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Now and Then

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Ch-8-Dragonfly-in-Amber

  

Two Days Later

 

Claire awoke at four in the morning to the feeling of Jamie’s erection pressed against her thigh. Still sound asleep, a slight smile played over his features, and her breath caught in her throat at the sight of it. He looked so vulnerable…as though she could split his heart in two with a word. 

She knew the feeling. The very last thing she had expected on this trip was to open herself up to someone again, and yet, here they were. With the astonishing clarity that often accompanies unexpected epiphanies, she realized that he held her heart in the palm of his hand. She was his, and that was all there was to it. Tomorrow would bring its own challenges, but here, together in the dark, in this moment, everything was perfect. Everything in the world was as it should be.

Earlier in the wee hours of the morning, they had both shared stories of their most painful losses—him of his mother and brother, and her of both her parents. Jamie actually understood, unlike any boy she’d ever been with, and she found herself crying in his arms as he comforted her like a child, stroking her hair and muttering soothing nonsense in Gaelic. 

Never before, not even with her well-intentioned uncle, had Claire felt her grief so completely seen and accepted. It was a part of her, a part that she would carry with her every day of her life. She couldn’t ever really “get over it” or “move on” as everyone seemed to think she should be able to do, but neither could Jamie, and somehow that made it all okay. Afterward, she’d looked up to see tears streaking his cheeks, and had simply held him in silence until they both drifted back to sleep. 

Now, with only hours left until they had to part, she was determined to savor every minute. They had spent the whole day yesterday in bed, and Claire was achy and sore from the effort, but as she stared down a months-long separation from Jamie, a little temporary soreness seemed a small price to pay for one more time together. 

Climbing up onto her knees, Claire straddled him. Snoring softly, Jamie was still asleep as she took his hard cock in her hand, positioned it, then sunk down onto him in one fluid motion. His eyes flew open to meet hers as he inhaled sharply. Their gazes locked, and Claire once again found herself lost to the world that existed beyond his eyes, beyond this connection they had forged. She began to move, rolling her hips as her palms rested on the planes of his chest, pressing gently.

Reaching out, his large hands encircled her waist, with his thumbs on her hip bones and his fingers pressed into the flesh of her arse as he began to lift her gently, then press her back down again, setting a rhythm. Holding each other's gaze, neither uttered a word for several heartbeats. 

“Touch yerself,” he murmured at last, his voice low and husky. “I want to watch you.”

A smile spread over Claire’s face as she realized exactly why he’d voiced this particular request. Yesterday, they had each shared the fact that both had pleasured themselves to mental images of the other on the day they met. She knew that images of Jamie would occupy her fantasies until she saw him again in person, and it occurred to her now that the same would likely be true for him. 

Wanting to give him an unforgettable memory, Claire trailed her fingertips down his chest and over onto her own thighs, then up over her waist and rib cage before her hands came to rest on her breasts. Cupping them in her hands, she took her hardened nipples between her thumb and finger, pinching them as she arched her back. Beneath her, Jamie took in the sight through hooded eyes, his expression one of pure lust that shot a bolt of electricity between her legs. 

Holding his gaze, she reached down with her fingertips and began to stroke herself feverishly back and forth, rocking her hips as she did. Glancing down to her hand, his Adam’s apple bobbed as he canted his hips upward instinctively in response. 

Christ , Sassenach…” 

“Take me,” Claire said, her voice breathy and thin, “make me yours.”

Picking up the pace, Jamie began to piston his hips up with every thrust as he simultaneously guided Claire’s hips, slamming her down to crash into him with a desperation that only fueled her own cresting desire. 

“Ye’re mine, Claire! Mine, now and forever—” His voice morphed into a strangled cry as Claire felt the hot jets of his climax fill her. 

“Yours, Jamie, only yours—”

With a final frantic stroke of her fingers, Claire’s own peak exploded through her body. Every single nerve ending in her body was on fire, ablaze with an all-consuming inferno, and she cried out his name as pulsing bolts of ecstasy rocketed through her. She arched her back again as she dropped her hands to Jamie’s chest, her mouth agape, surrendering to its unstoppable force. 

Collapsing onto his chest, her breath heaving, both of them covered in sweat, Claire knew that she truly was his and would never belong to anyone else. Delicate kisses fluttered over her lips and cheeks and eyelids as Jamie hummed softly, his voice tender and low, lulling her as she came down from her climax. 

The rational part of her brain —the part that knew it was much too soon for such a declaration — was incapacitated at the moment, and Claire spoke from a deeper, more primal place—the place where the foolish, irrational, undeniable truth lived.

“I love you.” 

“I love you too.” 

A laugh choked out of her, and she scrubbed a hand over her face. “This is crazy. We’ve only just met. I don’t understand—” As the logical part of Claire’s brain began to assert itself again, she began to rationalize, trying to talk herself out of it, to shake off the layers of bliss that had accumulated over the past few days. She pushed herself up, her hand pressed against Jamie’s chest as she looked down at him, her hair a tangled mess around her still-flushed face. 

“I dinna understand it either,” Jamie interjected, placing his hand over hers and giving a gentle squeeze. “But I ken it’s real. This…connection that we have is so—” 

“Powerful.” 

“I couldna fight it even if I wanted to.”

“I don’t want to fight it.” 

“Neither do I.” 

Claire lay down again, resting her head on Jamie’s chest as he draped his strong arm around her. Reaching down with her other hand, she pulled up the cast-off duvet and rearranged it over their spent bodies before they both slowly drifted back to sleep, wrapped in one another and dreading the dawn.



*****



“I’ll write ye,” Jamie said, pressing a kiss to Claire’s knuckles. “I promise. This isna the end for us, Claire. It’s only the beginning.” 

It was Saturday morning, and they were standing at the station, waiting for the train with the rest of Claire’s class. Jamie would leave later that same day. The trains had finally begun making their usual runs again after several days of being shut down because of the blizzard. Part of him had fantasized that they’d never start up again, and he and Claire would blissfully live out the rest of their lives in Zermatt. 

“I know,” she replied, beaming at him. “I’ll write to you too. I have your box number at the university.” 

“As soon as I get the address for our new flat, I’ll send it to ye.” He paused, hesitant. If he was going to do this, now was his chance. He’d imagined the moment in his mind a thousand times in the past two days, but now that it was here, he felt ridiculous. Would she be okay with it? Would she think it was too much? 

“What is it?” Claire asked, her brow furrowed with concern. “I know that look.” 

Looking up at her, Jamie smiled. Of course she knew that look. With most people, he could school his features such that no one really knew what he was thinking, but Claire knew. She always knew, right from the start. He took a deep breath. 

“I have something for ye,” he said, reaching into his jacket pocket. “Something to remember this week—to remember where we met. It’s no’ verra much. I dinna have a lot of extra cash wi’ me, but…” 

“Oh, God, Jamie—” she gasped. “It’s beautiful.” 

It was a ring. A tiny silver ring stamped with a leaf design around the band and set with a small oval of amber. He could feel his hand shaking as he held it out. He’d picked it because the color reminded him of her eyes—that, and the fact that it was one he could buy with the little extra  cash he had on hand, and not have to resort to using his Da’s credit card, which was for emergencies only. 

“I promise that this is our beginning.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” she whispered. 

“Aye.” He slipped the ring onto her little finger, then brought it to his lips. 

They stood there a moment, holding each other, forehead to forehead, before Claire suddenly pulled back, her eyes wide. 

“I have something for you too. Oh my God, this is too perfect!” She squatted down to open the zippered tote bag at her feet. After a minute of digging around, she pulled out a small object, hidden in her fist. Standing up, she opened her hand. It was a polished chunk of amber, the size of a small egg, with a fossilized dragonfly inside. 

“Years ago, my uncle traveled to the Soviet Union to give a lecture. He bought this in a souvenir shop for me—he said it was for luck when I travel. I’ve carried it with me ever since, to see me safely home.” She pressed it into his palm, then closed his fingers over it. “Keep it. It will see me safely back to you.”

Later that afternoon, as Jamie sat on his train next to a dozing Ian, he pulled out Claire’s impromptu gift that perfectly matched the ring he had given her. Amber, like her eyes. It felt like a moment of synchronicity, as though the whole universe had conspired to bring them together in the tiny Swiss village. 

Turning it over in his fingers, he stared at the insect entombed inside it. Perfectly preserved, it was as though time had stopped all those millions of years ago. Its delicate wings were unchanged, the same now as the day it had been caught in the sticky sap of some primeval tree. It seemed to him as though there must be some bit of wisdom to be found here, some nugget of truth about his life, but he was too sleepy to figure it out. He put the amber back in his pocket, leaned his head against the windowpane, and promptly fell asleep. 




*****



Late January, 1986 

Up until yesterday, Laoghaire MacKenzie had been certain that this semester would finally be the one where she landed Jamie Fraser as her own. She’d grown up in the same village as he had, and she’d spent her teenage years mooning over him shamelessly. Ever since they were thirteen—he’d got caught passing a note for her in class and hadn’t ratted her out, instead taking her punishment and having to write “I will not pass notes in class” a hundred times—she had known that they were destined for each other. 

She’d followed him to the University of Edinburgh, even going so far as to take some accounting classes with him even though she despised the subject. He’d finally taken her on a date last fall, and had even kissed her goodnight. It hadn’t gone further than that single date in spite of her best efforts, but she’d seen him a few weeks ago at the Hogmanay party his family hosted for practically the whole town, and she’d danced with him once, so things had been looking up.

Now, she wasn’t so sure. She’d seen his best friend Ian when he’d come to check his university post box, and had asked him about his ski holiday with Jamie. Apparently, Jamie had hooked up with some sassenach bitch and had a crush on her. Well, this Claire was far away… wherever…and Laoghaire was right here under his nose. 

For now, though, she had the post to sort. It wasn’t the best job at the university, but it was steady work sorting the endless stream of incoming letters and inter-university fliers and memos and putting them into each person’s box. It was also a chance to see Jamie every day. He always checked his box at one o’clock sharp, and she would make sure to greet him when he did…any minute now. She looked back at the box of the newly arrived post. 

Well, well, well…what do we have here? 

A letter for James Fraser, from one Claire Beauchamp. 

Laoghaire held the envelope, her hand trembling. She could get in trouble for this—even lose her job. She would have to be careful. Very careful. It was wrong, and she knew it, but she didn’t care. Casting a glance around at the other workers, she stepped out of sight behind a shelf, then folded the letter in half and slipped it into her back pocket. When she stepped out again, she caught a glimpse of Jamie from behind. Sure enough, he was right on time. On a whim, she walked over to the box where people could deposit outgoing letters. 

There it was, on the top of the pile. He’d obviously just slipped it through the slot. 

Addressed to Claire Beauchamp. 

She grabbed it, stuffing it up under her jumper until she could get to a more private spot to hide it better. 

Later that evening, back at her flat, Laoghaire opened both letters and read them before putting them into a shoe box and tucking the box away in her closet. Clearly, this Claire had made quite an impression on her Jamie, even if the photo she’d sent wasn’t great. No makeup to speak of, and her hair was a plain, brown mess. Just an average looking girl at best. As she stared at the photograph, a plan began to form in her mind. 

She would have to make absolutely certain that none of the letters either of them sent ever got through, even if it meant risking her job to do it. If she failed, she knew she had absolutely no chance with the only man she’d ever really loved, and that was an outcome that was simply unacceptable. 

It was difficult at first—the letters both arrived and were sent nearly every day. She picked up extra shifts when she could, and was constantly dropping by the sorting room when she couldn’t. But by March, they had slowed to a trickle, and by the end of the semester, they had ceased entirely. 

She had done it! 

Unfortunately, she hadn’t made much headway with Jamie himself. Increasingly, he’d looked exhausted and haggard when she saw him. Dark circles ringed his beautiful blue eyes, and he’d been making trips back home constantly. She wasn’t sure why. 

No matter. 

Laoghaire knew where he’d be spending his summer. It was the same place he’d spent every summer: working at the distillery. She would have to make a few strategic visits. Surely, he was over his stupid fling by now.