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Building up the Courage

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His hand crawled across the bed to where Claire had been lying beside him but the space was empty, the furs and blankets still warm from her body. Jamie cracked one eye to peer through the dim light and confirm her absence using another of his senses, though, he thought he was developing a sixth sense where Claire was concerned. He’d become aware of it soon after they arrived at Leoch. Something in him always seemed to know where she was, or at least when she was near—where to look to see her watching him in the great hall, which table he’d find her sitting at for meals, when to pass through the kitchens so he could run into her between her patients.

She didn’t appear to be in the room—if she had been, she would have noticed him stirring and made some acknowledgment of it. He rolled to the side and groped for the kilt he’d left pooled on the floor beside the bed. But that was missing too.

So wherever she’d gone, she’d wrapped herself in his kilt first. He stayed lying on his side, buffeted by the pillows and pelts while the wave of yearning washed over him. How many nights had he envisioned what she would look like wrapped in his tartan? And not just the Mackenzie tartan he’d worn as Jamie McTavish, but a true Fraser tartan. But he needed to put aside thoughts of what she was wearing (or not wearing) for the moment and clear his head long enough to figure out where she’d gone.

His stomach spoke up and gave him his answer. They had finished the small plate of food he’d brought up a while ago—and had worked up an appetite in the interim. The party downstairs appeared to have dispersed so Claire must have ventured down for more to eat.

He didn’t like the idea of her wandering about the inn wearing nothing more than his plaid—their rooms, aye, but there were too many men about and too much whisky had been drunk for him not to worry for her. Of course, she’d taken his plaid which meant he needed to locate his shirt or something to cover himself before he could go after her.

The fire had died down in the hearth (how long had he been dozing?) and the lower light made finding anything in the room more difficult—not that he’d paid too close attention to where little things like their various articles of clothing had landed.

He bumped his head on the side of a chest of drawers while crouched to retrieve his successfully-located shirt. One of the extinguished candles dislodged from the small pool of wax that had been holding it aloft, landed on the floor, and rolled to him.

Jamie’s knees cracked as he stood and put the candle back atop the chest of drawers. It had to be braced against his sporran to keep from falling and rolling off again. As he pulled his shirt over his head, Jamie’s eyes stayed on the sporran but he was seeing what was carefully tucked away inside—his mother’s pearls.

He had wanted to give them to Claire before the wedding—to see her wearing them with her dress while they made their vows… but he hadn’t been able to work up the courage to do so in front of everyone. He wasn’t sure how long it would take him to build up the courage, period. It wasn’t as though Claire had truly chosen to marry him, even if she didn’t seem entirely miserable with the arrangement for the last hour or so. But how much of that was the whisky? How would she look on things in the morning when she was safe from Randall but stuck with him? Would giving her the pearls be too much? He wanted to see her wear them but to offer them to her and have her reject them… He needed to be sure she felt for him at least some of what he felt for her.

The cat objected to Claire’s rummaging for food in the main room of the inn, its cries breaking into Jamie’s reverie. The damned creature was like to rouse the whole inn and poor Claire down there in naught but his plaid. He crept to the door trying not to add to the noise. But when he stepped out on the landing he saw that it wasn’t Claire the cat had been crying over but Dougal.

Claire managed to keep a firm hold on both the pitcher and the plaid wrapped snug around her shoulders and shielding the long lines of her pale body from the cool night air (and Dougal’s sight).

Dougal reached out as Claire made to turn away and Jamie felt his temperature rising. He couldn’t quite make out Dougal’s words but his meaning was clear from the way he looked at Claire, the way he reached up to touch her—and the way Claire pulled away from him.

“I’m Jamie’s wife ,” she asserted, the disgust in her tone entirely for whatever proposition Dougal had made.

Jamie was ready to launch himself down the stairs and at his uncle. After all he’d put Claire through with the damned scheme to protect her, giving her so little choice in the matter, for Dougal to turn around and proposition her like that was damn near unforgivable.

Before he could move, however, Rupert’s jolly and low singing made its way down the entryway and into the main room. Dougal and Claire each took a step away from the other and the thrumming in Jamie’s blood calmed the little bit necessary for him to keep silently rooted to the spot.

Claire took the opportunity presented by Rupert’s appearance to turn away and leave. Jamie relaxed further and began to turn back himself. He wasn’t sure Claire would be too happy to find him spying on her. But she paused at the foot of the stairs and looked back to thank Rupert.

“The ring is magnificent,” Jamie heard her say with a sincerity and appreciation that sent his pulse pounding for a new reason. He withdrew into the room and went to stand at the chest of drawers again, reaching for the sporran and the pearls inside before he lost his nerve.

“You’re awake,” Claire remarked, surprised as she closed the door behind her.

“Aye… grew cold in the bed wi’out ye there,” he told her.

“I was thirsty,” she said, holding up the pitcher. “It’s only a bit of wine. There wasn’t any more whisky to be found. Nor much in the way of food, I’m afraid. We’ll have to wait for breakfast for proper sustenance.”

“Dawn’s no too far off by now. It’ll no be a long wait, at least. Claire… there’s… there’s somethin’ I wanted to give ye earlier…”