John lay awake, listening to his wife’s even breathing, her soft sighs and funny noises in the back of her throat. Sleep was not a necessity for their kind; neither was breathing. But from the time she’d come to them, wild and untamable, an adult newborn, it was something that comforted her. She’d managed to retrain her undead form to draw breath, enough to lull her into sleep. She didn’t always do it; sometimes she stayed up to tend to her garden in the safety of the darkness. But John knew it helped her feel more normal than she’d ever actually be again, and his presence in this activity added to that normalcy.
He couldn’t figure it out himself, how to force himself into a state he no longer needed to survive, something his body did not naturally find anymore. But he was more than willing to lie in a comfortable bed with her while she did it, hold her, feel her, smell her for hours on end. That was his meditation, he supposed, as sleep was for Claire. Many of the things she’d managed to find a way to do eluded him; but that was just Claire, he supposed.
The breathing stopped, and had he not been undead himself for hundreds of years, it might have given him something resembling a heart attack. But he knew that it just meant that she was awake again. If he wasn’t sure enough, the arm that had been lazily draped over his bare torso tightened like a snake, and she hummed, buzzing against the hollow of his chest. He tenderly stroked her hair, and she kissed the skin she lay on.
“Good morning, my darling.”
“Good morning, my dear.”
He quickly lit the lamp on their night table; she’d expressed to him centuries ago that the thing she missed most was the sun gently waking her up in the morning. She did not like the dark, and yet in the dark she must live for eternity. He strove to make their home as bright as possible despite the curtains being tightly drawn at all times.
She was lazily tracing patterns on his chest and torso with her soft fingertips, and he returned the favor on the bare expanse of her smooth back.
“I had an idea.”
“It’s for the boy.” Her voice was scarcely above a whisper. “Jamie.”
It had been three days since her violent return from the young printing apprentice, since she’d confessed bloodlust the likes of which John did not think her capable. She had not spoken of him since then. John knew she’d had to have been thinking of the boy, at least, perhaps driving her mad every second. She likely feared that by voicing those thoughts out loud, she’d have set herself off again. But she was calm now, serene, even.
“With our combined political influences I think we can make it happen for him.”
She did not mean his and hers, of course; she alone had little sway on such matters, but John, Hal, the Comte, insufferable though he may be, even Louise...they’d managed a few things here or there over the last centuries.
“It will make him so happy.”
He heard the smile in her voice before he flicked his eyes down to her glorious face and saw it, squished against his chest though it was.
“And will it make you happy if he is happy?”
“Yes. So very much.”
He caressed down her jaw until he was cupping her chin, lifting her face to his. She obliged him, leaning up on his chest so their faces were inches apart.
“Then it is done.”
He kissed her sweetly.
“Whatever it is, it is done.”
Jamie heard nothing but Geordie’s droning complaining; he hadn’t stopped since the shattering of the window. Jamie had hidden a few of his valuables and his money, claiming to have had the room broken into rather than shattered by a vicious madwoman.
Christ, it felt almost sinful to refer to her as such.
Yet he hadn’t managed to come up with a better term. There was no earthly or kind way to describe what had occurred in that room. He’d disposed of the shattered pieces of his chair, using the larger pieces for kindling.
Geordie was muttering about the cost of glass these days, and Jamie wanted to punch the wee fool between the eyes.
Jamie’s initial instinct had been to blame the incident on himself, then he wouldn’t have to hear the man, because the cost of the repairs could come out of his pay, and after all, the Lady was only there on his behalf…
But then he could not come up with a reasonable explanation for accidentally shattering an entire window on his own. So he’d swept the glass on the inside and claimed burglary.
In a way...he really had been robbed.
The elusive, mad (if that’s what she was) Lady Grey had stolen his heart, mind, and soul.
She’d been in his every dream since her whirlwind departure, all of them terribly sinful, painfully exquisite.
He could still taste her, even when wide awake.
And yet he knew she wouldn’t come back.
He’d let a stranger rob him completely of his senses, and he’d never see her again.
Perhaps he’d imagined her after all. Perhaps she was a Kelpie driven to madness in his own room, and she had a soul after all, begging him to leave her before she could carry out her intended harm of him.
Better she be gone, then.
He shook his head, and actually started deliberately focusing on Geordie’s grating tones. That was certainly one way to get one’s mind off a pretty lass.
And then the bell rang.
Like a true, bonafide idiot, Jamie’s heart leapt out of his chest. Something innate and primal in him screamed that she’d returned to him.
“Jamie!” Geordie called. “Someone is here for ye!”
It was far too late for a usual customer; the sun had already gone down, and Jamie had been huddling in his bedroom by the fire, the room being unusually cold given the gaping hole in the wall.
Geordie’s words propelled him further, convincing him all the more that she had arrived.
And, God, what would he even do if she had?
Before he could even begin to ponder that impossible question, he was met with the figure of a slender man. Despite Jamie being a full head taller than him, there was something formidable about him. He had his chin held high, perhaps compensating for the height difference. The man was certainly not all that small; he was still taller than Geordie. Jamie was just a rather large man.
“Good evening, Sir.”
Christ, would there be no end of Sassenachs seeking him out?
“D’ye ken the man, laddie?”
Jamie flicked his eyes from the man, to Geordie, then back to the man, and something flickered in his oddly vibrant eyes.
“Aye. We’re fine here, Geordie, ye can go home.”
What in the bloody hell?
Jamie most certainly did not know this man; he did not at all. Why had he just said that?
It had been the same with Claire! He’d said the most foolish, clotheid things almost entirely against his will!
“Alright. I’ll lock up behind me. Try not to have anything destroyed while I’m gone.”
The man had been making the same snide remark every bloody day since the incident.
He was gone, and the strange man smiled warmly.
“I apologize,” Jamie stammered. “I dinna ken what compelled me to say I knew ye. I dinna ken ye. Do I?”
“No, I shouldn’t think so.” He removed his tophat and bowed lowly, and Jamie was struck. No highborn Englishman had ever bowed to him. Not once. “I’m Lord John Grey.”
Jamie immediately mirrored the bow. “At your service, My Lord.”
“I shouldn’t think you know me, but I believe you know Lady Grey.”
“Lady...Grey?” Jamie stood up again, his throat running dry, his hands getting clammy.
She must have been his sister! Using her maiden name!
“Yes, Claire. My wife.”
Oh, Blessed Michael defend us.
“Uh, aye,” Jamie stammered. “She came by to see to my ails.”
“Yes, I’m sure.” He smiled warmly again. “She has a big heart, my wife. And vast knowledge and skill.”
“Aye. She healed me quite well.”
Even though there’d been nothing wrong to begin with.
And, if anything, she’d driven him to a spinning head and neverending madness rather than curing him of anything.
“Of course she did.”
Lord Grey was painfully proud of this fact, proud of his wife. The very idea had Jamie burning with shame and envy. And then with more shame for the envy.
“I understand you had a rather...stressful parting?”
“Ehm…” Jamie wanted to melt into the floorboards. Christ, the man was here to kill him! His wife had told him everything, and he was here to cut his throat!
“She told me she went rather wild.”
“You can say it, Mister Fraser. I know my wife. I know what she’s capable of.”
“I understand there was a broken chair? And a window?”
“Aye...but it’s...it’s no bother. The chair was near to collapsing anyway. And the window...uh…”
Jamie trailed off upon hearing the man’s soft chuckles. His cheeks dimpled as he laughed, his grey-blue eyes twinkling.
“Is that so?”
“Well…” His laughter subsided with a sigh. “May I?”
He gestured to one of Jamie’s stools beside the press, and Jamie nodded, leaning himself against the machine, folding his hands in front of him bashfully.
“Well,” he went on, “I wish to fervently apologize for her behavior. She does as well.”
“But it is. She damaged your property, and she is most apologetic. She was rather distraught, actually.”
Jamie’s heart twisted at the thought. “She needn’t have been.”
“She’s unwell, you see.”
His heart twisted again, panic blinding him for a moment. “Unwell…?”
“Yes; she has fits that are rather uncontrollable. Her mind is a bit tormented.”
Jamie nodded sadly. “I see.”
“This certainly does not make right what has happened, and we’d like to pay for the damages.”
“No, no, really,” Jamie said quickly. “I’ve already told the printer it was a robber.”
“Well then, for the grief it has caused you,” Lord Grey said knowingly, arching a brow, indicating that he heard some of Geordie’s more passionate bellyaching, “accept the money for yourself.”
“I...couldn’t, My Lord. Truly, I couldn’t.”
The last thing he needed, the last thing his family needed, was for him to be indebted to an English Lord, beautiful wife or no.
“You’re quite sure?”
“Aye, please, I dinna want it.”
“I won’t force you, then.”
Jamie sighed in relief.
The man paused a moment, as if wondering how to proceed. Jamie wanted him gone so that he could properly vomit in panic like he needed to.
“My wife told me your family land was taken from you. By the Crown.”
“Aye…” Jamie said carefully. “That is so. But we arena the only ones.”
However sympathetic Claire had been, there was no guarantee at all that her husband shared these sympathies, and so he treaded lightly, speaking of it as if it were natural and acceptable for entire families to be forced from their homes.
“Right.” The man’s lips pursed for a moment. “A damned shame if you ask me.”
Jamie blinked. Could it be he sympathized as well…?
Was this all some elaborate ruse? A test of Jamie’s faith to the cause, or a test of his loyalty to the Crown? Were these Grey’s his allies, sent by someone much higher up than he? Or were they his enemy, sent to weed out anti-English sentiment?
“Well,” the man said lightly, reaching into his back pocket and holding out an envelope. “It is yours once more.”
Jamie just sat there for a moment, not registering any of it. “What is?”
The man chuckled again, sending Jamie’s head spinning. “Take this, my boy. See for yourself.”
Jamie took the extended envelope in his hands with trepidation. He opened it and unfolded the paper within, and his jaw dropped.
The deed. The deed to Lallybroch. A blank space everywhere his name should be.
“It is yours once more should you choose to sign.”
Jamie’s eyes raked over the page over and over, utterly stunned. “I dinna understand.”
“It was Claire’s idea. She told me you missed your family very much, and that you told her the only way you could be with them again would be for your family land to be returned to you. So there it is.”
“It’s a binding document, Mister Fraser. Real, legal. I cannot guarantee the home or the land will be in the exact condition that you left it in, but it is yours again.”
“Mine…?” Jamie’s voice rose in pitch, his head swimming.
Had he not
told himself he could not be indebted to the English?
But, Christ! It was Lallybroch! It was home! It was his family! It was a new legacy!
“If you want it.”
If he wanted it! He’d only dreamt of such a fantasy for years!
“Let me be clear, Mister Fraser. Though my wife is more than sorry for her...strange behavior, this has not been done to buy your silence. She desperately wanted to do this for you, for your family. Your happiness means a great deal to her.”
“It…” Jamie’s head swam. “It does…?”
“A great deal, indeed.”
“My Lord...thank you...I…” Jamie found himself at a loss for words, choking up. “Ye dinna understand what this means for my family…”
“No, I couldn’t possibly understand what you’ve been through. But it brings me joy to alleviate that suffering in this small way.”
“Not small at all, My Lord.” Jamie quickly wiped his eyes.
Your happiness means a great deal to her.
“I...My Lord, I…” Jamie cleared his throat. “I feel I would be remiss to not tell ye the truth of what passed between yer wife and I.”
“In that case, I would be remiss to not tell you that I’m already well aware.”
Jamie’s eyes bugged out of his head, and he choked on his next words to the point of sending him into a coughing fit.
“Do you need a glass of water, Mister Fraser?”
Jamie shook his head, still coughing, struggling to regain his senses. Lord Grey waited quite patiently, hands folded neatly in his lap.
“My Lord...I beg yer forgiveness...and I beg mercy fer your Lady...it was all my doing, ye ken...she’d never…” Never mind that said Lady declined to answer the question of her marital status.
“She told me the exact order of events, yes.”
“Then...I…” Jamie shook his head, trying to clear it. “ Why are ye being so kind to me? Ye could have me killed fer laying hands on yer wife, my being a Scottish bastard and her being so high born. And you being so…” Jamie waved his hands in a ridiculous gesture.
“I suppose I could.”
“Then why ? Why do this for my family? I’ve...made a cuckold of ye, My Lord. Ye should hate me.”
The man bloody smiled . A charming smile, to be sure, almost demure, like how Claire had smiled at him.
“You see, Mister Fraser, there is nothing more important to me than my wife’s happiness. Nothing in the world.” His eyes were warm, his pupils dilated, his tone fervent and reverent. Jamie knew this man meant every word he said with all his heart. “I have known her...for a very, very long time. She had another husband before me.”
I...do have a dead husband.
“She was...shattered when I met her.” His face darkened, his irises swimming in turmoil, almost otherworldly. “Though I admit I had a hand in bringing her joy again, she was the one who picked herself up and put her own pieces back together. And I swore, from the moment I knew she’d be my wife, that I would do anything to keep her from shattering like that again.” Jamie felt a chill down his spine. He’d, insanely, sworn something quite similar almost the moment he’d laid eyes on Claire.
“So, you see, Mister Fraser, I’d do anything to make her happy. I’d... allow almost anything to make her happy.” He gave Jamie a pointed look, and Jamie swallowed against a bone dry throat, almost making him cough again.
“And she’d do the same for me. Has, in fact.”
Jamie blinked several times.
“So, if your happiness is my wife’s happiness, then I suppose your happiness is also my happiness.”
“I...dinna ken what to say, My Lord.”
“You need not say anything at all. I pray you’ll accept our gift to you and your family, with no conditions. And I pray your mind be at ease.”
“I...thank ye, My Lord...I...thank you.”
Lord Grey stood, clasping his hands behind his back, smiling warmly. “My pleasure, Mister Fraser.”
“How can I ever repay ye?”
“By being happy, my dear boy.”
Jamie felt his chest warm in a familiar way, and his mind swam with confusion.
“Yer...wife,” he stammered, against his own will again, blurting out words even as he willed them away. “Could I thank her as well? I’ve more than enough paper and ink to write her a letter of heartfelt — ”
“You’ve also more than enough words in your vocabulary.”
“You can thank her in person, my boy. Come to our home for dinner. We have an excellent cook.”
Jamie just about lost his head thinking of a fine, home-cooked meal, something he hadn’t had since his boyhood.
“I...I couldna do that.”
“Of course you could. The house is not too difficult to find. And eating should be easy enough.”
“But...to impose on yer charity again after this…”
“Not at all an imposition. It would bring my wife great joy to see you again, to see how happy her gift has made you.”
Jamie’s stomach flipped at the thought of bringing that beautiful creature joy.
Christ! She was the man’s wife !
“I couldna be in yer home after I’ve disrespected ye so by...coveting yer wife. It burns me to the core wi’ shame.”
Jamie blinked dumbly at the man. He seemed almost amused.
“Did you hear me properly? Just three minutes ago?”
Jamie just blinked again, his mouth agape.
“Thursday at seven, then?”
“For dinner, you silly boy.”
Christ...why did he talk to him the same way Claire had…?
“Yes, Mister Fraser?”
“I’ve nothing fitting fer dinner at a Lord’s house. Most I own is covered in ink and muck.”
“Ah. I hadn’t considered that. Not to worry. Everything will be arranged by Thursday.”
“Good day, Sir. It was a great pleasure to meet you, after my wife’s glowing description.”
Jamie accepted the incoming handshake like a programmed automaton.
“The, ehm...pleasure is mine.”
“I will see you on Thursday.”
“Aye,” he stammered, without even knowing he was speaking until after the word left his mouth.
“I eagerly await.” Lord Grey finally released his hand, and he turned to the door. “As will my wife.”
And then he was gone.
Jamie remained standing in the center of the room, positively gobsmacked. He felt as if he’d had his head removed, rattled around, and replaced just incorrectly enough to feel a difference, but not enough to justify asking for help.
“What the absolute bloody hell have I gotten myself into?”
Claire was working by candlelight and by the light of the glowing full moon in her greenhouse. They had, of course, only just arrived in Edinburgh, so the room was not overflowing with foliage as it had been in their previous home, or the one before that, or the one before that. But they’d moved over what they could, and all of her little darlings were adjusting quite nicely. She eagerly looked forward to filling it all the more, cultivating it with her hands.
Said hands were stained with dirt, and she feebly dusted them on her apron once more before returning to crushing her herbs with the mortar and pestle. Her hands were still tender from the burns, so she went slowly and carefully, though it frustrated her. The salve was working as fast as it could, but, unfortunately, burns from the sun were the one thing that did not instantly heal on her undead body.
She smiled quietly to herself, not for the first time that night since John had left. She imagined the dear boy’s face as he received the news that he was to be Laird again, that he was to be reunited with his family. She longed to see it, to capture it in her memory forever. She remembered things with terribly vivid clarity.
It was why she was so often seized with terror of burning alive, though the incident was two centuries ago now.
But to remember him ...it could be nothing short of wonderful.
And she would. God, she would.
She just envied that her husband would remember him in a different, slightly more wonderful way than she.
And she envied that he was seeing him off, in a way.
It was for the best. She’d been tempted far too many times to leap from her window in her nightgown and come to him at night, to devour him in more ways than one.
The most frightening part was that she truly thought he’d agree to it. Sweet, innocent, eager-to-please lad that he was, he’d do anything she said, compelled by her otherworldly will or not. She’d never compel someone for that anyway. She was no monster.
Well...she was. A monster resisting a painful temptation.
But he’d be gone soon. Gone, and safe.
And for some reason, she’d feel that ache for the rest of her immortal life, she thought.
Satisfied with her work, she dumped the contents of the mortar into a jar and sealed it up. She gingerly touched the plants hanging above her head, checking their state of dryness, one by one. Just as she found one dried to her satisfaction, ready for crushing and jarring, her keen ears picked up the sound of someone clomping through the house, slamming doors open and not bothering to shut them.
Whoever it was sounded just as she had five days ago.
Before she could even think of the implications of this, the man in question was barreling into the greenhouse, and Claire’s body thrummed with heat lightning.
His eyes were ablaze.
Before Claire could blink, John was kissing her like a madman, pinning her into the table, lapping at the fleshy walls of her mouth. She moaned gratefully, feeling his rock hardness on her hip, wanting to laugh.
She knew quite well where this was coming from.
“He’s a God , Claire…”
They panted between fevered kisses, pawing at each other, hastily unbuckling belts and unbuttoning trousers and lifting layers of skirts.
“I want to rip him apart and yet hold him to my breast and keep him safe.”
He gripped her painfully by the shoulders and whirled her around, violently kissing the back of her neck, biting and suckling.
“You’re right, he’s a virgin. I could smell it.”
“ God yes…”
He shoved her shoulders down and pierced her deeply, and she cried out harshly, gripping the opposite end of the table.
“How did you control yourself when he bled…” He ploughed her mercilessly, and she moaned, unrestrained.
“By the grace of God…” she whimpered.
“I haven’t wanted anyone that badly since I saw Hector...and before that only you…”
She cried out gutturally as he doubled his speed. She was overwhelmed, nearly in pain, but God she loved it.
As expected, John collapsed on her in mere seconds, shooting inside her, panting into her hair. It was too quick for her to have found her own release, but he’d see to that soon enough. John peppered kisses into her hair, moved it aside to kiss the back of her neck, still inside her, softening.
“There’s something...inevitable about him,” he whispered reverently. “There isn’t an option. We must have him.”
“Thank God he’ll be far from us soon,” Claire panted. “Knowing he’s a short ride away has been driving me beyond mad. He’ll be safe. From both of us.”
John stiffened above her.
He let himself slip out of her, and Claire whimpered, feeling stickiness on her thighs, wishing he would lap it up and finish her off.
She craned her neck. He looked paler than he should, which was saying something. She straightened up off the table, fully turning to face him.
“I...he’s coming for dinner. Thursday at seven.”
“He is what ?”
“Coming for dinner. Thursday at — ”
“I fucking heard you, John!” All lust and need vanished as her eyes turned copper-red, pupils shrinking. She growled, baring her animal teeth at him: “What did you do ?”