Actions

Work Header

Where Amorous Kisses Dwell

Chapter Text

He was dying, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

Fergus had first noticed him getting tired and abundantly sweaty while they were out working with the horses. He’d even teased him about being exhausted from excessive nighttime activities.

But these were not symptoms of exertion; they were likely symptoms of some kind of cancer. Lymphoma was my best guess, though without proper lab work and scans I couldn’t be sure. 

I would’ve diagnosed him sooner if he hadn’t been such a bloody Scot about his discomfort and told me something...not that it would’ve helped.

I checked the swollen lymph nodes in his neck once again, hoping they had magically shrunk down to a normal size, but that was a foolish hope. He was resting now, fatigued as he always was these days. 

“I’m so sorry, darling,” I whispered, holding his fevered hand, lifeless in his unconsciousness. 

“Grannie!” squealed wee Jamie, my grandson toddling into the room, arms wide for balance.

I stood quickly, swooping him up and carrying him away. “James Alexander Colin Fraser MacGregor, you must use your indoor voice when your father is sleeping.”

“Da’s sick,” he said severely.

“You’re right. He is sick. We must let him rest quietly.

“Jamie, dinna go jumping on yer Da!” called Faith, gracefully sweeping into the cottage, my three-month-old namesake secured to her chest with a large wrap.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got him,” I said, shutting the door to Colin’s room, but as soon as the words were out of my mouth, the little heathen was squirming out of my arms to go find his favorite toy sword his grandfather had whittled for him for Hogmanay. 

“Hello, my Sunshine.” I kissed Faith’s cheek. “I didn’t expect you home for another hour, at least.”

She just shrugged, eyes red and swollen. I had come over early in the morning to give her and the children a break from caretaking Colin. They’d gone to Lallybroch to see the family, but apparently, that didn’t last long. Faith just couldn’t stay away when her husband was so ill. 

“We finally have a bit of sunshine,” I said. “It would do you and the children good to be outdoors.”

Faith removed baby Claire from her wrap and handed her over to me, taking a moment to stretch her back. The walk to her cottage from Lallybroch wasn’t very far, but the poor woman was carrying the weight of two young children and a dying husband on her back. 

Not for the first time in the past couple of months did I wish Jamie was home. Faith could’ve really used her father. But he was away with a few of our other children, first to Paris, then to London. He was due back home any day now.

“Would you like me to take the children home to Lallybroch?” I asked. “Give you a little room to breathe? Our housekeeper Leana just had a baby; she could nurse the little one if you—”

“No, Mama,” she cut me off. “I could use the distraction, and I want us all close to Colin...just in case.”

I looked down at my golden-eyed granddaughter in my arms, the only one in the family that looked more like me than Jamie. I kissed her little nose and hugged her close to my chest. “Do you want me to stay? I’d love to spend a bit more time with my little ones.”

“I’m alright, Mama. I’m sure ye have plenty of work waiting for ye at home wi’ Da being gone for so long.”

“Nonsense. Lallybroch is in Fergus’s capable hands.”

“Mama,” she said seriously, “I’m fine.”

“Alright then. I’ll go, but I’m coming back to check on all four of you tomorrow.” I handed little Claire back to her mother and kissed them both goodbye. 

When I turned to wee Jamie, he held up his wooden sword and tried fending off my kisses with heroic swings of his blade, just like his grandda taught him. “Come here you little Scot!” I snatched him up and rained kisses down all over his cheeks as he erupted in a fit of giggles.

We were interrupted by Faith’s somber tone. “Mama, d’ye think...Is there something in the future that could save him? A medicine like yer penicillin?”

I froze, giving wee Jamie a chance to strike me smartly on the head with his wooden sword. I set him down, rubbing the tender spot and turning to her with a look of pained sympathy. 

Faith was fingering a large sapphire she wore embedded on a gold chain around her neck. A gift from her father. The blood in my veins went cold as ice.

“What Colin has is likely cancer,” I said sharp and clear. “In the 1940s, they were treating such things with radiation and possibly some chemicals, but…”

“But what?”

“The treatments often did more damage than good, and the tools to treat it are enormous. They can’t be brought through the stones.”

“But, Mama—”

“No, Faith! Even if we could somehow get the treatments here, they won’t do any good.”

“How do ye know?”

“Because I was a bloody nurse, that’s how.”

“So, ye’ve seen this before? This was the kind of patient ye treated when ye worked at the hospital?”

“Well no, but I have seen this before. I do know quite a bit about it. I had a friend, you see. She was a nurse in the army. Shortly after the war, she was diagnosed with cancer in her lymphatic system. She came to my hospital once to talk to the oncologists about possible treatments. They told her the average life expectancy after diagnosis was five years, and that was with radiation.”

“Five years? If it could give us more time—”

“Five years for those diagnosed early on! Colin is already far more progressed than she was, darling. Even if that weren’t the case, he can’t travel through time.”

“But I could go for him and bring the radiation here.”

“The machines are so big, they would hardly fit in your house, much less through a bloody stone circle.”

Tears welled up in her eyes as she tried to find yet another argument. As her mind raced, I clenched my fists in fear that she might take off straight away to the stones, regardless of the dangers of disrupting space and time.

But reason finally prevailed. She collapsed down into a chair, eyes staring far away, as though she was coming to grips once again with her husband’s death. 

“A foolish hope,” she whispered, her voice weak. “I was just thinking of how my niece and nephew came to save me, and I wanted to do the same for him.”

“Look, if there was a way I could save him, I would do it. Even if that meant going back. I just don’t think it’s possible. And you can’t bloody well leave baby Claire and wee Jamie here without their mother, so don’t get any ideas.”

A silent sob quaked through her body and tears fell. “It just feels so helpless, ye ken. I can travel through time, but it’s bloody useless. If I canna save the ones I love, what is it even worth?”

“Oh darling, I know just what you mean. And I’m so sorry.”

“No, ye don’t!” she snapped.

“Yes, I do,” I whispered. I knew all too well.

“Oh, Mama. I’m sorry. I ken ye know better than anyone.” She looked ashamed of herself. “Ye lost yer husband? Frank?”

I nodded.

“And yer weans?”

I nodded again.

“I dinna ken how ye survived it.”

“I survived losing Frank, because I was meant to find your father. And I survived the babies, because I had you and your brothers and sisters who needed me.” I kissed her forehead. “And you’ll survive this because of them.” I nodded to her children.

“I ken I must do what’s best for the bairns. And I will. I swear it. It’s just that...sometimes I think…”

“What?”

She looked up at me, eyes blurred with tears. “D’ye think maybe Death is following me, Mama? D’ye think it wants payment for the life ye saved? I wasna meant to be here, perhaps—”

“Absolutely not. That’s not how things like this work. Colin would be exactly where he is right now even if you were gone. Instead, you’ve given him a happy life, a beautiful family, and a great love. So chase such foolish notions from your mind.” 

Her eyes dropped to the baby in my arms and then to the toddler at my feet. “D’ye think this is something that could be passed down to the children?”

“I really don’t know enough about it to make any reasonable kind of guess. There is some speculation that certain cancers may be heritable, while others are not.”

She inhaled deeply, shuddering, the air getting stuck in her throat. 

“They’re strong and healthy now, my darling. And they likely can travel through time. Take heart. They’ll need their mother when their father is gone.”

She nodded, reaching out to grasp my hand. “And I have you...and the family.”

“We’re here for you, my Sunshine. And your father will be home soon.”

She breathed a little easier at the mention of Jamie. He couldn’t fight off Colin's cancer, but his solid presence was always so comforting.

I left them with a heaviness of heart, not only for Faith and the children, but for myself. I loved Colin. He’d been a wonderful son-in-law and was as much a part of our family as our own children.

The cold wind blew noisily in my ears and bit at my nose as I walked home on the long dirt road. My thoughts raced with every step, consuming my attention more so than the beautiful scenery around me.

It was strange how you could mourn someone before they were gone. But I supposed Colin was already gone, in many respects. Though he still had some humor when he was awake, he seemed to have lost his sharpness of mind and his quiet strength that were an integral part of his personality. And he didn’t look like himself any longer. He was pale and emaciated...weak and frail. He’d never been like that before.

A shiver went through my body at the thought of having to watch Jamie fall ill like that one day. I knew it wouldn’t come for many years, but a sick fear gripped me at having to live any part of my life without him.

As I walked around a bend in the road, I pulled off the golden necklace I always wore that displayed a large citrine gem. It was warm to the touch, even in the cold weather. One day, I would use a gem like this to leave my life here with my family and go on to save Jamie in his youth.  

I understood what Faith meant when she said it sometimes felt as though Death was following her, like we were defying the natural order of things with our family’s existence. I would never let her know that I shared the same fears, but they were always there, a dark shadow in my mind, hiding in the corners even on my brightest of days.

I was so engrossed in my thoughts, I didn’t notice a large stone in the road. “Fuck!” I yelled, as I fell forward, necklace flying out of my hands and into the brush on the side of the road. My palms stung with fresh cuts, and my knees ached where bruises were likely to show in a day or so. 

Getting old is not for the faint of heart, I thought, as I forced myself up, body disrupted by the jolt of impact more than it would’ve been twenty years ago.

I looked around for my necklace as I dusted myself off. Jamie was bloody obsessed with keeping gemstones in the hands of his time-travelling family. He wanted us to have them at the ready if ever a need should arise. The thought of enduring his irritated grumbling if he found out that I’d lost the necklace had me getting down on my freshly injured hands and knees to poke through a dog rose shrub and all it’s bloody thorns.

You’d think a gold necklace would be easy to find in the wilderness, but the shadows cast by the trees and shrubs muted whatever glitter might help find the bloody thing.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” I cursed, as my cold knuckle scratched against a particularly vicious thorn. “If I had my shovel, I’d dig you out by the root and turn you into mulch, you bastard.”

A quiet chuckle sounded behind me—one I’d recognize anywhere. I looked over my shoulder and saw my husband grinning down at me, a hand on his chin, admiring the sight before him.

“When I thought of all the ways ye’d welcome me home Sassenach, I must say, this one didna cross my mind.”

“I dropped something.”

“Is that so?” He bent down behind me, evil intentions in his eyes. His hands came down to rest on the sides of my arse. “Your bum is the greatest thing about you.

I snorted. “Is that so?”

“It’s Shakespeare, Sassenach. Ye always love it when I recite ye the bard’s verse.”

“Shakespeare?”

“Aye. Measure For Measure, act 2, scene 1.”

I laughed, making said bum bounce in his hands.

“Ye want more poetry, lass?” he started lifting my skirts, hands seeking soft, wobbly flesh. “Methought I was enamored of an ass.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream?”

“Aye,” he groaned, ducking his head down.

“Don’t you dare!” I yelled, pulling away. “We’re on the side of the road where anyone can see!”

“No one’s around. Dinna Fash.” He bent his head again.

“But I’m filthy. It’s been hours since I bathed.”

He snorted. I knew he didn’t care, but I most certainly did. Peering over my shoulder, I saw him grab the flask that was attached to his belt and pop open the lid. 

Jamie!” I said, scandalized. “You are not going to pour whisky on my—OH GOD! It’s fucking cold!”

“I’ll warm ye up in a bit,” he said, wiping down the line of my buttocks with a handkerchief. “It’s been months of famine, Sassenach. Let me feast before the bairns descend, aye?”

I just sighed in resignation and wiggled my bum, feeling no less deprived than him in his absence. If truth be told, we likely wouldn’t have any time alone again until later in the evening, and I certainly couldn’t wait until then.

I expected his soft lips on my skin or his gentle tongue tracing the curve of my buttocks. What I didn’t expect was for him to bite my arse like a bloody horse in heat!

I let off a yelp as he licked sweetly over the injured buttock. Just as I was relaxed again, he moved over and bit the other side. “James Fraser!” I swung a hand back behind me, connecting with his all too hard head.

He laughed, full of mischief, licking and kissing down to more tender places.

“Oh,” I moaned, “now that’s nice.”

His tongue grazed the center of my buttocks, warm breath heating my skin. Jamie groaned as he licked over my arsehole, hands sinking deep in the fat of my bum, splitting me wide apart.

My nerves were heighted being outside where any passersby could see, though the trees and shrubs on the side of the road did provide us with some bit of cover. Making love to my husband outdoors had always been my favorite pastime, I just usually preferred the only witnesses be fluttering songbirds and the occasional deer.

“Ye ken ye like it, Sassenach,” he growled against my arse. “Knowing anyone could walk by and see yer husband defile ye.”

I thought of sweet old Mistress Kerr, the tavern owner in Broch Mordha, walking by and having an apoplexy at the sight of her beloved Laird’s face buried in his Lady’s backside. Or perhaps a patrolling redcoat getting confirmation of what complete barbarians the Scots were, bringing our filthy bedroom activities to the roadside.

For some reason, it made me all the more needy. 

Jamie’s tongue was inside my arse as he slipped a finger down to my quim. “Bloody hell!” I yelled. There was nothing, nothing like being touched so intimately by a man who’d spent half his life devoted to knowing my pleasure. 

His fingers were perfect—long, graceful, and fucking skilled. He rubbed over me, sliding them back and forth over my clitoris like he was playing a harp—I was certainly making plenty of noise at his touch, though unlikely to be anything the angels might sing to.

My fingers dug into the cold earth as my body tensed, fighting for orgasm. But I didn’t come until Jamie was good and ready, speeding his fingers back and forth until I was crying out his name.

He didn’t wait for my orgasm to stop. He yanked down his breeks, found purchase on my hips, and shoved his cock inside. “Deo gratias!” he groaned, holding my arse against him as he felt the last of my climax squeeze around him.

My arms grew weak, and I barely had the strength to hold my face off the ground, but he had only just begun. He pulled back and hammered in, knocking the breath from my lungs. His hips let loose their aggression after months of separation. His knees were between mine, pinching my skin against the dirt as his muscular thighs slapped against my own. 

God, I’d missed the grunting sounds he let loose when seeking climax. I’d missed the feel of his hands on that soft, meaty part of my hips, gripping tight to pull me repeatedly against him. I’d missed the shuddering that rocked through my body when his cock battered my cervix. And I’d missed his triumphant growl whenever I clamped down around him, the fluid of my own pleasure audibly sloshing with every thrust. But most of all, I’d missed his arms curling around me, squeezing my body to his chest as he came, stuttering my name with holy reverence. 

We both collapsed onto our sides, not moving our bodies otherwise. The closest I’d ever come to being any good at meditation was when we lay recovering, listening to our combined breath as our hearts slowed to a soft, languid pace.

For the first time in months, I felt completely at peace. 

“Welcome home, Soldier,” I sighed.

He reached down and groped my bottom. “Welcome, ass.”

“More Shakespeare?”

“Aye. Twelfth Night, though dinna ask me what scene; I can hardly recall my own name at the moment.”

“I think I miss Catallus.”

“Do ye, now?” He turned me over and met my eyes, smiling happily. “Ye want a thousand kisses, Sassenach?”

“Yes. After you’ve washed your face and mouth.”

He chuckled, loosening my bodice and pulling free my breasts. “Then let amorous kisses dwell, on our lips, begin and tell…” he recited, bending to kiss over my nipple.

“Dwell on our lips?” I interrupted.  “Those aren’t exactly my lips.”

“Give me a minute to get my legs working again, and I’ll go wash up for them.”

“Tired, are you? Worn out after only one time?”

“After being on the road for a week, following months of rushing around to get my business done before Spring? Aye. I’m worn out. ” He rolled onto his back, trying to relax. 

Ifrinn!” he shouted, jumping up on his knees. 

“What? What is it?” 

He rubbed his bottom while his eyes scanned the ground for the violent offender.

He reached down to pick up a branch dog rose, complete with thorns and all. Tangled on one of the little vines was a small golden chain. 

“My necklace! You found it.” I grabbed it cheerfully, and pulled it back over my head. 

Mmphm,” he grumbled, pulling up his trousers.

He helped me up to my feet, and in return, I assisted with sanitizing his face and mouth. After he spit out the last of the whisky, he asked, “May I kiss my wife now? Or d’ye want me to soak in a barrel of spirits for a few days first?”

I grabbed him by the collar and pulled his lips down to mine. I was never so happy as when in Jamie’s arms. 

“God, I missed ye, mo ghràidh.

I kissed him slowly, body and mind finally content in this little stolen moment together, away from the demands awaiting us at home. He had the most delectable bottom lip that my own lips loved to cling to as we parted.

All too soon, the curiosity of our time apart got the better of us, so he led me back to the road where his wagon was waiting, and we began to fill each other in on the last few months.

“How did you sneak up on me?” I asked as he assisted me into the wagon’s long seat.

“I saw ye walking up the path from Faith’s cottage. The wind was blowing in my direction, so ye couldna hear me come upon ye. When I turned round the bend back there, I meant to surprise ye, but then I noticed ye’d fallen down, so I rushed o’er.”

“I had a lot on my mind.”

“Oh?” He climbed up onto the seat beside me and set the horses off toward Lallybroch.

“No, you first. How’s my little man? And Bree? And Young Ian?”

“They were all just fine, last I saw them. Eager to be rid of me.”

“I doubt that.”

Jamie snorted. “When we arrived in Paris, puir Jared was nursing a headache from the night before from too much drink—”

“Jared had a hangover? He must be getting old.”

“Aye. Happens to the best of us. Anyhow, he was regaling us wi’ tales of a new brothel that just opened where he’s doing much of his business, and I could see Young Ian’s eyes glittering wi’ hope and possibilities.”

“Oh God. Jenny will kill us if he ends up getting a whore pregnant or dying of syphilis.”

“Aye. I suppose it’s none so terrible she and Ian moved to Fraser’s Ridge. An ocean separating us might keep her wrath at bay.”

“Do you think it was a good idea to leave him there? He’s still quite young and—”

“Come now, Sassenach. He’s fourteen. Ye ken he needs his education, and the lad has an adventurous spirit.”

It was my turn to snort. “Yes, I recall all too well how adventurous the lad is.” 

It would be a long time before I’d ever forget everything that had happened with that adventurous young man all those years ago. Those events had resulted in him living in Scotland with us rather than North Carolina with his parents. But that was a story to ruminate on some other day.

“He’ll come to us if he needs us,” Jamie reassured me, “and Jared will keep an eye on him in the meantime.”

“You mean the Jared who was nursing a hangover and regaling him with tales of the latest brothel? That Jared?”

Mmphm.” 

I shook my head. I wouldn’t win this argument. And Jamie had obtained Jenny and Ian’s permission to send him to university in Paris, so I suppose my opinion mattered little. Still, Ian was like a son to me. We’d had him in our custody since he was such a little boy.

“Brianna sends her love,” Jamie continued on. Our daughter was staying in Paris with my friend Louise so she could learn to paint with the masters. Only her love of the arts could pull her away from her breeks in Scotland and shove her into grand panniers in the salons of Paris.

“I know. I’ve already received a letter from her.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. She sent it just after you left for London. She’s enamored with all she’s learning, though has little patience for Louise and her parties. She did say Ian was behaving himself, but you know she’d say that even if he wasn’t.”

“Aye.”

“And what about Willie? How is my little darling?” I tried to hide the fact that my eyes were misting over at the thought of our baby boy being away from home for the first time. 

“He’s more than alright, Sassenach. Ye ken he’s in safe hands.”

I took a deep, steadying breath. “Yes, but you know he’s getting to that age. It’s going to happen soon, Jamie.”

“Which is exactly why he needs to start spending more time away from us, Claire. Ye ken he canna do what he must if he’s a scairt wee bairn.”

I still didn’t like the idea. “Couldn’t we send someone else back in time to do it for him? A future grandchild or something?”

“And risk it all going wrong? No. It’ll be fine, lass. Ye ken it will. You were there.”

“You’re right, I was there, and it was bloody dangerous. And he’s only a child.”

“He’s ready. I’ve made sure of it. And dinna fash. They’re staying in England. His godfather assured me he has no business in Scotland until Summer. It likely won’t happen for another year or two, at least.”

Though his words were of some comfort, I still hated the idea of my son being out of my sight.

“Settle yer mind, Sassenach. He’s fine. He promised he’d write ye everyday before laying down to bed.”

I snorted, knowing how unlikely that was to happen. Jamie chuckled with me and hugged me close to his side. We could see the broch in the distance, and I felt Jamie’s chest swell with the comfort of coming home after a long time away.

“I’ve told ye about Bree, Willie, and Ian. Now, tell me, how are the rest of my bairns?” he asked. “And the tenants?”

I didn’t yet know how to tell him about Colin, so I started first with the other children. “Fergus has been taking care of the tenants. He’s doing a wonderful job.”

“Of course he is.”

“And Marsali is better at keeping house than I ever was.” Jamie snorted all too heartily for my taste. “The twins, well, you know them. They pop in and out as they please, usually dragging a boar or deer in with them.”

Jamie shook his head in irritation. “I told them to be looking out for their Ma while I was gone, but I see they’ve been letting ye traipse about the countryside on yer own. Who kens what may have happened if a stray Scot happened upon ye on the roadside, lass.” He blinked at me with a mischievous smirk.

I bumped his shoulder and continued filling him in. “They’ve been talking about building themselves a cottage.”

Jamie nodded. “They’re a bit young yet, but they’re ready for one—feral wee beasts that they are. Perhaps we’ll get started on it this summer.”

“Actually, I don’t think that’ll be necessary.”

“No?”

I sighed, gathering my courage to have the dreaded conversation. “There may be a cottage freeing up soon.”

Jamie looked down at me, narrowing his eyes. 

“I think sometime in the next few months, maybe longer, Faith and her children will be coming to live with us at Lallybroch.”

He tensed at the heartbreak in my voice. “Why?” His voice was like gravel.

“It’s Colin.” I shook my head and took a deep breath. “He’s unwell.”

Jamie stopped the horses and turned to face me. “Unwell? Can ye no’ fix him?”

My eyes moistened and my chin quivered. All I could do was shake my head.

“And we canna save him wi’ the stones somehow?”

I shook my head again, and the tears fell.

“Oh Christ. How’s our lass?”

“Not good. She loves him so dearly.”

Jamie pulled me close, holding me tight the way I’d needed for months. Tears seemed to fall so easily in his arms, and I let them flow freely for the first time since I realized we’d be losing a son-in-law.

When my sobs subsided, he kissed my forehead and tucked me into his side once more. “We’ll do what we can for them, even if that only means prayer.”

He reached for the reins and got the horses moving again. There was a shaky urgency in his embrace that told me he was eager to go see Faith. “How are the weans? Wee Jamie and Claire?”

“Healthy. Happy. Oblivious as only children can be.”

“Oblivious? I’m sure they sense something is wrong.”

He was probably right. Children could often be more observant than their parents. We sat quietly together for some time, leaning on each other, drawing strength.

“And how’s my wee Lizzie? Did she miss her Da?”

“Of course she did. She’s made friends with the children of the new tenants just beyond the orchard.”

“Children? They’re hardly children, Sassenach. They’re teenagers, as ye say. And their father is a bloody Englishman.”

I smiled despite my tears. I didn’t want to tell him that one of the bloody Englishman’s teenagers had taken a clear liking to our daughter. Lizzie was more than a little enamored with the lad as well. I’d save it for a better time.

He sighed with relief as we rode up to the house, giving me a squeeze and kissing my temple. He helped me down from the wagon and escorted me inside, wanting to see the children before unloading the empty whisky barrels he’d brought from Paris.

The house was surprisingly quiet with so many of our children away from home or working outside. There was no one in the parlor or the dining room, so I dragged Jamie to the kitchen to get him something to eat.

“Da!” yelled Marsali, eyes wide. She rushed over quickly to greet him with a hug.

“It’s fine to see ye, lass.” He hugged her close and kissed her head. 

“Welcome home, Papa,” said Fergus, smiling bright. His cheeks were a bit red; perhaps he was spending too much time in the sun.

Jamie released Marsali and embraced our eldest. “How’s everything, laddie? Are we ready for the planting?”

Oui. We’re just waiting for the ground to thaw.”

“Claire tells me ye both did well taking care of Lallybroch while I was gone?”

Oui, Papa.

“Good man.”

“They were wonderful, darling,” I said. “Both are more capable of running this household entirely on their own.”

“Little makes a man as happy as knowing his sons and daughters are growing into fine young men and women,” Jamie patted Fergus on the back. “And the twa of ye working so well together—as brothers and sisters aught—is a comfort when I have to be away.”

“He’s hardly my brother,” snapped Marsali.

“Pardon?” I said, surprised by her tone.

She shrugged and returned to the counter to sharpen a blade. There was a raw piece of venison in front of her that I assumed was meant to be our dinner. “Fergus and I are not brother and sister. We share no blood.”

“Aye,” said Jamie, “but ye share the same parents and the same family.”

“Perhaps. But I was only a wean when he went off to university. And then he spent most of my life running spirits for ye between Edinburgh and Paris. He’s only been home a few years, and we’ve both been grown that whole time.”

“Marsali,” Fergus chided, “Papa is only pleased we can work together to help the family. I’m sure a thank you would suffice.”

“Aye, and I am only reminding him that you and I are not siblings.” She smiled at him without any joy in her eyes.

Jamie looked at me with utter confusion, hoping I could shine a light on whatever that was, but I was just as dumbfounded as him.

“Come, Papa,” said Fergus. “Let me help you unload the wagon. Did Jared have the good brandy barrels this time?”

“Aye,” said Jamie, eyes still narrowed on our son.

“Marvelous. I’ve cleared some space in the shed…” Fergus led Jamie away to the front door, thoughts of food apparently forgotten.

Marsali was busy with her knife and the venison, and she clearly wasn’t in the mood for further conversation, so I took the opportunity to steal away upstairs to wash myself down after our roadside activities.

As I cleaned myself up, I looked out the window to find Jamie and Fergus. The stable boys and farm hands had gotten wind of Jamie’s return, and people were beginning to filter into the courtyard to greet their Laird. I sighed contentedly, Lallybroch once again beginning to feel much more like home.

 


 

Immediately after the work was done, Jamie mounted my horse—poor Donas deserved a rest—and rode out to visit Faith and the grandchildren. He came back home visibly exhausted and a little on edge. He would’ve done well to just go upstairs and sleep for a good day and a half, but he was hungry and insisted on having dinner with the remaining children.

He had brought back a good amount of fine wine from his business with Jared, and we drank it lazily as we finished our dinner and caught up with the children. Jamie asked a dozen questions to Jo and Kezzie about their winter hunts, and Fergus filled Jamie in on the latest redcoat promoted to captain of the local dragoons.

Marsali had little to say to anyone at the table, which was unusual for her. I noticed her get up more than once to use the privy during the course of dinner, and she was looking rather gray in the dim candlelight. 

Lizzie, on the other hand, was chattering away, as was her nature, sharing all about her day with her new friends on the other side of the orchard. “And then I helped dig up the dirt for a kailyard no’ far from the stream so they wouldna have to walk a great distance for water if we dinna get much rain this summer.”

“We’re in Scotland, Lizzie,” said Jo. “When do we ever ‘not get much rain’?”

Mmphm,” she grunted, flipping her hair and rolling her eyes.

“Well, that’s a fine thing to help our new tenants wi’ their kailyard,” said Jamie, “but did ye help yer Ma wi’ hers while I was gone?”

Lizzie flushed red and smiled sheepishly. 

“I expect my kailyard is far less interesting than the new tenants’,” I laughed, feeling the warmth of the wine on my cheeks, “considering there are no handsome young sassenach boys to help with the tilling.”

“What d’ye mean?” Jamie sat up straighter and narrowed his eyes on his daughter. I covered my mouth, realizing I’d yet to tell him about Lizzie’s little crush.

Mama!” said Lizzie, shrinking into her seat and hiding her face with a hand at her brow.

“Is that wee laddie bothering ye, lass? What’s his name? Fitzwilliam?” he said with disdain.

“He’s no’ bothering me, Da. Please leave him alone.”

Mmphm. Would ye rather no’ spend some time wi’ a good Scottish family? I ken the MacLeods can be a bit rambunctious, but they come from decent stock, and their lad Duncan seems a friendly sort.”

“Da! He’s thirteen years old!”

“Aye, and ye’re fifteen.”

Dhia. Mama, may I be excused?”

“Yes, darling. Clean up your plate and check on the goats before you retire.”

Lizzie stood up in a mortified huff, grabbed her dishes, and left for the kitchen. 

Jamie took a sharp bite of his bannock and chewed like he was the goat that needed feeding—an angry goat at that. I was pretty sure I heard him grumble, “Fitzwilliam,” under his breath.

“You do remember Lizzie’s mother is also a sassenach, darling?” I said, trying to hide my smile.

“He’s at least seventeen and has no business around my daughter.”

“Jamie, she’s fifteen. She’s going to be showing interest in young men, and considering you fell in love with a sassenach, I’d suppose she wouldn’t think it was such a terrible thing to do the same.”

Love?”  

I just sighed and poured him another drink. 

“Pardon me,” said Marsali, getting up from the table quickly and rushing outside.

Jamie’s eyes went wide as he watched her leave the room. “What the bloody hell has gotten into the women in this family?”

I put my napkin down and began to follow her out, but Fergus stopped me. “I’ll go check on her, Maman. Rest your feet. She told me earlier she ate some bad cheese.”

We were left at the table with only the twins for company, both of whom were scarfing down their third helping of supper. They didn’t ask to be excused, but they took their plates and rushed off to the kitchen and out the back door when they were done.

Jamie sat looking at the large empty dining table with his mouth open in shock. I took a long sip of wine as he exclaimed, “Nine children! We have nine bloody children and not one of them can sit through a whole meal.”

“Faith and Brianna would if they were here, darling. Though I can’t say the same for Ian or Willie.”

“We live in a madhouse.” He gulped down his entire glass of wine.

I grabbed his hand and chuckled. “Well, I’m pleased to have you home. I was tired of being exasperated with this lot all by myself.”

He brought my hand to his lips and kissed my knuckles, thoughts still racing behind his narrowed brow. Despite his grouchy expression, my eyes—influenced no doubt by the delicious wine—gazed at my gorgeous husband who seemed to be glimmering beautifully in the soft candlelight. I could almost see the moment when he noticed how strongly his presence was affecting me.

“Come, lass. If the Lord and our children have blessedly given us a moment alone, let’s no’ waste it staring at their empty seats.”

I smiled giddily. “I’ll clean up the table and meet you upstairs when I’m done?”

“No.” He stood and helped me to my feet. He bent down and lifted me over his shoulder, calling out for our housekeeper to take care of the mess we were leaving behind.

“Jamie!” I yelled, laughing foolishly. “Put me down!”

“I ken exactly where I’m gonna put ye, Sassenach.” He marched me out of the dining room and into the parlor. 

Just as he was about to traverse up the stairs and to our room, Fergus came running into the house, calling for his parents. “Maman! Papa! Viens vite ici!” 

Jamie turned around to face him—which meant my arse was somewhere in the vicinity of his face as he was addressing our son. “Put me down!” I yelled, smacking his bum.

He gently set me on the floor, keeping his hands around my waist until I was steady on my feet.

“Come,” said Fergus. “You must see for yourself.”

Jamie and I looked at each other, both bewildered, before following Fergus outside. It was already dark, the sun having recently disappeared behind the mountains in the skyline. Kezzie and Jo were both holding lanterns to illuminate the scene.

“What’s going on? Who’s here?” I asked, holding Jamie’s arm as we made our way down the steps. It appeared we had an unexpected visitor arrive in a wagon.

“Jock?” said Jamie. “To what do we owe the pleasure?” 

The old Highlander was in his wagon, staring down at a basket in the middle of his cargo. The object seemed to be holding the rapt attention of Lizzie, Marsali, and the rest of our children. 

“What is it?” I asked.

A small, infant’s cry answered my question.

“A baby?!” I instantly climbed up on the wagon and peered down at the little one bundled up in a basket. It had dark hair and lovely olive skin. 

But the greatest shock wasn’t that a strange child had been brought to our house unexpectedly in the night. No, what floored me most was that in the child’s hands was an object in which I was intimately familiar.

“Brianna’s pearls!” I bent down to get the baby, pulling the pearls from its grasp, fearful it would break the necklace and choke on the little pieces. “But who does this child belong to?”

Jock just nodded to a lumpy blanket in the corner of the wagon. It was so dark, it took my eyes a moment to realize it was covering a body—a dead body by the smell of it. 

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!”