Marsali left to fetch drinks for the three of them, leaving Jamie to catch his breath and watch over Joanie.
He hadn’t laughed so hard in years. It felt… surprisingly good. And seeing the rosiness in Joanie’s cheeks, the smile lighting her face… that caused his heart to twinge with a bittersweet sorrow. It was impossible to see her with her ruddy hair and not imagine what a daughter of his own might have been like—a daughter to join the son he imagined at Claire’s side, their dark heads bowed together as she helped him through his lessons.
How had motherhood changed Claire? He still pictured her as she’d been when they parted on that hill or when she’d lain beside him sleeping, oblivious to him watching the light dance across her face, illuminating every twitch and tic as her dreams played out in her expressions the same way her thoughts did waking.
Jamie glanced to Laoghaire in the corner. Marsali had indicated she was their mother. In Marsali he could see a resemblance but Joanie must favor her father. Laoghaire turned her head and noticed him watching her. She smiled softly and color rose in her cheeks. She looked away. She seemed… softer than he remembered. Gentler, perhaps. More self-conscious and less brazen. Maybe it had been motherhood that had changed her. More likely marriage. Though Marsali had referred to her mother as a widow. He wondered how long.
“So ye can see her now,” Joanie murmured with quiet amazement.
Jamie turned to see an expression of wonder on Joanie’s face. He chuckled.
“Of course I can see her. She’s standin’ right there talkin’ wi’ my sister,” he told her, then impulsively reached out to straighten the cap on Joanie’s head.
“Mam said ye’d been put under a spell and that a witch made it so ye couldna see her,” Joanie explained. “But now the witch is dead, the spell must be broken cause ye can see Mam now as she says ye once did when the pair of ye were young at Leoch.”
“A witch?” Jamie asked, a chill entering his voice and shooting tension into his muscles.
“Aye, the one that bewitched ye into marryin’ her.”
Jamie’s jaw clenched as he glanced to Laoghaire again. She hadn’t changed at all. The things he wanted to say to that woman would wipe the submissive smile right off her face.
But he refused to make a scene. It was Jenny and Ian’s party and everyone else was having a wonderful time. No need to ruin it for anyone else.
And that included Joanie. She was only repeating things she’d heard her mother say and was too young to know the spite behind them.
He loosened his posture, telling his body it wasn’t a time for anger or a fight. Focusing on Joanie beaming up at him helped.
“She wasna a witch and she didna put a spell on me,” he explained to Joanie as gently as he could. “It can seem like magic to those who dinna ken it for themselves and only see it in others… but what my wife and I had between us was love.”
Some of the excitement in Joanie’s face faded. “Ye werena bewitched…”
“No. A spell may break when the one as cast it dies, but love is stronger. It’s a gift from God, after all,” he added with a smile that seemed to soothe Joanie’s disappointment to a degree.
Let Joanie repeat that to her mother.