Chapter 1: Fisherman's Wharf
I stared out over the sparkling Pacific Ocean, sipping a glass of viognier and watching the sun sink below the horizon. The salty ocean air paired well with the full-bodied wine.
I dipped a piece of freshly baked sourdough bread into my bowl of clam chowder and moaned indecently when it touched my tongue. It was pure heaven.
Over the last few years, I hadn’t made much effort to do anything so pleasurable. Work was life since Frank died, and though I didn’t see that as a terrible thing, I wouldn’t call it exceptionally fulfilling.
I need this, I thought to myself, gazing out over the beauty of the Monterey Bay coastline from a restaurant at the end of the pier. I need to get away from the bloody hospital once in a while. I was almost grateful for the upcoming wedding that forced me to take this trip.
By my third glass, a pleasant buzz began warming me despite the cool wind blowing in off the water. My slight intoxication muted the quiet rumble of dinner conversation around me, blending it in with the sound of the waves breaking on the shore below. It was peaceful and soothing—a nice change from the urgent shouts and beeping alarms more common in nights at the hospital.
My eyes landed on the empty seat across from me, and a familiar loneliness clenched at my heart. Frank’s ring weighed heavily on my finger.
I wasn’t missing him specifically, at least, not at that moment. No. I was missing the quiet intimacy of long-time companionship…the having of someone who was mine and to whom I belonged in return. Someone to share these special moments with.
Yet the mere thought of dating, of actively searching for someone to share my life with, turned my wine sour. I shivered at the memory of my last outing with Gerald Forbes. Being single and a little lonely was far better than listening to a grown man chew with his mouth open while he informed me of all the reasons I was lucky he swiped right.
I finished my wine and settled the tab, trying to hold onto the sense of peace bestowed by the delicious meal and breathtaking view. My buzz aided in sustaining relaxation, making the lights on the pier twinkle at the edge of twilight.
The evening winds of California’s central coast were cold enough to discourage loitering, driving the crowds of people indoors. I found an empty bench by the waterfront to sit and wait for my Lyft. The biting wind nipped at my ears, so I pulled my collar up for protection. As I watched a sailboat navigate the crowded marina, my whole body shivered at the thought of being out there in the ocean as chilly as it was.
“Dear God, it’s cold,” said an impatient voice nearby. I turned to see a man leaning against the rail on the docks, rubbing his hands together for warmth. It took me a moment to realize he spoke with an English accent.
“Come now,” I teased. “This should be nothing to an Englishman like yourself.”
His brows rose up, and I could see a familiar joy in his eyes at hearing a voice from home in a faraway land. “I left my coat back at the restaurant.”
“You’re not going out there this evening, are you?” I nodded toward the marina.
“God no,” he laughed. “Only a tried-and-true sailor or bloody fool would brave these winds.”
“Then you’re just enjoying the view?”
“Oh no. I’m waiting for a friend. He hired someone to take him out to Lover’s Point. He’s coming back now…just there.” He pointed to a docking sailboat.
“Is your friend a tried-and-true sailor? Or a bloody fool?”
“The latter, I’m afraid.” His laughter was full of affection.
I checked my app for the status of my ride. It was getting close. “Lover’s Point? Was your friend meeting someone special?”
“I have no idea. We were finishing a bloody marvelous pinot noir at The Sandbar, then he suddenly jumped up and announced that he needed to find a boat. He marched right down here and located someone foolish enough to accept his price.”
“Let me guess…that wasn’t the first glass of pinot your friend had this evening?”
He smiled brightly. “It was not. Not even the first bottle.”
“You didn’t want to go with him?”
“He wouldn’t let me, and the bastard is as stubborn as a mule. I’m just here to ensure he makes it home safely.”
The headlights of my ride pulled into the lot just as the Englishman stepped down the docks to meet his friend.
“Dear God!” he said. “You look awful.”
I watched a large man emerge from the boat and collapse on his hands and knees at the Englishman’s feet. He gagged several times, giving the Englishman just enough time to clear out before vomiting all over the dock.
“Oh my.” I rushed over, doctor’s instincts never really on vacation. “Are you alright?”
The dark pink color of the vomit and its particular fruity scent indicated that the “bloody marvelous pinot noir” he drank earlier was likely the cause of his nausea. He was fucking drunk. I wondered just how much alcohol it took to fell an enormous man like that.
I knelt beside him, careful to keep my shoes clean, and lifted his head. His hair was cut short and appeared auburn or brown in faded light. His eyes were glazed over and sunk in with intoxication, but even the lack of sun couldn’t hide their pretty blue color.
“My name is Claire Randall. I’m a doctor,” I assured him, checking what I could of his vitals. “Here. Follow my fingers with your eyes…no, just your eyes.”
He failed miserably.
“Do you know where you are?”
“How about an easier question? Do you know who you are?”
He gazed up at me dreamily, finally seeming to realize I was an actual person. When he spoke, it was with a hint of a Scottish accent. “How do I ken who I am or where I am? How could a single wave locate itself in an ocean?”
“He’s quoting Rumi,” said the Englishman, bending down to help his friend to his feet. “Don’t mind him. He gets poetic when he’s drunk.”
“This man needs rest and hydration,” I prescribed. “And a toothbrush.”
“Thank you, doctor. I’ll ensure he gets it.”
A car honked its horn from the lot. My ride was waiting. “Just make sure he keeps breathing, will you?”
“We’ve been at this a long time,” he laughed. “He’ll be fine.”
“You are not a drop in the ocean,” the Scot said to me, still staring in fascination. “You are the entire ocean, in a drop.”
I chuckled and looked at him one last time with plenty of sympathy for the headache he was sure to have in the morning. I waved goodbye and turned to make my way to the car.
The Scot’s loud, intoxicated voice boomed out across the distance. “Jesus, Mary, and Bride, did’ye see the arse on that woman? Oh, Christ, what I’d do to bury my face in—”
“Funny,” the Englishman interrupted him, “but I don’t recall Rumi ever saying that. Let’s do our best to avoid restraining orders and public intoxication charges this evening, shall we?”
As I slid into the car, the Scot’s eyes were still locked in my direction. The poor Englishman was fruitless in his attempts to drag him off the docks. I gave a small wave to indulge him before letting the driver know I was ready to go.
Encouraged by that tiny bit of attention, the Scot stumbled forward, eager for more. The car drove off, leaving him to chase behind, waving like a drunken fool for us to stop. I shook my head and chuckled quietly, thinking it was too bad he was such a bloody sot, because he was quite pretty to look at, even covered in sweat and complexion green with nausea.
The car pulled onto the main road, and he had no chance of keeping up. I was surprised by my slight disappointment, though I had no intention of having the driver turn around. Peace and a little loneliness were far better than being caught up in the foolishness of a man like that.
My heart warmed. It was nice to be wanted sometimes.
Chapter 2: Lover's Point
I stood in front of the floor-length mirror, naked from head to toe. I strained my neck to peer over my shoulder at my bum’s reflection, still feeling inanely flattered by the wharf drunk’s crude compliment the night before. Impaired judgment or not, I decided to take him at his word that even over fifty, my arse had yet to quit.
With the confidence bestowed by a handsome lush, I decided to wear an awfully short pair of shorts to go on my walk. It was warm outside by coastal standards, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so I’d easily get away with scanty attire without being too chilled.
Pacific Grove sat on the tip of the Monterey Peninsula. It was covered in trees, rock formations, stretches of lush greenery, and a few sandy beaches. Everywhere I looked, pine, palm, cypress, and coastal oak shaded walking paths and quiet streets. I’d even seen a few deer grazing in front of my cottage just after dawn.
The Asilomar Trail was off to my left, a beautiful, easy hike along the coastline. I’d been planning to take that walk for weeks, even researching directions online beforehand. But a street sign indicated that Lover’s Point was only a mile away in the opposite direction. I knew nothing about the place, but recalled it was special enough for the drunken fool last night to hire a boat to take him out there in the freezing wind and unsteady sea.
How could I resist visiting a place that would inspire lunacy like that?
It quickly became apparent that I’d made the right decision. A mile-long stretch of coastline was covered in a blanket of succulents with icy pink blossoms. They spilled over rocky cliffs and cascaded down the sandy shorelines. It was one of the most magnificent sights I’d ever seen.
My walk ended at Lover’s Point Park where a small beach sat cozily between two large rock formations that blocked large waves and heavy winds. It was fairly quiet, save for several families set up for a long beach day and a few kayakers paddling out to sea. Small waves and a scattering of large rocks ensured no surfers crowded the water, and it was still too early in the season for much tourism.
I didn’t know what to expect from a place called Lover’s Point, but this quiet cove was a delightful surprise. I took my sandals off at the bottom of the stairs and sank my feet into the soft, warm sand. A light breeze lifted my hair off my neck and blew it aside as I walked to the center of the cove.
Children were playing uninhibitedly in the water like it was as warm as a beach in San Diego, so I gasped in shock when a gentle wave lapped over my feet, chilling me to the bone. “Bloody hell.”
It took a few moments of slow, deep breathing for me to accustom myself to the temperature, and I was surprised how quickly my body adapted. The water wasn’t warm, by any means, but it was certainly swimmable.
I waded far enough out for the highest of the waves to kiss my thighs, and then I stared out over the vast blue sea. There was a grandness to the Pacific, a delicate beauty that demanded an awe-inspiring respect.
I wondered if I lived in this magical place, would it still have the same hold over me? Would I come out to the water day after day with the same childlike wonderment and fascination? Or would the scenery sparkle a little less with acclimation?
I stood there so long, my body habituated to the back-and-forth sway of the water. If I would've known about this beach beforehand, I would’ve come with my bathing suit and been up to my shoulders, in a state of complete relaxation.
As I was staring at the water, I noticed an imperfection in the perfect scene. A glass bottle was floating in on one of the waves. It was a dark green wine bottle with the cork stuck halfway in, likely discarded by one of the hundreds of sailboats or yachts that traveled past in the last few days.
I would’ve ignored it, and intended to, but as it came closer, I saw my name printed in bold letters across the label. I moved quickly to scoop it up, intrigued by which winery it was, and wondering if it would be worth picking up a few bottles to take home.
2019 | Paso Robles | Estate
It was elegantly printed, golden letters embossed on a black label, darker even than the glass on which it was stuck. There was a glossy sheen to it, protecting it somewhat, so it didn’t disintegrate in the water.
As I turned it over to inspect the other side, a delicate clattering alerted me to something residing inside the bottle. I shook it a bit, and it sounded like a handful of dried beans.
Curiosity getting the better of me, I pulled out the cork and peered inside. There seemed to be a tightly rolled up note and something else at the bottom. Fearful of dropping the contents into the ocean, I took the bottle back to shore for a more thorough inspection.
I sat on the dry sand, facing the water, then upended the bottle. I shook it gently until a pearl necklace fell into my lap along with a tightly rolled up note on an old wine-stained piece of paper.
The pearls were a lovely creamrose shade, and every part of the necklace was perfectly intact. I rubbed a pearl against my tooth to check for authenticity, and the texture felt exactly as it should. It was a long necklace, easily capable of wrapping around my neck two or three times.
Why on earth would anyone want to discard it? Surely, someone must be missing it.
I ensured my hands were entirely dry and wiped clean before unrolling the little bit of paper turned yellow with age. Inside was a note written in an elegant, feminine script.
Today, on the eve of your deployment, I have been trying my best to find a way to ignore the dangers you have chosen to face. Instead, let me ruminate on a happy future for my only living son.
Take with you my pearls as a hope and a wish for a happy life before you. I don’t know when, if ever, you will fall in love—truly in love with all your heart and soul—but should the occasion arise, I want you to give these pearls to one who holds your heart. Your heart is both delicate and ferocious. You love passionately and gently all at once. I can’t imagine there will ever be a person worthy of that kind of love, but knowing you, I’m sure you’ll give it freely anyway.
And remember, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” Matthew 7:6.
May whoever wears these pearls around their neck be worthy of them.
Chapter 3: Spanish Bay
“What would you like, Jamie?” said John. “Merlot or fumé blanc, whatever the hell that is. William’s bride assures me the wine hasn’t been smoked.”
Jamie took a glass of fumé off the tray and thanked the waiter. “It’s a California sauvignon blanc aged in oak.” He swirled the wine releasing its aromas of citrus and melon. “The oak gives it a smokier flavor than the stainless steel.”
“Like a Pouilly-Fumé?”
“Are you making it at the winery?”
“No’ yet.” He took a sip of the dry white wine and sighed contentedly, instantly deciding to purchase a warehouse full of oak barrels for the following year’s crop.
“Pardon me a moment,” said John, drinking with a little more vigor than Jamie thought prudent for such a quality wine…especially his first glass. “Louisa Dunsany has just arrived. I’d better take her to see William before the ceremony, seeing as how she’s the one footing the bill for these nuptials.” John found a second glass of fumé as he made his way to see his son’s maternal grandmother.
Jamie looked around the venue of his godson’s wedding. The Inn at Spanish Bay was a beautiful place, white flowers everywhere, wine flowing freely, and the ocean a stone’s throw away. He’d played a hungover round of golf at the adjoining course with John and Willie the day before, and was awestruck by the magnificent beauty of the peninsula.
As gorgeous as the scenery was, he couldn’t help but think that he wouldn’t want a wedding like this for himself. No, if he was ever to marry, he’d rather a small ceremony on the quiet sands of Big Sur about an hour down the coastline. No pomp, no circumstance. It would be just him and his bride, with John officiating, and no one else around. Jenny would be furious, but he wouldn’t tell her until it was over. She’d offer forgiveness, but never permission, for such a thing.
He scoffed at himself. He was over fifty and nowhere near a relationship. He’d been a bachelor his whole life, and there was no indication that would ever change. He drained his glass as fast as he’d watched John do only a moment before and then went to find another.
The recent loss of his mother’s pearls only magnified his defeat. Literally moments after sailing out to launch them despairingly into the sea, God had placed an angel—at the very least, a saint—in his path on the docks to rub salt in his wound. Jamie would’ve married that stunning woman on the spot had he had those pearls in hand, yet all he could do was watch in stupefaction as she stepped over his vomit and drove off, disappearing from his life forever.
His Maker had a cruel sense of humor.
“Colonel Fraser!” A heavy hand patted Jamie on the back as he sipped his wine.
“Harry, ye made it.” Jamie shook Harry Quarry’s hand. “John said yer flight was delayed.”
“Indeed. Arrived only a few hours ago. Dog tired, but couldn’t miss it. I heard all of the bridesmaids are single.”
“They’re half yer age, man.”
“Precisely.” He sipped his wine, greedily looking around for a sign of one of the young ladies. Fortunately, they were all hidden away with the bride, doing whatever it was women did to prepare for a wedding.
“Although,” Harry continued, pointing across the room, “I wouldn’t say no to that delectable derriere if she’s not already taken.”
Jamie turned to find the woman Harry was staring at, expecting to see a nineteen-year-old coed in a little black dress that hardly covered her arse. Instead, he saw a grown woman in an elegant gown of pale pink, talking with a colleague of William Dunsany.
Their view of her was from behind, but it was a glorious behind at that. Her dress cinched in at the waist and clung to her deliciously round arse in a way that was somehow both classy and completely indecent.
“No panty lines,” said Quarry, practically salivating.
“Mmphm.” Jamie had already noticed.
The woman tipped her head back and laughed. It was a sensual sound that seemed to dance to his ears from across the room. Her dark, brown hair was pinned loosely back, and a few escaped curls bounced with her humor.
Jamie was instantly turned on. He didn’t know who she was or how she knew the family, but that didn’t matter. Nor did it matter that he hadn’t seen her face. With an arse like that in his hands, he’d be fine with closing his eyes to fuck any manner of unpleasantness on the other end.
He put a hand on Quarry’s shoulder and gave it a hard squeeze. Harry raised a brow curiously, and Jamie grunted, letting him know she was off limits. Harry just snorted and sipped his wine, clearly fine with giving up his chance at the lady in pink when an abundance of bridesmaids would be available for his choosing.
“D’ye ken who she is?” Jamie asked.
“No idea. Come on. It looks like everyone is finding their seats.”
Jamie supposed it didn't matter who she was. She’d be his for the night as consolation for the loss of the angel on the docks, and if he enjoyed himself enough, perhaps he’d keep her around for the rest of the weekend.
Just as he was imagining what that arse would look like perched high on his bed, his cock buried between her cheeks, the woman turned around to follow the crowd out to where the ceremony would be held on the 1st Fairway Lawn.
“Oh, Christ…” It was her—the angel with the golden eyes and captivating smile…the one with soft, cold hands on his feverish cheeks. He couldn’t have been sure if the halo around her head that night was something divine or the glare of a streetlamp, but it didn’t bloody matter. She was the most perfect thing he’d ever beheld in his life.
His loins had already been humming, but now his heart followed suit. As though she could hear the thrumming in his chest, she turned her gaze in his direction. Their eyes locked and hers widened in amused recognition. She remembered him. Hope surged through him, launching him forward.
The woman visibly snorted and shook her head, then turned purposefully away.
“Fucking hell.” For the first time, he realized he had no recollection of what transpired between them that night. All he recalled was her angelic face, golden eyes, and ripe, full bottom. It never occurred to him that he might have embarrassed himself in drunken folly…or worse, offended her in some way.
“Oh, she’s a peach, is she not?” said Harry, but Jamie was already pushing past him to chase her down before she found herself a seat next to some other thirsty bastard. He rushed forward with long strides, fearful of losing her again.
Just as she was about to slip into the back row, Jamie reached for her hand, doing his damnedest to be gentle while so bloody desperate. She turned and looked up at him, eyes wary, waiting for him to say something.
His knees went weak at the sight of her up close, and he had to concentrate on standing upright. She was even more beautiful than his drunken brain remembered. Her skin in the sunlight carried a shine, almost iridescent in its perfection. He wanted to trace the curve of her jaw with his fingertips, with his lips, and he would have done so if he didn’t think it would scare her away.
She waited for him to speak, but all he could do was stand there, hold her hand, and stare completely awestruck and full of fucking lust.
“You look like you’re feeling better,” she said with an accent as posh as John’s, no little condescension in her tone. Of course the love of his life would be a sassenach.
“We should find our seats.” She attempted to pull her hand away, but he held tight.
“Please.” He nodded to the front. “Come wi’ me?”
He took her arm and hooked it around his with as much authority as thirty years in the military could muster and led her to the front with him. She didn’t have a chance to decline without making a scene.
The front row of the groom’s side was to be comprised of John, Hector, and all of Willie’s grandparents. The second row was reserved for Hal Grey’s family and Jamie with his heretofore nonexistent plus one.
He guided the woman to their seats, and she blushed as she sat down, clearly feeling out of place, yet she had such a confident grace in her backbone that anyone who wasn’t watching as intently as Jamie might never have noticed her discomfort. Jamie positioned himself at the end of the row with the woman right beside him, that way he could watch the ceremony without taking his eyes off her…not to mention, it would be harder for her to slip away with him blocking the exit.
“Are you related to the groom?” she whispered.
“I’m his godfather. How d’ye ken Willie?”
“I don’t. His grandfather is a colleague and requested I attend. I really have no business being up here with the family,” she insisted.
“Weel, I have business here, and you have business wi’ me.” He spoke firmly to settle the matter and placed an arm possessively around the back of her chair.
“You certainly are a pushy son of a bitch, aren’t you?”
He grinned, having been called a lot worse in his lifetime. “I didna care to wake yesterday morning wi’ the realization I’d ne’er see ye again. I’d rather no’ repeat that folly. I intend to keep ye close until we have a chance to talk.”
“I tried talking to you that night, but you only spoke in quotes of Rumi—”
“There are worse things I could’ve said when that intoxicated.”
“—and made a crude comment about my backside.”
He cringed and rubbed a hand over his face in shame. “I beg yer pardon for whatever I said. I wasna myself.”
“Is that so? Your friend called you ‘a damned fool’ and implied the two of you had been in similar situations a good number of times over the course of your acquaintance. I’m inclined to believe it was an accurate representation of your character.”
“I should think I have more depth than that when sober.”
“The entire ocean in a drop?”
He barked out a hearty laugh before he remembered where he was. Thankfully, the ceremony hadn’t started yet and guests were still getting settled. “Something like that.”
She looked up at him, narrowing her gaze as though trying to take the measure of him. He didn’t mask his expression like he might have done for someone else. He let her see his fondness for her, his joy at having another chance to know her.
For a moment, her eyes softened and her lips parted, letting out a quiet, near whimpering sigh. She liked the look of him; that much was clear. He couldn’t help his smile at how sweet her whisky eyes glittered as she watched him. There was a starry-eyed tenderness in the woman he hadn’t expected, and for the first time in his life he understood what it meant for a heart to melt for someone. He felt strangely warm and liquid inside.
But it didn’t last long. As soon as she obtained some degree of self-awareness regarding her vulnerability, she furrowed her brow and looked away, staring at the ocean as though frustrated at the breathtaking view.
He was wildly curious why such a thing would close her off, and not just because he wanted to break through whatever walls she put up, but because everything about her was fascinating…her eyes, her hair, that sultry voice and sharp wit…that captivating pearlescent quality of her skin in the sunlight…and the hang-ups she had that stopped her from engaging too intimately with a previously-drunk-but-now-semisober stranger who was clearly infatuated with her.
He took a deep breath, finally realizing he was coming off a bit strong for the situation. She had to think him fucking mad.
But as his eyes took her in again, he concluded he had every right to be deranged in her presence…she was just that bloody marvelous.
Not for the first time in the last few minutes did he wish he still had his mother’s pearls. He wondered what they’d look like around her neck. Her dress had a neckline that was quite high, making it impossible to picture them on her skin. He would’ve cursed the pale pink gown if it didn’t complement her fine, fat arse so well.
He had to admit, high neckline aside, it was a lovely gown. It bared the entire length of her arms, showing off that radiant skin. Without thinking, his hand moved from the back of the chair to her shoulder, delicately tracing her petal-soft skin like she was somehow his to touch as he pleased. She quivered as his thumb grazed near her underarm, eliciting a rise of gooseflesh beneath his fingers.
“Ye’re no’ cold, are ye?” he asked, relieved she’d yet to push him away.
She shook her head, and he could tell by the flush of her cheeks that she was quite warm. Heartened, he reached across his body for her hand that was resting in her lap and pulled it onto his own.
Startled by his forwardness, she snapped her head back toward him and watched as his fingers traced soft circles on her palm. He was surrounding her, possibly overwhelming her, but he couldn’t seem to pull himself away.
“Who in God’s name are you?” she whispered, eyes conflicted with one impulse to move closer and another to pull away.
He leaned in and spoke soft and low. “My name is James Fraser, but ye can call me Jamie, if ye like.”
She was cut off by the music starting and the sounds of bodies turning to look down the aisle. Her eyes stayed locked on Jamie, still puzzling through whatever conflict waged war in her mind, but still, she allowed him to keep her small hand wrapped in his larger one.
Jamie had to force himself to look away to watch the procession down the aisle. He noticed Harry Quarry smirking and making mental notes on each bridesmaid as they walked by.
Willie stood with the pastor, flowers and greenery framing them in an elegant arbor where he waited for his bride. The ocean made a glorious backdrop for the scene, and the timing was such that the sun would be setting as the ceremony progressed.
Jamie didn’t release his sassenach’s hand when it came time to stand for Jane’s entrance. He kept hold, threading their fingers together. They were soft hands with an elegance about them, save for a crookedness in her little finger. He traced the odd shape, amused by the way it curved around.
“She’s lovely,” whispered his sassenach, admiring the bride in all her splendor.
“And her groom is besotted.”
Willie’s feet were pulled toward Jane like the tide to the moon, too impatient to wait for her to join him. Whatever reservations the Dunsanys had about the match, Jamie knew it would be a good one.
Their affection for each other was mesmerizing, and as the ceremony flew by, even the hardest of hearts were softened by the sweet couple pledging their lives to each other. Jamie’s sassenach was moved to tears as the couple read their vows, and he had to briefly release her hand to fish out his handkerchief.
“Thank you.” She handed it back with small streaks of mascara smeared on the crisp, white linen.
“What do you bring as the sign of your promise?” the pastor asked the bride and groom. The rings were presented to him for a blessing.
Jamie’s eyes naturally flickered to Claire’s left hand—the one he hadn’t been holding for the past twenty minutes—thinking that maybe a pearl ring would honor both her and his mother nicely. But there was already another ring on her third finger…a plain gold wedding band that looked as though it had been there forever.
He reached across her body to take her hand in his and traced the ring with his thumb, heart sinking, devastated. No, he thought to himself. God really does fucking hate me.
His next thought had him spiting the Almighty for the second time that week, already deciding on pursuing the bloody woman no matter her attachments. No wonder she had been resistant to him; she was loyal. Loyalty was a good thing. He just had to find a way to shift it to himself, because husband be damned, he was not giving her up again.
He glanced at her face to find her eyes soft and a little sad, but her mouth was curved in a small smile. “Widow,” she mouthed, the sound of the word never reaching his ear. He didn’t need to hear it. His whole body relaxed with a relieved sigh, and his mouth curved despite the tragic loss.
“Not the sympathies I’m accustomed to,” she said, humor erasing her sadness.
She shook them off as unneeded. “Have you ever been married?”
Her eyes narrowed again, and she almost seemed disappointed. He was on the verge of asking her why when they were interrupted by the pastor raising his voice.
“William and Jane have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands and the giving and receiving of rings. I now pronounce them Husband and Wife. You, sir, may kiss your bride.”
Jamie’s sassenach pulled her hands free to applaud the newly married couple. He followed suit, ready for the ceremony to be over, so he could finally take the time to get to know the woman next to him. He didn’t feel remotely guilty for being absent-minded during Willie’s wedding. Jamie could tell the only thing Willie was thinking about at the moment was getting his wife up to their honeymoon suite. Fair was fair.
When the crowd began making their way indoors to begin the celebration, Jamie lingered behind, a hand around his lady’s waist to keep her outside for a few moments alone. He pulled her toward the edge of the lawn to look out at the ocean. There was a bonnie wooden boardwalk that led down to the beach he would’ve liked to explore had they had more time.
“Shouldn’t we go inside with everyone else?” she asked.
“In a bit. Aye.” The wind dislodged a lock of her hair, and he watched it tickle her nose before she tucked it behind her ear. “I thought the pink skies of the gloaming might put ye in a mood to forgive my insanity the other night,” he took her hand and gave it a squeeze, “and maybe even some of my madness this evening, as well.”
“Apology accepted, though I must admit, there’s little to forgive. I took your crudeness as a compliment, and your attentions this evening have been just as flattering.”
“Then why does it feel like ye’re reluctant to receive them?”
“I’ve known you all of thirty minutes, Mr. Fraser. Flattered as I am, you can’t expect me to fall all over myself for a near stranger just because he wants to get his hands on my arse. I do have some degree of self-respect.”
“It’s Jamie, and that’s no’ what I want from ye.”
She pulled her hand away and raised a brow.
“Ok, fine. It’s no’ all I want.”
“Then what do you want?”
“You. I want to know ye.”
“If truth be told, aye, it was because ye’re so goddamn beautiful, but every second I’ve spent wi’ ye only makes me want to ken ye more.”
“What could you have possibly gathered about me in our short acquaintance that would make you so interested?”
“I ken ye’re bright and witty. And ye have a great deal of self-respect, rightfully so. And…”
“And I want to know more. That’s all.” He took her hand again—the one without the ring—and gave her a playfully pleading smile. “Have dinner wi’ me…a glass of wine…a few dances. Are ye no’ a wee bit curious about me in turn?”
“Oh, I am curious. I’ve just lived long enough to learn that not every itch requires a scratch.”
“I would very much like to hear how ye learned that lesson. And everything else about ye.” He brought her hand to his lips to place a kiss on her knuckles. Her fingers smelled of that delicious fumé blanc. “But mebbe, we’ll start with yer preference of wine.”
Her lips were trying not to smile, but her eyes couldn’t hide her amusement. “Dinner and wine,” she agreed. “The dancing depends on the music these young people are playing.”
“Seeing as how Willie met his lass at a strip club in Vegas, I’m sure it’ll be lively.”
Her mouth dropped open. “He did not?”
“Oh, aye. He had to pay a pretty penny for a private dance wi’ her, but I’m sure he’ll say it was worth it.”
“How did you know I wanted the white?” she asked as Jamie poured her glass from a bottle sitting on the table. They had just sat down at the start of dinner service.
“He’s a magician with wine,” said Hector, sitting on the sassenach’s other side. He was listening in on their conversation while John was across the room attending to a few distant relatives. “Don’t let him get ahold of your glass when it’s empty, or he’ll read the dregs like tea leaves.”
“No,” said Jamie, sliding his chair closer to the lass. “I just pay attention.”
“Does that mean you saw me drinking it earlier?”
He shook his head. “I smelled it on ye.”
“Either I’m a clumsy lush, or you’ve got the nose of a bloodhound.”
“I’m fond of wine, is all.” He raised his glass and inhaled the scent that now reminded him of her fingertips.
“Oh, yes. That much I do recall,” she teased.
“Tell me about yerself,” he said, steering the subject away from his idiocy at the wharf. He moved his hand to the back of her neck to fondle the silk of her dress where it met her hair. “If ye work with Dunsany, ye must live in the Bay Area.”
“I live in Palo Alto at the moment, but he’s trying to convince me to move to San Francisco.”
“Ye dinna work at his firm, d’ye?” The thought of her working with a bunch of greedy capitalist shitheads made his stomach turn.
“No. He’s trying to steal me away to accept the Chief of Staff position at the hospital where his wife currently serves on the board.”
“Ye’re a doctor?”
“Ye live by the blade then? A spine of steel wi’ a wicked sharp edge. Aye. That suits ye fine.”
“You find me a bit prickly?”
“I’m a Scot. I like a woman wi’ an edge.”
She rolled her eyes, but he could see she was pleased. “I have a question for you.”
“For a man who’s confessed endless curiosity about me, I find it strange that you have yet to ask my name. Do you ever plan on doing so?”
“I’ve been savoring the anticipation of learning it, running through endless possibilities in my head.”
“And what have you come up with?”
“Nothing suitable. I’ve been dying to know yer name since I first saw ye on the docks, a halo of light surrounding yer head, golden eyes making my heart stutter in my chest.”
“Probably just tachycardia from excessive drinking. Come to think of it, I told you my name that day. You just don’t remember.”
“An unforgivable offense.”
“Aren’t you afraid you’re setting yourself up for disappointment? I assure you, I have a perfectly ordinary name.”
“There is nothing ordinary about ye, Sassenach.”
“It only means outlander or Englishperson.” He didn’t say she looked like the kind of woman who wouldn’t quite fit in anywhere she went. She was far too special to keep from standing out.
“The colonel has a fondness for the English,” Hector interjected. “As much as he complains about them, he seems to surround himself with them everywhere he goes.”
“Colonel? You’re military?”
“Retired after thirty years.”
“Three decades is a long time.”
“I’m hoping the next three decades of my life will be far more peaceful than the last.”
“What do you intend to do with them?”
“Drink wine and enjoy the company of my favorite sassenachs.”
She smiled, reluctantly charmed, and raised her glass to his retirement plan.
“Ohhh! Here comes the best part of my day,” Hector squealed, watching the waiter bring a stainless-steel ice bucket to the table with a bottle of sparkling wine chilling inside. The waiter popped the cork and began filling flutes for the toasts. Hector took the sassenach’s hand and gave it an excited shake. “Jane wanted pink champagne, but our resident sommelier insisted on something local. A sparkling rosé of pinot noir. It’s my favorite thing in the whole wide world.”
“A glowing review,” she said, eyes wide with curiosity.
When the waiter finished pouring, Jamie stopped him before he moved on to the next table. “Leave us a bucket and another bottle, aye?”
The waiter did as he asked and then moved on.
“It’s that good, is it?” she asked.
“Go on. Gi’ it a try.”
“But they haven’t started the toasts yet.”
“It’s fine.” Jamie pushed her glass closer, eager—and a little nervous—for her opinion.
She lifted the flute, taking a moment to inhale the fruity aroma before bringing it to her lips. She sipped slowly and with her eyes closed, then let the wine linger on her tongue before swallowing it down.
It was the most erotic thing Jamie had ever seen in his life. He licked his lips and waited for her response.
“Oh my God,” she breathed, opening her eyes. “That was delicious.”
Jamie couldn’t help the smile spreading across his cheeks. He fucking knew she had good taste.
“I told you,” said Hector, drinking along with her, but with much less restraint.
She took another sip, repeating the same process as the first, and all of Jamie’s blood dropped down to his cock. He took the bottle and topped off her glass, wanting to see her swallow it again and again and again.
“Wait,” she grabbed his hand to stop him from placing the wine back in the ice bucket. She took the bottle from him to inspect the label. “St. Claire?”
“Ye ken the winery?” His heart fluttered.
“I’ve seen a bottle before and wanted to try their wine. I’d planned on picking up a few to take home.”
“Oh? And it measures up to yer expectations?”
“Why did ye want to try it? Ye like the label?” He caressed the bottle affectionately.
She smiled and turned the label to face him, then pointed at the word Claire. He raised a brow in question, then his eyes widened in understanding. “Yer name?”
She nodded and put out a hand. “Claire Randall.”
His heart raced madly as he took it in both of his. “A pleasure to meet ye, Claire.” He kissed the back of her fingers. “A great pleasure indeed.”
Chapter 4: The Links by Starlight
Jamie jumped at his chance to dance with Claire when the first song played that didn’t sound like it came straight out of a Vegas nightclub. He wanted her in his arms and pressed tight against his body, and with the sparkling wine absorbing into her brain, she was blessedly willing and happy to be there.
His hand was flat against the small of her back, little finger flirting with dipping into territory inappropriate for public spaces. She was staring up at him with a smirk, as though waiting for him to drop it down and cop a feel.
“So, the groom met his bride in a strip club?” she asked. “And he bought a dance from her?”
“Oh, aye, but mostly so no one else would. He bought all her time for the rest of the evening, and then again the night after that.”
“Until death do they part.”
“It was love at first sight for him. He took one look at her and kent he was done.”
“And for her?”
“She took a bit of convincing. I’d imagine a girl as lovely as her had a good number of marriage proposals when she did her job well.”
“Come to think of it, I’ve gotten a few on the job myself.”
Jamie smiled brightly—as much at her humor as at the way her tits pressed against him. He wondered if she knew what she was doing.
“Do you believe in love at first sight?” she asked.
“Aye.” He didn’t hesitate. “Do you?”
“I suppose that depends on your definition of love.”
“What’s yer definition?”
“Love is not a feeling you have,” she asserted. “It’s a thousand acts you give. It’s easy to have affection, attraction, or infatuation, but to love someone is something else entirely.”
“I was married for three decades. Infatuation only lasts so long, so you better have something else there when it goes away, or you’ll be left miserable.”
“Ye still havena explained what love is.”
“Love is when you care for someone even at their worst…especially at their worst. Love is being willing to sacrifice for a person. It’s a willingness to endure, even when it’s foolish to do so.”
“Yer version of love sounds painful.”
“Love is not always a happy thing.”
“Mebbe it should be.”
“Have you ever been in love?”
Jamie smiled, knowing it would not serve him well to tell his whole heart quite yet. “I’ve seen love. Great love. The greatest of loves. And yes, there were tears, but there was so much happiness…and the infatuation remained to the end.”
“That kind of love seems a rare thing.”
“Mebbe so. But it was real.” He ran his hand up and down her back, pressing her body ever closer. “Even by yer miserable standards…ouch!” She’d given him a pinch on the arm. “Fine. Even by yer perfectly reasonable standards, I’d still say love is possible at first sight.”
“Ye’re a doctor, are ye no’?”
“You know I am.”
“Ye care for yer patients no matter who they are or what terrible things they’ve done. Ye made an oath to do so.”
“You do yer job because ye love humanity. Ye serve people in yer devotion to that love.”
“I suppose so.”
“Who’s to say ye canna love a single person at first sight in the same way…only a bit magnified? And in my career, I’ve seen a good number of soldiers sacrifice themselves for the love of their people…people they’ve never known before. So there ye have it. People are capable of love and sacrifice even wi’out knowing a person at all.”
“Fair points. But what of longevity? I said that love is also the willingness to endure.”
“Willingness, being the keyword. Willingness is no’ equivalent to a long time spent.”
“Semantics. We can all proclaim a willingness to endure, but until it’s tested, that proclamation means nothing.”
“Just because ye dinna have the outcomes of yer test, doesna mean the truth of one’s commitment isna there. Sure, many dinna have the capacity for endurance, but some do. Even if it is just one person,” he bent down and whispered in her ear, “it means love at first sight is possible.”
“Fine. Unlikely. Extremely rare. But possible.”
Jamie hummed with validation.
“What about you? What is your definition of love?”
“My definition?” He stared deep into the dark places of her eyes when he answered. “Love is—true love, that is—it’s no’ something ye can have wi’ just anyone. It’s particular. It’s when ye…” He flushed, knowing he might sound foolish. “It’s when ye find a piece of yer soul that was missing, and it’s been safely kept in the heart of another, and ye ken ye’ve been holding a bit of their soul in yer own, waiting for them to come find it. Then, when God sees fit to have ye meet yer other half, life makes sense in a way it never did before.”
“Leave it to a romantic to make the concept of love unquantifiable. You’re talking of soulmates?”
The music had changed to a much faster, more wild song than suited their conversation, but still, they danced slowly, as though Michael Bublé continued to croon about how some things were meant to be.
Jamie finally nodded, answering her question with an openness that would leave no doubt he was talking about her.
A breath left her lungs, and a look of helplessness stole over her eyes. “You don’t have to do this, you know,” she said, her voice so weak.
“All of this. The whole soulmate thing. If you want to take me to bed, that’s fine. Wine me. Dine me. Whatever you like. But you don’t have to spin a tale of destiny or divine intervention. I’d really rather you just…get what you want from me without making this more than it is.”
“What d’ye mean? Ye dinna think I’m playing ye false?”
“Come now, Jamie. You’re fifty years old! You’ve been a bachelor your entire life. Men don’t just change suddenly when they retire. Some people are commitment people, and some just like the chase. I assure you; you don’t have to work that hard for me. I’m perfectly smitten without promises of forever. I’m a realistic and practical woman. I don’t need—”
He grabbed her face and shut her up with a kiss. Music was pounding in their ears and kids half their age were jumping and grinding on each other all around, but all he could focus on was the way her lips softened when she caught her breath and how her whole body vibrated with a contented hum.
He kissed his way to her ear so she could hear him above the fucking racket. “We may no’ ken much of each other yet, Claire, but I see no reason for lies. When I tell ye something, know it’s the truth.”
He pulled back to see if she believed him. Her eyes may have glittered with the buzz of sparkling wine, and her cheeks may have flushed with the hue of rosé, but her dazed response had nothing to do with the alcohol.
“I need a drink,” she said. “And air.”
He chuckled softly and nodded. With a hand on the small of her back, he led her to the bar to pick up two flutes and a freshly chilled bottle of sparkling rosé, then they made their way outside.
The 1st Fairway Lawn had been cleared of any evidence of a wedding and was transformed back into an empty stretch of grass dimly lit by the moon and the distant lights of the party. Claire held his arm as they walked, eager to move away from the noisy crowd behind them.
“Here,” he said, as they reached the edge of the lawn. He handed her the flutes so he could pop the cork and fill their glasses. He placed the cork in his pocket, wanting to add it to his growing collection at home.
He filled their drinks, spilling only a little in the darkness. His eyes weren’t quite what they used to be in dim light.
“Sláinte,” he toasted, and they both took a sip.
“It really is a bloody fantastic wine.”
“Aye,” he laughed, “and it gets better the more ye have.”
She smiled and looked out at the darkness of the ocean, the wind blowing her hair away from her face. A chill ran down her body, and Jamie belatedly realized it was quite cold.
He set the flute and bottle down on the lawn, then removed his coat, wrapping it around her from behind. He was sad to see her moonlit skin hidden away, but pleased he could do something to comfort her. She hummed pleasantly and leaned back against his body.
“So, where do you live?” she asked. “California? Scotland? Or does your fondness for sassenachs have you residing in England?”
“I live a couple hours south of here. John convinced me to move to California, but Monterey County is a bit…busy for me.”
“Really? It seems so peaceful.”
“In comparison to Santa Clara, I’m sure it is, but not to SLO.”
“San Luis Obispo County. Where I live.”
“How did you end up there?”
“After thirty years of war and military politics, a man craves peace.”
“Hmm,” she considered thoughtfully, sipping her wine. “I can only imagine.”
He inhaled the scent of her hair, and it did things to his body that were anything but peaceful. It would be an easy thing to give up his hard-earned serenity for a woman like Claire.
“You know,” she said, “I’ve spent my whole life healing people, and I bloody hate the thought of countries killing each other at the whims of a selected few.”
“Aye. Me too.”
She turned to face him, eyes gently curious. “Then why did you do it for so long?”
“A man doesna have to enjoy his purpose in order to fulfill it. It was my duty.”
“Have you…have you had to kill many people?”
“Aye. I took no pleasure in it. I’m Catholic, if ye can believe it, but I did as I felt I must.”
“How does a Catholic lad like yourself cope with breaking a beloved commandment?”
“Some of us must sacrifice the integrity of our souls so others dinna have to.”
“So, you’d volunteer an eternity in hell so I could spend my afterlife in paradise?”
“I dinna ken about hell,” he laughed. “Mebbe purgatory for a wee bit. Then I can join ye for the rest.”
“You laugh, but you’re serious, aren’t you?”
“Aye, I’m serious. I told ye I wouldna lie to ye.”
She reached up to caress his cheek. “I have no idea what you’ve been through in the last thirty years, but if anyone deserves peace, I’m sure it’s you.”
He turned his head to kiss her palm, feeling lightheaded by the wine and well-wishes. Her eyes closed, and she whimpered softly. He kissed her wrist for more of those wee noises.
“Oh my,” she tipped her glass back to drink what was left of her wine. “You’re a dangerous man, James Fraser.”
“Ye’re no’ afraid of me, are ye?”
“No. It’s not you I’m afraid of—oop!” Her heel sank into the lawn and she would’ve fallen over if Jamie hadn’t caught her. She laughed low in his ear, clinging to his neck.
“Are ye all right?”
“I’m fine,” she giggled, kicking off her shoes. Her height dropped considerably, and he towered over her all the more. “That’s better.”
He dipped his head down, smiling, and kissed her. She let off an enticing little moan that made him want to swallow her whole. “God, ye’re a noisy wee thing.”
“I am not.”
“Aye, ye are.” He licked up a whimper. “And yer sounds are delicious.”
His hands cupped her ample bottom. It was surprisingly firm, restrained as it was by her dress. He wanted it off to grip her soft, fat flesh, and split her down the center to bury his face between her cheeks.
“Jamie…” she said against his mouth, but he didn’t stop kissing her. And when she pulled back, he latched onto her neck. “Jamie, they can see us here.”
“Let them, and I trust they’ll have a better night for it.”
“Jamie!” she giggled, pulling away again. He released her, drunk on her moonlit smiles.
She squatted down, setting her flute on the lawn next to Jamie’s, then refilled them both, overflowing.
“Here.” She handed him his glass and toasted to his health in her silly, sassenach tongue, “Salon-cha.”
“Mmmm. You were right,” she said, dabbing at the corner of her mouth with the sleeve of his coat. “It does get more delicious with every glass.”
“Most things do.” He bent to kiss her with it fresh on her lips.
“Not here,” she stepped back, grabbing his hand to pull him toward the boardwalk. “Let’s take a walk.”
She snagged the wine bottle and shoved it in his coat pocket. The coat hung heavily over her slim shoulders, leaning to one side with the bottle’s weight. Jamie held out his arm like the gentleman he was not, and they began ambling down the wooden trail.
“Where are we going, I wonder?” she said, snuggling into his bicep.
He walked slowly so her small, bare feet could keep pace with ease. “This is the Spanish Bay Trail. We should come back here in daylight. It’s even more stunning when ye can actually see it.”
“Are you sure about that? It’s quite enchanting by starlight.” She looked up at him, eyes reflecting the glittering heavens. “Or maybe it’s just the nearness of you.”
His heart sped, and he pulled his arm from her grasp to wrap it around her waist, bringing her even closer. The wind picked up as they neared the ocean, but Jamie was wine-warm and Claire was well covered.
“It smells so fresh out here. It’s such a different scent from the ocean near home. I could get used to this.”
He breathed in, filling his lungs with the fresh, crisp air that smelled of salt, trees, and the flowery scent of Claire’s hair. “D’ye really think this is something ye could become accustomed to?” he asked. “I’ve been coming out here a number of years now, and it’s still as bonnie as the first day I came.”
“A few years is nothing. Give me a few decades to make a good go of it.”
“Oh, I intend to.”
She was silent a moment before letting out a tense laugh. “You’re mad, you know that?”
“What d’ye mean?”
“At first, I thought you were playing with this love at first sight nonsense, but you actually mean it, don’t you?”
“Of course, I mean it.”
“I could be a terrible person for all you know.”
“I told ye I’ve compromised my soul a dozen times over, and ye think I care?”
“You should. I could be a serial killer…or drink orange juice after brushing my teeth…or…or I could put ice cubes in my chardonnay!”
“You would never!”
“I’ve done it before.”
“Done what? Murder? Or exitium vini?”
“The latter, I’m afraid. It was a bloody hot day and the wine wasn’t chilled.”
“And ye couldna wait?”
“It was a Monday.”
He cringed. “I suppose ye did what ye must. Ye’re reluctantly forgiven.”
“How charitable of you. Your pope would be proud.”
“Aye. So long as it wasna the consecrated church wine.”
“Sangria on ice? Now that I have done.”
“Ye’re a veritable savage, Sassenach.”
“And you still think you lo—” she cut herself off. “And you’re still fond of me?”
“Oh, aye.” He stopped their progress to face her head on. Her pale skin was blue in the moonlight, and her lips, a dark purple. Her eyes, though, couldn’t rid themselves of their golden warmth, not even in pure darkness. “You, my Sassenach, could pour a 1992 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon at the feet of the Devil, and I’d still be fond of ye.”
“I’m assuming that’s a good wine?”
He snorted and drank the rest of his glass before tossing it aside on the sand. He took her face in his hands, fingers threading through her flyaway curls, thumbs caressing her cheeks. “Spilling a drop would be a damnable offense for any other person on this planet.”
“Is that because you hold a piece of my soul in your heart?”
“No, because ye hold mine in yers, and I’d be a fool to send it to hell.”
She snorted at his drunken nonsense, and he couldn’t help but kiss that sound, as well. She didn’t pull away this time; instead, she sank into him with her whole body, hips against hips and breasts against his chest. He held her head with one hand and gripped her arse with the other.
She tossed her glass aside as Jamie had done, and it landed with a quiet thunk in the sand. Her hands moved up his body and around his neck, settling in as though she had no intention of ever stopping. He tilted his head to press his tongue deeper, and she welcomed him, licking back, humming sweetly.
He couldn’t remember the last time he wanted anything so bad in all his life. In his youth, this kind of wanting was painful…unbearable. If he desired something, he fought madly, blindly, obsessively, until that need was fulfilled. Age had taught him the pleasure of want. The excitement. He intended to savor the ache of wanting Claire, knowing he’d never want anything so badly for the rest of his days.
She, however, had no intention of savoring anything. She hooked her fingers in his belt loops and pulled, rubbing herself against him, seeking fulfillment.
“Christ,” he groaned, weak for her. He bent to rub his cock against her pelvis. “Ye’ll drive a man mad, woman. And ye think I’m the dangerous one?”
“Yes, I bloody do.” Her eyes found his. “You’re the one who started this, kissing me like that.”
“Have ye never been kissed like that before?”
“No. I haven’t. Not quite like that, anyway.”
“How d’ye mean?”
“You’re just so…so much.”
He thought of the gold ring on her finger and did his best not to think ill of the dead. No wonder she was so fucking eager. “Just you wait.” He lifted her from her bottom, carrying her off the boardwalk and into the sand.
“Where are you taking me?” she laughed.
He brought her around a small dune, out of sight of the boardwalk—not that anyone sane would be walking down it so late at night—and laid her on the sand.
“The wine!” She pulled it out of her coat pocket and took a drink before offering it up to him. He tipped it back into his mouth like it was a fucking beer instead of a damn fine bottle of perfectly made rosé, and let the sparkling liquid tickle all the way down.
Claire grabbed his tie and pulled him toward her for a kiss, and he had to shove the bottle into the sand so what was left wouldn’t spill. His hands went straight to her tits, cursing the fucking dress yet again for getting in his way, but it was too bloody cold on the beach to have her naked the way he wanted.
He began pulling up her skirts, unable to resist the call of her arse any longer. It had been taunting and teasing him since they met. With the dress above her hips, he reached down for a handful, but found yet another fucking layer between them. “What in God’s name is this?”
He stared down at what appeared to be some sort of chastity belt or spandex shorts.
“They’re Spanx,” she laughed. “Something has to keep that massive bum in line.”
Ridiculous, he thought, pulling them off with difficulty. “Let yer curves be.”
When the wretched thing was off, he took a breath, finally getting what he wanted. He slid his hands up her thighs until her flesh became soft and pliant. He gripped her buttocks, squeezing harder than he ought.
“Jamie!” she squealed, and her legs fell wide open, inviting him between. Her pussy was already wet and glistening in the moonlight, perched prettily above her bum.
Cautious of the hazards of sand on a windy beach, he wasted no time lying down between her legs and lifting her pussy to his face. He inhaled deeply before diving in—an occupational habit—taking in her musky scent of feminine lust and perspiration. He knew how she’d taste before his tongue left his mouth.
Nothing tasted like pussy, and each one held a flavor as unique as the scent of the one who owned it. Something about Claire’s scent and flavor just did it for him. Maybe it was the flowers and cedarwood that came from her hair, or the salty air from the sea. Perhaps it was the lingering notes of berry and rose petals from the wine. It could have been genetics or pheromones. It could’ve been good old-fashioned intoxication. Whatever it was, her flavor made him ravenous.
He took his time to learn her body, the way her inner lips stuck out just the tiniest bit, the way her clit was tucked preciously away like the bud of a flower, the slickness of her flesh so sensitive to his touch at the edge of her opening. His tongue dipped in, sampling what his cock had been craving over the last two days. He licked everywhere, the firm edges and smooth curves. Her honey coated his lips, and he swallowed it all down.
Claire lay in the sand, humming and whimpering with his every touch. He trailed his tongue up to her clit, and her whole body quivered when he gave it a gentle lick. He went up the right side, then down the left. He licked bottom to top, then sucked gently. Her hands moved to his hair, holding him in place, while her thighs squeezed his head and blocked the wind from his ears.
The gentle crashing of ocean waves echoed in the air, reminding them of where they were. Sand covered Claire’s arse and was finding its way into every open crevice of Jamie’s shirt, tickling his skin. Still, he didn’t stop.
After long minutes of teasing, he found she liked it best when he sealed his mouth over her clit, sucking gently and flicking his tongue rapidly over the tip. He stayed at it as her arse began clenching and her thighs squeezed his head. Her moans were loud and deliciously amusing. She pulled his hair, rolling her hips against his mouth, and moisture covered his face.
Claire collapsed into the sand, legs still spread wide. He kissed her clit lightly and licked up and down her folds, more a comfort to her, a loving caress, than anything else. She tasted different after orgasm, and he spent time with his tongue lapping lazily inside her for the pleasure of it.
Her thigh was a soft and meaty place to rest his head, and he did so, glancing up at her. She smiled down at him, blissfully intoxicated. If sand wasn’t every-fucking-where, he would’ve stripped off his pants and had his way with her right there, but as fond as he was of pearls, he didn’t care to find any deep in her cunt come morning.
He forced himself up and walked to the water’s edge. He pulled out his handkerchief and wet it in a wave that splashed over his shoes. He wiped his face, then wet it again before returning to Claire.
He helped her to her feet and reached up her dress to wipe her down. The poor thing’s arse was covered in sand, and he did his best to dust it off—taking no little pleasure in the wobble of her bottom in the process.
“What about you?” She reached for his cock when he rose up.
He let her fondle him a moment before pulling away. “I’ll wait to have ye in my bed. I dinna care to get sand in yer mouth when I rail ye from behind.”
A quiet whimper escaped her lips, and he laughed as he retrieved the wine. There was hardly any left, so he took a small sip, letting it sit on his tongue and marry with the taste of Claire.
He gave her the bottle, and she finished it off before they started back up the boardwalk to the party. Their feet moved slowly and unhurried, neither eager to get back to the crowd when the ocean was far better company.
“I think I like you, Jamie,” she said, giggling as though she couldn’t believe herself.
“Acquitted myself well, did I?”
“Well, yes. You did.” She gripped his bicep. “But I think I like you more for not wanting sand in my mouth, and for giving me the last of the wine, and for wrapping me up in your coat.”
“It’s only decent.”
“I’m fond of decent.”
He smiled down at her, feeling rather pleased with himself. She had sand in her hair, and he thought he’d very much like to help wash it out.
“Can I ask ye a question?”
“Earlier, ye said it wasna me you were frightened of. What is it that scares ye so?”
Jamie counted their footsteps in the silence that followed. It took ten long, slow steps before she responded.
“It’s loss, I think. My husband was my friend, my partner, and I lost him after thirty years of marriage. I have no other family; they’re all gone. And there are only a handful of people I consider to be close friends. Most of my life is devoted to work, to the hospital.”
“It sounds lonely.”
“Sometimes it is…but it’s better than pain. I’ve had enough of that in the last half century. I’m not looking for any more.”
“I dinna want pain for you either.”
“I know. It’s just…I always imagined if I started dating again, it would be with someone who would fit into my life as it is, an addition to ease the loneliness of Frank’s loss.” She stopped moving and looked up at him. “You’re not the kind of man who does things halfway, are you? You don’t love in the periphery. You’re not ‘an addition’ to someone’s life; you’re the bloody center of it. I’ve only just met you, and your presence feels like it’s already consuming my entire existence.”
He snaked his hands around her waist, pulling her body against him. She was right; he’d never be satisfied with scraps of her time or attention. He wanted all of her. Her time, her body, her heart, her soul. He wanted to fucking possess her. “You’re afraid I’m going to hurt ye?”
“I’m afraid I’ll lose myself in you. Then what happens to me when you’re gone?”
“I’ll no’ leave ye.”
“God might say differently.”
“If God forces me from yer side, ye’ll be no less alone than before I came.”
“If you believe that, you’re a bloody fool.”
“You’ll pick up and move on, just as ye did wi’ Frank,” he tried not to sneer when he said the name.
“Frank was not the center of my world, not the way you intend to be.”
“He loved ye from the periphery?”
“And ye think I’m the bloody fool?”
He cut her off again with a kiss, not stopping until her body went weak in his arms. “It’s fine, Sassenach. I’ll gladly be yer fool.”
“What’s yer pleasure?” he asked, opening his music app.
“Hmphm.” Jamie was unfamiliar with the genre in general and just searched the word on its own. He found an “After Hours” playlist and selected it. A deep, sultry saxophone sounded from his speaker, followed by a slow bass setting an easy rhythm.
“Sonny Rollins. Perfect,” she said, slipping off his coat. They’d returned to the 1st Fairway Lawn, and she laid his coat down next to her shoes that she’d kicked off earlier in the evening.
“Ye’re no’ chilled?” he asked, tossing his phone onto the coat with the volume turned up to drown out music from the reception.
Claire stepped forward, fresh bottle of wine in hand, and let him wrap his arms around her. “Not when I’m here.” She pressed a kiss to his chest.
They began to sway back and forth, less to the music and more to the rhythm of their breath. Claire hooked an arm around his neck as she took a drink straight from the bottle.
“How does a sassenach like you come to like jazz? I would have pegged you for a fan of classical music or some intellectual indie nonsense.”
She lifted the bottle to his lips and had him drink before she answered. “I needed something without words to help me study in med school, and classical music kept putting me to sleep.”
“So that left jazz?”
“Mmhmm.” She lifted up on her toes to kiss him, clearly no longer worried about being seen by those at the party. His hand dropped to her arse, loving how soft and malleable the flesh was without those ridiculous undergarments.
“Why did you never marry?” she asked.
“Because I hadna met you.”
“I was being serious.” Yet she smiled when she said it.
“So was I.” He looked around to ensure no one was near, before moving his hand up to her breast. “God, these are lovely.”
“And there are two.”
“Thank Christ, I’ve got two hands.” He grabbed the other as they kissed, squeezing, massaging, thoroughly enjoying. “Aye, Sassenach. If I had met ye in my youth, I would ha’ married ye on the spot and no’ given ye up for anything.”
“It’s easy to say that when we’re dancing in the moonlight, the ocean only a short walk away, while drinking a damn good bottle—”
“Bottles,” he corrected.
“Pardon—damn good bottles of wine.”
“Ye keep insisting love is difficult. Why does it have to be that way? Why can it no’ be full of drunken moonlit dances on the beach?”
“Because my liver couldn’t take it.”
“Fine. We’ll skip the wine on Tuesdays.”
“What happens when we have an argument? Shall we dance our troubles away?”
“That sounds fine.” He listened to the saxophone play an easy, yet unpredictable tune, while Claire’s body stayed soft and relaxed in his arms. “I’d wager many problems could be solved like this.”
She sighed happily. “You make love sound so easy.”
“Nothing else signifies when ye’re in my arms.”
“Not even ice in your chardonnay?”
“Not even that. I’m auld, Claire. I ken what matters and what does not.”
“What is it that matters most to you, Jamie?”
“A good bottle of wine—”
“You mean bottles.”
“Aye. Good bottles of wine and time wi’ my favorite sassenach.” He took the rosé from her hand and drank deep, then kissed her softly for a good long time. Her hands knotted up in his hair, and her moans filled his ears.
“Why are we still out here?” she asked. “Why aren’t we in bed?”
“Because I’m a fool.”
“Do you have a room here?”
“Take me there.”
She released him, smiling, and snagged the wine back from his hand. Her lips were dark and full on the mouth of the bottle as she swallowed deeply while backing away. She stopped only for her shoes, which she dangled from her fingers.
Intoxication took nothing from her grace, but it did add a scintillating sway to her steps. Her silhouette against the light of the Inn was a magnificent sight as he watched her saunter away with his most expensive bottle of wine in one hand and her heels in the other.
He gathered his coat and phone and bounded quickly after.
Chapter 5: The Blue Note
A heavy weight shifted the bed, waking me up. I pressed the heel of my hand to my forehead, groaning at the pounding ache that accompanied consciousness.
“Here, Sassenach. Take a couple of these.”
I forced my eyes open to find Jamie hovering over me with a bottle of water and ibuprofen. He was fresh out of the shower, hair still wet, and wearing only a pair of jeans—dear God, he was sexy.
“Good morning, lass.”
A quick glance around revealed I never made it back to my cottage after the wedding. I sat up, and a pain in my chest brought my attention to the fact that I was still fully dressed and had fallen asleep without removing my bra. Thankfully, my phone, credit card, and room key were still in my pocket.
“Good morning,” I said with no little embarrassment. “How did we end up here?”
He snorted. “You insisted. Then, ye fell asleep the moment yer head hit the pillow.”
“I didn’t vomit, did I?” It was hard to tell with the acidic morning breath stewing unpleasantly in my mouth.
“No. Ye didn’t.”
After taking the medication and drinking half the bottle of water, I worked up the courage to meet Jamie’s eyes. He was staring at me like a child looking at a cake on his birthday, eyes smiling with absolute delight. I ran a hand through my hair, assessing the level of chaos he was bearing witness to, but he stopped me with a gentle touch.
“Leave yer curls be, Sassenach. They’re lovely.” He leaned forward and kissed my cheek, breathing in the scent of my hair before pulling away.
“I don’t recall anything after our…” I coughed, blushing, “...after our dalliance on the beach. I hope I didn’t behave too foolishly.”
“Ye dinna recall our dance in the starlight?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“A shame. It was a fine evening.” He moved a wayward lock of hair behind my ear. “I suppose it means I owe ye a pleasant night tonight to make up for the one ye lost?”
I blushed like a teenager, still trying to process what memories I had of the last twenty-four hours. “Are you asking me out on a date?”
“I am. Ye dinna need to leave for home today, do ye?”
I shook my head. “My check-out is tomorrow, but I’m not scheduled to return to work for another few days.”
“Is that so?” His eyes lit up with possibilities. “I can think of a few ways to fill whatever time we have left.”
We had yet to go on our first date, and the man looked like he was planning our happily ever after. The thought made me pleasantly woozy.
“Do you mind if I…?” I pointed to the bathroom.
“Of course.” He stood up and held out a hand to help me out of bed. “Feel free to use whatever ye like.”
After emptying my bladder, I took him up on his offer and borrowed his toothbrush. As I scrubbed my mouth clean of whatever catastrophic chemistry experiment took place in there, I assessed my appearance in the mirror.
My hair was a fucking disaster. The pins were lost to Spanish Bay, while half the sand from the beach was caked in my curls. My eye makeup didn’t look too terrible—a little smudged, but manageable. And my lips…they were plump and swollen, any trace of lipstick long gone.
“Sassenach?” Jamie knocked on the door.
“Hmm?” I quickly rinsed my mouth and put his toothbrush away.
“I’ve some clothes here for ye, if ye’d prefer to change from yer dress,” he called from the other side of the door.
My boobs were screaming for relief, so I opened the door and accepted his offer with gratitude. He smiled sweetly and left me to change.
On top of the stack was an empty laundry bag—thoughtful man—and the rest appeared to be his gym clothes. There was a black t-shirt, thank God, considering I had no intention of wearing a bra, and a pair of sweats that looked like they wouldn’t be too big thanks to the man’s ridiculously trimmed waist and my own substantial arse.
My body sighed in relief when I peeled off my dress. I noticed my Spanx were missing and wondered if we left them littering Spanish Bay for some unsuspecting child to find.
My newly acquired pearl necklace was still safely intact around my neck. I wasn’t entirely sure what compelled me to wear it to the wedding. The cut of my dress had hidden the thing entirely. It was just such a special piece, and I couldn’t stand the idea of leaving it behind.
I took it off and placed it in the bag with my dress and bra. Then, I put on Jamie’s clothes sans undergarments and was pleased to see their large size covered my curves well enough, without drowning me in fabric.
After freshening up my face and hair as best as I could, I stepped out into the room where Jamie had, unfortunately, donned a shirt and was picking fruit from a tray of room service. His eyes locked on me the moment he heard the door open, and his lips curved playfully.
“Are ye hungry, Sassenach? I had them bring a few things, not knowing what ye like.”
“I’m ravenous. Thank you.” I set the plastic bag down and joined him at the small table.
He was scrolling through his phone and didn’t set it down until some sort of seaside cafe jazz started playing from the speaker.
“You listen to jazz?”
“No.” He laughed. “Not typically.”
“Oh.” I remembered his words about dancing in the starlight, and I blushed. “I feel a bit foolish not remembering much of our night together.”
“Dinna fash,” he reached over and squeezed my hand. “Ye might recall the first time we met?”
“Fair point.” His words did provide some comfort. At least I wasn’t the only one in the room who recently drank themselves stupid. “Will you tell me what happened after…after…you know.”
The way he licked his lips told me he knew exactly what I was referring to. “Aye. We walked back up the boardwalk to the lawn, where we had some more wine and danced a bit with no one around.”
“And we talked. And we kissed.” He picked a beautiful ripe strawberry from the tray and offered it to me. “And then we talked and kissed some more.”
I took a bite from the strawberry, eyes never leaving his deep ocean blues. His mouth twitched into an impish grin as he watched me chew.
“What was it we talked about?”
Instead of answering, he grabbed the bottom of my chair and pulled it close. He lifted my chin with his knuckle and kissed me soundly.
I may not have remembered the entirety of our evening, but my body most certainly did. His lips brought back memories of wine-soaked kisses and midnight caresses. His hands reminded me of sensual jazz and swaying in the moonlight. My cheeks recalled his warm body shielding me from the biting wind.
In moments, I was on his lap with my arms around his neck. His hands slipped under my shirt, caressing my skin.
“Oh, God. Claire.” He mumbled against my mouth, pulled me tight against him. The poor man had licked me to a glorious orgasm the night before, and had yet to stick his cock in any part of my anatomy. He had to be going just a little bit mad.
His hands moved to my hair, and an absurd trickle of sand went down the gap in my shirt. I jumped, startled. “Bloody hell, I’m a mess.”
He snickered, attempting to dust the sand off my shoulders.
“I need a shower.” The more I thought about it, the more I realized the sand wasn’t just in my hair. It was in every goddamn crevice of my body. I was in no place to let this go any further.
“Ye’re welcome to take one here,” he offered. The hunger in his eyes told me he was eager to join me.
“I better get back to my place,” where I had my stupidly expensive hair products to manage my curls. His smile faded a little, so I added, “but I’m looking forward to our date tonight.”
“Oh, aye? What would ye like to do? A nice dinner? A movie? A walk on the beach?”
The terrible jazz playing on his phone gave me an idea. “Why don’t you leave this evening’s plans to me. You can pick me up at eight-thirty.”
He seemed intrigued. “And what should I wear?”
“Something nice. A suit, if you have one.”
“And what will you be wearing?”
I thought of the little black dress hanging up in the cottage that I had decided not to wear for the wedding out of concern that it was too revealing. “You’ll have to wait and see.”
He pulled me close and kissed me again, careless of falling sand.
We decided to walk to my cottage rather than have Jamie drive me there. It was little more than a mile away along the shoreline where Spanish Bay faded into the Asilomar State Beach. I picked up a pair of sandals from the gift shop and threw my heels in the plastic bag that Jamie was kind enough to carry.
As we left the gift shop, Jamie stopped to pull a hooded jumper over my head. “It gets a bit chilly in the mornings.”
“You didn’t have to buy me one.”
“It’s my pleasure.”
“And how about you? Don't you get cold?”
“I’m a Scot, Sassenach.” He seemed almost offended I asked.
We set off down the same trail from the night before, and I tried to recall where we stopped for our oral interlude, but the landscape seemed entirely different in daylight.
“You were right. It’s beautiful,” I said, leaning into Jamie as I stared out over the ocean.
“Aye. If we’re lucky, we might see dolphins or whales off the shore.”
“So, this is your life? Breakfast in bed? Walks on the beach? Sunsets over the water?”
“There's a bit more to it than that, but aye. That’s why I moved here.”
“What else is there?” I was genuinely curious, and he smiled brightly at my interest.
“I’d rather show ye than tell ye. Would ye mind extending yer trip a day or two?”
“Are you asking me to come home with you?”
“I am.” He kissed my temple. “Did’ye drive to Monterey?”
“In a rental.”
“Good. You can turn it in tomorrow, then come home wi’ me. I’ll get ye a ticket to fly home before yer next surgery.”
“You’ve got everything figured out, don’t you?”
“Is that a yes?”
As if I could say no to a pair of eyes that looked at me as though I hung the moon. “Of course, I’d love to go home with you.”
His broad grin was so heartwarming, it wouldn’t do to let it go unkissed.
The day went by ridiculously slow, waiting for Jamie to come back to my cottage for our date. The benefit of all that time to myself was I could wash my hair and shave every neglected surface of my body with plenty of time to spare—which I hadn’t done the night before, heaven help me. Not that it seemed to bother Jamie in the slightest.
At eight-thirty, I took one last look at myself in the mirror. My hair was down, curls managed by expensive products and the sheer force of my will, and I’d thrown on a little mascara and a bit of red color on my lips. My dress was made from a luscious black silk. It had a plunging neckline that didn’t allow for a bra, but was fitted well enough to keep the ladies in place. I wore the same silver shoes from the night before and no undergarments. “Let your curves be,” he’d said, and I took him at his word.
He did seem like a man who meant what he said, which went against most experiences I had with men since Frank died. God, it was a fucking turn on…honesty. No games. No pretenses. Just Jamie putting it all out there as though it didn’t occur to him there was any other way.
My heart was in trouble. I placed a hand on my chest and felt it racing like mad at the mere thought of him. Everything about him was perfect for me. He was soft and enormous, warm and beautiful, bright and funny. And he was…knocking on my door.
I took one last look in the mirror before going to let him in.
“Hello,” I said, unable to help my smile. He was beautiful in a charcoal suit with a grey turtleneck underneath. He held a small bouquet of wildflowers in one hand—aster, rockrose, yarrow, golden poppies, and lilac—and a bottle of wine in the other.
“Hello, Sassenach.” He leaned in slowly, grinning wide, and kissed me with his eyes open. “Ye look lovely…radiant.” His gaze lingered on my plunging neckline, tongue licking his lips.
“Are those for me?” I laughed.
“Oh, aye.” He handed the flowers over first.
“They’re beautiful. All local species?”
“Aye, so says the florist down the street. It’s no’ legal to pick wildflowers here, otherwise I would’ve snagged some off the trail.”
I placed them in a glass of water and displayed them on the small table in the sitting room. “They’re perfect. Golden poppies have a special magic in California, don’t they? Especially near the ocean.”
“I suppose they do.” He followed me over to inspect them, pleased I liked them so much. He had no idea how weak I was for flowers. “I brought ye something else.” He held up the bottle of wine. “I ken ye liked the rosé last night. The same winery makes a fine pinot noir, as well. This was a good vintage.”
My heart leapt at the sight of the St. Claire label. “Jamie! This is just the bottle I wanted to try.”
“Perhaps we can have a nightcap after whatever it is ye have planned for us this evening.”
All the blood from my brain rushed south at his implication. My eyes darted from Jamie to the bedroom, knowing that in a few hours, he’d be there, naked and burying himself inside me. A part of me thought we could just skip over the date and start that nightcap right away, but the other part of me really wanted to give Jamie an experience he’d never had before.
“I’d better get my coat,” I said, second guessing myself with every word. His smirk told me he knew exactly what was running through my mind. I stole into the bedroom before his impish grin got the better of me.
I donned my white peacoat and was pulling my hair out from the collar when I remembered the pearl necklace. I retrieved it and put it on, letting it fall elegantly between my breasts. It really was far better suited for this dress than the pink one I’d worn for the wedding.
I tied the coat’s belt around my waist and grabbed my purse before stepping out to Jamie once again. “Shall we?”
He offered an arm and led me outdoors.
“The Blue Note,” he read the sign as we walked up to the local jazz club. “Featuring East Bay Soul. Did ye bring a bit of the Bay Area wi’ ye, Sassenach?”
“I suppose I did. Have you heard of the band?”
“I canna say I have.”
“You’ll recognize a good bit of the music.” I took his hand and led him to the box office to pick up our tickets. I handed my identification over to the woman at the window to look up my reservation.
“I’ve ne’er been to a jazz club before,” he said.
“So I gathered. You’ll love it. It’s worth it for the food and wine alone. The music is a bonus.”
“Dr. Randall,” said the woman from the window, handing over our tickets, “I’ve got your reservation for five people at table thirty-two.”
“Thank you,” I said, taking the tickets from her.
“Five people?” asked Jamie. I could see he hadn’t been expecting to share me with anyone for the evening.
“Come, Soldier.” I took his hand, smiling, and led him to the entrance. “They’ve already started.”
The loud music spilled out of the building when the doorman let us in. Blue light filled the room, casting a sensual mood similar to that of moonlight falling through a bedroom window. The walls were decorated with long glass panels that displayed artwork made of musical instruments—trumpets, saxophones, cymbals, and the like.
Vibrating through every atom in the building was a steady rhythm of a soulful bass accompanied by the sexiest baritone I’d ever heard. The singer was vocalizing without words, highs and lows meant to evoke memories of similar cries between the sheets.
I was instantly warm.
“Fuck me, the man can sing, aye?” said Jamie, staring at the stage in awe.
I smiled, pleased he had good taste. “We’re over there in the back.”
“The back? I see some seats open up near the front. D’ye want me to see if they’re available?”
“God no.” I took his hand and pulled him to the back corner of the room. The building was set up with no bad seats in the house. The stage was curved to be seen well from every angle. Long tables were lined up in the center of the room, and U-shaped booths circled the edge of the building.
“Here we are.” I set my purse down, and Jamie assisted me with my coat.
“You bought all these seats in the booth?”
“I did,” I said smugly, sliding into our dark and private corner. Jamie moved in next to me, his arm sliding around my neck as though it had always belonged there.
“Brilliant, Sassenach.” He bent down to kiss me in that way of his, eyes open, unwilling to miss a moment.
“Can I get you something to drink? Appetizers? Dinner?” said a waitress, setting menus on the table. She was unaffected by our public display of affection.
“We’ll need a moment, if ye dinna mind,” said Jamie, peering at the wine list. Apparently, ordering drinks was not a simple thing for James Fraser.
“Take your time.” She moved on to help the next table.
“What d’ye want to eat, Sassenach? I’m thinking the oysters wi’ a—”
His voice left him when his eyes dropped to my chest. His mouth hung open in shock, as though he hadn’t already seen my dress before we left the cottage. Perhaps it looked different in the blue light.
“Oysters, you were saying?”
Except he wasn’t capable of speech any longer, nor of listening. He lifted a finger and traced the line where my new pearl necklace met my skin, over the curve of my breast, and down to my diaphragm.
He tried to speak, but no words came out. He cleared his throat and met my gaze. “It’s beautiful.” His hand still lingered on the skin of my neckline, thumb tracing the pearls. “Where did ye get them?”
“That’s an interesting story.” A hot flush moved down my body from everywhere he touched. “Let’s order, and I’ll tell you over a glass of wine.”
“Aye,” he said, breathless.
He was distracted by my chest as he perused the menu, glancing back and forth constantly. I gave him carte blanche to order dinner and drinks for the both of us, but the only thing he seemed interested in devouring was me. This was aided in no small part by the lead singer and his voice of pure sex and soul filling every empty space in the room.
Jamie ordered a bottle of chenin blanc, mumbling something about how it would pair well with dinner. It was brought to us chilled in an ice bucket, and its flavor was crisp and refreshing.
The first time I swallowed, Jamie brought his hand to my throat, as though wanting to feel the liquid slide down. I gripped his thigh with my free hand, and he groaned, bringing his mouth down hard on mine.
“Tell me,” he spoke against my lips. “Tell me about the pearls.”
“Oh, right.” I sat back and sipped my wine, already intoxicated by the way his accent rolled the word around his tongue. “I found them on the beach at Lover’s Point. They were in a bottle of St. Claire’s Pinot Noir, if you can believe it. I only opened the bottle because it had my name on it, and out fell the pearls and a sweet note from a mother to her son.”
“Yes. She wanted him to give the pearls to the person he fell in love with. It seemed fitting that I found them at Lover’s Point, maybe even a little tragic, seeing as how they clearly never found his true love’s neck to land on.”
“Weel,” he laughed, “perhaps it’s because Lover’s Point was not meant to be a place of romance.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a spiritual place. The original name was Lovers of Jesus Point, and it was shortened over the years for the sake of tourism. Perhaps the necklace ended up there because God thought you should have it.”
“I don’t know that my neck is any more divine a resting place than any other.”
“Oh, I beg to differ.” He traced a finger down between my breasts. My body leaned into him involuntarily, as if it was a natural reflex from the pleasure he gave. “Ye ken the first thing I thought when I saw yer lovely skin?”
“It looks like pearl, the way it shines in the sunlight. The necklace floated to ye in a holy place in a bottle of St. Claire. Oh, aye, Sassenach. I ken these pearls have found their rightful home.”
He sat there staring intently, thumb tracing the curve of my breast. I was putty in his hands, there for him to touch, to finger, to caress.
He dropped his hand moments before our waitress arrived with the appetizers, making me wonder if he had a sixth sense for such things. I became aware that Spanish Moon was echoing throughout the room, when only moments before all I could hear were Jamie’s whispers in my ear.
Eating gave us something to do aside from engaging in exhibitionism—though I felt like a voyeur, watching Jamie suck raw oysters down his throat.
He was right about the wine complementing the fare perfectly. Our first bottle was gone before the starters were done, and our second bottle with the main course.
On the third bottle, Jamie’s pretentiousness over wine began to rear its adorable head. He’d ordered a red and was rambling about how spectacular it was. “This is an Anonimo—a blend of sangiovese, mourvèdre, and petit verdot.” He swirled it in the glass to open it up, and then inhaled deeply. “Here, smell. Can you catch the aromas of raspberry, clove, and nutmeg? And when it sits on your tongue, you can taste strawberry, sumac, white pepper, and rosewater.”
I giggled, more than a little buzzed by the first two bottles. “You can’t possibly smell and taste all that. It smells like wine. It tastes like wine.”
“You wound me,” he said with a grin. “Go on. Taste it.”
He brought the glass to my lips and tipped a little into my mouth. Maybe I was drunk, or maybe I was influenced by the power of suggestion, but I thought perhaps I could taste a bit of strawberry and roses after swallowing it down.
Sensual music filled the room that seemed to be played just for Jamie and me, surrounding us in a little bubble of intimacy. We no longer shared wine from the same bottle, but from a single glass. Mouth to mouth and tongue to tongue. His fingertips lived on the bare skin of my plunging neckline, tangling in the string of pearls.
“I want to peel this dress off ye, Sassenach,” he said, hand slipping under the fabric to caress my breast, “and see ye wearing nothing but yer curly-wig and those lovely pearls.”
“And what would you do with me if you had me naked and alone?”
“I’d savor every inch of ye.”
He pinched my nipple against a pearl, and I moaned into his mouth. “Oh, God. Jamie, let’s get the check…please.”
Jamie carried a corkscrew on his keychain and used it to open the bottle of pinot noir he’d given me earlier in the evening. He poured us each a glass and brought them over to me on the sofa.
East Bay Soul was now streaming on his phone to the bluetooth speakers in the cottage. The man was a quick study.
“You’re awfully thoughtful and intuitive,” I observed. “Remarkably so.”
“I’m no’ doing anything special, lass. D’ye no’ have much faith in my sex?”
“My experience with men has shown that the longer they’re in relationships, the more dependent they become on their partners for basic functioning. Frank never did learn how to turn on his own bluetooth,” much less listen to any music I had interest in. Most of the jazz clubs I’d frequented at home, I attended either by myself or with a friend.
“Weel,” he toasted me with a clink of his glass, “I’ve been alone and feral for some time, but perhaps it’s helped me avoid incompetence.”
“Maybe it has.” Who would’ve thought that basic self-suffiency and thoughtfulness was such a fucking turn on?
I tasted the wine and immediately grabbed Jamie’s arm in pleasant surprise. Each and every one of my tastebuds were thrown into orgasm, lost in the flood of pure pleasure brought on by the most perfect wine to ever grace my tongue. “Dear God. That is fucking delicious. I think I can actually taste the blackberries and citrus.”
Jamie grinned wide. “Aye. And breathe it in. Can ye smell the aroma of crushed strawberry, cherry, lemon zest, button-mushroom, and cedar?”
I could not, in fact, decipher any of those scents. I just grinned and drowned my tongue in more of the best wine I’d ever had.
“I kent ye’d like it. It's medium-bodied with silky tannins and bright acidity, crafted with great care and attention to the bloody temperamental grape.”
“I could live on this stuff.”
I watched him sip it, letting it sit on his tongue for a good long time, eyes full of blissful contentment.
“When did you become so fond of wine?”
“My cousin owns vineyards all over Europe, and I spent a good amount of time in the south of France learning the trade.” He twirled a lock of my hair around his finger. “I’d love to take ye there. Maybe in the fall? Or next spring?”
He nodded and leaned in for a kiss. “I’d happily make love to ye in France,” and another kiss, “and Scotland…” and another, “and England…and anywhere else I can have ye.”
“Perhaps we could start right here.”
He took one more drink of wine before setting his glass aside, then both of his hands were on my cheeks, pulling me in for a kiss.
“How is it possible the wine tastes better on your lips?” I breathed.
He took my glass from my hand and sipped some more before placing it on the side table next to his. His lips then returned to mine, and when he kissed me, the wine coated my tongue once again.
My clit was throbbing, remembering what it was like to be kissed by that mouth. My eager pussy wanted to rub itself all over his body, so I rose up to straddle his lap. He was so fucking tall that I still had to lift my chin to kiss him. His hands moved to my bum, groping, while I rolled my hips against his erection.
“Christ, ye’re beautiful, Claire,” he mumbled, pulling back to watch me thrust against him. “Yer skin is as pink as the pearls.”
He slipped the straps of my dress off my shoulders, freeing my breasts in front of him. He watched them for a moment, eyes dark and hungry, then he grabbed one in each hand, fingers tangling with the pearl necklace.
“So lovely,” he moaned, dropping his mouth to my nipple, licking and sucking like a bloody connoisseur. I held his head to my chest and rode his lap until I came.
I whimpered in his ear, still eager for more, wanting him to have a taste of the pleasure he’d given me. “Put your cock in my mouth, Jamie.”
He growled against my lips, but released me from his grasp to do as I asked. I stood up to slip my dress off my hips and let it fall to the floor. Still fully dressed in his suit, he unbuckled his belt and freed his rock-solid cock from his pants.
High on Jamie and wine, I dropped to my knees without a thought and took him into my mouth. I was drunk and sloppy, but he didn’t seem to mind. My hands stroked his base while I took his head to the back of my throat. His hands were in my hair, gripping it, fluffing it out, running his fingers through my curls, as though having me in his lap was the best thing he’d ever seen.
Just before he came, he pulled me back by the hair, exposing my chest to his cock, and then shot his cum all over my skin.
“Fucking hell,” he groaned. “Yer neck was made for pearls.”
I lay on the bed, sipping wine and watching him strip out of his suit. His cum had dried on my chest where I’d rubbed it into my tits, and I wondered how many other places he’d christen over the course of the evening. He seemed to take great pleasure in that particular kind of territory marking.
He crawled over me, taking the glass from my hand and drinking half of it down. He gave it back, and I finished the other half.
“I could get used to this,” I said, setting it aside.
He kissed me, heavy body weighing down on mine. My legs spread for him, and the only thing between us were the pearls. His fascination with them was quite endearing.
“Your hair,” I noticed, running my fingers through it as he kissed my neck. “It’s curly.”
“Aye. No’ quite as curly as yours. Though it’s rarely been long enough to notice in the past thirty years.” He nuzzled into my hair, breathing it in. “Is that pear? Cedar? And some kind of flower?”
“Peonies. Anjou pear, peonies, and cedar wood. You’re a bloodhound, Jamie.”
“I come by it naturally, for the most part. It does take some practice to learn the different scents.”
“Smell is tied closely to memory and emotion, you know. I bet that nose of yours can tell a story or two.”
“Oh, aye. And now every time I smell cedar or peonies, I’ll be as randy as a teenage boy in a lingerie shop.”
“You’ll have quite the wood if you ever enter a furniture store.”
He snorted, burying his face in my neck. I reached a hand down to run my fingers through his pubic hair. “California red wood, it seems.”
“Claire!” he cackled, rolling off to keep from smothering me with laughter.
“It’s a lovely color. As red as the hair on your head.”
“Where it’s no’ going grey.”
“The grey is distinguished.”
“I dinna look too auld?”
I shook my head and ran my hands across his muscular chest. “Very dashing.” He could see that I meant it.
He pulled me on top of him, kissing me firmly. I was getting more than eager to have him buried inside me, and was thoroughly impatient with the limitations of the male anatomy. I reached down to massage his balls and stroke his cock, trying to speed things up.
“God, ye’re a hungry wee thing.” He spanked my arse, then gripped it tight. “On yer knees, a nighean. I want yer arse high in the air.”
I moaned in delight, then kissed him once more before doing as he instructed. I hugged a pillow for the sake of comfort, and perched my bum up high, arching my back as best as my old bones would allow.
“God, yes. D’ye ken how often I’ve imagined this since I first saw ye on the docks? Christ, ye have a nice, fat arse.”
He smacked each side firmly, then squeezed the flesh, pulling my buttocks wide apart. His finger rimmed my hole, and I whimpered nervously, never having experimented with anal.
He bent down and licked from taint to tailbone, hands still gripping my cheeks tight. It was a shock, but it felt so bloody nice and had me clenching everything inside.
He trailed kisses across my left buttock, then gave it a love bite. He licked and kissed his way back and pushed his tongue in my arse. It was strange and invasive, but bloody marvelous.
“Yer arse is perfect, Sassenach.” He kissed and nibbled to the right. “Christ, I want to fuck ye here one day. Ye’ll be so tight around my cock.”
I’d never had any desire for anal before, but Jamie’s words—and mouth—had me thinking life really wasn’t worth living if he wasn’t railing my bum. I moaned into the pillow, pushing back against his face, and he devoured me all the more.
He really must have loved my arse, because his cock was hard again when he rose up on his knees and brought it between my legs. My pussy squeezed as he shoved in, not having had anything inside it bigger than my vibe in the past three—or thirty—years. He held tight to my sides where the fat of my arse met my thighs, and he gripped like they were handles built for that very thing.
He fucked the breath from my lungs, and I wondered if his cock was actually big enough to rearrange a few organs. His hands were strong, and his hips were like a brick wall, slamming against my arse. I’d never been fucked better.
I reached down and rubbed my clit, wanting to come with him so full inside me. He bent over my body, hands sliding up my back and gripping my shoulders for leverage. It was like a massage in the middle of sex, and it made my knees weak.
I rubbed my clit harder than I normally would, but with Jamie hammering into me, I wouldn’t be able to feel anything otherwise. As I fell apart and clenched down on his cock, he stopped moving, wrapping an arm around my body to pull me tight against his chest.
Orgasm on a big, thick dick was so fucking satisfying. I lay there, face muffling my cries in a pillow, feeling bloody transcendent.
Jamie kissed his way down my spine, and then rose up behind me again, this time fucking for the sake of completion. My body was loose and relaxed, and happy to be used for his pleasure.
The night before, he’d called me a noisy wee thing, but the sounds he was making certainly rivaled anything I could come up with. He finished with a growling cry, grinding hard against me.
“Oh God, Sassenach. Ye’re fucking perfect.” He collapsed beside me, squeezing our bodies close.
I turned around to bury my face in his neck and embrace him with all of my limbs. He hugged me, hands running up and down my back as he rained kisses on my head.
“Ye canna think I’m ever letting ye go after that.”
“I think I’m descending into madness right along with you.”
Chapter 6: Cayucos
We took the scenic route on the Pacific Coast Highway from Monterey to Big Sur, then on to Cayucos. It added nearly an hour to our drive, but the views were worth it.
Jamie drove a blue 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS Convertible, with white stripes on the hood and ivory leather seats. Bobby Darin’s hypnotic voice crooned over the speakers about the difference a day made as I snuggled in close, dozing pleasantly on the winding curves of the magnificent coastline.
I began to feel foolishly excited when I saw a sign that said Cayucos was only four miles away. As much as I had been denying it, I was fairly certain the man next to me was becoming an inexorable part of my future, be it a product of divine intervention or his own stubborn will. And if he was to be a part of my life, then so was his home, and I was vastly curious about what my future held.
“Wait. You’re turning here?” I said, seeing clearly that he was heading in the opposite direction of the small beach town. The signs said we were heading toward Paso Robles.
“I need to pick up a few bottles of wine, if ye dinna mind. It won’t take long.”
“Cayucos doesn’t have a market?”
He just smiled in that mischievous way of his and kept on driving.
It became apparent very quickly that we had taken a hard left into wine country. Sunshine burned through the overcast clouds and landed on miles of rolling hills covered in grape vineyards. Every half mile there was a turnout to a new winery, but knowing Jamie, he wouldn’t stop until he reached the best one.
After about ten minutes, he turned right on Old Creek Road, and within moments, we found ourselves on a long driveway that led to a gorgeous winery. It was built in a Spanish architectural style commonly seen in California’s coastal towns.
It was breathtaking on its own, but it was the large sign with the winery’s name that had me positively giddy. I gripped Jamie’s hand and bounced excitedly in my seat. “It’s St. Claire!”
“Aye,” he beamed. “Come, Sassenach. Ye can pick whatever bottles ye like.”
He parked right in front of the building like he owned the place and brought me in through a set of large glass doors. I looked around at the tall ceilings and grand design and couldn’t help the breathless laugh that escaped my lips.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
“No wonder you take your wine so seriously. If I popped down the street to a place like this to purchase mine, I’m sure I’d develop a healthy respect for it too.”
He laughed and took my hand, leading me through the busy tasting room and into the shop beyond.
“Hello, Mr. Fraser,” said the gentleman at the register. Apparently, Jamie was quite the regular.
Jamie just gave a warm wave and steered me over to the main display. “What’s yer pleasure, lass? There isna a wide variety of grapes grown here, but every bottle produced is of the highest quality. Ye’ve tried the sparkling rosé of pinot noir and the traditional red, as well. Ye havena had the sparkling brut, the sauvignon blanc, nor the cabernet sauvignon.”
“And you think I’m capable of picking just one?”
“Mmmm. I kent I was fond of ye, lass.” Jamie turned to the man at the register. “Kenny, would ye mind boxing up a few of each and stowing them in the Chevelle?”
“Yes, sir. I’ll do that now,” he responded, as though receiving marching orders.
“Thank ye, lad.”
I stared up at Jamie and noticed more of a stiffness in his shoulders than what I’d been used to since we met. He stood taller, held his chin firm and high, and his chest looked as though it was about to pop the button on his shirt. I must have been catching a glimpse of Colonel Fraser.
“Here, Sassenach,” he said, pulling me toward a display of shirts with the St. Claire label on the front. He knew my size from our first night in Spanish Bay, so he sifted through the stack until he found one that would fit. “Just in case I forget yer name.”
I smacked him on the arm, knowing how unlikely that would be.
“Oh!” I said, distracted by a gorgeous set of wine glasses with the St. Claire label. They were clearly hand-crafted, as no two were the same. The words were brushed on with elegant calligraphy without being too over the top, matching the aesthetic of the St. Claire brand perfectly.
“Ye like them?”
“Very much.” I was just about to reach for one to see the price, but Jamie took a box from the display and tucked it under his arm.
“I can’t let you do that. You’re already buying all that bloody wine.”
He snorted and wrapped an arm around my shoulders to lead me toward the front of the building.
“You’re not going to pay for that?” I asked.
“I already have.”
“What do you mean?” I stopped him in the middle of the tasting room. “Jamie?”
His eyes smiled playfully, and he scrunched his nose with humor. “It’s mine, Sassenach. All of it.”
I looked around and then back at him. “What?”
“I own the place. I bought it shortly before I retired. John was trying to convince me to move out here, and when it came up for sale, he called me and demanded I buy it.”
“It’s yours?” I looked at the St. Claire sign on the wall. “This whole bloody time, you’ve been pouring your own damn wine down my throat?”
“I supplied the rosé to Willie and Jane as a wedding gift. And I always carry a few extra bottles around in the Chevelle.”
He cupped my cheeks in his hands, towering over me with his ridiculous height. His eyes were soft and a little nervous. “It pleased me greatly how much ye liked the wine. It’s what I spend most of my time doing now. It’s the reason I brought ye here. I wanted to show ye, to have ye see wi’ yer own eyes what my life is like, because I intend to make you the center of it from now on.”
I wrapped my arms around his waist, truly moved by his thoughtfulness. “It’s no wonder the wine is so delicious. It’s been crafted by you.”
“Weel, I have vintners and viticulturists who do most of the work, to be honest. I dinna want to be tied to the place all the time, no’ at my age. I want to travel, laze about on the beach, and maybe spend some time in the Bay Area, sniffing around a certain surgeon.”
“This sounds perfect for you.”
“Aye. All that was missing was you.”
I reached up on my toes to kiss him chastely, mindful that we were at his place of work. He deepened the kiss with his unrestrained enthusiasm.
“Will you show me around? I’d love to see the place.”
He looked like I just made his every dream come true. “Come. We’ll start in the cellar.”
Jamie’s house was right on the beach. The walls were made up of windows, overlooking the blue water and soft sand. A large cypress tree grew in the front yard, surrounded by green grass and wild succulents, a symbol of comfort and longevity.
I was in love. In love with the scenery, with the house, with the winery…and if I was being honest…with the man.
I’d had some time to think since finding out Jamie owned St. Claire. I thought of the first night we met, when he’d sailed out to Lover’s Point. I thought of John commenting on the “bloody marvelous pinot noir” they were drinking before Jamie set sail. I thought of finding the bottle of St. Claire floating in at Lover’s Point the next day. Of the note inside where a mother was wishing her son well in love and life in the days before his deployment. I thought of Colonel Fraser and his fascination with my necklace, of his utter joy that it had found its way to my neck.
“Try the cab, Sassenach,” he said, coming out to me on the balcony with a bottle and two glasses in hand. We sat together on a rattan loveseat, listening to the waves crash on the shore and savoring the warmth of the cabernet.
He hadn’t shaved since the wedding, and a two-day-old scruff peppered his chin with red and white. A single lock of hair curled at his temple in the sweetest way, and I longed to see him grow it out.
“When were you going to tell me?” I asked, smiling softly to take the accusation from my tone.
I pulled the necklace from my shirt and fondled the pearls. His mouth curved in a sheepish smile.
“Soon. Though I didna want ye to feel pressured by fate or any such thing to fall in love wi’ me. When did’ye figure it out?”
“When you told me the winery was yours.”
He stared down at the pearls with heartbreaking fondness, then looked up to me with the purest affection. “They were my mother’s.”
I had figured as much, but stayed quiet to let him tell his story.
“She gave me the pearls shortly before she died. My mother’s greatest joy in life—aside from her children—was my father. She loved him madly from the moment they met until long after he died. Their love was passionate, committed, enduring.”
“The love you spoke of when we first met. You said the infatuation was present until the end.”
“Aye. They were fools for each other.” He reached out and touched the necklace. “She wanted the same for me. She kent I wanted it just as badly, so she wrote me the note, warning me not to give my heart to someone unworthy.”
“That’s why you never married?”
“Aye. And about five years ago, as I was nearing retirement, I began worrying about what life would be like when I no longer had the distractions of work.”
He laughed. “Something like that. Then John convinced me to buy the winery, and I hoped I’d find fulfillment making something I loved. And I did…but it wasna enough.”
He closed his eyes and drank deeply, breathing in the salty air as the wine sat on his tongue. “At Willie’s rehearsal dinner, John and Hector were hassling me about bringing a lass to the wedding. Any lass, they said. They thought me a fool for waiting for the perfect one, and I was beginning to believe them. Over the years, I had begun resenting God for withholding my great love from me, and in that particular moment, rage got the better of me. I took the bottle off the table and marched outside to find someone to take me out to sea to face God Himself, so I could throw my mother’s lost hopes and my broken dreams in His face.”
“That’s why you went to Lover’s Point?”
“Aye. It’s a spiritual place, ye ken.”
I nodded, remembering the story.
“I shoved her note and the necklace in the bottle and launched it hopelessly out to sea, cursing God and spiting him for withholding the one thing in life that truly mattered to me.”
He set his drink aside and turned toward me, cupping my cheek with his great big hand. “Then I stumbled on the docks, sick to my stomach from the waves at sea—”
“And the alcohol?”
“I’m a Scot, Sassenach,” he scoffed, offended I even suggested he couldn’t hold his wine. “I dinna like boats.”
“That’s why you didn’t go into the Navy?”
“Aye. So, as I was saying, I stumbled onto the docks, vomiting my guts out, and lo and behold…God places an angel right in front of me.”
I snorted. “And you had just thrown away your mother’s necklace.”
“Aye,” he grumbled. “I was thinking as I watched ye drive away that God had a very sick sense of humor.”
“You know, the only reason I even went to Lover’s Point the next day was because of you. I hadn’t even heard of the place before.”
“And then ye found the necklace.”
“I did. I wore it to the wedding.”
“Did’ye now?” he grinned. “I thought perhaps losing the necklace was a sacrifice I had to endure to earn yer love, but ye were wearing it the whole time?”
“It didn’t feel right to leave it behind. I couldn’t explain it at the time.”
“It was pulling ye to me. I ken it now.” He wrapped the necklace around his hand and pulled me closer, lips softly brushing mine.
My heart was thudding in my chest, racing at the thought of God demanding Jamie and I find each other. “What must you have thought when you saw me wearing it last night?”
“I knew, I fucking knew ye were mine. I knew the first time I saw ye, and I knew again when ye told me yer name...”
“St. Claire,” I snorted.
“Aye. But as much as I knew in my heart, it was seeing you wear the necklace that sealed the deal for my soul. There was no way in hell I’d lose ye again after I saw those pearls on yer neck right where they were meant to be.”
“And here I thought you just liked my dress.”
“It was a very fine dress.” He kissed me again.
“It does feel a bit like divine intervention, doesn’t it?”
“Even if it’s all just a massive coincidence, I’m glad it happened just as it did.”
He kissed me in a way that told me whatever it was between us was something far more than happy circumstance.
“I suppose I should give Dunsany a call,” I said, when we finally came up for air.
“To decline his offer. It would be foolish to accept the position in San Francisco when I’ll likely be looking at hospitals down here in the next couple of years.”
“Ye can see yerself here, Claire? I ken it’s early, but ye can see yerself being happy here…wi’ me?”
“It’s like you said, Jamie, finding you…” I pressed our lips together, eyes open, finally understanding why he couldn’t bear to close them when we kissed, “it’s as though life makes sense in a way it never did before.”
“I love ye, my Sassenach, and I kent it from the moment I saw ye.”
And I knew I loved him too.