Chapter 1: The Breath We Took When We First Met
What sound was that?
I turn away, into the shaking room.
What was that sound that came in on the dark?
What is this maze of light it leaves us in?
What is the stance we take, to turn away and then turn back?
What did we hear?
It was the breath we took when we first met.
Listen. It is here.
- Harold Pinter
The poem was scratched down on a fine bit of stationery with the initials JF embossed in the corner. The untidy scrawl didn’t appear to be intentionally or even carelessly messy. In fact, it seemed as though the writer made a noticeable effort to ensure their words were somewhat readable but had never been disposed to calligraphic letter formation—or at the very least, basic legibility—prior to setting pen to paper. The result was a barely decipherable script from a presumably masculine hand.
The flower that accompanied the note—blue salvia—had a long stem with a half dozen azure blossoms sprouting from top to bottom. The fragrance was strong for a little plant, and it filled the air with a pleasant herbaceous scent.
“What’s this?” I asked Joe. “Did you leave this here?”
He set his bag down on his desk with a sigh of relief and peered across the office to see what I was referring to. “Is that a weed?” He snorted and settled into his seat. “Lady Jane, if I go through the hassle of giving a woman flowers, I make sure they don’t look like they were snagged off the side of the road.”
I smiled and looked down at the little thing once again. It wouldn’t appear like much to most people, but I had a fondness for plants, and I knew blue sage didn’t just grow randomly around Boston for passersby to pick at their whim. Someone either grew it themselves or went through a bit of trouble to find it.
I lifted the poem to read it again a few more times.
What was that sound? … It was the breath we took when we first met.
My heart fluttered foolishly. Met whom?
“Duncan probably left it here last night when cleaning up. You know how careless he can be,” said Joe, logging into his computer. “Or maybe he thought you’d like it.”
“You’re probably right,” I said, though I was only placating. There was no way Duncan Innes had ever read a lick of Harold Pinter in his life, much less saw fit to share a verse with me, and the stationary looked as though it came from the desk of someone who was nothing if not intentional—the notion reinforced by the accompanying salvia blossom.
I was a bit too embarrassed to reveal the existence of the poem to Joe at the moment. More than that, it seemed too personal a gesture to parade it about the office—the private sentiments of one J.F. to me of all people.
I set them aside, as though they meant nothing to me, but my thoughts remained fixed while I settled in for the day.
As I waited for my ancient computer to wake up and grant me access to my in-basket of endless work, my eyes were repeatedly drawn back to the poem, and my lungs insisted on pulling deep breaths of sage-scented air.
Could they really be meant for me? I wondered. If so, who left them?
I snorted at the thought of Frank giving me flowers or finding a poem to share his affection. Then again, I snorted at the idea of Frank even having affection for me any longer.
My eyes misted over, thinking about the conversation we had only two weeks before. Claire…there’s something I need to tell you.
I shook my head to clear it of painful thoughts so I could get through this bloody workday without any more tears. Poor Joe had seen enough of them already. I tried my best to turn my attention toward work and the never-ending tasks awaiting me.
After sorting through his emails, Joe left the office to tend to the books shoved into the return bin overnight. When he was out of sight, I picked up the flower to admire it again. The petals were quite striking for a little plant. So rarely did a blossom have such vital blue color, as though emitting its own light.
I tried to remember what I could of blue sage—or salvia azurea variety grandiflora. I knew “salvia” often meant “healer,” and that sage in the general sense was valued for both its purported medicinal and spiritual properties. The species name “azurea” was Latin for “sky blue.”
I took the poem and flower and headed out into the depths of the library. I didn’t need to consult the computer to find the book I was looking for; I knew exactly where it was, as many times as I had read it before.
The Botany section always carried the scent of blossoms, even though greenery rarely found its way into the library. Perhaps it was merely memory or maybe classical conditioning that stimulated the pleasant aroma deep in my olfactory bulb. Either way, it didn’t matter; it was lovely. I inhaled deeply as I went straight to the bottom shelf in the back corner.
There was the book I was looking for, right between The History of Botanical Art by R. H. Quentin and Mark Raymond’s Botany of the Occult. It was old, and the dust jacket was taped in several places by my own hand. The spine cracked and popped pleasantly when it opened, and the pages carried the musky scent of an old book that always reminded me—for whatever reason—of warm chocolate chip cookies in winter.
I stared down at a hand-drawn picture on the title page, a mass of swaying wildflowers in a sunlit meadow, and couldn’t help my smile. Whispers of Blossoms, by Daniel Rawlings. I knelt on the floor and opened the book, scanning the delicate old pages for salvia.
“There you are,” I muttered quietly. I skimmed over the sections on etymology, planting, and care, knowing well enough about those bits already, past the red and purple salvia descriptions, and stopped at the blue.
The blue flowers of a Salvia, I read, are often aligned with symbolic gestures of the sentiment, “thinking of you.”
“Thinking of you?” I looked around the empty library that wouldn’t be open for another forty-five minutes. “Who the bloody hell would be thinking of me?”
I took the book back to my desk, a dozen questions rolling around in my mind, the least of which being how this person got into the library after hours and found a way to leave it on my desk, who the hell they were, and why they would even bloody want to.
It was the breath we took when we first met.
The truth was that the last two weeks of my life had been a devastating and emotional whirlwind. I had spent most of my time futilely attempting to keep a breakdown at bay. In the process of all that, could I have unknowingly met a stranger who held some sort of enchantment for me? Did I miss an encounter that would inspire a sentiment like this?
The squeaky wheels of the book cart drew near, and I shoved the book, flower, and poem into my desk. Joe popped his head in and asked, “Do you want to take back Mystery and Literature? Or Biography and Self-Help?”
I smiled for the first time in weeks. “The former. I love a good mystery.”
I pressed the blue salvia between the pages of the heaviest book in the library, Carl Jung’s Red Book. Knowing it would take weeks to finish the process, I had checked out the book myself so preservation would occur uninterrupted. I tucked it safely away under my desk where no one would look for it. The sweet old janitor, Duncan, was a kind soul, but not very efficient with his work. Joe and I often found ourselves following after him in the mornings to tidy up and disinfect everything he missed the night before. Never would the old man even consider cleaning in the dark corners beneath my desk.
I spent my day in curious wonder. Every time the doors of the library opened, my heart leapt, speculating if the one who entered was the person responsible for my sudden lightness of spirit.
Unfortunately, it was a busy day, and with Geordie on stress leave and Marsali on maternity leave, we were quite understaffed. So, as eager as my heart was to spend the day solving the mystery of poetry and flowers, the patrons of the library had other ideas as to how I should spend my time.
Still, in between checking out books, assisting a gentleman with a severe case of halitosis to navigate his computer, and cleaning up a puddle of urine in the children’s section, I kept my eyes peeled for a glimpse of a stranger looking fondly at me from across the room, or for the scent of sage in the air, as though the giver might carry it around on their person all the time in the spirit of thinking of me. I even moseyed into the poetry section on the off chance my secret admirer was finding new ways to express their affection, but the only herbaceous scent I noticed there was of the cannabis sativa variety.
It was probably for the best that I didn’t run into anyone of significance that day. I caught a glimpse of my appearance in the late afternoon while washing my hands in the loo, and the feral creature staring back at me in the mirror would have frightened off any potential suitor. My hair was misbehaving more than usual, frizzing about in a particularly cumulus fashion, and it was likely to only get worse throughout the day.
I took a moment to tidy myself a bit, a futile effort, one made more for the sake of telling myself, “At least you tried,” rather than for any promise of lasting effect.
“Well,” I said to my reflection, “looking haggard is better than distraught.”
I realized I had hardly thought of Frank all day. It was shocking what a little distraction could do to clear the mind. Even if the poem and flower weren’t meant for me, at least they brought me a little light in the darkness.
What was that sound that came in on the dark? What is this maze of light it leaves us in? … It was the breath we took when we first met.
I thought, perhaps, the breath I took when I first “met” this person was the sage-scented breath I took while reading the poem.
Walking out of the loo and into the library, I looked around at all the faces lingering about. Those sitting on the chairs, thumbing through magazines. Those with their noses shoved in books, lost to the world around them. Those meandering through the aisles, trying to find a story that suited them.
It could be any of them. It could be none of them. It didn’t matter. They were all a reminder that there was life after Frank.
Chapter 2: She Walks in Beauty
“You’re smiling, LJ,” said Joe as he locked up the library for the day.
“I just remembered there are things worth smiling for.”
“Poetry? I always saw you as more of a scientist than a poet.”
“Maybe that’s why I forgot there were things worth smiling for.” I waved and smiled a bit more before turning to set off home.
As I walked down the crowded street, I pulled out the note from my pocket and tried to remember the last time someone wrote me anything by hand, and then I tried to remember the last time I even wrote a shopping list by hand.
I read the words again and again, finding myself taking the long way home, wandering through a park to read the words amongst the green things around me.
Listen. It is here.
Well, I thought, I’m listening now.
I sat in the park, trying not to wonder who sent the poem, only enjoying its mere existence.
Children’s squeals and giggles sounded all around as they played on the grass, mindless of the beautiful spring flora around them—the trout-lily and mayflower, the blunt-loped hepatica and wood-anemone.
I hadn’t noticed any of the flowers in the city over the last few weeks. I hadn’t noticed much of anything around me, save what was missing.
It wasn’t as though I didn’t see the end coming. Our marriage had been over for months—years, if I was being honest—but the reality of the end was always different than anticipated.
My devastation was less about losing Frank himself. I’d long since come to the conclusion that if I wanted a chance at happiness it would have to be in a life without him. I wanted things in a partner that he just couldn’t give—like fidelity—and he wanted to have his cake and to eat it too.
No, my devastation was more about the loss of the dream I had when we wed. The partnership. The hope. Childish, romantic notions of loyalty, devotion, and life-long passion. Desire and fulfillment. Being loved more than anything else on earth. Anyone else on earth.
What a narcissistic notion, I realized all too late, to think that I, above all people in the world, deserved to be valued more than anyone else.
I sighed and looked down at my poem again. Perhaps it was enough that someone was thinking of me fondly and felt the need to let me know.
“Frank?” I closed the door to our apartment—correction, my apartment—and followed the sound of his voice to our bedroom. “What are you doing here?”
“Just picking up a few more things.” He was reaching up into the closet to fish out an old box of family heirlooms. I had forgotten they were even there.
I set my keys and things down on the dresser and watched him reach up for another small box. I caught my reflection in the mirror, and I looked bloody awful—bags under my eyes, hair wild from a maddening workday, makeup entirely worn off.
“Are you settling into your new place?” I asked, forcing myself not to tidy up for his sake.
He retrieved what he was looking for and shrugged. “It’s only temporary. We’ll be looking for a place closer to Cambridge next year.”
“I see.” They were already planning on moving in together. My thumb attempted to fidget with my wedding ring on my left finger, but I felt only skin. I’d taken the ring off the night he told me he was in love with someone else, but eight years of habit was hard to break in only a couple of weeks' time.
I felt like I should say something more, but there was nothing left to say. No begging, no pleading for him to stay. It was best for him to leave.
“I think this is the last of it,” he said, picking up his boxes and meeting my gaze. At least he let a little shame show in his eyes.
“Look, Claire…” He struggled to find words of what I thought might be consolation. Strange. He never struggled with talking to me before.
As much as I wanted to take his hand and find a way to make things right between us again—a feat I’d been failing at for a long time now—I knew better. My eyes flashed to where I’d set the poem on the dresser and I breathed a sigh of relief…of hope. Things were changing. I was changing.
“I’m fine, Frank. Really.”
His eyes followed mine and narrowed in on the paper. It was covered by my keys, so I didn’t think he could read it, but the handwriting and elegant stationery couldn’t be missed.
He stared for a bit, confusion permeating his expression, then he swallowed hard and his face went noticeably pale.
“I see that you are.”
I wanted to contradict him, to let him know I wasn’t seeing anyone, that it was an unknown stranger who left me the note, that I was fine because I made myself fine, not because someone did it for me…but I stopped myself. How I felt and how I got there was none of his concern.
His concern was Candy now.
Or Mandy. Or Sandy. Or whoever she was. And whoever the next one would be.
He didn’t say goodbye. His eyes dropped down to the note once more, and then he walked briskly out the door.
I walked to work the next morning, nursing an emotional hangover. The flower, the poem, the unexpected run-in with Frank…it was all a bit much for one day. And to add to it, there now lived an added thrill in my chest, wondering if maybe there might be another little something waiting for me on my desk when I arrived at the office.
I was being greedy and foolish, I knew. There would be nothing there. One occurrence was more than I could have imagined, but two—in consecutive days, no less—was more than I could hope for.
Still, I arrived to work a little early, just in case something was there. I wanted to keep my admirer to myself a little while, rather than share with Joe.
I unlocked the back door and turned on all the lights, attempting to keep my expectations low and my heart settled. I failed, of course. I tried to walk slowly and tell myself nothing would be there, but my feet wouldn’t listen. I turned on the light to our office and my eyes went immediately to my desk.
I gasped, staring down at a calla lily and another note on the same stationary. I dropped my things on the floor and moved transfixed by what awaited me beneath the buzzing fluorescent lights.
The white lily was large and perfect. Not one blemish. Plump and firm. It was lying elegantly across another poem. The poem read:
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
- Lord Byron (George Gordon)
I didn’t have to look up the meaning of a calla lily. From the content of the poem and my rudimentary knowledge of ancient Greek culture, I knew that it was thought to represent magnificent beauty.
I was suddenly very warm and more than pleased I arrived to work long before Joe. I was sure to be a vivid shade of red and completely lacking composure. My legs gave way, and I dropped down to the chair, reading the words again.
I ran a hand over my unruly hair and nearly snorted. I hadn’t felt beautiful in a long time. It’s hard to feel beautiful when the man you promised your life to threw it all away for a younger woman.
And what’s more, I hadn’t felt appealing on the inside for even longer. I felt devalued. I felt mundane and uninteresting. A librarian discarded, gathering dust on the bottom of a forgotten shelf.
I reread the last few lines:
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
Could someone truly have seen this in me in the last few weeks? Months? Years? Was I even this person anymore?
Shakespeare said, “Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye.” The eyes of my admirer must have been shaded in rose-colored glasses, because I couldn’t remember the last time my mind was at peace, nor could I remember when I last smiled before receiving the flower and poem the day before.
Maybe those were the smiles referenced in the poem? The ones I couldn’t erase from my face as I busied myself in the library, trying to pretend as though nothing happened. The same smiles that carried me to the park in pleasant contentment. The ones inspired by blue salvia and Harold Pinter and a small gesture that somehow reaffirmed the vitality of life.
Did this person know what they were doing to me?
I picked up the note and traced the initials embossed in the corner. “Who are you, J.F.? And for God’s sake, why me?”
Hoping for some insight into this person’s mind, I turned the paper over and was surprised to see a note scribbled on the back.
Please do not be alarmed when
I say you are the most beautiful
woman I’ve ever seen.
… my inspiration.
… my distraction.
I was wary my affections may
go unwanted, but there was a
light in your eyes after finding
my flower that instills some
bit of hope in my heart.
Give but a small indication
of disapproval, and I will
cease to burden you with my
But bestow more perfect
smiles, and I’ll take that as
You walk in beauty, far beyond
the glitter of citrine eyes and
spiraling locks of untamed hair.
It’s in your smiles that win,
the tints that glow,
that tell of days in goodness spent
a mind at peace with all below
… a heart whose love is innocent.
The lily is not lovely enough
to stand so close to you.
Chapter 3: Mad Girl's Love Song
love will come
and when love comes
love will hold you
love will call your name
and you will melt
love will hurt you but
love will never mean to
love will play no games
cause love knows life
has been hard enough already
- Rupi Kaur
The flowers and poems came every day over the next week. I pressed a half dozen more blossoms into The Red Book and filed away poem after poem. My favorite of the week was the blue iris and its sentiment of hope that arrived along with a messily written bit of Rupi Kaur.
Sometimes they came with additional notes on the back and sometimes with what I thought might be the faintest scent of cologne, as though the note was placed in a breast pocket, bringing a bit of the essence of one J.F. along with it.
I sat at my desk during a break one day and brought the Rupi Kaur note casually to my nose, wondering if I’d ever get the chance to meet J.F. in person…or if I already had. A part of me hoped I never would, fearing reality wouldn’t live up to the fantasy.
“LJ?” Joe popped his head into the office. “Did we get those loaners in from Oxford? The Rise and Fall of the Old Fox and a copy of Melton’s Journals from the ’45?”
“Not yet,” I said, frozen in the process of sniffing a piece of paper. “They should be arriving Thursday.”
He raised an eyebrow at me before returning back to the front desk. I blushed and shoved the poem back into the drawer, sighing at my own bloody foolishness.
Joe graciously didn’t say anything about it when I got back to work, but I did catch him staring at me curiously over the course of the day. He suspected something, though he had the courtesy not to interrogate me in front of customers.
My reprieve didn’t last long.
When we made our final announcement that the library would be closing in five minutes and were just wrapping up the last of the checkouts, Joe began humming a catchy little tune that I couldn’t seem to place, though I was certain I’d heard it before. He had a lovely voice—a smooth baritone that rumbled pleasantly in his chest. The elderly woman he was helping seemed to be falling more and more in love with him with every note he hummed.
When we finally locked the doors, he began adding words to his tune:
“I must find
why my mind
is behaving like a dancer…”
I was gathering books to take back and sorting them into piles on the cart as his voice grew louder:
“Does it show?
And who would know?
How long has this been goooing ooon?”
“Joseph!” I chided.
He chuckled pleasantly. “Who is it, Lady Jane?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Who’s the one putting that smile in your eyes and has you daydreaming over your hummus?”
“There’s no one, Joe.”
“Come now. Three weeks ago, you were crying on my shoulder. I know your separation was a long time coming, but I wasn’t expecting this level of joy quite so soon.”
I pushed the cart into the heart of the library, and Joe followed along. Apparently, we weren’t dividing and conquering this evening.
“The truth is…I have no idea. And frankly, it doesn’t matter.”
“What does that mean?” he said, reaching up to the top shelf to put Cyrano de Bergerac back in its place.
“It means it’s not the person sending the notes, but the idea of life after marriage that I find invigorating. It’s helped me remember that there’s more out there than what Frank gave me.”
As I reached for Twelfth Night on the cart, Joe put a hand out to stop me. “You haven’t answered my question.”
“I already told you. I don’t know who it is. It’s a…secret admirer, of sorts.” A hot flush rose up to my ears, and I was certain my pale skin was as red as Jung’s book.
“I beg your pardon?”
He heard me just fine, and I refused to dignify his patronizing tone with unnecessary repetition.
“How long has this guy been going about admiring you so secretly?”
“I don’t know,” I said, playing poorly at nonchalance. “A week or so.”
“And how in this day and age can an admirer remain a secret? Is it someone you met online?”
“No. This person leaves notes. Poems, actually. And flowers. I’ve been finding them on my desk every morning.”
His eyes went wide, and his mouth dropped open. “Leaving them on your desk? Those weeds from last week?”
“Who has access to this building after hours that could do something like that?”
“I don’t know. Environmental services?”
“Duncan Innes can hardly read the menu at Arby’s, Claire. He’s not sending you flowers and poetry!”
“I know that!”
“Could it be security? Didn’t they change the night guard recently?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t been here in the middle of the night to find out.”
“I think we’re going to have to look into this a little deeper. This is a safety issue for both the building and for you.”
“Come on, Joe. This person is leaving me flowers and messages of hope in the words of Rupi Kaur and Harold Pinter. They’re not cutting letters from magazines and gluing them together to make vague threats.”
Joe snorted. “You’re probably right, but we need to make sure no one is here when they shouldn’t be. Besides, don’t you want to know who this secret admirer really is?”
“No, I don’t. I really, truly don’t,” I repeated when he gave me a doubtful look. “I like not knowing. I like the possibility of it being anyone out there going through the effort to put a smile on my face. A stranger reading poetry and selecting just the right verse that my heart needs to hear.”
“Look. This person has written me notes saying they’d stop if I looked as though I didn’t appreciate it any longer. They’d…”
“How would they know whether or not you appreciate it? Are you communicating back?”
“Well, no. They’ve seen me smiling—”
“They’re watching you?” he said, aghast.
“I can’t imagine I could be admired much without someone actually laying eyes on me, Joe. Particularly if communication is only going one way.”
“So, you haven’t written back?”
“Because…It’s hard to believe anything I’d write might live up to the expectation of who this person thinks I am.”
Joe rolled his eyes. “Believe me, if someone is going out of their way to bring you poetry and flowers everyday, you could spit on a piece of paper and they’d cherish it as if it were Shakespeare.”
He was probably right. And if this stranger didn’t like who I really was, then it would be better if we knew up front.
“What do you think I should do?” I asked.
“I’ll talk with security and ask them to keep an eye out. See if they know who’s doing this.” He resumed putting books back on the shelf. “And you, in the meantime, can write back and ask this person who they really are. You can’t be too careful, Lady Jane. Gail would have my balls if I let anything happen to you.”
I just rolled my eyes and lifted The Phantom of the Opera back into its place.
Before I left for the day, I pulled two books off the shelf and brought them back to my desk. The first was Sylvia Plath: The Collected Poems, and the second was once again Whispers of Blossoms. Joe had gone to talk to Angus, the afternoon security guard, so I had a few moments to myself.
I scanned the index of Dr. Rawlings’ book for “new beginnings” and was directed to page 113. The Daisy. I skimmed through until I reached the section on symbolism. I bypassed the paragraphs on purity and innocence—clearly not meant for me—and stopped when I reached what I was looking for. It read:
The daisy flower is a symbol of a new beginning, and it is a perfect gift for someone on the verge of a breakthrough in life and ready to take a big step toward the future. Daisies close their petals at night and open them up in the morning, a symbol of new life.
I opened the book of Sylvia Path’s poetry and turned to a poem that had been rolling around in my head over the last week, copying down the words on the only notepad I could find that didn't have any lines or letterhead.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
“On second thought…” I stopped myself from writing any further. My admirer might think this poem too much for this stage in our stationery courtship. I took the paper I was writing on and shoved it into Rawling’s book to mark my page. I'd think about it overnight and come up with something a little less revealing about my growing infatuation when I returned in the morning.
For now, I thought, I just need to hunt down a daisy.
Thistle Be Lovely
The hand-painted wooden sign hung over the door to the flower shop. It was swaying gently in the breeze, creaking softly where it rocked on its hinges. I had to read it over a few times to catch the pun. I chuckled quietly as I pushed open the front door.
I was greeted with a beautiful assortment of flowers, potted plants, and extravagant arrangements. There were vases of freshly cut blossoms, ceramic pots of elegant succulents, and latticework covering the walls with winding vines. There were roses and ranunculus. Oleander and orchids. Gardenias and gladiolus. Thistle and thunbergia. The fresh fragrances hanging in the air were nothing short of intoxicating for an anthophile like me.
I wondered what took me so long to find my way inside this place when I only worked a few blocks away. Then I realized, I’d never purchased flowers for anyone else before. Frank never gave me any, and he would most certainly scoff at the idea of a woman giving him some.
I smiled at the thought of J.F. receiving a daisy from me. I couldn’t imagine there would be any disappointment there.
“May I help ye?” asked a woman from behind the counter. She was quite small in stature, so I hadn’t seen her behind the register. She had black hair and fair skin, with a lovely pair of ocean blue eyes.
“Hullo. I’m just looking to buy a daisy.”
“For now. Yes.”
She came around the counter, setting a tin watering can down on a table, and marched on over to where the daisies were kept, expecting me to follow behind.
“We’ve got English, florist, and gerbera daisies in today. I can get blue marguerites, asters, or African blossoms in by the end of the week if ye’d prefer to wait.” Her accent was thickly Scottish, from the Highlands if I wasn’t mistaken, a manner of which I hadn’t heard in a long time.
“These English ones are just what I was looking for.” I picked the most perfect blossom I could find and handed it over to be rung it up.
“An Englishwoman, are ye?” she said, almost disapprovingly. I’d spent enough time in Highlands not to take it personally.
“I am. And you’re a Scot?” The name of the shop made all the more sense.
“Aye. We only came over a few years ago. Brought the family business wi’ us.” She led me back to the counter.
“What brought you to Boston?”
“My husband’s work. Ian’s an engineer, ken.” I watched her wrap the stem ingeniously to keep it moist and fresh for the journey home. “And you?”
“Same, actually. My husband is a professor at Harvard.” Ex-husband, I chided myself. I needed to get used to saying it at some point.
“Was it difficult?” she asked. “Leaving everything behind for his career?”
“Not really. My family are all gone, and I’ve traveled around most of my life. How about you?”
“Aye,” she nodded. “Never been more than twenty miles from home since the day I was born, then Ian tells me one day we’re moving across the sea with the children and leaving the rest of my family behind.”
“Oh dear. That must’ve been difficult.”
“Aye. But the flowers remind me of my mother, and we talk on the phone every day. And my brother moved close by only a few weeks ago. He’s a writer, ye ken.” Her eyes were bright with pride. “He’s researching a book on the Jacobites who fought in the American Revolution.”
“Oh! You’ll have to let me know when he finishes. I’d love to read it.” It was a topic I was all too familiar with, given my marriage to Frank.
She smiled wide enough to show her pearly whites. “Does that mean ye’ll be coming back to the shop?”
“I’m about as fond of flowers as I am of books. Now that I’ve been here, I can’t see myself staying away.”
“Jenny Murray.” She held out a hand.
“Claire R—” I stopped myself. “Beauchamp. Claire Beauchamp.”
“A pleasure to meet ye, Claire.” We shook hands warmly as she handed over the flower. “This one is on me.”
After my pleasant exchange with Jenny Murray, I almost didn’t want to give up the daisy—especially knowing the symbolism behind the flower—but in the end, my desire to give J.F. a little something back of what was given to me compelled me to part with it. I smiled at the daisy as I made my way to the library the next morning.
The flower was all petals and sunshine. No one could look at a daisy and feel sad.
I was surprised to find Joe at work before I arrived. When I walked through the doors, he was filling the cart with books from the return box as he did every morning.
“You’re here early,” I said.
“Yeah. I wanted to check in with Rupert before he left. The night guard.”
“Oh? Did you find out anything?”
“I did. But not from him.”
Joe shook his head and laughed. “Duncan. I caught him on his way out and asked if he’d seen anything.”
I raised a brow, waiting for him to continue. He was clearly enjoying knowing more than me for the moment. At least that likely meant he didn’t think there was any danger in our current situation.
“Duncan said he was the one leaving the flowers and notes.”
Joe chuckled. “He’s just the messenger, Lady Jane. Don’t worry.” Joe was far too amused with my reaction for my liking. “He’s delivering them for a friend of his. A guy who lives in his building. Says he’s a good guy. Helps with his groceries, fixed a leak in his sink, always has his nose stuck in a book.”
“Oh!” I felt a little warm around the collar, and my heart was suddenly racing faster than I’d given it permission. “Do you know…Did you find out who he is?”
Joe smirked. “I did. Duncan gave me the man’s name and number. I talked to him no more than ten minutes ago.”
“Joe!” I stomped my foot and dropped my bag on the floor. “Why would you do such a thing?”
“Because you said you didn’t want to know who he was. I wasn’t about to let some psychopath linger around the library, spying on you from the True Crime section while you remained intentionally ignorant.”
“I know you mean well, but don’t you think I should have a say in all this? Don’t you think I should’ve been the one to decide whether or not to call him?”
“You still can.” Joe pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. “I’ve got his name and number right here. Address too, for good measure.”
I stared at the paper, open-mouthed and frozen stiff. That definitely wasn’t part of my plan. I suddenly felt groundless, like I might float away if Joe blew a breath too hard in my direction.
I was curious who it was that was writing me notes and leaving me flowers, and Joe held the answers to that question in the palm of his hand. All I had to do was reach out and take it…
But the thought of this all ending so soon was truly unbearable. The thought of J.F. having a full name, a voice, a face, an address…no. No, I wasn’t ready for that. Not yet.
I did my best to gather myself and pick up my things off the floor with some degree of dignity—my heart breaking a little at the sight of my daisy crushed beneath my purse. I turned away from Joe and his piece of paper and made my way to the office.
I was so flustered that it took me a moment to realize today was the first day in over a week that nothing was left on my desk.
No J.F. anywhere.
My heart dropped. “Damn you, Joseph Abernathy!” I mumbled quietly to myself. “You scared him away!”
I took my battered daisy and threw it in the trash. It turns out a person could feel sad looking at one.
The morning was long, and my heart was heavy. I thought of nothing but the blank expanse of my desk and the lack of poetry filling my head. Not even the busyness of the library could distract me from my somber mood. It was ridiculous, I knew, to come to rely on a stranger to fill my day with enough pleasantness to get me through.
By noon, I had calmed enough to accept the fact that it was better for Joe to scare him off now, than in a few weeks’ time…or worse, months. I could’ve only imagined how far my foolish heart would’ve fallen if I’d grown anymore attached to the man.
As I made my way back to my office for lunch, I dodged the kids in the children’s section who were mistaking the library for a playground, I bypassed the young adults skimming through titles of vampires and fairies, and I pretended not to see Mr. Halitosis who was trying to wave me down to help him with his computer.
Just as I was closing in on my office, a little boy, possibly ten years old or so, bounded out of my door with a sneaky little look on his face.
“Stop right there, young man!” I commanded.
The boy faced me, flushing red as he met my stern, librarian’s gaze.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
His mouth didn’t seem to be working at the moment. He just looked over his shoulder at my office, then to the front doors, clearly wishing he was standing outside them at the moment.
“What were you doing in there?” I checked his person for any sign that he'd stolen anything, and was shocked to see the only thing in his hand was my battered daisy.
He shook his head, as though pulling himself together. He narrowed his eyes at my shirt, and I assumed he was reading my name tag. His eyes went wide, and he shoved past me before taking off outside in a sprint.
“What the bloody hell—”
I rushed into my office to double check that nothing had been disturbed. My heart lurched when I found a book on my desk with a flower sticking out of its pages.
I lifted the book and flower up to inhale the gardenia's distinctive scent. The white flower was beautiful, petals spiraling gorgeously around the center. The stem was stuck in the pages of an all too familiar book. Whispers of Blossoms.
I moved quickly to shut the door and sit down at my desk to more thoroughly inspect the contents of my unexpected gift. I sat down at my desk and stared at the book. It was no doubt the library’s copy that I was looking at the night before. I hadn’t even realized the book was gone before that moment. I’d completely forgotten I intended to find another poem to go along with the daisy.
I opened it to the page where the gardenia was safely tucked inside and was unsurprised to find another note waiting for me on J.F.'s particularly fine stationery. It was tucked into the same page where I’d left Silvia Path’s Mad Girl’s Love Song the night before—in the section on the symbology of daisies. It read:
I loved you before I was born.
It doesn’t make sense, I know.
I saw your eyes before I had eyes to see.
And I’ve lived longing
for your every look ever since.
That longing entered time as this body.
And the longing grew as this body waxed.
And the longing grows as this body wanes.
That longing will outlive this body.
I loved you before I was born.
It makes no sense, I know.
Long before eternity, I caught a glimpse
of your neck and shoulders, your ankles and toes.
And I’ve been lonely for you from that instant.
That loneliness appeared on earth as this body.
And my share of time has been nothing
but your name outrunning my ever saying it clearly.
Your face fleeing my ever
kissing it firmly once on the mouth.
In longing, I am most myself, rapt,
my lamp mortal, my light hidden and singing.
I give you my blank heart.
Please write on it
what you wish.
- Li-Young Lee
A shaky breath escaped my lips, and I let out a shuddering laugh of relief. Joe hadn’t scared him off quite yet.
I quickly turned the pages of Whispers of Blossoms to the chapter on gardenias, and read, The Gardenia is a flower named for Dr. Alexander Garden, a Scottish naturalist...It has been known to carry the sentiment, “You are lovely,” and is a symbol of secret love.
I turned over the poem and was delighted to find a note waiting for me.
I wonder if you’ll know
me when you read these
words—if your friend told
you my name. He said he
wouldn’t…unless you asked.
My heart is racing madly.
Duncan wasn’t entirely
forthright with Joe.
He doesn’t leave these
sentiments on your desk
for me. He lets me in the library
to leave them myself, for you.
That’s how I found your Mad
Girl’s Love Song. I hope you
(You didn’t make me up
inside your head.)
The poem and the flower I
intended to give you
seemed insufficient after
reading Sylvia’s words written
in your hand …
… I dreamed that you bewitched
me into bed
And sung me moon-struck,
kissed me quite insane …
So, forgive me for your empty
desk this morning. I had to find
I give you now the real verse that
played in my mind the moment
I laid eyes on you that first day.
The moment you stole my breath.
I loved you before I was born.
It doesn’t make sense, I know.
Seeing you for the first time
made everything clear. I fell
in love with you that day, or at
least realized it was you I'd loved
since before I was born.
Though I didn't fall hard, like
one might expect.
... my heart, my body, my soul
... like petals falling
... gently at your feet.
Fluttering around the flower that
puts all others to shame.
I know they'll be safe in your
hands. You'll press them in your
Red Book and care for them
like you do the other sentiments
I've laid at your feet.
... at least, I hope.
... God, I hope.
Whether you intended to give me
Sylvia’s words or not. I have them
here now, near my heart, and
won’t let them go.
Write on my blank heart …
… anything you wish.
Chapter 4: Like Sunshine
Write on my blank heart … anything you wish.
“Angelou…Browning…Dickinson…” I traced my fingers over the spines of each book, wondering which one held the right verse to speak my heart.
The problem was that I wasn’t sure what the bloody hell was actually in my heart. For God’s sake, the man admitted he had fallen in love with me, and now, days later, I hadn’t responded back, because I just didn’t know what to say.
What did I feel for him? Intrigued? Enchanted? Fascinated? Those words didn’t feel enough to describe my affection for him. Yet love was too much for a man I hadn’t ever seen or spoken to.
Like Joe had mentioned before, I’d never really been one for poetry—not until these notes started arriving on my desk. Now all of the sudden, I was reading everything we had in the library in search of something to give J.F. a clue as to how I felt.
Unfortunately, nothing I read felt right. I liked him, and I wanted him to keep liking me. Was there a poem for that? A poem that said, “This feels good. Please don’t stop. And I really hope you’re not a terrible person.”
There was another option, of course. I could just call him. I could tell him I liked him. I could text him. Joe would only be mildly insufferable if I asked for J.F.’s number.
For some reason, the idea seemed to cheapen the significance of the exchanges between us. A text to respond to some of the most beautiful poetry ever written? A hibiscus emoji to rival the scent of a gardenia? I pushed the thought away. Technology wouldn’t ruin my budding relationship with J.F if I had anything to say about it.
I lifted a book of poetry off the shelf called The Rebel’s Silhouette. As I thumbed through the pages, I had to acknowledge once again that my avoidance of calling J.F. was rooted more in fear than anything else. For the first time in so long, I was hopeful—happy, even—and didn’t want to ruin it. If there was anything my marriage to Frank had taught me, it was that all happiness was temporary. Was it so terrible to want this joy to last a bit longer?
Then again, if J.F. taught me anything, it was that sadness was temporary too…for me, at least.
There was a possibility I could meet him and actually like him. His thoughtfulness was a promising indication of good character, and it would certainly make it easier to overlook bad habits and ill manners if he continued with his current attentions. I could endure him eating with his mouth open if he followed the meal with a pretty sonnet. And I could handle him leaving the toilet seat up if he gave me flowers of apology after I fell in.
In truth, I wasn’t afraid of inconsequential things like the man’s chewing or falling in a toilet. I had put up with that kind of nonsense from Frank for years, and it didn’t stop me from loving him.
No, I was fucking afraid of not being enough for a man yet again. As much as my progressive mind told me that Frank’s infidelity said more about him than me, I couldn’t help the doubts creeping in.
“Fucking bastard,” I mumbled under my breath.
“Claire?” Joe interrupted my thoughts as I walked back to my office.
“Did those books come in from Oxford today? The guy is coming by in a few minutes to pick them up.”
“Yes, they’re at the front desk.”
I kept walking, eager to get back to our office so I could peruse a few poems before my lunch break. The library was surprisingly dead, and there was nothing that needed doing that couldn’t wait until the afternoon.
I sat at my desk and opened the book, letting the satisfying sound of the cracking spine fill my ears and the scent of old paper drift up to my nose. I turned to the table of contents and scanned the names of the poems in search of something that might strike a chord.
“Before You Came…” I turned to the page and began to read. “Before you came, things were as they should be…”
I was interrupted by my phone vibrating in my pocket. Falling victim to distraction, I pulled it out and clicked on a message from Frank.
I set the book aside with a sigh of resignation and stood up to face whatever unpleasantness Frank brought with him. I walked to the doors, letting Joe know along the way where I was going.
My eyes adjusted to an assault of sunshine as I pushed the door open. Frank was waiting there, parked in front of the library and leaning against his new car—the one he bought just after informing me he was leaving.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
My eyes landed on a large, thick envelope tucked under his arm, and I knew exactly what it contained. I sucked in a breath, attempting to determine what might be an appropriate reaction to a situation like this.
“Hello, darling,” he said as he stepped forward, his tone soft and comforting, completely at odds with the reason for his visit. He came up close and leaned in for a kiss on the cheek.
I had enough wherewithal to put a hand to his chest and push him away. “Do we have to do this now? I’m at work.”
“I was hoping I could steal you away for lunch…have a whisky while we…make things official.”
“I don’t think that’s how this sort of thing is normally done. And I certainly can’t drink when I’m meant to come back to work.”
He grabbed my hand and pleaded. “Can’t you take the rest of the day off? I’ve cleared my schedule, and—”
“No.” I pulled back sharply. “Marsali just had her baby, and Geordie is over in Bath trying to get a handle on his nerves. It’s just me and Joe. I can’t leave him. I’m not like you.”
He flinched as though I struck him in the face.
“I didn’t mean it that way,” I apologized.
“I know. But you weren’t wrong.”
He shook his head. “No. I am.” His hand reached up to cup my cheek, dark eyes clearly in pain. “Come to lunch with me, Claire. One last time.”
I hated seeing him hurt. I wasn’t in love with him anymore, but I did love him in that way most women do when they’ve been caring for someone for so long. I felt a compulsion to make things better for him…to take away his pain. It was habit as much as anything else. One I needed to break.
With all the steel in my spine I could muster, I shoved his hand away and stepped back, extracting myself from the influence of his tender eyes. The moment wasn’t quite as glorious and self-empowering as I’d hoped it to be, seeing as how I crashed back and thunked my head against what felt like a brick wall.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” I cursed, dazed.
A pair of massive hands gripped me by the arms, steadying me from behind. “Are ye alright, lass?” The brick wall’s voice was deep and menacing. “This man isna bothering ye, is he?”
“Bothering me? No. Of course not.” I was able to stabilize myself on my own two feet with his assistance.
“Of course, she’s sure,” Frank snapped. “I’m her husband, for Christ’s sake.”
I narrowed my eyes at him and his bloody envelope. “Very rich,” I sneered. “Come on. Let’s get this over with.”
I opened the door and waved Frank inside. Before I followed, I turned to the stranger, the large brick wall with the menacing voice and protective instinct, to offer an apology for my clumsiness and gratitude for his concern.
My gaze met the center of a great, broad chest in a blue henley. I had to strain my neck to look upward and find his face. The sun was directly over us in the sky, forcing me to squint. His copper hair glittered fiercely in the light, only adding to my blindness.
“Ye alright?” he asked again.
“I’m fine. Thank you. He’s a pain in the arse, but I can manage him.”
He nodded, and offered a small smile. At least, I thought he did. My eyes were straining in the sun.
“Thanks for your help,” was all I could think to say before ducking back into the library. I grabbed Frank by the arm and pulled him into my office.
“Sit,” I said, bringing a chair for him to sit across from my desk. “Give me the papers.”
He handed them over with only a small bit of reluctance. I snatched them from his hands and grabbed a pen. “You made all the changes we discussed?” I asked.
“Exactly as we agreed.”
I read over the documents carefully, learning far too well in this marriage that there were times this man shouldn’t be trusted. Frank was tapping his foot on the ground and fidgeting restlessly as he watched. I was quite pleased that this moment turned out far more unceremonious than he had intended.
“Hey, LJ,” Joe popped his head in. “That guy is here for the Oxford books. Melton’s Journals and the Old Fox?”
“They’re on the front desk.”
“I looked. I can’t find them.”
“I’m a little busy here, Joe.” I lifted my eyes in exasperation.
“Could you just—”
“In a minute.” I couldn’t believe Joe was being so bloody obtuse.
“I’ll just have him wait at the front desk for you. Don’t be long.”
Joe’s parting sneer at Frank gave me some indication as to why my dear friend and colleague was being such a pain in the arse about those damn books.
I turned back to the paperwork and finished reading. Everything was in order as we had previously agreed. I took the pen and made my mark, thinking there must be a few decent poems out there about divorce and the bizarre experience of signing one’s name on the dotted line to break the sacred promise made to love someone forever.
I granted myself absolution, seeing as how he was the one who broke that promise first and initiated this divorce. For the first time since I found out about Sara—or was it Sadie? Sandy?—I was actually grateful to Frank for being the one to put this divorce in motion, granting me freedom without the self-imposed shame of breaking my vows.
I attempted to recall what the flower was that signified divorce. I was certain I’d heard of it before.
I gave Frank the papers and watched as he signed away our happily ever after to make room for one with someone new. I was surprised at how easy it was. I was calm and steady as the last near decade of my life was flushed down the toilet. It felt as though that massive red-headed man was still standing behind me, holding me up as Frank was pulling the rug out from under my feet. After the last swipe of his pen, I was still standing, and I knew I’d remain so long after he was gone.
“Claire?” Joe called again from the door. “That customer is waiting.”
“Right.” I turned to Frank. “You can see yourself out when you’re done.”
I could tell he wanted a proper goodbye. Closure, or something of the sort. Perhaps it was petty to deny him that, but I allowed myself the small, silly indulgence of his minor discomfort. “Close the door when you leave.”
I stood and followed Joe out, a wave of triumphant relief washing over me. I stood still for a moment, just outside the door, and allowed myself to feel the weight of an extraordinary burden lifted from my shoulders. My eyes misted over, not from sadness, but from the significance of the moment. I no longer felt like Claire Randall anymore. I was Claire Beauchamp once again.
A beautiful, glorious feeling. One I’d never forget. One that let loose all the tears precariously dammed up in my eyes.
I wiped them away, knowing I had a customer waiting for me. I looked up to find the red-headed man from before leaning against the counter. I flushed redder than his hair when our eyes met. His expression of concern over my obvious tears was evident in every line of his face.
Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ! Pull yourself together, Beauchamp!
I stood tall and squared my shoulders, forcing myself forward. I was too much of a coward to look at his handsome, worried face as I scanned the books and his card, mumbling the return date that popped up on the computer and shoving a receipt into his hand.
“Have a good day,” I said, still avoiding his eyes.
“Claire?” said Joe, coming to my side with his own look of concern. “You okay?” His mouth said the words, but his eyes were saying something entirely different—something along the lines of, “What did this mother fucker do now?”
“I’m fine, Joe. Really.” I felt another tear of relief—or maybe embarrassment—run down my cheek. “I think I’m going to take my lunch now.”
Joe put hand on my shoulder and said, “Take the afternoon, Lady Jane. I’ve got things here.”
I was about to protest, but a part of me knew I was in need of a little peace and time. A glance around the empty library told me if ever there was a day to leave Joe there alone, this would be it. I nodded and gave his hand a squeeze.
Frank must have slipped out while I was helping the customer, because he was gone from my office when I went to retrieve my purse.
It wasn’t until I stepped outside the library and the blinding sun once again hit my eyes that I recalled the flower that symbolized divorce. Yellow roses. A bloody happy looking flower. Like sunshine.
As I walked to Thistle Be Lovely to buy myself a single yellow rose in celebration of my freedom—sorry J.F., this one's for me—I thought I might stop by a bar for a bit of whisky after all.
Chapter 5: Before You Came
“Congratulations!” said Jenny, handing over the yellow rose.
“Thank you. This must seem strange—celebrating my divorce like this.”
“No’ at all. I’ve delivered flowers to many a divorcée. Some even throw grand parties to celebrate. If ye can get through a divorce wi’ a bit of joy or hope in yer heart, then wonderful, as far as I’m concerned.”
I inhaled the warm, pleasant scent of the petals and could see why roses, particularly the red ones, had always been associated with love in some form or another—by any other name, it would still smell as sweet.
“’Tis much better this way,” Jenny went on, “so dinna fash or feel shame. My brother went through a divorce a few years back, but it was no cause for celebration at the time. For him, at least. The rest of the family raised a glass in toast when he left the wicked wench.” Her eyes went wide in exasperation at his ex-spouse. “But it pained him greatly that he couldna keep his vows of forever, and little could be done to console him save a large bottle of whisky to forget she was unfaithful.”
“Just because I’m celebrating with flowers doesn’t mean there won’t be whisky.”
Jenny offered a sympathetic smile as I stepped away from the counter and said goodbye.
I found my way to a nearby pub and ordered myself a whisky or three. The atmosphere reminded me of the kind of old tavern found in the north of England or maybe even Scotland. It was dark enough to make one uncertain of the time of day and cause patrons to linger far longer than intended.
As my belly warmed with the attention of malt, peat, and oak, my thoughts turned poetic. I found a flyer for a local band on the bar top and flipped it over for a blank space on which to write. I fished a pen out of my purse and thought not of Frank, but of the man who’d most recently charmed my heart.
Did you know there are five rose fragrances? Damask Rose, Tea, Myrrh, Fruit, and Musk…and endless variations of each. The fragrance of the blossom changes with the weather, the time of day, the season, altitude, and soil.
The best time to smell a rose is the morning before a storm, if you can manage it. It’s intoxicating. Thick and heady, forcing relaxation and restoration. I challenge anyone to smell a rose in a hurry; it can’t be done. It’s meant to be savored. It’s meant to be felt.
I long to have my own rose garden. I’d sit quietly the morning before a storm and read poetry amidst their perfume. Perhaps you know a good verse for the occasion? (I wanted to ask if he might sit there with me one day, but I hadn’t had enough whisky yet for that. So, I ordered another, hoping that I’d get there soon.) Today was a big day for me. Significant in a way that only one other day in my life has ever been. This makes no sense to you, I’m sure, but I thank you anyway for indulging my rambling. There’s no one else I’d rather ramble to, if I’m being honest.
How did this happen? When did you become this person for me? Was it the breath we took when we first met?
Feeling a little foolish for getting so sentimental with a stranger, I dropped the note into my purse to finish later…or maybe throw away entirely. Then, I drank a bit more and ordered another.
My phone rang after some time—an hour? two? I couldn’t recall—and I was pleasantly surprised at the face that appeared on my screen.
“Marsali! How are you, my darling friend?” I answered. I hadn’t heard from her since she sent a picture of her baby after the birth.
“Claire! Joe called and told me about Frank. Why didn’t you tell me he left? And what the hell happened today?”
“Calm down, love. You don’t—hic—need to worry about me. How is the little one? Henri, was it?”
“You’re slurring your words! Are you drunk? It’s only three in the afternoon!”
“I’m just having a little celebratory toast to…to…The End.”
“Oh, dear God. If you’re going to drink, come do it at my house. Do you know where I live?”
“I’m not sure I recall where I live at the moment.” I was only joking, of course, but her exasperated sigh told me she didn’t think it funny.
“Mercy. Where are you? I’ll send Fergus to get you.”
I laughed at the thought of being able to remember the name of this hole in the wall.
“Fine. Excuse me!” I waved the bartender over. “What’s this place called?”
“The Red Lion, Miss.”
I snorted. “He called me Miss.”
“The Red Lion?” said Marsali, overhearing the bartender. “It’s just down the street. I’ll—”
The line went dead. I looked down at my phone and saw a blank screen. No battery. Understandable. Frank drained the life from me too.
I picked up my rose and inhaled it. The scent was still potent, even as the afternoon went on and whisky overtook my senses. I breathed in the new life it gave, only enhanced by the lightness of body from the alcohol.
My thoughts took a sharp turn toward the pleasant, masculine scent that sometimes lingered on J.F.’s notes. I tried to remember the flavor of the cologne that tickled my nose when I breathed it in. Tonka bean and warm vanilla. I wondered what it might be like to breathe it fresh off his skin. Would it be more potent in the curve of his neck? Did it linger in his hair?
I attempted to conjure an image of J.F. in my head, and all my foggy brain could come up with was an amorphous mist of pleasant scents spewing echoes of poetry. It was probably best for me not to have expectations of what the man looked like. I guess it didn’t really matter; it would be the height of shallowness to be chased away by an excessively large nose like Cyrano or a face resembling the Phantom…especially if he was as kind and thoughtful as his words implied.
And as I knew all too well, the most important traits of good lovers were that they were attentive, caring, and open-minded—it didn’t matter what a face looked like when it was buried between your thighs. J.F. certainly seemed to be all those wonderful things…unusually so.
“Pardon me. Claire?” said a masculine voice from behind me. A gentle hand landed on my shoulder, and I squeaked in shock. “Claire. It’s me. Fergus. Marsali’s husband.”
“Oh, I know,” Remembering what he looked like from a picture Marsali had once shown me. “You just surprised me, is all. I was lost in my thoughts.”
“Marsali asked me to come retrieve you, if you don’t mind?” His smile was warm and kind.
I felt only a brief pang of regret that I no longer had a husband of my own to send down to the local pub to retrieve wayward friends before I remembered that Frank would’ve probably never done such a thing for me anyway, or if so, it would’ve been done with an excessive amount of complaining at his inconvenience.
Fergus was fine company, taking my arm through his like a gentleman and leading the way to his home. As we walked out into the late afternoon sunshine, he spoke mostly about the temperate weather we’d been having, and how it was good for the children so they could play outdoors. He talked about his work at the publishing company, and how he’d recently taken on a new writer that he was excited to start promoting. He had the good sense not to ask me any personal questions or scold me for drinking too much; we both knew Marsali would handle that well enough for the both of them.
When we made it to their apartment, he brought me into the living room where Marsali was sitting cross-legged on the floor with Henri in one arm, nursing away, and a video game controller in her other, racing in a kart game against her two little girls.
“I’ll bring you ladies some tea,” said Fergus. He walked out of the room, past a stunning bouquet of daffodils, buttercups, and lily of the valley in an elegant crystal vase. The gorgeous bouquet distracted me long enough to make me forget that I came for whisky, not tea.
“Felicite, Joanie. Say hi to Claire,” said Marsali, tossing the controller aside with relief at my appearance. The girls gave small, dismissive waves, but I wasn’t quite sure which child was in possession of which name.
“Hello,” I said to the room at large.
“Thank God you’re here,” said Marsali, detaching the sleeping baby from her breast. “If I have to play one more effing game, I might lose it.”
“Hello, little man,” I said, reaching for Henri. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”
“Sit,” she instructed, before placing the baby in my arms.
“He’s so precious. So tiny.” My eyes misted over, trying not to think that having my own baby was that much further from my reach after today.
“He’s the noisiest one of the lot,” she said with an indulgent smile.
“How have you been since the birth?”
“Oh, I’m fine. After the second kid, they just sort of slide right out when they’re ready.”
“Well, they’re beautiful. All of them. You did an amazing job.”
She snorted, but I could tell she agreed.
“Where is your eldest? I don’t think I’ve ever met him before.” Marsali had only begun working for the library last summer, and this was my first occasion to meet her family in person.
“Germain has been hero-worshiping one of Fergus’s new clients. The man is as patient as a fucking—” she corrected herself, “as an effing saint with these kids. Germain follows him around like a damn—I mean dang—shadow, so he offered to pay the little heathen to run errands for him here and there. Sends him to pick up coffee and dry cleaning, that sort of thing. Just around the neighborhood close by. It keeps the kid busy and out of Mr. Fraser’s hair.”
Henri was quietly snoring away in my arms. He was so precious, my ovaries must’ve released a half dozen eggs since I walked in.
“So, why didn’t you tell me about Frank?” Marsali chided.
I shrugged. “It all happened so fast, and I didn’t want to bother you when you had all this going on.”
She waved off my concern, as though having a fourth child was hardly a consideration. “You look surprisingly well for your whole world to have changed in the last few weeks.”
“I think we both know this has been a long time coming.”
“Yes, but you still look good. The alcohol must really be doing its job.”
“I was fine even before the whisky, thank you very much.” I pulled my eyes away from Henri’s chubby cheeks to find Marsali scrutinizing me as though she didn’t believe a word I’d said. “Really. I’m well. I’m…hopeful.”
“Hopeful? Well, that’s good.” Despite her words, she didn’t seem convinced.
“I am. Truly. I’ve been relying on a friend to help me through.” I could feel my face flush at the thought of J.F.
Thankfully, Marsali didn’t notice because her husband was coming into the room to distribute tea to the ladies, causing his daughters to begin screaming for a tea party. After serving the adults, he brought the girls to the table to make a formal affair of their tea service.
The lovely white and yellow bouquet on the table only added to the splendor. “Those flowers are beautiful. Did Fergus buy them for you?”
She snorted, as though the thought was ludicrous. “No. Those came from Mr. Fraser. The flowers are all supposed to have some sort of symbolism or something.”
If I thought I was blushing before, it was nothing to the flames burning my face now. “Symbolism?”
“Yeah. I can’t remember what they all meant, but he left a note.” Marsali reached into a drawer in her side table and fished out a note on a very familiar piece of stationery. I shifted Henri in my arms so I could take the note and read it.
Welcome to life, Henri!
Spring is a fine season to
join the world. Daffodils and
buttercups are blooming with
new life, just like you, and they
hold all the promises of
And for you, Marsali,
Lily of the valley blossoms
with the elegant grace of new
Motherhood (just don’t let the
children chew on the leaves;
they’re poison when ingested).
I’m in awe of what you both
have accomplished in the
miracle of childbirth.
Warmest regards and best
My throat went entirely dry, and my heart was beating so fast it may have actually stopped. “A Mr. Fraser, you said?”
“Yeah. He's a new writer Fergus picked up. Well, new to Fergus anyway. A big score for him, to be honest.”
“And you’ve…met him?”
“He was here for dinner the other night. He goes out drinking with Fergus on the weekends.”
“You know,” Marsali’s tone took on a suggestive quality, “he is single. Divorced. Not bad on the eyes, either.”
“Marsali,” I warned, shooting a look, demanding she cease and desist.
She didn’t listen. “If you want, I could ask if he—”
“Stop it.” I reluctantly gave her back the note. “The ink on my divorce papers is still wet.”
“You said it yourself, it’s been over a long time.”
“That doesn’t mean I’m ready to start anything new.”
“Sex,” she whispered the word so the girls wouldn’t hear, “can be simple, Claire. You don’t need a relationship to fuck a hot guy.”
“It’s nothing close to simple, seeing as how I haven’t slept with anyone besides Frank for at least a decade.”
Marsali brushed my concerns away with a sweep of her hand. “Well, let me know when you change your mind. A guy like that won’t stay off the market for long.”
“Off the market? What is this? Real estate?”
“I’m just saying—”
“Well, stop. You’ve got your hands full enough already.” I gestured to the baby in my arms. “Now, tell me about the birth. I want all the gory details.”
If there was one thing I’d learned about new mothers, it was that they loved to tell the story of how their babies were expelled from their wombs. Marsali may have known that it was a strategic shift of conversation, but the opportunity to describe the physical trauma of shoving a whole person out of her vagina to a willing listener was too enticing an opportunity to pass up.
I felt quite sober after hearing all the details of her various episiotomies over the course of her four childbirths and obstinately refused an escort home when it came time to leave. In fact, I was more than ready for a bit more whisky after all that.
The sun was sinking low as I made my way out to the street. I took a moment to appreciate the clouds in the sky, lit up with the oranges, pinks, and purples of a setting sun.
“Lovely,” I whispered to no one at all.
I stepped forward carelessly, eyes still locked on the colorful sky, and my elbow knocked firmly into a boy racing by. “Ouch!”
My purse was knocked to the ground, spilling half its contents onto the concrete sidewalk.
“Sorry!” he said, bending down to pick up the mess.
He lifted the yellow rose and turned slowly to look up at me. His mouth dropped open, and his eyes lit up. “It’s you. The lady who works with my mom.”
The boy looked shockingly familiar. At first, I thought it was because I must’ve seen him in a picture or two in Marsali’s house, but then I realized…
“You brought me the gardenia!” Marsali said he was running errands for the mysterious J. Fraser.
The boy finished picking up the mess of my purse and handed it over to me. He had kept the rose in hand, and he stared down, reading a scrap of paper.
“You’re writing back to him?” Germain grinned happily.
“That’s not for you to read, young man!”
The boy was quick, backing away, a smile broad across his face. “He’ll be happy to see this! I’ll take it to him now.”
“No! It’s not—” I took a few steps toward him, but he bolted away as if I wasn’t even there. “That was my flower!”
I didn’t give chase, having no chance in bloody hell of catching up to the nimble young thing, weaving in and out of passersby.
I tried to remember what I’d written in that note and couldn’t recall. Something about the scent of roses? Wanting a garden? I supposed it didn’t matter.
I had to admit that my heart danced with a little thrill at the thought of J.F. receiving a message from me, even if it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to say. I felt foolish for agonizing for days over the right poem to send, when in the end, he wouldn’t even get a poem at all.
Instead of going out for another whisky, I decided it was best to just make my way home for an early night, but first, I needed to stop at the corner store on the way home for some preventative ibuprofen to manage the inevitable headache sure to arise by quitting drinking a little too early in the day. Now that I was edging up on my thirties, any tryst with alcohol immediately became a polyamorous affair with over-the-counter pain medication, lest I wanted to be miserable the rest of the night.
The shop closest to my house boasted a wellness section comprised of two whole shelves. The first of which contained various pharmaceuticals, such as oral painkillers, topical antifungal creams, bacitracin, and bandages. The second, clearly the family planning shelf, had a meager selection of period products, pregnancy tests, and contraceptives.
I picked up a small pack of ibuprofen and made to turn away to the register. My eyes stopped, however, on the condoms on the lower shelf.
He is single, Marsali had said. Not bad on the eyes, either. And he was more than enamored with me.
I had an IUD, and didn’t have to worry about pregnancy, but for the first time in a very long time, I did have to consider protecting myself in other ways.
Fine. If I was being honest, Frank could’ve picked up any number of infections from his myriad affairs, and I would’ve been none the wiser.
Part of me couldn’t believe I was thinking about sleeping with someone the day I signed my divorce papers.
Frank didn’t wait this long fuck around! my vagina protested.
It was decided then. I’d be getting condoms and ibuprofen, even if they were only being purchased in an abundance of caution.
I reached forward to grab a box of the basic latex, but stopped halfway there. What if he’s allergic to latex? And what bloody size should I buy? If I bought them too large, I’d hate to offend him—I supposed it wouldn’t be so terrible for his prick to be on the smaller side if the man had a poet’s tongue—but if I bought them too small, then I’d really regret being unprepared.
Perhaps some of each? I blushed to the tips of my ears thinking of carrying a variety of condom boxes to the front counter to ensure all my bases were covered.
I dropped my hand entirely. This was something I would be best served ordering online. I supposed any romantic interludes would have to wait until the fulfillment of priority shipping.
“Morning, Lady Jane. How are you this fine Friday?” Joe greeted me just as I made it into work precisely on time. I had intended to arrive a little early, but spent more time on my hair and makeup than was usual for me. Unfortunately, in my rush out the door, the resulting perspiration sabotaged the extra attention paid to my appearance.
“Hello, Joe. How did it go after I left yesterday? Any catastrophes?”
“A few, but the place is still standing.”
“So I see.”
I went inside the office to look for my morning flower and poem, wondering what might be awaiting me after Germain’s surprise delivery to J.F. the day before.
I was disappointed to see there was nothing there. I searched around a bit to make sure they hadn’t fallen on the ground or got shoved under my desk, but there was nothing there. No flowers. No notes. No indication that anyone had been there at all since I last left the office.
“Hmm.” My heart dropped momentarily, thinking maybe I did chase him off with my stupid drunken words scrawled on the back of a random pub flyer. I quickly began talking sense into myself, recalling that the last time he skipped a morning flower and poem was when he found the Mad Girl’s Love Song and changed his plans. Perhaps since he received my note and rose from Germain, he was changing his plans yet again.
I went about my day like any other, save the continued feeling of relief that my last connections to Frank were in the process of being severed and for the hope that J.F. might leave me something pleasant by the end of the day to enjoy over the weekend. Joe had the good sense to leave me alone and not pester me about how I was doing. He even kept his mouth shut when my mood began to dampen after nothing had arrived for me by lunchtime.
All the relief and hope I carried with me in the morning was gone by the last hour of the day. I retreated into my office not long before closing, feeling the effects of fatigue from the emotional rollercoaster I’d been on the last couple of days. Hiding away was also a vain attempt to avoid the stress of work and soothe the unwarranted fear over possibly losing a man I’d never even met before.
I pulled out The Rebel’s Silhouette and turned it to the page I had marked the previous day and began reading once again. Before you came, things were as they should be: the sky was the dead-end of sight, the road was just a road, wine merely wine…
A knock sounded softly on the open door, interrupting me yet again. I looked up curiously, knowing Joe wouldn’t knock on his own office if I’d left the door open.
“Germain?” My heart jumped, forcing me to my feet. “Come in, darling. Did Mr. Fraser ask you to bring something for me?”
He shook his head nervously, but held up a small bag in his hand. It was a plastic grocery bag, not something I would expect from my poetic friend who owned monogrammed stationery and gave flowers for every occasion.
For some reason, the boy seemed reluctant to bring it over.
“What is it?” I asked. “Is everything all right?”
He shrugged and came closer. “I gave him your flower…and the note. He was already sad before I gave it to him, but it got worse after. I went back to see him today, and he kicked me out. Even the whisky he was drinking didn’t help him feel better.”
“Do you know why he was so upset? Was it something I said?”
Germain lifted the bag. “I found these on the floor. I don’t think he wanted you to have them.” Clearly Germain felt otherwise. I took the bag from him and sat back down at my desk. Germain made himself at home, perched on a nearby chair, waiting for my response.
Inside the bag, there were four bits of crumbled up stationery and four flowers that were a little crushed, surely having seen better days.
I took out the flowers first: a marigold, some lemon balm, a cluster of forget-me-nots, and a red carnation. Surely, this couldn’t have been meant to be a bouquet—they didn’t have the matching elegance of the flowers he’d given Marsali—so I was certain each flower was meant for a different bit of crumpled up stationary.
I pulled out the first note and smoothed it on the desk. It wasn’t a poem, and the words had been carelessly scribbled over, but I was still able to make out what it said:
He hath a daily beauty in his life
That makes me ugly.
I turned over the note to find a few more words, barely decipherable amidst a mess of scribbles that overlaid them:
Married? You’re married?
How could it be so?
I know the heartache of
an unfaithful spouse better
than anyone, yet here I am
with a thousand thoughts
of how to ensnare you into
Forgive me, Claire. Forgive
my bitterness. I grudge every
memory of yours that doesn’t
hold me in it.
…every tear you’ve shed for
…every second you've spent
in another man's bed.
I sucked in a breath and my whole body quivered. Here I am with a thousand thoughts of how to ensnare you into my bed.
“He wants me,” I whispered soundlessly beneath my breath so Germain couldn’t hear. It felt bloody good to be wanted so badly.
“Married? You’re married?” he’d said. He must have seen me with Frank. I would’ve laughed at the darling man’s idiocy if I wasn’t worried that I’d scared him away forever.
I pulled out Whispers of Blossoms, knowing from his words and the small bit of Shakespeare he’d scribbled down what sentiment he wanted to convey. I looked up envy and was directed to the chapter on marigolds.
“Envious of Frank? You are a bloody fool, J.F,” I muttered.
I reached in and grabbed another note, terrified of what I’d find next.
Tears from my lover's eyes
In silence like a peaceful sky
Gutters on her cosmetic face
What a sincere cry I face
I cannot see, but I can feel
A heavy heart like a giant bull
Bleeding on my lover's chest
I'm terrified, I don't know the rest
- Chinonso Uche
What did this mean?
Knowing forget-me-nots symbolized memory, I looked between the other flowers on my desk—lemon balm and the carnation—and took a guess as to which one should be paired with this poem. I turned to the chapter on lemon balm and read:
The lemon balm plant symbolizes sympathy and compassion. It can also represent healthy boundaries in relationships, friendship, healing, and love. In ancient times, lemon balm plants were grown by the door to ward off evil and promote happiness in the home. The lemon balm plant is ideal for adding to fairy gardens as the little creatures are said to love the small blossoms.
“Sympathy and compassion? Healthy boundaries, friendship, healing, and love?” I repeated, completely confused. I turned the poem over to find more words that were scribbled out yet again.
You had tears in your eyes today.
It broke my heart to see them there,
nearly as badly as it did to discover
that you’re already wed.
I shall put my pain aside
to offer compassion for whatever
put those tears on your cheeks. I
want to wipe them away.
…with my fingertips
…with my lips.
Yet you made your intentions for
me clear. A yellow rose.
I’m not sure how to be your friend
when my body aches to lie beside
I will find a way to be a friend.
…if that’s what you need.
…if that’s all you have to give.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” I muttered, shocked that a few of my tears had the capacity to elicit a response like that from the man. And they weren’t even tears of despair either. What would he have done if he’d actually seen me cry after Frank told me he was leaving?
I pulled out the third note, this one even sloppier than the last two, made worse yet by dried drops of a brown liquid on the paper, obscuring the ink and making me think he spilled his drink on it.
Heart, we will forget her!
Heart, we will forget her!
You an I, tonight!
You may forget the warmth she gave,
I will forget the light.
- Emily Dickinson
And then his words on the back:
God, this is fucking stupid!
I could never forget your
If the whisky can’t erase you from
my mind, then Dickinson surely
This poor, tortured soul. It seemed as though thoughts of me rejecting him for Frank was driving him a bit mad.
I pulled out the last note and paired it with the red carnation. Heartache.
I am not yours, not lost in you,
Not lost, although I long to be
Lost as a candle lit at noon,
Lost as a snowflake in the sea.
- Sara Teasdale
There was nothing written on the back, yet the absence of his thoughts was somehow even more painful than his heartbreaking words.
“Oh God.” I looked over the notes and flowers, heart racing in a dreaded panic. “He thinks I’m still married? That I only want to be his friend?”
Germain nodded sadly. “I thought maybe if you saw these flowers, you might decide you like Mr. Fraser more than your husband.”
I snorted. “Well, you’re not wrong.”
Germain’s eyes lit up with excitement. “Can I tell him? Will you write him a letter back? If he’s anything like you, he won’t be so angry with me for stealing those from his house if he gets something better from you.”
I couldn’t help my laugh. “Yes. Yes, I think I will write something for you to take to him. Let me just look through this book to find the flower I need…”
I searched the index for the word clarity, but couldn’t find it. Clear vision was close enough. I flipped to the designated page, and it took me to the chapter on Rue.
I then opened The Rebel’s Silhouette and found the poem I was looking for. I jotted it down quickly, then turned the letter over and wrote a few words to ensure there was no misunderstanding how I felt.
“I need to run to a flower shop to find some rue. Although, I might have more luck at a nursery.”
“Don’t worry about that, Ms. Claire. I know who will have some, and if she doesn’t, she can tell me where to find it.”
“Are you sure?”
He rolled his eyes as though this was child’s play for an experienced young man like him.
“Let me give you some money—”
“No need.” He pulled the letter from my hand. “I’ll just take some flowers off the plant and run.”
But he was already halfway out the door with no intention of looking back.
“Jesus bloody Christ.”
A sigh of relief escaped my lips. J.F.’s emotional state was sure to be well cared for in the overzealous hands of that excitable young man. He seemed to care just as much about J.F. as I did.
Since it was nearing time to close up the library for the day, I began setting everything aside so I could go help Joe with the last of the check-outs. I carefully shifted all the pages of Whispers of Blossoms to the right side of the book, fearful of damaging the old, worn pages.
The book was so old, in fact, that it still had its check-out card adhered to the inside of the cover. I’d never had the heart to remove it.
I smiled at the relic, wishing we still stamped the return dates into books. I pulled it out and read over the old names written inside. Most of them were illegible, considering how long ago they’d been written, but there was one name at the bottom that was penned in fresh, black ink and clear as day. There was no date stamped beside it, so it clearly wasn’t an official entry.
The name left my lips in a whisper of a breath. “Jamie Fraser.”
He’d been there all along, waiting until I was ready to find him.
Chapter 6: Lines Depicting Simple Happiness
Jamie woke with a pounding ache radiating through his head. Or maybe the pounding was on the door. His mind was too cloudy to comprehend much beyond the need for a glass of water and very strong painkillers.
He used gravity to get himself off the couch, letting his feet fall heavily to the floor. It took a good deal of strain to force himself upright.
“Mr. Fraser!” Knock! Knock! Knock! “Mr. Fraser! Open the door!”
“Mmphm,” Jamie grumbled, slogging through the house to make the racket stop. He looked out the window to gage what time it was...only just getting dark.
He opened the door to find Germain bouncing on the tips of his toes, grinning ear to ear.
“Mmphm.” Jamie turned away, leaving the door open for the kid to come in. His feet dragged beneath him to the kitchen where he hunted down ibuprofen and a cold glass of water. He could hear Germain talking, but the sound was little more than static from an old radio.
It wasn’t until Jamie was choking down the little green pills that he was finally alert enough to hear what the kid was saying. “So, she set all those flowers down on her desk and unwrinkled all your notes. Then, she read them all, looking up what each of the flowers meant in her little book, and then—”
Jamie turned to face him, the movement too abrupt for his aching head. “What the bloody hell did ye do, wee man? Ye gave her the trash littering my floor?”
“Of course! I thought if she saw how much you liked her, she’d leave her husband for you.”
“Fucking hell, Germain! That was rubbish! Drunken ramblings of a heartbroken idiot. Those letters would do nothing but show her what a goddamn fool I am. She wasn’t meant to see them.”
Germain smiled brightly despite Jamie’s panicked mortification.
“Ye’re enjoying my suffering, are ye?”
Germain held up a bundle of small yellow flowers and a letter folded in half. Claire’s script was clear as day on the paper. “She likes you too,” Germain said with a schoolyard giggle.
Jamie’s headache was immediately forgotten, he swiped the note and flowers from Germain’s hand and took them to the kitchen table. “There’s cash on the counter, laddie. Go run and get me a coffee, will ye? Keep the change.”
Jamie didn’t really need the coffee. He needed space.
Germain grinned all the way out the door.
Jamie sat there staring at the flowers. They were yellow blossoms bunched together atop a pretty bit of greenery. They looked a little smushed from Germain’s hand, but they were still bonnie nonetheless.
The fact that they were yellow gave him pause. That yellow rose was a knife to the heart, and the wound was still raw.
Jamie didn’t know what the flower was. He pulled up an app on his phone and took a picture, waiting for the result.
He then quickly googled the meaning of rue: Rue is the symbol for adultery; the symbol for genuine repentance of all transgressions for women; the symbol for everlasting suffering. Rue is very bitter.
“What the bloody hell?” Was she asking him to have an affair? Surely, she didn’t have that in her. Not the woman who read stories to children and helped the elderly pay their bills online. Not the lady he dreamed of taking home to Scotland to meet his mother. He kept scrolling to find more meanings for rue.
Symbolic of sorrow, regret, and repentance, hence the expression “you'll rue the day.”
“No. Not regret. Not sorrow. Please, God no.”
Unable to wait any longer, he picked up her note to find clarity. One side of the piece of paper held a letter and the other side a poem. He started with the poem.
Before you came,
things were as they should be:
the sky was the dead-end of sight,
the road was just a road, wine merely wine.
Don't leave now that you're here—
- Faiz Ahmed Faiz
She wants me. He nearly laughed with relief. Husband or not, the thought was comforting. To be wanted by the person he desired was a joy unmatched by anything else in the world. Perhaps she was a bit mad for developing fondness for a man she didn’t know, but not nearly as mad as him for falling in love with a woman at first sight.
He turned the paper over and read the words penned in her elegant script:
Some rue for clear vision, you bloody fool.
That yellow rose was not meant for you, but for me…to celebrate my divorce. Frank came by the library yesterday so we could sign the papers together. I suppose he was feeling sentimental. Germain is a sweet young man, but a bit impulsive and not one to listen to instructions (as I’m sure you know, seeing as how I don’t think I was ever meant to receive your latest letters).
The truth is that I’ve been struggling for days with how to respond to you. Of how to tell you that you’ve brought color into a world that’s been grey for too long. That wine tastes sweeter with your poems on my lips. That I look forward to sunrises because they bring me your words, and to sunsets because I imagine what it might be like to watch them one day beside you, whispering verses of the wonders of nature and brevity of life.
I don’t know your face, but I’ve glimpsed your heart, and though my mind is reluctant to trust after the devastating end of my marriage, my heart won’t listen to reason, and it has opened itself in hopeful naïvety no matter the cost.
Before you came, things were as they should be: the sky was the dead-end of sight, the road was just a road, wine merely wine. But now the whole world is so much more. Please, my friend, my darling, wonderful friend, don't leave now that you're here.
Jamie sat back in his chair and sighed with aching relief.
“Do I want to know why ye need the marjoram?”
Jamie kissed his sister on the top of her head and took the flower, ignoring her question.
“Ye’re seeing someone, are ye no’?” she asked.
Jamie just smiled, not ready to give explanations.
“Mmphm. Well, fine. I was going to set ye up wi’ a customer of mine, but I suppose that can wait if ye’ve found someone on yer own to woo wi’ all these flowers.”
Jamie walked away, not interested in blind dates arranged by his sister. Those had never went well in the past. She hated the idea of Jamie being alone. Even when he was living in Scotland and she in Boston, she'd try to arrange him dates with some of her old friends. Jenny's problem was that she had a habit of picking ladies that she would want as a sister rather than who Jamie might want for a girlfriend…or a wife.
No. He wouldn’t entertain the idea of any woman but Claire.
It was early Monday morning as he left the flower shop. The sun wouldn’t rise for some time, but he had to get to the library before Duncan finished his night shift. Thankfully, his sister had been hard at work in her shop long before sunrise, getting fresh deliveries in for the day. She didn’t usually carry marjoram in stock, but she found some for him over the weekend because he’d asked.
He made a quick stop at a coffee shop on his way to the library, referencing a text from Joe Abernathy regarding Claire’s preferences for coffee and bagels. Jamie longed to wake with her in the morning and brew her a cup of coffee himself, to wipe the cream cheese from her lips after a bite of her bagel, and start the day bringing a smile to her eyes.
There was more than one way to make a woman smile in the morning. He couldn’t imagine limiting himself to just food and drink.
The dark streets were empty, and his coat covered enough of his front so he didn’t have to adjust himself to hide the effect of thinking about that gorgeous woman in his bed.
One day, he promised himself. One day soon he'd have her there. He didn’t think his balls could stand it otherwise.
Duncan met him at the back entrance of the library as usual. They both waved to the night guard who Jamie had played poker with on Saturday night, and then he made his way to Claire’s office.
There he set down the coffee and bagel, and right next to it, the letter and flower. The poem was simple, but it captured the joyful spirit of his heart.
The shine on her buckle took precedence in sun
Her shine, I should say, could take me anywhere
It feels right to be up this close in tight wind
It feels right to notice all the shiny things about you
About you there is nothing I wouldn’t want to know
With you nothing is simple yet nothing is simpler
- Peter Gizzi
And on the back:
These are Gizzi's Lines Depicting
Simple Happiness. How I long to
make you feel the same.
I’ll give this joy back to you one day.
…when you’re ready.
…just let me know.
I am yours…very much yours,
Chapter 7: Echo
For those needing a full text version of this chapter and the next, click here Text Version of Chapters 7&8
One hour. That’s all the time I had for research today. Well…snooping, if I was being honest.
It had been a busy day at the library, and there wasn’t a moment to sit with a clear thought about Jamie Fraser or the gifts he left me that morning. He was never entirely out of my head, of course, but it was more than a little difficult to focus on Lines Depicting Simple Happiness when I was attempting to engage screaming toddlers with a morning reading of Go, Dog. Go!
That didn’t stop me from catching a whiff of tonka bean and vanilla now and again, pleasant scents tickling the right memories when I was least expecting them.
So there I sat, hiding away in my office for lunch, scarfing down a bowl of hummus and on the hunt for information. I logged into my computer and searched the library’s customer database for Jamie Fraser.
A few names popped up, but only three of them were listed as men. Of those, two were children and the other was sixty-five years old.
“How about James Fraser?” I mumbled, typing the new name into the system.
“Dear God.” There were a good number of James Frasers in our database. I quickly narrowed down the search to men between twenty years old and fifty. That cut the size of the list a good bit. Then, I went line by line to see which of these James Frasers had checked out a book within the last few weeks.
There was only one man whose account had any activity within that time frame.
My heart leapt, hoping I’d found him. This James Fraser was only a few years younger than me and had three—Did I count that right? Three?—middle names. It appeared as though he set up his account several weeks ago.
I reviewed the log of books he’d checked out since then and gasped. The latest on his list was The Rebel’s Silhouette. And he checked it out this morning!
And here I thought I was hallucinating the tonka bean and vanilla! Was he watching me read to the children?
The thought sent a shiver down my spine…not at all unpleasant.
It was him. It had to be. Other familiar names on his list of books reinforced my certainty—William Blake, Sylvia Path, E. E. Cummings, and Sara Teasdale.
But it wasn’t the poets that stopped my heart, gripping it like a vice. It was the historians—The Rise and Fall of the Old Fox and Melton’s Journals from the ’45.
I remembered those books well—they were a pain in the arse to get from Oxford—and what’s more, I remembered the person who’d checked them out. He was the brick wall I ran into when Frank came by the week before.
Dear God, no wonder he thought I was still married. Frank told him so right outside the library doors.
And suddenly, I felt the memory of his hands on my arms, keeping me steady, holding me upright. “Are ye all right, lass?” he’d asked. “This man isna bothering ye, is he?”
He had an accent, I was sure, though I hadn’t paid much attention to it given the fact that Frank and I were in the middle of clearing up the debris of our collapsed marriage at the exact same moment I was making a mess of my first meeting with Jamie—what a lovely name…Jamie. From the titles of most of the books he’d checked out, I suspected that his accent was Scottish.
I remembered his size well enough, towering over both me and Frank, the sun shining behind him like a bloody halo as he came to my rescue. His hair was red, that was unforgettable, though I couldn’t recall the color of his eyes.
“If I had only known!” I chided myself.
Then again, it was probably best I didn’t know at the time. I wasn’t ready for him then. Not yet.
“Well, I’m ready now.” I typed his full name into the Chrome search bar and pressed enter.
I was immediately met with a pair of stunning blue eyes that looked as though they were just on the verge of smiling. Warm, confident, good-humored, and beautiful.
His lines were strong and masculine. A day-old stubble peppered his jaw, giving his pleasant expression an definite edge. I remembered that massive broad chest and how bloody firm it was against my head.
The picture was part of James Fraser’s author profile that overviewed basic information on the writer and gave summaries of his professional works exploring the history and mythology of the Scottish Highlands.
Fraser’s fictional works have been described as lyrical in their execution. He adheres to no established poetic framework in his epic tales and generally follows the idiomatic elements of prose, save his propensity for strategically elegant breaks in sentence structure to emphasize moments of emotional significance…
I smiled at the description of his writing, eager to dive into one of these epic tales of James Fraser that combined fact with mythology, yet packed an emotional punch.
He’d published two books already: A Thousand Ships and The Circle of Seven Stones.
I read over the summaries of the titles and was immediately enthralled. We didn’t have copies of his books at the library, so I pulled out my phone and ordered them online, knowing I’d also likely buy electronic copies of each before the day was done.
I browsed through his Goodreads page, reading reviews and direct quotes from his work. I found my way to his official Instagram page that only had a handful of pictures consisting mostly of professional headshots and a few of him signing autographs at bookstores and libraries. I doubted he even posted on the page himself, so I gave it a follow.
It looked as though his success had been mostly overseas. I wondered if that was part of the reason he was in Boston. Perhaps Fergus was attempting to expand his audience.
I spent the rest of my lunch on my phone, scrolling through pictures and saving a few of my favorites. I had no doubt in my mind that this was my J.F., but if I somehow turned out to be mistaken, I was sure to be painfully disappointed, because there just couldn’t be a more perfect specimen of man on earth than this particular James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser.
This little bit of research left the wheels of my brain spinning, eyes darting toward the doors every time they opened, looking for that shock of familiar red hair. Foolish, I knew. He’d already been to the library that morning, so there was no reason he’d return…unless he wanted another glimpse of me…perhaps bump into me in one of the quiet corners of the romance section.
Heat rose up my neck, and my whole body quivered. A tickle started in my belly, then traveled tantalizingly down.
Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ! The last thing I needed was to be aroused at work, yet from the lingering sensation of his strong hands gripping my arms, I knew that this was bound to be a chronic problem as the object of affection of James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser.
I might as well get used to it.
I spent the rest of my afternoon trying to come up with something to leave for him on my desk at the end of the day. I didn’t have time to run to the flower shop to buy a posy, so it would just have to be a note or a poem.
During a brief lull of activity around three o’clock, I pulled out my phone to do some online research of poems that might suit my fancy.
I was immediately taken in by a verse from Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Though I didn’t think Jamie and I were quite there yet, every line seemed to set my heart racing: I love your lips when they’re wet with wine, And red with a wild desire; I love your eyes when the lovelight lies, Lit with a passionate fire.
“What’s that you’re reading, LJ?” asked Joe, peering over my shoulder.
“Just a bit of poetry.” I flushed and put my phone away.
He chuckled and sat down next to me. “Is your new boyfriend inspiring a new interest?”
“If you must know, I was looking for a poem to leave for him.”
“Wilcox, huh? That’s pretty steamy.”
“Exactly. It’s a bit too much.”
“What is it you’re looking for? What do you want to say?”
“I’m not quite sure. Something along the lines of being enchanted with him. Maybe even a bit enamored.”
“Enchanted, hm? Enamored?” Joe smirked suggestively, seeming to understand the underlying current of passion running through me that I was reluctant to share. “I think I’ve got something for you. Give me a second.”
Joe stood and took off to the poetry section. He was out of sight for only a moment before coming back with a book in his hand. His glasses were perched on the tip of his nose, and he was flipping through the pages to find what he was looking for.
He sat down next to me and handed over the book. “Langston Hughes is a favorite of mine. Maybe you can use a bit of something there.”
Joe nodded and nudged me to read:
Love Song for Lucinda
Is a ripe plum
Growing on a purple tree.
Taste it once
And the spell of its enchantment
Will never let you be.
Is a bright star
Glowing in far Southern skies.
Look too hard
And its burning flame
Will always hurt your eyes.
Is a high mountain
Stark in a windy sky.
Would never lose your breath
Do not climb too high.
“Oh, Joe, it’s perfect!”
“I thought you might like it. There are a few more in that book that may be useful at some point.”
“Thank you.” I squeezed his hand in gratitude.
“You can have your boyfriend thank me by bringing me coffee and bagels in the morning next time,” he chuckled.
I snorted, smacking him on the arm. He most certainly deserved breakfast from me tomorrow morning for everything he’d done over the past few weeks.
I turned my thoughts back to the poem, eyes lingering on the word enchantment, and suddenly I knew what I could leave alongside the poem. I jumped on the computer and searched “Fern Flower,” then clicked on a link entitled: The Fern Flower - A Symbol of Enchantment and Fascination.
I printed out an artistic rendering of the fern flower and wrote the poem just next to it. Then, I flipped it over and wrote a little love note on the back.
My Dearest Jamie,
I found your name in my book. At least, I think it’s you. Joe knew all along, of course, and I suppose I could’ve asked him for it, but I was afraid. I was terrified that this incredible person I’d built you up to be in my head was a foolish fantasy, and I didn’t want to let the fantasy be crushed by reality, when reality has been nothing but brutal to my hopeful expectations of what romance and love were meant to be.
Yet here I sit, creepily snooping through scraps of information about you on the internet, and I become more and more enamored with every bit of knowledge I find. I’m enchanted in a way I’ve never been before, and strangely enough, it’s because the fantasy seems far less incredible than the reality.
I’ve purchased your books, and I’m eager to read them both. I’m excited to learn more about the country and mythology inspiring your passion, and more so, to get lost in your brilliant mind and have your exquisite words dancing around in my head for days on end.
As I said, you’ve left me nothing short of enchanted, James Fraser. I wish I could leave you a flower of enchantment to show just how I feel. The fern flower, to be precise.
Legends about a mythological fern flower vary depending on their country of origin, but it’s generally believed that the wild fern, a species that normally never flowers, does bloom on two special nights each year—on the summer and winter solstices, the two transitional nights when the sun and moon’s powers are at their peak.
Legend says that the fern blooms only in the most secluded parts of the forest, far away from human settlements, where no dogs barking, roosters crowing, nor people talking can be heard. The fern blooms at midnight, and a loud thunder follows its birth. The flower shines with golden light until it dies just before dawn.
The person who finds the flower will be filled with exceptional supernatural wisdom that will bring happiness to their life, and that person will be given great wealth and power.
“Looking for a fern flower” has since turned into a pretext for young people to hide together in the woods, far away from the prying eyes of their elders who were busily engaged in the ancient ceremonies and rituals of the solstice.
Perhaps one day, Jamie, we could search for a fern flower in an ancient wood to more fully explore the power of this enchantment you hold over me.
With all my affection,
The moment I was finished with work, I pulled out my phone to scroll through Jamie’s Instagram, wanting to see those limpid blue eyes yet again. Before I searched for him, I attended to my notifications—there were very few, seeing as how I hadn’t been on that account for months.
I audibly squealed when I saw I had received a follow request from none other than James Fraser. By the way he kept making my heart thunder in my chest over the simplest things, I thought I might need to consult a cardiologist to ensure that no damage was being done with all its excessive use lately.
Before I accepted his request, I clicked over to my profile to look over whatever nonsense I had posted over the years. I didn’t share much of my personal life to begin with, because Frank disapproved of me posting his picture very often. Most of my account was comprised of photographs of books I’d read, a handful of sunsets and rainbows, and of course, the occasional wildflower I happened upon during my travels. Nothing too embarrassing.
I accepted the request.
Almost immediately, I received a private message. My hands were shaking so badly, I thought I might drop my phone. I moved to lean against the nearest building to keep myself steady and out of pedestrian traffic.
I opened the message to find a picture of a delicate pink flower held in a strong, masculine hand, followed by a few words.
I took a moment to read the words again and again. If there was one thing I learned about poetry, reading it was never a race. It didn’t matter if you read a thousand poems in a day if you didn’t savor them…if they made no impact your heart.
So, I read each line with the sounds of a deep Scottish voice in my head, longing to hear him whisper the words to me himself.
Then, I took a deep breath, and responded.
I closed out of the app, fearful if I read any more of his words, I might turn into a puddle and never make it home. I put my phone in my pocket and merged back into the foot traffic of the busy street, wondering what might be awaiting me when I logged back in.
Chapter 8: I Crave Your Mouth
The first thing I did when I walked through the door was find a place to sit comfortably and pull out my phone. I wiped the sweat from my temple that accumulated in my rush to get home. There were 3 messages waiting for me, none of which helped with cooling my body down.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.” I took a heavy breath and decided it was time to open a bottle of wine.
He was in deep for a man who hardly knew me, and given that I wasn’t running for the hills, I thought I might not be far behind. I sat back down with a glass of pinot noir and replied as eloquently as I could muster. “Wow.”
I shivered despite the heat coursing through me from what felt like an unending rush of adrenaline. One would think I was jumping out of an airplane, rather than sitting quietly on my couch with a glass of wine in one hand and my phone in the other. I searched for more benign topics in an attempt to settle myself down.
I laughed, remembering the giant man from the library, knowing few people could physically force him to do much of anything.
After only a few sips, I could feel the wine going directly to my head—or maybe that was Jamie. Either way, I knew I had better get something to eat or I’d be miserable at work the next day with a bloody hangover.
Fixing dinner had the secondary benefit of distracting my restless hands from my phone as I tried to not seem too eager for Jamie’s attention—not that he seemed to mind my enthusiasm. Even though this man was head over heels for me, I was only recently divorced, and taking things slowly was probably a good idea. It was unclear why it was a good idea, but there was sure to be some logic in there somewhere.
As I sat down to eat, I found I couldn’t stay away from him for long.
He was quiet for a moment, and I could almost feel his exasperation. A stupid, insecure part of me wondered if he was thinking that my lack of enthusiasm in the kitchen was one of the reasons why Frank left. It wasn’t—that I knew of—but when a man was used to eating the way Jamie’s sister fed him, it was hard not to ruminate on such thoughts.
The emoji eloquently conveyed the perfect amount of petulance, similar to the way he used Pinter and Lee to convey affection. Somehow I knew, fighting him on this would be useless. I didn’t really mind it anyway.
He didn’t argue with me, but I thought it might be safe to assume that breakfast was sure to become just as regular a part of our routine as flowers and poetry.
I slipped into bed that night with thoughts of Jamie on my mind and the taste of wine on my lips. I imagined him doing the same, lying in bed thinking of me. He’d said he dreamed of me, and I desperately wanted to know what those dreams were about.
It was a pained effort not to reach for my phone and check for messages that I knew weren’t there. My notifications would’ve sounded if he messaged me, but I still had a compulsion to check again and again—perhaps read over all the ones he’d sent before…as if I didn’t have them memorized already.
If we met face-to-face, would I remember every word he said in the same way?
As I lay there thinking of our playful banter and his unshakable kindness, I wondered why I was putting off our inevitable meeting. What I should have done when he talked about bringing me breakfast was invite him to eat with me, yet for some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
You’re scared, said that obnoxious pseudo therapist in my head.
Maybe I was. But I was looking forward to it too. It had been so bloody long since I had felt wanted, and never had anyone bestowed on me such grand romantic gestures.
“Dear God. The longing…” he’d said. I was feeling the pain of that longing pretty acutely myself. Maybe I wasn’t asking him to meet up with me because I was just as addicted to it as he was.
I moved my hand across the soft cotton of my sheets to the empty space next to me. Frank’s space. At least, it used to be.
I had to admit, it was a relief to have him gone. At first, it was difficult to sleep alone after years of having him there, but with Jamie’s letters, that empty space became a symbol of hope and possibility, rather than a reminder of what was missing.
The possibility of Jamie in my bed—big, broad-chested Jamie, with his unreasonable height and bloody strong hands—was doing nothing to stave off the urge to pick up my phone. I just wanted one more look at him before falling asleep.
My skin was becoming ridiculously sensitive as blood rushed to the surface, stimulating each and every nerve. Even the perfectly benign sheets felt sensual. Every breath I took moved my nipples against the thin cotton of the old shirt I wore to bed.
“So, it’s like this, is it?” I asked my body, knowing it was only just beginning to demand I fulfill its building need. Even a simple graze of my fingertips over my stomach made me shiver and my nipples tighten.
With a huff of resignation, I reached over to my nightstand and grabbed my phone, pulling up the app. I didn’t even have to type his name, because he was at the top of my most recent searches. I clicked on his page and was confronted once again by those deep ocean eyes and that strong, masculine face.
Does he know how fucking beautiful he is? He had to. He wasn’t a fool.
I navigated over to our messages and read them again. “Dear God. The longing…”
With one hand holding my phone and the other still tracing over the sensitive skin of my abdomen, I typed three little words and waited to see if he’d respond. “You were right.”
His response was quick. Perhaps he was waiting by his phone the whole night like me.
It took him a long time to respond—too fucking long for my anxious state. Finally, a message came through.
I dropped the phone, unable to look at a picture of him in his bed any longer without spontaneously combusting. I moved my hand down to cup myself, putting pressure on my clitoris to tell it to calm the bloody hell down.
Sure, Beauchamp. Touching the fucking thing is really going to help you feel it less.
I pulled my hand away and picked the phone back up.
“If I’ll have you?!”
He stopped responding for a moment, and I worried I went too far.
“Ha!” I laughed, thinking Joe was shockingly accurate in his assessment of the man when first hearing about my secret admirer.
In his next message, his tone lost that bit of humor that permeated the rest of our conversation. It was replaced with a serious vulnerability that immediately stole my breath.
The next morning, I took a deep breath and inhaled the scent of sausage and egg stuffed inside a hot, buttery croissant. “He’s trying to make fall in love with him.” I moaned in pleasure as I took a bite.
“I’d say he’s succeeding,” Joe snorted, walking into the office and sitting down at his desk. There was a sandwich and coffee waiting on his, as well. “Hell, I’m in love with him.”
I looked down at my desk where two flowers and two notes were waiting for me. Two camellia’s, in fact. The first was the pink camellia alongside the Carol Ann Duffy poem he’d messaged me through Instagram the day before. The second was a red camellia and a poem by Pablo Neruda.
I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.
Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day
I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.
I hunger for your sleek laugh,
your hands the color of a savage harvest,
hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails,
I want to eat your skin like a whole almond.
I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,
the sovereign nose of your arrogant face,
I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes,
and I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight,
hunting for you, for your hot heart,
like a puma in the barrens of Quitratue.
Red camellia symbolized love, passion, and deep desire. I crave your mouth, indeed. The note on the other side was brief, but no less potent.
Did you do it, Claire?
Did you touch yourself
while thinking of me?
Was my name on your
lips as you came?
Sleep evades me.
…I need to know.
…I need to see it for myself!
I’m fucking yours,
I blushed and snorted, tucking the poems away into my purse before Joe could ask to see them. I thought of a response immediately and darted out into the library to find the book I required. It wasn’t in the poetry section, but literature.
I flipped through the pages to the back of the massive book and scanned through an almost endless string of words that comprised a maddeningly long sentence, until I found what I was looking for. “There you are, Molly Bloom,” I whispered to myself, silently thanking James Joyce for the perfect reply.
I wrote it down on a piece of paper, then looked up a flower to go along with it. After tucking my response away in my purse, I fished out my phone and saw I had several messages from Jamie.
I thought about it for a bit, hesitating only a moment before giving him my home address. I planned to tell Joe what I was doing, not that I had the slightest concern that Jamie posed any threat to me.
I couldn’t tell if he was asking me out or just speaking in hopeful generalities. His words seemed to lack the concreteness of an actual request.
He spent the day bombarding me with questions, and anytime I had a free moment, I was checking my phone to send my responses and demand answers back.
I called ahead to Thistle to see if there was a chance in hell they had any Valerian blossoms in stock. Jenny informed me they did not, but she knew of an Herbalist who grew the plant in her backyard and would be more than happy to sell me a few flowers. I picked them up on the way home, continuing to message Jamie throughout, answering his barrage of increasingly personal questions.
I took a moment to set my things down before going back to leave the Valerian flower just outside the door for Jamie to find. I read over the note I wrote earlier in response to his poem before placing it next to the flower.
Valerian for readiness.
To all your questions from this morning…yes.
…yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a woman’s body yes that was the one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes…
- James Joyce
I went inside and put together the most English sandwich I could come up with just to get under his skin.
I ate my sandwich, enjoying it all the more while thinking about forcing Jamie to eat one with me—perhaps during a picnic in the park. I imagined him complaining the whole time, even as he gobbled up every delicious bite.
Just as I was finishing, he messaged me again.
I had to force myself not to race to the door. I took slow, measured steps, wondering if Jamie would be waiting on the other side. What would I do? What would I say? Would there be any room for words when the time finally came that we could actually speak?
I opened the door to find the hallway empty. There was no one there—not even a neighbor. My eyes dropped down to find the valerian was gone, replaced by the most beautiful red ginger plant I had ever seen.
I picked it up, cradling it in my arms, and retrieved the note.
lady, i will touch you with my mind.
touch you and touch and touch
until you give
me suddenly a smile, shyly obscene
- E. E. Cummings
Red ginger for fiery passion.
When you touch yourself
tonight, let it be with the
fingers of my mind.
I am foolishly, madly yours,
I can’t bloody wait for
I did my best with the descriptive text in the pictures. I'm sorry if there are errors. If you hear any major problems when listening, please feel free to reach out to me. Thanks!
Chapter 9: A Red, Red Rose
“Hello, Mr. Fraser. Whisky?”
“Not today, Kenny. I’ll have a glass of wine.”
“Oh?” The waiter looked as though Jamie had asked him for an appetizer of crushed glass.
“Ye got any pinot noir?”
“Thank ye, Kenny.”
Kenny nodded and turned back to retrieve Jamie’s order, leaving him alone outside on the patio at the Red Lion. Jamie was supposed to be having an early dinner with Fergus in another half hour, but he’d arrived early for a little peace and quiet after spending time at Jenny’s madhouse with wee Jamie and Maggie crawling all over him nonstop—precious wee heathens.
As he waited for his wine, Jamie held up a red rose that he’d taken from Jenny’s shop. He brought it to his nose and breathed it in, remembering Claire’s words about it being impossible to smell the fragrance in a hurry. She was right, of course. Even the world around him seemed to slow down as the delicate scent filled him with images of mad curls and golden eyes.
He planned on leaving the rose on Claire’s doorstep when he finished his meeting.
Claire wouldn’t be home until late in the evening. Marsali had called her that morning and asked if she wanted to go out after work. Claire grumbled in his DMs about not liking to go out on work nights, but he could tell she was excited to spend time with her friend.
He set the rose on the table and pulled out a pen and paper from his briefcase. As he began writing, he tried like mad to make it legible. He’d never given a fuck about his handwriting before, until he saw Claire, and all the sudden it mattered as much as breathing.
He’d first laid eyes on her at the library. She was kneeling down on the floor, gesturing animatedly to a small child while reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Her eyes were wide and glittering, hair bouncing all around, as though it had a mind of its own.
It was at that moment he knew he had to make her his wife. She’d crawl around in the same way with their own children and tell them stories, waggling that sweet, plump arse, oblivious to how it affected him. The image was as clear as day, seared into his mind with the brand of the breath he took when they first met.
I loved her before I was born.
It doesn’t make sense, I know.
It wasn’t like that for him when he’d met Annalise. They were young and foolish, and Jamie just liked the bloody idea of being married. He’d witnessed his mother and father be happy together for so many years, and he’d watched Ian and Jenny fall in love and start a family. He’d wanted that with all his heart for himself, so badly that he wasn’t exactly discriminatory about the kind of person he proposed to that first time around.
And perhaps if anyone knew the depth of his affection for Claire, they might think he was repeating old patterns, being impatient and rushing into a relationship before he knew the truth of her character, but they’d be wrong. These days, he had the patience of a fucking saint, as far as he was concerned.
He’d wanted to rush to Claire’s side and pull her in for a kiss the moment he saw her. He’d wanted to wrap her in his arms and cart her away to protect her from all the horrors of the world and find a million ways to make her laugh. But he didn’t. He just stood there, watching her every move, learning the curve of her smile and the sound of her voice. He watched her flutter busily about the library with the grace of a dancer and the kindness of a saint.
Every word she said, every move she made, was poetry. He needed her to know what she inspired in him. He needed her to catch a glimpse of her magic through his eyes, and do so in a way that wouldn’t terrify her at the magnitude of his passion. That’s why he’d left the flowers and notes.
So yes, his love was new, but it was bloody different than anything he’d ever felt before. And no, he wasn’t rushing into things with her. He was holding back with everything he had, and that wasn’t easy when his feelings were all he’d ever imagined love should be.
And so he scratched down the purest, most loving verse he could think of by his favorite poet—the words of a new love that was certain to last forever.
O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.
So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
- Robert Burns
Kenny came by with Jamie’s glass of wine. Apparently, the Red Lion didn’t serve by the bottle, but still, it wasn’t half bad.
He let the wine sit in his mouth a moment before swallowing and wondered if it was what Claire would be drinking when she went out with her friend. Ever since she’d told him it was her favorite, he’d been desperate to taste it on her lips.
With the deep, rich flavor on his tongue, he once again set pen to paper to write her a note on the back of the poem.
I dearly hope you’re enjoying
yourself tonight. That you’re
laughing and drinking and
eating sinful things.
If you’re saddled with a
hangover, make it worth it.
Dear God, I want to see you
happy like that. I want to know
each and every one of your
Will you share them with
me one day?
I want to kiss every upturned
curve of your lips and
swallow the giggles that
follow behind. I want to breathe
in your joy to fuel my own.
That’s what love is, is it
not? To crave the pleasure
of your beloved, because
their happiness is your own?
A red rose for love, my love.
A red, red rose for passion
Only two more sleeps until we
“Jamie!” called Fergus, interrupting his writing. “Are you drinking wine? Is Boston finally domesticating you?” Fergus waved down Kenny who was walking by. “I’ll have what he’s having.”
Jamie took the note and folded it in half, placing it into his breast pocket. “Ye’re early.”
“So are you. What’s this?” Fergus picked up the rose from the table. “Is it for me? How romantic!”
“Fuck off.” Jamie swiped it back, careful not to damage it.
“Are you seeing someone?”
Jamie shrugged, uninterested in engaging in a conversation that would require him to explain himself.
“Quit showing the rest of us up with the fucking flowers, man. Marsali nearly died when you sent her that bouquet.”
“Yer puir neglected wife. Send Germain down to Jenny’s shop. She’ll put something together for ye.”
Kenny brought two glasses of wine to the table and retrieved the one Jamie just finished.
“Why did ye need to meet today?” asked Jamie. “What couldn’t wait until next week?”
“I wanted to talk to you about coming in tomorrow and listening to a few narrators for the audiobook.”
“I told ye, I am going to voice my own book, the way we agreed in the contract.”
“Yes, I know we agreed, but you need to rethink how long it’s going to take to record all those translations and decide if that’s truly a commitment you want to make. As your friend—”
“—I feel it is my responsibility to stop you from driving yourself mad. You don’t have time, Jamie. We’d like you to consider amending the contract.”
“Ye said I didna have enough time for the printed translations, and I got the first drafts back to ye in less than a month. I wrote the fucking book, Fergus. I dinna want someone else muckin’ it up because they dinna ken the spirit of the tales.”
“That’s why you’ll help choose who—”
“I choose me.”
“Think about it, man. You’ll be traveling between the east and west coasts in the coming months for interviews, signings, and promos. You’re also working on your fourth book as we speak.”
“I can manage.”
“You need balance, Jamie. Which means you need to let go of control somewhere. Don’t you want a fucking personal life? Don’t you want to spend time with your sister and her children? What about going out and celebrating your success? Go on a fucking date. Get your ass laid.” Fergus smirked, pointing to the rose lying on the table. “And since that’s not for me, I’m assuming you’ve got someone in mind already.”
“Mmphm.” The bloody Frenchman made some good points, none of which Jamie intended to give him any credit for.
Jamie’s thoughts were naturally on Claire and their date for Saturday. If all went well, they’d be spending more than just a couple hours together…and that would only be the beginning of whatever this was between them. Perhaps it was time to scale back on commitments.
“Your life is only going to get more chaotic,” said Fergus. “Let us help you with the load, so you can reap the benefits of your success. This is what we do. This is what we’re here for.”
Jamie drank the rest of his wine and grumbled quietly. Fergus, recognizing a man defeated, waved Kenny over for another round to lift his spirits.
“I’ve already scheduled a few people to come and read for us tomorrow."
"Of course ye did."
"You can give them as many notes as you like, then take the weekend to listen and decide who you want next week.”
“Fine. We’ll do it yer way, but I get final say.”
“Perfect. We’ll draw something up tomorrow.” Fergus was already sending messages to his assistant to get the ball rolling. Jamie respected that about the young man. He got things done quickly, and he got them done well…and usually with a drink in his hand and a smile on his face.
“Is that it for business?” asked Jamie. He wasn’t in the mood for more surprises.
“That’s all for now. We’ll eat quickly, then I must get home to Marsali to watch the children. She’s having dinner with a friend. Her first time going out since having the baby.”
“Ye’re watching the children? Then what are ye doing here wi’ me? Ye dinna want to fuck up her dinner by arriving home late.”
“It’s fine.” Fergus waved him off. “Claire is only just finishing up at the library, so we’ve got time.”
Just the sound of Claire’s name spoken outside his own head made his heart flutter madly.
Jamie looked at his watch. “No, ye wee fool. The library closed a half hour ago. Get yer scrawny arse home so yer wife doesna keep her friend waiting.”
“What?!” Fergus looked at his watch, eyes wide. “I thought—”
“Ye thought wrong.” Jamie knew Claire’s schedule as well as she did. “The library shortened its weekday hours because of staffing.”
“Merde.” Fergus grabbed his wine and chugged it back. He reached into his pocket and threw a few bills on the table before calling over his shoulder as he made a hasty exit, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning. Ten o’clock!”
Jamie shook his head at the disappearing Frenchman, wondering how he could be so good at his job and such a dunce with his wife. Then again, he supposed that was the case with a lot of men. He hoped never to be so thoughtless when it came to Claire.
He ate a quick dinner and then walked toward Claire’s apartment. She didn’t live far from the Red Lion, which was one of the reasons he chose the place, knowing he’d be stopping by at the end of the day.
His heart raced every time he walked up to her building, even when he knew she wasn’t there. It was hers. Her essence was in the air. It even seemed to smell a bit like a garden, though he knew that was only in his head.
He crossed the street, dodging around a silver Lyft that was pulling up to her building and a delivery truck blowing smoke out of its exhaust. He coughed and wafted the filthy air away as he approached her door.
Wanting to recapture the scent of a garden, he brought the rose up to his nose and inhaled deeply, taking a moment to let the flower clear away the pollution in his airways. When he was satisfied, he reached for the handle.
But the door was being pushed open from the other side. Jamie stepped back, and out popped the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. She was in a hurry and talking on her phone. He caught a glimpse of her clothes—forget-me-not blue trousers beneath a blouse as pure white as a calla lily—before she barreled straight into him.
He dropped the rose and caught her by the arms, having the sweetest moment of déjà vu.
“Bloody brick wall,” she cursed as she found her footing.
He saw the exact moment of realization pass over her. Her body stilled in his hands, save for a little quiver down her spine.
It felt like an eternity before she lifted her eyes. The sheer joy of seeing her, touching her, was bubbling up in his chest, and he was sure it was painted clearly on his face. Her whisky eyes, wide with wonder, took him in, and they shined even brighter when they locked on his gaze.
The last time he held her like this, he could do little more than keep her steady on her feet, but now…now she knew him. Now she wouldn’t be frightened away.
A faint tremor took residence in his hand as he released her arm to touch her cheek. When his fingers grazed her petal soft skin, she took a whimpering breath and a glorious blush followed the trail of his hand. “Such war of white and red within her cheeks,” he whispered.
“Claire?” called a woman’s voice from behind him, though it seemed so far away. Marsali.
Claire’s body startled in his grasp, and she tore her eyes away. “Give me a moment,” she called to her friend.
“We’re running late!”
Claire didn’t answer. She turned back to Jamie and blushed profusely, trying like mad to contain an embarrassed smile.
For the first time in his life, he couldn’t think of a single word to say. Not one fucking word.
She slipped her phone into her purse, then bent down to recover his fallen rose. She tried giving it back to him, as though she didn’t know it was for her.
He closed his hand around hers, securing her grip on the stem. He opened his mouth to say something, but no words came out. He tried again, but only managed a breath.
If he only had a bloody pen!
Then he recalled the poem in his pocket and quickly fished it out. He gave it to her, hoping like hell it said something worthwhile inside, not recalling a word he wrote.
“Claire?” called Marsali again. “You ok? Is that Jamie Fraser?”
Claire looked from Marsali to the note in her hand, then back up to Jamie. She was as stunned as he was and uncertain of what to do.
He smiled warmly down at her and tucked a wild lock of hair behind her ear. Then he nodded toward Marsali, making the decision for her. In less than two days, they’d meet again, and they’d be together for as long as she liked.
He inhaled deeply, fighting his reluctance to let her go.
Finally, he released her. Her eyes lingered on him as she took hesitant steps away, her body swaying in blue and white like petals on a spring breeze.
She tentatively sat in the silver car next to her friend, but didn’t close the door. Her eyes finally dropped from his gaze only to look down at the note in her hand. She opened it, read one side, then flipped it over to read the other.
“Claire?” said Marsali, clearly confused.
Claire bit her lip and looked back up at Jamie, apparently coming to some conclusion in her mind. A brilliant smile stole over her face, and she passed the note and flower over to Marsali. “Give me a moment.”
She stepped out of the car and quickly closed the space between. Excitement emanated from her, and he moved forward as she bounded near. His arms opened without a thought and brought her in, pulling her tight against his chest. She took his face with both hands and lifted up on her toes to kiss him.
She was softer than he’d dreamed, and her skin a bit cooler. His body was on fire for her, yet she felt like she’d just bathed in a cool burn. It was a pleasant relief to press himself against her and soothe his fiery need. Her blouse was made of silk, allowing his hands to feel her perfect shape—so fucking soft, so goddamn lovely.
She licked into his mouth, bringing the flavor of fresh berries to join his rich red wine. Her tongue caressed slow and deep, and her eyes closed as though savoring every touch.
“Holy fucking shit,” Marsali said from the car.
Claire smiled against his lips, though Jamie was doing all he could to keep from growling. The audacity of the world to keep on spinning when his heart was standing still. Never had a man felt so unworthy of a gift in all his life, yet at the same time willfully entitled. He wanted to push the rest of the world away and stay lost in the perfection of her lips.
She kissed him once more, then pulled back slowly. He thought she was flushed before, but he was woefully ignorant of the nature of her skin. In all her excitement, her cheeks had become redder than the rose he’d given her with the poem.
He really didn’t want to let her go. He wanted to see all the shades of red he could turn her glorious skin.
“Saturday?” she asked, voice full of so much hope and promise.
“It can’t come soon enough.”
She kissed him again, breaking down his defenses just enough to let her slip away. It took all he had to keep his feet planted firmly on the ground as the Lyft carried her off into the busy streets of Boston without him.
“Grab a seat,” said Fergus, leading Jamie into his office. “Marsali should be here soon with lunch.”
“Ye dinna make the puir lass bring ye lunch everyday, do ye?”
“Of course not. She volunteered. She was out running other errands, and she wanted to make sure we’re eating. She knows we have a busy day.”
Jamie sat down on Fergus’s most comfortable chair and pulled out his phone. They’d been listening to potential narrators for the last couple of hours, and he had to turn the phone off because it kept disrupting his focus every time it vibrated in his pocket.
He had a handful of text messages waiting for him and a few voicemails. Before reviewing any of them, he opened his DMs to see if he’d received any messages from Claire.
His heart sank when the last message on his screen was the one he’d sent earlier wishing her a good morning. It read as “seen,” but she hadn’t responded.
Did she not like the kiss as much as I did?
That kiss was all he thought about all night long. He was sure he’d never have a full night’s rest again. On and on, he imagined what he would do if he had that soft, lithe body in his bed with countless hours before him to love her as he pleased.
She’s working. She’s busy, he told himself, closing out of the app and moving on to check his texts and voicemails.
He had a few messages from Jenny, letting him know the flowers he’d recently ordered were delivered. She’d accompanied the texts with images, and they were utterly perfect. He was more than excited to give them to Claire and see what she thought of them.
He had a few voicemails, the first of which was likely a scam and the second, a sales pitch. The third was from a number he didn’t recognize, but the transcription displayed held words that he was certain weren’t from a telemarketer.
His heart leapt, and he quickly brought the phone to his ear to listen. Claire’s elegant sassenach voice spoke the most lovely verse he was sure he’d ever heard:
I love your lips when they’re wet with wine
And red with a wild desire;
I love your eyes when the lovelight lies
Lit with a passionate fire.
I love your arms when the warm white flesh
Touches mine in a fond embrace;
I love your hair when the strands enmesh
Your kisses against my face.
As the voicemail went on, Marsali came into Fergus’s office with Henri and several bags of food. Fergus brought her to his desk, where he began taking out small carry-out boxes. Marsali was staring at Jamie with a knowing and impish look.
Claire’s voice played on:
Not for me the cold, calm kiss
Of a virgin’s bloodless love;
Not for me the saint’s white bliss,
Nor the heart of a spotless dove.
But give me the love that so freely gives
And laughs at the whole world’s blame,
With your body so young and warm in my arms,
It sets my poor heart aflame.
Fergus then pulled out a red tulip from a bag and a note with familiar writing. He grinned broadly and handed them over to Jamie.
So kiss me sweet with your warm wet mouth,
Still fragrant with ruby wine,
And say with a fervor born of the south
That your body and soul are mine.
Clasp me close in your warm young arms,
While the pale stars shine above,
And we’ll live our whole young lives away
In the joys of a living love.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox. He’d read the poem before, but it was nothing when not spoken by Claire. He brought the tulip to his nose and breathed her in.
He saved her number to his phone immediately and sent the voice message to his cloud account so he could listen to it a million times over. Then, he picked up her note and read:
A tulip for passion and love, though not nearly as lovely as your two lips. (Yes. I, too, cringed reading that back.)
I can’t stop thinking about that kiss, and I can’t wait to see you tomorrow morning.
“When’s our next meeting?” Jamie asked Fergus.
“A little over an hour. Why?” Fergus’s smile told Jamie he knew exactly why.
Jamie took the note and flower and bolted out the door.
I stared at my phone throughout lunch, waiting for some response from that bloody man. He should’ve gotten the tulip already, though I wasn’t entirely sure because Marsali wasn’t picking up her phone.
I watched the minutes tick by, hoping to hear from him before the end of my break. Friday afternoons could often be a little busy as we were wrapping up our work week and making way for the weekend shift. I wasn’t sure I’d have enough time to respond if he messaged me any later.
“Claire?” Joe said from the door of our office. “Someone’s here to see you.” He was smiling in an uncharacteristically foolish manner.
Joe turned to someone nearby and said, “Just close the door behind you. The library doesn't need a show.”
I stood up as Joe walked off, more than a little curious, though I nearly sat back down in shock when Jamie walked through the door. He did as Joe asked and shut it behind him, before turning his sights on me.
“What are you doing here?”
He had a flower in his hand, but no note. A red hibiscus. Red was the color of passion, and there seemed to be a lot of that going on between us lately.
He stepped forward, blue eyes blazing, and dropped the flower on my desk. He took my face in his hands and pressed his lips against mine, kissing me with a fervor that had been completely absent in my life until this moment.
His hands were big and strong, and they were tangling in my hair. Tonka bean and vanilla surrounded me as his tongue pushed into my mouth. He was so tall, my neck strained all the way back, and I had to stand on the tips of my toes to meet him. His body was as big and warm as it was the day before, and I was utterly lost to him.
“Oh God, Claire. Yer voice…” He kissed me deep, interrupting his own words. “Yer voice…like music.”
“Did you like it?”
“Did I like it?” He kissed me again, cradling my head in his hands, trying to show me just how much. His grip on my hair was tight enough to make me lose my breath from that alone.
I knew the man loved me, but I may have grossly underestimated the magnitude of that feeling. It was dizzying to be kissed with a passion like that behind it. Disorienting. Overwhelming. Maddening.
Then he spoke, lips muffled against my cheek and trailing moisture to my ear with every ardent word whispered:
“Before you kissed me only winds of heaven
Had kissed me, and the tenderness of rain—
Now you have come, how can I care for kisses
Like theirs again?
I sought the sea, she sent her winds to meet me,
They surged about me singing of the south—
I turned my head away to keep still holy
Your kiss upon my mouth.”
He closed his lips over mine again, licking against my tongue. Over and over we kissed, and he pulled away only to mumble more lovely words in the breaths between:
“And swift sweet rains of shining April weather
Found not my lips where living kisses are;
I bowed my head lest they put out my glory
As rain puts out a star.
I am my love's and she is mine forever,
Sealed with a seal and safe forevermore—
Think you that I could let a beggar enter
Where a queen stood before?”
My whole being was alive in a way I’d never known without Jamie. His words, like an incantation, had my blood racing with every soft inflection and rhythmic pronunciation. The sound resonated deep in his chest, vibrating my body, my tongue, my lips.
The only lucid thought in my head was, Where in the bloody hell did a man learn to kiss like that?
“I canna stay,” he whispered, “but I had to come thank ye.” He softly kissed my nose, hands still holding me firmly in place. “I couldna wait until later.”
“I’m glad you didn’t.”
“I have hibiscus for ye. Red for—”
“—passion. I know. How did you get hibiscus in Boston?”
He grinned. “I know someone who's good wi' such things.”
“Ye’ve hardly seen it.”
“Everything is beautiful when you kiss me.”
He hummed deeply and kissed me again.
“I can’t wait for our date,” I said, not wanting this moment to end.
“Neither can I. I’ve been going mad thinking of all that time I get to spend with ye uninterrupted. No meetings, no work, no meddling friends.”
“Those meddling friends have been quite helpful.”
“Aye. That they have. I wouldna ha’ heard those bonnie words from yer lips otherwise.”
“Perhaps I should send them flowers?”
He snorted. “Leave it to me.”
I gently ran the tip of my tongue over his bottom lip, wanting badly to remember the taste of him. His hand tightened in my hair.
“Careful, lass. I canna stay a moment longer, and we both might be out of jobs if ye keep that up.”
He kissed me firmly one more time, then pulled away, stepping back toward the door. I was left dizzy and completely bereft without him.
“One more night,” he said, smiling, though it didn’t reach his eyes, as though the idea pained him.
“One more night. May I call you later?”
“Please, God, yes. Anytime. Any bloody time.”
The image of his piercing blue eyes looking at me with a fierce longing was still seared into my mind long after he walked out the door.
That last poem was Sara Teasdale 🌺
How soon is too soon to call?
The thought plagued me from the moment I walked through my front door. I knew he was busy with Fergus, and Fergus often worked late. Or he could’ve gone to his sister’s for dinner. I would’ve hated to disrupt him when he’d already cleared his Saturday morning for me.
I was able to contain myself throughout dinner and a fair bit after by cleaning my apartment from top to bottom. If there was one thing I knew about Jamie Fraser was that he was an observant man, and the last thing I needed was to worry about him noticing how disorganized my bathroom drawers were or if I was getting a ring of filth in the toilet.
But my apartment was small, and I wasn’t exactly a messy tenant, so I had to find a few other things to occupy my time. I started by shaving and waxing every hair I had that wasn’t on my eyebrows or scalp, just in case our first date went exceptionally well. Then, I soaked my feet, scrubbed every bit of dead skin off my body, and painted all my nails. Finally, I stood in front of my closet for at least an hour, trying to decide what the bloody hell to wear in the morning. Was wearing a floral dress on a date with a man who compulsively gave me flowers a little over the top?
In the end, I decided I didn’t care, because my navy dress with white and red blossoms was made of a thin, luscious chiffon, and I really wanted to know what Jamie’s hands felt like through the material.
“Now what?” I asked myself, checking the clock once again. Was it late enough? Was it too late?
Either way, it was late enough to change into my ratty nightshirt, hunt down the smutty romance novel I’d brought home from the library, and then crawl into bed to really enjoy it. The book was about a woman who had fallen in love with a ferociously handsome pirate, and they sailed around the world as he menaced both the tempestuous seas and her heart, soul, and various sex organs.
It was a better story than the clichéd cover implied.
Just as I was getting to the part where the pirate was administering a jibing boom to the woman's stern quarters, a notification appeared on my phone's screen.
I looked down at my book and thought better of sharing the truth, so I jumped out of bed to retrieve my copy of Ulysses, then settled back in to take a picture.
I snorted, but couldn’t help the heat that flushed over my body.
He had to be joking, but I couldn’t stop myself from seeing if it were true with my own eyes. I had to Facetime him, but not before pulling off my old shirt and tossing it aside. I pulled the blanket up over my chest and pressed the Facetime button.
He answered immediately. His smiling face and glittering blue eyes filled my screen and made my heart stutter with joy.
“Let’s see it then,” I said. “Are you wearing your clan’s colors? Or something more subdued?”
“D’ye ken my clan’s colors? Ye’ve been snooping a bit more, have ye?”
I just shrugged, but held my ground. “Let’s see the skirt, Fraser.”
He tilted his head, eyes wandering across his screen. “Ye did take it off, then? The shirt?” His tongue ran across the length of his lips.
“The kilt,” I repeated.
“Fine.” He pulled the phone back so I could see him completely. He was lying in bed with a red, blue, and green plaid blanket on top of him, covering his bottom half. The rest of his body was naked to the hips.
Jesus Fucking Christ! He was beautiful. “No wonder your chest nearly knocked me bloody unconscious! You’re made of fucking marble.”
He snorted and rolled his eyes, bringing the phone back up to his face.
“That’s not a kilt, Fraser. That’s a flannel blanket.”
“Close enough. My wee niece gave it to me before I left Scotland, so I wouldna forget my clan.”
“I know you have a sister here. Do you have more family back home?”
“Aye. I do. My Ma and Da, and my brothers, Willie and Rabbie. Willie’s got a wee lass who just turned seven before I left.”
“Why did you come here?”
He shrugged. “A few reasons, I suppose. I’m researching my fourth book. It’s about the Scots in the Revolution. What better place to do so than Boston?”
“Fourth book? I thought you only published two? Did I miss one?”
“No. The third will be released soon. Fergus is working on it.”
“I’ll have to preorder.”
“I’m sure I can get ye an advanced copy. But ye may read the others first and find ye dinna care to read the next.”
“Doubtful. Why else did you move?”
“Expanding my market. Missing my sister. Needing space from my old life.”
“Oh? So, you came to Boston for wide open spaces, hmm?”
“In truth, Claire,” his voice had suddenly become quite soft, “I think I came to find you.”
“The timing, ye ken. I’ve been divorced for years, but I havena had an interest in dating since then. Not until I saw ye at the library. I dinna ken.” He blushed to the tips of his ears. “It just feels like fate or something divine that I came to meet ye just as ye ended things with yer husband.”
God, he was bloody sweet. And gorgeous. And brilliant.
“Ye think I’m mad?” he asked, smiling ruefully.
“No. I’m trying to convince myself again that you’re real.”
“If anyone is dreaming, it’s me. But if I am, please dinna wake me.”
“I’m no dream, Jamie.”
“I beg to differ. Ye dinna ken what it was like today. The way it felt…a glimpse of heaven in a kiss.”
As breathless as I was, I managed to get a few words out. “I imagine I have some idea of how that felt.”
He smiled in the most adorable way I’d ever seen. It was as though he was trying to contain his mouth from spreading too wide, but his eyes just weren’t having it, and they let his happiness shine through. “Who would’ve thought my dreams would happen in daylight, and I’d spend my nights trudging through until the morning when I’d finally get to see what dreams may come again.”
“Hold fast to dreams,” I whispered.
He smiled. “Langston Hughes?”
“Yes. Another Joe recommendation:
“Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.”
“Then I better hold fast to ye, Sassenach.”
His eyes held so much love, they made my weak knees ache acutely. Thank goodness I was already lying down.
“What flowers for dreams, do you think?” I asked. “White poppy? Lotus flower?”
“Mebbe the peristeria. It’s an orchid that resembles a tiny dove. Very rare and symbolic of something divine.”
“Let me see.” I opened my browser and googled the peristeria. A blossom that resembled a white dove was exactly what I found.
“It’s lovely, Jamie.” I clicked back over to see him watching me as he was before.
“You are lovely, Claire.”
I rolled my eyes, not seeing how he could be quite so enamored with me.
“I want to touch you, just there,” he said, bringing his hand up to the screen. “I bet the skin on your shoulder is softer than an orchid's petal.”
“Will you handle me as gently?”
“Not likely.” The smirk of his mouth was nothing short of delectable. “Ye’re as bonnie as a flower, lass, but none so delicate, I think.”
“And you? Your skin doesn’t quite look petal soft. How do you like to be handled?”
He snorted and looked down at his chest. “More like tanned leather.”
“Shall I cure you in a brine, then?”
“I come weathered and ready for use, Sassenach. No need to break me in. Ye’re free to use me, wear me, or ride me as ye wish.”
“You're ridiculous,” I snorted, dropping back on my pillow in a fit of laughter. Jamie was emitting an adorable rumble from my speakers. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him when he was so happy, his lazy red curls messily bouncing about with his good humor.
“For the record, I was being honest wi’ ye. I’m an auld divorcé. I’ve weathered a fair bit of life already. I ken what I want and what I don’t, and what I want is anything ye’ll give me, lass. Anything at all.”
Though he was still smiling, I could see he was serious. Going through a divorce changed a person—how could it not? For Jamie, it seemed to make things simpler…clearer.
I wondered if it would be that way for me too, or if the scars Frank left behind would complicate things all the more.
“You know, Jamie, part of me does think you’re a dream come true—perfect in so many bloody ways. But dreams are funny things. One moment, they can be utterly sublime, and the next, a nightmare.”
A twitch in his jaw told me he saw my pain, my fear, and understood it. He stayed staring at me, love and compassion in his gaze.
It took him a long moment to speak, but when he did, his voice was tender. “When I found out about the last of my wife’s affairs, I thought it would hurt more. I thought to myself, ‘I should be broken.’ But I wasn’t. If my mother did such a thing to my father, he’d never recover. He’d die of an aneurysm on the spot. Yet here I was, surprisingly fine. I was hurt, of course, but I think I was more devastated by the fact that the love I chose to pursue was so fucking empty…so shallow.
“But you, Claire…if it were you, I dinna think I’d ever recover. My heart would be broken. It would never work again. I could never feel for another what I feel for you. I just dinna have it in me to give this much to anyone else again…because I am yours. I willna do a thing that might risk losing ye for a moment.”
I wondered if he could tell how badly my hands were shaking by how I held the phone. Never had I wished so passionately to be as eloquent with words as him. All I could come up with was, “Oh Jamie…”
He smiled sadly and rumbled back:
“Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
I found I didn’t need words after that. I dropped my blanket down, no longer caring to hide myself away, and trailed a hand over the goosebumps on my skin.
That last poem was, of course, William Butler Yeats.
Chapter 12: God Save It
Just an FYI. There is an artistically erotic image at the end of this chapter. Proceed however you'd like. 😌
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Waking in the morning was surprisingly easy given how late I had stayed up the night before. I woke at seven, an hour before Jamie was due to arrive. On a typical Saturday, I would lie in bed as late as possible and only force myself to move when either I absolutely had to be somewhere or my bladder demanded it. But when I woke up on this particular morning, it took only the slightest movement for me to remember that I was wearing no clothes beneath my sheets, and my naked body began provoking memories of the night before, rousing me instantly awake.
“Jamie? Are you all right?”
“Mmphm,” he grunted from the back of his throat, watching me intently through the phone. He hadn’t said a word since I dropped the blanket, even though I hadn’t given him much to see…yet.
It was an exercise in trust, and we both bloody knew it. I’d be mad to let a near stranger see my body like this—on camera, no less. Mad…or certain. He could’ve been snapping a dozen pictures of me, and I’d be none the wiser. Then again, it wasn’t him taking pictures that would bother me, it would be him sharing them that I’d find problematic.
“Mmphm?” he repeated.
His face softened, and his look was warm and reassuring. “Always.”
My racing heart gave me the energy I needed to get out of bed and begin readying myself for our date. I brushed my teeth while starting the shower, giving the water plenty of time to get ridiculously hot—just the way I liked it.
As I waited, I stared at myself in the mirror and tried to imagine what Jamie was thinking when he saw my naked body for the first time.
I made the camera follow the trail of my hand over the soft skin of my chest and down to my breast. His gasp was encouraging, but it was the hunger in his eyes that kept me going.
I grazed my fingertips over the expanse of the breast, holding the phone close, so he could see my nipple rise.
“Oh, Claire,” he breathed as I traced a finger around the nipple, making the skin tighten in its wake. I said nothing, because I knew if I spoke, I’d beg him to come over and do the touching himself.
“Get it moist,” he softly commanded, and I clenched deep below.
I did as he asked, bringing my finger up to my lips and sucking it into my mouth. I licked it all around to coat it in moisture, before running it back over my nipple.
“Will ye let me lick ye like that, Claire? Will ye let me take ye in my mouth and fondle ye with my tongue?”
“Oh God, yes.” I took my whole breast in my hand and squeezed it firmly, wishing my hands were as large and strong as Jamie’s. I zoomed in close when I pinched my nipple, wanting him to feel it along with me.
Washing my body in the shower didn’t help with cooling me down or keeping my thoughts on getting ready. As I spread the soap between my legs, I found the slippery evidence of last night’s pleasure still lingering behind.
I switched hands so I could move to the other breast and pay it the same attention as the first. From the way Jamie moved his arm, I could tell he was tossing his flannel aside, and I wondered if he was really as naked underneath as he had suggested.
“Are you touching yourself?” I asked, watching the red flush of arousal rise in his cheeks. He smirked briefly before turning the camera around to show he had his cock in hand.
“Oh my.” I knew the size of his hands from the way they held my arms and touched my face. Using those hands as a frame of reference made my head a little dizzy.
I watched him stroke slowly, his cock’s head disappearing and reappearing with the rise and fall of his fist. He stroked his full length, thumb caressing the tip where moisture beaded lightly.
I followed suit, flipping my camera around as I dropped my hand down to my panties. I slipped them under the fabric running a finger over the freshly depilated skin. I was more sensitive than usual, likely because Jamie was watching. I hadn’t realized before that I was a bit of an exhibitionist.
“I can hear how wet ye are, Sassenach. God, I canna wait to taste ye.”
I spent a ridiculous amount of time on my hair, applying product and diffusing it just so. I turned the fan on while I applied makeup to keep the perspiration at bay—a difficult thing to do when all I could think about was how the night had ended.
I rubbed my clit between two long fingers, letting Jamie see something of me I’d never shared with anyone else before.
He came before I did, his cum spilling just below his navel, the perfect place to lick him clean had I been in his bed. I liked how he massaged his balls as his body settled and made a note to do so myself when the opportunity arose.
“Let me…see yer face…when ye come, Sassenach.” His voice was broken with heavy breaths.
We turned our cameras back to our faces, and I watched his ocean blue eyes turn dark as I brought myself vigorously to climax. The way he looked at me, almost sinister in hunger, made me set off before I was ready.
“Oh, God, Jamie! I want you so fucking badly.” As I came, rubbing my clit wildly, the deepest parts of me clenched in anger, furious that his cock wasn’t buried inside.
I slipped on my dress, knowing that at the end of the day, it would be Jamie’s hands, not mine, that would take it off my body. And as I sat on my bed to put on my heels, I knew that the next night I slept in this room, Jamie would more than fulfill the promise of the empty space Frank left behind.
I laid my head down with my phone on the pillow next to me, and Jamie did the same. He stared at me lovingly as my eyelids grew heavy and my breathing slowed down. His quiet voice rumbled a sweet poem that felt like a comforting embrace as I drifted off to sleep.
“Where true Love burns Desire is Love’s pure flame;
It is the reflex of our earthly frame,
That takes its meaning from the nobler part,
And but translates the language of the heart.”
A knock on the door jolted me out of my blissful daydreams, setting my heart racing. I gave myself one last look in the mirror before making my way to the door.
I peered out the peephole and found the unmistakable massive frame of James Fraser waiting outside. I took one last breath, thinking of the significance of coming face to face with this wonderful man without either one of us being forced to rush away. I probably should’ve come up with a poem or something momentous for him, but I was left unsurprisingly empty-headed.
I opened the door, and there he stood, lips curved gently and eyes glittering with his internal sunshine. He simply wore a pair of dark jeans with a white t-shirt, but the brown leather jacket and matching shoes made the ensemble appear more chic than casual. Then again, the body beneath it could elevate bargain store denim to fucking couture.
His red curls were lazily swept back from his face, making me want to tangle my fingers in them and bring his lovely pink lips down for a kiss. Then I realized, there was nothing in the world stopping me.
“Good morning, Sassen—”
I stepped forward and did just as I imagined, sliding my fingers through his beautiful hair and pulling him down for a kiss. His words were lost to a hum of pleasure as he wrapped an arm around me and pulled me close.
It was a slow, lazy kiss of two satisfied lovers—a “morning after” kiss before there was ever even a night. It was intimate in a way it had no right to be for two people who hadn’t spent more than five minutes in each other’s company. To be fair, almost the entirety of our physical acquaintance had been spent with our bodies pressed close and our tongues down each other’s throats.
When I pulled back, he leaned forward, taking my bottom lip gently between his teeth.
“Mmmm,” I moaned. If any part of my body had still been asleep, Jamie just remedied that with his sensual nibble. “Good morning, Jamie.”
He hummed in agreement, softly kissing down the line of my jaw. Something bumped against my leg, and I realized the reason he wasn’t holding me in both arms was because he carried a large duffel bag in his other hand. It only seemed mildly presumptuous to bring an overnight bag given the nature of our phone conversation the night before.
“Come inside,” I said, grabbing his free hand and pulling him in with me.
“I’m sorry I’m a few minutes early. I—” He flushed red. “I have no good reason for it other than impatience.”
“I’m glad you’re here.”
I made to lead him to the sitting room, but he stopped me and nodded toward the kitchen. “I brought ye a proper Scottish breakfast.”
“Did you cook?”
“Nah. It was my sister.” He lifted his bag onto the counter and unzipped it, then began pulling out various items. The first was a bag holding two large snapware containers, which I assumed contained breakfast. The second was the present that he’d wrapped for me the night before. Last, was a small plastic box that protected one very large, very stunning, white phalaenopsis orchid.
He heard my breath catch and looked up with a playful smile. “D’ye like it?”
“I must say that thistles are my favorite flower for obvious reasons,” he opened the plastic container and pulled out the pure white blossom with a yellow, orange, and red throat, “but I’ve got a mighty fondness for orchids and a healthy respect for those that ken how to grow them to look like this.”
He presented it to me, watching as I took it gently from his hands. “I love it, Jamie. Is there special symbolism behind it?”
Mischief danced in his eyes. “Aye, but ye’ll no’ ken about it until later.”
“Really? No poem to go with it?” I teased.
“Oh, there will be a poem.” His smile was full of promise.
“It’s so lovely.” I brought it close to my nose to inhale the subtle scent. “I hardly want to press it, but I can’t imagine it’ll last very long like this. Perhaps I should float it in a bowl of water until we get back?”
“No.” He took it from my hands and turned it over. A small stem was attached to it, and he used it to tuck the flower into my hair just behind my ear. “This orchid may only last a day, but one day is all we get together for our first date. There is beauty in transiency, Claire. Knowing that the end will come soon makes the beauty of the moment all the more magnificent.”
I reached up on my toes to kiss him again. This time, both his arms were free, and he used them to surround me, wrapping me up in the warmth of his embrace.
“It’s madness to think after all this time, I can kiss ye now whenever I want…if it pleases ye.”
“The pleasure,” I spoke against his lips, “is all mine.”
And that was the bloody truth. My body was very much enjoying being pressed against him as we kissed, and I was beginning to wonder about the need to leave the apartment at all for our date. I squirmed against him, seeing if he might’ve been having a similar notion.
“Sassenach,” he chided, though did nothing to pull himself away. Instead, he turned our bodies so he was pressing me up against the counter as he licked deep into my mouth. “Christ, that feels good.”
He lifted me up on the counter and stepped between my legs—both of which seemed eager to spread wide for him. His mouth kissed down firmly on mine, and his hands began an indelicate exploration of my curves from behind. My body lacked any form of resistance or will of its own, happily submitting to the whim of Jamie’s growing appetite.
He began kissing down my neck and toward my chest, and I was beginning to hope that he might come to the glorious realization that a first date could respectably be spent entirely between the sheets. I reached back to unbutton my dress, but his hand caught mine and held me still.
“We’ll never leave if ye do that.”
I shrugged, unbothered, and kissed his scruffy cheek. “Didn’t you say last night that you wanted to fondle them with your tongue?”
“Bloody fucking hell.” Jamie pushed himself back, putting several feet between us. He adjusted his cock that was standing firmly at attention, clearly wanting to make its presence known to all in the room.
“This must be some date you have planned,” I said, squeezing my thighs together to calm the terrible ache of pleasure unfulfilled.
“Believe me, if the fucking exhibit was here another week, I’d gladly put it off, but as it is…” He trailed off grumpily, adjusting and readjusting himself. “Although, I’m no’ exactly convinced the two of us are fit for public.”
I laughed and stepped down, accepting that this date was important to him, so it was probably best I stop attempting to sabotage his efforts. “Don’t worry. I can behave myself. I am a librarian, you know. There is some bit of decorum in my make up…somewhere.”
“I’m glad one of us can.”
I reached in the cabinet for plates and silverware to give us something to do in a pathetic attempt to keep our hands off each other. Jamie brought the food over to the table and began serving.
“So, how did ye end up a librarian?” he asked. “Was it something ye always wanted?”
“I grew up in libraries. Coffee? Tea?”
“My uncle who raised me was an academic,” I said, as I filled the Keurig with water. “He always had me looking things up for him here and there. Then after he died, I met Frank, an historian, and there you have it. I suppose it just seemed natural. Useful.”
“Ye love it?”
“I do. It has its moments, of course.”
“Aye, everything does.”
“And what about you?” I came to sit at the table next to him. “How did you become a writer?”
“All Scots are storytellers, Sassenach. It’s in our blood.”
Our legs touched beneath the table, and I had to fight the urge to close the gap between the rest of our bodies. Jamie saw it in my eyes, and his own danced with humor.
It was going to be a long morning.
I stood up to get some space from that irresistible man under the pretense of checking on the coffee. “Now, tell me about your book that’s about to be released. What’s it about? And where’s my bloody copy?”
After finishing breakfast, Jamie took my hand and the present he’d yet to give me, and we made our way down to an awaiting Lyft.
“What museum are we going to?” I asked, settling in next to him, our legs naturally tangling together.
“Ye’ll see.” He grinned, excitement dancing in his eyes. He took my hand and held it in his lap, staring at it as though it was as beautiful as a fully bloomed orchid. My skin was quite pale in comparison to his, and a few degrees cooler. His hands dwarfed my own, and he handled them in a way that made me feel delicate and breakable. I supposed that to a large man like Jamie, I was just that.
He brought my hand up to his lips and placed a warm kiss on the back of my fingers. His nose lingered on my skin, softly inhaling as it traveled several inches up my arm. When he returned our hands to his lap, a pleasant buzz had taken over his eyes.
I leaned against his large, muscular arm, holding his bicep with my free hand. It was deliciously firm and sent fantasies through my head about what he must do to stay fit and how he must look shirtless and sweaty, muscles rippling.
A quiet chuckle rumbled through his chest. I gazed up and found him looking at me humorously. “Ye’re making it difficult not to ask this gentleman to turn the car around.”
I grinned back and nuzzled his arm, not deterred in the slightest.
“I’ve thought about this, ye ken,” he whispered. “I thought about it day after day, having ye here with me, going somewhere, anywhere. Just…together.”
“Is it like you thought it would be?”
He considered his words carefully for a moment, eyes never leaving my face. “Ye ken, last night I said ye were a dream come true?”
“That was only partly true. Ye see, I’ve always thought dreams held glimpses of the Divine. That’s why I thought of the peristeria for dreams. There’s a heavenly beauty manufactured in our imagination. An ideal of human experience.”
“Something like a Jungian archetype?”
“Something like that. When I kiss ye, Claire, I feel it, whatever it is. That perfect thing. The wonder and joy and fear and reverential respect that humans feel when we edge close to the Divine.”
I repeated his words from the night before. “A glimpse of heaven in a kiss?”
“Aye. I’m left…awestruck. Except, it’s no’ a dream, because I’ve kissed ye, and ye’re still here.”
“Are you afraid you’ll wake up and I’ll be gone?”
“Fear is never so great as when ye have someone in yer arms ye never want to lose.”
“You don’t have to be afraid, Jamie. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.”
He smiled. “I dinna mind the fear, lass. It’s been a long time since I’ve held someone in my arms, scared they’d leave. It’s usually a relief when they go.”
“Are you talking about your wife?”
He nodded. “And those that came after.”
“You didn’t want them?”
“No’ like this.”
I reached up and kissed him again, needing somewhere to displace my restless affection. He didn’t shy away from this semipublic display of amorousness, nor was he just tolerating it for my sake like Frank would do. The hunger on his lips told me that Jamie needed this as badly as I did.
He only pulled away when we were almost to our destination. It was then that he finally set the little present on my lap for me to open.
“I can’t believe you went through the trouble for this.”
He waved off my concern and nodded for me to open the box. I did so, excitedly wondering when the last time was that someone gave me a present for no bloody reason except wanting to make me happy. I managed not to look too much like a child as I ripped off the paper and peeked inside.
It was a book—large and white with the image of a painted flower on the cover. “Georgia O’Keeffe? I love her paintings. They’re beautiful.”
“I thought ye might.” His smile broadened as the car slowed down and made a sharp turn.
I looked around and saw that we were arriving at the massive, imposing building that was the Museum of Fine Arts. I looked down at the book, then back to the museum. “Jamie!”
Smiling warmly, he thanked our driver when we pulled to a stop, and then he helped me out of the car. He disposed of the waste he used for wrapping as my eyes took in the large sign advertising the current seasonal exhibits on display. “I’ve never seen her paintings in person before.”
He was looking quite pleased with himself as he returned to my side, wrapping an arm around my waist to lead me closer to the building. It took me a moment to realize we weren’t headed for the front doors.
“They dinna open for another two hours, but I have a friend who’s agreed to allow us to enter a little early.”
I stopped to look up at him and his sweet, gorgeous smile. “You did this for me? You really are a good man, aren’t you? So bloody thoughtful.”
“I have my moments, as does everyone. It’s easy to do things for ye, Sassenach, when it makes ye show me that bonnie smile.”
“Oh, Jamie.” I lifted on my toes to kiss him, pressing my body close.
“Mmmm,” he moaned, forehead meeting mine. “Let’s get in there to see these wee flowers, so I can take ye home for a bit more privacy, hm?”
“I’m very much looking forward to that.”
He tucked me into his side and steered me toward a small door to the right of the entrance. A man was waiting for us, and seemed quite cheerful at our appearance. He was a beautiful man and would’ve most certainly garnered my attention had I never met Jamie. He had dark hair, where Jamie’s was bright, and eyes of crystal blue.
“John!” Jamie greeted him with an outstretched hand, still holding me close with the other.
“A pleasure to see you, my friend,” said John, taking Jamie’s hand, then moving his attention to me. “You must be Claire. I’ve heard so many wonderful things.”
“The pleasure is mine. How do the two of you know each other?”
“We met at University,” said Jamie. “I had a bit of a habit of finding trouble, and John, on more than a few occasions, helped me out of it.”
“Please, God, don’t remind me,” said John.
“Trouble? You?” I looked up at Jamie, vastly curious.
“I didna go looking for it, mind,” he blushed. “It had a way of finding me all on its own.”
“Just keep him away from my mother’s brandy if he needs to handle matches,” said John.
“Dinna malign me to the lady. That was just the one time, and we raised enough money to rebuild the church.”
“He had the entire rugby team do a shirtless car wash…in February! For a week!”
Jamie blushed a fierce shade of red. “It was rather cold.”
“Were you in kilts too?” I asked.
“Nah. The bloody Englishmen fussed enough as it was.” Jamie pat John firmly on the back. “Now, will ye let us in, man? Or are ye determined to drive the lass away?”
“If I was trying to drive her away, I’d tell her about that trip to Ireland with my brother,” said John.
Jamie gave a warning grunt from the back of his throat that only made John laugh as he led us inside. I was beginning to find Jamie’s capacity for nonverbal communication highly endearing.
“Come, my dear,” said John, taking my hand from Jamie and leading me into the stunning historic building. “Did you know we house over a half a million pieces here permanently, and have ten seasonal exhibits on view at any given time?”
“I didn’t know. That’s incredible.”
“When you’ve finished at the O’Keeffe exhibit, may I recommend touring the Arts of Islamic Cultures Gallery? We conducted a reinstallation three years ago in collaboration with local Muslim groups, and it is a personal favorite of mine. And I’m sure Jamie will want to revisit the Art of the Americas wing. While writing his book, he spent more than a few hours in front of John Singleton Copley’s ‘Paul Revere’ and Thomas Sully’s expansive ‘Passage of the Delaware’.”
John brought us up an enormous, grand set of marble steps, and we passed countless sculptures, paintings, and entrances to various exhibits. The building was a work of art on its own. Our host was not only friendly, but he was a bloody encyclopedia of information, and shared his knowledge with passionate enthusiasm.
“O’Keeffe painted over two hundred flowers that we know of—likely more that she never shared with the public. Although most of her paintings were actually of landscapes and other bits of nature, the flowers were most certainly a favorite, reasonably so. She was riddled with crippling anxiety and lost her eyesight in old age, but still didn’t let that stop her from doing what she loved. With the aid of a close friend, she began experimenting with clay sculpting. We have a few of those rare pieces in the exhibit you must see.”
The entrance was marked by a large sign with a picture of Georgia O’Keeffe and one of her famous quotations:
“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life — and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a thing I wanted to do.” – Georgia O’Keeffe
I looked at the book in my hand with wonder. “She was marvelous, wasn’t she?”
“Absolutely.” He turned to Jamie, pulling out two badges from his pocket. “My staff are aware that you’ll be here as they ready the exhibits for the day, but keep these on as you move about the building, lest they think you’re pulling a heist.”
“Now there is some trouble we’ve yet to get in together.” Jamie took the badges and placed one around my neck before doing the same for himself.
“If you have any questions, call me. If you need to leave before we open at ten, I’ll have to unlock the door for you.” His eyes dropped to where Jamie’s hand slid familiarly around my waist. “And behave yourself, Fraser. I’m sure Claire would like to return to the museum again in the future. Don’t get her blacklisted.”
Jamie just chuckled darkly as he pulled me through the entrance. I waved goodbye to John, who seemed genuinely happy for his friend.
We were met immediately with a large black and white picture of O’Keeffe tending to some bit of greenery. She was older, sitting in front of a large window, seemingly at peace, despite her well-known trouble with nerves. The desert landscape behind her was muted by the window, but one could easily see she was in her element.
I had a vision of myself in a house one day, large windows overlooking an overgrown garden of roses and all manner of flora. I looked up at Jamie and could easily see him in the picture with me.
“Come,” he whispered, nodding to the room beyond. “The flowers are at the other end of the exhibit.”
As wonderful as all her artwork was, the flowers were what had personal meaning to us, and I was more than eager to see them. Jamie pulled me past a good number of painted landscapes and sculptures, and I only stopped him to stare in awe at a few.
When we finally made it to the flowers, my heart was racing wildly, and I was gripping Jamie’s hand in anticipation. “There they are,” I breathed.
I finally let go of Jamie’s hand and stepped forward to one of her most famous and vibrantly colored pieces. I was immediately enamored with the layers of delicate petals folding over on each other. The pinks, purples, teals, and yellows made the loveliest flower I’d ever seen in my life.
Jamie stepped up behind me, his large, warm hands settling on my hips. His proximity alone made my body vibrate with excitement, but standing there with him in front of a gloriously erotic piece of feminine artwork was nothing short of exhilarating.
“What d’ye think?” he whispered into my hair. I could feel the swell of his body behind me as he inhaled my scent. His fingers grazed over the dip of sensitive skin just inside my hip bone, and I was very pleased I chose this particular dress that let me feel every little shift of movement.
I looked down the wall of paintings before answering his question. “I’ve never seen so many beautiful vaginas in all my life.”
Jamie’s snort echoed throughout the quiet room, and I leaned happily back into his chest that was bouncing with humor. “Just wait until we get to the irises.”
We moved slowly together from painting to painting, taking them in one at a time. His arms were heaven around me, and his hands explored every curve and recess my waist and abdomen had to offer.
“Look at this orchid here,” he said, leading me toward a particularly erotic piece. “Ye can see the texture of the…flower.”
He pulled the orchid from my hair and raised it up in front of the painting. “Here, touch this as ye look.”
I lifted a finger and grazed it over the velvet soft petals of my orchid, and he was right, I could feel the flower…but not the one painted on the wall. I closed my eyes and thought of touching myself for him the night before, how he watched me do so in bed.
I leaned back into his chest as I touched. My finger moved with seductive intention, tracing over the sepals and petals, then circling around the column. Jamie’s quiet rumbling started when I delicately fingered the bottom lip of the flower, then slid it up into the throat.
He was hard against my lower back, and I certainly didn’t help matters by rocking my bottom back and forth against him and taking the column between my two longest fingers. He began quietly chanting rhythmic words in another language. I stood there, swaying in his arms, fingering a flower and feeling every twitch of anticipation deep in my own body.
“Was that Gaelic?” I asked when he was done.
“Aye, Cywydd y Cerdor, by Gwerful Mechain. She wrote it over five hundred years ago. There are a few English translations that are pleasantly lyrical, but I think they take away from the more direct meaning.”
“I want to hear what Gwerful intended.”
“Aye. I thought ye might…
“…and the warm quim, clear excellence,
tender and fat, bright fervent broken circle,
where I loved, in perfect health,
the quim below the smock.
You are a body of boundless strength,
a faultless court of fat's plumage.
I declare, the quim is fair,
circle of broad-edged lips,
it is a valley longer than a spoon or a hand,
a ditch to hold a penis two hands long;
cunt there by the swelling arse,
song's table with its double in red
lovely bush, God save it.”
I turned around, wrapping my arms around Jamie’s neck, careful not to bump him with the O’Keeffe book still in my hand. He smiled seductively down at me, licking his lips as he replaced the orchid in my hair.
“Did ye want to see the other exhibits? We can stay as long as ye like.”
I moved my head back and forth in a slow declination. “How could they possibly live up to this?”
“I was hoping ye’d say that.” He bent down and kissed me, slowly, seductively, full of promise.
“Let’s go,” I whispered, stepping back and pulling him toward the exit.
“Are ye hungry, lass? Shall I take ye to lunch?”
“Hungry? Yes.” I smiled over my shoulder. “Lunch? Not yet.”
“Mmphm,” he grunted yet again.
I was really beginning to love his nonverbal communication.
Just before we walked out the door, Jamie stopped me, pulling me back to see a photograph framed on the wall. It was a picture of O’Keeffe completely nude, taken by her husband, Alfred Stieglitz.
An elegant photograph with beautiful lines—the eye was immediately drawn down O’Keeffe’s curved body, past her breasts, then further below, where she sported a magnificent patch of dark, curly hair.
“Lovely bush,” I said. “God save it.”
Yes, the next chapter picks up right where this one leaves off.
Also…orchids are my personal favorite, so they’re getting 2 chapters ☺️
The first poem in this chapter was Desire by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
He kissed me senseless on the ride home. His mouth genuinely sucked out every ounce of brainpower I had. The poor Lyft driver was patiently indulgent, pretending as though we didn’t exist while we behaved like lust-crazed teenagers in the back of her car.
I started our ride sitting in the center seat, but the way Jamie pulled my legs over his, I was pretty much in his lap for the duration. His arm wrapped around me, holding me close as he kissed deep. His other hand made the most of the bare skin on my leg where my dress rode up past my knee.
Everything about Jamie was so bloody large. So big and solid. Everything. When looking at him from a distance, he just seemed tall, the enormity of all his pieces and parts obscured by his perfect proportions and athletic grace. But up close, his hands were conspicuously massive, covering large expanses of skin with one caress. His tongue was a sizable muscular organ, and when I put my lips around it, sucking it deep, the entirety of my body trembled with imminent possibilities. Everything I touched—shoulders, arms, chest, and back—surprised me again with their glorious size.
“Oh, Claire,” he whispered in my ear, hardly audible so our driver couldn’t hear, “I want ye something fierce.” I latched onto his warm neck as he spoke. The thin skin was salty on my tongue. He tasted far better than the tonka bean and vanilla ever could.
His throat vibrated under my lips. “Ye’ve no idea how it’s consumed my mind. Wanting to—” he paused to groan as my teeth nipped his Adam’s apple, “—to bury myself inside ye and…oh, God…”
He grabbed a handful of my hair, tipping my head back and latching onto my ear. He waited for me to shiver before he whispered in heavy breaths.
“Light wrestling there incessantly with light,
Star kissing star through wave on wave unto
Your body rocking!
Permit me voyage, love, into your hands…”
I took his mouth, kissing him until the car stopped. Then we kissed into my building and up the blessedly empty elevator. Jamie’s hands were hungry in this mostly private space in a way they’d never been before, gripping my arse and pulling me hard against him.
The door opened to my floor, and we were greeted with a quiet cough from my neighbor Mrs. Baird. I buried my face in Jamie’s chest as he turned to her and offered a sheepish smile. We squeezed past with a quiet, “Pardon us,” then he maneuvered us to my door with his long, purposeful strides.
I giggled foolishly as I let us in, and we dropped all our belongings on the floor as soon as the door was closed. He took my face in his hands and kissed me with that sweet smile that had my heart racing all morning.
“Take me to bed, Jamie.” I was more than ready for it.
“Aye.” He grinned against my lips. “There’s one thing I must do first, hm?”
He pulled me to the sofa and sat me down right in the middle, then stepped away to retrieve the bag he’d brought that morning, apparently containing more inside than I initially realized. He bent down on his knees in front of me and reached into the bag to retrieve another orchid blossom—this one a beautiful, pink cymbidium.
He removed it from the packaging and placed it gently in my hands, smiling mostly with his eyes and a subtle scrunching of his cheeks. It was difficult to pull my gaze away from his face and down to the flower. He spoke softly as I admired its beauty.
“O were I hovering, a bee, to probe
Deep down within your scented heart, fair flower,
Enfolded by your soft vermilion robe,
Amorous of sweets, for but one perfect hour.”
“Jamie, it’s lo—” I was cut off by his mouth, taking mine with a slow, sensual stroke of the tongue. His hands moved to the back of my dress where he struggled briefly with the clasp. The tension of the fabric released with a quiet buzz of a falling zipper.
“When I saw ye last night,” he said, pulling back so he could watch as he peeled my dress off one arm at a time, “I swore the next time I’d see yer lovely skin would be in daylight, where shadows couldna hide an inch of you from my eyes.”
He slipped my dress off from under my bum and tossed it aside without moving his gaze. My undergarments—forget-me-not blue, my favorite color—had him moistening his lips as he traced the lines of where silk met skin.
“The perfume of your body dulls my sense.
I want nor wine nor weed; your breath alone
He reached behind me to unsnap my bra with surprising ease, telling me he knew well how such things worked. He kissed my shoulder where the strap left a faint mark, and he bade the bra to join the discarded dress.
“In this moment rare and tense
I worship at your breast. The flower is blown,
The saffron petals tempt my amorous mouth,
The yellow heart is radiant now with dew
Soft-scented, redolent of my loved south;”
His mouth closed over a nipple, and he sucked on it with a tickle of his tongue. It was all I could do not to crush the orchid still lying delicately in my hand. He had a breast in each hand, massaging as he suckled on my tender, aching nipple.
His breath was hot on my flush skin as he whispered between kisses, moving across my chest from one breast to the other.
“O flower of love, I give myself to you.
Uncovered on your couch of figured green,
Here let us linger indivisible.
The portals of your sanctuary unseen
Receive my offering, yielding unto me.”
He nibbled on the firm, pink nipple as he hooked his fingers on the waist of my panties and slid them down. He released me only to pull them off and stare down at my body bare before him.
He slid me down to the edge of the seat as though I weighed nothing, and I fell back lazily bending with the cushion, so I could watch him take me in.
I lifted my feet onto the coffee table behind him and let my legs fall open. I’d been dreaming about that silver tongue on my pussy, and no amount of self-consciousness would be allowed to ruin the moment.
Just like the flower at the museum, he touched my skin the way I had stroked the petals. His hands caressed my inner thighs and softest parts of my belly. He gazed adoringly down, keeping no secrets with his eyes about his longing.
He took the orchid from my hand and laid it gently above my labia, touching the soft petals with a smile before repeating the gesture on my lips below.
“Oh, with our love the night is warm and deep.
The air is sweet, my flower, and sweet the flute
Whose music lulls our burning brain to sleep,
While we lie loving, passionate and mute.”
He bent his head down and kissed my clit, hands spreading me wide so he could wrap his lips fully around. My pussy was the only part of me hot enough to match the heat of his tongue, and the breath that was warm on my chest only moments before was now a cool, pleasant breeze with every exhale.
He gripped my thighs and bent to lick from taint to pubic bone, filling his mouth with my taste as he learned the shape of my body. “So often I wondered what it would be like...” He sealed his mouth over me, plunging his thick tongue deep inside, licking all the way to my g-spot. “Yer scent, yer taste…” He licked again. “I want to fucking drown in it.”
His scruff was pleasantly stimulating, and his hair tickled my thighs. Both were new experiences for me, never having slept with a man with long hair or a beard.
“I never imagined this,” I whispered, watching his tongue circle my clit.
His eyes looked up and found mine as his tongue fluttered over the tip. He interrupted himself with a snorting laugh that made his eyes dance. “Ye didna think I’d want yer pussy in my mouth after everything I wrote to ye in those blasted letters?”
“Not that,” I laughed, stroking his hair back from his face. “I was certain I’d…I didn’t think…” I couldn’t find the right words. The amusement in his eyes made me blush. “I was completely miserable no more than a month ago, and now things I never thought to dream of have filled my life. You have filled my life in a way I never...” I stopped again.
He smiled lovingly and placed a gentle kiss on my clit. “A glimpse of heaven in a kiss?”
I sucked in a breath as pleasure filled every part of me, my heart and head most of all. It was nothing less than spiritual, watching him kneel before me, mouth sealed over me, licking, sucking, and fondling me in a moment of exquisite bliss.
“There!” I told him, gripping his hair as he sped his tongue. I lifted my pelvis up to his mouth, seeking more, as though there was such a thing in existence as a more perfect feeling than what he was already giving. “God, don’t stop!”
And he didn’t. He licked madly until pleasure shot a piercing sound from my mouth. I held tight to his head, fearing it might stop. As orgasm squeezed the deepest parts of me, I rolled my hips against his face, milking out every last sensation I could find.
Just as my head was beginning to clear and my grip on his hair loosened, he bit down firmly on my clit and sucked it hard into his mouth. I shrieked with the shock of pleasure pulsing through me yet again. His bearded face scraped my raw skin, and I squeezed his head with my thighs. It was too bloody fucking much, and I couldn’t take anymore, yet there was nothing I could do to stop it.
The petals of an orchid landed on my face, and I realized my body was so out of control it was tossing the flower about without my knowing. I indelicately grabbed it and pressed it to my cheek as the last of my orgasm quivered through my spine.
Finally, he let me go, resting his scruffy face on my thigh and staring up at me with blissful humor. My pleasure glistened on his lips, and he made no move to wipe it away.
I traced a finger over his slick mouth, taking delight in the shape of his smile. “Do you know any poems for transcendent oral?”
He chuckled quietly, then kissed gently up my body, moisture-coated scruff tickling my skin along the way. He rested his forehead against mine, and my scent mixed with tonka bean and vanilla as he spoke.
“I mind how once we lay such a transparent summer morning,
How you settled your head athwart my hips and gently turn'd over upon me,
And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged your tongue to my bare-stript heart…”
“And who said that?”
“Walt Whitman. He insisted we, as a species, could only access the vast mystery of creation through the physical body…and sex and love were obvious methods for exploring our spirituality.”
“Aye.” He kissed me, running his hands over my heated skin. “Breastaking.”
I shook my head at his foolishness. “Will you take me to bed now? I want you inside me.”
“Oh, aye, but do all ye must before we go there. I fear once I’m there, Sassenach, I may never come out.”
“Come, lad. You have far too many clothes on to be talking to me like that.”
My feet found their way to the floor, and I took him by the hand and led him to my room, crumpled orchid in hand.
That first poem in the car was from Voyages by Hart Crane. The poetry he spoke while undressing her was a mix of A Red Flower and Flower of Love, both by Claude McKay. Then Walt Whitman rounded it out.
Thank you to EllenSmithee for introducing me to Whitman all those years ago 🥵
I thought about undressing the man myself, peeling back his clothes bit by bit, but then perhaps I’d be too close and miss the forest for the trees. Instead, I crawled onto the bed and sat back against the headboard to watch.
His eyes, dark and lustful, trained on my naked body with lascivious intent, but his mouth looked as though it might twitch into a smile at any moment. He peeled off his coat and set it aside, then removed his socks and shoes. His shirt was next, and he finally cracked a smile when I let out an audible whimper at the sight of his bare chest.
Bloody hell. He was perfect. All the more so when his jeans and briefs landed on the floor.
“That’s…” I broke off and tried again. “That’s…wow.”
He smiled with a flattered confidence and then came closer to crawl up over me on the bed. My legs spread apart before his hips came anywhere near me, and I thought that was quite metaphorical for the way things had been going between us thus far.
Jamie was even larger when he was hovering over me than when I was sitting on his lap. My hands went straight to his chest, feeling the beautiful expanse of muscle he clearly worked so hard to maintain—particularly solid in his near planked position. His light scattering of hair was deliciously masculine and softer than I thought it would be when I saw it on the phone the night before.
And then suddenly, that massive brick wall of a chest dropped down on me as his mouth found mine. His body was so bloody warm, a comfort to every bit of skin he touched. My legs hooked around his long limbs, and my hands traced up and down his broad back as he kissed me until I couldn’t see straight.
“Jamie,” I moaned, losing patience, eager to have him inside me. I lifted my hips, rubbing my pelvis on his abdomen, my slick arousal leaving a hot, wet trail in its wake.
His shuddering breath warmed my skin as he rumbled his pained anticipation in my ear. “Fuck. I need a condom…in my…bag.”
The thought of him leaving the bed, even if only a few steps into the other room, was unbearable. “I have some in the nightstand.”
His lips failed at least three attempts to leave my neck as I rubbed my clit against his rock-solid abs. He moved a hand down to my arse and gripped a cheek, assisting me in grinding all the harder against him.
My insides clenched, seeking, demanding to be filled. “Jamie!”
“Aye.” He finally pulled away and reached for the nightstand.
“Not that one—” My words fell short as he reached for what was once Frank’s side of the bed; he was already opening the drawer. I expected he’d find it empty, but he lifted up a large, ridiculously expensive watch, examining it with a stone look on his face.
Damn. My heart dropped. It was the watch Frank’s parents had gifted him after completing his doctorate.
“Sorry. He must’ve left it. I don’t think I’ve opened the bloody thing since—”
Jamie shook his head and forced a small conciliatory smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Dinna fash, lass.” He put the watch back and closed the drawer. “I ken what it means to have had a life.”
I didn’t much care to think about his life before me nor the woman he’d once called his wife.
“It’s all right,” he said. His mouth twitched with more genuine humor at whatever it was he saw in my expression. He raised a hand and stroked my cheek sweetly. “It’s only the two of us now.”
As sweet as that was to hear, I looked around the room and felt Frank’s bloody annoying presence there for the first time. I really didn’t want anyone else in the room with us while we consummated our relationship and worried the day might now be ruined.
“They’re on this side?” he asked. He moved over me to the other nightstand as I hummed my affirmation. The sight of his rippling muscles crawling around was undoubtedly a pleasant distraction from my irksome ruminations.
He opened the drawer and let out a curious yet pleased Scottish noise from the back of his throat. As sensitive as I was, given the last thing he found in one of my drawers, I snapped my head around to see what caught his attention this time.
“Oh,” I snickered. It was only the bedside contents standard for most women with a substantial sexual appetite—particularly one whose husband hadn’t been present for years to help sate it. Jamie pulled out what I considered to be my favorite tool. It was Swedish made and of the highest quality, designed with both elegance and ergonomics in mind. It was nothing short of beautiful—cobalt blue silicone with gold trim. It made a wave motion when inserted that required little effort on the part of the participant as it stimulated both inside and out.
“The competition is fierce,” he grinned, looking between his cock and the finely-crafted instrument of pleasure.
“I’m sure you can find a way to team up, rather than work against each other.”
He rifled through the others in the drawer—oral simulators, rabbits, wands, beads, etc. “I suppose wi’ an arsenal like this, we could defeat Thanos himself. What’s this? A defibrillator?”
“Just a run-of-the-mill vaginal pacemaker.” I swiped his hands away and pulled out a large, decorative gift bag that used ribbons as drawstrings. As I opened it, Jamie’s eyes were wide with anticipation, and his cock was so bloody hard, it seemed to be defying gravity.
I snorted and pulled out a box of condoms, making Jamie chuckle delightedly. He took the gift bag and held it up in question.
“When I bought them online, they asked if I wanted them gift wrapped. I figured, why the bloody hell not?”
“Nothing wrong wi' a bit of indulgence.” His eyes were full of humor, yet they held the sweetest look of affection I’d ever seen during a talk of contraception.
He opened the “variety box” I’d purchased in my cautious uncertainty and fished out—to my blessed delight—a latex bare skin magnum. “Covering all yer bases, aye?” he grinned, setting the box aside.
“We all know the importance of proper casing for a respectable Scottish banger.”
He barked out a robust laugh that made his nose wrinkle and his cock bounce enticingly, but the best part had to be his gorgeous abdomen rippling with waves of humor. He laughed so hard, he doubled over and crashed down next to me on the bed.
It took a few moments for him to catch his breath, and when he did, he propped himself up on an elbow to look lovingly at me. “How did I get so lucky?”
“What do you mean?”
He snorted as though I was being intentionally obtuse. “That ye’ve let me in yer bed. That not only are ye all this,” he gestured to my naked body, “but…” he traced a finger over my lips, “I’m bloody fascinated wi’ all that comes out of yer mouth.”
“Just wait until you find out what I’m willing to put in my mouth.”
He laughed again, and I decided I needed to make a point of recreating his joy as often as possible so I could see that sparkling light dance so gleefully in his eyes.
I ran a hand over his stomach to feel the happiness bounce through his body. He shivered at my touch, and the laughter was replaced by a deep inhale. My chest swelled at how significantly I affected him, and I couldn’t stop my hand from trailing down to find his cock.
“Mmphm,” he groaned, watching as I gripped him at the top and slid my hand down to his base. “God, that feels fine,” he breathed.
I grinned at his encouragement and stroked again. “I don’t think there are a whole lot of ways to get this wrong, are there?”
“Ye’re right about that. Cocks are quite simple.” He looked to my drawer of toys and waggled his brows. “Pussy, on the other hand, is exceedingly complex.”
“Nonsense. Your tongue acquitted itself rather nicely only a few moments ago.”
“I didna say I wasna up for the challenge, now did I?” He leaned forward and kissed me as I stroked his cock. “In fact, I think I need to watch ye use all that blessed gadgetry so I ken how to master the unique complexities of this particular cunt right here.” He ran a hand gently over my pussy, middle finger sliding lubriciously between the two lips.
“Oh, that might take you some time,” I whimpered. “Not only can those tools be implemented in endless ways, but I often use other means and methods for personal pleasure.”
“Is that so?” His eyes flared.
“Indeed.” I released his cock fluttered my fingers between us. “I used these last night, if you recall.”
“Hard to forget.”
“And there are a substantial number of adequate surfaces to rub oneself on for enjoyment.”
“Oh? Ye like humping on things, d’ye?”
I nodded an affirmative, feeling all too safe under his fascinated gaze to withhold any information.
“What’s yer favorite surface?” He grinned hungrily. “A pillow? The arm of a chair?”
“Oh, a bed works just fine, but if I’m not alone…” I ran a hand down his body and to his leg, “...a large, muscular thigh would be all the more preferable.”
“If I kent ye preferred a good grind, I would’ve rethought my oral strategy back there to allow for more of a fluid thrust.”
“What on earth do you mean?”
He blinked—or was that a wink?—mischievously before pivoting around to grab my arse and lift my pussy to his mouth in a near sixty-nine position, except as far as he was concerned, the nine could go hang. James Fraser was nothing if not effective in proving a point with his tongue. I understood immediately the advantage of the position for oral stimulation. He gave a flat-tongued lick that allowed me to thrust upward into his mouth, eliciting a sensation reminiscent of grinding down on a mattress or silicone vibrator—particularly when he hummed so greedily in the process. Yet no vibrator could replicate his warmth, no mattress could grab my arse to add its strength to my thrust, and no buzzing toys nor creaking bed frames could arouse like the sloshing sounds of his tongue lapping up my cum.
My hand moved to his arse, a stunning sight beside me, and grazed over his smooth, surprisingly pale skin, completely untouched by the sun. My fingers discovered his fine, nearly invisible hairs that were so small, they could only be seen where the sunlight reflected as it streamed through the window. I ran a finger down the crack of his arse and relished his grunt as I took hold of his balls and massaged while he licked.
Jamie began sucking on my clit in the most perfect position. As he lifted his chin, it pulled my clit downward, setting off an unexpectedly quick orgasm, particularly satisfying when I rolled my hips and my clit grazed passed his lips and over his scruffy chin.
“Jesus H. fucking Christ!” I lay there reeling, eyes closed, but all other senses intently focused on the pleasure rolling through me.
Jamie released me in my prostrate state, chuckling darkly. I heard the unmistakable rip of a condom wrapper and felt the weight of the bed shift as he moved between my legs. I started when he lifted my arse and shoved a pillow underneath, raising my pelvis to a higher angle.
“What on earth are you doing?”
He smirked and lifted my head to put another pillow there so my body was curved into a U. Then he knelt before me and lined himself up between my legs, his long, obscenely perfect body looming over me.
I had a brief moment of fear—a jolt of adrenaline shot through my heart—when I realized Jamie was substantially larger than Frank, and though I’d always craved a bit more, I wasn’t sure I was genuinely prepared for what Jamie had to offer. That particular fear wasn’t altogether unpleasant, and certainly didn’t stop me from wrapping my legs around his hips and urging him on.
He used one hand to spread me wide and tease my clit with the tip of his finger, and he used the other to guide his cock between my legs. He pushed in slowly, watching himself sink in with a look in his eyes of pure hunger.
He was large. Long and fucking thick—just like the rest of him. I realized I was holding my breath halfway through and forced myself to relax. It wasn’t painful, but it was a stretch.
It became apparent very quickly that the position he’d put me in angled my body so when he’d thrust, he’d hit my g-spot rather than my cervix. “You are a canny man, aren’t you,” I breathed.
His dark chuckle faded into a satisfied moan when he sank all the way in, his balls resting heavily on my arse. He pressed his palm flat on my lower abdomen, as though he might actually feel his cock filling my body. I made a mental note to try the same, once I had the capacity to loosen my grip on the blanket beneath me.
“Do you have a poem for this moment tucked away somewhere in your head?” I teased.
“Mmphm.” He closed his eyes, pulling out slowly and pushing back in. “I’m sure I could think of one if ye werena squeezing my cock so bloody hard.”
“You fucking love it.” I squeezed even more.
“Aye,” he rumbled, deep and rough.
His hands settled on my hips, gripping tight to hold us together, then pushing us apart. He looked down at me, smirked, then slammed into me hard.
“OH GOD!” I cried, gripping his forearms. That did hurt a little, but in the best way.
He chuckled quietly, then started a slow, steady rhythm. “i like my body when it is with your body. it is so quite new a thing.”
It took me a moment to realize he actually was reciting poetry. It was hard to focus on his words when every breath was accompanied by a battering ram to the backside of my clitoris.
“muscles better and nerves more. i like your body. i like what it does, i like its hows. i like to feel the spine of your body and its bones…”
He bent forward leaning over me, hands on the bed on either side of my head, holding himself upright.
“...and the trembling-firm-smooth ness which i will again and again and again kiss…i like kissing this and that of you.”
And kiss me, he did, hips never stopping as he lowered himself to my mouth. My hands found his triceps bulging to hold himself up over me, and I traced around them from top to bottom while I laid there and absorbed the sublime assault of the man’s tongue and cock.
“i like the thrill of under me you so quite new.”
His eyes glazed over, and it was clear that all he knew in that moment was the pleasure of fucking. I was so slick and wet; he was hammering in and out with shocking ease. Every hit against my g-spot made my stomach clench.
I reached down to aid in finding another orgasm, roughly stroking my clit back and forth. Jamie rose up on his heels to watch me, hands returning to my hips to help slam into me with greater speed.
Needing more moisture, I dropped my fingers to either side of his cock, feeling where our bodies connected and gathering my slick arousal—he really seemed to like that. Then I brought them back up to batter my clit some more.
I watched Jamie’s body, his face, as I edged nearer to climax, and thought to myself that he was right—this did feel surprisingly new despite being something he and I had done at least a thousand times with other people. There was something immensely satisfying about it all. So often, sex was just a release, a buildup of need and desire that required sating.
But this? This was more. This was fulfilling.
Maybe it was that he was fucking gorgeous. Maybe it was that his cock was huge, and he understood a woman’s body and the physics of pleasure. Maybe it was the feeling of being wanted so badly, that he’d spend weeks ruminating on how he intended this precise moment to play out—all those ruminations prioritizing my pleasure.
It could’ve been the poetry—the words an erotic incantation, making me feel all the more sensitive, all the more eager, all the more loved.
I shrieked when the wave of pleasure began washing over me, magnified and prolonged by his cock deep inside. It was what I’d been craving since the first time I touched myself thinking of him. My pussy grabbed him, squeezing out every ounce of pleasure it could find. I rubbed my clit wildly, until it just couldn’t handle being touched anymore.
Jamie was breathing hard, and I felt a drop of his sweat land on my belly. I lay there basking in my pleasure as he chased down his own climax. His face in any other context would look nothing short of angry—funny how bliss and rage could hold the same expression. And then all the sudden, his hips stuttered and his grip softened. He held his breath, and a moan hummed somewhere deep behind his lips.
He finally inhaled and peered down at me. His eyes were full of awe in a way that could only occur in the euphoria after orgasm or some sort of divine intervention. His thumbs began rubbing soft circles on my hips, allowing our bodies to stay together a little longer, neither of us ready to sever the connection quite yet.
It was incredible how the right person could make a something as common as sex feel so quite new a thing. Perhaps it was for the best that we had all the experiences that came before to make this exactly what it was.
He bent down and kissed me softly…once…twice…and once again.
Silence filled the air around us save three quiet little words.
“I love you.”
That poem was by e. e. cummings.
Chapter 15: The One I’m Lit For
Happy World Poetry Day.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Did you know the name of the orchid plant was derived from the word ‘órchis’, meaning testicle?” I asked. “As a result, they’re now associated with fertility, virility, and sexuality.” I traced a finger over the petals of the purple flower Jamie just gave me, admiring its silky texture and elegant color. The other orchids he’d given me littered the bed around us, a couple of them a little worse for the wear in our rough handling of them in the course of the day.
“I kent what órchis meant, but I didna connect its relation to the flower. Thanks to O’Keeffe, I associated the blossoms wi’ pussy, not balls.”
“You can thank the ancient Greek philosopher and botanist Theophrastus for its name.”
“I wonder how much vulva he had occasion to inspect between his musings wi’ Plato and Aristotle if the more obvious association wasna apparent to him.”
“Bless O’Keeffe for reclaiming the genital flower for vulvas everywhere.”
Jamie hummed in agreement as he lay back on the pillows, stretching out comfortably. He was so tall, his feet nearly hung off the bed. I rolled into his side, setting the orchid on the hollow of his chest, watching it rise and fall with each languid breath.
I sighed happily as Jamie lazily stroked my hair. His occasional contented hum eventually rolled into a quiet poetic murmur:
“Sex has a way of softening limbs,
oiling joints and melding hearts.
We burrow in closer
wrapping arms and legs over and under each other.
Earthy blanket of sleep covers us
two bodies releasing one breath.
coiled and tucked in each other’s sweat.”
I let the pleasant, deep hum of his words resonate in my ears, paying attention to how the vibrations of his voice warmed my insides like a cozy campfire on a cool spring night. Finding home. I very much liked that.
“Who wrote that poem?”
“You’ve memorized an awful lot of poetry.”
“I’ve spent a good long time not sleeping, thinking of this moment, reading verses that might inspire in me the same feeling of having ye in my arms just so.” He gave me a squeeze.
“Did it work?”
“No.” He laughed. “No. They only made me ache for ye all the more.”
“Like subtraction soup? The more you eat, the hungrier you get?”
“The Phantom Tollbooth?” Jamie grinned. “Aye. Like subtraction soup.”
“So you read poetry the way someone else might listen to a song? Over and over, memorizing as you go along?”
“I suppose recalling verses in a poem is similar to recalling lyrics in a song, aye. Wi’ repetition and a melodic rhythm, the words come naturally to mind.”
“Though, you seem to have a particular mind for it.”
“Aye. Runs in the family. Words and language come easily to me, much the way science does for you.”
“And sex? Did that come easily for you too? Or did you have to work to master that particular skill set?”
He chucked, the orchid bouncing softly on his chest. “When one enjoys an occupation, it’s hardly work.” He kissed my forehead and brushed back the flyaway hairs that tickled his nose. “In truth, like any young man the first few times, I had a single-minded focus on orgasm—my orgasm, that is—but the novelty of selfish pleasure wore off quickly when my partner didna care for the act as much as I did. So, I set out to find ways to make it as enjoyable for her as it was for me. In turn, the lass was eager to please me back. She was less inhibited, more fun, and I got a bit of a boost to the ego wi’ the knowledge of a job well done.”
Well done, indeed. I attempted to ignore the little stab of possessive jealousy that another woman, or many other women, knew what it felt like to make love to Jamie. Instead, I grudgingly thanked them for helping him become this version of himself.
“Not to mention,” he snorted, “if a lass is orgasming, their cunt will put a chokehold on my cock, and it’s far more satisfying that way.”
“I just bet it is.” I let slip my façade, and he caught the jealousy flare in my eyes. His self-satisfied smirk told me he very much liked my possessiveness.
“I must say, I find pleasuring another quite erotic…and pleasuring you in particular,” he went on, tracing his fingers up and down my back. “The way it conjures up a fierce blush on the surface of yer skin. The wee noises ye make when ye come. The radiant look of satisfaction lingering in yer eyes.” By the twinkle in his own eyes as he spoke, I knew he was seeing that radiance in me that very moment.
“Are you telling me you get off on getting me off?”
“Lucky girl.” I pressed my lips to his skin where my head lay at the curve of his arm. The pheromones were particularly strong where the scent of masculine exertion was most potent. It was bloody intoxicating. Knowing what I knew of genetics, I could safely say that this man was biologically made for me.
“So,” I lifted a brow to watch him as I spoke between kisses, trying not to let jealousy color my tone, “did you learn those particular positions by trial and error? Instruction from a previous partner? Study of the Kama Sutra?”
“All the above.” He smirked, teasing, taunting.
I bit him firmly on the nipple, making him grunt and grip my arse tightly until I released him.
“I even checked out a book from yer library,” he chuckled. “The 4-Hour Body. It boasted secrets to a fifteen-minute orgasm.”
“Oh?” Jealousy instantly forgotten, I perked up to hear more.
“Unfortunately, the bastard meant fifteen minutes to orgasm, not a fifteen-minute-long orgasm. I was quite disappointed.”
“I suppose it’s for the best. I’m not sure my body could handle an orgasm like the ones you just gave me for more than a couple of minutes at a time. My heart would surely stop.”
“I’m certain mine did.”
He caressed my cheek and eyed me sadly. “Though I must admit, there were some lasses, no matter how hard I tried to please them, it was never enough. I never held the secrets of them. They kept them hidden away, so I couldna find them.”
“That sounds more a fault of their own than yours.”
“I dinna think they were at fault for that. The fault belonged to both of us for trying to force something that didna fit. Something about me didna allow them to feel safe enough to share all of themselves.”
“I can’t imagine you ever making someone feel unsafe.”
“Mebbe it wasn’t me specifically. Sometimes, the shadows of old ghosts rise up in another.”
“You’re talking about projection? They were playing out past relationship patterns with you?”
He shrugged. “Mebbe. Or mebbe it’s not them at all. Mebbe it’s me. Perhaps ye bring out the softness in me while they got the brute.”
“Brute? You’re no brute.”
“I’m many things, Sassenach, and sometimes, I am a brute.”
“You’re not like that with me.”
“Aye. I very much like who I am wi’ you.”
“And I like who I am with you.”
“How is it different from the way ye were wi’ Frank?”
“With Frank, I was always trying to figure out how to please him, but it never worked for long. I suppose I never really had the secrets of him either. There were parts of himself he always held back. Parts I can’t imagine him ever showing anyone. It was quite lonely.”
“I suppose we canna please those who dinna look to find pleasure in all around them. If they canna please themselves, how are we meant to do it for them?"
"And how is it wi’ me? Different, I hope?”
“It’s only been a day, Jamie, so I can only guess what I’ll be like with you in the future, but…”
“With you…I feel free. Pleasing you is effortless. You make everything so bloody easy.”
“Easy, is it?” He smiled with that twinkle in his eyes.
“Isn’t it easy for you to be with me too?”
“Heavens, no!” He snorted. “Oh God, Claire, every moment I’m wi’ ye, my head is spinning and my heart is fit to burst, and when I’m wi’out ye, I feel like a piece of myself has been cut out and fed to rabid wolves. Being hasna been easy since I laid eyes on ye, but for God’s sake, every bit of pain ye make me suffer is worth it.”
“You make loving me sound like torture.”
“It is. But I'm a masochist, remember?”
I reached down to cup his cock in hand, and it immediately responded.
“See?” he said, as though it proved his point.
“Is this how I’m meant to learn the secrets of you? By using your cock as a lie detector?”
“It’s certainly a start.”
“I don’t have one of these.” I gave him a squeeze. “How do you expect to learn the secrets of me?”
“Sassenach,” he shook his head smiling, caressing my cheek with a soft hand, “they’re painted clear as day on yer face. Ye couldna hide them from me if ye tried. That's why it was so bloody easy to fall in love wi' ye. I kent who ye were the moment I saw ye.”
I was about to protest his assertion of my transparency, but I truly had never been that adept at hiding how I felt. Instead, I smiled in reluctant acceptance as he bent down to kiss me.
We lay in bed, cuddling contentedly, breath synchronizing together the more we relaxed. My hand left his cock, pushing it heavily aside as I reached for his balls. I delicately stroked the soft skin, no longer moist from my body, the way I’d watched him do to himself on the phone the night before.
He sighed heavily, and his muscles seemed to soften a little more. I gently rubbed the loose skin of his scrotum between my fingers and traced the shapes of his órcheis—in the plural.
His breathing slowed to the point where my smaller lungs could no longer keep pace. I sighed deeply to refill my lungs long before he restarted his inhale. If his thumb wasn’t stroking soft circles on my back, I might’ve thought he’d fallen asleep.
“Ye ken,” he whispered warmly, “I may have spoken too soon. Perhaps there is some ease in this. This is the most at peace I've felt since I met ye.”
I gave his balls a very gentle squeeze of acknowledgement.
“I was quite distraught when I thought ye meant to have an affair wi’ me. I didna want to share ye wi’ anyone, including yer husband.”
“As you said, I couldn’t hide a thing from you or him if I tried, not that deception has any appeal for me.”
“That pleases me greatly.”
I released him so I could turn my head up to look into his eyes. “Would you have done it if I asked? Had an affair?”
“I wish I could definitively say no,” he cupped my cheek, caressing my skin with his thumb, “but I’ve never wanted anyone the way I want ye. I suppose if I’m forced to choose between selling my soul for a taste of yer lips or eternity in Paradise wi’out ever touching ye, I must choose the former, for what kind of Paradise could it be otherwise? You are the one I am lit for, my Sassenach.”
Profoundly moved, I lifted myself up and sat astride him, holding his beautiful face in my hands. I brought my lips down to his mouth and kissed him.
Part of me knew that if given no other choice, I’d deceive Frank, the Pope, or God himself to feel loved like this, and I’d do so without regret. Blessedly, I needn’t worry about deception, so I tasted his tongue with a lightness of spirit that came from the knowledge that what we were doing was in no way wrong. In fact, nothing had ever felt more right.
Lucille Clifton wrote “To a Dark Moses” - the “You are the one I am lit for” quote.
Because it's World Poetry Day...how about one more chapter? I'll be posting it in a bit.
Jamie pulled out the last orchid from his bag. It was a beautiful burgundy color, as though dyed with a rich red wine. He’d saved it for the night, wanting to see it against Claire’s pale skin in the moonlight.
They had just finished dinner, ordering in, of course, because they couldn’t be bothered to put on more clothes than his white shirt for her and his own pants for himself. He liked her body wrapped up in his things.
As she was in the kitchen refilling their drinks, Jamie searched his brain for another poem to fit the occasion. Something sensual, like the orchid in his hands. Something pleasant and whimsical, complimenting the lightness in his heart.
He flipped the switch to turn on the fireplace, less for warmth and more for ambiance. He dimmed the rest of the lights and waited for Claire to return, hiding the orchid behind a stack of books on the side table.
She came with a drink in each hand and the same smile on her face that had been there all day. “Here you are.” She handed him his glass.
“Thank ye.” He sat on the sofa that faced the large widow to catch a glimpse of the night sky. His arm spread wide to invite Claire in next to him. She snuggled into his side, curling her legs up and melting into him.
“Sláinte,” he toasted, clinking their glasses together and taking a sip of a damn fine single malt whisky.
“It’s not bad, is it?” she said, taking a second drink.
“Mmm. It’s delicious. Ye didna buy it for me, did’ye?”
“Of course, I did.”
“Sassenach,” he blushed, “ye really shouldna ha’—”
“Oh, nonsense. The amount of money you’ve spent on flowers and gifts and meals and such, you’d better allow me this one thing.”
“Speaking of flowers…” He set his glass aside and picked up the orchid, presenting it to her in his palm. He whispered softly in her ear as her cold little hand scooped it up to inspect it in the flickering firelight.
“Up above the moon shines brightly;
starlight touches earth so lightly;
passions teasing impolitely.
Midnight whispers, ‘Carpe noctem.’”
“Oh, Jamie. It’s lovely. I’ve never seen a black orchid before.”
“It’s no’ black. It’s a deep burgundy. It only looks so here in the dark.”
She cupped it in her hand like it was a precious gemstone, and she looked up at him with her whisky eyes illuminated by firelight. “Carpe noctem? Seize the night?”
“Aye, and all the pleasures that accompany it.”
She finished her drink like it was merely a shot and tossed her glass aside. It clunked noisily on the rug, but luckily, didn’t shatter. Jamie’s brows lifted in surprise as she climbed on top of him. She placed a finger beneath his glass and guided it to his lips. Only this particular Sassenach could have the power to make him guzzle down a perfectly elegant Scotch—one meant to be savored—like it was a shot of Cuervo at a Coachella concert.
He set the glass aside when it was empty, fearful she wouldn’t be so lucky with a second toss and avoiding the potential for having to pick shards of glass out of their knees after he fucked her on the floor.
She pulled off his shirt and pressed her naked body against him, finding his mouth in the space of a whisky-scented breath. For a moment, he thought she was intent on riding his cock again, but when he lifted his hips to drop his pants, she slid over and mounted one of his thighs. Her hot, went cunt slid back and forth on his hard muscle, and her breasts rubbed against his chest.
He let her use him, loving the sounds she made as she sucked deeply on his tongue. His hands gripped her arse, helping her keep rhythm as she grinded down again and again. Her knee put an uncomfortable pressure on his balls, but by no means would he interrupt her ride over a couple of smashed testicles.
He relished the way she dragged her clit along his leg, slick arousal removing any resistance from his skin. Her uninhibited enthusiasm in the ride was one of the most life-affirming experiences he'd ever witnessed.
Claire’s grip on his neck tightened, and her hips thrust forward. Her back curved sharply, every muscle rock solid. She let out a moaning shriek from the back of her throat that made him want to swallow her whole. He held her tight arse in his hands, pulling her firmly against him to drag out her climax as long as it could possibly last.
Her release of tension when she settled had her curves molding fluidly to his body, save the random head-to-toe quiver from lingering climax.
“Nice ride, lass?”
“Mmhm,” she mumbled dreamily. “Carpe noctem, and all that.”
“Aye. Ye seized up just fine,” he gave her arse a firm slap, making her jump and squeak, “and I intend to do something of the sort myself.”
The way she rolled her hips and moaned deep in her throat told him she was looking forward to it. He spanked her bum again and said, “On your knees, a nighean.”
She met his gaze seductively as she slid down off his leg to the floor. She turned and crawled forward a few paces, dropping her face to the soft rug in front of the fireplace and perching her arse high in the air.
“Bloody hell,” Jamie groaned as he stroked his cock and stared at the most perfect sight in existence: Claire’s fat, round arse wiggling back and forth, waiting for him to have his way. He could see her holes, one dark and round, beckoning him illicitly, and the other dripping wet, hidden poorly between her spread lips.
He sank to his knees and maneuvered between her legs, gripping his cock to trace down the line of her arse to her cunt. He wasted no time pushing inside. When he was buried deep enough to feel her bum against his pelvis, her pussy squeezing him pleasantly, he ran a finger over her arsehole and said:
“Before I finished speaking, she said Yes.
Emboldened, I then blushed a bit, and laughed,
And asked for something even dirtier.
The lusty wench agreed without a blink.”
Jamie pushed his finger inside and relished her shriek.
“Do it now,” she demanded, “and don’t you fucking be gentle.”
He hauled back his hips and hammered into her, reveling in the grunt she made with the force of his thrust. He repeated it again and again until he was the one making most of the sounds.
She reached her hands back so he could grab them, and he pulled them up to the small of her back. He bound her wrists in a tight grip and used them as an anchor to slam inside all the harder. He fucked her roughly, resigned to the inevitability of impending climax. He wished he could drag it out longer, but fucking against her meaty bottom was driving his cock mad.
Just as he picked up speed, nearing his release, her legs began sliding apart, growing weaker without the use of her hands. As her bum dropped with her legs, his momentum slowed, and he could hardly reach her pussy, much less fuck the daylights out of it.
He released her hands so she could hold herself up and lifted her by the hips to align her cunt with his cock. “Ye all right, Sassenach?" he said, pushing in again. "Ye’re slipping around like Bambi on ice.”
She snorted, her laughter squeezing his cock pleasantly.
“Ye got ahold of yer fat, wee haunches now?”
“Stop it!” she laughed, reaching back to smack his thigh.
“Oh, my beautiful, wee doe. Shall I take ye out to the meadow to find yer footing?"
"I'm perfectly stable now that I have my hands back again, thank you very much."
"I like ye fine on all fours, lass. Ye’ve got me gantin for it like a buck in ruttin’ season.”
“Just watch where you stick your horns.”
“Oh, aye. I intend to watch, indeed.” He grabbed the fat of her hips, knowing perfectly well why they were called love handles, and yanked her into him as he smacked against her arse with his hips. Pleasure sparked with every clash of their bodies, and soon, he was thrusting so fast he was no longer slamming into her, but moving mere inches back and forth. His balls rose up and his belly clenched just before the blast of pleasure shook his entire body.
His cock felt like a fucking geyser, erupting deep in her cunt, though he knew it was only a wee bit of spunk. He relished the image of little bits of himself lingering around Claire’s pussy long after he left her bed.
It was then he realized they’d forgotten a condom. The thought—and all its possible consequences—didn’t bother him in the slightest. By the way Claire hummed pleasantly and waggled her bum against his pelvis, she didn’t seem all that distressed about it either.
“Carpe that arse,” she said, chuckling with her face still on the floor, mass of brown curls hiding her smiles.
Jamie bent over her, wrapping his arms around her body as her legs gave way. His cock slipped out of her pussy a little sooner than he’d wished, but he lay on top of her, pressing gently it between her buttocks as it slowly began to soften.
“I could do that every day for the rest of my life and never tire of it,” he said, nuzzling into the back of her neck.
“Aye. Subtraction soup.”
“Good.” She turned in his arms to look at him. “I'll expect you to do just that, or something of the sort, as often as your body will allow.”
He kissed her nose and smiled warmly, accepting her invitation with wordless joy.
“You’ll stay the night, won’t you?” she asked, eyes pleading. “I want to fall asleep in your arms.”
Jamie briefly thought of the audio recordings of the potential narrators he was meant to be listening to over the weekend, but immediately cast the thought aside. Carpe noctem, for fuck’s sake.
“Of course, lass. I’ll stay for as long as ye want me here.”
“Do you think it’ll ever stop? The wanting?”
“Dear God, I bloody hope not.”
He kissed her soundly before rising up off the floor to help her to her feet. Her resemblance to a wee doe was all the more apparent as her legs wobbled upon standing.
He ensured she was steady before moving to the sofa to retrieve her orchid. She led him back to the bedroom to add the blossom to the rest of her collection that littered the unmade bed. "It's no' a bed of roses, but I suppose it will do," he said.
"It's perfect. Come."
They lay over the flowers, entwining their bodies and beginning their long delectable kisses goodnight. Claire pulled her mouth away briefly, only to say, "Thank you, darling, for the best first date I've ever had."
"Seeing as how it'll be yer last, I thought it necessary to make it special."
A part of him always worried he'd scare her off whenever he gave her a glimpse of the depth of his affection. Yet all she did was smile and kiss him again. She had to know that would only encourage him, and still her hands ran down the slope of his back and settled on his bum as she licked the soft underside of his tongue.
He pulled her tightly against him and joined in her tongue's playful dance, thinking it was a far better thing to do on a Saturday night than listen to a bunch of blokes butcher the reading of his tale.
Carpe noctem, indeed.
Poems by John Gondolf and Marcus Valerius Martialis
Chapter 17: Eternity in an Hour
Returning to normal life doesn't feel quite so normal after a weekend like that.
For those that don't know. You can follow me for updates on my writing on twitter. I'm pretty active there. I also thread my reactions to new OL episodes, thread rewatches of the show, make ridiculous gifs and jokes, chat about other things I'm reading and watching, and engage in various goofy shit and nonsense. Here is my tumblr where I update posts. Still figuring out if/how I want to use that space aside from fic updates.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Ye’re sure about the second one?” Jamie asked for the fourth time as he walked me to work Monday morning. “Could ye tell it was a Scot’s book the way he was reading it?”
“Considering how your story is explicitly set in Scotland? Yes, I could tell.”
“He wasna too…French?”
“It’s a French translation, darling. It’s bound to be a little French.” The scowl on his face was both petulant and endearing.
We’d spent the better part of Sunday lying in bed together, making love and listening to clips of potential narrators for Jamie’s next audiobook.
“If you’re so worried about it, why don’t you record the translation yourself? Your French is impeccable. Far better than mine.”
“Mmphm.” He waved the idea off without taking a moment to consider it. “I have other priorities at present. Come here, Sassenach. Ye’re dripping.”
He pulled me out of the flow of foot traffic on the sidewalk and grabbed the warm chocolate croissant from my hand. He bit the end off to prevent a drop from falling.
“Hey! That’s mine!” I snatched it back.
“It’s delicious.” He grinned, licking the chocolate mess off his lips.
“I know it’s delicious. That’s why I chose it. You should have thought of that when you ordered whatever that protein nonsense is.” I gestured to the shake in his hand.
“Ye’ve chocolate just here,” he ignored me, finger grazing the corner of my mouth, eyes hungry. I could foresee exactly what he was intending to do when he licked his lips and gave a cheeky smirk, so I lifted my chin to make it easy for him.
He closed his mouth over mine, chocolate completely forgotten. I melted into him, and he lapped me up like I was the sweet treat.
After an entire weekend of touching him however and whenever I wanted, my brain found it difficult to recall what constituted appropriate behavior in public, particularly when we were on a crowded street only a block away from my place of employment. My body, however, was in no mood to pay any mind to the trivialities of decorum while it was in Jamie’s arms.
He pulled back to rest his forehead on mine, his lips a gentle breath away from another kiss. “Oh, Claire,” he rumbled, and a warmth washed over me from head to toe. “Leaving ye that flower was the best decision I’ve e’er made.”
I knew he was referring to the blue salvia—the first flower. The one that captured my attention from the moment I saw it.
“I’m so glad you did.”
“Ye must’ve thought me mad.”
“Enchanted.” he said with a smile.
Momentarily overcome, he kissed me breathless, making my knees terribly weak. I was held up only by an arm around my waist and the magnetic pull between our lips.
“Oh, my wee fern flower,” he said, hand moving up to cup my cheek, “I’ll be taking ye to Scotland one day soon to search for one of yer enchanted flowers. I ken just the place. There’s a pretty little wood near my family’s home that’s sure to have one growing deep within.”
“Did you just invite me to go home to Scotland with you?”
“Aye, though I may wait a bit to take ye, so I ken my family willna scare ye off.”
I stared up at him dreamily and shook my head. “Unless your mother is Norma Bates, I don’t think you have much to worry about.”
Jamie snorted at the absurdity. “She’ll love ye, Sassenach. And so will Da. Now, come, or ye’ll be late.”
I grumbled petulantly, wishing I could skip work and take Jamie back home to bed. If it wasn’t for Joe, I would’ve conveniently fallen ill with some sort of twenty-four-hour flu to keep our bodies horizontal, but Geordie wouldn’t be back for at least another week, and I felt guilty leaving my friend to run the place alone.
Jamie took my hand, tangling our fingers together, and set us off toward the library. I leaned against him as we walked, gripping his bicep with my free hand. The distance was far too short for my taste, bringing with it the end of our first official weekend together.
Jamie stopped and turned to me before we reached the front doors. “Ye’re no’ sick of my company yet, are ye, Sassenach?”
“Yes. You’re dreadfully dull and miserable in bed.”
“Ye wound me, lass.” He smirked with the confidence of a man who had me screaming his name in the shower only an hour before. “And to think I was going to invite ye to sup wi’ me tonight.”
“I suppose I can endure your company for one more evening for the sake of good food. What will we be eating?”
The way he eyed me hungrily and licked his lips left no room for doubt that he intended me to be the main course at dinner. “Dining in, I see?”
My knees physically shook at the thought of his scruff on my thighs. As if reading my mind, he bent down to my ear, his beard scraping roughly against my cheek, and whispered, “I thought last Friday was the longest day of my life, waiting to take you out on our date, but now that I’ve had ye, I think today might be worse. I’m craving ye badly, Sassenach, and it’s only been an hour since I had ye last.”
His words were followed by a light, delicate kiss that curled my toes and made me whimper.
When he left me at the door, I knew with certainty that he was right; this was going to be the longest bloody day of my entire life.
I did my best to pretend as though my weekend was unremarkable when I came in and sat down at my desk. As kind and attentive as Joe was, he was still a man and, thankfully, not obsessively curious about my love life the way Marsali had been all weekend. She had blown up my phone with message after message, demanding details of everything that had happened, and even feigned a tantrum when I didn’t offer up enough information.
In truth, I hardly knew what to tell her or anyone else, for that matter. I was able to share that Jamie and I had a lovely, romantic weekend together, but how was I supposed to say that my life had been inexorably changed by this man in such a short period of time? My divorce with Frank wasn’t even close to being final, and I was already head over heels in love with someone else. If anyone knew, they’d have to think me completely mad.
Yet my life was changed. I was foolishly, stupidly happy. Even the tediousness of responding to unnecessary emails couldn’t dampen my spirits. Nor could Duncan Innes’s incompetence in cleaning the ladies’ room the night before, leaving me to glove up and pull a used sanitary pad out of a clogged toilet.
I noticed very quickly I had become accustomed to having Jamie physically near me, conversing at my every whim. Anytime I had a half-interesting thought pop into my head, I would turn to look for him so I could share it and hear his thoughts on the matter. I had to force myself not to message him each and every time he entered my mind, lest he think I was ridiculous and clingy.
Blessedly, I was able to hold myself together long enough so that he was the first one to message me rather than the other way around. I audibly squeaked when his message came in and it was a poem.
I was no longer able to contain myself when the messages were followed shortly by the delivery of a single zinnia—the flower to symbolize absence. It was perfect and beautiful and made my heart flutter madly.
Before the young man who delivered the flower exited the library, I stopped him and brought him back into the privacy of my office.
“The man who sent me this flower…” I said. “I’d like to give him something in return. Do you think it’s possible to have it delivered today?”
“A delivery won’t be necessary, ma’am.” He laughed pleasantly. “Mr. Fraser said he’s coming down to the shop in an hour or so to pick up more flowers.”
“Is he really?”
“Yep. I can give him whatever you like when he arrives.”
Curiosity got the better of me. “Do you know what kind of flowers he ordered?”
The young man just smiled and remained tight-lipped.
Fine, I thought. It was worth a shot.
I pulled more than enough money from my wallet and handed it over. “Do you know if the shop carries any aster? Or forget-me-nots?”
“I don’t think we have either in stock right now, but I can run to the nursery on my way back, if you’d like.”
“That would be completely out of your way.”
“Not at all. Not for Mr. Fraser, ma’am.”
“Oh? Fond of Jamie, are you?”
The young man blushed to the tips of his ears. “He helped me with something…personal.”
By the magnitude of the young man’s embarrassment, I assumed Jamie’s assistance had something to do with the gentleman's own love life. Perhaps Jamie suggested a few flowers and poems for a special someone for him too.
“If you’re sure it’s not too much trouble?”
“It’s no trouble at all.”
I gave him a little extra for his effort and enthusiasm and sent him off with a quickly scribbled note and a hope that Jamie would like the flowers.
Aster - for patience.
Forget-me-nots - for ailing memory.
“You’re glowing, Lady Jane.”
“That’s just perspiration, Joe. It’s warm in here.”
Joe chuckled knowingly as he stacked a pile of books on the return cart. He was wearing long sleeves and didn’t appear to be having any difficulty with the heat.
I supposed even the most oblivious of men would notice a flower delivery, and Joe was far from oblivious. Even if he missed that, he was sure to see me checking my phone repeatedly, waiting to see when Jamie received my flowers.
“How was our poet this weekend?” he asked.
“He was quite wonderful, if you must know.”
“Did he recite you any pretty verses?”
I immediately thought of Gwerful Mechain and Walt Whitman, of Hart Crane and Claude McKay, Wendy Lee and Lucille Clifton, and John Gondolf and Marcus Valerius Martialis. I blushed so badly that I actually did begin to perspire from excessive warmth. The sheer number of beautiful, filthy, sexy words that were whispered in my ears while making love was overwhelming to think of all at once…in public…at work…in front of Joe.
Another round of smug laughter filled the quiet building.
“Oh, hush.” I smacked his arm, unaccountably shy.
“Well,” he spoke through contented chuckles, “I’m glad you had a nice time…and I’m sure he did too.”
Thoroughly embarrassed, I took the last few books and stacked them on the cart before pushing it hurriedly away.
“You sure you don’t want help with that?” he called.
If we weren’t at the library, I would’ve opted for a more vulgar gesture than the abrupt wave I settled for, but as it was, I got my point across well enough—as evidenced by even more laughter.
Seeking a moment to myself, I pushed the cart toward the Romance section first. It was near the back of the building and the aisle was empty. I took my time replacing the books on the shelves, so I could avoid any more of Joe’s teasing. My lunch break was coming shortly, and I intended to make myself scarce until then.
It wasn’t so much that I was ashamed of what Jamie and I had done all weekend; it was more that I couldn’t have a thought about making love to Jamie without visibly melting into a giant puddle of goo, and I preferred to do my melting with Jamie in private whenever possible.
I pulled my phone out of my pocket to check Jamie’s messages once again, hoping for a response to my flowers.
Unfortunately, there was nothing there as of yet.
I sighed quite dramatically for a woman who had nothing to complain about in regards to lack of attention from her lover. It was only that I was beginning to miss him something fierce, and with a near two-hour lull in messages, I was beginning to feel irrationally neglected. I knew he had a meeting with Fergus in the morning, and then he had time set aside for writing a bit later. He couldn’t possibly get any work done if his whole life suddenly shifted to revolving entirely around me…much the way mine had with him.
I tried not to feel sad or disappointed as I reread the poem he’d sent me earlier that morning. I’d recognized it immediately as one of Pablo Neruda’s. The poet was quickly becoming one of my favorites, and I knew how much Jamie liked him, as well.
“Because of you, in gardens of blossoming
Flowers I ache from the perfumes of spring.
I have forgotten your face, I no longer
Remember your hands; how did your lips
Feel on mine?”
I repeated those last few lines over in my head and began foolishly, irrationally questioning if Jamie might well forget me by the end of this stupid, endlessly long day of existence. For God’s Sake, it wasn’t even noon, yet it felt like a week since I’d last seen him.
Just as I was beginning to worry that I might tear up with the despair of having to wait an entire half a day longer to see him again, a pair of large, familiar hands snaked around my waist from behind. One of those hands was holding a delicate, pink anemone.
I leaned back, knowing Jamie’s broad, warm chest would be there to support me. His subtle cologne danced in the air as his lips reached my ear and whispered, “I missed ye, Sassenach.”
“I thought you’d forgotten me by now.”
“Wi’ yer sweet forget-me-nots to heal my faulty memory? Never a chance.” He kissed my cheek, his beard scratching my more delicate skin.
“You got them? And the aster, too?”
“Aye. Although, I canna say the aster worked overly well. I didna have the patience to last all day wi’out seeing ye again.” His mouth latched onto the lobe of my ear, and he suckled sweetly.
“It’s been hours since you last messaged me.” I couldn’t hide the petulance in my tone. “You have too much patience, as far as I’m concerned.”
“So, ye missed me too, lass?” I could feel his smile against my cheek as his free hand began caressing my belly.
“You know I did. I was missing you before you left my sight.”
“Aye. Weel, we have an hour now. Joe said ye could take yer break a bit early. I brought ye lunch so we wouldna have to waste time finding a place to eat.”
“How efficient of you.”
He lifted the anemone up to present to me as he spoke near my ear, his voice a soft, romantic rumble. “These blooms take their name from the Greek word anemos, meaning wind, since they’re so short-lived. A symbol for the quick passing of time and a reminder to be ever mindful of the present.
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”
He lifted my chin up over my shoulder and sealed his mouth over mine, starting our eternal lunch hour in the best way possible. I had just enough wherewithal to remember that I wasn’t in a place where moaning and snogging were acceptable public behaviors, so I repressed the sounds threatening to escape my lips as Jamie’s tongue had its wicked way with me.
“We really shouldn’t do this here,” I weakly protested, allowing his hand to reach down into my trousers.
“There’s hardly anyone in the building, and none can see yer wee body behind mine.”
He pressed over my clit, and keeping my sounds at bay became all the more challenging. He didn’t tease in the slightest. Instead, he used all the knowledge of my body he’d accrued over the previous two days to work me up quickly.
“The cameras?” I asked, looking around, knowing they were scattered throughout the library.
“They canna see us here, dinna fash.”
I was too far gone to question him further. I began rocking my hips, moving his fingers just where I needed them. I didn’t know how long it took me. A minute? Ninety seconds? Perhaps it was the exhibitionism and the fear of getting caught, or maybe it was just Jamie and all he did to get me so fucking worked up. Whatever it was, in moments, he brought me to orgasm, coming in the palm of his hand. His fingers dipped inside, feeling my body squeeze around them.
“God, ye’re bonnie when ye come, Sassenach.”
I was still speechless as he slowly fingered me, and I hoped to God no one would come around and find us in this ridiculous, compromising position.
“Food, flowers, fingers, and…poetry.” I pulled his hand from my pants and turned to face him. “That’s a fine way to spend a Monday.”
“Aye. It is.” He kissed my forehead, smiling brightly. He helped me straighten my blouse with his dry hand while licking my cum off his wet fingers. “Just wait until ye try the hairst bree my sister made for us. It’s delicious. I left it up front wi’ Joe.”
“Then it’ll likely be gone by the time we get there.”
Jamie was looking at me happily, infatuation crystal clear in his eyes. “Yer cheeks are a bonnie shade of pink, and ye’ve a lovely shine to yer skin.”
This time, I could definitely say that shine was actually from perspiration.
I pulled him over to my office, stopping only to steal our lunch back from Joe, and closed the door behind us. I checked my watch. “We only have about fifty minutes left of this eternity. We better take advantage of it, lest you forget all about me again.”
“I remember ye well enough now, Sassenach.” He smirked, bringing his fingers to his nose and inhaling them deeply. “Perhaps well enough to get me through the rest of the day before I forget ye again.”
“Perhaps being forgettable serves my advantage if it means you’ll come back sooner rather than later?”
“I shall endeavor to forget ye at least two or three more times today. In fact, I’ll ruminate on forgetting yer bonnie curls and yer sweet red lips every chance I get.”
I kissed him with said lips and pouted. “This little eternity of ours isn’t long enough.”
“Oh, Claire. Five minutes with ye somehow feels as significant as a lifetime. It’s hard to recall a moment of my life wi’out ye in it.”
He gazed lovingly at me with his striking blue eyes that held the gentle warmth of pure sunshine, and in the brief moment when my heart skipped a beat, I realized time did have the ability to stop when one was in the right frame of mind.
I traced the delicate, fragrance-free petals of the anemone across his cheek and whispered the words of his poem back to him. “Heaven in a Wild Flower.”
If there were any other hours in that day…I later couldn’t recall.
The poems were from Pablo Neruda and William Blake (thanks to Lionel for introducing me to Blake in Absolution 😍)
Chapter 18: There is Another Sunshine
“There is another sky,
Ever serene and fair,
And there is another sunshine,
Though it be darkness there;”
“Haud yer wheesht, Janet,” said Jamie, interrupting his sister’s snotty and condescending recitation of Emily Dickinson. He dropped yet another bouquet of roses on the counter in front of her so she could box it for delivery.
She didn’t listen to him, nor did he expect her to.
“Never mind faded forests, Jamie,
Never mind silent fields -
Here is a little forest,
Whose leaf is ever green;
Here is a brighter garden,
Where not a frost has been;”
Jamie snagged the receipt out of her hand for the next bouquet, so he could hunt down the flowers for the order. Since Mother’s Day was one of Jenny’s busiest days of the year, he had volunteered to help out at the shop as a gift to her.
She ignored the roses she was meant to be packing and followed him deeper into the shop, still droning on.
“In its unfading flowers
I hear the bright bee hum:
Prithee, my brother,
Into my garden come!”
“I’ll no’ be meeting any of yer friends, Jenny Murray, so ye can—!”
“She’s no’ a friend. She’s a customer.”
“Whatever she is, ’tis of nae concern to me.” Jamie snagged three yellow roses and two stalks of blue delphinium. Jenny aided him in finding the bupleurum and solidago while he hunted down the athos.
“I just thought ye’d like the lass,” said Jenny, grabbing three large sunflowers to round out the bouquet. “She’s coming here in a few minutes to pick up some flowers for her mother, and—”
“No, Jen! I’m—”
“I just want ye to talk to her.”
“Ye canna ambush me like this. I’ve no interest in—”
“In what? Finding happiness again?” She picked up a sunflower and handed it to him. “There is another sunshine out there for ye brother, if ye’d only open yerself up to seeing it again.”
“I am happy. Ye ken I’m seeing someone.”
Jenny rolled her eyes. “Someone ye dinna see fit to talk to me about, much less bring around to meet the family.”
“We’ve no’ been dating long. Most people wait more than a couple of months to introduce a girlfriend to the family. Especially when…” He stopped himself, knowing the rest of his sentence would only earn him a smack upside his head—though how his tiny older sister could reach his head with those short arms was some sort of feminine witchcraft, and she never missed.
Jenny’s eyes were almost daring him to finish his uncharitable thought, but he knew better than to give her an excuse for violence.
Jamie shook his head and forced a laugh. He placed a hand on Jenny’s shoulder and bent to kiss her softly on the cheek. “Stop looking for a wife for me. Ye’ll no’ find a better lass than the one I have. I wouldna let God himself pry her from my hands.”
Jenny stepped back, eyes widening. “Ye’re in love, are ye?”
Jamie just smiled and inhaled the faint scent of the sunflower that resembled something more vegetal and resinous than most of the other blossoms in the shop.
“Bloody Christ. Love already? That was fast.” By Jenny’s singularly raised brow, he knew that she was shifting her worry from him being alone forever to fear that he’d fallen in love too fast. There would be no winning with her.
“Keep yer neb out of my business, a nighean. Ye’ll be all the happier for it, I promise ye.”
A soft bell sounded at the front of the shop, blessedly distracting Jamie’s sister from their wee tiff. Jenny blushed a little, and Jamie realized that the person entering the shop was likely the lass Jenny was trying to set him up with.
“Fine,” she whispered. “Ye dinna have to meet her. Stay back here until I get her rung up then, aye?”
She didn’t wait for acknowledgement before turning on her heel to deal with the customer. Jamie was left rolling his eyes, standing with the happy little sunflower in hand.
He heard his sister strike up conversation with the lass as he hid like a coward behind a display of snapdragons. He waited patiently, carefully inspecting the sunflower and wondering what Claire might think of it when he brought it home to her in a few hours’ time.
A familiar laugh had Jamie’s shoulders straightening and a shiver of gooseflesh running down his arms. It was a sweet and low giggle, interspersed with soft exclamations of delight. His heart thudded wildly, pulling him toward the lovely sound.
“I just don’t know how you do it, Jenny,” said Claire, looking over the bouquet. “It’s gorgeous!”
Claire buried her face in the mass of flowers. There were white tulips mixed with pink carnations and azaleas.
“I’m pleased ye like them.” Little endeared Jenny more to a person than their acknowledgement of her expert skill and exquisite taste. “The white tulips are for condolences, of course, and pink carnations for remembrance. The azaleas are for womanhood and love.”
“I adore them. And I’m sure my mother would’ve loved them too.”
“I’m sure she’s watching ye from heaven, Claire, delighted ye’re thinking of her fondly even though she’s gone.”
Claire smiled, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye, and Jamie’s heart nearly broke in half.
Jenny’s compassionate eyes moved from Claire to Jamie, who was now only a few feet away. A subtle I-told-you-so curve of his sister’s mouth told Jamie that he was making his infatuation with her customer more than obvious.
If only his sister knew just how infatuated he was. Perhaps he’d show her.
Jamie closed what was left of the gap between him and Claire, his proximity startling her out of her mesmerization with the flowers. She jumped when he touched her arm.
“Oh! Hullo,” she said, a smile spreading across her face and filling him up with the warmth of the afternoon sun.
The fragrance of her flowers was thick in the air between them, contributing to his feelings of pleasant intoxication at Claire’s unexpected presence. He bent down and placed his mouth over her soft lips that were spread wide with joy.
A sweet, happy sigh filled his ears, and he knew it had to be coming from her, because he was far too breathless to make a sound.
He began pulling back, but Claire’s lips followed as though they hadn’t quite had enough. A humming laugh escaped him, and he kissed her once more.
Her lashes fluttered open dreamily, and her golden eyes crinkled with a soul deep smile. “What on earth are you doing here?” She then noticed the sunflower in his hand and bit her lip to try to stop her smile from growing wider.
“Aye, Sassenach. It’s for you,” he shifted his gaze to her bouquet, “but seeing as yer hands are full, I’ll carry it for ye for now.”
“Thoughtful man.” She looked around the store. “I thought you said you were going to help your sister with a few things today. Is she here with you?”
Claire’s eyes stopped on Jenny, who was watching the two lovers with wide eyes and a hand covering her mouth in pleasant surprise.
“Oh my,” laughed Claire. “Jenny Murray is your sister? I want to say I should’ve known, but the two of you look nothing alike.” Upon closer inspection, she qualified, “Except your eyes. You have the same eyes.”
“Our father’s eyes,” said Jamie.
“So ye’re the lass my brother has been raiding my shop to find flowers for every single day for the last few months?”
“No’ every day,” grumbled Jamie.
“He’s a bit mad, isn’t he?” said Claire, her smile revealing their folie à deux.
“Oh, aye. Never does anything halfway, our lad. Ye’ll no’ believe it, but I’ve been trying to convince him to come meet ye, but the stubborn arse wouldna do it, besotted as he was by the lass he’s been seeing.”
Claire looked up at Jamie from beneath her lashes, more than a little pleased. That look made him very eager to pull her far away from the prying eyes of his sister to show her just how besotted he was.
“Weel, ye’ll have to come to dinner one day and meet the rest of the family. I ken my husband would like to know the lass who stole his best mate’s heart.”
“I’d love that.”
Jamie cleared his throat to interrupt, not wanting Jenny to pressure Claire into anything before she was ready. Blessedly, his sister not only got the hint, but acquiesced—she really must have been fond of Claire to inhibit her own agenda.
“Go on, lad,” Jenny encouraged her brother. “Take the lass home and help her celebrate her mother. I’ll finish up here myself.”
Jamie hesitated, knowing he’d be leaving her with hours of work on one of the busiest days of the year. “I dinna want to abandon ye.”
“Ye canna think I let ye help me for the sake of productivity, Jamie Fraser. I only agreed to yer assistance because I kent Claire was coming to pick up her flowers and I wanted ye to meet her. I’ll get things done much faster wi’out ye in my way.” Jenny walked around the counter to give Jamie a motherly kiss on the cheek before she began corralling them out the door.
“It was a pleasure seeing you again, Jenny,” said Claire as she stepped outside.
“The pleasure was all mine.” Jenny pulled Jamie down to whisper in his ear before shoving him unceremoniously out her door. “I dinna want to say I told ye so, brother—”
“Yes, ye do.”
“But I did, in fact, tell ye that ye’d like her.”
Jamie snorted and kissed the crown of Jenny’s head before joining Claire outside. Claire was waiting for him, a bouquet of azaleas, tulips, and carnations spilling out of her arms. It was a soft, delicate arrangement that seemed to fit the occasion nicely.
“So, this is where you get all your flowers from? Your sister?”
“Most of them. Aye. Though some I’ve had to track down elsewhere if Jenny couldna find what I needed.”
“I can’t believe I never put the two together.” She shook her head ruefully.
“We dinna look much alike, as ye said.” Jamie wrapped an arm around Claire’s waist and began leading her in the general direction of her apartment. “I resemble my mother’s family, while Jenny is the spitting image of my father.”
“I bet your parents miss having the two of you close by.”
“Aye,” he snorted, “and my ma isna afraid to tell me so every chance she gets…repeatedly.”
Despite his teasing, Claire heard the affection in his tone. “You miss them too.”
“Aye. I’ll be visiting next month when I fly to Scotland for promo for the book, but that willna be enough for Ma. She’d have us all living there at the house if she could. She’s nearly as pushy as my sister, if ye can believe it. Only, my sister inherited the Fraser stubbornness along wi’ the MacKenzie entitlement.”
Claire just smiled, clearly not seeing any faults in Jamie’s family. “Jenny told me once she brought the family business here to Boston. Does that mean your parents are florists in Scotland?”
“Aye. Da is a farmer, for the most part. My brother Willie helps him quite a bit, while Ma runs the flower business wi’ wee Rabbie.”
“Quite the family affair.”
Claire grabbed Jamie’s arm and began pulling him away from the direction of her apartment and toward a small park not far away. She led him down a curving pathway and to a bench that sat under a crape myrtle in full bloom. Jamie happened to know the pale color of those particular blossoms were referred to as Rhapsody in Pink. They matched Claire’s bouquet perfectly.
“Tell me about yer mother,” asked Jamie, bending to inhale the pleasant scent of the blossoms in her arms. “What do ye remember of her?”
“I remember very little, to be honest. Warm eyes and a delicate smile. That’s all.”
“Whisky eyes? Like yers?”
She nodded. “Though my dark hair is like my father’s.”
Jamie wrapped an arm around Claire, pulling her close to his side. They sat relaxed on the bench as several families took time away from their Mother’s Day celebrations so their children could run and play and get out some of their abundant energy.
Jamie tried to imagine Claire as a young child, similar in age to one of the little girls chasing after her older siblings. Claire must’ve been about that small when she lost her parents. He couldn’t imagine what it would’ve been like for the puir lassie to be so alone, no brothers or sisters to help her through. Thank God she had her uncle.
“You know,” she spoke wistfully, eyes not on the children, but on their mother who was watching a short distance away, “Lamb never told me anything unpleasant about my parents. He only spoke of the good.”
“I’m glad he didna malign their memory to their only child.”
“I just meant that I was so young when they died that I remember little more than how they made me feel when I was with them. I’m unable to hold a full and clear picture of them. I only know of the selected pieces of information filtered through Lamb’s own biased memory.
“So, when you ask me to tell you about my parents, I can say that my mother had golden eyes and my father had dark features and curly hair, and I can say that I felt safe and loved in their arms, but objectively, that’s all I truly know of them. None of their faults or imperfections. The image of them I hold in my head is of a perfect mother and a perfect father, and there is no one else still alive who knew them that could dispute my creative assertion. They get to forever be the kindest, funniest, smartest, most charming people to ever exist, entirely absent of fault.”
Claire looked up at Jamie with a sad smile. “Funny that the only way to have perfect parents is to never really have them at all.”
Jamie’s heart ached at her loss, and he sent up a quick and silent prayer to God, thanking him for a life of knowing his parents—quirks, faults, and all.
“I found a poem this morning,” Claire went on. “It was written by Lola Ridge. It’s called Mother.” Jamie had never heard of it before. He watched Claire take out her phone and pull up the verse on her browser to read aloud.
“Your love was like moonlight
turning harsh things to beauty,
so that little wry souls
reflecting each other obliquely
as in cracked mirrors . . .
beheld in your luminous spirit
their own reflection,
transfigured as in a shining stream,
and loved you for what they are not.
You are less an image in my mind
than a luster
I see you in gleams
pale as star-light on a gray wall . . .
evanescent as the reflection of a white swan
shimmering in broken water.”
“It’s beautiful, Claire.”
She nodded leaning into Jamie. He squeezed her in comforting reassurance, kissing the top of her head. They sat quietly for some time, watching the children play, laugh, and argue as their mother watched on.
“I crave it, you know,” she whispered. “Being a mother. Perhaps I just want that mother-child relationship with my own children so long denied me by the loss of her.”
“Ye’ll be a wonderful mother, Claire. I ken it.” His heart swelled at the thought of her mothering his children. “And I canna bloody wait to see it.”
They stayed at the park long after the children went home and more arrived to take their place. The steady stream of the bairns' shrieks and laughter drowned out the other more unpleasant sounds of the city. The only other thing they heard was the wind rustling a rhapsody in pink through the branches above.
Jamie soon convinced Claire to let him take her home so he could make her something decent to eat, but it was only with promises that they would practice the subtle art of conception for the rest of the afternoon—no matter that Claire had an IUD and no intention of having it removed for several years—that she felt up to leaving the park.
When they arrived at her apartment, they placed the bouquet on the kitchen table, so its soft, comforting presence would fill the whole space with warmth. Jamie took a smaller vase and placed the sunflower inside, then set it on Claire’s nightstand.
“There is another sunshine,” he whispered to himself, thinking of the future he and Claire had planned, hoping to one day give her the family she desired.
“It’s lovely, Jamie,” she said, as she peeled off her clothes and crawled into bed. “They’re such happy flowers. Like a burst of pure sunshine.”
“Aye. They are.”
She reached out a hand to pull him into bed along with her. “Like you.”
Chapter 19: Fireflies in the Garden
Jamie is about to go on a business trip overseas, so he decides to steal Claire away for a weekend before they're forced to spend a grueling 2 weeks apart.
“Where the bloody hell are you taking me, James Fraser?” I asked, handing my bag over to him to put in the back of the car he’d borrowed from Ian.
“Ye’ll see when we get there.”
“Well, seeing as how we’ll be back to work on Monday, we can’t be going too far. It’s definitely not Scotland.”
“Not yet. No.”
No. It wouldn't have been Scotland. The whole purpose of this little weekend getaway was that we wanted to spend time together somewhere special before Jamie took a solo business trip to London, Edinburgh, and Paris over the next couple of weeks. It would be the first time we were apart for longer than eight hours, and neither of us were looking forward to it.
He opened the door for me before moving around to the driver’s side. I watched him squeeze his long body into the car with plenty of grunts and groans about Ian’s choice of tiny vehicle. I stretched my arms and legs out comfortably, ensuring my sigh of contentment was audible to my oversized companion.
After one last Scottish grunt, he started the car and pulled away from the curb. It took a moment for his phone to sync up with the car’s bluetooth, and during that time, I wondered what kind of music Jamie would choose for our trip. He had been spending a lot of time writing at my apartment, and when he did so, it was usually while listening to something wordless and classical. I wondered if I’d be forced to endure Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy or Ronald Binge’s Scottish Rhapsody for the entirety of our mini vacation.
The phone synced, and Dua Lipa came through the speakers, loud and enthusiastic. Jamie’s ears turned red as he lowered the volume, but he didn’t change the artist.
He reached over, placing a hand on my thigh and made his way to the interstate. I rested my head back against the seat and watched him expertly navigate traffic while driving with one hand.
I had grown more than accustomed to his big, solid presence in my life, and we’d only been seeing each other a few months. My heart ached at the thought of being without him for two weeks, as necessary as it was.
“I’m going to miss you,” I said, already despairing at the enormous void he’d be leaving behind.
“It pains me to leave ye, Sassenach.” His grip on my leg tightened. “Ye sure ye canna come wi’ me?”
“Next time. I promise. We’ll be fully staffed by then.”
“D’ye recall what I told ye back before we kissed? I sent ye some messages about longing.”
“Of course, I remember them all. Which ones are you referring to exactly?”
“I told ye that if the day ever came that I could touch ye and kiss ye as I pleased, then my agony would finally be sated, replaced—”
“Replaced with the exquisite bliss of desire fulfilled,” I finished for him. “You said you meant to savor your hunger for me, and the happiness that followed when we were finally together.”
“Aye. I was wrong, ye ken.”
“It doesna ever seem to stop…the wanting. No matter if we’re drowning in bliss…the hunger is still there. I’m never sated.” His grip on my leg was painfully tight as his eyes flashed to me briefly. They were a little sad, and his voice cracked when he spoke. “I dinna want to leave ye.”
I wrapped my arms around his bicep and kissed his shoulder, comforted by the depth of his love for me. “By how mopey we are, you’d think neither of us had ever felt heartache before. And even though I know it’s foolish, it feels like the sun will set in the east with you when you leave, and it won’t rise again until you’re back.”
He didn’t take his eyes off the road, but his thumb grazed over the soft skin of my thigh as he mumbled softly:
“I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
“The dark nights were cold and lonely wi’out ye, my Sassenach, the clouds and rain hiding any trace of light. But ye’re wi’ me now, even if far away…constant, like the stars. So,” he turned to offer a soft smile, “if things get a bit stormy again, I’ll take heart to ken ye’re there, and it willna seem so hopeless anymore.”
“You know, over the last year or so with Frank, there were many times we’d be sitting right next to each other, and I still felt alone. I can’t imagine ever feeling like that with you.”
“If ye do, have Ian take me out back and beat some sense into me for letting it happen, aye?”
“Are you sure Ian is the right person for the job? I’d think Jenny would take great pleasure in setting you straight.”
“Aye. Too much. Leave it to Ian. He kens well enough how to deal with a hard heided Fraser. He’s been at it a long time wi’ my sister.”
I smacked him for his impertinence, as his sister would expect me to do in her stead. He laughed, snagging my hand to bring it up to his lips. “I’ll try no’ to be sae glum at the thought of our weeks apart, at least for this trip. No promises once I board that plane.”
“I expect you to be at least half as miserable as me. I don’t want to feel this tragic on my own.”
“You’ll ne’er be alone in yer loneliness again, mo ghràidh.”
I stood, feet sinking into the warm sands of Nauset Beach, staring out at the Atlantic Ocean. The winds of Cape Cod were blowing my hair in a dozen directions, tickling my face as I watched the waves break on the shore.
“It’s beautiful, Jamie.”
He wrapped himself around me from behind, his large, warm body blocking some of the wind. I sank back into him, mindful of the pleasure of letting everything else in life go…if only for a weekend.
“If ye squint hard, I think ye can see Scotland.”
“Those are only storm clouds far off in the distance, my lad. Not mountains.”
“Ye sure? I think I smell haggis in the air.”
“Well, I suppose about 95% of Scotland is made up of rain, so that very well could be a bit of the Highlands.” I pointed to the largest of the clouds. “Maybe a chunk of Skye over there. Glasgow. Aberdeen.”
He reached down and pinched the bit of my arse hanging out of my bikini. I squeaked and turned in his arms. “That had nothing to do with chastisement! You’re just looking for an excuse to touch my bum.”
The cheeky bastard smirked down at me as though daring me to give him another excuse to do so again. His hands circled my waist, and I could feel the twitchiness of them, as though he was fighting the impulse to grab a couple handfuls of his favorite part of my anatomy.
God, he was beautiful. The playful curve of his mouth completely did me in, and I melted forward into his bare chest, rethinking our decision to leave our little room at the inn for a few hours on the beach. Being nearly naked in public was hardly a good idea for the present state of our relationship.
At the sound of my throaty whimper, his arousal grew swift and firm against my belly. “We should ha’ just stayed in the city,” he grumbled, burying his face in my hair. “It’s no’ too late to go back.”
“Don’t you dare take me away from here. I want to make love to you with the sound of the ocean outside the window.”
“We just did that before we came out here.”
I shrugged and pulled away. “I want to do it in the starlight as well.”
“Fine. But for every bit of torture ye inflict on me in that rigging, just ken I’ll visit it back on ye tenfold this evening.”
With an offer like that, I couldn’t resist sinking down to the blanket he’d laid out for us and holding up the sunscreen. “Then I may as well do my worst.”
I tossed the bottle at his feet, then laid back, ready for application. There was a good degree of mumbling and cursing in a variety of languages, most of which I didn’t understand, though his tone was not at all put off. I rather thought by the anticipatory excitement in his voice that he was in the process of developing a plan for his moonlit vengeance as he knelt over me and squeezed a healthy amount of lotion into his hands.
He started with my arms, overly thorough as he always was when it came to touching me. Then he moved to my face, removing my sunglasses and being careful not to get too near my eyes. He glanced around as he squirted more lotion on his hands, and I knew he was assessing to see how much of an audience we had. With an umbrella on one side of us and my bag and a chair on the other, we did have some bit of privacy carved out on this very public beach.
And very quickly, his hands moved from my shoulders to my chest, dipping beneath my suit to massage the lotion into my breasts.
“Protecting my nipples from the harsh UV rays?”
“Canna be too careful.”
“I hope you like the taste of SPF 50. With the sheer amount you’re applying, I won’t be able to wash it all off for a week.”
“Ye’re just so lovely and pale, Sassenach. I would begrudge the sun for turning yer skin red; only I am allowed to do so between the sheets.”
“Jealous? You?” I smiled, remembering the note he wrote long ago that I was never meant to see when he thought I was still with Frank. “He hath a daily beauty in his life that makes me ugly.”
“Mmphm. Ye’ve no’ seen the half of it,” he grumbled, rubbing sunscreen over my belly. “I was ready to break the man’s neck for touching ye that day at the library.”
I reached up to smooth out the knot his frown created on his forehead. “There was no need. I was yours already, though we hadn’t officially met.”
My touch and my words softened the hard lines of his face. He turned his head to kiss my palm before moving on to lotion my legs. “You were mine then. At least, that’s how I thought of ye—as mine. I couldna bear the thought of anyone else’s hands on ye. You wi’ yer lovely pale skin, and soft, fat arse.”
His hands massaged deep into my thighs, especially in dark places the sun would surely never see. I couldn’t help purring like a kitten covered in cream.
“Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs,” he muttered, “when you surrender, you stretch out like the world.”
“What poem is that?”
“It’s Neruda. It’s actually a poem about the earth using woman as a metaphor—quite tragic, but so fucking sensual.”
“Tell me more…the sensual parts.”
As I hoped would happen, Jamie’s touch became even more sensuous as his deep voice fell into Neruda’s seductive rhythm.
“But now the hour of revenge falls, and I love you.
Body of skin, of moss, of firm and thirsty milk!
And the cups of your breasts! And your eyes full of absence!
And the roses of your mound! And your voice slow and sad!
Body of my woman, I will live on through your marvelousness.
My thirst, my desire without end, my wavering road!
Dark river beds down which the eternal thirst is flowing,
and the fatigue is flowing, and the grief without shore.”
His hands were on the tops of my thighs, but his long thumbs slipped under my suit, teasing my soft, outer labia. We stared at each other, bodies melting in a way they had no right to with the cool ocean breeze on our skin. Jamie’s thumb traced down my hot, moistened lips, as though daring me to spread my legs and let him inside.
I would’ve done so if the wind hadn’t carried on it the not-so-distant squeals of children at play. “You’ve yet to do my back.”
“If ye think for a moment, my Sassenach, that I ever forget yer backside, then ye hardly ken me at all.”
Mesmerized as I was by Jamie’s touch, I hardly moved for the twenty minutes he massaged every inch of my back, and backside, that he could on a public beach without getting us both arrested. He informed me he had a most eloquent poem for my arse that he intended to save for a more private occasion when he could pay it proper attention.
But the real joy of the afternoon was repaying him the favor. My hands were far smaller than his, and his body had a much larger surface area to cover, so it took me twice as long to ensure he was protected from the sun. He watched me as I “worked,” with his sweet, flirtatious eyes, always twinkling with a hint of mischief. He was absurdly aroused the entire time, impossible to miss when he wore so little.
When I finished, he pulled me down for a few dozen slow and lazy kisses, sunblock and salty sea thick in the air. Stray bits of sand found their way between our bodies, reminding us of where we were with every rub of skin on skin.
“Tell everyone to go away, Sassenach,” he mumbled against my lips. “I should like to have ye on this beach right now.”
“I’m not sure they’ll listen to me.”
“Use yer librarian voice. The fierce one. None who hear it can disobey.”
I snorted and smacked his bum, trying to imagine myself clearing off a beach so Jamie could have his way with me in the beautiful June sunshine.
“Next time, I’ll have to find us a private beach,” he grumbled, rising to his knees. He put out a hand to help me sit up. “I need a dip in the cold water. Ye’ll come wi’ me?”
As if I could refuse him anything, so intoxicated as I was by his kisses. He pulled me to my feet and led me to the water. It was much colder than I anticipated, and had to stop when the peak of the waves hit my thighs. Jamie, on the other hand, kept going, dipping his whole body in an oncoming wave, as though it was as warm as a hot spring.
“You’re mad!” I called, shivering as a wave rose up and grazed my belly.
He shook the water out of his face like a dog and turned back to me smiling. “Ye’re a delicate wee thing, are ye?” He grabbed my hand and pulled me into a tight hug—for the first time since I met him, his body was much colder than mine.
“It’s fucking freezing, you bloody Scot!” I tried to squirm out of his grasp, but he wouldn’t let me go. “How can you handle the cold like that? You can’t be human.”
“Mebbe I’m not. There were rumors growing up that my da was a selkie.”
It took only moments for my skin to adjust to the frigid temperatures…or maybe it was only that Jamie felt so bloody nice when he was soaking wet. My limbs quickly stopped fighting and began wrapping themselves around him, finding warmth against his skin where only moments before there was none.
“How d’ye make it so easy, Claire?”
“How do I make what so easy?”
“Should love be difficult?”
“I never thought so, but it always turned out that way…until you.”
I thought of Frank, and how hard loving him often was. How tiring. He demanded so much of me, and it was never bloody enough. I couldn’t make him happy, no matter how hard I tried. It took a long time for me to grasp the futility of my efforts. He was determined to find fault in everything I did, and even if I could give him what he wanted, be who he demanded me to be, his desires would then change, and all would be for naught.
Jamie asked nothing of me, save to bask in the joy of being with me. He wasn’t looking for the worst in me, because he was too busy enjoying the best.
He was right. It was easy loving each other.
“Do you think it will always be this way for us?”
He stared at me, eyes a bit sad, a bit serious. I watched them turn red around the edges as they misted over. He nodded with absolute certainty, then kissed me thoroughly, bodies rising and falling mindlessly with the waves of comfortable, warm water.
“What are we doing out here?” I asked as his teeth scraped the line of my jaw. “I need you, Jamie. Take me back to bed.”
“Ye dinna want to swim any longer?”
“No,” I kissed him, deep and hungry. “I just want you.”
We didn’t leave our bed for the rest of the afternoon, not even to find food. We had bowls of chowder delivered to our door, and we paused our love making and napping only long enough to nourish our bodies to do it all over again.
Just before sunset, Jamie’s lips trailed down my spine, rousing me from an orgasm-induced slumber.
“You can’t possibly have the strength for more,” I protested.
“Let’s get dressed, lass. I’d like to walk wi’ ye as the sun goes down.”
I was about to object again, but I could feel the excitement in his body at whatever it was he had planned. I rolled over to find him smiling down on me, already dressed. He was lucky his face was so fucking adorable when he was happy.
I forced myself up and found a maxi dress to put on that didn’t require me to wear anything beneath it. It was donned with Jamie watching, hoping to entice him to bring me back to the room quickly, after he got this bloody walk out of his system.
“God, ye’re bonnie, Sassenach.” He took my hand and led me outside, stopping only to grab his Fraser blanket along the way.
We walked along the shoreline, letting the waves caress our feet. I tried to remember another time in my life where I felt so happy, so at peace, but nothing came to mind. It only made the coming weeks that much more daunting. It took all the restraint I had to stop myself from begging him to give up his career so he could stay home and be available to me and my every whim.
“Ye’re thinking about our time apart, are ye no’?” I looked up to find him smiling down at me. “Ye’re gripping my hand wi’ all yer might, like ye’re trying to keep me close to yer side.”
I tried to relax my hand, but Jamie just chuckled and just released it altogether, only to put his arm around my shoulder and tuck me comfortably into his side.
“Come up here. This should be a nice spot.” He walked me up to the top of a little sand dune that had a lovely view of the ocean on one side, and the tall grass on the other.
“For what? The sunset? I think we’ve already missed it.”
“No’ the sun. Come.”
He sat us on the ground and gathered me into his arms, wrapping the blanket around us like a cocoon. “It gets brisk after dark.”
“How long do you intend for us to stay out here? You’re not planning to sleep on this dune, are you? I would’ve worn something a bit more…well, a bit more.”
“Dinna fash, mo nighean donn. We’re only waiting for the dark. Trust I’ll keep ye comfortable and warm.”
And it was as simple as that. I no longer had any concerns, so long as I was with Jamie. I settled my head against his chest and savored his gentle caresses up and down my arm. The ocean always seemed loudest at night, as though wanting those nearby to remember it was the most dangerous beast on the planet, no matter that the lack of light meant you could hardly see it.
“I should like to sleep under the stars wi’ ye one day, lass. Mebbe in Scotland, should ye come wi’ me in the summer months next year.”
“Do you miss home?”
“Aye. I’ll be happy to return next week, save missing you, of course.”
“I miss my family most. Da used to take us camping every summer. Made sure we kent how to build a shelter and a fire if e’er we got lost. How to find food and water. And at night, he’d bring us bairns around the campfire and tell us stories. Some stories he heard from his father as a bairn himself, and some he made up on the spot to teach us a lesson.”
“Got your penchant for storytelling from him?”
“Oh aye. Few can spin a yarn as well as my da.”
“Seeing as how you’ve made a living doing so, I’m sure he’s very proud of how you put that particular gene to use.”
Jamie chuckled and nuzzled my hair, quickly becoming distracted by whatever scent he caught there. He breathed deeply, over and over, pleasure humming in his chest with every exhale.
My eyes moved over the darkened landscape. We were surrounded by the sounds of nature: the endless ocean on one side and the chirps and buzzing of insect nightlife coming from the grass on the other.
Just as I was about to comment on the level of noise, I was distracted by a flash of greenish-yellow light in the distance.
“Did you see that?” I asked, sitting up and pointing toward the source.
“The wee lightning bug in the grass? Oh, aye.”
Another flash of light danced a bit closer, then another farther away.
“I had no idea they were out here. Is this why we came out tonight?”
“They’re bonnie wee bugs, lass, but no. They’re no’ why we’re here.”
I turned to face him, his face a pretty grey in the moonlight. He smiled sweetly and caressed my cheek.
“Gi’ it a moment. Enjoy their shiny wee arses in the meantime.”
As time went on, more and more fireflies lit the landscape. It was a thrilling sight to see, especially since it had been so long since I’d had a chance to do so. Not since my travels with Uncle Lamb. Frank didn’t care to spend much time in nature.
“Do they have lightning bugs in Scotland?”
“Not much. They like it a bit warmer. I spent a good bit of time in the south of France, and there are a few places there where you can find them in abundance. Different color though.”
It was all so magical, little sparks of life in the apparent nothingness. It reminded me of something I’d read in the library long ago. “Life is a spark between two identical voids,” I whispered, “the darkness before birth and the one after death.”
“Aye. That’s the thing about them…how quickly they fade…”
“Some might say it’s what makes them special.”
Jamie turned my chin up to meet his gaze, the light of the fireflies flashing in his eyes. “I prefer something more constant…more substantial.”
“What do you mean?” And then I saw the sky behind him and sucked in a breath. I hadn’t seen anything like it since I was a child.
I took in the glorious sight of the starry night sky, the unthinkably vast Milky Way cutting through the darkness, yet only a blip of all the known universe. The magic of it was reflected in the dark sea below, giving the illusion of the heavens embracing us on this tiny sand dune on the pale blue dot.
A rare feeling of majestic awe grabbed me by the throat, a feeling only present in moments when one was reminded of their own beautiful insignificance in the grand scheme of existence. What were my trivial worries in life when glimpsing Elysium?
Jamie’s rumbling voice filled my ears and brought tears to my eyes.
“Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can't sustain the part.
“Love was never easy before ye, Claire. The burning I felt in my heart was little more than a spark shorter-lived than the life of a glowing gnat. But with you, I burn with the heat of a thousand suns. Yer light doesna flicker in and out of existence. It’s there, constant and sure, whether I’m near to ye or far. I was once enamored with the flash of temporary light, but after seeing you, it was never clearer that it couldna sustain the part. Ye’re so easy to love, my lass, because everything about ye is exactly as it seems. Ye’re no’ playing the part of a star…ye are one to the depths of yer heart. My true, honest, faithful lass.”
Jamie was finally able to make love to me on the beach that day, though it wasn’t in the light of our planet’s sun, but the starshine of a billion other suns twinkling off in the distance. He said he liked the silver of moonlight on my skin better than the burning of the sun's rays anyway.
In the morning, I woke to a delivery of flowers, white favourite daffodils. Jamie said they were for truth and authenticity. Such a sweet, happy flower.
Acquainted with the Night and Fireflies in the Garden are Robert Frost’s poems. The sparks in the void quote is from my favorite Existentialist, Irvin Yalom.
“That makes two of us.”
“Claire,” he warned. His deep voice over the phone warmed my insides like a good, strong whisky. “I’m about to give a bloody talk to a few hundred students. Ye canna inform me of the humid conditions in yer pants and expect me to have the sense to perform my job with any degree of competency.”
“I’m sure they’ll appreciate the breadth and depth of your…work.”
“I’ll be arrested for crimes of indecency.”
“Then come back to Boston and be indecent with me.”
“Dinna temp me. This trip has already been three days too long.”
“You’ve only been gone for two.”
“I ken.” He huffed a frustrated sigh. “How is yer work today, Sassenach?” His artificially lightened tone suggested he was trying to distract himself.
“Aside from a toddler who just spilled his lunch on the carpet, everything’s been quiet.”
“Oh God. What was it? Hopefully nothing too awful.”
“Just some fruit and crackers. It would’ve been a quick clean up, but then he had to go and stomp all over it, smashing the orange slices and crumbs into the rug.”
“Of course, he did. What about Geordie? Has he been treating ye well?”
“Oh, he’s all right. Though I do miss Joe being in charge. Everyone’s blood pressure was better for it.”
“He’s no’ hassling ye, is he?”
“What if he was? Could I induce you to take a flight back and defend my honor?”
“Ye ken I would.”
“I know, bloody man. But the answer to your question is no. He’s not. No more than usual anyway.”
“I better get back to work,” I said regretfully. “I want to get this mess cleaned up before Geordie sees it and tries to ban children from having food in the library ever again. Good luck with your talk, not that you need it.”
“If I’m no’ banned from the university by the end of it.”
I giggled quietly. “I’ll call you tonight when I get home. I love you.”
“I love ye, my Sassen—”
“Oranges in the stacks?!” said Geordie, staring at the mess on the floor. “For God’s sake. It’s not even noon!”
“Goodbye, Jamie.” I hung up the phone and sighed heavily before sending Geordie off to the breakroom to practice his diaphragmatic breathing.
Work days were all the longer when there was no Jamie waiting for me at the end of them.
I called him directly after work, but he didn’t answer. He likely was asleep or having late drinks with some of the professors, and maybe even a few grad students, from the university. I tried not to imagine the hordes of young people slipping their phone numbers into his pockets, completely enamored with his intelligence, charisma, and humor. I couldn’t blame them; I would’ve done the same.
I thought it might not have been a coincidence that Jamie had taken me out to the beach to see the stars before he left, regaling me with poetry about authenticity. He wanted me to know he’d be true to me while gone, and he trusted that I’d do the same.
For the first time, I considered with astonishment just how secure I felt in his absence. There was no way on God’s green earth Frank would have remained faithful to me when going on a business trip out of the country while drowning in the affection and admiration of hundreds of young women. Frank didn’t even have half the readership of Jamie, nor the godlike face and body, yet I’d seen young students throw themselves at him while I was standing right there, knowing full well I was his wife. I could only imagine the lengths to which some of them would go to get into Jamie’s bed.
Perhaps it was a good thing I didn’t go with him and missed witnessing all that mess. I was content in the happy little bubble we created, spending all our time together either at the apartment or finding ways to avoid public indecency. I wasn’t sure how comfortable I was at the thought of him having some degree of fame.
When I arrived home, those thoughts were pushed from my mind by a few surprises waiting on my doorstep. There was a bag of home cooked food—clearly Jenny’s doing—a note sealed in an envelope, and a gorgeous vase of flowers. I brought them all inside for the space to truly appreciate them.
I started with the flowers, blue hyacinth. Usually, Jamie only left me with one blossom, but this vase was overflowing with a bouquet of them. Their fragrance was sweet, robust, and earthy, in the best way.
I turned my attention to the vase, a work of art all on its own. It was magnificent. Obviously handblown glass with elegant craftsmanship, it was decorated with transparent blue forget-me-nots and luscious green stems. There was a quality of flowing movement in its composition that made it feel like a breeze was blowing through the flowers in the glass.
“Gorgeous,” I breathed.
I brought them into the sitting room where they would be on display in the best natural light. I entertained a brief, wistful daydream of a country home with large windows and a half dozen vases full of flowers.
I retrieved the letter, smiling at the sturdy construction of the envelope that matched Jamie’s stationary. It contained a short note and, of course, a poem.
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
- e. e. cummings
I miss you already,
I sit here in bed, writing
this note, your naked body
only inches away, and
I MISS YOU
with a powerful,
before I’ve even gone.
The anticipation of your loss has
me lying here, breathing in
your scent, touching
… your skin
… your hair
with my whole body.
I will take the memory of you
with me on the palms of my hands
and the curves of my hips.
I will take the love you hold for me
and carry it in my heart. I know it’s here
already, because it’s so damn full,
like it’ll burst with the next thrum.
… or the next.
… or the one after that.
Know, my love, that every time my heart
beats while I’m gone, it will remind me
of you and the exquisite pain of your loss,
however long- or short-lived.
Blue hyacinth for constancy, sincerity.
Forget-me-nots in pleading that you will
forget me never. You can’t, of course, because
I carry your heart with me.
… I carry it in my heart.
I’m yours always, my Sassenach,
The food was fresh and warm, and didn’t require any additional heating. There was enough in the containers to last me half the week. I imagined Jamie gave instructions to Jenny and Ian about the delivery long before his flight.
Sweet, thoughtful man.
All throughout dinner, I thought of calling him again, but I didn’t want to badger him while he was working or sleeping or having fun. He was cramming three weeks of work into half the time for my sake, and I didn’t need to interfere any more than I already had.
Instead, I sent him a picture of the flowers in my sitting room and a heartfelt thank you for all he’d done. I forced myself to find distractions, cleaning the apartment, watching television, and reading books. I tried to stay away from refreshing his Instagram in search of any possible updates, not that he was wont to post much on social media.
I decided to end my evening early, lying in bed with a book of poems by Robert Frost, trying not to feel too down about going to sleep without a goodnight wished by my favorite person.
I looked over at his empty space, and I longed for his warm body. I missed how he often fell asleep reading, sitting up against the pillows, and how he’d wake up from that position, toss his book aside, then gather me into his arms before dozing off again.
I turned to the clock on the nightstand and did the math. It would be so very late for him there—or early, depending on how one thought about it. Either he was still out enjoying some of that hard earned fame—a thought that was more than a little unpleasant, if I was being honest with myself—or he went to bed without talking to me—I didn’t much like that idea either. Or worse, maybe something happened to him.
No matter what the reason for not calling, it was just so out of character that it seemed perfectly justifiable to try calling him again. Hopefully, he wouldn’t be too angry if I woke him up or interrupted him with his friends and colleagues. He wasn’t Frank, for God’s sake.
I picked up my phone and called one more time, not sure what I was hoping to see or hear when he answered. It rang a good number of times, and I was preparing to hang up without leaving a voicemail.
“Mmphm. Hello?” he mumbled groggily into the phone.
“Did I wake you? I’m sorry.”
“Dinna be sorry.” His bed creaked through the line, and I could hear him sitting up. “Oh, Jesus. Is that the time?”
“I just hadn’t heard back from you, so I thought I’d call and make sure you’re ok.”
“I missed yer call? God. I meant to just lie down and rest my eyes, but that was seven bloody hours ago.”
“I should’ve let you keep sleeping.”
“No. God no. I wanted to talk to ye.” I could hear him rubbing his face to wake himself up.
“How did your talk go?”
“Och, fine. Like every other, but in French.” He groaned sweetly as he stretched himself out. “I’d rather hear about yer day.”
“It was fine. It dragged on without you here. The highlight was coming home to find the most beautiful vase of flowers I’ve ever seen and enough food to hold me over until winter.”
“Did ye like it? Really?”
“It’s stunning. Where did you find it?”
“I had it made for ye. I ken the artist, and it arrived just before I left. Give me a moment, Sassenach. I need to get out of this suit.”
“You’re still in your clothes? You poor thing. You must be exhausted.”
“I wish I was there to help you out of them.”
“Do ye now?”
“It’s always the best part of my day.” My phone beeped, and I saw that he was attempting to Facetime. I answered with a smile. “Hello, you.”
“There ye are.” He sighed happily. He was in a hotel room, lit only by a small lamp. His red hair looked brown in the dim light. His eyes were tired, still puffy and full of sleep. “I missed yer bonnie face, Sassenach.”
“I miss all your pieces and parts.”
“And they miss you.” Jamie set his phone down on the nightstand and backed up so I could see most of him in the frame. He began undressing, taking his clothes off piece by piece and hanging them over the back of a chair to tend to later. I was pleased to see he was telling the truth about how much he missed me, his cock reaffirming his words by rising up to greet me.
“Mmm.” I very much wanted to take it into my mouth.
He chuckled softly as he picked up the phone again and brought me into the washroom. “Gi’ me a moment, lass.” He put the phone on mute and left it lying on the counter as he stepped in to use the toilet. I waited patiently, happy to be with him while he was doing such personal things.
“What book are ye reading there, lass?” he asked as he stared down at the phone while washing his hands.
“Robert Frost.” I lifted it up for him to see.
“Inspired by Fireflies in the Garden?”
“When I read poetry now, I hear your voice in my head. It’s a comfort when you’re gone.”
“My love.” His words were soft and pained, and his eyes didn’t leave the screen as he made his way back to bed, this time pulling the blankets back rather than falling asleep on top again.
“Your poem was beautiful.”
“You are beautiful.”
“I’m a mess.” My hair was in a bun and I was wearing my ratty old shirt in his absence.
“You are my world.”
I couldn’t help my audible sigh of breathless pleasure. “How are you real?”
“I’ll show ye just how real I am when I come home.”
Home. “Are you really beginning to think of Boston as home?”
“No, lass. I think of you as home.”
“Oh, Jamie. I wish I could kiss right now.”
“So do I. Let’s no’ do this separating thing again, aye? I dinna want to be wi’out ye any longer.”
“I think I’d like to make love to ye in Paris, wi’ the glittering lights of the Eiffel Tower shining through the window.”
“Mmm. Tell me more.” I began pulling off my shirt, getting just as naked as him.
“Oh God, yer tits are lovely. I wonder what they’ll taste like in Paris.”
I snorted. “Do breasts taste different abroad?”
“I should think so, what wi’ buttery croissants and sparkling champagne on my tongue.”
“Then we should travel to Scotland so you can taste them with a side of haggis.”
“I intend to. Would ye mind if I took a picture of them, Claire? To get me through our time apart?”
I nodded breathlessly. “I trust you, Jamie.”
I pulled the phone back so he could have a better view. He was biting his lip with hunger, taking a good number of screenshots.
“God, ye’re so lovely.”
“Is that all you want?”
“I mean…there is more of me I’d be willing to share with you to hold you over.”
His eyebrow raised, and his mouth curved into my favorite mischievous grin. “Is that so?”
I pulled back the blanket and spread my legs wide, dropping the phone down below. Jamie was making all sorts of Scottish sounds of encouragement. I spread my lips wide so he could see deep inside, and I let him take as many pictures as he liked.
“Lift yer arse, lass. Let me see that bum. Aye. Just like that.”
As he kept snapping pictures, I slipped my finger inside. Beyond words now, Jamie watched me pleasure myself, directing me only with grunts and groans. I moved the phone back and forth, giving him wider shots and close ups, desperate to know which pictures he’d use to find his own pleasure with first.
I came rubbing my clit, then zoomed in so Jamie could see my muscles contract deep within. He stroked himself as he watched, face knotted in concentration. I brought my wet fingers up to my lips and sucked them clean.
“It’s my turn,” I said, wanting to watch him come for me.
No doubt feeling the strain of abstinence along with me, it hardly took any time at all. He was beyond teasing and just stroked roughly, making me wish I had set my screen to record rather than snapping blurry pictures. He came, grunting, curling up his body, shooting cum on his abdomen. I took several pictures of the glorious sight, wishing I was there to lick it off.
I rested my head back against my pillows, body as at peace as it could be when Jamie was an ocean away. I watched him clean himself up, jealous of the way he could touch that gorgeous body any time he wanted.
I waited for him to settle back into bed, so I could see his beautiful blue eyes, as dark as the ocean in the muted light. “Tell me about your day,” I said, really just wanting to hear his voice.
“Oh, it was fine. The students are always fun. I was fucking exhausted with all the travel, and hardly remember half of what I said. I came back to the hotel to grab a quick bite and chat wi’ ye, but I must’ve fallen asleep and only woke when ye called this second time.”
“I’m sorry for disturbing your rest. I was a little worried.”
“Dinna fash, mo nighean donn. I’m glad ye called. If I would ha’ awoken in the morning wi’out hearing yer voice, my day would have been ruined.”
“Will you be able to fall back asleep?”
“Aye. I’m still tired, if ye can believe it.”
“I can. You’ve been so busy.”
“Ye must be spent yerself, lass. Ye’ve been up since early, talking to me.”
“Only a little.”
“Close yer eyes. I’ll stay on the phone until I ken ye’re asleep.”
“I wish I could kiss you goodnight, Jamie.”
“Aye. I crave yer mouth too.” He smiled sweetly. “Goodnight, Sassenach.”
“Goodnight, my love.”
I took one last look at those gorgeous blue eyes before closing my own, hoping they’d fill my dreams for the rest of the night. It was lovely falling asleep to Jamie’s comforting presence, even if it was a few thousand miles away.
As I was drifting off, his deep, rumbling voice whispered, “Golden slumbers kiss your eyes, Smiles awake you when you rise…”
Golden Slumbers was originally written by Thomas Dekker, first mentioned in 1599 then printed in 1603 (not a reference to the Beatles song).
Chapter 21: The Distance Between Us a Burdensome Thing
A smile awaited me when I woke the next day, a picture of Jamie in front of the Eiffel Tower, grinning with the self-satisfied smirk of a man who held a delicious secret. It was then that I recalled the secrets he held on his camera roll, and I tried my best not to melt into a puddle of mortification. It was always so easy to get swept up in my uncontrollable lust for that adorable smirky bastard.
Then I remembered that I, too, held secrets. I opened up my camera roll and looked through them one by one.
God, I’m a lucky woman.
I took a picture of myself, still naked in bed, my own mischievous grin curling my lips. I sent it to him with a message of, “Bonjour mon amour.”
He didn’t respond right away, but I knew he was in the thick of his work day. My own work day moved at a snail’s pace with my head refusing to leave the sensual sanctuary of my bed from the night before. Having pictures of a naked Jamie on my phone only worsened my distraction.
A couple hours into my shift, I received a message back. “Ye’ll be the death of me, woman. I’m at a book signing, for Christ’s sake.”
My smug joy in teasing him got me through that first half of my shift, but it only lasted until Jamie sent me another message. It read, “I live here now. Haven’t left all day. Will be camping out for the foreseeable future.” It was followed by an image of a very familiar dark hole, surrounded in pink flesh. It was zoomed in tight, and Jamie had edited a small cartoon figure, camping in the cavernous depths with a tent and small fire.
I snorted and shook my head, completely embarrassed, wishing I knew how to edit ridiculous photos in a similar fashion.
Paris turned out to be a frustrating whirlwind for Jamie, keeping him so damn busy, our schedules rarely seemed to align. The time difference was no help either. We had to make do with the occasional sleepy phone conversation or increasingly ridiculous text messages.
He was only there for a total of four days, then it was off to London where things only got worse, seeing as how he had a greater readership in the UK. The benefit of London was that some of his talks and events were streamed live online. I watched one over the weekend, eager to see his beautiful face and hear his lovely voice for an entire uninterrupted hour. This one in particular was a Q&A panel with several different writers.
It was fascinating to watch him field questions with the perfect blend of humble authority and good-natured charm. It became apparent very quickly that the majority of the audience was there for Jamie, and a few of them were more interested in Jamie’s personal life than his stories.
“My question is for you, Mr. Fraser,” said a young woman standing at the mic, flipping her hair over her shoulder and bouncing on the balls of her feet. “With your increasing success and popularity, how are you able to maintain your work-life balance? Are you able to make time for personal relationships?”
Jamie considered the question thoroughly before answering, the auditorium completely silent as they waited for him to speak.
“I believe we spend our time on the things we value most, whether we care to admit it or not. My career has always been an important part of my identity, using written art to express my love for Scotland, for my family, for storytelling. It’s been a means to self-sufficiency and financial stability. The majority of my adulthood has been in pursuit of developing as a writer and businessman, and my time and energy was allocated as such, but those goals were but waypoints on a longer journey. Various experiences have shifted my values and priorities. I can say that the right motivation makes setting work aside all the easier. In fact,” he chuckled, “it can be downright difficult to get oneself to actually return back to work.”
“It sounds as though you may have recently found some of that motivation to step away from work now and again?” asked the moderator in a tentative half-question, recognizing he was moving into very personal territory.
Jamie just smiled and nodded, letting it be known he wasn’t interested in speaking further on the topic. His hand shifted slightly, covering his pocket where the outline of his phone was visible through the fabric.
I knew he was thinking of me…and those bloody pictures. Motivation indeed.
The thought of that beautiful man being completely enamored with erotic pictures of me had me feeling particularly hot and bothered. I pulled out my own phone and sent him a quick message.
His eyebrows raised entirely out of context for the conversation around him, and I was certain he must’ve felt the notifications. The slight lift of the corner of his mouth had me wondering if he assigned a specific vibration to my notifications.
He knew it was me.
“Oh. This should be fun,” I said to myself, googling a poem by Ellen Bass I had read in Jamie’s absence that was clearly a verse depicting very sensual oral.
With every message sent, Jamie squirmed and fidgeted a little more in his seat. I could see his desperation to check his phone growing by the minute.
There was a moment when the camera switched to a close-up of another author while she answered a question, then back to the whole stage when she was done. I was certain by the way Jamie’s hand was now tucked into his pocket that he had seized the opportunity to sneak a quick glance at the messages I sent.
His free hand tapped restlessly against his leg, and his jaw chewed aggressively on his cheek, fighting off arousal.
I simply had to up the ante now.
There was less than twenty minutes left of the panel, but it would be plenty of time to do what I must. I moved quickly to my room and stripped down bare. I fluffed up my hair the way he liked it, and then fished out the cobalt blue Lelo Soraya Wave from my nightstand.
I then came back out to the sitting room and set my phone up on the coffee table next to my laptop, angling it just so. Then, I hit record.
I sat on the edge of the sofa, legs spread wide. I brought the Lelo to my mouth, eyes never leaving the lens on my phone, sucking it to the back of my throat and cradling it on my tongue like the slick seed of pomegranate. I wondered what Jamie would think as I dropped the toy between my breasts and turned on the wave.
This particular toy was meant for both clitoral and g-spot stimulation, and when turned on, not only did the rabbit ear and the shaft vibrate, but it moved in a wave-like motion to give the g-spot extra attention. In other words, it did the job all on its own…and it did it swiftly.
I moved the tip to my clit, letting the waves tease it back and forth to get me wet—not that I needed it with all the anticipation—and God, it felt nice. I let out a moan that had been building in my throat. My legs tried to close, but I forced them to remain open so the camera wouldn’t miss a moment.
Growing impatient, I brought the toy down and pushed it in deep. The rabbit ear found my clit just as the bigger shaft touched my g-spot inside. All I had to do was hold it in place, and the toy fucked me better than most men I’d ever been with before Jamie. It was an expensive tool and worth every goddamn penny, getting me through my passionless marriage and this frustrating time apart from my great love.
I thrusted in and out a handful of times, mostly because I thought Jamie would like to see it, then I pushed it back in and let it do its job. Jamie’s voice came over my speakers, talking something about the global impact of the Scottish diaspora post Culloden. It didn’t matter what he said at the moment, all that mattered was his sexy voice was in my ears as my vibe tickled my clit the way his tongue had done the week before.
I wasn’t quiet when I came, wanting to give him something particularly filthy to watch when he stepped off that panel and got surrounded by a bevy of besotted admirers. I even made a show of pulling the Lelo out, covered in my creamy cum, and licked it from base to tip.
Picking up my phone, I blew him a kiss before turning off the recording. I sent it to him without allowing myself a chance to rethink my impulsive decision.
Jamie’s jaw twitched when the last notification went through, and my heart raced with anticipation. The moderator asked him one final question in which his response was rather short for the thoughtful man I knew him to be. And as the moderator began wrapping up the panel, Jamie took out his phone and held it on his lap, tapping on the message I sent last.
His ears were as red as I’d ever seen them when the room broke out into applause, and he was forced to look up and wave to all the people who came out to see him. His delicious, secret-keeping smile lit up his face once again and stayed there as he walked quickly off the stage.
We got through the next week playing our filthy little game, Jamie never knowing whether the next time he picked up his phone he'd find a sweet selfie of me wrapped up cozily in his plaid or a video of me riding a massive vibrator and screaming his name.
The poor man was growing exhausted, fulfilling all his professional obligations by day and staying up late to spend time with me at night. It was clearly a happy torture, by the smile that always lingered in his tired eyes.
Our distance didn’t hinder his usual attentions; they kept coming almost daily, delivered by either Ian or Germain to my doorstep while I was at work. My favorite was a bundle of apple blossoms along with a basket of freshly picked apples that I assumed were meant to symbolize the temptation in the garden of Eden. The poem, however, was as warm and beautiful as any he’d ever sent me before.
Whenever I am away from you,
the distance between us
a burdensome thing,
I always think of you in colors,
the smell of coffee as you so
proudly make it for me,
the perfect sunlight spilling
in through the window.
I miss you even when you
are beside me.
I dream of your body
even when you are sleeping
in my arms.
The words I love you
could never be enough.
I suppose we'll have to invent
Jamie was right. Even a half a world apart, I was never as lonely in his absence as I’d been lying unfulfilled next to Frank.
I woke up early on the last Saturday morning of Jamie’s absence. I knew he had arrived the night before to his parents’ house in the Highlands. He intended on spending a few days with his family before finally making his way home to me.
I spent the morning making a particularly filthy video in the shower, spreading excessive lather and suds in all manner of dirty places. As soon as I was finished, I pressed send, hoping to provide him with a small but pleasant bit of torture to keep him missing me.
A phone call from the man immediately followed.
“Hullo, darling,” I said, toweling off my soaking wet hair.
“Sassenach, ye’ve been busy this morning.”
“Just making the most of my weekend. How’s your family?”
“I was just sitting here, having lunch wi’ em when I received yer message.” He grunted in a way that indicated he hadn’t had a chance to watch it yet and was more than frustrated by the fact.
“Well, seeing as how I’ve had little else to do this weekend, I figured I’d continue my career as an amateur filmmaker. I intended to go by your apartment tomorrow to water your plants. Perhaps your place offers some good lighting? How are the acoustics?”
“Sassenach.” His tone was begging me to behave while he was in front of his parents.
“Shall I ride your pillow? Or is that too much in the way of territory marking?”
My phone made a sound and I saw he was putting me on Facetime in his attempts to silence my filthy mouth. Damn him. I rushed to throw on a shirt before accepting the video call.
“Still wet, Sassenach?” Jamie smirked at me from a lovely sunlit kitchen. “From yer shower?”
I sneered at him, mindful that he wasn’t alone and I was now on speakerphone. “Haven’t had a chance to dry my hair quite yet. Good morning, darling. Or afternoon, I should say.”
“Were yer ears ringing in Boston, lass? We were just talking about ye when yer message came through.”
I thought of my orgasm in the shower and tried to recall if it was more of a buzzing or a ringing that I heard. “I hope your parents know you well enough not to believe anything you say about me. I’m sure you’re embellishing, and they’ll be quite disappointed.”
“Jamie might embellish, but Jenny does not,” said a voice from deeper in the room.
Jamie turned the phone around so I could see who it was that was talking. There were a variety of red and black-haired people of all ages and sizes sitting around a table. I flushed a deep shade of red at the thought of sending Jamie that filthy video while he was sitting with his parents, brothers, and young little niece. “Hullo, everyone.”
“Halò, Miss Claire!” waved the little girl.
“Halò, Claire!” called the rest of the family.
“Jamie willna shut up about ye,” said one of his brothers. “When d’ye plan on coming to visit so we can finally meet ye in person?”
“Can ye come wi’out Jamie though?” said another brother. “We’ve had about enough of him.”
“Behave,” said his mother. “Ye’re both always welcome, Claire.”
“Thank you,” I said, feeling a bit self-conscious, meeting everyone while looking like a wet poodle. “Jamie speaks so warmly of his home and family; I can’t wait to visit.”
“Ye ken Jamie,” said a brother. “He embellishes. We’re all actually quite cold and taciturn.”
Jamie snorted and turned the phone back around. He was shaking his head in mock disappointment. “I think I’ll keep ye to myself a while longer, Sassenach. This is a rough and savage gang of heathens, and I do mean to spare ye from them as long as I can.”
“No’ me, Uncle Jamie. I’ll be nice! I want to meet her!”
“Oh, aye, lassie. Of course, ye can meet her. I only meant yer father and yer uncle. We’ll make them sleep oot in the stables when she comes. Aye?”
Something was thrown at Jamie’s head from across the table, but he caught it before it collided. He stood up, laughing and cursing in Gaelic, and moved to find privacy to continue our conversation.
“They’re happy to have you home,” I said, smiling at the warmth in his eyes.
“They have a fine way of showing it.”
“Then I need to find a better way of showing you how happy I’ll be when you come back.”
“Mmphm,” he hummed. “If the videos ye’ve been sending are any indication, I should ditch this lot and come racing home to see ye straight away.”
“Don’t you dare. They’ll hate me for stealing your time with them.”
“I’m eager to see this last one ye sent. I only caught a glimpse of it before I had to put it away, and my cock has been as hard as a week-old bannock e’er since.”
“Good. I like you that way. Wanting me.”
“What are your plans for the next few days with your family? Doing anything special?”
“They’re all still working, so I suppose I’ll go hiking around a bit, maybe bring my laptop to write on a hilltop surrounded in heather.”
“That sounds lovely.”
“And you? How d’ye plan on spending the rest of yer weekend?”
“Aside from making a few more short films? I’m going to stop by Joe and Gail’s this evening. They’ve taken pity on me and invited me to dinner. And tomorrow, as I said, I need to stop by your apartment and water your plants before you come home.”
“Ahh, aye…” he looked around to ensure no one was listening, “and take my pillow for a filthy ride.”
“You can rest your head on it when you come home and recover from all your travels.”
“Mmphm. Ye’re no’ convincing me to stay here longer, lass.”
It took all I had not to beg him to hop the first flight home. “It’s only a few more days.”
“Aye. Then I’ll have to stand around and wait for ye to finish work.”
“You can use the time to rest up. You’re going to need it.”
“Rest? On a pillow that smells like yer fanny? Christ, Claire.”
“I could forgo that bit of torture if you’d like.”
“No!” He cleared his throat, then repeated softly. “No. I didna ken I needed it before, but I do now.”
“Only a few more days, then you can bury yourself inside me and live there every night for a week.”
“Ye think ye can kick me out after a week? Nay. Squatter’s rights.”
“I think you need 20 years of continuous habitation to make an adverse possession claim in Boston.”
“Dinna temp me.”
“I love you too, Jamie.”
He made a sound of aching contentment at my words. “And I, you.”
“Now, go on and spend what time you have left with your family. You don’t know how long it’ll be until you’re in Scotland again.”
“I ken better than ye think.”
“What does that mean?”
His grin, sweet and mischievous, lit my screen.
“Secrets, is it?” I pouted.
He shrugged. “Go on, Sassenach. I have a BAFTA-worthy short film to watch before returning to my family.”
“I don’t know about a BAFTA. Perhaps a SHAFTA or two.”
“Goodbye, Claire. Call me when ye’re through with Joe’s, aye?”
“Will do.” I waved at him and blew him a kiss, and he winked at me with both eyes, scrunching his nose adorably.
Pressing end on the call was certainly a burdensome thing.
Jamie’s apartment smelled of earthy greens, vanilla, and tonka bean. He had a mix of non-flowering plants scattered here and there: monstera, parlor palm, ficus, pothos, and yucca. He said he didn’t like being so far away from nature in the city, so he went straight to a nursery and picked up a bunch of plants the day he moved in. I’d been keeping those plants alive while he was gone. In truth, I’d been keeping them alive since we started dating. He didn’t exactly have a green thumb; I didn’t mind, so long as he used his thumbs in other more pleasurable pursuits.
With my plant-sitting duties completed for the day, I stripped down naked and was filming myself riding Jamie’s pillow as promised. The smell of him was bloody intoxicating, so much so that when I came, wet and creamy, all over the soft cotton pillowcase, all I wanted to do was curl up on his bed and take a nap, surrounded by the scent of him.
I laid down, wrapped in his blanket, pleasure still thrumming through my veins. I sent the video and waited lazily for Jamie to respond, dozing off in the pleasant afternoon sun.
I woke sometime later to my phone ringing in my hand. “Hullo?”
“Ye’re a bawdy wee thing, aren’t ye?”
“You made me this way, leaving me to my own devices for weeks on end.”
“Ye sound sleepy, Sassenach. I didna wake ye, did I?”
“You did, but I don’t mind. I’m in your bed at the moment, so hearing your voice is the next best thing to having you here.”
His voice grew deep and low, rumbling in the way it did when he was painfully aroused. “Mmmm. And what would ye have me do to ye if I was there right now?”
“Anything you bloody well liked.”
“My choice, is it?”
“All right, then. Get up for me, Sassenach.”
“You want me to leave the bed?” I grumbled, sleepily. “I rescind my offer to give you control.”
“Too late. On yer feet, a nighean.”
“Fine.” I slid out of his bed with audible reluctance to let him know just how unhappy I was with this turn of events. “Shall we switch to a video call?”
“No’ just yet.”
“Where do you want me?”
“Weel, if I was coming home to ye, I’d want ye waiting for me right at the front. Lie down in the entryway, and spread yer legs wide, facing the door.
“But the tile is cold.”
“Ye’ll warm soon enough.”
I shivered as I followed his directions, laying down and spreading my legs open. The thought of Jamie coming through that door to meet me in the next few days woke my body up nicely. I was immediately wet, imagining him coming in and finding me there, naked and hungry.
“Mmmm. What would you have me do now, my darling?”
“Touch yerself, lass. Get yerself all hot and bothered for me.”
“I’m always hot and bothered for you, Jamie.”
“I ken the feeling. It’s maddening. Tell me what ye’re doing, Claire.”
“I’m massaging my breasts, though it doesn’t feel half as nice as when you do it.”
“I ken. I ken. Are yer nipples nice and tight for me? Gi’ them a pinch.”
I did, and I could feel it deep inside, every muscle of my body quivering with the touch of my hand and the sound of his voice whispering naughty encouragements.
Then a strange thing happened. All of the sudden, two weeks apart felt like it was way too goddamn much to bear. My body was overwhelmed with the cumulative need for him that it had built up over the weeks of his absence. Every orgasm I’d given myself was completely insufficient and left me wanting him with an incurable fucking ache deep in my heart.
“Touch yerself, Claire,” he said, unaware of my nascent emotional meltdown. “Shove yer fingers in yer cunt hard, so ye can feel it in yer spleen.” His voice was almost as breathless as mine, and I knew he was suffering in his own way. I didn’t know what it would be like when he finally came home, but if the way I felt now was any indication, it would be explosive.
Fingering myself to the sound of his voice, I started coming on my hand. Orgasm quaked through me, and tears started falling from my eyes. Any pleasure my climax brought to my body was eclipsed by the gaping hole of his absence. I wasn’t sure what shook my body harder, the contractions of orgasm or the sobs in my chest.
“Oh, Claire,” his voice softened in recognition of my suffering. “Oh, my love. Dinna weep, mo chridhe. I’ll be there shortly.”
But he wouldn’t be here “shortly.” It would still be days, and in my hormonal and deprived state, that felt like an eternity. Nothing would be fast enough unless Jamie magically appeared in front of me that instant.
Suddenly, the door opened, and Jamie did magically appear in front of me, a bag over his shoulder and a suitcase in each hand. His eyes landed on mine, pupils flaring at the sight of me. He dropped everything and slammed the door, then fell to his knees between my legs. His body crashed down on mine, lips sealing over my mouth and stealing the breath from my lungs.
I was in complete shock, still uncertain if he was real, or if the two weeks apart had actually driven me mad. I heard the clinking of his unbuckling belt and the sound of a zipper, but it wasn’t until he pushed inside me that the reality of his presence sank in along with him.
“You’re home!” I mumbled against his lips.
“Aye.” He emphasized his point with a thrust of his hips. The blow to my cervix was a welcome pain, as was the way his arms squeezed me so tight, I thought my bones might break.
He missed me just as badly as I missed him; I could feel it in his frantic search for release. I was excessively wet, sloshing all over the place, fluid pooling on the tile beneath me. Everything was so slick, I worried Jamie might not find the friction he needed to come.
For some reason, him coming inside me was more important to me than finding my pleasure. Maybe I just wanted to carry a piece of him in me long after we were done. Maybe I was looking for some sort of fusion of body or spirit after so long apart. It didn’t matter why; all that mattered was that it had to happen.
“Christ, Sassenach. Ye’re as slippery as waterweed.” He dragged me several feet to the left, out of the ridiculous puddle pooling beneath me, his cock never pulling out, never stopping its thrusts.
I wanted to feel his skin, but hadn’t the wherewithal to deal with his goddamn buttons. I yanked his shirt apart and found his chest, pressing my body against him. My mouth latched onto his neck, and I could swear I felt his cock harden even more.
I hadn’t set out to orgasm, but my body was beyond my control, and it found it’s way to climax at Jamie’s insistence. “Jamie! Oh, God, Jamie!”
He sped his hips and huffed heavy breaths in my ear, sweat dripping down his temple and landing in my hair. The hard floor beneath me was slick and uncomfortable, but it didn’t fucking matter, because Jamie was moments away from coming inside me.
His chest erupted with a loud, barking release, his hips grinding me down into the hard tile floor.
“You’re home,” I whispered, so happy to have him with me.
He brought his forehead to mine, still sweating, still panting, still buried deep. “Never again,” he mumbled, our lips coming together, stealing kisses, stealing breath.
“You’re days early.”
He shook his head. “I’m right where I need to be.”
“But your family—”
“Beautiful, you are my world now.”
Jamie brought me to bed, both of us exhausted, neither of us truly settled after our time apart. I held him tight, face buried in the comforting heat of his chest.
“We’re a pathetic pair, aren’t we?” I said, perfectly aware that we were becoming more than a little codependent.
“I dinna care. I wouldna change this for the world.”
“Aye. There’s a poem by Portuguese poet, Luís Vaz de Camões. He said:
“Love is a fire that burns unseen,
a wound that aches yet isn’t felt,
an always discontent contentment,
a pain that rages without hurting,
a longing for nothing but to long,
a loneliness in the midst of people,
a never feeling pleased when pleased,
a passion that gains when lost in thought.
It’s being enslaved of your own free will;
it’s counting your defeat a victory;
it’s staying loyal to your killer.”
“That makes love sound miserable,” I laughed.
“Remember when I told ye that every moment I’m wi’ ye, my head is spinning and my heart is fit to burst, and when I’m wi’out ye, I feel like a piece of myself has been cut out and fed to rabid wolves?”
“I do happen to recall. You said it was worth it, though.”
“It is. And now it seems ye’ve had a taste of what loving ye has been like for me this whole time.”
His smiles surrounded me with their gentle warmth, like a summer breeze in a shaded garden. The pleasant curve of his lips caressed my heart, stirring up a flurry of palpitations as he rocked his body over mine, leisurely and unhurried. I held his face in my hands, as though I could capture the spirit of the wind and carry it with me always.
“Yer face when we make love is so bonnie,” he said. “I’ve never seen a flower so alluring, so enchanting.”
“That’s because you’ve never made love to a flower.”
He snorted and chuckled with me, his hips pausing briefly as our bodies bounced with humor. “I like how it feels on my cock when ye laugh. Perhaps I should tickle ye a bit to feel more.”
“You can try…” We both knew he was far more ticklish than me, and he wouldn’t win that battle.
Instead, he slid his cock out, then back in, with the satisfied smile of a man who’d orgasmed plenty and was just making love for the sake of enjoyment. I stretched my arms up above my head, basking in our abundance of pleasure. He bent his head and traced his tongue over my skin from firm nipple to the curve of my throat. His teeth nibbled sweet bites up the side of my neck to my ear.
“God, I love the taste of ye. If I could fit all of ye in my mouth, Sassenach, I would.”
“We both know I can’t fit all of you in my mouth unless I want to dislocate my jaw.”
“It’s no’ much to ask, is it?” He grinned brightly, sticking out his tongue and tracing a line down the curve of said jaw.
“Taking you down my throat would require an emergency room visit to wire my mandible to the rest of my face afterward, but no, it’s no inconvenience, at all. Not for the sake of your pleasure.”
Jamie’s arms snaked around me and pulled me tight against him, then he rolled us over to put me on top. I lay lengthwise on his massive body, orienting myself to the new position.
His hand cupped my cheek, and his thumb moved over my lips as he spoke.
“All that I ask,” says Love, "is just to stand
And gaze, unchided, deep in thy dear eyes;
For in their depths lies largest Paradise.
Yet, if perchance one pressure of thy hand
Be granted me, then joy I thought complete
Were still more sweet.
"All that I ask," says Love, "all that I ask,
Is just thy hand clasp. Could I brush thy cheek
As zephyrs brush a rose leaf, words are weak
To tell the bliss in which my soul would bask.
There is no language but would desecrate
A joy so great."
I turned my head to kiss his large, masculine palm as he recited his lovely verse. I licked his rough hand, calluses from excessive barbell use scratching my tongue.
"All that I ask, is just one tender touch
Of that soft cheek. Thy pulsing palm in mine,
Thy dark eyes lifted in a trust divine
And those curled lips that tempt me overmuch
Turned where I may not seize the supreme bliss
Of one mad kiss.”
I sucked his thumb into my mouth, swirling the tip with my tongue.
"All that I ask," says Love, "of life, of death.
Or of high heaven itself, is just to stand,
Glance melting into glance, hand twined in hand,
The while I drink the nectar of thy breath,
In one sweet kiss, but one, of all thy store,
I ask no more."
I dropped down, trailing kisses along his lengthy abdomen, licking around his sensitive navel. His words caught in a ticklish breath, but continued on as my lips moved farther south.
"All that I ask" —nay, self-deceiving Love,
Reverse thy phrase, so thus the words may fall
In place of "all I ask," say, "I ask all,"
All that pertains to earth or soars above,
All that thou weft, art, will be, body, soul,
Love asks the whole.
And I took the whole of him in my mouth.
I dreamt I was on fire, and Jamie was stifling the flames with his body. I knew it was a dream because my unconscious logic told me Jamie’s body would only set me more aflame, and therefore, the strategy was counterintuitive.
I woke, gasping for breath, face buried in Jamie’s hot chest and his massive arms holding me close. How on earth his body ran so warm, I’d never understand.
I extricated myself from his embrace and checked the clock. It was six in the morning—barely enough time to get home, shower, change clothes, then make it to work on time. He was fast asleep, and I didn’t want to wake him after the lack of sleep I’d subjected him to, not just the night before, but the two weeks prior.
I dressed quickly, kissed him goodbye, soft enough so I wouldn’t wake him, and left to start my Monday.
It was a long day, but the tension I’d carried over the last two weeks was all but gone. Knowing Jamie was in town, only a few minutes’ walk away, was a balm on my battered heart.
Even Joe commented on my lightness of spirit. “You had me worried for a minute, Lady Jane. I thought I was going to have to send you to Geordie’s doctor to get a stress leave. What was his name?”
“Right.” He chuckled to himself. “But it looks like you found a natural remedy.”
I rolled my eyes, but the man wasn’t wrong. The medicinal properties of a night in bed with Jamie seemed to have a one hundred percent efficacy rate.
Jamie slept most of the day, which made me both very excited and a little nervous for the night ahead with the abundance of energy he was sure to have. He said he’d meet me at my place when I finished with work, and I nearly skipped the whole way home in my excitement to see him.
When I arrived, though, he wasn’t there. It was unusual for the man to be late to anything, but instead of getting fussed, I used the time to freshen up. I tidied up the apartment and poured a glass of wine, then pretended to read a book in the sitting room while I waited for him to arrive.
A knock at the door had me jumping up, nearly spilling my wine. I set it down and raced to meet Jamie, throwing open the door and bounding into his arms for a kiss.
“Dear God!” I pulled back and looked at him. “You're burning up!”
“Am I?” Even with all the sleep he’d gotten during the day, dark circles ringed his eyes, and he looked as though he might pass out where he stood.
I touched his cheeks and his forehead to be sure, though the fire emanating from his body through his clothes told me the truth enough. “You’ve made yourself sick with all your late nights and rushed international flights!”
He bent down and put his hot forehead on my cool one, humming in relief at the touch. “Aye. Weel…My love is as a fever, longing still, For that which longer nurseth the disease; Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill, Th' uncertain sickly appetite to please.”
I noticed—completely without petulance, of course—that he wasn’t carrying any flowers or food to dote on me with; he must’ve really been ill. I pulled him inside and brought him straight to my bed, forcing him to lie down. “Foolish man. You’ll be no good to me if you kill yourself trying to love me.”
“It would be a fine death, my lass.”
I rolled my eyes while tucking him into bed. “I’m going to get you some ibuprofen and water. Are you hungry? Shall I get you some soup?”
He waved me off. “Dinna fash. I just need a wee rest. I’ll be fine. Lie down wi’ me awhile.” He took my hand and tried to pull me into his arms.
With every intention of fashing, despite his instructions not to, I evaded his efforts to keep me in bed and stood to get the medicine. His hand hung onto mine when I took a step away, but he didn’t have the strength to fight me.
“Here.” I handed him the two pills and a glass of ice water I’d retrieved. He shivered when he drank it down, but didn’t protest.
“Now, will ye lie down wi’ me, please?” He didn’t wait for me to answer, but set his glass down on the nightstand and pulled me into the bed with him.
“God, you’re hot!” I groaned as his skin burned against mine.
“Thank ye, lass.”
“You would joke on your deathbed, wouldn’t you?”
“Mmphm.” He nuzzled his hot forehead into the crook of my neck and closed his eyes.
I wanted to go get a cold rag, but I thought that might disrupt him more than just lying still for the moment. I forced myself to relax, brushing his lovely red curls out of his face. They were a bit greasy, and I knew it had to have been a couple of days since his last shower. Perhaps I’d run him a warm bath when he woke up. That might provide him some comfort, especially—I noted his tight grip around my body—if I joined him.
I sighed in resignation and cuddled him close, whispering the same words he’d spoken to me frequently in the weeks before.
“Golden slumbers kiss your eyes,
Smiles awake you when you rise;
Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby.”
As soon as Jamie was asleep, I called his sister to ask what kind of soup he liked and where I might find it. Jenny would have none of that and insisted on making it herself. While she was doing so, I left to the drug store to buy all manner of vitamins, medicines, and care items for the infirm. By the time the soup was done and I’d retrieved all I needed for my patient, it was already getting dark.
I rushed back to my apartment to find Jamie exactly where I left him. His temperature was elevated, but not concerning. I put the soup in the refrigerator to keep until he was ready for it, then I climbed back into bed with him, this time armed with a cold rag.
Jamie’s body turned to me in his unconsciousness, as was usual for him, and wrapped me up in his arms. He hummed with weak pleasure as I used the rag to cool him down. His lips turned up at the corners in his sleep, the most angelic smile gracing his comatose face.
“Oh, Jamie. I do love you.”
I called in sick to work to take care of him the following day. It was the least I could do after he flew across an ocean to see me. He slept like the dead, waking only to use the toilet or drink water. I alternated giving him ibuprofen and acetaminophen every few hours until we finally broke the fever. I was using every natural remedy in my arsenal to keep his congestion at bay.
“Sassenach?” he groaned, fluttering his eyes open at lunchtime, looking more pathetic than I’d ever seen him. I was sitting next to him in bed, reading a book and playing with his hair. “I’m starving.”
“Your sister made you a Scotch broth. I’ll go warm some up for you.”
I left his side, happy to do something productive, and prepared his meal. I brought it back to the room on a tray with a fresh glass of ice water.
“When did ye get these pansies, lass? I dinna recall them being here yesterday.” He fingered the plant I’d placed on his nightstand, a couple dozen blossoms of pink, blue, white, and purple.
“I went out and found them for you. Pansies are for healing. They actually have anti-allergenic properties that help to treat colds, flus, coughs, and sore throats, though I’ll spare you the pansy tea I was tempted to make.”
“Good,” he groaned, sitting up. I thought better of telling him that the only reason he’d been spared my tea was because I’d already shoved all manner of vitamins down his throat in pill form that were also found in the flower.
“They’re lovely, Claire. I was feeling like a bastard not getting ye flowers while ye were working yesterday.”
I placed the tray on his lap, then caressed his cheek. “I can manage a few days without petals falling at my feet with every step.”
“But ye shouldna have to.”
“Can I get you anything else?”
“No. Just sit and talk wi’ me while I eat. My body doesna ken if I’m in France or England, Scotland or the States. It helps to have ye close.”
I sat next to him on the edge of the bed and placed a hand on his leg while he ate. His appetite was poor, but anything he got into his body was better than nothing.
“How was your family when you left them? They must’ve thought you mad.”
He grinned sweetly. “Nah. It was my da who told me to come home to ye.”
“Your father? Why?” I tried to remember what his father looked like from the brief video call we had, but the image was a little blurry. I recalled dark hair mixed with gray, but being that he didn’t speak to me when everyone else did, I couldn’t recall his face.
“He kens what it’s like to be in love, and as much as he and Ma wanted me there, they want me happy even more. They understand how ye make me feel.” He brought one more spoonful of soup to his mouth, then set the tray aside. I grabbed it from him and put it out of the way so it wouldn’t spill.
Jamie held out his hand, inviting me into bed, eyes already drooping with the effort of the meal. “May I lay my head in yer lap, Claire? It’s aching something awful.”
“Of course.” I stacked my pillows against the headboard, and sat down. He crawled over and rested his head in my lap, moaning in comfort when I began gently massaging the muscles in his neck.
“That feels fine,” he hummed contentedly.
“Do you think you’ll survive this cold?”
“Mebbe. Perhaps. If ye keep rubbing my heid.”
“Do not go gentle into that good night,” I teased. “Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
His body bounced in silent humor. “Dinna make me laugh. It pains my heid.”
“Fine. Nurse Ratched it is, then.” I moved my fingers up into his hair, massaging all the little muscles of his scalp.
He was breathing so soft and slow, I thought he was asleep until he spoke quietly. “Thank ye, Claire. For caring for me while I’m ill.”
I clucked my tongue. “Of course, I’m taking care of you. What else would I be doing when you’re sick?”
“I dinna ken, but no lass aside from Jenny and my Ma have done much for me when I’m unwell.” He turned his head to look up at me. “It’s how I ken ye’re the one for me. That ye’re family.”
My heart swelled up and broke into a thousand pieces all in the same breath, trying not to think of his ex-wife with disgust.
“Oh, Jamie.” I didn’t know how to tell him that he was the only family I had at the moment, so I just bent down and kissed him softly.
All That Love Asks - Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Golden Slumbers - Thomas Dekker
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night - Dylan Thomas
Sonnet 147 (My love is a fever) - William Shakespeare
Chapter 23: Last Love
If you need content warnings, check the updated tags.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
A beam of sunlight slipped through the blinds and lit up Jamie’s eyelids just as he was debating whether or not he should wake. He was typically an early riser, but there were rare occasions when he stayed up absurdly late to write, and his body demanded time to recover.
He stretched out fully, arms against the headboard and feet hanging off the bed. He enjoyed the pleasant ache of stiff muscles loosening after being in the same position too long. Knowing it was a Sunday and Claire would sleep until noon if she could, he rolled toward her to gather her in his arms, but the only thing he found was a cool pillow.
His eyes popped open, and he looked around the room. She was gone.
“Hmphm,” he grumbled.
He checked his phone, and the clock read fifteen minutes past ten. Reluctantly, he rose up to take his morning piss, then he washed his hands, brushed his teeth, and splashed a bit of cold water on his face.
The apartment was quiet, which told him Claire wasn’t home. If she was doing anything that required that level of stillness, she would’ve been doing it in bed next to him.
He didn’t bother putting on clothes to go make himself a cup of coffee and laze about for the first part of his day. As he walked out of the bedroom and through the sitting room, he saw his plaid blanket thrown haphazardly on the couch, and he warmed at the thought of Claire rising and wrapping herself up in his family’s colors.
The midday sun lit the kitchen prettily. The bonnie bouquet of ranunculus he’d brought for Claire the day before sat on the table, brightening the room further with its cheerfulness.
He laughed at the arrangement. A few of the blossoms got knocked off their stems during delivery, but instead of being disheartened by the damage, Claire took the wee things and placed them in smaller vases around the larger one, making the botched arrangement look elegant and intentional.
His balls ached as he remembered why the delivery went awry. He grabbed hold of his sack, massaging gently, thinking about Claire's face when he walked through the door with the flowers, then being mauled by her in her excitement. The lass certainly had a healthy grip.
Jamie was shaken from his reverie by keys rattling in the lock of the front door. His developing cockstand jumped with anticipation, eager to maul her in return.
“Settle down, ye intemperate bastard.” He gave his cock a firm squeeze.
Then Claire walked in, wearing a little white summer dress, and he didn’t stand a chance in taming the wee fool.
“Good morning, darling,” she said, coming into the kitchen. She stopped in her tracks when she caught sight of him, and her mouth dropped open hungrily.
“My eyes are up here, Sassenach.” He smirked.
“I was addressing him, not you.” She pointed to his cock.
“Beg yer pardon. Dinna let me interrupt.”
She set a bag of groceries on the counter and came close to kiss him, her hips greeting his insistent anatomy in the process.
“I dinna like waking wi’out ye, but it’s a fine thing to see ye come home to me in a dress like that.” His hands moved over the flowing white material, wondering how long it would last on her body.
“I was craving French toast, so I had to run out and get some eggs and cream.”
Jamie snooped inside the bag on the counter. “Is that so?” He pulled out a box of brown sugar and raised a brow.
“That’s for the strawberries.”
“Oh?” He dug in the bag and pulled out a container of large red berries. “What d’ye do wi’ the brown sugar?”
“Dip the strawberries in it and eat them.”
“Why not? That’s how Lamb always did it.”
Jamie made a sound deep in his chest to indicate his disgust.
“And how do you suggest we eat them?”
“As they are. Or wi’ a bit of whipped cream if ye must have them sweetened.”
“I don’t have whipped cream.”
He pulled the carton of heavy cream from the bag and presented it to her. “Then we’ll make some. Get me a whisk,” he ordered, searching for a mixing bowl.
“Do you know what you’re doing?” she asked skeptically, but did as he requested.
“Well enough.” He retrieved the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla, then guesstimated the proportions. He whisked quickly, knowing it worked best when the ingredients were cold.
Claire watched him with an excited smile, tracing the muscles on his arms as he beat the cream into something useful. “You’re awfully good at that repetitive movement,” she observed, squeezing his bicep. “Back and forth, up and down.”
“I’ve had plenty of practice.”
In a few minutes, Jamie’s arm was cramping, but the cream was ready. Claire washed the berries and brought them to the table in a bowl. She also retrieved the brown sugar, pouring a few tablespoons worth on a plate.
Jamie sat down at the ranunculus covered table with his bowl of whipped cream and held out a hand for Claire to come join him. He pulled her onto his naked lap, ensuring the skirt of her dress didn’t get between his skin and her deliciously creamy thighs.
“There are three other chairs, you know,” she laughed, snaking an arm around his neck. He shivered pleasantly as her other hand meandered teasingly through the hairs on his chest.
The strawberries were fully ripe and perfectly plump. He dipped one generously in the whipped cream and brought it to Claire’s lips.
“Mmmm.” The moan came from deep in her throat as her tongue touched the sweet fruit and cream.
“I like the way ye close yer eyes and whimper when ye enjoy yer food, Sassenach. Ye do it sometimes when we kiss.”
She lifted her chin for such a kiss, and he gave her one, strawberries and cream still lingering on her tongue. The same euphoria overtook her face as before. He watched her smugly, popping the rest of the strawberry in his mouth.
“Here.” She took one from the bowl and bit off the tip, then she dipped it in brown sugar and brought it to his lips.
He took a bite, letting the sugar melt on his tongue, the juice of the strawberry complementing it nicely. It was sinfully delicious.
“Which do you prefer, Monsieur Freselière?” she asked, smiling. “Cream? Or sugar?”
“Weel…” He pulled the little string holding up her white dress, letting it fall down to exposure her chest. “The fruit is sweet enough as it is,” he unsnapped her bra, releasing her breasts, “but if I must choose…” he stuck his finger in the whipped cream and traced a line from her neck to her nipple, “...cream.” And then his tongue followed. “Always cream.”
Her head tipped back as he latched onto her breast, suckling languidly. He pulled the rest of her clothes off, tossing them carelessly aside.
Jamie lifted his head to watch Claire as he fisted a handful of her curls to keep her still. “Always crrrream,” he repeated, rolling his r with a proper amount of Scottish sensuality. Then he took a strawberry and traced it down her belly, not stopping until he reached her pussy, already wet from his sugary kisses. He dipped it between her lips, swirling it around to gather her cream.
“Hmm?” he hummed, bringing it to his mouth and biting off the whole damn thing. He let the juices sit there, his tongue dancing around the berry until he finally bit down.
“You are out of your bloody mind.”
“Strawberry cuntcakes,” he grinned down at Claire, still pinned in place by his hand in her hair. “Delectable.”
“You need more cream.” Jamie hadn’t noticed her dipping her fingers into the bowl until whipped cream covered the whole of his mouth. Her body bounced with laughter, soft parts jiggling sweetly all over.
“So, that's how it is, is it?”
“Don’t worry, darling. I’ll lick it off.”
“As will I.” He stuck his whole hand in the bowl and smeared cream from her tits to her cunt.
“Come here, ye impertinent wee thing.” He lifted her up in his arms, cradling her messy body, and brought her to the couch. He plopped her down unceremoniously on the plaid covered cushions, then kissed her madly, letting the cream she smeared all over his face rub off on her in return.
“You’re a beast!” She laughed against his mouth and smacked his arse.
“I told ye I was a brute, Sassenach. It’s no’ my fault ye chose not to believe me. Oh, Christ!”
Claire had lifted up to suck on his nipple, knowing it his weakness, then bit down hard. He collapsed on her, cream smashing between their bodies.
“Ye ill-mannered, cheeky wee vixen!” He could hardly hear himself over her fit of hysterical laughter. “I shall teach ye a lesson.”
He pinned her legs up to her chest, then shoved his throbbing cock in her cunt as mercilessly as he could. Her loud shriek cut off her laughter, eyes rolling back in an ecstasy the strawberries could never induce.
They were covered in mess from head to toe, slippery and sticky and mad with lust. He massaged her breasts, licking nipples and cream and skin.
She rolled in waves beneath him, trying to find friction on her clit. Her hands were too slick on his back to aid in gaining leverage, so she sought purchase with her nails, scraping him from shoulders to arse. His cock jumped inside her, driving him mad, and he hammered his hips even harder.
She gave up on finding friction between their slippery bodies and began making her own with her hand. He rode her hard, watching her cream-covered body writhe and tense to find her release.
He fucked faster, moving the couch with each thrust of his hips, knocking over a vase of pink lilies. At least it wasn’t the ranunculus again, he thought.
Claire screamed her climax, whole body tensing and contracting. Jamie dropped his chest down to hers, pushing in and out of her tightening cunt, showing no fucking mercy. He was desperate to join her, and when she bit down on his shoulder, he knew he was going to come.
“Claire!” A loud voice called, muffled by the door.
Jamie tried to ignore it, almost at climax.
“Oh, fucking hell,” she cursed.
Keys rattled in the door, and the hinges creaked, forcing Jamie pull out and spin around quickly, lust unsated and hackles raised with anger.
“Claire, are you alright?” the man asked, stumbling into the apartment with concern.
Jamie recognized the bastard, and his narrowed vision went red. He clenched his fists at his side, forcing himself to stand still so he wouldn’t ring the arsehole’s neck. It was Frank—the ex-husband.
He could hear Claire scrambling behind him, wrapping herself up in his plaid. “Of course, I’m alright. I thought you weren’t coming until later.”
Jamie’s head snapped around to look at Claire. He hadn’t known she was expecting him at all.
“Sorry.” She touched his arm. “He called while I was out. He came for his watch.”
Jamie nodded and squared his shoulders. “I’ll get it,” he volunteered, knowing it was best to get distance between him and that fucking man.
His eyes lingered on Frank, furious that he was invading their space. Jamie’s rational brain knew he was behaving like a silverback—a naked one at that—but the blood pounding in his brain wouldn’t let him relax.
“My apologies,” Frank said to Claire. “I have plans for lunch, so I thought I’d come early.”
Jamie listened to their conversation as he made his way to Claire’s room to put on a pair of briefs and retrieve the watch.
“You could’ve called,” said Claire.
“I didn’t realize it would be necessary. If I would’ve known you had company…”
“Jamie is more than just company.”
“So I see.”
Jamie felt himself settling slightly with Claire’s words. Removing the watch from the nightstand also gave him a feeling of relief and satisfaction he wasn’t expecting.
When he returned, Claire was standing at the window, wrapped in Fraser colors. She was avoiding looking at Frank, gaze on the city street below.
The floor was littered with Claire's clothes, whipped cream, and pink lilies. Frank was noticeably uncomfortable, his possessive claim over Claire’s space rendered completely void by Jamie’s presence permeating the entire room.
“Here.” Jamie tossed him the watch like it was worth twenty dollars instead of thousands.
Frank caught it with an expression of shock. When sense returned, he nodded to Claire sharply, then made to leave.
“Her key!” Jamie called, stopping him mid stride.
“Claire’s key. Ye’ve got no business keeping it any longer.”
Frank sneered at Jamie before looking back at Claire. She nodded in agreement.
Frank sighed, pulling out his keys and removing the one for her apartment from the ring. He didn’t bother tossing it back to Jamie or Claire. He just dropped it on the floor and left without another word.
Jamie fought the impulse to charge after him, string him up by his toenails, and pummel him until he learned some basic respect.
Claire’s snort of mirth interrupted his ruminations. “Jesus H. Christ.”
“Was he always such an intrusive, arrogant bastard?” he asked.
Claire covered her mouth as she giggled, her face turning as bright red as the blanket around her. “I can’t believe he walked in on you railing me, looking like that!”
Claire snickered as she came forward to wipe whipped cream off his cheek. She also fingered the bite mark on his shoulder and the scratches down his back.
Jamie just huffed and pulled her close, kissing the top of her head. “He better stay away if he kens what’s good for him.”
“Oh, I can’t imagine he has any desire to repeat the events of the last five minutes ever again. It has to be trying on a man’s ego.”
“To see his wife bedded by another man?”
“No. To see his ex-wife bedded by a bigger, better man.” She rose up on her toes to lick the rest of the cream off his cheek. “And bedded well, mind you. Sorry I forgot to tell you he was coming. You had me thoroughly distracted the moment I walked in the door.”
“It’s fine, lass.” And it was, so long as Claire was in his arms at the end of the day.
“Thank you. Now, why don’t you go start us a shower while I clean this place up? I don’t want my lilies to dry out.”
“Aye. Then I’ll take ye out to brunch so ye can have yer French toast.”
While in the shower, Jamie’s thoughts ruminated on Frank. The man’s nauseating sneer twisted Jamie’s guts and made acid rise into his mouth.
Jamie was no stranger to jealousy. It was a frequent, irksome companion during his previous marriage. He tried not to recall the late nights he stayed up alone while his wife warmed another man’s bed.
The thought of Frank’s hands on Claire, his sneering lips on her skin, filled him with a fiery fucking rage. He hated the man for sharing a piece of Claire’s life for a time…sharing her body…her heart.
“Claire’s no’ like Annaliese,” he chided himself. He knew that better than anyone. She was honest, and above all things, faithful. He remembered what it was like to be cared for by her when he was ill, and his heart softened.
A poem about jealousy entered his mind as he lathered up and washed the cream from his hair:
There is a thing that nothing is,
A foolish wanton, sober wise;
It hath noe wings, noe eyes, noe eares,
And yet it flies, it sees, it heares;
It lives by losse, it feeds on smart,
It joyes in woe, it liveth not;
Yet evermore this hungry elfe
Doth feed on nothing but itselfe.
Jamie sighed and took a deep breath, letting out his tension on the exhale. It would only benefit Frank—he still couldn’t think of the man’s name without scorn—if he held onto his bitterness. He let the hot water relax his muscles and tried to wash away Frank’s sickening presence before Claire came to join him.
He was much better when she entered the shower. He washed her thoroughly, mindfully cleansing every bit of her anatomy. He figured the fastest way to push any unpleasantness from his mind would be to get his hands on the fleshiest parts of his woman.
“You’re not worried about him. Are you?” she asked, proving he wasn’t doing as well as he hoping in hiding his jealousy.
“Of course not.”
“I love you, Jamie,” she kissed him, “more than I ever loved him.”
“I ken, lass. Truly.” He kissed her again in hopes that she’d feel the truth of his words. Their tongues tangled together under the rain hot water, steam obscuring the rest of the world from view. It was just him and her and the scent of Irish Spring around them.
“You didn’t get to come,” she whispered, hand reaching down to stroke him slowly.
“It’s fine, lass.”
“I want to,” she insisted, kissing down his body and dropping to her knees.
She found a far more efficacious way of driving unpleasant thoughts from his head.
“What’s this?” Jamie asked, knowing the answer to his question, but wanting to hear it from Claire anyway.
They were walking to a restaurant with a quick detour to Thistle along the way. Jamie had been messing with his keys in his pocket and found one more on his keyring than was there that morning. He lifted it to show Claire.
“I hope you don’t mind,” she said. “I slipped it on when you were in the shower. I just thought you might like to come and go as you please. I like having you at home, even when I’m not there.”
“Aye.” He couldn’t help his smile. He kissed her hand and pulled her along into his sister’s shop.
The store was quiet when they went inside, which meant Jenny was nowhere to be found. Another employee was manning the register.
“Wait here,” said Jamie, kissing her nose and leaving her near a display of lavender.
He knew just where he was going and went straight for a display a few aisles over. He took a good handful of the sweet delicate flowers he needed. He brought them up to the register, noticing Claire—never one to stay put when told to do so—had wandered off.
After paying for the small bouquet, he found her wandering down one of the aisles, basking in the pleasure of being surrounded by petals and all sorts of green things. “There ye are, lass. I thought ye’d gone off to live with the fairies.”
“I would live in a garden if I could.” She fingered a yellow hyacinth and smirked up at him. “I was thinking about giving you one of these,” she teased, “for jealousy.”
He rolled his eyes, but couldn’t help smiling at her giggle. “I dinna need them, thank ye verra much.”
“No.” He lifted the bouquet from behind his back and offered it to her. “These will do just fine.”
“Sweet peas!” Her eyes lit up as she took the flowers and buried her face in them. Her joy over the wee blossoms never got old. “What are these for?” Then her face suddenly dropped. “Not for a goodbye? You’re not leaving me again. Are you?”
“Och, no, lass. God no.” He calmed her with a kiss to the temple. “Sweet peas can be used for goodbyes, but also for blissful pleasure.”
“Oh, thank God. I thought I was going to have to take back that blow job I gave you.”
“What?” He was irrationally offended. “That was a gift. Ye canna take it back.”
“Well now I don’t have to.” She breathed in the flowers once more. “These are lovely, Jamie. Thank you.”
“There’s a poem that goes wi’ em if ye’d like to hear it.”
She leaned her body into him, bringing her ear close to his mouth. He knew she liked it when he recited the poems soft and low. He plucked one of the flowers from the bouquet and caressed her cheek with it as he spoke.
The first flower of the spring is not so fair
Or bright, as one the ripe midsummer brings.
The first faint note the forest warbler sings
Is not as rich with feeling, or so rare
As when, full master of his art, the air
Drowns in the liquid sea of song he flings
Like silver spray from beak, and breast, and wings.
The artist's earliest effort wrought with care,
The bard's first ballad, written in his tears,
Set by his later toil seems poor and tame.
And into nothing dwindles at the test.
So with the passions of maturer years
Let those who will demand the first fond flame,
Give me the heart's last love, for that is best.
“You’ll give me your heart’s last love, Jamie?”
“Ye ken I already have.” He kissed her gently.
“Good.” She nuzzled her face into his chest. “Because I’m ruined for anyone else. You’ve spoiled me rotten.”
“Then my plan is coming together nicely.”
They walked together hand in hand to brunch, Claire waxing poetic about the boysenberry syrup she intended to drown her French toast in while Jamie twiddled a tiny sweet pea stem between his finger and thumb, spinning the flower round and round.
His phone vibrated in his pocket with the soft buzzing that signified his mother was calling. “D’ye mind if I get this, Sassenach?” He raised his phone.
Jamie accepted the call. “Halò, Ma.”
“Jamie.” The weakness in her voice sent a cold chill down his spine. He didn’t realize he stopped moving until Claire was in front of him with concern in her eyes. “It’s yer father, mo mhac.”
“A—” she sniffed. “It was a—a stroke.”
“He’s gone, Jamie.”
Jamie was shaking his head, not letting the words sink in.
“On the way to the hospital, he was speaking a bit still. He said—he told me to tell ye—” she sobbed so painfully he reached out to hug her, but it was Claire that was in his arms. “He told me to tell ye…he said, ‘you are marvelous.’”
A gasping breath escaped Jamie’s lungs.
“Ye ken what he meant?”
“Aye, Mam. I ken.”
“Ye’ll tell yer sister for me? Sit her down and tell her right. Have her call me when she’s ready.”
“Ye’ll make arrangements to come home?”
“Of course. As soon as I can.”
“My good lad.”
“Is Willie wi’ ye? And Rabbie?”
“They’re here. Dinna fash about me. Travel safe, aye?”
The line went quiet a moment, save a few quiet sobs. When she caught her breath, she whispered, “I love ye, Jamie.”
“Tha gaol agam ort.”
He hardly had a chance to choke the words out, and the line went dead.
Claire’s hands were on his cheeks, worry etched in every line of her face. He wondered how awful he must look for her to be concerned like that.
“My father…” He looked down at the blossom in his hand, eyes blurring with moisture. “He’s gone.”
Chapter 24: you are marvelous
Jamie spent most of the next few days at his sister’s house watching her children while Jenny and Ian tied up a few professional loose ends before leaving for Scotland for an extended period of time. While he was doing that, I made arrangements for our travel—the flight, transportation, packing, all of it. I even called Fergus to inform him of Jamie’s loss and asked him to cancel any upcoming obligations.
When he’d come home from babysitting, all he cared to do with any consistency was sit in silence and stare out the window, eyes completely blank and thoughts a million miles away.
The only input Jamie gave when I updated him on our travel plans was to hand me his credit card and insist on upgrading us to first class. He didn’t want to sit close to anyone else if he could help it. My stomach lurched when I saw the exponential increase of cost, but he didn’t bat an eye.
He didn’t sleep at all the first night after his mother called. He just sat there, staring, sipping whisky slowly from the same glass for hours on end. I didn’t know what else to do aside from sit with him, and I was determined not to fall asleep without him.
Late into the night, he caught me dozing off, eyes heavy and body tired. He stood and took my hand, leading me to bed. He gathered me up silently in his arms, holding me with a reassuring strength. I gave up my futile attempts at fighting sleep and allowed the warmth of his embrace to shepherd me into unconsciousness.
When I woke in the morning, he was back out in the sitting room, staring out the window, silent once again.
The days that followed had me running around like mad in an attempt to obtain a leave from work. Geordie refused to approve vacation or personal time, citing inconsistent staffing as his logic. I was ready to hand in my resignation, but Joe suggested I seek a medical leave from Geordie’s own Dr. Fentiman, of all people.
I didn’t feel the least bit guilty at acquiring a paid medical leave for this trip, and Dr. Fentiman was generous with his recommendation for a month off work, so long as I paid his steep “emergency consultation” fee up front and in cash. The thing was, I truly believed I would despair if I had to be separated from Jamie at a time like this.
Our flight started in Boston late at night with layovers in Philadelphia and London. The itinerary included over twenty-four hours of traveling, first by plane, then by car. I hoped Jamie would be able to find some rest before we reached Scotland. I was beginning to worry how the lack of sleep might affect him on top of the shock and pain he was already suffering.
Jamie’s silent grief didn’t get in the way of his usual gentlemanly attentiveness. He still helped me with my luggage, held open my doors, and kept me tucked close to his side. He was just so bloody quiet. Understandably so. It was only that I wasn’t used to him having nothing to say at all, and it was heartbreaking to watch.
He didn’t speak until we were somewhere over the Atlantic in the wee small hours of the morning. I had fallen asleep on his shoulder, his arm wrapped around me, fingers twirling mindlessly in my hair. When I woke, I wasn’t sure what time it was, nor how much longer we had to travel. All I knew was that the circles beneath his eyes were growing very dark and the color was draining from his face.
“Won’t you get some rest?” I asked. “Please?”
He just hugged me close and kissed my temple. My heart felt as though it might break into a dozen pieces.
He went back to staring down at something he’d been messing with in his free hand. Upon closer inspection, I surmised it was a small, battered sweet pea blossom from the bouquet I had just discarded before we left. The little flower had lost most of its life already, and by the way he was stroking it, the little thing wouldn’t last to the end of the flight.
I reached over and traced its edges, wishing there was something I could do to keep it alive a little longer for him.
“Did I tell ye what his last words to me were?” he whispered softly.
“No. You didn’t.”
“I didna hear them myself. He asked my mam to tell me. He said, ‘You are marvelous.’”
I turned my head to see his face, and his eyes were swimming with moisture, though no tears fell. “That’s lovely.”
“It’s from a poem. The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski.”
“Is that where you got your penchant for poetry? Your father?”
He nodded once, careful not to spill any tears.
“Will you tell me the poem?”
He breathed deep, and for a moment, I worried he wouldn’t feel up to sharing. When his hand began caressing my hair again, I realized he was just steeling himself to get the words out.
“your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
I wanted to tell him the words were beautiful, and more still because they were his father’s last thoughts for him. It was special and meaningful and wonderful and bloody marvelous. And so fucking tragic.
I wanted to tell him I was sorry…again. But I’d said it so many times already.
I didn’t have the right words, so I lifted up to kiss his scruffy cheek, lips lingering on his skin because I wanted him to feel my love when he was in so much pain.
The moisture of a tear dropped down to my lips.
I wrapped an arm around him, letting silent tears fall into my hair while he fingered the dying petal in his hand.
Chapter 25: The Best of This
Thank you so much for your kind support for this story. Your comments, kudos, etc all are very much appreciated, and I am trying to respond to them as thoughtfully as they are given. Thank you so so much.
Only a chapter or two more of sads, then back to pure fluff, I promise.
Thank you for letting me take some artistic freedom with Lallybroch in this fic. Yes, I moved it.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
We arrived in Inverness late at night, exhausted and worn down before ever setting foot on solid ground. We rented a car and drove off into the depths of the Highlands. I had no idea where we were most of the time, but Jamie navigated the roads like it was home.
He didn’t speak the entire drive. There was no music or sounds in the car, the silence only interrupted by a light summer shower tapping on the windshield and the squeak of wiper blades against the glass.
He held my hand as he drove, absently stroking me with his thumb. His brow was narrowed, and his shoulders tense, his mind somewhere else, though I wasn’t sure if it was on the worries about what he’d find at home, old memories, or the dread of facing a life without his father. He’d tell me when he was ready…at least, I hoped he would.
Deep in the rolling hills and just on the edge of a dark forest, there was a long dirt road that led away from the main route. Jamie turned in, navigating with a practiced ease.
An old stone home, at least three stories high, seemed to appear out of the trees and darkness. Jamie parked the car in the drive next to a few others. We sat there in silence while he took a handful of quiet breaths, and I wondered if it was just hitting him that his father wouldn’t be there when we walked inside.
He finally stepped out of the car, then came around to give me a hand. I stared up at the building as he retrieved our suitcases, shocked at how old and Scottish it was. He came up behind me, setting our luggage down, then wrapped his arms around me, kissing my temple.
“Welcome to Lallybroch, Sassenach. I had wished to bring ye here under better circumstances, but God had other plans.”
“It’s beautiful, Jamie.”
“Aye. Weel…it’s home.”
The scents of the wet forest filled the cool night air, and Jamie’s warm body surrounded me. “You make sense here,” was the only thought I had. I turned in his arms and kissed him softly.
We stayed there for some time, holding each other tight. I knew he was delaying the inevitable, and I intended to aid him in doing so if it put off more acute pain for later.
His brother had other plans. “Jamie, get inside! Ma’s been waiting up for ye.”
We turned to find a man at the door in his nightclothes, glass of whisky in hand.
“Gi’ me a hand wi’ the bags, will ye?” Jamie called.
The man grumbled as he came out barefoot, not bothering to put his drink down. He ignored the luggage and went straight for his brother, wrapping his free arm around him and patting him hard on the back. Jamie hugged him tight, and they conversed in quiet mutters before splitting apart.
“Cl-aire,” said Jamie, coming to my side, voice breaking with emotion, “this is Willie. Willie, Claire.”
Willie looked very similar to Jamie, obvious siblings in a way Jenny was not. Willie was nearly as tall as Jamie, with the same solidity in his frame.
He gave Jamie his glass—who subsequently drank the whole thing down—in order to take both of my hands in his and welcome me. “We’re pleased ye came, Claire. My Da…he really wanted to meet ye.”
“I wish I’d gotten the chance. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Jamie told us all about ye when he was here last. I see he didna embellish in the slightest.”
I blushed, and he kissed my cheek. He hooked my arm around his and led me to the house, leaving Jamie to deal with the luggage.
The house was large and spacious, though mostly dark. The only lights came from the sitting room where a small fire was burning in the hearth and a dim lamp was lit next to a rocking chair. Jamie’s mother occupied that chair, and she was looking up expectantly, waiting for her sons.
“This is Claire, Ma,” said Willie. “Jamie’s bringing the bags inside.”
Ellen Fraser stood up, unfolding her long body from the chair. She was only about three or four inches shorter than Jamie, which meant she still towered over me.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” I said. “My heartfelt condolences.”
Ellen came forward and cupped my face in her hands, looking at me in a way that probably should’ve felt invasive, but it didn’t. It wasn’t judging…just observing. Like an artist might assess the various characteristics of a subject.
Up close, I could see the lines in her face more clearly, eyes puffy and swollen from hours of shedding tears. A cloud of sadness seemed to hang over her, darkening her red and white hair, but her shoulders were strong, and her chin was held high.
“I’m glad ye came, lass,” she finally said. “Jamie would’ve been heartsick without ye.”
“Màthair,” said Jamie from behind me. He set down our bags and held out his arms.
“Oh, Jamie.” She released me and went to him, letting him wrap her up in a warm embrace. He cooed to her in Gaelic as she released a dam of tears.
“Come,” said Willie quietly. “Ye must be weary and travel-worn. I’ll show ye to Jamie’s room.”
We each took a couple of bags and began making our way upstairs, leaving Jamie and Ellen to have a moment alone. He brought me to a spacious room on the second floor with large windows on two different walls. A four-poster bed took up the majority of the space, but there was room for a small seating area and a television on the other side.
“Are ye hungry, Claire? Can I get ye anything to eat or drink? We’ve got plenty of food in the kitchen.”
“No, thank you.” I had a fresh bottle of water in my purse, and I didn’t feel like eating otherwise.
“The washroom is just there,” he pointed down the hall, “and my room is just beyond that if ye need any—” a massive yawn escaped his lips, “anything, at all.”
His yawn had me yawning. He laughed and bid me good evening, making his way to his room.
I took a moment to use the washroom and prepare myself for bed. I realized I hadn’t packed anything to sleep in. Jamie and I usually didn’t wear anything to bed together, and my ratty old sleepwear hadn’t seen the light of day since he stepped in my apartment. I couldn’t fathom wearing nothing to bed at his family’s house, so I fished a t-shirt and briefs from Jamie’s bag and slipped them on before getting into bed.
I tried waiting up for him, but I was just too bloody tired and the bed was too soft and comfortable. The rain started up again at some point, and I drifted off to sleep, hoping Jamie would join me soon.
I was awoken by a warm, naked body slipping into bed sometime later. He wasn’t having anything to do with my nightclothes and divested me of them immediately. I wondered, for a moment, if he wanted to make love, but all he did was gather me in his arms, spooning me from behind. He pulled me close and buried his face in my hair.
“How is your mum?” I asked.
“Mmphm.” He made a grunt that somehow communicated, “as expected.”
I kissed his arm and gave it a squeeze. An impulse coursed through me to turn around and bring him inside me, wanting to give him pleasure or protection or connection or anything useful, but I pushed that impulse away. He was exhausted, and for the first time in our relationship, sex wasn’t a priority in his mind. I moved my bum back and forth only a little, a quiet message to let him know I was there for him when he wanted me, however he wanted me.
He squeezed me tight and breathed deep, but made no move for anything more. We listened to the rain and each other’s breathing until Jamie finally drifted off, then I followed right behind.
Jamie was gone when I woke in the morning. He left me a note saying he went off with Willie to check in on things at the still and to help myself in the kitchen for breakfast if I woke before he got back.
The house was quiet when I poked my head out, so I took the opportunity to shower and make myself presentable. When I emerged, Jamie’s mother was nowhere to be found. Nor were his niece or little brother.
I went to the kitchen and found some fresh pastries and fruit on the counter. The berries, grapes, and apples were piled high in a beautiful glass bowl. It was elegantly blown glass and decorated with flowers. It reminded me of the vase Jamie had commissioned for me a few weeks before.
I usually didn’t mind being alone, I even craved it on occasion, yet as I sat down by myself to eat breakfast, I found the quiet of the big, stone house eerie, unfitting, unsettling. Lallybroch seemed like a place that was meant to be filled with life and warmth and noise. A place fitting to make a man like Jamie.
After breakfast, I began wandering around the more open spaces of the house—the dining room, parlor, family room—looking at pictures and decorations. There were a few gorgeous paintings hung about, portraits of family members, Highland landscapes, and one of a large boat on a calm, dark sea.
There were multiple vases and glass sculptures crafted in a similar style to the one Jamie gave me, and I was beginning to think that they were all made by the same artist…one with a fondness for petals that could rival my own.
“Lovely,” I whispered to no one in particular.
The rare Scottish sunshine was finding its way into the house through large windows, so I decided to take the opportunity to explore the garden before the rain returned. I stepped outside and my breath caught in my throat.
The house sat in the middle of a glorious meadow of long grass and wildflowers that disappeared into the forest. I recognized the view from the front door immediately as one of the landscapes hanging up in the parlor.
I stepped down, breathing in the fresh Highland air—blossoms, pine, and a bit of manure coming in on the breeze from the farm. I walked down a stone pathway around to the back of the house and found the most stunning garden. It was packed full of bog myrtle and bluebells, rodgersias and heather, trees and shrubs, all a bit overgrown. It was heaven.
I felt a happy flutter in my heart, strong enough to inspire a bit of guilt given the reason we were there, yet how could I not feel some bit of joy in such a beautiful, perfect place?
I found a little bench to sit on next to a potted Japanese maple tree. I expected it was in a pot so that it could be brought indoors during the harsh winter months. Someone put a great deal of care into this garden, and the thought warmed my heart immensely.
Footsteps sounded on the path, and they were revealed to belong to Ellen Fraser. She came toward me with two steaming mugs in her hand. “Coffee?”
“Of course. Thank you.”
“I messaged Jamie. He told me how ye liked it.”
“How thoughtful.” I was reminded of Jamie doing the same thing with Joe when we first met. I scooted over and made room for her on the bench. “This is the most beautiful home I’ve ever seen. I’m completely enchanted.”
“Jamie said ye’d be.”
“I’m guessing it’s you that maintains this garden? It’s breathtaking.”
“No. No it was…” she cleared her throat, trying to avoid more tears. “It was Brian. He kent how much I loved it, but after spending long days over at the flower shop, I didna have it in me to come out and work wi’ more flowers.”
The thought twisted up my heart. “That sounds like something Jamie would do.”
“Aye.” She smiled sadly. “I suppose I’ll have to maintain it now. I canna let all his hard work go to waste. But that can wait a week or two, I think.”
“I can help you, if you’d like. While I’m here.”
“I dinna care to trouble ye, Claire.”
“It’s no trouble, I assure you. I’m very fond of flowers.”
Ellen smiled and nodded kindly. We sipped our coffee, listening to the birds chirping noisily above.
“If there’s anything else you need,” I added, “please let me know.” I was desperate to feel useful, but terrified of imposing.
Ellen turned to me and reached for a stray lock of hair, tucking it softly behind my ear. Her eyes moistened, and her chin quivered. “My son is in love, ye ken. Truly, madly, in love.”
I nodded. No one knew so better than me.
“Ye’re fond of him too, are ye?”
“Guid. Then take care of his heart. He has a beautiful soul, our Jamie. Passionate to the point of foolish. No one on earth will love ye better than my lad.” She fiddled with one of my curls as a tear fell down her cheek. “He’s so like his father.”
“Then Brian must’ve been a very special man.”
“He…was.” Her hesitation on the use of past tense had tears forming in my eyes. “We used to come here in the summer mornings and sit together, sipping coffee and welcoming the day.” She took my hand. “I’m glad to have someone to do so with this morning.”
Her strong hands were surprisingly soft. I thought she must’ve been in the habit of wearing gloves while working in the shop.
Her hair was beautiful in the morning light, blending in with the Japanese maple leaves, save the streaks of white around her face. It was a glimpse at how Jamie’s hair might look in thirty years.
The sounds of a rumbling truck cut through the quiet country peace, getting louder by the moment as it drew near. “That’ll be Willie and Jamie back from the still. The lad will be disappointed he wasna here to show ye the garden, but duty calls.”
“Duty? Does Jamie have investment in the still?”
Ellen snorted and stood up, reaching a hand to bring me with her. “Did Jamie no’ tell ye? Lallybroch is his. All of it. From garden gnomes to the lazy broch, from the still to Thistle. It all belongs to him.”
My eyes went wide, and Ellen seemed to find some humor in that, though it didn’t take the sadness from her expression.
“Come. The wee lass is wi’ em. She’s been eager to meet ye for weeks now.”
Jamie stunk pleasantly of sweat and whisky when he hugged me to wish me a good morning. The circles were still etched deep beneath his eyes, informing me of how little he slept the night before.
“Is everything alright at the still?” I asked.
“Aye. It’s all sorted. Ye came from the garden?”
“Yes. I was chatting with your mother.” I smiled warmly to let him know all was going well.
“Good. Come. There’s someone I want ye to meet.”
Jamie pulled me over to introduce me to a precious little girl with hair as red and curly as his own. She had the blue Fraser eyes and their wide set mouth.
“This,” he said, putting a hand on the girl’s shoulder, “is wee Ellen Fraser. Willie’s lass. We call her Ellie.”
“Hullo, Ellie.” I bent down to her level. “My name is Claire. I’m so happy to finally meet you.”
She bit her lip and bounced on her toes, flushing red. “Hallo. Uncle Jamie says ye like the Fraser blanket I gave him.”
“He’s right. It’s my favorite. I steal it from him every chance I get.”
“Ye ken, if ye marry Uncle Jamie, ye’ll be a Fraser as well?”
“I’d be a lucky lass indeed.”
“All right, then,” said Jamie, pushing the little girl toward the house. “Go on and get cleaned up, aye. We canna have yer granny smelling whisky on ye.”
Ellen only rolled her eyes and took her granddaughter’s hand, leading her and her father inside.
“Jenny called,” Jamie let me know. “They'll be here sometime tonight. Having the weans around will be good for the lass.”
“She’s eager for more family.”
“Aye. Did ye get any breakfast—” He was cut off by the sound of another car coming up the drive. “Mmphm. The MacLeods.”
“Aye. Likely bringing more food. There’s no room left in the fridge, but they just keep coming.”
“No. Everyone. They canna bring flowers to pay respects, so everyone’s been bringing food.”
“Why can’t they bring flowers?”
“Because Ma and Rabbie run the flower shop. Ma hasna been feeling up to working, and Rabbie has been there fulfilling all their old orders by himself. They’ve closed the shop for a few weeks otherwise. And Da would be furious if…” He paused, almost as though remembering his father was gone. “Weel, Da would not have cared for his friends and neighbors to buy flowers from his wife’s competitors for his funeral.”
“So there won’t be any flowers for the service?”
Jamie shook his head. “Better that than the alternative.”
“I’m sure I can make a few arrangements…if your mother wouldn’t mind, of course.”
“Ye’d do that for her, lass?”
“For her. For you. For your father.”
He pulled me in close and kissed the crown of my head. “I’ll bring ye to the shop later. I canna imagine Rabbie has much inventory to work wi’ since they’re no’ having anything new come in, but ye can use whatever ye like.”
“We’ll make do.”
“Jamie!” called a man who had just stepped out of the MacLeod’s car. “I was sorry to hear about Brian, lad. Bridget baked yer mam a few pies.”
“Come, Sassenach. Let’s host our visitors so Ma doesna have to.” He wrapped an arm around my waist and led me over for introductions.
The next few days kept Jamie’s hands full, hosting visitors, making funeral arrangements, helping his mother with insurance paperwork and bills. Jenny’s arrival took some of the pressure off me to help with shielding Ellen from the abundance of well-meant condolences.
Throughout the course of all this, Jamie informed me that Brian sank a good deal of money into an investment some years back and the deal went bad. Jamie, fresh off the publication of his first book, was able to purchase his family’s home and their businesses, keeping the Frasers afloat. His father and mother had been managing it all while he continued to focus on his writing career.
“What are you going to do with the family businesses now?” I asked as he poured me a drink of his father’s prized blended scotch. We were sitting together in Brian’s study late at night after all the family had gone to bed.
“Willie will take over most of it. He’s capable enough.”
“And Robert will take over the flower shop when your mother retires?”
I sipped the whisky, impressed with how palatable it was, seeing as how I preferred wine. “Do you own the flower shop in Boston too?”
“No.” He flinched. “That’s Jenny and Ian’s. I wouldna care to have my sister answering to me for anything. She wouldna listen to a damn thing I said.”
“And Willie does?”
“Tell me about Ellie’s mother. Where is she?”
Jamie shrugged. “She didna care much for being a mother. She moved to Ireland last I heard.”
“Does Ellie remember her?”
“No, though I canna say the lack of memory does her any disservice. Come here, Sassenach. I want to hold ye.” Jamie took my hand and pulled me onto his lap, setting my drink aside.
I melted into him, so happy to be getting some of his individual attention. I felt guilty for how spoiled I’d become, being his priority all the bloody time. Sharing him with a whole host of other people was difficult for me.
“Ye’re exhausted, lass.” He stroked the hair from my face. “I should let ye rest.”
“Not without you.”
“I’ve got a few things here I must do before going to bed.”
“It can’t wait for the morning?”
“I suppose it can, but…” He flinched and moisture filled his eyes.
“What?” I caressed his cheek. “Tell me.”
“I dinna want to sleep.”
“Because he’s there…in my dreams.” The muscles in his jaw twitched, and a tear fell down his cheek. “Then I must wake up and grieve his death all over again.”
“Oh, Jamie.” I wiped the tear away, keeping the thought to myself that dreams of lost ones were a gift of our subconscious, and I treasured every one I ever had of Lamb and my parents. He wouldn’t have been ready to hear something like that quite yet.
“I just dinna want to think of it. If I bury myself in paperwork or guests or business or what have ye, then I dinna have to remember that he’s gone. That’s he’s no’ coming back.”
More tears fell into his week-old beard.
“It feels like the world should stop now that he’s gone, but it just keeps spinning. The animals need tending, the bills need paying, and our employees need looking after. Nothing has changed as far as the rest of the world is concerned, but the greatest man I’ve ever known is dead, and I dinna want it to be real.”
He closed his eyes and his body shook with silent sobs. I held him close, pressing my lips to his cheek, heart breaking as the greatest man I’d ever known fell apart in my arms.
Robert Fraser was said to look much like his father. He had the black hair and shorter stature—which was still much taller than me. He was the gentlest of the Frasers, the quietest, as far as I’d seen. The morning of the funeral, he brought me to the church to help me display the arrangements I’d finished putting together at dawn to keep the flowers as fresh as possible.
“These are lovely, Claire,” he said.
The flower shop had a number of white carnations and roses in inventory that I was able to salvage, but the rest of the flowers came from the meadow and Ellen’s garden—with her permission, of course. Bluebells and thistle, heather and forget-me-nots, and a robust base of greenery.
I fashioned two sprays, one standing and one for the coffin. Robert helped me arrange the rest of the flowers in some of the lovely vases that filled both Lallybroch and the flower shop.
“These vases are stunning,” I said, placing one near the altar.
“Aye. They’re mam’s, of course, but I’m sure ye kent that.”
“Your mother’s? You mean, she made them? She’s the artist?”
“Aye. Ye didna ken?”
“No. I didn’t.”
“She paints, as well. Beautiful landscapes.”
The knowledge that Jamie had his mother craft that special piece for me had tears filling my eyes. Bloody thoughtful family. Then my heart broke once again for the pain they would all suffer throughout the day.
The Fraser men arrived at the church in their family colors. It was the first time I’d seen Jamie dressed in a kilt, and it was a stunning sight to behold. An impressive tribute to his father and his heritage.
Jamie was tense and stoic as he stepped out of the limo, holding a hand out for his mother. She was dressed in black, her tear-stained cheeks painful to see.
Ellen leaned toward Jamie and whispered in his ear. He nodded and kissed her cheek, passing her hand to Willie as he emerged from the limo behind her.
Jamie looked around the room, jaw twitching, shoulders up to his ears. I came to him then, placing a hand on his arm to let him know I was there. He turned to me and exhaled, bringing me close.
I wanted to ask if he was ok, but it felt a stupid thing to do. Of course, he wasn’t. His pain was apparent in every line on his face. “Are you ready?” I asked.
He nodded and whispered quietly, “Je suis prest.”
I sat in the front pew with the family, tucked closely into Jamie’s side. Jamie’s hand rarely left mine, holding tight as we rose up for the gospel and prayers, and examining every line of my palm during the homily and readings. He released me only two times: once to accept the Eucharist, and the second time to read a poem after the eulogy.
He didn’t look at his notes, nor did he turn to the congregation. His tearful eyes stared straight at the coffin as he lifted his chin high and said:
“An honest man here lies at rest,
As e’er God with His image blest:
The friend of man, the friend of truth;
The friend of age, and guide of youth:
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d,
Few heads with knowledge so inform’d:
If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.”
He stepped down to the coffin and placed his hand on top, whispering soundlessly to his father. When he finished, he crossed himself—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—then kissed his fingers and touched the coffin once more.
Before coming back to sit down, he pulled three sprigs of flowers from the spray on the coffin. A bit of heather for Jenny, bluebells for his mother, and forget-me-nots for me.
Then he sat beside me, dropping his face into his hands, no longer able to deny that his father was truly gone.
That was a Robert Burns poem.
This chapter was split in half. I'll post the rest as soon as it's done, but this felt like a good stopping point.
Jamie's holding up pretty well so far...right? *nervous laughter*
Chapter 26: Rage Against the Dying of the Light
Jamie begins losing his grip on those tightly reined emotions.
“To Brian Dubh!” another voice toasted for what must’ve been the fourteenth time since we arrived back at Lallybroch. I recognized this well-wisher as Jamie’s godfather, a distant cousin of Brian’s.
Jamie raised his glass, then he and Murtagh each took a healthy drink. He assured me I wouldn’t be expected to keep up with every toast. My liver thanked him for it, though I was almost certain I could hear his organs groaning under the strain of Brian’s best whisky.
I hadn’t left his side since the cemetery. He made it clear he didn’t want any distance between us with every touch carrying an underlying current of dependency. Faced with the absolute truth of the loss of his father, his heart was flayed open, raw and vulnerable, so he clung to me tightly, as though our proximity might alleviate some of the pain of the wound. His emotions lacked their usual public inhibition, tears flowing more freely, agitation bubbling under the surface.
“Jamie.” He jumped at the sound of his name and gripped my thigh painfully. The voice belonged to a large, round man with a glass of whisky in hand, insisting on a private toast. “Sláinte.”
“Ye ken, I was thinking about that time I backed my car into Brian’s gate, letting out all the coos he’d just finished moving from the other pen, and…”
As Hobart went on telling his story, I could hear a loud grinding sound coming from Jamie's teeth. His jaw was clenched tight, and he was white knuckling his glass. He clearly wasn’t ready for these walks down memory lane when just thinking about his father was painful.
Hobart was clueless, chuckling to himself about Brian calling him a damned fool and throwing a bannock at his head for the inconvenience.
As far as I’d seen, Jamie was one of the most contained men I’d ever met, never one to go looking for a reason to get angry. I’d only witnessed him truly upset on one occasion, and that was when Frank walked in on us during sex, just before Jamie could finish. He’d held himself together rather well at the time, but Jamie felt himself as the victor in that circumstance, being that he was the one who ended up with me—not to mention the blowie I’d given him in the shower shortly after to help him calm down.
But there would be no “winning” now that Brian was dead. Jamie was only bound to get more wound up with continued bombardment of condolences and nostalgia, and with each new sentiment accompanied by a glass of whisky, I worried that tightly reined inhibition wouldn’t last long.
I placed a hand on my forehead and feigned lightheadedness. I was a terrible actress, but Hobert didn’t appear the insightful type. “Jamie, I don’t think I feel well.”
His head snapped around quickly, and his body followed, hands gripping my shoulders with concern. “What’s wrong, Sassenach?”
“I need to lie down.”
“Aye.” He didn’t bother acknowledging Hobart. He just stood up, pulling me along with him, and plowed through anyone standing in our way to the stairs. He brought me to our room and closed the door behind us, then went to open all the windows for fresh air.
“What’s the matter?” he asked, coming back to check on me, hands feeling my cheeks for a temperature.
“I’m fine, really.”
“But ye said—”
“You looked like you were about to crack your glass on his skull. I thought I’d give you a reason to get away.”
His eyebrows raised for a moment, but then his shoulders relaxed with a deep exhale. “It was that obvious?”
“He didn’t seem to notice, if that makes you feel better.”
“He wouldna notice if I sawed my arm off unless I beat him wi’ it.”
I chuckled, sitting on the bed and kicking off my high heels. Jamie stood in front of me in his suit and kilt, hair pulled back out of his face. Even visibly exhausted, he was as gorgeous and imposing as ever.
There was something about that little visible bit of knee that had me biting my lip and craving the feel of his thighs on my cheeks. We hadn’t made love since he’d got the call about his father’s death, and I was feeling the acute strain of abstinence almost constantly.
A familiar rumble sounded from his chest, and I lifted my eyes to meet his gaze. He’d noticed my appraisal of his beautiful form, and the flush running up his neck told me he wasn't unaffected.
I held out a hand, inviting him closer. He stalked forward and took it, then kneed my legs apart to step between. I lifted my chin, hoping for a kiss.
His lips were warm and soft, and they tasted of Brian’s whisky. Their potency revealed him to be more intoxicated than I expected. My hands trailed up his arms and found their way into his hair, threading my fingers through the strands he’d tied back in a little bun.
“Mmmm,” he hummed, as though he’d forgotten what desire felt like and was finally beginning to recall. His hands moved into my hair, gripping tight as he pressed even closer.
“Oh, Jamie,” I breathed against his cheek, his teeth nibbling their way down my jaw. “I missed you.”
He stilled, eyes on mine wide with surprise. I squirmed, pulling on his tie so he’d lean in and kiss me again.
He kept his eyes on me this time as he bent for the kiss, slowly, but with no little heat. My whole body grew pathetically weak at the touch of his lips.
He tilted his head, mouth sealing over mine, and pushed in his tongue. I moaned, sucking on it, missing the taste of him.
His body seemed to finally be waking after suppressing nearly all feeling the week before. A part of me worried what it might mean for his grief to let down that blockade, but his tongue was preventing me from further consideration.
“I need ye, Sassenach,” he rumbled in my ear, and I could’ve cried in relief.
Reaching under his kilt, I was disappointed to find that modern Scots did sometimes wear briefs beneath them. I remedied that quickly, stripping him out of his clothes as he did the same for me.
His whisky-flavored mouth was on me again as he pulled me to the center of the bed, and I finally understood the Scots’ obsession with the drink. My impatience got the better of me, and I gripped his arse, urging him to hurry up and rail me.
Do not go gentle! was my only thought, though he didn’t need it said. He pinned my thighs to the bed and hammered in just as I wanted.
My body, already maddeningly aroused by deprivation, was just looking for an excuse to come. He ground down on my clit as he fucked, and I set off within a half dozen strokes.
“I’ve neglected ye, lass,” he said, fucking me through climax. I wanted to tell him it was fine, but I wanted his sympathy even more. “Ye’ve no’ been properly fucked in over a week, and we canna have that. God, ye feel good, squeezin’ my cock like ye missed me.”
I did miss him. I missed the solid weight of his body. I missed the scent of his fresh sweat mixing with our filthy sex. I missed the taste of his skin at the base of his throat. I latched on, licking him up, greedy after so long without. Whisky was evaporating from his pores, and I was more than happy to get drunk off it.
I rolled my hips with his every thrust, searching for enough friction to come again.
“Oh, God!” he huffed, stroking long and deep inside me. “Fuck, it’s too soon.” His disappointed tone was tempered by the moaning pleasure in my ear. “Christ, I wanted to last longer.”
I would’ve been lying if I disagreed.
I pushed on his chest before he was finished, rolling him over, eager to find that second orgasm just out of my reach. He grunted, hypersensitive, but I climbed on anyway.
His cock was still blessedly hard, filling me as I rode him and ground down on his pelvis. His hands moved to my hips, squeezing out more pressure.
He watched me, eyes glossy with the buzz of booze and sex and love. His neck was marked from my enthusiasm, and sweat dripped down his temples. He was, without question, the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
“I love you,” I said, still riding. “Dear God, I love you.”
Whatever his response, it was lost to the hum of pleasure in my ears.
“You’re lucky the pockets in this dress are so small,” I said, watching Jamie tuck my undergarments into his coat as we walked back downstairs, “or I’d have yours, as well.”
“Think of it as a talisman against the nuisance of Hobart MacKenzie and the like. Whenever I feel like clobbering someone, I’ll open my coat and take a deep breath to calm myself down.”
I cringed. “I’m not sure anyone else will appreciate your new cologne.”
His body was far more relaxed, which meant mine was too, especially with hearing him tell a joke. All we had to do was survive another hour or so of company, then I could march him straight to bed and take my time loving him properly.
We received a few sideways glances from some of the guests upon our return, and I wondered if our little dalliance had somehow become common knowledge. The love mark on Jamie’s neck was fairly visible.
Jamie noticed the glances too, so in an attempt to bypass any unpleasantness, he led us over to where his siblings and godfather were talking in the kitchen. From the tone of their conversation, we gleaned the stares had nothing to do with our recent funus coitus.
“We should tell them to leave,” said Jenny harshly. “They’ve got no business here.”
“Leave it alone. They’re family,” said Robert. “Ma would’ve sent them away if she didna want their company.”
“And what about what we want?” said Willie. “Do we no’ get a say?”
“I dinna want them here any more than you do,” said Murtagh, “but for Ellen’s sake, leave things be, lad.”
“Leave what be?” said Jamie.
The three siblings and Murtagh exchanged looks.
“What?” he repeated.
“Colum and Dougal are here to pay their respects,” sneered Jenny.
“Mmphm,” Jamie grumbled.
“Who?” I asked.
He pointed through the doorway and across the room to where a couple of men were sitting near Ellen. “My mother’s brothers.”
“Should they not be here?” I asked.
“They had a falling out wi’ Da a few years back. Ye recall I told ye about the investment my father risked everything on?”
“Weel, it was his father that was behind it. My grandsire. He roped Colum and Dougal in too.”
“And they lost money?”
“A lot of it. And they blamed my father as much as my grandsire.” Jamie turned to his siblings. “Did ye talk to Ma? Does she want them to stay?”
“Ye ken Ma. She just wants peace,” said Robert. “She’s had enough to deal with already.”
“Dougal doesna want peace!” Willie whispered, face turning red with anger and intoxication. “If he wanted peace, Da might still be here now!”
“Ye ken it’s true, Rabbie.”
“What d’ye mean?” asked Jamie, clearly as in the dark as I was. The other four exchanged glances again, as though deciding how much they should tell him. Jamie grabbed his godfather’s arm and asked sharply. “What does he mean?”
Murtagh looked down, then sideways at Jamie, as though reluctant to tell the truth. “Yer Da was…he was arguing wi’ Dougal when he had his stroke. Dougal was threatening lawsuits and the like.”
“Does Ma ken this?”
“Aye. She was there.”
“Then why is the bastard here?”
“An argument didna kill Da, Jamie,” said Robert.
“But shitty blood pressure might have,” shot Jenny. “And ye ken Dougal being in his face didna help wi’ that.”
Jamie’s eyes locked on his uncle, his whole face turning red and the muscles in his jaw twitching. For a moment, I thought his red hair might actually be catching fire
“Ma wants peace, Jamie,” Robert insisted.
I put a hand on his chest right over his heart. It was thrumming madly, all relaxation from just moments before completely gone. “What would your mother want?” I asked.
He looked down at me, nostrils flaring with every breath.
“What would your father have wanted for her?”
Jamie huffed a breath, much like an angry bull, but I could see his better sense fighting for dominance.
“Here,” said Robert, handing Jamie a whisky. “Settle down.”
“So that’s it?” asked Jenny, looking from brother to brother in disappointment, clearly unhappy with their lack of action. “Fine. I’ll be taking the bairns out for a walk. There’s no sense in us celebrating my father’s life wi’ the man who took it from him.”
She turned and stomped off to find Ian and the children. Robert shook his head and poured himself another dram.
“Gi’ me one too,” demanded Willie.
The three Fraser sons set to work on the bottle of whisky, eyes frequently darting up to shoot daggers in their uncle’s direction. As much as Robert had been the voice of reason, I could see he was just as furious with Dougal MacKenzie as his siblings.
The anger coming from the surly group had me reconsidering my stance on the subject. Perhaps Willie and Jenny were right. Why should Brian and Ellen’s children have to deal with the presence of the man who worked Brian up so badly that he suffered a stroke?
I was just about to ask Jamie if he wanted me to gently request they leave, but Jamie had been watching me and following my unspoken train of thought. He shook his head before I had a chance to make the offer. “They brought their families.” He nodded toward a group of people young and old not far away. “Ma wouldna care to insult them.”
I almost protested that the insult was for Dougal to show up in the first place, but I could see Jamie’s composure was hanging by a thread, and me instigating would be of no help to anyone. So, I came in close and slipped my arms inside his coat, wrapping them around his waist. He rested his chin on my head and rubbed a hand up and down my back.
I began to acknowledge that surviving another hour or so of company might be more difficult than originally anticipated.
“How’s Jamie holding up?” asked Ellen as she waved goodbye to the last of her guests. We were standing at the front door, watching Hobart and his sister get in their vehicle and take off down the long drive.
My first instinct was to tell Ellen that Jamie was fine, wanting to spare her any distress—I knew Jamie wouldn’t want to upset his mother—but one glance in her eyes, bloodshot from tears, yet as sharp and observant as ever, told me she wanted the truth and could handle it just fine.
“He was doing well until Dougal arrived. Then he found out Dougal was fighting with Brian when he died.”
“Christ. I shouldna ha’ said a damn thing to Willie.” She rubbed her temples in frustration. “Brian and Dougal were arguing, but they’ve been bickering almost constantly for the past forty years, and the bloody MacKenzies and Frasers have been at it for hundreds of years before that. It could have just as easily been Dougal as Brian, but ye’ll no’ convince a hard-heided Fraser of something they’re decided against. Where are my lads now?”
“They were contemplating the costs and benefits of throttling their uncle in front of his children, so Murtagh took them out to get some air. I think he was bringing them to a pub Brian used to like.”
“That’ll be Alec’s pub. God bless Murtagh.” She crossed herself in gratitude. “And where’s Janet?”
“She’s outside with Ian the children. Last I saw, Ellie was making a crown of flowers for Maggie, and wee Jamie was attempting to fashion a bow and arrow from fallen branches.”
Her eyes softened and filled with moisture. “Brian used to help the lads wi’ such things.”
I took her hand and gave it a squeeze.
“Weel then,” she said, “since it’s just us for now, come sit wi’ me in the garden a spell, before it gets dark.”
We walked arm in arm outside. It was still surprisingly light out given the late hour. Scottish summers meant long days and late sunsets as far north the country was situated.
“I havena yet had a chance to thank ye; the sprays were lovely, dear. Ye’ve a fine eye for such things.”
“It was the least I could do.”
Ellen sat on her favorite bench with a tired groan, weary body aching from the discomfort of the long day. She sounded like Jamie after he’d gone out for a long run or just finished a workout.
I glanced at her hair as I sat down, fascinated with its color. Like Jamie, it was a darker cinnamon in the fading light. I was sure I was imagining it, but the streaks of white looked thicker and more prevalent from only a few days before. She’d earned them, being at the heart of the very passionate Fraser family as long as she had.
“My brothers are not bad men,” she informed me. “Perhaps a bit entitled, inheriting what they did from our father. I think they resented Brian for building up his businesses from scratch. They clashed over everything. Politics. Business. Me. But they always worked through it…for my sake…and for the children. I canna blame Dougal for Brian’s death any more than I can blame Brian himself, grumbling about his medication, ‘forgetting’ to take it for weeks on end, but telling me he hadn’t missed a dose. He hated the doctor and made up daft excuses to cancel appointments. The fool.”
Tears escaped her eyes, but she seemed too tired to fall to pieces. That sort of emotion took a great deal of energy.
She reached into her blouse and pulled out a pearl necklace hidden within. I watched her mindlessly twist the pearls back and forth along the silk thread, each one a different shape and color than the last.
“When did you meet him?” I asked, curious how a love like theirs started.
“I dinna recall exactly. We were only children. He’s been my best friend as long as I can remember.”
“When did you know you loved him?”
“When he brought me bluebells after my father died. They were his favorite, ye ken. Mine too. He said they were for constancy and everlasting love. At the time, I thought he brought them as a symbol for my father’s love for me. It wasna until years later that he told me it was his own affection he was referring to.”
“He loved you his whole life.”
“Aye. An entire bloody lifetime. Still not enough.”
For the first time, I was confronted with the reality that one day, no matter how hard we tried to avoid it, Jamie might no longer be in my life…or vice versa. The thought was nothing short of horrifying.
Ending my marriage with Frank was painful, but expected. It almost seemed the natural progression of things. Ellen without Brian felt completely unnatural. And me without Jamie was downright nauseating.
I almost asked her how she could hold herself together after such a loss, but I bit my lip, insensitive as the thought was.
“Ye’re good for him, I think,” said Ellen, examining the leaves of her potted Japanese maple. “Jamie needs to love someone. He’s the best version of himself when he’s in love. His brothers are different, ye ken. They’re fine on their own, waiting patiently with all that love in their heart for the right time. But Jamie…he needs someone to give it to. It’s a strain to keep it bottled up.”
She picked a red leaf off the tree and twirled it around. The color of the foliage reflected in her gorgeous hair.
“Annaliese wasna right for him from the beginning, though ye couldna tell him that. Ye canna tell a Fraser—”
“—anything they don’t want to hear,” I finished for her. I’d heard the notion a few times since coming to Scotland, but had yet to see the reality of it.
“Aye,” she laughed.
“Why wasn’t she right for him? I mean, aside from the obvious infidelities?”
She turned to me and looked in my eyes as if searching for something she knew would be there. When she found it, she smiled and then went back to fiddling with her maple leaf.
“At first, she liked the attention Jamie gave—any woman would, ye ken how generous he can be. I think Jamie took her enjoyment as genuine affection. Perhaps it was genuine as much as she was capable of. But she quickly took him and his abundance of affection for granted. She seemed to think she was entitled to it.”
“Hmphm,” I attempted my own version of Scottish noise.
“Aye. Weel, if ye ken anything about Jamie, he doesna say or do anything he doesna mean.”
“He’s very genuine. Authentic.” It was one of the things I loved most about him.
“Indeed. So, when he began to see the truth of the character of the woman he married, he no longer felt the urgent desire to please her as he once did. It wasna in him to bestow passionate ‘I love yous’ when resentment was building in his wame.”
“I have a hard time picturing Jamie as resentful. Not that I blame him, of course.”
“He’s not resentful by nature, so you won’t have seen him that way, because you dinna foster the sentiment in his heart, but I can tell ye, it was there, clear as day. And this was long before the cheating started.”
She lifted my chin with her soft, yet strong, fingers. “I should warn ye, Claire…my son has a temper. In his youth, he and his brothers were in trouble all the time for fighting.”
“He told me he was a brute. I just didn’t believe him.” Nothing Ellen was telling me was changing my mind either.
“Aye, weel, Annaliese brought out his temper. He pummeled one of her lovers once, and he was lucky to avoid jail. Put the man in the goddamn hospital. He turned cold toward her after that, sealed himself off. As much as he claimed he was trying to make it work, I saw it in his eyes when he looked at her, he was done long before he called the lawyer.”
I sucked in a breath as I though of Jamie’s cold rage when Frank walked in on us at the apartment. I was never scared for myself, but for a moment, I had to admit, I was afraid for Frank.
“He dated around a bit after his divorce, but he never brought anyone home to meet the family. When I asked him why that was, he told me he kent what he wanted in a lass and he’d yet to find it. There was no sense in him bringing anyone around that he didna mean to make a part of his family.”
“What was it he wanted?”
“He never told me, but I think he was looking for someone who took the things he said and did as seriously as he meant them.”
“I don’t understand.”
She twirled the maple leaf in the fading sunlight as she considered how to explain. “Look at what he did today at the funeral. Pulling a few flowers off his father’s spray and giving them to his mother, sister, and girlfriend may have seemed just a kind gesture to a casual observer, but to Jamie…”
“It means so much more.”
“Aye. Jenny’s heather was for good luck and admiration. The bluebell for me was—”
“Constancy and eternal love.”
“Aye. And the forget-me-nots—yer favorite, I ken,” she smiled in acknowledgment of the vase she made for Jamie to give me. “When you bestow on someone those tiny blossoms, it represents a promise that you’ll always remember them and will keep them in your thoughts. They are also considered a symbol of fidelity and faithfulness.”
I knew this, but I thought it a beautiful thing that she did too.
“Jamie didna gi’ us these flowers only from himself. They were from Brian, as well. His father would ha’ wanted him to do it. His spirit mebbe even pushed him toward it.” Several tears dripped down her cheeks, and she wiped them gently away.
I lost a breath, thinking of Brian wishing for me to be faithful to his son. And more immediately, Ellen wishing the same.
Then I realized that her focus on me and Jamie, all this talk about his past and our future, was how she was coping with the loss of Brian. She was turning her attention and affection on the ones she loved most…her children…Brian’s children. Caring for them was caring for her husband.
I didn’t realize I was crying until I sniffled for breath.
“Ye see,” she said, wiping my tears away, “ye’ll be good for my lad. Ye have it in ye to ken that he is an intentional man, and all he does in the service of love is done with great meaning and significance. And better yet, ye’ll give him the same in return.”
She placed the Japanese maple leaf in my hand and closed my fingers around it. Then, she pulled me in and hugged me, both of us sniffling softly into each other’s hair. I could see now that she truly meant what she said to me when we first met, that the best gift I could give her was to love her son as well as he deserved.
We sat there in the garden together for a good long time, shifting conversation to lighter things. She told me of how Brian had always kept a Japanese maple tree in the garden for her ever since she was pregnant with Jamie. It was said to bring balance, peace, and serenity. My Jamie was apparently “hell on his mother’s puir nerves” long before he was born.
It was a surprisingly lovely way to spend an evening on such a tragic day.
As the sun dipped below the horizon around ten o’clock, we began to consider making our way into the house to start a comforting fire and await her sons’ return.
Our plans were unfortunately disrupted by a distressed call from Jenny in the house. “Ma! Claire! Where are ye?”
“We’re just here!” said Ellen, rising to her feet. Jenny’s urgent tone had us both hurrying to the front of the house. I tucked the maple leaf in my pocket for safe keeping.
“Alec called. The lads have gotten themselves in trouble at the pub.” Jenny rushed down to her rented van, expecting us to follow. “We need to get them before he calls the police.”
“Oh heavens!” Ellen rushed to the passenger’s side of Jenny’s car. “Claire, d’ye mind helping Ian wi’ the bairns?”
Ian was more than capable of handling the children on his own, as everyone very well knew. I ignored her and got into the back seat before she could protest my coming along.
Jenny was about as skilled a driver as Jamie—this coming from a woman who hardly ever sat behind the wheel of a car—and she tore out of the long drive and onto the main road faster than I’d thought possible.
“What’s happened?” asked Ellen. She and I could both see the determination in Jenny's eyes to protect her brothers. There was no way she’d allow her mother to have three sons in jail on the same day she buried her husband.
“Angus Mohr and his gang of fools were at the pub. Alec said they were making snide remarks and the lads went ape shit. Destroyed half of his goddamn pub.”
“Oh Christ. Alec kens we’re good for it, aye?”
“Of course. ’Tis the only reason the police are no’ there now.”
“The lads are alright?”
“Did he tell ye what Angus said to piss them off?”
“Something about Grandda being the reason for Da’s death, and…” Jenny looked in her rearview mirror at me.
“And something about Jamie being too busy wi’ his sassenach to be there for the family.”
“Bloody hell. The fool brought Claire into it?”
I felt a pang of guilt knowing Jamie had prioritized time with me over his family, and now that somehow led to a fucking barroom brawl with the locals.
“Dinna listen to them, Claire,” said Jenny. “Angus is Dougal’s man. He’d do anything to shift blame.” I noticed Ellen didn’t attempt to contradict Jenny about there not actually being anyone to blame, which wouldn’t have gone over well with Jenny’s current state of agitation.
It only took us a few minutes to get to the pub. It was a small place, and that was somehow reassuring. If the boys had destroyed a larger pub with more people in it, they certainly wouldn’t have been able to avoid a run-in with law enforcement.
Jenny skidded to a stop in the small car park. I expected her to rush inside, but instead, she jumped out of the car and began rushing toward a group of men limping over to their vehicles.
“Ye fucking bastards! Ye couldna keep yer traps shut on the day we put our father in the ground!” She was hammering away one of the men, who on closer inspection had suffered quite a significant beating. He had a bloody nose and the beginnings of two black eyes.
“Gi’ off me, ye loud-mouth wench!” he yelled, though did nothing to fight back. He did his best to shield himself from Jenny’s tirade.
“Ye’ve got some fucking nerve—”
Jenny lost her breath as I wrapped my arms around her waist and pulled her back. Dear God, she was small but mighty.
“Your brothers!” I yelled over the commotion. “Come on!”
My intervention had given the injured men enough time to get in their cars and take off. Jenny stared them down as I dragged her inside the pub.
Alec hadn’t been lying when he said the Fraser brothers destroyed half his pub. Wooden furniture was broken, upturned, and shattered all over the place. Pictures and lights had been knocked off the walls, and drinks spilled all over the floor. I could hardly take a step without crushing a bit of broken glass.
Murtagh, Robert, and Willie were sitting at a table apart from Jamie. Wille was holding his head in his hands, and he looked to have a nasty gash on his temple. Robert had a black eye and was holding a cold pint against his fat lip. Murtagh looked a little rough around the edges, but showed no visible injuries.
Jamie was up at the bar by himself, sipping on a glass of whisky; his only company was a half-empty bottle of whisky in front of him. He didn’t even turn his head when we entered.
“Blessed Michael defend us,” Ellen gasped, taking in the scene. She rushed to Willie to inspect his cut and make sure he was ok. “What in God’s name happened?”
“Angus,” grumbled Murtagh. “He was running his mouth about Brian, and Willie let him have it. Then he…” Murtagh paused and stole a glance at me, “then he said more shite he should ha’ kept to himself, and Jamie lost it on him. Half the pub took off right quick, and the other half jumped in on the fight for one side or the other.”
“Fools!” said Ellen. “The lot of ye!”
Murtagh shrugged in agreement, but clearly felt there was nothing to be done about it aside from fight along with them.
“Weel, come on then. Let’s get these two to a hospital. Willie’s going to need stitches, and Rabbie should be checked for a concussion.” She sounded like a mother who’d been down this road with her sons before.
I only had eyes for Jamie, who was surprisingly disconnected from his family. He sat at the bar, drinking, shoulders hunched over like a giant, cold mountain.
I stepped toward him, but Murtagh grabbed my arm, holding me back. “I wouldna do that, lass.”
“He’s determined to finish his whisky.”
“He’s only got a small bit left.”
“Not the glass. The bottle.”
“Oh.” That didn’t seem like a very good idea. More alcohol would only invite more trouble.
I tried stepping forward again, but this time Ellen stopped me. “I ken ye mean well, Claire, but when Jamie’s got his dander up, it’s best we just let him cool down in his time. We’ll take the lads to the hospital, and Murtagh will bring Jamie home when he’s ready.”
I had no doubt she was right—she knew her son better than anyone—but I couldn’t bear the thought of him drinking alone in his misery moments after beating a group of men to a bloody pulp on the day of his father’s funeral.
I pulled away from Ellen and walked up to the man I loved. He’d been drinking since the morning, and I knew he had to be completely pissed. I wasn’t sure if he’d want me around in that state, but still, I pressed on.
Objectively speaking, he was a terrifying sight. A nasty red welt was growing on the side of his jaw that would probably bruise something awful come morning. His bloody knuckles gripped his glass, and he drank it back like it was water. Someone’s blood, hopefully not his own, was splattered over his white shirt and Fraser kilt. I supposed it was a good thing his clan’s colors were so red.
His coat was missing, and the ridiculous thought entered my head that the reason he’d gotten into the fight was that he was no longer carrying his talisman.
“Jamie?” I whispered when I stepped up close.
He turned to look at me, hair wild, long since escaped from its bun. His eyes were glazed over and out of focus, struggling to keep their sights on me. “Cl—aire?”
I stepped forward and touched his arm, hoping he wouldn’t push me away. He looked down where my hand lay delicately on his skin and just stared.
Heartened, I went for his drink, removing it from his battered hand. He grunted a weak resistance, but let me take it from him and set it aside. I inspected his large hand in both of mine, making sure there were no broken bones or large cuts that needed stitching. Again, it appeared as though most of the damage of his blows occurred on the receiving end.
“Are you hurt?” I asked.
“Hmphm,” he grunted, indicating that he was not. As drunk as he was, I didn’t necessarily think his judgment on the matter very reliable. I touched his cheek, which appeared to be the only place someone was able to get a good hit in, but even that seemed fine—swollen, but fine.
His hand came up and covered mine, pressing my palm into his cheek like it was relieving an ache deep inside.
“Oh, Jamie.” I caressed his face with my other hand, and his massive body turned toward me. “Come here, my love.”
He made a terrible, painful sound in the back of his throat and gathered me into his arms, squeezing with a backbreaking embrace. My arms found their way around his neck and crushed us tighter together.
He began crying into my hair, whole body racked with devastating drunken sobs. The heat of him was scalding—a cumulation of adrenaline from the fight, organs working madly to expel the alcohol, and his passion for me all combining together to light him on fire.
“Say it for me, Sassenach,” he hiccoughed nonsensically in my ear. “Tell it to me again, please.”
“Say what, darling?”
He pulled back to look me in the eyes, his vision clearing if only for a moment. “The Thomas poem. I was sitting here just now, and I couldna think of it.”
It took me a moment to understand what he was talking about, but it finally clicked. He wanted the poem I’d muttered to him weeks ago when he was ill. “Dylan Thomas? Do Not Go Gentle?”
“Aye. That’s the one.”
Thankfully, I still recalled bits of it. At least, I knew the parts he probably wanted to hear.
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Once again, he collapsed in my arms and cried himself hoarse.
He was sturdy enough on his feet—just barely—for me to lead him to Murtagh’s car. I guided him into the back seat where we sat together as Murtagh drove off.
His stomach didn’t like the bouncing of the car on the road, and he moaned uncomfortably, face covered in his hands.
“Come, my love,” I said, pulling him down to lay his head on my lap. He sighed in aching relief, curling up on the seat like a shrimp and wrapping his arms around me. I stroked his sweaty hair back from his face.
“I’m sorry, Claire,” he whispered, though I wasn’t sure what specifically he was sorry for, and he was in no mental state to inform me. He was asleep within moments.
Ian and Murtagh went through a beastly amount of trouble to wake him up and guide him to his room. Jamie was passed out again before his head hit the pillow.
I took my time getting ready for bed, feeling a little hungover even though I hadn’t had much to drink. After washing up and brushing my teeth, I came back to our room and disrobed, contemplating how different this part of the night was progressing compared to what I had imagined only a few hours before.
Jamie’s clothes were difficult to peel off his body. Not only was his immense dead weight nearly impossible to maneuver, but most of his clothes were wet with sweat, blood, and alcohol, and as such, were clinging to his skin like a grad student horny for his perfect cheekbones and growing fame.
Before climbing into bed with him, I fished the maple leaf from my dress pocket and set it on his nightstand, thinking he’d need balance, peace, and serenity more than me come morning.
I crawled in behind him and took the position of big spoon for once. I pressed my face into the center of his back, gorgeous muscles ever present, even in his sleep. My arm wrapped around him, feeling his broad chest and firm belly bulging a little from all his alcohol intake. His arse was the only part of him a little chilled, so I warmed it with the curve of my thighs.
I laid there wrapped around his loudly snoring body and wondered how on earth I could be so madly in love with a man who’d engaged in such violent and brutish behavior less than an hour before. I kissed the back of his neck, letting his curls tickle my nose and squeezed him tightly. “Oh, Jamie. I do love you, you foolish, foolish man.”
He gave no response except to snore some more and slumber unconsciously on.
“Is this enough, Claire?” asked Ellie. Her red hair was hanging down over her eyes, and she used her dirt-covered hands to push it aside, leaving a smear across her cheek.
“A little deeper. We want enough space for all the roots to fit in nicely.” I moved behind her and tied her hair back with a band I’d kept on my wrist. The red locks were the same color as Jamie’s, but it wasn’t quite as thick or heavy.
Most of the Fraser household was having a lie-in after a lengthy visit to the emergency room the night before. Ian and I were the only adults who woke up at a reasonable hour, so I invited wee Ellie to gather bluebells to plant at Brian’s grave.
“Why these flowers?” Ellie asked. “Why no’ daisies? I like daisies best.”
“Do you? Well, we’ll bring your grandda daisies next time we come, so he’ll know they’re especially from you.” I placed a few plants in the ground and began burying their roots. “I chose bluebells because they symbolize constancy and everlasting love. They were a special flower for your grandparents.”
“Will this make Grannie happy? She’s sae sad all the time now.”
“I should think it will. She’ll probably be sad for a good long time yet, missing your grandda, but that doesn’t mean other things can’t make her happy, as well…like spending time with you.” I looked up at her. “How about you? Are you missing your grandda?”
She nodded, bottom lip turning into a heartbreaking little frown.
“Well, like your grannie, you can feel sad about Grandda, and still find happiness in memories of him or in other people around you. It’s ok to feel two things at once. Or even lots of things at once.”
Ellie considered my words as she helped pat the dirt around the base of the plants. When we finished, we stood to admire our work.
Brian didn't have a headstone yet, so the flowers were meant to temporarily mark his grave.
“What do you think?” I asked.
“Shall we go back to the garden at Lallybroch and find your grannie a daisy? I think she has some white ones near the front gate.”
Ellie’s eyes lit up, and she nodded excitedly.
Before leaving, I picked a bluebell stalk that had several pretty blossoms running down in a line. I remembered Ellen’s words about Brian bringing them to her when her father died and kept them in mind as I made my way back to Jamie.
There were signs of life stirring when we arrived back home. Noisy household chatter floated through the open windows as the family welcomed a fresh summer breeze indoors. Rain wasn’t due to fall until later in the afternoon, so they were taking advantage of the dry weather while it lasted.
I was relieved to see Ellen smile when her namesake bounded up with a freshly picked daisy. She began sharing with the child how they symbolized new beginnings, purity, and innocence, and how that was a perfect flower for her to pick for her grannie on that particular day.
“Where’s Jamie?” I asked Willie. “Is he still in bed?”
“Nah. He woke at hauf noon in search of a bit o’ hair o’ the dog. I think he wandered off toward the creek.” Willie pointed to a poor excuse for a path that led deep into the woods.
“Did he say anything?”
“Only asked about you. Ian told him ye were out wi’ the lass.”
I worried my lip, staring out the window, wondering if I should follow or give him space.
“Go on,” said Willie. “I think ye’re the only one he cares to see right now.”
With Willie’s reassurances, I hunted down a few things for my jaunt out into the wilderness. Jenny helped me pack a tote with a few snacks, some water, a blanket, and a bottle of paracetamol. I carried the bluebell from Brian’s grave in one hand and the tote in the other, then I made my way down the faded path that led to the creek.
The long grass and groundcover grew thicker as the trees became more plentiful, which meant the path was harder to follow the deeper into the woods I went. It was a little nerve-racking to go wandering into an unfamiliar wilderness on my own, uncertain of my destination, but it soon didn’t matter. The sounds of a purling stream drew me forward, and the water would hopefully lead me to Jamie.
I was wearing the white summer dress I knew he liked and a pair of flat, comfortable sandals. I realized quickly that my attire wasn’t ideal for hiking alone in the woods as I slipped on mud and moss with every other step. I just prayed I wouldn’t land on my bum or crash head first into the creek along the way.
Blessedly, I found Jamie without incident. His blue henley stood out like a beacon amidst the browns and greens of the forest. He was sitting back against a tree, silently watching the water travel downstream, a look of quiet contemplation in his eyes.
He heard me gracelessly clunking along the path and turned to watch my approach. He observed me with a sweet, almost melancholic affection as I drew near.
When I was close enough to hear him whisper, he said:
“But I love your feet
only because they walked
upon the earth and upon
the wind and upon the waters,
until they found me.”
I retrieved the blanket from the tote and placed it down so I could kneel beside him, then I pulled out the water and painkillers to tend to the raging headache he was sure to have. He took the medication without protest, confirming my suspicions.
“Here.” When he was done, I traded him the bottle of water for the bluebells.
He smiled softly, shaking his head. “I dinna deserve ye, my Sassenach.”
I scoffed, thinking of the countless flowers, poems, notes, and meals he had brought me since we met. This was bare minimum in comparison.
He hooked me around the middle and pulled me onto his lap, settling us in comfortably against the tree. His skin smelled of metabolizing alcohol, a harsh reminder of his excessive drinking the night before, and was hot to the touch.
I curled up on his lap and soaked in his warmth, finally able to appreciate my surroundings now that I was in his arms.
The forest was a moist and vibrant green, stretching out as far as the eye could see. The soothing trickle of the creek drowned out most every other sound, save a few birds chirping in a nearby tree.
“Ye looked like an angel,” he said tenderly, “walking here to me in that dress.”
“I’m not sure an angel would fill a man’s camera roll will explicit pornographic content.”
His chest rumbled with humor. “I said ye looked like one. No’ that ye were one.”
I nuzzled against him, enjoying the privacy offered by the densely packed trees. I had grown fond of his family, but I very much missed our time alone.
“How’s the hangover?”
“Mmphm,” he grunted, communicating that it was bad, but manageable.
We sat there in silence a good long time. I restlessly traced the lines of his chest that showed through his cotton shirt, moving my finger from breastbone, to pectorals, and then to his nipples that were poking through the fabric from beneath. He shivered at my touch, so I fingered one of them back and forth a little more. He grabbed my hand to hold me still.
He took a deep breath and forced himself to speak. “I’m sorry, Claire.”
“For what exactly?”
“I’m sure I scairt ye last night. I dinna recall much of what happened, but I remember the pain in yer eyes. That’s something I never want to see again.”
“My fear was only for you, not of you. And any pain I felt was in seeing you suffering, and with a loss like you’ve had, that’s inevitable.”
“Then I apologize for worrying ye. And Mam. And Jenny.”
“I’m sure they’d appreciate the apology directly from you.”
“Aye.” He traced the bluebell down the line of my cheek. “So then…ye’re no’ regretting coming to Scotland and seeing me like this?”
“Of course not. You are a man who loves passionately, with all your heart. And you loved your father just so. I can’t even begin to fathom the pain his loss has caused you.” I lifted up and kissed him firmly on the mouth, once, twice, three times, then four. “So, no. No, I’m not regretting being here with you. I’m counting my blessings that you’ve fallen in love with me with the same ferocity, the same passion, that you feel for your family. I haven’t had a moment of regret in my life since I met you, James Fraser.”
“I’m pleased ye think I loved my father well, Sassenach…because…because…” His voice caught in his throat and a tear spilled down his cheek. He had to take several breaths to center himself before going on. “Ye ken, I’ve been thinking on my choice to leave here early when I came visiting last month. I had a chance to spend more time wi’ him, and I didna take it. I left him, desperate to return home to Boston and bury myself in ye.”
“Jamie…” My own guilt for pulling him away from his father had me stammering, “I’m so sorry. God forgive me. I shouldn’t have been so fucking needy. I’m so bloody sorry.”
“No, Claire. No. Not at all. There’s nothing to forgive.” More tears fell from his eyes. “I ken the thought of wishing I’d spent more time wi’ him is only a pathetic attempt at bargaining wi’ God. What good is it to even think about doing things different when it willna bring him back?”
“But you could’ve had more time.”
“Perhaps. But then I would’ve had less wi’ you. And as much as I loved the man, and always will, I wouldna trade a moment of my time with you for anyone or anything. Not ever.” He sniffed loudly and a tear dropped from his cheek to mine. He raised the bluebell again. “He sent me back to ye, lass, because you are to me what my mam was to him, and I canna regret listening.”
I was crying freely, tears falling down one after the other. There was so much in my heart, so much love and sadness, so much sympathy and hope, and so much bloody grief for a man I never even got to meet.
Thinking along the same lines, Jamie caught his breath and said, “I wish ye had a chance to know him, Claire. He would ha’ loved ye dearly, and you, him.”
“Oh, my love, I may have never met him, but I do know him.” I stifled a sob and wiped my nose, talking through the tears. “He’s everywhere, Jamie. He’s in the flowers in your mother’s garden and in the foundation of your home. He’s in the poems you tell and the posies you give. He’s with the children playing in the woods and with your brothers drinking whisky. He’s in your eyes and Jenny’s hair. He’s in the stories you write and share with the world. He taught you how to love, and he taught you how to be. I know your father, Jamie, because I know all of you. And you are marvelous.”
He stared at me wordlessly, jaw quivering and tears flowing. He was huffing ragged breaths and struggling to get them past the knot in his throat.
I lifted up to wrap my arms around him, and we cried together alone in the woods. He gripped me tight, like he needed me more than anything else in life, and I sighed in relief, because that was the way I needed him.
We held each other for as long as it took for the sobs to fade and tears to dry, and then we held each other longer still. At some point, the twittering birds and the babbling creek made themselves known again, and I recalled exactly where we were.
Jamie stroked my cheek and kissed me like he held my soul in his bare hands and it was the most precious part of all life’s existence. I felt like a child, overwhelmed and unable to comprehend how I could feel so much love and so much pain all in the same breath.
He laid the blanket down on a bed of ferns covering the forest floor. He kissed me slowly, mouth lingering on every surface. My naked body was cold in the shadows of the trees, but he warmed me with his heated skin.
We made love with aching slowness, eyes locked on each other, mesmerized by whatever it was drawing us together so powerfully. It felt like a sacrament of some sort, or a pagan ritual, binding us together, not to be rushed or overtaken by the needs of the flesh. Our bodies moved as one, surrounded by nature, touched by whatever ancient spirits the forest held.
I wondered, for a moment, how we could go back to the city streets of Boston when the time came. He belongs here in the Highlands, I thought to myself. This is his place. And he is mine.
We climaxed, breathless and shaky. Jamie wrapped us up in the blanket to shield us from the cold breeze coming off the creek and dancing on our skin.
“I don’t want this moment to end,” I whispered, but knowing the rain would come soon.
He kissed my forehead and cupped my cheek, smiling with the wisdom of a much older man.
“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.”
“D’ye ken bluebells were my father’s favorite?” he asked, picking up the flower from the ground where he’d discarded it in our passion. “He brought them to my mother when her father died.”
“Yes. She told me.” I pulled my dress back over my head and retrieved my sandals.
“Did she now?”
“She said she knew she loved him then, and he knew he’d love her forever.”
“Is that why ye brought it for me, Sassenach?” He grinned at me, pulling his shoes back on. “Are ye saying ye’re mine forever?”
"For however long our forever lasts." I smiled at him, then puckered my lips for a kiss. He obliged, lingering long enough for the clouds to interrupt us with their sprinkles.
He quickly gathered the rest of our things and led me down the path back home. Even though the way was made slipperier by the rain coming down heavier with every step, my feet were sturdy in Jamie’s arms, and I knew that he'd guide me safely back home.
Neruda wrote that first poem.
Robert Frost wrote the last one.
Happy times ahead.