“Hey, Da— oops, sorry!“
A grin split Jamie’s face as his daughter stepped into the office, interrupting his phone call. He waved her in and watched as she dropped her bag and made herself comfortable on the chair across from him.
“Aye, of course. Well, we look forward to seeing ye then. Happy Christmas, Mrs. Fitz.”
He hung up the phone and turned back to his wall calendar, carefully marking the dates and details of their most recent booking.
“Do you keep any of your records on the computer, or is it all… this?” Brianna gestured to the record book open on his desk and the calendar behind him.
“We arena quite that prehistoric, no.” Jamie laughed, leaning back in his chair. “Our payment systems are on the computer, and many people do their booking online. But I do admit my preference is to write it down. And some of our regulars like to call in to chat and catch up when they schedule every year.”
The Fitzgibbons family, for example, were old friends of the Frasers from Scotland who had come over to the States in the 60s. Mrs. Fitz was Murtagh’s aunt and was absolutely thrilled when he decided to come live in the US. They drove down from Virginia for two weeks every year to visit.
Maybe this year Bree can meet them.
Jamie shook the thought from his mind, trying not to get too far ahead of himself. He focused on his daughter and smiled at the curly mop of hair she had tied at the top of her head to keep it out of her way.
Bree had been coming down to the rental office every morning with Marsali for the past few days, and Jamie cherished the hours they spent together. He had always tried to spend one on one time with each of his children, and not being able to truly know Brianna up until now had been killing him. She fascinated him, and he loved she wanted to know him in return.
They had decided it was only fair to trade questions, and so each day they brought a topic to the table and discussed it thoroughly. So far they had covered childhood memories, holiday traditions, political leaning, favorite literature, hobbies, religious affiliation, and medical history.
“What do ye have for me today, lass?” Jamie asked, picking up his thermos and taking a long pull of hot coffee.
“Family tree for one hundred, please.” She eyed him with an impish look on her face, waiting to see if he got the reference, and smirked when he drew a blank. “Don’t they watch Jeopardy in Scotland?”
“I dinna ken. You Americans are so obsessed with yer pop culture.” Bree broke into a fit of giggles at that, and Jamie sat, sipping his drink and soaking in his daughter’s smile.
“Anyway!” She sat up, getting back to business. “I want to know about my Fraser side, so tell me about your family.”
“How many generations back?” He was the one smirking now.
Jamie spent the next hour regaling her with tales of his ancestors, from the cousins still living across the globe the whole way back to the Lairds of Clan Fraser and MacKenzie in the 1700s. Bree listened with rapt attention, stopping him occasionally to ask questions.
“Do you need to be rescued, sister?” The door popped open and Marsali stuck her golden head in, grinning at them. “Once you get him going on the days of yore he’s awful hard to stop.”
Bree laughed, “No, I asked for it! I could listen to this stuff all day. I thought I wanted to be a historian once. My dad—” She stopped abruptly, frowning.
“Are ye headed home for lunch soon, Marsali?” Jamie asked quickly, covering her lapse and giving her a moment to collect herself.
“Fergus is here to pick me up, actually. I was coming back to tell you I’ll be gone an hour. I already shut down up front.”
He gave her a warm smile and said goodbye, his focus pinging back to Brianna when the door closed.
“That was awkward, I’m sorry.” Her cheeks were flushed and she wouldn’t meet his gaze.
“Nah, lass. He raised ye. I’d expect ye to think of him as yer father too.”
It was a topic they had studiously avoided up until this point. After the first day, their discussions had veered away from Claire and Frank Randall entirely. But Jamie couldn’t help the morbid curiosity he felt about the role Frank had played in his daughter’s life.
“Since we are speaking of family history...” He watched her carefully to see how she reacted to his question. “Will ye tell me about him? About Frank?”
Her cheeks puffed up as she let out a long breath. “Yes, I suppose. We probably need to talk about him at some point, right?”
“Only if ye want to.”
“I want to.” Bree looked determined, setting her jaw and nodding to herself. Jamie swallowed, bracing himself for whatever she was about to say. He didn’t know if he would rather hear that Frank had been a terrible father or a wonderful one. Both would hurt in different ways.
“I always knew there was tension between my parents.” She had a faraway look in her eyes, as if scenes from her past were dancing across her vision. “Actually, in that moment when I saw your photo and realized that he wasn’t my real father, so many of my memories suddenly made sense. I never knew why they were mad at each other, but… that was why.”
He nodded, staying silent and watchful.
“They never fought, exactly. But it was almost like…” She paused, struggling to articulate the thought. “It was like he was punishing her for something and she was just taking it. She acted like she believed that she deserved his abuse. You could see it happening too, her eyes would flash like she was about to tell him off or defend herself, and then it would just... drain away.”
Each word of his daughter’s explanation burned like acid in Jamie’s veins, and he found that it took all of his strength to stay seated. His hands clutched the arms of the chair so hard he feared they would crack.
He looked up, seeing the regret on her face and realizing his expression must have given him away.
“It isna yer fault, a leannan. It’s hard for me to hear that she was mistreated. I canna imagine bearing witness to it.”
Her eyes— so like his own— were filled with a deep sorrow that spoke volumes of the things she had borne witness to. It was a look he recognized. He had seen it in Marsali and Joanie when they came to him after years of following their mam at the whims of her boyfriends. He had seen it in Josiah and Kezzie when they thought of the abuse they had suffered for so many years. Even in William, who at six years old had been more world-weary than a child should ever have to be. That look; of an innocent who had known ugliness far before their time, was written across his daughter’s face and it made him want to weep. Claire was not the only one who had been deeply affected by Frank Randall.
“Brianna...” He steeled his heart to be able to bear whatever came next. “How did he treat ye?”
She hesitated, and for a moment every fatherly instinct he had ignited and raged against the dead man who had held such influence over her. But then she shook her head, and her lips pressed together to keep from quivering. She looked so miserable and torn that Jamie found himself reaching out to take her hands in his before he knew what he was doing.
“He loved me,” she whispered. “He hated her and he adored me. Or at least, I thought…” A tear escaped each eye and she pulled back a hand to swipe at them with her sleeve. “Now that I know I wasn’t his child I wonder if he really ever did. And the worst part is… I think I loved him too. What’s wrong with me?”
“Och, m’annsachd, dinna take that on yerself.” Jamie helplessly squeezed her hand.
“I thought if I could keep his attention on me he would leave her alone, like… like luring a wolf away from its prey.” She swallowed hard and buried her head in her hands.
“I always wondered what parts of him were passed down to me. And I didn’t look like him, so I was terrified that it was something inside. That… in my soul, somehow, I had the capacity to be like him.”
“No.” Jamie reached out to grasp her shoulder and forced her to hold his gaze, pushing all of the authority and confidence he possessed into his words. “Ye arena capable of that, Brianna Ellen. Ye dinna have anything of that man in yer heart, do ye hear me? Ye’re my daughter, through and through.”
Suddenly her sorrow was too much for him, and he pulled her from her chair and into his lap like a wee bairn. Bree didn’t seem to mind, burying her face in the flannel of his shirt and letting the emotions ravage her until they passed. Tall as she was, she seemed almost small cradled in his arms. He cupped the back of her head and lay his cheek against her curls, murmuring to her in Gaelic as if she were a tiny girl with a skinned knee.
They stayed like that for a long while, with their red heads bent close together, feeling acutely the nineteen years they had lost.
At last, a heavy sigh left Bree’s lips, and Jamie felt the tension drain out of her frame, leaving her relaxed and peaceful against his chest. She sniffed, then snorted softly as he pulled out a handkerchief for her.
“What are we going to tell Mama?”
Jamie made a noise deep in his throat and bit the inside of his cheek. The question of how to tell Claire that they knew of each other was a difficult one. As much as he wanted to march over and tell her the truth, he understood that the subject needed to be handled with care.
“I don’t want to push her.” Bree sat up and moved to perch on the edge of the desk. “I like that you’ve waited for her to be ready, and maybe we should figure out how to give her more time…”
Her brow furrowed, and she looked at Jamie. The trust in that look meant everything to him, just the fact that she wanted them to decide together when to tell Claire meant so much.
“We are agreed that we both want yer mother to have the space to work through what she needs to." He cleared his throat, searching for the right words. "But I canna help but believe this trip shows that she is ready for the truth to come out. If she didna want to tell us yet, she could have insisted on coming to Boston again, aye? But she didna do that.”
Bree nodded, biting her lip.
“She kens what ye look like, Brianna. She kens what people will see, and what they’ll think. And she is willing for ye to come. We willna push her to do something she isna ready for, but if she is ready…” His heart filled with certainty that this was it— that Claire would finally open up to him and trust him with her secrets so they could move forward together. “If she is ready, we canna be the ones to hold her back. Do ye see?”
Brianna’s smile bloomed across her face like a rainbow through departing storm clouds, and Jamie felt his own grin in response to it.
“So we let her orchestrate it.”
He chuckled, squeezing her hand. “Aye, if ye must describe it like a top secret spy mission. I suppose we let her orchestrate it.”
Claire answered the door wearing a silk robe that slipped open just enough for the moonlight to reveal the hollow between her breasts. Jamie stepped inside the dark kitchen and reached for her, his hands sliding down her hips to cup her arse. His calluses caught on the smooth fabric as he pulled her body against his and bent to kiss her neck.
Mo Dhia, this woman ye gave me.
“Oh…” Claire’s soft sigh brushed his ear and his fingers convulsed of their own accord, gripping her round bottom and keeping her fitted tightly to him.
“Ye taste like heaven, Sassenach,” he whispered roughly.
Her breath caught in a silent laugh and then a gasp as his tongue touched her skin and he licked up the column of her throat. They swayed for a moment when her knees went weak, but he turned and pressed her up against the kitchen counter for support. She swallowed thickly against his mouth and then pulled away.
“Not here, Jamie.” She caught his arm and pulled him toward the stairs. “I have a whole thing planned. You’re ruining it.”
“Och, aye. We canna ruin the wee thing ye have planned.”
He grinned at her, then turned to shut the door and pick up the reusable shopping bag he had dropped when he came inside, setting it on her table.
“It’s no matter, but I put in my washing powder order and got some extra boxes shipped for ye. Ye’re always sniffing my shirts, so I thought…” His voice trailed off when he heard her soft gasp. When he turned toward her he caught the sheen of tears in her eyes, and then her chin dimpled— just for a moment— and he reached for her.
“Claire? I didna mean to upset ye.”
She shook her head, making the curls tumble around her face. But her lips were still pressed together and her eyes were glassy.
“What is it, mo chridhe ?” His hands came up to rest against either cheek and he examined her face in the moonlight.
“I just… thank you. It’s perfect.”
“It’s just washing powder, Sassenach .” He kissed her tenderly, stroking his fingertips over her jaw and then weaving them deep in the curls at the nape of her neck.
“It’s not just washing powder to me.”
The gold of her eyes was muted in the darkness, but shimmered with emotions she wouldn’t name, and Jamie felt a sharp pain through his chest. No matter how close they became physically, she still didn’t trust him with her heart.
But tonight was their last night together before Brianna’s official visit. Perhaps tonight she would be ready.
I’ll bide a bit longer, mo nighean donn.
Jamie bent to her again, letting his mouth and hands wander until she sniffed and laughed and pulled away.
“Come upstairs,” she whispered, and bit her lip as she gazed up at him through her lashes.
Jamie followed her gladly, groaning as that silk covered arse bounced up the stairs in front of his eyes. He reached out to pinch it and grinned when she yelped.
Claire pulled him into her bedroom and he slowed down as he passed the threshold. Candlelight flickered from her dresser, side tables, and the windowsill. A diffuser glowed a soft blue and sent streams of scented mist into the air— something citrusy and herbal. She had put effort into this night, wanting to make it special for him. For them.
She spun around to face him, looking nervous, and Jamie tucked her into his chest, wrapping both arms around her waist.
“Well? Do you like it?”
“I like you, Sassenach.”
The words rumbled low against her mouth as he tasted her again. His fingers tugged at the silk sash and let the robe fall open, and he smiled as he felt her shiver beneath his touch. He drew his hands up her arms and across her chest, tracing the goosebumps that rose as he went, then dipped beneath the fabric to cup her breast. His thumb slid over the pebbled tip gently.
“Ye take my breath away, Claire.”
Her hands groped at his belt buckle, and he lifted his own, backing up half a step to let her work. There was a soft clunk as his jeans hit the floor, and then he pushed forward, catching Claire’s bottom lip between his teeth, enveloping her jaw and the back of her neck in his hands. The soft whimpering sounds she made drove him mad as he drank from her again and again.
Jamie felt her hands clinging to his shirt, pulling him down into her body, and they toppled back onto the bed.
“I want you, Jamie. I need, oh God…” Claire gasped in his ear. Her voice sounded thick, almost as if she was holding back tears. But her smooth legs parted and he felt her slick heat against him, derailing any other conscious thought.
Fighting the urge to plunge inside her immediately, Jamie forced his lips to soften, sliding down her jaw until his face was buried in her neck. He laid his ear right next to Claire’s mouth, and he let her wee noises guide his hands until she was half sobbing, clenching and arching up against his body.
He waited for the orgasm to pass, and when her limbs finally fell heavy and pliant to the bed he pressed his cock to her heat and slid inside. A spasm tore through her body as he stretched and filled her in one rough thrust.
Something in her voice made his heart clench and his head come up, eyes searching in the half dark.
“ Mo ghraidh, did I hurt ye?”
“No, no.” Claire framed his cheeks with her hands, tugging him back down to her. “Jamie,” she whispered against his mouth, and her core muscles flexed around his cock until he saw stars.
“I… I love you.”
Jamie froze, unsure if he had imagined the words. For a long moment his mind stuttered and all he heard was his own breathing and the drum of his own pulse in his ears.
And then the words came again, stronger this time. “I love you, Jamie.”
His fingers gripped her curls, and he rested his forehead against the soft curve of her cheek, finding it wet with tears.
“Say it again,” he breathed.
“I love— ah!”
His hips had snapped forward, burying himself deep inside her. He was trembling, fumbling to secure his grip on her as his body surged relentlessly, claiming her again and again.
“I love ye, Claire. I always have. Mo ghraidh, bha thu a-riamh a ’cumail mo chridhe. Tha gaol agam ort, tha gaol agam ort.” His speech deteriorated into Gaelic and mixed with her cries as they both surrendered to the climax crashing over them.
It was some time before he came to himself enough to realize that she was still crying.
She turned her face into his shoulder, sniffing as hot tears slid over his skin. “I... I needed to tell you.” His arm tightened around her, waiting.
This is it.
“I just needed you to know that I love you. I always have, even while we were apart.” Claire fell silent, then after several moments she kissed his cheek and slipped away to the bathroom.
Jamie stared at the ceiling in the darkness, warring emotions tearing him in two.
She loved him, but she still wasn’t telling him about their daughter. She had always loved him, and yet the weight of untold secrets blanketed her soul, keeping them from being truly one.
What was love without truth? Why would she profess her love if she didn’t trust him to carry her burdens? The only reason he could think of was…
She’s saying goodbye.
The simple reality hit him like a physical blow. She thought he would leave when the truth came out, and she had orchestrated this night— their last night— to be perfect, just in case it was the last night forever.
She slid back into the bed beside him and Jamie wrapped his arms around her shoulders, pulling her into his chest.
The Gaelic version of her name slipped off his tongue easily, even though he had not used it in a long time. It just seemed so appropriate. Sorcha. It meant “light” or “brightness,” as she had always been in his life.
“I remember when you used to call me that back in college.” She spoke softly, “It seems so long ago. We’ve lost so much time.” Her breath caught and she tucked her face into his neck.
“I willna lose ye again,” he promised her softly, fiercely. “We’re mated for life, Sassenach.”
A tremor went through her, but she nodded under his chin. Jamie pressed his lips to her forehead, frustration burning up through his body. What more could he do to show her that their love would stand this test and all the tests to come?
Why won’t she trust me?
Claire had relaxed into the bed, but Jamie felt himself hardening and readying again, his blood pumping with the fear of losing her. He tipped her chin up, letting her feel his arousal against her hip, and felt a hint of relief when amusement touched her expression.
“Again? Already, Jamie?”
A puff of laughter escaped him, letting out some of the raw emotion that was building in his chest.
“Aye,” he said simply before his throat tightened.
Show her, Lord. Show her what she wilna let herself see.
He leaned forward, touching the quirk of a smile in the corner of her mouth with his lips.
“Tell me again,” he whispered. His eyes were intent on hers in the shadows.
Claire hesitated for a split second and then whispered back, “I love you.”
His eyes slid shut, and he breathed her scent in deeply. He took in this moment, this memory, of holding her in his arms and feeling her breath mingling with his.
“I love ye, too.”
Then he moved, rolling to his back and pulling her over him. Her curls tumbled around her face, shining silver where the moonlight caught them and the soft blue glow from the diffuser cast over her face.
Jamie took his time building her up, stroking with strong fingers over her curves. He traced the slope of her breasts until her nipples were tight and they rose and fell with her breath. His hands cupped her sides, letting his thumbs settle in the dip under her hip bones and feel the soft sway as she ground down on him, seeking her pleasure.
“That’s it, mo nighean donn.”
She was magic. A goddess, illuminated by candlelight and lost in sensation. Jamie pushed lower, gripping himself and finding her slick and seeking. It was only a moment before Claire moaned as she sank down, letting him fill her.
Christ, let her feel how much I love her.
Her inner muscles contracted and she began to move. Riding, rocking forward and pushing him toward another peak. Jamie bucked up into her, meeting each thrust with his own. His eyes never left her face.
Let my love be enough to overcome her fear.
Claire’s brow had furrowed as she concentrated on the pleasure coursing through her body, but she fell forward with her hands on his chest and opened her eyes, sending a bolt of electricity straight to his cock.
Jamie’s hand slid up her spine and tangled in her curls, lending his strength for her to brace against. He could feel her body begin to lose its rhythm as she chased her climax. He moved his thumb down to press firmly against her where he knew she ached the most, and that last bit of pressure was enough to push her over the edge. Her choked cry gripped him, and he gave in to the primal urge to fill her with himself again.
When she had collapsed onto his chest, Jamie’s fingers in her hair gentled and he stroked down her spine, feeling each vertebrae under her soft skin, the prayer still echoing in his mind:
Lord, let me be enough.