Storming into his cottage, Jamie reached for the precious bottle of fine whisky he kept hidden in the very back of his small pantry. Grabbing for the nearest vessel he could find (…damn, his everyday antler cup would do!), he poured himself a solid dram. He knocked it back in one, replacing it immediately by pouring another, taking little care over how accurate his aim was. The bottle collided with the rough wooden table a little harder than he meant, as his thoughts came crashing down on him like an torrent.
Finally stopping for the first moment since he had left her by the woods, he stared into the fire, slowly closed his eyes and let out a long shaky breath, realising that stopping the pain would be an impossible task. This time. Once again, he was alone. She would be lost to him for sure – how could she not be after what he had told to her? He had lost others before.
Despite the years of solitude; despite having guarded himself against opening his heart on those few occasions that he had thought to, something about Mistress Beauchamp, Claire, had been different. With Claire, he had found the tiniest of shoots growing in his heart over the months that she had arrived. This time...
But now… well, he knew how this played out now. She would turn away from him. She would be appalled. She would leave. How could she have him like this? Why would she have him like this?
It had been many years since Jamie had allowed himself to truly feel the depth of his despair and humility; he usually managed to keep it at a distance. The sorry, lonely shoot began to wither before it had had a chance. For the first time in many years, tears swamped his eyes, at real danger of spilling over and down his cheeks.
Jamie couldn’t take the ever-growing ache that radiated from his heart, almost numbing his limbs, anymore. He certainly couldn’t sit still a moment longer; he had to move. Standing up suddenly, he opened his eyes, discarded the cup on the table and made to round off to the door. Only to be stopped in his tracks, his breath catching in his throat, by the sight of 2 amber eyes staring back at him from the door. It was her. She was here. She had followed him home? In his painful, self-hating haze, he had failed to hear her enter his small cottage.
They both stood as still as the standing stones that command the landscape around the Highlands, time becoming unimportant. Jamie couldn’t say how long they stood staring at one another. His brain began to catch up with the situation though, and uncertainty as to why she was actually there festered like a dank millpond.
Claire seemed to sense Jamie’s trepidation and very slowly moved towards him, never breaking eye contact. God, even in this moment the sway of her hips and skirt was not lost on Jamie. But why was she here? Surely she hadn’t followed him to berate him after his revelation?
Had Jamie of been able to take a moment to digest the scene, he would have remembered that Claire would never have been capable of treating anyone that way; he knew that really. Unfortunately, experience had created a muscle-memory like response and he feared that he would only see disgust and disappointment in her eyes….and yet…
He simply could not look away from her. Having refused to meet her eye previously, he was caught in her drowning gaze.
Was this a form of purgatory for him? Unable to look away from the tempting Medusa?
…and yet? Search as he might, locked in position; still unable to move, let alone breath, he could not see disgust or hatred in her beautiful eyes. He saw …compassion? Truly?
Claire came to rest in front of Jamie and slowly reached out her right hand to settle on his chest, just where the opening of his jacket was. She had never purposefully touched him before. In fact, it had been many years since anyone had touched Jamie without violence or disregard. There had been moments when both he and Claire had reached for the same thing; functional actions that had led them to briefly touch but, in this moment, she reached out and somehow her touch both calmed and excited him simultaneously. Jamie’s heart was beating so hard he was sure she could feel it through her fingertips. And yet still he could not draw himself to look away from those whisky eyes.
Gradually, Claire moved her hand up to his clavicle, on its journey to his neck and finally to tenderly cup his cheek. The look in Jamie’s eyes at that moment seemed suspicious as if to say, “Don’t hurt me. Don’t be unkind.” They narrowed further in disbelief as she moved her hand to the back of his neck; gifting him the most honest and heartfelt smile across her face and gently pulled.
Looking from eye to eye, a brief moment of resistance and then Jamie slowly bowed his head onto her shoulder…. and the dam burst; his shoulders silently heaving up and down as the tears and sorrow; the desolation escaped. He still couldn’t move his limbs and so only his head sought succour.
She had heard his story and she had stayed. Perhaps he was no longer being punished for his sins? Just maybe, his time in self-imposed purgatory had been served to the Almighty’s pleasure.
Jamie could feel Claire begin to caress the back of his head and his auburn curls as he broke down. Unbeknownst to Jamie, Claire was unable to help herself; she began to gently kiss the cheek closest to her. Her lips speaking the words of comfort that she could not find to say. They continued just below that smooth skin under his earlobe, and down the beginning of his neck, eventually returning its journey back up to his cheek.
Bolstered by her caring affections, Jamie turned his head suddenly and sought her soft lips. They were everything he had dreamed they would be. She never hesitated to return the affection. Eyes tightly shut, Jamie kissed her swift and gentle, to begin with. However, sensing no disagreement, he poured his heart and soul into a solid kiss, taking no prisoners. Claire could sense already that there was great passion hidden below Jamie’s gruff exterior but he was a man who held this in check, and Claire knew he would never over-reach without consent. This was unlike anything either of them had experienced before; it was as if they were both home; lost in one another’s soul.
Jamie felt Claire slowly part her lips and lick his bottom lip with the tip of her tongue, in invitation. Was this truly happening? He was mesmerised by the experience. Their kisses continued, now accompanied by their arms around one another until finally, Jamie drew away; he took a moment to share the air with Claire as their mouths lay close, simply breathing, yet not touching.
“Thank you for trusting me, Jamie,” she whispered, hoarse from the kiss.
Rising to his full height, Jamie steeled himself, opened his sea blue eyes and met Claire’s piercing amber gaze.
He saw it there in her beautiful whiskey eyes. They held the promise of a safe future together. He was alone no more. Claire made him a man again. He would not let her down and he would not leave.