pointer finger, “Jamie, I just ha’ a thought. Are ye goin’ ta ask fer th’ duchess’ hand wi’ a ring?”

“Aye, I will.”

“Alrigh’. Here’s my idea. Ye tell Jenny tha’ ye want Ian ta come with ye ta check out th’ lay o’ th’ land, so to speak, an’ then ye ask Jenny fer her help pickin’ out th’ perfect ring fer th’ duchess.  In yer letters ye’ve said how wee her grace is.  I’ll wager a ring tha’ fits Jenny wi’ fit yer lady as weel.”

Willie knew he’d impressed his brother when Jamie’s face lit up, “Aye, she’s a foot shorter than I am an’ weighs no more than a feather,” and laughed, thinking of all the times she’d had to ask him to get something that was too high for her.  “Tha’s perfect, Willie! Thank ye! Ian, wha’ d’ ye think?”

Ian grinned, “Aye, Willie, there’s nothin’ Jenny likes better tha’ rings an’ earrings and bright shiny things.  I’ll bet both o’ ye five pence she’ll jump righ’ on that idea and that th’ duchess’ ring fits perfectly!”

All three men laughed and man-hugged on the bet and trooped back to the house.

Five minutes later, Ellen sent everyone into the dining room, as dinner was about to be served.  Willie, Robbie, Ian and Jenny all waited for Ellen and Brian and sat down at her urging.  Promptly at six, Mrs. Crook and her helpers brought out platters of venison, chicken and boar, followed by neeps, tatties, carrots, stuffed cabbage and gravy, along with hot rolls. 

Brian invited Ian to say grace and the family talked amongst themselves, filling their plates.  Brian and Ellen glanced at Jamie and he realized everyone had begun eating.  He cleared his throat and asked the table for quiet, “I’d like ta ask all o’ ye fer yer attention fer a wee minute.” He cleared his throat again and the family waited for him to speak.  He put down his fork and announced, “Weel, wi’ Mam an’ Da’s permission, I ha’ decided ta return ta Thistle Glen House an th’ duchess a’ th’ end o’ th’ week an’ I would like Ian and Willie ta accompany me.”

A sharp, shocked gasp and the sound of an earthenware platter hitting the kitchen floor echoed into the dining room. Ellen called, “Mrs. Crook? Is everything alrigh’ i’ there?”

The poor woman skittered nervously into the dining room and bobbed a quick curtsy, “Aye, my lady.  I apologize; I didn’a mean ta eavesdrop.”

“I ken, Mrs. Crook,” Ellen smiled kindly and turned back to the family.

A grateful Mrs. Crook escaped back to her domain, shut the connecting door and read the riot act in low, fierce whispers to the hapless maid who’d dropped the platter.

Jenny choked on her tatties and Rabbie patted her back until she could drink some weak wine, “Go BACK? Why?  Th’ woman practically held ye prisoner fer th’ las’ ten mo – “

Jamie could feel his temper getting shorter and shorter the longer his sister harangued him.  Jamie’s face went from its normal color to pink, to red and then to dark red, and Ian knew he had to act quickly before Jamie stormed off in anger.  He wasn’t afraid that Jamie would resort to violence, but ah Dhia, he knew how trying his wife could be.  Jamie raised an open hand, requesting her attention but she kept right on going until Ian could feel Jamie’s resentment rolling off him like turbulent waves hitting a beach. Ian knew he had to at least try to curb his wife before Jenny resorted to throwing things at her much-larger brother. Ian rolled his eyes, stood and towered over his wife.  He thundered, “Janet Murray! Tha’s enough! If ye’d shut yer gob fer a wee minute, ye’d hear what Jamie has ta say!”

Jenny’s head whipped around at Ian’s tone and she was so shocked she fell silent. Mouth agape and eyes dangerously narrowed in anger, she snapped her mouth shut and turned to face Jamie, “Well?” She demanded.

Jamie growled, “First o’ all, sister, lower yer voice. I willna talk to ye until ye’re calmer, aye?”

Jenny growled back, “Fine,” and took a few deep breaths, much to the family’s surprise. “Alright, Jamie, would you please tell me why ye want ta go back ta this woman, this Sassenach?”  Jamie bristled at her insulting tone, but then remembered he’d been just as judgmental as his sister when first confronted by Claire. Jesus, what a fool he’d been.

He took a few deep breaths before replying, “Jenny, she’s th’ kindest woman I ever met.  She even saved my life once. I canna tell ye how I came to love her; only tha’ I did.  I mean, did ye know exactly when yer feelins’ fer Ian changed fro’ friendship ta love?” Jamie knew he’d hit a soft spot when his normally fierce sister blushed and looked down at her plate to collect herself.  As she raised her head, Jamie could see unshed tears glistening in her deep-set mink-brown eyes.

“Jamie, she’s English!”

“Aye, Jenny, I know.  She canna change that, jus’ as ye canna change tha’ ye’re a Scottish lass, ken?  Did ye know tha’ she wa’ in a carriage accident when she wa’ eight years old? Aye, th’ carriage wa’ beset by highwaymen an’ o’erturned.  Her parents had died a few years afore tha’ and she wa’ wi’ her uncle.  Ev’rybody exceptin’ her died.”  “She caught two o’ th’ horses an’ figured they’d find water i’ she gave them their heads. They did find water an’ she saw a path tha’ led right ta Thistle Glen House.  Mrs. Fitz, her housekeeper, says she jus’ knocked on th’ door as pretty as ye please. Years later she fell i’ love wi’ the young duke bu’ los’ her husband an’ their unborn babe o’ the same day?” Jenny’s hand flew to her mouth in horror.  “She is’ no’ a typical high-born lady. She’s as normal as normal kin be. She has no airs nor does she treat her servants badly.  Ev’rybody at Thistle Glen woul’ kill ta defend her honor.”

She swallowed hard and lowered her trembling hand, “I hear th’ truth in what ye’re sayin’ a bràthair, I see it in yer eyes.  It’s jus’, I will miss havin’ ye around, ken? What shall I do wi’out ye? An’ wi’ yer niece or nephew comin’ soon!”  A rebellious tear leaked out of her eye and Jamie reached out and tenderly brushed it away.

“Claire an’ I will see ye at the weddin’ afore too long, piuthar ghaolach (beloved sister).  Thistle Glen House is enormous an’ easily has enough room fer th’ entire family.  We kin come later i’ th’ year before yer babe comes an’ a couple o’ months after, aye? 

“I’ her grace i’ the family way, Jamie?” Jenny looked him boldly in the eye – she had nothing to hide or be embarrassed about, after all.

Jamie smiled and his eyes locked on hers, “We dinna know yet, Jenny, bu’ we hope we’ll make ye an auntie afore too long.”

Jamie saw Jenny’s eyes gleam excitedly at the thought of becoming Auntie Jenny.  She turned an adorable shade of pink and conceded, “Weel, Jamie, i’ ye love ‘er, she has ta be a good woman. I ken ye ha’ thought ye’d not love again after Micheline,” her eyes misted over again. She’d met Jamie’s first love and liked her very much, quite unusual for the brunette spitfire, “bu’ I’m glad ye ha’ found someone ta love ye.  God knows, wi’ tha’ hard heid o’ yourn, she has ta be a strong woman!”  

Jamie smiled ruefully and rubbed his jaw unconsciously, remembering when she’d slapped him in the courtyard.

Jenny tilted her head, eyes sparking with curiosity, trying to figure out why her brother was smiling and rubbing his jaw, “Jamie?  Why are ye rubbin’ yer jaw an’ smilin’ like a lovesick fool?”

Her brother focused on her and a radiant smile broke over his face, “Ahh, when I tried ta run awa’ ta come back home an’ hunt ta feed Da’s tenants, I wa’ very rude ta th’ duchess an’ judged her wi’out knowin’ wha’ i’ th’ worl’ I wa’ talkin’ aboot.  Jenny,” he chuckled, “she marched ri’ up ta me an’ nearly took ma heid off, she slapped me so hard.” Seeing his sister start to ask a question, he raised his hand. “An she wa’ right ta do it.  I was wrong ta accuse her o’ somethin’ she didna do.”

“Wha’ was i’?”

“Ye remember Kenny Gordon, how he said tha’ she had him flogged an’ dismissed ‘im fer stealin’ food?”

“Aye, I wa’ shocked any Christian woul’ do such a thin’ ta a hungry man.”

“Tha’ is no why she dismissed him, Jenny.” He stammered the next words out, W-when th’ bastard wa’ drunk one nigh’, he snuck up ta her chamber, subdued and ravished her an’ lef’ her ta die.  She would’ve excep’ Mrs. Fitz, her housekeeper, foun’ th’ duchess th’ nex’ mornin. So, aye, she ‘ad him flogged an’ dismissed.”

Jenny’s ashen face told Jamie that she’d judged Claire as had everyone else, “An’ I ha’ judged her too, Jamie, wi’out knowin’ th’ facts.”

Brian squeezed his daughter’s hand, “We all did, Jenny, dinna fash yersel’.”

“Jamie!” Rabbie, the quietest of the Fraser children, finally spoke, “I wish ye an’ th’ duchess th’ best o’ luck.”

“Aye, Jamie, I’ll be glad ta go wi’ ye,” smiled Willie.

“Jenny? What say ye, a leannan,” asked Ian, hope in his eyes for an adventure with two of his best friends.

Jenny smiled, “Aye, Ian, go. Ye’ll no’ be gone long an’ God knows we’ve been gettin’ on each other’s nerves these days. I know I ha’ no been fair ta ye.” She stood and walked to him and sat on his lap and gave him a quick smooch.

“Och, Jenny, I need yer help, if ye dinna mind,” mentioned Jamie oh-so-casually, hoping that asking for assistance would be the hook that would help reel Jenny onto his side.

“Wi’ what, a bràthair?”

 

Weel, I wanta gie’ th’ duchess a ring, ken? An’ I figured, ye’re th’ best person ta help me wi’ tha’, seein’ as how I haven’t bought jewelry fer a lass in quite a few years.  Kin we go tagether inta town tomorra an’ go see MacQuarrie an’ see wha’ he kin offer us?” He winked at her, “An mebbe there’s a reward in it fer ye fer helpin’ yer muckle oaf of a brother, ken?”

 

“Weel, Jamie, I thin’ as long as ma man is happy wi’ it, I could see ma way clear ta helpin’ ye, dinna fash.  I’ll take pity on ye, ye puir helpless lad,” and they looked at each other and burst into loud laughter.  Jenny hugged her brother and he kissed her on the top of her ebony hair.  “Thank ye, Jenny.” He looked up at Ian and smirked, mouthing, “Ye owe me!”  Ian grinned and shook his head, delighted that Jenny had assented.  She almost never took time for herself.  Instead, she helped her mother take care of everyone else in the house.

 

After an evening whisky, Jamie decided to go to bed so he’d be fresh for the next morning. He didn’t want sleepiness to cloud his decision-making.  He smiled to himself – Jenny was very excited about the trip tomorrow and she was fairly buzzing with happy energy.  They agreed to leave at sunup so they’d have plenty of time to look thoroughly at MacQuarrie’s wares.

 

That night in his room, Jamie dug out his savings, all of it, five pounds.  It had taken nearly a lifetime to save this money, but it would be worth it, he knew it.  The siblings met in the kitchen before dawn and ate porridge, bannocks and eggs set out by Mrs. Crook.  They took Donas and Neòinean (Daisy), Jenny’s doe-eyed white mare.  The Frasers cut quite the fine figure with one black horse and one white horse.  They spent the time on the road discussing Jamie’s thoughts.  Jenny listened carefully and asked pointed questions – what did she look like? What did Jamie love most about her? Did gold or silver show off her beauty to its best advantage?  Did she have any preferred jewels?  How did she make him feel? And finally, what did Jamie want to say with the ring?  Jenny cautioned Jamie to take all the time he needed to answer her – they could delay visiting the smith for an hour or two if they needed to.  They arrived at MacQuarrie’s a bit after he threw open his door for the day. “Jamie and Jenny Fraser! How be ye?” Colum MacQuarie was a bear of a blond-haired green-eyed man, but he squeezed through the doorway to welcome his guests.  He greeted the Frasers with a beaming smile that lit up his handsome face, generously sprinkled with lovely freckles.  His father held the shop before him and his grandfather before him.  The MacQuarries were known throughout the Highlands as the finest jewelers and smiths.  There was no magic that he could not coax out of his materials and Colum was respected for being able to take custom orders without much direction from his patrons and give them exactly what they wanted. 

 

“So, Colum, we are here for a ring for ma brother here,” Jenny began. “It’s no a ring fer him but fer his love, Claire,” she hastily amended. 

“Ah, I see. Ye plannin’ on askin’ fer her hand, mo charaid?

“Aye, I am, when I return ta her house.” 

“Her house?” Colum’s eyebrows rose in surprise.

“Aye, she is Claire, the Duchess of Glenfinnan, widowed for five years.

Colum sighed, “Aye, I know of her, puir lass, so much loss i’ such a short life.  Actually, ma grandda made a full diamond suite fer her late husband’s grandmother, a weddin’ present fro’ her husband-ta-be.  We’ve been jewelers to the Moristons fer generations, Jus’ as we ha’ been fer ye Frasers.”

"Aye, I ken it. I happened to see it once. Magnificent,” murmured Jamie.  “Ma budget isn’a near so high, Colum.  As ye kin see, I ha’ Jenny along wi’ me so I dinna buy somethin’ tha’ willna suit her, ken?”

The duchess i’ not a fussy woman, ken? She works just as hard as her servants wi’ th’ upkeep o’ Thistle Glen House. Do ye ha’ anythin’ rather simple?”

Colum thought for a moment, “Aye, I do.  Wait here.” He hurried to the back of the shop and brought out a tall chest made of rosewood with a sturdy handle on the top.  “Come, let us go inside fer some tea.  Jenny, Maggie wi’ be mad wi’ joy ta see ye; it’s been too long.” Colum led the way, calling into the house, “Maggie! Jamie an’ Jenny Fraser are here!”  From somewhere in the house, everyone heard, “Jenny and Jamie? My stars!” followed by the sound of feet hurrying along a corridor. A petite redhead burst into the sitting room and made a beeline for Jenny, gathering her in for a warm hug, “Oh, lass, i’ been too long! How are ye?  Is i’ true ye married Ian Murray?” Maggie looked down and saw Jenny’s bump and clapped her hands in delight, “Congratulations! Jenny, come wi’ me while I make tea, aye?”

Jenny giggled, “Aye, Maggie, I’m comin’!” The women clasped hands and ran into the kitchen giggling.  The men just rolled their eyes and Colum asked, ‘So, what were ye thinkin’ o’ spendin’, Jamie?”

“I dinna ken, Colum. I ha’ ten pounds wi’ me, bu’ I want ta buy Jenny somethin’ nice, like earrings, fer helpin’ me, ken?  Colum opened the chest and carefully extracted four trays of jewelry for Jamie. “Alrigh’, here is what I have. Please take as long as ye like. Ma apprentice Geordie kin handle customers.”

Jamie smiled absently, already absorbed in his task. He was able to find a beautiful pair of delicate gold bead earrings for Jenny right away that were strung on wires to look like the sun and its rays. He knew she’d adore them, because he knew her taste; sparkly, but understated, not gaudy.  Colum placed them inside a tiny wooden box lined with felt, placed them in a tiny leather drawstring bag and handed it quickly to Jamie, who dropped it into his sporran – the women were returning!  The women bustled in with hot tea and refreshments and Maggie asked, “Could ye find anythin’, Jamie?” He carefully schooled his face and pretended to be chagrined, “Nay, I didna, lass.  I wi’ need Jenny’s help, an’ tha’s sure like death an’ taxes!” Everyone smirked and dug into the treats the ladies had conjured.  Jenny and Maggie talked away, chattering at each other like hyperactive squirrels.  The men finished a second cup of tea each and more biscuits (cookies) and excused themselves to look at the jewelry once more.

Colum asked Jamie a series of questions about Claire and the men kept looking.  Jamie mentioned casually that Claire was a very skilled healer, which helped Colum narrow his focus.  Green eyes focused sharply on his wares, he plucked rings from the display boxes like an eagle does a fish from a river.  Quick as you please, he allowed five rings to tumble into Jamie’s cupped palm.  Jamie carefully opened his hand and spread out the rings.  He turned them over, looked at the designs and the interiors of the rings. Not one of the rings spoke to him or shouted, “I belong to mo neighan donn!”  Jamie didn’t want to buy a ring that wouldn’t suit, naturally. “None o’ them, Jamie?” Colum tried to hide the disappointment in his voice. He badly wanted to help his friend.  He remembered Jamie’s devastation at Micheline’s passing and wanted the duchess, though he’d never met her, to have a chance at happiness again, too. 

Jamie rubbed the back of his stiff neck. “Nay, Colum, I’m sorry. I – “

Jenny and Maggie came over and Jenny ordered her brother, “Shove over, ye great ox.  Let me at all these trays, aye?”  She peered closely at the items in the first tray carefully, then flattened her hand and let it hover over the tray.  She moved her hand over the tray, but never picked anything up.  She repeated the process with the second tray and this time lightly trailed two fingers down the rows of goods. Again, she picked nothing up, but clutched Jamie’s hand, “Yer beloved’s ring i’ here, Jamie, I ken it, bu’ I jus’ haveta fin’ it. Gie’ me a wee bit more time, aye?

“O’ course, lass, dinna fash,” smiled Jamie.  He tried to free his hand but she said, “Nay, stop.  Touchin’ ye helps me focus, aye?  Colum, kin ye please set the remainin’ trays i’ front o’ me?” He nodded and did as she asked.  She patted Jamie’s hand and closed her eyes and he squeezed her fingertips gently in response.  The MacQuarries and her brother watched her, enraptured. They knew Jenny and Jamie’s mother had The Sight, but the MacQuarries, at least, did not know that Jenny could harness energy for things like this.  This time, Jenny took her hands and trailed her fingertips lightly over the rings themselves.  Again, Jenny didn’t pick up anything from the third tray.  She pulled the fourth and last tray to her and closed her eyes again, hovering her hands over the shining baubles.  Suddenly, her hand stopped and she pushed her pinky finger through one ring and pulled gently, but the ring didn’t budge. “Dinna fight me, ye rascal! Colum, this is Jamie’s ring. Kin ye help me, please?”

“Aye, Jenny. Here, let me see.” The giant man picked up a spoon and cautiously wedged only the very edge of the bowl into the velvet and withdrew the ring easily. 

He kept a tight hold on it and passed it first to Jenny, who placed it in her hand and carefully closed her fingers around it.  “Aye, Jamie, this i’ th’ ring, I know it.” She opened her palm and Jamie plucked the ring delicately from her hand.  He turned it around to see the top of the ring, a raised rectangle with something set in it.  The edges of the rectangle were bordered by yellow gold, which made the ring’s ornamentation look just like a tiny painting.  It was a flower with five stunning aquamarine petals set securely into the “canvas” of gleaming sterling silver. Five tiny white onyx spears were next, supported by a ring of yellow gold beads.  In the center of the yellow gold beads was a tiny black onyx bead.  He looked at Colum, and croaked out, “Colum, i’ thi’ a forget-me-not?”

“Aye, ‘t’is.  Does it mean somethin’ special to ye?”

“’Tis Claire’s favorite flower, is all. I canna believe thi’.  Jenny, how did ye know it wa’ here?” He looked at his sister in awe.

“Weel, sometimes The Sight comes out i’ strange ways, ken?”

“I believe tha’, now. Had ye no’ been wi’ me, I woulda though’ the ring wa’ jus’ a silver band, aye?” He crushed his sister to his chest, forgetting for a moment how tiny she was.  Now it was Jenny’s turn to wipe a tear off Jamie’s face. She smiled at him, her eyes (and everyone else’s) were swimming with warm saline.

“Come on, Colum, tell the great coof wha’ he owes ye,” smiled Jenny.

“I’ was a custom order tha’ wa’ never collected an’ i’ has been in my inventory for o’er a year. I’ll gie’ ye a break on th’ price and give i’ to ye fer four pounds.”

“Aye, here ‘tis. I thank ye, Colum. Do ye ha’ a matchin’ band fer’t?”

“I kin give ye her matchin’ band an’ a wider one fer yer sausage fingers fer six pounds all-in, Jamie.”

Jamie stuck his tongue out at his friend’s description of his fingers and chuckled, “Tha’s grand, Colum. Do ye ha’ boxes fer th’ rings, perchance?”

“Buttery soft leather wi’ velvet.  I kin put the duchess’ weddin’ ring in wi’ yers.” He went over to a side table and picked up two very small hinged leather boxes and opened both.  “I ha’ experimented wi’ puttin’ two weddin’ rings i’ one box an’ people seem ta like it. Here ye go, my friend.”  Jamie stared at the two rings and his heart beat faster thinking of the day Claire would wear his ring and he hers. He couldn’t wait.  He and Jenny thanked the MacQuarries profusely for their hospitality and let them get on with their day.  They went to a local tavern and ordered lunch.  Jenny was hungry, but not Jamie-level hungry, so he ended up eating most of her plate.  About halfway through the meal, Jamie went into his sporran and pulled out the earrings for her, “Thank ye fer yer help, a piuthar. I couldna done i’ wi’out ye.”

“What’s this, Jamie?” Her brow wrinkled defensively.

“Go on, open i’,” he encouraged.

She opened the container and gasped in delight, “Oh, Jamie, I love them, they’re perfect! Thank ye so much!” She’d forgotten to put earrings on that day, so she slipped them into her lobes right there.  Both Frasers utterly content, they enjoyed a whisky and left for Lallybroch.

Chapter Text

Jenny and Jamie arrived back at Lallybroch and Jenny showed her earrings excitedly to her mother and to Ian, “Oh, Mam, Jamie wa’ so generous an’ we had tea wi’ the MacQuarries.  I’ wa’ so good ta see Maggie an’ Colum!” We even had lunch at an inn! She ran to her father and he clasped her tiny hands in his, standing in front of the bright window so he could see her earrings sparkle in the sun. “Well, Jenny, I didna know Jamie ha’ such good taste, bu’ they look wonderful on ye.” Willie and Rabbie came in and Jenny ran to Willie and grabbed him around the waist, “Look at what Jamie bought me, lads! Willie had to steady her because she’d essentially crashed into him but he was just as brawny as Brian and absorbed the hit easily.  He looked and certainly was glad she was so happy, as was Rabbie.  Mrs. Crook and the kitchen lasses all oohed and aahed over them and Jenny reveled in their attention, preening like a peacock.  Jamie observed her and wondered what it was about women that made them so susceptible to excitement over jewelry.  After Jenny floated upstairs to her and Ian’s room to have a wash and change her clothes into something clean.  At his mother’s request, he showed her and Da the rings. Just as he’d hoped, his mam approved, “Oh, Jamie, I’m sure she’ll love her rings! Such a good choice.  Did ye say it wa’ a commission tha’ wa’ not paid fer?”  Her son nodded, “An Colum ga’ ye a good price on th’ set, aye?” Again, he nodded.

“Good choice, son,” smiled Brian, and went to wash himself for dinner.

Ian came upstairs his eyes lit up as he saw her beautiful breasts, bared to wash the road dust from them. He encircled her waist with his strong arms and sweet-talked her, “Please, Mistress Murray, let me help ye wi’ yer ablutions,” he whispered.  She moaned and murmured, “I wanta show ye how grateful I am tha’ ye let me go wi’ Jamie, husband.” She leaned her head against his shoulder and relaxed against his solid chest.  He took the wet cloth from her and put a little space between them, washing her back and neck gently, kissing her jaw and the column of her beautiful neck to distract her.  He held her to his front, stretched his hands to the basin and got the cloth sudsy.  He pressed the warm cloth underneath her breasts and cleaned her slowly, paying special attention to her rose-pink nipples hardening under the rough caress of the cloth. He walked her back to their bed and finished washing her, not bothering to dry her at all.  He gruffly commanded, “Yer new earrings, I dinna know what it is about them, bu’ I must ha’ ye, wife.  Wi’ ye ha’ me?”

Jenny’s answering hungry whine was all he heard, and he knew she wanted him, too.

He ordered gruffly, “Bend o’er th’ bed, then, lass.”

She quickly complied, sure to push her backside into his groin and grind invitingly.

Ian growled low, grabbed a handful of her beautiful jet hair and pulled, making his wife hiss and thrash underneath him.  Ian leaned over Jenny’s back and pinned her in place, hissing in her ear, “I heard from travelers passin’ by Lallybroch tha’ ye offered yerself ta other men while ye were travelin’ wi’ yer brother, Jenny, like a common hoor! An’ I’m gonna punish ye fer’t!”

Her husband’s words lit a needy fire in Jenny’s core and she gasped as wetness collected at her core, “Bu’ husband, I didna! I swear! Ye haveta believe me!”

“I dinna hav’ ta do any such thin’ lass. Now, pull up yer skirts an’ be quick abou’ it!”

Jenny said nothing but gathered her skirts.  Ian slapped her ass and ground out, “Ye answer me when I gie’ ye an order, aye?”

She sighed and murmured, “Yes, sir.”

For good measure, he slapped her again and couldn’t help but roughly part his wife’s strong legs and kneel behind her, “Ye wanton strumpet, yer nether lips are droolin’ like a teethin’ bairn!” He grinned, inhaled her scent and dove into her pussy.  He sucked and nibbled on her lips, licked the nibbled spots and thrust his speared tongue into her sopping channel, relishing her shaking under his onslaught, her love juices coating his eager tongue and lips and dripping off his chin.  He tongued her clit until she was grunting in pleasure, grinding back against her beloved’s face.  He lashed her inner labia with his hungry tongue and drew a whimper out of the woman he loved best in the world. 

He licked, sucked and tongue-fucked her until she was bucking her hips, “Oh, Jesus, husband, I’m close! Please, bring me home!” She cried.  Ian pinched her bottom and sucked on her nubbin.  He thrust two thick fingers in her channel and finger-fucked her as he sucked her clit. 

She started to wail and he clapped his hand over her mouth, “Ye want it so badly ye canna stay quiet, can ye, ye nasty harlot? That does it - I’m gonna haveta help ye, aye?” She whined and bucked back against his fingers.  She almost hit her peak and Ian could feel her walls fluttering around his fingers like greedy butterflies. She bucked once more and pushed back against his fingers and howled her muffled release. When she was done he removed his hand but she captured it and kissed his palm gently.  Ian moaned as his stomach flipped in ecstasy.  Jenny and Ian loved this game and they played it often.  Sometimes, like today, Ian was the dominant one, pretending that Jenny had betrayed him or he was a wild highwayman, or sometimes, he was her prisoner, captured in battle, forced to service her.  She hummed and thought about her man’s delicious cock and gasped out, “Sir, please! Let me show how sorry I am! Let me service ye as a dutiful wife should!

Ian growled, “Ge’ on wi’ it, lass!” and sat next to her on the bed.  He snapped, “Take out ma tossel an’ show me how sorry ye are!”

He helped her crawl over to him, holding on to her until she was stable, winking at her and stealing a quick kiss.  She smirked and undid his flies as her mouth watered at his sizeable length, all for her. She delicately licked his head as he gripped her hair and used it to abuse her mouth for his pleasure.  Teeth gritted, he moaned, “Tha’s it, damn ye, choke on my meat!” He shoved his hips forward and pumped into her warmth, pulling her head towards him.  She pretended to fight his manhandling by thrashing, grunting, screaming and panting all over his cock, squealing when he yanked on her hair.  The squeal lit a bomb in Ian’s spine and his eyes rolled back in his head.  He never did this for very long, but it felt incredible when she let him choke her.  Ian knew when she snapped her fingers she needed a break.  About ten seconds later, she snapped her fingers and he immediately pulled her off his cock. He stroked her hair and whispered into her ear, “There’s ma brave lass, makin’ yer lovin’ man feel so good it’s a crime.” He kissed her cheek and helped her kneel back a bit.  Chest heaving, she panted, “Thank ye, sir. I’m ready fer another go.”

“No’ yet, lamb. Please res’ fer a minute, aye?”  He backed away from her and shuffled off the bed.  He poured a cup of water from the bedside carafe and brought it to her.  She smiled and drank it greedily.  A drop of water wobbled on her luscious lip and he tenderly kissed it off.  She smiled coyly and he felt she was ready to go.  He forced her head onto his cock, hissing, “Drool on it! Lick me good, lassie!” He moaned as his toes curled with the onslaught of incredible feelings she gifted him.  “Alrigh’, lass, yer master wants ta swive ye.  On yer hands and knees on th’ bed.”

“Aye, sir,” she whispered.  He helped her on the bed and forcefully pushed her upper half onto the bed and yanked her legs apart, loving how she trembled in eager anticipation.  Without preamble, he thrust three fingers inside her hot pussy and stretched her.  He wanted to make sure she was completely ready for him because she’d be less sore the next day.  He lined himself up and dragged the tip of his cock in her juices and thrust in.  Gasping, he said, “God, lassie, ye’re so hot an’ wet, all fer me, I do love ye so!”

She tried to scrabble away from him but he spanked her viciously hard, making his cock twitch and Jenny yelp.  He yanked her onto his cock again, snarling into her ear, “If ye know what’s good fer ye, ye’ll stay still an’ take yer punishment, lass!” He bit her earlobe and sucked gently.  She gasped and turned her head, kissing him passionately. He tore away from her and sank his teeth into her shoulder, surprising her so that she had to bite her lower lip until it bled to keep herself from screaming in ecstasy.  She loved it when he bit her.  He resumed pumping into her and felt his climax building.  He tried everything he knew to slow it down, but seeing her so happy, her pert little ass and how wet he’d made her with his pretend cruelty was too much for him.  A few minutes later, Ian clamped his jaw shut like a wolf trap as he slammed into her and rope after rope of come splattered his wife’s insides.  He pulled out and fisted himself, painting her pinked cheeks with the graffiti spray of the last of his essence.  When he’d recovered, he cleaned them both up and helped his wife change her clothes.  He took her into his arms and kissed her, “Thank ye, princess.  I love ye.”  

“An I ye, my sweet prince,” and Jenny booped his nose, grinning saucily.  He slapped her ass impertinently.  They laughed together and rejoined the family.

Nobody commented on the Murrays’ pink cheeks when they came downstairs, but everyone knew what had transpired.  Jenny practically skipped into the kitchen and helped her mother and Mrs. Crook with dinner preparations.

Brian sidled up to his second son, “Ye’ve made her day wi’ th’ trip an’ th’ earrings, Jamie. I ha’ not seen her so happy since she and Ian announced the coming baby.”

“Well, Da, I dinna thin’ I’m th’ only person who made her happy today,” Jamie laughed quietly with Brian, Bu’ I’m glad I could gie’ her tha’.  Do ye ha’ any idea why womenfolk ge’ so excited o’er a few bright baubles? I dinna,” Jamie smiled, watching Jenny and her mother chattering excitedly about which of Jenny’s dresses the earrings would complement best. 

“Nay, mo bhalaich, I dinna. Bu’ a’ leas’ it’s easy ta find gift fer ‘em, aye?” Brian said, chuckling. 

Soon, though, Jamie’s fatigue overwhelmed him and he went upstairs to wash and change. Feeling refreshed, he came downstairs and was met by Ellen. She whispered, “Son, ye’ve made Jenny verra happy – i’ does ma heart good.”  Ellen took her son in her arms and hugged him tightly, “An’ I love tha’ ye’re here an’ saw fit ta share yer news wi’ yer family, mo cridhe.  I am verra happy fer ye.”

Jamie hugged his mother gently, “So’m I, Mam.  I canna wait fer ye ta meet her. Claire i’ the most wonderful woman. Do ye know wha’ I realized?”  She shook her head, “If Willie an’ I ha’ not chosen ta trespass on ‘er lands an’ ha’ gone in a different direction, I woulda ne’er met Claire.  Th’ lack o’ game led me ta my second chance at love, Mam.  How’s that fer incredible?”

She smiled, “Aye, Jamie. God wi’ show ye th’ way, if ye let ‘im, aye?”

Jamie smiled wistfully, eyes misty with remembrance, “An’ when they captured me an’ forced me ta kneel a’ her feet, Mam, I wa’ so angry. All I thought of wa’ how tiny she wa’ an’ tha’ I could snap her like a twig if I moved quickly.”

Ellen laid a calming hand on her giant son’s forearm, “Aye, tha’ woulda been a natural reaction, son.  Bu’ ye didn’a an it sounds like she wa’ no afraid o’ ye even though you could snap ‘er inta kindling. Verra pretty kindlin’ accordin’ ta you, bu’ kindlin’ nonetheless.”

Jamie laughed, “Aye, tha’s true, Mam.”

Mrs. Crook came out and announced dinner and the whole family sat down to eat.

The rest of the week passed quickly and soon it was Friday morning before sunup.  The entire family sat down with Ian, Willie and Jamie and the Fraser/Murrays had one last family meal.  The men had already packed their saddlebags the previous night with what they’d need and Ellen and Jenny had given Jamie a care package for the duchess.  Filled with a hearty breakfast and brimming with curiosity, the three friends set out on the open road. Jamie had enough money left over from his trip to Lallybroch to buy three rooms, dinner and breakfast for everyone.  They stopped at the MacRannochs’ again and Mrs. MacRannoch piled their plates with extra food and kept the ale coming.  Angus Finlay’s wife happened to be helping out in the kitchen that night, and Mrs. MacRannoch gave her a break to sit down with the Fraser/Murrays while Mr. MacRannoch delighted in regaling Mrs. Finlay, Willie and Ian with how Angus and Jamie had taken care of the scoundrels that had scared the duchess so badly.  “Aye,” chortled Angus, “I’ wa’ especially funny when we pulled ‘em down th’ steps an’ their heads bounced again’ th’ stairs an’ echoed i’ th’ courtyard.” Ian and Willie laughed at Angus’ description and leaked some of their stories of growing up with Jamie and soon the whole table was laughing. 

The next morning, after a full night’s rest and an enormous breakfast, everyone bid the travelers a fond goodbye with well wishes for the rest of the trip.  The rest of the journey was uneventful and soon, Jamie recognized that they had passed into Glenfinnan lands, “We’re on th’ duchess’ land, lads!” Willie was happy to see his little brother’s eyes shining with joy; after Micheline, he wasn’t sure if Jamie would ever be truly happy again.

About three hours later, the group rode into the grand courtyard of Thistle Glen House just as the sun was beginning to set.  They handed their mounts off to stable lads and headed to the house.  One of the housemaids opened the door, greeted Jamie and curtsied to Willie and Ian.  She led them into the parlor and ran upstairs to tell her mistress that her man had returned, “Mistress, Jamie and his companions have arrived!” She burbled excitedly. 

Jamie knew that for the rest of his life, nothing would be as beautiful as the sight of his love descending the stairs towards him on that day.  He vowed silently that he would never part from her again. He smiled widely as he saw her beautiful face, “Mistress! ‘Tis good ta see ye again!”

Claire’s voice wobbled ever so slightly with bottled-up emotion at seeing her beloved.  “Mr. Fraser! You are a sight for sore eyes! Will you please introduce me to your companions?”

Jamie bowed gallantly, “Madam, may I introduce Ian Murray, my brother-in-law and best friend and William Fraser, my older brother.  Ian and Willie bowed respectfully to Claire and said, “Yer Grace, ‘tis a pleasure to make yer acquaintance.”

“Welcome to Thistle Glen House, gentlemen.  It’s an honor to have you in my house.  Thank you for coming.”  Claire turned to a housemaid, “Fiona, will you please show our guests to the parlor for some refreshments?”

The redhead bobbed a quick curtsy, “Aye, yer grace, ri’ away.  Come wi’ me, gentlemen.  As she led the way to the parlor she said, “Th’ duchess was certain ye’d be tired after yer trip, so she arranged fer both o’ ye ta ha’ baths. Th’ water ‘i boilin’ downstairs an’ wi’ be brough’ up to yer rooms shortly. It’ll be ready for ye when ye’re done i’ th’ parlor.  Have ye clothes ta change inta?”  Both men nodded and Fiona continued, “Tha’s good. I’ ye wou’ set yer travelin’ clothes outside yer rooms they’ll be washed an’ returned to ye tomorra. Someone wi’ knock on yer doors a’ half-past seven.  Dinner i’ at eight.”

The Frasers, Ian and Claire chatted in the parlor and the men got to look at a portrait of Claire and Silas together.  They were stunning.  She was wearing a red silk dress with the Moriston diamonds adorning her skin and he, black silk breeches and a finely woven waistcoat resplendent with gold buttons and gold buckles on his shoes. Right away, Ian thought, The duke was a bold man, ta ha’ such a painting where everyone can see’t!

Meanwhile, Jamie had chased his love up the stairs, who was giggling madly like a schoolgirl.  She ran down the hallway, skirts clutched in her hands and ran into her room, Jamie hot on her heels.  He finally caught her in front of the bed and whirled her around in his arms.  Before he’d even set her down, he captured her plump pink lips in a heated kiss and groaned at their taste.  Claire whimpered with pleasure, which only stoked his desire for her.  When they finally broke for air, Claire looked dazed,

“A nighean? Are ye alrigh’?” Jamie asked, worried.

“Ah, well,” Claire began as she saw black spots on the edge of her vision.  Her knees were shaking from the rush of adrenaline loosed by the kiss.  Suddenly, she turned white and her knees buckled.  Jamie rushed over and scooped her up in his strong arms.

“Claire? Claire? Oh God, answer me, lass!” He begged.

Finally her whisky eyes opened, “Taing Dhia,” he breathed. “Are ye goin’ ta be alrigh’, lass?  Ha’ ye been feelin’ poorly while I wa’ gone?” Without waiting for an answer, he deposited her gently on the bed and placed more pillows behind her head. “Alrigh’, I’m gonna get ye out o’ these constricting clothes an’ then I’ll get Mrs. Fitz to attend to ye, does that sound bonny?”

Claire reached up to his handsome face and caressed his cheek, “It does, love.  I guess I was so excited you were coming home I may have forgotten to eat breakfast.”

Jamie sucked in a breath and told himself, Be calm, lad, she didn’a mean ta hurt herself; be gentle wi’ her.  He bit back his mother-hen impulses and loosened her various ties and stays.  He finally peeled her out of all her clothes and gathered a nightdress from her dresser.  He sat on the edge of the bed and murmured lovingly, “Come, mo graidh, arms up.” She dutifully raised her arms and he let the well-washed garment drape over her head and enclose her arms in softness.

“Alrigh’, put yer wee arms aroun’ ma neck, mo calman geal,” he said softly, relishing the feel of her petite fingers caressing his neck, sending bolts of energy right down his spine into his cock.  He lifted her gently and let her gown float down over her midriff and buttocks.  Even being that close to his favorite body part was enough to set his cockhead to drooling on itself.  He exhaled quietly, focusing on what he was doing.  He draped her clothing over the chair and set her shoes neatly underneath.  He turned towards Claire, “So. I’ll go down an’ speak ta Mrs. Fitz an’ give yer excuses to the lads. I want ye ta stay in bed tanight an’ sleep as long as ye like tomorra.  I’ll ask her ta bring ye somethin’ ta eat as well.

“Jamie, I want you to go downstairs and eat with your family,” Claire stated firmly.

He walked over to the bed and sat on its edge, “Bu’ love, I need ta take care o’ ye,” he protested, shaking his head.

She looked him in the eye, “No. I am the mistress of this house and I say you’re going to go have dinner with your family. Now, do as you’re told, Mr. Fraser, go on.”

He arched a ruddy eyebrow at her tone, “An’ i’ I say nay to ye?”

She smirked, “You told me once never to defy you. And I’m telling you now, it’s less painful for you if you obey, man.” She grabbed his curls and yanked his head back so his beautiful neck was exposed to her.  She licked a hot stripe up his throat and sucked vigorously on his chin dimple.  He moaned, his cock stiffened and he panted through the vicious grip she had on his beautiful curls.

She smiled sweetly, “Do you know when I first knew I had to have you, Jamie?”

“No, Claire, I dinna.”

“It was when you were in the dungeon with that iron collar around your neck – When I saw you like that, I gushed all down my thighs imagining how I would ravish you, so beautiful and helpless.  I knew I would make you scream my name some day.”

Jamie whined, a low and wanting sound and cried, “Please, mistress, ha’ mercy.”

Claire’s eyes glittered with pent-up desire.  She snarled next to his ear, “If I let go, will you obey, my love?”

“Aye, mistress, I shall do as ye say,” came out in a passion-choked gravely whisper.

She released his hair and smoothed it down, “Good.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 18

Hi Everyone: My “r” key is NOT behaving itself so if you see words with no “r” or a double-r, that’s the reason why. Going to get a wet noodle from the kitchen and whip my laptop’s keyboard into shape in about three nanoseconds if it doesn’t cut this shit out... I’m trying to catch all the errors but may miss some. Thanks for understanding. Give me a scream when you notice something, please. - Sparky

Claire felt much better the next morning after some tea.  She didn’t have a history of fainting, which made her spell the night before all the more confusing.  She was finally able to greet her guests properly at the breakfast table at 7 a.m. – all three stood respectfully as she entered the room, “Gentlemen, thank you. Please be seated.” Mrs. Fitz sent platters of bannocks, bread, pots of homemade jam and honey culled from the estate, as well as a lovely fresh fruit compote comprised of fruit from the estate with a bowl of fresh cream to serve alongside and a platter of ham and crispy bacon out. Large bowls of eggs were placed on the table as well, both soft-boiled and scrambled. Of course, porridge was also served. The four of them tucked into their food gladly. 

After breakfast, Jamie took the men on an extended tour of the estate.  Claire called after him, “Mr. Fraser, we’re having lunch at noon, please don’t be late!”

He smiled, sunshine in his eyes and voice, “No, mistress, we willna, thank ye.”

The men marveled at the estate.  Jamie brought them to Claire’s favorite pond so they could see her favorite place, “Aye, the mistress likes ta come here to clear ‘er head, she does.”

“Alone?” chorused the friends together.  Jamie laughed a wonderful belly laugh, “Aye, she may be tiny, but the mistress, she knows how ta take care o’ hersel’, she does.  In fact, when I was firs’ here an’ she was late gettin’ back to th’ house, I rode after her, worried fer her safety because o’ Micheline, ken.” Willie and Ian nodded sympathetically.  I forgot ma place an shook her because I was so scairt she could do somethin’ so foolish as ta go off by hersel’. She warned me ta let ‘er go but I didna an’ she kneed me i’ ma baws an’ drew her dagger besides.”

He looked up and both Willie and Ian had their mouths open in shock. A woman willing to pull a weapon on a man a foot taller than she?  They’d never heard of such a thing. “Aye, th’ duke gifted her a murderously sharp dagger an’ taught ‘er how ta use it.  She always takes i’ wi’ ‘er an’ also Donas.  This great fool loves his mistress an’ will do anythin’ fer her an’ her cinnamon-butter cookies.” Jamie scratched the great stallion’s forehead gently.  “I’ve no doubt he’d do his utmost ta protect her.” The men mounted up and rode back to Thistle Glen House in time for lunch.

Too soon, the time came for Ian and Willie to leave.  The last dinner together was a raucous affair and Claire surprised her guests with the ribald jokes she told.  Jamie laughed all the harder seeing Ian and Willie’s faces after she let the first one land.  The men were going to leave at first light and wouldn’t see Claire again, so they bade her goodbye that evening and went up to bed early.

Claire woke up around six a.m. feeling hot and with a roiling gut. Panicked, she vaulted out of bed and hunched on all fours over the chamber pot, retched loudly and burst into anguished tears.  One of the maids was about to knock on the door and heard the mistress.  She crossed herself and ran to get Mrs. Fitz.  The older woman grabbed some clean linen rags and dashed up the stairs after telling the girl to get hot tea, ginger, mint, salt and an airy wheat roll scraped with a tiny bit of butter and sprinkled with a bit of salt. “A-aye, Mrs. Fitz!” stammered the girl and ran off to get the necessary supplies.  Mrs. Fitz knocked curtly on the door and said, “It’s Mrs. Fitz, mistress, I’m comin’ in.”  She opened the door and her heart sank. Claire was crying over the chamber pot and she dry heaved, unwilling to move lest she vomit again.

“Alrigh’ mistress, I’m here now.  Just one minute.” The woman stepped over to the ewer and poured a little water over the clean rag, which she wrung out and gave to Claire, “There, now, kin ye wipe yer mouth, lass?” I’ll get ye tea in a minute ta take tha’ taste out o’ yer mouth.”  

Claire sniffed and took the rag, “Thank you, Mrs. Fitz.” She wiped her mouth and dropped the rag next to her.

The maid returned and Mrs. Fitz told her to go get a clean chamber pot after she set down the tea and other things.  She dashed off and brought the heavy porcelain vessel, carefully pulling the soiled one away from Claire and immediately sliding the clean one underneath her.  Mrs. Fitz caught the maid’s arm, “Shona, get Lauder when ye go downstairs, aye? He’s workin’ in th’ barn taday. An’ whatever ye do, stay calm and dinna tell Jamie, aye?  He canna help her an’ will get i’ th’ way, maist-like.” The maid removed the dirty pot and disappeared silently out the door, tears of sympathy in her eyes.  She returned a few minutes later with tea, bread with salt, ginger and spearmint for her lady. Mrs. Fitz put some fresh water in the teacup and directed Claire to “rinse and spit.” Knowing Mrs. Fitz wouldn’t brook any resistance, Claire did as directed and spit into the clean chamber pot. Mrs. Fitz gave her a cup of tea as she was sitting on the floor, “Go ahead an’ sip a’ that, Claire. Slowly, small sips, aye?”

Claire took the cup and said, “Thank you, Mrs. Fitz, so much.”

Meanwhile, Shona ran as fast as she could to the barn and found Lauder.  He smiled at the girl, who was normally so bubbly, “Hallo ta ye, Shona. What brings ye ta th’ barn?”

She stood on her tiptoes and whispered in his ear, “Mistress Fitz asked fer ye.  It’s th’ mistress, she needs ye!  Please come quick, Mr. Lauder.”

He paled and glanced furtively at Jamie, working noisily on the other side of the barn.  He put his finger to his lips, put his tools down quietly, walked quickly out of the barn and broke into a run to the house. He knew this had to be bad if Mrs. Fitz was asking him to come so urgently.  He pounded his way up the stairs and a horrid thought crossed his mind, “Ach Dhia – what if? Nay, not again. Please, God, let it not be that again,” he prayed fervently.  He ran up the stairs and knocked softly.  Mrs. Fitz covered Claire with a blanket and opened the bedroom door.  Lauder stepped in and his worst fears were confirmed.  The mistress was on the floor again, tears drying on her face.

“Lauder, will you help me, please?” Claire croaked, “I feel quite incapable of standing on my own to get back into bed.  I am sore aggrieved to have to depend on you again.”

“O’ course, mistress. Hang on ta yer blanket fer yer modesty, aye? I’ll pick ye up.  He squatted in front of her and deadlifted her slight weight from the floor, making sure to move carefully so he wouldn’t shift the blanket covering her.  He smiled gently, “Why, a mouse weighs more n’ you, mistress, dinna fash.” For the second time in his life, he deposited Claire gently on her bed, smiled and left. For the second time in his life, Peter Lauder closed her bedroom door quietly and unseen by others, cried in the dark stairwell for his mistress.

Back in the room, Mrs. Fitz encouraged Claire to eat a bit of roll with salt, “Come on, lass, just two bites.  Th’ bread wi’ help settle yer stomach.”

Claire acquiesced and bit into the bread, the salted butter melting on her tongue, “Oh, Mrs. Fitz, the salt tastes so good!”

Glenna Fitz smiled, pretty sure she knew why Claire had fainted the night before and vomited this morning, “Alrigh’, lass, let me see yer stomach, aye?”

Claire looked at her, eyes round with fear, “My stomach?”

“Aye.  Pull th’ blanket up over yer bits there, it’s just us hens in her righ’ now.”

Claire did as ordered and covered herself below the waist and exposed her waist to Mrs. Fitz, who palpated the flat expanse gently. “Alrigh’ ye can pull yer shift back down, lass.  Tell me,” she wheedled, “are yer breasts tender?”

“Y-yes, how did you know that?”

Mrs. Fitz smiled, “An yer nipples, ha’ they got darker recently? Here, let me take a keek.”

She loosened the tie on Claire’s shift.  Indeed, her breasts looked slightly larger than the last time she’d helped Claire bathe and her areolas were slightly darker and quite puffy.  Mrs. Fitz pulled the shift over Claire’s shoulders again and tied it,

“Weel, lass, ye’re wi’ child,” The matron beamed.  “I guess th’ bairn wi’ come i’ about seven months.” Mrs. Fitz grinned broadly – she knew Jamie and Claire wanted to get pregnant sooner rather than later.

Claire’s mouth opened and closed like a puppet’s and she swallowed audibly, “Oh my goodness, I’m so happy! I have to tell Jamie!” she made to move out of bed but Mrs. Fitz put a matronly hand on her shoulder, “Nay, lass, ‘tis better ye stay abed fer a while, aye?  Now,” she said, eyes twinkling, “would ye like ta tell Jamie, or sit wi’ it fer awhile, enjoy it private-like?”

Claire smiled tiredly, “Well, I’d like him to be informed.  I know we can handfast, so we can do that and then wait for the banns to be posted and then have a simple ceremony at the chapel here.”

Mrs. Fitz beamed. Her girl had thought of everything.  “Shall I call Jamie ta see ye?”

Claire smiled easily, “Yes, please.”

As Glenna Fitz turned to go, Claire caught her hand and kissed it.  Mrs. Fitz was surprised to say the least and Claire thought she saw moisture line the older woman’s lower lashes, “What was that fer?”

“Because you’ve been my ally since the day I turned up here, Mrs. Fitz. Thank you.”

Mrs. Fitz blushed to the roots of her hair, “It’s been my pleasure, lass,” and winked.  She closed the door softly behind her and bustled downstairs.  She smiled when she saw Johnstone in the house.

Having finished the errand she’d sent him on, she caught him red-handed, enjoying a warm butter cookie and a small glass of milk.  He grinned sheepishly, “They smelled so good, I couldna help myself, Mrs. Fitz.”

She smiled and waved it off, “Ah, Alan, just the person I needed ta see. Will ye go to tha barn an’ fetch Jamie, lad?”

He smiled easily, “Aye, Mistress Fitz.” He drained his glass and stuffed the rest of the cookie in his mouth and left for the barn.

He found Jamie repairing a bridle and regretfully swallowed the last of his cookie down, “Mrs. Fitz will see ye in t’ house, Jamie.”

Jamie cocked a ruddy eyebrow, “Why?”

Alan smiled, “Well, she didn’t say. Ye best get along, friend.”

Jamie smiled crookedly, “Aye, thank ye, friend,” and clapped Alan on the shoulder heartily.

He made his way to the house and removed his bonnet. He was met by Mrs. Fitz, who grabbed his grubby hands, tsk-tsked and chided, “Go clean yer hands an’ face well, lad.  Neck too.  Go on, now. Shona will bring water an’ soap an’ a towel inta th’ kitchen fer ye.”

Jamie was surprised at the motherly order, but schooled his face into calm acceptance, “Aye, Mrs. Fitz, righ’ away.” Shona brought him an ewer, a basin, soap, a brush, a washrag and a towel and he carefully scrubbed the grime from his face, hands and forearms after pouring the steaming water from the ewer into the basin. He walked back to Mrs. Fitz after blotting his clean skin dry, “So, Mrs. Fitz, all clean. How may I help ye?”

She smiled, “Go upstairs an’ see th’ duchess. She wants ta speak ta ye.”

“Aye, Mrs. Fitz, thank ye.”

He took the stairs two at a time and knocked quietly on the door.  His heart swelled with love when he heard his beloved’s soft voice, “Enter.”

He opened the door and his face grew pale, “Lass, why are ye abed? Are ye poorly? Do ye hurt? What happened?” He covered the distance between them in two long strides and sat down on the bed and gathered his love in his arms, inspecting her for bruises or cuts.  Jamie’s heart pounded a staccato rhythm against his ribs and he fought the rising wave of panic flooding his brain.

“Jamie, Jamie, I’m going to be fine. I was feeling poorly earlier but am feeling much better.  Mrs. Fitz says I should be able to leave the bed by this evening for our dinner, alright?”  She captured his beautiful face in her hands and kissed his delectable lips.

Jamie groaned and returned her kiss, disappointed when she severed their contact.  She gathered his hands in her lap and smiled, “Well, we do need to discuss some things, my love.”

Instantly, the large man was on high alert, “What things, mo nighean donn?”

“I want to be handfast with you as soon as possible.  After that, I want to speak with Father Bain and post the banns in the chapel here. I want a simple wedding, nothing fancy.”

He regarded her, at once doubtful and mystified, “Bu’ a leannan, why are ye in such a rush? Are ye in trouble? Distress?” Jamie’s lower lip trembled.

Claire smiled and it was like the sun came out from behind the clouds after a horrendous storm, “No, no, nothing like that.  I want all that behind us before our baby comes, Jamie.”

“Aye, sure, mo banrigh, bu’ aren’t ye pushin’ all this? We have plenty of time before ye – “

He inhaled a sharp breath as his adrenal gland sent his adrenaline production into overdrive. He could barely see her for the tears coursing down his cheeks – it couldn’t be, could it? But his beloved Claire took his trembling hand and laid it on her stomach.  She saw the exact second he understood,

He paled and stuttered, “Are ye wi’ child, lass? He sobbed as she nodded, tears dripping down her cheeks as well, “Oh God, Claire! Thank ye, mo cridhe!”

She laughed despite her tears, “Well, I did have help, Jamie! It won’t be a virgin birth!”

He pulled out his handkerchief, wiped his running nose and laughed despite himself.  He cradled his lady in his arms, “Ye are the answer to ma dreams, mo leannan. Thank ye. I’ll love ye ferever.”

“And you are the answer to my wildest fantasies, Jamie.  Make me yours, love, right now.”

He looked at her, surprised, “I-it willna hurt the bairn?”

“Oh, no, trust me.” She smiled wickedly and said in a passion-infused voice, “I’m feeling so much better than this morning, Jamie. Strip, now!”

He growled, “Aye, yer grace,” and started shucking his clothes as he could.  He settled between her legs and ate her out, reveling in the gush of her essence that bathed his greedy tongue.  He worked her expertly, digging deeply into his bag of tricks to drive her out of her mind.  Soon enough, she peaked and he slid into her welcoming pussy, hooking her ankles on his shoulders.  He made slow, thoughtful love to her and turned her inside out and upside down all at the same time.  He couldn’t hold back his own climax anymore and buried his head in the junction of her shoulder and neck, “Oh, Jesus, Claire, I canna hold it anymore!” he panted raggedly.

“Then don’t, my love, come for me!”

Jamie shouted and painted her uterus with his eager seed.  His orgasm seemed to go on and on.  When he started to relax, he pulled out and kissed her forehead.  He helped her dress and dressed himself. 

Claire smiled, “What would you think of a bath in your chambers, Mr. Fraser?”

He leered at her, “Oh, aye, I would enjoy washin’ ye, lassie.”

She snorted and went downstairs to find Mrs. Fitz.

“Mrs. Fitz, I’d like a bath, please.  You can ask the men to install the tub in my room.  Please make sure I have two towels and washcloths.”

She smiled and Mrs. Fitz kept her features neutral, “Aye, yer grace, ‘twill be done.”

Hours later, Claire and Jamie fell exhausted into bed.  As always, Jamie spooned behind her and rested his hand on her stomach, whispering his thanks to God for their babe, safe and secure in his loving mam’s wame. 

Chapter Text

Hello my lovelies:

I realize it's been a bit since I posted. First, thank you to each and every person who took the time to put kudos on this work or comments. I sincerely appreciate all of you and everything you've said. As some of you may know, I'm going in for my first knee-replacement surgery tomorrow. I've been pretty distracted by that, as you may well imagine. I am very lucky that I can get both knees replaced at all.

I'm crying as I write this next bit, guys. On Friday the 8th, I heard that my fraternal twin sister is in heart failure. This means the amount of blood pumped by the left atrium into the body is working at 22% of capacity. Yes, it can be controlled by lifestyle changes and meds, but it's damn frightening, since our mother died of congestive heart failure. My sibling can live for many many years with this (as our mother did) but I was sure we'd dodged the damn bullet, you know? We are only 51 and am so angry about this I don't know whether to scream, cry or morph into Godzilla and flatten Tokyo. My heart seems to be fine but after my knee replacements I'm going to get my ticker checked. Anyway, it may take me a while to get back into the saddle and for that I'm sorry. I love writing for all you guys! If you pray, please pray for my sister. If you don't, please send positive vibes her way. The whole gang from "The Substitute" send their best and are off to a Covid-free Maui until I feel grounded enough to continue writing. Thank you for understanding.
xx Sparky

Chapter Text

Chapter 19
The next morning, Jamie arose before sunrise. He caressed Claire’s face and kissed her still-flat belly gently. He reached into his sporran and extracted the ring he’d bought for Claire. He slipped it gently on her ring finger, smiling at the thought of her waking to find it. He dressed quietly and joined the men at the breakfast table.
Lauder spoke first, “Jamie, how fares our mistress?”
He looked up, mouth still full of bannock, which he chewed and swallowed quickly, “She’s better taday, Peter, thankee fer askin’. A concerned, low murmur spread down the table.
“What’s amiss, Jamie?”
“Och, nothin’, really. I think i ‘twas a touch o’ dizziness is all. She’ll be righ’ as rain taday, I reckon.”
The men finished breakfast and started their day. Jamie hadn’t revealed Claire’s true reason for her unease because he felt she needed to reveal it, not him. He showed his everyday face on the outside, but on the inside, his soul was in full gala mode. His heart felt lighter than air and he could swear all the animals could feel his joy. Today was Monday, his day to exercise the horses. He took each horse out and exercised them thoroughly. When he got to Cinnamon, he cuddled her a moment and she sniffed and lipped his fingers excitedly, “Aye, lass ye smell yer mistress on me. Ye know about her, eh?” He smiled and gave her light exercise and curried her coat himself after the ride.
When he got to Donas, he spoke to Alan Johnstone, “Alan, I’ve got some thinkin’ ta do. I’ll be out wi’ Donas fer a bit longer. He’s been restless the las’ few days as well, aye? I’ll be back soon.”
Johnstone smiled, “Alrigh’ Jamie lad. Ha’ a good time.” When Jamie had run back to the stables, he smiled. The news of Claire’s illness had spread over the manor like wildfire and Alan was relatively certain he knew why. He rejoiced inwardly and made sure to tell nobody.
Jamie got to Donas and massaged his head and ears a bit and blew in his nose in greeting. The great horse nuzzled him and sniffed his hands and wrists and boldly nosed his neck, whuffling all the while, “Aye, Donas, I wa’ wi’ our mistress, yer righ’. An’ yes, she’s wi’ child, ma friend. Ye like tha’ smell, aye?” The horse snorted. Humans dumb. Donas smart. Donas work hard. Red Boy happiest around Curly Maned Woman. Red Boy happy. Cinnamon happy. Curly Haired Woman carrying Red Boy’s foal. Donas happy. Red Boy lucky Donas take care of him. Donas know best. Donas run? Donas showed a picture of the two of them flying across the fields.
“Will ye come wi’ me on a run, Donas? I’m mad wi’ joy for our bairn,” said Jamie.
Ah! Red Boy finally understand Donas. Red Boy might not be completely dumb, thought Donas.
Red Boy kept allowing Donas to run as fast as he wanted and Donas ran until he couldn’t run anymore. They returned two hours later, both hot, tired sweaty and hungry but much more relaxed than beforehand.
Jamie washed himself as well as he could and found Claire in her parlor. As soon as she saw him, she ran to him and jumped into his arms. She gave him a passionate, hungry kiss that made him groan and his cock stiffen. Quickly, he moved them to a chair and sat down. She caressed his face and peppered him with kisses, laving his chin dimple and nipping his jawline, pulling a growl out of the huge man.
He smiled at her, “What’s this fer, love?”
She burbled happily, “Oh, you! I love my engagement ring,” she gushed. He laughed and she said, “This has to be a forget-me-not! I think it must be aquamarine, or? Leave it to you to find the perfect ring, love,” and kissed him.
“Weel, I brought Jenny wi’ me an’ she found it, really,” he admitted gruffly. But Claire didn’t care. She kissed him gently at first, but as she started to nibble on his neck, he growled, “Claire, you vixen. You know Mrs. Fitz has lunch waiting!” As much as he hated to do it, he fisted his intended’s hair gently and pulled her off, admonishing, “first, lunch. Then dessert, do ye hear me, woman?”
She pushed her devilishly soft lips into a pout and said, “Oh, well, alright,” and as she saw Jamie relax slightly, she lunged forward and pushed his sark away from his collarbone and bit his flesh, moaning in want and laving his skin,
“Please, Jamie, let’s go upstairs. Fun now, lunch later.
Jamie hissed at the pain of her bite and groaned.
He remembered lunch, though, and he was starving. He picked her up and stood her before him. Claire smiled and arched an eyebrow, “Are we going upstairs, sir?”
He bit out, “Nay. As I said, we’re goin’ ta sit down ta Mrs. Fitz’s lunch an’ then ye’ll be punished fer defyin’ me, Sorcha.” Her mouth fell open in surprise and disappointment and he grabbed her curls, “Did ye no hear me? I gave ye an order, lass. Let’s go.”
Claire’s mouth snapped shut as Jamie took a very firm hold of her upper arm and steered her into the dining room.
Claire knew she was in trouble when Jamie didn’t speak to her at all during lunch. He courteously waited for her to eat her fill and pulled out her chair for her so they could go upstairs. She tried to wiggle past him but he grabbed her upper arm the same as before and dragged her up the stairs to their room. He stood back to let her into the room first and followed her in, bolting the door. He stalked up to her and said very quietly, “it’s time fer yer punishment, lass. Strip to yer shift, now.”
She turned around and allowed Jamie to loosen her skirts. She methodically undressed until all that remained was her shift. She looked him in the eye, daring him to make the next move.
Jamie snapped, “Dinna look yer betters i’ th’ eye, lass.” Claire immediately lowered her gaze. “On the bed on your back, now.”
Silently, Claire complied and Jamie tied her hands to the bed carefully, making sure to leave copious slack. He stripped, climbed over her and produced his sgian dubh. He showed it to Claire and her eyes widened in alarm, “Jamie, why do you have your knife out?” Her eyes searched his handsome face for an answer,
“Because, lass, I canna swive ye when ye’re clothed, tha’s why. Ye’ve lost yer freedom and yer shift fer disobeyin’ me.” Smiling evilly, he took the neckline of her shift and drew the knife down until he could rip the garment asunder. He watched her face for a few seconds until he plunged his tongue into her mouth, claiming it for himself. He kept kissing her and ripping her garment until it was in tatters on the floor. He kissed and laved her neck, nibbling as he went, until he reached her beautiful breasts, even more beautiful with the presence of their child. She panted as he pinched both nipples at the same time, rolling them between her fingers and pulling. He kissed her nipples and licked and sucked, making her cry out in passion. He slapped his hand across her mouth, snarling,
“Be quiet, woman! Do ye want an extra punishment fer yer wee noises? Eh?”
She shook her head slowly and Jamie relished how her eyes were glazed over with heat and longing.
He nipped and sucked the underside of her breasts and continued downward, kissing and massaged down her body until she was a panting, sweaty mess, rocking her hips and begging him, “Please, Sir, I need you.”
He caressed her cheek, “Ye’ll take what yer lord and master gives ye, do ye remember tha’, a nighean?”
She swallowed audibly, “Yes, master. I apologize.”
“No need, darlin’. Now, master’s not finished wi’ yer punishment yet. Stay still an’ quiet li’ I know ye can, girl.”
“Yes, master,” panted the beautiful woman, breasts heaving in excitement.
Jamie continued his sensuous progress down her body and finally reached her mons. He took a deep breath and moaned – it was like honey and sunshine and he knew he’d done a good job readying Claire for the next phase because the enticing smell simply held him in its ban. He pushed her legs farther apart and she whimpered, “Oh, Jamie!”
His head popped up, “Are ye alrigh’, lass? Do we need ta stop?”
“No -o -o, I can smell you down near my womanhood and it’s driving me mad.”
He smiled, “Good, it should. Now, no more interruptions from you or I may stop for good, understand?”
Claire breathed, “Yes, sir.”
He tongued and massaged her inner thighs and inched up to her labia slowly, inserting a careful fingertip into her. He didn’t even have to move it for it to come out coated with her excitement. He stuck his face right into her quim and took a long swipe with his flattened tongue, noting with pleasure how Claire stiffened and bucked. He inserted his finger the rest of the way into her eager channel and it came out dripping. Without hesitation, he stuck the finger in his mouth and shoved two, then three broad fingers in her pussy. He curled his fingers and slammed his knuckles into her pubic bone as hard as he could. Looking up, he saw Claire’s face clenched in a feral snarl as she tried to process the incredibly intense feelings washing over her entire body. He pulled out his fingers and made her lick them clean, then disappeared again and ate her out. He licked and sucked her labia, tongued her clit and even slapped her mons while sucking on her clit. He stuck his strong tongue as far into her folds as he could, relishing that his woman was nearly in tears.
Her lips were pressed together and she was whining and bucking hard. She finally begged, “Please sir, let me come, let me come! So cl-clo-close!”
Jamie smiled and crooked his fingers, hitting that one spot perfectly. Claire couldn’t help herself. She arched off the bed with a feral scream, head thrashing on the pillow. Jamie crawled up to her and gathered her in his arms, letting her come down from her high. She eventually came back to herself and whispered, “Oh, my God, Jamie. I don’t think I’ve ever come that hard, thank you, love.”
He kissed her gently and said, “What are you in the mood for now?”
She smiled impishly, “I want to thank my man. Come on, let me pleasure you, darling. With that, she arched an eyebrow, “Do you want to be standing, sitting, or lying down when I suck on your balls, boy?”
He groaned, “Oh Jesus. Can I be on all fours, mistress?”
She grinned, “Yes, boy, you may. Go on, get in position and spread those legs wide.”
Jamie complied and Claire caressed his head, “Such a good boy. Are you going to obey your mistress?”
Jamie swallowed heavily and with a suddenly dry mouth whispered, “Yes, mistress, always.” She leered at him and settled herself underneath him.
She pulled him down and he sighed when she licked his balls, sometimes drilling into them with her tongue. She mouthed them and fondled them with her gentle fingers, loving that he was now rocking gently with her ministrations. She skimmed her teeth delicately over their surfaces and he startled, but she clamped down on his buttocks and made him withstand the stimulus over and over until he no longer jumped. After a few minutes, Jamie was in a haze of pleasure and never wanted it to end. She pulled on his scrotum and he shouted, “Oh, mistress, yes!” She snapped, “Do I need to gag you or can you stay quiet, boy?”
He trembled, “I-I can stay quiet, mistress, I’m sorry.”
She smiled and said, “That’s better,” and took one testicle almost completely in her mouth, humming loudly as she did so. The feeling was so intense Jamie’s knees nearly collapsed. She giggled and did it to his other testicle. She could feel the bed trembling underneath her and realized he was fighting to stay on all fours. She gave each testicle one last sloppy kiss and said, “On your back, boy.”
He did as ordered and she immediately tied his hands and legs to the bed so he couldn’t move. Without saying a word, she went down on him and licked and sucked his cock until her man was a writhing, moaning mess. She worked her way down his shaft with her mouth while turning her hand in a corkscrew motion, working towards her steadily descending lips.
Jamie didn’t know if he was coming or going, but he didn’t have enough energy to waste thinking about such a thing, either. The sensations crashed into one another like drunk fireflies and Jamie was in awe of a woman who could give so much so easily. His hips started to buck, but Claire painfully pinched some skin right above his pubic bone and that stopped his movement. He had a light sheen of sweat on his brow and his heart was hammering so hard Jamie wondered if Claire could hear it. She reversed course on his dick and tongued his head as deeply as possible, sending a powerful shiver through him all the way to his toes. She raised up on her knees, soft breasts swaying slightly, and sank down slowly on his tossel. She leaned forward and licked his lips and he opened his mouth for a kiss,
“Yes, that’s my good boy, so willing to service your mistress, aren’t you?”
Jamie whined and Claire took pity on him – she gave him butterfly kisses all over his lips and then kissed him with all her pent-up love, riding him gently at the same time. He sighed as she pulled away and he regarded his sun, moon and stars through half-lidded eyes.
“God, Jamie, if you only knew how much I love you,” she whispered tenderly.
His eyes darkened, “And I you, a leannan, forever.”
Claire reached back and stroked Jamie’s balls. He stiffened and had to bite his lip to stop the resulting cry.
“Are you ready for a fast gallop, my love?” Claire smiled. “Mistress wants to tire her stallion out, do you hear me?”
“Aye, mistress, as ye wish,” groaned Jamie. He inhaled sharply as she lifted herself up and slammed home, repeating the action until Jamie was yanking at his restraints and pleading, “Please, mistress, let me touch ye!”
Claire rocked her love harder, grunting each time his cock hit her most sensitive place in her channel. She shouted, “Jamie, Jamie, I’m coming, my darling!” Claire’s eyes rolled to the back of her head as her orgasm slammed into her, shaking her to her core.
For his part, Jamie felt his orgasm build up very quickly and fought it off. Too soon, though, the feelings were tumbling over each other too fast, too strong and too good, “Oh, Mistress I canna hold back any longer!”
“Beg mistress to come, Jamie!” Snarled Claire.
“Oh, ahhhh, please, mistress, please, may I come?”
“Yes, my love, come!”
Jamie arched his back so high Claire had to clutch his shoulders to stay in position. His cry was long and loud and when he hit the mattress again, he was shaking.
Claire untied him and they laid together in their bed, drowsing and cuddling until sleep pulled them both down into her velvet depths.
A few weeks passed and Claire and Jamie got used to her new normal. He tried to be understanding when she didn’t want to be touched or was just plain tired. Claire tried to keep her fiery temper in check and reminded herself often that this was the first pregnancy of many, hopefully, and she was lucky that Jamie and she were working together to learn and grow along with their child.
Soon enough, the appointed evening for the handfasting came. They called Shona, Mrs. Fitz, Lauder and Johnstone to the house for the ceremony. Jamie was dressed in his Fraser kilt and finery sent by his mother and looked staggeringly handsome.
His breath, though, was stolen by the mother of his child. Claire was dressed in her shimmering “dragon” gown - it was the one that she had meant to wear to the Duke of Pardloe’s ball but had to miss due to someone needing her. Jamie would never forget how privileged he felt offering her his hand to descend the final stairs into the parlor. Her neck glittered with the Moriston diamonds, which also winked in her ears, catching all the candles in the room. Mrs. Fitz smiled broadly at “her girl” and Shona was sure she’d never see a handsomer man and a more beautiful lady for the rest of her life. The men were impressed with Jamie’s sword and dagger and both inhaled sharply when they saw the duchess in her finery.
The lovers welcomed their guests with whisky, wine and port. The ceremony began with the lovers facing each other before the fireplace, emitting a cheery warmth. Jamie said the words, fighting his overwhelming feelings to prevent his emotion from falling down his cheeks. Claire squeezed his hands and Claire repeated them in a clear, joyful voice. And then, it was done. For Jamie and Claire, they were as good as married for the rest of their lives.
They went into the formal dining room and had a lovely dinner, with turkey, venison, hot soup, stuffed cabbage bannocks and fresh bread. Mrs. Fitz’s kitchen brigade made butter cookies and fruit and cream for their dessert.
Jamie moved his things into the master’s suite but insisted that everyone still address him as Jamie. He hoped he wouldn’t have to take the title, but he promised himself that he wouldn’t let anyone treat him differently, even now.
Father Bain duly posted the banns for the next two Sundays and all of a sudden, it was a week before the big day and Jamie’s family was slated to arrive the next morning. Mrs. Fitz and her staff had the house shiny clean and all the requisite guest chambers ready a couple of days before the Fraser/Murray contingent were to arrive, thank goodness. The estate’s men had gone hunting many weeks before and culled five rabbits, three deer and one boar, as well as some geese, ducks and ptarmigan. The meat larder was brimming with cuts of dried, salted meat and Mrs. Fitz could call on any of the estate men to go hunting for fresh meat at any time.
Finally, arrival day was upon Thistle Glen. At around 10 a.m., the Fraser/Murray contingent pulled up to Thistle Glen House in two carriages. The family piled out to find Jamie and Claire waiting to greet them, with Mrs. Fitz at their side. Brian and Ellen led the line to meet Claire and hug Jamie hello.
Brian stopped first in front of Claire and bowed, “Your Grace, on behalf of myself and the Lady of Lallybroch and our family, ‘tis a distinct pleasure to meet ye.”
Claire smiled as Brian gallantly kissed her hand and Ellen curtsied and replied, “I welcome you, your lady and your family, Laird Fraser. Thistle Glen House and its staff bid you welcome. May I introduce Mrs. Fitz, my house manager? If you need anything at all, Mrs. Fitz is my right hand and will be happy to assist you.” Mrs. Fitz dropped into a deep curtsy to Brian and Ellen and they both smiled broadly at her.
“Mrs. Fitz, I hear my son keeps your kitchens busy!” Ellen grinned at the matron in front of her.
“Aye, Yer Ladyship, tha’ he does. I canna imagine how ye kept food in yer larders wi’ three such strappin’ sons ta feed!”
The ladies burst into laughter and Jamie just grinned. The rest of the family met Claire and they all trooped inside to rest a bit before lunch.
Jamie was so happy, sitting at table with his love and his family. With the exception of the baby on the way, he knew he couldn’t be happier. Stories were traded and everyone enjoyed themselves. The afternoon was devoted to games and other pastimes designed to help everyone relax and get to know each other. Jenny and Claire got along well, to Jamie’s relief. Jenny was the only person Jamie had worried about. Claire also got along well with Ellen. Secretly, Claire had been more concerned with Ellen rather than Jenny. She was relieved to discover that the two of them had many more things in common other than loving Jamie.
Finally, the morning of the wedding arrived. Brian, Jamie, Ian and Jamie’s brothers all got ready together and Claire was helped by Mrs. Fitz. Brian and his boys were resplendent in their tartans. Jenny and Ellen got ready together.
Because Claire did not have a father to walk her down to Jamie, Brian had thoughtfully offered. He stayed behind for Claire while everyone else left for church, talking excitedly amongst themselves.
Finally, Claire emerged from her room. Brian had been examining a painting on the parlor wall and turned at her soft, “Well, will I do?”
Brian’s eyes got very big and he breathed out, “Lass, ye look splendid.” His breath caught in his throat – she was wearing a simple blue silk dress and Brian walked slowly around her, admiring the workmanship of the gown. He noted approvingly that the blue in the gown matched that of the Fraser tartan. He was admiring the dress and suddenly saw some delicate embroidery over her heart. Almost shyly, the huge man asked his almost-daughter-in-law if he might step closer.
She smiled, “Certainly, Laird Fraser, please do.”
He stepped two steps towards her and a lump arose in his throat. There on her beautiful dress, right above her heart, was embroidered “Je Suis Pret,” with delicate Fraser strawberry blossoms underneath the script. He swallowed thickly and stepped back, fighting to clear his throat and maintain control of his emotions.
“Laird Fraser, do you think Jamie will like the embroidery? I had it put there as a wedding gift to him.” She searched his eyes for an answer.
Brian nodded his head silently, “Yes, Yer Grace, I am sure he shall.”
Mrs. Fitz bustled up with a Fraser sash and draped it over Claire’s right shoulder, holding it in place with silver hairpins adorned with diamond and enamel forget-me-nots.
“Alrigh’, Yer Grace, ye’re ready ta go. Laird Fraser? Will ye escort the duchess to her carriage, please,” Mrs. Fitz inquired gently, having seen the man struggle to keep his composure.
Brian impatiently blinked moisture out of his eyes and offered his arm to his son’s beloved. He helped her into the carriage and then helped Mrs. Fitz and climbed in last. The ride to the chapel was short, thankfully.
Jamie Ian and Willie stood at the altar waiting for Claire. As she entered, the tiny congregation stood. Jamie turned and gasped softly at his wondrous bride, striding so confidently towards him. Without realizing it, Jamie started to move towards her, but Ian laid a steadying hand on his best friend’s shoulder, “Steady, man, she’s almost here.” Jamie blinked at Ian but didn’t seem to understand him. He tried to move again and Ian repeated,
“Jamie, ye ha’ ta stay here, aye?”
“Aye,” came the groom’s hoarse whisper. He watched her float down the aisle with his father and nearly cried at the Fraser sash adorning her beautiful gown. “God, man, look at her.”
“Aye, brother, I see her. She’s beautiful. Here she is now,” Ian whispered kindly.
Brian and Claire stepped up to Jamie and Brian placed Claire’s tiny hand over his son’s huge one, “Take good care o’ this woman, Jamie, she’s a good’un.”
“Aye, I know it, Da, I will.” Brian stepped away from the couple and sat next to Ellen.
The wedding commenced as all weddings do, but Jamie wouldn’t remember much about the ceremony except two things – how beautiful his Claire looked and her tears as she was finally able to accept his wedding ring and gift him his.

Chapter Text

Chapter 20

Hello all: my “r” key is being a dick again so if there are misspellings, I apologize!

 

Jamie led his bride out of the church into the sunshine.  Willie walked their horse and carriage to where they stood, and Jamie and Claire admired the fresh flower wreath hanging around the horse’s neck.  The carriage had been polished until it was almost possible to see one’s reflection in the gleaming wood.  Jamie helped his bride into the carriage and they rode home, kissing and whispering to each other the entire way to Thistle Glen House.  Guests and staff were gathered in the courtyard to cheer them the last few meters home.  The carriage stopped in front of the door and Jamie handed his wife out of the carriage.  She stood waiting for him to take her hand, but instead, he swept he up in his arms and carried her over the threshold.  Once they were inside, Claire kissed her husband and whispered, “Jamie, you are the man for me, you are the wish of my heart and you are my love. 

Jamie gazed into his wife’s beautiful eyes and whispered, “Claire Elizabeth, woman of my dreams, you are my future and guardian of my heart.”

They kissed once more and Jamie set Claire on her feet.  She went into the kitchen to talk with Mrs. Fitz while Jamie welcomed their guests inside.  Soon, everyone was talking and chatting.  Claire was not generally a fan of being the spotlight but  was only too happy to let the ladies examine her gown today.  Every female guest, from 85-year-old Eileen MacTavish, to the youngest, two-year-old Rhona MacArthur, the daughter of Archie, a crofter, was able to admire every detail, from the color of the fabric to the simple cut and Claire’s Fraser strawberry embroidery on her bodice.  Claire was just done laughing at a joke Jenny told when she felt something brush her curls on the back of her head.  Unsure of what it could be (and hoping it wasn’t an insect!) she trailed careful fingers down until they lighted upon tiny fingers.  She turned slowly and saw a head of fiery red hair and luminous brown eyes set in a chubby, fair-skinned face.  She smiled at Mrs. MacArthur, who blushed and stammered an apology, “Yer Grace, I’m sorry she touched ye; I wa’ talkin’ ta someone an’ she reached out before I coul’ stop her.”

Claire smiled, “Oh, no, Mrs. MacArthur, it’s no problem. Rhona and I are already acquainted. Remember? I came to treat a neighbor’s burned arm and Rhona and Annie were playing outside. Rhona asked me what I was doing there and I told her. She smiled and patted my cheek and went back to her game.”

Mrs. MacArthur beamed, “Oh, yes, it was Simon MacGillivray’s right arm he burned on the oven taking a large roast out for Caroline.” 

Claire and Mrs. MacArthur watched in fascination as her daughter pointed to Claire’s bodice and the embroidery, “Mam, itty lady.”

Claire looked puzzled and turned to Mrs. MacArthur to translate.

“She says you’re a pretty lady, Your Grace,” and winked at Claire.  Both women laughed and Rhona squirmed in her mother’s arms, eager to get down and play with the other children present.

Soon, dinner was announced. Mrs. Fitz and her team had outdone themselves – Jamie and Claire’s guests feasted on small bowls of beef stew with warm buttered bannocks on the side.  Next came serving plates heaped high with estate-made sausages with gravy, neeps and tatties.

Jamie stared at the largesse on the huge table. Stew, bannocks and sausages in that order? Something was niggling at him. He stared at the gravy boat, steaming neeps and tatties and then the penny fell – Claire had arranged to feed the guests the food Jamie had been served after his capture.  He turned to Claire and said, “I suppose a ham will come after this?” 

Claire grinned, “Oh, no... I may have heard from a little chirpy birdie that one of my new husband’s favorites is something else,” and Claire smirked devilishly.

“Would tha’ birdie ha’ black hair or red hair, my lady?”

It was a robin redbreast, darling, not a raven.”

Jamie’s attention was pulled just at that moment to the sound of multiple feet moving in the same rhythm.  Two men were bringing in a carving board, upon which sat a magnificent forty-pound roast suckling pig.  It was a mouthwatering work of art with a perfume to match – the skin was a crispy golden reddish brown and the meat was so tender the kitchen staff had difficulty keeping the slices from falling apart.  A creamy white pepper sauce was served alongside.  Garlicky carrots and cabbage rolls, of course, rounded out the main course.

Jamie and Claire, as the hosts, were served last.  Jamie speared a large bite of pig on his fork and moaned as the rich flavors burst forth on his willing tongue.  He ate three platefuls, just as he had when he was captured. 

 The dessert was either hot apple cobbler with a cinnamon-cardamom sauce and whipped cream, shortbread cookies or cranachan, which Claire knew was Ellen’s favorite.  Claire spared no expense with the libations, going deep into her wine cellar to pull the best wines and champagne she had to offer. 

After dinner, the men went into the smoking parlor and the women into Claire’s parlor to chat and digest their food.  Dancing would start in less than an hour.  Before Claire knew it, she was being twirled around the dance floor by Brian, Ian and all of Jamie’s brothers. Jamie was dancing with his mother and other ladies and beamed when he saw his beautiful bride, face pink with exertion and laughter. Jamie danced with Jenny next, and now it was Claire’s turn to giggle at the two of them, laughing and carrying on.  She mused that it must have always been this way between the two of them.  They might quarrel and be rather cross with each other occasionally, but they were each other’s fiercest ally growing up. A lump rose in her throat because she wanted her children to learn to depend on each other like Jenny and Jamie did.  She prayed for the health of the child resting underneath her heart and thanked God for him or her.

The extended Fraser family stayed for a week after the wedding and Jenny and Ellen promised to return to help out with Jamie and Claire’s baby.

Life settled back into its predictable patterns for Jamie and Claire.  In December, they finally heard from Ned Gowan – Jamie would not have to take up the title of Duke for his and Claire’s child to inherit his or her mother’s title.  The Frasers were vastly relieved, - they could finally relax. Jamie loved seeing Claire grow round with his child.  He had never considered that she could be any more beautiful to him than she presently was, but the pregnancy gave her skin a rosy glow, her eyes and hair shone as never before.  Her sexual appetite also increased greatly, much to Jamie’s delight.  If she asked him to wake her with cunnilingus, he would, loving her tenderly, drinking up her throaty sighs of pleasure.  He learned quickly that she knew what she wanted and not to try to make things easy on her by telling her she didn’t have to love him as well.  One Saturday morning, she freed herself from his warm arms and got out of bed, much to her husband’s disappointment.

“Och, Claire, lass, where are ye goin’? Come back ta bed,” he pleaded. 

She smirked, “I will. I just want a snack. Sit up on the edge of the bed, lover, come on,” she coaxed.

Confused, Jamie cocked an eyebrow, “I thought ye wanted a snack, Claire.”

She smiled and knelt in front of him, “I never said I wanted to snack on food, husband.  Be good and spread those thighs!”

Jamie backed up on the bed and stammered, “Cl-Claire, a leannan, ye dinna need –“

Oh, I know exactly what I need, sir, and that’s your delicious cock in my mouth. Get over here, now!”

Jamie’s eyes showed his surprise and without thinking, he blurted, “Yes, mistress!” and scooted back towards the edge of the bed.  He widened his thighs and sighed in happiness as his wife’s velvet mouth caressed his member.  He got achingly hard very quickly and watched in fascination as his cock disappeared into her warm depth.  She moaned around him and he hissed in pleasure as the vibrations hit his skin.  She pulled off him and licked and sucked his cockhead and moved her hand in a corkscrew motion in time with her tongue.  She kept feasting on his tossel and moved her warm fingers to his balls and patted them gently, pulling a groan from Jamie.  She knew when he shook with a full-body shiver that he was close.  She did not stop herself from her task; she had discovered that pregnant sex with Jamie aroused her more, to say nothing of him.  She deepthroated him one last time and Jamie roared as his hot come pulsed out of his cock into Claire’s throat.  She rose from her knees and he helped her settle under the covers again.  He gathered her in his arms and kissed the back of her neck until he could feel she’d fallen asleep. Only then did Jamie allow himself to sleep.

Claire’s due date was approaching rapidly, and soon it was one week before the baby’s alleged due date.  Ellen and Jenny arrived, as promised.  Ellen thought it most wise to bring her husband and son-in-law with them, to try and keep Jamie as steady as possible.  He jumped every time he heard Claire’s voice, his head whipping around, a panicked look in his eye.  He got on his poor wife’s nerves so badly she asked Brian to talk to him.  He did, and after that, Jamie seemed to relax somewhat.

One dark morning, Claire woke Jamie up from a deep sleep, shaking his arm,

“Jamie, go get your mam, it’s time!”

He rolled over groggily, “Time, Claire? Time fer what? Do ye need water or somethin’ – “

He never finished his sentence, though, because Claire stopped him and spoke very deliberately to her sleep-addled mate, “Jamie, my waters broke. The baby’s coming. Go get your mam!”

Jamie’s eyes grew wide as her message sunk in.  He vaulted out of bed and quickly pulled on breeches. He ran down the hallway to his parents’ room, just stopping himself from bursting in on Ellen and Brian.  He knocked loudly on the door, “Mam? Mam? Claire says the bairn’s comin’!”

He heard noise coming from inside and wisely stepped back a few feet.  His mother emerged first, “Alrigh’, son, I’ll go get Jenny.  You go sit with Claire until we get there, aye?”

Jamie nodded vigorously and dashed to their room.  He found his wife sitting up in bed, smiling at him, “Well, Da-to-be, are you ready to meet your heir?”

Jamie walked slowly to Claire and said in a breathy voice laden with emotion, “Aye, Mam-to-be, and ye?  My part was quite easy considering you’ve had ta grow the newest Fraser all by yerself.”  He took Claire’s hands in his and kissed them, pressing them to his heart.  “Thank ye, a nighean, ye are the best part o’ me.”

“And you, of me,” answered Claire, eyes clouding with tears.

“Lass, please, dinna cry.  Here,” and Jamie took a corner of his sark and dabbed at the tears coursing down his wife’s face.  He gave her a heart-stopping, deep kiss and hugged her gently.  Ellen and Jenny came in with Mrs. Fitz, who had a coterie of kitchen maids with her.

“So, here we go.  Jamie, go downstairs wi’ th’ men.”

He opened his mouth to protest, but his mother scolded, “Now, Jamie, the birthin’ room is no place fer a man. Out. Go find Ian an’ yer Da.”

Jamie did fine downstairs with Ian and Brian until Claire screamed with her first heavy contraction.  He was up out of his chair and almost reached the staircase, but Brian and Ian stopped him just in time.  Brian shook him a little, “Son! I know it’s hard, but ye canna go up there.  Ye’d just be in th’ way.”

Jamie looked into his father’s eyes and saw the warning there.  He growled, “But, Da, I want ta be with Claire, please!”

“No, son.  Come on, we’ll go to tha barn an’ go see Donas, aye?  I think Mrs. Fitz ha’ some cookies left over from dinner, as well as a couple o’ apples an’ carrots.  Come on, we’ll spend some time wi’ the horses an’ ye can show us the barns, aye?” Wisely, Brian didn’t let go of his son.  He knew if he did, Jamie would be up the stairs faster than you could say “Jack Robinson.”  Ian gathered the treats and they all ventured out into the night. 

Donas, Cinnamon and the other barn denizens nickered and tossed their heads in greeting when Red Boy approached.  Jamie went straight to Donas and scratched his ears in greeting, murmuring, “Donas, our mistress, her babe i’ comin’ an’ I canna be wi’ her.”  Donas exhaled carefully on Red Boy and lipped his hair. 

Careful breaths. Not spook my Boy.  Donas know Red Boy sad and frightened.  Curly Haired Woman in pain. Red Boy’s colt is coming. Donas smell it. 

Donas slid his head over Jamie’s shoulder, trying to hold him the best he could, whuffing softly.  Brian and Ian watched as Jamie cuddled the huge horse, burying his hands in the soft, thick mane, stroking his cheek.  They walked away to give Jamie privacy when they saw his shoulders shake silently.  They both knew that a man’s first birth was very emotional. Added to that, Jamie had lost his first love, Micheline. All three knew that there was a chance that Claire or the child or both could die during delivery.  Both men sat in the dark and prayed for the safe delivery of the child and the health of the mother.

Donas know his Boy heard our mistress scream. Donas and everyone heard, too.  Mares do that when colts come. Donas love Red Boy.  The horse stood very still and simply let the large man cry into his mane, stroking it gently all the while.

Gradually, Red Boy’s breathing calmed and he wiped his running nose quickly.  He whispered, “thank you,” to Donas and gave him a cookie and a half a carrot.   

The men distributed the rest of the treats and trudged back to the house.  immediately headed for the drinks cabinet. Ian went to stop him, but Brian put a hand on his forearm, “Nay, son, a couple o’ drinks willna hurt him. Leave him be.”  Jamie poured drinks for the other two men. He led the first toast, “To my wife, Claire." The men raised their glasses in tribute and sipped their whisky.

The clock seemed to move so slowly for the three men.  The quiet was punctuated by scuffling feet and Claire’s cries.  Brian had managed to engage Jamie in a game of chess at around 6:00 a.m.  Of course, Jamie couldn’t concentrate on the game, but it was better than Jamie drinking himself into a stupor.

Jamie shielded his eyes as the morning sun pierced the mountains. Dawn. Would his child arrive today?  Would Claire be alright?

Suddenly, he heard his mother calling him, “Jamie, lad, come on, Claire wants ye ta meet someone!” She smiled broadly and stepped down off the stairs quickly and into her husband’s arms.

Jamie leapt out of his chair so fast he upset not only the chess set but the entire table and Brian’s chair as well.  Not noticing the wreckage in the slightest, he charged upstairs and knocked timidly.  Finally, he heard his beloved’s voice, “Husband? Come in!”

Jamie gripped the doorknob and turned it slowly but deliberately.  The door swung open and there sat Claire, smiling at him, a tiny blanket-wrapped bundle in her hands.  His eyes clouded with tears, “Claire, are ye alrigh’, mo nighean donn?” She nodded and a warm smile spread over her beautiful features.  “Come meet your son, Jamie.”

He walked carefully to the bed and kissed Claire.  In her arms, a tiny person blinked unfocused eyes at his father.  Just like his mother, he had whisky eyes, but he had a bright red shock of hair crowning his tender head.  His skin was almost translucent.  Jamie stared in wonder at the child, tears running down his face.  “Oh, God, thank ye, Claire.  Thank ye fer our miracle,” and he kissed her, tasting her salt that was dripping from her chin onto the baby’s blanket.  Jamie got a handkerchief and wiped his wife’s face and then his own.

“Well, Jamie, would you like to hold him?” Claire smiled tiredly as her husband’s mouth dropped open.

“Aye, I would.” She handed the baby over to his father and couldn’t help noticing that Jamie supported his head in the crook of his arm immediately.  The new father kissed his son’s pink forehead and asked hopefully,  “can I take him downstairs to meet the family, Claire?”

She smiled, “Yes, of course. Our son needs to meet his Grandda and Uncle Ian and Mrs. Fitz, of course.”

Slowly and oh so carefully, Jamie broughtr his son downstairs.  His Grandda and Uncle Ian admired him and all the ladies cooed over him.  When Ian laid the babe in Mrs. Fitz’ arms, she burst into happy tears and kissed him over and over,

“Welcome, a balaich. Ye are so lucky ta be a part o’ this family. I’ve waited fer ye fer so long. I’m goin’ ta help yer Mam an’ Da raise ye up righ’, an I’m goin’ ta feed ye until ye’re big an’ strong.”

Two months later, Donas, Cinnamon and the rest of the barn dwellers met the young master. As was fitting, Curly Haired Woman and Red Boy introduced Gordon Brian David Ian Fraser, heir to Her Grace, Claire Fraser, Fifth Duchess of Glenfinnan, to Donas first.

Red Boy and Curly Haired Woman’s foal tiny, but he smell good, like apples, oats and Curly Haired Woman’s cookies. Donas will be good teacher for Little Red.  Donas love Little Red, too.

 

Three years after our last scene –

Jamie and Claire walked towards the stables with Geordie and one-year-old Morag. Donas stood in the sunshine, coat brushed to a satiny finish.  He was excited, for his young charge was coming today to walk with him.  Jamie placed Geordie carefully on Donas while Claire held Gordon steady.  Jamie mounted Donas, placing a protective arm around the toddler.  Jamie barely nudged Donas with his heels and Donas began walking very slowly.  He advanced about five feet, stopped and listened – Little Red was calm.  Donas went another five feet and turned slowly to face Curly Haired Woman, who had Curly Haired Filly attached to herself.  Donas stopped again right in front of Claire and gently picked up his prize, one of Claire’s butter cookies, from her palm.

Donas good. Cookie good. Donas happy, Red Boy, Curly Haired Woman, Little Red, Curly Haired Filly all happy, too.

Donas get another cookie?

EPILOGUE

Jamie and Claire went on to have another four children.  Thistle Glen was noisy, happy and filled with love. Claire and Jamie were married for over fifty years. Sadly, Claire passed before Jamie, but he proudly saw Geordie assume the mantle of the Duke of Glenfinnan, thus securing the title for the Fraser line in perpetuity.  Geordie married a local girl and was very happy.  Geordie’s heir was Janet Elizabeth Claire Ellen Fraser, Seventh Duchess of Glenfinnan.